“We're getting some warm weather through the weekend, maybe into Monday,” I said to Alec as I shut my laptop. “Now that this paper is done – for now – we have so many things to do this weekend....”
Alec glanced at his watch and then leered at me.
“No,” I said firmly. “Micah will be home any minute.”
Alec gave me a mischievous look. “Sasha, the boy should learn his dads are still, ahem, active at some point. Can't let the idea of 'old people sex' be just some kind of nebulous fear.”
“Yes, we ca- stop!” I hollered as he got up and tackled me, making me stumble as I sprang from my chair in an effort to get away. I was laughing when he grabbed me and lifted me, playfully molesting me while I warned him our son would be home any minute. He set me down, holding me loosely in his arms.
“That's something, huh? Our son?”
“He's something, all right,” I said. “No more projects until we're out of school. Between our school work and his, plus the stuff he needs, there just isn't much time left over. I'm so thankful for Leo and his family, since Micah likes them so much. I can't imagine if we were on our own.”
“Yeah. I mean, the guys upstairs do stuff with him. Robin takes him running all the time.”
“He does love working on having abs like Robin,” I agreed and laughed. “And Leo definitely likes, um, guys a little older than he is.”
“I feel targeted,” Alec said, digging his fingers into my sides and making me yelp.
“Please. I think you're old news. Robin likes to run without a shirt, you forget. Leo is sweating just enough on the run to hide his drool, I think,” I said with a laugh. Then he was kissing me. Alec was the most frustrating, dynamic, big-hearted smart-ass of a man I've ever been lucky enough to meet, and I couldn't imagine my life without him.
The front door opened and I started to lean back, but Alec went into showman mode and tried to dip me. I mean, he did, but I was smacking him while Micah entered the room and started pretending to throw up.
Alec stood me up and looked back at Micah. “Oh, hey, Little Bit! Didn't know you were home!”
“Yeah, uh huh? Can't wait to bring that up in therapy,” he joked. At one time he'd have been sour when he tried to joust with Alec, but as we headed for winter he'd started to mature. Between the family, his friend Leo and his family, and the therapist, the world was making more sense to him – maybe as much as it ever does to anyone.
“How was your day?” I asked, hip checking Alec out of my way and holding my arms out to Micah. The kid sank into my arms and mumbled that the day had been good. His body was practically vibrating, and he broke the hug faster than normal and pulled his phone out.
“I won the bet,” he said excitedly, flipping through a few screens and then turning the phone to me. “Every single grade is over a seventy-five.” He looked past me to Alec. “Eat it!”
“Now let me see that,” Alec said, but I cut him off.
“Oh, wow! Look at that!” I said, praising Micah. “Alec, he's passing everything on his first progress report – look at those grades! Micah, we're so proud of you!”
“And that's great,” Micah said in a very satisfied tone. “But I won. I get my massage now.”
I laughed. “Yes, you do. You earned it fair and square.”
“Now?” he asked excitedly.
I chuckled. “Okay. Let me set up the table.”
“Yes!” he exclaimed, pumping his fist. Alec picked him up and turned him upside down, playfully demanding to know where he was hiding the stuff he used to cheat in school. Micah was calling Alec names as they played. It looked to be a good day, I reflected as I headed deeper into the house. Micah was moody most days and the therapist said they were working on some tough things in relation to Micah's mother and how that related to his own self-worth.
Some days his issues were too much to handle, and Alec and I both felt like we were floundering. I had spoken to my dads a few times, and they assured me that feeling was part of parenting – sometimes you just don't know and you do the best you can. While Alec and Micah had their own style of relationship, Micah and I were different. Alec was playful and physical, making Micah laugh and playing Hobbes to Micah's Calvin, turning everything into an adventure.
I was more straightforward and traditional in my nurturing, I suppose. I worried about Micah's diet, his mental health and his education. He went to Alec for scraped knees and to me for a bruised heart, like when he and his girlfriend had broken up. It was his first girlfriend, so he'd taken it hard at first. He'd really liked her, and he was also concerned about how it would affect his friendship with Leo and Leo's cousin Mark, since it had been Mark's sister, Jenna, that he'd been dating.
I was glad to have Alec to share in helping Micah, and grateful too for my brother-in-law Lucien and his fiance Robin, whom Micah seemed to want to emulate in many ways. Devyn and Griff also were available for Micah; although he didn't see as much of them, he seemed to like them. Alec teased them that Micah liked someone his own height.
I set the table up in what would have been the dining room in a traditional layout, but we had things in odd places to accommodate us all doing homework, exercising or hanging out. As a result, we didn't have a dining room table, really. There was a half wall with some spindles running to the ceiling to separate the living room from the dining room that served as my massage space for my friends and family.
“Okay kiddo, I'm going to wash my hands. Get under the blanket when you're ready,” I told him and went back to the kitchen to wash up. Then I headed to the bedroom to get the belt that had a special pouch for my massage oil built in – a gift from Alec via Micah. Alec poked his head into the bedroom as I was cinching the belt up.
“I'm going to run to the grocery store. I have a craving for those fajitas we like for dinner,” he said.
“Oh, that sounds good. Do we have marinade? Make sure you get enough for our guests.”
“I can get the stuff while I'm there,” he said and placed his hands on my hips and gave me a tender kiss. “You look so sexy when you have your massage oil on your hip.”
“Go,” I said with a laugh and roll of my eyes. He went, looking pleased with himself.
I slipped on my orthopedic clogs, since I'd be standing for a while, and headed back to the dining room. Micah was under the covers on his back, which meant he was looking forward to having his neck stretched and scalp massaged.
“All set, my scholar?” I asked with a fond grin.
“Ready,” he confirmed and closed his eyes.
I started by rubbing his chest through the sheet and light blanket to warm him and to ready my muscles. Being a masseur is part spiritual; you must be in tune with your own body, your own energy to properly administer a massage. It's all about how everything ties in together, how one thing affects everything else.
I put some oil on my hands and reached beneath his shoulders, pushing my fingertips up and working to relax the muscles in his shoulders and up into his neck. After I was satisfied that his muscles were responding, I gently turned his head to one side and started to work on the neck muscles, following them down to the shoulder, stretching them and getting them to release.
“You have some tension here, sweetheart,” I said to him.
“I needed this,” he said like a middle-aged businessman. I smiled at him, glad this gave him some comfort. Kids can be very tactile; when they learn that touch doesn't have to be feared – as he may have learned with his mother – the world changes for them. Micah knows he has nothing to fear from my touch. The evidence is in the way his body melts at a gentle touch.
“You've been working very hard,” I said, by way of agreeing with him. “Alec and I have been very proud of your effort. I'm glad it paid off with your grades, but don't forget what a good job you've done with the work to get there.”
I turned his head the other way, his muscles like jelly, offering no resistance. Putty in my hands is the phrase, I think.
“Leo helped me a ton,” he said quietly.
“Things okay with him after you and Jenna split?”
He was quiet for a moment, but that was common when he was getting a massage. He slipped into an almost trance-like state of relaxation. Sometimes he'd even go into release, and an arm would move up and around without him trying to move it.
“Yeah. Jenna and I talked a little. I guess her parents thought she was a little too focused on our relationship and wanted her to work on school more. Leo says he thinks his aunt and uncle were afraid of me getting Jenna pregnant.”
“Wow. You guys only dated for about six weeks,” I said calmly. We'd talked with Micah a little about puberty and the importance of consent in any situation, but I had no idea where he was in terms of thinking about sex. It was something to address soon.
“Leo told me his aunt is proper, which he said really means she's stuck up. He said he didn't think his aunt thought I was good enough for her daughter, but Jenna and I are still hanging out and stuff.”
Leo struck me as a pretty down to earth kid. It was a surprise that he and Micah got on so well with the age difference, but there you have it. Leo's friend Reece reminded me a bit of Alec, and on the rare occasions we saw Reece, he and Alec usually got on famously. A new generation of smart-ass, perhaps.
“Well, I think his aunt needs to get over herself,” I said. “But why did she break up with you if you guys are still hanging out?”
“I guess she felt pressured, so she did. But then we talked later, and she was sorry it happened that way.”
“You've had an eventful start to school,” I said quietly and I placed his head back in its original position and pulled gently toward me as I placed my other hand on the base of his neck. I switched then to a quick warming of his facial muscles before kneading his scalp and he let out a deep sigh of satisfaction. “Are you excited for your birthday?”
“Totally,” he said in a small voice, one laced with the potential for sleep. “I hope Geoff doesn't buy me a hooker like he said. I don't think Jenna'd like that.”
“She's not the only one,” I muttered and his lips twitched in a smile. “Brat. Geoff didn't say that, did he?”
“No. But you have to admit, it sure sounds like something he'd say.”
“You are a good judge of that,” I said a little sourly. His chest vibrated as he held in a little laugh. “Brat,” I said again.
With his birthday on Sunday the whole family was looking to make it a spectacle for him. Everyone was coming up, though he thought only his grandparents were going to make it. People had been apologizing to him and begging off, but the true plan was for them all to start showing up early in the day and making up for some of the crappy birthdays in his past.
I ran over the list of people and things we had to get the next day versus what people were bringing as I worked down both his arms – his forearms tended to get tight from all his video game playing, just like Alec. He always liked it when I worked on his palms and fingers, waiting for me to pull on a finger and for them to pop. Ugh, hate that sound. That's probably why he likes it, though. I moved down to his feet and rolled back the covers to wrap near his waist to leave one leg exposed for me to work on and got a weird surprise.
If you go to get a massage you will usually be told to undress to your level of comfort and to lie on your back or chest, depending. Micah had started out with shorts, but shifted into wearing underwear when he got a massage. For some reason today he'd stripped completely – and I only know because he wears boxer-briefs, and there was no material there at the top of his thigh. I turned that over in my head as I worked on his foot, stretching and relaxing the ankle muscles and sole before moving to the knee joint and the knot that tended to try and set in around the middle of his thigh.
Micah was growing up, and his ideas of who and what he was supposed to be were changing frequently. He was no longer the scared, defensive boy we'd met the previous winter. We'd pegged him at about twelve, but he'd been thirteen – fourteen this Sunday. He'd been wary of gay men, thinking we would use him for sex. After allowing us into his confidence, he'd grown in fits and starts. His summer experiences in the Springs had been beyond my wildest dreams; he found people who were endlessly forgiving but wouldn't tolerate his crap.
I would rate his body modesty level as about average for an American boy his age, which is to say that they mostly cover up. He's been working out with Leo, and I know Robin prefers the split-sided running shorts when he goes out to run, but I don't know if any of that fed into why he'd made this change today. Sometimes you can think yourself into knots about why someone does something, especially a kid.
I wondered how excited he'd be to see Dominic and Carlo. His besties would arrive later that night, not that Micah was the wiser. Robin had volunteered to drive down and get the boys, who sounded excited to get to hang out with their summer buddy again. Leo and Reece were due to arrive tonight as well, but that had been planned openly. I was surprised that Reece was included, but then Micah was very willing to open our doors to anyone – I think he told half the town to come to his birthday as it was.
We'd had a little dinner and stuff for Lucien the week before, and his parents had come up. We'd originally planned to have a combined party, but as time passed Lu said he wanted us to focus on Micah's birthday, and I have to admit we agreed. He needed to have a special day, maybe more than anyone did.
I worked on the knot in his thigh, getting it to release slowly, and Micah groaned and tensed. I softly stroked the muscle repeatedly until Micah relaxed again and I slowly went back to work on the knot. After the other foot and leg I had him roll over and went to work on his back. He had a small knot under one shoulder blade that released easily, but I was surprised at how tight his lower back was. At this stage I normally had to roll back the band of his underwear, so I was reminded again of the choice he'd made.
On the surface it was a small thing, but I wondered at what his thought process could be – if he was more confident or had reached some level of trust with me, or if his underwear was full of holes and he didn't want a lecture about throwing out worn out clothes. I swear, he looked like a hobo sometimes, and he's such a handsome kid. That made me think of Jenna again, and I wondered about having the talk with him, knowing it would have to be me who did it – Alec would make a spectacle of it and probably turn a condom into a balloon animal and try to find a rational excuse for it.
I was working on his calf when I heard the gentle snoring coming from the other end of the table and I smiled to myself. Micah was never happier than when he was getting a massage. He relaxed completely and would probably sleep for the rest of the day if I let him. I covered his legs and pushed his energy, wiping it down and away from his head to his feet in sweeping gestures.
There was a tap at the front door and I called out to come in.
“It's me,” Leo said, opening the door.
“We're in here,” I called out. I heard his shoes hit the floor and then he appeared. Leo was a nice looking kid, rapidly heading for full-fledged manhood. He was going to be taller than I am, I think. Leo had a distinct lack of body hair, making him look younger than he was, but I'd always heard older people claiming that looking younger was a blessing later in life. I had no idea if Leo agreed with that assessment, but I doubted it – we tend to want what we can't have.
“Hi,” he said, taking in the scene.
“Hi, Leo. How are you?”
“Good, thanks,” he said.
Micah sat up and wiped the sleep from his eyes. “Oh, man. That was awesome.” He stretched and looked at Leo, then climbed off the table with the top sheet wrapped around him like the world's messiest toga and gave Leo a one-armed hug. “Dude. You totally have to have a massage. Dad, would you give one to Leo? Just for a minute?”
“Oh, uh.” Leo looked a little uncomfortable, and his cheeks took on a red tinge.
“If he likes,” I said. I wasn't sure if Leo was blushing at the thought of me touching him, or if his apparent interest in guys my age extended to me or what. Again, trying to figure out what a kid thinks is kind of like looking for a black cat in a light-less warehouse.
“Dude, come on. You said your back hurt,” Micah encouraged him.
“Hmm,” I said, looking at Leo. “Micah's lower back was really tight. Is that where yours is bothering you?”
“Some, yeah,” he said. “My left shoulder, too. Like under the shoulder blade.”
“Have you changed your workout routine?” I asked, pulling the sheet off the massage table and replacing it with a new one, since I thought Leo was going to end up saying yes.
“Yeah. We watched a video. This guy was showing some weight exercises. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. I just figured I was sore because it's a muscle group I don't work that hard,” he said.
“Well, I'll wash my hands and you can lie face down to start, if you like. I'll see if we can loosen your back up.”
Micah walked over to Leo as I told him he could undress to his comfort level before I headed to the kitchen to wash up. Alec should be back any second, although if he were late there could be any number of reasons for that – most of them meaning he bought something extra. He'd been stashing things for Micah upstairs for weeks, and then he'd intimate that Geoff was buying all kinds of crap for Micah.
I can't quite figure that guy. His personality is kind of sketchy, but then he confided some things about his past that explain a great many things. Vergil had kept things low-key when speaking of Geoff's shortcomings, but it wasn't hard to tell that they'd had trouble between them. I admit I judged Geoff harshly, especially when he showed an interest in Micah. It was hard for me to believe that someone like Geoff would be a positive thing in Micah's life. The poor kid had already had so much loss in his life that I wanted to protect the little brat. Alec made friends with everyone, though – except the assholes who'd beat him in high school. That’s the one group he will never forgive, and he was capable of a lot.
Well, Geoff was the least of my concerns right now – except for whatever gift he was getting Micah. He'd suggested all kinds of expensive electronics, but Alec had talked me into letting Geoff buy Micah a phone – some fancy thing with folding glass and headphones to match. I just don't know what Geoff gets from giving Micah an expensive gift, and I know how developing kids may feel that Geoff is a pinata to be hit for prizes and not a person, no matter how damaged he may be. I heard raised whispers in the next room and decided I'd best go out and get started on Leo, or on breaking down the table if he wasn't comfortable.
“So?” I asked as I entered the room. Leo was sitting up under the blanket, red-faced, and Micah was smiling way too much. I don't know what he was up to, but I was betting I'd find out. “Prefer to start on your back? Micah likes that, too.”
“Um, yeah. Uh.” He let out a slow breath. “Okay.” He lay back and I pulled the sheet and light blanket up to his shoulders.
“Have you had a massage before?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head.
“Okay. Just try to relax – that's the point, after all. Micah usually falls asleep.”
“Facts,” Micah chimed in. “I'm going to get dressed. When is Reece getting here?”
“He had some chores to finish. His mom was tearing him a new one for skipping them yesterday.”
I moved behind Leo and placed my palms on his chest and took a deep breath. His heart was hammering. I stayed still for almost a minute, giving his body a chance to slow down. He was tense about the idea of a massage, who knows why. I rubbed his chest lightly, put some oil into my hands and rubbed them together to warm them before reaching under his shoulders to work the muscle with my fingertips.
“Does Reece skip chores a lot?” I asked. Distracting with something familiar was a tactic I'd used before with people who were focused on the touch early on in a massage. If they talked about other things, it made them more relaxed in general. I glanced up and realized why Leo was nervous. He was making a bit of a tent under the blanket.
“Uh, yeah. Reece is kind of one of those guys that gets in trouble at home a lot,” he said.
“Does he skip chores a lot? Does he have some epic stories about getting caught?”
Leo chuckled. “Yeah. His room is a wreck – and I mean it's worse than anything you can think of. He has clothes, food, junk everywhere – total shithole.”
“Not hard to believe.”
“Yeah, so, he's supposed to clean it, and he always claims he has or does a part of it and gets in trouble. He does other things fine – like he has dishes for a chore, and those are no problem. The lawn. His room though? He totally can't hack it. Ugh.”
He'd grunted in response to my fingers finding some tense muscles at the base of his neck. I went over them a few times, his body weight helping me, and then I stopped, pushing up into the knots to encourage a release. My gaze flicked down and I saw his boner had faded, and I was glad that had happened before Micah came back into the room. At the thought, Micah crossed the room but headed for the couch, keeping quiet while I worked. He'd been taught – and learned – to be respectful while I worked.
It took a bit longer to get Leo relaxed enough to turn his head and stretch the neck muscles and he grunted several times. I'm sure he was more sore than he'd claimed, as his muscles were very tight. It might be a good idea to have Alec work out with the guys a few times, just to make sure they didn't hurt themselves, even if Leo would drool over my husband a bit.
I moved to his shoulders and down one arm, working the muscle near his elbows and down the forearm to his hand. Once down the other side, I folded back the sheet and confirmed that he either wore briefs or was also nude, which was why his erection had been so noticeable. I glanced at Micah whose face was lit with manic glee. Yeah. So Micah was trying to wind Leo up, probably told him you had to get naked for a massage in the hopes of embarrassing him. I'd have to talk to Micah about that later – Leo would be mortified if he knew I'd seen him chub up – or I assumed he would.
Fortunately massage isn't meant to be sensual, even though it can be done that way. Addressing tight muscles and knots usually means some level of discomfort while getting them to release, so while you feel better afterward, sometimes it was less relaxing during the process. I stretched his leg muscles out, dealt with a good knot in one of his thighs and had him flip over.
His shoulders were a mess. Knots abounded and I spent a lot of time relaxing him before dealing with a few at a time, then having to relax him again. That was nothing compared to his lower back, though, just like Micah.
“You know, both of you have a ton of tightness in your lower backs. Maybe Alec should check and see how you guys are lifting; I'm getting concerned you guys are mechanically making a mistake that could hurt you,” I told him as I worked on his sacrum, and he groaned uncomfortably.
“Yeah. That'd be cool,” he grunted out.
“So how long have you known Reece?”
“Forever,” he said, grunting again. “We were friends in elementary school, but didn't really hang out because we didn't live close. Once we hit middle school and had bikes, we hung out all the time.”
“He seems like a bit of a clown, always making people laugh,” I said quietly, using the butts of my hands to loosen the solid mass of his sacrum.
“He is.” Grunt. “He's solid, though. I can count on him.”
“That's what's important,” I replied, finally getting his muscles to unlock. Now that had happened, I could ease up and start warming them more and getting them to relax so they didn't just knot up again out of contrariness.
“Damn, Leo, seriously. Your lower back was a solid mass instead of separate muscles. They were all knotted up,” I told him as I soothed the area. “I think you guys need to adjust your routine mechanically; your lower back muscles aren't as strong as your legs, for instance, and they should be handling the bulk of your lifting.”
He sighed as I began long strokes down the length of his back in preparation to move to the backs of his legs. In a disconnected voice he said, “God damn. This feels nice.”
I smiled, though I don't think he was conscious of speaking. Despite Alec and most of the guys in our age group being aware of Leo being attracted, Leo seemed blissfully ignorant that we were onto him. After a few more even strokes to warm and relax his back muscles I pulled the sheet up and moved down to peel back the sheet from one of his legs. I started on his foot, using my thumbs to dig and separate the tiny muscles. Moving to his calf I found several small knots and worked my way through each of them. This massage was taking longer than I'd thought it might. At last it was on to the other leg, which was in better shape. Once I'd covered him I moved up his body, slowly smoothing the sheet with my hands and warming his back with even strokes.
He let out a small snore. I smiled.
“Thanks, Leo. You can get up when you're ready,” I told him.
“Huh?” He started slightly, probably at the sound of his name.
“I heard a snore,” Micah said smugly.
“Micah,” I said, crooking a finger at him as I headed deeper into the apartment. I washed my hands in the bathroom sink and addressed Micah as he leaned in the doorway.
“You know how seriously I take my work, Micah. I'm disappointed.”
I looked at him steadily. “My work isn't something for you to make practical jokes with.”
He had the grace to blush a little, though his mouth hadn't gotten the message. “What do you mean?”
I crossed my arms. “You want me to spell it out? You being naked, which you never do, and then Leo? You were trying to embarrass him.”
He squirmed ever so slightly. “Sorry, Dad. I just thought....”
“I know what you thought,” I said gently and leaned forward. “It's one thing to tease, another to embarrass – especially if you want your friend to trust you and to keep coming over.”
“Why wouldn't he come over?” he asked, a bit indignant.
“If he's embarrassed to be in front of me because of the massage, then he may not want to come over. Easy enough to see now?”
He frowned lightly. “Not sure it's that big a deal, but okay,” he replied.
I let my arms drop. “Maybe it's not that big a deal to you because it didn't happen to you. Different people handle those things differently, but do you really want to alienate someone you clearly like so much?”
He blushed hard. “It's not like that, dad. He's my friend.”
I chuckled. “I wasn't implying romance, Micah.”
“Oh. Okay.” He shifted on his feet. “Do you think Leo's good looking?”
“Sure. Nothing wrong with him and he seems like a good person. Why?”
Micah shrugged. “Nothing.”
I sent him back out while I headed back to the dining room space and broke down my massage table so nothing weird happened with it. As I set the folded table against the wall I heard Alec come home, and Reece must have come in with him.
“Yeah, that definitely sounds like you have crabs, Reece,” Alec said loudly, much to the amusement of Micah and Leo.
“You said you were clean, man!” Reece promptly replied, which got some collective 'eww's and then more laughter. That's my husband – the eternal teenager who inspires actual teenagers.
Alec actually managed to get all three boys to help him making fajitas, which was part of his master plan to not have to make them himself. Sometimes he's like the pied piper, sometimes he's just gross – but he's always all heart. I took the respite to head into our bedroom for a minute to put away my massage holster and lotion so I'd know where to find them next time. I also slipped the clogs off and got into my pajama bottoms and slippers – fuck, I was turning into my parents.
Chuckling to myself I headed back up front just in time to catch Robin bringing Dom and Carlo in.
“Hey, guys!” I called out, smiling at them. Dom looked more solid than when I'd last seen him – which was only a month or so – yet I'd swear his shoulders were wider. Carlo looked more willowy than ever, and I wish I could get a little of how gracefully he carries himself.
“Who's here?” Micah asked from the kitchen.
“”We are,” Carlo called out. “We brought some class to you.”
“Carlo?” Micah said excitedly and came quickly from the kitchen. “Dom! Hey!”
I'm not sure it occurred to Micah to thank Robin for running all the way down to get them, but he was overjoyed to see his friends. He gave Dom a full on, two-armed hug for several seconds before picking him up and turning him in a circle. Dom laughed as they both almost fell over. Then Micah did the same to Carlo, lifting his friend and spinning him so that Carlo yelled at him. He brought their bags to his room and introduced them to Reece and Leo while Alec started serving up the fajitas.
“Thanks for doing that, Robin,” I said. “Are you hungry?”
“You're welcome, and for Alec's cooking? I can't imagine ever being that hungry!”
I chuckled and he bowed out, heading upstairs, where Lucien would be waiting, no doubt. Alec started the task of getting the boys fed, which was a raucous affair. Alec only made it more so. We managed to get them all to the living room, where they hunkered with their food, being noisy enough that there was no sense in trying to put on a TV show or anything.
“Dad! Dad! Dad!” Micah excitedly tried to get Alec's attention.
“Someone is calling me. Who is it?” Alec said, looking everywhere but at Micah.
“Dad! Come on!” Micah whined.
“What's up?” I asked, giving the kid a break.
He turned to me, wide eyed. “Guess what?” Then without waiting for me to guess he said, “Leo's parents will take us all to the indoor water park tomorrow! Can I go? Please? Please?”
“Oh,” I said, feigning disappointment. “If only Leo's parents had checked with us! I mean...we have plans, Micah. We'd have to make arrangements for Dom and Carlo, don't forget.”
He gave me a stricken look, and I'm just not as devious or playful as Alec is I guess.
I chuckled at him. “I'm just kidding. I know. Leo planned this out for your birthday. You're all headed over there tonight so you can get an early start.”
Micah looked at Leo with wide eyes. “You did?”
“I gave him the idea,” Reece said smugly. “He had no clue what to get you. I mean, last thing he gifted you was a cookie, remember?”
“Please,” Leo said with an eye roll. “My family has the unlimited pass. It's not a big deal.”
Yeah, no big deal. Except when you're a kid who’s never gotten to do things like a water park, it's a big deal. Oh well, at least he gets to go.
The fajitas were somewhat forgotten while the boys were talking animatedly, and Alec was chiming in with what he calls 'hit and run dad jokes'. I actually think his favorite part of being Micah's dad might be the opportunity to tell dad jokes.
I leaned away from the table and toward the front door, shocked to see Kale and Chase. Things had been a little rough between the four of us this past summer with Alec choosing to break off the little intimate get-togethers we'd been engaged in for quite a while. It had caused some hurt feelings and a bit of a rift, so I was honestly surprised to see them – especially since Micah's party wasn't until Sunday.
“Oh my God! Guys!” I said, smiling and getting up to meet them. “What an awesome surprise!” There's always a tangle of noises when people enter a room – the hellos, the shifting of feet to get into someone's view or out of someone's way. Micah didn't know Kale or Chase well, and though I wished he were polite enough to break off from his friends long enough to say hello, I had to pry him loose.
“Do I know you?” Micah asked, frowning at Kale . It was oddly funny to see someone frowning at Kale instead of the other way around.
“That depends,” Kale replied. “Do you want a birthday gift?”
“Buddy!” Micah said with a wide grin. “Nice to see you!”
Chase burst out laughing and pointed at Alec. “He is so your kid. Did you script that?”
“Totally off the cuff!” Alec said proudly. God help us, he's turning Micah into Alec junior.
Micah introduced his friends, and then just like that there were two camps in our home – the kids and us, now the old people.
“Do you remember,” I asked as we four retreated to the kitchen, “how our parents would have a table or room where the adults would gather during kid parties? We've become them!”
“If you have wine and cheese in here, I'm leaving,” Chase said with a snicker.
“Where's the little dude?” Alec asked, leaning against the counter.
“With his nanny. He may not know we're gone, yet,” Kale said with an eye roll. “We're struggling with his screen time. He loves his iPad, but between our own work and trying to spend time with him – that damn thing has become an addiction for him.”
I looked at Alec. “You see? We are truly old. Next thing he'll complain about is kids on his lawn!” Laughter raced around the room.
“Some of those boys look a little old to be Micah's friends,” Chase commented.
“Reece and Leo,” I replied with a nod. “Leo's a godsend. Micah met him his first day – the boy assigned to show him around the school. Well, as it happens they made an impression on each other and Leo's family is large, so they don't mind Micah tagging along. And,” I said, smiling, “Micah briefly dated Leo's cousin.”
Loudly Alec said, “Reece is just an afterthought. Kind of like that bit that runs down your leg.”
Loud laughter came from the other room, and I couldn't say what Reece may have replied with.
“Let me guess. Reece is a wise guy?” Chase asked with a grin.
“He's a lightweight, but still fun,” Alec said smugly.
“How's Micah adjusting to a new school?” Kale asked.
“Very well, for the most part,” I said as Alec offered bottled beer left over from Geoff's last visit. “He generally likes the teachers, but I think Leo's made a huge difference, because he'll help him with homework – which with our own work, as you were just saying, can be overwhelming. Leo has two cousins who are also in Micah's grade, and he just gets included.”
“You said girlfriend?” Chase prompted.
“Yep,” Alec jumped in. “Cheerleader. Nice girl, strong personality. She dumped him.”
“Aww,” Chase said.
“It wasn't so bad,” I said with a grin. “He was upset at first, but they still hang out and do everything they did when they 'dated', so it's not that big a deal. They date without calling it that because her parents are....”
“Her mom's a twatwaffle,” Alec supplied.
I sighed. “I was going to be nice, but Alec's right. She's a total Karen.”
“Ouch,” Kale said, wincing. “Academics are doing okay though?”
“Yep! He cheated his way into a massage just today,” Alec said with pride.
“He didn't cheat!” I said, lightly slapping his arm. “He's been working hard.”
“Yep,” Alec said with a nod. “He completely fooled Sash into getting a massage.”
I put a hand on my hip. “And how did he do that?”
“Everyone knows they don't fail anyone the first quarter,” he said reasonably. “It's one of the things that is broken about the school system. Look, failure rates affect teacher evaluations, and school funding is based on if students pass. Students who struggle are still passed, even though they aren't doing the work at a level to succeed.” He held up a hand. “Micah's done the work, no doubt. But first progress report? He totally gamed you. You should have held out for an actual report card, at least.”
I rolled my eyes. “I wanted to reward his effort as much as his success, dear,” I told him. “I know how they pass people – they get a false idea of what they can achieve and then wash out as freshmen in college. Look at our starting class sizes – so many people have dropped out or failed, and I'm not leading the class in GPA by any stretch!”
“I agree,” Chase said with a sigh. “I got used to good grades in high school, not that I didn't work. But this is next level and the instructors really don't care if you pass or fail – they still get paid. Or at least I thought so, but this one guy was really disrespectful to one of my teachers – not showing up, or showing up and expecting him to cover stuff he'd done in other classes where the guy just bailed – and they won't let the instructor fail him for his massive absenteeism. It's mind boggling.”
Micah wandered in. “What's going on?”
“Just discussing the massive failure that is our education system. Why?” I asked with a wry grin.
“Um, we were going to go to Leo's, but I was just making sure – we're all going, right? Dom and Carlo are okay to sleep over at Leo's?”
“Yeah, we cleared it with their parents, and they are all set to go up to the water park tomorrow with you.”
Micah screwed his face up. “How did you keep this a secret? Dad didn't tease me once about some super secret present – not even a hint!”
Alec put a hand on his shoulder. “Sometimes the best way to mess with someone is to be quiet.”
“Like you can do that!” Reece said from the doorway.
“Hey!” Alec said, holding his hands up as if innocent. “I never told anyone who your real dad was!”
Reece and Micah laughed, pushing each other, and then all the boys packed up and headed down to Leo's car. In moments the house was quiet. I ruefully thought about the homework I had thought I'd be catching up on. It was great to see our friends, but I had other things that needed tending to as well. Getting an education while taking care of Micah was...a tall order. But having our plans change at the last minute was also an everyday occurrence, so it was what it was.
We moved out into the living room area and took seats, now that the boys had cleared out.
“So. New district is working out. How's living under the guys?” Kale asked, referring to the two couples we shared the house with. Kale's brother, Robin, was living in one bedroom with Lucien, Alec's brother, and the other room was occupied by Griffin and Devyn.
“It's really good most days,” I said. “Griffin is serious about education, so even if the other guys were more inclined to be loud, they aren't,” I said. “Robin seems pretty zonked, and Lucien is still in his 'I sleep with Robin every night' bubble. Devyn and Griffin have been wrapped up in their own stuff between school and adjusting to living together, so we haven't actually hung out together very much.”
“Plus...school work is more intense than it ever has been,” Alec said. “I'm surprised you guys could get away for a weekend, actually.”
“We brought our laptops,” Kale said with a sigh. “You're right, sacrificing the entire weekend was a little impossible.”
Since no one was going to ask, I did. “So I'm thrilled to see you guys, but I have to ask...is everything okay?”
Chase and Kale glanced at each other and then back to us. Chase sighed and said, “No. We needed to talk to you guys, and I guess we should get right to it.” He held his hands up and dropped them on his lap. “Our relationship has been through a lot of changes. When we all agreed to sleep together, we had rules and everyone respected them.” He let out a small sigh and looked back and forth between us. “Things seemed to be going very well. But there were some...incidents which were making us wonder about revising our rules.”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Such as?”
Kale picked up his husband's conversation, “Like Alec seemed like he was leaning more toward one-on-one time as opposed to us all together. There were some...flirtations in India. Some ideas that things might become less...rigid in terms of our rules.”
Alec cleared his throat and looked at me. “It was when Leafy and I were handcuffed together in the shower. I wanted to bone him.”
I smiled wryly. “At that stage, you wanted to bone everyone.”
Alec spread his hands. “Kale was right in front of me, wet and naked. Can you blame me?”
Kale cleared his throat, but it was Chase who spoke. “Well, that's kind of the issue, isn't it?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“When we started, as I said, we had rules. One of them was if anyone was no longer comfortable, we'd stop. But,” he said with a hard look settling on his face, “when we stopped this year, we didn't really talk about it. I know I was hurt – very much. In fact I was in a state of shock, I think. I know both Kale and I feel we deserve more of an explanation for why you guys broke up with us.”
I have to admit I wasn't shocked at the request, just surprised by the timing. I'd honestly thought we'd talk more about it this past summer, but it had never seemed to work out – maybe because Kale and Chase had been working through their own shock.
“I'm going to have to let Alec lead on this,” I said. “While I support my husband in how he feels and how he shares his body, I do think a discussion would be helpful for everyone.”
I was surprised when Kale stood and looked to me. “If it's all right, I think we should talk separately.”
I glanced at Alec, who nodded, and I stood, leading Kale back to the bedroom, the only other private space. While the four of us were intimately aware of each other both physically and mentally, I couldn't deny a bit of awkwardness as we sat down.
“This is ridiculous,” I said. I looked over at Kale, who kept his mouth shut but offered a confused expression. “We shouldn't be awkward. I don't want to feel awkward because we're alone in a bedroom. We've been together, loved each other, and I won't stand for feeling odd with you,” I said firmly, trying to shut my nerves up. I moved up and packed the pillows against the headboard so we could stretch out and, once settled, I took Kale's hand. “So. Tell me.”
He hesitated, and then opened just a little. “I should really be the one out there.”
“Because you and Alec are so close?”
“Were,” he said quietly. “I'm...angry. Disappointed. Frustrated.” He threw his free hand up in the air and let it fall uselessly. “A little broken-hearted and bewildered.” He looked at me, searching my face. “Weren't you happy?”
“I was,” I said immediately. “Making love with you guys was very freeing, and of course I love you both dearly.”
“Do you know...why Alec changed his mind? Was it me?”
I gave him a reassuring smile. “I don't think it was you, Kale. Alec is still processing himself.” I wiggled a little to lie more on my side. “Alec has a lot of neuroses to work through. A lot of self-esteem issues. I didn't press him when he made his choice, although I was disappointed. Maybe we'll get some clarity tonight, but I think it had to happen.”
Kale frowned lightly. “Why do you think it 'had' to happen? People do successfully have poly relationships.”
I raised an eyebrow. “No doubt people do. I never saw us that way, though. We don't share a home or even daily meals. We're a hundred and something miles from each other much of the year. We shared our bodies intimately and willingly, but we were never looking at co-habiting or joint bank accounts. Were we?”
Kale let go of my hand and sat up, crossing his legs. “Did I misread this?”
I frowned in confusion. “I'm not sure. What are you thinking?”
He pursed his lips. “I had a conversation with Robin a while back. We were just kicking around the house – the carriage house while Chase and Linc were out,” he clarified. “We had a conversation about the four of us and our relationship.” He paused, pressed his lips together, then let out a small sigh. “He didn't understand. A lot of people can't.” He glanced at me. “I know I felt like you guys were an extension of my marriage.”
I turned that over in my head. “I can see why some things may seem that way, but it wasn't. Not really.” I sat up and settled my legs underneath me. “Kale, we all made love to each other. We shared enormous emotions with each other, and I'll be first to admit I looked forward to being intimate with you both – which did come as a little bit of a shock at first, let me tell you.”
He shrugged helplessly. “That all sounds like parts of marriage.”
I shook my head and smiled. “That was all part of a relationship. I think marriage implies a lot more responsibility between us. Life decisions like buying a home, raising children, chores and bills. Kale, honey, we didn't have that.”
His expression moved slowly into a sad frown. “Then you didn't feel the same way we did.”
“Kale, I love you both dearly. Maybe someday we'd have bought neighboring homes and shared tax season as well as our beds – then I think that would be more what you were feeling. Or am I misreading your words?”
He shook his head and looked at me with such abject disappointment. “I wanted that. If you'd asked me just a few years ago all I'd ever wanted was Chase in my life – and he's my cornerstone. I never doubt how I feel for him, but...Linc and school has forced me to confront some ugly realities.”
“Like what? Are you guys okay?” I asked with concern.
He nodded. “I've been privileged. I don't think I realized that as completely as I do now.”
“In what way?”
“Tons. Financially for starters. You guys both have side jobs, but I've never gone to work for anyone – and you go to school and raise Micah.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “You were born lucky in that respect.”
“It doesn't stop with that,” he said. “When Linc came along, I could afford to get married by tapping into a trust fund. Can you imagine how things would be for you guys if you'd had a trust available to you?”
I smiled and tilted my head from side to side. “Well, maybe we'd be renting a house with a pool while we're in school? I don't know. I don't deny it would make some things easier.”
He glanced at me. “I was considering changing majors. Going into law.”
I frowned. “What for?”
“I could take care of my family. It's more stable than trying to be a photographer.”
I nodded. “Sure. But if you have privilege, why not use it to do something you love rather than just what you think you need to do to pay the bills?”
He glanced down at his hands. “That's what Chase said.”
I chuckled. “Well, that's because your husband is smart as well as good looking!”
He nodded slowly. “School has been such a stress this year. It's harder than ever. Mrs. Goblichek is such a need for us, but again I can provide because I was fortunate, not because of anything I've earned.”
“I think you're looking at this all wrong,” I said with a chuckle. “It's great you're aware you had a head start – oblivious is never a good look. But you also extended the benefit of that good fortune rather than pulling back and trying to keep things for yourself.” I paused. “It's good to be aware, but context also matters.”
Kale turned to face me and said, “We've worked hard in school, and I'm sure you've seen how much harder it gets.”
“Have I,” I said with a chuckle.
“Between that and the kiddo, private time can be tough to come by.”
“Yes, it takes more planning,” I agreed.
“That's kind of the tough part, I guess. It's planned. It's not like our spontaneous...picking who we want to sleep with, is it?”
I smiled at him. “I know you top Chase, but you're a perfect bottom, Kale. You're right, there was a certain...freshness to how our encounters went.”
He chuckled. “A perfect bottom? Really?”
“What?” I asked, smiling. “It's a compliment.”
He looked off to one side and said, “I guess I did bottom a lot with you guys.”
Mentally shaking off the image of Kale with his legs pulled up to his ears, I cleared my throat and said, “You mentioned ugly realities and then privilege. Did we get sidetracked?”
He made an awkward half-shake of his head. “Sometimes...I think our time together was really a necessity. Something to reset the stress, even throw off the planned nature of being with Chase. We have a stressful time with school and a toddler, and you guys have even more on your plate – but you don't feel the same way. Do you?”
“I think I just said there was a freshness to it – and maybe you're right about it feeling like a reset of sorts.” I sighed. “The odds have been against us four from the start. High school sweethearts? Sleeping around in our younger years? Kids? Four-year schools?” I shook my head. “We have stresses and responsibilities – some of which are expected a bit later in life, but here we are.”
Kale looked at me intently. “Then shouldn't we take every opportunity to ease those stresses?”
I smiled wanly. “No. Yes. I mean...I guess it depends on the form that stress relief takes, but there are plenty that aren't healthy. For some reason Alec feels or felt the way he did.”
“You really never asked him?”
I tilted my head and smiled at Kale. “You know how he is. He made a decision, and he may not have quite figured out the why of it. Is that why Chase is out there? He'll ask more kindly than you will?”
Kale snorted. “Chase claims I'd have sat there naked with my legs in the air to make my point.”
I chuckled and Kale smiled, but just a little one. “Kale. You know he loved his time with you. You shouldn't....” I trailed off and then let out a sigh. “I guess there isn't a way to not take this personally. I can't believe I almost said that.”
“Yeah. Just one question for you, though,” he said, looking at me intently. “If Alec reconsiders...how would you feel?”
I looked up for a moment and let out a breath. Looking back to him I said, “I think I'd want to talk about it first. It's no small thing and we had a discussion before anything started. If something like that were on the table, I think it has to be understood because, well, look at us right now. We barely talked over the summer – do we think having sex again will fix that?”
“Yes,” Kale said immediately and then blushed. “Wait, hear me out.”
I closed my mouth and waited.
“Some relationships include a physical component. Romantic ones are common for that, and ours was a different kind of romance – but I think the way our relationship evolved it became a need to express that affection physically. I think it does damage to bring something to a stop that hasn't naturally run its course.”
I frowned lightly. “How does sex naturally run its course?”
He shrugged. “When people have been married a long time, they tend to have less sex. It becomes less of a priority. Hormones and emotions change.” He paused. “I think we should be able to consider that for all of us. If the sex, the intimacy fades over time then it's natural. Suddenly cutting off affection is...well, it's been hard.”
I hummed in thought. Unconventional thinking, but there was some truth to be had; I felt that in my gut. Of course, there wasn't much about this that was conventional so...I wasn't going to dwell on that much.
“I still think a conversation has to be had. If something like that were to happen again, you have expectations or ideas of an eventual direction. Practically speaking there are advantages – helping each other raise the boys, the emotional, physical and sexual support we provide each other. But there are other considerations as well for looking at something long-term.”
“What are you thinking of?”
“Finances are a start. Would we be pooling funds? Who would own a home if we did? A true poly relationship isn't what we had before, and do we really understand that enough to attempt it – if that's what all parties want? From where I sat I think we did well in terms of no-one getting jealous, but what happens when you travel the world as a big shot photographer and my husband and I spend our evenings spit-roasting your husband?” I grinned a little to show some of that was teasing, but it was a valid question.
I think I expected him to frown in thought, but his brow remained unfurrowed. “Is he supposed to be celibate while I'm gone with you two around?”
I coughed lightly. “I think what I meant was-”
“I know what you meant, and maybe that's something that also needs to be said. Look, I am the first one to admit I had reservations about starting this. I was afraid that you're not allowed to admit you find anyone else attractive, I was afraid of how it would make Chase feel – hell, I didn't even want to admit to myself that I could fantasize let alone follow through with anyone besides him. Internally I wrestled with that as much as I did with the idea of being gay.”
I raised my eyebrows at him.
“But look, I know I'm the rules guy. I'm always the one with a stick up my ass according to the world – my family tells me that, my friends tell me that...I half-expect some random stranger to come up and ask me how I walk with that giant stick in my ass.” He sighed. “But...when we were in India and Alec made a move on me in the shower...I was more than tempted. I barely put the brakes on because it felt like it was nothing more than a logical extension – a logical destination – for the relationship we already had. We even made comments about adjusting the rules so that if those one-on-one situations developed at some point, we could act on it without breaking trust.
“But Sasha, instead of having that talk...instead of planning for a future, instead of me,” he said with a smile, “coming home to find my husband as freshly fucked as when I'd left him...we were suddenly shut off. I was too stunned to really ask what was going on. I couldn't process it enough to bring it up. You had to have noticed how it affected us this past summer.”
“Of course,” I readily agreed. “It was a sudden change. Like you with Chase, Alec is my own cornerstone. I don't know why he felt, in that moment, that he was doing the right thing. The fact is he may not have specifics even today. You know he's a man who follows his gut and his heart, but sometimes the brain has to catch up with the situation.” I chuckled. “I honestly think it's why he's such a smart ass. He doesn't think about it ahead of time, but when he gets in shit he has to think quick – and speak even quicker!”
“So...where are you in all this? Where's your head?”
I sighed. “I think I lack information. A big part of my feelings about this situation would rest on Alec's feelings. In terms of would I be willing to consider us getting back together and planning a future...well, I'd be up for talking about it. I'm not sure how much I have to give to anything else, though, because school is a full-time situation and so is Micah – and you know Alec is, so it's hard already with three full-time jobs and trying to add more...would be a challenge.”
“So...” Kale said awkwardly. “Have you heard from Bobby?”
“Yeah. He's had some rough times with his girlfriend's family. You know, sometimes the key to acceptance is people being able to see us as just people, but some people see that as a danger. If they see us as people then we can't be the demons they tell themselves – and that other's have told them – we are. It’s caused a lot of stress in his relationship, because sometimes his girlfriend thinks she has to choose between him and her family. It's taken a lot for her to realize he's not the one making her choose.”
“I can't imagine,” Kale said with a shake of his head.
I blew out a breath. “I don't see what he does in her, I admit. Sometimes I think it's all in his head. But,” I said, glancing at him, “two of her younger relatives have felt safe enough to confide in them, and I think that went a long way for her. To see how people who are defenseless are living in fear – people she loves. I don't think Bobby could have made her open her eyes by himself.”
“I wonder what that feels like...to have someone trust you with something that could hurt them so much.”
“We all did it at one point,” I said. “Plus we've had some experience with people who are just getting their feet under them about who they are. Still...it's hard to put myself in the position where who I am is so hated. It's one reason I can't imagine moving to the south, for instance.”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice trailing off. “Anything else going on?”
“Well, we had our hands full this past summer with Mat – you recall Nik's friend from Romania?”
“Yeah. I think we met him once. He looks kind of like Nate.”
“He does, which is one thing that drew Nik to Nate to begin with. Anyway,” I said with a sigh and running my fingers through my hair. “Mat was in a bad place mentally and shifting to our point of view was really rough. I give him credit, though, he is trying very, very hard. Nik supports him and slaps him upside the head when he backslides – speaking of, it's been great for Nik, too. Having someone to sort-of be responsible for has helped his own maturity level.”
“Damn. Seems like we missed a lot.”
“How about your little devil?” I asked with a grin.
Kale snorted and smoothed out his hair. “Linc brings a challenge every day – but sometimes we don't find out about it until much later. Like, he did some projects in school that used glue, so he came home and glued some of our stuff down. We're still finding things around the house with thick crusts of Elmer's on them.”
“Oh, my God!” I said and laughed aloud.
“Micah has to pull shit, right?”
“Oh, please,” I said, laughing harder. “He gets into prank wars with Alec, and Lucien helps him to even the score. At first Micah was just annoyed, but now that he's gotten Alec a few times – I have to stop them sometimes, seriously!” I said, smacking Kale for his laughter.
“Alec's going to regret having Micah once the kid is better at pranks than he is!”
“Trust me, given the things Micah has put us through, I'm not sure what he'd do to make us give up on him,” I said, putting my palm to my forehead and chuckling. “I love him. He's so damaged, yet so hopeful. You can work with hope, you know? If he didn't have that...I don't know. What do I know?”
We were interrupted by Alec and Chase shuffling into the room. Alec crawled over Kale to lie beside me, while Kale grumped about it. Chase cuddled behind his husband and the room was filled with a silent sense of expectation.
Kale said, “I was telling Sasha how Linc has started gluing objects down around the house.”
“Brat got my coffee cup,” Chase growled.
“Okay,” Alec said, sitting up and crossing his legs. “I guess we're all here because of me.”
“You would say that,” Kale said and stuck his tongue out.
Rather than be sassy, Alec pursed his lips a little and sucked on his teeth for a minute. “I got scared. Then I thought a little about what direction we were headed in, why we got together to start with, and I figured maybe the original reason was kind of...fulfilled.”
“Fulfilled?” Kale asked, voice incredulous. Sitting up across from Alec he said, “We weren't some mail-order product you can just mark as received and set us aside. We may have started out with wanting to explore safely, but I love you guys. I was thinking of us in a long term way and you just...dumped us!”
I glanced at Chase and his expression was calm. I assumed Kale had said something like this to Chase already. I was a little torn, as I'd have liked to give Alec and Kale both a hug right then to calm things, but I supposed this situation had to be lanced like a boil before we could clean it up and heal.
“Long term? How would we ever keep up with you?” Alec asked.
“Keep up? What are you talking about?” Kale demanded.
“Look, you're not bad as snobs go-”
Alec pointed. “Are you or are you not a snob?”
Kale pressed his lips together. “I have-”
Kale's lips twisted. “You say that like it's a bad thing!”
“We're headed in different directions. I'm studying to be a social worker for the county – do you have any idea how little that pays?”
Kale crossed his arms. “So?”
Alec crossed his arms. “You think social workers being underpaid is okay?”
“I didn't say that! You're avoiding the point, too!”
“Nope,” Alec said, shaking his head. “You're going to be this high-end photographer. You already have contacts in high places and have been a cover boy for a major label.”
“That was by accident and completely your fault. Let's not forget that,” Kale growled.
“My point is your trajectory. Even if Chase decides to be a stay-at-home dad, you can afford it between your trust fund and your job. If I get the job I'm aiming for, I'm going to make a stupidly small amount. Sasha will be looking for a job. Realistically, when we graduate we're going to have to move back into my parents’ basement. What will you do?”
“First, I don't think it's going to be as easy as you think for me,” Kale said evenly. “It's not like I can just coast – I have some contacts and I've been lucky-”
“And you're good,” Chase added.
Kale nodded. “And I think I'm pretty good. Still, we were talking about moving back to the Springs – we all were, or don't you remember?”
“But how is that supposed to work, Kale? Don't you think it'd be like a college man dating a high-schooler? You want to pick us up, go fuck at the no-tell-motel and then drop us off before curfew?”
“What?” Kale asked, jaw dropping. “Is this a joke? What the fuck are you even talking about? And hey! You had no problem with us getting a motel before!”
Alec straightened up. “We're never going to match you guys economically.”
Kale paused as if expecting more. “So? We're not in love with your wallet.”
“We won't be able to afford the things you can. We won't be equal, Kale,” Alec said quietly.
Kale stood up and screamed at Alec, angrier than I've ever seen him. “Are you fucking kidding me? All this is about money?”
“It's easy to say when you have it!” Alec said, also standing. I glanced at Chase who raised an eyebrow at me, but otherwise stayed still.
“I'll share it!” Kale yelled.
“I don't want your money!” Alec yelled back.
“Alec!” Kale grabbed his head with both hands. “Please do not tell me you broke up with us because we have more money! That's the way we were when we started and it was never about money! It was about us. It was about the love we all felt and...” Kale dropped his arms to his sides, stepped closer to Alec and reached out to hold his face. “Alec. It was about love. Wasn't it?”
Alec's mouth worked for a moment. He swallowed. “Yes.”
“Then what happened? It can't be money, Alec. It can't.”
Kale slowly withdrew his hands and they sat side by side.
Alec sighed deeply and looked down at his hands. “When we started sleeping together I had some reasons for it – which we discussed. I loved you, Leafy, and couldn't say it. I've always struggled with saying emotional things. As we...as our relationship deepened and continued, I got scared. I mean, after the stabbing thing and after you guys kind of fucked the horniness of life out of me-”
“Really? I personally think you were so happy to be alive it was a good thing we were there or you'd have worn your husband out,” Chase said, glancing at me and rolling his eyes. I grinned at him.
Alec grinned, but it was a ghost of his normal expressiveness. “I started getting a feeling of fear. I was looking at the future and I didn't see a way we could make it work. School pressure, Micah's situation, what Sash and I were going to do after graduation – how was I going to take all that and try to make us four work?”
“Oh my God you're an idiot,” Chase said and chuckled.
“Easy, pretty boy,” I told him.
“Seriously,” Chase said. “Not belittling anyone's fears, but really Alec – did you think you had to deal with that alone? Did you think for some reason cutting us out of your life was going to fix anything?”
“Well, I thought sex would kind of complicate things down the road. I mean. Sort of.” He paused. “Plus I think you guys know I love you, not like you need me in bed for that anymore.”
“Fuck you,” Chase said with a chuckle and sat up. “I mean really, fuck you, Alec. Fuck you from the crude end of things all the way to the emotional. We needed you guys. Actually, need, present tense. It's not just about the sex – but on the crude end, I miss the hell out of it. It's also the intimacy and the support and strength we give each other so much more freely because we share ourselves completely.” Chase crossed his arms. “My husband and I find time as we can to make love, but we all interact differently because we think differently.”
Alec raised an eyebrow at Chase.
“What?” Chase asked.
“What do you mean?” Alec held his hands out in question.
“We approach intimacy with each other differently. Most of the time my husband tops me. Sasha is all about the sensual touches and I love that you'll bottom for me. I feel like I get to pick what I need to feel most when we get together.” Chase tangled his fingers together. “It's hard to put all your needs on one person, we know that. Everyone deals with that differently, whether it's through friends or hobbies or family interactions.
“Kale and I want to work toward putting us back together – and moving forward together. That's our goal. Our hearts and our brains know we're better people with you in our lives, in our homes and yes – in our beds. You bring your hearts and minds – and yes, bodies – to a relationship.” Chase held a hand out toward Alec. “We didn't just have a fling. We made love, all of us together. If you have fears and doubts, then you owe it to all of us to try and find answers and support each other and address fears.”
Kale crossed his arms. “What he said.”
“Really, Kale? What he said?” I asked, snickering.
Alec looked at me. “What are your thoughts?”
I sat up and rubbed his shoulder. “I think fears are valid and have to be addressed. I'm a little disappointed you didn't talk to me about what you were feeling, and even though you might feel like you're being ganged up on right now, I want you to know I'm on your side. What you feel is valid. I also think that everyone is here to help understand and support you – I think Kale and Chase are trying to understand, while they hold the door open for us to be together again if we all want that.”
Kale reached out and took Alec's hand. “What do you say, Bestie? Can we talk? Can we help?”
I placed four cups on the counter while the coffee pot slowly brewed. I stretched and sighed and my tired brain started trying to put things in order for the day ahead. I knew I needed to tweak the paper I'd supposedly finished the night before, but I also had some reading and some homework that I wanted to get done today so I could devote my time to Micah's party tomorrow. Today he'd be playing all day at the water park. Thank goodness for Leo coming up with this. I didn't expect the kids until late in the day, then I'd have to see if Leo and Reece would be sleeping over. If Micah had his way, they would. I figured Mark, Leo’s cousin, may have gone with them and could be here tonight as well.
I still had a cake to make, too. Just...too much.
Familiar arms circled my waist and a gentle kiss landed on my neck. “Morning,” Chase said.
“Good morning,” I said softly. “Coffee is almost ready.”
He let go of me and leaned against the counter. He was dressed in his underwear and tee shirt, what he'd worn when we all crashed for sleep after a marathon session talking about us.
“What's on your schedule today?” he asked. I sighed and ticked off the things I had on my plate. “Alec in the same boat?”
“He has a few things, yeah,” I confirmed.
“We should plan, then,” he said while I poured coffee. “Should we have some breakfast and do our work first, then go get supplies for a cake?”
I raised an eyebrow. “You bake?”
“God, no. Kale does.”
“Please. You fell for that?” he asked, chuckling.
I laughed at him.
“I can help with that, though. When does your terror come home?”
“I'm not sure. I should probably make the cake in the morning. Are you guys staying tonight?”
He sipped his coffee and nodded. “We'd like to. I know we said it a hundred times, but we missed you guys a lot. I feel better just having slept in the same room together last night.”
I grinned over the lip of my cup. “I think it was a good thing. Intimacy takes many forms.”
We sipped our brew in silence for a few moments, but it couldn't last. A loud thud sounded from the direction of the bedroom, followed by a curse, another bang and then a shuffling, scuffling sound.
I looked at Chase and smiled. “Sounds like the boys are awake.”
He grinned back. “Do you want to bet that they both claim the other started it?”
I snickered and he returned it.
We spent a good chunk of the day working, and it was pleasant. We had lunch together, finished up, and then I reached out to Leo to figure out when they'd be back. We got food so we could make dinner for them that evening. With our collective work done, Alec and Kale made dinner while Chase and I sat out on the front porch and waited for the boys. The breeze washed down the block and I felt a wave of optimism. Alec was complicated, more than he liked to admit, and my strategy of waiting him out wasn't always the best. Sometimes it took other people that loved him and whom he loved to bring out things that needed to be dealt with.
Sunday was a mess. A great mess, yet there was no denying it was a mess. There was a caravan of vehicles from the Springs to celebrate, and I'm pretty sure Micah was overwhelmed with the amount of people that came to see him for his day. Everyone can use a little ego boost like that, I think. Alec had a ton of water balloons, squirt cannons – and he made sure only his squirt gun worked. Everyone else was soaked before they figured out how he'd sabotaged their guns, but that led to every single party-goer hitting him with water balloons.
When Geoff pulled up in a U-Haul, I admit my blood froze as I wondered what, exactly, he was up to.
“Geoff. Why do you have a truck?” I asked, my tone full of suspicion.
“Dude!” Micah said, out of breath from playing. “That better not be a pony! I'm not cleaning up after it!”
“Pony? Geoff?” I asked, an edge to my voice.
“I missed my calling in theater,” Geoff said with a crooked smile. He opened the back to reveal two small boxes with ribbon – the phone and headphones we'd agreed on.
“You're evil,” I said, my chest unclenching.
“I never pictured you for a person that states the obvious,” he said with a smirk.
“You probably never thought I'd get you back, either. But now I will,” I promised him.
Pretty sure his eyes got a bit wider.
Late in the afternoon cars began to head home. Micah was getting a bit bratty from being tired, but he gave Dom and Carlo heartfelt hugs when they left. It did me good to see how far he's come in being comfortable expressing some form of affection. Chase and Kale left, and I felt like the parting was on healthier terms than our last. We have something to build on, now.
At the end of the day it was just myself, Alec, Micah, Reece and Leo. Alec started doing this trick with the boys where Micah would basically crawl around an upright Alec, between his legs, up his back and over his head all while not touching the ground. Soon it became a competition where they all tried it – poor Micah wasn't able to stay on his feet with one of those guys on him!
At last the day ended. Reece and Leo went home, with Leo making an appointment with Alec to review his workout routine. After Micah showered he came out and curled up by me on the couch as Alec rummaged in the kitchen.
“Did you have a good birthday, sweetheart?”
“Best. Day. Ever.” he said with a yawn.
“What was your favorite part?”
“All the people,” he said promptly. “I didn't think they were going to make it, but then it was like this car and that car. Do you think Jamie ever found his underwear?”
I chuckled. “I'll bet Alec was involved somehow and Alec will mail it to him or something.”
“Dad's so funny,” he said tiredly. “Do you like my friends?”
I kissed his forehead. “You're wiped out. Why don't you go to bed?”
“Yeah. I think I will,” he said, dragging himself to his feet and hugging me. “Goodnight, Dad.”
Alec strode out from the kitchen as Micah headed toward the bedrooms. Micah stopped and hugged him, and of course Alec lifted him up, put him on his shoulder and carried Micah to bed, squealing to be put down and laughing.
Minutes later Alec came back and sat next to me. He put a hand on my thigh. “I'm horny.”
I chuckled. “Is that so?”
“Well-” I was cut off as he covered my mouth with his, a gentle kiss if there ever was one.
He pulled back and his gaze flicked about my face. “Come to bed.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Okay. What's gotten into you?”
“Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head comically. “Other way around.” He worked to get his hands under me and I fought him, slowly losing the battle and giggling as he lifted me up and carried me down the hall, bumping the walls as we went. Life with my husband will never be dull and is always filled with passion – I hope those things never change.
Doug and Alice Kutsenko settled into their car after their grandson-to-be's birthday party, pleased but not looking forward to the long drive home. Doug put the car into gear, started to release the brake, then reapplied it quickly as he was startled by a tapping on Alice's window.
Micah was there, and of course Alice lowered the window to her little angel with horns.
“Thank you for coming,” Micah said, looking back and forth between them. “Alec told me to tell you that because you're old. But I'm really glad you came, thank you for the game, and I can't wait to see you at Thanksgiving.”
“Tell Alec,” Doug said dryly, “that I'm turning the basement into an office.”
“And we can't wait to see you too,” Alice said, ignoring the jibes. “We love you, angel.”
Micah's face lost its mirth, and with a solemnity that wasn't missed by either of them he said, “I love you, too.”
With a final wave they headed out, stopping before they left town for a half-caf coffee for Doug to perk him up for the drive home. Long gone were the days when he'd drink coffee at all hours – and after hitting forty years of age had gone the way of spicy food and late nights with alcohol. Once through the drive-thru, they hit the on ramp for the highway for the long ride home.
Alice started to chuckle.
“What?” Doug asked
“Did you see,” she said, her laughter breaking into giggles. “Did you see Sasha's face when that fellow pulled up with the U-Haul? I thought he was about to murder someone!”
Doug chuckled. “I don't even know who that guy was, or why he was bringing Micah gifts.”
“Oh, probably another one of those poor souls Alec seems to find and save, somehow.” She turned in her seat. “And on some level I can't believe I'm saying that about our Alec!”
Doug nodded. “Remember that time you sent him to his room?”
Alice started to laugh. “And he asked you if he could come out?”
“And of course I told him he had to talk to you, since you'd sent him in the first place,” Doug replied with amused sincerity.
“And his answer was to open his window – the one on the second floor with the air conditioner in it – to holler at me in the back yard.” Alice shook her head. “How that boy made it to adulthood, I'll never know.”
Doug grunted. “I was surprised the day he brought Sasha home.”
Alice chuckled. “Surprising us was par for the course. But,” she said with a sigh, “he was so secretive that I'm not sure how well he knew his own heart until then.”
They drove for a few miles in silence. “I remember,” Doug said, “When I'd heard a group of kids had flushed the toilets on three floors all at once, I was sure – sure! - I was going to get a call saying it was Alec and that the school was suing.”
They both broke down in giggles. “Remember when he changed the school's WiFi password?”
“How about when he locked your keys in your car on that trip?”
“Or the time he bought that creepy doll and kept hiding it around the house? Oh my God, that thing gave me the heebie-jeebies!”
They were both in tears, laughing about times past. Some things that weren't funny at the time, gained humor when looked at through the proper lens. While they'd both admit that raising Alec had been a challenge, it had turned into the best thing they'd done, now that they could see the man he was becoming.
“Looking back, I think Alec began to be who he really is when he met Sasha,” Alice said thoughtfully. “His perspective changed.”
“Awkward first few months,” Doug said with a chuckle. “You could see the nerves rolling off him in waves, but once they hit their stride...you're right, it was an amazing change.”
“I think that's a hard realization for a parent. Their limits with their children. I know parenthood didn't go in any of the ways I thought it would. I remember when he was a baby and he wasn't eating and I panicked. Your mom told me, of course, that I shouldn't worry because one day we'd worry that he wouldn't stop eating.” She smiled at her husband, who laughed at his mother's comment. “But of course he was developing his own mind, and he interpreted things in ways we never understood. I think that's the biggest mistake people make.”
“Having kids?” Doug joked.
“Thinking they understand them,” Alice said back. “Even though we were kids once and understand some things, we always forget that they have a perspective and they act based on that – and their personality, intelligence level – all kinds of variables. I saw some kids at the daycare who were amazingly gifted, and others – most of them – who are lucky if they'll be able to wipe themselves at some point.”
Doug hummed in acknowledgment. “Having a kid isn't something you do rationally, I guess. It seems like it, sometimes – for instance that we tried so hard. All the joy we wanted to have and we ended up with Loki for some reason, pulling pranks and making us pull our hair out.”
“Now he inflicts that on Micah – maybe what we needed all along was a sibling for him.”
“Well, Lu did blunt his weirder tendencies. I think Lu was a grounding sort of thing for Alec. Something to hold onto outside of his relationship with Sasha, though I have to admit, Sasha tamed him the way only falling in love can.”
They rode in silence, crossing the bridge over the Hudson River.
Alice broke the silence. “You have to wonder what Micah's mother was thinking, if she was, when she had him. Was she like so many single mothers, having a child she thought would love her no matter what? Just her and her child against the world? And then you pour everything into them and find out later that they have minds and desires of their own? That your thoughts of raising the perfect companion were half-baked at best?”
Doug was silent for a minute. “I think you give her more credit than I do.”
“Oh, I don't know if it's credit. Just allowing for a possibility.” She sighed. “It's hard to think of anyone doing such things to someone else on purpose. I know kids can be annoying but....” She trailed off into uncomfortable chuckling.
“Lucien was so easy compared to Alec,” Doug said with a sigh. “It's a good thing we had Alec first, because if Lu had been the wild one....”
“Tell me about it,” Alice said with a grin. “I can still think back and feel the shock when Alec asked us to take Lucien in. He was so...tired when we got him. I think he'd given up, at least for the time being.”
Doug sighed. “Yeah. I think you're right. He'd lost so much by then.” He snorted. “That mother of his. I've done some things I know weren't the best as a parent – things I wish I could take back, heat of the moment and all. But she was a real piece of work, even when she was on her meds.”
Alice grunted and sipped from her cup. “Well, Lucien is too much to lose, even for her. She's finally moving from her original position.”
Alice glanced at her husband. “Didn't I tell you? He returned the pictures Claire had swiped for me. Ring a bell?”
He shook his head slowly. “I remember her being at our house and telling him he had to be the one to return them. There was something odd about the way she said it though, now that I think of it.”
“Yes, she was insistent he be the one to return them. I asked him if he wanted me to go with him, but he told me he could handle her,” Alice replied. “He told me later that she'd made some sort of tea she used to make when he was little and not feeling well, and that he'd been uncomfortable but he'd sat down to have a cup with her.”
Doug shivered in his seat. “I don't trust her. I'd have been worried the tea was spiked with something so she could hold him captive in her basement or something.”
Alice laughed. “I said something similar to him. He told me she didn't have a basement, but thankfully he could laugh about it.”
Doug sighed. “I know she has an illness, but I really don't like her. Even when she's stable she's rotten to Lu.”
Alice looked out the window as the skyline of Albany fell into the distance. “We live in a sad world,” she said quietly. “There are some questions that are too big for me, but I look around today and I despair. Look at all the hatred – with no thought of how it affects someone else. As long as someone 'wins' then the means don't matter.”
“I know what you mean,” he said quietly. “It feels like the world is spinning out of control, and it makes me worry for our boys. For their future.”
Alice laid her hand upon his. “I think every reasonable parent thinks that. Even the ones we don't agree with. There is just...too many gods and too many small minds and too much...animal left in us. I've been thinking for quite a while that you just have to look for the animal response to know how people will act, in general. With all these social networks people are saying in the open the things they could safely correct in the dark, if they realized it was a mistake. Now even honest mistakes are pilloried.”
“It's easy to get down,” Doug agreed. “But then...there's our boys. Again, didn't think I'd ever say it, but Alec is a bright light out there.”
Alice put a hand to her forehead and smiled. “And yet, I'm so glad he's gay. If he could reproduce there'd be no end to the amount of trouble he could get into!”
They both laughed hard. “I'm surprised at what a good dad he is,” Doug said, wiping his eyes. “To go from such a wild child to caring so much for other people is a real stunner.”
“He was always kind,” Alice said with amusement. “It was the sarcasm that would bite him – or when he got his nose out of joint thinking he'd been wronged. Heaven help whoever he was trying to get even with.”
Doug started to laugh. “Remember the Dawsons?”
“Oh God, I haven't thought of them in years!”
Doug snickered. “The time Alec mowed 'You Suck' into their lawn?”
Alice squealed with laughter and Doug joined her.
After a moment to calm, Doug asked, “What were you going to say about Lu and getting those pictures back? Did he say anything about how it went, outside of the tea?”
“Oh, right! My memory, my goodness. I once heard that the first three things to go are memory-”
“And I forget the other two,” Doug said, joining her.
After a chuckle she said, “Well, when Lucien got back from her home, he looked pensive. I asked if he was all right, since he'd been gone longer than I'd expected. He told me about the tea,” she said, waving her hand, “then he said they talked for a little bit. She told him some stories of him as a little boy. She went from that, he said, into when she first realized there was something wrong with her.”
“Yes, that's what Lucien said,” she affirmed. “You can imagine how shocked I was. So he told me he felt a little badly for her as she described some of the things her illness has caused over time.”
“Oh, please,” Doug grumped. “I'll bet she did it to garner sympathy from him!”
“I wondered that myself,” she admitted. “But I also know I have a severe mistrust for the woman, and to be honest...I wasn't sure where Lucien would come down, so I didn't want to bash her.”
“Well, no,” Doug agreed. “We talked about that a long time ago. No matter how much we might want to verbally abuse that woman, it was important for Lu's sake.”
“So I listened to him tell her story, and then I asked him how he felt about all that.” She looked at her husband and smiled. “He sees right through me, sometimes. You'd think after all this time I'd have no room left for an insecurity or two, but I can still feel the fear when she tried to take him from us.”
“She failed,” Doug said firmly.
“Of course,” Alice agreed. “Yet Lucien says to me, 'She's not my mom. You are. And I feel bad for her because I know some of that isn't her fault. But every time she decided to stop taking her meds and she would fall victim to something she knew would happen – I blame her.'”
Doug sighed. “He's so smart.” He glanced at his wife. “I'm so relieved that both of them are so smart because...I think I'd have struggled with a child that wasn't very bright.”
“Oh, stop. You'd have loved them anyway. I don't know why you say things like that about yourself. Have you ever met you?” she asked, chuckling.
“Eh. Maybe you're right.”
“In any case, after Lucien was done making me feel better, he said that Eileen had loaned him some more pictures that I could scan – so long as he was the one to bring them back.”
Doug looked at his wife, back to the road, back to her and back to the road again. “You mean you're willing to trade Lu for some pictures?”
“Hey! He's making the decision!” she said, laughing and slapping her husband's shoulder.
“I just don't trust her,” Doug said a moment later. “I hate to think what she'd put in his head.”
Alice put her hand on her husband's forearm until she was sure she had his attention. “She asked him how Robin was.”
“You're shitting me!”
“I am not,” she said, shaking her head. “That's why I say...she seems to have finally accepted that Lucien and Robin are together. That's a big step for her.”
Doug glanced at his wife. “She's still a bitch.”
“Granted.” Alice sighed. “I can't help but think if only she'd been the one to walk in on him and Robin, she'd have gotten the point sooner.”
“I liked that table!” Doug whined. “And thank everything that's holy they dressed quickly enough that I didn't actually see anything. My damn breakfast table!”
Alice laughed gaily. “Your boys. They tend to break furniture.”
“I can't even believe Alec, even now! My damn couch! I mean – I napped there, for Christ's sake!”
“Remember,” she said, breaking down in giggles. “Remember when he tried to pretend like he didn't know how the couch got broken?”
Doug shook his head. “Wrestling on the couch, my ass.”
“You do hold a grudge,” she said with a smile.
“Kids break my damn furniture. Go have sex in bed like normal people!”
“Well,” she said teasingly, “Of all the traits you could pass on, I'm not sure that would be the one I'd pick.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked with suspicion.
“I seem to remember a certain bed frame of ours-”
“It was old!” he protested, laughing. “And it didn't affect anyone but us!”
They had a good laugh – or at least Alice did as she continued to tease Doug while he protested. They reached the New York State Thruway, the toll road that would take them to Interstate 88, the highway that would take them home.
“I wish they lived closer,” Doug said quietly. “Not just because this is such a drive, but they have so many responsibilities, and they are still so young. Alec and Sasha should be going to college parties and doing the irresponsible things young men do. Instead they are talking to teachers and social workers and a therapist while they try to navigate Micah's needs.”
“It is a lot,” Alice agreed with a nod. “I think they've done a tremendous job, but...I worry how long that can go on. It's easier when it's a short-term thing, but kids aren't short-term. Micah has become part of a group, even if he was suspicious of it.” Alice snorted and covered her mouth, hiding the laugh that was trying to get out. “Evelyn told me she overheard Micah talking to Robin and how easily he sees through Jamie's bullshit. She said she almost fell over laughing.”
“That Jamie...we thought Alec was tough.”
“Oh, she says he's in quite a predicament,” Alice replied, turning in her seat a bit to face him better. “She was talking to Sara Bennett – Sterling's mom? Do you remember her?”
“He was a big fanboy for Alec, is what I'm told. Alec was very excited when he heard someone was breaking some of his records, and told me that it was nice to be beaten by someone he could respect.” Alice shifted again in her seat – staying at an angle was uncomfortable. “Anyway, it seems something was going on between Sterling and Jamie – something sexual by the sounds of it.”
“They went three for three, huh?” Doug commented.
“Well, no,” Alice said thoughtfully. “Evelyn said it was odd because Jamie has a girlfriend he adores. She doesn't have all the details – and of course she doesn't feel like she can talk to Jamie about the situation, but she has gone to Kale to see if she can help through him.”
“Help with what? Is Jamie playing both sides of the fence? Cheating on his girl? I know he's a little wild, but that seems like a pretty big character flaw.”
“Based on what she got from Kale, she thinks there was some influence by Jamie's girlfriend to get Sterling and Jamie together, in a sense. I've heard of love triangles, but this was a new one on me, let me tell you!”
“Yeah,” Doug said, sounding dazed. “Why would the girlfriend get that going?”
“I can only imagine she has a fetish of some kind.”
“And Jamie went along with it?”
“Have you ever known a teenage boy that wouldn't go along with something his girlfriend wants?” Alice asked dryly. “Or should I say, have you ever known a horny boy that wouldn't do what they had to to keep their nooky coming?”
Doug grunted. “Seems kind of manipulative.”
“By the girl? A little, maybe. Although I have to think Jamie wasn't entirely opposed.”
“What's with all these kids fucking everywhere? We didn't.”
Alice snorted. “You're just jealous.”
Doug looked at her and blew a raspberry. “Anyway. What does Evelyn think?”
Alice chuckled. “She's torn, frankly. She's had to grow so much from Kale and being confronted with the fact that he was sexually active.” Alice paused. “It's funny, really. When you think of your child one thing that eventually comes to mind is the beautiful children they could have. I think the mind intentionally omits the idea that they'll have to have sex to make that happen. Isn't that stupid?”
“I don't know any parents that want to think about their kids having sex,” Doug said wryly.
“I don't mean in a perverse way,” Alice said with a roll of her eyes. “I mean the idea of them naked and engaged in sex acts just seems to be skipped over by the mind. Evelyn said that when Jamie brought a condom wrapper from under the piano that was evidently left there by Kale after a tryst with Chase, she'd been confronted with the fact of her son being sexually active. It was a big difference – the academic knowledge that her kids would one day have sex versus the reality that her oldest was indeed having sex.”
Doug hummed idly. “Yeah. There is usually a disconnect between an idea and the reality.”
“Sex is a prime example,” Alice agreed. “It's played up to be the goal, and yet it's usually something that doesn't last more than thirty minutes if you're lucky.”
“Well,” Doug said, drawing the word out. “There's a difference, I think, between having sex and making love. In my mind, having sex is just the act – or just getting off. Making love is making time, slowing things down.” He cleared his throat. “We had several times where we crossed that thirty minute threshold.”
“Yes,” she said with a chuckle. “We did. But I would usually think that making love is a more mature thing than having sex. I think Evelyn is kind of in the same boat, but now she's wondering how all this will affect Jamie – splitting his time, body and affection.”
Doug grunted. “Yeah. Glad I don't have to figure out how to have that conversation.”
“Yes, me too!” she said with a laugh. “She hasn't figured out how to handle it – or if she should even try for the moment. Sterling hasn't been by the house and all Jamie will say was they had a fight. What a mess.”
“Two people is hard enough,” Doug agreed.
Alice started to giggle.
“What?” he asked. “What? Why are you laughing?”
“I was,” she stopped, snorting a laugh. “I was just trying to – to picture when you had that talk with Alec!”
“For the love of Mike,” Doug said, chuckling and shaking his head. “I'll never forget it. 'Wait, Dad! Are you trying to say you and mom do butt stuff?'”
They both burst out laughing. “And you were-”
“I was trying to make sure he was safe on the whole anal sex thing!” he exclaimed, still laughing.
“Leave it to Alec to turn a serious conversation on its ear!” Alice cried out, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. “I don't know how you recovered at all!”
He lifted a hand and slapped his thigh. “That kid. I hope Micah gives him a dose of his own medicine!”
“I think Micah gets his information from Sasha,” Alice said confidently. “He's too smart to trust Alec on things like that. Too much wiggle room.”
Doug shook his head. “So odd to think Micah had a girlfriend already.”
“Oh you know. 'Girlfriend'. They are just testing things out – though I'm reminded of that thing your father used to say about the difference between raising girls versus boys.”
“Oh, the one about how with a boy you only had to worry about one dick – with a girl you have to worry about all of them?”
“That's it!” Alice said, groaning. “The wit and wisdom of Marko Kutsenko.”
“He wasn't wrong,” Doug said with a chuckle.
“I wonder what he'd think of his grandson, had he lived long enough,” Alice said bitterly.
Doug sighed. “He was a man of his time, with all the positives and negatives that encompassed.”
“Yes, I suppose, you're right,” she said, looking out the window. “I wonder sometimes how much the world has changed – or is it the people that are changing to the world?”
After a beat of silence Doug asked, “What do you mean?”
“I mean there were always gay people. Bisexual people. The transgender people, I thought, were a new kind of thing – but these variations have always been there. Now we are more willing, in some places, to accept reality. Yet in so many places, people choose to fight nature for one reason or another.”
They drove for a few miles in silence, the sound of the road and the murmur of the radio in the background the only intrusion to their thoughts.
“I never thought much about gay people until Alec brought Sasha home that first time. But...I'd like to think it says something vital about us that he did. It was their first date and he was okay with us knowing. He didn't try to hide it or joke his way around it. I think that says something. Something powerful.”
Alice nodded her head. “I don't think I'd ever have thought I was discriminatory, but I think when you have a personal experience with someone who lives differently than yourself, it forces you to grow. I think it's why people in cities are more accepting of others, because they are exposed to things. They learn that people can be different and yet still value the same basic things.”
Doug sighed. “I worry Micah will be too much for them.”
Alice placed her hand over his. “I do too, sometimes. But I try to be positive. Love can help a lot of things, and they love him, and I think I can say with confidence that he loves them back.” She sighed. “I thought about taking Micah for some weekends, but then that also breaks his ability to play with his friends. Although...I do think we should take him for some of the longer weekends or school breaks. Alec and Sasha need that time, not just for school, but for their own relationship as well.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I know Micah'd love to catch up with Nate more often. Did you see how excited he got? Introducing Nate to his friends?”
“Yes,” Alice said, smiling. “He certainly has some hero-worship going on there.”
“Do you think Micah might turn out like Alec and Lucien?”
Alice hummed to herself. “No, I don't think so. Alec was a surprise, but I think his being secretive was part of the experience for him. Not being sure about what he wanted or how we'd feel, maybe. Of course Alec outed Lucien, but I think we were less surprised – if only because we understood the possibility was real.”
“Yes. Like it had been academic until it happened with Alec, then we...grew, I suppose.”
She nodded. “But Micah isn't displaying any of the traits they did, not towards boys – and he had plenty of them to hang around. Then there was that incident with Dominic and Carlo, you'll recall.”
“I am glad to see, though, that Micah is not locked down in showing affection – though from what I understand it's more common now for boys to show each other affection without there being a stigma. Just the way he hugged Nate, as a for instance.”
“Yeah, I saw that.”
“It's good. He needs that, I think.”
“I'm sure Alec and Sasha give him plenty of that,” Doug said with a smile.
“I'm sure,” she agreed. “But now that Micah has officially had a girlfriend, Alec will have to have 'the talk' with him.”
“Can you imagine? What do you think he'll say?”
Alice covered her mouth to stifle a laugh and then between giggles said, “Probably something about putting it in the butt because you get no babies, and then point to Sasha as proof!”
“Jesus H. Christ!” Doug roared in laughter. “He gets his sense of humor from you, that's for sure.”
“You're the one that smeared Vaseline over his bedroom floor as a prank,” she said tartly.
“That was after he misted my door handles repeatedly so I couldn't get in my car in the morning!” he defended.
“Did Sasha tell you he overheard Micah telling his friend that his dad grew pot?”
“He what? They could get in serious trouble!”
“I know! But Sasha stepped right in and asked where this supposed pot was. Micah pointed to the basil Sasha was growing on the window sill!”
“That kid,” Doug said with a shake of his head. “I'm kind of surprised his friends seemed to be older than he is. Usually older kids aren't that interested in hanging out with younger ones.”
“I think he's comfortable with older kids because of his friends from summer. You have to admit, those boys really took Micah under their collective wing.”
“Yeah,” Doug replied. “They kind of fly in the face of the whole idea of a teenage boy.”
“Sometimes they are deeper than given credit for,” Alice said.
“Except when they break furniture,” Doug muttered. “Then they are typical, horny boys.”
Alice laughed at him. “I'm forever grateful you lost that coin toss.”
Doug sighed. “As much as I love them, it's nice to have the house be so quiet now.”
“Yes. But it's also nice to have it noisy when they are all home.”
“Do you think Lu will come back to his old room for the summer? Or will they be switching houses so they can sleep together?” Doug wondered.
“Those two? Now that they share space they will never separate!” Alice said with amused finality. “Alec and Sasha fit seamlessly, but Lucien and Robin are like a single entity! I swear, you could call it symbiotic.”
Doug grunted. “They're good together, though. They really support and complement each other.”
“No doubt at all,” Alice agreed. “Though I suspect Alec and Sasha will be giving us our only grandchildren. Lucien can't see any farther than Robin. I don't think he feels the pull of extending his family.”
“I get that impression from him, too. You never know, though. They are young, and he's in a bubble of Robin-induced bliss.”
Alice laughed. “Except for Robin's train set. I guess Robin likes to talk to Lucien about it, and he politely listens – but it's not his thing at all.”
“I actually think that's very healthy. They share so much as it is, it's a good thing to have something separate from each other, too. It helps to inject new experiences and keep things fresher.”
“Is this how you justify poker night?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Maybe. You don't know!” he said playfully.
“Uh huh. I was just surprised there was something Robin did that Lucien wasn't just as excited about. Although...I think Alec said something at some point about Lucien doing some sports just because Robin wanted him to. Right up until he started that monster of an academic task. I'm in awe of that, honestly. I've never seen someone so young work so hard to be with someone else.”
Doug sighed. “That worried me a little, to be honest. I almost said it was a bad idea.”
Alice looked at him, waiting for him to continue.
“It's just that they were both so young. It seemed obsessive that Lu was determined to stay with Robin. I wondered if it might not be better for them to have that year of separation.”
He sighed. “I'm not sure. Maybe it will work out. It's just that...most young relationships don't last this long. Alec and Sasha are walking a finer line than they may realize, balancing Micah with college with their new marriage...life is just starting, and what if there are regrets? They've only been with each other, and their plan is to move back to the small town they grew up in and settle down – and then what? What about seeing the world? What about being young?”
“They went to India,” Alice pointed out. “And if they need a break, they can just send Micah to us. Maybe we should give that to them this summer? Give them a few weeks somewhere on vacation as a treat to decompress and not worry about anyone but themselves?”
“Maybe, yeah,” Doug said quietly. “I just worry about them. The pressure. I just hope it doesn't get the best of them. I hope Robin and Lucien are sustainable – I think breaking up would devastate them. Lucien has already lost so much in life. And Micah...I just don't understand why each of us has to suffer so much.”
Alice slipped her fingers between her husband's. “It's how we learn to appreciate the beautiful moments, because we may not understand beauty without ugliness, light without the dark. I think Lucien and Robin are so tightly together because they've each seen the darkness and had the other one to rely on. Alec...” She sighed. “I think most of his darkness comes from inside. What those...people...did to him in high school...” She placed her hands together and let out a deep breath. “You don't just walk away from that. He helps so much, puts himself on the line for others, but I sometimes wonder about the scars he must have inside.”
Doug shifted in his seat. “Kale and Chase looked good.”
“They did,” Alice said quietly. She paused. “You know, something about them is tickling the back of my mind and I don't know why.”
“What do you mean?”
She shook her head. “It's hard to say. All the boys are so close, and I know they think of each other as family – which is a bit of a relief in some ways, because we won't be here forever, so it's good to think of them having a support network. But...some looks, some...casual touches just make me wonder if there isn't something more at play.”
Doug's jaw dropped. “You don't think one of them is cheating, do you?”
Her hands fluttered in her lap. “I don't think so. It's just that they are so, so close. It's almost like the lines between being a couple and being friends are...blurred.”
Doug glanced at his wife and back to the road. “And...how do we feel about...that?”
Alice chuckled. “I don't know what to think. I have no idea what I think I'm seeing means, outside of how much they care for each other. Sometimes a hug is just a hug, but sometimes...it's a loving embrace. Sometimes it's....” She looked out the window and furrowed her brow. “I don't know. Maybe I'm seeing something that isn't there.”
“What do you think you see? That's the question?”
“It's just that...something Evelyn said. It had to do with...what was it she said?” Alice put a finger to her lips, thinking back. “I can't remember exactly, but it was when she was telling me about this thing with Jamie. I think Kale said something to her about knowing how Jamie felt, but that can't be right.”
They drove in silence for a few miles, the car eating up the miles as they enjoyed looking at the leaves that had turned colors and fluttered to the ground. The dying summer grass continued going from green to brown as a small group of deer stood in the distance, heads down and nibbling the last blades. A light mist landed on the windshield and the automatic wipers cleared the glass, streaking over the dead bugs. The pump hummed as Doug sprayed the windshield to clear it of debris.
“Do you think that...the four of them...?”
Alice turned her head quickly, eyes widening as she looked at her husband. “No. I mean. What do you think?”
Doug sighed. “I think...maybe it's a crack in the wall of their relationship. If it's true.”
Alice fidgeted. “Oh, Alec. What are you thinking?”
“Are you okay?” Micah asked Leo. They were walking from the bus stop to Leo's house and Leo was quieter than usual.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Fine.”
“Dude. You've been kind of stressed ever since you and Henry broke up. I thought you guys liked each other.”
“We did,” Leo said absently. “It just so happens we also annoy the fuck out of each other.”
“I don't get that. You guys had hung out before.”
“Not really one on one, though,” Leo replied. “We'd always been in groups. Once it was just us, we were okay for a little bit while we were shiny and brand new. After a couple of weeks of hanging out non-stop, we started to see things a little differently.”
“That sucks,” Micah said quietly.
“Yeah. But,” Leo said with a sigh. “I guess that's how it goes. You meet people you think you like, you give it a try and sometimes it doesn't work out.”
“Where was Reece? I didn't see him on the bus.”
Leo cleared his throat. “He was going to put in a job application.”
“Oh. Anyplace good?”
“Dishwasher, pizza place,” Leo replied.
“So we get free pizza?” Micah asked with a grin.
Leo glanced at his younger friend and smiled back. “Probably, knowing Reece.”
“Are we working out today? I want Robin's abs so bad!” Micah said, converting his statement to a whine.
“Me too,” Leo admitted. “And I wouldn't turn Robin down, either.”
“Eww,” Micah said with a laugh.
“What? Like you drooling over my cousin isn't gross?”
“Jenna's hot. And smart.”
“Robin's hot. He's in RPI, so he must be smart. And he's got abs for days,” Leo pointed out.
Micah shook his head. “I don't know, man. Even if I were into guys, I think he's too old. I mean – you liked Henry. Robin's nothing like Henry.”
Leo chuckled. “He's not too old. Don't you like some of the senior girls? Or juniors? Like didn't you say something about Kay Tibbits the other day?”
Micah screwed his face up in thought as they rounded the corner to Leo's house. “I think I said she had big tits. Not that I liked them.”
“Uh huh. Because everyone makes comments about that. Sure.”
Entering Leo's house they wandered to the kitchen, shedding book bags and shoes along the way. Leo put a box of crackers, cheese and sliced salami out for them to snack on, then grabbed a jug of fruit punch to wash it down with. They sat in silence at the kitchen island consumed by their own thoughts.
“Hey. When will you get your car back?”
Leo sighed. “Maybe never. The mechanic said it has a cracked head. I looked it up and it seems sort of serious. Dad says it might be too expensive, considering what the car's worth.”
“That sucks,” Micah replied. “It was a cool car.”
Leo grunted. “I liked being able to go places.”
“How come you don't have a job?”
Leo shrugged. “Parents said to focus on school. The car was my Nonna's before her eyes got too bad.”
“Lucky,” Micah said. “I want a job just for some cash.”
“What do you need cash for?” Leo asked with a grin. “All you do is trade grades for massages.”
“You have to admit, massages are the shit,” Micah said with a grin.
Leo bobbed his head. “Better than I thought, anyway.”
Micah opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it. Leo chewed idly and looked out the window to the backyard, seemingly lost in thought. Micah put together the cracker, salami and cheese to make a little sandwich and popped it in his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully, swallowed and broke the silence.
“Hey. So. What is it you like about a guy?”
Leo kept looking out the window as if frozen.
Leo turned slowly, his eyes focusing on Micah. “Huh?”
Micah frowned. “Are you okay? Seriously?”
“Yeah. Just...thinking, I guess. Hey...you told me about some guy that tricked you into letting him kiss you one time? Do I have that right?”
Micah rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Carlo.”
“How did that happen?” Leo asked, picking at a slice of salami and tearing it into small pieces.
“I was set up, that's the first thing,” Micah said seriously. “So Carlo and Dom are brothers – you remember them, right?”
“Your party was last week, I think my memory is good enough for a week,” Leo said with an eye roll.
“Dad says some people's memories are as long as their dicks, and after the way you reacted to my other dad giving you a massage, I figured you might be brain damaged.”
Leo flushed and stood up. “I have a lot of homework. You should head out.”
Micah laughed. “It was funny. Dad got a little mad at me for setting you up.”
Leo tossed things back into the fridge with more force than necessary. “Micah. Go home.”
At last sensing something was wrong, Micah stood. “Um. I'm sorry.”
“See you tomorrow,” Leo said and left the room.
Micah sighed and slapped his forehead a few times. “Idiot,” he muttered and left the house as requested. On the way home he texted Leo and apologized, but there was no response. Tucking his phone in his pocket, he decided he'd have to ask someone how to get out of this mess. Leo was his best friend up here, someone who was accepting him as a friend even though there was an age difference enough to make for social suicide in some places.
Arriving home, he put his stuff on the couch and ran upstairs to see if one of the guys was home. Uncle Robin was good at listening, but Uncle Lu had a way of understanding Micah that was almost eerie. It was one reason why Micah felt so close to them, even though they didn't hang out all that much. Micah had friends and activities, but he still enjoyed his time with his uncles.
He considered calling out when he entered the apartment, but he decided it would be smarter to listen. If his uncles had come home early they might be 'getting busy', and the last thing he wanted after laying a turd with Leo was to aggravate his uncles by interrupting alone time. If he heard something, he could just come back later.
He crept down the hall, listening intently for groans or skin slapping together or something similar, but all seemed quiet. He wondered if anyone was home at all when he heard a whisper. He stopped moving, holding still to listen hard and just when he was ready to chalk it up to his imagination, he heard it again. Creeping forward he told himself he just wanted to make sure it was time to leave his uncles alone. He paused by the bathroom door, not wanting to risk getting too close to the bedroom door, when he heard it again.
A low, soft voice said, “I want to tell you all I love you.”
The hairs on the back of Micah's neck went up. Who the fuck was that? It sure wasn't his uncles, and Griffin didn't sound like that and Devyn couldn't talk so...what the hell was going on? Micah thought about going to the kitchen for a weapon, but somehow someone stating that they loved people didn't seem all that threatening. Although, he supposed, there were some toxic forms of love. As he was waffling the voice spoke again.
“I know you've all been waiting for this, and I'm really happy to tell you all with my own voice how much I love you guys.”
What the hell? Micah thought. Losing his fear completely he poked his head into the bathroom and was shocked to find Devyn looking in the mirror. Devyn looked at Micah, maybe catching the movement from the corner of his eye, and he gasped.
Micah raised a finger to his lips. “Did you hear that?”
Devyn tilted his head in question.
“Someone is whispering about loving people. You think this house is haunted? Or is my dad playing a prank on Uncle Lu?”
Devyn smiled. Softly he said, “It was me.”
Micah's jaw dropped. “You can talk? Since when?”
“I'm practicing a little,” Devyn replied, his voice fragile. “My throat isn't completely healed yet, but I'm hoping if I exercise it a little bit I can surprise everyone over the holidays.” He flashed Micah a chagrined look. “I kind of was hoping the first person to hear me speak in years would be Griff – what are you doing here, anyway? Looking for your uncles?”
“Yeah, sort of,” Micah said, feeling abashed. “I screwed up something and I can't talk to my dads about it.”
“I'm a good listener,” Devyn said with a smile. “But can we get out of the bathroom?”
Micah chuckled uncomfortably and they retreated down the hall. Devyn stepped into the kitchen and pulled down two cups. “I was using the kettle while I was practicing. The hot tea soothes my throat because I'm not used to the talking thing.”
Micah leaned in the doorway. “That is so cool. Sorry I kind of blew your big reveal for you.”
Devyn smiled. “It was a long shot to get away with it completely, but you won't say anything, right?”
“No, of course not,” Micah agreed.
Devyn sweetened the tea and handed Micah a cup before leaning against the counter and blowing across the top of the hot tea. “So?” he prompted him.
“I feel like I should be whispering because you're kind-of whispering. Will you always talk like that?”
Devyn shrugged. “I don't know. The original surgery I was going to have would have had me speaking like this all the time. But with the surgery I had...I'm not sure where the limit is. It's still healing and I'm not really scheduled to speak or whatever until around December. For now, you get Whispery Devyn.”
Micah smiled crookedly. “Makes it seem more like a secret.”
Devyn sipped from his cup and waved his hand at Micah to talk.
Micah, feeling embarrassed, sipped his tea and muttered that it was both hot and tasted good before setting it down on the counter. Looking down at the steaming brew he spoke, coming close to Devyn's quiet tone.
“The weekend of my birthday, Dad gave me a massage. I've told Leo I get them, and he makes fun of me a little. I keep telling him he should try one.” Micah looked up. “We tell each other a lot of stuff. Like...he thinks some of you guys are pretty hot.”
“That's not much of a secret,” Devyn said with a grin.
Micah chuckled. “I don't get it. But I thought it would be funny to prank him. So I...” Micah's face shifted to a deep red. “I usually leave on my underwear when I get a massage, but this time I stripped. So when Leo showed up, I convinced him to get a massage.”
“Was Sasha right there when you convinced him?”
Micah looked down. “Yeah.”
“So you put him on the spot. He was embarrassed.”
“I don't think so,” Micah said uncertainly. “But anyway, when Dad was getting the table ready I kind of let the side of my sheet go down so Leo'd get the idea of how he was supposed to strip for the massage.”
Devyn sighed. “Micah. Playing pranks is a touchy business. You have to know your audience.” He set his cup down and placed a hand on Micah's shoulder. “You may be surprised to find out that not everyone loves Alec's antics.”
Quietly Micah said, “But he's funny. I mean, not always.”
“To you he's funny. Some people feel embarrassed, like you made Leo feel. I don't think he would have accepted the massage except that you put him on the spot. But why would you want him to strip for it?”
Micah looked away from Devyn. “Because I know he likes a lot of you guys. I figured it would make him squirm a little.”
“I see,” Devyn said and sighed softly. “Micah, I think there have been times that Alec has teased you and you didn't take it very well. I'm sure there are times when Sasha has had to tell him to be gentle with you, not because you're not strong but because he loves you.”
Micah sighed. “Dad told me that...well, he told me after the massage that he saw I was up to something and he warned me. I...didn't listen.”
Devyn frowned in thought. “Leo seemed okay at your birthday.”
Micah sighed deeply and looked up at Devyn's face. “Leo got a boner when Dad was massaging him. I teased him about it today and he told me to leave.”
Devyn's face fell a little. “Micah...well, I guess you already know that was a mistake.”
“Yeah. Pretty obvious.”
Devyn wrapped one hand around his cup and gave Micah a small smile. “If it were a movie, it might have been funny. Not right, but still funny, depending on the context. Some friends...they embarrass each other and it works for them, but I don't think most people work that way.” Devyn coughed and sipped his tea. “My throat feels so dry when I speak.”
“Dad warned me not to embarrass Leo, but...I kind of thought I knew Leo better than Dad does.”
“No doubt that you do,” Devyn agreed. “But people in general? Your dad knows that a lot more.”
“Yeah,” Micah said dejectedly. “But Leo knows how much pranks are part of my home life – he laughs all the time when I tell him! He even asks if anything new happened!”
Devyn grinned. “I think they're funny – especially because I'm not involved.” Devyn got a sly look on his features. “I thought you weren't so thrilled with pranks until your uncle Lu joined your team? I had the impression you probably thought Alec was some kind of deranged asshole.”
Expressionless, Micah replied, “Are you saying you don't think he's deranged?”
Devyn chuckled lightly. “He's fucking nuts. But...sometimes the joke is funnier when it's not happening to you. I think pranks are funny, but they're not my speed. I don't play pranks on people, and I don't like them being played on me. You and Alec and your uncle Lu have a thing going on. It's funny, but keep it away from me, you know?”
Micah looked down. “So. Leo, maybe, feels that way.”
“But what do I do about it? Leo already seemed down – you don't think he was feeling weird about boning up, do you?”
“Hm. Probably not until you brought it up. I'd say if he was already in a strange spot, you might have just said the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
“Well, I apologized. What else can I do?”
Devyn tilted his head from side to side and sipped his tea. Feeling awkward, Micah copied him.
“I'd say give him a little space. He knows you apologized. Ball is in his court.”
Micah sighed. “Yeah. Maybe.”
I can't believe he set me up, Leo thought as he flopped onto his bed. I can't believe I got a chubby, either. It's not like I'm nothing but hormones. His dads probably think I'm a perv.
Leo was embarrassed and more than a little put out to find that Micah had pranked him in such a personal way. It wasn't like messing with some food or clothing, something silly. Up until Micah said something, Leo'd thought he'd gotten away with the little incident. He recalled how odd he'd felt under the sheet and light blanket, how his boner had crept up on him despite desperate thoughts to will it away. Then Sasha had touched him and sent him to eleven, right until he actually started trying to work a kink out – that was enough to break the randy mood his dick had been in.
That had been bad enough, but to find out the little brat had done it on purpose? Made him think he was supposed to get naked? All to embarrass him? Nah. Fuck that. Even with as off-the-wall as Reece could be....
Reece. As much as Micah had caught him out of left field, Reece was the real problem. Why do I keep finding myself in these positions? Am I doomed to a series of gay fuck-ups? I just want a nice, normal gay guy to vibe with. Who needs this bullshit?
“Seems like I attract it,” he grumbled aloud. He heard the front door open downstairs and heard voices. He glanced at his phone and figured it was his mom – she'd had a meeting after work today about some food safety thing. He tensed as he heard someone pound up the stairs; that could only be one person.
Reece appeared in his doorway, smiled crookedly and said, “You know only whores make money on their backs, right?”
Leo rolled his eyes as he sat up, or tried to. Reece launched himself and knocked Leo back, bouncing them both off the mattress and onto the floor with a heavy thump.
“You dick!” Leo snarled.
“That was loud! Mama Sidoti in three-”
“Hey! Take it outside you two!” yelled his mother from downstairs.
“Huh. I was sure-” Reece never finished as Leo kicked him over onto his side. Reece responded by grabbing Leo's foot and trying to drag him across the floor, which was made harder by the fact he was on the floor as well. Instead it was more or less a tug of war over Leo's foot.
“Fucker,” Leo grunted.
“Pussy,” Reece muttered back.
Leo pulled back on his leg as if to give Reece a big shove, but Reece clawed the leg back to him which had the result of dragging him closer to Leo. Leo reached for Reece, but the other leaned back and dug his fingers into the sole of Leo's foot. Leo howled with laughter, telling Reece to stop as he frantically tried to jerk his foot from Reece's grasp.
“Hey! You two! Outside!” Mrs. Sidoti backed up her words by hitting them both with a corn broom, chasing them from the room. Reece ran down the stairs and headed for the back of the house with Leo behind him, promising to kick his ass. Reece barely made it off the porch before Leo was on him and they tumbled down to the thick lawn, grunting, rolling and shoving each other.
For the next few minutes they flopped, rolled and wrestled. Reece would resort to tickling while Leo went for headlocks and pressure points. Reece twisted and managed to wrap his legs around Leo's chest and squeezed.
“Bastard,” Leo grunted.
“I gotchoo!” Reece crowed.
Leo dug his fingers into the back of Reece's knee, causing his knee to buckle and Reece to burst out in giggles. Aha, motherfucker. Moments later he put Reece into a hammer-lock and had him face-down on the lawn.
“I'll yank your arm!”
Reece tried a sudden roll that Leo went with, first with Leo on his back supporting Reece, but Leo continued the roll and Reece was face down again.
“Say I'm the best.”
“Best kisser evah! Those lips – ah!”
Leo rolled off Reece and onto his back, panting. “You're an asshole.”
“Yeah. It's genetic.” Reece panted and rolled his head so he could look at Leo. “You should know this – you've met my dad.”
“I blame him, why shouldn't you?” Reece said and chuckled. “But one thing I can give you he can't – free pizza!”
Leo chuckled. “You got the job?”
“Yeah. Wasn't that hard, though the cook said most kids quit in a few weeks. I figure those kids don't live with my dad, so I can beat them by a week at least.”
Leo shook his head. “That's fucked up.”
Leo's breathing steadied and he turned his head to find Reece looking at him steadily. “What?”
Leo sighed and turned away, looking at the sky. It was a vibrant blue for the fall, especially when you considered the time of day. He figured it had to be one of those fleeting things like golden hour when it looked its best just before folding for the day. There was probably something poetic to be said about how something looks so wonderful before it dies, but Leo wasn't in the mood for poetry. A breeze picked up, one with a cold edge, and Leo shivered.
“So. You going to be weird forever?”
Leo frowned. “I'm not being weird.”
“You haven't texted me in three days.”
“That is a lie.”
“Okay, correction, you haven't texted me first in three days – and usually you start it.”
Leo snorted. “I end it.”
Reece sighed. “Okay, well, fuck this. I'm going home. I may not be wanted in either place, but I have a bed there.”
Leo rolled his eyes. “Oh, stop. Your mom likes you.”
Reece hovered over Leo, filling his field of vision. “What'd you say about my mom?”
Leo rolled his eyes again and tried to push Reece, but Reece just dropped down heavily on Leo's chest.
“Get off, nerd,” Leo growled, squirming. Reece tried to casually continue to pin Leo to the ground. Leo came to a stop suddenly and let out a pained sigh. “What, Reece? Do you actually want to talk about it?”
“Normally? No. Normally I'd rather let a hungry rat nibble my dick, but...three days, man. I think the only other time that happened was when you got Scarlatina. Even then I gave you shit.”
Leo glared, albeit mildly. “I felt like I was dying and all you cared about was me texting.”
Reece glanced back at his best friend. “Yeah, only this time I felt like it was me dying. I mean...seriously?”
Leo sighed and looked away before tilting his head back. It had happened; in a blink the sky had turned away from that magical shade of blue and entered a dimness that signaled the degradation of light until night took full hold. “What do you want me to say, Reece?”
“I don't know what the fuck you think you should say, but I know what I'm saying.” Reece moved back into Leo's field of vision, awkwardly climbing across him and making him feel like the situation was awkwardly sexy.
“And that is?” Leo asked, looking up at his best friend.
“For fuck's sake,” Leo growled and shoved Reece off him. He sat up as Reece did the same. His friend wrapped his arms around his knees and looked at him steadily.
“It makes perfect sense.”
“No, it doesn't,” Leo said, crossing his legs. “You're my best friend. My straight best friend.”
“Date me. You know you want to.”
“Reece! Shut the fuck up,” Leo grumbled.
“This is bullshit, you know,” Reece said. “I shouldn't have to fight you on this. You even get free pizza. What did you get with Henry? The smell of goat shit wafting through your nostrils?” Reece accentuated his point by waving his hands as if forcing some heavenly scent toward his nose.
Leo looked down into his lap and tangled his fingers together. “I'm sorry. I don't know why that happened.”
“I'm not. And I think I'm insulted you're sorry for making out with me.”
Leo sighed. “I'm not trying to be insulting.” He looked up. “I don't chase straight guys. You're not even my type.”
Reece adjusted until he was sitting on his heels. “I call bullshit. Your type? You drool over Micah's dads for one – every guy in that house, actually.” Leo groaned and covered his eyes, thinking of his mess with Micah. Reece continued, “The only thing any of those guys in that house have in common is they are older than you. Long hair, short hair, athletic, Hobbit – you like them all. That's before we get to Henry.”
Leo frowned. “What about him?”
“First he looks nothing like any of those guys. I mean he literally looks like someone took and drew a line from the top of his ass down to just under his balls, like a diagonal-”
“You know! Wedge his parents together if you use that line and you get Henry – his mother's ass and thighs and his dad's upper body, which isn't really all that football player if you ask me.”
Leo stared at Reece, mouth open and face in shock. “Did you just make some weird Frankenstein description of my ex?”
“It's genetics,” Reece said with sincerity. “Just like I get all my fucked up bits from my dad.”
Leo chuckled. “I can't believe you just said that. His mom's ass and thighs?” Leo looked up and started to giggle.
“Don't forget his dad's chest,” Reece reminded Leo.
Leo shook his head and looked at Reece. “Don't say mean shit about him. We weren't good together, but he's not bad people. His folks either.”
“It wasn't an insult,” Reece said with a smile. “Just making an observation – about how you have no type.”
Leo let out a sigh and covered his face with his hands. “Reece....”
“Nah, bruh. Don't 'Reece...' me. Our tongues have officially been in each other's mouths – no taking back.”
Leo looked up. “What's gotten into you?”
Reece tilted his head. “Your tongue – I just told you.”
Leo frowned. “You think this is a joke, don't you? Ha, ha.”
“No,” Reece said, shaking his head. “It took me a couple of days to work my head around it, but Rosa is right. I need to do this and I'm doing this with you.”
Leo stared at him, waiting for the laugh or the mischievous smile his friend always had so readily at hand – but now it was nowhere to be found. Then something in his brain clicked and he asked, “Wait, what about Rosa? You told her?”
Reece affected a hurt expression. “Hey, you wouldn't text me for three days-”
“Who was I supposed to talk to?”
Leo snorted. “What could you possibly say to her?”
“That my best friend laid an epic surprise make-out on me and now I want more? I think that's pretty much it.”
“We were daring each other!” Leo said, throwing his arms in the air.
Reece bobbed his head. “Yeah, I admit I didn't think you'd go through with it. I mean, Micah and his buddies asleep on the air mattress, us up on your bed...I thought for sure we'd either wake them up or you'd chicken out.”
Leo snorted. “Chicken out? What was I supposed to be afraid of? I knew you'd brushed.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Reece said and shifted closer to Leo. “And maybe that was okay for just a peck on the lips. But there was tongue. Time. Like, a lot of time.”
“You were challenging me,” Leo growled.
“Yep. I'm challenging you again, cupcake. Date me.” Reece grinned. “There's pizza in it for you.”
Leo shook his head. “I never know when you're serious.”
Reece plowed forward, knocking Leo onto his back. Leo squawked and there was a great commotion of arms and legs, but finally Reece had himself where he wanted – on top of Leo. Reece stilled and looked down, waiting for Leo to get the message and stop struggling – and that was a clue all in itself. Reece knew if Leo tried, he could throw him off. It might take a bit, but he could make it happen.
Rosa had made him see things he couldn't see in himself, and frankly he was excited and nervous and anxious to see what happened next. Rosa was a beauty – but she told him the reason she kept breaking up with him wasn't because she didn't feel special with him, but that he treated her like precious art and not a person. She told him that he stared at her in awe, but wasn't moved in his heart – or groin – by her physically or mentally.
Then she'd said she thought of him more like a brother at this point, and it had been a crushing blow to him at the time. He'd tried saying he felt one thing or another, but she'd logically shoot him down. Then she had asked what this all was about – and he'd admitted to the make-out. Not right away, but she was a bit relentless.
Tenderly she'd held his face and told him to stop being stupid and go date the guy he should be with, instead of chasing her.
That had been tough to handle at first, but it made more and more sense. It wasn't just that he was attached at the hip to Leo – theirs was a deeper bond than casual friends. They shared everything, and he had to admit that he'd felt excited when Leo had confessed to being gay, though he really hadn't understood why.
Now, looking down at Leo, he did.
“This is fucking serious,” Reece said. He wasn't entirely sure if he was speaking to himself or answering Leo, but it was true in either case. He lowered his face, letting his lips come within a hair of Leo's. Staring into his eyes. Leo, for his part, wasn't moving – and Reece took that as permission.
It was a simple kiss, and yet it was a question answered.
Reece drew back and looked down at Leo. “Date me.”
In the morning Micah took a deep breath as he approached the bus stop. He'd gotten used to riding to school with Leo, but with his car being broken – who knew when or if that would happen again? He stood at the edge of the crowd that milled as they waited for the bus. Micah hadn't seen Leo in the crowd, but he didn't know what that meant.
Looking around he spotted Leo walking from the direction of his house, bag slung over one shoulder. Leo had his headphones in, but removed them as he drew closer to Micah.
“Morning,” Leo said.
“Hi,” Micah replied.
Leo pulled a foil wrapped bundle from his coat pocket. “Mom sent this for you, in case you were running late.”
Micah accepted it with a low-pitched thank you. The foil was warm to the touch. “Leo, I'm sorry.”
“I know. Listen...you guys and your pranks are funny to hear, but I don't want to be one. Okay?”
“Okay,” Micah said quietly.
“Don't,” Leo said.
Micah looked up. “What?”
“Don't look like we weren't going to be friends or something.” Leo frowned lightly. “I was pissed. I don't think you treat friends like that. Maybe others do, but I'm not that kind of friend. That was embarrassing. Your dads could think,” he lowered his voice, “that I'm some kind of pervert. That's my reputation, man. Don't do that to me.”
“I really am sorry.”
“I know. Let's forget it, huh? My life is too complicated as it is.”
“It is? What happened?”
Leo rolled his eyes. “You wouldn't believe me if I told you. I'm still on the fence.”
“Ma dudes,” Reece said as he joined them, dropping his bag down between his feet and popping the buttons on his coat dramatically. “It was cold when I left the house, but this bag gets heavier with every step.”
“Morning,” Micah said.
Reece picked his bag up, slung it over one shoulder and then moved next to Leo and took his hand. “Leo.”
Micah chuckled, and then a bit harder as he noted Leo's red face. A minute later, they were still holding hands. “Is this a bet or something?”
“It's something,” Leo grumbled.
Reece just smiled brightly at Micah.
Micah looked back and forth between them, wondering what he was missing.
Reece bumped Leo who glanced over at him. Leo rolled his eyes and a slight smile touched his lips. “Micah, meet Reece...my boyfriend.”
Micah grinned. “It is a bet, and you lost!” he said, laughing at Leo.
Reece lifted his chin. “No pizza for you!”
“Aww, come on!” Micah said through his giggles.
“Leo. I'm going to have to prove it,” Reece said in a tone that was playfully regretful.
Leo chuckled lightly. “Just...don't make a scene.”
Reece turned and leaned on Leo, grinning before kissing his boyfriend.