“Did you put your clean laundry away?”
“Yes, aunt Carol.”
“Did you rinse out your breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher?”
“Yes, aunt Carol.”
“What about the garbage? Did you take the kitchen and bathroom bags out?”
“Yes, aunt Carol.”
“I'm going to check,” she said.
“Yes, ma'am,” I replied.
“Carol, quit nagging him, for God's sake,” Uncle George scolded her. “If he missed a chore, he can handle it when he gets back.”
“We have to be consistent!” she said, defensively.
We were interrupted by the front door opening and Chase calling out, “Anyone home?”
“Austin! You didn't put a new garbage bag in! Take care of that right now!”
I sighed inwardly. “Yes, aunt Carol.”
They trooped out to meet my cousin, by blood, but my brother in every way that actually mattered. I pulled out the new bag from the box under the sink, not bothering to hurry because I knew aunt Carol did this on purpose. She had to be the most petty person I ever met and what she really wanted was to greet Chase alone, as if I didn't exist.
She had gotten far better with me when Linc had come into the picture, but she backslid some afterward. It still wasn't as bad as she was before and she had some good days, but not when it came to Chase. She also didn't trust me alone with Linc. Uncle George went to bat for me a lot with her, though, and it usually ended up with her coming back and apologizing to me. She was working on her issues in therapy and I tried to remember that she was human and doing the best she could. Uncle George was a different story, though.
He made sure I had what I needed and he never gave me crap about it. Chase had said to him, when they brought Linc home, that he knew I was Uncle George's 'little buddy', and it was true. Uncle George tried sharing all his interests with me, but we'd bonded really well over books and would make regular visits to the used book store in town or share books from our readers. He and I both liked solid books more, but the electronic versions had their uses, too.
I put the bag in the can and made my way to the front of the house where my aunt and uncle were speaking to Chase, who was chattering away, like usual. His head turned, maybe because he saw movement coming down the hall, and his eyes lit up.
“Hey! I was starting to think you were too good to come greet me at the door!” he teased. He stepped between his parents and I squeezed him close.
“Wow, you got a great tan – you look fantastic,” I said with a grin.
“It was a blast! I thought Kale was crazy when he first suggested it-”
“I still think he was.” Aunt Carol was frowning.
“And I really do want to have that discussion with you again,” Chase said, rolling his eyes hard. “But, Austin and I have a schedule to keep.”
“Will you bring Kale and Linc by for dinner on Sunday?” Aunt Carol asked. “I'm making your favorite.”
“It's on the schedule!” Chase replied and gave his mother a sunny smile. “We really do have to go, though. It's a long way to Maine and I want to get to the hotel by dinner time.”
“Well, I wish you could stay for a while,” his mom said, “But we'll look forward to seeing all of you on Sunday.”
With a round of hugs for his folks while I grabbed my shoes and overnight bag from the hall closet, we were out the front door and headed toward Chase's truck.
“Hey, I'm disappointed in you.”
“What?” I said, pulling up and standing straight. “What are you talking about?”
“I can remember when you used to race to the door to greet me when I came home,” he said, putting his bottom lip out. “Now, what? Are you too big to get excited for me?”
I pursed my lips and blew out a breath. “Your mom comes up with last minute chores so she can greet you herself. But, if it's excitement you want...” I said and then grabbed him, picked up my older sibling and spun him a few times while he laughed and told me to cut it out. Setting him down I grabbed him tightly and said, “I missed you so much, thanks for coming to get me for this trip.”
“Okay, you passed,” he said with a laugh. He looked at me for a moment, “You haven't gotten any taller.”
“Shut up, Chase.”
We walked to his truck and threw our stuff into the box that stretched from one side of the truck bed to the other and was meant for tools, but that Chase used for whatever. I tried to open the door, but it was still locked so I was waiting for Chase to let us in, but he walked around the truck and held the keys up to me.
“Dad says your driving lessons are going very well. Ready for a road trip?”
“Uh, duh!” I said with a grin and accepted the keys from him. I zipped over to the other side before he changed his mind and got settled into the driver's seat. For a minute, the cab was filled with the sounds of me adjusting the seat and mirrors and seat belts clicking into place before I keyed the ignition.
“Hang on,” Chase said and unbuckled, then leaned across the bench seat and he took a selfie of us. “Your first road trip, let's do this!”
I got us to the highway quickly and we started making our way up 88. Chase had some music on and we were singing along as we passed signs for the small towns that dotted this part of the state flew past us. Being rural there were no rest areas, so we got off in Schenvus for gas. We pulled up in front of the old building and the ancient looking pumps and we were both confused.
“Where do you put the card in?” Chase speculated as we both looked over the pump.
“I've never seen numbers like that on a pump. They look painted on,” I commented.
“Well, let's go inside,” Chase said. “Want anything?”
“Sure,” I said and followed him in. In short order we had some snacks in hand and were back out at the pump, watching the numbers turn. We must have looked like idiots, never having seen a pump without a digital display. I mean, even the station in town had LCD screens showing commercials while you got gas!
As we headed back to the highway, Chase turned the music down and adjusted himself so he was more or less facing me.
“Okay, tell me the truth – how's my mom treating you?”
I shrugged. “She's better. We're never going to be pals and she still has her moments. I try not to aggravate her and stay out of her way. She's doing the best she can, I think. I'm pretty sure Uncle George actually likes me, though.”
“He does, but we're talking about my mom. What does she do?”
“Mostly little things,” I said while easing around a slow driver. “She does stuff like extra chores and she won't leave me alone with Linc if he's visiting. She didn't want me alone in the house, actually, but Uncle George fought her on that.”
“It's way better than it was,” I said. “although it kind of hurts my feelings because I'd never do anything to Linc. I never really thought of myself as a kid person, but I kind of understand what you mean about wanting a little brother, now.”
“I can talk to her,” Chase said.
“No, it's okay, nothing I can't handle.”
“Is that all? You've said that before.”
“I think so. I get food, I do my own laundry and she kind of nit picks my room, but that's really it.”
“Chase, really!” I said, chuckling. “I promise, it's way better and it's nothing I can't handle.”
“Again, that's what you said before, because you didn't want me to fight with her. Don't make me call Derek!”
“That is so unfair! I don't get it with him,” I said, shaking my head. “He talks to Alec and Sash, he talks to you and, presumably, Kale. What is that all about?”
“I think, at first, it was just because we all wanted to know about this boy that you liked so much and, who likely, was crawling into your bed.”
“That makes it sound so slimy,” I replied with a snicker.
“It wasn't meant to,” Chase laughed, “I love Derek and you two are so cute together.”
I waited a beat and said, “I love him, too.”
“Yeah? I figured. You guys have been dating for almost a year, right?”
“Almost. We've been together since last fall.”
“Okay, so, tell me all about this guy,” Chase said, bouncing on the seat.
I snickered, “You've talked to him, you know what he's like.”
“Austin! Come on!”
“Was that a whine? It sounded a lot like a whine.”
Chase answered by looking at his phone and muttering, “I'm sure I have some Justin Beiber here, somewhere.”
“Liar. You'd burn your phone before you downloaded him,” I laughed.
“You know, if you'd just co-operate and tell me everything I want to know, I wouldn't have to make idle threats!” Chase said with a straight face. I glanced at him a couple times before we both started to laugh.
“I don't know what you're after,” I said. “He's a sweet guy and I took the time to find that out and, well, now I love him.”
“But tell me about him!” Chase whined and shook my arm.
I laughed. “Okay. Well, uh. He likes books,” I started.
“Any boyfriend of yours would.”
“His sister, Chloe, is the queen of inappropriate. Um, his dad manages the IGA. He and I both work there, part time. His dad is looking to buy a house in town and Derek wants one of those old Victorian's so bad he can taste it.”
“Maybe has has a future in architecture?”
I shrugged. “I don't know. We haven't talked about college, really.”
“I hope you've talked about safe sex.”
“Sure,” I said, bobbing my head. “Uh, since you brought up the subject of sex...”
“Really? I'm not sure I want to know much about your sex life.” Chase burst out in a giggle fit.
“Seriously? After I defended you in that...orgy? You're going to act all prudish?”
“That was not an orgy!” he squealed.
“Really? 'Cause there was four guys in bed, naked, with spooge everywhere. Seems like an orgy to me.” Chase was laughing and I was fighting to keep sounding serious. “And I told Lu it wasn't your idea.”
“Well, it wasn't my idea,” Chase said, taking on a tone. “But once I thought about it, I was good with it.”
“I don't understand that.”
“Well, it's not for everyone,” Chase replied. “I don't think I can make you understand if you aren't wired that way.”
“Do you still...you know...?”
“Yes, we do.”
“Uh. Wow.” I frowned, “Kale is okay with it?”
“We wouldn't be doing it if he wasn't. Our relationships – everyone's – are based on trust. I won't say that there haven't been some little jealousies here and there”
I snorted, “Yeah. I'd be jealous if I saw someone getting it on with Derek.”
“Well, it's not like that, though.” Chase shifted in his seat and continued, “It's not like walking around a corner and finding your other half snogging someone else. We talked about all of it and we set up rules that we follow pretty strictly and those keep that sort of thing to a minimum.”
“I don't get how you can watch someone have sex with Kale and not be jealous.”
“Well, that's not the part that can make me jealous,” Chase confessed. “You have to understand, we all do this with consent and I've benefited as much as anyone else. We're safe, together, and the sex is really good.”
“Can't you get enough good sex from Kale?”
“I'm not talking about getting 'enough' of something. Our sex life is pretty damn good and Kale is a great partner in bed. What I'm talking about is what Alec and Sasha bring to the table, for us.”
“Lots of things. For one thing, they are in a stable, loving relationship. Neither of them is looking to break Kale or I. Wait, let me back up a little.” Chase wiggled again in his seat and cracked open his drink. Handing me my own drink I took a sip and then accepted some junk food from him.
“Okay, so, this all started because one of the things we had in common, as couples, was that they'd only been with each other. Now, that's not a bad thing, necessarily, but because we hadn't had very many sex partners we all felt like we may be lacking in experience that could make us better lovers. We also had a pretty tight relationship with them already. Kale and I were in a good place, but Kale has always had a hard time opening him self up to people.”
“He doesn't seem that way, now.”
“I know,” Chase gushed. “He's grown up so much in the last few years.”
“Isn't that because of your relationship? Like, the stability and, I don't know, comfort of having that?”
“Well,” Chase said thoughtfully and looked upward. “Yes, that played a part, I think. Actually, I'm sure it played a part because it did for me, too. Kale's...meticulous nature always allowed me to be more immature in some ways, but in others, I was more responsible. We were a good balance, but everyone needs growth. Sasha and Alec are part of that growth.”
“Okay, seriously? I have had some, you know, impure thoughts about some of my friends. But I don't think I could cross that line.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Chase nodded. “We were in the same position. It wasn't until Sasha told me about a conversation he had with Alec while they were away at school – thoughts I'd had myself, I should add – that things kind of took off.”
“Wait, thoughts you had?”
“Well, yeah. I like sexy guys as much as the next guy. Don't give me that look, you just told me you think about some of your friends like that!”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “for about two minutes and then, once I clean up, it's over.”
“Uh huh,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “Anyway, once Sasha mentioned it and I took the time to think about it, I thought it could do us a lot of good.”
“What about the downside? You mentioned some jealousy.”
“It's small things, here and there. I know Alec can bring out a side of Kale that is just for Alec.” He paused, smiled and shook his head from side to side. “It took me some time to work out that it wasn't something I was doing wrong or anything. It was because of the kind of relationship Alec and Kale have.”
“I'm not sure I get it.”
“Well, for instance, I look at you with a fondness I don't have for anyone else. It might be similar, in the way I feel for, say, Robin or the twins but it's not exactly the same.” Chase shrugged, “there is a difference and makes our relationship unique; the way I relate to you, talk to you or take you into my confidence. For Alec and Kale, it's the same thing – it's just how their relationship works. Once I figured that out, I almost immediately stopped feeling jealous.”
“Uh, last I checked feelings didn't just shut off,” I told him.
“Well, all I had to do was ask myself if I ever really wanted to get into the trouble Kale gets into with Alec. Group trouble, like our camping trip? Sure. But Kale looks forward to Alec's nonsense,” he said and shook his head, an amused expression dancing across his face. “When I was about twelve, hanging around with your friends and just doing stuff was great. It was innocent and, at the time, you could think of nothing better. Alec brings that enthusiasm and enjoyment out of Kale in a way no one else can. He also aggravates Kale the way no one else can, so it balances.”
“I can't believe you were just like ,'Oh, right Sasha, Kale and I wouldn't mind boning you and your boyfriend as well.' I mean, it sounds like an agreement made over tea or something.”
“Well, I admit that my thoughts weren't completely...academic, I guess. By that I mean, I didn't sit back and coldly figure out what we could all gain. But when I found out that Alec fantasized about Kale, something clicked for me, because I knew how much Alec meant to Kale and he'd never admit it. It was little stuff, like Kale would always initiate wrestling or something so that he and Alec would be in contact – not that Alec didn't do the same, mind you – but for them, it was safe. They could do that and never admit or cause hurt to their other halves by admitting the attraction that was between them.”
“Hang on, don't get too judgmental. This is really no different than you stroking one out in private. They were handling it, but it wasn't all that healthy because, well, we can find other people attractive. They both felt like they'd be cheating.”
“Isn't it, kind of?”
“In the most immature sense. But, we weren't immature.”
“Um, you said Alec isn't immature?”
“In some things, yes,” Chase smiled widely. “But he's no fool, and if you think that for even a second, then you don't really see him.”
“Okay. So, what, wrestling leads to sex? I've wrestled Lu a ton of times and never boned him.”
“Well, I don't think you or Lu would be open to that, either. You guys aren't secretly wondering what it feels like to...hey, why are you blushing?”
“The idea of boning Lu...it's embarrassing,” I laughed. “I mean, he and Robin are like one person. Having sex with one is like doing the other. It just puts a weird picture in my head.”
“Uh huh. Anyway,” he continued, “Once I found out about Alec's admission to Sasha about his feelings for Kale, I saw an answer. And when I brought it up to Kale? I knew it was the right thing to do.”
“Because he totally, over-the-top denied feeling anything like that for Alec.”
“Look, I know everyone looks. Some people are real tight asses and they won't admit it. They'll tell you it's cheating or that one single person in the whole world gives them everything they ever wanted. They are fooling themselves and they are putting a huge burden on the other person.”
“I...kind of see that. I mean, I'm happy with Derek, but I don't expect him to make all my dreams come true, or something.”
“Which is sensible. So, after we all got together the first time, it took several weeks for us to examine what had happened, what fallout there might be, things like that.”
“So you didn't just, I don't know, screw and then keep going? I mean, you said it's still happening.”
“Nope. Believe it or not, that first experience, was amazing for a whole bunch of reasons. We all learned better ways to respond to each other in the bedroom, I felt a comfort level with Alec and Sasha I hadn't realized I'd wanted and...the whole experience has been very satisfying.”
“But...so...how can you watch Kale with one of them?”
“Well, it might sound complicated, but it's not. Kale and Alec are really compatible in a lot of ways, but they'd never work as a couple,” Chase said with a snort. “They'd drive each other crazy. But, they love each other like crazy, too. They see a lot of themselves in the other.”
“Excuse me? They are nothing alike!” I said, bursting out laughing.
“Austin,” he said, waiting for me to turn and look at him. “You don't know them like I do. They were both scared, both insecure – no matter how they presented themselves to the world. Alec and Kale are two sides of the same coin.”
I thought about that for a moment. “What about you, then?”
“I was always drawn to Sasha. He and I hit it off right away and I always appreciated his maturity. Once we went to bed, I had a whole lot more to appreciate.”
“Oh. Uh, did he...fuck you?” I winced saying it. Chase is like, everything nice. I had a hard time picturing him as a sexual creature.
“No. I don't know that I'd call it making love, exactly, but he led the way and I topped him. The first time.”
“Austin, why are you turning so red? Are you breathing?” Chase giggled.
“Uh. Sorry. I just...” I glanced at him, and with his giggles he still made me think of things that were innocent and sweet. “I have a hard time thinking of you like that. I mean, I know you and Kale have sex but your personality just doesn't seem...sexual.”
“Oh, I think I see,” he said, still smiling at me. I put my blinker on to pass a truck and waited for the left lane to clear. “Well, I can tell you, now I get naked as fast as I can so I get my pick.”
My hand jerked the wheel a little and he laughed as I glanced at him in shock. “So you get your pick?”
“Sure. Depends on what I'm in the mood for. I told you, Alec and Sasha bring different things to the table so when I get them around it's like...a buffet. I grab my plate and fork and go get what I want. Sometimes I want to lay back and feel Sasha tell me I look like a work of art, and sometimes I want to hear Alec grunting under me.”
He was laughing again. “Austin, it's sex. Trust me, at this point, I've tried everything twice with them.”
“And...you're saying Kale is okay with this?”
“Well, you know Kale. Everything begins with a frown,” Chase laughed again.
“How do you know, then?”
Chase shifted and said very softly. “After our first time, Kale cried. He was thanking me for letting him have the experience, for trusting him. What he did with Alec...it changed him. But now, we do it to bring pleasure to each other. I think it's safe to say we all have the hots for each other, but that kind of limits what's going on. It's never about, or completely about, lust and a quick roll in the hay. It's about intimacy, exploring the limits of our sex lives and being able to do that with people that we love and feel completely safe with.”
Chase cleared his throat and said softly, “When Alec almost died, it shook the three of us to the core. As soon as he was well and we found the opportunity, Kale and I wanted to be with him.”
“You guys were at the hospital when he woke up. You were there for days. What are you talking...oh.” I suddenly felt stupid.
Chase continued softly, almost reverently, “People are always talking about actions being louder than words. It wasn't about showing him he was sexy or making him get off. It was about reassuring ourselves that someone who was part of us was still there, still whole and vital. It wasn't until I was looking down into his face while I had him in me that I truly felt like everything would be okay.”
“Wow,” I said eventually. “This is way more detail than I was aiming for.”
“You asked,” Chase said, stretching and smiling. “Was there a reason you brought up sex? Is everything good between you and Derek?”
“Yeah,” I said. “We find time when we can, you know, take our time. He and I are both about that. I don't think we've ever had a frantic, fumbling kind of thing.”
“That's too bad. It feels great when someone is dying to get you out of your clothes,” Chase said and laughed.
“Really?” I asked, glancing back at him and then back to the road.
“Sure. I mean, everyone has a favorite way to do things, but if Kale is pulling at my clothes? It's very flattering and exciting.”
“Hmm. I was concerned Derek might feel disrespected if I, you know, fumbled around and hurried to get him undressed.”
“Well, everyone's different. Just because my experience was good, doesn't mean it works for you. Just, keep it in mind.” Chase chuckled and I glanced at him. He said, “Although, you know, you're young. I think you can be forgiven for being in a hurry to get him undressed.”
“Yeah. Well, he's just beautiful. I look at him and,” I said and sighed, “I thought he looked nice when we first met, but he really grew on me with his personality. It's funny how who he was made the way he looks so much more appealing.”
“I should ask Kale to take some shots of you guys. I don't have many pictures of you, and none of you and Derek. Hmm, if I recall, though, you started this whole sex discussion. There must be something on your mind.”
“Yeah. I almost forgot what it was,” I laughed. “I just,” I glanced at him, “Chase, you're like the nicest person I've ever known. Picturing you riding Alec or making him grunt kind of...blows my mind.”
“Yeah. I guess it's sort of like when you see a teacher out of school and in public the first time, 'cause you just assumed they lived at the school or something. Don't get the wrong idea, I don't speak like this to everyone. But, in no way can I be considered a prude about it, either. I like sex and I won't apologize for it.” Chase gave me a look I couldn't identify and said, “Besides, I think I owe it to you to be honest about my experience so you can use them to make better choices for yourself.”
“So, you had something to bring up?” he prompted, yet again.
“Uh, well, Derek and I...we've,” I glanced at him and licked my lips, “He bottomed...rode – Jesus, this is awkward!”
His mouth twisted into a smile. “Yes, the term 'top' applies to the active or penetrative partner, and the 'bottom' is the passive or receptive partner.”
“Oh.” I lapsed into silence and Chase cleared his throat. “What?”
“Derek was riding you and then what?”
“Oh! Um, yeah, so I've topped Derek a bunch of times, but...”
“What? Are you not enjoying it?”
“Oh, hell yes, I am,” I nodded emphatically. “Derek is really touchy-feely like Lu is with Robin, you know? If we read together, he always lays on me or puts his head on me. He makes compliments about my looks and he's happy hanging out with me, looking at books at a sale. Seriously, he's fantastic for me.”
“Well...” I sighed and said, “He's always telling me how good it feels. If we're doing it right then or if we're just talking, you'd think I was really something.”
“Well, of course you are! I'm glad Derek knows it.”
“Well, here's the thing, though. I'm a little jealous because he's always going on about how good it is but – okay, Robin and I talk, okay?”
“Yeah. You both have been able to talk for years,” Chase said in a dopey voice and exaggeratedly nodded his head.
“Shut up,” I laughed. “I mean, I can talk to him about sex. I can't talk to Lu, much, except if I want advice. But if I want to compare notes or get any detail, it's Robin.”
“Really,” Chase said, dragging the word out. “So what does this have to do with you?”
“Well, Robin always goes on about how good Lu is. Did you know they broke Lu's breakfast table?”
“No! Oh my God!” Chase started laughing. “Alec made some offhand comment about a new table at home. Then he said the last time his folks bought new furniture was when he broke a couch with Sasha. I can't believe Lu and Robin broke a table having sex!” Chase was slapping his leg and laughing. I couldn't help joining his laughter. We giggled about it a bit, then we settled back down and Chase lifted an eyebrow at me in expectation.
“Okay, so, I asked Robin if he liked bottoming or topping better. He said he likes both, but that Lu knows what to do to make him feel good, so he said he's a little more partial to that.”
“Okay. What does that matter?”
“Well, Derek won't top.”
“I know! He won't even try.”
Chase paused a beat. “Is there a physical reason why he can't?”
“Sort of, according to him.”
“Okay. Care to share?”
“He's thicker than I am. He says he doesn't want to hurt me.”
“It's not that much bigger, for Christ's sake,” I grumped. “And Robin and Derek have both made it sound good, I want to try it.”
“Well, I think you guys should definitely have that discussion. You should be able to try new things together. Was his first time taking you difficult?”
“No, both Rob and Lu gave us advice, it actually went really well. Oh, and we have had this discussion before, trust me. I told him that between the advice we got, that worked really well, and his experience that we should be able to make it work.”
“Robin and Lucien, the masters of sex, huh?” Chase laughed.
I smirked, “Well, they do have a lot of experience.”
“Yeah, wrecking furniture,” he giggled.
“Yeah, well, I heard Jamie found a condom wrapper under the piano at the Kirkwood's? Know anything about that?”
“I do, as it happens,” Chase smiled widely. “I got taken to a steakhouse and then out to the ballet and then Kale fell asleep!”
“He what?” I laughed.
“Yeah, it was okay, though,” Chase said, his voice taking on a dreamy tone. “He definitely made it up to me in the morning. Oh,” he said, his face turning toward me, “You played a part too, mister innocent.”
“You snuck my nice clothes over to Kale? Ring any bells?”
“Oh yeah,” I smiled. “Kale just told me he wanted to surprise you. I didn't realize he meant with his pickle.”
“Oh, that part wasn't much of a surprise,” Chase snickered. “I just didn't find out about the condom wrapper for a while. Kale was mortified,” Chase burst out laughing and I joined him.
“I can just picture it,” I said, smiling.
“So! What else is Robin filling your head with?”
“Nothing, really. We do talk, like I said, but he doesn't really tell me all the dirty details. He just likes to bust Lu's nuts and let him think he does.”
“Lu's a little sensitive when it comes to Robin, though, right?”
“He's so much better,” I laughed. “Ever since his mom tried to get him back, he's been so much more confident. Plus, I'm pretty sure if it was a real problem, Robin would stop.”
“True. The breakfast table, though?” Chase giggled and said, “You know, it's funny for me because I've known Robin nearly as long as I've known Kale. I think I told you, Robin was the one that made me realize I wanted a little brother. God! I was so jealous of Kale!”
“Yeah, you said something about it. Rob's cool.”
“It wasn't completely that, though. See, Robin was close enough in age that Kale or I could hang out with him or play, but not close enough that we couldn't do different things and Kale would have a different set of friends – no competition for the same pool of people, you follow me?”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
“I just wish you'd come along a little sooner, Austin. I really do.”
My face heated a little at the compliment. “Um, so, what do you think I should do about Derek? Any advice?”
“Hm. I think I'd have to go with tricking him.”
I barked out a laugh. “How do you trick someone into fucking you?”
“Well, get him wound up – I'm sure you have no trouble with that – then, at that critical time, sit on him. Or it, rather,” he snickered.
I shook my head, “Seems so wrong. Don't all gay guys want to bang their boyfriends?”
“Hardly,” he replied. “There are some people that just aren't into anal. Some people are only into oral or they have some specific kink. It takes all kinds,” he said with a shake of his head.
“Like those that participate in orgies?” I said, snickering.
“Listen, you,” he said, smacking me. “I will not have you making something cheap out of my sexual exploits!”
“Sexual exploits?” I said, snorting with laughter as he dissolved next to me in laughter of his own.
“All right, listen. If you were going to sleep with one of your friends, who would it be?”
“Well, you bust my chops for sleeping with my best friends and you admitted to whacking it about your friends – so, who? Who would you hook up with?”
“Uh, no one? I'm not cheating on Derek.”
“Hypothetical,” Chase said, waving his hand. “If you guys were going to spread the love, who would you pick?”
“I don't know! We've never talked about any of that. I never told him about you guys and your...arrangement.”
“God, you make it sound so...sleazy.” He turned on the seat to face me, again. “Look, it's nuts to think one person can fulfill all your needs. This is why we have friends and other relationships because they fill a need for us.”
“What, uh, need are you getting filled with this relationship?” I snickered and he stuck his tongue out in response.
We rode in silence for a few minutes and, when I glanced at him, he was studying me. “What?” I asked.
“I was just thinking. When Sasha first mentioned what he and Alec had discussed, with respect to Kale and me...I was shocked. For just a fleeting moment I wondered if they wanted to steal Kale from me or break us up.” He shook his head at the memory, “It was one of my dumber thoughts. Once I got past that, though, I wanted to try it. I wouldn't, if Kale said no, but I already had an idea that he was crushing on Alec. In a way, I think, this went a long way toward preserving our relationship.”
“What do you mean? Kale wouldn't cheat on you.”
“No, no, of course not,” he said, shaking his head and giving me an absent minded smile. “I just meant that we were both curious, having only been with each other, and that curiosity can lead to regret or maybe resentment. It might not be enough to seriously damage your relationship; then again, maybe it can. Either way, I felt like the risk was almost non-existent. So, we decided to do it.”
“Was it...hard to do? I mean, once things actually, you know, happened?”
“No, actually,” he said, looking out the windshield. “It was very liberating. I felt like Kale trusted me more than ever, and there was no question about the value of what we got from the experience. I think, what surprised me, was that all of us wanted to keep it going.”
“Well, if it was good, why wouldn't you?”
“The longer you go, the more risk, I suppose,” he said. “People are...we can be jealous, petty and we four aren't perfect. But, somehow, together we are pretty close.” He shook his head and smiled, “So, who would you do from all your friends, huh?”
“Well, there's this girl...”
“No, no, no,” Chase said, waving his hand around. “I don't mean your depraved girl-loving side!”
We both burst out giggling. “Seriously, though. How are you feeling about the whole bisexual thing since you've been spending so much time on the male side?”
“Um, you know, it's funny you mention that because I haven't thought a ton about it. I mean, I am still attracted to people of both sexes, I have my, you know, fantasies but...I'm in a good place. Derek is...well, he's great.”
“You're not fighting off hordes of girls?”
“Well,” I said, my cheeks heating up again, “I've had a few offers – and they do make me curious. But, I feel like what I have with Derek is what I'm aiming for. I know he likes who I am, not just what I look like – and that was something I didn't think a lot about until Philip. Actually, mentioning that, the person that's come at me hardest, over time, was Philip.”
“Nope,” I said, holding a hand up. “He's reformed, now. We don't call him Phil or Little Phil – he's Philip and he's, largely, a new guy.”
“Really?” Chase asked, dragging the word out.
“Yeah. Trust me, I was ready for him to fail – I even intentionally tempted him,” I said, shaking my head. “He's really trying hard, though. I hate to say it, but he's almost nice to be around.”
“Wow. So,” Chase said, slyly, “has Philip crossed over into the realm of-”
“No and fuck no,” I said, shaking my head vehemently. “He might be making an effort, but there are too many fucked up little things he said for me to see him that way.”
“Okay, so Philip is down. Who else are your friends?” Chase said in a teasing tone and holding up his fingers, one folded down to represent Philip.
“Oh, stop,” I said with a laugh. “You know, I'm surprised you still keep this up, considering you're married and have a kid.”
“Oh, I know,” he replied, and situated himself on the seat. “I'll tell you, I love being Kale's husband and I love my son to pieces – but that doesn't mean there isn't a cost, as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when you get married, decisions stop being just yours. For instance, when I first found out about Linc, well, it was such a shock. But when I saw him on the playground, I knew I had to take care of him – he was my little boy. That was the easy part. What wasn't was the fact that Kale had been furious with me and I had no idea how this was going to impact our relationship.”
“I can see an unexpected kid making things weird,” I said in agreement.
“When Kale was so...not just accepting,” Chase wiggled his fingers as he searched for a word. “He really embraced the whole idea of being a dad and us being married. But, like I said, there are costs that go with that.”
“You say that like it's a negative...”
“Well, every decision you make is a trade-off, right? Maybe you trade something negative for something positive or maybe some positive choices you make have some minor drawbacks – or even major ones.”
“Well, I mentioned decisions. I can't just decide what I'm doing – there is our son and my husband's schedule to consider because we have responsibilities. Granted, even in high school, you have responsibilities but,” he said with a shrug, “I think some people think that being an adult is easier. In some ways, it can be, but sometimes the responsibilities feel like a whole lot.”
“I know, it's kind of outside your experience. One of the things we are dealing with is that, well, you know how we came by Linc?”
“I'm pretty familiar with sex and the consequences,” I said, snickering. He swatted me.
“I meant,” he said, giving me a look, “that his mom was into some bad shit and she's in jail; he'll grow up without seeing her again.”
“Yeah, I knew that,” I said quietly.
“Well, he has a few things that crop up from that. Like, he needs to know when we're coming back from stuff. If I drop him off, I have to tell him when one daddy or the other will be there for him. Thank God for Mrs. Goblichek, she's so good with him and he likes her, but if you knock him too far off his routine? He's a nightmare.”
“Really? He seems so well adjusted.”
“Well, he's gotten over some of it, now. He knows his daddies are coming back for him. But, when we went to India? I had to make this calendar for him so he could mark off the days and know how many breakfasts, lunches, dinners and night-night's he had to do before we'd be back. He needs to know.”
“Wow, that sounds like a pain in the ass. I don't plan my day out like that.”
“Well, unstructured time like playtime? He's tough with. But he knows when his favorite programs are on, and he likes his schedule. It's going to be an adjustment for him when he starts school and I'm not looking forward to that,” he said, chuckling.
“He always seems so great, though,” I replied.
“Yeah, and he is, really. But there is a difference – he depends on his papa and daddy. Everyone else is...gravy. Granted, he's starting to get pretty attached to grandma and grandpa Kirkwood and, God alone knows why, but he loves Jamie.”
I laughed, “Jamie's a good kid.”
“Oh, he is! Don't get me wrong, I love him. But of all of them? He raises more hell than any other kid I can remember,” he said, laughing.
“I can see that,” I replied, nodding.
“Anyway,” he replied, his face losing some of its usual good humor. “It can wear you down. College level work, raising your child. None of this would be what it is without Kale; I'm just so thankful for him. Then, with all that pressure starting to come off at the end of the school year, he came up with the trip to India!”
I shook my head, “I was sure that was Alec's deal, seriously.”
“Oh, it was so wonderful, Austin. I mean, it was a true adventure and having Alec and Sasha to share it with? I really felt great when we came back; recharged, more optimistic, missing my son and ready to get back to being a dad.”
“How much did you share with Alec and Sasha?” I said, snickering.
“I shared everything, more than once, you little pervert,” he said, chuckling. “That trip was good and satisfying – and yes, I'm definitely including the sex.” Chase jumped as he readjusted in the seat and placed an excited hand on my arm, “Oh! I have it! Use handcuffs!”
“I'm sorry, what? Use handcuffs for what?” I said, unable to stop the laughter from bubbling up.
“On Derek! Handcuff him to the bed and then you've got him!” he said, laughing and rolling on his side of the seat.
“You know, I just realized I'm making this sound like my boyfriend doesn't want sex with me. Just so we're clear, he does, okay?” I said, giving Chase a pointed look. He just continued laughing. “So, you were talking about having an orgy all the way across India?”
“Well, actually, I was talking about some of the pressures and drawbacks. Sometimes it's all Kale and I can do to have a night out for a meal with just the two of us. Sometimes it's just a short time after Linc has fallen asleep – and usually, we're not that far behind him.
“But, when we get that time with Sasha and Alec...no matter what we do, it releases a lot of tension. It doesn't matter if we go to the movies or dinner or out on one of Alec's mad ideas,” he said smiling and looking off into the distance. “But those times when we do get together...you know, Kale and I have rented a hotel room a time or two just to be able to take our time with each other, and it's much the same with them. For me, spending that intimate time with them is like a day at the spa.”
“So if I need to relax, orgy. Got it.”
He chuckled and shook his head. He trailed into snickers and then gave me an amused, yet calculated, look. “Okay, so, Philip is out. What about Robin and Lu? Think you could-”
“No!” I said, firmly. “They're my best friends, but I just can't picture it.”
“...but you have spanked to it.”
I pooched my lips out. “Maybe.”
“They are so cute together,” Chase said, shaking his head. “You'd be lucky to have those two, though, really. Neither of them would be trying to break you up, they are so committed to each other-”
“Chase, let's say just for a half a second that what you're describing is a possibility, okay?” I said, glancing at him and he nodded eagerly and waited. “Do you have any idea how unhappy that would make Lucien?”
“Well, I know he's kind of...territorial.”
“It's not really that,” I said, shaking my head. “Originally, maybe – and who can blame him? He has a great relationship. I don't think I told you, but when his bio-mom started that crap, he came over to see me.” I glanced at him and continued, “Robin was in Buffalo, you remember.”
Chase nodded and our conversation lulled as we hit the toll booth for the New York State Thruway and got onto interstate 90 heading east. Once we'd joined traffic and were safely moving along, I picked up the threads of my thoughts.
“He was telling me his worst fear was people leaving him. He told me how his whole bio-family left his life and...I don't know.” I paused for a moment and collected my thoughts, “I think that Lu is a deep thinker. I don't think he's the kind of guy who will have a hundred people he calls friends. He's not the kind of guy that makes a lot of acquaintances, he doesn't seem to waste his time on them. He extended his friendship to me, because of you originally, and he worked hard to make it a real friendship.”
“I don't know where you're going with this,” Chase said, slowly.
“Okay. Um, how can I say this? If you want to know if I think Robin or Lu is attractive, the answer is an overwhelming yes. But I don't think something like that would be possible because it would be incredibly awkward – Robin is everything to Lu. For him, touching Robin intimately or seeing him nude...that's sacred to him. That part of their relationship isn't for anyone else – and I get that, I do.”
Chase shook his head and a dopey smile spread across his face. “Those two. Lucien has had it so bad for Robin, I always figured it'd slack off at some point, I mean who can go on like that forever?”
“Lu can,” I said, nodding. “So, it's not that Lu is territorial in this sense but...okay, if Robin were to ever bring this up, let's say? Just hypothetically, let's say I talked to Robin and said Derek and I wanted to hook up with he and Lu, okay?”
“If Robin took that to Lu? If it was something Robin wanted? I think...that Lu wouldn't want to, but he won't deny Robin anything. But I think, if that happened, it'd break Lu's heart. All the things you mentioned that come from your relationship with Alec and Sasha? The liberation, all that? That wouldn't be what Lu would feel. He'd be crushed to see someone else bringing Robin off or loving on him like that; destroyed.” I shook my head, “There is no way I could ever put Lu in that position, no matter how much – in theory – I'd want to bone one of them.”
“Yeah,” Chase replied softly, nodding his head. “I agree and I can see where you're coming from. But,” he grinned wickedly, “I'm not asking you about who you plan to try and get into group sex, I'm just asking who you'd be willing to do it with!”
“Chase! You horn dog!” I laughed. We exited the thruway and joined local traffic as we passed through Albany. I could see the tall buildings of the state capitol where the state offices were – the Empire State Plaza, the governors mansion, the capitol building, the education building and more. It wasn't overly impressive, having seen movies with New York City, for instance, as a backdrop. But, I hadn't seen that many big buildings up close before, so it was kind of neat. Then we were crossing the Hudson river and Albany was firmly in our rear view mirror.
I glanced at Chase, who was looking at me in thought. “What?” I asked.
“I was just thinking that Lu is lucky to have you as a friend.”
“I'm lucky, too,” I agreed.
“Yeah, but...well, it doesn't matter. Okay! So, Robin and Lu are off the list! Who else do we have to consider?” Chase asked, and grinned maniacally.
“Why are you so interested in hooking me up with my friends?” I asked, laughing at him.
“Well, I'm jealous you have all these discussions with Robin!” he snorted. “I'm your big brother; Robin can't get all the good stuff out of you!”
“Derek gets most of it,” I snickered and Chase made a shocked gasp before he burst out laughing.
“Come on! If you were going to have a one night stand, no strings or guilt attached, who would it be?” Chase pressed. “What about Griffin? He's a little cutie.”
I nodded in agreement, “He is, but no.”
I pursed my lips. “When I look at Griff I don't see him as a...I don't know. I don't see him that way. I can't look at him without thinking of what he's been through and, more than anything, that he needs someone to protect him. I'm good with looking out for him, I even shared Derek with him-”
“Whoa, you what? Give me all the details!”
“Not like that!” I said, unable to keep the amusement from my voice. “Before Griffin started dating Devyn, when he felt stressed out, he used to go to Derek for hugs. Griff said he just felt better, and he's right – I know how Derek's hugs make me feel and it has nothing to do with sex. He doesn't give 'bro hugs' or anything stupid like that. He puts himself into hugs, and it just leaves you feeling better.”
“Aww. Now I want to hug Derek.”
“You should. Everyone should,” I agreed. “And after what Griff went through? If anyone needed to feel better it was him. If my Derek could do that – and wanted to? Then I was all for it.”
“So...why not Griff, then?”
“Because,” I said with a shrug. “When I look at Griff my mind doesn't see him as...Look,” I said, “Griffin is older than I am and I think it sucks that he's going to graduate ahead of me. I hate that he's been talking about going to California for school, afterward, and I might not see him anymore. In a lot of ways, I feel really protective about him and I don't want him out of my sight. I just don't see him that way.”
“I can appreciate that,” Chase said, softly.
“I don't even know how Derek is going to deal with that,” I continued. “Derek loves him like a twin, separated at birth!” I said, chuckling.
“Oh yeah?” Chase asked, smiling.
“Oh, it's great to watch,” I confirmed. “They are both runners, so they will just take off together and exercise. Derek is way more social than I am, so I worry a little, once Griffin leaves, you know? Not just for me, but for Derek.” I sighed, “So I kind of do know what you mean, how...unwise it is to put all your needs onto one person. Griffin has been good for my relationship – and Lu and Robin, of course – because it gives Derek a social outlet.”
“Well, you'll still have Jamie and Sean and their entourage,” Chase said.
“That's different,” I said with a heavy sigh. “The guys are such a huge part of our lives. We do everything together – school, homework, social stuff. They're our world for, like, eight months until you and the rest of the old people come home.”
Chase slapped my arm and I grinned at him. Slowly, though, my smile fled.
“But, after this year? Robin and Lu will be up at RPI in Troy. If Griffin goes to California, I have to believe Devyn will move mountains to go with him. Just like that, our whole circle of friends is gone. I know, you were just mentioning Jamie and Sean,” I said, holding up a hand to forestall Chase's open mouth, “but that's different. Jamie talks to me like...not an older brother, but like he respects me. Not like we're buddies – and for that matter, neither does Sean. I put myself out there to be supportive when his mom was sick, since I knew what it felt like, but it was something we never talked about.”
“So you guys didn't bond?”
“Not as such, no. We're comfortable, I guess, but not really close, you know? Next year will be just Derek and I and...I worry I won't be enough, anymore.”
“Aww, Austin,” Chase said with a sigh, but I cut him off before he could continue.
“You don't understand, Chase. Derek loves Griffin and Lu and Robin. He's going to be crushed when they leave – and that's leaving out how I feel. Honestly, it makes me feel a little lost.”
“They are all just a phone call away, Austin,” Chase said softly.
“Yeah, I know that. But, as you know, that's not the same thing.”
“I know,” Chase said with a sigh. “Kale and I felt the same way when Alec and Sasha left for school. We were afraid they'd outgrow us, that they'd come back as different people. But you know what? They didn't. They came back and they missed us. They were afraid the time apart would have broken our relationship. I think,” Chase said, taking on a speculative tone, “that the strongest relationships don't really pay much attention to time apart. We were so happy to see them and we just picked up where we left off – in Alec's case, by picking on Kale and Kale loving every minute of it while he frowned and bitched!”
We laughed together and then fell silent as we crossed the border into Massachusetts.
Chase cleared his throat, “So, back to more frivolous subjects...”
I glanced at him and shook my head, “Perv.”
“Come on, Austin!” he whined and drummed his feet lightly on the floor.
“Okay, okay,” I said with a sigh. “There's something about Devyn that...turns me on.”
“Oh?” Chase said, ears perking. “So you think Griff and Derek...?”
“Um, no!” I said, laughing. “Just because I said I think Dev is cute doesn't mean I'm looking to orgy!”
“I keep telling you,” Chase said, punctuating his words with smacking my arm, “It's not an orgy!”
“Okay, okay!” I laughed.
“How's the gas doing?” Chase asked, changing the subject.
“Um, about a third of a tank left. Want to stop, soon?”
“Yeah, I could stretch my legs,” he replied. “So! You want to bone Devyn, huh?”
“I didn't say that!” I blurted, startled.
I paused and said, “Well, okay, maybe I do.”
“Ha! So, tell me all about this!”
“Not much to tell,” I said with a shrug. “Dev is adorable and feisty. There 's something mysterious about his being mute and how he communicates. If circumstances were right, I'd be happy to go to bed with him. That's all. No trying to see if Derek wants to take Griff while I take Dev, no group sex. Just a little fantasy.”
“So...have you ever discussed this with Derek?”
“No!” I said, and glanced at Chase. “He better not hear about it, either!”
“Hey! I'm not a gossip!”
“Huh! Says the man who can't let the breakfast table thing go!”
“That's not fair!” Chase said, snorting and chuckling. “You just told me and it's not like I'm going to tell Alec.”
“May as well. We both know you'll tell Kale and or Sasha, so Alec will find out.”
“Well, we all have a story like that,” Chase said, and then lowered his voice, “don't we, stockroom lover?”
“Oh my - how did you find out about that?” I demanded. Chase looked smug and smiled at me.
“I have my sources.”
“We weren't boning in the back room,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Chloe walked in and we were making out. We were on break!”
Chase just laughed at me and my mouth curled into a laugh.
“I heard pants were coming off,” he said, eventually.
“Ugh. I'd almost think you made friends with Chloe – wait,” I said, eyes narrowing, “do you know Chloe?”
Chase looked at me, all innocent. Then, his lower lip started to quiver and a smile spread on his face. “She liked a few of our family pictures online. I recognized the name and we've been...chatting. She's a big fan of yours, Austin.”
“She's a big old perv,” I said, laughing.
“I know,” Chase said with a grin. “She wants your babies.”
“You're just wrong, Chase. Wrong.”
“Does Chloe do anything for your bi side?”
“Not really,” I said and shrugged. “She's pretty cool and she loves Derek; she's good people. Honestly, outside the occasional wank over someone, I'm pretty focused on Derek.”
“I love that,” Chase said and sighed as he leaned back in the seat. “That certainty when you're with the right person.”
“I don't get how you can say that, considering.”
“It's easy. Kale is the right man to be my husband, but I have enough love and desire to be able to send it on Sasha and Alec. Oh, especially Sasha, mmm.”
“What?” he snickered. “Look, it's not like I have, say, sixty percent of my love to give to Kale and twenty for each of Alec and Sash. Love and desire aren't finite things. I love Kale, he's my husband and he gives me things no one else can. But that doesn't mean there aren't other things I get from Alec or Sash that are worthwhile.”
The heavily wooded hills passed us by as we fell into a comfortable silence. I felt the tiniest bit embarrassed to have confessed my little thing for Devyn, but at the end of the day it was a true statement and there wasn't anything wrong with a little fantasy now and again. Besides, even if Dev did find out, I don't think it would be a big deal.
“So,” I said, “Do you have some kind of game plan to deal with Linc? I didn't know about the stuff you mentioned, is there more?”
Chase sighed. “We're playing it one day at a time, to be honest. We'll never know exactly how good or bad his mother was with him. Since she's going to jail for drugs it's possible she did them around him or, God forbid, when she had sex with me, even...or during her pregnancy...we just don't know.”
“Chase...you know, she raped you.”
I glanced at him and he was staring out of the windshield. The rest stop came into view and I moved into the right hand lane so we could get gas and maybe stretch our legs.
“Why don't we park and use the bathroom and stuff before we gas up?” Chase murmured. I nodded and pulled into a space. His mouth twitched and he climbed out and ambled away toward the building with the fast food and the rest rooms. I locked the truck and followed him, wondering if there was a way I could have been even less sensitive about that subject with him.
After a bathroom break I exited the building to find him sitting with two cokes at a picnic table. I took a seat across from him and waited as he stared off into the distance, his eyes unfocused.
“You know, you're right,” he said slowly. “I can remember her breath; the smell of alcohol. I was fourteen and she was more than a couple years older. I have no idea why she picked me, but she made me uncomfortable as soon as we showed up.”
“We?” I asked, tentatively.
His gaze flicked to me and held. “My parents were gone and they left me with the Morgan's. Their son, Chad, talked me into going out to a party.” He paused and shook his head, “Thinking about it now, looking back, she was stalking me the whole time. I had gone up to use the bathroom and she was waiting in the hall when I came out. She said she wanted to show me something and pulled me into a side room – a bedroom.
“We...we didn't even get full on naked. There was some talk and I remember telling her I thought I was gay,” he said and then sighed. “I was fourteen and no one besides me had ever touched my dick. So, when she did...”
“Chase, I'm sorry for bringing it up,” I said softly. “Maybe we should-”
“You're right,” he said, nodding. “She took advantage. Raped me. Then she had my son and hid him from me for four years.” He locked his gaze to mine and he said, “If there was any doubt in my mind that I was gay and I wanted Kale, that was it. I was ash-,” he choked back his words and covered his mouth, his eyes wet. I reached my hand across the table and, with his free hand, he grabbed on.
“You don't have to,” I said soothingly.
He shook his head. “Austin, I was prisoner to that memory for a long time. I was ashamed of myself for giving her my virginity. I was ashamed, being a man, to have not fought her off. I was ashamed that her touch felt good and I was confused that my body was responding when I didn't think it should.” He lifted his gaze to me and said, “When I heard about what happened to Devyn, I locked myself in the bathroom and threw up until there was nothing left and then I cried. I know what he felt like.”
“I'm sorry I said anything.”
“Don't be,” he said, shaking his head. “It doesn't rule me. I have my son from that experience and I'm grateful for that. I have my husband far sooner than I might have, and I'm also grateful for that. What Melissa did to me gave me empathy for other boys.” He squeezed my hand, “If you ever did end up with Devyn, he'd be lucky because I know you'd treat him right.”
“Well,” I said, “I try to treat anyone I'm with with respect.”
“I know. I know,” he said. With a final squeeze of my hand he let go and rubbed his eyes with the back of his wrists. “So, as far as Linc goes...I don't know what that woman put him through or didn't. There are problems that could develop or not and, to be honest, I'll be damned if I know what 'typical' or 'average' behavior for a kid is, you know? They're all different.”
“Um, we should probably get back on the road.”
“Yeah,” he said, sighing. “Why don't you get the gas and I'll meet you in a minute, okay?” he said and held out his wallet.
“Um. Okay,” I said and stood. “Uh, Chase? I'm really sorry I upset you.”
“You didn't, Austin,” he said, flashing me a bit of his patented smile. “Sometimes I just find it a little overwhelming. I'll be fine.”
I nodded and walked back to the truck, but the guilt was laced heavily into me. What was I thinking, blurting something out like that? I should have known better, especially since Devyn was my friend and I knew what he'd been through. I did what Chase told me and filled the tank and then pulled away from the pump to wait for him. It didn't take him all that long, but he seemed himself when he got back in the truck.
“Don't apologize again, Austin,” he said and patted my arm. “It sneaks up on me sometimes without your help. Besides, now that I know about your sex life and fantasies, I'd like to hear about Derek, the person. Is he as sweet as he seems?”
“He's half and half,” I said, smiling at Chase and trying to let go of my guilt. I put the truck in gear and merged with traffic and gathered my thoughts.
“Derek is definitely sweet. Going out with him was...it was easy, really.”
“Easy? In what way?”
“Well, with Cole? He had more expectations, more...experience. He was a good guy, but we didn't really work well as people, you know? Our interests and opinions were different and there wasn't really any talking about it – he just thought he was right.”
“Oh, wow, really? I guess I didn't know him that well.”
I shrugged, “It was a personality thing. So I was a little gun shy when Derek came along and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. There was something sort of brewing with this Ramona chick. I wasn't sure about her, something was a little off, though. There were a few other girls that had my attention for a short time, but then Derek showed up.”
“Did you like him right away?”
“Well, if you mean attraction, not right off the bat. He introduced himself at lunch to the group and so I got to know him that way, not one on one – that came later,” I said. “We hung around with Robin and Lu and made parts runs for the bus and...he grew on me. One day, we went to get the gas tank for the bus and I just...I looked at him and it hit me that he was, I don't know...adorable.”
“Oh, I love this,” Chase said with a smile and he settled into the seat sideways so he could look at me. “Go on.”
I smiled at him, his pain forgotten, and resumed my story. “I wish there were more to say, but falling in love with Derek was like...water passing over a stone. It wasn't sudden, it wasn't...hasty. I invited him to do things I enjoyed – to share it with him. Our first 'date' was a garage sale where they had used books. We went back to his apartment and laid on each other and read. Right then, I knew he was the person for me.”
“God! That's so romantic!”
I smiled, my face growing warm. “I heard somewhere that slow change is permanent change. Falling in love with Derek was slow and I'm sure it's permanent.”
“It just sounds so perfect for you!” Chase said, bubbling.
“It is. Until we argue, of course,” I said, shaking my head.
“What? What do you argue about?”
I snorted. “What don't we? I swear, he does it just to rile me up! We argue about books, movies-”
“Him topping you.”
“That!” I said, pointing at him. “When he and I first started to fool around, he was fine. Once we got to actual, you know, fucking? Then he was all in control. He insisted he'd bottom for me, and I wasn't going to fight it. I'll be honest, having a dick in my ass – or anything else – hasn't been a lifelong ambition.”
Chase burst out laughing. “I think that's common for a lot of people.”
“Well, I'm just saying, when he was so assertive that he was going to bottom, I was kind of relieved, you know?”
“Because your boyfriend is hung?” Chase teased.
“No!” I said, fixing him with a stern look. “It was because it was all new and Lu had warned me it could – likely would – hurt.”
“Oh,” Chase said. “So it was okay if Derek had the hurt?”
“Stop that!” I said in exasperation. “I was okay with Derek insisting – it was what he wanted.”
“So, was it painful for him?”
I sighed. “He said...it was fine.”
I glanced at him and realized, due to the questioning smirk on his face, what he was implying. “Derek said it was perfect,” I growled. “I was talking about the pain with the 'fine' comment.”
“Oh,” Chase said, dragging the word out. “Well, you must have known what you were doing, since you keep doing it.”
I glanced at him. “I...uh...look, Lu gave us some pointers, I told you?”
He nodded brightly.
“Well, Derek got me so worked up...I didn't get much more than the tip in before I...” I rolled my hand in the air, letting him fill in the blank.
“Damn,” Chase said, his voice filled with awe. “That might be a new record.”
“Shut up, Chase.”
“Have you gotten better with that?” he asked, giggling.
“Yeah, about twenty seconds after I filled up my first condom, Derek had a new one on me and we did just fine. Ass.”
Chase laughed and slapped the seat. “Oh, Austin, everyone's first time is fast. Trust me.”
“Well, I hope that happens to Derek. Be a nice ego boost to make him so hot he blows his load early!” I said with a chuckle.
“Handcuffs, trust me.”
“Um, you say that like you know what you're talking about.”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
I glanced at him and shut my mouth with a snap. “You look so freaking wholesome and innocent and you get into orgies and use handcuffs...”
“That's nothing,” Chase said, scoffing. “Kale is having a swing installed in the bedroom.”
“You know, a swing? One person gets in it and the other fucks them, standing up?”
“We're ordering leather outfits, too. We're going to try the whole M&M thing.”
“The...isn't it S&M?”
“Hey,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “How did you know? Better yet, any advice on whips?”
We giggled for a bit and then rode in silence for a few miles. “So you think Griffin will go all the way to California?”
“It's where he's from,” I said with a shrug. “His sister went back there for school and he's been talking about it, too. Derek is already talking to me about it; it's stressing him.”
“Wow. So far away...”
“You have no idea,” I said and ran a hand over my face. “Derek won't say anything to Griff, not that it would change his mind or anything. But Derek doesn't want to make him feel bad that he's upset at the idea of losing Griff.”
“Well, it's not really losing...”
“Yeah, Chase, it is,” I said firmly. “Look, when you're gone? I lose you. Before you had Linc, that house was miserable without you. With you being busy at school, and then later with being married and having a son? I only see you for a few months and family holidays.”
“Austin...I'm sorry, but-”
“I'm not asking for an apology or trying to make you feel bad,” I said with frustration. “It's life! It is what it is and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it!” I slammed my palm down on the wheel.
Silence held for a moment and then Chase broke it. “I didn't know it bothered you so much.”
My lower lip trembled and I took a few breaths to steady myself and calm down. “Chase, I miss you so much. When you took me in and spent all that time with me it was the best thing, ever. Robin and Lu are great – they are the best friends I ever had. But they aren't you.” I sniffed an continued, “By this time next year my whole support system will be getting ready to move away. It'll be just Derek and I. What if...just me isn't enough for him?”
“Austin, sweetheart,” he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Honey, you should call when you feel bummed out or come to visit us or I could come down on a weekend! Why didn't you say anything before?”
“Because you have a life up there,” I said miserably. “You're married, have a kid and in school full time. You don't have time-”
“Don't you tell me what I have time for!” Chase snapped. “I will make time for you, Austin, and don't you ever question that.”
I bit my tongue.
“Austin,” he said, letting out a long sigh. “I'm sorry. Life has been busy, but I promise I didn't forget about you. You're just as important if not more than when you moved in.”
“How can that be,” I asked, sniffling.
“Because we have so much yet to do!” he said, and a glance showed me his smile was fully in evidence. “Austin, in every way that matters, you're my brother. I cherish you. I'm so proud my son has you to look up to and protect him if I'm not there. I'm gifted with a ton of fine people in my life – and I love all the Kirkwood''s and Alec and Sasha, but Austin,” he said, squeezing my shoulder, “none of them can be you.
“I'm sorry if it seems like I was too busy for you. Yes, you're right, I have a lot on my plate. But if it's hurting you, I'll make time, Austin. But you have to try, too. I'm not a mind reader and I thought you were fine.”
“I am, most of the time,” I said, taking in a shaky breath. “I'm in love and I have wonderful friends. But my friends are leaving me behind and...Derek...”
“Sweetie,” Chase squeezed my shoulder again. “Derek isn't with you for your friends. He's with you for you. If anything, he's going to need you a little more. And on the bright side, you get rehabilitated Philip to look after.”
“Ugh,” I groaned and slapped my forehead. I let out a small chuckle and Chase echoed it. “He's gotten so much better in a short time, he really has, Chase. I hate to say it but I'm starting to like him.”
“Oh?” Chase stretched the word out. “Should we re-add him to the list of friends you'd do?”
“Uh, no. Not yet.”
“Hmm. A dark horse. Hey,” Chase asked suddenly, “you keep mentioning how tight Derek and Griff are. You think they had this conversation?”
“The open relationship conversation? I doubt it.”
“It's not an...you know what? Fuck you, Hamster,” Chase said, laughing. “It's strictly with Alec and Sash, no one else. It's more of a...quasi-poly relationship, if you want to label it. But it's not open, not by any stretch.”
I chuckled and then quieted. In a somber tone I said, “I'm not in Griff's head so I don't know what he thinks. At a guess, though, I don't think he's all that ready for much. Robin told me Dev cornered him after practice one day and talked to him about it.”
“What is it with Robin and Lu? The sex whisperers?” Chase giggled.
“I don't know. Actually,” I said, “I take that back. Lu does give good advice and Robin is just easy to talk to. Besides that, Robin and Lu were both there for Devyn and Griff when they went through their major shit-storms. We trust them, I guess.”
“I can understand that. So...what did they talk about?”
I lapsed into silence as we exited the Mass Pike and left the state behind us, turning north to make the relatively quick trip through New Hampshire.
“Well, in the end, it was Dev getting blue balls, I think,” I said, snickering.
“Okay,” Chase said, dragging the word out and waving a hand at me to continue.
“Well, I shouldn't make fun,” I said hesitantly, “Griffin went through so much, I was honestly surprised he was wanting a boyfriend. But, now that he and Dev have been together for a while, I think Dev was getting a little frustrated at not getting a little farther.”
“That doesn't sound very...”
“I'm not saying it right,” I said, waving a hand. “Devyn wasn't trying to pressure Griff. He was talking to Robin about the way things were and how he might be able to help Griff move past them.”
“And, in so doing, help himself?”
“You can't blame a guy for wanting to be intimate with his boyfriend, Chase,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Griff would have said something to Derek if there was an issue with him feeling pressured, I'm sure of it. Anyway, they finally did get some of that going on – but I don't know when Griffin would be ready for more.”
“Yeah, I can understand that.”
I sighed. “I know Dev won't push it – you can see how much they have grown attached. I figure, if you have a cute boyfriend, jerking off only cuts it for so long, though.”
Chase started to chuckle and I glanced at him, curious. He smiled and said, “Well, maybe Derek is right to break Griff out of that funk?”
“What I said about you being everything nice? I take that back.”
We laughed and then, shortly, lapsed into silence again and it wasn't long before Chase's breathing settled into a steady, deep rhythm. We crossed the border into Maine and the GPS led us right to the motel. We got checked in and went across the street to a nice little place and sat down for dinner. We told little stories about our friends and partners – just catching up. It had been a long day, though, and we turned in once we were back to the motel.
In the morning we went to the camp and found Jamie and Sean talking to a third boy, brown haired and bronzed from the sun.
“Hamster, meet Boomer Bennet,” Jamie said, snickering.
“Hi,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Hamster, huh?” he asked, a southern accent slowing his words.
“Yep! Guess what, Boomer? You're not finding out his first name until I find out yours!” Jamie crowed.
“I'm Austin,” I said. “Don't worry, you can tell me your name when Jamie isn't around.”
“You suck, Hamster,” Jamie said good naturedly and punched my shoulder. “Boomer lives in the Springs, too. I talked him into switching schools.”
“That true?” Chase asked.
“Nah. He just wants me to date him,” Boomer replied.
“Jamie, you sly dog,” I said, giving him a little side-eye.
“What can I say? I attract the best of both sexes.”
Boomer rolled his eyes. “I said you wanted me to date you, not that I ever would.”
“I demand to know why not?” Jamie asked, sticking his tongue out.
“You're brother is cuter,” he deadpanned. Sean dropped his bag and Jamie guffawed. “Just bustin',” Boomer said to a slightly stunned Sean.
“You know,” Sean said, recovering quickly, “It's not the first time. Our friend Ash thinks I'm the hotter one, too.”
Jamie narrowed his eyes. “I don't want you two spending any time together. I have my eyes on you,” he said, pointing from one to the other. They just laughed at him. A woman who was, apparently, Boomer's mother stepped up to him and they embraced warmly. Jamie stepped right up and began pitching the benefits of Columbia High to Mrs. Bennet. She had a look of disbelief before Sean stepped up and put a hand on Jamie's shoulder to still him.
“Hi, Mrs. Bennet. What my brother is trying to say is we made friends with your son. Once we found out how we're all in the same town, we just wanted to hang out with him more. We figured going to school together would be a great way to do that, and Boomer agreed.”
“Boomer?” his mom asked, turning a smile to her son.
“Uh, yeah. They tagged me with a nickname.”
“What about your own school's team?”
“Boomer likes me more than he likes them,” Jamie said confidently, grinning. “Besides, we bonded over larceny.”
“Larceny?” she asked, her voice suddenly unsure.
“Yeah. We stole a fan and put it in our bunk room because of these two smelly guys that wouldn't shower. I figure the fan was big, but not worth a thousand bucks.”
Boomer laughed and took over the explaining, clearing things up for his mother, who was laughing heartily by the time he was done relating all the other stink related retaliation he, Jamie and Sean had accomplished.
“Why does the value matter?” I asked.
“Because if it's over a thousand, it's grand larceny,” Jamie replied promptly.
“Jamie, I'm disturbed you even took the time to look that up,” Chase said, mumbling.
“Anyway,” Jamie continued, looking back at Mrs. Bennet. “Boomer is awesome on the field and we like him a lot.”
“Is that so?” she asked, smiling back at Jamie's brashness. “Am I to assume, from your campaigning, that you also want to date my son?”
“I knew you'd see right through him, mom,” Boomer said with a chuckle.
Jamie put a hand on his hip and grimaced. “Well, Mrs. Bennet, it's like this. If I have to take one for the team to get him there...No, nope, I just don't think I can do it. Sorry Boomer,” he said, laughing.
She grinned at him and said, “You handled that with grace...?”
“Jamie Kirkwood, Mrs. Bennet. This is my brother, Sean Kelly, and this is my brother-in-law, Chase Kirkwood and his brother...wait, are you my brother-in-law now, too, Hamster?”
We had a quick debate and then Chase and Mrs. Bennet began to make noises about getting on the road. Jamie made another quick plea to Mrs. Bennet before exchanging numbers with Boomer and snapping his picture for his contacts list.
However, I noted he was taking far too long to simply add him as a contact and I leaned over to see what he was doing. He was texting, and grinning widely. Unfortunately for him, I wasn't the only one to notice.
“Hey, what are you up to?” Boomer asked.
“Who says I'm up to anything?” Jamie asked innocently.
“Oh, that confirms it. What are you up to?” Chase asked, laughing.
Jamie grinned and said, “I just wanted Ash to know what our newest friend looks like.”
There was a fresh round of 'don't try to fix me up' and other assorted posturing. I glanced at Mrs. Bennet who was watching it all with a pleased look on her face.
“Hey, Boomer,” I asked, where you from?”
“Kentucky,” he replied. “But when my folks broke up, Mom moved back up north. I have to go spend a big chunk of the summer with my dad down there, but I live with my mom for school.”
I figured Kentucky wasn't nearly as welcoming for gay kids and realized that must be what the look on Mrs. Bennet's face was for.
“Well, call me when you get back. I'll introduce you to my boyfriend,” I said, extending my hand. I caught Mrs. Bennet expression, but I'm not sure what it meant or how to describe it. All I can say is I think it was positive – and I'm sure Boomer was going to be going to school with us in the fall.
Soon we were on our way and, after the twins described some of their camp antics and told us all about their new buddy, they lapsed into sleep around the time we were crossing back into New York. Chase dropped me at home and told me he'd see me at dinner the next night. I entered the empty house and headed up to my room.
After getting a snack I made my way up the back stairs and paused at the door to Chase's old room. Opening the door I found it clean and still sporting some of Chase's things – stuff that, perhaps, didn't matter anymore or simply was too much to bother with packing. There were some old pictures and a few ribbons from his high school sporting days. His bed was made, as if he might return at some point. Looking at it put me in mind of my first night here, in my new home. How Chase had politely tried to handle the issue of my ragged toe nails and I smiled at the memory.
I closed the door and texted Derek to let him know I was home. Moments later my phone rang.
“Hey babe,” I said to him as I reclined on my bed.
“Hey! How long have you been home?”
“Just a few minutes,” I replied, stretching. “Did you miss me?”
“A little,” Derek conceded. “I spent the night at Griff's last night. Devyn agreed to take his cousin to a concert and Griffin told me, and I quote, 'I love Devyn, but I'm not listening to that shit!'”
We both laughed. As the conversation meandered, my thoughts turned to Derek staying over with Griff and wondering about what they talked about, especially in light of my conversation with Chase.
“So how was the trip?” Derek asked. “Did you get some bonding time with Chase, like you wanted?”
“Yeah, we talked a ton.”
“Shorter list to say what we didn't talk about!” I said, chuckling.
“Yeah. It was great, though. I really need to find a good deal on a car. Road trips rock.”
He cleared his throat. “So, was I talked about?”
I paused and allowed my voice to soften. “I told him how easy it was to fall in love with you.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line and then Derek's voice came through, softly. “Really?”
“Yeah. It was a good talk.”
“Uh...wow,” he said and let a small chuckle out. “I don't think you've even told that to me.”
I thought for a moment. “Maybe I didn't describe it, but you know I love you. I tell you that all the time.”
“Yeah. You do,” he agreed.
“So, what did you and Griffin talk about?” I asked.
“When?” Derek asked absently.
“When you stayed over?” I said, a teasing tone entering my voice.
“Oh!” he said and laughed. “I don't know, a lot of things. We talked about our boyfriends, of course. A little about college...”
“Did he say anything about going to California for school?”
“Yes and no,” Derek said and letting out a sigh. “I think he's cooling on the idea a little. I guess Devyn is thinking of becoming a mechanic and Griff is...well, he's concerned about going far away and not having Dev...or us.”
“Ha! I told you he'd miss you.”
“It's not that I thought he wouldn't, Austin,” he replied tartly. “It's more I didn't want to bog him down with my being unhappy he was leaving or...well, I guess I was a little worried it wouldn't bog him down.”
“So, you told him then, right?”
“He still hasn't decided. It wouldn't be fair of me to put that on him, not when it's about his future.”
“Well...I don't know about that.” I mentally shrugged and changed the subject, “Hey, would you ever consider dating Griffin? Like, under the right circumstances?”
“Dating Griff?” he said, his voice taking on a thoughtful edge. “So, you mean, if we were both single, right?”
“Geez, I don't know,” he replied. “I mean, he's cute and smart, but I don't know if I'm the right guy for him, you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“He's been through so much...I think it takes a special guy to be understanding without being, I don't know, smothering? Knowing what I know...” he trailed off and sighed. “When I see Griff, I mostly just want to hold him and tell him it'll be all right. I mean, he's so much better, now. Devyn has been really good for him. But...he's not completely over it. I can see it, sometimes, in his eyes. If...no. I think I need to be his friend, and I don't think I could date him. It wouldn't be the right fit.”
“Why did you ask that?”
“Chase was asking me about friends I'd...date, if the situation were right. You know, if I were single and stuff.”
“I'm not sure I like his line of questioning,” Derek said, his voice taking on a stiff tone. I sighed, knowing I had to dispel the idea that Chase was up to anything or disapproved of Derek, somehow.
“It's not what you think,” I said, my face heating up. “He asked me who, out of my friends, was cute in my opinion and...if I ever, you know, fantasized.”
“And you said Griff?” he asked, incredulous.
“What? No,” I said, laughing. “I didn't. We were just talking and I told him how close you and Griff are and he asked if you guys could ever, you know, have a thing between you. In theory.”
“Uh huh,” he replied. “So, who was it?”
“Who did you tell him you'd sleep with, out of our friends? I bet I can guess.”
“Um. Who says I picked anyone?”
“Okay, fine. Go ahead and guess.”
“What?” I said, laughing. “No, not Robin.”
“Really?” he asked. “You guys talk about sex all the time, he's awful damned pretty and you're pigs, together.”
“We talk about sex with our boyfriends, not each other. Der,” I said, chidingly. “Robbie is one of my best friends. Besides, he's dating my other best friend.”
“Well, I thought this was theoretical?”
“It is. I just can't imagine Rob without Lu.”
“Oh. Yeah, I see your point. Wait a minute...it's Devyn, isn't it?”
“I knew it!” he snickered. “That's why Chase asked about Griff and I. Hey, are you planning a wife swap or something?”
“I'm not swapping you for anyone,” I said firmly.
“Better not,” he said, and sniffed. “I'll admit, though, he's damn cute.”
“Derek!” I said, feigning being scandalized.
“Even better, I can't wait to tell him you want him. Finally shut those two up!”
“What?” I exclaimed, laughing.
“I'm serious. Devyn is always poking fun – Griff, too! They love it when all of 'us hot guys' are arguing about sex. The perverts.”
I chuckled as I thought about them getting turned on from all the foolishness we talk about. Then a thought occurred to me and I said, slyly, “Hey. Did you suggest Rob because you...?”
“No!” he said, but I could tell it wasn't very convincing.
“Oh my God! You're perving about Rob!” I said, laughing.
“I am not! I'm perving about Lu!” he blurted and then said, in a small voice, “Oh my...shit.”
“Lu? You want to bone Lu?”
“Not exactly,” he mumbled. “After hearing the story of them breaking furniture, I figure...it's a hard thing to get out of your head.”
“Yeah?” I said, making my voice as sultry as I could.
“Yeah.” His voice had dropped.
“So, Derek...want to break some furniture with me?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, slowly.
“I mean...I'm home alone.”
“Uh. Ten minutes. Less if I can get a ride.”
“See you then,” I said.
Dinner was an early affair, held about two in the afternoon. The conversation was pleasant and we heard about some of their adventures in India – edited, of course. I brought up a picture of fuzzy handcuffs and showed them to Kale, as an aside, and asked his opinion. His face went red and then he replied, slowly, “Make sure they are lined on the inside or they chafe.”
I laughed and he smiled, but it was more like we were conspiring instead of his being completely embarrassed. It felt like...we'd shared something. I was in on the joke and it was cool with Kale.
We walked them out and it was then I noticed that, in addition to Chase's truck, there was a newer SUV.
“Hey, what's that?”
“Kale bought it yesterday. What do you think?”
“Wow!” aunt Carol exclaimed and Kale proceeded to show her the features. Chase hung back with me and leaned on the fender of his truck.
“Well, the truck does okay still, doesn't it?” Chase opined.
“Yep, no troubles,” I agreed.
“Well, now you won't have any reason to not come see me, will you?” he asked, pushing the keys into my hand.
“Chase?” My excitement was suddenly thrumming. Chase knew I was saving for a car, and he was going to give me one? Of course he was – he's Chase.
“I mean it,” he said, a smile spreading across his face. “I want once a month visits – and bring that boyfriend of yours.”
I hugged him. Crushed him like I'd never let him go.
“It's just a truck, Austin,” he said as I pulled back from him. “You don't have to cry.”
“You gave me a family. A home. Love. Is there a limit, an end...I don't know how to thank you.”
“Well, you can start by stopping the crying because...oh, damn it, Austin, now I'm crying,” he said, smiling and swiping at an eye. “I appreciate you saying thank you, but this is just as much for me. I want you in my life, Austin and I meant what I said – once a month I expect a weekend visit.”
“I promise,” I said, nodding. We walked around the truck and he showed me the keys to the storage box in the truck bed and other minor tricks to working things on an old vehicle. Aunt Carol and uncle George came back over, excited for Chase, since the new car was for him, and they couldn't stop being impressed at how well Kale was taking care of their son. Linc started to fuss and Kale picked him up, intent on putting him in his car seat. My aunt and uncle followed, completely smitten with their grandchild.
Chase shook his head.
“What?” I asked.
“Oh, I was just thinking about Devyn. I barely know him – just by reputation, really – yet I feel connected and I think of him, sometimes. Griffin is good with him, you say?”
“Yeah,” I replied confidently. “They respect each other, I think there is a lot of love there. They have strong enough personalities to disagree and work it out. They're solid.”
He smiled at me and then a wicked look crossed his face.
“Hey,” he said. “So, what did you think of Boomer?”
“He's worth a few minutes consideration,” I grinned.
“Few minutes? He's going to be a heart breaker!” Chase said, pretending to fan himself. “And Austin,” he said, looking me steadily in the eye. “If you need me, you call. I'm here for you.”
I smiled. “I know.”