“Woah! That feather is glowing blue just like the meteor rocks. Where did you get that, Logan?” Harvey yelled.
Logan arched one eyebrow at his brother. “That’s what I’m about to tell you guys.” Logan retold his story about meeting Obadiah and what happened the day before when Obie revealed his true nature to Logan. “So, just before the angel police or whatever they call themselves showed up, Obie gave me this feather, and he told me that it would connect us. Last night it started glowing. This morning it led me to the baseball field where I found a huge crater. Then Gavin showed up looking for me, and we noticed the blue meteor rocks. I agree that it can’t be a coincidence. I think Obie came back for me, and he’s hurt. Maybe the meteors hurt him. I’m not sure about that. It has to be connected. The rocks hold power, though. I’ll let Gavin continue the story from here.” Logan grinned.
“Wait! Wait! Wait! So, your new boyfriend is an angel from an alternate dimension and may have been part of the meteor storm that is mutating people all over town?!” Harvey’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was agape. “I thought you guys were gonna think Ash and I were crazy or lying, but now… our story isn’t so weird!”
“Wait until you hear what Gav has to say.” Logan huffed out a laugh.
“Can we hurry this along? I have a date tonight.” Gavin smirked.
Ashton started laughing. “Seriously? All this going on, and you’re sitting there planning a date, Gavin?”
“Life goes on. As long as nothing else happen, yes, I’m going out.”
Harvey rolled his eyes and elbowed Ash in the ribs. “Don’t encourage him.”
“Ow! That hurt!” Ashton yelled.
Gavin shook his head. “Can I continue the story now?”
Ash was rubbing his ribs. “Please do.” Then he leaned against Harvey and looked up into his eyes. “You’re hot, too, by the way.”
Gavin huffed out a laugh watching his youngest brother blush and squirm. “Anyway, after I found Logan at the baseball field, we were attacked by some sort of half-man and half-ram mutant beast.” Gavin retold the story of his fight with Aries and of him and Logan narrowly escaping and running back home. “So, I guess I have superpowers. I don’t know if it’s permanent or if it will wear off, but at least for this afternoon I could shoot ice out of my hands.”
“Wow! Can you still do it? What else can you do?” Harvey asked.
“I haven’t tried, and I’m not sure. I should experiment with it in case anymore of those monsters come around.” Gav shrugged.
“Here.” Ash handed Gavin a glass of water. “Freeze the water.”
Gavin took a deep breath and concentrated on the water. The water froze, but Gavin caused the water to freeze so quickly that the expanding ice shattered the glass. “Oops. I guess I do still have powers, but obviously I need to practice with them.”
“That’s so cool… literally! Wait until you hear about what happened to Ash and me first at the school and then in the park.” Harvey and Ashton took turns with the narrative as they filled Gavin and Logan in on what happened that afternoon. Just as Harvey finished the story, he noticed a text message from Bryson. He opened the text and saw a picture of a teen boy and a message from Bryson which read: “This boy is connected to the meteors and knows someone named Logan. Does your brother know him? His name is Obadiah.”
Harvey looked over at Logan. “Didn’t you say that your angel friend’s name was Obadiah?”
Harvey handed Logan his phone. “Is this him?”
“Yes! Wait… isn’t Bryson the guy in your story? The psychic dude? Where is Obie?”
“Yes, that’s the same Bryson. I’m not sure. Let me text him back while we finish up our discussions here.”
“Hurry! I have to find him. I think he’s in danger. I can feel it.” Logan gave Harvey his phone back.
Harvey sent out a text to Bryson while the four boys discussed all the utterly unbelievable stories they had just shared with each other. The fact that three of them had superpowers and the fourth was dating an interdimensional angel had all their heads spinning.
“Be quiet!” Carl Chambers hissed at the other three members of the Zodiac Club who were busy packing everything up in the union hall. “Someone is coming in the delivery entrance. Probably one of us but be ready for anything.” Carl crept into the kitchen, his lion-like senses on high alert. Then he heard voices he recognized, and he stood up as Brent Irons strode in followed by an obviously angry Lisa Jensen.
Brent nearly ran to stay out of Lisa’s way. “Be careful, Lisa. This place wasn’t built to accommodate horses indoors.”
Lisa’s hooves echoed on the wooden floors she walked into the main room. She threw the remains of her bow onto the table. The bow was blackened, and the string was missing. Lisa glared at Brent. “It wasn’t built to accommodate giant crabs either.” Then she looked at Carl. “We need to get out of this building, and we need a plan. There are more people than just us with super abilities.”
Carl motioned toward all the boxes. “We’re almost ready to move out of here. I’m waiting for everyone to get back. Now, what happened to the two of you?”
“We were nearly incinerated. We were in the park picking up some of the meteor rocks and chasing away the picnickers, and all of a sudden there were a couple of dudes with powers. One had superspeed and one was throwing fireballs at us.” Lisa said.
“There was a third one. He was emitting electricity from his body, but he didn’t seem to know how to control it. We left when the fire guy started heating up. It looked like he might explode! If we want to take control of this town, we need to take these guys out before they get better control of their powers and abilities.”
“We have the army to worry about now, too.” Jayden Stone said from the doorway.
Luke Adams walked past his boyfriend and set a handful of meteor rocks on the table. “We didn’t encounter any powered people, but the army seems to be everywhere now.”
“Did they give you any trouble?” Rick asked.
Jayden shook his head. “No, but Luke, so far anyway, can still blend in with the normal. I hung back in the shadows while he gathered intel.”
“Did you hear anything useful, Luke?” Carl asked.
“Yeah. We need to lay low and hide and hope the army eventually leaves. They’ve been collecting pieces of the meteor and taking people into custody that they suspect have been exposed.”
“We’re ready to move out of here. We’ll wait for the last of our group to return, and we’ll leave as soon as it gets dark.” Carl said.
“Where are we going?” Jayden asked.
“I know of a couple of abandoned warehouses down on Water Street that would be perfect.” Carl said.
“I know exactly which ones you mean… I agree. The location should be good, and the warehouses are huge and empty.” Luke said.
Eight heads turned as one when the front door opened again. The five remaining members of the Zodiac Club walked in and Carl spoke loudly.
“Gather around the table, everyone. We need to make some plans.”
Gavin Kastala scolded himself for being nervous. He had spent the day fighting a mutant ram monster and finding out that he and his brothers now had superpowers. Well, he and Harvey had superpowers, Logan was dating an angel from an alternate dimension! Why should a pretty girl scare him more than all of that!? But here he was, fixing his hair for the fifteenth time and worrying about his date. It’s not like this is the first date he’s ever been on. He’d been on lots of dates. But this seemed different. This girl asked him out, and she was smart and beautiful, she seemed so far out of Gavin’s league that he didn’t know why she asked him out. She was two years older than him, a senior in college. Gavin offered to get a fake ID and take her out to a club, but she told him that she didn’t want just another club date. She said she asked him out, because he was smart and funny and could hold a conversation about the kinds of things that interested her.
And that’s why he was so nervous. The prettiest girl he knew had asked him out and complimented him. He just knew he was gonna mess this up! He’d rather be fighting the mutant ram-man again! Gavin had twenty more minutes to kill before he had to pick Rebekah up and take her to the restaurant. Maybe annoying his two brothers would ease his nervousness.
Gavin walked into the living room, still fiddling with his hair. The new bright blue streaks in his dark brown hair still confused him. He knew he had ice powers, but why had that caused his hair to change colors? What else was happening to his body that he wasn’t even aware of yet? That line of thinking also caused him to be concerned for Harvey and his friend Ashton. Maybe if Logan could find Obadiah, maybe the angel would be able to explain what was happening. For now, everything appeared deceptively normal. Logan and Ash were playing Xbox and Harvey was busy texting on his cell phone. “Harvs, did you hear back from Bryson yet?”
“Do you think that Logan would still be sitting here if he knew where Obadiah was?” Harvey answered without looking up.
Logan’s eyes darted toward Gavin before focusing back on the game. “As soon as he finds out where Obie is, I’m going to go to him. I don’t care what time it is.”
Gavin nodded. “Ok. We all need answers. I don’t want you going alone, though. I hate to say it, but I want all three of you to go together. Be safe and watch each other’s backs.”
“Should we be worried that we haven’t heard anything new from dad?” Harvey asked.
“I’ve been watching the news reports. His unit is trying to chase down the monsters. We probably won’t hear anything from him until at least tomorrow. He told us to stay in the house, and he expects us to obey. He has no way of knowing about our powers, so he isn’t worried about us.” Gavin said.
Harvey sighed. “We need to figure out how to properly use these powers, so we can help dad and the army. We barely survived fighting our fights against one or two of them, and we know there’s at least six of those things. We fought three and I’ve seen video clips of three others. If they ever showed up all together, we’d be dead.”
“I agree. Our priorities right now are finding Logan’s friend, finding out what else Bryson knows, and then getting ourselves trained. We have to be ready. Right now, though, I’m heading out to meet Rebekah. I want to enjoy my date, but don’t hesitate to text me if anything happens.” Gavin said.
“Have fun, big bro. I’ll keep you updated if we leave the house.” Harvey said as Gavin turned and left.
Bryson was about to cross the street toward his house when suddenly Erik grabbed the back of his t-shirt and pulled him back into the park. “Hey! What did you do that for?” Bryson asked.
“Look.” Erik pointed. “Aren’t those army jeeps in your driveway?”
“Yeah. I wonder what they’re doing there.” Bryson said as he started walking out of the trees again.
Erik put a hand against Bryson’s chest to stop him. “Geez. Usually you’re the smart one, and you stop me from acting impulsively. Think about it, Bry. The army is looking for these monsters, and your fight with the minotaur has gone viral. Your face is all over social media and the news. They must have tracked you down.”
“You’re right. I was so focused on making sure me dad was alright, and thinking about you and the others, that I completely forgot that I’m the one on the news. If they’re at my house, we have to assume they know everything about me. I can’t just not go home right now; I can’t ever go back home again. At least not and live a normal life.” Bryson frowned.
“I’m not ready to say never yet.” Erik said. “Let’s figure this thing out. We need to talk to your friend and see what she has found out.”
“She must have found something interesting. Harvey’s brother Logan is the Logan that she was looking for. I’ll text them both. Grace was going to meet me here. Obviously, she can’t. I’ll have Grace and Harvey and Logan meet us at the baseball field.”
“Maybe Ash and Gavin will show up, too. We really need to get everyone on the same page and figure out what the hell is happening.”
“Agreed. I sent the texts. Let’s get out of here.” Bryson said and the two boys kept the trees between them and Bryson’s house as they made their way to the high school baseball field.
Caleb Justyce checked and rechecked all the read-outs downloading onto his computer screen. He had been doing tests on all three of his new patients all afternoon. The two men from the car crash would need extensive surgeries. Caleb had some ideas about that. He needed to make contact with a couple surgeons that he knew that would work off the radar. Brett was definitely going to need multiple amputations. Caleb knew of one surgeon who worked extensively with bionic limb replacements.
The other patient, William, would be an even more interesting case. The only broken bones that William had was a couple of ribs. The man had sustained massive internal injuries and bleeding, though. Caleb already tried a blood transfusion, but that just wasn’t keeping up with the damage inside of William.
Obadiah allowed Caleb to take two vials of his blood. Caleb was studying the properties of the glowing blue blood, and he thought that it might be what William needed. Obie’s blood had strong healing properties. The problem was that there was no way of knowing if William’s body would accept an alien blood transfusion. Caleb shrugged. Without the transfusion, William would die anyway. There was no harm in trying.
Caleb glanced over at the sleeping form of Obadiah. The boy seemed so… human. Well, other than the glowing blue blood and the scars on his back that suggested that he may have had wings. Caleb knew there was life beyond planet Earth. He had evidence right downstairs in the sub-basement of this very lab. That was only a bio-synthetic virus, though. Obadiah was a living breathing humanoid alien. Caleb was so wrapped up in figuring out what to do with Obie, William, and Brett that he hadn’t been downstairs all day to check on what had been his main project until today, a bio-synthetic android that he infected with an unknown alien virus.
Harvey looked up from his phone and grinned. “Finally! Hey, Logan, I got a text from Bryson. He wants us to meet him at the baseball field.”
“Why there and not at his house? Is Obadiah with him?” Logan asked.
“To answer the first question, we need to stay far away from Bryson’s house. The army is there looking for him because of the viral video with Bryson fighting the minotaur. Bryson asked us not to mention to anyone, especially dad, that we even know him. To answer your second question, no, your friend is not with Bryson. I guess he forwarded the picture to me from his reporter friend, Grace. She is also going to meet us at the baseball field. So, either Obadiah will be with her, or she will know where he is.”
“Ok. Let’s get going.” Logan looked over at Ashton. “Are you coming with us, Ash?”
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Besides, if there’s trouble, you may need me.” Ash said.
“The world is definitely getting more dangerous.” Harvey said with a serious expression on his face.
“Let’s just go find my boyfriend. Besides the fact that I’m worried about him, he may know what is happening to the rest of us.” Logan said. The three boys slipped on their shoes and nearly ran out the door.
In the sub-basement of Justyce Labs, a computer next to what can only be described as an operating table finished running the massive program that Caleb left running when he went to his sister’s house earlier that day.
“All systems online.”
“Unit operational. Operating at 100% capacity.”
The android opened his eyes and found that he was in a brightly lit room. He blinked his eyes, activating his vision’s operating system. He lowered the visual input brightness by 17% to compensate for the bright lights in the room. Looking around, he found that he was lying on a stainless-steel table in a room where everything was either bright white or shiny stainless steel. He tried to sit up and discovered his wrists, chest and ankles fastened to the table by leather straps. He flexed his forearms and the straps across his wrists snapped with ease.
He pushed up from the table and the strap across his chest broke apart. Then he reached down and freed his legs, so he could finally stand. He made a cursory inspection of the room. There were no windows or doors. One whole wall was a bank of computers. He moved closer to the computers and activated his Heads-Up Display (HUD). “Connect to network – y/n?”
He allowed the connection and new images and data flooded his mind. Most of the data was about him. He found out he was the creation of a man named Caleb Justyce. The location of the rom he was in was the sub-basement of Justyce Labs – Building 1. The file referred to him as ‘Project: Adam’ as he is the first of his kind. He needed to get out of this room and find this man. He needed to find out why Caleb Justyce made him. The file was much too vague. He needed to find Caleb Justyce.
Gavin pulled up in front of Rebekah’s apartment exactly five minutes early. He was about to get out and go to the door when he saw her come out to meet him. Gavin thought for a second then rushed out of the car and around to the passenger side. He opened the door for her just as she got to the car. Rebekah paused for a minute, looked at Gavin and said, “That was so 1950 of you.” She smirked and got in the car.
Gavin blushed and got back in the car. Rebekah reached over and touched his forearm. “I’m teasing you, Gavin. Let’s go to dinner.”
Gavin smiled. “I just want to make sure to do everything right.”
“You’re doing fantastic.” Becky grinned.
The restaurant was busy, and service was slow. Rebekah tapped her fingers on the table. “This drink is warm. Where’s that waiter? I need some ice or a new drink.” She grumbled.
Gavin pointed to the other side of the room. “Is that the waiter over there?” When Rebekah looked away, Gav touched the side of her glass and willed it to get cold. He only meant to chill the soda, but just like with the water glass at home, the entire glass froze and nearly cracked. Thankfully, this time, the glass didn’t explode. Progress! “Oops!” Gavin said in surprise.
Becky turned back towards Gavin. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh. Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.” Gav said, grabbing the glass before she could see it. “I’ll just go up to the bar and get you a new drink. I’ll be right back.” He hurried away before Becky could see the frozen glass.
They son finished dinner, and they were scanning the dessert menu. Gavin was thinking to himself how great the date was going. Then all hell broke loose. They heard a loud crash from the front of the restaurant and turned around to see a half goat and half woman monster charging through the front window. Gavin cursed. Why the hell was the Zodiac Club attacking a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere? Was it because of him? The other monster said that it could sense the meteors. Were they drawn to Gavin now, too?
“Listen up! I won’t kill any of you if you do what I say. One of you has a blue meteor rock in your possession. I can smell it. Don’t try being a hero. Just give me the rock and you can all live. My name is Capricorn, and I am with the Zodiac Club. Do as I say and you all may live to see another day.” The goat yelled. Her grey furred head darting from side to side, her nostrils flaring. She had small, curled horns growing out of her head which is probably what she used to smash through the picture wind.
Gavin noticed something else odd. There was a woman in a long flowing white dress standing behind the goat beast. At first, Gavin thought the lady was a bystander from the restaurant, but he noticed that she was talking softly to Capricorn. Then, the lady in the white dress began to sing. Gavin felt as if his mind fogged over and he stood up from his seat. He felt compelled to go to the lady in the white dress, but he was able to stop himself. He used every once of concentration that he could. Gavin felt his body go cold, and he noticed his skin was turning blue. Gavin looked around the room, and he saw that nearly everyone was walking toward the Capricorn and her friend.
Gavin could hear the hooves of the goat crushing the tiles on the floor with every step as she walked from person to person and searched them for meteor rocks. Gavin knew he had to get out of there. He had to get Rebekah out of there, hell he had to get everyone out of there. Gavin was thinking up options and silently praying that Capricorn couldn’t pinpoint his location exactly when he heard the goat yell again and heard another crash. He looked over and Capricorn had flipped over a couple of tables and was staring down at a woman on the floor.
“I smell the rock, but no one is giving me what I want even though you are all under the spell of Virgo’s siren call. I guess I’ll have to prove that I’m serious by crushing this woman’s head under my hoof.” The goat said, her light brown, almost yellow, eyes darting about wildly.
Gavin sighed and looked over at Rebekah. “Becky, this has been a great date. I hope you don’t hate me for this, but there’s something I gotta do. I can’t let them hurt anyone. Not if I can stop it. You should leave. Right now. Run as far and as fast as you can.” He got up and turned towards Capricorn.
“Wait! Gavin! What are you gonna do? What can you possibly do to stop her? Get back here!” Becky cried.
Gavin clenched his fists and concentrated. Rebekah watched as his whole body became encased in an armor made of ice. “Hey, goat girl! Come pick on someone your own size!”
Rebekah gasped and hid behind the table, but she watched the whole scene intently. She had no intention of leaving.
Capricorn heard the challenge and answered it. She charged at man in the ice armor.
Gavin put his hands out in front of him and shot a column of ice at the charging goat. Capricorn hit the ice with such force that she smashed through it, but she skidded on the icy floor and only hit Gavin with a glancing blow. Gavin, with his hands encased in ice gauntlets, let loose with some heavy punches at the back and sides of the goat creature.
Capricorn barely felt the punches. She turned and swiped at Gavin with one mighty fist. Gavin went flying halfway across the room, crashing into one of the tables. Capricorn charged again. This time Gavin aimed lower. The shot to the goat’s upper body didn’t even slow her down, so Gavin fired the icy blast at the creature’s feet. The goat slipped and smashed through yet another table. Capricorn didn’t stay down for long though. She got right back up and stalked towards Gavin. Gavin braced for a renewed attack, but then both the boy and the goat heard the police sirens and the rumble of the army helicopters. More trouble than either of them wanted was fast approaching.
Logan slid his phone into his pocket and turned off the tv. He looked over and saw his brother grinning at his phone. “Who are you talking to, Gav? Has Harvey answered yet? Anything new from dad?”
“Nope. I haven’t heard from either of them. We should go look for Harvey right now, I have plans later tonight,”
“Plans?! Who are you texting? What are you planning?”
“I’m texting Becky, and I’m planning on a date. I told you that I have a date tonight, don’t you remember?”
Logan’s jaw dropped, and it took him a moment to answer. “Yes, I remember. I remember that you planned on going on a date, but that was before the town was attacked by monsters. It was before dad was called up to active duty. It was before our little brother went missing, and most importantly, it was before you turned into Ice Boy or whatever you wanna call yourself. How can you still go out on a date as if nothing happened?”
“All the superheroes date, don’t they? Like Spiderman and Mary Jane? Or Lois and Clark?”
“At least you didn’t say Spiderman and Gwen Stacy. She was murdered by the Green Goblin. Most superhero significant others have short life spans.”
“Logan, I know a lot is going on, and yes, we need to find Harvs before I go, but I need this one normal thing in this crazy day. You can understand that, can’t you? Plus, Becky is the hottest girl in school. I don’t know why she said she’d go out with a dork like me, but I do not want to screw it up before we even go on our first date.”
Logan raised his eyebrows. “I’m totally not hitting on my big bro, but you’re a hottie, Gav. And you’re smart and interesting. I don’t understand why you don’t have all the girls and half the boys fighting over you. Especially now with those cool blue highlights you put in your hair. They totally match your eyes. Becky is the lucky one, not you.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t dye my hair.” Gavin reached up to touch his hair as he walked to the bathroom to look in the mirror. He walked back out and stood in front of Logan. “I don’t understand. It must be a side effect of the ice powers.” Gavin shrugged. “You’re right, though. It does look good. I hope it stays like that.”
“Can we go look for Harvey now? If we find him and he’s ok, I promise I won’t complain about you bailing on us and going out on a date.”
Gavin grinned. “Deal.” Gavin reached over and ruffled his younger brother’s hair. “Thank you for what you said. It means a lot. Now let’s go find our little brother.”
Erik was finally able to turn his flames off, and he regained control of both his mind and body. The first things he saw when he looked around were the emerald green eyes of Bryson Indiana. “I thought I heard your voice, but from inside my head. What’s happening, Bry?” Erik started to wobble a little bit, and Bryson guided him over to a park bench, and they sat down.
“I think it’s those rocks, Erik. How or why, I don’t know yet, and I also need to figure out why they affect different people in different ways. I can read minds and pick up things with just a thought. You… I don’t know… you turn into fire?” He motioned toward Harvey and Ashton. “They both have powers, and then there are the people who have been transformed into evil hulking, brutish monsters.”
“I don’t turn into fire. It’s almost like the fire is inside me. It’s always there waiting for me to call it forth. I’m learning how to control it, but, obviously, I’m not all the way there yet.” Erik said.
“Maybe the people who turned into monsters were already bad. They were doing bad things, and it sounded like they had a master plan. I think there’s more of them.” Harvey said.
“There’s more to it than that.” Bryson looked thoughtful. “There are definitely more of them. I fought one earlier today that looked like an old Greek minotaur.”
“Wait… a bull, a crab, and a centaur. No wonder they called themselves The Zodiac Club. I sure hope there’s not twelve of them!” Ashton quipped.
“That is a horrifying thought, but one to keep in mind. I suggest that we all keep in close contact while we’re figuring this out, for our own safety and to keep an eye on the monsters.”
Erik took a close look at Harvey. “You’re Gavin Kastala’s brother, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m the youngest. I’m Harvey.” Harvey extended his hand and then quickly pulled it back. “Is… is it safe to touch you?”
“I could ask you the same question, electric boy,” Erik smirked.
Harvey looked thoughtful. “Good point! Also, if we’re naming ourselves, I think Thunderbolt makes a more ominous name than the electric boy.” Harvey huffed out a laugh.
Ashton slapped the palm of his hand against his forehead. “Oh geez, what’s next? Spandex costumes?”
“Maybe in your fantasies,” Harvey smirked.
Ash blushed. “No comment.”
“If you two are done awkwardly flirting, can we all exchange cell phone numbers?” Bryson laughed.
After the four boys exchanged numbers, Harvey clapped Ash on the shoulder. “I have to get home and check in with my brothers. We should probably get off the streets anyway. I’m not ready for another fight! Do you need to go home, or do you wanna hang at my place?”
“I have no reason to go home. Let’s go.” Ash looked a little sad, but he gave Harvey a small smile.
“Hey, guys, before you go, do either of you know anyone else who may have come in contact with the meteor rocks? Harvey, what about your brothers?” Bryson asked.
“Logan left early this morning, but he didn’t say anything about the blue rocks. Gavin didn’t know anything about them because when we saw a news report, he looked confused. Our dad is in the army. I’m pretty sure they know something because they activated his unit, and the only one at school that did anything weird was this guy.” Harvey pointed at Ashton and grinned.
“Yeah, the thing with the desk was bizarre, but now I know it was related to the whole superspeed thing I got going on.” Ashton shrugged. “To answer the question, no, I don’t know of any other freaks but us.”
“Ok, guys, stay in touch. Harvey, text me after you talk to your brothers.”
“I will. See ya later.” Harvey and Ash turned and jogged out of the park and took the turn toward Harvey’s house.
As the other two boys ran off, Erik turned to Bryson. “All that power in the hands of teenage boys just trying to figure themselves out. I hope there aren’t many more rocks out there. This could be a global disaster.”
Bryson gave Erik a half-smile. “We’re not doing much better than them. You nearly went supernova! You’re right, though. Someone needs to take charge of this thing. We need to know who was affected and how many rocks are still out there. That’s not even getting into the fact that we don’t know how or why we’re all reacting differently to the meteors.”
“Harvey said the army is involved. Won’t they figure all that out?”
Bryson rolled his eyes. “Never trust the government, Erik. Even if they do figure it out, they’ll never tell us. If they got their hands on anyone with powers, we’d be lab rats for life… or turned into military weapons. I’m gathering my own data, and I have a friend who is an investigative journalist who is also working on a few leads.”
“I trust you, Bryson. That’s why I followed your voice out of the fire.”
“You want me. I knew it.” Bryson smirked.
“Don’t ruin the moment, jerk face.” Erik blushed.
“Let’s go back to my place and wait for Grace’s call.”
“Quick stop to check on my dad, and maybe some burgers on the way? Flying really makes a guy hungry.”
Bryson shook his head and laughed. “I wouldn’t know, but, yeah, I’m kinda hungry myself. Let’s go.”
Ollie pulled into a car dealership and flagged down a salesman. They looked at a few cars out on the lot, then Ollie asked to see the cars in the showroom. The salesman looked skeptical but agreed. Ollie spotted what he wanted almost immediately. “What about this one?” He said.
“We can check out your loan options and credit reports over at my desk. The sticker price on that one is $78,592.00,” The salesman said.
“No loans or credit checks necessary. How much if I pay cash right now?” Ollie asked.
“No one pays that much in cash. What did you do? Rob a bank?” The salesman laughed.
“I did not rob a bank.” Ollie smiled. “But I do have the cash right here. An extra $10k if you stop asking so many questions.”
The salesman frowned. “I can’t take a bribe. Where did the cash come from? I’m calling my manager over.” He turned to walk away. Ollie sighed and pulled the watch out of his pocket. He pulled the crown and twisted time back just a few minutes. Then he pushed the crown back in.
“No one pays that much in cash. What’d you do? Rob a bank?” The salesman laughed.
“I did not rob a bank.” Ollie smiled. “But I do have the cash right here. An extra $25k if you stop asking so many questions.”
The salesman looked around, then bent closer to Oliver. “Let’s finish this conversation in my office.
A little less than an hour later, Oliver Mills drove off the car lot in his brand-new cherry red Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R with white stripes and a black leather interior. His difficult day was long forgotten; he pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Hey Siri, are there any luxury penthouse apartments for rent in Newville, Virginia?” He couldn’t stop smiling as he drove off into a brand-new destiny.
Carl Chambers stomped into the main room at the union hall, his lion mane flying around his head. “What the hell happened, Dani? Why are we lugging around two duffel bags full of rocks when it should be money?”
“Beats me, Carl. I saw the tellers fill them with money. I saw it with my own eyes.” Danielle’s eyes nearly squinted shut then opened wide. “There was something else weird. When we went outside, one of the guards aimed his gun at me, and I knocked him to the ground. I swung my tail down to impale him with my stinger, but then suddenly, I was striking the bare concrete sidewalk, and he was twenty feet away. Maybe he had powers?”
“No. If he had powers and could do something like that and steal our money, we’d probably be dead or in jail. Powers is most likely the answer, but I’d bet it was someone other than the security guard.”
Rick Myers turned from his seat at the minibar they had in the hall, and he joined the conversation. “Sounds like you two had almost as much fun as I did today.” He shook his head, his bull horns nearly touching the eight-foot-high ceiling. “What exactly happened? I left before you two decided what you were gonna do.”
Carl nearly growled. “We robbed the Newville Community Credit Union, or we thought we did. We left the bank with two duffel bags full of cash, but when we were on the way here, I opened one of the bags to start counting, and it was full of rocks. I opened the other bag and found the same thing! I have no idea how it happened.” He motioned his hand toward himself and his two friends. “With everything that’s going on, my only guess is there are more powered people than just us.”
“You would be correct in that assumption, and the army is involved already, too,” Rick said.
“Oh, this keeps getting better and better.” Danielle snapped. “What happened with you today?”
Before Rick could answer, the union hall doors burst open, and Jordan Winters rushed in, ice dripping off of his grey fur as he stalked across the wooden floor. Jordan looked at the unhappy faces of his three friends. “Collecting these meteor rocks isn’t going to be as easy as we thought.”
“We’re all figuring that out.” Carl snarled. “Me and Dani robbed the credit union and came back here to find we had two bags of rocks. Rick was just about to tell us about his day when you came in.” Carl looked over at Rick. “Continue your story.”
Rick sighed. “I caught the scent of the meteors right outside the antique shop over by the park. The shopkeepers saw me and tried to lock the door.” Rick shrugged. “I smashed through the door to see them run out the back. They managed to get to their car and drive away.” He kind of chuckled. “I guess I’m relatively fast now. They hadn’t gotten far away, so I lowered my head and charged. I hit the car broadside. I must have been going thirty miles an hour. The car went airborne and flipped a few times.”
“Wow. That’s impressive.” Danielle said.
“Yeah, well, when I caught back up to the car, I expected to finish the two dudes off and take the rocks, but another guy was standing in my way. I think he was reading my mind, and he could definitely move stuff without touching it. He pushed me aside like I was nothing, but then I charged at him and knocked him down. I went to go finish him off, but every mailbox on the street started firing at me like missiles. I shrugged them off, but then the army showed up. I didn’t want to deal with that, so I ran back here. I’m sorry, Carl. I came back empty-handed.”
Jordan reached into his pants pocket and then slammed his hand down onto the table. “I didn’t come back empty-handed, but I didn’t have a good time of it either. We need to go out in groups if we’re gonna go hunting for these rocks or for people they’ve given abilities to.” Jordan lifted his hand off the table, revealing a small pile of blue meteor rocks.
“Great job, Jordan!” Carl said. “What happened, though? And what’s with all the ice?”
Jordan shook his head, melting ice still shaking loose from his long grey fur. “I followed the scent of the meteors to the high school baseball field. Half the infield is a huge crater. Something big hit there, and it must have been bigger than the meteor that we have here. That’s where I gathered these rocks.” He pointed at the pile of meteor rocks that he had placed on the table.
“You sound unsure of what caused the crater, Jordan. Wasn’t it still there?” Rick asked.
“No. Whatever crashed there was gone. Someone got to it before I did. It had to have been big. Maybe the army got it.” Jordan shrugged.
“What about the ice?” Carl asked.
“I was getting to that,” Jordan said. “After I picked up all those rocks, I could smell that there were more. I followed the scent and spotted two teenage boys. I knew they had pieces of the meteor, so I charged at them. I figured I’d scare them into giving me whatever I asked for, but I was wrong. The younger one hid behind the car, but the older one started exhibiting abilities. It looked like the powers surprised him as much as they surprised me, but he created enough of a problem for me that the two of them were able to run away. He could create stuff out of ice, and he could also shoot ice beams out of his hands. He encased me in an ice cocoon, for crying out loud! I could have followed him, but I thought it best to check in here and maybe take someone else with me next time.”
“Interesting,” Carl mumbled, drumming his paw-like hands on the tabletop. “One with psychic abilities, one with ice powers, and whatever it was that Dani and I faced. If there’s three out there, plus the twelve of us, there are probably more.” He gestured at the room they were in. “We need to get out of here before the army, or these others track us down. Let’s start packing everything up, especially the meteor. I know of a couple abandoned warehouses where we can set-up a temporary headquarters until we find something more permanent.” The other three nodded in agreement, and they set to work packing up the union hall.
Grace was still pacing in front of Justyce Labs and glancing at her phone when Caleb’s car finally pulled up. Grace wondered to herself why Caleb brought a teenage boy with him, but, for now, she pushed that thought aside. “Caleb! Finally! I have a lot of questions that I thought you might find interesting. There was no one else that I could think of that might have any answers.”
“Not even your army contacts?” Caleb smirked.
“Especially not them. Not with this. Is there somewhere we could talk?” Grace’s eyes wandered over to Obadiah and then back to Caleb.
Caleb saw the look and nodded. “I have to wait out here for a couple deliveries that are coming in, but I’ll unlock the door for Obadiah to wait for me in the lobby.” Caleb clapped a hand onto Obie’s shoulder. “Come with me, Obadiah. I have a nice comfortable couch and a tv in the lobby of my lab to keep you entertained while I talk to the nice lady.”
“Will this tv have the same show I was watching on the other one?”
“I’m not sure, but we can check and see.”
Obie stopped and looked at Grace, then continued walking with Caleb. “Do you think the lady knows Logan?”
“I’ll be sure to ask.” Caleb unlocked and opened the front door of the lab and ushered Obadiah inside. After setting Obie up on the couch with the tv remote, Caleb went back outside to talk to Grace. “How can I help, Grace? What is it that you trust me with that you won’t trust the government?”
Grace arched an eyebrow. “I think you may already have an idea why I’m here. I saw that boy’s eyes. Who is he?”
“I’m not one hundred percent sure yet. He showed up at my sister’s house last night. He was injured, and he has amnesia.”
“And you didn’t take him to the hospital or call the police?”
Caleb smirked. “Didn’t you just say that we shouldn’t trust the government with whatever is going on?”
“Very true and very smart. Your sister lives over on the other side of the high school, doesn’t she?”
“Yes. Why do you ask that?”
“I took a walk down that way while I was waiting for you. Have you seen the crater? Looks like something big hit there. Whatever was there is gone now. There were also footprints leading out, but none leading in.” Her gaze wandered toward the boy in the lobby.
“That’s interesting. I will definitely check that out as soon as possible. Things are happening quickly, Grace. Now, what is it that prompted your visit?”
“Did you see the meteor shower last night and all the news clips throughout the day today?”
“I didn’t witness the meteor shower, but I did read about it. I’ve been busy in the lab and with my sister and Obadiah, so no, I haven’t kept up with the news. But I do know that other strange things have been happening. Your call isn’t the only one I’ve gotten today.”
“Check your phone. I sent you a couple video links.”
Caleb’s eyes widened as he watched. Finally, he slid his phone back into his pocket. “I have heard about these beasts, but I hadn’t gotten the chance to watch the videos yet. This is… amazing. Did you see this in person? Is that why you’re here? You’re not affected by this, are you, Grace?”
“I’m not surprised that you’re aware of at least some of this. No, I’m not personally affected, but I am involved. The meteor rocks that didn’t burn up in the atmosphere are what caused all the fires. I’ve seen one of the rocks. It glows with the same blue light that shines in that boy’s eyes.” She pointed at Obadiah.
“I agree that he is involved, but I’m not sure how yet. Do you still have the stone? Did you pick it up?”
“I did not touch it. My friend Bryson Indiana has it. That’s why I’m here. He fought one of those monsters that you saw in the video clips. Bryson has superpowers.”
“Superpowers? What can he do? Can you bring him here? I have already started gathering a few items that may be involved since I found out about the boy. I would love to talk to someone who has been affected and does not have amnesia. It might help me help Obadiah. We need to figure this thing out, Grace. I’m glad you came to me.”
“You were the first one I thought of. I knew that if you weren’t already involved, that you’d want to be. Bryson still has a rock, so if I can get him to come here with me, you can talk to him and get to see a piece of the meteor.”
“If he allows me to examine both him and the stone, that may be key to figuring out what is happening. Now you must excuse me, Grace. It looks like my other guests are arriving.”
Grace turned and saw two ambulances pulling into the parking lot. “Do all your guests arrive by ambulance, Caleb?”
“They were in the car accident caused by the minotaur. The same wreck that your friend Bryson was a part of. One of my associates at the hospital called me to tell me that both cases were highly unusual and glowing blue rocks were among the possessions of both men.”
“How did you manage to get the hospital to release them to you? Never mind. I don’t want to know. What’s with the armored car pulling in behind the ambulances?”
Caleb grinned. “Another oddity. The credit union was robbed, possibly by people in animal costumes. Now, I’m thinking it may have been more of these mutants. A security guard friend of mine called me to tell me that the surveillance footage showed something he couldn’t explain, so he sent it to me.”
“Looks like you’re going to be busy. Are you sure you want me to bring Bryson?”
“Absolutely. Obadiah has amnesia, and these other two are in comas. Bryson could be the key to helping all of them.”
“I’ll let you get to work. I’ll text you after I talk to Bryson.”
“Wait. One other thing. Do you know anyone named Logan? He’d probably be a teenager.”
“No, but maybe Bryson does. Can I take a picture of Obadiah to show him? He might recognize the boy.”
“I took some photos for documentation. I’ll text you one.”
“Thank you. I’ll be in touch soon.” Grace’s phone beeped as she walked to her car. She opened the text and saved the pic which she immediately sent to Bryson.
Grace: Bryson, do you recognize this boy? He may be involved with the meteors. He may also be connected to someone named Logan.
Bryson: He doesn’t look familiar. My new friend Harvey has a brother named Logan. It may not be the same Logan, but I’ll send the pic to him and ask.
Grace: Thanks. I’m on my way to your house. Are you there?
Bryson: I’m at my friend Erik’s house. He’s also involved in this. I’ll be home soon. I’ll meet you there.
Grace: Ok. See you soon.
Harvey and Ashton rounded the corner almost within sight of the Kastala house. Ash stopped and pointed across the street. “There’s Logan and Gavin right other there. I wonder where they’re off to.”
“Hmm. They might be looking for me. Come on.” Harvey led Ashton across the street to meet up with his two brothers. “Yo! Where are you guys going? I was just heading home to check in and tell you about what just happened to us.”
Logan lightly punched Harvey’s shoulder. “We were looking for you, you jerk! Don’t you ever answer your texts?”
“Sorry! I was kinda busy. I’ll tell you all about it at home. Let’s get off the street. A lot is going on.” Harvey said.
“More than you know! Wait until you hear about Gavin!” Logan said. “And I have a story of my own to tell. A lot has happened in the last day and a half.”
Gavin spoke up after the four boys were settled in in the Kastala’s living room with snacks and soda. “Well, it seems we all have stories to tell. Who wants to go first?”
Logan pulled the glowing blue feather out of his pocket. “I think my story starts before any of the others, so why don’t I start?”
The sun was just coming over the horizon as Noah Blake turned off the highway. He reached up into the visor to get his sunglasses as he continued to drive east. Noah leaned back and pressed down harder on the gas pedal. Noah had been happy with his life in California, and he was dreading going home.
Home. Did he even have one now? Noah doubted that he’d ever return to California. He needed to be near his mother now with everything that she was going through. New Jersey sure wasn’t home anymore. His father made that clear five years ago. Noah shrugged. Maybe someday he’d find a home of his own. A home he chose, not a home he ran to in order to escape a home where he was no longer wanted. Noah hated returning to New Jersey. However, circumstances made it necessary.
He tried to banish all the thoughts of his family drama, and, instead, Noah’s mind drifted to all the Facebook messages from Holly Simmons. Out of some quirk of fate, his five-year high school reunion was happening tonight, his first night back in town. Noah wasn’t sure if he’d actually show up. Would Tyler be there? What about Xander? If they were there, would either of them even talk to him? Noah sighed. He’d have to face them eventually.
In a town as small as Green Haven, there would be no avoiding them. Screw it. He may as well go to the reunion and deal with his former friends all at the same time. With that decision made, Noah pulled into the parking lot of the motel, which would be his temporary home. He’d decide how to proceed with his family drama later. Noah got out of his car and walked into the motel office.
Tyler cursed. Why did he attend this class reunion? The last person that Ty wanted to see was the first person that caught his eye. What the hell was Noah Blake doing back in town? Tyler cursed himself and wiped away the tears that came unbidden to his eyes. He thought he was over Noah. Shouldn’t five years be long enough to heal a broken heart? Tyler wiped his eyes and turned back toward the door. He was about to make his escape when he heard someone yell his name.
“Tyler? Tyler Higgins, is that you? Get over here right now! I can’t believe you actually came!” Tyler knew who that voice belonged to before he turned around. There was no escaping now. He’d been spotted by Holly Simmons, Homecoming Queen, Head Cheerleader, Gossip Monger Extraordinaire. Tyler hung his head, sighed, and walked over to the tables reserved for the class reunion.
“Hey, Holly. Of course, I’m here. I live right down the street. You probably would have sent the football team to my house if I hadn’t shown up.” Tyler laughed.
“Oh, you! I’ve missed your sense of humor! We should hang out more.” Now go ahead and have a seat. I set up seating arrangements. You sit right over there.”
Tyler looked where she was pointing and groaned. Of course, she put him right next to Noah. “This seat is empty. Why don’t I just sit here next to you, Holly?”
“Tyler Higgins! Don’t you go messing up my seating chart already! Once dinner is over, everyone will be moving around. For now, go sit in your seat!”
Tyler raised his hands in mock surrender. “Ok. Ok. I’m going.” He smiled and hugged Holly, but he walked past his assigned chair and on up to the bar instead. Ty leaned against the bar and waved the bartender over. “Give me a double of the strongest thing you have.”
The bartender smirked. “You with the class reunion?” She asked.
“How’d you guess?” Tyler chuckled.
She nodded toward the drink she was pouring for him. “Too many ex-girlfriends in one room?”
Ty rolled his eyes. “Nope. Just one ex-boyfriend.”
“Oh, now I’m interested. The first drink is on the house. Tell me more.”
Tyler heard a voice from behind him. “Ty? Can we talk?”
With a heavy sigh, Ty said to the bartender, “As if on cue, that’s him.” He turned and, for the first time in over five years, looked up into Noah’s chocolatey brown eyes. “No. We most certainly cannot talk, Noah. If I’d known you’d be here, I wouldn’t have even shown up.”
“Fine. Go sit with your friends. I’ll leave.”
Tyler laughed despite himself. “That’s perfect, Noah. Leave. Run. That’s what you’re best at anyway, isn’t it?”
“Ty, I had to get out of that house. I had to get out of this town. I was suffocating here. It was better for everyone.”
“And you had to leave me, too, right? Why are you even here if you hate it so bad? You should have just stayed in California.”
“I… leaving you was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, and it’s my biggest regret. You know how my dad was, Ty. He would never have accepted me, and it would have been a hundred times worse if he knew about us.”
“So, you just left? No warning? One night we were on a normal date planning for our future, and the next morning I get a goodbye text?”
“I wanted to tell you, but I just couldn’t. It’s…. It’s a long story, Ty. You deserve to know the whole thing, but not here. Maybe we can find the time, and I can tell you.”
“Screw you, Noah. You were a coward. You didn’t just break my heart: you shattered it into a billion pieces. I ran all the way to your house that morning, only to have your mom tell me that you were already gone. Why didn’t you wait for me, Noah? Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?’
“Ty, I had to get out. I had to. I couldn’t stay one minute longer.”
Tears glistening in his eyes again, Tyler said, “You could have asked me to go with you.”
Noah’s eyes grew wide. “But… your whole family accepted you. Your life was here. You had it all planned out. You would never have left all that.”
“I would have gone with you. You should have known that.” Tyler didn’t wait for a response. He turned and walked back toward the reserved tables.
Noah started to follow after him, but a hand grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Give him a few minutes, Noah.”
Noah turned to see Xander Morris. Xan was both Noah’s and Tyler’s best friend all through school. “Hey, Xan. I should have known you’d be here if Ty was. How have you been?”
“I’ve been good. How about you? How’re things out on the west coast?”
“Eh, I’ve been better. I just moved back to town. I’m not even settled in anywhere yet. Everything is all screwed up, Xan. I didn’t even realize how bad I screwed up with him until just now.”
Xan nodded. “You made a mess of it for sure. You should have talked to him, hell you should have talked to me, too, before you just up and moved three thousand miles away and changed your phone number.”
“My dad cut my phone off as soon as I left. He cut me off from my bank accounts and everything. As soon as he found out that I’m gay, he disowned me.”
“That really sucks, Noah. I’m sorry that happened to you, but it’s actually another reason you should have stayed here. You wouldn’t have been alone. You had us.”
“I know. I’m back now, and I’m going to try and make things right with a lot of people if it’s not already too late.”
“You’re in town for more than just the reunion?”
“Yes. I’m back for good. Let’s go eat. More people than you will want to hear the answer to that question, so I may as well get it over with all at once.”
Noah took his seat next to Tyler, sitting down just as his dinner arrived. Ty barely looked at Noah all throughout the meal. Noah glanced at Tyler several times and wracked his brain, trying to think of a way to get him talking again. Quiet conversations were going on during dinner, but the conversations increased in both number and volume as people finished their meals. Leave it to Holly Simmons to turn the spotlight onto Noah.
“Noah Blake, how did we get so lucky to get you to show up? I didn’t think we’d ever see you again.” Holly said.
“It was fate, I guess. If you’d had the reunion in the summer as most other classes do, I wouldn’t have been here. I’m back in town now, so I saw no reason not to come.”
“We tried to have it in the summer. If we continued to leave it up to Jason, we wouldn’t have had it yet. Rachel and I took over and finally got it scheduled. Anyway, how long are you in town for?” Holly asked.
“Forever. I’m not settled in yet. I got back to town today, and I’m here to stay.”
That caught Tyler’s attention. He was now listening intently.
“Your parents must be overjoyed to have you back just in time for the holidays.” A girl named Alice interjected.
Noah’s expression changed from a smile to a frown in the blink of an eye. Tyler noticed Noah’s fingers nearly drumming holes into the table, a telltale sign of his anxiety. Tyler knew that his ex-boyfriend, his ex-best friend, was doing his best to stave off an anxiety attack. Tyler almost reached out a comforting hand in a reflex action, but he gritted his teeth and held back. He did continue to closely watch Noah’s body language.
“I…” Noah started to talk, then stopped. he sighed and started back up again. “I’m here for my mom. She’s in the hospital again. She might be there for a while.”
Xander and Tyler, from each side of Noah, spoke almost as one. “Is the cancer back? I thought she beat it?”
Noah kinda half smiled as he looked back and forth between his two oldest friends. “Yes, it’s back, and the doctors say it’s worse than before. It doesn’t look good.” Tyler saw Noah’s fingers drumming even faster and literally sat on his own hands to stop himself from comforting the boy who shattered his heart.
Holly spoke again. “That’s so sad, Noah. It must be a comfort to her that you’re here. Also, for your dad to have you to lean on during such a difficult time.”
“I’m not staying with my father,” Noah said, his expression dark.
“Why not?” Holly asked.
Noah looked around the table at all the people listening, all his former friends and classmates. He looked down, then he looked back up again. “My father disowned me five years ago when he found out that I’m gay. I can’t even visit my mom in the hospital if he’s there.”
Tyler sucked in a breath. He knew that it was a massive step for Noah to say that out loud and say it to so many people. And his dad found out! Tyler was extremely curious to hear that story!
Holly nearly jumped out of her seat. “I knew it!” She pointed from Noah to Tyler and back again. “The two of you were a couple back in high school, weren’t you?! I knew it!”
Noah smiled, but Ty could see that his eyes still looked sad. “Yeah, we were, but then I screwed it up.”
Holly looked like she wanted to ask more about that, but she looked at Tyler and changed her mind. She looked back at Noah and asked, “So if you’re not staying at your parent’s house, where are you living?”
“For now, I’m at the motel down on Seaside Drive.”
Tyler couldn’t stop himself this time. He put a comforting hand on Noah’s shoulder. “No. You’re not going to be living by yourself in that dump through Thanksgiving. While your mom is in the hospital, you’re coming home with me.”
Noah turned toward Tyler, his eyes glistening with tears. “Are… are you sure?”
“It doesn’t mean that you’re forgiven. Don’t read anything into it other than the fact that no one deserves to be alone on Thanksgiving, not even you.” Tyler got a wicked glint in his eye and smiled when he said those last three words.
“I can accept that. I don’t have a car yet. I returned the rental that I drove here earlier this afternoon. I took an Uber here. I was gonna go looking for cheap used cars in a day or so. Can you take me back to the motel before we go to your house?”
“Yeah.” Tyler glanced around the table. “Most people have already left. Let’s get outta here and get you settled in.” The two boys said their goodbyes to their classmates that were still there and then made their way out to Ty’s car.
Xander followed the other two out to the car and pulled Tyler aside. “Are you sure that this is a good idea, Ty?”
“No. Not at all, but I’m not letting him spend the holidays alone. Especially not with his mom in the hospital with her cancer back. We both know what he went through last time, Xan. This sounds worse, plus he doesn’t have his dad anymore either. Did you know about that?”
“No. I didn’t know about the thing with his dad or about his mom. I would have told you.”
Tyler glanced into the car and then back at Xander. “I can’t let him go through this alone. I still love him, Xan, even after what he did. I shouldn’t, but I do.”
“Be careful, Ty. I don’t want to see you get hurt even worse than you already have been.” Xander pulled Ty into a hug.
“I’ll call you tomorrow. Even if I don’t need backup or a buffer between Noah and me, maybe we can all hang out. I miss those days. The three of us had a lot of fun.”
“I won’t hold you to it, but I should be available if you call. I don’t have any plans for tomorrow. I love you, Ty. Be careful.”
“I love you, too, Xan. I’ll call you tomorrow. Good night.” Tyler got into his car and looked over at Noah. “Do you need to stop anywhere besides the motel?”
Noah raised one eyebrow and looked out of the window at the receding form of Xander. “Nope. Just the motel.”
It didn’t take long for Noah to pack everything he owned into a duffel bag and his backpack. “I need to stop at the front desk and make sure they save my room, and I’ll have to pay for next week’s rent,” Noah said as he locked the door.
“No. Turn in your key. You’re not coming back here. You can stay with me until you find something permanent.” Tyler said.
“Are you sure, Ty? I don’t want to impose, and you haven’t even asked your mom yet.”
“Oh, please. My mom always loved you more than she loved my brother or me.” Ty laughed.
“She did not!” Noah laughed. “Is Tommy still living there? He’s eighteen now, right?”
“Yep. Still there and almost nineteen. He’s a freshman in college now. Still, my bratty little brother, though.”
“Cool. If he doesn’t hate me, it’ll be nice to see the little squirt again.”
“I’m the only one who has a right to hate you.” Ty arched an eyebrow. “I’ll make sure everyone else behaves.”
“Can we make one more stop before we go to your house?”
“The grocery store. I don’t want to show up empty-handed.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “My mom is used to you eating her out of house and home. She fed you more often than your own mom did for thirteen years. I don’t think she’ll care about a couple of weeks.”
“Things are different now, though. Let me do this.”
“One condition. I know mom wouldn’t want you to bring too much, but we’ll make it a junk food and soda run.”
“Deal. Let’s go.”
The two boys struggled, both with their arms full of grocery bags, as Tyler unlocked the kitchen door. He nudged the door open with his foot and flicked the light switch on. They tried to be quiet in the darkened house. Still, between the plastic grocery bags and opening and closing cupboard doors, soon enough, the boys were startled by a voice from behind them.
“As I live and breathe, that cannot be Noah Blake standing in my kitchen. I never thought his shadow would darken my doorway ever again.”
The boys spun around and saw Tyler’s mom standing in the kitchen doorway, wearing a bathrobe and slippers. She stood with her hands on her hips and an unreadable expression on her face.
“Mrs. H! It’s been a long time!”
“That it has, Noah. That it has.” Debbie Higgins’ gaze shifted from Noah over to her eldest son, but she didn’t say a word. She just arched one eyebrow.
Tyler gave his mom a shy smile, nearly blushing. “He needs a place to stay, mom. I’ll explain everything to you in the morning. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course not. It’s getting late. You finish up in here. Noah, darling, I’m sure you remember where the hall closet is?” She said with a gleam in her eye.
Now it was Noah’s turn to blush. Many memories were attached to that closet, including the first time Mrs. Higgins caught him and Tyler kissing. “Yes, ma’am. I remember.”
“I thought you might. Go get me a set of sheets and a blanket. I’ll pull out the couch. You can sleep there tonight.”
Tyler woke up to the sound of his bedroom door banging open and his younger brother jumping on his bed. “Tommy, what the hell. What time is it?”
“It’s quarter past eight, but that’s not the question that needs answering. Why is Noah sleeping on our couch?! I didn’t even know he was back in town, and I’d never dream you’d invite him over!”
“Ugh. Tommy, it’s complicated. I… I gotta explain some stuff to mom and dad. I’ll just tell you all at the same time, so I don’t have to say it three times.”
“Are you guys getting back together? He’s not in here with you, so maybe not?” Tommy was shaking his brother so he didn’t fall back to sleep.
“Get off me. Geez. Go to the kitchen. I’ll be out in a few minutes, but, no, we’re not back together.”
“I want answers, bro,” Tommy smirked. “If there are details that you don’t want to tell mom and dad, just make sure you tell me later.” Tommy laughed and left the room.
Tyler rolled his eyes at the receding form of his brother, then he got out of bed and headed to the shower.
As Tyler walked to the kitchen, he mentally kicked himself for taking so long to get himself ready for the day. He wasn’t going on a date. Ty had zero reasons to make himself look extra good for Noah, but that’s just what he did. Tyler picked out the perfect outfit. He paid extra attention to getting his hair just the way he wanted it. What was wrong with him? Ty spent the last five years hating Noah, and now that he had him here, and he could tell him exactly how he felt, Tyler realized that he only hated Noah so much because he was still head over heels in love with him.
Tyler walked into the kitchen and heard the conversation that he planned on having already taking place. It was just as well. The story was Noah’s to tell anyway. Tyler busied himself getting breakfast while Noah finished telling his story. Ty felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see his father standing beside him.
“I’m proud of you, son. Not many people would have done what you’ve done, inviting him over here. I have to go to work for a few hours, but I’ll be home early. If you boys go to the hospital and run into any trouble, give me a call.” Ty’s dad gave him a wink. “I’ve never liked Paul Blake, and now that I know how he’s treated his son, I like him even less.”
Ty smiled. “We’ll be ok, dad. Thanks. I love you.”
“I love you, too. See you tonight.”
Tyler grabbed a couple more slices of bacon and sat at the table. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Tyler let the three voices at the table wash over him but tuned out the conversation. He let the voices of his mom, younger brother, and Noah take him back in time to much happier memories. Ty smiled as his mind drifted back, but that didn’t last long. Whenever he tried to remember the good times with Noah, the memory of the day Noah left pushed its way to the front of his mind. Tyler relived the feeling of waking up to the goodbye text and then running as fast as he could to Noah’s house. He felt his heart break anew at the memory of Noah’s mom telling him that Noah was already gone. Tyler remembered Noah’s dad just standing in the doorway, glaring at him. He felt his eyes sting as the tears formed. Then Tyler felt someone’s hand grip his own.
Ty opened his eyes and saw his mom leaning toward him. She reached over and wiped a tear off his cheek. “You did the right thing bringing him here, son.” She looked over at Noah. “I realize that the two of you have a lot of baggage,” she looked back at Tyler. “But you made the right choice. I know it can’t be easy.”
“Thank you, mom. That means a lot.” Ty turned his head and saw Noah staring at him. “No matter how I feel about you, there’s no way that I could let you stay at that fleabag motel by yourself while your mom is in the hospital.”
“How do you feel about me, Ty? Is there any way I can ever make you understand why I left? Can I ever be forgiven?”
Tyler wiped his eyes. “I honestly don’t know how I feel about you right now, Noah. I’ve spent five years trying to hate you, but I don’t hate you. I don’t know if I am ready to forgive you either. Can we please just go to the hospital and see if we can get you in to see your mom? I’d actually like to see her, too. My dad said to call him if we have any problems getting in.”
Noah sighed. “Yeah, let’s go. I… want to talk to you about everything that happened, Ty. I want to explain, but only when you are ready to listen.”
“We’ll talk, Noah. I promise. Just not right now. Are you ready to go?” Noah nodded, and the two boys grabbed their coats and left the house.
Tyler led Noah through the hospital up to the third floor Nurse’s Station. Mrs. Blake was in room 327, according to the receptionist in the lobby. Noah was about to walk right to the room, but Tyler stopped him and pulled him over to the desk to talk to the nurses. Ty flashed his most charming smile at the young red-headed nurse at the desk. “Isabella! How is my most favorite nurse in the entire hospital doing today?”
Isabella rolled her eyes and laughed. “I bet you say that to all the nurses, especially the boys. Speaking of which, have you called my brother yet? I told him that I gave you his number!”
Noah suddenly became interested in the conversation as his eyes darted back and forth between Tyler and Isabella.
“You know you’re my favorite, Izzy, and no, I have not called Ozzy yet. I was busy with school, and now I have a few other things going on. I haven’t forgotten. Tell him that I’ll call while I’m home for the holidays as long as other things,” Ty’s eyes darted over to Noah before refocusing on Izzy. “don’t keep me busier than I expect.”
“You won’t be calling if I have anything to say about it,” Noah grumbled louder than he meant to.
“You don’t have anything to say about it. You gave up that right five years ago.” Tyler frowned at Noah and then turned back to Isabella. “Izzy, this is Noah. We are here to visit his mom.”
“Wait, not the Noah you told me about. I thought he moved to California.” Izzy said.
“Yep! The very same Noah. He’s back in town.”
Isabella’s eyes darted back and forth between the two boys. And you’re here together?”
Noah frowned but didn’t say anything. Ty smirked. “Yeah, we’re here together. His mom is in 327. Can you tell me if she has any visitors right now?”
Izzy pointed at Ty. “You have some explaining to do when I get you alone, mister.” She looked down at her computer screen and hit a few buttons. “There aren’t any visitor restrictions, Ty. Even if someone is in there, you guys can go in.”
Ty leaned forward and spoke in a lower tone of voice. “There’s a history of family drama. We’d rather make sure that no one else is visiting.”
“Understood.” Izzy walked down the hall and then returned. “All clear, Ty. Go right in.”
Noah walked into his mom’s room, followed closely by Tyler. Cindy Blake looked up from the magazine that she had been reading, and her eyes opened wide in surprise. “Noah! I didn’t expect to see you! I didn’t even know that you knew I was in the hospital. Who’s that with you?” She peered around her son and smiled, though her face still looked sad. “Tyler Higgins. I shouldn’t be surprised. I rarely saw my own son without you at his side.”
“Not for the last five years,” Tyler said. “But, anyway, I’m so sorry to hear about the cancer, Mrs. Blake. How are you doing?”
Noah and Tyler sat on opposite sides of Cindy Blake, each holding one of her hands. “I’m doing ok. We’ve been down this road before, Tyler. I know what to expect.”
Noah kept glancing at the door. “Mom? How often does dad come to visit?”
“It depends on his work schedule. At least once or twice a day, though. Why do you ask?”
“I told him that I was coming. He said not to bother. He told me that I wasn’t welcome at the house or here at the hospital.”
Tyler spoke up. “He won’t kick you out of your mom’s room while I’m here.” Then Ty frowned and looked down. “Unless you decide to just run away again.”
Cindy Blake looked from one boy to the other several times then interrupted her son. “Noah, can you go see if the nurse can get me a fresh pitcher of ice water and maybe some crackers?”
“Sure thing, mom. I’ll be right back.” Noah said as he got up and walked toward the door.
“Take your time, son.”
Tyler started to follow Noah, but Cindy did not let go of his hand. She pulled him back toward the bed. “Sit down, Tyler. We need to talk.”
“What’s up, Mrs. Blake?” Ty asked as he sat back down on the bed.
“Tyler, you have to stop blaming him for leaving. If you want someone to blame, blame me.”
Ty took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “With all due respect, Mrs. Blake, he left. You didn’t. He didn’t have to leave, at least not all the way to California.”
“I don’t know how much he has told you of what happened back then, but it was bad.”
“I know his dad kicked him out, but he could have come to me. My family would have helped him. Hell, he even could have gone to Xander, but he didn’t. He went to California.”
“There was more to it than just his father kicking him out, but I will let Noah tell you about that. It’s not my place, but what I want to tell you is that after Noah and his dad had their… disagreement, he came to me asking for help. I could have stood up for my son, but I didn’t. Instead, I told him to leave. I told him that it was in everybody’s best interest if he moved as far away as possible and never looked back.”
Tyler scowled. “He still could have come to me.”
“Tyler, my husband is a highly respected police officer in a small town. I convinced my son that his leaving was also in your best interests. I’m sorry. I should have stood up to my husband. I should have protected my son.”
Tyler heard loud voices in the hall, and he listened intently. “Mrs. Blake, do you hear those voices? That’s your husband preventing your son from coming back in here to visit you. If you are truly sorry for what you did five years ago, prove it now. Fight this cancer. Stand up to your husband. Noah needs you in his life, and he needs you healthy. I’ll go out there and take him home for today, but we are coming back tomorrow. Make sure he can come in.”
Cindy Blake cocked her head to the side and stared at Tyler for a moment before she spoke. “You still love my boy, don’t you? I like you, Tyler Higgins. I always have.”
“I never stopped loving him. I don’t think I ever will. I just need to be able to trust him again.” And with that, Ty left the room.
Tyler stepped out into the hallway and paused a moment to take in the scene in front of him. He had been told about Noah and his father’s tension, but he still didn’t know how bad it was, and this was the first time he was witnessing it with his own eyes. Mr. Blake was standing in the middle of the hall, literally using his body to block Noah from going into the room to see his mother. Paul Blake was pointing and yelling at Noah while Noah practically cowered against the far wall. Ty steeled his nerves and strode across the hall and stood between father and son.
Paul Blake stopped in mid-sentence and sneered at Tyler. “What are you doing here? Get out of my way. I’m having a private conversation with my son.”
“It stopped being a private conversation when you started screaming in the middle of a public place.”
“It’s none of your business, boy. Now run along and take him with you. He’s not getting into that room.”
“I used to have a lot of respect for you, Mr. Blake. Both as a person and as a police officer. I never realized that you were just another mean bully. And by the way, it’s up to your wife who visits her and who doesn’t.”
Paul narrowed his eyes. “Don’t test me. If I don’t want him in there, he won’t get in there.”
“Maybe you should go talk to your wife. For now, I’ll take Noah home, but we will be coming back.”
“That embarrassment of a son has no home.”
“He may not have a home with you, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a home. Noah is no embarrassment. He is amazing. Noah is kind, and he is compassionate, loving, and so many more things. It’s your loss that you don’t want him in your home. He has a home with me. Now and forever.” Tyler turned his back on Paul Blake, grabbed Noah’s hand, and led him down the hallway and out of the hospital.
As the boys reached Tyler’s car, Ty went to let go of Noah’s hand, but, instead, Noah pulled Ty in for a hug. “Thank you so much, Ty.”
“Anytime, Noah. No one deserves to be treated like that.”
“Did you mean what you said?”
“Every. Single. Word.” Ty grinned.
“I want to kiss you so bad right now, Ty, but I don’t want to mess up anything that we might be rebuilding.” Noah huffed out a laugh.
Tyler’s grin grew wider. “Hold onto that thought. That door isn’t open yet, but it’s not closed and locked either. Now get your cute ass in the car. We have some errands to run for my mom before we go home.”
“You think I have a cute ass?” Noah smirked.
“I’ve always thought that. To be honest, I’d say the last five years have been good to you.” Ty waggled his eyebrows and got into the car.
Noah couldn’t help but smile as he ran around the car and got into the passenger’s seat.
Noah and Tyler stumbled through the kitchen door, arms laden with shopping bags. Both boys were laughing as they regained their balance and set the bags down on the kitchen countertop. Debbie Higgins arched one eyebrow. “Are you boys ok? I take it that your trip went well?”
The laughter died down, and Tyler shrugged. “It could have gone better, but I think that I made an impression on Mrs. Blake.” Ty winked at his mom.
Noah threw up his hands. “Yeah, and he won’t tell me what they talked about, but, Mrs. H., you should have heard what Ty said to my dad! He was incredible!”
Tyler blushed. “I only spoke the truth.”
“Woah! What’s that smell? Pizza!” Noah yelled. “I almost forgot that you guys always have pizza the night before Thanksgiving!”
“Pizza and movies,” Tyler said. “And if we have a guest, they get to pick the movies. You should remember.” Ty smirked.
“Yes! The best two non-Christmas Christmas movies of all-time! ‘Diehard’ and ‘Gremlins’!”
Tommy walked into the kitchen. “Finally! We haven’t watched those two movies since… well, since the last time you were here, I think.”
“Why not?” Noah asked. “They should be part of the tradition by now.”
“Because you weren’t here to pick them. The movies weren’t part of the tradition. You were.” Tyler said with a frown.
Noah reached over and took Ty’s hand. “I’m here now. Let’s watch the movies.”
Tyler shrugged, but a small smile crept onto his face. “Ok. I suppose we can.”
“Great! Just like the old days.” Tommy cheered and ran into the living room to get the movies started.
As the credits began to roll on ‘Diehard,’ Tyler started to get up off the couch. He felt a weight against his left side and noticed, for the first time, that Noah was pressed right up against him. The night had been so calm and relaxing that Ty hadn’t even realized it happened, even though his own arm was wrapped around his ex-boyfriend’s shoulder. Ty smiled down at the other boy. “Hey. How long ago did this happen?”
Noah grinned. “A while ago… I don’t know how long… it… seemed right. Do you want me to move?”
Ty’s smile faded. “I…”
“You do want me to move. I can see it. Do you want me to leave?” Noah sat up and slid to the other end of the couch.
“Noah, no… I…” Tyler sighed. “I don’t know what I want, but I do know that I don’t want you to leave. I didn’t notice that you were next to me, because you’re right. It felt natural. It felt like that’s where you belong.”
“So… do you… uh… can I…” Noah started to tentatively scoot closer to Tyler.
Tyler extended his hand, and Noah took it, their fingers entwining. “Come with me. I think it’s time for that talk that I’ve been avoiding all day.”
Ty’s mom spoke up. “Do you want us to leave you boys alone in here, Tyler?”
“No, mom. We’ll go to the dining room. You guys stay and enjoy the next movie.”
“We’re not starting ‘Gremlins’ without you guys. That was always Noah’s favorite!” Tommy interjected.
“Thanks, Tommy. You’re the best.” Noah grinned.
“You guys take your time. We’ll be ok in here.” Tyler’s dad said.
“I don’t even know why we’re going into the dining room. It’s not like I’m not going to tell you guys everything anyway.” Tyler said.
Debbie Higgins gave her son ‘the look,’ “Go talk in private. I’m sure we don’t need to hear all the details. You can give us the highlights later, but only if you both want to.” She glanced at Tommy for a second. “We will all respect your privacy if there’s stuff you don’t want to share.”
“I understand, mom.” Ty nodded toward the dining room. “You ready for this, Noah?”
Noah took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah. I think I’ll feel a lot better after I tell you everything, and maybe then we can figure out if there can be an us in the future.”
The boys sat on opposite sides of the dining room table, and Tyler focused his gaze on his ex-boyfriend. “Here’s your one and only chance, Noah. Make me understand why you ripped my heart out without an explanation other than that half-assed goodbye text.”
Noah took another deep breath and began. “You know that I always felt suffocated in this town. Neither of us was truly allowed to be ourselves. Yes, your family knew about us, and Xan knew and like two others at school, but mostly we had to pretend to be best friends. I was proud to have you as a boyfriend. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.”
“That’s more of a reason to stay, Noah, not a reason to run away.”
“I know. I know. I’m getting to that part. I… I’ve never said all of this out loud. I’ve done my best to bury my feelings for the last five years, Ty.”
“You and me both.” Tyler nearly snarled.
Noah got a sad look on his face and continued. “The night of the graduation party, after I dropped you off at home, I wasn’t ready to go home. I made the stupid decision to go back to the party. By the time I finally went home, I was pretty drunk. Yeah, I know, you would have been pissed at me for drinking and driving, so I didn’t tell you that part either.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “You’re exactly right, but I don’t think that’s what you wanted to tell me about.”
“Well, I guess I thought I’d go ahead and unload everything while I’m at it.” Noah huffed out a laugh. “But you’re right. That wasn’t the worst thing to happen that night. I walked into my house, and my dad was still up watching tv. He got up when he heard me come into the house. I tried to get to the stairs and go right to bed, but he stopped me. He started yelling at me. He said he could smell the booze, and he said I was lucky I didn’t kill myself or anyone else. Then he gave me a dirty look and said that he hoped that I didn’t get any girls pregnant in my drunken stupor. Before I even realized what I was saying, I told him that I’d never get any girls pregnant because I was gay and in love with the most beautiful boy in the world.”
Tyler’s eyes grew wide. “You actually said that to your dad?” Then Ty blushed and cocked his head to the side. “Did you mean it? Do you really think I’m beautiful?”
“I said it. I meant it then, and I still mean it now. You are still the most beautiful boy… man… in the world.”
“So, what did he do then? I can’t imagine him taking that well.”
Noah looked down and sighed. He stared at the table and drummed his fingers faster and faster. “This is where the story gets difficult.”
Ty reached over and placed his hand over Noah’s. “You are safe here. You can tell me anything. I… I need to hear this, I think. I’ve been angry at you for so long. I need to know what happened. I need to know why you left.”
“He hit me, Ty. After I said what I said, the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor looking up at my dad as he started kicking the crap out of me. I wasn’t sure if he was going to stop. I thought my dad was going to kill me right then and there.”
Tyler gasped in shock. “The black eye and the bruises. I remember that. You said you got in a fight with a kid from school, but you wouldn’t tell me who because you didn’t want me to go after him. Why didn’t you tell me that it was your dad?”
“He threatened to do it again if I told anyone. He said he’d hurt you, too. Ty, we couldn’t even go to the police. Hell, he is the police! They wouldn’t have believed me over him. So, I decided that I had to leave for my own safety and for yours.”
“Maybe I could have helped.” Tyler motioned toward the living room. “Maybe we could have helped. Worst case scenario, I would have gone with you. Didn’t you know that? I would have gone anywhere to be with you.” Tears started forming at the corners of Tyler’s eyes.
Noah got a pained look on his face. “I didn’t want to mess up your life. You had everything planned out. Never mind a five-year plan. You had a fifty-year plan! How could I ask you to throw that all away?”
Ty leaned in closer to Noah. Tears began to drip out of his eyes and roll down his cheeks. “You idiot! I had a fifty-year plan because of you. Living a life with you was my plan. I could have easily adapted the plan to California or anywhere else. When you left, everything fell apart. My life fell apart. I failed all my classes the first semester at college because I couldn’t concentrate on anything except wondering why you left. I dropped out of school completely and took two years off. I’m only in the middle of my sophomore year now. I loved you more than anything. I fell apart without you.” The tears were flowing faster now, and Tyler started to sob uncontrollably.
Noah leaped to his feet, rushed around the table, and pulled Ty up out of his chair. Noah wrapped his arms around Tyler and pulled him close. “Ty, I am so sorry. I… I thought I was doing the mature thing. I thought I was doing what was best for you. I thought you’d be better off without me.” Noah held Ty’s head tight against his shoulder while his other hand gently caressed the other boy’s back.
Ty melted into the hug and allowed himself to cry for the first time in five years. He lifted his head off Noah’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “I’ve been angry with you for so long. I didn’t let myself cry over you except for that first day. It was easier to be mad. I’m still mad, but I think I understand now. You should have talked to me. We should have made that decision together just like we made all of our decisions together.”
Noah cupped Ty’s face with both hands and used his thumbs to wipe away the tears. “I am truly sorry, Ty. I know I can never apologize enough, but I want you to know that leaving you was the biggest mistake of my life and my biggest regret.”
“You have to give me time to process everything, Noah. Now that I know what happened and why you did what you did, now I can begin to understand and maybe forgive you.” Tyler’s hands had unconsciously settled on Noah’s hips as he still clung to the other boy. His eyes flicked down at Noah’s full sensuous lips before looking back up into his eyes. “You know that I always have to overthink everything.”
Noah smirked down at Ty. “Do you remember how I used to get you out of your head so you could let your heart take control?”
Ty’s eyes sparkled, and his mouth opened to speak, but before he could utter a word, Noah’s lips met his in what started as a sweet, simple kiss. Ty pulled back for a second, and their eyes met, then Ty’s hands were in Noah’s thick curly hair pulling the taller boy down into a much more passionate kiss. Ty’s lips parted, and their tongues began battling back and forth into each other’s mouths fighting for dominance. Without realizing it, Ty was sitting on the tabletop with his legs wrapped around Noah’s hips in a full-blown make-out session. Then he remembered where they were and jumped up. The two boys separated, and Ty spun around, making sure they were still alone. No one else was in the dining room. Tyler blurted out, “I… I didn’t mean for that to happen!”
Noah looked hurt. “Are you sorry that we kissed? Do you want me to leave?”
“No! Don’t be an idiot! And stop asking if I want you to leave. We still have things to figure out.” Ty wrapped his arms around Noah’s neck. “I’m not sorry that we kissed. I don’t want you to leave. Not now, not ever. Do you understand me? Don’t you dare ever leave me ever again.”
“I don’t deserve you. Not even a little bit.”
“You’re wrong. Don’t be an idiot. You deserve better than me. I should have made you feel comfortable enough to tell me anything. I should have found you after you left. I should never have given up on you… on us.”
“You had no way of knowing any of what I just told you or where I went. None of what happened is your fault. It’s all on me. And, hey, no one has called me an idiot in five years, and now you’ve done it like five times in ten minutes. I’m gonna start to believe it soon.”
“You should believe it. You’re an idiot, but I love you.” Tyler let out a big sigh. “Yeah, that feels right. I love you, Noah. I don’t think that I ever stopped loving you. That’s why I tried so hard to hate you.”
“I never stopped loving you either, Ty.” Noah leaned in, and their lips met in another fierce kiss. They broke apart and turned toward the living room when they heard the sound of someone clearing their throat.
“Get a room, you two!” It was Xander. He was standing there in the doorway, grinning like a fool. “I’ve been waiting all day to hear something. Finally, I decided not to wait for you to text me, Ty. I wanted to make sure you two weren’t murdering each other, so I texted Tommy to see if it was ok to come over. I showed up just in time to see the tongue wrestling show. I guess you’ve made up?”
Tyler blushed. “I… we’re working on it. There’s so much that we didn’t know, Xan.”
Ty’s parents and brother followed Xander into the dining room. Ty’s mom smirked at her eldest son. “Is it safe for us to come in here?”
Tyler blushed a darker shade of red. “Yeah. It’s safe. Sorry about that. Did you guys hear any of his story?”
“Bits and pieces. I always knew that Paul Blake was an arrogant jerk, but I never suspected he was abusive to his own family. You boys be safe when you go to the hospital tomorrow. Maybe all three of you should go together.”
Xander’s eyes grew wide. “Abusive?” He walked over and put a hand on Noah’s shoulder. “Can you please tell me what happened? The two of you have always been brothers to me. I want to understand. I want to help.”
“Have a seat, and I’ll tell you everything. I’m so sorry, Xan. I should have talked to you and Ty about all of this instead of running away, but just know that I’m back to stay. I want to try my best to earn forgiveness from both of you.”
While Noah began retelling his story for Xander, Tyler stepped away and walked over to his mother. “I saw the look, mom. I… I’ll be careful.”
“I know you will, son. I trust you,” She looked right into her oldest son’s eyes. “My opinion, if you want it, is that you are making the right choice. He made a mistake. He was young, and he was going through a lot. Should he have made better choices? Yes. Should he have confided in you and Xander? Yes. But he was eighteen years old and dealing with more than any teenager should have to deal with. He thought he was protecting you. I forgive him, do you?”
Tyler’s eyes were glistening with tears again. He looked from his mother to Noah and back again. “Yes. I think I do. I forgive him. I still love him, mom. I don’t think I ever stopped.” Tyler wiped his eyes and turned to see Noah and Xander standing there staring at him.
“You ok, Ty?” They said almost in unison.
“Yeah. Let’s get back to the tv. We have another movie to watch.”
“Tommy said there’s more pizza, too! I can stay, right?” Xander asked.
Mrs. Higgins shook her head. “Of course, you can stay, Xander. You are always welcome in this house.”
“Well, I’d hope so with my best friend and my,” Xan unconsciously looked at Tommy.
Tommy smirked. “And your what?”
“I… my…” Xander glanced around the room nervously.
Tyler’s eyes darted back and forth between his little brother and his best friend. “Oh! My! God! Please tell me that you two finally got together! It’s about damn time!”
Tommy stared at his brother, mouth agape. “What do you mean by finally? It just happened a couple days ago, and it was only a kiss.”
“Oh, come on! The two of you have been lusting over each other for years.” Ty laughed.
Tommy looked over at Xander and quirked one eyebrow. “Is that true?”
Xander blushed a deep scarlet. “Well… yeah… of course it is. I mean, look at you. You’re gorgeous.”
Now it was Tommy’s turn to blush. “I’m not half as hot as you. If you liked me, why didn’t you say something sooner? I’ve known you my whole life.”
“That was actually part of the problem. I mean, you’re my best friend’s little brother, but that alone wasn’t the entire issue. At first, it was your age. When I first realized that I was attracted to you, you were thirteen, and I was seventeen. The four years felt like a huge deal. Then you were dating Reed, and I was dating Kevin. Then I was in college, and you were in high school, and that didn’t feel right either.” Xander shrugged. “Now, the age difference doesn’t matter, and we’re both single. When you looked at me the way you did the other night, I knew the timing was finally right.” Xander’s smile nearly split his face in two.
“That is the absolute sweetest story I have ever heard. You two are like a Hallmark movie. Well, once you add a little spice in there.” Noah said.
“Are we sure it’s gonna be a Hallmark movie, or is it gonna be a porno?” Tyler laughed.
“Tyler Joseph Higgins, you behave yourself!” Debbie Higgins shouted.
Ty put his hands up defensively. “Go ahead and defend your baby boy. Just remember he’s eighteen, not eight!”
Tommy blushed, but he also huffed out a laugh as he took Xander’s hand and led him into the living room. “I think it’s time to start ‘Gremlins’ if anyone wants to join us!”
“Movie Night at the Higgins house never was dull!” Noah laughed as everyone followed Tommy and Xan into the other room to watch the movie.
After the movie was over, Mr. and Mrs. Higgins went to bed, and Tommy walked Xander out to his car, leaving Ty and Noah alone on the couch. Noah was, again, curled up against Tyler’s side. Noah cocked his head and looked up at Ty. “Mm. I could just stay here all night. I’m too comfy to move.” Noah yawned and laid his head back onto Tyler’s chest.
Ty smirked. “Are you sure there’s nothing I could say to get you to move?”
Noah’s eyes popped open wide. “Well, maybe there’s one or two things that could wake me up. What are you suggesting?”
Tyler sighed, but he smiled. “Nothing. Not tonight. I still need to process everything that’s happened and everything that I’ve found out.” Ty cupped Noah’s face with one hand. “There is one thing that I’m sure of. I love you, Noah Blake. I never stopped loving you. I will love you forever.” Ty leaned in, and their lips met. Noah laid back on the couch and pulled Ty down on top of him as the kiss deepened. Noah wrapped his legs around Ty’s hips and moaned. They started thrusting against each other. They heard the front door close, and they untangled from each other and sat up just as Tommy came into the room.
Tommy gave the other two boys a quizzical look. “Uhm, you guys look a little flushed. I think I’ll just go to my room. Have fun, guys!” Tommy giggled and disappeared up the stairs.
Ty shook his head and smiled at Noah. “I think that’s my cue to go to bed, too.”
Noah got a pouty look on his face. “Does that mean that I have to stay out here?”
“For tonight, yes. If you slept in my bed, we’d end up doing what we almost just did.” Ty huffed out a laugh.
“That’s the perfect reason for me to sleep in your bed, not a reason not to!”
“Give me tonight to wrap my head around all this, Noah. I’m not saying no, I’m just saying not tonight.” Ty got up and helped Noah turn the couch into a bed and then, after one last kiss, went off to his own room to sleep.
Tyler woke to the sound of his bedroom door opening for the second morning in a row. He covered his face with a pillow and groaned. “Tommy, why are you waking me up again? Ugh!” When he didn’t hear his brother answer him, he uncovered his face and blinked open his eyes. His heart nearly skipped a beat or two when he saw that it wasn’t his brother. Noah stood just inside the bedroom. He was shirtless and wearing only a pair of baggy pajama pants.
“Your mom said that breakfast is almost ready. She sent me in to wake you up.” Noah said.
It only took Ty two seconds to make a decision on what he wanted. He held open his blankets and smirked. “I’m already up. Come join me.”
Noah’s mouth fell open. He gaped at Tyler’s naked body and sprang into action. He pulled the drawstring on his pajama pants and let them fall to the floor. He left the clothing behind and slid into the bed next to Tyler. “You sure about this, Ty?”
Tyler rolled over on top of Noah and looked down into his eyes. “I’m surer of this than I have been of anything in a long time.” He said and leaned in for a kiss. Noah wrapped his legs around Ty’s hips as they thrust their bodies together. Lips, tongues, and hands tried to be everywhere at once. Necks were kissed, ears were nibbled, shoulders were bitten. Noah moaned into Ty’s ear as his hands slid down Tyler’s back, finally cupping his lover’s backside, urging their bodies together. All too soon, their mutual lust erupted in twin explosions that splattered all over Noah’s body from his groin clear up to his chin. Ty collapsed onto Noah and then rolled over to lie next to him.
“That was intense and amazing,” Ty said, nearly out of breath.
That was beyond amazing. Also, it was quite surprising. I thought you needed more time to process things.”
“I was awake most of the night. I processed. When I saw you in the doorway, I decided what I wanted. I’m glad you agreed.”
“Ty, from the minute I saw you at the reunion, I knew I still felt the same way that I always have. I love you more than words could ever express.”
Ty leaned up on one elbow and bent down to kiss Noah again. “I love you, too. I know now that I never stopped.”
Noah smirked. “I want more than sex. I want it all. All the little things. All the big things. But,” Noah huffed out a laugh. “While I’m lying here completely covered in our combined love juice, I have to say that sex with you is better than anyone and everyone else combined. One thing though, next time, we need condoms and lube. I want… no I need… to have you inside me.”
Ty grinned. “I was just about to tell you the exact same thing, so I guess we will need lots of condoms and lube.”
“That works for me!” The boys quickly pulled the sheet up to cover themselves when they heard the sound of the bedroom door opening. They caught a glimpse of Tommy before he backed out of the room and pulled the door shut behind him. Tommy reopened the door, but just slightly.
“Sorry, guys! But I’m so happy for you!” Tommy laughed, then in a louder voice, they heard Tommy yell out. “I told them, mom! They said they’ll be down for breakfast in like ten minutes!”
Ty and Noah heard Ty’s mom yell from downstairs. “Tell them it’s not my fault if breakfast is cold!”
Tommy whispered into the partly open door. “You two better hurry up before mom comes up here herself.” Then the door closed, and Tommy ran back downstairs.
Noah huffed out a laugh. “Super quick shower? Obviously, I need one even if you don’t.”
“Quicker if we shower together,” Ty smirked.
“Not necessarily.” Noah grinned.
“We do need to hurry, so we best both behave.” Ty laughed.
When Noah and Tyler finally walked into the dining room, thankfully, everyone else was still there and still eating. Debbie raised one eyebrow as she looked at them both. “That ten minutes was closer to twenty.” She focused her gaze on Noah. “And I sent you up there to bring him down twenty minutes before that. I won’t even ask what you two were up to up there!” Then her expression softened. “Just know that I’m happy for both of you. I know from the time you were both five years old that you were meant to be friends forever. I didn’t know yet that it would be more than friends, but friendship is the bedrock of the best marriages anyway.” While she said this, she had reached over and grasped her own husband’s hand without even realizing it.
Ty’s dad interlocked his fingers with his wife’s and held up their hands for the boys to see. “What she said is true. My wife is my best friend, and that is just how it should be.”
Ty smiled broadly. “I hope we can say the same someday when we are old like you guys.” Noah tried to stifle a laugh from behind Tyler.
Debbie rolled her eyes. “Shut up and eat some breakfast.”
After Mr. and Mrs. Higgins left the breakfast table, Tommy brought his own dishes into the kitchen and then sat back down at the dining room table. He looked over at his brother and Noah and smirked. “You two sure are eating a lot. You guys work up an appetite this morning?”
Both boys blushed, and then Ty said. “We did at that. Why do you ask? Do you need pointers on what to do with your new boyfriend?”
Tommy grinned. “I know what I want to do with and to Xander. I don’t know if we’ve labeled ourselves boyfriends yet, though. I’ll have to pin that down.”
“You know I love you both to pieces, and I support whatever relationship that you have, but It’s also gonna be a little weird for me at first.”
“We’ll figure it out. Nothing should really change for you. He’s over here all the time anyway!” Tommy laughed.
“True. And I have my own stuff to worry about.” Ty said.
“I hope that I am not considered a worry,” Noah said.
Ty blushed and smiled. “You know what I mean. Everything is changing. Changing for the better, but changing all the same. You know it takes me a bit to adjust.”
Noah leaned over and gave Ty a soft, sweet kiss. “Take all the time you need, babe. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”
Tommy rolled his eyes and chuckled. “If you two keep up like that, I might need a barf bag!”
Tyler shook his head. “Whatever, little bro! Anyway, are we ready to head out to the hospital? Who’s going? Just me and Noah?”
“Xander mentioned wanting to go, and I’m ready anytime,” Noah said.
“If Xan is going, I’ll go, too,” Tommy said.
“We should leave soon to make sure we get back before mom is ready to serve dinner. It is Thanksgiving Day, after all. She’ll kill all of us if we’re late.” Ty said.
Tommy looked up from his phone. “Xan will be here in less than five minutes, and he said that he’ll drive.”
Xander, Tommy, Noah, and Tyler all walked off the third-floor elevator. Nurse Isabella noticed them and motioned for Ty to come over to the desk. She smiled at him as he approached. “First, I see that you’re still with your ex, and you look happier than I’ve seen you in a long time. Should I tell Ozzy not to expect a call?”
Ty blushed. “I am happy, and I’m not single anymore.” Tyler shrugged. “If Ozzy wanted to hang out sometime, that would still be cool, but it wouldn’t be a date.” Tyler looked thoughtful. “There are some single gay guys that I’m friends with in college. Maybe I’ll throw a New Year’s Eve party and invite them and invite you and Ozzy.”
“Can I bring my plus one?”
“Of course. The more, the merrier!”
Izzy’s expression turned serious. “The more important reason that I waved you guys over here is to tell you that Noah’s dad is in visiting his wife. I know that was a problem yesterday.”
“Thanks, Izzy. We’ll deal with it, and I promise we won’t cause too much of a scene.”
“You better not, or I’ll call your dad before I call security.”
Ty winked at Izzy, and then he turned to Noah. “Did you hear that?”
Noah sighed. “Yeah. Let’s go see what happens.”
Noah turned the corner and stepped into his mother’s room. His father looked up and glared. What are you doing here?”
Noah’s mom reached over and put a hand on her husband’s arm. “Paul, I told you that I want to see him. My son is here to visit me, not you. If you want to give up on your son, that’s your decision, not mine.”
Paul Blake looked furious. He glared down at his wife and then nearly stomped his way toward the door. Noah stepped aside, but his dad stopped right in front of him. “She may want to let you in here, but you are never setting foot in my house ever again. You left some of your trash behind when you ran off to California. It will be in the front yard tomorrow. If you don’t pick it up before Monday, the garbagemen will take it to the dump.”
Noah began to nod his head and was about to speak, but Xander stepped in front of him and looked Mr. Blake right in the eyes. “I used to defend you when the other kids in school complained about mean ole Officer Blake. I told them that you were a super cool guy and a fair cop. I spent a lot of time at your house over the years, and I’m ashamed that I never saw the truth about you. You’re nothing but a mean bully.”
Paul looked at the four boys and sneered. You’re all worthless scum. Get out of my way.” He bumped Xander with his shoulder, and he stormed down the hallway and out of sight.
After they visited with Mrs. Blake, Xander dropped the other three boys off at the Higgins house. Tommy was bummed that Xander couldn’t stay, but their relationship was brand new, and it was Thanksgiving Day. Xan already had dinner plans with his extended family. Head hanging down, Tommy followed his brother and Noah into the house.
Noah pushed back from the table and rubbed his stomach. “That was fantastic, Mrs. H! I’d forgotten how good a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings could be! Even the cranberry sauce was mouth-watering.”
“Why, thank you, Noah. It’s refreshing to have someone who appreciates the time I put into cooking. I always did like you.” She winked at him. “Just for that, you get the first choice of desserts before these other animals devour it all. That is if you’re still hungry?”
“Dessert? Of course, I’m still hungry!” Noah cheered.
Pies were brought in, along with a plate of cookies, most of which were gone in the blink of an eye. Tommy helped his mom clear the table of dishes. Noah sighed and looked over at Tyler. “I guess the next thing to worry about is getting my stuff off of my parent’s front lawn.”
“How much stuff did you still have there?”
“Not a lot. If you know someone with a pickup, it would definitely be just one truck full.”
“What are you boys talking about?” Mr. Higgins asked. “Why is your stuff on the front lawn?”
“When my mom made my dad let me visit the hospital, he retaliated by saying that I could never again set foot inside his house. I didn’t leave much behind when I left five years ago, but whatever was still there is now out on the lawn. If I don’t pick it up before Monday, the trash man will.”
Mr. Higgins grumbled under his breath, cursing Paul Blake. “Noah, I can get a truck. We’ll go get your stuff tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mr. H! You guys are the best. The only thing now is I don’t know where I’ll put it. I… have nowhere to live right now. I guess I’ll rent a storage unit.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Noah Blake.” Debbie Higgins turned to look at her husband, and unspoken words passed between them. “Bring everything here.” She said.
“Wait… what? Why?” Noah asked, confused.
“You’re going to live here as long as that’s something you want. I haven’t even talked this over with Tyler yet, so it’s really up to you boys, but I am extending the invitation. Move in here with us. The guest bedroom has loads of closet space, and we can find room for anything else that you want to bring.”
Noah was speechless, but Tyler wasn’t. He let out a whoop and leaped to his feet to hug his mom. “I have always known that I have the best mom ever, but you’ve topped everything else just now. Thank you for this, mom. I love you.” Ty turned to look at Noah.
Noah’s lips were trembling, and his eyes were wet with tears. “Ty? Do you really want me to live here? Like not a temporary thing, but actually live here? Is it really ok?”
Tyler slowly walked over to Noah and pulled him to his feet. Ty cupped Noah’s face with both hands. “Noah Samuel Blake, yes, I want you to live here. Everything my mom just said, I mean all that times infinity. If anyone told me last week that I would say this to you today, I would have called them crazy. The last couple of days have shown me why every relationship I’ve ever tried to have has failed over the last five years. You own my whole heart. You always have.”
Noah leaned forward and gently kissed Tyler. “Mm. If we weren’t in the middle of the dining room in front of your parents and brother…” He let the sentence go unfinished.
Ty returned the kiss then pulled back. “Well, now you’ve made it too obvious for us to disappear into my bedroom. We’ll have to revisit this discussion later.”
Mrs. Higgins cleared her throat. “Good idea, boys.” Then she chuckled. “And, yes, we know you are both grown adults and not teenagers anymore. We don’t care if you sleep in your own rooms or together, just for Pete’s sake, don’t be as loud as you were this morning!”
Both boys blushed deep scarlet and said almost in unison. “Sorry! We promise to be quieter!” Then Tyler added, “Unless we are home alone.” Ty’s mom rolled her eyes and laughed.
After the third episode of ‘Lost in Space – Season 1,’ Noah stretched and yawned. “I think it’s time for me to call it a night. Good night, everyone!” He put a hand on Tyler’s knee and squeezed gently as he stood up, then he strolled up the stairs.
“I’m pretty tired, too,” Ty said. “Good night, guys!”
Tommy laughed. “What a coincidence. Have fun, big brother!”
Ty grinned and ran up the stairs. As Ty rounded the corner, he saw Noah leaning against the wall, his red and black flannel shirt already mostly unbuttoned. Noah waggled his eyebrows. “Your place or mine?”
Tyler closed the remaining distance and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt with both hands pulling him in. Ty pressed his body close to Noah and claimed his mouth in a hot passionate kiss. Ty pushed Noah against the wall. His lips and hands were everywhere at once. Ty kissed along Noah’s jawline and lightly nibbled on his earlobe. At the same time, his hands were busy unbuttoning and unzipping anything that needed unbuttoning or unzipping. Ty’s hands slipped beneath the waistband of Noah’s tight boxer briefs, and Noah moaned into Tyler’s ear. “Oh, God, Ty, we better move this into one of the bedrooms before we end up having sex right here in the hall.”
“My room. It’s closer.” Ty said. They were both stripping off clothes as they stumbled into Ty’s bedroom. By the time Ty closed and locked the door, Noah was naked and pulling Ty down on top of him on the bed.
Ty stared down at Noah, his eyes filled with that rare combination of love and lust. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed us. I’ve missed this.”
Noah reached over to the bedside table and then handed the bottle of lube and a condom to Tyler. “So, have I. I hope you don’t plan on getting much sleep tonight.” Noah smirked.
Ty grinned. “We have five years to make up for. Who needs sleep?”
The next morning was filled with another visit to the hospital, thankfully uneventful, and the boys ran errands for Mrs. Higgins. After a quick lunch, they borrowed a pickup from one of Mr. Higgins’ friends and picked up all of Noah’s belongings from his parent’s front yard. It was mid-afternoon by the time that they collapsed onto the living room couch with their tasks for the day finally complete.
“I still can’t believe that he threw all your stuff all over the yard like that. It wasn’t even stacked.”
Noah shrugged. “I’m not surprised. That chapter of my life is over now. If I have my way, I will never see him or go near that house ever again.”
“What about when your mom gets out of the hospital?”
“We can meet at a restaurant, or she can come here. I’m not taking the chance of dealing with him in that house with no witnesses.”
“I understand completely.” Then Ty looked around and smiled. “Not to change the subject, but we are home alone right now. NO need to be quiet.”
Noah arched one eyebrow. “How long are we alone for?”
Tyler shrugged. “A couple hours. Tommy is at Xander’s house. Dad went in to work, and mom is at the mall for Black Friday sales.”
“Let’s go!” Noah said, and he began pulling off his shirt even as he ran up the stairs. Both boys were already naked within seconds after they reached Tyler’s bedroom. Ty tackled Noah down onto the bed, and they rolled around wrestling for a few minutes. Noah ended up on top of Tyler and had Ty’s hands pinned down over his head. Ty wrapped his legs around Noah’s hips and leaned up and kissed him. Noah’s lips parted, deepening the kiss as he pressed his entire body down on Tyler. Ty was thrusting his hips up and moaning into Noah’s mouth. Noah broke the kiss and looked down at Ty, and smirked. “After last night, I guess it’s my turn.” He waggled his eyebrows and thrust his hips, grinding their groins together.
“Oh hell, yes!” Ty leaned over to the nightstand, grabbed the lube and a condom, and handed them over to Noah.
“I know you always used to prefer our roles reversed… are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes. I mean, I’m sure more often than not, it will be the other way, but yeah, I want this right now. I need you inside me, Noah. I need that closeness. The bond. Let’s do this.”
Tyler woke up to the sound of his bedroom door slamming open and his brother jumping on his bed. “Ty! Wake up! It’s Christmas Eve morning!”
“Ugh! I’m awake! How many times have I told you not to come in here without knocking, Tommy? What if Noah and I had been doing stuff that you wouldn’t want to see us doing?” Ty tried to sound mad, but he huffed out a laugh.
“Noah is in the kitchen making breakfast. I knew you two weren’t in here having sex. Geez. Give me a little credit, big bro.”
“Why did you wake me up?”
Tommy sighed. “I need some advice.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “I think the ship has sailed on giving you the talk. I’m sure Xander has stolen your innocence by now!”
“Oh, please. I lost my v-card to Reed Simmons. It’s not about sex, you perv. I’ve never been in a serious relationship before. I mean… Reed and I were together for over a year, but it wasn’t serious, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I get it. So, what’s your question, little bro? How can I help?”
“Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and it’s our one-month anniversary. What should I do?”
“If I know my bestie like I think I know my bestie, he’ll already have something planned. Let me talk to him and find out on the down-low. It would be silly if you both planned something different for the same night.” Ty thought for a second. “Flowers would be good, though.”
“Thanks, Ty! You’re the best big brother a guy could ask for.” Tommy jumped off the bed and headed toward the door.
“Oh, one thing, Tommy,” Ty said.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“Make sure you put out tonight. That’s the best anniversary gift ever!” Tyler snickered. Tommy rolled his eyes and ran out the door laughing.
The day of Christmas Eve went by relatively quietly for Tyler. Tommy was out with Xander, but Ty and Noah decided to spend a quiet day at home with Tyler’s parents. They’d been binging Christmas movies and snacking on fresh baked cookies and hot buttered popcorn all day long. Now, after dinner, they sat back in front of the tv and put on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Noah leaned into Ty’s side and looked up at him. “It really is a wonderful life. Well, now it is anyway.”
Ty smiled. “It’s been quite a month.”
“I know, right? I was lost and alone when I moved back here from California. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or where I would stay or really anything. I’m not even sure why I went to that class reunion. Boredom, I guess. I just needed to get out of that dirty motel room.” Noah huffed out a laugh.
“You never went back, except to pick up your things,” Ty smirked.
“I thought you hated me. You wouldn’t even let me talk to you at first. I was in shock when you brought me here that night.”
“The best decision I ever made. Plus, even if I did hate you, which I never did, I could not let you stay in that motel. When you came out to the entire class and then told everyone about your mom. I reacted on impulse.”
“Now, my mom is out of the hospital, and she left my dad. Her life is getting better right along with mine.”
“Mine is, too.” Ty leaned over and gave Noah a kiss. “And with that in mind, we have a tradition in this house. We each get to open one present on Christmas Eve.” Ty looked over at his mom. “Do I have to wait for Tommy to get home?”
“No. He said that he’ll be home late. You go on ahead.”
Ty grinned and walked over to the tree. He reached into the branches and pulled out a small package wrapped in red, white, and gold paper. Ty motioned for Noah to join him by the tree. Noah walked over and extended his hand to receive the gift.
Tyler reached out with his free hand and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt. He pulled the other boy in and planted a kiss firmly on his lips. When he broke the kiss, Noah smiled. “What was that for?”
Ty grinned. “Do I need a reason to kiss the man I love?”
“Well, no, but…”
Tyler cut him short and pointed up. “Ah,” Noah said. “Mistletoe. That wasn’t there earlier. When did you put that up?”
“While you were in the kitchen helping mom with the last batch of popcorn.”
“Sneaky devil.” Noah grinned. “Can I have my present now?” Ty handed the gift over to Noah, who gleefully ripped the wrapping paper off of it. He opened the box and held up a single key. Noah looked puzzled. “What’s this go to?” He asked.
“Do you remember what we were doing last weekend?”
Noah thought for a second. “You don’t mean the condos on the beach, do you?”
“The very same. The one that you said you liked the best is ours as long as you still want to move in with me. I have until the twenty-ninth to change my mind, or I can make one phone call, and it’s officially ours. What do you think?”
“What do I think? I think that you’re freaking awesome! Yes! Of course, yes. There’s nothing I want more than to live with you.”
“You’ve been living with me for a month.” Ty huffed out a laugh.
Noah smirked. “No offense to your parents and Tommy, but this will be different, and you know it. This will be a place that is just ours.”
“That’s the plan. It’s also rent to own. If we like it well enough, it can be ours forever. It won’t just be an apartment. We can make it into our home.”
Noah took one of Ty’s hands and placed it over his heart, then he put his own hand over Tyler’s heart. “I love that you want to build a home for us, but I want you to know something. Ever since the first day I saw you way back when we were five years old, somehow even back then, I knew. My parent’s house was no longer my home. California was never my home. You are my home, Tyler. Wherever you are is where I want to be. Here. An apartment. Our new place. As long as we’re there together, it is home.”
Tears were flowing down both boys’ cheeks. Ty leaned in and gave Noah another kiss. “I love you with all my heart, Noah. I always have and I always will.”
Noah blushed and smiled. “Can I give you my gift now?”
Ty grinned and wiped the tears off his face. “You better!”
“Well, I was super nervous about this, but with the condo and the proclamations of love, it kinda boosts my confidence in your response.”
“Aw. Babe, what is it? Why would you be nervous?”
Noah smiled and pulled a small box out of his pocket, then he dropped to one knee. He opened the box and held it out toward Tyler. “Tyler Joseph Higgins, I have loved you nearly my entire life, and I will love you forever. I can’t imagine a life without you. I nearly lost you once. I never want to take that chance again. Will you marry me?”
Ty’s tears were flowing freely now, and he heard his mom squealing with glee in the background. Ty pulled Noah to his feet and kissed him. Ty’s hands ran through Noah’s hair as the kiss became passionate. Then Ty broke the kiss. He looked behind him at his parents. “Ooops. Sorry! I got carried away.” Then he looked back at Noah. “Yes! If you couldn’t figure it out, a billion times yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!”
Noah scooped Tyler up into his arms. He looked over at Ty’s parents. “Good night, Mr. and Mrs. H!” Then he carried his fiancé up the stairs and into his bedroom. He set Tyler down on the bed, and as he turned to close the door, he said, “Just think, a month ago I was almost homeless, and now I am finally home at last.”
After introductions were made and it was determined that the only damage incurred as a result of Nicholas’ unplanned detour to avoid hitting Oliver was the demolition of the decorative wishing well, Nicholas told Billy that he was confident that, with assistance, he could quickly build another well for his sister’s flower garden. They could simply buy a new one, but for a little more than half the cost of buying one, he could build one in a few hours that would be much sturdier. He pulled several styles up on his phone, and Billy chose the one he felt that his sister would be most pleased with. Billy’s sister was a nurse and wouldn’t be home until the next morning. Wouldn’t she be surprised!?!
Fortunately, Billy drove a Dodge Ram truck and, after securing Oliver in the fenced area of the yard, left with Nicholas to retrieve the necessary materials from the local home improvement store. Mason wanted to go, as well, for entirely different reasons. Still, he was aware that Nicholas was the only one that actually knew what was needed. It would be more considerate to stay behind and help Griffin clean up the remains of the recently and quite unexpectedly dearly departed wishing well … not to mention a few unfortunate shrubs, hostas, Black-eyed Susans, and Shasta Daisies.
As they headed towards the store, Billy asked Nicholas what tools he would need. “I have some basic power tools, but if you need something I don’t have, you can rent it at the home improvement store.”
“Actually, I brought some of my basic tools with me, along with a couple of fold-up sawhorses. Not sure why, but it felt weird leaving them behind, and they don’t take up much space. This is the first time I’ve had a need for them!” Nicholas chuckled. “I think I’m just gonna need my miter saw, circular saw, orbital sander, and electric screwdriver/drill, so we’re set.”
Less than an hour later, they were heading back to Billy’s house with a quarter-sheet of 3/4″ plywood, several 8′ pieces of 2″x2″, one piece each of 1″x2″ and 1″x3″, a 2-foot length of dowel, tar paper, shingles, sandpaper, and exterior wood screws. Billy had also chosen a gallon of exterior wood stain that closely matched the previous well.
As they pulled into the driveway, it was obvious that Griffin and Mason had wasted no time as all the debris had been cleared from the flower bed and deposited in the spot behind the house that Billy had shown them, while retrieving the wheelbarrow and rake, before leaving for the store. Billy went into the house to gather refreshments while Griffin and Mason unloaded the materials. Nicholas dug into the underneath storage area of the RV to locate the sawhorses, tools, and extension cords that he needed.
Nicholas canceled their reservations at Seaport RV Resort when Billy insisted that they stay overnight at his house. Since it was late afternoon and it was obvious that they would not be finishing the well that day, the boys were very agreeable, especially Mason!
Nicholas wisely chose to cut all the materials while he had the sunlight, and then they were able to begin construction as the sun went down. The illumination from the streetlights was adequate for the assembly, and the well was completed by 9 pm. They would stain it in the morning after breakfast and after the sun had dried the dew off.
Both Griff and Nicholas had quickly picked up on the not-so-subtle vibes and flirtations that Billy and Mason were radiating towards each other as they worked, so Nicholas casually mentioned that he’d rather sleep in the RV, in the bed he was used to, if Billy wouldn’t think him rude. He slyly winked at Griff as he made this comment.
“OH! Yeah, I agree,” Griffin immediately concurred. “Of course, I need to be sleeping next to my boo, you know!”
“Well, that’s fine,” Billy responded. “I totally understand … not rude at all. Since my sister is at work, that leaves the whole house to us, Mason!” Mason sputtered in an attempt to put words to the thoughts flying through his head but then just nodded as he also blushed several shades of red.
“Since it’s so late, how ’bout I order pizza. Is that okay with everyone?”
“When is pizza ever not okay?” quipped Griffin. “I like anything except the little fishies.”
“How about a couple of ‘Meat Lovers,’ then?”
Nicholas chuckled, “Oh, that’s perfect! I love me some meat!”
Billy snorted, “I’ll order two big ones, then. One for you guys and one for Mason and me. Plenty for everyone!”
After retrieving a few overnight necessities from the RV, Mason followed Billy into the house, feeling like a 12-year-old heading into the closet for their first round of ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven.’ He wasn’t sure what he thought was going to happen … or what he hoped would happen … but his insides were threatening to come outside.
Billy showed Mason where to deposit his things and quickly phoned in their pizza order. He then showed Mason around the house, ending in the kitchen where he popped open a can of Pillsbury breadsticks and slid them into the oven to bake while they waited for the pizzas to arrive.
Out in the RV, an exhausted Griffin plopped down on the sofa. “I’m hitting the shower before I even sit down. I won’t have the energy to get back up later,” Nicholas said. He did, however, manage to bend over to give Griff a token of his love before heading towards the bathroom.
“If I’m asleep when you come out, wake me,” Griffin answered as he returned Nicholas’ token with one of his own.
“Why don’t you come and join me?” Nicholas said in his best Mae West impersonation, which was pretty bad, and an even worse twerk attempt. This sent Griff into a fit of giggles.
“How can I resist that invitation? Help me up, Boo!”
While the boys performed their ablutions, Billy and Mason had settled in the living room to await their dinner. Mason flipped on the TV and found a Cardinals/Braves baseball game but turned the volume down to whisper level. He could feel the tension radiating off of Mason and hoped this would help create a more comfortable atmosphere for him. Billy wasn’t new to this, but he could not remember a time when he felt such sexual tension … and this revelation startled him. Why was he feeling like this? He only knew that he liked Mason … a LOT … and he didn’t want to mess this up. He had no idea how to proceed.
“So … tell me how you guys came to be in my flower bed.”
Thirty minutes later, Mason took one of the pizzas and several breadsticks out to the boys in the RV. They were still damp from their shower and seemed to be in an even sillier mood than usual. “Where’s the beef?” Griffin deadpanned as he accepted the pizza offering and breadsticks. “Ooo … those breadsticks smell awesome! Thanks!”
“I need meat!” shouted Nicholas from the living room.
Griff and Mason strolled in with the food, and Nicholas scampered to the fridge to grab a couple of bottles of water, snatching a few napkins on his way out of the kitchen.
“So you and Billy getting to know each other better, Mase?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Mason stammered. “I told him basically how you guys ended up on this trip and how I became a surprise participant.”
“You were meant to be here with us,” Nicholas said. “We wouldn’t have it any other way, Mason. I hope you and Billy have a fun night.”
“And we’ll wait to hear from you guys in the morning,” Griff winked and chuckled.
“Don’t text me … I’ll text you,” Mason threw back as he left the boys to their meat.
Mason walked back into the living room and made a decision. He didn’t sit on the far end of the couch where he had been sitting before he went out to the RV. Mason sat down right next to Billy, so the two men were shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. The baseball game was just ending, a 4-3 win for the Cardinals. Mason looked over at Billy. “How does someone living in Connecticut end up as a St. Louis Cardinals fan? Are you from Missouri?”
“Nope. I’ve lived in Connecticut my whole life. It’s a funny story. My oldest brother, who is twelve years older than me, made me pick sports teams when I was five years old. I’m sure that I picked the Cardinals because of the bird. Still, as I fell in love with baseball, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina made it easy to love the Cardinals.”
“That has got to be the sweetest story about picking a favorite baseball team that I’ve ever heard.” Mason smiled.
Billy turned off the tv and set the remote on the coffee table, then turned toward Mason. Billy reached up and cupped the younger man’s face with one hand. “And you have the sweetest smile that I’ve ever seen.”
Mason blushed and pushed his face against the warmth of Billy’s touch. “I bet you say that to all the guys.”
“No.” Billy stared deep into Mason’s emerald green eyes. “Mase, I’m twenty-nine years old. I’ve had boyfriends, I’ve had hookups, hell, I’ve even had a threesome once. What I’ve never had with anyone is that butterflies in my stomach feeling that I got the moment you stepped out of that RV.”
Mason blushed an even deeper red. “I… I feel that, too.”
Billy’s eyes flicked down to Mason’s full lips before returning to his eyes. “I don’t know how long you guys are in town for. I haven’t even taken you out on a proper date yet. I’m not looking for a one-time thing here. Mase, I…”
Mason closed the remaining gap between the two men and kissed Billy. Billy’s eyes opened wide, and his lips parted as he was still trying to talk. Mason took advantage of Billy’s parted lips to slip his tongue inside the other man’s mouth and deepen the kiss. Mason’s hands were not idle. He pulled Billy’s shirt out of the waistband of his jeans and slid his hand under the t-shirt. Mason’s other hand gripped the back of Billy’s neck, trying to pull him in even closer as their tongues fought for dominance.
Finally needing to come up for air, they broke the kiss. Billy’s eyes were glazed over with lust, but his brain was still in overdrive. “Mason, I’m almost nine years older than you. We haven’t talked about that yet. And, also, I…”
“Billy! I know how old you are. I’m almost twenty-one. You’re not taking advantage of some kid. Stop overthinking this and get naked.”
Mason straddled Billy’s lap and looked down into his eyes. He put a hand over Billy’s mouth. “Stop talking.” Mason took his hand away and kissed Billy again.
Billy pulled back and grinned. “You’re right. I overthink. Let’s enjoy tonight and deal with whatever comes next tomorrow. Grab onto my neck and hold on tight.” After Mason wrapped his arms around Billy’s neck, Billy stood and carried Mason down the hallway and into his bedroom, kicking the door shut behind them.
Mason opened his eyes and was surprised at how bright it was already. He must have slept late. His thoughts drifted back to the night before. He didn’t have sex with Billy, but they did just about everything else. Mason chuckled as he tried to remember when the last time he had three orgasms in one night was, not counting nights spent with just his right hand for company. Probably high school with Danny Mitchell, but even that didn’t compare to last night with Billy! What a night!
Billy rolled over. “I guess it wasn’t just a dream then. Good morning, beautiful.”
Mason blushed. “That would have been the best dream ever. Even better because it happened.”
“It did happen, and I’d love for it to happen again.”
“Definitely! Again and again and again!”
Billy grinned. “What are your plans for the day? Did you guys have a schedule set up of where you wanted to go?”
“I guess we’ll finish up your sister’s wishing well first. I’ll have to check in with Griff on what they wanted to do next. I’m just along for the ride. This is their trip. Uhm… any idea where my clothes are? I need my phone to text Griff.” Mason chuckled.
Billy huffed out a laugh. “I’m pretty sure you still had your jeans on when we got to the bedroom. Yup! There they are, over by the door. I’ll go shower while you text Griffin.”
About forty minutes later, Billy and Mason left the house and walked over to Nicholas and Griff as they were just finishing up the first coat of stain on the brand-new wishing well. “Hey guys, what’s next on our agenda.” Billy and Mason said almost in unison.
After four amazing days in New York City, which included meeting a new friend and travel companion, the boys were back on the road. With ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf blaring from the speakers, they sped along I-95 North and into New England. Nicholas glanced over at his co-pilot and boyfriend, Griffin. “Every day with you is a magic carpet ride.” He waggled his eyebrows and nodded toward the stereo.
“Aw, you’re so sweet, Boo,” Griffin smiled.
“Hey, look! ‘Welcome to Connecticut,’ we are officially in New England. You know what, Peaches, I always dreamed of traveling the entire country with you, but I’m not sure that I ever truly believed we would get this far. This trip is a dream come true, and everything that has happened is beyond amazing.”
“You must be talking about me. Thanks, Nicholas!” Mason quipped.
Griff laughed. “Mason, you’re such an idiot! Why did we bring you with us?”
“Hmm. My charm and good looks? Or was it my cooking skills that won you over? I’m not sure which.”
“Or maybe I just have a thing for strays,” Nicholas said.
“Yeah, that’s probably it,” Mason said. “Anyway, where in Connecticut are we going to stay? I was sitting here looking at all the maps that you have out on the table.”
“We’re going to be staying at the Seaport RV Resort in a town called Mystic. There’s a lot of stuff to do in the Mystic and New London area, plus, I thought we might use it as a home base to also hit a couple places in Rhode Island since it’s so close.”
“This is why he is always in charge of trip planning,” Griff chuckled. “I suggest places to go or things to do, but Nicholas plans all our routes and picks out the RV parks.”
“Well, am I allowed to throw a curveball at you? I found something on the map that you don’t have circled, but it looks really cool. It’s not too far off of our route. Do we have to be at the RV park at a certain time?”
“No set time to be there, but I would like to be there and set up before dinner. Then, after dinner, we can chill out and watch movies or something. I want to be well-rested to start our New England adventures tomorrow morning.” Nicholas said.
“What did you have in mind, Mase?” Griffin asked.
“I’ll text you the link.”
“Oh! This does look cool. Nicholas, do you wanna see a castle and do a little hiking?”
“A castle in Connecticut?”
“Yeah. It looks cool, and the hiking trails look awesome.”
“Put it in the GPS. What kind of schedule are we looking at?” Nicholas asked.
“We’ll get to the park around eleven. Looks like an hour to an hour and a half inside the castle, then we can have lunch and hike for a couple hours. If we leave the park by three, we’ll hit Mystic around four.” Griff said.
“Let’s do this!” Nicholas exclaimed.
“Alright! Thanks, guys. This looks fun.” Mason said with a grin.
The three boys stepped outside of the Gillette Castle and found themselves on a terrace overlooking the Connecticut River. With the cloudless blue sky and the dozens of sailboats on the river, the view was breathtaking.
“Mason, you have to take our picture here!” Griff nearly squealed.
Mason took out his phone to take a picture, but Griffin stopped him. “No, no! Here. With this.” Griff handed Mason his camera.
“A real camera? Wow. Are you a photographer, Griff?” Mason asked.
“Just amateur stuff. Maybe someday I’ll do more. I do enjoy it.”
“I’ve been checking out your Instagram page, but I assumed they were cell phone pics. The page is amazing.”
“Thanks.” Griff smiled and stepped closer to Mason to show him what settings to use on the camera.
Mason took a few photos of the boys in front of the river. Then a few more in front of the castle. He also took a couple pics of Nicholas and Griffin with his phone for his own memories of a fun day with his new friends.
“Now, we need you in some pictures with us,” Nicholas said. He looked around and found a teenage girl willing to be their photographer. After their mini photoshoot, Nicholas turned to the other two, “You guys ready to go hiking?”
The boys got back to the RV just before 3 PM. Nicholas and Griffin nearly collapsed onto the couch, and Mason plopped down on the beanbag chair. “That was fun. Some of those hills were steep, though! I sure didn’t get this kind of workout walking the sidewalks in New York City.” Mason said.
“Stick with us, and you won’t need to join a gym.” Griff laughed.
“Yeah, we’ve been rock climbing and zip-lining and hang gliding, and all kinds of different exciting stuff already on this trip!” Nicholas added.
“I can’t thank you enough for letting me come with you.”
“Just keep cooking breakfast, and we’re good.” Griff winked.
“Fair enough!” Mason laughed.
“Back to the road, fellow travelers,” Nicholas said and returned to the captain’s chair.
An hour later, Nicholas pulled the RV off the highway and started navigating Mystic, Connecticut’s suburban streets. Out of nowhere, a small dog darted out into the road. Nicholas knew he couldn’t stop in time, but he could not bear the thought of hitting a dog. He spun the steering wheel as hard as he could and prayed for the best. Crunch!
After his heart rate slowed a bit, Nicholas looked at his two passengers. “Is everyone ok?”
“Did we hit that dog? We hit something! What did we hit?” Griffin said while yanking his door open.
The three boys piled out of the RV to look for the dog, find out what they hit, and look for any damage to the RV.
Nicholas and Griffin walked around to the front of the RV to have a look around. “Little dog, are you ok, little dog? Where are you?” Griffin called out as they walked. They discovered that they were parked in the middle of someone’s flower garden. The RV front was on top of the shattered remains of what looked like a wooden replica wishing well. The dog was nowhere in sight.
When Mason stepped out of the RV’s back door, the little dog sat there looking up at him. It was an adorable basset hound. Mason dropped to his knees and hugged the dog. “Oh, thank goodness you’re ok, little guy!” The dog wagged its tail and started happily licking Mason’s face. Mason heard someone approach, and he looked up and nearly fainted. The guy standing over him was the hottest guy that Mason had ever seen. The curly black hair and dark brown eyes melted Mason’s heart in an instant.
Mason leaped to his feet. “Is this your dog? Is this your house? I’m so sorry, sir, I don’t know what happened! It was totally an accident!”
“Sir?” The guy chuckled. “I don’t look that old, do I? I’m only twenty-nine! But, yes, that’s my dog. My baby, Oliver. It’s my sister’s house, though.” He stuck out his hand. “My name is Billy. I’m glad that you’re ok. That sounded like a hell of a crash. We should check on your friends… and my sister’s wishing well.”
Mason took Billy’s offered hand and shook it. “Hi, Billy. I’m Mason. I am so relieved that we didn’t hit your dog! I hope we didn’t cause too much damage!”
“The main thing is that all three of you are ok, and Oliver is ok. Ollie seems very taken with you. He’s not always that friendly with strangers. In this case, I don’t blame him one bit. I’m actually a little jealous of the attention he’s getting.” Billy smirked.
Mason blushed and surprised himself by responding. “You’re not going to start wagging your tail and licking my face next, are you?”
“Not unless you ask me nicely.” Billy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “Now, let’s go check on your friends.” Billy turned and walked toward the front of the RV.
Nicholas and Griffin and Mason decided to have a wonderful last day in New York City. They planned to spend the day in Manhattan. “Hey babe, how about we visit the King Kong building this morning and then hit up a few museums and the 9/11 tribute monument to pay our respects. Later, we can go to Times Square and see the wild and crazy nightlife with all the bright lights, and we can end our night with a concert outside of the MTV studio. Imagine Dragons will be there!” Said Griffin.
Mason chimed in and said, “Wow! That sounds like an amazing day!”
Nicholas retorted, “Ok, but we have to be back earlier than usual because we have some traveling ahead of us tomorrow.” The guys ate breakfast, showered, and got ready to set out on their day’s adventure. While Nicholas was in the shower, Mason approached Griffin because he noticed tears in Griff’s eyes. “Griff, are you ok? I mean, you look so sad. What’s up? It seems like you guys have a rather good thing going here.”
Griff looked up and said softly. “I don’t want to leave Nicholas to go to school. I’m really loving our time together, and if I leave now, he might find somebody else. He’ll forget me and move on, Mason.”
“Do you really think that? There’s no way in hell that I could see him doing that to you. You guys love each other so much. I can see that in just the short amount of time that I’ve known you!” Mason said while hugging Griff.
“I know you’re probably right. Thanks, but I can’t help feeling sad. Just don’t let Nicholas know, please. I want him happy all the time for as long as possible.”
Mason glanced up and said, “My lips are sealed.”
About that time, Nicholas walked in. He looked hot and smelled delicious, Griff thought. Nicholas was singing “Radioactive” and leaned in and kissed Griff. “Let’s go, y’all. Full steam ahead.” Nicholas said.
The guys hopped on the subway headed towards Manhattan. First stop, what Griff referred to as the King Kong building, the Empire State Building. They had gotten tickets ahead of time, so they took the elevator up as high as they were allowed to and gazed out at the New York skyline. It was an exhilarating feeling, seeing everything so huge look so small. It took their collective breath away.
Next up, the guys stopped at a building that has always had Nicholas in awe of how it was built. It was called the Vessel. It was a marvel to behold and had a fantastic view from the top.
Next on the agenda was a quick stop at J.P. Morgan’s massive library. They browsed the library and read about how J.P. Morgan had built it and allowed people to visit and use the library for free until his death. After an hour, the three boys decided to move on to the next item on their list for the day.
The guys stopped and took a quick snack break. They ate the sandwiches they had packed in their backpacks and washed them down with some bottles of water. “I want to thank you both for taking me along on your adventure today. I’m having so much fun with you guys!” said Mason.
“You are more than welcome. We are enjoying your company, too.” Nicholas said enthusiastically.
“Ok, next up a quick stop to look around Grand Central Station, and then on to the 9/11 monument!” Griff said. “Let’s get a move on it. We have a schedule to keep!”
“The utter majesty of this place is unbelievable, and it is so freaking busy! I can’t see how they keep everything running so smoothly!” Mason said.
“Great observation, but we can’t stay long. We need to get to the 9/11 monument.” Griff said, touching his watch.
“Well, we are on hallowed ground, and you know it brings back so vividly how, even though we live in America, we are safe, but anything can happen in the blink of an eye! Life as we know it can change instantly!” Nicholas said to the other two boys.
“That is such a deep thought, babe,” Griffin said with tears running down his cheeks. “Too many beautiful people died needlessly that day, and we, as a nation, will never forget it.”
Then Mason said, “Let’s pause for a moment of silence for us to honor the dead and the many still affected by this awful tragedy.”
The guys then stopped at Central Park. It is such an iconic park. Crowded with people and their pets, as well as joggers, bikers, and skateboarders. So many great sites to see! Trees, lakes, and flowers lined bridges and walkways. So much to take in such a short amount of time! The guys stopped to rest for a few minutes. Mason sat quietly while Nicholas took notes in his journal, and Griff took photos for their RV Chronicles page on Instagram.
“Kiss me, babe, so I can say we kissed in Central Park,” Nicholas said, grinning slyly at Griff.
“Gladly,” Griffin said with a smirk as he moved in. The kiss was long, deep, and passionate.
Mason chimed in, “You guys are so lucky. I hope one day soon, I can have that with somebody. You are so good for each other, and you can just see the love in your eyes. Wow!”
Blushing, Griff said, “I think that you are a great guy, Mase. You’ll find someone special one day.”
“Thanks, Mason. I do love him very, very deeply.” Nicholas said.
They walked to Times Square next. It was dark out now, but the whole area was lit up like it was the middle of the day. “Can you imagine being here at Christmastime? Or New Year’s Eve?” Griffin said excitedly.
“Yeah!” Nicholas yelled. “Even now, look at all the big screen TV’s and people dressed up as different cartoon characters!”
“It’s hard to stay focused on any one thing! There’s so much going on. I bet that because of the free outdoor concert tonight, it is even more packed than usual!” Mason added.
The hustle and bustle of bright city lights were overwhelming the guys. “We are right up by the stage. Awesome! We got here early enough to get great spots! You can see the ABC News studio right over there, and look at MTV! Wow, it’s even more packed over there.”
“Right after Imagine Dragons performs, we will head back to the RV, so we can get some sleep before we head out tomorrow.” Nicholas reminded the other two.
The guys bought drinks and food and then the show started. The whole crowd yelled and screamed the entire time. It was a fantastic show. As the guys headed back home, Griffin lagged behind. Now that the hustle and bustle of day was over, he was filled with sadness again, just thinking about leaving the love of his life to start college. “I really want to go to school, but at what cost? Do I really want to abandon this awesome adventure with the one person who I love the most in all the world?” These thoughts and many others crossed Griff’s mind as he shoved his hands into his pockets and hurried to catch back up to Nicholas and Mason.
While devouring a scrumpdeliliciomous (“It’s a word … look it up!” insisted Griffin) breakfast prepared by Mason, the boys filled him in on their plans for their third day in New York City.
“We’re going to stroll around Greenwich Village this morning and then visit Alphabet City after lunch. You don’t have to come with us, but you’re certainly welcome to,” Nicholas offered. “We realize you’ve probably seen all of these places already. If you’d rather just Netflix and chill here, that’s fine.”
“If you’re serious and really don’t mind a third wheel, I’d love to tag along,” Mason smiled enthusiastically. “I went to school in Upper Manhattan, Columbia University, and never made it down as far south as Greenwich and Alphabet City. I always meant to but just never got around to it. It seems like you always think you have plenty of time to do things like that … then you don’t.”
“Well, alright, then. You hit the showers while Griff and I clean up breakfast and we’ll head for the subway.”
“Which way?” Griffin inquired of Nicholas, as he was the most qualified navigator amongst the threesome. They had emerged from the subway into a bright, cloudless day. Nicholas had his cellphone GPS while Griffin had his camera at the ready.
“You two are quite the pair,” chuckled Mason. “Two halves of a whole if I’ve ever seen it!”
“Oh, we work well in tandem on so many levels!” Griffin agreed.
“Okay, let’s head that way. Just up the street a couple of blocks is the Stonewall Inn,” Nicholas directed. “As I’m sure you both know, that’s pretty much where the Gay Civil Rights Movement started.” He pulled up a website and began to give some background history as they walked.
“The Stonewall Inn was a bar known for serving gay and lesbian patrons. In 1969, serving alcohol to gay men and women was illegal in 49 of the 50 states, including New York.”
“Unbelievable,” mumbled Griffin.
“The Stonewall didn’t care about the law because it was run by the Mafia,” Nicholas continued. “The gay community around Greenwich Village was growing tired of their oppression. The local police were increasing the number of raids on bars who served gay patrons. On the night of June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn. As the patrons left the bar, they didn’t disperse as ordered by the police. They stayed outside, and a commotion began. Patrons from other bars and residents from the neighborhood gathered to see what was happening. Tensions built, and at one point, people, gay and straight, who were gathered around the Stonewall, began throwing pennies at the police because pennies are made of copper and “copper” was a derogatory term for the police. NYPD Riot Police arrived and confronted the crowd and arrested protesters. The next night, people showed up to see what was going to happen and emotions flared again into another night of rioting, as well as the next night. The riots got a lot of attention in the news. Leaders of the gay and lesbian community were finally able to find widespread support for organizing the fight for their civil rights. A year later, on June 28, 1970, the first gay civil rights parades were held in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.”
“Obviously, that’s why June is now Pride Month,” Mason added, “with Pride Parades all over the world.”
Following their visit to The Stonewall Inn, the boys strolled up Bedford Street to view the building used for the exterior apartment shot of Nicholas’ favorite sitcom, “Friends.” Of course, there is no actual ‘Central Perk’ on the ground level, but there is a restaurant called ‘The Little Owl.’ Several pics were taken to post on their Insta page.
Approaching an intersection as they continued their stroll, Griffin suddenly shouted, “Bleecker Street!”
“What the what?” a startled Mason stuttered.
“Care to explain yourself, Peaches?”
“I just remembered that AJR live in Chelsea, which I think is just north of Greenwich and got their start performing in Washington Square Park which is right around here somewhere,” Griffin attempted to explain while looking around as if he could see the park from where they were standing. “One of my favorite songs is ‘Growing Old on Bleecker Street,’ and I’ve read there’s a lot of history on this street.”
“Who and/or what is an AJR?” a perplexed Mason inquired.
“AJR is Griffin’s favorite band. They’re three brothers, Adam, Jack and Ryan, and they have really fun, perky songs. They’re awesome,” Nicholas filled in. “We’ll listen to some tonight when we get back home.”
Griffin had Mason take his pic while standing under the street sign as Nicholas pulled up the Wikipedia page for Bleecker Street to see if there was anything of interest to see. Of course, Griffin insisted that they walk at least a few blocks up the street.
“This says Robert DeNiro grew up on Bleecker and Herman Melville lived here as a boy, too. John Belushi and Alicia Keys have also lived here,” Nicholas said. “Washington Square Park is just a couple of blocks that way, Griff. Let’s head in that direction.”
So the guys spent the remainder of the morning sightseeing and people watching, especially the many street performers in the park until Griffin’s belly rudely informed everyone that it was time to locate sustenance. They chose to head east from the park towards Alphabet City, where they planned to spend the afternoon and found themselves at the campus of New York University.
They decided to lunch at Phebe’s, and while waiting for their orders, Nicholas continued his ongoing research and background history narration. “So we’ll spend the rest of the day in Alphabet City which, of course, is called that because Avenues A, B, C, and D run through it. It’s part of the larger East Village.”
“That’s where the Broadway musical ‘Rent’ takes place, right?” asked Mason.
“Yeah, Nicholas and I have always wanted to see that live, but when the touring show came through North Carolina, the tickets went on sale the week Boo’s dad died and sold out in a couple of days,” Griffin solemnly explained. “We do have the DVD of the movie version, though, and we both know every word of every song.”
“That’s really my primary reason for wanting to walk around Alphabet City,” Nicholas continued. “The plot and many of the characters in ‘Rent’ are based directly on characters from Puccini’s opera, ‘La Boheme,’ but it’s a rock opera set in the East Village and Alphabet City in the late 1980s during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It’s basically about young artists and performers struggling to survive and pay their rent to keep from becoming homeless.”
The discussion continued as the boys’ food arrived, and they scarfed down every morsel. Nicholas took care of the bill and they headed out into the bright midday sunshine continuing their eastward trek across Lower Manhattan.
During his research, Nicholas came across The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space located on Avenue C, which he thought would be interesting to investigate. The threesome casually strolled around Tompkins Square Park, the site of another famous riot in 1988 when police attempted to remove the many homeless people that had begun squatting there. The park was quite crowded due to the beautiful summer weather, and Griffin was able to take many nice pictures to add to their Instagram travel journal.
“So what exactly does a Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space have that people would want to see,” inquired Mason.
“Well, what I get from their website is it educates about the history of the area. Apparently, during the recession in the 70s, most of the buildings were abandoned by their owners even though many people were still living in them and had businesses in them. Many of the artists, musicians, and activists, like are depicted in ‘Rent,’ refused to leave and, instead, reclaimed the spaces. They repaired the buildings the best they could and continued living in them. They made community centers for the artists and performers, too. Their site says it was created ‘to preserve the history of New York City’s Lower East Side and promote the local communities that came together in order to make the neighborhood a cultural icon.’”
They spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around East Village, including a stop at the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop and perused the many eclectic shops. As they strolled up East 7th Street, Griffin noticed a shop called East Village Hats and instantly got such a brilliant idea he nearly peed his pants! However, he needed to ditch Nicholas first.
Fate was smiling on him as Nicholas said, “Let’s pop in here. They’ve got some really cool stuff in the windows.” He was referring to what looked like a punk rock apparel shop called Trash and Vaudeville.
“Uh, yeah … you guys go ahead. I was just thinking I need to find something for my mom’s birthday next week so I can get it in the mail. I’m going to check out this place across the street, AuH2O, and see what they have. Text me when you’re done, and I’ll meet you back here.” Griff started across the street towards AuH2O, glancing behind to watch Nicholas and Mason head into Trash and Vaudeville. When he was confident they were out of eyesight, he veered towards East Village Hats.
He was quickly able to complete his mission and had not heard from Nicholas, so he discretely scooted next door into AuH2O and browsed for something for his mom, as her birthday really was next week. He found a beautiful bracelet, and the clerk said they would be glad to wrap it and ship it to his mom for a small fee. This thrilled Griffin but he inquired if he would be able to get one of their shopping bags to conceal his East Village Hats bag in. After explaining, the clerk agreed to his unusual request.
Griffin emerged from the shop, carrying his AuH2O bag, as Nicholas and Mason were crossing the street towards him. “I just thought we’d meet you over here rather than texting you. I figured you were still shopping since you hadn’t texted us,” Nicholas shrugged and nodded towards Griffin’s bag. “I see you found something for your mom.”
“Yeah, she’s gonna love it,” Griffin said. “I’ll show you later.”
The boys began to make their way towards the subway terminal that would lead them home. They grabbed Polish sausages from a food truck to tide them over until they got home. Mason had promised to whip them up a great dinner in exchange for their including him in their day’s activities and buying his lunch.
That evening, after an amazing dinner prepared by Mason, all three boys relaxed in the living room with Nicholas and Griffin, of course, wrapped together on the sofa. Soon, however, Mason fell asleep in the bean bag chair, so Griffin suggested they move to their bedroom and get more comfortable. “I’ll show you my package,” he winked and giggled.
As Nicholas flopped on the bed, Griff pulled out a perfectly wrapped box from his shopping bag and handed it to him.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Open it and see,” Griffin replied.
“It’s your mom’s birthday gift. Why would I open it? Just tell me what it is.”
“That’s not her gift. The shop is wrapping and shipping her gift directly to her.”
“Then what is this?” Nicholas asked again, though he had a suspicion that Griffin was on the same train he was.
“It’s your anniversary gift, Boo. Happy One Month Anniversary!” he answered before planting a huge kiss on Nicholas’ grinning lips.
“You remembered!” Nicholas exclaimed as he tore into the gift and pulled out an exquisite black fedora with a dark purple ribbon band. He jumped straight up in the air, almost hitting his head on the ceiling. “Jiminy Christmas! It’s perfect! I love it, Peaches!”
“I know you’ve been wanting one ever since you became obsessed with James Bay and his iconic hat. When I saw the shop today, the idea hit me. I really did need to get my mom a gift, so I used that as a cover when I saw the hat shop.”
“I love it more than you will ever know!” Nicholas gushed. “Now, you sit down right here. I’ve got a little somethin’-somethin’ for you, too.”
A surprised Griffin sat and accepted the wrapped box that Nicholas pulled out of his bag. When he opened it, his eyes showed his delight.
“Happy Monthiversary, Sweet Peach,” Nicholas whispered as he softly kissed Griffin on his delicious lips. Griffin slowly pulled out a leather belt with a sterling silver infinity love symbol buckle, a matching leather bracelet with the same symbol, and a sterling silver infinity ring.
“They’re beautiful and perfect. My love for you is for infinity and beyond,” Griffin glanced up at Nicholas with tears in his eyes. “One month down and infinity to go! Now close that door, so we can get naked and end this month and start infinity with a bang!”
“If we do this right, we should be able to manage several bangs!” Nicholas cracked.
Nicholas jumped out of the Uber and raced around to Griffin’s side of the car. He put his hand out to help Griff out of the vehicle. Griff took his hand but rolled his eyes. “My leg is feeling fine so far this morning, babe. Thanks, though. You’re the sweetest boyfriend ever!”
“Did you take your pain pill?”
“Yes. I’m good to go. Stop worrying. The wound is healing just about like the doc said it would,” Griffin’s phone rang. He looked at it and smiled but shook his head. “It’s my mom. Again. I better answer.” Griff sat on a nearby bench and answered his phone.
“Hey, mom. We’re still in New York. Yes, I’m taking it easy. No, we’re not just hanging out in the RV. Of course. If anything, he’s more overprotective than you are. We’re always careful, mom. Yes, I’ll take plenty of rest stops. I love you, too. Bye, mom.” Griffin slipped his phone back into his pocket and got up. “Are we ready to attack the day, captain?”
“Yeah. I was just reviewing our plans for the day. First stop, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Nicholas took his boyfriend’s hand, and they walked up the steps into the museum.
After they paid their admission, Nicholas grabbed a map of the museum. “Looks like our first stop will be the ‘Art of Native America’ exhibit.” Hand in hand with Griff, Nicholas led the way into the exhibit.
“It’s sad how mean and downright brutal humans can be to each other,” Griffin said as he stared at a depiction of a battle scene.
“Yeah. It was bad enough that the native tribes were sometimes at war with each other, then the Europeans came over and nearly wiped out all of them,” Nicholas said.
“These paintings are so beautiful. Mankind has lost a lot of culture for stupid reasons, and what makes it worse is that it’s still happening.”
“I agree. Our generation needs to step up and do better than those before us. We need to stop all the senseless war.”
“It’s not just the wars. Kids younger than us die in their classrooms and at the mall, and those that survive all of that will probably be underwater in thirty years if we don’t get a handle on the climate crisis!”
“Are you sure you want to be a youth counselor? You’re starting to sound like a politician. Did you switch your major to poli-sci?” Nicholas grinned.
“No. My passion is helping kids and teens who are in trouble or at risk, but we all, as a society, need to be more involved in the political process to make sure we don’t elect the wrong people. I don’t want someone in charge of our country who I wouldn’t trust to be in charge of a dumpster!”
“You’re right, Peaches. This is one of the many reasons that I love you so much. You are passionate about everything. You never do anything halfway. You throw your whole heart and soul into everything you do.” Nicholas leaned in and gave Griff a quick kiss on the cheek as they walked into the next exhibit area.
“Those baseball cards were super cool, Boo, don’t you think so?” Griff nearly gushed.
“The uniforms back then left a lot to be desired. I can’t imagine young players today wearing stuff like that,” Nicholas laughed.
“Fashion, even in sports, has come a long way! Where to next, oh mighty captain of my heart?”
“Our next stop should be a good one and it’ll be our last stop in the museum. It’s called ‘The Last Knight.’ I can’t wait to see all the armor and swords!”
“Oh! I see the entrance right over there.” Griff pulled Nicholas by their near constantly joined hands and led him into the exhibit.
“This armor is impressive! I love the time of the knights. The time of chivalry and romance,” Nicholas said with a dreamy look in his eyes.
“Take a break from the travel journal and write a story about Sir Griff the Brave saving the handsome Prince Boobaloo from the evil giants and their pet dragon,” Griff said with a smirk.
“Don’t laugh. I just might do that,” Nicholas said, looking thoughtful. “Anyway, are you ready to go?”
“Yep. What’s next?”
“St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It shouldn’t take long to see, and I figured you could get some amazing pics of the stained-glass windows for our Instagram. The fans need new content,” Nicholas winked.
“I can’t believe over two thousand people are interested in our travels.”
“And that number grows every day.”
“I’m shocked. I thought we’d be lucky to get a hundred followers when I started it.”
“I think we got half of them from your shirtless surfing pics,” Nicholas grinned.
“Nah. It’s all you, babe,” Nicholas said as they exited the museum. “Let me sit for just a few minutes before we go to St. Pat’s.”
“We’ll take as many breaks as you need, Peaches.” Nicholas reached into his backpack. “Do you want a granola bar?”
The two boys exited St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Griffin scrolling through the many photos that he had taken. “Some of these came out awesome if I do say so myself!”
“Let me see.”
“Here. Look. The light coming through the stained-glass was perfect. We came at just the right time of day, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky today.”
“The statues were beautiful, too. I can’t even imagine attending a mass here. It must be like a once in a lifetime experience every single time.”
“Definitely,” Griff said, putting his camera back in its case and the case back into his backpack. “What’s next?”
“Rockefeller Center. The food court first. I’m starved.”
After chowing down on burgers and cheesy fries, the two boys were ready for more exploring. Their first stop was the Channel Gardens. They wanted to be able to stroll the gardens before they got bogged down with any purchases that they may make in the shopping mall.
“This place is gorgeous. All the flowers and the statues and the fountains, it’s breathtaking. This is exactly the kind of set-up I want for our wedding,” Griff said as he pulled Nicholas in close.
“Wedding?” Nicholas said with a raised eyebrow. “I think we have about five years to plan out the details, my love. I can’t imagine my life without you in it, and I do want to marry you, but we have lots of other boxes to check off first.”
“I didn’t mean tomorrow, Boo, but yeah, I do want to get married, maybe even adopt a kid or two.”
“I do, too. I’m glad we’re on the same page with that. Let’s get you graduated from college first and get my future woodworking business up and running. Then we find ourselves a nice permanent home, though we’ll always keep the RV. Then we can talk about marriage and kids!”
“Perfect plan from my perfect planner. I love you so much, Boo. To the moon and back a billion times over.” Griff leaned down and gave Nicholas a tender kiss.
“I love you, too. More than I ever thought I could love anyone.” Nicholas returned the kiss. “Now, let’s move on before we get kicked out.”
“Yeah, if my career is going to be working with minors, I definitely don’t want to be arrested for public sex!” Griff laughed. They left the Gardens and headed for the elevator. Next stop: Top of the Rock on the seventieth floor.
Nicholas and Griffin walked out of Rockefeller Center with only a couple shopping bags of stuff between them. There was, after all, only a limited amount of storage in the RV, and they planned on making many more stops on their journey. “That was an amazing view, but are you sure you don’t want to also hit up the Empire State Building? Isn’t it supposed to be the best?”
“It is taller, but from everything I read, Top of the Rock has a better view. I mean, you saw it, right? You could see all of Central Park and basically the whole city. It was amazing! The new World Trade Center is taller than Empire State anyway. The World Trade Center and Ground Zero Memorial are definitely higher on my New York bucket list than Empire State.”
“Good point and I wholeheartedly agree. We’re off to the library now, right?”
“Yep. Last stop for the day, other than dinner, and I was thinking of just grabbing a quick dinner from a food cart in Central Park.”
“Sounds perfect to me, Boobear.” It was only a ten-minute walk to the New York Public Library, but Griff did stop once along the way to sit down for a few minutes and get a bottle of water out of his backpack.
“We’ll take a bicycle-taxi back to the park. I don’t want to overtax your leg, babe.”
“I’m fine, Boo. Let’s go inside. I’m excited to see this library! First, I need selfies with the Lions!” Griff laughed and raced over to one of the stone lion statues at the entrance to the library. “This is going on our Instagram for sure!”
After an hour or so, browsing the enormous library, both boys were ready to leave. Nicholas called the cab company, and a bicycle-taxi was waiting for them at the curb. In the blink of an eye, they were dropped off at the edge of Central Park, and they went in search of food.
“The library was so cool, don’t you think so, babe?” Griff asked.
“I could have spent the entire day in there just looking around! I’m glad we went!”
“For sure. Hey, that cart over there has pizza. It smells delicious, and I’m hungry. You wanna just grab some pizza for tonight?”
“Sounds good to me,” Nicholas said, and they got in line at the cart. There was only one person ahead of them, a young guy who looked about their age, maybe a couple years older. The guy sounded like he was pleading with the cart owner.
“Come on, Dave. You know I’m good for it. Just a slice or two. I haven’t eaten since yesterday!”
“How do I know that you’re good for it. You still owe me for the last two times that I was a nice guy. Get outta here, Mason. I have actual paying customers behind you.”
“Please! Hire me to work for you again. I know you need the help, and you know I do a good job.”
“Mase, I’m sorry. I wish I could, but I’m barely making enough to scrape by on my own. I can’t afford to hire an employee right now.”
“Come on, Dave! I swear I’ll pay you back!”
“Mason, I don’t want to, but if you don’t leave, I’ll call the cops.”
Nicholas looked at Griffin and nodded towards the guy in front of them. Griff knew, just by the look in his boyfriend’s eyes, what he was thinking, and he nodded his head to give Nicholas the go-ahead. Nicholas stepped up to the order counter. The other guy, Mason, started to back away. Nicholas lightly grabbed Mason’s forearm. “No. Stay.” Nicholas’ head swung toward the cart owner. “Good afternoon, sir. I would like six slices of the pepperoni pizza, three of those hot pretzels, three large lemonades, and add on to my bill whatever my good friend Mason owes you.”
Mason pulled his arm out of Nicholas’ grasp. “I don’t know what you expect from me in payment, but you don’t have to do that. I… I’ll be ok.”
“I don’t expect payment at all. It sounded like you needed help. I’m helping.” Nicholas shrugged.
“No one does something for nothing,” Mason said with a wary look on his face.
“Nicholas does,” Griffin said, stepping forward. “Hi. I’m Griffin… or just Griff… and yes, this wonderful man would give you the shirt off his back even if it meant that he would freeze. It’s one of the many things that I love about him.”
Nicholas turned around with his arms full of food. “Well, are you two gonna help me carry all this stuff, or will I just have to eat it all by myself?”
Mason still looked wary, but he picked up the tray of drinks and followed the other two boys to a picnic table.
“You didn’t have to do this, but thank you. I… I can’t pay you,” Mason said, looking across the table at Nicholas.
Griffin held on to Nicholas’ hand and replied to Mason. “I already told you. He… we don’t care about being paid back. We just wanted to do something nice. Pay it forward someday.”
“You told him that you hadn’t eaten since yesterday? Do you have a place to sleep?” Nicholas asked.
Mason shrugged. “Sometimes, I stay in one of the shelters. If they’re full, I do the best that I can.”
“How long have you been on your own? What happened?” Griff asked.
“I …” Mason started to say.
Nicholas interrupted. “If we’re too nosy, just tell us. You don’t have to answer anything that you’re not comfortable with.”
“No, it’s ok. I’ve been in between addresses ever since the last semester at college ended about a month ago. I was staying in the dorms, but when my dad cut off payments to the school, the school kicked me out of the dorm.”
“Why did he cut you off? Can’t you go home?” Nicholas asked.
“No. I can’t go home. I’m not welcome there anymore. My dad made a surprise visit to the dorm for my birthday back in April. I was celebrating with my boyfriend. Dad knocked, and my Harry answered, wearing just his boxer briefs. I wrapped myself in a sheet, but dad could tell that I was wearing less than Harry was. He left without saying a word. I found out from the school that he canceled all his checks. I didn’t have enough of my own money to cover what I owed the school, so they kicked me out of the dorm. I have nowhere else to go. My whole family disowned me,” Mason said through tears.
Griff had tears running down his own cheeks. “What about your boyfriend? Couldn’t he help? Maybe not with money, but a place to stay?”
“As soon as he found out that I was kicked out of school, he broke up with me. I guess I wasn’t worth the trouble.”
Nicholas was also wiping away tears. “You’re not sleeping on the streets tonight. Come back to our RV. It’s not much, but it’s home.”
“I just met you guys. You seem awful nice, but how do I know I can trust going back to your place with you?”
“Shouldn’t it be us that’s nervous inviting a stranger into our home?” Griff chuckled.
“True. Ok. I’ll go. Lead the way,” Mason said. Nicholas ordered their Uber, and soon they were on their way back to the RV.
The next morning, Nicholas woke up early. He tossed and turned all night, worrying about their decision to take yet another stray into their home. Then he smiled and nudged Griff awake.
“Uh. What’s wrong? What happened?” Griff started to get up, and Nicholas laid a hand on his chest to stop him.
“Nothing is wrong. Take a whiff.” Nicholas grinned.
“Huh? Ohhh… is that coffee and bacon I smell?” Griff asked.
“It sure smells like it to me. Maybe we made the right choice, after all. Let’s go see what else our new guest has prepared for us!” The two boys slipped on shorts and t-shirts and walked out of the bedroom to see what Mason was up to in the kitchen.
‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ sounds off, waking Nicholas up as his alarm loudly blasts a funny set of jokes from the movie. Sleepy eyed, he wandered through the RV. Griffin popped out of nowhere, with the sound of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ in the background. With one click of a button, the music changed to Frank Sinatra. Griffin grabbed his top hat and sang along with Ol’ Blue Eyes, “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere! New York, New York!” Griffin danced and grabbed Nicholas.
They danced around a bit, and Griffin pulled Nicholas close and planted a big kiss on him. “I know it’s cheesy, but we are in the biggest most beautiful city in the USA. I wanted to make it special. Hurry up and get ready. We’re going to have a private breakfast cooked for us by Bobby Flay at his restaurant,” Griffin said.
“Awe. Oh my God, silly. You make every day special for me, Peaches. How did you arrange for that?” Nicholas asked.
“Well, one of the chefs that works with Bobby is a friend of mine from surfing, and he arranged it for us. We’re gaining a big following on our RV Instagram, and Bobby Flay actually follows our journeys!” Griffin said excitedly.
“Ok, but just remember we have to take it easy today, so you can take care of your wound, Peaches. We have to get you better.”
The guys hurried around to get ready and left for breakfast. They were greeted by Griff’s friend, Roger, who escorted them to their table.
“Hi, guys. Your breakfast is almost ready, and Bobby said that he hopes you enjoy it and apologizes for not meeting you, but he has a few meetings at the Food Network studios today,” Roger said.
“Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it,” Griff replied.
The boys ate a big spread and everything tasted delicious. They finished up and thanked the staff. Griffin hugged Roger and told him to call him sometime to go surfing.
“Well, babe, it’s time to go look around in Chinatown. We’ll take in all the sights, and then we will eat at a world-class Chinese restaurant this afternoon for lunch,” Griff said.
The guys hopped on the subway, which was a whole different world in itself. “Look at all the street performers. They all have such unique entertainment qualities. I could listen and watch all day,” Nicholas said.
“Yeah, I know, but we have to get to the temple and look at the artwork and giant Buddha statue,” Griff said intently.
They hurried onto the subway train and saw a wide variety of cultures. It truly showed how diverse the races are here in New York. They disembarked from the train and climbed the steps, and were greeted by a sign that said, “Welcome to Chinatown.”
“Alright, now let’s head to the temple and look around, but we have to go slow. My leg is starting to hurt a little bit,” Griff said with a painful face.
“Aww. No hurries, Peaches. We can go at your pace. I want my babe to feel okay and be able to have fun,” Nicholas said.
On the way to the temple, the guys stopped and shopped at the markets. There were so many and both Nicholas and Griffin bought a lot of stuff from food to shirts to toys. Everyone was so cool and very polite. Nicholas got a bike cart guy to transport them around so they wouldn’t have to carry a lot of stuff and so Griff could take the pressure off of his hurt leg.
“Aww. Sweetie, oh my God, that is so sweet of you. You’re always thinking of me,” Griff said with love shining brightly in his eyes.
They went the many blocks to the temple and, when they arrived, they got to see the monks put on a show with dancing and mock fighting that included lots of flips and tricks. It looked like something out of the movies. “Wow, this is awesome, Boo. I really enjoy watching good group choreography, even with monks,” Griffin said.
“My mouth has been wide open, especially with how well they fly around and how fast they are. The show is done. Let’s head into the temple now,” Nicholas said.
“These things are carved out of ivory. I’m astonished and amazed at how talented these guys are,” Nicholas said excitingly.
“Let’s go grab lunch at the 5-star Chinese restaurant, Wo Hop. I put the address in my GPS. It’s at 17 Mott Street. I hear it’s possibly the best in New York City,” Griffin said.
“I’m all for it, Peaches,” Nicholas said. They rode over to the restaurant and were seated right away. Griffin had called ahead to make a reservation.
They ordered appetizers of dumplings and pot stickers. Both guys devoured them, but also fed each other and snuck in a few light kisses. It was time for their main course and, boy oh boy, they brought lots of food. Griffin had Angus beef fried rice and Angus steak and broccoli. Nicholas had the orange chicken noodles and strawberry chicken egg rolls. It took them a little while, and they couldn’t finish the food, so they took to-go boxes. The guys both shared cheesecake and took turns feeding each other again. Yes, it was quite pricey, but it was the best Chinese food they had ever eaten. They got some souvenir chopsticks to take home.
Now it was time to read their fortune cookies. Griffin opened his up. It said, “The time is coming where you have to make an important decision. Use your heart to decide the answer.” Griffin shrugged his shoulders and looked over at Nicholas. Nicholas read his out loud, “The road is short and narrow with changing paths. Choose wisely because your destiny awaits.” Nicholas was confused but liked the fortune.
“Wow. These fortunes are really deep. Usually, I just get cheesy ones,” Griff said.
“On to SoHo to do some shopping and sightseeing,” Nicholas said.
“Plus, I got us on the list to go to a nightclub party from the party promoter at Entertainment Weekly. There are supposed to be some celebrities attending!” Griff said.
“Way too cool, but no alcohol for us,” Nicholas said.
The guys headed toward SoHo. When they arrived, they rented a locker for all the stuff they bought in Chinatown. The guys were now ready to go have some fun.
After a full day of sightseeing, Griffin’s leg started to hurt, so they stopped and redressed the wounds, and he took a pain pill. They got nice clothes out of their locker and changed for the VIP party. “Tao Club is where it’s being held. Let’s go!” Griff said.
“Hey, look, they even have a red carpet set up! Fancy! Let’s see if we fit in or if we are out of our element,” Nicholas walked up to the security guy at the front door. “We’re Griffin Roberts and Nicholas Daniels. We should be on the list,” Nicholas said.
“Let me look. Yes, you are. Go on in,” the security guard said as flashbulbs flashed, and people took pictures of the boys.
As they entered the club, they saw news people and celebrities mingling about, and both boys felt intimidated. Some of their favorite stars were nearby. Jon Bon Jovi waved at the guys. Then Bette Midler walked by looking so divine. After watching lots of people and eating snacks and desserts and drinking water and soda, the boys danced for a while. Then Griff’s leg gave out and he had a little bit of leakage through the bandage, so both guys agreed to leave and head back to the RV. Nicholas let Griffin put his arm around him and helped him out. Then as they were leaving, Robert Downey, Jr. approached them and said, “Let me get my driver to take you guys home. He looks like he’s hurting.”
“Sure, thanks man! I appreciate that,” Nicholas said.
They arrived back at the RV and talked about their day, and Nicholas helped to clean and medicate Griff’s leg. Griffin was so happy he kissed Nicholas and pulled him close. After Griff was rebandaged, they relaxed on the couch and snuggled and cuddled while they watched TV.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way but right here and right now in this very RV with you in my arms!” Griffin said with a twinkle in his eye.
“That’s so sweet, Peaches. I love you, too,” Nicholas said lovingly.
“Our adventure in the big city continues tomorrow, Babe. Let’s get some rest so we will be refreshed to continue exploring the Big Apple!” Griffin said as they clicked off the TV and ambled to their bedroom.
A stunned silence fell over the scene as the shocked musician stopped playing, and the audience processed what had just transpired. However, Nicholas was beginning to get used to Griffin’s tendency to instantly react to a situation without taking the time to think it through. With a comedic eye roll and exasperated sigh, he took off after his boyfriend with the superhero complex.
As he pushed through the crowd, he caught a glimpse of Griffin rounding the gift shop on the street corner. Following him, with little hope of actually catching up to Griff, Nicholas could just make out the thief almost a full block ahead. Griffin appeared to be slowly gaining ground on the less-fit culprit. The foot chase crossed the street and continued down the next block when, suddenly, the thief made a hard right down an alley.
The unexpected move caught Griffin by surprise, and his feet nearly slipped out from under him as he attempted to slow his momentum enough to follow. Pinwheeling his arms to keep his balance, he managed to navigate the turn and headed down the alley in hot pursuit.
As Nicholas approached the entrance to the narrow lane, he heard shouting, and it sounded like several angry voices battling to be heard. A chill ran up his spine, and fear gripped him as he viewed the scene down the alleyway. Griffin’s back was to him, and, beyond Griff, he could count five less-than-friendly bodies advancing on him.
Nicholas grabbed his phone to call 9-1-1 as Griffin slowly began backing up with his hands raised in front of him. Nicholas could barely control his panic and keep his voice sufficiently steady to coherently explain the situation to the emergency operator. The operator assured him that someone had already called in the theft, and law enforcement would be arriving at any moment. GPS identified the exact location of the alley where the escalating confrontation was unfolding.
Nicholas started to call out to Griffin that the police would be there any second but then thought better of that. He didn’t think it would be wise to alert the gang to that fact, which may cause a violent response. Every second felt like an hour, but then Nicholas, out of the corner of his eye, glimpsed the blue and white pulling up to his left. He just pointed down the alleyway as the officers approached with their guns drawn.
“Move behind our vehicle,” one of the officers ordered Nicholas.
“On the ground! NOW!” the other yelled down the alleyway.
As the gang members realized they had unwanted company, four began running toward the opposite end, but the apparent leader, wielding a wickedly evil knife, jumped towards Griffin. Acting, as usual, on instinct, Griffin kicked out with his right leg and connected with his assailant’s abdomen. As the attacker’s arm came down, the knife sliced across Griffin’s thigh, opening a vicious gash.
Griffin dropped to the ground as a shot rang out. The police officer continued yelling for the attacker to drop his weapon, which he reluctantly did, raising his hands in the air as the officers rushed in. The other four had almost reached the far end of the alley when another police car pulled up to seal their escape. Realizing their predicament, they all froze and put their hands on their heads.
One officer quickly cuffed the attacker as the other called for a medical rescue response for Griffin. The lack of profuse bleeding assured him that the laceration had not severed Griffin’s femoral artery, which would have been quite serious. He used his belt as a tourniquet above the wound, and Griffin pulled off his t-shirt to press against the cut.
After the gang member was not too gently deposited into the back seat of the police cruiser, the officer got the full story from Nicholas. He assured Nicholas that Griffin would be fine with about a dozen stitches and allowed him to go to Griffin and wait with him until the medical emergency responders arrived. They could both give their statements at the hospital later after the officers had the gang members secured and witnesses had been interviewed.
The doctor had told Griff that he was very fortunate that the knife had sliced him at such an angle that it didn’t cut deep enough to hit the femoral artery. The flap of thigh meat was secured with 14 dissolvable stitches and bandaged with instructions given on changing the bandage regularly.
“You’re going to have quite a scar to show off,” the doctor informed him. “From what I hear, you will also have quite a story to go along with the scar.”
“I’m telling everyone it’s from a shark bite!” Griffin chuckled. “It’ll kinda look like one.”
While Griffin was being sewn back together, one of the police officers from the scene had arrived and was taking Nicholas’ statement. He was then brought into the examination room to get Griffin’s side of the story. After having the boys sign their statements and securing their contact information, the officer allowed the boys to head home for much needed rest.
Since it was well after midnight by the time the boys made it back to the RV, they decided to stay in the next day and make plans for their stop in New York City. Griffin also needed to stay off his wounded leg for as long as possible to speed the healing. He would not be up for much walking for a couple of days, at least.
Nicholas located and made a 5-night reservation at Liberty Harbor RV Park in Jersey City. There would be plenty to interest and occupy them in New York City for several days. “Check this out, Griff,” Nicholas pointed at his laptop screen. “It’s right on the harbor, and you can see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty from the park. We can walk to the ferry landing and ride over to Manhattan or walk a little further and take the subway over.”
“Yeah, less walking and more riding for a few days sounds good, Boobaloo. Crutches are a pain, and I’m NOT doing Manhattan on crutches! Short walks and cab rides will be best for at least a couple of days.”
“Well, you are going to stay off that leg all day today. Your humble servant is going to wait on you every second,” Nicholas winked while dramatically bowing. “Your every wish is my command, Your Royal Peachiness, and I give my solemn vow that you will not be disappointed by the gifts I shall lavish on thee.”
“Ooooo … I think I’m going to like staying in today!”
The boys spent the rest of the morning researching things to do for four days in New York City. “There’s no way we can possibly do everything we want to do, so we’re going to have to make some tough choices,” Nicholas sighed. “I wish we could stay here for a couple of weeks but, if we do, we won’t have time to see the rest of New England and get you to Ohio in time for your orientation at Ohio State in six weeks.”
“I’m sure we will be back, but you’re right. It’s going to be tough,” Griffin agreed. “I can think of at least a dozen things right off the top of my head.”
“Okay, we’ll make a list and then whittle it down. Although I’d love to visit all the boroughs, I think we need to focus on Manhattan for this trip. How about 2 days in Midtown and Upper Manhattan and 2 days in Lower Manhattan?”
“That makes sense, and we have to see a couple of Broadway shows, too, if we can snag tickets. So, let’s start with Lower Manhattan. What’s there that we want to spend two days enjoying?” Griffin asked.
“OH! There is SO much culture there!” Nicholas gushed. “There’s SOHO, Chinatown, Alphabet City and the East Village, the Flatiron District and Chelsea, Little Italy and Tribeca, and Washington Square Park. We’ll try to plot out a course to see as much of it as possible in two days. I think that should be the last two days, and, hopefully, your leg will be healed enough to do the walking.”
“Perfect. So, the first two days, we will focus on Midtown and Upper Manhattan,” Griffin responded. “Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, The Museum of Modern Art, and Central Park.”
The boys’ list grew rapidly as the morning passed quickly and they decided to take a break for lunch. Afterward, they shifted gears and found a movie to watch, but both were fast asleep before ‘Panic Room’ reached the halfway point. The rest was very much needed after the stressful night they had endured and the fitful sleep they had after returning home.
Following their long afternoon naps, the boys worked out plans for their four days in The Big Apple, and then Nicholas left Griffin working on his ‘RV Chronicles’ Instagram page while he went in quest of dinner. Returning a little over an hour later loaded down with several Boston Market bags, Griffin laughed as Nicholas stumbled through the door and into the kitchen. “Expecting company?” he giggled.
“I couldn’t make up my mind,” Nicholas blushed. “We’ll have plenty of leftovers for several lunches, though.”
Having fully sated their appetites, the boys were a bit restless and not the least bit tired, so they did what two young men very much in love do. Nicholas helped Griffin onto their bed and slowly began to peel his boyfriend’s clothing from his body, kissing and savoring each exposed area as he went. Once an obviously excited Griffin was completely bare and twitching, Nicholas tapped his Spotify tunes a couple of times, and, as the sultry selection began to play, he gave Peaches a seductive show that guaranteed to ripen his fruit. Nicholas swayed more than danced and so very slowly removed his shirt and then worked his way down as Donna Summer crooned …
“When you’re laying so close to me
There’s no place I’d rather you be than with me, uh
Ahaaw, I love to love you, baby
Ahaaw, I love to love you, baby
Ahaaw, I love to love you, baby
Do it to me again and again
You put me in such a awful spin, in a spin, in
Ahaaw, I love to love you, baby
Ahaaw, I love to love you, baby
Ahaaw, I love to love you, baby … ”
Nicholas was up early the following morning to shower and scarf down some breakfast as he would have to pack up the RV for road travel by himself. Griffin had to practically be tied to the bed frame to prevent him from trying to help, but Nicholas begged and pleaded with him to stay put and give his leg another full day of rest so he would be in better shape to explore NYC tomorrow.
Having secured everything and double-checked the checklist, as well as planting Griffin in the bean bag on the floor with the laptop, Nicholas climbed into the captain’s chair and punched the coordinates for the Liberty Harbor RV Park. It would be a fairly short trip up the Jersey Shore, and it was a beautiful day for a leisurely drive. Contemplating musical choices, he decided quickly on Jersey’s native son, Bruce Springsteen. As the Boss’ gravelly voice began to belt from the speakers, Nicholas couldn’t help but join in …