“We made it just in time!” Nicholas said, nearly collapsing onto the picnic table underneath the sign that read: “Chesapeake Windsail Cruises.”
“Yeah, it definitely takes longer to get ready when you have to wait for two girls to get out of the shower!” Griffin rolled his eyes and grinned at Casey and Jamie.
“You totally took longer than I did!” Jamie gave a good-natured shove to Griff’s shoulder.
“I’ll set a stop-watch next time.” Griff laughed.
“Besides, you two overslept from all your partying last night!” Jamie retorted.
“Are those the guys that we’re meeting down by the boat?” Casey asked.
“Yes. That’s them. Let’s go. We’re supposed to leave in five minutes.” Nicholas got up from the picnic table and led the way down to the docks.
Andy waved to them as they approached. “Hey, guys. I’m so glad you invited us along! This looks cool. I wanted Ian to go on this, but the minimum number of passengers was four, so we weren’t gonna do it.”
“Well, we have six now,” Nicholas said. “Andy, this is Casey and Jamie. Girls, this here is Andy, and over there talking to the captain is his boyfriend, Ian.”
“Are ALL gay guys hot?” Jamie groaned.
“Behave, little sis.” Casey chided.
“Like you didn’t think the same thing.” Jamie retorted and stuck her tongue out at her sister.
“Well, I’ll take the compliment. But to be accurate, I’m bi, but I’m also taken.” Andy winked at Jamie.
“Good to know. If your status ever changes, snap me.” She grinned.
Ian ran over. “Hey, guys…err… and girls. The captain says we’re ready to go.” They all picked up their backpacks and got on the boat.
About an hour into the cruise, Griffin tuned everything else out and took photos of the beautiful scenery. He was so focused on what he was doing that he nearly lost his balance when the boat hit some choppy waves and bounced around a bit. He grabbed the rail and kept a tight grip on his camera. Griff was just about to refocus his camera when he heard a scream. He looked around for his companions and met Jamie’s eyes.
“It’s Andy! He fell overboard!” Jamie yelled to Griffin as she grabbed a life vest and jumped overboard.
Nicholas raced to the side of the boat, “Andy! Jamie!” He turned toward Griff. “Griff go get…” The rest of his words died in his throat as he witnessed Griffin also dive overboard, life vest in hand. “Crap!” He yelled and sprinted toward the captain.
In the water, Griff swam up beside Jamie and Andy. “Are you guys ok? Can you both swim? I brought an extra vest.”
Andy spit up more water. “I can swim but not very good. Jamie probably saved my life!” He said while he struggled to put on the life vest. “I should have been wearing a vest from the start, but I wanted to look cool for Ian.”
“Life vest or no, you look hot, not cool,” Jamie said.
“Do you ever stop, girl?” Griffin laughed.
“Sorry, not sorry.” She stuck her tongue out at Griff.
“You’re pretty hot yourself, Jamie. If I were single, I’d definitely snap you.” Andy grinned.
“Thank God they’re coming back for us. I wouldn’t want to puke on the two of you.” Griff rolled his eyes.
Ian and Casey were already at the captain’s side by the time Nicholas arrived. The captain slowed the boat and turned back toward the lost passengers. All three rushed to the side of the boat to yell directions back to the captain. “Stop! We’re right next to them!” Yelled Ian as he tossed a rope overboard.
Andy was the first one up the rope, and Ian grabbed him in an enormous bear hug and pulled him down into the yacht’s seating area and checked to make sure he was ok. He asked him numerous times if he needed to go back and go to the hospital. Andy reassured Ian that he was perfectly fine.
Jamie was the next one up the rope and was greeted by her sister. Andy ran over and hugged her. “Casey, your sister saved my life! She’s a hero!” He kissed Jamie’s cheek and ran back over to Ian.
Casey smirked. “Don’t you go getting a crush on him, little sis. He’s in a relationship.”
“I know. I know. He’s so freaking cute though!” Jamie gushed.
Griffin came up the rope last. Nicholas grabbed him around the waist. “You’re determined to save everyone on this trip, aren’t you?”
“Hey, I’m not the one who saved the guy from choking in the restaurant.” Griff laughed.
Nicholas ran his fingers through Griff’s wet, strawberry blonde hair. He laced his fingers together and pulled Griff’s head down, and their lips met. Griffin’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and his lips parted as he started to say something. Nicholas’ tongue darted into Griff’s open mouth and deepened the kiss. Griff’s hands slid down Nicholas’ body and rested on his slim hips. The sounds of whistles and cheers reminded the boys that they weren’t alone and they grudgingly parted. “Don’t keep scaring me, Griffin. Now that we’re together, I don’t ever want to lose you.”
“You won’t ever lose me, Nicholas. I’ve loved you since we were five. I’ve probably been in love with you since we were thirteen. You’re stuck with me forever.” Griff blushed and turned away to look for his camera.
The rest of the cruise was fun but uneventful. The six friends arrived back at the dock right at noon, and they walked to the Rod’n’Reel Restaurant where they had lunch reservations set up through Windsail Cruises. Lunch was spent in equal parts congratulating Jamie and Griffin on their quick thinking and teasing Griffin and Nicholas about their toe-curling kiss. “Next topic, please,” Nicholas said, as his cheeks burned a bright red.
“What’s our plan for the afternoon? Are we still hanging out?” Andy asked.
“We are spending the afternoon and evening at Breezy Point Beach. You and Ian are more than welcome to join us.” Nicholas answered.
Griffin got out of the water and sat on the sand, waiting for Jamie to catch up to him. She was a fast swimmer, but Griff was faster. He looked to his left and saw Casey, Ian, and Andy tossing a frisbee around. Then he looked off to his right and saw Nicholas at the barbecue grill. Griff’s stomach rumbled as the odors from the barbecue wafted close enough for him to smell.
Jamie plopped down on the sand next to Griffin. “Wow. I thought I was a good swimmer, but you killed me out there. You’re amazing!”
“You should see me on my board.” Griff winked. “You’re an excellent swimmer. I’m just out there as much as possible. I have been since I was like ten years old. I love swimming. I love surfing even more.”
“It shows. Whenever you guys settle down, it should totally be on the ocean. It would be such a shame for you to not be out there doing your thing. I could see you as a lifeguard on a California beach.” Jamie giggled. “Like that old show Baywatch. You totally have the bod for it too.”
“Thanks,” Griff laughed. “You ready for dinner?”
“OMG, yes! Whatever Nicholas is cooking over there smells heavenly!”
“He mixes a lot of spices into his burgers. Back home, they’d be fresh from his mom’s herb garden. Out here, we have to settle for store-bought dried herbs.”
“Whatever it is, it smells delicious. I’ll go get Casey and the other guys. I’ll see you back at the picnic table.”
Griffin sauntered over to the barbecue grill. “That smells delicious, Boo. Jamie said the same thing. Is it just about ready?”
“Yeah. Maybe five more minutes. Can you hand me those plates, please?”
Griff turned and grabbed the stack of plates and placed them on the table next to the grill. “Your plates, sir.”
Nicholas looked up at Griffin with a thoughtful expression. “Griff, you said earlier that you’ve been in love with me for five years, ever since we were thirteen!” His face got a look of intense concentration. “How come you didn’t say anything sooner?”
Griffin smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You weren’t ready. You are now. Now is our time. If I had told you back then, it might have ended our friendship. I took what you were willing to give. I would have waited forever for you, Nicky. I love you with all my heart.”
Nicholas nearly melted right where he stood. “I’ll let you get away with that ‘Nicky’ because, what you just said, that was beyond a perfect answer. I love you too, Peaches.” Nicholas leaned in and gave Griff a quick tender kiss.
“Aww! Look at them again! You two are the cutest couple ever!” Jamie squealed.
“Thank you, Miss Jamie. Now it’s time to sit down and eat those delicious burgers.”
Nicholas grabbed Griff’s arm and held him back while the others took their seats. “How’s the rash?”
Griff’s eyes widened, and then he blushed. “It’s gone, but now we have guests.”
“We’ll figure something out one of these nights. Soon.” Nicholas grinned.
“Definitely, lover boy, but for now let’s eat.” Griff took Nicholas’ hand and led him to the picnic table to join their friends for dinner.
Griffin awoke with a jerk and sat straight up. Not sure why he was suddenly on high alert, he listened carefully but heard nothing except Nicholas’ deep breathing beside him. He’d had to practically drag him to bed when he woke up in the living room with Nicholas’ head in his lap. Had he dreamed the noise or had it been … NO … there it was again, definitely real! It sounded like it was just on the other side of the wall behind the bed’s headboard, the back end of the RV. He not so gently nudged Nicholas. “Nicholas, wake up!”
“Huh? What is it?”
“Shhh … listen. Something’s happening outside on the other side of this wall.”
Practically holding their breaths, the boys listened and, again, a sound like metal on metal and then a thump and a mumbled curse.
“Someone’s out there! Our bikes!”
Nicholas was the first to spring into action, but Griffin was right behind him as they jerked their shorts on and quietly padded to the door. They both grabbed the flashlights kept in the storage compartment beside the door and then looked around for something to use to defend themselves, if necessary, but came up with nothing. Nicholas quietly unlocked the door and began to ease it open as Griffin quickly scooted over to the kitchen to grab the largest knife he could find.
The boys tiptoed along the side of the RV, Nicholas in the lead, with flashlights pointed at the ground. As they neared the rear of the RV, they could make out frantic whispers. Holding up a hand to stop Griffin, Nicholas motioned that they would jump out on “three”, then held up three fingers and began to lower them one at a time. As the last finger went down, Nicholas jumped out and screamed “FREEZE!” with Griffin stuck like glue to him. A duo of yelps erupted simultaneously, and the boys hit the source of the yelps with their flashlight beams.
“Please don’t hurt us! We’re sorry!” Standing frozen in their beams were two boys appearing to be roughly the same age as Nicholas and Griffin, with the shorter one cowering behind his buddy.
“What are you doing?” Griffin asked.
“Uh, well … we … uh, we’re trying to get to Pennsylvania and we saw your bikes this afternoon and we thought maybe you didn’t really need them since you have this nice RV and all and we don’t have anything and Pennsylvania is a long way to walk and we’re so sorry and we’ll just leave and we won’t bother you …”
“Whoa, just slow your roll, OK,” Nicholas said, raising his hands. “Who are you and why are you trying to walk to Pennsylvania?”
“My name is Casey and this is … uh … my little brother, Jamie. Our mom died last year and our stepdad is a monster so we left home and we’re trying to get to our mom’s sister in Pennsylvania. We mostly travel at night and we spent yesterday in those trees behind the campground. We saw your bikes and waited until we thought you’d be asleep to come get them. We wrote down your license number so we could find you and send you money for the bikes after we got to our aunt’s house, honest! See?” He held out his hand with the number written on it.
“Look, let’s go inside and talk before one of the other campers call the cops. Of course, that option is still on the table,” Nicholas said. “Drop your backpacks on the ground first.”
All four sat on the living room floor, drinking Snapple, as a much calmer Casey explained their situation. They had snuck out of their house four nights ago after their stepdad had come home drunk and wasted and, once again, became verbally abusive and then physically abusive. When he knocked Casey across the room, Jamie had managed to grab a baseball bat and hit him hard enough to knock him out. They had stuffed some clothes in their backpacks along with all the money they had and could get from their stepdad’s wallet and took off.
“Wow,” an empathetic Griffin said, “that’s awful. You hear about this kinda stuff but, honestly, I’ve never known anyone in that situation. I never realized until now how fortunate I’ve been.”
“Yeah,” agreed Nicholas, “me, too. How old are you guys?”
“I’m 18 and Casey just turned 20,” answered Jamie, speaking up for the first time.
“Well, it’s only 3:30 so why don’t you guys stay here and we’ll talk more in the morning and figure something out. You can sleep on the sofa bed. The bathroom is over there.”
“Thank you for being so nice after what we tried to do … stealing your bikes and all.”
“It’s alright. Desperate times, desperate measures and all that. I get it,” Nicholas nodded. “You will still be here in the morning, right?”
“Definitely!” they both stated emphatically.
Griffin and Nicholas laid in bed, discussing the situation. Both agreed that they couldn’t just put them out but neither was completely ready to totally trust them, either.
“Well, assuming they’re still here in the morning, we’ll talk more with them and decide then what to do,” Nicholas decided. “Let’s try to get some sleep.”
Griffin fell asleep almost as quickly as he’d awoken an hour ago. Nicholas struggled a bit to calm his mind but, eventually, he also drifted off.
As usual, Griffin was the first to wake and, less enthusiastically than was typical, he made his way to the bathroom. Fortunately, halfway across the bedroom, he remembered their guests and pulled his shorts on. Opening the bathroom door to the sound of a squeal, he froze in place.
“OH! I’m sorry … what the … !” Griffin just stared.
Grabbing a towel, Casey wrapped up but not before Griffin got a very clear and very unmistakable look at everything that made Casey undeniably … a girl … uh … a woman, actually!
He stumbled backward, pulling the door closed with him, and just stood there … processing.
“What now?” Nicholas thought as he quickly came out of the bedroom to see a shook and wide-eyed Griffin standing rigidly in front of the bathroom door, just as it opened.
Casey sheepishly emerged and Griffin whirled around. “Lucy, you got some ’splaining to do!!”
“What the hell is happening?” an only half-awake and quite confused Nicholas asked.
“He’s a she!”
“Please! I can explain,” Casey pleaded. “We thought it would be safer to travel if we pretended to be guys. That’s one of the reasons we travel at night. We’re both pretty tall and … ”
“Wait! We?” a now completely awake Nicholas stuttered. “Jamie is … ”
“My little sister, not my little brother.”
Nicholas and Griffin collected clean clothes and performed their morning ablutions, while Casey dressed in the living room and woke Jamie. She explained to Jamie that their subterfuge had been exposed … quite literally … and they both fretted that they would be booted out to fend for themselves again.
Over breakfast, they discussed the situation more. Nicholas and Griffin talked it over while making their bed and straightening up the bedroom as Casey and Jamie did the same with the sofa bed and living room and washed the breakfast dishes.
“So … we’ve talked about it and this is what we’ve come up with,” said Nicholas, coming back into the kitchen with Griffin trailing close behind. “First, do you have ID?”
“Why?” asked Jamie. “You don’t trust us?”
“Uh … a few hours ago we caught you trying to steal our bikes! Trust has to be earned,” Griffin declared.
“He’s right, Jamie,” a more pragmatic Casey responded. “Yes, we have our driver’s licenses.”
“Good. I’m not wanting to get arrested for kidnapping or transporting minors over state lines or anything like that,” Nicholas explained. “If you are, in fact, over 18 you may join us in our travels and we will get you to your aunt’s house in Pennsylvania. That is, if you want.”
“But, we are taking our time and it will probably be a week or two before we get there. We thought we might try to make Philadelphia by July 4th because … well, that would just be a cool place to celebrate Independence Day,” Griffin added.
“OH, WOW!! Yes!!” an elated Casey burst out. “That’s a lot sooner than we could’ve gotten there walking!”
“Or riding bikes,” quipped Griffin.
“There are conditions, though,” a serious Nicholas interjected. “First, you will stay with us wherever we go. We are not comfortable leaving you here in the RV while we’re out for the day … at least not yet. As Griffin said, trust has to be earned.”
“Absolutely! Agreed! Right, Jamie?”
“Definitely! You guys are angels, aren’t you?”
Nicholas and Griffin just looked at each other, blushing, and said in harmony … “He is!”
David let the hot water cascade over his body. He watched the shampoo and soap mix with the reddish-brown water as it all swirled down the drain. He wracked his brain trying to remember where he had been tonight. His last clear memory was of Sky. They’d had dinner and then they went to the park and then… what? Had he hurt Sky? He couldn’t remember. Texting Sky would be the first thing he did when he was out of the shower.
Three nights, three blackouts, and three times waking up covered in blood. Matt’s idea was ridiculous and impossible, but it was also the idea that ran through his own head. Skylar told him not to think that until all other possibilities were ruled out. It looked like that time was now. A werewolf. Was it too late to convince Matt that he was just trying to fit his own nightmares into David’s reality? How much did Matt know? He’d have to have a long talk with Matt when he got out of the shower. He just couldn’t have that conversation standing there naked and covered in blood.
David stepped out of the shower and toweled himself dry. He slipped on a pair of sweats and went back into his room to talk to his brother.
As soon as David closed the door, Matt leaped to his feet. “David, you have to listen to me. I never told Brad that the wolf in my dream had blue eyes and now he says he has seen a blue-eyed werewolf and has pictures of it! And I know that it was a wolf and not a dog that bit you in the backyard. Add that in connection with what’s been happening with you and how can it be anything else?”
“Matt, werewolves don’t exist outside of stories. I can’t explain my lost time, and yes, I am very concerned about waking up covered in blood. But a werewolf? Come on.” David sat on his bed while Matt paced back and forth in front of him.
Mat stopped directly in front of David and held up both hands clenched into fists. He raised one finger with each point he made. “Gramps’s stories. My dreams. The wolf biting you. Your lost memories. The blood. The animal attacks in the park. And Brad seeing the blue-eyed werewolf.” Matt shook seven fingers in front of his brother’s face. “What more proof do you need, David?”
“I…” David sighed. “Ok. I have considered it. I’ve even talked it over with Skylar. I didn’t want to worry you. There has to be another more rational explanation.”
David sighed and looked up at his brother. “Stay with me tomorrow night. Record me all night. Brad too. Even if I’m not a werewolf, I may be dangerous in my sleep. The blood worries me most of all. Especially with the deaths in the park. I don’t want to believe that I’m responsible, but I guess we have to be sure. Will you do that for me? You and Brad record me all night?”
“Of course, I will, David. It’s kind of scary. We should do it somewhere else though. Not here. Somewhere safe just in case I’m right. Don’t you agree?” Matt asked.
“Yeah. I’ll meet you guys at the abandoned warehouse down by the school at six. Okay?” David ran a hand through his still damp hair, concern evident on his face.
Matt’s brow furrowed while he considered the meeting place. “That’s as good a place as any I guess.” Matt glanced at the clock. “It’s almost morning. Thank God it’s Saturday or it would be almost time for school. I’m going back to bed. I’ll see you in a few hours, David. Try and get some sleep. You look exhausted.” Matt turned and left the room.
David flicked off his light and lay down on his bed. He stared at the ceiling and thought about everything his brother told him. He was anxious to see the photos that Brad took, even if they were super blurry. David did not want to even consider the possibility that he was a werewolf. Not only was it ridiculous, but if it was true, then that meant that he had killed two or, more probably, three people. That was just unthinkable. There had to be another explanation.
Considering the hour, he doubted that Sky would be awake, but he couldn’t fall asleep without sending his boyfriend a text. He was just too afraid that he possibly hurt Sky. He knew he would never be able to live with himself if that happened. He didn’t expect an immediate response, but he sent it anyway.
David: Hey. I need to hear from you as soon as you get this. I don’t care what time it is. I had another blackout. The same thing happened. I woke up the same way again. My brother found me this time. Please call. The last thing I remember is I was with you. I hope I didn’t do anything to you, Sky. I love you.
David set his phone on the nightstand and closed his eyes. He tossed and turned, trying to force himself to fall asleep. He nearly jumped out of bed when the text alert on his phone notified him of a new text message. He glanced at it. The message was from Sky.
Sky: I’m ok. I haven’t been able to sleep all night, though. I’m not hurt, but there is a lot that we have to talk about. I’ll be over your house in a few hours. Try and get some sleep. I’ll text you when I’m on my way. Good night, David. Or morning or whatever it is. Haha. See you soon. I love you, too.
David could tell that something had happened, but at least Sky was ok, and he was coming over to talk. David closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep.
After Matt left his brother’s room, he went to his own room to try and sleep. Before drifting off, he sent Elias a text.
Matt: I just found David outside in the bushes. He was covered in blood, dirt, and what looked like chicken feathers. We were right. He’s not ready to openly admit it, but even he knows that something is seriously wrong. I guess he’s already been talking to Skylar about it. He’s had blackouts and memory loss three nights in a row. I have to see Terrie first, but I’ll meet up with you later for sure. Things are starting to happen quickly. More and more people are figuring this out. Brad has pics, but I guess they are super blurry. I’ll see you soon. I miss your touch on my skin. (Blushing emoji) (Heart emoji)
Less than a minute later, Matt’s phone beeped with a text alert from Eli.
Eli: Wow. Things are happening quicker than even I expected. We can’t let word of this get out to the wrong people. We have to handle this ourselves. It’s almost morning. I’ll just get up now and get to the research. I miss you, too. See you soon. (Hug emoji)
Matt put his phone back on the nightstand, turned over, and tried to sleep.
Fresh out of the shower and still fiddling with his hair, Matt went downstairs and into the kitchen. David was already sitting at the table, eating a bowl of cold cereal.
“Where’s Aunt Nancy?” Matt asked.
“She’s in her home office. I think she’s going to go pick up Brad soon.”
“Did you get ahold of Sky last night?”
“Yeah. He was a little mysterious about it. I’m going to meet him in about an hour.”
“He was cryptic in his texts to me, also. He might have seen you transform. I know you’re not ready to admit what we both know you are yet, but too many pieces are falling into place. We have to decide what to do before the moon rises tonight.”
David sighed, his eyes downcast. “I know. I know. Let me talk to Sky, and then we will both meet up with you and discuss everything.”
“That sounds like a good plan. You talk to Sky, and I’ll find out exactly what Brad knows. I also have to meet up with Terrie and have a completely different kind of stressful conversation.”
“Everything ok, little brother? Trouble in paradise?”
“I…” Matt sighed, looked down, and blushed a deep scarlet. “I almost kissed Eli last night.”
“What?! I thought we always told each other everything. I didn’t know you were bi! What happened?”
Matt rolled his eyes. “You know I hate labels. I don’t think bisexual would fit me anyway. I’ve never been attracted to any other guy in that way. I mean I’m not afraid to admit that a guy is attractive, but I’ve never been interested in touching them or kissing them or whatever. There’s just something about Elias. The attraction is intense. He touched me and it felt like my whole body was on fire. I wanted him more than I’ve ever wanted anyone, more than I’ve ever wanted any girl, even more than I want Terrie. I guess, if you have to put a label on it, I’m pansexual more than bisexual. I want him because he is Elias, not because he is a guy.”
“And you’re going to tell Terrie?”
Matt shrugged. “I have to be honest with her. Hell, I don’t want to break up with her. I really like her a lot, but I really like Eli, too.”
“Good luck with that, little bro. I doubt that either one of them will let you date them both. I know I wouldn’t stay with Sky if he was dating someone else!”
“You’re probably right. I’m just going to talk with her, be honest, and tell her everything. I’ll see where things go from there. There’s other stuff that I need to tell you about Elias. He is deeply involved in all this werewolf and curse stuff. When I meet up with you and Sky later, I’ll tell you both at the same time. I might even bring him along.”
“It feels like we’re living in a movie. I can’t believe this is all real.”
“What movie are you boys living in now?” Aunt Nancy asked as she walked into the kitchen.
“Not sure what we’ll name it yet, but I’m ready to change the channel.” Matt quipped.
Nancy laughed. “Do either of you need to be dropped off anywhere? I’m heading over to the Hanson’s to pick up Bradley.”
Matt stood up. “I need to talk with Brad before I meet up with Terrie, so I’ll go with you.”
“I’ll just hang here and chill. I’m meeting Sky in an hour.” David said.
“How much trouble is Brad in?” Matt asked his aunt just as they pulled into the Hanson’s driveway.
Nancy’s expression grew thoughtful. “I’m not making a decision on that until I talk to the sheriff and see those alleged werewolf photos, but regardless, he’s in big trouble for running off and putting himself in danger without telling anyone.
“Such a crazy story.”
“People deal with tragedy in a lot of different ways.”
“I get that. So much has happened in the last six months. I can barely wrap my head around it.”
Nancy put a hand on her nephew’s shoulder. “If you ever need to talk, I’ll listen. You know that, right?”
“Of course. Thanks, Aunt Nancy. Anyway, we’re here. Let’s go get him.” Matt smirked.
Matt knew he’d get more information from Brad alone, so, while Aunt Nancy marched straight into the den to talk to Sheriff Hanson and Brad, Matt snuck off into the kitchen to find Terrie.
Terrie jumped up from the table as soon as she saw Matt enter the room. She rushed over and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Hey, you. I didn’t expect to see you for another couple of hours.”
“I came with Aunt Nancy to pick up Brad.” Matt rolled his eyes. “I didn’t even want to witness that reunion, though. I’m excited to hear about what he saw last night, but I’ll talk to him when we’re alone.”
Terrie huffed out a laugh. “You should have just waited for him at home then. Less chance of getting caught in the crossfire.”
“He texted me. He’s going to have her drop him off at the library. He plans to tell her it’s for a school assignment, but it’s for more werewolf research.”
“I still have a hard time believing that we’re seriously considering the possibility of werewolves. Did you find anything out from Elias last night?”
Matt couldn’t hold back from blushing. “I… yeah. A lot happened last night. We’ll talk at lunch. You’re still meeting me down by the lake at noon, right?”
She smiled up at him. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world! It’s our first real date.” She ran her fingers through his hair and pulled his face down to hers. Their lips met in a kiss that started tender and quickly turned passionate. The sound of someone clearing their throat from the kitchen doorway caused Matt and Terrie to separate and look guiltily toward the sound.
Brad stood there, grinning. “You ready to go, Matt, or do you need a condom and another twenty seconds?”
“Shut up, perv.” Matt rolled his eyes. “Ignore him, babe.” Matt said, turning back to Terrie. He leaned down for one more quick kiss and then left with his cousin.
“The library closes at three on Saturday. You better be home before three-thirty, Bradley.” Nancy said just before the boys got out of the car.
“Yes, mother. I’ll go straight home when I’m done with my research.”
The boys sat down on the front steps to the library, and they both sighed. Matt looked over at his cousin. “You didn’t just lie to your mom, did you?”
“Nope. I said I’d be home when I’m done with my research. I never mentioned the library or what type of research.”
“Clever. So, I have a lot of news to share, but I want to hear about your close encounter first. Do you have the photos with you, or did you leave them with the sheriff?”
“I gave my thumb drive to Sheriff Hanson, but you couldn’t see much anyway. Just a big brown blur with two little blue blurs for eyes. Let’s wait on the story until Nate and Devon get here, so I don’t have to tell the same story two or three times in a row.” Brad laughed.
“That’s fair.” Matt said with a grin. “I feel the same way about my news. We really need to get everyone together. So much is happening so fast.”
“It’s so crazy. I can’t believe it’s real.” Brad looked at his phone. “Nate and Devon should be here any minute.”
Just then, Devon walked around the corner and up onto the steps of the library. “Are you using my name in vain again, Holliday?” He smirked.
“Every chance I get. It’s about time you got here.”
“Looks like I beat your boyfriend here, so shut your face.” Devon’s smirk turned into a wide smile. “Hey, Matt, what’s up?”
Matt looked surprised. “Boyfriend?” His head swiveled from Devon to Brad and back again. “I thought I only missed updates on research. What’s this about a boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend. At least not yet.” Brad blushed.
“Who? Who isn’t your boyfriend yet? What did I miss?”
“Well, duh! He’s the only other person who isn’t here yet.” Brad rolled his eyes.
“You mentioned someone named Nate.” Matt shrugged. “Have I met him? Does he go to our school?”
“No. That’s true. You probably haven’t met him. So much has happened, it seems like you’ve been here forever, and not just a few days.”
“So? Who is he?”
“He’s the assistant librarian now. He’s older than us. He graduated last year.”
“Did you guys ever date? Were you friends? Two years older isn’t really that much.”
“I barely knew him. I mean, I knew who he was, but we weren’t close. Now shut up, here he comes!”
Nate walked up and smirked at the three boys waiting on the steps. “Gee, I’m not used to so many eager faces waiting to get into the library on a Saturday morning.” His gaze stopped on Matt. “You must be one of the Montana’s. Matt I’m guessing. I’m Nathan or Nate. I’ll answer to either.” He stuck out his hand toward Matt.
Matt shook the offered hand. “Nice to meet you. We were just talking about you. You are everything that I expected.” Matt winked.
Nate shot a look at Brad then grinned at Matt. “I hope you were only told good things.”
Brad piped in. “I barely had a chance to tell him your name before you showed up. He’s exaggerating as usual.”
Nate winked at Brad as he finished climbing the steps. “It’s good to know that I left enough of an impression to be talked about.” Then Nate unlocked and opened the library doors. The other boys followed Nate into the library, and they all settled in at the same table in the research room.
“I may need to be out front from time to time, but I should be able to help in here again, too. What books do you need me to find today?”
Brad spoke up. “Anything you have on werewolves. Specifically related to this area if there’s anything, but werewolves for sure. They exist. I saw it again last night. Possibly a different one, I’m not sure. I took pics, but they are super blurry. The sheriff might try and get them cleaned up for me.” Brad looked right at Matt. “Johnny Hanson was there. He saw it, too.”
“Sky came home from his date early last night, and he was acting weird. He went right to his room. Matt, how was David acting last night after he got home? Did they have a fight?” Devon asked.
Nate was practically jumping up and down. “You saw a werewolf again? Did it attack you? How did you get away?”
“Loud music and yelling. He ran off. I probably got lucky; I don’t know for sure. I think it was a different wolf than the other one that I saw, but I don’t want to believe that there’s one, much less two!”
Matt sighed. “There are two. The monster that bit my brother, and my brother himself.”
All eyes turned to Matt. Brad spoke first. “Do you know for a fact that David is a werewolf? Have you seen him change?”
“I haven’t seen him change, but I dreamt about it.”
“A dream? Come on, Matt, that isn’t proof!” Devon said.
“Elias helped guide my dream last night. It was very vivid. Then, later, I found David outside our house in the bushes. He was nearly naked and covered in blood and what looked like chicken feathers. I’d like to think that the blood was chicken blood, and that my brother isn’t eating people. We need to find out exactly what is going on, and we need to do it fast!”
“Elias was in your dreams?” Brad asked, one eyebrow arched.
Matt blushed. “You were right. I was blind. There’s… something more there. I hope that’s ok with you?” Matt said, looking pleadingly at Brad.
“Oh, wow. I figured that he liked you. I didn’t expect you’d like him back. Yeah, it’s fine with me. No big deal. Terrie might have a different take on it though.”
“I will be having that conversation with her today.” Matt said with a worried expression. “Anyway, I did find out a lot from Eli last night. The curse is real. Eli’s magic is real. That’s where you guys should focus your research, in my opinion. Try and find out as much as you can about the witches. Elias will do research at his house, but the town records and newspapers may say things about the witches that they wouldn’t say about themselves. Knowing both sides is always best.”
Devon looked totally confused. “You’re gay? And you like his ex?” Devon pointed at Brad when he said “his.”
“I am not gay, but I’m not straight. I’m dating Terrie Hanson, at least for now, but I do have strong feelings for Elias Carrier. Call me bi, call me pan, call me whatever you like. I hate labels. I like who I like. That’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for everyone.”
Nate stood and clapped. “Here, here! Great speech! Everyone should feel that way. I mean labels do sometimes make people comfortable, but if you don’t want a label, society shouldn’t force one on you.”
Matt cleared his throat. “Thanks, but right now the labels that matter are werewolf and witch. There’s a lot more that I need to share with you guys, but there’s also people missing that need to be told. It would be easier to tell everyone at once. For now, you guys research the witches. In particular the coven that lived here. If you happen to find anyone named MaryAnne Carrier, find everything that’s available. Eli’s ancestors were a big part of this. I’ll go have a talk with Terrie about everything. Obviously, I’ll have to talk to her about the Eli stuff, but also, the monster stuff. We need to find out if her father has found anything. I hope she’ll still help us after we talk. Hell, I hope she’ll still date me!”
Nate gave Matt a sympathetic look. “Figure out what you want,” he tapped Matt on the chest with one finger, “before you let other people’s decisions affect what you do.”
“I want them both, but I know that’s unrealistic.” Matt blushed.
“I wouldn’t agree to that, but hey, you never know!” Nate huffed out a laugh.
“I’ll cross all my fingers and toes.” Matt laughed. “Ok, I’m gonna take off. You guys get to the research, and I’ll try not to get murdered by my girlfriend.” He looked at Devon. “Sky was going to meet up with David. If you hear anything, let me know. I’ll do the same if I hear from David. Later we all have to meet up somewhere and share all of our various stories.”
“Definitely, dude. Call us if you wanna bring you girlfriend back here or your boyfriend or both or your brother or whatever!” Devon giggled hysterically.
“On that note, I’m outta here!” Matt said and turned and started toward the door.
“Bye, Matt!” Devon yelled.
Matt turned just before he was out the door. “Later, guys. Good luck with the research!”
David was nervous and pacing in the kitchen when he heard the soft knock on the door. He raced over and yanked the door open. “Sky! David wrapped his arms around Skylar. “I’m so happy to see you! What happened last night?”
Sky hugged David tight, and then he stepped back. He looked at David with a worried expression. “You don’t remember anything?”
“It’s just like the two nights before. I only remember up until a certain point and then nothing. The last thing that I remember, I was with you. That’s why I was so worried and texted you.”
“You were with me. I know what happened. I know why you are losing time. Our worst-case scenario is true, David, you’re a werewolf!”
David slumped into a chair and took a long drink of water. “I kinda knew. We both did. I guess there’s no denying it now.”
Sky huffed out a laugh. “No. You can’t deny it now. Not only did I witness the transformation, but you also bit me!”
“I bit you? I thought you said you were ok. Sky, I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine. At first, I thought you were being a little too aggressive. You barely drew blood. We were kissing, and you bit my lip. I pushed you backward, and I was going to scold you for being too rough, but then I saw you transform. It was scary as hell!”
“I can never apologize enough. I don’t think Hallmark has a “I’m sorry I turned into a werewolf and bit my boyfriend” card. Now I guess I have to worry even more that I may have killed people.”
Sky sighed. “Even after seeing you change; I just don’t think that you would kill anyone no matter what form you were in. Have you checked out the news yet today? We know about the deaths from the other two nights, we should find out if there’s anything else today.”
The two boys walked into the family room and turned on the tv. They sat on the couch, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. They sat like that for a few minutes, not speaking, just watching the local news reports. David nervously drummed his fingers on his thigh and kept casting furtive glances at Skylar. Sky smiled and turned toward David then clasped David’s hand within his own. “It’s ok. I’m fine. We’re fine. I know you didn’t mean me any harm.”
“I could have hurt you, though. I could have killed you.”
“I honestly don’t think you would have. You said that your brother found you this time. Was there anything else different? Did Matt notice anything that you didn’t?”
He found me outside in the bushes underneath my bedroom window, so that was different. He also said that Brad took blurry photos of a blue-eyed werewolf. I guess people are starting to piece things together. I’m really scared, Sky. The only relatively positive thing that I’m holding onto right now is that this time, even though I was covered in blood again, there were lots of feathers around. Matt and I think they were chicken feathers. We hope that the blood was also from chickens.”
“See! It’s still possible that I’m right. Maybe all three nights all you did was raid farms and kill animals.”
“I guess so. We can hope. Hey, wait a minute. Let’s listen to this. The sheriff is on tv.”
The boys listened to Sheriff Hanson talk to the local news. He was standing in front of the park which was almost completely roped off with yellow crime scene tape now. The sheriff looked into the camera and began to speak. “Citizens of Roxbury Falls, it is with a heavy heart that I am speaking to you today. For the third night in a row there has been a vicious animal attack in the park. A third teenager is dead. For now, we are not releasing any names. We are giving the families time to grieve. I am extending the 8pm curfew indefinitely. We believe that there is a rogue bear coming into the park at night to hunt. We ask that you do not go and hunt this animal yourselves. We are searching for the bear, and we are confident that it will be found and destroyed very soon. If you spot a bear, or anything else suspicious, please report it to the sheriff’s office immediately. Thank you for your time.” The sheriff turned, ducked under the crime scene tape, and walked into the park.
“A third teenager is dead! There was an attack last night. What if it was me, Sky? What if it really was me?”
“You said that Matt has more information, and Brad has photographs, why don’t we chill here and try not to think about it until we hear from them. My brother is with Brad at the library, so I’m guessing that he’s in on the research. There’s more than just the two of us to figure this out, David. We’ll help you get through this.”
“Matt has been talking to some kid named Elias about this, too. I guess his family is also tied in with the story of the curse. A week ago, I would have laughed at the idea of a witch, but, hell, now I’m a werewolf. Witches probably exist, too.”
Sky pulled David in close and gave him a quick, tender kiss. “Let’s ‘Netflix and chill’ until they text us.”
David smiled for the first time since the new report. “That is a fantastic idea.” David slid his arm around Sky’s waist and snuggled in close to his boyfriend.
Sky leaned down and softly kissed the top of David’s head. “We will figure this out, babe. I promise.”
“Good morning, my sweet love.” Griffin snuggled close to Nicholas and tried to wake him up. Griffin kissed Nicholas on his neck and chest. “Rise and shine, Boo.” As much as Griffin wanted to just lie there and cuddle with Nicholas, he knew they needed to get going. Time for the morning routine and then head out on another adventure. Griff headed into the shower and left Nicholas lying there thinking.
Nicholas thought about how much he loved Griffin. He wanted time to slow down. He was not ready to leave Griffin at school. Nicholas heard the always spunky Griff singing loudly in the shower and probably shaking his booty. He laughed as he heard Griff yell out ‘I’m too sexy for my body, too sexy yeah, yeah, yeah’ which was Griff’s version of the song by Right Said Fred. Nicholas couldn’t help but peek in and yell, “You got that right! But need to work on that voice a bit, Griff!”
“I’m just about done anyway. It’s your turn, Nicky-poo.” Griff said, teasingly. “Hurry up. We have a lot to see at the Smithsonian Institution today.”
“Stop with Nicky crap. You know how much I hate that!” Nicholas quips.
As Nicholas is drying his hair with a towel, Griff smacks Nicholas hard on the butt. “Hehe. Look at that booty. You can dance for me anytime but get your booty in gear.” Griff said.
“Smack me on my booty again, and I’ll show you who the boss is. We will just stay here all day and skip the museum.” Nicholas said.
“Is that a threat or promise? I’d rather stay in with you anyway.” Griff said.
Nicholas leaned in for one last kiss, and the boys headed out to have a full day of fun at the Smithsonian.
Once at the Smithsonian, they headed for the Air and Space Museum first. “Look at that model of the Wright Brothers’ plane. Can you imagine what was going through their minds? Yet they accomplished so much!” Griff said.
Nicholas said, “Look at this exhibit on the different crafts used in space. It’s so awesome, but also sad to read about disasters like the Challenger and the Colombia.” The boys wander through looking at different material and things until they come to the Hope Diamond and rubies and all the other beautiful gems. “With any luck maybe someday you will have a diamond on that finger of yours,” Nicholas says jokingly.
Griff drifted into daydream land thinking about that possibility. “That would be a dream come true for me,” Griff said. He grabbed Nicholas and planted a kiss on him when nobody was looking.
They headed over to the American History Museum next to check out some TV, movie, and music history. As they looked around, both boys got very excited when they saw all the pop culture items. Nicholas kept a lookout for anything music-related, while Griffin was more interested in the television and movie history.
As they started walking around, they saw huge displays of some of the greatest music of all time. They saw display cases of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin. Nicholas got lost in the section about Woodstock. He read all the placards that told the history of the event and the musicians who attended.
Griffin went towards the television and movie history exhibits. The display cases he enjoyed the most were the ones about Howdy Doody and some of the other old shows. He saw Fonzie’s leather jacket from Happy Days, the Conner’s couch from Roseanne, and a display case with stuff from the A-Team. Griff read the history placards containing trivia about Leave it to Beaver, and I Love Lucy. Griff needed a quick bathroom break and motioned to Nicholas where he was heading. While he was using bathroom, Griff looked down and noticed a wad of cash on the floor. He picked it up and ran out to find Nicholas to tell him what he found. “Nicholas, look what I found in restroom! We need to find a security guard.”
“There was one just down the hall. Who knows, maybe they’ll let you keep it!” Nicholas said, and they took off to find the nearest security desk.
“Excuse me, sir. Good day to you. I wanted to turn this in to lost and found. I found it in the men’s bathroom by the tv exhibits.” Griffin said, setting the money on the security desk.
The security guard smiled. “Thanks for turning it in! Too many people think they can just take it, but if we catch them, we call the cops. The good news is,” the guard said while sliding a piece of paper across the desk to Griffin. “if you fill out this form and then no one comes for it, we can mail it to you thirty days from now.”
“That sounds fair. I won’t be at the address I’m writing down, but my mom can forward it to me when I know my address at school.” Griff finished up the paperwork, and they were on their way again.
“Ready to stop and get a bite before we head over to see wildlife and dinosaurs exhibit at the Natural History Museum?” Griff asked.
“Ok I am hungry, and we need to eat, I guess.”
The guys stopped and grabbed cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes. “Omg, babe, I am having so much fun with you today I don’t want this to stop,” Griffin said. “It is so fun and special talking about all these amazing things that we are seeing. I love sharing this adventure with you.”
The boys got up and walked, hand in hand at times, other times with arms around each other’s waist. One time Nicholas slipped his hand right into the back pocket of Griff’s jeans and Griff quickly returned the favor, smirking at his boyfriend. They looked so happy as a couple, and everything just felt so right.
“Let’s look at this new exhibit on Planet Earth, Nicholas.”
“Sure thing, Peaches. It’s getting late though, so let’s hurry.” The information on the oceans being polluted by garbage was hard to read about. The video clips were disgusting. Now, there were current live reports of the fires in the Amazon Rainforest, and reports of some of the most massive icebergs melting. “This is so sad, Nicholas. Won’t there ever be a time when people wake up?” Griff said, almost crying. “We are killing Mother Earth more every day.”
“At least now, some politicians are listening to the younger generations, and we are educating people. So, I do see one day soon when a better life for our planet may happen, and climate change can begin to be dealt with.” Nicholas said, trying to put a positive spin on it.
“I hope you’re right, Boo,” Griff said as they shared a tender kiss and headed out of the Smithsonian.
Back in the RV, they picked out a movie on Netflix and cuddled together on the couch to chill out after their long but fun day. They spent more time laughing and giggling at the funny things that had happened that day, than actually paying attention to the movie. They were just enjoying some quiet quality time together.
“Man, I’ll be glad when your poison ivy is all cleared up,” Nicholas said with a grin.
“I will be too and not just to get rid of the itchiness, but to actually be able to do whatever we want without worrying about a nasty rash!” Griff leaned in for a kiss, and then they started to discuss their trip to the National Zoo the next day. They turned off the TV, stripped down and went to bed. Nicholas lay there thinking about leaving Griff at college. There wasn’t anything he could do about it, so he rolled over and pulled Griff close to him. He needed the closeness and comfort of his boyfriend right now. He lay with one arm draped across Griff’s chest and their legs entwined, and that’s how they both fell asleep.
Since they didn’t have to be out of their camping spot until 1 pm, the boys slept later than usual and then spent a leisurely morning lazing about. Slightly obsessive-compulsive Nicholas did do a bit of tidying up but, since both boys were pretty neat by nature, there wasn’t much to tidy up. Over lunch, they discussed the next leg of their journey.
Studying his RV Campground guide, Nicholas discovered a pretty basic and inexpensive RV park practically on the beach at Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. “This would be perfect, Griff. No bells and whistles but everything we really need. Plus it’s 35% less if we book it for a week. I think that’s a good idea, don’t you? We’re in no hurry, and there’s tons of stuff to do in the area. There’s even a bus that runs into DC so we can take at least a couple of day trips to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian, and anything else we might decide we want to see.”
“Righteous! Gnarly! Kowabunga, dude! Yep, I will also most definitely have you on a surfboard before the week is up! Write that down in your little diary.”
“It’s a JOURNAL! A travel journal!” Nicholas clarified yet again. “Hate to disappoint you, though … Chesapeake Beach is actually on Chesapeake Bay, not the ocean. We’ll get to the ocean after that, I promise! Anyway, it looks like Hwy 301 will take us across the Potomac River and within about 10 miles of Chesapeake Beach. We can avoid all the I-95 traffic going into DC.”
“That’s great since it’s my turn to drive.”
Happy that it was Griff’s turn to pilot, Nicholas got comfortable on the sofa with his Kindle. Strapped into the captain’s chair, Griffin fiddled with the tunes until he found what he was looking for. Ever the playful jokester, he chuckled as he turned the volume wide open before punching play.
“On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
At the blast of the first notes, Nicholas rolled off the sofa and almost filled his shorts. “What the what!?!?”
“I know you love all those oldie goldie songs. Thought you’d appreciate my consideration, Boo!”
Shaking his head, Nicholas picked himself up slowly as Griffin turned the volume back to a reasonable level and began to croon along with Willie. Of course, Nicholas had to join in … how could he not?
“On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
Here we go, on the road again
Like a band of Gypsies, we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way
And our way is on the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again, break free
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
“Maybe we can find a few gigs along the way covering ‘oldie goldie songs’ to cover the cost of Griff’s theme park bucket list,” mused Nicholas to himself.
It was after 7 by the time the boys had checked in, parked, and hooked up the RV. Famished, they asked the young lady in the office where they could find some good eats, preferably within walking distance. Soon they had located a quaint hole in the wall restaurant that they would surely have missed if Casey had not given them excellent directions.
While devouring the delicious array of appetizers they’d chosen, a strangled noise came from behind Griffin. A puzzled look crossed his face, but as Nicholas looked up, he realized immediately what was happening and sprung into action. He jumped around the table to the elderly man sitting behind Griff, grabbed him around his chest with both arms, and gave a quick, firm squeeze to the man’s abdomen. The culprit, a small popcorn shrimp, went airborne and landed three tables over in a half-full mug of beer.
Much to Nicholas’ embarrassment, everyone around began clapping and cheering. Checking to be sure the gentleman was OK, he sheepishly sat back down and tried to make himself as small as he could.
“Damn, Nicky! That was awesome!” Griffin gushed. “You did that almost before I even realized what was happening! How did you know what to do?”
“I had to take some classes a couple of years ago when I thought I might want to get on as a lifeguard at the pool … before I changed my mind. That’s the first time I’ve actually done that.”
“Well, note to self … be sure to have Nicholas close by if I ever decide to choke. Seriously, though, that was so awesome, and I’m so proud of you!”
After settling down to enjoy the best meal they’d had since they left home, the boys headed back toward the campground. They snatched a couple of brochures in the restaurant lobby to look through and plan out their week in Chesapeake Beach.
After getting caught up with the most recent episodes of ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Flash,’ the boys stripped and crawled into bed to go through the brochures. They were quite surprised to see how many fun activities were available in the area.
“OH! We have GOT to go to the Chesapeake Beach Water Park! It’s only about a mile up the beach. We can walk there,” said Nicholas, pointing at the brochure in his hand.
“I’m with you and look … here’s a Surf Art Gallery and Museum. Since we can’t surf here, seeing as how we’re actually on a bay, this will be fun.” Griffin had been a bit disappointed to discover that they weren’t on an ocean beach, but Nicholas promised him that their next stop would be Rehoboth Beach, which was very much on the ocean.
“Look … windsail cruises around the bay. You could get some awesome pics, Griff!”
“Here’s a place we can rent jet skis … almost as fun as surfing! They’re expensive, but we’re saving so much on this cheap RV park, we can splurge!” Griffin practically bounced in his excitement. They were like two six-year-olds the night before Christmas.
“This brochure has bus schedules. I think we should plan on at least two days in DC. One at The National Zoo and another at the Smithsonian. Let’s mix those in with the water days.”
“This is gonna be a great week, Boo!”
“Yep! Now shut up and kiss me like you mean it, Peaches!”
As usual, Griffin woke first but remained in bed, snuggling close to Nicholas. Soon, Nicholas slowly woke, too, enjoying the comforting feel of Griff’s arm around his chest.
“Good morning, Peaches,” Nicholas whispered. “I think I could stay just like this forever.”
“Nice thought but we’ve got places to see and things to do!”
“I’m glad you decided to give the park another try yesterday. You didn’t let the bullies ruin the day for us. I’m proud of you!”
“Yeah, I think I can deal with a lot if you’re walking beside me. We can’t let the demons win!” Griffin said emphatically. “I think we got our money’s worth and the fireworks were a great way to end the day!”
“We will definitely be looking for more theme parks as we travel. That was a great idea you had!” Nicholas agreed.
“Oh, I have a ‘Theme Park Bucket List’!”
“Well, of course you do!”
Griff walked out of the bathroom, drying his hair with the bath towel. “Did you decide which place we’re going to go to first?”
Nicholas glanced up at Griff, then his eyes darted down and back up again, “Looks like your rash is drying up a little. Uh, anyway, we…”
Griffin interrupted, “Thanks for noticing!” he said with a smirk.
Nicholas rolled his eyes. “You’re standing right in front of me in your birthday suit. Besides, I’ve always noticed everything about you, even if I never actually said anything.”
Griffin threw the wet towel in the hamper and looked at Nicholas. “That’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me.”
“I have my moments. Now put on your boxers, Dr. Rashenstein.”
“You’re so dorky sometimes,” Griff laughed as he put on his boxers and sat at the table. “There. I’m not naked anymore, and yes, the rash is improving, but it’s still itchy. Now, please continue. Where are we off to today?”
Nicholas leaned over, giving Griff a quick peck on the lips. “You do know that you are always irresistible, not just when you’re naked. You could be wrapped up like an Eskimo, and I’d still stop and stare.” He blushed and grinned. “Anyway, the plan of action that makes the most sense is to get breakfast in town and hit the Poe Museum as soon as it opens at ten o’clock. Then on to Belle Isle for a few hours, and last but not least, the “kidnapped” scenario of the escape room at Breakout Games. They have one starting at six. Hopefully it’ll be a good, fun day without any drama!”
Griffin had a huge grin on his face. “To be honest, you lost me at “irresistible,” but I trust your planning. And, yeah, drama-free would be excellent, but yesterday did have it’s good points, thanks to you. Now, let’s get started with today’s adventures!”
“Ok. You finish getting dressed, and don’t forget the Caladryl! I’ll go unhook the bikes.”
After a short bike ride, they arrived outside the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. They looked around, and Nicholas pointed across the street. “That looks like a good place for breakfast.” They locked up their bikes in front of the museum and jogged across the street.
Inside the diner, they sat at a table in the corner and placed their orders. “I love these local places. They are so much nicer than the big chain restaurants.” Nicholas said.
“The chains are usually cheaper, though.”
“Sometimes, you get what you pay for. I’d rather have good food than cheap food any day.”
“Good point,” Griff said, absently scrolling on his phone.
“Whatcha looking at?”
“Twitter, mostly. Did you remember to follow Lorenzo and Olivia? ’Zo sometimes even lets Gustavo post stuff on his account. That kid is hilarious!”
“Yeah, I followed. ’Zo is a great photographer, especially for his age.”
“Truth. He posted pics of Hershey Park this morning. It looks amazing! I have to add that to my bucket list. Hint hint.” Griff grinned at Nicholas.
“If you keep adding theme parks to the list, you’ll need to find a freaking job!”
“Very funny. I’m finished. You ready?” Griff said, pushing his plate to the center of the table.
“Yeah. Time to start today’s adventure!”
By the time they finished breakfast, it was ten o’clock and time to head to the museum. “This should be cool, but it looks small. I hope it’s worth it,” Griffin said.
“It’s supposed to take less than an hour to see everything, but it should be an interesting way to kill some time until we’re ready to head over to Belle Isle. Plus, I love Poe.”
“Just remember, ‘All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream,’ my dear Nicholas.”
“Yeah. Yeah. You love Poe, too.”
“Well, ‘I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity,’ as you well know.”
“You’re not going to speak in Poe quotes the whole while we’re in here, are you?” Nicholas laughed as they walked to the next exhibit.
“Just one more. You know what my favorite Poe quote is, right?”
“Yes. And you know that my opinion of religion and Poe’s are complete opposites but go ahead.” Nicholas motioned for Griff to continue.
“I fall somewhere in between the two of you on the subject, but it does perfectly describe the televangelists. ‘All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.’” Griff bowed theatrically. “I’m done now. Aww! Where did they come from?” Nicholas was kneeling on the garden path, petting two black cats.
“I read about them on the website. Their names are Edgar and Pluto. They live here.”
“That is so awesome and so fitting. The ‘Enchanted Garden’ is beautiful. I think we’ve seen everything now. You ready to go?”
Nicholas stood. “Yeah. Next stop: Belle Isle.”
The boys pedaled their way across the suspension bridge, enjoying the view of the James River below them. Nicholas yelled over to Griff to be heard above the sound of the raging river. “I see now why the website says the rapids are too dangerous for swimming.”
“That’s for sure. You wanna hike or hit the bike trails?”
“I signed us up for rock climbing lessons!”
“Yeah, really!” Nicholas grinned. “I think you’re turning me into an adrenaline junkie like you!”
“Don’t forget the surfing lessons! You promised me at Kitty Hawk and then plans changed.”
“I haven’t forgotten. I’ll do it. We’ll probably hit a beach again in Maryland.”
“I’m gonna hold you to that! So, do we have a scheduled time for this, or do we just show up?”
“Noon. So, hurry up! We have ten minutes to find it.” Nicholas laughed and pedaled faster.
“I can’t believe you went up so fast the second time. That was amazing, Nicky-poo!” Griff said as he collapsed onto the grass beside Nicholas.
“You’re lucky my arms are so tired, or I’d wallop you. I’ve told you to stop with the ‘Nicky’ crap.”
“You secretly love it almost as much as you love me.” Griff kicked Nicholas’ foot.
Nicholas kicked back. “Maybe.”
“I thought we’d hike, but it’s later than I thought it would be. Let’s get lunch then head back. By the time we shower, it’ll be just about time to go to Breakout Games.”
The boys walked out of Breakout Games nearly jumping for joy. “We did it!” Griff yelled. “Booyah!”
“That was awesome! We will have to do another one sometime. I’m sure we’ll find some more in plenty of the cities we’ll pass through.”
“Too bad there was a timer. Without it, I may have let you stay in those handcuffs a little while longer.” Griff winked.
“Maybe I’ll let you buy a pair.” Nicholas’ blue eyes twinkled in the fading sunlight.
“I think I like this new naughty Nicholas.”
“You’ll like me even better when this,” Nicholas lightly caressed the front of Griff’s jeans, “isn’t covered in spots and Caladryl.” He stared up at Griff, his eyes glazed over in lust.
Griff leaned down, and their lips met in a brief but passion-filled kiss. “You are such a tease. I love it!”
Nicholas’ eyes turned a little sad, “I am having the absolute best time of my life, Griff. I don’t want this trip to end.” His eyes glistened, but he refused to let a tear fall.
“Let’s not think about that yet. I don’t want it to end either. There’s a lot of fun to be had before New York, and a lot of thinking that I have to do.” Griff took Nicholas’ hand, and they strolled back to their bikes.
The following morning, after seeing that Martin was hooked up with a tow truck and in no further need of their assistance, the boys headed out with Griffin at the helm. After carefully examining the Google map over breakfast, they had decided to continue north a ways on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then hang a right onto Hwy 64 towards the Richmond area. Nicholas phoned the Americamps RV Resort in Ashland to make reservations, as it was close to King’s Dominion, the theme park they planned to take by storm tomorrow.
With Griffin’s tunes as a soundtrack, the morning passed peacefully with the boys enjoying the Appalachian scenery and lost in their individual thoughts. As they maneuvered onto the highway and picked up the pace, Lady Gaga let them know in no uncertain terms …
“I’m beautiful in my way
’Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way (Born this way!)
Oh there ain’t no other way
Baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way!”
Checking the time on his phone, Nicholas suggested stopping in the Charlottesville area for lunch.
“Maybe find a hot spot near the UVA campus? Find a little eye candy to feast on?” Griffin teased.
“Ooo! I hadn’t thought of that but, of course, you went right there!” Nicholas said with a smirk.
Noticing Griffin’s not-so-subtle scratching of his nether regions, Nicholas inquired, “Diaper rash? Jock itch? Heebie jeebies?”
“I have no idea. It started itching about an hour ago and it keeps getting worse the more I scratch. I took a shower this morning and I didn’t notice anything then.”
“Well, maybe stop scratching … both hands on the wheel, Captain.”
As they continued on, with Griffin trying bravely to keep his hands off his treasures and Nicholas giggling at his frustration, desperation set in for Griff. When he spied the UVA/Charlottesville exit, Griffin almost bumper car-ed three other vehicles in his attempt to navigate to a suitable lunch establishment. At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to find some relief for whatever was going on in his boxers.
Griffin turned the ignition off and headed toward the back of the RV in one fluid motion. By the time he got to the bedroom, his shorts were at his ankles and he was squealing gibberish at the plight that his boys were in.
“Let me see,” Nicholas said. “OH, dude! That is just fifty shades of nasty!”
“What is it?” Griffin screeched.
“My best guess is that, my friend, is an epic case of poison ivy rash.”
“WHAT? … HOW? … WHY?”
“Well, let’s think about this. Yesterday, when you were preparing the picnic area, did you have to clear a spot for the blankets?”
“Yeah, of course. It was kinda overgrown.”
“And, at some point, did you find the need to … uh … drain your main vein?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so.”
“So, you, apparently, handled some poison ivy vines before you then handled yourself, so to speak, spreading the sap to your playground area.”
“Then why aren’t my hands covered in rash?”
“We went back to the RV to eat and you cleaned up, but you didn’t clean up down there. Also, that area is much more sensitive, I would think. You may still get some small rashes on your hands and arms, but not like that.”
“So, what do I do? Help me, Obi-Wan … you’re my only hope!”
“My mom is highly allergic to it and she uses a lotion called Caladryl. It’s a combination of calamine, which helps with itching and drying up the rash, and Benadryl, which eases the allergic reaction. I see a Walgreen’s in that strip center across the road. I’ll go get some. While I’m gone, you wash the whole area with a lot of soap to help dry out the rash.”
As Nicholas strolled across the parking lot heading for the pharmacy and still giggling, but in a sympathetic kind of way, he heard a yelp. Looking around, he spotted an elderly lady waving her hands about as the shopping cart she had apparently been pushing raced away from her and towards a line of parked vehicles.
Nicholas sprinted toward the cart, dodging an oncoming mini-van and leaping over a low hedge. He snagged the rogue cart just before it had the pleasure of making acquaintances with an exquisite Lexus LX. Stopping a moment to catch his breath, he turned the cart back toward home and the now visibly relieved customer.
“Oh, thank you so much, young man! I didn’t realize there was such a slope here and it just slipped right out of my hands. You reacted so quickly and I’m so very grateful!” She gushed while digging in her purse and pulling out a wad of bills. “Here, please take this! It’s the least I can do.”
“No, no … I can’t take your money, ma’am. Your ‘thank you’ is quite enough. It was no big deal. Just in the right place at the right time.” Nicholas helped the lady put her bags into her car as she continued to thank him and try to get him to take the money, which he politely refused. “You have a good day, ma’am … and drive carefully now.”
“Well, this day just keeps getting more fun,” Nicholas thought, “and I haven’t even had lunch yet!”
“It took you long enough!” Griffin snarled before Nicholas even had the RV door closed.
“Mind yourself, Mr. Grumpy No-pants … I still have the receipt! I had to rescue a damsel in distress, blackmail a store clerk into finding more of this stuff in the stockroom because the shelf was empty, and wait in line behind eight people at the only register open and it was being operated by a ‘Please be patient, I’m new’ employee.”
“Fine, thanks … so gimme, gimme!”
Griffin tore the seal off the bottle and practically poured the stuff all over himself.
“Easy there! That needs to last you at least until we stop tonight. Rub it in good and let it dry before getting dressed.”
“Dressed? I’m gonna lay right here just like this while you drive. Just go get us some lunch and bring it back.”
“OK. Wash it well with lots of soap every couple of hours and put more Caladryl on it. By tonight, it should be much more tolerable. Let me know if you need a hand!” Nicholas couldn’t resist the quip but also began to realize the disappointing implications as he left to scrounge up lunch.
Griffin would definitely not be interested in any amorous overtures for the next couple of nights, at least. It still amazed Nicholas how their beautiful friendship had morphed into … well, whatever this was now. They were the same people they were a few days ago … before. But nothing was the same now. That thought made Nicholas’ tummy flutter … a lot like that old lady’s hands!
Grayson sat at the bar, nursing his drink. He stared down into his beer, letting his mind wander over the disaster of his life. Just this week, he found out his parents were getting divorced. His grades were in a steady decline, and now, just this morning, he walked in on his boyfriend cheating on him.
Maybe breaking up with Sebastian would help him study more and bring his grades up, he chuckled. There you go, Gray put a positive spin on it. The sound of the door opening in the nearly empty bar caught his attention. It brought his focus back to his present surroundings.
He glanced towards the door, and his jaw dropped. The man from his dreams stood framed in the doorway. Gray always had weird dreams, but for the last week or so, they were exceptionally weird. And a guy who looked exactly like this guy in the doorway was in every single one of them. Gray looked away before the guy caught him staring.
The man walked up and sat down right next to Gray. Gray finished his beer and tried to concentrate on the TV over the bar. He heard the man say, “Bartender, two beers. One for me and a refill for my new friend here.” Just the voice alone sent shivers down his spine. Gray turned, and the man was smiling at him.
“I thought it looked like you needed another one. You look a little stressed.” The man said.
“Thanks. Its been a long week. I’m Grayson… well, just Gray is fine.” Gray took a good look at the man beside him. Tall, over six feet, jet black hair, and deep dark chocolate brown eyes. The eyes held Gray’s gaze. For just a second Gray thought he saw bright crimson sparks at the center of the eyes, but then the sparks were gone.
“Nice to meet you, Gray. Different people have called me by different names, but you can call me Luke.” He smiled and extended his hand.
Gray shook his hand. “Very mysterious answer, Luke. Do you go to college here? You look familiar.”
“No. I just got to town today. I’ve traveled around a lot in my lifetime, but this is my first time here.” Luke said.
“What brings you to this boring, tiny town? Not much here but the college and this bar.” Gray laughed.
“I guess you could call it a family drama. I am looking for my Father. No one has heard from Him in quite a while.” Luke said.
“I hope you find him, and everything is ok. I know how rough families can be. I just found out that my parents are getting divorced.” Gray rolled his eyes.
“Thanks. The sooner I find him, the better it will be for everyone.” Luke said and then leaned in close to Gray and placed his hand on his knee. “So, do you have a boyfriend?”
Gray smiled a crooked half-smile. His eyes flicked down to Luke’s hand and then right back up to his eyes. “What makes you think it would be a boyfriend and not a girlfriend?”
Luke slid his hand halfway up Grayson’s leg as he leaned in even closer. “Because, ever since I walked in the door, you have looked at me like you’ve wanted to take a bite out of me.”
Luke smirked, then he added, “Do you have somewhere private we can continue this conversation?”
Gray knew he would probably regret it, but he said, “I should say no, but yeah. Follow me.” He led Luke out of the bar and two blocks over to his small apartment, just off the college campus.
The barely got in the apartment and closed the door, and Gray was kicking off his shoes and grabbing for Luke’s shirt. After removing the shirt, he pushed him into the small bedroom and down onto the bed. Luke was taller and had a more muscled body than Gray, but Gray was eager and determined to work off some of his built-up stress from the last week.
He crawled up Luke’s body, planting kisses along his chest and neck. He covered the other man’s mouth with his own, and then he felt Luke’s hands in between them. Luke gently pushed Gray up to a sitting position and looked deep into his eyes. “Gray, slow down a minute. We need to talk.”
Gray tried to push Luke back down. “Talk later. There are other things I’d rather do right now.” He leaned in and nipped at Luke’s ear with his teeth.
Luke pushed back again. “You’re not making it easy to stop.” He nearly growled. “But we have to talk. It’s important.”
Gray looked a little hurt. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want this? Don’t you want me?”
Luke took his face between his two strong hands. “Baby, I want you more than I’ve wanted anyone in over a millennium, but that’s why we have to talk now. Before we go any further. I want you to know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s a lot we have to talk about.”
Gray looked completely confused. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You aren’t making any sense.”
Luke grabbed Gray’s hips and flipped him over on his back as easy as flipping over a piece of paper, then he sat upon the edge of the bed. Gray sat up and leaned back against the wall, waiting for Luke to speak.
Luke sighed and began. “Remember, I said I have gone by many names?” Gray nodded, a curious look on his face. “The names you humans most commonly call me are Devil, Satan, or Fallen One. The name my Father gave me upon my creation was Lucifer.”
Gray laughed out loud. “Come on. Did you interrupt the hottest sex of my life to tell jokes? I thought you had something serious to say.”
Luke rolled his eyes and stretched out his right arm, then he snapped his fingers and opened his hand. A small ball of fire appeared, hovering over his palm. “Is this a joke? May I continue?”
Gray’s eyes widened in shock and fear, he scooted back against the wall. He started to get up, but Luke stopped him. “Please stay. I would never hurt you. What I have to tell you is vitally important.”
Gray relaxed back against the wall again, mumbling to himself. “I can’t believe I just made out with Satan.”
Luke chuckled. “Whatever!” Then he continued. “My Father, God, has not been seen or heard from since the time of Creation. I tried to keep order the way I knew he would have wanted, but my brothers disagreed with my decisions. It was not God who cast me out of Heaven. It was my brother, Gabriel. Once he got Raphael and Michael on his side, the others all fell in line. The few lesser angels that tried to help me were cast out with me.”
“Wait. Wait. Wait. So, you’re saying that they cast you out of Heaven because of sibling rivalry, not because you are pure evil and tried to overthrow God?” Gray asked, mouth agape.
“Yes. My Father had no part in my banishment. I tried to honor Him the best way I knew. Gabriel is power-hungry. Always was and still is. It is Gabriel who has spread the lies and propaganda about me to you humans.” Luke said.
Grayson sat there, shaking his head. “I’m trying to soak this all in. Keep going.”
“I was cast out along with a handful of loyal lesser angels. We couldn’t stay on Earth, so we were forced into the Inferno dimension.” Luke looked pointedly at Gray. “Though a substantial portion of the Inferno is indeed a fiery prison for evil souls, I have fashioned a Paradise separate from the Fire Pits. Not all the souls barred from Heaven’s Gate deserve torture. The Inferno accepts any who wish to enter. Once there, we judge your soul and process you into either Paradise, the Fire Pits, or Limbo.”
Gray looked lost deep in thought. “That sounds fair, to be honest.”
“Thank you for your approval, kind sir.” Lucifer scoffed.
Gray smiled shyly.
“There is so much more I need to tell you, but we are pressed for time. Gabriel’s thirst for power reached a new level three days ago. He sent a force of angels into the Inferno, where they united with a force of traitorous demons. Their combined army is marching against my loyalists at the Fire Pits. Gabriel wants to set all the damned souls loose upon the Earth. He wants the humans destroyed in such a way that he can blame me. Then he will swoop in as a savior. He will destroy the damned souls, and he will have won Heaven, Earth, and the Inferno.”
Gray was shocked. He didn’t even know what to say or how to respond. “Luke, why are you even telling me this? Angels and demons are real. God is missing in action. The Archangel Gabriel is a dick who wants to take over the world, and the Devil himself is half-naked in my bed. Why me? Why are you here? You should be out leading your army and saving the world.”
Luke stared at Gray with a look of fierce determination. “My army can hold the Pits without me. At least I hope so. But here’s the thing. The only way we stop Gabriel now is with my Father’s help, and you are going to help me find him.”
If anything, Gray looked even more shocked. “How am I going to find God if you can’t?”
Luke grinned at him. “Because you are the last Prophet of God.”
Gray laughed despite everything. “What are you talking about? My life is a disaster. How am I a Prophet?”
Luke cocked his head to one side. “Have you ever had dreams that came true? Or you were somewhere, and something happened, and you felt like you’d seen it before even though you knew you’d never been there?”
Gray thought for a minute. “Now that you say it like that, yes. Those things happen often. And you have been in every one of my dreams for the last week.”
Luke smiled. “You have been touched by God. You have a connection to Him. You will help me find Him. We just have to make sure that Gabriel or his goons don’t find you first, but based on your dreams, it sounds like I was meant to find you, and you are meant to help me.”
Gray nearly screamed. “What?! Does Gabriel know about me? Are they coming after me? What should I do?”
“We leave this town first thing in the morning,” Luke said.
“I suppose I don’t have a choice, do I?” Gray asked.
“Gray, I need your help. God has chosen you. If you learn to focus, I believe you can lead me to Him. You can help me save all of humanity.” Luke said.
“And when I brought you back to my apartment, all I wanted was to get laid.” Gray laughed.
Luke joined in the laughter. “Let’s get some sleep. We should start early tomorrow. We have more to talk about as we travel.” Lucifer lay back on the bed and pulled Gray close to his side. “Is this ok?”
Gray cuddled in close. “It’s probably a huge mistake, I mean you are the Devil after all, but yeah, I’m ok with it. Wait, are you even gay? Was all this a big plan to get me to help you?”
Luke heaved a big sigh. “There is no label to describe me. Over the centuries, I have slept with countless men and countless women. There have been few, however, that I have cared for. A kind and loving soul attracts me, not sex. Man, woman, angel, demon… these things do not matter if the soul inside is pure. Do you understand?”
“I think I do. That was actually a really great answer.” Grayson said as he drifted off to sleep wrapped in Lucifer’s arms.
With the wind whipping his hair into his face, Nicholas kicked his feet and screamed the whole way across the zipline. Halfway across, the screams of fear turned into screams of joy. Griff nudged the zipline employee out of the way and helped Nicholas unstrap himself from the harness. Nicholas got shakily to his feet and fell into Griff’s arms. “Th…that was fun. I was nervous at first, but I really liked it.”
Griff wrapped his arms around Nicholas. “We have time for one more if you’re up for it.”
“Yeah! Now that I’ve shaken off the nerves, I think I’d do even better!” He said, running ahead of Griff to get on the lift back to the start of the zipline.
After their second trip across, Griff looked at his watch. “You need to sit for a minute or are you ready to head back?”
“I’m good.” Nicholas blushed and looked deep into Griffin’s emerald green eyes. “I know we have plans.”
Griff leaned down and their lips met, more with tenderness than passion. “Let’s start back. The hike should take about an hour and then it’ll be time to head out to the overlook.” He said as he grasped Nicholas’s hand, their fingers entwining, and led him onto the trail.
Back at the RV, the two boys each took showers and changed their clothes. Griffin had just finished repacking the picnic basket, with fruit and snacks rather than the dinner he packed earlier, when Nicholas walked out of the bathroom running his fingers through his still wet hair. Griff’s breath caught in his throat. He still couldn’t believe that they were actually dating after all this time. This did count as dating, didn’t it? Was Nicholas his official boyfriend? Should they put a label on it with him going off to school so soon? Griff pushed those thoughts out of his head. He didn’t want to ruin their romantic moonlit picnic with his angst. He closed the lid on the picnic basket and looked up at Nicholas. “How can someone look so perfect out here in the middle of the forest? Most people can’t look like that with a team of hairdressers.”
“Oh, stop. You’re way hotter than me.” Nicholas said, blushing.
“Whatever. Let’s go.” Griffin grinned and took Nicholas’ hand. They walked to the overlook and spread out the blanket. Griff started setting up the picnic and Nicholas walked over to the cliff and took in the view.
“This is a spectacular spot you picked out, Griff. The view is amazing. I bet it would be even better in the fall when the leaves change.” He felt Griff’s hands slide around his waist and pull him close.
Griffin kissed the side of Nicholas’ neck. “The view is nothing without you.”
“Mm. That feels nice. This was definitely a great idea but check out that sky. I don’t think we’re going to be doing much stargazing tonight.”
“Dang. You’re right. Those clouds are moving in fast. Let’s at least enjoy the view for a little while.” They sat on their blanket and Griff handed Nicholas some of the snacks. “Did you have any specific plan on where we’re heading next?”
“No. Not really. Back toward the coast. I was thinking maybe DC. Was there somewhere you wanted to go?”
“Actually yes. I thought if we passed close to Richmond that we could stop at King’s Dominion.”
“I’ll enter the address into the GPS when we get back. Gee, now the wind is picking up. I don’t think we’re gonna be out here much longer.”
Griff scooted over. He had a bunch of grapes in his hand and started feeding them to Nicholas. Nicholas smirked. “Are we in ancient Athens? I didn’t think…” Whatever else he was going to say was silenced when Griff’s mouth closed over his. With a hand on Nicholas’ chest, Griff gently pushed him down, deepening the kiss.
CRACK! BOOM! The crack of the lightning and the boom of the thunder sounded like it was right on top of them. Then the skies opened up and before they were even on their feet, they were drenched. The boys packed everything up as quickly as possible, Griff grabbed the picnic basket and Nicholas slung the now very wet blanket over his shoulder as they ran back down the trail to their RV. They were almost at the end of the trail and they saw another crack of lightning and the sound of a tree falling not far away.
Nicholas yelled out, “Griffin! Stop!” He wasn’t sure but he thought he saw what looked like headlights coming right for them. “Griffin!” Nicholas dove. He tackled Griff and they rolled off the trail and a little way down the hillside, landing in a puddle.
“What the…” Griff’s complaint was cut short by an out of control RV crashing through the bushes right at the end of the trail they had just been on.
The driver of the RV jumped out and ran over to the boys. “Are you guys ok? I am so sorry! That damn tree fell right in front of me and I swerved and lost control.”
Both boys were still sitting the mud puddle. Griff spoke up, “Yeah. We’re fine.” He looked at Nicholas. “Only because of this guy though. Nicky, I think you saved my life.”
Nicholas playfully punched Griff’s arm. “I won’t next time if you keep calling me ‘Nicky’!”
“I am so relieved that you guys are ok. Now let me see if I can get my RV back on the road. You guys need to get out of this rain.”
The boys got up out of the puddle and joined the man who was now surveying his RV. Nicholas shook his head. “Dude, you’re not getting that out of there without a tow truck. With the busted windshield and the angle its sitting at on the hill, I doubt if it’ll be very comfortable for you to sleep in there either. We got an RV right over there. Let’s all get out of this rain before we drown.”
The man sighed. “Do you mind helping me throw a tarp over the windshield first?”
After helping the stranger cover his window, they all got into Nicholas’ RV. Griff wiped his hands on his wet jeans and put his hand out to the man. “I’m Griffin and this is my best friend Nicholas. Sucky circumstances but its nice to meet you.”
The man replied with a nervous laugh, “I’m Martin. I’m glad I didn’t kill you, Griffin.”
“Yeah. Me too. Are you traveling alone, Martin?” Griff asked.
“For now. I’m picking my grandkids up in South Carolina and from there Disney World.”
“That’s cool. We’re heading in the opposite direction. No real plan except dropping Griff off at college in August.” Nicholas added. “I pulled out the couch bed for you, Martin. Its ready whenever you wanna crash.”
“What about you guys? I’m really sorry to inconvenience you both. Where will you both sleep?”
“We’ll be in the bedroom.” Griff said, taking Nicholas’ hand in his own.
“Oh. Ok. Uhm that’s great. Are you sure you don’t mind me staying the night?”
“It’s fine.” Both boys said as they walked into the bedroom.
“You sure about leaving him alone out there with all our stuff?” Griff asked.
“Where would he go if he tried to steal anything? That RV isn’t going anywhere.”
“I’m sorry our romantic evening ended so soon and without much romance.” Griff said with a frown.
“Its totally fine. Now get in this bed. I need cuddles before I sleep.” Griff slipped into bed behind Nicholas and wrapped him in his arms. “This is all the romance I need.” Nicholas said as they both drifted off to sleep.
After getting checked in at the campground and helping Nicholas set up the RV hook ups, Griffin decided he wanted to take a look around. “Hey, Nicholas, I’m gonna take a walk around and see what’s here. You wanna come with?”
“Nah. I still have a few things to sort out here. I might catch up to you in a bit though. Make sure your phone is charged.”
Griff rolled his eyes. “Of course, I have my phone charged. I’ll see ya in a few!”
Nicholas did stay behind to finish setting up, but he had another reason, too. He wanted to make a special dinner for Griffin. He glanced at his watch and saw that it was almost three o’clock. He had plenty of time. He cleaned up a bit and decided to make one of Griff’s favorites, chicken fried steak.
Carefully, he began to make the steaks, along with mashed potatoes and corn on cob. With everything on the stove, he wandered over to the table and set up the candles that he found. He grinned, remembering how sappily romantic his dad always was. Maybe that’s where he got it from. Next on his checklist, he doublechecked his new Spotify playlist. He wanted just the right mood to show Griffin some special attention, and also to thank him for the wonderful memories they had already made together so far on this trip.
He got all the food set up and eagerly awaited Griffin’s return. Thirty minutes later, still no Griffin and, of course, no cell service. Nicholas started to worry. “What is taking him so long? He said he was only going for a walk. Something could have happened to him; he’s been gone an hour and half now.” Nicholas made sure the stove was off and the candles were out, and he left the RV.
Meanwhile, Griffin had the same idea. He found a perfect spot for a romantic picnic. It was a peaceful and relaxing overlook with a dazzling view of the mountains. It was so beautiful there. He laid out blankets and set up his picnic basket. It was difficult but he prepared everything without Nicholas seeing him. He had candles, fancy glasses, and even some rose petals. He lost track of time and didn’t realize he had been gone well over an hour.
Nicholas scowled at the zero bars on his phone and searched for Griff. He, first, wandered around the RV park. In frustration, he even yelled out for him. “Griff! Hey, Griffin! Where are you?” Nicholas walked and yelled and walked and yelled some more. He finally spotted a hiker coming from one of the trails behind the campground. “Hey, have you seen anyone else on that trail?”
“Yeah, actually, I did. About a half mile up the trail, some weird guy with blankets and lots of other stuff. He was throwing rose petals everywhere. Kinda odd but hey, who am I to judge? Anyway, he was on the cliff overlooking the mountains about a half mile up the trail.” the hiker said
.“Thank you, sir. He may be odd, but if that’s Griff, he’s mine and I love odd. Have a good day!” Nicholas said and started up the trail. As Nicholas walked the trail, he mused, “Could it be Griff spreading rose petals? That would be funny if it is and we both had the same exact idea at the same exact time. He continued up the trail to find his friend.
Nicholas was still muttering to himself when he found Griffin. Griff saw him coming and yelled out, “Hey, Peaches! What are you doing out here?”
“Me? What are you still doing out here? Where in the world have you been? I have been waiting for you back at the RV. It’s been close to two hours! I was getting worried and there’s little to no cell service here.”
“Wow, I am so sorry. I didn’t realize I was gone that long. I wanted to do something special for you, but now I think it may be a little cheesy.” Griff said, running his fingers through his strawberry blonde hair.
“Guess what. I made you dinner. It’s waiting in the RV, I wanted to do something nice for you, too. So, if you’re cheesy then so am I.” Nicholas laughed. “Ok, new plan. We will have your picnic later, after we finish whatever else we end up doing today. After dark, under the stars. Right now, we head back and eat the dinner I made for you. How’s that sound?” Nicholas looked expectantly at Griff.
“Sounds like a plan!” Griff said with a huge smile. The two walked hand in hand back down the trail laughing about them both making special dinner plans at the same time.
“Nicholas, this was totally awesome! I didn’t realize you were such a good cook! And I like the music. New playlist?” Griff asked as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) by Marvin Gaye ended and “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King started.
“Yeah, just made it this morning.” Nicholas blushed.
“For the record, I’ll always stand by you. Thank you so much. This was all so awesome!” Griffin said.
Nicholas leaned in and snuck a quick kiss, “You’re awesome. This was just dinner. So, what will we do now? There’s still a couple hours before dark.”
“Well, I found out from talking with a couple hikers out on the trail that there’s an awesome zipline place! It totally sounds fun, Nicky Wicky.” Griff said, laughing.
“Stop with the Nicky stuff. You know how much I hate that! I’ll let you get away with it this one this time. Ziplining sounds kinda fun. Let’s go.”
As Griff and Nicholas got to the zipline, Nicholas got a little nervous. He paled just watching people being pushed across line, legs dangling. They were up a lot higher, here in the mountains, than other ziplines that he had seen before. Griff looked at Nicholas and reassured him. “Everything will be okay. I promise. I’m right here.” He looked down into Nicholas’ bright blue eyes. “I will never let anything bad happen to you, Nicholas. Not ever.”
“Ok. I’m good. Let’s do this. Time to make some more fun memories together! Then later we’ll have our picnic under the stars. This is an awesome day so far, Griff.” Nicholas said, enthusiastically.
“Heck yeah let’s do this!” Griff said, with a smile that nearly split his face in two.