New Justyce (Book 1 / Episode 4)

Book 1: Justyce Begins

Episode 4: Frozen Fisticuffs

“Gav, I know we have to check in with dad, but promise me we will come back and look for Obie. I know he’s close. I can feel his presence with the feather.” Logan said as he reached for the car’s door handle.

“Ok, Logan, I promise. As long as dad doesn’t say that we can’t, I’ll bring you back here.” Gavin started to go around the car to get into the driver’s side. Before he could get in the car, Gavin heard a loud yell. He looked to the side just in time to see a large shape hurtling toward the vehicle. “Logan! Get down!” Gavin yelled.

Logan looked around, and his eyes widened in shock and fear. He dove toward his brother, barely getting out of the way in time before something big crashed into the car. The windows shattered, and the vehicle was knocked onto its side. Logan rolled over and looked to see what hit the car. He couldn’t believe his own eyes. What Logan saw stood on two legs like a man, but the similarities ended there. Where the creature’s massive leg muscles burst through its jeans, long dark grey fur showed through the rips. The same hair covered the creature’s bare upper torso. The beast’s upper body was humanoid and just over six feet tall. The broad shoulders and heavily muscled arms ended in large than hands. Logan could see the once human face was now distorted and covered in the same grey fur. The creature’s ears were pointed and closer to the top of its head than human ears. Still, the most shocking feature was the set of enormous, curved ram’s horns protruding from the sides of the monster’s head.

“What are you?” Logan asked, his voice shaking with fear.

The beast turned toward Logan and snarled. “I am Aries the Ram, and you will give me the blue stones, or I will crush the life from you and take them.”

Gavin leaped in front of his brother and faced Aries. “Stay away from my brother, you freak. You’ll have to come through me to get to him.” Gavin turned his head to look at Logan. “Get behind the car, Logan. Hurry!” Logan scrambled backward and crouched behind the overturned car. Gavin set his feet and faced his foe.

After Bryson left her apartment, Grace Santos scrolled through her contacts. She almost clicked on one of her top government sources but thought better of it. Grace didn’t think anyone in the government would give her a straight answer to this, even if they knew. Instead, Grace called a number that she had not called in years. She called an old college friend, Caleb Justyce. Grace didn’t hang out in the same circles as Caleb, but she knew that this problem was something that would pique his interest. The call went to voicemail, so Grace left a message and waited.

Bryson ran the three blocks from Grace’s apartment to Erik’s house and banged on the front door. Erik’s father answered. “Hi, Bryson. What brings you here?”

“Hi, Mr. Reilly. is Erik home?”

“No. The last I saw him, he was heading to see you. Didn’t he show up? That was quite a while ago.”

“Yeah, he was at my place earlier. I thought he’d be home by now. I’ll walk through the park and see if I can meet with him. He’s not answering my texts.”

“Is everything alright, Bryson? Is there anything I can do?”

“No, Mr. Reilly, there’s nothing to worry about. When you see him, just tell him to text me.”

“Ok. It was nice to see you again, Bryson.”

Bryson was a little alarmed that Erik wasn’t home yet. He should have had plenty of time to get here by now. Bryson turned and walked toward the park.

“You are either brave or foolish,” Aries sneered.

“I will not let you hurt my brother,” Gavin stated, fists raised in front of him.

“Gavin, come on! Let’s run!” Logan yelled from behind the overturned car.

“Too late for that, boy,” Aries said as he butted his horns against the car, pushing it further off the road.

“What do you want from us?” Gavin asked.

“The blue stones. Give them to me willingly, and I might let you live.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We don’t have any blue stones,” Gavin said, slowly backing away from Aries.

Aries sniffed the air. “I can smell them. You can’t lie to me, boy. I’ve had enough talk. Prepare to die.” Aries lowered his head and charged.

Gavin dropped to his knees and raised his arms over his head in an effort to protect himself. Gavin gritted his teeth, closed his eyes, and prepared for an impact that never came. Instead, Gavin heard what sounded like breaking glass, and a loud thump came from behind him. Gavin opened his eyes and looked warily around. Shards of ice were everywhere, and Aries was between Gavin and the car. Gavin couldn’t figure out what had happened, but he quickly sprung to his feet to place himself between Aries and Logan.

Aries’ eyes narrowed. “I knew I smelt the stones. You’ve been affected by them, so now you must die!” Aries charged at Gavin.

Gavin side-stepped the charge and swung his fist at Aries. Before his punch struck its target, Gavin felt an extreme coldness run through his body. A cocoon of ice formed around his fist just as the blow landed. The ram was nearly knocked off his feet and stumbled away from Gavin. Gavin looked down in awe at his ice-covered fist. He thought how cool it would be if his whole body were protected by the ice, and then it happened. Gavin was covered in icy armor from head to toe.

Aries watched as the ice formed around Gavin. Hoping to catch Gavin distracted, Aries lowered his head and charged. He hit Gavin full force in the mid-section with his horns. Gavin was thrown back and smashed against the car. He was unhurt, but the icy armor shattered into a million pieces. Gavin saw Aries closing in on him and tried to move away. Gavin was pinned against the car and couldn’t get away fast enough. He raised his arms in self-defense, wishing he had something to throw at Aries. Streams of ice shot out of Gavin’s fingers and struck Aries square in the chest, knocking him backward. Frost continued streaming from Gavin’s fingers until the ram’s legs were frozen solid.

Gavin leaped to his feet and rushed to the car’s other side. “Logan, come on! That probably won’t hold him for long. Let’s get out of here.”

Logan’s dark brown eyes were wide open and staring. “Gavin, you’re a superhero!” He ran over and hugged his brother.  

“Whatever! This might make me believe your story about angels a little more. We can talk at home. Let’s get out of here before he breaks free,” The two boys turned and ran down the road as fast as possible, leaving Aries howling with rage.

Grace sat behind her desk and thought about Bryson, trying to wrap her mind around what he told her and what she had witnessed with her own eyes. Bryson had picked up her coffee table using his mind. An hour ago, Grace would have laughed at the idea. Her focus was now on figuring out how it happened and how to proceed. There wasn’t just Bryson to consider. There was also the monster he fought. How many others were out there? She knew that Caleb was the best shot at finding answers. Grace glanced at her phone again. Still no return call from Caleb. After a while, Grace decided to go straight to Justyce Labs and talk to Caleb face to face. Caleb was the most intelligent person that Grace knew. He graduated from high school when he was fifteen and had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering by the time he was eighteen. When Grace started college, Caleb was twenty-eight and working towards his third master’s degree. Now, he was thirty-seven and had his own research lab. If anyone could figure out what was happening, that man would be Caleb Justyce. Grace left her apartment, avoided downtown, and drove as fast as possible to Justyce Labs.

Harvey and Ashton both leaped off of the bench. “Dude! I thought you were joking. Who is chasing you?” Harvey asked.

“Yeah, I thought you said monsters, not crazy bow-wielding maniacs?” Ashton quipped.

“I did say monsters, and I meant it. One is a half-woman and half-horse creature from mythology. That monster is the one with the bow. The other is a guy who looks like he has a shell and a mutant claw for a hand! They’re not chasing me, but we need to get out of here! They’re in the middle of the park, terrorizing everyone in sight!” Erik replied, pacing back and forth.

“A centaur and a crab man? Are you trying to prank us? Where are the cameras?” Harvey said.

“Harvey, duck!” Ash yelled!

Harvey looked up and saw another arrow heading straight for him. Harvey didn’t even have time to react. Then something barreled into him, and Harvey landed on the ground on his back. The breath was knocked right out of his lungs. Harvey coughed and blinked and tried to roll out from under whatever landed on him, then he saw that it was Ash. “Ash? How? You were way over there.”

“I… I’m not sure.”

“I was looking right at you and didn’t see you move. You were next to me one second, and then there was a blur and a gust of wind, and you were on top of your friend.” Erik said.

“A lot of weird stuff has been happening today,” Ash said, getting up off Harvey. “Maybe we should do like Erik said and get as far away from here as possible.”

Harvey leaped to his feet. “No! If they are hurting people, we need to try and help! I want to get a few pictures to send to my dad. These creatures may be the reason that his army unit was activated.”

“This is a stupid idea, but I’ll show you where they are. You’ll change your mind and agree with me as soon as you see them.” Erik said in frustration, but he led the other two boys through the trees and into the picnic area in the center of the park.

“I thought you were exaggerating, but that does look just like a centaur,” Harvey said.

“She’s firing arrows right at that family. Harvey’s right. We have to at least try and help.” Ashton said and took a step forward, and then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone.

“Ash? Where’d ya go? Erik, what happened?” Harvey said, looking all around.

“It’s the same as when he tackled you. A gust of wind and Ash was gone. Wait. Isn’t that him over by the pond?”

“It can’t be. That’s over a hundred yards away. How would he….”

Erik heard a thump and turned to see why Harvey had stopped talking. When he turned, Erik first saw the mutant crab monster, but then he saw Harvey lying face-first on the ground at the creature’s feet. Erik clenched his fists. “Get away from my friend, you freak!” To Erik’s surprise, the monster took a step back. Then Erik felt a gust of wind, and Ashton appeared.

“Harvs!” Ashton yelled and knelt by his best friend. Ash looked up at Erik, and his eyes grew wide. “Erik! You’re on fire… and you’re… floating!”

Erik looked down at himself, and his eyes widened in shock and fear. Ashton was right. His entire body was floating a foot off the ground and was engulfed in flames.

Gavin slammed the front door shut and locked it. He turned to his brother, “Logan, go to the family room. Stay away from the windows. We don’t know if that thing followed us. Hell. it might be able to track us!”

“That was scary, Gav, but you were awesome!” Logan said as he hurried into the family room.

“I… I’m not sure what I was or what happened.” He looked down at his hands, which were still covered with a light frost. Gavin wiped his hands on his jeans to try and dry them off. He sat on the couch and picked up the remote. “Let’s watch the news and see if there are any reports of other creatures like the one we saw.”

“Wow,” Logan said in awe as they watched short homemade video clips play on the television. “If we didn’t see what we saw, I’d think the footage of that minotaur was fake news!”

“Looks like the army is setting up checkpoints all over town. We should try and get in touch with dad and find out what’s up.”

“Ok. You text dad, and I’ll text Harvs. If the high school hasn’t closed yet, it will soon.”

Grace paced in front of the entrance to Justyce Labs, peering through the windows. She saw no movement, and Caleb had not answered any calls or texts. Grace didn’t want to drive back home yet. Grace went for a walk while waiting to hear from her friend. She was close to the high school, so she explored in that direction. Bryson told her that he saw fires near the high school last night. Maybe Grace could find a piece of this troublesome meteor.

Grace saw the only unusual thing at the high school was that it was deserted. The school must have let out early today. She wondered if that was related to all the strange events going on. It had to be. She kept walking past the school but stopped short when she reached the baseball field. There were scorched patches of grass all over the area and a sizable crater right where the pitcher’s mound should be. Grace opened the gate and walked in.

Grace didn’t see any of the blue stones near the scorched patches of grass. Grace made her way to the crater. She guessed someone else must have removed the meteor that caused the hole because she saw footprints everywhere. At least two different shoe treads and one set of barefoot tracks. Grace knelt down and examined the indentation at the center of the crater. That’s odd, she thought. It looks more like a body’s outline than a rock’s shape.

As Grace stood up, she didn’t notice the other shadow that merged with her own. Before reaching the top of the crater, Grace felt a cold chill run up and down her spine. She shivered and rubbed her arms. Grace stepped into the sunlight and never gave the weird feeling a second thought.

Logan wandered into the kitchen, looking for his brother. “Gav, Harvey still isn’t answering texts. I even tried calling, but it went to voicemail.”

Gavin gulped down the rest of his Mountain Dew and frowned. “I saw on the news that the high school closed and sent everyone home. He should be here by now.”

“Any news from dad?”

“Yes, but just vague stuff. ‘I won’t be home tonight. Don’t worry. Don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary.’” Gavin shrugged. “He’s probably not saying anything specific in case anyone monitors his phone.”

“Should we be worried about Harvey?”

“We will look for him if he’s not home in another half hour. In the meantime, keep texting him. Hopefully, he’ll answer soon.”

“Got it.” Logan wandered back into the family room to watch the news for more updates about the strange events all over town. At the same time, he continued to text his younger brother.

Caleb didn’t even bother knocking when he got to Christine’s house. He was too excited to see this boy she told him about. Caleb rushed into the kitchen and found his sister sitting at the table drinking tea. “Where is he? You didn’t let him leave, did you?”

“No. Of course, the boy is still here. He just woke up. He doesn’t remember what happened to him. I turned the tv on in the living room and made him a couple of sandwiches. Take it slow, Caleb. That boy looks like he’s been through Hell.”

“What about the wounds on his back? You said his blood is blue and glowing?”

“Yes, and he’s healing remarkably fast. The cuts were open and raw last night. Now, they look like they’ve been healing for a week!”

“Amazing! Let me go talk to him.” Caleb said and rushed out of the room.

Caleb stopped just inside the doorway to the living room. His breath caught in his throat. At first glance, the view could have been mistaken for millions of similar scenes worldwide. A teenage boy was sprawled on the couch watching tv while practically inhaling sandwiches and potato chips. Then Caleb noticed the boy’s eyes. He had the brightest blue eyes that Caleb had ever seen, but that wasn’t what caught Caleb’s attention. The boy’s eyes weren’t exactly glowing, but they shone in the dim light. It reminded Caleb of how a cat’s eyes reflected low light allowing them to see in the dark. The boy turned his head and looked directly at Caleb. A momentary jolt of fear shot through Caleb, but when the boy smiled, Caleb knew that there was not one evil bone in that boy’s body. Caleb slowly moved further into the room. Not wanting to spook the boy, Caleb sat on the opposite end of the couch.

The trauma surgeon stormed up to the Emergency Room Nurse’s Station and slammed his fist on the counter. “What happened to my patient. The guy with the two crushed legs. I expected him in my operating room fifteen minutes ago. Now I find out that he isn’t even in the hospital anymore! Why wasn’t I updated! Where did he go?”

The nurse took a deep breath before answering the angry surgeon. “Please do not yell at me or any of the nurses, Dr. Jackson. I know that two men in lab coats came in with paperwork from hospital administration. It gave them permission to transfer your patient and another patient who came in at the same time.”

“Where did they take them? They were in no condition to be moved.” The doctor said wonderingly.

“I’ll check the records and see if I can find out.” The nurse replied. She hit some buttons on the computer, clicked away with the mouse for a few minutes, and then looked back at Dr. Jackson. “Looks like they were transferred to Justyce Labs. That’s weird, isn’t it, doctor?”

“Very, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Caleb Justyce donates more money to this hospital than all the other donors. I don’t know what he plans on doing with those two young men, but the hospital would never say no to him.” The doctor scowled and left the nurse’s station.

“Hello. My name is Caleb. My sister,” Caleb motioned toward the kitchen, “said you’ve been hurt. What is your name? Can you tell me what happened to you?”

“I…” The boy got a look of intense concentration on his face. “I think my name is Obadiah, but I am not sure. I can’t remember much of anything before last night.”

“That’s ok, Obadiah. Take it slow. How did you end up here at my sister’s house? Do you live nearby?”

“I woke up in the middle of a field. It was raining, and everything around me was burning. My back hurt. A lot. The only light that I saw led me here.”

“Can I see your back, Obadiah? I promise I won’t hurt you.”

Obadiah frowned but turned away from Caleb and gently lifted his shirt. Caleb’s eyes widened, and he nearly gasped. The wounds were still raw, but they looked like wounds that had been healing for days, not overnight. Glowing blue blood still oozed from several spots, but the lacerations mainly had scabbed over. Caleb sat back and looked intently at Obadiah.

“I know you don’t know me, and there’s no reason for you to trust me, but I would like you to come to stay with me at my laboratory. I’m a research scientist, and I think that I can help you. They wouldn’t know what to do if you went to a regular hospital. They’d probably ship you off to the army base, and no one would ever see you again.”

“No! I won’t be locked away by the soldiers!” Obie looked directly into Caleb’s eyes. “I think I can trust you. I will go to your lab.”

“Do you remember anything before waking up in the field, Obadiah?”

Obie thought really hard. “I was falling. It felt like I fell forever. I think I was falling away from people who hurt me, but I was also falling toward someone. I think I was falling toward someone named Logan. I will go with you, Caleb, but only if you help me find Logan.”

Caleb nodded. “Of course, I will. Maybe Logan will know more about you and where you come from.”

“Thank you.” Obadiah stood up. “I am ready to go with you now.”

Caleb said goodbye to his sister and led Obie out to his car. Caleb glanced at his phone and saw about a dozen missed calls and texts from Grace Santos. After listening to and reading the messages, he pulled his car out onto the street and sped off toward Justyce Labs.

Carl Chambers pulled the black van into the Newville Community Credit Union’s rear parking lot. He parked far away from the other cars. Carl shook his head, his golden mane flying wildly around his face, and glanced into the rearview mirror at Danielle Gordon. Dani was sprawled out on the middle seat of the van. “That was interesting. Even everyday things like driving will take some getting used to with our new bodies.”

“Yeah. We’ll have to customize everything. I can’t even sit properly with this tail. Some of us won’t be able to move around in public without attracting attention.”

Carl looked thoughtful. “You’re right. Especially once we begin our plans, we will have to find a new headquarters. Somewhere secret. They would find us at the union hall. We’ll move the meteorite and anything else important tonight.”

“You ready for this, Carl? We’ve mugged people, robbed gas stations, and other small stuff, but this is big.” Dani pointed at the bank.

“I’ve been ready for this for years. Let our reign of terror begin.” Carl threw his head back and roared.

The lion and the scorpion walked through the credit union’s front doors, and everyone stopped and stared. One of the security guards sauntered over with a smirk on his face. “Y’all can’t come into a bank wearing those silly costumes. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Dani sneered at the guard. “Silly costumes? How dare you address the Zodiac Club in such a bold manner!” Dani’s tail swung around and hit the guard square in the chest, sending him flying backward out of the front window. He landed on the sidewalk in a shower of broken glass. The second guard barely had a chance to move before Carl grabbed him and threw him through the window to join his partner on the sidewalk.

Carl looked around the bank. He pointed at the customers with one big furry paw. “All of you get on the floor facedown, and you just might live to see another day.”

As the customers obeyed Carl, Dani walked up to the closest bank teller and set a pile of bags on the counter. “Hello. My name is Scorpia. My friend Leo and I represent the Zodiac Club, and we would like to make a withdrawal from your bank today. Fill up all these bags, and don’t try anything heroic. I don’t want to kill you, but I will.” Scorpia smashed her tail onto a nearby desk to emphasize her point, splintering it into kindling. The bank tellers quickly got to work filling the bags.

Coming Soon: Episode 5 – A Firefly and a Pocket Watch

New Justyce (Book 1 / Episode 2)

Book 1: Justyce Begins

Episode 2: The Zodiac Club

Bryson Indiana stepped out of the shower, still thinking about the strange fires he saw last night. Bryson felt there was an interesting story there that he had to investigate. After getting dressed, Bryson checked his appointment calendar. No clients were coming in today, but he did have a meeting with a reporter later that morning. Bryson’s private investigator business had finally started to take off last week. Three new clients! He didn’t need a new problem to solve, but his curiosity wouldn’t let him not check out those mysterious fires. Bryson wanted to walk to Starbucks to get his morning coffee anyway. He finished tying his shoes, pulled on a hoodie, grabbed his favorite beanie, and ran out the door. Autumn had finally started to take hold in northern Virginia.

            Carl Chambers woke to the sound of a crash. When he opened his eyes, his vision was unfocused and blurry. Carl stood on shaky feet and stumbled into the union hall bathroom. His body felt weird, and he couldn’t concentrate. Carl’s head ached, and he put one hand up to massage his temple and felt a massive amount of thick curly hair. Hair that hadn’t been there just the night before. Carl looked down at his arms and saw them covered with golden fur. The muscles in his arms were rippling and appeared to be growing right before his eyes. Carl rushed to the mirror and saw a face that he barely recognized. Carl’s appearance was warping and changing. He ran to the doorway and called out to his best friend and top assistant, Rick Myers. “Rick! Rick, get in here! Something is happening to me!”

Carl heard the same clip-clop of hooves on the wooden floor that he heard last night just before he blacked out for the second time. Then, Carl heard Rick’s voice, but it was deeper and gravelly. “Something happened to all of us, Carl. Something strange and powerful.”

Rick turned the corner, and Carl jumped back in surprise. What Carl saw, he barely recognized as his best friend. Carl could still make out Rick’s facial features, but that face was covered in brown fur, and horns were growing out of the sides of Rick’s head. The new Rick was around seven feet tall, and his shoulders were broad enough that Rick would have to turn sideways to enter most doors. As Carl gaped at his friend, he noticed that Rick’s legs ended in massive hooves.

“Oh my God, Rick. What is happening?”

Rick waved a hand at Carl. “You tell me, boss.”

“I think it was from the meteor last night. I felt it pulsing, but I never expected these physical changes. I don’t know what is happening, but I feel powerful!”

“Carl, I have horns growing out of the side of my head. It’s weird, but you’re right. I feel powerful!”

“You said it’s happening to everyone? Are they all still here? I want to see.”

“They’re still here. Some are just waking up. Some are happy, but not everyone. We may need to finish that meeting that was interrupted last night.”

“You’re exactly right, Rick. This could be the best thing to ever happen to us.” The two best friends strode out into the union hall meeting room to assess what had happened to the rest of their friends.  

Bryson walked to the edge of Newville Park, noting scorch marks on several trees. He knelt down to get a better angle to take some photos, and his trained eyes noticed a couple odd looking blue stones. He picked them up to look closer and nearly dropped them again. Peering at the rocks in the palm of his hand, Bryson saw that they seemed to glow and pulse with energy. He felt a surge of energy rush through his entire body. He looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then he slipped the two blue rocks into the pocket of his jeans.

Bryson stood next to one of the scorched trees and oriented himself to look straight at the part of the docks where he had seen the fire last night. Spinning around one hundred and eighty degrees, he faced the high school baseball field. He still needed that coffee, but he was in an investigative mode now. Starbucks was too far out of the way; he’d settle for the Dunkin Donuts next to the school. He walked slowly, scanning all the buildings he passed for signs of fire.

‘Brett’s Antique and Thrift Store’ must have been the destination of some of the firetrucks that passed his house in the night. By the time he reached the antique shop, Bryson had four blue rocks in his pocket. He was just about to continue on toward the school when he got a text message from Erik Reilly.

Erik: “Bryson, I need to come over and talk to you about something. It’s kind of important. Are you home?”

Bryson: “No. I’m on a case. Can it wait?”

Erik: “I don’t know. Something weird is going on. Did you see all the fires last night?”

Bryson: “Yes. That’s what I’m investigating. I’ll go home now. Come right over.”

Bryson slid his phone back into his pocket and nearly ran home.

            Obadiah woke up lying on a wooden floor in front of a big fireplace. He was disoriented and couldn’t remember where he was at first. Then the events of the night before played out in his mind. Obie stumbled away from the muddy field and walked towards the only light in the distance, this house. He didn’t know what else to do, so Obie knocked on the door. A lady answered, and then Obadiah couldn’t remember anything after that. He must have passed out, but Obie couldn’t remember. When Obadiah tried to recall anything before last night, all that came to him was the feeling of falling from a great distance. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He also remembered that his name was Obadiah, and he recalled another name, Logan. It felt like Logan was important. Obie needed to find Logan, but right now, all he could do was lay his head back down and fall asleep.

As soon as Logan was up, showered, and dressed, he ran downstairs. Logan wolfed down a quick breakfast and threw a couple pieces of fruit and some trail mix into his backpack. Logan wasn’t sure where he planned on going yet, but he could still feel Obadiah’s presence nearby. Logan slipped on his shoes and slung his backpack over his shoulder. Logan poked his head into the living room. “Harvey, I’m going for a walk. I don’t have a class until ten. Tell dad and Gavin for me, please.”

Harvey glanced up from his phone. “Really? Ok, bro. See ya after school.”

Logan left the house and started wandering up and down the town’s streets. It’s not like the feather was a GPS that gave him specific directions. He could only get a vague sense of direction and distance. About ten minutes later, Logan heard police sirens. Soon after that, he saw two army helicopters fly towards the city’s center. Thankfully, the feather was leading him in the opposite direction. Logan had been walking for another fifteen minutes when he passed by the high school baseball field. Like last night, the feather started glowing, so Logan turned and walked into the field. Everything looked burnt, and he could still smell the smoke.

Logan found a massive crater in the center of the field, right where the pitcher’s mound used to be. He saw footprints leading away in the mud, but Logan didn’t see any footprints leading toward the crater. He crawled down into the hole and saw the muddy imprint of a body. The feather pulsed and flashed in his hand. Did something happen to Obie here? Logan was now even more determined to find his friend.

Logan crawled out of the crater and followed the footprints. A blue glow off near the edge of the field caught his attention. Logan walked over and looked down. He found two small rocks that glowed with the same blue light as the feather. Logan picked them up and felt the stones pulse in his hands. A wave of energy washed over Logan’s entire body. He felt different. Changed somehow. Maybe Obie could explain what happened when he found him. Logan put the two rocks in his pocket and followed the muddy footprints.

Carl walked out into the union hall’s meeting room and scanned the room. The creatures, his closest friends, were all spread out. Carl leaned his head back and let out a ferocious roar. Everyone spun toward him, and he spoke, “Friends, gather around the table and let us continue our meeting.”

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t sit at the table,” quipped Lisa Jensen.

Carl turned his head to speak, “I expect…” he stopped when he saw Lisa. Lisa looked the same from her head to her waist, but where her lower torso and legs should be now stood the body of a beautiful chestnut-colored horse. Carl began again, “No. Take the end of the table across from me.”

Brent Irons pounded his fist on the table, more claw than a fist, actually. His hand was bright red and hardened into a shell-like substance. Brent’s fingers were fused together, and his thumb was elongated and had a serrated edge. “Do you really expect business as usual, Carl? Look at us! We’re freaks! How can we even go out in public? Jayden was suffocating for no apparent reason. I’m not even sure if he’s still alive, and you want to continue a business meeting?!”

Carl looked around. “Where’s Jayden now?”

“Luke took him into the kitchen,” Brent answered.

Carl tapped Rick on the shoulder, “Go check on them.” Then he turned to the rest, “Let me address the questions Brent brought up. Can we go out in public? Yes, I say, and let them fear us! We are not freaks. We are amazing and powerful beings. Do I expect business as usual? Hell no! I expect that now instead of ruling Newville Heights… we can rule the world!” When Carl finished speaking, the rest of the assembled group pounded on the table and cheered.

“Time to get ready for school,” Harvey grumbled to himself. When he turned the game off that he was playing on his phone, Harvey noticed a text from his dad. The text was also sent to his two brothers. It read: “Boys, they activated my unit this morning. There are reports of strange activities and possible terror attacks in the city. I may not be able to come home tonight or possibly for a few days. Watch out for each other. Stay safe. Dad.”

Harvey flipped the television on and turned to one of the twenty-four-hour news channels. He could hardly believe what he was watching. Could this be real? They showed amateur film clips of glowing blue meteors racing across the sky and fires raging all over the city.

He was still watching when his oldest brother, Gavin, walked in and stood behind him. “Harvey, did you get a weird text from dad?” Gavin looked up from his phone. “What the hell are you watching?”

“The news, I think. Weird, right?” Harvey said.

“With this text from dad, I’d say it must be accurate, or the army thinks so. It sounds like they think it’s more than just meteors.” Gavin said.

“Should I go to school?” Harvey asked.

“Yeah. Go ahead. I’m sure the school will cancel classes if this gets worse. I don’t have class until this afternoon, so I’ll keep an eye on the news and watch for dad’s texts. Keep your phone on in case I need to contact you. Where’s Logan?”

“He went for a walk a while ago. He said he doesn’t have class until ten today.”

“Ok. I’ll try and get a hold of Logan; you go get ready for school.” Gavin sat down and texted Logan while Harvey finished getting ready for school and left the house.

Rick Myers walked into the kitchen of the union hall. Whatever he was expecting to see, what he saw wasn’t it. Luke Adams was standing by the sink with his arm outstretched. Luke’s hand was held out, palm facing upward, and his fingers were extended. Luke had a look of intense concentration on his face. The first shock for Rick was that the water that ran from the faucet arched upward and rained down on Jayden Stone. Jaydon sat on the floor, leaning against the sink.

Jayden, himself, was the second shock, though, at this point, nothing should shock Rick, considering his own transformation. Jayden’s skin was now bluish-green scales, and his eyes were narrow and a deep amber color. There were two slits on the sides of Jayden’s neck that were slowly opening and closing. Rick guessed that they must be gills, which must be the problem with Jaydon’s breathing. Rick cleared his throat. “Luke, Jayden, is there anything I can do to help?”

Rick’s voice distracted Luke, and he lost concentration. Water started spraying all over the room. “Rick? Is that you? What is happening to us?” Luke got the water spray back under control, but Jayden stood up from the floor, looking not entirely out of breath.

“Shut the water off, babe. I think I got this under control now.” Jayden said, between deep breaths.

Luke’s green eyes shone with concern. “Are you sure, Jay? What about the gills?”

“Yes, I’m sure. My body got confused when the gills formed, and I tried to breathe through them. I can switch back and forth between the gills and my lungs. It’s kinda cool now that I know how to do it.”

Luke switched off the water and rushed over to wrap his arms around his boyfriend. Luke tried to pull Jayden close, but Jayden took a step back and pushed Luke away. Luke had a look of shock and confusion on his face. “Jay, what’s wrong?”

“Look at me, Luke! I’m some kind of grotesque freak! I have gills and scales. You don’t have to pretend to still want to touch me.” Jayden said with tears streaming down his face.

“I’m not pretending, Jay. I love you. You are still you, and that’s the only thing that matters to me. You are still the most beautiful man in the world.”

“Can we talk more about this later?” Jayden looked over at Rick and motioned towards the meeting room. “What’s going on out there with everyone else? It sounds like a party.”

“Carl restarted the meeting from last night. He’s getting everyone fired up. We should get out there and find out the details for ourselves.” Carl turned and walked out of the kitchen, followed closely by Luke and Jayden.

Harvey decided to take the shortcut through the park on his way to school. On his way there, he noticed burned trees and scorched grass. “Weird,” Harvey thought. “All the burned trees are in a straight line.” Coincidentally, the line of burned trees was right along Harvey’s route. He noticed a bright blue stone in the center of a burned patch of grass. After seeing the news reports about meteors, Harvey bent down to take a closer look. Harvey tentatively picked up the stone, and it began to glow and pulse in his hand. Harvey’s whole body felt weird. He shrugged and stuffed the rock into the pocket of his jeans. By the time Harvey got to school, he had found and pocketed three more stones.

Gavin prepared a quick breakfast for himself, then sat down to channel surf. He wanted to see if he could find out what was going on in town. Gavin became engrossed with the news reports of the strange meteors and fires causing damage and the conspiracy theories about the army taking over the investigation. Gavin grew tired of watching the same video clips over and over. He looked at his phone for any new messages. It was odd for his brother to not answer a text right away. Gavin could not sit still and wait with everything happening, so he got up to go looking for Logan.

Carl glanced over when Rick re-entered the meeting room, followed by Luke and a third figure who must be Jayden. “Good. I’m glad you three could join us. We were discussing plans for taking over the docks and then the entire town and beyond. We should first search the city and find as many blue rocks as possible. No one else must be allowed access to them.”

“What if others have already found them?” Lisa asked.

“Kill them. We can’t allow anyone else to gain the powers that we have. We should even name ourselves to strike fear into the people.” Carl said.

“Like individual names or the group?” Luke asked.

“Both,” Carl answered thoughtfully. “Let me think.”

“How about The Freak Show,” Brent said with a laugh.

“No. No. Look around. It’s obvious now that we’re all here.” Carl said, looking from face to face. “We are The Zodiac. Literally. Look at us. Leo the Lion, Taurus the Bull, Cancer the Crab. We all fit the zodiac. That’s who we are… The Zodiac Club.” Everyone at the table looked around and nodded in agreement.

Erik Reilly rolled out of bed and turned on the television. He saw the news on every channel about the meteor shower and the fires, but, oddly enough, there were no reports of any meteors being recovered. Erik thought that was bizarre. If he found one, others must have as well. Maybe they kept it quiet for the same reason Erik did, the strange behavior of the rocks. He didn’t have any classes today, so Erik decided to text his friend, Bryson Indiana. Bryson loved mysteries. He even had his own private investigator business. Bryson answered his phone right away, and as soon as he found out it was about the meteors and fires, he was interested. Erik turned off his television and practically ran out the door.

Gavin drove up yet another street in his search for Logan. Finally, he spotted him. Gavin drove past his brother and pulled off the road right in front of Logan. Gavin got out of the car and walked right up to his brother. “What the hell, Logan? Are you trying to worry Harvey and me? With all that’s happening, you decide to just wander off and not answer your texts?”

Logan looked confused. “What are you talking about? What’s happening?”

“Didn’t you get the text from dad? Or the texts from me? Have you seen the news?”

“No. I left the house early. I didn’t watch any news, and I don’t have a text from dad. What time is it?” Logan looked down at his phone. “Dang. I didn’t turn my phone on this morning. I guess I was too preoccupied, Gavin. I’m so sorry. I meant to go to my class. I didn’t realize it was almost ten o’clock already.” He said while turning his phone on. “Here’s the text. What does this mean? What’s going on, Gavin.”

“There was a weird meteor shower last night. The meteors were glowing with a blue light. It was odd, but I wouldn’t have been too concerned. What’s got me worried is that the army must be worried. With the text from dad, I just don’t know.” Gavin said. “Your turn. Why are you out so early and not in class?”

“They were glowing blue, you said?” Logan’s voice trembled. “You might think I’m crazy, even with what you told me.” He pulled the feather out of his pocket and showed it to Gavin. “My friend Obadiah gave this to me. It also glows with a blue light. Gavin, Obie plucked this out of his own wing. He’s an angel. Well, more precisely, a seraphim. That’s what they call themselves, but yeah, Obadiah is an angel.”

Bryson rushed home to turn on the news and catch up on the stories about the meteors while he waited for Erik. He didn’t have to wait long. Less than ten minutes later, there was a knock on his door. “Come on in,” Bryson yelled.

Erik rushed in and closed and locked the door behind him. “I see you’re watching the reports about last night. Have they said if any meteorites were recovered yet?”

“No. Maybe the meteorites were too small to find or were destroyed in the fires.”

Erik grinned. “I find that hard to believe. I found one right behind my house last night!”

“Show me! Did you see it fall from the sky? Are you sure what it is?”

Erik took the blue rock out of his pocket and held it in his open palm. “Before you touch it, I need to tell you something. Yes, I saw it fall from the sky. I pulled it out of the charred remains of that big maple tree in my backyard. My dad is gonna be pissed. He loved that tree! But, anyway, as soon as I picked it up, it started giving off energy. The stone pulsed throughout my whole body. I feel different, Bry. I feel stronger. Hell, it even changed the color of my hair! Weird, right?”

“I noticed the hair. Bright red looks good on you.” Bryson winked.

Erik blushed. “Thanks. You just don’t give up, do you?” Erik smiled shyly.

“You’re even cuter when you blush. Give up the straight life, bro. Bisexuality is the only way to go! So many possibilities!”

“Can we please get back to this?” Erik waved the meteorite in front of his friend.

Bryson smirked. “Ok.” He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out his own four blue stones. “I went for a walk to investigate the fires, and I found these. I felt the energy pulses that you described. I haven’t experienced any physical changes like you with your hair, but you’ve had yours since last night, and I just found these an hour ago.”

“What do you think it means? What’s happening to us, Bry? I’m scared, but I’m excited at the same time.”

“I have no idea, but it’s obviously my top priority to find out. A reporter friend of mine has helped with a lot of my cases. Grace should be able to help. I’ll call her. She has a lot of contacts in the government that I don’t have.”

“Reporter? Government? Can you trust her?” Erik thought for a moment. “Do you think we should turn these rocks over to the authorities?”

“To answer your first question, yes. I trust Grace as much as I trust anyone. To answer your second question, no. I can’t tell you what to do with yours, but there’s no way I’m turning mine over to anyone until I find out what they are and what they’re doing to us. If we give them to the army, the best-case scenario is we won’t find out anything. The worst-case scenario is that nobody ever sees us again. We’d be lab experiments forever once they find out about the energy pulses.”

“So, what do we do now?”

“Let me investigate and get Grace involved. You carry on with your everyday life. Go to class. Have fun. I’ll be in touch.”

“I knew you’d know what to do. That’s why I came here first. Thanks, Bry. I’ll text you if I notice any other physical changes or feel any effects.” Erik said as he left the apartment.

Bryson was on the phone with Grace Santos and headed for her apartment before Erik had been gone five minutes.

Carl Chambers sat in quiet contemplation. So much had happened since last night. Most of the twelve members of his group experienced at least minor physical changes, and, for some, the changes were dramatic. They all felt different. After their strategy session this morning, Carl sent ten of his friends out to search for the blue meteor stones with orders to kill anyone who had already touched the rocks. Carl wanted their group to be the most powerful beings in the town and the world. He glanced over at the other remaining person in the room, Danielle Gordon.

“Dani, have you figured out how to balance and properly move with that.” He pointed at the six-foot-long tail that curved up and over Danielle’s head.

“Yeah. It pretty much just came naturally. It is surprisingly maneuverable.” She swung the tail around from side to side.

“If you’re sure, then we have a job to do.”

“Collecting rocks like everyone else?”

“No. If we are going to rule this town, and eventually, even more, we need cash. What do you think about robbing the Newville Community Credit Union?”

“That sounds perfect to me, boss. Let’s go.”

Carl stood, shook out his golden mane, and led his scorpion-tailed companion out the door.

Coming Soon – Episode 3: Heroes and Monsters

The Cursed Wolf (Chapter 15)

Chapter 15

Brad walked hand in hand with Nate up the front steps to his house. “Are you sure you want to meet my mom?” Brad shrugged. “We haven’t even had a real date yet.”

Nate huffed out a laugh. “We are not living in normal times. Dating protocols can go on hold while we battle the freaking supernatural!”

Brad grinned. “Agreed. Let me do the talking if she asks about Matt and David.”

“Yessir. Lying to your mom is your job.”

“We might not have to. My mom is the newspaper editor and works closely with the sheriff. I don’t know if they’ve talked today or if he’s told her anything.”

The two boys walked into the house. Nancy Holliday turned from making dinner as they walked in. “Bradley, you’re home. Have you seen your cousins? I’m almost done with dinner. Oh, hello.” She said, noticing Nathan standing next to Brad.

“Mom, this is Nate. Do you mind if he stays for dinner?”

“Of course, he can. I’ll set out an extra plate.”

“Not necessary. Neither David nor Matt will be home for dinner. I’m not sure when they will get home, but I will text them later. They were busy when I left them.”

Nancy quirked an eyebrow. “Boys, sit.” She pointed to the kitchen table and sat on one of the chairs. “I know there’s more going on than what is being reported by the sheriff.” She looked directly at her son. “And I know you’ve got yourself right in the middle of it. Talk to me, Brad.” She smiled. “You know I’m going to find out anyway.”

Nate nodded his head and looked at Brad. “I think we should tell her.”

Brad sighed. “You’re going to hate this, mom. Either you’ll think I’m lying to you, or you will believe me, and that might be worse.”

“Just tell me, Bradley. At this point, I think I need to know.”

“You’ve been to all the animal attack sites, right?”

“Yes. The sheriff even let me look at what was left of the bodies and read the coroner’s reports. I won’t go into details because I know you knew all three of the kids, but it was not a pleasant experience.”

“Did anything that you saw resemble any bear attack you’ve ever seen or heard of?”

“Honestly? No. What are you saying, son?”

Brad reached into his backpack and pulled out the two photographs. He slid the photos across the table. “These are the two photographs I took in the park last night. The sheriff got them back from his friend already.”

“And you want me to believe that this is a werewolf?”

“I want you to believe that that is David. The Montana family curse is real. My ex-boyfriend is a witch. Elias was drawn to the witch house last year because it is his family home. Eli is the last living descendant of the witches that cursed the Montana family.”

Nancy’s eyes were wide. “Are you saying that you think David is responsible for the three deaths?”

“Nope. Remember when David got bit by the big dog in the backyard, and Matt insisted it was a wolf and nobody believed him?”

Nancy quirked an eyebrow. “Second werewolf?”

Brad shrugged. “Technically, that one is the first werewolf.”

“So, this is why you boys have been suddenly living at the library?”

“I work there.” Nate quipped. “Brad will be spending more time there even after this is over?”

“I think we skipped over something in introductions. Are you dating my son?”

Nate blushed. “Yes… well, we haven’t officially gone out yet… but yes.”

“Are you still in school?”

“College and I am the junior librarian. I am pursuing a double major in Library Sciences and English Literature.”

“And how old are you?”

“Eighteen.” Nate huffed out a laugh. “All that may have made me sound older. I’m a very ambitious college freshman, and I fell into the library job. Mr. Harris needed help, and I was in the right place at the right time.”

Brad covered his face with his hands. “Mom! We haven’t even started dating yet. Don’t scare him off with the third degree!”

“You’re in high school. Nathan is in college. A mother worries.” She looked at Nate and then back at Brad. “I approve, but we might have to pry him out of the library and into the newsroom.”

“I considered journalism. No offense, but I’m more of a teacher than an investigator. The last few days’ research has been fun, but I’m more of a stay in the library guy than a go hunting for werewolves in the park guy.” Nate huffed out a laugh.

“Hey!” Brad yelled. “I resemble that remark!”

Nancy shook her head and winked at Nate. “I raised him to be too much like me. He needs someone like you to keep him grounded.” Then she looked at Brad. “Now tell me the rest. Where are my nephews.”

Brad took a drink of his ice water. “Settle in, and I’ll tell you everything I know. This might take a while.” Brad began his story.

———————————————————————————————————-

The five boys walked into the abandoned warehouse and looked around. Sky looked concerned. “Are you sure we won’t set off any alarms and get arrested for trespassing or anything?”

“Or maybe get accused of impersonating Marley’s Ghost?” Devon rattled the chains that he had wrapped around himself.

“We won’t be arrested,” Matt said. “If Terrie’s dad shows up, he already knows what’s going on.”

“Or that deputy shows up and burns us all as witches and monsters.” Elias scowled.

Matt shrugged. “Yeah, I guess Lilly Monroe is a new problem that we have to add to our long list of problems.”

“Where’s this cage, Matt? I can feel the moon.” David said softly.

“Come on, let’s get you back there,” Matt said, pointing toward the back of the warehouse. “Sky? How are you feeling?”

“Nothing yet, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.”

“You’ll know it if it happens. The first time was the most painful.” David said.

“That’s comforting, babe.” Sky laughed.

Just as David stepped inside the cage, he fell to his knees. “It’s starting. Lock me up, guys.”

Matt helped Devon unwrap himself, and they started weaving the chains through the chain-link fence. Then Skylar screamed. Matt, Devon, and Elias all turned towards Sky as he fell to the ground in obvious pain. Sky’s emerald eyes were now a bright yellow, and his teeth were lengthening into fangs. In a deep growly voice, Sky screamed, “Help me! Please!”

Devon’s eyes were wide with fear. “What do we do? We don’t have a second cage!”

Matt looked to Eli. “Any ideas? Can we put them together?’

“I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this. We weren’t sure this would happen and had no time to prepare. We don’t have a choice but to put David and Sky together and hope for the best.” Elias shrugged. “We can watch them closely and try some calming spells if they get violent.”

Devon looked at Matt. “No matter what, they are our brothers. What do you think we should do?”

“Sky trusted that David wouldn’t hurt anyone, even in wolf form. I agree with Elias. If they retain any of their own thoughts, they will be fine. We must take the chance.”

“Agreed. Now we need to act fast to get Sky in the cage and not let David get back out.”

Sky was still predominantly human as Matt and Devon half carried and half dragged him to the cage door. As soon as they were there, Eli opened the gate. They successfully got Sky into the cage and then finished securely locking it up with the chains and padlocks.

“Who’s going to make the first coffee and snacks run? This is bound to be a long night.” Eli quirked one eyebrow.

Devon sighed. “I’ll go. What do you guys want?”

———————————————————————————————————-

Terrie got home and yelled out to her father. “Dad, I’m home! Do you need me to start dinner?”

“I’m in the den, sweety. Come in here before you get started.”

Johnny ran up to his big sister. “That mean deputy is in there. I don’t like her, Terrie. I heard her talking about you, Brad, and your other friends. Brad and Matt are both super nice. Brad saved my life! Don’t let her hurt them!”

Terrie ruffled her brother’s hair. “I’ll be careful, Johnny. Thanks for the heads up. I will always protect my friends., almost as fiercely as I protect you, little bro!”

Johnny grinned. “Love ya, big sis!”

“Love you, too,” Terrie said as she turned and walked into the den.

Terrie barely acknowledged the presence of Lilly Monroe as she walked over to her dad’s computer desk. “What’s up, dad?’

 “Lilly told me there’s been a lot of activity at the witch… at the old Carrier house. Do you know anything about that?”

Terrie shrugged. “Why, yes, I do. A bunch of us were there today. Eli’s foster parents have finally gotten all the legal issues straightened out. The house will officially belong to Elias upon his eighteenth birthday in a couple of months. We were helping him clean the old place up. Is there a problem with that?” As she asked the question, Terrie was staring right at Lilly.

“No. I…” The sheriff began, but Lilly cut him off.

“Yes, there is. You are getting involved in things you cannot control. The more you hang out with the Carrier boy and the Montana boys, the greater the danger you are in.” Lilly said.

“If you are this great supernatural hunter, why haven’t you done anything? How do you know that danger exists beyond a rogue bear?”

Lilly’s eyes narrowed. “We’ve spoken of this. You know that the supernatural exists, and you know it exists in this town. With your father’s permission, I can show you further proof if you come with me to my house.”

“Dad?”

“Go. Learn everything you can.” Ronnie said.

Lilly and Terrie left the house and walked to Lilly’s car.

———————————————————————————————————-

Before Devon left to go on his coffee and snack run, he stopped to watch the wolves. The two wolves were sniffing and circling each other, only stopping to rattle and shake the chain-link enclosure. Then the smaller wolf, the wolf with the greenish-yellow eyes – Skylar, lay prone and submitted to the blue-eyed wolf’s inspection.

Devon kept watching for a while, then his eyes went wide, and he turned to Matt. “Are they doing what I think they’re doing?”

Matt had an equally shocked expression on his face. “It’s like National geographic porn with a Stephen King twist. I don’t want to watch, but I can’t look away.”

“Eli! Are you recording them?! I don’t even want to watch this once. Why would you save it?” Devon asked.

Elias huffed out a laugh. “Not for me! For them. David has told us that he can’t remember his time as a wolf, except maybe a few flashes of memory. I thought this might be something they want to remember.” Eli shrugged.

“I don’t even know what to say to that. Or to that.” Matt pointed to the cage.

“It’s probably their first time together, too. Can life get any weirder for all of us?” Devon said.

Matt rolled his eyes and then laughed. “A couple weeks ago, I was living the straight life on the beaches of Southern California. Now, I’m a bisexual witch watching my brother and his boyfriend have werewolf sex. No. I don’t think life can get any weirder.”

“On the positive side, this may prove that they retain at least a portion of their true personalities as wolves. They are less restrained and more primal, but they are who they are. I believe Sky was right about David. He would not kill, even as a wolf.” Eli said.

“I hope you’re both right. Looking at those two, I’m inclined to believe it.” Matt said.

“Since we’re sure they’re not going to kill each other, I’ll head out on that coffee and snack run,” Devon said.

“Excellent idea. I’m starved.” Eli grinned.

———————————————————————————————————-

Terrie followed Lilly into her small cottage, situated on the edge of town. Lilly pulled open a door which led to a darkened stairway.” “Follow me,” Lilly said.

Terrie frowned. She was a little nervous, but her dad knew where she was and who she was with, so she followed. At the bottom of the stairs stood a steel door that looked like the door to a bank vault. “That doesn’t look like it belongs in this old cottage.”

“I did some home improvements when I moved in,” Lilly said as she stood in front of an electronic scanner to the right of the door. She put her thumb on the pad and waited for the beep, then she entered a series of numbers into the keypad. Finally, the door opened. Lilly led Terrie into a room that was bright and shiny. Everything was either stainless steel or painted white.

“Ouch. I didn’t know I’d need sunglasses.” Terrie scoffed. Then the items in the room caught her attention. There were swords and knives and guns and weapons of almost every variety. There was also a ceiling-to-floor bookshelf that covered three walls. Most of the books looked ancient. “Wow,” Terrie said in awe.

“Feel free to look around and ask questions. This is one of our oldest collections of books and weapons. Roxbury Falls has been a beacon for the supernatural for thousands of years. We thought we had finally eradicated the witches nearly twenty years ago, then magic was again detected here.”

“You are talking about Elias Carrier. You thought you had eradicated the witches by murdering his mother, but you didn’t know about Eli.”

“It was not me, personally, but yes, the rest of that is accurate.”

Terrie’s eyes narrowed. “Are you planning Eli’s murder right now?”

“If he continues to use magic, he will be dealt with most harshly.”

“What if he is using magic to help people? Magic isn’t inherently evil. People are. Would you kill him if he was helping people?”

“Magic and magical creatures are unnatural and cannot be allowed to exist.”

“So, you lied. Even if Elias doesn’t use magic, you still want him dead because he is magical.” Terrie said as she turned away from Lilly. “Wooden stakes? Are vampires real?” Terrie asked as she stared into a glass case full of stakes, holy water, and other vampire fighting gear.

“Most of the legends have a factual origin. Vampires haven’t been sighted outside of Eastern Europe in over a hundred years.”

Terrie nodded and moved on. She walked toward the bookshelves. As she got closer, she felt as if she had walked through a curtain of spiderwebs, but nothing was there. Terrie turned and saw Lilly staring at her with a shocked expression.

“What do you know about your mother?” Lilly asked.

“Not much. Why do you ask?”

“You just passed through a spelled barrier that only those with Hunter blood can pass through. That explains why you have been drawn to the witch and the Montana boys. Hunters are drawn to the supernatural, so we can destroy it.”

“I don’t know if I am what you say I am, but no one will destroy my friends. I will stop you myself.”

“You will change your mind as the bodies pile up in your town.”

Terrie’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve shown me your toys. You’ve spun your tales. I already believed that there was more going on in Roxbury Falls than most people think. Can I go home now?”

Lilly handed Terrie a book. “Take this. Read it. It explains the importance of your heritage as a witch hunter. It also explains why you can never trust a supernatural creature, and they are creatures. Even the witches who walk around looking human. Elias Carrier is not a cute teen boy to watch movies with. He is an emissary of Satan who must be burned out of existence.”

Terrie took the book. “I’ll read your book, but I’ll also hook you up with a good therapist and some anger management classes.”

Lilly led Terrie out of the basement and back to the car. “You will be back, and when you come back, you will be begging for my help to eradicate the evil that has infected your town.”

As Terrie listened to Lilly rattle on, she tried to remember as much about the setup of the house and security systems as she could. Terrie thought that she and her friends might need some of Lilly’s weapons to kill the rogue werewolf. With one last look around the property, Terrie slid into the passenger seat of Lilly’s car.

———————————————————————————————————-

Brad slid his phone back into his pocket and sighed. “Do you want the good news, the bad news, or the weird news first?” He asked Nate.

Nate reached over and grabbed another handful of popcorn before answering. “May as well start with weird.” He huffed out a laugh.

“Werewolves have sex. Well, at least our two do. LGBTQ+ werewolf sex. I’d like to see that in a pride parade.” Brad grinned.

Nate’s eyes went wide. “Glad I wasn’t taking a drink! I may have squirted Mountain Dew out of my nose. That is wild!” Nate’s brow furrowed. “I guess that means that the bad news is that Sky is a wolf for sure, and the good news is that they didn’t kill each other, am I right?”

“Yep! That’s the news update for now. Did you pick out another movie yet?”

“How about ‘Julie and the Phantoms’ instead of a movie? I’m sure this won’t be our only Netflix night.” Nate waggled his eyebrows.

“I sure hope we have more! That show has hot boys and great music. Can’t go wrong with that combo! Excellent choice!”

“Oh, aren’t I a hot enough boy for you?” Nate gave a pouty look.

Brad rolled his eyes. “Of course, you are, but more is better, right?” He laughed.

Nate smiled. “You’re funny. I think I like you a little bit.”

Brad started the show and snuggled up against Nate. “I’ve thought of a loophole in my mom’s rule. She said that she better not find both of us in the same bedroom in the morning, but I really don’t want to be alone tonight.” He looked up at Nate.

Nate leaned down and gave Brad a kiss that was little more than a quick peck on the lips. “What’s your loophole?”

Brad smirked. “We watch tv until we fall asleep right here, just like this.” He snuggled in closer to Nate.

“I approve of this plan. It’s evil, yet sweet and innocent.” Nate chuckled and let his hand slide down from Brad’s shoulder to his waist. Nate leaned his head against Brad, and the two boys settled in to watch tv.

———————————————————————————————————-

Devon got back from the snack run and stopped in his tracks when he saw Matt and Eli. “Dude! Should I wear a bell or something? First, I had to see Sky and David getting busy, now the two of you.”

Elias rolled his eyes. “We were not having sex. We were barely kissing. I wouldn’t even call it making out.”

“You’re just jealous.” Matt laughed. “We need to find you a girlfriend. Sky said the same thing.”

“Not really looking right now, bro. I talk to a few girls, but I’m just so busy with school, lacrosse and baseball, and the newspaper that I don’t have time to date. It’ll happen when the time is right.” Devon shrugged.

“The important thing right now,” Eli smirked, “is did you get my Mountain Dew and white cheddar Cheetos?”

“Your wish is my command.” Devon grinned and handed one of the grocery bags to Elias. “Where are we setting up for the night?”

Eli took the bags and pointed. “We set up a table and the sleeping bag over there. Only one sleeping at a time, I think. Two can stay awake easier than one.”

“Agreed. How’re our boys doing?” Devon nodded toward the cage.

Matt grinned and blushed. “It seems they wore themselves out. They’re asleep. They look kind of adorable for werewolves. They’re asleep and cuddling.”

“It’s comforting that humans aren’t the only ones that fall asleep after sex.” Devon laughed.

“I know, right?! And cuddling! I sure hope that witches are into cuddling, too!” Matt smirked at Elias.

“Oh, absolutely! I can one hundred percent confirm that they are.” Eli laughed.

Devon rolled his eyes. “Get a room!”

“We have a whole house, but no, we’re here with you instead,” Eli said.

“Blame my brother. No! Blame his brother.” Devon pointed at Matt.

Matt rolled his eyes and pulled out a deck of cards. “We’re in for a long night. What card games do you guys know how to play?”

The three boys settled in at the table with cards and snacks while always keeping one eye on the werewolf cage.

———————————————————————————————————-

Terrie got home and rushed right into the den to talk to her father. She found him still working at his computer. “Dad, we need to talk. It’s important.”

“What is it, honey? What did you find out at Lilly’s?”

“More than I wanted to, but all of it was important. The first thing is that Lilly’s house has a secret basement full of books and weapons. All of it is about tracking and killing supernatural beasts. Lilly said that Roxbury Falls has always been a beacon to the supernatural.”

“The town, this whole area, has always had unexplained deaths and weird things happening. Knowing what we know now, Lilly might be right.”

Terrie looked directly into her father’s eyes. “How much did you know about all of this before the last couple of days?”

“What do you mean? What else did she tell you?”

“What I mean is, did you know that the supernatural was real? Did you know that there was a werewolf in Roxbury Falls as soon as Kim was killed?”

Ronnie sighed. “I suspected after Kim, and I was pretty sure after Kevin. That’s why I put the curfew in place so quickly. I didn’t know it was a werewolf, not for sure. I’ve never dealt with anything like this, Terrie. I thought all this supernatural stuff was behind us years ago.”

Tears started to form in the corners of Terrie’s eyes. “You thought it was over after mom died, isn’t that what you mean? My mother was a witch hunter, wasn’t she? What really happened to her, dad? Did witches kill her?”

“No. Just the opposite. Witch hunters killed your mother while she was trying to save the life of her best friend, Marie Carrier.”

“Wow. Oh my God. That’s insane. So, mom wasn’t a witch hunter? Lilly told me that I have witch hunter blood.”

“You do. Your mom’s ancestors were all witch hunters, but she chose another path. Your mother was the first witch protector in hundreds of years. She wanted to make peace with the covens, and she had done just that. Marie and Julia were inseparable. Your mom went nuts when the witches started dying. She tried everything to save them, but there were just too many hunters. The hunters wouldn’t listen to anything your mom had to say about peace. They believe that all supernatural beings should be killed no matter what.”

“Did you know what Lilly was when you hired her?”

“Not until you told me about Elias. I know Lilly was fascinated with that house, but I had no reason to believe that hunters would come back to this town until you told me that Elias was a witch.”

“All of my friends involved in this are in danger now, aren’t they?”

“If they have ties to the supernatural, then yes. I’ll try my best to handle this as sheriff. If it’s only Lilly, we might be able to manage this. We do need to confirm who or what is killing kids, though, Terrie. I’m sure you want that just as much as I do.”

“I do, but I’m thinking that even if we deliver the guilty wolf to Lilly, she will still go after Elias and the others.”

“If she is anything like the hunters who were here seventeen years ago, you are right. I’ll try to get her to leave town, Terrie. Please don’t do anything stupid. I can’t lose you like I lost your mother.”

“I promise not to do anything stupid, but I will defend my friends. I won’t sit back and let anyone hurt Matt or Elias or any of the others.”

“I would expect nothing less. You are exactly like your mother. Just be safe, Terrie. That’s all I ask.”

Terrie grinned. “Saying that I am like mom is the best compliment you could ever give me. I’ll try my best to be as safe as possible, dad. I won’t back down, though.”

“I meant what I said. I am proud. You are a strong and independent woman. Your mother would be proud, too. You and your friends just try to lay low while I get Lilly out of town.”

“Thank you for being honest with me, dad. I’ll keep you in the loop. This new information about witch protectors might be what we need to get Lilly off our backs. Just know that it’s much too late for us to do nothing, and we’re not going to hide or run.”

“Understood. Good night, Terrie. I’m heading off to bed. I love you.”

“I love you, too, dad. Good night.”


New Justyce (Book 1 / Episode 1)

Book 1: Justyce Begins

Episode 1: Angels and Meteors

Logan Kastala’s eyes widened in fear. He saw the car speeding right toward him, but he knew he didn’t have time to get out of the way. Logan lifted his arms to try and shield his face, and then everything went black. Someone or something lifted Logan off the ground, and then it felt like he was rolling. Logan stopped moving but could not see a thing. He was still in total darkness. Logan moved his arms and felt a soft barrier like a blanket of feathers. He tried to push his way out, but Logan felt another person in the darkness with him.

“Hey! What’s going on? Who’s there? What happened?” Logan asked.

What Logan thought was a blanket pulled away from him and parted, letting in the light. Logan blinked and saw his friend, Obadiah. “Obie? You’re always helping me out of tough spots lately. It’s good we met! Thanks for the save!” Logan laughed, but he cut his laugh short when he got a better look at his friend. “Obie?” Logan said, backing up slowly. “You have wings! Am I dead, Obie? Are you an angel?” Tears welled up in Logan’s eyes.

Obadiah reached out and grasped Logan’s arms. “Don’t be scared, Logan. You’re not dead. Yes, I have wings. But I’m still the same guy you’ve become friends with over the last few weeks.” He tried to give Logan a reassuring smile.

“What are you, though? Are you an angel? A mutant? Something else?” Logan didn’t pull away from Obadiah, but he was still nervous.

“I am what you call an angel. We call ourselves Seraphim. We are not religious spirits from a place called Heaven. We are a race of beings from an alternate plane of existence. Our doorway into your world opens in the space between Earth and Mars. Many years ago, a human saw one of us coming to Earth. They saw him “descend from the Heavens,” and the myth of angels sprang up from that sighting.” Obie guided Logan into the park while they talked. They finally settled at a picnic table off by themselves.

“Why me? Why would you befriend and help me? And I can’t see your wings anymore. Where do they go?” Logan peered around behind him, looking for Obadiah’s wings.

“The wings are always there. I can control when people see them and when they can’t. As far as helping you and making you my friend? I genuinely like you. I sense great and special things in your future, Logan. You will do amazing things. I’m sure of it.” Obie said.

Logan blushed. “I’m nothing special.”

“Oh, but you are. I know it.” Obadiah’s smiling face turned suddenly serious. “I will get in big trouble for revealing myself to you. You probably won’t ever see me again. My father sits on the Council of Judgement, though I doubt if even he can get me out of this mess. If I never see you again, I want you to have something.” Obie’s wings reappeared for just a moment. He plucked one bright silvery feather, and then the wings vanished again. He handed the feather to Logan. “Keep this close, and you will always feel my presence when I am on Earth, and I’ll be able to sense if you are in danger.”

Logan’s head was reeling. He was still trying to absorb everything that was happening. First, a car nearly ran him over. Then an angel saved his life, an angel who happened to be his friend. Now, that friend gave him a magic feather plucked from his wing. Could things get any weirder? Logan reached over and took the feather. “Thanks, Obie. Everything that is happening is overwhelming, but I mean it when I say thanks. I’m just trying to wrap my head around all this.”

Obadiah reached across the table and took ahold of Logan’s hands. “Logan, everything will be ok. I promise. Even if I can’t come back, I sense remarkable things for you. You’re special, Logan. I knew it from the first time we met.” Obie leaned across the table, staring intently into Logan’s eyes.

Logan blushed. “I am not special in any way. I barely know what I’m doing from one day to the next. How am I supposed to have an important destiny? You must have me confused with someone else.” Logan huffed out a laugh.

“I could never confuse you for anyone else,” Obadiah smirked. “I can’t exactly see your future, Logan. I can only sense that you have an important destiny. You will overcome many difficult challenges very soon. You will not be alone. Others will gather around you, but you will be a central figure as the events unfold.”

“Well, that’s frightening. Are you sure you won’t be around to help and guide me through whatever happens?”

“If I can be here, I will be. I fear that if my actions today are known to my people, they will call me home to face judgment.” Obie frowned, his eyes downcast.

Logan reached over and lifted Obie’s face. “Your actions today were heroic. You saved my life. You didn’t do anything wrong. They have to see that.”

“We are forbidden from interacting with humans in any way. They won’t care that my intentions were good.”

“Let me talk to them. I’ll make them understand.” Logan reached across the table and took Obadiah’s hands in his own.

“That would only make things worse. I hope I am wrong, but I may never see you again after today. Please know that it wasn’t my choice to abandon you.”

“I pray that you are wrong! I’ve grown to care a lot about you in the short time that I’ve known you, Obie. So, if I might never see you again, I better do this now.” He closed the remaining distance between them and kissed Obadiah.

A bright flash of light caused both boys to pull back from the kiss quickly. Logan grinned and said, “Wow. That kiss made the sun brighter.” But then his smile faded. Three angels were standing around them. Two wore bright, shining armor, and each one grabbed one of Obadiah’s arms and pulled him to his feet. The third angel wore a suit and tie and was obviously in charge. Logan could see their wings. The two armored angels had silver wings like Obadiah’s, but the other one had golden wings.

The angel in the suit spoke first. “Obadiah, son of Samael, I hereby place you under arrest by order of the Council of Judgement. I order you to go with me to the Council Chambers for your trial.”

Logan sprang up from his seat. “No! He didn’t do anything wrong! He saved my life! How can that be a crime?”

Abathar glared at Logan. “Your words have no bearing on the business of the Seraphim. Obadiah knows our laws, and he chose to break not one but three of them. Forget you ever saw us, human. Especially forget you ever saw him.” Abathar pointed at Obadiah.

“I’ll never forget him. We’ll find a way to be together again. You can’t stop us.” Logan scowled, then looked at Obie, and his smile returned. “I’ll wait for you, Obie. No matter how long it takes.”

Abathar scoffed. “Let us be gone.” He motioned toward the other two Seraphim.

Obadiah reached out toward Logan but looked at Abathar. “Wait! I….”

He started to say more, but Logan never heard what Obadiah would say. All four angels disappeared in a flash of light. Logan waited around for a while but gave up and went home. He hoped that Obie was telling the truth about the feather. He clutched it tight and prayed that someday it would lead him to Obie.

———————————————————————————————————-

The two Seraphim Law Keepers half dragged, half carried Obadiah through the Council chambers before pushing him down into the Judgement Seat. The Law Keepers fastened the restraints and left the room. Obie’s face contorted in rage as he turned to look at the third Seraphim. “You could have let me say goodbye to him, at least. Two more minutes would not have mattered to you, Abathar.”

“If you want mercy, speak to Zadkiel. I seek only to see you judged for your crimes against our society. Crimes which you added to just before our arrival.” A look of disappointment and disgust crossed Abathar’s face. “With these new crimes, even your father won’t be able to help you, Obadiah. You held such promise.”

Obadiah sat straight up in his chair and stared directly into Abathar’s golden yellow eyes. “I did what my heart commanded of me. If the Council judges that to be a crime, then so be it! I would do everything the same all over again!”

The doors at the end of the Great Hall opened, and six more Seraphim entered, all with golden-hued wings. Abathar joined the other Council members. Three sat on each side of the table. The last, the High Judge, stood opposite the Judgement Seat. The High Judge, Azrael, spoke to the accused. “Obadiah, your father pleaded with the Council to show you mercy. We were inclined to accede to his wishes until news of your added crimes reached us. Your crimes have tied our hands, and our decision is final.”

Obie glared at each member of the Council. His father wouldn’t even meet his gaze. He clenched his teeth and looked directly at Azrael. “I did nothing wrong. Not one thing I did hurt anyone here or on Earth. I saved Logan’s life and fell in love with him. He has an important future. I’m sure of it. Earth benefits from what I did. I committed no crimes!”

Azrael shook his head. “You know that interfering in a human’s life is not allowed. You also know that engaging in sex with a human is a crime. And just for your crime of same-sex activity, the punishment is banishment. All three of these crimes individually are serious offenses. You committed all three. We cannot ignore that.”

Obie blushed in embarrassment and anger. “I did not have sex with Logan! And besides, none of those things should be crimes. Love is not a crime. Humans are a lot like us. If we interact with them more, we can help them. They can even help us in some ways! Your views are ancient and bigoted.”

“My views are the views of our people. My views are the law. You kissed that human boy. If we allowed it to continue, you would have gone further. Obadiah, you know why we passed these laws. The last time a Seraphim became involved with a human, he impregnated her. The humans called it a miracle birth. Hell, they still have wars over it over two thousand years later! The Council cannot excuse your actions, no matter how much we’d like to.” Azrael walked over to where Obadiah sat. “Obadiah, son of Samael, you are forever banished from our kingdom. If you return, your sentence will be death.” Azrael pushed a button, signaling the Law Keepers to return. Azrael and the other six members of the Judgement Council left the room. Samael never once glanced back at his son.

Obadiah’s screams echoed throughout the Great Hall as the Law Keepers removed his wings and dragged him to the Plains of Judgement. Obie saw his father in the crowd, “Father! They took my wings! Father! Help me!” Samael merely turned his back and walked away.

The Law Keepers opened a rift to the blackness of space above the Earth. They forced Obadiah to stand, then pushed him through the breach.

As Obadiah fell through space, his Seraphim power leaked out of the wounds on his back, mixed with his blood. The power attracted space dust and rocks that gathered around the young Seraphim like a meteor shower. Obie entered the Earth’s atmosphere as part of the most massive meteorological event ever recorded. There were so many rocks surrounding Obadiah that no telescope caught sight of his body at the storm’s center. The meteors, glowing with a bluish light, streaked through the warm August night sky on a collision course with a small town on the east coast of the United States. Newville, Virginia would never be the same. The entire world was about to change forever.

———————————————————————————————————-

Erik Reilly glanced away from his computer and looked out the window. A flash of light in the sky caught his attention. As he continued to stare, Erik saw what, at first, looked like a shooting star. He was puzzled. Erik knew he shouldn’t be able to see any star, shooting or not, through driving rain. Then there was another bright flash of blue light. Specks of blue fell like rain in the meteor’s wake. Erik watched in awe as, just as the shooting star or whatever it was broke through the clouds, it exploded into several pieces. One reasonably large chunk fell towards the docks, while the biggest one and many little ones continued over Erik’s house and towards Newville Park.

———————————————————————————————————-

Carl Chambers pounded his enormous fist on the table. “Full house? How do you have another hand like that, Myers?” Carl threw his cards into the air.

Rick Myers shrugged his shoulders. “Lucky night, I guess.”

“No one is that lucky,” Carl grumbled.

“I don’t know why we all even play. The two of you argue every single week.” Lisa Jenson complained.

“We’re here for more than poker. That’s why. You know that, Lisa. Now that Rick has all our money, we may as well get down to our real business. We need to tighten control of our territory. I’m sick of these piddly street thugs thinking they can come to my docks and rob people. If anyone is getting robbed, it’ll be by us!”

Carl was just getting warmed up with a speech about his plans for their next moves to take over more of the town. “First, we put a stranglehold on the docks. Every business must pay! Then, we take over the city, working out street by street, block by block.” Carl nearly yelled.

“Yeah! Let’s do this! First Newville, then the world!” Rick cheered.

Carl smirked as he looked around the table at his friends. He had them all convinced of his plans. Carl was ambitious and wasn’t satisfied just running Newville Heights and the docks. Carl wanted it all. Then, as fate would have it, a massive meteor smashed through the union hall roof ending the meeting abruptly with a loud, literal bang that would change their lives forever.

———————————————————————————————————-

Logan Kastala woke up screaming. He had the worst nightmare he could ever remember having. Logan felt as if he had been falling for hours, and his back felt like it was on fire! The pain subsided now that Logan was awake, but he still felt it. That’s weird, Logan thought. He could never remember a physical reaction to a dream quite like he was feeling now. Logan was about to fall back to sleep when he noticed the glowing blue light. Logan leaned over towards his nightstand to see what it was. The feather that Obadiah gave him was glowing! Logan picked up the feather and felt Obie’s presence nearby. Obadiah was somewhere on Earth for sure. Logan desperately hoped that Obie had not gotten into too much trouble with the other angels or Seraphim. Logan clutched the feather close and drifted back to sleep. Tomorrow he would begin his search for Obadiah. Logan never looked out the window, or he would have seen blue streaks falling out of the sky right over his house.

———————————————————————————————————-

Erik went outside to get a better view. He ran to the top of a hill right behind his house. Drenched in seconds, Erik brushed the water out of his eyes and watched as tiny meteors fell and hit the ground. Suddenly, a tree not twenty yards behind Erik exploded in flames. In his excitement, watching the small meteors hit, he lost track of the big one, but he thought it was still heading toward the park. 

“Wow!” Erik thought. The rain put the fires out quickly. Erik ran over to the remains of the tree. A small, glowing blue rock sat right in the center of the blackened and burned tree. Erik waited for the rain to cool the stone, then he reached in to pick it up. He thought better of it at the last minute, and he continued to stare at the rock.

The meteorite was about the size of a marble. Erik finally threw caution to the wind and picked it up. He almost dropped it as soon as he picked it up. It looked harmless. The stone wasn’t hot anymore, but it started to pulse in his hand. Erik could feel waves of energy coursing through his body with each pulse. He wasn’t sure what was happening to him, but Erik immediately felt different, more vital. He liked the feeling. Erik put the rock in the front pocket of his jeans and ran back into his house.

———————————————————————————————————-

The meteor at the center of the storm hit the baseball field behind the high school with enough force to leave an impact crater and rattle the windows of nearby houses. A shockwave was sent deep into the earth, awakening an ancient supernatural force. The shadow peeled itself away from the wall. It could sense the power of the being directly above, but more importantly, it could smell a world full of delicious evil. Evil that the shadow was eager to devour.

The shadow swirled upward, sliding through the cracks and crevices in the earth. It had been over a thousand years since the shadow was free to roam the land. The scent of evil was nearly intoxicating. The shadow needed to bond with a host, but it could sense that the being that had awoken it would not be suitable. The shadow had waited for a long time. It could wait a little longer.

———————————————————————————————————-

Everyone in the union hall jumped to their feet and backed away from the glowing blue rock. Part of the ceiling collapsed, and the wall caught fire. Carl felt waves of power emanating from the stone, and he leaped into action. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and yelled to his friends. “Don’t just stand there! Grab the rest of the extinguishers or buckets of water. We have to put this fire out and cool down this rock. I feel that it’s important!”

“Carl is right!” Yelled Rick. “Cool that rock down and put out the fires as soon as possible. And do not call the fire department! We have to handle this ourselves.”

Anyone with an extinguisher sprayed water or chemicals on the already glowing and pulsing meteor rock. The chemicals began to bubble and boil then the entire rock exploded. Steam and dust enveloped the twelve people in the room from head to toe. They all started coughing as they breathed in the mist. Carl dropped to his knees and then collapsed onto the floor. He looked through blurry eyes and saw all his friends on the floor around him.

———————————————————————————————————-

The boy groaned as he tried to lift his face out of the mud. He felt disoriented by the overwhelming number of sensations he was feeling. The most immediate was the almost unbearable pain in his back. It felt as if someone was ripping his muscles right off the bone. He could not remember ever feeling such pain before. As that thought crossed his mind, it occurred to him that he could not remember anything at all. The boy had no idea where he was, how he got there, or even who he was.

The boy, with significant effort, sat up and tried to clear his head. The pain in his back made it nearly impossible to concentrate. He opened his eyes and wiped the mud, rain, and hair out of his eyes. The cold, driving rain that pelted his face and body helped ease the burning pain in his back just a little and helped him clear his thoughts. He was cold and wet. His clothes were torn, dirty, and smelled of smoke. The smell of smoke was also thick in the air. The entire field was empty, burnt, and, in places, still smoldered. The rain helped to put out some of the small fires.

He got up and stumbled off in the direction of the one light that he saw. He hoped to find help, or someone might know who he was or how he got here. All he knew right now was that he needed to leave this field and get out of the rain.

———————————————————————————————————-

Bryson Indiana woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens. He stumbled out of bed and out onto his patio. The first fire trucks Bryson saw were racing toward the school. The fires were past the school when he looked closer, maybe at the baseball field or a nearby house. Just as Bryson turned to go back into his house, he noticed the other fires. There were small fires in what appeared to be a nearly straight line from the school in the south to the Newville Docks in the north. Bryson’s curiosity was piqued, but it would have to wait until morning. Right now, all he wanted was more sleep.

———————————————————————————————————-

Carl rolled over and pushed himself up to a kneeling position. He felt weird. Strong. But weird. It was challenging to understand all the feelings that coursed through his body. Intense pain nearly caused him to blackout again. He looked down and saw tan hairs sprouting out on his arms and hands. His hands were growing and changing, nails turning into claws. He tried to look around for his friends, but the blue mist still hung over the entire room. He called out for help, but his voice sounded like a growl. He heard other growls answering his own, and just before he blacked out again, he perceived the distinctive clip-clop of hooves on the wooden floor.

———————————————————————————————————-

The boy stumbled away from the crater, and toward the light he saw in the distance. Words and images kept flashing through his foggy mind. Tree. Road. House. Logan! He immediately knew that Logan was important, but he did not know why. The boy crossed the street and walked through an empty parking lot. The boy walked to a dimly lit building at the far end of the lot. The doors would not open, but the boy saw a reflection of himself in the glass.

“Obadiah? Is that who I am?” He touched the face of the reflection, then drew his hand back and felt his face. “Logan would know if that’s my name. I must find Logan.”

Obadiah turned and once more headed in the direction of the only light in the distance. The glow belonged to a house. Obadiah walked past a metal box with writing that said, “C. Justyce.” He continued past the mailbox and stood in front of the blue wooden door. Obadiah raised his hand and knocked.

A woman opened the door, and her eyes went wide with shock. “Who are you? What do you want?”

Obadiah started to speak but became dizzy and fell to the ground. Obadiah looked up at the woman with pleading eyes just before he passed out. “Help me. I need to find Logan.”

———————————————————————————————————-

(Coming Soon: Episode 2 – Monsters and Heroes)

Return From Paradise (Intro)

Taylor stepped out of the Light. He looked around and grinned. Taylor was finally home. Most people beyond the Light found peace and contentment, but Tay only found mind-numbing boredom. He longed for an adventure. It took a lot of convincing, but Peter finally allowed Tay to leave. Everyone beyond the Light was shocked. No one could remember anyone ever willingly returning to the land before the Light. Taylor shrugged. He had never fit in anywhere else, why should he fit in there? He took one last look over his shoulder and watched the Light disappear. What now?

Tay took a closer look around and scowled for just a moment. He was exactly where he was when he entered the Light, the bottom of the big hill on Mill Town Road. Taylor had a brief flashback of the two bright lights, and he shivered. He sighed and started walking up the hill. Taylor had his backpack slung over his shoulder, is skateboard tucked under his arm, and he knew he would be home in less than fifteen minutes. Life could be worse. Tay wondered what everyone would think when he showed up. How much had changed in the six months he had been gone? He was excited to get home to surprise his family and friends.

When he reached the top of the hill, Tay set his board down and glided down the other side. He skated all the way to the end of his driveway. As he picked up his board, he noticed two teenage boys playing in his front yard. He thought they looked familiar, but he wasn’t sure who they were. Tay assumed they must be friends with his little brother Dustin. Dusty was way more popular than Tay, and it seemed like he was friends with the entire town. Taylor walked over to the two boys, who eyed him suspiciously.

“Hey, guys, where’s Dustin?” Tay asked.

“Dustin who? The only Dustin I know is our dad.” One boy said.

“No, no. Dustin Bell. He’s my little brother. We live here.” Tay pointed at the house.

The two boys looked at each other, both confused. The older boy spoke. “What are you talking about? Who are you? Dustin Bell is our dad. We live here.”

Tay’s eyebrows shot up, then a look of intense concentration formed on his face. “That can’t be right. I’m Taylor Bell. Dustin is my younger brother. This is where we’ve lived our entire lives. Who are you guys, and why are you lying to me?”

The younger boy tapped his brother on the shoulder. “Jimmy, look at his skateboard! Look at him! He looks exactly like all the pics of Uncle….” Crash! The sound of breaking glass stopped the boys’ conversation.

“Tay? How can you be standing there? You look exactly like the night you left. Even your clothes are the same!”

Taylor looked at the older man standing behind the two teen boys. He squinted his eyes nearly shut, then opened them again. “Little Chief? Is that really you?”

The man stepped in front of the two boys. “I didn’t want to believe my own eyes, but no one else has ever called me that name. How are you here, Tay? Are you a ghost?”

“I’m not a ghost. I’m back, Dusty. How… how long was I gone? It was only a few months for me.”

“Tay, you died thirty-two years ago. I was devastated. I’ve missed you so much. We all have. What’s happening, Tay? How are you here?” Tears were streaming down Dustin’s face, and his two sons were both intently watching and listening.

Taylor reached out and took Dustin’s hands. “I’m back, Dusty. I’m here, but I have no idea why it was six months for me and thirty-two years here. Time must move differently over there.”

“Over where? Where have you been? We… we buried you, Tay.”

“Can we go inside the house and talk?” Tay looked at the two teenagers again. “These are your kids?”

“Yes, and yes.” Dustin put his arm around the older boy. This is Jimmy and that is Brian. James Dustin and Brian Taylor to be exact.”

“I’m named after you, Uncle Tay.” Brian beamed.

“That’s cool,” Taylor said. “How old are you boys?”

“I’m 14 and Jimmy is 15,” Brian answered.

“This is confusing, Uncle Taylor,” Jimmy said.

“I’ll explain it all the best I can when we get inside, Jimmy. I’m a bit confused myself.”

Running Toward Love (Chapter 6)

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I talk now?” Leo grinned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is Reese your boyfriend now?” Kam asked.

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can.”

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

“Ok. What do I do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

“Charlie, I…”

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

“Ok. Go ahead. I’m listening.”

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

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

“What do you mean?” Charlie looked confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you tell him about us?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alli giggled. “You better.”

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

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

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

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

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

Running Toward Love (Chapter 5)

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you hear any of that?”

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leo rolled his eyes and nearly ran out the door.

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reese looked questioningly at Leo, but he remained quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Going into the water.”

“What?! I just told you….”

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

Reese blushed. “You heard that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you need to get changed or anything?”

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

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely.” Charlie grinned.

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

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

“Good idea. Let’s go.”

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

“I’m picky.” Leo shrugged.

“What about…”

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

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you regret it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————-

The Cursed Wolf (Chapter 14)

Chapter 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cutest couple ever!” Terrie squealed.

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok. What do you want me to do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ready.”

“First say ‘ignis flammae.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Any thoughts?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s brilliant,” Brad said.

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

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

The Cursed Wolf (Chapter 13)

Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

“Yes, ma’am. I’m Matt. Is Eli home?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I feel the exact same way.”

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

“Can I eat it? I’m starved!”

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

“Gee, thanks! Are we ready?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you need me to do?”

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

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

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

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

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

Home at Last

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’d you guess?” Tyler chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not?” Holly asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure. Where?”

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

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

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

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

“Deal. Let’s go.”

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

“Mrs. H! It’s been a long time!”

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

“I love you, too. See you tonight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tyler, I…”

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

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

“Take your time, son.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That embarrassment of a son has no home.”

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

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

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

“Did you mean what you said?”

“Every. Single. Word.” Ty grinned.

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

Tyler blushed. “I only spoke the truth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ty’s smile faded. “I…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

“You and me both.” Tyler nearly snarled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tommy smirked. “And your what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Quicker if we shower together,” Ty smirked.

“Not necessarily.” Noah grinned.

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

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

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

“Can I bring my plus one?”

“Of course. The more, the merrier!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————

Noah pushed back from the table and rubbed his stomach. “That was fantastic, Mrs. H! I’d forgotten how good a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings could be! Even the cranberry sauce was mouth-watering.”

“Why, thank you, Noah. It’s refreshing to have someone who appreciates the time I put into cooking. I always did like you.” She winked at him. “Just for that, you get the first choice of desserts before these other animals devour it all. That is if you’re still hungry?”

“Dessert? Of course, I’m still hungry!” Noah cheered.

Pies were brought in, along with a plate of cookies, most of which were gone in the blink of an eye. Tommy helped his mom clear the table of dishes. Noah sighed and looked over at Tyler. “I guess the next thing to worry about is getting my stuff off of my parent’s front lawn.”

“How much stuff did you still have there?”

“Not a lot. If you know someone with a pickup, it would definitely be just one truck full.”

“What are you boys talking about?” Mr. Higgins asked. “Why is your stuff on the front lawn?”

“When my mom made my dad let me visit the hospital, he retaliated by saying that I could never again set foot inside his house. I didn’t leave much behind when I left five years ago, but whatever was still there is now out on the lawn. If I don’t pick it up before Monday, the trash man will.”

Mr. Higgins grumbled under his breath, cursing Paul Blake. “Noah, I can get a truck. We’ll go get your stuff tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mr. H! You guys are the best. The only thing now is I don’t know where I’ll put it. I… have nowhere to live right now. I guess I’ll rent a storage unit.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Noah Blake.” Debbie Higgins turned to look at her husband, and unspoken words passed between them. “Bring everything here.” She said.

“Wait… what? Why?” Noah asked, confused.

“You’re going to live here as long as that’s something you want. I haven’t even talked this over with Tyler yet, so it’s really up to you boys, but I am extending the invitation. Move in here with us. The guest bedroom has loads of closet space, and we can find room for anything else that you want to bring.”

Noah was speechless, but Tyler wasn’t. He let out a whoop and leaped to his feet to hug his mom. “I have always known that I have the best mom ever, but you’ve topped everything else just now. Thank you for this, mom. I love you.” Ty turned to look at Noah.

Noah’s lips were trembling, and his eyes were wet with tears. “Ty? Do you really want me to live here? Like not a temporary thing, but actually live here? Is it really ok?”

Tyler slowly walked over to Noah and pulled him to his feet. Ty cupped Noah’s face with both hands. “Noah Samuel Blake, yes, I want you to live here. Everything my mom just said, I mean all that times infinity. If anyone told me last week that I would say this to you today, I would have called them crazy. The last couple of days have shown me why every relationship I’ve ever tried to have has failed over the last five years. You own my whole heart. You always have.”

Noah leaned forward and gently kissed Tyler. “Mm. If we weren’t in the middle of the dining room in front of your parents and brother…” He let the sentence go unfinished.

Ty returned the kiss then pulled back. “Well, now you’ve made it too obvious for us to disappear into my bedroom. We’ll have to revisit this discussion later.”

Mrs. Higgins cleared her throat. “Good idea, boys.” Then she chuckled. “And, yes, we know you are both grown adults and not teenagers anymore. We don’t care if you sleep in your own rooms or together, just for Pete’s sake, don’t be as loud as you were this morning!”

Both boys blushed deep scarlet and said almost in unison. “Sorry! We promise to be quieter!” Then Tyler added, “Unless we are home alone.” Ty’s mom rolled her eyes and laughed.

————————————————————————————————————

After the third episode of ‘Lost in Space – Season 1,’ Noah stretched and yawned. “I think it’s time for me to call it a night. Good night, everyone!” He put a hand on Tyler’s knee and squeezed gently as he stood up, then he strolled up the stairs.

“I’m pretty tired, too,” Ty said. “Good night, guys!”

Tommy laughed. “What a coincidence. Have fun, big brother!”

Ty grinned and ran up the stairs. As Ty rounded the corner, he saw Noah leaning against the wall, his red and black flannel shirt already mostly unbuttoned. Noah waggled his eyebrows. “Your place or mine?”

Tyler closed the remaining distance and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt with both hands pulling him in. Ty pressed his body close to Noah and claimed his mouth in a hot passionate kiss. Ty pushed Noah against the wall. His lips and hands were everywhere at once. Ty kissed along Noah’s jawline and lightly nibbled on his earlobe. At the same time, his hands were busy unbuttoning and unzipping anything that needed unbuttoning or unzipping. Ty’s hands slipped beneath the waistband of Noah’s tight boxer briefs, and Noah moaned into Tyler’s ear. “Oh, God, Ty, we better move this into one of the bedrooms before we end up having sex right here in the hall.”

“My room. It’s closer.” Ty said. They were both stripping off clothes as they stumbled into Ty’s bedroom. By the time Ty closed and locked the door, Noah was naked and pulling Ty down on top of him on the bed. 

Ty stared down at Noah, his eyes filled with that rare combination of love and lust. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed us. I’ve missed this.”

Noah reached over to the bedside table and then handed the bottle of lube and a condom to Tyler. “So, have I. I hope you don’t plan on getting much sleep tonight.” Noah smirked.

Ty grinned. “We have five years to make up for. Who needs sleep?”

————————————————————————————————————

The next morning was filled with another visit to the hospital, thankfully uneventful, and the boys ran errands for Mrs. Higgins. After a quick lunch, they borrowed a pickup from one of Mr. Higgins’ friends and picked up all of Noah’s belongings from his parent’s front yard. It was mid-afternoon by the time that they collapsed onto the living room couch with their tasks for the day finally complete.

“I still can’t believe that he threw all your stuff all over the yard like that. It wasn’t even stacked.”

Noah shrugged. “I’m not surprised. That chapter of my life is over now. If I have my way, I will never see him or go near that house ever again.”

“What about when your mom gets out of the hospital?”

“We can meet at a restaurant, or she can come here. I’m not taking the chance of dealing with him in that house with no witnesses.”

“I understand completely.” Then Ty looked around and smiled. “Not to change the subject, but we are home alone right now. NO need to be quiet.”

Noah arched one eyebrow. “How long are we alone for?”

Tyler shrugged. “A couple hours. Tommy is at Xander’s house. Dad went in to work, and mom is at the mall for Black Friday sales.”

“Let’s go!” Noah said, and he began pulling off his shirt even as he ran up the stairs. Both boys were already naked within seconds after they reached Tyler’s bedroom. Ty tackled Noah down onto the bed, and they rolled around wrestling for a few minutes. Noah ended up on top of Tyler and had Ty’s hands pinned down over his head. Ty wrapped his legs around Noah’s hips and leaned up and kissed him. Noah’s lips parted, deepening the kiss as he pressed his entire body down on Tyler. Ty was thrusting his hips up and moaning into Noah’s mouth. Noah broke the kiss and looked down at Ty, and smirked. “After last night, I guess it’s my turn.” He waggled his eyebrows and thrust his hips, grinding their groins together.

“Oh hell, yes!” Ty leaned over to the nightstand, grabbed the lube and a condom, and handed them over to Noah.

“I know you always used to prefer our roles reversed… are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes. I mean, I’m sure more often than not, it will be the other way, but yeah, I want this right now. I need you inside me, Noah. I need that closeness. The bond. Let’s do this.”

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler woke up to the sound of his bedroom door slamming open and his brother jumping on his bed. “Ty! Wake up! It’s Christmas Eve morning!”

“Ugh! I’m awake! How many times have I told you not to come in here without knocking, Tommy? What if Noah and I had been doing stuff that you wouldn’t want to see us doing?” Ty tried to sound mad, but he huffed out a laugh.

“Noah is in the kitchen making breakfast. I knew you two weren’t in here having sex. Geez. Give me a little credit, big bro.”

“Why did you wake me up?”

Tommy sighed. “I need some advice.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “I think the ship has sailed on giving you the talk. I’m sure Xander has stolen your innocence by now!”

“Oh, please. I lost my v-card to Reed Simmons. It’s not about sex, you perv. I’ve never been in a serious relationship before. I mean… Reed and I were together for over a year, but it wasn’t serious, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I get it. So, what’s your question, little bro? How can I help?”

“Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and it’s our one-month anniversary. What should I do?”

“If I know my bestie like I think I know my bestie, he’ll already have something planned. Let me talk to him and find out on the down-low. It would be silly if you both planned something different for the same night.” Ty thought for a second. “Flowers would be good, though.”

“Thanks, Ty! You’re the best big brother a guy could ask for.” Tommy jumped off the bed and headed toward the door.

“Oh, one thing, Tommy,” Ty said.

“Yeah, what is it?”

“Make sure you put out tonight. That’s the best anniversary gift ever!” Tyler snickered. Tommy rolled his eyes and ran out the door laughing.

————————————————————————————————————

The day of Christmas Eve went by relatively quietly for Tyler. Tommy was out with Xander, but Ty and Noah decided to spend a quiet day at home with Tyler’s parents. They’d been binging Christmas movies and snacking on fresh baked cookies and hot buttered popcorn all day long. Now, after dinner, they sat back in front of the tv and put on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Noah leaned into Ty’s side and looked up at him. “It really is a wonderful life. Well, now it is anyway.”

Ty smiled. “It’s been quite a month.”

“I know, right? I was lost and alone when I moved back here from California. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or where I would stay or really anything. I’m not even sure why I went to that class reunion. Boredom, I guess. I just needed to get out of that dirty motel room.” Noah huffed out a laugh.

“You never went back, except to pick up your things,” Ty smirked.

“I thought you hated me. You wouldn’t even let me talk to you at first. I was in shock when you brought me here that night.”

“The best decision I ever made. Plus, even if I did hate you, which I never did, I could not let you stay in that motel. When you came out to the entire class and then told everyone about your mom. I reacted on impulse.”

“Now, my mom is out of the hospital, and she left my dad. Her life is getting better right along with mine.”

“Mine is, too.” Ty leaned over and gave Noah a kiss. “And with that in mind, we have a tradition in this house. We each get to open one present on Christmas Eve.” Ty looked over at his mom. “Do I have to wait for Tommy to get home?”

“No. He said that he’ll be home late. You go on ahead.”

Ty grinned and walked over to the tree. He reached into the branches and pulled out a small package wrapped in red, white, and gold paper. Ty motioned for Noah to join him by the tree. Noah walked over and extended his hand to receive the gift.

Tyler reached out with his free hand and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt. He pulled the other boy in and planted a kiss firmly on his lips. When he broke the kiss, Noah smiled. “What was that for?”

Ty grinned. “Do I need a reason to kiss the man I love?”

“Well, no, but…”

Tyler cut him short and pointed up. “Ah,” Noah said. “Mistletoe. That wasn’t there earlier. When did you put that up?”

“While you were in the kitchen helping mom with the last batch of popcorn.”

“Sneaky devil.” Noah grinned. “Can I have my present now?” Ty handed the gift over to Noah, who gleefully ripped the wrapping paper off of it. He opened the box and held up a single key. Noah looked puzzled. “What’s this go to?” He asked.

“Do you remember what we were doing last weekend?”

Noah thought for a second. “You don’t mean the condos on the beach, do you?”

“The very same. The one that you said you liked the best is ours as long as you still want to move in with me. I have until the twenty-ninth to change my mind, or I can make one phone call, and it’s officially ours. What do you think?”

“What do I think? I think that you’re freaking awesome! Yes! Of course, yes. There’s nothing I want more than to live with you.”

“You’ve been living with me for a month.” Ty huffed out a laugh.

Noah smirked. “No offense to your parents and Tommy, but this will be different, and you know it. This will be a place that is just ours.”

“That’s the plan. It’s also rent to own. If we like it well enough, it can be ours forever. It won’t just be an apartment. We can make it into our home.”

Noah took one of Ty’s hands and placed it over his heart, then he put his own hand over Tyler’s heart. “I love that you want to build a home for us, but I want you to know something. Ever since the first day I saw you way back when we were five years old, somehow even back then, I knew. My parent’s house was no longer my home. California was never my home. You are my home, Tyler. Wherever you are is where I want to be. Here. An apartment. Our new place. As long as we’re there together, it is home.”

Tears were flowing down both boys’ cheeks. Ty leaned in and gave Noah another kiss. “I love you with all my heart, Noah. I always have and I always will.”

Noah blushed and smiled. “Can I give you my gift now?”

Ty grinned and wiped the tears off his face. “You better!”

“Well, I was super nervous about this, but with the condo and the proclamations of love, it kinda boosts my confidence in your response.”

“Aw. Babe, what is it? Why would you be nervous?”

Noah smiled and pulled a small box out of his pocket, then he dropped to one knee. He opened the box and held it out toward Tyler. “Tyler Joseph Higgins, I have loved you nearly my entire life, and I will love you forever. I can’t imagine a life without you. I nearly lost you once. I never want to take that chance again. Will you marry me?”

Ty’s tears were flowing freely now, and he heard his mom squealing with glee in the background. Ty pulled Noah to his feet and kissed him. Ty’s hands ran through Noah’s hair as the kiss became passionate. Then Ty broke the kiss. He looked behind him at his parents. “Ooops. Sorry! I got carried away.” Then he looked back at Noah. “Yes! If you couldn’t figure it out, a billion times yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!”

Noah scooped Tyler up into his arms. He looked over at Ty’s parents. “Good night, Mr. and Mrs. H!” Then he carried his fiancé up the stairs and into his bedroom. He set Tyler down on the bed, and as he turned to close the door, he said, “Just think, a month ago I was almost homeless, and now I am finally home at last.”