Griffin woke up and sleepily rolled over to get some good morning cuddles, but all he found was a cold, empty bed. “Wow. He’s up early,” he thought to himself as he got out of bed and pulled on a t-shirt. Griff padded out of the room looking for Nicholas. He got to the kitchen and saw Nicholas at the table. The two girls were on either side of Nicholas, each with an arm wrapped around him. Griffin was a little puzzled, so he walked over and wrapped his arms around Nicholas from behind. He rested his chin on his boyfriend’s shoulder. “Hey, Boo. What’s up? You’re awake early. What are you looking at? Are you making more travel plans?” Griff asked as he saw all the maps spread out on the table.
Nicholas looked up at Griff with tears blurring his normally crystal-clear blue eyes. “Hey, Peaches. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and started organizing some of the cupboards and drawers that we hadn’t gone through yet.”
Griffin nudged the girls out of the way and spun Nicholas’ chair sideways, so he could kneel in front of him. “Baby, what’s wrong?” He gently reached up and wiped the tears off of Nicholas’ cheeks.
“Nothing’s wrong. I’m not even sure if these are happy tears or sad tears. Look what I found.” Nicholas motioned toward the maps spread out on the table. “These are all my dad’s travel maps! He marked off routes and circled places that he wanted to take me. There are even notes in the margins in his handwriting about what he wanted me and him to do at some of the places. I thought mom cleaned everything out of here when she put the RV into storage. This… this is like a gift from my dad!”
Griff leaned forward and kissed the fresh teardrops from the corners of Nicholas’ eyes. “I’m so happy for you, Boo. This is amazing! We’ll add these in with the ones that you made, and we’ll know exactly where we want to go.”
Nicholas’ lips curled down into a frown. “Yeah. At least until I drop you off at college.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. There’s plenty of time before that happens. So much has changed for us in the last couple of weeks, who knows what will happen before we get to Ohio.”
“You’re right. Sorry for being so emotional. Go take your shower, and I’ll fix breakfast.”
Casey stepped forward and put a hand on Nicholas’ shoulder. “Organize your dad’s maps. Me and Jamie have breakfast covered today.”
“Yep. Chef Jamie and her fabulous assistant, Cookmeister Casey, at your service!” Jamie giggled.
Griff pulled Nicholas to his feet and wrapped him in a tight bear hug. “No apologies necessary. I know what your dad meant to you. He was an awesome dad.” Griff kissed Nicholas on the forehead. “Finding those maps was a sign that we are doing exactly what we should be doing right now, and we have your dad’s blessing.”
“You’re right. He loved you a lot, Griff. I know he’d be happy for us. Ok, let’s get this day started. Go get in the shower and I’ll finish up here. It smells like the ladies are already fixin’ us some breakfast!”
Nicholas’ hair whipped around his face, damp from the spray of the water. He let out a whoop and pressed down as hard as he could on the jet ski’s gas pedal. Only one more to pass and he’d be in the lead. The nose of his jet ski was now even with the tail end of Andy’s. Just as they reached the predetermined finish line, Nicholas pulled into the lead. He slowed the engine and glided to a stop at the dock. Nicholas danced and jumped his way down the pier and onto the beach where Griff waited, still taking photos.
“Did you see that? That was amazing!” Nicholas cheered.
“Not only did I see it, but I also recorded it! Your victory will be immortalized on our RV Instagram account, Boo!”
“I still can’t believe you have over a hundred followers in two days! Maybe we will go viral!” Nicholas laughed.
“Yeah, maybe we can be the next Alec in WILDerland!”
Andy strolled over and pointed up at the jet ski rental office. Ian is taking care of the paperwork. Are we ready to go get lunch?”
Jamie bounced over with her nearly perpetual grin, “Definitely! I’m starved.”
“I’m glad you chose this place,” Ian said. “It’s my favorite restaurant of all the ones that we’ve been to here in Chesapeake Beach.”
“As an added bonus,” Griffin chuckled, “the owner, Peggy, gives Nicholas a free piece of pie every time he comes in for saving that dude’s life earlier this week.”
“Wait… what? You have to tell us that story!” Jamie squealed.
So, as they ate, Griffin told the story of the Heimlich save. Nicholas retaliated by telling the story of Griffin saving Gustavo in the hang glider accident. Then, Griffin told the story of Nicholas’ tackling him in the mud to save him from the runaway RV.
Ian glanced at his watch. “Time to finish up here, guys and gals. Andy and I have to hit the road.”
As Andy stood from the table, Jamie nearly tackled him with a hug. “You have my number and all my socials, you better stay in touch, boy!”
Andy grinned and kissed her on the cheek. “Of course, I will. You’re my favorite girl.”
“Where are you heading next?” Jamie asked.
“Virginia Beach. Then on to my hometown of Savannah, Georgia.” Andy said.
“Post plenty of beach pics,” Jamie said with a wink.
Andy blushed. “For sure.”
Goodbyes were said all around, and then Ian and Andy left on their way south.
Griffin raised his kayak paddle in the air and whooped in victory. “Oh yeah, baby! That’s game, set, and match! We win four to two!”
Nicholas and Casey shook their heads. “Should we ask for best of nine instead of best of seven?” Casey asked.
“Nah. Look at those two already dancing on the beach like they won the Olympics. Let them enjoy it.”
“It’s three-thirty anyway. You said that we should leave by four.” Casey said as she got out of the kayak and helped Nicholas pull it onto the beach.
“Yeah, let’s get these things signed in and get back to the RV.” Nicholas and Griff pulled the kayaks back to the rental shed and rejoined the girls for the short walk back to the RV.
While Nicholas was double-checking all the RV hookups and gauges to make sure they were ready to leave, Griffin noticed both girls kept looking down the road and whispering together. He walked over and put an arm around each girl. “Ladies, what’s wrong? And don’t you dare say nothing.”
Jamie looked up at Griffin then at her sister and finally back up at Griffin. She sighed, “I can’t lie to you, even if I wanted to. I’m not sure that anything is wrong, but I think I saw Roger’s beat-up red pick up parked out by the exit to the park. As soon as I saw it, it drove away, but I’ve seen it drive by two times since then.”
“Roger is your stepfather, right? The one who abused you both?”
Casey frowned. “Yes,” she swore under her breath, “I knew we shouldn’t have gone to Sarah’s party last night. If it is him, that’s how he found us. Some blabbermouth told him we were there!”
Griff ran a hand through his hair. “You two are both over eighteen, right? Those weren’t fake ID’s? Why would he track you down?” Nicholas had joined the group and was listening intently.
“We are both of age. He just thinks that he owns us. Plus, he’s probably pissed that I knocked him out with the baseball bat. He tracked us down because he’s a psychopath.” Jamie said.
“Well, you’re not sure it’s him, but regardless, even it is him, the sooner we get on the road, the sooner we leave him behind,” Nicholas said as he herded everyone into the RV. Once they were all buckled in, Nicholas started up his road trip playlist, and they pulled out of the park to the sounds of Aerosmith.
I’m back in the saddle again
I’m back in the saddle again
Ridin’ into town alone by the light of the moon
I’m lookin’ for old Sukie Jones, she crazy horse saloon
Barkeep gimme a drink, that’s when she caught my eye
She turned to give me a wink, that’d make a grown man cry
I’m back in the saddle again
I’m back in the saddle again
Come easy, go easy, all right until the rising sun
I’m calling all the shots tonight, I’m like a loaded gun
Peelin’ off my boots and chaps, I’m saddle sore
Four bits gets you time in the racks, I scream for more
Fools’ gold out of their mines, the girls are soaking wet
No tongue’s drier than mine, I’ll come when I get back
David let the hot water cascade over his body. He watched the shampoo and soap mix with the reddish-brown water as it all swirled down the drain. He wracked his brain trying to remember where he had been tonight. His last clear memory was of Sky. They’d had dinner and then they went to the park and then… what? Had he hurt Sky? He couldn’t remember. Texting Sky would be the first thing he did when he was out of the shower.
Three nights, three blackouts, and three times waking up covered in blood. Matt’s idea was ridiculous and impossible, but it was also the idea that ran through his own head. Skylar told him not to think that until all other possibilities were ruled out. It looked like that time was now. A werewolf. Was it too late to convince Matt that he was just trying to fit his own nightmares into David’s reality? How much did Matt know? He’d have to have a long talk with Matt when he got out of the shower. He just couldn’t have that conversation standing there naked and covered in blood.
David stepped out of the shower and toweled himself dry. He slipped on a pair of sweats and went back into his room to talk to his brother.
As soon as David closed the door, Matt leaped to his feet. “David, you have to listen to me. I never told Brad that the wolf in my dream had blue eyes and now he says he has seen a blue-eyed werewolf and has pictures of it! And I know that it was a wolf and not a dog that bit you in the backyard. Add that in connection with what’s been happening with you and how can it be anything else?”
“Matt, werewolves don’t exist outside of stories. I can’t explain my lost time, and yes, I am very concerned about waking up covered in blood. But a werewolf? Come on.” David sat on his bed while Matt paced back and forth in front of him.
Mat stopped directly in front of David and held up both hands clenched into fists. He raised one finger with each point he made. “Gramps’s stories. My dreams. The wolf biting you. Your lost memories. The blood. The animal attacks in the park. And Brad seeing the blue-eyed werewolf.” Matt shook seven fingers in front of his brother’s face. “What more proof do you need, David?”
“I…” David sighed. “Ok. I have considered it. I’ve even talked it over with Skylar. I didn’t want to worry you. There has to be another more rational explanation.”
David sighed and looked up at his brother. “Stay with me tomorrow night. Record me all night. Brad too. Even if I’m not a werewolf, I may be dangerous in my sleep. The blood worries me most of all. Especially with the deaths in the park. I don’t want to believe that I’m responsible, but I guess we have to be sure. Will you do that for me? You and Brad record me all night?”
“Of course, I will, David. It’s kind of scary. We should do it somewhere else though. Not here. Somewhere safe just in case I’m right. Don’t you agree?” Matt asked.
“Yeah. I’ll meet you guys at the abandoned warehouse down by the school at six. Okay?” David ran a hand through his still damp hair, concern evident on his face.
Matt’s brow furrowed while he considered the meeting place. “That’s as good a place as any I guess.” Matt glanced at the clock. “It’s almost morning. Thank God it’s Saturday or it would be almost time for school. I’m going back to bed. I’ll see you in a few hours, David. Try and get some sleep. You look exhausted.” Matt turned and left the room.
David flicked off his light and lay down on his bed. He stared at the ceiling and thought about everything his brother told him. He was anxious to see the photos that Brad took, even if they were super blurry. David did not want to even consider the possibility that he was a werewolf. Not only was it ridiculous, but if it was true, then that meant that he had killed two or, more probably, three people. That was just unthinkable. There had to be another explanation.
Considering the hour, he doubted that Sky would be awake, but he couldn’t fall asleep without sending his boyfriend a text. He was just too afraid that he possibly hurt Sky. He knew he would never be able to live with himself if that happened. He didn’t expect an immediate response, but he sent it anyway.
David: Hey. I need to hear from you as soon as you get this. I don’t care what time it is. I had another blackout. The same thing happened. I woke up the same way again. My brother found me this time. Please call. The last thing I remember is I was with you. I hope I didn’t do anything to you, Sky. I love you.
David set his phone on the nightstand and closed his eyes. He tossed and turned, trying to force himself to fall asleep. He nearly jumped out of bed when the text alert on his phone notified him of a new text message. He glanced at it. The message was from Sky.
Sky: I’m ok. I haven’t been able to sleep all night, though. I’m not hurt, but there is a lot that we have to talk about. I’ll be over your house in a few hours. Try and get some sleep. I’ll text you when I’m on my way. Good night, David. Or morning or whatever it is. Haha. See you soon. I love you, too.
David could tell that something had happened, but at least Sky was ok, and he was coming over to talk. David closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep.
After Matt left his brother’s room, he went to his own room to try and sleep. Before drifting off, he sent Elias a text.
Matt: I just found David outside in the bushes. He was covered in blood, dirt, and what looked like chicken feathers. We were right. He’s not ready to openly admit it, but even he knows that something is seriously wrong. I guess he’s already been talking to Skylar about it. He’s had blackouts and memory loss three nights in a row. I have to see Terrie first, but I’ll meet up with you later for sure. Things are starting to happen quickly. More and more people are figuring this out. Brad has pics, but I guess they are super blurry. I’ll see you soon. I miss your touch on my skin. (Blushing emoji) (Heart emoji)
Less than a minute later, Matt’s phone beeped with a text alert from Eli.
Eli: Wow. Things are happening quicker than even I expected. We can’t let word of this get out to the wrong people. We have to handle this ourselves. It’s almost morning. I’ll just get up now and get to the research. I miss you, too. See you soon. (Hug emoji)
Matt put his phone back on the nightstand, turned over, and tried to sleep.
Fresh out of the shower and still fiddling with his hair, Matt went downstairs and into the kitchen. David was already sitting at the table, eating a bowl of cold cereal.
“Where’s Aunt Nancy?” Matt asked.
“She’s in her home office. I think she’s going to go pick up Brad soon.”
“Did you get ahold of Sky last night?”
“Yeah. He was a little mysterious about it. I’m going to meet him in about an hour.”
“He was cryptic in his texts to me, also. He might have seen you transform. I know you’re not ready to admit what we both know you are yet, but too many pieces are falling into place. We have to decide what to do before the moon rises tonight.”
David sighed, his eyes downcast. “I know. I know. Let me talk to Sky, and then we will both meet up with you and discuss everything.”
“That sounds like a good plan. You talk to Sky, and I’ll find out exactly what Brad knows. I also have to meet up with Terrie and have a completely different kind of stressful conversation.”
“Everything ok, little brother? Trouble in paradise?”
“I…” Matt sighed, looked down, and blushed a deep scarlet. “I almost kissed Eli last night.”
“What?! I thought we always told each other everything. I didn’t know you were bi! What happened?”
Matt rolled his eyes. “You know I hate labels. I don’t think bisexual would fit me anyway. I’ve never been attracted to any other guy in that way. I mean I’m not afraid to admit that a guy is attractive, but I’ve never been interested in touching them or kissing them or whatever. There’s just something about Elias. The attraction is intense. He touched me and it felt like my whole body was on fire. I wanted him more than I’ve ever wanted anyone, more than I’ve ever wanted any girl, even more than I want Terrie. I guess, if you have to put a label on it, I’m pansexual more than bisexual. I want him because he is Elias, not because he is a guy.”
“And you’re going to tell Terrie?”
Matt shrugged. “I have to be honest with her. Hell, I don’t want to break up with her. I really like her a lot, but I really like Eli, too.”
“Good luck with that, little bro. I doubt that either one of them will let you date them both. I know I wouldn’t stay with Sky if he was dating someone else!”
“You’re probably right. I’m just going to talk with her, be honest, and tell her everything. I’ll see where things go from there. There’s other stuff that I need to tell you about Elias. He is deeply involved in all this werewolf and curse stuff. When I meet up with you and Sky later, I’ll tell you both at the same time. I might even bring him along.”
“It feels like we’re living in a movie. I can’t believe this is all real.”
“What movie are you boys living in now?” Aunt Nancy asked as she walked into the kitchen.
“Not sure what we’ll name it yet, but I’m ready to change the channel.” Matt quipped.
Nancy laughed. “Do either of you need to be dropped off anywhere? I’m heading over to the Hanson’s to pick up Bradley.”
Matt stood up. “I need to talk with Brad before I meet up with Terrie, so I’ll go with you.”
“I’ll just hang here and chill. I’m meeting Sky in an hour.” David said.
“How much trouble is Brad in?” Matt asked his aunt just as they pulled into the Hanson’s driveway.
Nancy’s expression grew thoughtful. “I’m not making a decision on that until I talk to the sheriff and see those alleged werewolf photos, but regardless, he’s in big trouble for running off and putting himself in danger without telling anyone.
“Such a crazy story.”
“People deal with tragedy in a lot of different ways.”
“I get that. So much has happened in the last six months. I can barely wrap my head around it.”
Nancy put a hand on her nephew’s shoulder. “If you ever need to talk, I’ll listen. You know that, right?”
“Of course. Thanks, Aunt Nancy. Anyway, we’re here. Let’s go get him.” Matt smirked.
Matt knew he’d get more information from Brad alone, so, while Aunt Nancy marched straight into the den to talk to Sheriff Hanson and Brad, Matt snuck off into the kitchen to find Terrie.
Terrie jumped up from the table as soon as she saw Matt enter the room. She rushed over and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Hey, you. I didn’t expect to see you for another couple of hours.”
“I came with Aunt Nancy to pick up Brad.” Matt rolled his eyes. “I didn’t even want to witness that reunion, though. I’m excited to hear about what he saw last night, but I’ll talk to him when we’re alone.”
Terrie huffed out a laugh. “You should have just waited for him at home then. Less chance of getting caught in the crossfire.”
“He texted me. He’s going to have her drop him off at the library. He plans to tell her it’s for a school assignment, but it’s for more werewolf research.”
“I still have a hard time believing that we’re seriously considering the possibility of werewolves. Did you find anything out from Elias last night?”
Matt couldn’t hold back from blushing. “I… yeah. A lot happened last night. We’ll talk at lunch. You’re still meeting me down by the lake at noon, right?”
She smiled up at him. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world! It’s our first real date.” She ran her fingers through his hair and pulled his face down to hers. Their lips met in a kiss that started tender and quickly turned passionate. The sound of someone clearing their throat from the kitchen doorway caused Matt and Terrie to separate and look guiltily toward the sound.
Brad stood there, grinning. “You ready to go, Matt, or do you need a condom and another twenty seconds?”
“Shut up, perv.” Matt rolled his eyes. “Ignore him, babe.” Matt said, turning back to Terrie. He leaned down for one more quick kiss and then left with his cousin.
“The library closes at three on Saturday. You better be home before three-thirty, Bradley.” Nancy said just before the boys got out of the car.
“Yes, mother. I’ll go straight home when I’m done with my research.”
The boys sat down on the front steps to the library, and they both sighed. Matt looked over at his cousin. “You didn’t just lie to your mom, did you?”
“Nope. I said I’d be home when I’m done with my research. I never mentioned the library or what type of research.”
“Clever. So, I have a lot of news to share, but I want to hear about your close encounter first. Do you have the photos with you, or did you leave them with the sheriff?”
“I gave my thumb drive to Sheriff Hanson, but you couldn’t see much anyway. Just a big brown blur with two little blue blurs for eyes. Let’s wait on the story until Nate and Devon get here, so I don’t have to tell the same story two or three times in a row.” Brad laughed.
“That’s fair.” Matt said with a grin. “I feel the same way about my news. We really need to get everyone together. So much is happening so fast.”
“It’s so crazy. I can’t believe it’s real.” Brad looked at his phone. “Nate and Devon should be here any minute.”
Just then, Devon walked around the corner and up onto the steps of the library. “Are you using my name in vain again, Holliday?” He smirked.
“Every chance I get. It’s about time you got here.”
“Looks like I beat your boyfriend here, so shut your face.” Devon’s smirk turned into a wide smile. “Hey, Matt, what’s up?”
Matt looked surprised. “Boyfriend?” His head swiveled from Devon to Brad and back again. “I thought I only missed updates on research. What’s this about a boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend. At least not yet.” Brad blushed.
“Who? Who isn’t your boyfriend yet? What did I miss?”
“Well, duh! He’s the only other person who isn’t here yet.” Brad rolled his eyes.
“You mentioned someone named Nate.” Matt shrugged. “Have I met him? Does he go to our school?”
“No. That’s true. You probably haven’t met him. So much has happened, it seems like you’ve been here forever, and not just a few days.”
“So? Who is he?”
“He’s the assistant librarian now. He’s older than us. He graduated last year.”
“Did you guys ever date? Were you friends? Two years older isn’t really that much.”
“I barely knew him. I mean, I knew who he was, but we weren’t close. Now shut up, here he comes!”
Nate walked up and smirked at the three boys waiting on the steps. “Gee, I’m not used to so many eager faces waiting to get into the library on a Saturday morning.” His gaze stopped on Matt. “You must be one of the Montana’s. Matt I’m guessing. I’m Nathan or Nate. I’ll answer to either.” He stuck out his hand toward Matt.
Matt shook the offered hand. “Nice to meet you. We were just talking about you. You are everything that I expected.” Matt winked.
Nate shot a look at Brad then grinned at Matt. “I hope you were only told good things.”
Brad piped in. “I barely had a chance to tell him your name before you showed up. He’s exaggerating as usual.”
Nate winked at Brad as he finished climbing the steps. “It’s good to know that I left enough of an impression to be talked about.” Then Nate unlocked and opened the library doors. The other boys followed Nate into the library, and they all settled in at the same table in the research room.
“I may need to be out front from time to time, but I should be able to help in here again, too. What books do you need me to find today?”
Brad spoke up. “Anything you have on werewolves. Specifically related to this area if there’s anything, but werewolves for sure. They exist. I saw it again last night. Possibly a different one, I’m not sure. I took pics, but they are super blurry. The sheriff might try and get them cleaned up for me.” Brad looked right at Matt. “Johnny Hanson was there. He saw it, too.”
“Sky came home from his date early last night, and he was acting weird. He went right to his room. Matt, how was David acting last night after he got home? Did they have a fight?” Devon asked.
Nate was practically jumping up and down. “You saw a werewolf again? Did it attack you? How did you get away?”
“Loud music and yelling. He ran off. I probably got lucky; I don’t know for sure. I think it was a different wolf than the other one that I saw, but I don’t want to believe that there’s one, much less two!”
Matt sighed. “There are two. The monster that bit my brother, and my brother himself.”
All eyes turned to Matt. Brad spoke first. “Do you know for a fact that David is a werewolf? Have you seen him change?”
“I haven’t seen him change, but I dreamt about it.”
“A dream? Come on, Matt, that isn’t proof!” Devon said.
“Elias helped guide my dream last night. It was very vivid. Then, later, I found David outside our house in the bushes. He was nearly naked and covered in blood and what looked like chicken feathers. I’d like to think that the blood was chicken blood, and that my brother isn’t eating people. We need to find out exactly what is going on, and we need to do it fast!”
“Elias was in your dreams?” Brad asked, one eyebrow arched.
Matt blushed. “You were right. I was blind. There’s… something more there. I hope that’s ok with you?” Matt said, looking pleadingly at Brad.
“Oh, wow. I figured that he liked you. I didn’t expect you’d like him back. Yeah, it’s fine with me. No big deal. Terrie might have a different take on it though.”
“I will be having that conversation with her today.” Matt said with a worried expression. “Anyway, I did find out a lot from Eli last night. The curse is real. Eli’s magic is real. That’s where you guys should focus your research, in my opinion. Try and find out as much as you can about the witches. Elias will do research at his house, but the town records and newspapers may say things about the witches that they wouldn’t say about themselves. Knowing both sides is always best.”
Devon looked totally confused. “You’re gay? And you like his ex?” Devon pointed at Brad when he said “his.”
“I am not gay, but I’m not straight. I’m dating Terrie Hanson, at least for now, but I do have strong feelings for Elias Carrier. Call me bi, call me pan, call me whatever you like. I hate labels. I like who I like. That’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for everyone.”
Nate stood and clapped. “Here, here! Great speech! Everyone should feel that way. I mean labels do sometimes make people comfortable, but if you don’t want a label, society shouldn’t force one on you.”
Matt cleared his throat. “Thanks, but right now the labels that matter are werewolf and witch. There’s a lot more that I need to share with you guys, but there’s also people missing that need to be told. It would be easier to tell everyone at once. For now, you guys research the witches. In particular the coven that lived here. If you happen to find anyone named MaryAnne Carrier, find everything that’s available. Eli’s ancestors were a big part of this. I’ll go have a talk with Terrie about everything. Obviously, I’ll have to talk to her about the Eli stuff, but also, the monster stuff. We need to find out if her father has found anything. I hope she’ll still help us after we talk. Hell, I hope she’ll still date me!”
Nate gave Matt a sympathetic look. “Figure out what you want,” he tapped Matt on the chest with one finger, “before you let other people’s decisions affect what you do.”
“I want them both, but I know that’s unrealistic.” Matt blushed.
“I wouldn’t agree to that, but hey, you never know!” Nate huffed out a laugh.
“I’ll cross all my fingers and toes.” Matt laughed. “Ok, I’m gonna take off. You guys get to the research, and I’ll try not to get murdered by my girlfriend.” He looked at Devon. “Sky was going to meet up with David. If you hear anything, let me know. I’ll do the same if I hear from David. Later we all have to meet up somewhere and share all of our various stories.”
“Definitely, dude. Call us if you wanna bring you girlfriend back here or your boyfriend or both or your brother or whatever!” Devon giggled hysterically.
“On that note, I’m outta here!” Matt said and turned and started toward the door.
“Bye, Matt!” Devon yelled.
Matt turned just before he was out the door. “Later, guys. Good luck with the research!”
David was nervous and pacing in the kitchen when he heard the soft knock on the door. He raced over and yanked the door open. “Sky! David wrapped his arms around Skylar. “I’m so happy to see you! What happened last night?”
Sky hugged David tight, and then he stepped back. He looked at David with a worried expression. “You don’t remember anything?”
“It’s just like the two nights before. I only remember up until a certain point and then nothing. The last thing that I remember, I was with you. That’s why I was so worried and texted you.”
“You were with me. I know what happened. I know why you are losing time. Our worst-case scenario is true, David, you’re a werewolf!”
David slumped into a chair and took a long drink of water. “I kinda knew. We both did. I guess there’s no denying it now.”
Sky huffed out a laugh. “No. You can’t deny it now. Not only did I witness the transformation, but you also bit me!”
“I bit you? I thought you said you were ok. Sky, I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine. At first, I thought you were being a little too aggressive. You barely drew blood. We were kissing, and you bit my lip. I pushed you backward, and I was going to scold you for being too rough, but then I saw you transform. It was scary as hell!”
“I can never apologize enough. I don’t think Hallmark has a “I’m sorry I turned into a werewolf and bit my boyfriend” card. Now I guess I have to worry even more that I may have killed people.”
Sky sighed. “Even after seeing you change; I just don’t think that you would kill anyone no matter what form you were in. Have you checked out the news yet today? We know about the deaths from the other two nights, we should find out if there’s anything else today.”
The two boys walked into the family room and turned on the tv. They sat on the couch, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. They sat like that for a few minutes, not speaking, just watching the local news reports. David nervously drummed his fingers on his thigh and kept casting furtive glances at Skylar. Sky smiled and turned toward David then clasped David’s hand within his own. “It’s ok. I’m fine. We’re fine. I know you didn’t mean me any harm.”
“I could have hurt you, though. I could have killed you.”
“I honestly don’t think you would have. You said that your brother found you this time. Was there anything else different? Did Matt notice anything that you didn’t?”
He found me outside in the bushes underneath my bedroom window, so that was different. He also said that Brad took blurry photos of a blue-eyed werewolf. I guess people are starting to piece things together. I’m really scared, Sky. The only relatively positive thing that I’m holding onto right now is that this time, even though I was covered in blood again, there were lots of feathers around. Matt and I think they were chicken feathers. We hope that the blood was also from chickens.”
“See! It’s still possible that I’m right. Maybe all three nights all you did was raid farms and kill animals.”
“I guess so. We can hope. Hey, wait a minute. Let’s listen to this. The sheriff is on tv.”
The boys listened to Sheriff Hanson talk to the local news. He was standing in front of the park which was almost completely roped off with yellow crime scene tape now. The sheriff looked into the camera and began to speak. “Citizens of Roxbury Falls, it is with a heavy heart that I am speaking to you today. For the third night in a row there has been a vicious animal attack in the park. A third teenager is dead. For now, we are not releasing any names. We are giving the families time to grieve. I am extending the 8pm curfew indefinitely. We believe that there is a rogue bear coming into the park at night to hunt. We ask that you do not go and hunt this animal yourselves. We are searching for the bear, and we are confident that it will be found and destroyed very soon. If you spot a bear, or anything else suspicious, please report it to the sheriff’s office immediately. Thank you for your time.” The sheriff turned, ducked under the crime scene tape, and walked into the park.
“A third teenager is dead! There was an attack last night. What if it was me, Sky? What if it really was me?”
“You said that Matt has more information, and Brad has photographs, why don’t we chill here and try not to think about it until we hear from them. My brother is with Brad at the library, so I’m guessing that he’s in on the research. There’s more than just the two of us to figure this out, David. We’ll help you get through this.”
“Matt has been talking to some kid named Elias about this, too. I guess his family is also tied in with the story of the curse. A week ago, I would have laughed at the idea of a witch, but, hell, now I’m a werewolf. Witches probably exist, too.”
Sky pulled David in close and gave him a quick, tender kiss. “Let’s ‘Netflix and chill’ until they text us.”
David smiled for the first time since the new report. “That is a fantastic idea.” David slid his arm around Sky’s waist and snuggled in close to his boyfriend.
Sky leaned down and softly kissed the top of David’s head. “We will figure this out, babe. I promise.”
Nicholas woke up and groggily reached his hand out for Griffin. He felt nothing but an empty bed and struggled to open his eyes. 735 am. “Griff, where are you? Come back to bed!” He barely got the words out of his mouth and Griffin nearly bounced into the room and jumped on the bed.
“Get up, sleepy-head! The bus leaves in an hour!”
“The zoo. Ok, yeah, I’m up.”
“I’ll make breakfast while you shower, Boo. We should be ready in plenty of time.”
Nicholas heard voices when he turned off the shower. He cracked the door open, “Griff, is someone out there with you?”
“I’m FaceTiming with Emily. Make sure you put some pants on before you come out here.” Nicholas heard Em’s voice, “Does he usually walk around naked? You said you guys were together now, but you didn’t say you were like… together like that! I want details!” Nicholas closed the bathroom door. He knew he had plenty of time to get ready, those two could talk forever.
After double checking that the RV was locked up tight, the boys walked the half mile down the beach to the bus stop. Nicholas laughed as he sent one last text before slipping his phone into his pocket. “My mom said for you to take plenty of pics at the zoo. She said that she didn’t follow your Instagram to look at shirtless selfies.”
“I have my camera right here in my backpack.” Griff kinda chuckled, “And yeah I do need better content on my Instagram.”
Nicholas smirked. “Your content is great. Maybe you need variety, but it can’t get better.”As they approached the bus stop, a pair of guys slightly older than them approached from the other direction. One of them, a tall blonde, spoke up, “Hey! It’s the hero from the restaurant! How’s it going, dude? Off to save more lives?”
Nicholas blushed. “You were there? Thank you but I’m not a hero. Just in the right place at the right time. We’re going to DC today to visit the zoo.”
“A modest hero. I like that. Well this is a coincidence. We’re here to catch the bus to the zoo! Oh, hell where are my manners? I’m Ian and this is my boyfriend, Andy. Do you guys wanna hang out at the zoo today? I think it should be a blast!”
Nicholas shrugged and looked at Griff. “What do ya think, Griff?”
“Sure. Why not.” Griff stuck his hand out to Ian. “I’m Griffin, and the modest hero is my boyfriend, Nicholas.” The bus pulled up and all four boys got on. They sat in the back, Nicholas and Griff on one side and Ian and Andy on the other.
“What do you guys want to see first when we get there?” Asked Andy.
Griff pointed at Nicholas. “He is the planner. He even printed a park map last night.”
Nicholas rolled his eyes. “You say ‘planner’ like it’s a bad thing. I just want us to maximize our time and get the most fun out of all these places. We may never do something like this again!”
“You guys on an extended road trip or something?” Ian asked.
“Traveling in an RV. Pretty much wherever we want to go, except we have to have Griff at college by late August.”
“Were you coming from the RV park when we saw you? We’re in that same park! How long are you guys gonna be in town?”
“Yeah we’re staying at that park. Staying another 4 or 5 days.”
“So, what was your zoo plan? We’re almost there.” Andy piped in.
Nicholas took the map out of his backpack. “It says to visit the pandas first or it’ll get too busy, and we’ll never see them. Also, the Bird House and part of the petting zoo are closed for construction. The map is color coded. Our entrance is halfway down the orange section. If we go from orange to green, we can eat next to the lions and then move into purple and back to the rest of the orange section and hopefully be at the bus gate on time.”
Andy was peering over Nicholas’ shoulder at the map. “I love how you organized it. That does look like the best route.” The bus stopped. They were at the DC National Zoo.
“Those pandas were so cute!” Andy cooed.
“Totally! The trip was already a success in my opinion!” Nicholas said.
“Where to next?” Andy asked.
“The bison then the elephants. See. It’s right here on the map.” Nicholas pointed at the map he had given to Andy. The two boys were shoulder to shoulder, peering at the map, walking a little ahead of their boyfriends.
Ian arched an eyebrow at Griffin and nodded toward Nicholas and Andy. “Should we be worried about those two?”
“Nah. Not at all. That’s just the way he is. Nicholas has my complete trust. It’s just that he’s never had a lot of friends. Especially not gay guys our age. That’s why we left our hometown.” He motioned toward the two boys ahead of them, “You have absolutely nothing to worry about.” Griffin stopped to snap a few photos of the bison. “They are such majestic and beautiful creatures. It’s so sad that humans almost wiped them out.”
“I agree. Humans are probably more destructive than anything else on the planet. So, you left home for college, right? Where are you going?”
“Good school. So, will Nicholas go back home after he drops you off?”
“Not right away. He wants to see the country. Our town sucks. We do miss our families, but they understood our need to get out.” Griff said, in between snapping pics of the elephants.
Nicholas walked up and wrapped his arms around Griff’s waist. He looked over at Ian. “Yes, we do have very understanding families. I miss my mom a lot, but like Griff said, I just needed to get out of there. I don’t know if I’ll hit all 48 states, but there’s a lot that I want to see before I even think about going back to North Carolina.”
“Oh awesome!” They heard Andy yell and they all rushed over. Andy was ahead of them at the tiger exhibit and one of the tigers was swimming in the river the zoo had made for them, right up close to the plexiglass enclosure. Griff hurriedly began taking both video and photos.
Nicholas, Ian, and Andy were all practically pressed against the plexiglass watching the tigers while Griff was busy taking pictures. Finally, it was time to move on. “That was so cool!” Nicholas said. “I can’t believe we saw them so close. They’re way bigger than I thought they’d be!” Andy shouted excitedly.
After they moved on from the tigers, it was time to stop for lunch. They all bought commemorative zoo cups, each with a different animal on it. They devoured a quick lunch of chicken tenders and french fries and iced tea. They began their return trip through the other half of the zoo. First stop: Amazonia.
“I only see one of the Andean bears. Do you see it, Griff? Can you get a good pic?” Nicholas asked.
“I got it. The design on its face and chest is very distinctive. I hope it shows up in the photo.”
“Too bad only one was out. The other one must be in the enclosure.” Ian said.
“I’m just glad you don’t have to quote my favorite Ian and ask, ‘Will there be any dinosaurs on this dinosaur tour?’ We’ve been lucky so far.” Griff laughed.
“Well, if I’m not your favorite Ian, at least you picked a good one in Ian Malcolm. I love ‘Jurassic Park.’”
There were a bunch of small exhibits with frogs and snakes and spiders that Griff was busy taking photographs of, so Nicholas walked with Andy. “Where are you guys heading, Andy?”
“Atlantic City next, then back south. We’ll stay near my parents in Savannah for the winter.“ “Cool. How long have you been together?”
“Three years next month. We met in college. I was a sophomore and he was a senior. This trip is my graduation present. How about you and Griff. Seems like you’ve been together for a while too.”
“We’ve been best friends forever. Literally since kindergarten. But we only recently, on this trip, took the step to be boyfriends.”
“That’s so sweet. You’re both so nice. And gorgeous.” Andy blushed.
“Thanks! You two are too, to be honest.”
Griff sauntered over, putting his camera back in his backpack. “If you two are done flirting, there’s something you should see over here.” Griff was giggling.
Nicholas looked horrified, “I… we… were… not!”
Griff stepped in close and wrapped his arms around Nicholas. He nuzzled his face into Nicholas’ neck and whispered in his ear. “You were, but I know it was innocent and I don’t care. You’re mine. Now come check this out.”
“And you’re mine. Equal partnership. Which exhibit?”
Ian was waving them over. “Oh my God! The sounds are what’s killing me!” He was nearly doubled over with laughter. Nicholas, Griff, and Andy joined Ian and looked into the exhibit. The scene below was of two red-footed tortoises putting on quite a show. The one in the back was obviously enjoying himself. The clicks and clacks of the shells banging together and the high-pitched moans of the turtle on the bottom was making quite the impression on all who witnessed it. Nicholas noticed a mother pulling her young daughter away from the exhibit and say, “Oh honey. look at these cute monkeys over here.”
The four boys were still laughing hysterically when they exited the other end of Amazonia. Griff looked at his phone. “We haven’t quite seen everything, but I think we should end this with the turtle sex show and get back to the bus gate.”
Andy grabbed Ian’s hand and pulled him along. “Today was really fun. We should hang out some more before we all leave.”
“For sure. We can exchange info on the bus. Speaking of which, let’s get on that bus before we get stuck in the city.”
After walking for eight hours in the hot summer sun, all four boys took naps on the bus ride back to Chesapeake Beach. The bus dropped them off just after 7 pm. and they headed back to their respective RV’s.
Once back in the RV, Griffin collapsed onto the couch and kicked off his shoes, while Nicholas started putting stuff away out of their backpacks. “What do you wanna do for the rest of the night, Peaches?” “Nothing that involves walking, Boo. I’m beat.”
“I’ll throw in some popcorn. You pick us out a movie.”
Nicholas slid in next to Griff. Griff wrapped his arm around Nicholas and pulled him close. “What’d ya pick?”
“It’s called ‘We Bought a Zoo’ I figured I’d keep our zoo theme for the day.”
“Sounds cool. Here’s the popcorn.” Nicholas laid his head on Griff’s shoulder and yawned. “It was a really fun day today at the zoo with those other guys.”
“It was. You decide what you wanna do tomorrow yet?”
“No. We can look at the brochures again when we get to bed.”
Griff started the movie and Nicholas said, “Is that the guy from ‘Under the Dome’?”
“Yeah. Colin Ford. I’ve seen him in a few things. Great actor and pretty hot too.”
“Agreed.” Nicholas said, as he snuggled in even closer to Griffin. The popcorn lay at their feet, forgotten, and both boys were sound asleep in each other’s arms before the movie had ended.
“Good morning, my sweet love.” Griffin snuggled close to Nicholas and tried to wake him up. Griffin kissed Nicholas on his neck and chest. “Rise and shine, Boo.” As much as Griffin wanted to just lie there and cuddle with Nicholas, he knew they needed to get going. Time for the morning routine and then head out on another adventure. Griff headed into the shower and left Nicholas lying there thinking.
Nicholas thought about how much he loved Griffin. He wanted time to slow down. He was not ready to leave Griffin at school. Nicholas heard the always spunky Griff singing loudly in the shower and probably shaking his booty. He laughed as he heard Griff yell out ‘I’m too sexy for my body, too sexy yeah, yeah, yeah’ which was Griff’s version of the song by Right Said Fred. Nicholas couldn’t help but peek in and yell, “You got that right! But need to work on that voice a bit, Griff!”
“I’m just about done anyway. It’s your turn, Nicky-poo.” Griff said, teasingly. “Hurry up. We have a lot to see at the Smithsonian Institution today.”
“Stop with Nicky crap. You know how much I hate that!” Nicholas quips.
As Nicholas is drying his hair with a towel, Griff smacks Nicholas hard on the butt. “Hehe. Look at that booty. You can dance for me anytime but get your booty in gear.” Griff said.
“Smack me on my booty again, and I’ll show you who the boss is. We will just stay here all day and skip the museum.” Nicholas said.
“Is that a threat or promise? I’d rather stay in with you anyway.” Griff said.
Nicholas leaned in for one last kiss, and the boys headed out to have a full day of fun at the Smithsonian.
Once at the Smithsonian, they headed for the Air and Space Museum first. “Look at that model of the Wright Brothers’ plane. Can you imagine what was going through their minds? Yet they accomplished so much!” Griff said.
Nicholas said, “Look at this exhibit on the different crafts used in space. It’s so awesome, but also sad to read about disasters like the Challenger and the Colombia.” The boys wander through looking at different material and things until they come to the Hope Diamond and rubies and all the other beautiful gems. “With any luck maybe someday you will have a diamond on that finger of yours,” Nicholas says jokingly.
Griff drifted into daydream land thinking about that possibility. “That would be a dream come true for me,” Griff said. He grabbed Nicholas and planted a kiss on him when nobody was looking.
They headed over to the American History Museum next to check out some TV, movie, and music history. As they looked around, both boys got very excited when they saw all the pop culture items. Nicholas kept a lookout for anything music-related, while Griffin was more interested in the television and movie history.
As they started walking around, they saw huge displays of some of the greatest music of all time. They saw display cases of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin. Nicholas got lost in the section about Woodstock. He read all the placards that told the history of the event and the musicians who attended.
Griffin went towards the television and movie history exhibits. The display cases he enjoyed the most were the ones about Howdy Doody and some of the other old shows. He saw Fonzie’s leather jacket from Happy Days, the Conner’s couch from Roseanne, and a display case with stuff from the A-Team. Griff read the history placards containing trivia about Leave it to Beaver, and I Love Lucy. Griff needed a quick bathroom break and motioned to Nicholas where he was heading. While he was using bathroom, Griff looked down and noticed a wad of cash on the floor. He picked it up and ran out to find Nicholas to tell him what he found. “Nicholas, look what I found in restroom! We need to find a security guard.”
“There was one just down the hall. Who knows, maybe they’ll let you keep it!” Nicholas said, and they took off to find the nearest security desk.
“Excuse me, sir. Good day to you. I wanted to turn this in to lost and found. I found it in the men’s bathroom by the tv exhibits.” Griffin said, setting the money on the security desk.
The security guard smiled. “Thanks for turning it in! Too many people think they can just take it, but if we catch them, we call the cops. The good news is,” the guard said while sliding a piece of paper across the desk to Griffin. “if you fill out this form and then no one comes for it, we can mail it to you thirty days from now.”
“That sounds fair. I won’t be at the address I’m writing down, but my mom can forward it to me when I know my address at school.” Griff finished up the paperwork, and they were on their way again.
“Ready to stop and get a bite before we head over to see wildlife and dinosaurs exhibit at the Natural History Museum?” Griff asked.
“Ok I am hungry, and we need to eat, I guess.”
The guys stopped and grabbed cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes. “Omg, babe, I am having so much fun with you today I don’t want this to stop,” Griffin said. “It is so fun and special talking about all these amazing things that we are seeing. I love sharing this adventure with you.”
The boys got up and walked, hand in hand at times, other times with arms around each other’s waist. One time Nicholas slipped his hand right into the back pocket of Griff’s jeans and Griff quickly returned the favor, smirking at his boyfriend. They looked so happy as a couple, and everything just felt so right.
“Let’s look at this new exhibit on Planet Earth, Nicholas.”
“Sure thing, Peaches. It’s getting late though, so let’s hurry.” The information on the oceans being polluted by garbage was hard to read about. The video clips were disgusting. Now, there were current live reports of the fires in the Amazon Rainforest, and reports of some of the most massive icebergs melting. “This is so sad, Nicholas. Won’t there ever be a time when people wake up?” Griff said, almost crying. “We are killing Mother Earth more every day.”
“At least now, some politicians are listening to the younger generations, and we are educating people. So, I do see one day soon when a better life for our planet may happen, and climate change can begin to be dealt with.” Nicholas said, trying to put a positive spin on it.
“I hope you’re right, Boo,” Griff said as they shared a tender kiss and headed out of the Smithsonian.
Back in the RV, they picked out a movie on Netflix and cuddled together on the couch to chill out after their long but fun day. They spent more time laughing and giggling at the funny things that had happened that day, than actually paying attention to the movie. They were just enjoying some quiet quality time together.
“Man, I’ll be glad when your poison ivy is all cleared up,” Nicholas said with a grin.
“I will be too and not just to get rid of the itchiness, but to actually be able to do whatever we want without worrying about a nasty rash!” Griff leaned in for a kiss, and then they started to discuss their trip to the National Zoo the next day. They turned off the TV, stripped down and went to bed. Nicholas lay there thinking about leaving Griff at college. There wasn’t anything he could do about it, so he rolled over and pulled Griff close to him. He needed the closeness and comfort of his boyfriend right now. He lay with one arm draped across Griff’s chest and their legs entwined, and that’s how they both fell asleep.
Leo rolled over and turned off his alarm clock two minutes before the alarm would have buzzed, 5:03am. He was about to get up, but then he realized that he shouldn’t run this morning, just in case. Two dizzy spells yesterday were more than enough to convince him to take it easy for a couple of days. Leo slung his arm over his eyes and relaxed. No running meant he didn’t need to get up and into the shower for at least another half hour. He let his mind wander over the events of the previous day. A lot happened. His morning run ended with a dizzy spell, then the fight with Matt and Charlie rescuing him. Then, Charlie taking care of him at the lighthouse, the panic attack at the mall, and finally meeting up with Charlie again. He thought they were about to kiss, just for a moment, but then it didn’t happen. Maybe next time!
Today was the first day of senior year. He supposed that he should hunt down Jasper and talk with him about Matt once he was at school. Leo really didn’t want to talk with Jazz, but the harassment and fights had to stop. He also thought about the possibility of trying out for track and pushing Kameron into trying out, too. Most of all, Leo was just thinking about getting through the school day, getting back home, and hanging out with Charlie.
All of this replayed in Leo’s mind as he lay there in bed. He glanced at the clock again, 5:42. Time to get up and get ready for school, or as his best friend Brandon called it, prison.
Leo looked at the lock screen on his phone as he left Starbucks, 6:52. He still had plenty of time to catch the bus. He peered over at Kam. “You ready for your first day of high school, little bro?”
“Yeah. For sure. I mean, maybe a little nervous, but excited too. Are we still trying out for cross country or track or whatever?”
“Yeah. I think Brandon knows someone on the team. I’ll find out about tryouts and text you.”
The two brothers strolled up to the bus stop and joined the small group of kids from their neighborhood. Leo spotted the new boy he met last night and waved. He was about to go over and say hi, but the bus pulled up. Then, the boy was lost in the crowd of kids. Leo sat down on the bus next to his brother and looked around for the new boy, but he didn’t see him. Kam arched an eyebrow at his brother. “Who is he? Obviously not your tourist friend since he’s on the school bus.”
“No. Just a guy I met on the beach last night. He was lost and asking for directions. He lives on Spruce Street. I guess he just moved here.”
Kam smirked. “Maybe you should rethink your tourist crush. Why bother with someone who’s only gonna be here a few days when you got a new cutie to set your sights on.”
Leo sighed. “I know Charlie is only here for a few days, but I really like him, Kam. I don’t know anything about this other guy other than the fact that he just moved here. He’s probably straight. Who knows.”
“I just don’t want to see you get your heart broken again so soon after Jazz. Be careful, bro.”
“Totally. I will. We’re here. I’ll text you after I talk to Brandon. Have fun.”
Leo spotted Brandon in the parking lot as soon as he got off the bus. He jogged over to catch up to his friend before he reached the building. “Hey, buddy, what’s up? Didn’t see much of ya this summer. How’re things with Brett?”
Brandon clapped Leo on the back. “Great, my friend, just great. Sucks he’s going to school so far away, but I’ll still see him on weekends. The perils of dating a college boy, I guess! Now we need to find you a boyfriend.” Brandon smirked.
Leo chuckled. “I’m kinda working on that myself.” He blushed and smiled.
“Really?” Brandon turned and looked at his friend. “Whoa! What the hell happened to you?” He said, seeing the bruises for the first time.
“Matt,” Leo said with a grimace. “I’ll tell you all about it in between classes. There’s a lot to the story. Good things and bad.”
“He needs a good ass whipping. Want me to sic Brett on him?” Brandon asked.
“No. Matt already got his ass whipped. That’s part of my story.” Leo grinned.
“You beat up Matt?” Brandon asked, surprised.
“No. Not me. My guardian angel did.” Leo grinned.
“Now, I’m interested! You better tell me the whole story! I want juicy details!” Brandon laughed. “See you at lunch.”
Leo grabbed his lunch tray and piled some food on it. Lost in thought, he wandered up to pay for his food. He heard a familiar voice behind him say, “What’s safe to eat around here? Everything at my old school tasted like salted cardboard.”
Leo turned his head and saw the boy from last night. “Ah. We meet again. Reese? Right? They have pizza almost every day, and it’s edible. I’ve got the spaghetti today. I’m hoping it’s as good as it was last year. Overall the food isn’t great, but it’s ok.”
“Yeah, I’m Reese. Thanks for the directions last night and the culinary suggestions today. I promise that I won’t only talk to you when I’m in dire need of help.” Reese grinned.
“That’s quite alright. You can talk to me anytime. Do you want to sit with my friend and me? He’s waiting for me over there.” Leo pointed to where Brandon was sitting.
“I would, but there’s this girl that I’m supposed to be meeting up with.”
“A girl? I suppose that is more important. Have fun.”
“No… uh… not like that.” Reese blushed. “I need to find out the details for cheer tryouts. I was on the cheer squad at my last school, and it was fun. I wanted to try and do that here too.”
“A cheerleader. I would have guessed you for a lacrosse star.”
“I tried that, but I like cheerleading better. I also play baseball in the spring.”
Leo heard Brandon calling his name. “Sounds fun. I gotta go before my friend starts chewing on the table.” Leo laughed. “The cheerleaders usually sit over there.” He pointed across the cafeteria. “See you later, Reese.”
Reese smiled and headed in the direction that Leo had pointed, and Leo walked over and sat by Brandon.
“It’s about time you got here! That’s the last time I wait for you for food.” Brandon reached over and took one of the trays from Leo. “Now spill the tea. Who was that hottie you were talking to, and was he the guardian angel you hinted at this morning?”
“ He is Reese. I met him last night on the beach. He’s not my angel. He’s just a new boy. Sounds like he’s trying out for the cheer squad. My angel’s name is Charlie, and he and his mom rented the cabin by the old lighthouse while they are exploring our glorious little town. That’s why he happened to be on the beach yesterday.”
“Wait? Exploring? Please tell me that you didn’t fall for a tourist, Leo!”
“Yes, he is a tourist, but you didn’t see him. You didn’t talk to him. Bran, I haven’t even thought about anyone else since the whole thing with Jazz. I planned to just get through this year and maybe start over in college, but when I looked up into Charlie’s brown eyes, I fell.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “Maybe he’s hot. Maybe he’s fun. But how long is he staying, Leo? You’re just going to get hurt again.”
“He’s staying until the end of the week, I think. Who knows what can happen between now and then. Maybe he’ll stay longer. Maybe we can do a long-distance thing. I felt a strong connection, Bran. I know he did, too.”
“We’re not done with this discussion. Spill the rest of the story. The fight with Matt and this angel saving you.” Brandon said, eating his lunch and waiting for his best friend’s story.
In between bites of his lunch, Leo relayed to his friend all the previous day’s events. The run with his brother, the argument and fight with Matt, and finally, the rescue by Charlie. He even confided in him about the second dizzy spell at the mall. He finished up by telling him about the second meeting with Charlie and the near-kiss.
“Wow. That was quite a day. I don’t think that much happened to me all summer! First off, how are you feeling today? Any dizziness or headaches. That sounds serious, bro. You gotta tell Kam or me every time it happens, even if you don’t want to tell your mom yet, tell us.” He reached over, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Ok. Ok. I promised Kam already. I promise to tell you, too. And I will tell my mom if it keeps happening. I’m not an idiot.” Leo rolled his eyes at Brandon.
Brandon smirked. “Now on to the good stuff. When are you going to see your hot little tourist again?”
“Today after school. He wasn’t sure what his mom had planned. I figure if he’s not busy, I’ll meet up with him and give him the grand tour. Maybe show him the Village and get some junk food for dinner.” Leo laughed. “Mystic Village fried dough should win him over.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “With all the running you’ve been doing, I don’t know why you continue to put that crap in your body.”
Leo laughed. “It’s the best! It is my biggest weakness, diet-wise. I’ll just run an extra mile tomorrow. That reminds me. Aren’t you friends with Max? From the track team? Kam wants to try out, and I was thinking of joining him.”
Brandon looked at his phone. “We have to get to class. I’ll talk to Max and find out about tryouts, then I’ll text you the details. If I don’t see you later, have fun and wish Kam good luck for me!”
The two boys put away their lunch trays and headed towards their next class.
The first day of senior year finally behind him, Leo walked towards the gym to meet up with his brother and look for Max. According to the multiple texts from Brandon, cross country tryouts were today. Now Leo was glad he skipped the morning run. Brandon said that Max would meet Leo and Kam at the track. Leo got to the gym and found Kam waiting for him. The two boys headed toward the track to look for Max. Leo spotted Max waving to him from the infield of the track. It looked like Max and a bunch of other boys were doing some pre-run stretching. Leo and Kam walked over and joined them.
“Hey, Leo! I was surprised when Bran told me that you were interested in running this year. Aren’t you a senior? And is this your brother?”
“Yeah, I’m a senior. I just started running this past summer, mostly as a way of burning off anger issues.” Leo chuckled. “This is my brother Kameron. He’s a freshman, and he’s the one who suggested trying out for the team. I’m kinda along as support.”
Max stuck his hand out to both brothers. “Nice to meet both of you.” He glanced at Leo. “Running is an excellent choice for a mood enhancer, and it looks to me like you have the body of a runner already.” Max grinned. “Brandon mentioned track. You guys know that we’re trying out for Cross Country today, right? Indoor Track will start in November and Outdoor Track in late March.”
“Yep. We’ll try our hand at Cross Country first. I think I’ll prefer the long-distance stuff better anyway. Little bro is the one who is looking forward to the shorter, faster events in track.”
“Ah-ha! So, Kameron is our speed demon, then?”
“Yep!” Kam laughed. “I outrun Leo all the time short distances. I’ll need to build up my endurance to run the longer races. I’ve only just started putting any effort into running.” As Kam was speaking, other boys started showing up at the track. Some were stretching, others jogging around the track to warm up before the tryouts began. Leo, Kam, and Max started running a warm-up lap. By the time they completed one lap, the coach had arrived, and everyone gathered around to listen to him speak.
Coach Stevens spoke loudly and paced back and forth in front of the boys. He was a middle-aged man but tall and incredibly fit. The coach could easily pass for forty instead of his fifty-two years. He spoke of past championships and future goals. He welcomed back current runners and thanks to new boys for showing up at tryouts. After his speech, Coach separated the boys into two groups. One group ran laps around the track, and the other group ran around a small modified cross country track. After each group finished, they swapped until both groups had run on both tracks.
Everything went well for Kam all through the tryout, except for one thing. Kam decided to run a little too fast on the cross country track, which was a failure. An epic failure, to be honest. The kind of fail that could have gone viral if only it had been caught on camera. Kam turned a corner and failed to see a giant mud puddle. By the time he finished sliding through the mud on his belly, he was covered head to toe. Kam glanced over to the bleachers and saw that Tommy had arrived and was laughing hysterically. He also saw the new boy. The guy that Leo said he met last night. The boy was sitting near the top of the bleachers, by himself, watching the tryouts.
After the tryouts, the coach pulled Kam aside and told him that he would be on the JV team. He patted Kam on the back and said to him that he expected him to do well if he trained hard and showed the speed that he showed today. He also encouraged Kam to try out for the indoor track season in November.
Kam ran over to the bleachers to fill Leo and Tommy in on what the coach said, then they all walked back over to Max. Max made team captain, as expected. Kam made JV, and Leo made varsity. Max’s girlfriend joined the four boys as they left the track field. As they walked across the field, Leo turned back and saw Reese still sitting in the bleachers. He raised a hand and waved. Reese smiled and waved back, then Leo turned and continued walking off the field.
“Becca, you remember Leo, right? This is his brother, Kameron, and,” Max trailed off, looking at Tommy.
Kam spoke up. “This is my bestie, Tommy. Nice to meet you, Becca.”
Becca walked with Leo as they headed for the school parking lot. “Leo, are you still going out with Jasper Anderson?”
“No. We broke up last year.”
“You’re better off without him, in my opinion. He’s a jerk and a stoner. You’re the one that dumped him, I hope.”
“Yes. He was the biggest mistake of my life, and I’ve moved on from all that.”
Becca looked Leo up and down. “You’re hot. I know three or four boys and half a dozen girls who would fight to go out with you. Forget that asshole. Anyway, do you guys want to go with Max and me? We’re going to go to get ice cream to celebrate.”
Kam answered for all three. “Definitely!”
They got to the ice cream shop, and all got their cones. Leo and Max shared stories about Brandon and wondered how all three of them had never hung out together. Leo noticed that Kam and Tommy were off in a corner booth, whispering. He thought it was a little strange but put it out of his head. Leo himself was distracted thinking about meeting up with Charlie later.
Becca noticed Leo keep looking at his phone.
“Hot date later, Leo?” Becca smirked.
“Um, no. Well, sort of.” Leo blushed.
Kam yelled over. “Don’t let him fool ya. It’s a date. Loverboy can’t stop gushing about the guy.”
“Shut up, Kam.” Leo rolled his eyes at his brother.
Becca leaned towards Leo. “Tell me more. Is he cute?”
Leo sighed. “He’s not just cute. He’s totally dreamy. I met him out on the beach yesterday. I told him I’d text him after the cross-country tryout.” Leo said, while looking at his phone again.
Becca stood up. “Well, let’s get you home then. Come on, Max, let’s go.” Becca led the way out of the shop, and they all followed. Max dropped Leo, Kam, and Tommy off and continued towards his own home.
Leo was out of the car and sprinting towards the house almost before the car even stopped. He took the stairs two at a time, rushed into his room, and quickly picked out a change of clothes. He darted out of his room and into the bathroom. Leo jumped into the shower before Kam was even in the house. After the quickest shower of his life, Leo got dressed and texted Charlie to find out where he was. Leo started blow-drying his hair, and did his best to make his hair as presentable as possible in as short a time as possible, then ran out of the house. Glancing down to check for a reply from Charlie. He ran towards the fence but then thought better of it. His body was still too sore for jumping. He turned and went around the fence and onto the beach.
He looked up and down the beach and then spotted Charlie down at the water’s edge. Leo walked up and stood next to the other boy, not saying anything for a minute or two. Then Leo looked over at him. “Sorry I took so long. A guy from the team took my brother and me out for ice cream to celebrate. We both made the team. I made varsity, and Kam made JV.”
Charlie turned towards Leo and reached out and grabbed both his hands. “That’s awesome! I’m so happy for you both!” He leaned in and hugged Leo.
Leo hugged him back before saying, “Thanks, Charlie. I’m happy that Kam and I are doing something together. I think running will be perfect for both of us.” Leo put his hand against Charlie’s face. “You’re so gorgeous, Charlie.” He smiled shyly.
Leo begrudgingly pulled his hand away from Charlie. “We better stop now, or I may decide to try for more,”
Charlie smiled. “You can try, but I’m not sure how far I’d let you get.” He winked.
Leo cleared his throat. “Anyway, what did you do today? I wouldn’t want to suggest doing the same things you already did.” Leo asked.
“We went out on a boat from the aquarium down the street and went on a whale watch. That took up a few hours. It was pretty out on the water, and we did see a few whales. Then mom went shopping, and I walked around town for a while and then came down here.” Charlie took out his phone and showed it to Leo. “Here are the pics of the whales.”
“Let’s walk this way.” Leo held out one hand until Charlie took it. Then he started walking up the beach, away from the direction of the lighthouse. “There’s a small carnival up here. It’s only here in the summer. This is the last week that it will be here until next May. There’s a Ferris wheel, a few other rides, carnival games, and junk food! You want to go? Have you eaten yet?”
“That sounds fun! No, I haven’t had dinner, and carnival food sounds perfect! Let’s go.” Charlie squeezed Leo’s hand even tighter, looked over at him, and smiled a huge smile as they walked up the beach towards the carnival.
By the time they had been at the carnival twenty minutes, Leo was clutching a giant stuffed panda bear that was almost as big as he was.
“I can never win at these carnival games. Thanks for winning this for me, Charlie. I love him. I’m going to name him Charlie. Charlie the Panda.” Leo laughed, leaned over, and kissed Charlie on the cheek. “Let’s go ride the Ferris wheel before it gets too dark, so I can show you my town from up high.”
The Ferris wheel line was short, and the boys were in a seat in just a few minutes. They waited as the worker made sure they were buckled in, and then he locked the safety bar in place. The ride began to slowly turn, stopping and starting at first while other passengers got on or off. When the Ferris wheel neared the top, Leo pointed out some of his favorite spots in town.
“One of the things I love the most is that we’re at the ocean, but just a couple miles away, we can swim and fish in the river.” He pointed off to their left. “Just past where the coastline bends in is the little spot where the town gets its name, Pebble Cove. Named that way because the beach there has more pebbles than sand. The cove is pretty, the water is great, but the beach itself is terrible.” Each time the Ferris wheel went up, Leo pointed out something different to Charlie. He showed him the Seaport Village, where they had the old tall wooden ships on display. He showed him the shops that were set up to resemble a colonial village, and he showed him many other sights.
Charlie grabbed Leo’s hand. “You really love your town, don’t you?’
Leo turned his head to face Charlie. “I do. I mean, I get annoyed by the crowds in tourist season. Most tourists are jerks who don’t care about anything but themselves. They leave trash everywhere. They drink. They fight. I hate that part. But the actual town I do love.”
“So, you hate tourists, huh?” Charlie huffed out a laugh.
Leo blushed. “Cute tourists with hot Australian accents are the exception to my rule.” Leo turned in the seat so that he was facing Charlie, and he leaned in. Charlie was so nervous that he was nearly shaking, but he went for it. Eighteen years was long enough to wait for his first kiss. He wasn’t about to wait one minute longer. Charlie grabbed the front of Leo’s shirt with both hands and pulled him close. Their lips met, tentatively at first. Charlie’s lips parted, and Leo’s tongue darted inside. Leo leaned back against the side of the Ferris wheel car, pulling Charlie down on top of him. The seat strap dug into Charlie’s chest, so he ducked under it, freeing himself. Leo ran his hands up and down Charlie’s broad, muscular back. Charlie had one hand braced against the seat to stop himself from falling, and his other hand on the back of Leo’s neck, pulling him even closer as the kiss deepened.
Clang! A loud metal bang rang in both boys’ ears, and they looked up, eyes wide. The ride had stopped. Their car was at the bottom, the metal bar swung open. The carnival worker was looking at them with a look that was half scowl and half smirk.
“Get off my Ferris wheel, you two! Take that somewhere else.” He waved off in a direction away from the ride. “And you,” he pointed at Charlie. “If I ever see you on my ride again without the safety strap in place, I’ll kick you off permanent!”
Charlie mumbled. “Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” Then he grabbed Leo’s hand, and the two boys ran off as fast as they could away from the Ferris wheel and the line of people that had been standing there and watching the entire thing.
As usual, Griffin woke first but remained in bed, snuggling close to Nicholas. Soon, Nicholas slowly woke, too, enjoying the comforting feel of Griff’s arm around his chest.
“Good morning, Peaches,” Nicholas whispered. “I think I could stay just like this forever.”
“Nice thought but we’ve got places to see and things to do!”
“I’m glad you decided to give the park another try yesterday. You didn’t let the bullies ruin the day for us. I’m proud of you!”
“Yeah, I think I can deal with a lot if you’re walking beside me. We can’t let the demons win!” Griffin said emphatically. “I think we got our money’s worth and the fireworks were a great way to end the day!”
“We will definitely be looking for more theme parks as we travel. That was a great idea you had!” Nicholas agreed.
“Oh, I have a ‘Theme Park Bucket List’!”
“Well, of course you do!”
Griff walked out of the bathroom, drying his hair with the bath towel. “Did you decide which place we’re going to go to first?”
Nicholas glanced up at Griff, then his eyes darted down and back up again, “Looks like your rash is drying up a little. Uh, anyway, we…”
Griffin interrupted, “Thanks for noticing!” he said with a smirk.
Nicholas rolled his eyes. “You’re standing right in front of me in your birthday suit. Besides, I’ve always noticed everything about you, even if I never actually said anything.”
Griffin threw the wet towel in the hamper and looked at Nicholas. “That’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me.”
“I have my moments. Now put on your boxers, Dr. Rashenstein.”
“You’re so dorky sometimes,” Griff laughed as he put on his boxers and sat at the table. “There. I’m not naked anymore, and yes, the rash is improving, but it’s still itchy. Now, please continue. Where are we off to today?”
Nicholas leaned over, giving Griff a quick peck on the lips. “You do know that you are always irresistible, not just when you’re naked. You could be wrapped up like an Eskimo, and I’d still stop and stare.” He blushed and grinned. “Anyway, the plan of action that makes the most sense is to get breakfast in town and hit the Poe Museum as soon as it opens at ten o’clock. Then on to Belle Isle for a few hours, and last but not least, the “kidnapped” scenario of the escape room at Breakout Games. They have one starting at six. Hopefully it’ll be a good, fun day without any drama!”
Griffin had a huge grin on his face. “To be honest, you lost me at “irresistible,” but I trust your planning. And, yeah, drama-free would be excellent, but yesterday did have it’s good points, thanks to you. Now, let’s get started with today’s adventures!”
“Ok. You finish getting dressed, and don’t forget the Caladryl! I’ll go unhook the bikes.”
After a short bike ride, they arrived outside the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. They looked around, and Nicholas pointed across the street. “That looks like a good place for breakfast.” They locked up their bikes in front of the museum and jogged across the street.
Inside the diner, they sat at a table in the corner and placed their orders. “I love these local places. They are so much nicer than the big chain restaurants.” Nicholas said.
“The chains are usually cheaper, though.”
“Sometimes, you get what you pay for. I’d rather have good food than cheap food any day.”
“Good point,” Griff said, absently scrolling on his phone.
“Whatcha looking at?”
“Twitter, mostly. Did you remember to follow Lorenzo and Olivia? ’Zo sometimes even lets Gustavo post stuff on his account. That kid is hilarious!”
“Yeah, I followed. ’Zo is a great photographer, especially for his age.”
“Truth. He posted pics of Hershey Park this morning. It looks amazing! I have to add that to my bucket list. Hint hint.” Griff grinned at Nicholas.
“If you keep adding theme parks to the list, you’ll need to find a freaking job!”
“Very funny. I’m finished. You ready?” Griff said, pushing his plate to the center of the table.
“Yeah. Time to start today’s adventure!”
By the time they finished breakfast, it was ten o’clock and time to head to the museum. “This should be cool, but it looks small. I hope it’s worth it,” Griffin said.
“It’s supposed to take less than an hour to see everything, but it should be an interesting way to kill some time until we’re ready to head over to Belle Isle. Plus, I love Poe.”
“Just remember, ‘All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream,’ my dear Nicholas.”
“Yeah. Yeah. You love Poe, too.”
“Well, ‘I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity,’ as you well know.”
“You’re not going to speak in Poe quotes the whole while we’re in here, are you?” Nicholas laughed as they walked to the next exhibit.
“Just one more. You know what my favorite Poe quote is, right?”
“Yes. And you know that my opinion of religion and Poe’s are complete opposites but go ahead.” Nicholas motioned for Griff to continue.
“I fall somewhere in between the two of you on the subject, but it does perfectly describe the televangelists. ‘All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.’” Griff bowed theatrically. “I’m done now. Aww! Where did they come from?” Nicholas was kneeling on the garden path, petting two black cats.
“I read about them on the website. Their names are Edgar and Pluto. They live here.”
“That is so awesome and so fitting. The ‘Enchanted Garden’ is beautiful. I think we’ve seen everything now. You ready to go?”
Nicholas stood. “Yeah. Next stop: Belle Isle.”
The boys pedaled their way across the suspension bridge, enjoying the view of the James River below them. Nicholas yelled over to Griff to be heard above the sound of the raging river. “I see now why the website says the rapids are too dangerous for swimming.”
“That’s for sure. You wanna hike or hit the bike trails?”
“I signed us up for rock climbing lessons!”
“Yeah, really!” Nicholas grinned. “I think you’re turning me into an adrenaline junkie like you!”
“Don’t forget the surfing lessons! You promised me at Kitty Hawk and then plans changed.”
“I haven’t forgotten. I’ll do it. We’ll probably hit a beach again in Maryland.”
“I’m gonna hold you to that! So, do we have a scheduled time for this, or do we just show up?”
“Noon. So, hurry up! We have ten minutes to find it.” Nicholas laughed and pedaled faster.
“I can’t believe you went up so fast the second time. That was amazing, Nicky-poo!” Griff said as he collapsed onto the grass beside Nicholas.
“You’re lucky my arms are so tired, or I’d wallop you. I’ve told you to stop with the ‘Nicky’ crap.”
“You secretly love it almost as much as you love me.” Griff kicked Nicholas’ foot.
Nicholas kicked back. “Maybe.”
“I thought we’d hike, but it’s later than I thought it would be. Let’s get lunch then head back. By the time we shower, it’ll be just about time to go to Breakout Games.”
The boys walked out of Breakout Games nearly jumping for joy. “We did it!” Griff yelled. “Booyah!”
“That was awesome! We will have to do another one sometime. I’m sure we’ll find some more in plenty of the cities we’ll pass through.”
“Too bad there was a timer. Without it, I may have let you stay in those handcuffs a little while longer.” Griff winked.
“Maybe I’ll let you buy a pair.” Nicholas’ blue eyes twinkled in the fading sunlight.
“I think I like this new naughty Nicholas.”
“You’ll like me even better when this,” Nicholas lightly caressed the front of Griff’s jeans, “isn’t covered in spots and Caladryl.” He stared up at Griff, his eyes glazed over in lust.
Griff leaned down, and their lips met in a brief but passion-filled kiss. “You are such a tease. I love it!”
Nicholas’ eyes turned a little sad, “I am having the absolute best time of my life, Griff. I don’t want this trip to end.” His eyes glistened, but he refused to let a tear fall.
“Let’s not think about that yet. I don’t want it to end either. There’s a lot of fun to be had before New York, and a lot of thinking that I have to do.” Griff took Nicholas’ hand, and they strolled back to their bikes.
Griff bounced up out of bed and looked at his phone. It was only 6 am. “Yes! Today is the day! Yes! I get to ride the roller coasters with Nicholas, who is dead asleep still.”
He was itching and burning from the poison ivy rash all over his playground, so he decided to go shower and put more Caladryl on to soothe it. He pulled up the Spotify app and selected “Top Hits Today,” playing it through the Bluetooth speakers. As the warm water began flowing into the shower, he started blurting out the song’s lyrics. He quickly got lost in the song and started swaying his booty back & forth and all around in the shower.
“Mmmmm…. can you please keep the noise down,” Nicholas mumbled. Then, he immediately started laughing as all he could see was Griffin shaking his booty in the shower. He yelled but got no answer, so he knocked on the shower door loudly.
A startled Griff opened the door. “Hey, good you’re up.”
As hard as it was for Nicholas not to laugh, he was still giggling at Griffin. “Now keep it down in here. I’m trying to sleep, but you have some sexy moves in there.”
“Omg!” Griff said. “I’m sorry!” he answered, red-faced and embarrassed. “You saw me dancing. I’m just excited about going to King’s Dominion today with you.”
Nicholas started to head out of the bathroom, and Griff asked him if he could give him the Caladryl off the sink. “Thank you. I can’t believe I got this poison ivy on me in the worst possible place!”
“You’re welcome. I hope it clears up fast!”
After Nicholas had also showered, both the guys got dressed and grabbed a bowl of Lucky Charms. While eating, they talked about their plans together for the day.
“Let’s go, so we’re the first in the gate,” Griffin said eagerly.
“Sure thing, Peaches. I’m coming.”
Walking down the road, cars started passing by, honking at them and waving. “This is gonna be so fun,” Nicholas said.
The guys got to the gates at King’s Dominion and music was playing over the loudspeakers with voices telling them about all the different and fun things to do.
“Hey, Nicholas, we should get the passes that let us go to the front of the lines.”
“I already got them for us online. I thought it would be very special.”
Griffin grabbed Nicholas and kissed him deeply while hugging him tight.
A group of guys yelled at them to stop. “That’s disgusting! We don’t want to see that!”
“That’s kinda intimidating, Nicholas, sorry.”
Nicholas said, “It’s ok, don’t worry about other people. It’s our day.”
The gates opened and the boys headed for the roller coasters first. The first one they found was a mix of steel and wood.
“I’m so excited! We’re in the very front section! Give me a kiss as GoPro is rolling,” Griffin said.
They kissed as they get buckled into their seats, and they heard yelling. “You guys are gross! We told you to stop that!”
Nicholas and Griffin ignored the yelling, and they were off.
“Wow! That was exhilarating!” Griff exclaimed. “I gotta pee, so you get souvenirs from the shop, maybe t-shirts or caps or both, while I use the restroom.”
Griffin headed to the bathroom and was followed by the four redneck bullies.
They blocked the doors and grabbed Griffin, warning him to stop acting gay around them, or next time it would be a lot worse. They dunked his head in the toilet bowl and flushed. “Got it? Last warning!” They shoved Griffin to the ground and left.
“Hey there. Why are you so wet? What took you so long?” Nicholas asked.
“Oh, it was nothing. Let’s just go to the next coaster.”
After riding most of the coasters, both boys decided to play a few games.
“Hey, Nicholas, your favorite animal! I’ll try to win you one.”
A friendly family, parents and a young son and daughter, sat down beside them to play, too. They smiled and said, “Hello.” Then two of bullies sat down and started talking junk to them.
Ignoring them, Griffin won the game and animal for Nicholas and Nicholas, out of pure joy, hugged and kissed Griffin. “Thank you so much! I love it, and I love you!”
The two guys jumped up yelling and cussing at both of them. The parents jumped up, too, and got right in the boys’ faces.
“Leave them alone! They have the right to love whoever they want to love. If you don’t like it, don’t look!”
“Shut up, lady! They’re gonna get their faces beat in! Get out of the way!” Griffin was shoved down to the ground, scraping and cutting up his legs, arms, and hands.
“That’s it! Leave them alone, punks, or you’ll be dealing with a lot more trouble,” the dad said. “I’m tired of people like you putting down guys like them. All they want is to be treated equally, and they’re not hurting anybody. So, stop, or the police will be called.”
Nicholas had also jumped up yelling, “Leave Griff alone! He doesn’t deserve this! I’m not letting you hurt him!”
Griffin was just lying there, trying to hide his tears and not talking to anyone. He got himself up and sat down on a bench. Park security showed up and dispersed the crowd.
“Are you ok, young man?” the mom asked.
“Griffin, please say something, babe,” Nicholas implored.
“I’m ok, just sad that hate is still so prevalent in this world. I didn’t tell you earlier that they held me down in the bathroom and gave me a swirly. They threatened me and shoved me down. It brought back memories of the high school bathroom and getting picked on and threatened. I want to be treated normal just like everyone else, but I guess that day won’t come.”
“Come eat with my family and me, guys,” the dad said. “We want to buy your lunch. Please?”
“We accept and thank you for standing up for us. We don’t get that much.”
They ate lunch together and chatted about what happened and about their family life. They believed that everyone has a right to love who they want. Richard, Susan, Ethan, and Jenny said their goodbyes and exchanged information.
“Griff, weren’t they a sweet family? Griff? Earth to Griff, are you ok?” Nicholas asked.
“No, sorry, I’m not,” Griff started crying. “I’m going back to the RV. I can’t stay here. I want you to stay and ride more. I’ll be waiting for you back at the RV, ok? I need some alone time.”
″Ok, Peaches. Be safe, and I’ll be there in a little while. I won’t leave yet, only because you asked me not to. I love you, babe,” Nicholas said reluctantly, as he watched Griffin walk away.
Back at the RV, Griff sat on the bed crying and remembering being teased in school, and now he was embarrassed about what happened in the park. “Why couldn’t I stand up for myself” Why do I shut down?” Griff blasted some Metallica and drank a soda, calming himself down some. The music changed to Shawn Mendes and, yes, an old Justin Bieber song.
Nicholas, unable to enjoy himself without Griffin, soon arrived back at the RV and sat down next to Griff. He didn’t say a word, just held him tight. Nothing needed to be said. Just being in that moment, holding each other close, seemed to make everything feel safe and right again.
The following morning, after seeing that Martin was hooked up with a tow truck and in no further need of their assistance, the boys headed out with Griffin at the helm. After carefully examining the Google map over breakfast, they had decided to continue north a ways on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then hang a right onto Hwy 64 towards the Richmond area. Nicholas phoned the Americamps RV Resort in Ashland to make reservations, as it was close to King’s Dominion, the theme park they planned to take by storm tomorrow.
With Griffin’s tunes as a soundtrack, the morning passed peacefully with the boys enjoying the Appalachian scenery and lost in their individual thoughts. As they maneuvered onto the highway and picked up the pace, Lady Gaga let them know in no uncertain terms …
“I’m beautiful in my way
’Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way (Born this way!)
Oh there ain’t no other way
Baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way!”
Checking the time on his phone, Nicholas suggested stopping in the Charlottesville area for lunch.
“Maybe find a hot spot near the UVA campus? Find a little eye candy to feast on?” Griffin teased.
“Ooo! I hadn’t thought of that but, of course, you went right there!” Nicholas said with a smirk.
Noticing Griffin’s not-so-subtle scratching of his nether regions, Nicholas inquired, “Diaper rash? Jock itch? Heebie jeebies?”
“I have no idea. It started itching about an hour ago and it keeps getting worse the more I scratch. I took a shower this morning and I didn’t notice anything then.”
“Well, maybe stop scratching … both hands on the wheel, Captain.”
As they continued on, with Griffin trying bravely to keep his hands off his treasures and Nicholas giggling at his frustration, desperation set in for Griff. When he spied the UVA/Charlottesville exit, Griffin almost bumper car-ed three other vehicles in his attempt to navigate to a suitable lunch establishment. At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to find some relief for whatever was going on in his boxers.
Griffin turned the ignition off and headed toward the back of the RV in one fluid motion. By the time he got to the bedroom, his shorts were at his ankles and he was squealing gibberish at the plight that his boys were in.
“Let me see,” Nicholas said. “OH, dude! That is just fifty shades of nasty!”
“What is it?” Griffin screeched.
“My best guess is that, my friend, is an epic case of poison ivy rash.”
“WHAT? … HOW? … WHY?”
“Well, let’s think about this. Yesterday, when you were preparing the picnic area, did you have to clear a spot for the blankets?”
“Yeah, of course. It was kinda overgrown.”
“And, at some point, did you find the need to … uh … drain your main vein?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so.”
“So, you, apparently, handled some poison ivy vines before you then handled yourself, so to speak, spreading the sap to your playground area.”
“Then why aren’t my hands covered in rash?”
“We went back to the RV to eat and you cleaned up, but you didn’t clean up down there. Also, that area is much more sensitive, I would think. You may still get some small rashes on your hands and arms, but not like that.”
“So, what do I do? Help me, Obi-Wan … you’re my only hope!”
“My mom is highly allergic to it and she uses a lotion called Caladryl. It’s a combination of calamine, which helps with itching and drying up the rash, and Benadryl, which eases the allergic reaction. I see a Walgreen’s in that strip center across the road. I’ll go get some. While I’m gone, you wash the whole area with a lot of soap to help dry out the rash.”
As Nicholas strolled across the parking lot heading for the pharmacy and still giggling, but in a sympathetic kind of way, he heard a yelp. Looking around, he spotted an elderly lady waving her hands about as the shopping cart she had apparently been pushing raced away from her and towards a line of parked vehicles.
Nicholas sprinted toward the cart, dodging an oncoming mini-van and leaping over a low hedge. He snagged the rogue cart just before it had the pleasure of making acquaintances with an exquisite Lexus LX. Stopping a moment to catch his breath, he turned the cart back toward home and the now visibly relieved customer.
“Oh, thank you so much, young man! I didn’t realize there was such a slope here and it just slipped right out of my hands. You reacted so quickly and I’m so very grateful!” She gushed while digging in her purse and pulling out a wad of bills. “Here, please take this! It’s the least I can do.”
“No, no … I can’t take your money, ma’am. Your ‘thank you’ is quite enough. It was no big deal. Just in the right place at the right time.” Nicholas helped the lady put her bags into her car as she continued to thank him and try to get him to take the money, which he politely refused. “You have a good day, ma’am … and drive carefully now.”
“Well, this day just keeps getting more fun,” Nicholas thought, “and I haven’t even had lunch yet!”
“It took you long enough!” Griffin snarled before Nicholas even had the RV door closed.
“Mind yourself, Mr. Grumpy No-pants … I still have the receipt! I had to rescue a damsel in distress, blackmail a store clerk into finding more of this stuff in the stockroom because the shelf was empty, and wait in line behind eight people at the only register open and it was being operated by a ‘Please be patient, I’m new’ employee.”
“Fine, thanks … so gimme, gimme!”
Griffin tore the seal off the bottle and practically poured the stuff all over himself.
“Easy there! That needs to last you at least until we stop tonight. Rub it in good and let it dry before getting dressed.”
“Dressed? I’m gonna lay right here just like this while you drive. Just go get us some lunch and bring it back.”
“OK. Wash it well with lots of soap every couple of hours and put more Caladryl on it. By tonight, it should be much more tolerable. Let me know if you need a hand!” Nicholas couldn’t resist the quip but also began to realize the disappointing implications as he left to scrounge up lunch.
Griffin would definitely not be interested in any amorous overtures for the next couple of nights, at least. It still amazed Nicholas how their beautiful friendship had morphed into … well, whatever this was now. They were the same people they were a few days ago … before. But nothing was the same now. That thought made Nicholas’ tummy flutter … a lot like that old lady’s hands!
With the wind whipping his hair into his face, Nicholas kicked his feet and screamed the whole way across the zipline. Halfway across, the screams of fear turned into screams of joy. Griff nudged the zipline employee out of the way and helped Nicholas unstrap himself from the harness. Nicholas got shakily to his feet and fell into Griff’s arms. “Th…that was fun. I was nervous at first, but I really liked it.”
Griff wrapped his arms around Nicholas. “We have time for one more if you’re up for it.”
“Yeah! Now that I’ve shaken off the nerves, I think I’d do even better!” He said, running ahead of Griff to get on the lift back to the start of the zipline.
After their second trip across, Griff looked at his watch. “You need to sit for a minute or are you ready to head back?”
“I’m good.” Nicholas blushed and looked deep into Griffin’s emerald green eyes. “I know we have plans.”
Griff leaned down and their lips met, more with tenderness than passion. “Let’s start back. The hike should take about an hour and then it’ll be time to head out to the overlook.” He said as he grasped Nicholas’s hand, their fingers entwining, and led him onto the trail.
Back at the RV, the two boys each took showers and changed their clothes. Griffin had just finished repacking the picnic basket, with fruit and snacks rather than the dinner he packed earlier, when Nicholas walked out of the bathroom running his fingers through his still wet hair. Griff’s breath caught in his throat. He still couldn’t believe that they were actually dating after all this time. This did count as dating, didn’t it? Was Nicholas his official boyfriend? Should they put a label on it with him going off to school so soon? Griff pushed those thoughts out of his head. He didn’t want to ruin their romantic moonlit picnic with his angst. He closed the lid on the picnic basket and looked up at Nicholas. “How can someone look so perfect out here in the middle of the forest? Most people can’t look like that with a team of hairdressers.”
“Oh, stop. You’re way hotter than me.” Nicholas said, blushing.
“Whatever. Let’s go.” Griffin grinned and took Nicholas’ hand. They walked to the overlook and spread out the blanket. Griff started setting up the picnic and Nicholas walked over to the cliff and took in the view.
“This is a spectacular spot you picked out, Griff. The view is amazing. I bet it would be even better in the fall when the leaves change.” He felt Griff’s hands slide around his waist and pull him close.
Griffin kissed the side of Nicholas’ neck. “The view is nothing without you.”
“Mm. That feels nice. This was definitely a great idea but check out that sky. I don’t think we’re going to be doing much stargazing tonight.”
“Dang. You’re right. Those clouds are moving in fast. Let’s at least enjoy the view for a little while.” They sat on their blanket and Griff handed Nicholas some of the snacks. “Did you have any specific plan on where we’re heading next?”
“No. Not really. Back toward the coast. I was thinking maybe DC. Was there somewhere you wanted to go?”
“Actually yes. I thought if we passed close to Richmond that we could stop at King’s Dominion.”
“I’ll enter the address into the GPS when we get back. Gee, now the wind is picking up. I don’t think we’re gonna be out here much longer.”
Griff scooted over. He had a bunch of grapes in his hand and started feeding them to Nicholas. Nicholas smirked. “Are we in ancient Athens? I didn’t think…” Whatever else he was going to say was silenced when Griff’s mouth closed over his. With a hand on Nicholas’ chest, Griff gently pushed him down, deepening the kiss.
CRACK! BOOM! The crack of the lightning and the boom of the thunder sounded like it was right on top of them. Then the skies opened up and before they were even on their feet, they were drenched. The boys packed everything up as quickly as possible, Griff grabbed the picnic basket and Nicholas slung the now very wet blanket over his shoulder as they ran back down the trail to their RV. They were almost at the end of the trail and they saw another crack of lightning and the sound of a tree falling not far away.
Nicholas yelled out, “Griffin! Stop!” He wasn’t sure but he thought he saw what looked like headlights coming right for them. “Griffin!” Nicholas dove. He tackled Griff and they rolled off the trail and a little way down the hillside, landing in a puddle.
“What the…” Griff’s complaint was cut short by an out of control RV crashing through the bushes right at the end of the trail they had just been on.
The driver of the RV jumped out and ran over to the boys. “Are you guys ok? I am so sorry! That damn tree fell right in front of me and I swerved and lost control.”
Both boys were still sitting the mud puddle. Griff spoke up, “Yeah. We’re fine.” He looked at Nicholas. “Only because of this guy though. Nicky, I think you saved my life.”
Nicholas playfully punched Griff’s arm. “I won’t next time if you keep calling me ‘Nicky’!”
“I am so relieved that you guys are ok. Now let me see if I can get my RV back on the road. You guys need to get out of this rain.”
The boys got up out of the puddle and joined the man who was now surveying his RV. Nicholas shook his head. “Dude, you’re not getting that out of there without a tow truck. With the busted windshield and the angle its sitting at on the hill, I doubt if it’ll be very comfortable for you to sleep in there either. We got an RV right over there. Let’s all get out of this rain before we drown.”
The man sighed. “Do you mind helping me throw a tarp over the windshield first?”
After helping the stranger cover his window, they all got into Nicholas’ RV. Griff wiped his hands on his wet jeans and put his hand out to the man. “I’m Griffin and this is my best friend Nicholas. Sucky circumstances but its nice to meet you.”
The man replied with a nervous laugh, “I’m Martin. I’m glad I didn’t kill you, Griffin.”
“Yeah. Me too. Are you traveling alone, Martin?” Griff asked.
“For now. I’m picking my grandkids up in South Carolina and from there Disney World.”
“That’s cool. We’re heading in the opposite direction. No real plan except dropping Griff off at college in August.” Nicholas added. “I pulled out the couch bed for you, Martin. Its ready whenever you wanna crash.”
“What about you guys? I’m really sorry to inconvenience you both. Where will you both sleep?”
“We’ll be in the bedroom.” Griff said, taking Nicholas’ hand in his own.
“Oh. Ok. Uhm that’s great. Are you sure you don’t mind me staying the night?”
“It’s fine.” Both boys said as they walked into the bedroom.
“You sure about leaving him alone out there with all our stuff?” Griff asked.
“Where would he go if he tried to steal anything? That RV isn’t going anywhere.”
“I’m sorry our romantic evening ended so soon and without much romance.” Griff said with a frown.
“Its totally fine. Now get in this bed. I need cuddles before I sleep.” Griff slipped into bed behind Nicholas and wrapped him in his arms. “This is all the romance I need.” Nicholas said as they both drifted off to sleep.