I slumped on the bench and pushed my fingers into the grooves between the boards. My emotions—fear, anger, confusion—all swirling together in a turmoil that threatened to push me into overload. Then again, I thought with a snort, maybe I've crossed and nuked that bridge already. Someone farther down the line of cells coughed, made a deep retching sound and then fell silent. Moments later the stale air gained a thin acidic smell and the faint scent of someone having thrown up reached my nose.
I grabbed one of the bars of my cell and pulled myself to my feet and waved a hand in the air as I tried, in vain, to limit how much of that stink I had to breathe. I stopped, suddenly, struck with how stupid I was being. This must be some weird coping mechanism, thinking about minor things like some dude puking a few cells down when I was...in jail.
A chill traveled from nowhere to everywhere and I shook for a moment. Jail. Me, Robin Gabriel Kirkwood, in jail. With a criminal record.
If you'd asked me at any point before this, I'd have said the most likely of us all to have a record would be Jamie. Of us all, Jamie was the most likely to take some stupid dare and have it spiral into something no one would have seen coming. He was also the most outright defiant of little things like rules, so it only added to my roiling, conflicting emotions to realize I was the one of us that would have this black mark on their record.
I knew my parents were going to be disappointed in me. Hell, I already felt some shame—but, dammit, I'd had to do something! The last several months that'd been my mantra, having to do something, anything to stave off the fear. I slowly sank back down until I was sitting on the hard bench again of the holding cell in the town jail. I put my face in my hands and wept for myself as I thought about the steps that had taken me to this point.
“You could look a little more enthusiastic, Robin,” Lucien said to me while adding a playful shove for emphasis.
I sighed. “I know, I'm sorry. I just...I'm not looking forward to this.”
“She's trying...” Lucien replied, and then his voice trailed off. “Babe, if you really don't want to do this—”
“No. No, I said I'd try to give her a chance,” I replied, shaking my head slowly. “I just don't understand where you're coming from—actually, check that. I don't understand how you can trust her, or him.”
Lucien glanced around me to see if Claire, his sister, and her boyfriend were approaching. Returning his attention to me he replied, “I won't go so far as to say I trust her, okay? I'm extending a little 'benefit of the doubt' because she and Jeremy came through when it mattered.”
“That one time,” I stated. “How about when she ran out on you in that foster home; outed you to them? How about how she sits in judgment of you and me? Are you telling me that one thing balances the scales?”
He had been shaking his head as I'd finished up and then he said, “No, it doesn't. Babe, I've practically hated my sister for a long time—years.” He held his hands out and glanced away from me before resuming. “There were circumstances that made her think she was doing the right thing. I'm not saying she was right or that I just forgave her!” His voice went up and he raised a finger at me to forestall my rebuttal as I opened my mouth to protest.
I frowned. “Okay, she had her reasons. They did one good thing. Why do I have to meet them? Why do you want this...whatever it is?”
Lucien smiled at me, a genuine smile from the very heart of him. The kind of smile that made me feel like I was looking at a part of him no one else could see. He leaned in, pulling his glasses off, and placed the bridge of his nose on my neck as his arms snaked around me. I returned the embrace automatically and felt some of my unease melt away with him in my arms. Only he could do that. Only he could bring me peace when I was directionless—he was my compass.
He tilted his head to speak into my ear, “This is why. If she has any chance to make things work between she and me, long term, then she has to accept us. That's why.”
I suddenly felt guilty for fighting him about this meeting. I knew, deep in my heart, I'd been irrationally worried that his renewed ties with his sister would drive a wedge between us. I frowned and realized that being irrational was something I worried about more often than I ever had before. There were instances where my fears and worries were the excuse for why I'd acted a certain way, much more often recently, and after things cooled down and my assumptions were dealt with one way or another, I was left with feeling guilty and foolish.
“I'm sorry,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Don't be. I know this is hard for us both.” He tilted his head and the corners of his mouth turned up in amusement. “Besides, I don't mind reminding you how important you are.”
He replaced his glasses and I took his hand. A slight breeze pushed down the street and we stood outside the coffee shop and waited for his sister and her boyfriend. The smells wafted from the shops open doorway of the different drinks, the baked goods and grilled sandwiches—cheese and meat all tangled together in an olfactory orgasm that, despite my inner tumult, made my stomach growl. Lucien began to talk about needing to replace the low oil pressure sensor on his bus and that he was thinking he'd try and rope Nik in to helping him.
I was only half listening, letting his voice soothe my frayed nerves as we waited. Inevitably, though, my mind went back to why I'm such a basket case these days, and thinking of it drew my eyes across the street to how we'd arrived today: Lucien's beloved VW Vanagon.
It should have been blue, not red. Not just red, of course. If you asked Lucien, the bus nerd, he'd tell you it was Titian Red Metallic. It didn't matter, it was supposed to be blue—Orly Blue Metallic, as he'd told me. The paint was damaged; the clear coat peeled away in huge areas. Rust ran along the seams above the rear wheels. The first time we'd taken an extended trip in this new red (it should be blue) van we'd hit a bump and the heater vent, which ran along the ceiling from front to back, fell to the floor.
None of these things that announced the decrepitude of my boyfriend's vehicle fazed him much. Oh, he'd grumble but I suspected he automatically figured out whose turn it was to work with him on the bus and made a mental note to call them. He had collected parts just on the off chance he'd need one and was forever tinkering with one thing or another.
All that changed when someone from Claire and Jeremy's church decided to toss a Molotov cocktail into the bus and turn it into charcoal. That's how blue turned into red.
It had been surprisingly hard to see that thing afterward: the metal blackened and the springs standing free from their cloth restraints, warped from the heat of the blaze. Given that my initial reaction to seeing his bus for the first time was to question his sanity, I was surprised at the depth of my feeling about that old thing. The hours and hours we'd spent finding parts and fixing it, all the laughter and fun we'd had with our friends and all the times we'd made love in it had just gone up in smoke. That was hard.
It was harder, though, to see all that reflected in Lucien's face. That wasn't all of it though, not even close. The bus was just a stand-in for all my fears about how fragile life was; how fragile my time with Lucien was. Hearing he might have been hurt and not knowing, that was worse. Showing up and seeing him, his face swaddled in bandages...that had been hell. To find that shrew in his room...
I mentally shook myself as Lucien nudged me. “Here they are,” he said under his breath.
We turned to face them. Claire looked a lot like Lucien—you could see it in the bone structure of her face and the color of her hair. The eyes were different, and not just because she lacked glasses, but the familial relation was obvious. I hated to admit it, but she was pretty. She wasn't like my Lucien, though—her soul was no match for his.
Her boyfriend was a fleshy kid who looked pretty harmless. They walked side by side, but not holding hands. She smiled at the sight of her brother and Jeremy, the boyfriend, looked apprehensive. Well, good, maybe he should be. Or, at least I wasn't the only one.
Greetings were exchanged and we adjourned inside to order. I stayed quiet as Lucien placed an order for the both of us; I'd developed a taste for the flaky, buttery croissants they made there to go with my hot drink and he was ordering me two of them. I glanced away, feeling stupidly overwhelmed that he paid attention to such things. As I stared out the window I realized that I was different. I'd changed. Six months ago Lucien doing something small like this, remembering and spoiling me a little...it would have just warmed me. Now, it brought tension. Fear. I was unable to enjoy it as I wondered how long this would last. Would it be the last time?
“Robin.” Lucien bumped me with his hip and pulled me from my thoughts.
“Sorry. Got lost in my head,” I replied, smiled sheepishly, and took the drink tray from him while he carried the food on a separate tray.
“You want to sit outside?” Claire asked, pointing to a few empty tables on the sidewalk.
“Want to?” Lucien asked me, tilting his head toward the tables.
“Sure, babe. Whatever you feel like,” I said, and smiled at him.
Claire led the way, chirping along as if this kind of meeting happened between us all the time. As if we were friends. Her very presence irritated me but I gritted my teeth and took a seat next to Lucien. I'd sip my drink and eat my croissants with my boyfriend and just try to get through this, I decided.
Some small talk ensued, but it was mostly between Lucien and Claire. I glanced again at the red bus, the one that should be blue, and felt a trickle of the fear that had gripped me when I found out Lucien had been hurt. I felt, again, the feeling of helplessness—a deep chasm that reverberated with old loss, old hurt. I pulled my attention back to the table and noted that Jeremy seemed uncomfortable and that pleased me. Eventually, though, that changed.
“So,” Claire said, shifting her attention to me. “Robin, Lucien has told me so much about you.”
I smiled, though not cheerfully. “Yeah? He's told me a lot about you, too.”
Lucien placed his hand on my knee under the table and I turned to look at him only to find a look of mild concern on his features. I let out a small sigh and turned back to his sister.
“How are you adjusting to the town?” It seemed like a dumb question to me, really. She'd been there for months but what else could I do? Ask if she thought we'd get rain? Deeper in my mind I knew this wasn't what Lucien expected of me, either. He'd likely expected me to apologize to her and use more tact. The fact that he was right to expect it from me only made me feel more anxious.
“I really like it,” she said, answering the question in a tone of voice that sounded as if she thought I were truly interested. “Now that things have calmed down, and we found a new church—one that Jeremy's family attends as well—I'm feeling a lot more at peace.
“Of course, it really helps that my brother is trying to forgive me,” she said in a quieter tone. She glanced at Lucien and then back at me.
I felt the tiniest flash of guilt. But of resentment, too. I'd never taken well to passive-aggressive people.
“So you and Lucien have been together for about three years now?”
I glanced at Lucien who was looking at me, his elbow on the table and his head resting on his hand. I turned back to her, “Yeah. Three years this summer.”
“That's a really long time for high school,” she replied, glancing at Jeremy for confirmation.
“Um, yeah,” he said. “All the girls I dated were for just a few months, usually. I don't know anyone else that's lasted as long as you guys.”
I nodded at him, not sure what to say—and then, suddenly, I did. “We love each other. That's why we've lasted so long. Because we're totally in love.” I took Lucien's free hand and squeezed it. Not looking at Claire or Jeremy, but focusing on Lucien's eyes I said, “Some people don't understand.”
I interrupted as if he weren't there. “Some people look at us and think we're too young to really know what love is. Some people, like my parents, worried we were too close and spent too much time together. Some people look at us and see something unnatural and something to ridicule.”
There was a pregnant moment of silence and then Jeremy cleared his throat and asked a question, which surprised me since I'd expected some sort of awkward statement about his trying to change or evolve or whatever. But, no, instead he asked a question and a damn good one.
“What do you see, Robin?”
I spared the briefest glance at him before my gaze was back on Lucien. Lucien who was still with me (the bus should be blue) and smiling in anticipation. I smiled back.
“I see the rest of my life.”
Shoes squeaked on the painted concrete floor. The deputy walked past my cell, holding his nose and jiggling a key ring in his hand. He called out, his tone filled with disgust, to someone. The puker. He was being placed in another cell. The air was filled, for a moment, with the clicking of the key turning the lock cylinder and the squeak of hinges. Then there was the sudden clang of the heavy door hitting the wall of bars—an otherworldly, foreign sound that made me think of bad prison movies.
My fingers itched for a metal cup to bang against the bars and a mad giggle rose up in my throat. I clamped my hands over my mouth.
A door banged shut and the key turned the tumblers again. Then the deputy was squeaking across the floor, his polished boots looking new, and he passed through the door back into the precinct. Office. Whatever they called it in a sheriff's station. He didn't close the door, though. Instead he squeaked back into the cell block pushing a mop bucket. The wheels on the bucket twirled along the floor, spinning oddly even though the floor looked even.
One wheel squealed as it went, an odd line punctuated by the rhythm of the boots squeaking. Squeal squeak squeak. Squeal squeak squeak.
I leaned my head back against the wall and took a deep breath. The meeting with Claire hadn't been that bad. I had felt better afterward, more secure that she and Jeremy were making an effort. I knew Lucien wanted my approval and I tried to give it to him, but the things he'd told me about her and Jeremy's past kept rearing up and blocking my...I just couldn't quite get there.
The sound of the mop being thrust into the bucket echoed, and the flat 'splat' noise of the wet mop head punctuated the otherwise quiet area. The slap and gurgle sounded like some monster eating, lips smacking. Minutes later the squeal squeak squeak. Squeal squeak squeak chorus filled the space as the deputy walked past and the door closed on the cell block, bringing silence once more.
“Hey. Hey, down there.”
I stayed silent to the puker's attempt to make contact.
“Hey. You, um, got a cig?”
The idea of a cigarette was nauseating, but it also made me think of smoke and the red bus that should be blue.
Lucien was tying his belt and, as he did, my eyes strayed to look at the class that was just wrapping up. They were younger, their classes called 'Little Dragons', and they were kind of cute to see. One little girl with round cheeks had such a fierce expression as she kicked and followed up with a solid hand chop.
“Does this look right?” Lucien asked me and I looked back to his belt.
“No,” I said and started to help him get the thing tied properly.
Ever since Lucien's sight returned to normal I hadn't had an excuse to be around him all the time. Frankly, he didn't need me to drive him everywhere and take his things to his classes. I think, maybe, I'd been given some leeway on that until he'd gotten settled in school again, but now? Now I needed some peace of mind that Lucien would be okay when I wasn't there to watch over him.
I'd wanted a class that was a little more about offense, but Lucien had taken a very reasonable, irritating line of logic and we'd ended up in a Tae Kwon Do classroom to learn self-defense. I figured if he liked this, we could do something a little more aggressive later on so, actually, I wasn't really accepting his line of thinking; I was biding my time until I could get something done I thought was more appropriate.
Our instructor was too nice. He was always going on about community and character and grades when, I thought, he should be focusing on our training. Because the school worked on a monthly fee, we came to more classes than most of the other students. The sacrifice for that was not doing a spring sport at school, because Lucien said no to that, but it was worth it. I did miss lacrosse a bit but that paled in comparison to keeping Lucien both safe and in my sight.
We worked hard that night, pushing ourselves as we competed against each other. Lucien was good, naturally good, but I was the more athletic of us and so we tended to balance each other out. Even though I enjoyed competing, the idea that Lucien could be attacked fed my fervor to ensure he could fend off someone. Because of that, I always threw myself into our sessions. By the time the class ended, we were both sweating and breathing hard.
After we'd been dismissed, Master Yao called to us and we both approached him.
“Guys, strong work out there,” he said with enthusiasm.
“Thank you, master,” we both replied.
“Listen, now that you guys have a few belts in your arsenal I was thinking about asking you to help some of the lower level belts with their forms. What do you think?”
“No, thank you,” I said quickly. Lucien turned to look at me, the beginnings of a frown on his face.
“Well, I hope you reconsider,” the master said as lines appeared on his forehead. “This school is a community and, as you have learned, helping others to learn is part of our commitment here.”
“Master,” I said, “We paid to learn from you and we work very hard. My focus is learning to defend myself—that's my priority.”
“Yes, and that is a primary function of Tae Kwon Do, Mr. Kirkwood. But passing that knowledge on to others is just as important.” He smiled and shrugged in a silly way, “It's what makes us a community.”
He walked away, heading for a group of parents, and Lucien fixed me with a frown.
“What?” I asked as I left the practice mat and headed to the changing room.
“He makes a lot of sense. Why wouldn't we help?”
“We don't know it all, yet. We should probably be masters, first,” I said, trying to sound reasonable.
“He asked us to help a few people out, not start our own school,” Lucien snorted and then laughed.
“What?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at him as I loosened my belt.
He grinned and leaned in a touch. “Master Robin.” Then he started to laugh and a grin crept onto my face as well. I shook my head and got changed and then walked with Lucien to our cars.
“So, listen,” I said but got no farther as Lucien pulled me into a hug. Startled, I hugged him back.
“You need a shower,” he said, slowly pulling away from me and grinning.
“Well, we could do something less sweaty tomorrow night,” I said, trying to go back to the topic I'd meant to start.
“But Robin,” he whined, “The only sweaty things we do anymore is exercise!”
“That's not exactly—”
“Robin,” he said, his voice dropping. “It's been a month.”
“It has not!” I said, feeling defensive.
“Robin!” he said and punched me lightly. “It. Has. Been. A. Month.”
I pursed my lips and a look of concern settled on his face. “Robin? Are you okay?”
The bus should be blue.”Yeah. Of course, babe. I'm sorry, maybe we can get some time in this weekend but...my dad can take us over to the rod and gun club tomorrow and I was thinking...”
Lucien's face had clouded over and he backed away from me a step. “Guns?”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to make my tone sound casual. “I thought it might be fun to try target practice.”
“I'm not a big gun fan,” he said doubtfully.
“Well, have you ever fired one?” I asked, feeling slightly defensive.
I shrugged. “Why not? My dad will show us all the safety features and we can take a few shots at paper targets,” I said with a grin, holding my thumb and forefinger up like a gun and blowing at the tip of my finger.
He agreed to go, but he didn't look very enthusiastic. After a kiss that reignited my desire for Lucien we parted for the evening. As I drove home I counted it as a win that he'd agreed to go. I'd had very little trouble getting my father to take us—he was big on safety, keeping his handgun in a biometric safe at home. Carrying a gun was on the outer edge of my thoughts about defending Lucien, but I decided it was something we needed to work on.
After showering at home, Lucien and I texted back and forth for a while and then Jamie wandered into my room. He milled, picking things up but not speaking to me, which was very un-Jamie-like.
“What's up?” I asked, as I set my phone down.
“What makes you—never mind.” Jamie sat down and clasped his hands together. “My girlfriend...”
“Shit,” I said and slapped a hand to my forehead.
“Is she pregnant? Didn't we talk about wrapping it up?”
“Really? Condom talk coming from you?” Jamie snorted. “And, no! She's not pregnant. It's...weirder than that.”
I raised an eyebrow and settled in. His fingers wrestled a bit, looking like they might tangle themselves hopelessly at any minute. He glanced up and a smile crossed his face accompanied by a blush.
“Emily and I were talking. You know, one of those long talks where—”
“Yeah. Everything and nothing. And?”
He sighed and glanced away for a moment. “We ended up talking about our families and, eventually, the subject of sexuality came up.”
He glanced up at me and I spread my hands in question.
“She asked me if I'd ever...consider...you know.” He rolled his hand and an evil smile settled on my lips. He burst out laughing at my expression. “Fuck you, Rob!”
“Come on, Jamie!” I egged him on. “Tell me what you said!”
He blushed and shook his head. “Um, actually, I got saved by the bell. We were on her front porch and her mom called her in for dinner so I didn't have to answer. But, that's kind of what I'm struggling with.”
“Oh. Wait, really? I thought she was cool?”
“She is, totally!” Jamie replied, waving me off with a hand. “She's all about how cute she thinks Sean and Ash are together. She's even made some...” he coughed, cutting off the statement and I waited, arching an eyebrow.
“Anyway, no, she's totally cool. But the thing is...I mean, should I say 'yeah, I'd consider something with a guy' because I've already, you know—”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Or should I admit I did something with a guy? I'm trying to figure out how this affects her, you know? Will she feel bad that I did something with a guy?”
I sighed. “It's hard to say. Some people are fine with the idea of gay people, unless it's in their family or something. She might be cool with it on the surface, but be jealous or nervous if she knew you'd done something with a guy before.”
“On the other hand,” I said, holding up my hand to him, “what happened with you and Ash wasn't something shameful and it's part of who you are. I think, if Emily is the kind of person you want long-term, then you should be honest.”
Jamie frowned. “What if she freaks out?”
“Then you talk about it until she's okay with it or it breaks you up. Look,” I said while wetting my lips. “I know it sounds kind of matter-of-fact, but it kind of is. If Emily is someone you're dating like your flavor-of-the-week, then no, don't tell her something personal and real about you. But, if you want a real relationship, then you have to show her the real you—whatever that is.”
He looked down, his head bobbing. “Yeah. I guess that's kind of what I thought but...I figured I should talk it over with you, first.”
I tilted my head. “Why not Sean or Asher?”
Jamie grimaced. “Asher would try to get Em on his side to get Sean and me to kiss. He keeps on about how twins are every man's dream,” Jamie said with a snort to punctuate the thought. “And Sean...well, he's got his own problems. I didn't want to bring this one to him.”
“Are he and Ash still struggling?” I asked with concern.
Jamie shrugged. “Yes and no. Sean said they've completely cooled it on the sex and are just working on a relationship.”
“That's good. You can't really build something out of great sex alone.”
“Says the guy who screwed his boyfriend the first night,” Jamie said, smiling and laughing.
“Special situation,” I replied dourly. “Are you and Em...?”
“No,” Jamie said, shaking his head. “We've done some fooling around; little groping and stuff. We're talking about some oral...actually, that's kind of part of the conversation that was going on. I mean, how can I tell her I've already had two blowjobs?”
“Well, Jamie, you dated and existed before you met Emily. By the way, so has she. If one of you is a little farther along, you can't help that.”
“Yeah, but...you think she'll feel like, you know, she has to?” he asked, looking up at me with concern.
I looked at him blankly. “You're worried she's going to feel like she has to blow you?”
“Sort of!” he said, standing up. “Think about it, Rob. I tell her that I've already done that, does that put pressure on her?”
“It could,” I reasoned. “At least, she may feel it does.”
“I don't want her to do it because of that!” Jamie said. He drew himself up and looked me in the eye. “I want her to do it because it's what she wants to do. You know?”
“That's admirable, Jamie,” I replied. “You can't control her emotions, but I think it's important you tell her what you're telling me.” I paused and looked at him, noticing that he looked a little taller, a little...more mature. “I think communicating effectively is a requirement in any real relationship, Jamie.”
Later, as I lay awake, I thought of that last thing I'd said and how disappointed Lucien was at our lack of physical love. I realized, with dismay, that I hadn't been feeling aroused for a little while and then I felt guilty, but I drifted off to sleep not really understanding why. Or, maybe more honestly, not wanting to in case I understood completely.
“Okay, guys,” my dad said to us as we stood outside the door to the firing range. “A few things I want to cover. Number one is safety. Guns are very, very dangerous tools. You must handle them with absolute care, always treat a gun as if it is loaded. Never, ever point at anything unless you intend to fire.
“While we shoot today, I want you to pay attention to the safety equipment we'll use. Safety glasses,” he said, handing each of us a pair, “should be worn at all times while on the range.”
“I thought they were yellow plastic,” Lucien mused as he put his on over his glasses.
“They can be tinted for outdoor use,” my dad clarified. “Since we'll be inside, they are clear. Take the earplugs from their capsule,” he said as he removed the squishy yellow bits from a short plastic tube. “Scrunch them up and insert them in your ears. Always wear ear protection while in a gun range; the report can be very loud and then, of course, multiple weapons firing amplifies that noise and being inside lets it echo.”
He stepped over to a waist high counter set into the wall and placed his handgun down for us to see. “This is a Ruger P94. When we go in, you'll place the gun down at your station with the slide locked open. You do that by,” he pointed to the gun, “pushing the release below the trigger guard which allows you to remove the magazine.”
He placed the magazine next to the gun for us to see. He pointed out the safety and that the gun was an ambidextrous weapon and had a safety on each side. He also made note, pointedly, to place the barrel of the gun facing the wall, simulating being down range, so that an accidental shot would not be aimed at the neighboring booth. He then showed us how to grab the top rail and slide it back, insert the magazine and chamber a round.
He covered stance, when to place your finger on the trigger and how he'd be supporting us while we shot. Nodding to each of us in turn, we each loaded the magazine and then unloaded it. We took turns with the safety and, once, my dad had to push Lucien's hand away as the barrel was drifting toward my dad.
“Always be aware of where the barrel is pointing. These are weapons, guys, and they are inherently dangerous. Respect them at all times. Questions?”
We glanced at each other and then shook our heads. We put the earplugs in and followed my dad through the door. The sound of gunfire intensified, a reminder of how much sound the door had been blocking. I could still plainly hear it, despite the earplugs, and pushed them into my ear canal a bit further. The smoke in the room hit me and I felt a little woozy.
Lucien went first, with my father touching him lightly to adjust his stance and coaching him on how to smoothly squeeze the trigger, and where to place his hands. It was hard to hear it, but I could see how he moved Lucien's hands and pointed to the movement of the slide as a potential danger. Lucien pushed the magazine home and chambered a round. With a glance back at me, my father ran out a target and Lucien took aim.
For a first timer, he wasn't too bad was my thought. He'd followed instructions to the letter, held his stance firmly and put several holes in the target. The smell of smoke, especially this close to the weapon making it, was very uncomfortable—or maybe my nose was overly sensitive. A mild wave of dizziness hit me and I closed my eyes for a moment to clear my head.
Locking the slide open and ejecting the magazine, Lucien placed the gun down on the table with the nose pointing downrange and stepped away. My dad gave him a thumbs up and I smiled at him. With my stomach rolling over I stepped up to the table and loaded the gun. My dad adjusted my stance and made the same movements he had with Lucien, yelling about hand placement loud enough to be heard over the noise in the range. Then he ran the target out and I took aim.
It was the smoke, really, not the gun itself. I squeezed the trigger and it bucked in my hand, but that was all secondary. The smoke became the number one input for my system and (it should be blue) I felt overwhelmed. I pictured the bus at the wrecking yard, a burnt out shell and could smell the acrid odor of its immolated carcass.
I fired again, and one of my knees buckled. I righted myself, but not consciously. A tear filled my left eye and a rage like I have never known flooded me and all my anger and fear over the attack on Lucien's van—the attack on him—burst through me. I raised the gun and squeezed the trigger again and again until the entire gun was empty and the slide popped open. I have no idea if I'd hit the target; I certainly hadn't hit the one I'd been aiming for—the demon that walked my days, whispering about how people could be taken away.
The door to the cell block opened and the deputy walked in, keys jingling. He stopped in front of my cell and placed the key in the lock, then the door banged open; the clang of metal on metal filling the room.
“You got sprung, kid. Come on out.”
I pulled myself to my feet and followed him out listlessly. He took me to an intermediate room where they returned my shoes, belt and other personal items. I slowly put myself back together, feeling as if this weren't reality; not one I recognized.
“I needed that,” Lucien said, draping himself across my sweating body. My spend was cooling between our stomachs while his deflating penis slowly left a trail up the inside of my leg, following the path it had taken once he'd withdrawn from me.
“I did, too,” I murmured, meaning every word. It hadn't been as good as it normally was, but that wasn't on Lucien. He'd made my body respond, knowing where I lived and what buttons to push. Deeper down, though, I hadn't been able to give myself to the experience completely. It made me quite mournful that being made love to wasn't getting through my melancholy, not completely. I felt better than I had in days, to be sure. A voice had joined my demon (it should be blue!) and it had begun to whisper that Lucien was tiring of me. Of my neurosis. Feeling that disconnect now, in my most vulnerable state, filled me with dread.
I suspected that he felt it, too, and he began to pull away, planting his hands on the mattress and pushing. Perhaps to question me. As my eyes filled with tears, I enveloped him and, instead of letting him go, pulled him tighter. He nestled into me, one leg sliding between mine and I pulled my leg up and over his, bringing our legs together at the ankle. I ran a hand into his hair and he purred at my touch and then yawned. He started to pull back, but I tightened my grip.
“Robin,” he said, a chuckle breaking up the sound of my name.
“Please.” It was a whisper. A plea.
He nuzzled his face into my neck and tears leaked down my face. How long could I hold onto him? How long before my zeal to protect him eclipsed everything else? Had it happened already, given my disconnect in our most intimate moment? Despite my efforts, a sob ripped from my mouth and my chest heaved. Lucien tried to pull up, to ask what was wrong. I held him fast, using my arms and legs to pull him in tightly. To feel the heat of his nakedness, the scent of our mingled sweat and sex in the air.
Instead of continuing to pull away, his arms worked their way under me and then I was firmly in his grip as well. As on the sidewalk, he turned his face enough to speak into my ear.
“I'm here, Robin. I'm right here.”
I shook. My nose became clogged and I rocked his body in my grip. His head began to lift and I put a hand back in his hair, pushing him back into my neck.
“I'm a mess,” I said thickly. “Don't look at me.”
He struggled against my hand, until his gaze rested on my face. He placed a hand on my cheek, stroking it with his thumb. Slowly, he moved his fingers to wipe away my tears and then he kissed my eyelids, his lips now wet. He didn't ask and I didn't say. Instead, he pulled the blanket over us and nestled his face back into my neck.
We lay tangled together for some time. How much, exactly, I don't know. The sun began to go down. My bladder was slowly feeling more and more full. Rather than get up, I simply turned us so we were on our sides. Our combined heat kept us warm, but I knew that people would be returning home soon. My parents had been out to meet with a contractor about remodeling a bathroom. Sean was likely with Asher and Jamie was over at Emily's.
Lucien ran a hand through my hair and I was brought back to the now, looking into his eyes.
“I had a conversation with Griffin several months ago,” he said. He dropped his fingers down and gently closed my eyelids before he resumed stroking my hair. “I told him I was worried what would happen to you if you ever actually hit someone.”
I opened my eyes and asked, “Why would you worry about that?”
He pushed me back and began placing a series of gentle kisses on my chest, punctuated with his explanation. “Because you're so sweet. Beating the crap out of someone...it would change you. But, even though you haven't done that, you've changed. Haven't you?”
I felt a tingle of fear, anger and dread run along my spine. “What makes you say that?”
“Robin,” he breathed, making the fine hairs on my chest tingle and sending an involuntary shudder through me. “Defense classes? Guns? You're angry at everyone and suspicious of everything.”
“I just want you safe,” I replied, hissing out a breath as he ran his tongue around my nipple, teasing the flesh until it felt like stone.
He sat back, looking me in the eye and said, “I'm in your bed. Where are you?”
I bit my lip. “I have to pee. Badly.”
I sighed and reached for him. “Wherever you are, that's where you'll find me.”
He leaned forward and brushed my lips with his. Looking down into my eyes he said, “I feel like I'm losing you.”
I began to shake my head and his image blurred as my eyes became wet again. He wiped my tears and told me to go to the bathroom, but admonished me to come right back. I rose from the bed and padded across the hall to the bathroom. I relieved myself and then washed my face. I glanced up into the mirror and met a face haunted and hunted; a face I had trouble claiming as my own. I wet a washcloth and cleaned my stomach, then wet it again and returned to the room, giving the cloth to Lucien.
He wiped up and I watched him, feeling as if he were so near and yet so far and not understanding why (it should be blue, not red!) I should feel that way. Tossing the towel aside he reached for me and we were soon twined together under the blanket. He was kissing me, again, but not in an attempt to arouse. He was being affectionate and I...I was lying there like a dead fish.
“Lucien,” I said suddenly, my tongue moving ahead of my brain. “I can't lose you. I can't.”
He lifted his head, lowered it to place another kiss on my clavicle and them murmured, his lips moving against my skin. “That will never happen.”
I placed my hands on his shoulders and held him away from me, so I could look him in the face. “I lost Charlie. I almost lost you. I can't lose you.” I shook my head, his image blurring again. “Can't.”
He adjusted, and our thighs were pressed together as he drew me into him. He held on as I cried. Stroked my skin as I sniffled. Kissed me as I shook from anger, fear and loss. I'm not sure how long we stayed that way. At some point, though, I became conscious of him speaking.
“What?” I asked, my voice rough.
“I said,” he replied, kissing my cheek. “I'm standing up to you.”
“You told me a long time ago that I had to stand up to you, and I'm doing it now. Robin, babe...don't you think I was scared, too?” He paused, looking down at me and heat crept into my face. “Of course I was scared.”
“You seemed like you were more angry than scared, honestly.” I studied his face and found him as open to me as he normally was.
“I was angry, yes. But I also had choices, Robin, and I made them.” His fingers traced my jaw and down my neck.
“Fear and anger or you. It wasn't any contest, really.” He smiled down at me and stretched, arching himself into me and I responded by pressing in closer. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him in close, in case it was anywhere in his head to get out of bed and away from me.
“What do you mean?” I asked, even though I thought I might know. It seemed somehow arrogant to think what I did, but I hoped it was what he'd say.
“I mean I could spend all my time being angry or scared or I can spend it being with you. I realized pretty fast that being with you was preferable and it wasn't even close,” he said with a smile that I felt as he pressed his lips to my chest.
“H-how did you do it?”
He sighed. “I guess it sounds easy to say it like that, but it was you, really. Being there like you were. Treating me like something precious. It made me realize that...we can't live our lives in fear. We do the best we can, we take reasonable precautions and we live, babe. We have to live.”
I shook my head. “I'm afraid all the time, now.” I sat up. “They tried to kill you. All I can think about is..is...”
“Don't. I'm safe, right here with you. They didn't win.”
I shook my head and leaned forward, my hands rising to support my head. “You don't understand.”
“Okay,” he said agreeably. He shifted behind me, spreading his legs to either side and pulling me back so that I lay back on his chest. “Tell me,” he said while stroking my hair with one hand and running his fingertips along my chest with the other.
I gathered my courage. I pushed my thoughts into some kind of order, some order I hadn't been able to fully grasp for the last few months. Meanwhile, his fingers moved steadily and I felt calmer for it.
“When Charlie died, I felt real pain for the first time in my life. I'd had break ups, but I'd never actually lost anyone. But after that...” I blew out a breath. “I didn't want to eat, go out...I couldn't even jerk off. I...” I shrugged “I couldn't get it up, mentally or physically.”
“It was a pretty major depression,” Lucien murmured.
“The thing is...even though Charlie was special, my first love...it doesn't really compare to you. To us.” I sniffled and rubbed my nose. “I told my parents, last year, that if we broke up I'd be devastated.”
Lucien pulled me tight, his hands stopping their caress. “I'm not letting you go.”
I smiled, though he couldn't see, and placed a hand over his. “My point is, I know what loss feels like. The idea of losing you...I can't handle it. If you thought I was a mess after Charlie...”
“Well, let's not find out, okay? I'll keep on living, just so I can be with you,” he said and nuzzled the back of my neck.
“I'm being serious,” I told him.
“So am I,” he said, his voice taking on a dreamy quality.
I sighed. Gathering myself once more I said, “Ever since they bombed your bus, all I can think about is protecting you.”
“And you have.”
I glanced down at my hands. “I'm afraid all the time,” I said, my voice low and mournful.
He pulled on me, pulling me farther back on him and he spoke into my ear, a low intimate tone. “I understand fear. I felt it when Charlie died, and I felt it as I watched you crumble. I respect that we need to take steps—learning to protect ourselves, for instance. But, babe, if we spend all our time in fear then we have no time or energy left to be together.”
“And what I mean by that is we're not going out to spend time together. We're not taking walks or drives...in fact, we hadn't been making love. Instead, all our time was wrapped up in fear and worry.” He paused and then rested his chin on my shoulder. “Robin, I'll take you any way I can get you. That's why I went to Tae Kwon Do. That's why I went to the gun range, even though I don't like guns. All that, I do for you. But, when were together, you're missing. Babe, I miss you. As much as you're afraid of losing me...I feel like I'm losing you.”
The buzzer sounded and the deputy pushed the door, leading out into a general waiting room where my parents stood. My mother took two long steps and wrapped me in her arms, and I returned the embrace. My father took her place once she'd reassured herself that I was still whole.
“I'm sorry,” I said, my voice cracking and knowing my words were wholly inadequate.
“Come on, buddy,” my dad said as he put an arm around my shoulder and they walked me out to our car. On the ride back things were tense, at least they felt like that to me. They must have had questions. They may not have understood. They may have felt like they were right about Lucien and me; that this was some vindication of that.
Pulling into the driveway, my dad turned the car off. There was a pause, a long moment when he might have spoken, and then it passed. Or, it passed for him.
“Dad? Mom? I need to say something.” I licked my lips as they turned in their seats to look at me. “I'm sorry for what happened. You may not understand, but that guy was threatening Lucien and I...I couldn't just...”
My father shook his head. “Robin, I understand completely. I felt threatened too and if he'd been acting that way toward your mother, you might be bailing me out instead.”
I glanced back and forth between them, disbelief filling me. “You...you're not mad?”
“Worried,” my mother said. “I feel like this is something bigger.”
I nodded, realization crystallizing in my mind. “I'd like to talk to someone. I...I thought my grief about Charlie was done, but with what's happened to Lucien...”
“Yeah, that makes total sense. I'll call the office tomorrow and get you set up.”
I felt the first signs of relief that they were so willing...that we were on the same page. Then, a new thought struck me. “Will there be...legal trouble?”
My parents glanced at each other before my dad spoke. “Well, I don't think so. The only reason the cops held you was due to the property damage, but I think we can work that out.”
I sighed with relief. “What about that guy?”
My father shrugged. “I heard he was throwing up in his cell.”
We'd gone out to dinner with the Kutsenko's. Our mothers enjoyed drinking wine together and it made sense, really, since the children in each family were tied so closely together. So, about once a month, our parents got together and this time they took us along including Jamie and Sean. The table had been long and we four kids were on one end. The conversation had, somehow, turned to Jamie's recent problem with Emily, which had taken an unexpected turn.
“Wait, she said what?” Sean demanded.
“I know, right?” Jamie replied. “I was kind of shocked.”
“Tell her Ash is off limits, Jamie. I don't care how much the idea turns her on.”
“But, Sean, help me out!” Jamie said, shit eating grin in place. “It might help move things along with her.”
“No,” Sean stated firmly. “Ash is mine. Lu? Help me out, here?”
“I'm with Sean,” Lucien said to Jamie and slipped his hand in mine. “I'd go nuts if anyone else was with Robin. Scratch their eyes out or something.”
We laughed and Jamie continued to egg on his brother who, interestingly, continued to play the straight man and was getting angry at Jamie for suggesting Sean loan his boyfriend, Asher, to him. Of course, that may have been because Jamie and Ash did have a little history.
Dinner had been going well, right up until a karaoke DJ set up in the space between the bar and the dining room. People were getting up to sing, mostly from the bar, and they were usually pretty bad. Off key, missing words or making up their own sometimes as they got distracted trying to pretend they were cool, they acted as if having a microphone in their hand bestowed magical powers.
It was vastly entertaining, however, to see both sets of parents get up and sing something called Paradise by the Dashboard Light together. We were all having a good laugh, even though the song went on forever, but it got even funnier when they called Lucien's name up to sing.
I looked at him in surprise and he was looking just as shocked. One look at a smug Jamie was all it took to figure out what had happened, however. Lucien, good sport that he is, went up to sing a song by Sam Smith. It was hilarious. I mean, I love Lucien but singing isn't his strongest suit and, in fairness, those high notes are a killer.
Lucien got into the song, though, and danced out toward me, waving his finger and singing 'I know I'm not the only one'.Mercifully, the song ended and we were all laughing and clapping for my boyfriend, who took a theatrical bow. All that changed as he went back to the stand to return the microphone, when a man who looked vaguely familiar stepped out from the bar side of the business establishment.
He said something to Lucien that I didn't hear, but I didn't like the guy's body language. I was up and across the room in a flash, in time to hear Lucien reply.
“Yeah, I know a gay guy sings the song. So?”
The man leaned in menacingly, beer in hand, and said, “You shouldn't sing songs by that queer. People will think you're queer.”
Lucien crossed his arms. “I prefer 'gay'. I'm gay and I don't care who knows.”
“Jesus,” the guy said. His face had several days worth of growth and, with a surge of fear, I suddenly remembered who he was—Tyson Prescott's father. The one who punched his son out at a recent swim meet. “Jesus,” he said again, “this place really is lousy with faggots. God dammit!”
Things were a blur, then. He stepped close to Lucien, trying to intimidate him, but Lucien was having none of it. The man's chest bumped Lucien and I stepped between them, shoving Mr. Prescott backward. He started yelling and then there was the sound of breaking glass—Prescott's bottle—and then a table overturned, a chair flew and I was staggered by a blow which I returned. Somehow I had Prescott off balance in the melee and I shoved him away as hard as I could. I started to follow on, to make sure he stayed away from Lucien, when he slipped on the beer from his broken glass and went through the glass wall separating the bar and dining room.
The sound was deafening. I thought he might be dead—and a part of me didn't mind that. But, then, he moved. Time became unstuck. The police were called. I was taken back to the precinct/station/office...whatever.
Now at home, we entered to find my brothers, dropped off by the Kutsenkos, and Lucien. We fell into each other, his eyes wet and mine too, I'm sure. The relief at seeing him whole and unharmed was both a tonic and overwhelming. It took a little time for the house to settle down, mostly because Jamie was playing the event up like a heavyweight fight in which I'd won a title of some kind. His excitement was completely overshadowing the fact that I'd been in a jail cell, but then maybe that was the point.
Eventually, Lucien and I were alone in my room.
While I was relieved beyond words to see him—to have him waiting for me, I was also afraid. I knew how he felt about my fear. I knew his philosophy was radically different from the one I was living. But after sitting in that jail cell, alone and with only myself to blame...I realized he was right. I was spending all my time being afraid and none of it loving him. I was protecting a love that I wasn't living.
I leaned against my door and looked down on him as he sat on my bed.
“My parents are making me an appointment with the counselor.”
“Yeah. I asked them to. I'm kind of a mess.”
Lucien rose from the bed and moved in front of me. “What can I do to help?”
“Don't leave me?”
He smiled and took one of my hands, turning it to kiss the back. “It's funny, in a way.”
“That I started falling for you the first time I saw you,” he said, moving his lips lightly over the skin of my hand and moving out to the fingers.
“Why is that funny?” I asked, watching him.
I felt him smile, as his lips curved while he pressed them to my fingers. “Because I've been falling for you everyday, ever since.”
I stared down into his gaze, filled with a sturdy calm that gave me comfort. Maybe I hadn't just ruined everything. “How is that funny, though?”
“It's ironic more than funny, I guess,” he replied. “After wanting no one but you for so long, that you should say...how could I ever leave you?”
I pursed my lips and my heart trembled, desiring just one more declaration before it would surrender. “People in love break up, though. Sometimes.”
He pressed his lips to mine and, I thought, he meant that to be his answer. Yet, he pulled his head back and said, “This isn't that kind of love.”
Behind me Lucien snored lightly. I stood at my bedroom window, looking out over the lawn bathed in the moon's glow. A fog had settled in and gave it an eerie, otherworldly look. Mysterious. It suited my mood.
Lucien was glad I was going to see a therapist. I had no doubt that the root of my problem was having lost Charlie and, now it had turned into a crippling fear of losing Lucien. I needed coping mechanisms and a way to put some of this away where it wouldn't hurt me—us—anymore. He had been right all along, now I just had to find a way to tame those feelings—to deal with them. One day, I might still lose Lucien. A car accident, disease or old age. I hope I go first.
“Robin?” Lucien said, his voice thick with sleep.
His hand waived toward me. “I'm cold, babe.”
I slid under the covers and pulled him to me where he nestled in and drifted back to sleep. I yawned widely and snuggled Lucien as I pushed thoughts of losing him to some unknown 'someday'.
Until then, I have a life to live and I need to get back to the business of loving my boyfriend.