Romantic, wordy, and a tad goofy.

Discerning Palate Part 7

As requested by a perfunctory text and horrifically hungover, I swept into the restaurant with sunglasses on and a dirge in my heart.

The sweeping was due to my stubborn insistence on seeming so very strong, yes, the human personification of a stone wall that could not be bothered by post-sex caginess or the discovery that the boy who he'd loved dearly as a young man, and then been humiliated and rejected by, was himself gay. Nor would I be thrown off by homophobic slur and a demand I choose a 'side' in a game whose rules baffled me and whose major players were nothing but dim abstractions. No, none of this was allowed to get to me, for I was Teflon, bulletproof, and untouchable. Honestly, what the fuck was the point in getting upset? Everything was barely hanging on by a thread and duct tape, and it appeared it was all just going to continue to get worse, not better.

The early morning had been a nightmare. Once I had gotten home and seen the writing on the condo door, my auspicious day started with a call to the condo owner who had to get in touch with the caretaker. The paint was covered quickly, and by  noon everything was settled and I was somehow not out on my ass.

Unfortunately the whole vandalism mess made my presence known to the caretaker and the community office, and to avoid the whole ass-out thing I had to sign a sublease, cover the fines and painting costs that my hostess would have to pay if I didn't (and I'd never do that to her), and ended up missing out on a whole pile of sleep I really could have used.

So when I received the text that insisted I show up at the restaurant and be ready to work at 3pm (not negotiable), I was not particularly angry. The correct word was 'numb'. Perhaps I was even grateful to have a purpose, even if the purpose came with a boss I wanted to murder. I'd taken a shower, eaten, and grabbed a triple cappuccino on the way in so as to fake being alive.

Around the corner from the restaurant, I'd trudged past Kim's cafe and waved at it symbolically. Supposedly they were still working diligently at it, which they'd better fucking be, since that was the whole damn point of my indentured servitude. If the place didn't look splendid in a timely manner I was going to flip out, call the police, and maybe even follow through with that murdering thing.

The key-containing padlock was off and the door open at the Mobster’s Bistro, but there was no one in the front and I was feeling way too lazy to search for a warm body.

Thus instead I sat on a set of chairs obviously meant for contractors and thought about if I'd ever hear from Jason again, and if it'd be undignified to call. Fucking hell that guy was a mess. Unfortunately, I thought that mess was crazy adorable. Also, I might have been just as screwed up.

Still, I was miffed. Both at him throwing me out like that, and also at myself for not pushing harder as to why he’d shut down on me. Okay, there was also a chance that I’d overreacted to what Jason had said, and that he wasn’t actually kicking me out when he mentioned having to get up in two hours. But he’d definitely walled me out, and I’d been exhausted and hurt enough to go straight to the most extreme interpretation. Maybe we needed to talk. But should I be the one to call him, or vice versa? There was no easy answer to that. My heart ached a bit, since I was starting to sort of adore him.

Well, no matter what, it didn’t look like Jason would be a very useful resource for my search for an answer to the Channing problem. Wait, what had the guy in the bar yesterday said, to come to them if I needed any help with that issue? Maybe it was time I explored that particular avenue.

Then my mind drifted back to Mr. Alessandro Channing, and how much I was dreading seeing him. Maybe that was why I just sitting here, and not venturing back to the office where he'd asked me to meet him. Back in that office was more trouble, conflict, and disappointment. I was getting so very sick of those three things.

Memories came then, of the Sandy type that I'd completely suppressed for 10 years, of us in his family basement, carefully constructing complicated Lego sets and talking, talking, talking. There was probably a movie playing in the background on their huge projection TV. Maybe a Star Wars, or Fright Night, or horror, or, by then, the Godfather or a Hitchcock. We had loved movies, increasingly moving into movie nerd territory. He read books about them and stored an encyclopedia of quotes in his head. We were maybe 11 in my mind's eye, so a year or so before he'd turned into a horrible asshat.

An indeterminate amount of time later - somewhere I'd put my cup on the floor, and I suspected those memories might have segued into sleep - the door to the kitchen swung open, and the focus of my homicidal-slash-nostalgic thoughts strode out with his phone in his hand and a pinched expression. He didn't notice me at first, as the windows were papered and the room dim, giving me ample opportunity to think about how complicated my desire to hurt him was. Goddamn, he was like a Grecian wet dream that had somehow gotten lost in a Brooks Brothers, and the crisp yellow shirt and distressed jean combo he sported was catalogue worthy. And I don't mean the Sears kinds, no. This was Saks shit.

"For fuck's sake, Isaac," Alex muttered, and I noted with interest that he didn't seem very angry, just stressed out. Judging by his color and the darkness under his eyes he hadn't gotten much more sleep than me. First I felt sorry for him, the way we had when we'd been younger and his father had started to push him towards chronic overachievement; this pissed me off to no end, as this motherfucker was blackmailing me and Kim, not even to mention our past history of him being a complete asshat. So I tried to switch to snarky thoughts and the bitchy conclusion that he'd probably been up too late fucking the Ginger Twink, my new affectionate label for Brendan. Alcohol and rage really put my creative naming skills into overdrive. But the thought itself  led to an unexpected and undesired spike of jealousy, so I suppressed that also. Where the hell did that leave me, then?

"Fuck," I said with a sigh, and Alex whipped around. This was too bad, because even as I cursed his name and the name of his forefathers I'd been somewhat-consciously staring at his ass, and the way his expensive slacks hung around his muscles, those strong, lean thighs. Although his front wasn't so bad, now...

Okay, he looked pretty angry once I really paid attention, what with that cloudy expression. "How long have you been there?"

"What time is it?"

"It's 3:45!" Man, his eyebrows did great things when he was pissed, turning into dark, masculine furlines of doom.

"Really? No shit, and I was pretty much on time, too. I must have fallen asleep." I stretched my legs and arms, and then scratched my stomach before sinking deeper into the chair. His eyes followed the path of my hand, so I took some time pulling my shirt up and running my fingers up my abs while pointing one foot at him with a lazy grin. Gay, huh? We might hate each other, but I was certainly up to torturing him with the fact I was generally considered quite a hot piece of ass, as long as you didn’t mind the ink and jewelry. My pride was also still smarting from the fact  I had just been kicked out of someone’s bed, so I was feeling like boosting my own ego. But he didn’t have to know about that, especially the fact that the ‘someone’ happened to be a cop. Nor that, honestly, I cared enough about him to want to both turn him on and piss him off. "Sorry, boss. Not a great impression on my first day, is it?"

He snapped his glare to my face. "Please tell me this isn't how you are with all your jobs."

"Fuck no. I'm unfailingly professional. You've read my goddamn CV; you know I'm dependable." I stretched one last time with a yawn. "I just had to go further afield for my fun last night than you did. “ Part of me was tempted to throw the writing on the door in his face, but I decided against it. What if that prompted him to put a ‘guard’ on me? What if said guard was the effervescent and debonair Robbie? Shit, that didn’t sound like any fun at all.

I locked my mind on his mention of professionalism. This set up a war in my brain, as none of my past jobs were taken out of more duress than that stemming from too much culinary school debt and a desire to be able to visit fine restaurants on my nights off. Treating this situation as a job made my stomach curdle and my nose wrinkle.

And yet: it was, at least at the moment, a job, and (here went that dick voice in my head) a job that I rather wanted, at least in the abstract. With a sigh I finally stood up, took a deep breath, and accessed the part of me that kept it together no matter how shitty a kitchen was, or crazy a boss turned out to be. This was a job, and this man in front of me was a paycheck.

Nothing more, nothing less, or at least that was the case until I figured out a way to take him down.

“So what do we need to get done today?” I asked with a bland smile, crossing my arms.

Alex looked surprised, and the light hit his face, hitting the planes of his cheekbones and the serious bags underneath his eyes. Those dark pools then narrowed in suspicion. “Seriously? You’re going to play nice now?”

“Don’t look a gift asshole in the mouth, Channing. I know there’s nothing I can do about this situation at the moment. Look, I’ll even turn off my phone.” I held it up and showed him the airplane mode symbol. “What am I here for, what’s our time frame, and what type of food do you want from me? How much staff can we afford? How much do input do I have?”

He laughed, in a short sort of way. “It’s a bit scary how quickly you can do that.”

I refused to ask what ‘that’ was. “Get to it.”

He turned sharply. “Come into the office, and I’ll show you what we’ve got so far. You’ll be here for a while.” There wasn’t any humor left in his voice.

As we walked, I did my damndest to ignore the tight perfection of his ass, seeing as I shouldn’t be ogling someone I hated. I failed, of course, but at least I tried.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that he wasn’t lying when he said that what we had to do was going to take a while. We went over logistics, how many people I wanted in my kitchen, the size of the menu, and what I’d need to develop said menu. We created a schedule of that creation, which I demanded be generous due to how much practice and research I’d need. He’d given me the resume of the sous chef he’d scouted, a woman named Bernadette, and I said she looked good on paper; the secret was to ensure we has the right personality mix to not kill each other. He promised that I’d be invited to the interview.

Honestly, and I hated to admit it, but the whole thing went very smoothly, and he was making this very easy for me by being flexible, thoughtful, and listening to my input. At moments, I was even able to forget who he was. We then started in on suppliers and layout, but after about 4 hours of very intense discussion I was mental toast. He was talking something about health inspections, my head was very close to my arms and suddenly I was out, the sound of his deep, serious voice lulling me under.

“Isaac.” I snapped up, looking around and completely surprised to have fallen asleep. Alex looked amused, and not much more awake than I felt. “Have a nice nap?”

“No.” I said, grumpily, and rubbed my eyes. “They’re never goddamn long enough.”

“Ha.” He went back to reading the health department paperwork, and I sat there in a stupor, trying to shake off the feeling of having been hit by the sleep bus.

As we sat there in something like comfort and my mind began to wake up, I thought maybe I should tell him about what was on my door that morning, because it was something he’d want to know. Before I could pull my thoughts together he got there first, and what he’d been thinking about blasted my conversation starter clear out of my mind.

"Remember when we watched 'Big Night'?" Sandy asked. The question was said flippantly and he was now looking at his phone; it took my blasted brain a while to put the words together and transfer them to my processing center.

Of course I did. We'd stolen it from his mother's rented movie pile when his parents were out for the night, and both of us had drooled at the sensual food, the meals, the delicious beauty of it all. We'd promptly ordered 2 huge pizzas with piles of wings and gone to town, but we'd known that wasn't of the same caliber cuisine to what we'd seen on screen. We'd talked about how awesome it would be to run a restaurant, to have a multi-course feast at our beck and call whenever we damn well wanted it, and I'd said something about how that was going to be my life. That I wanted to do something involving food was already decided at that point, as my mother's love of cooking had ingrained the belief there was nothing more wonderful and full of warmth than self-created edibles. Sandy had always loved the idea.

"So you can also cook me whatever I want, whenever I want it?" He'd asked slightly, smiling his pointy smile as he scarfed another slice.

"Hell yeah I can. I'll be the master of everything, and there's nothing I won't be able to cook." I didn't dispute the idea that I'd make him whatever he wanted, whenever, because that idea brought me even more pleasure than it brought him.

And, goddamn that arrogant little fucker, I swear he knew it. "Great, then you better get on that, because my mom's cooking sucks, and yours is too busy. You really think you can do better than her?"

"She's really good, yeah," I'd conceded. "She'll probably always be better at some stuff. But I'm going to go to school for it, and learn lots of complicated techniques and shit, and be able to do things you only see in restaurants and on TV. It's going to awesome.”

"That's so cool!" He'd taken a swig of coke, and damn it, even then, I'd watched his mouth with a hunger that was probably pretty unsubtle. "Hmmmm." He'd looked thoughtful, and folded his hands in front of his mouth in a move that I'd seen his dad do many times. "I'll have to run the restaurant, then. Guess I'll go to business school, huh?"

"That's a good idea," I'd said with a grin, and meant it, "You'll be the best businessman ever, I'll bet."

"You think?"

"I know it." And to blunt the naked adoration of those words I'd thrown in a shrug. "Although you'll still be a dick, of course."

"Screw you," he'd said, with a Mediterranean gesture that also came from Channing the Elder, and thrown a chicken wing at me. I'd ducked, studied it as it lay on the hardwood floor, and then ate it for the shock value alone. All he'd done was roll his eyes and say, "so gross," but I could tell he found it funny; he seemed to always find the stupid shit I said or did funny.

God, I'd been such a stupid sycophant back then. But I'd thought that was a good thing. He seemed to like it.

Until that day when suddenly, violently, he didn’t.  

That day I became a 'fat, nerdy fucker', as stated with spitting contempt in front of a his new, sociopathic little friends. That was not a good day, and it was the beginning of me deciding that he himself was one of those damn sociopaths.

My mind snapped back to the present. "Vaguely," I said, closing my eyes as if I was going to go to sleep again. Go away, Channing. Please please please go away.

“That was fun.” It was a statement of fact, said in his sharp, dry tone.

Well, of course it was fun, you fucker, we were best friends, we spent all our time together from ages 3 to 12, and nothing could destroy those facts or our relationship. Until you did. Him bringing that up made me very, incredibly, completely angry. I stood up and walked towards the door. “I think we’re done here.”

“I didn’t say we were, Isaac.” There was a knife’s edge of anger in his voice, and it was sexy and infuriating.

“What you gonna do, send Robbie after me? Fuck off. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He didn’t respond, and I stomped out.

I wanted to cause some trouble, and I decided that trouble was best found in the Horse’s Head. I wandered in around 10 pm. The same wiry, tough looking dude was busy behind the bar and he nodded at me in greeting as I sat down at the end, although I noticed his eyes were watchful in a way they hadn’t been before. Somehow, I had the distinct impression he knew who I was this time.

I ordered a beer - needed to keep my wits about me, and I was a bit concerned I was getting a bit too dependent on booze as an outlet lately - and nursed it while looking at my phone until the bar slowed down, and he’d moved towards my end to put things away.

“Hey,” I said conversationally. “How’s your night going?”

“It’s fine,” he said, not looking at me as he checked bottles. “How’s yours?”

“Not bad.” I paused, hoping to make this seem natural. “But I was wondering if we could talk a bit. About the Channings, I mean, like you mentioned last time.”

He stopped what he was doing for only a second before his hands continued their routine. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And if I did I’m not sure I’d be the one you want to talk to. Or you’d like to hear what we’d say.”

Yeah, he knew me. “I probably won’t like it, but I would like to hear it, especially in light of the fun stuff on my door this morning. If not you, who do I need to talk to?”

Now he did stop, put down his towel and leaned towards me. “You really don’t know who you should be talking to? I find that hard to believe.”

I’d been getting a version of that question a lot lately, and it was making me irritable. “I honestly don’t give a fuck what you believe, friend.” I basically said that as a dare to get a ‘I’m not your friend, friend’ out of him, and I swear he thought about it. “I think you’d be pretty surprised how ignorant I really am. I honestly have no idea what’s really going on here, and I’d like to talk to someone who can explain it to me, ideally without violence or fucking slurs. Is that possible, or do I need to make an appointment?”

His eyes narrowed, but he was surprisingly calm, simply straightening up and turning away from me. “Most nights you’d be out of luck, but tonight….” without finishing that he went down near the cash register and picked up the phone, said a few sentences, got a response, put down the receiver and came back towards me.

“The booth in the corner, the one facing the stage.” He jerked his head in the general direction. “You sit there, and you wait.” I looked over at it, a big corner booth that was separate from all the others, and conspicuously empty in a busy room. Huh. Oh, well, at least it was in semi-public, right?  

“Okay. Another beer, please.” He thud one down in front of me, and I shuffled off to the booth, feeling very weird going there alone, especially when several people in the open space stared at me and whispered to their friends. Excellent, I’d been given the lucky pleasure of sitting in the Godfather’s corner. I’m sure that boded well.

10 minutes, 20 minutes - I fiddled with my phone and got the waitress to bring me another beer.

And then suddenly, someone sat down next to me and I snapped my head up.

“Son.” My adoptive father said, looking down through his glasses at me, and I simply gaped. “Nice to see you.”

Ignoring my stunned expression he sat down on the opposite side of the booth from me and, as if by magic, the waitress dropped his favorite domestic beer in front of him. He didn’t acknowledge it, instead staring at me with that still, measured gaze of his. I felt a rush of guilt, because I hadn’t let him know I was in town. Then I felt relief, because he genuinely seemed to mean it was nice to see me, in his macho, self-contained way. And then I cycled back to shock.

“You said you wanted to talk to me,” he said.

“I didn’t know it was you I wanted to talk to! What the fuck?” My voice was loud, and a couple of people looked over at us.

My dad’s expression took on that ‘be quiet’ expression I knew too well, and had rebelled against so young. “I see your language hasn’t improved, Isaac.”

“Not even slightly.” There was an uncomfortable pause where we both took a sip of our beer. We’d not seen each other much over the past ten years, and even less in the past five, after my mom divorced him and I stayed with her when she wasn’t in Florida. He was both completely familiar and a complete stranger, and the weirdness of the current situation made that dichotomy even sharper.

“You didn’t tell me you were home.” My dad suddenly said. His voice sounded actually hurt, and I winced in guilt.

“....” Why hadn’t I? Oh, yes, then I remembered. “The last time we talked you were so mad at me for leaving Japan. You seemed so pissed I was quitting such a good job, and I didn’t think you wanted to talk to me.”  

“You are my son, Isaac.” He said this with the great dignity he brought up for when he was making a pronouncement, and somehow had me both impressed and annoyed, causing that layered effect only a parent can. “I may often be frustrated with you and your decisions, and we may not see eye to eye, but I do care about you.”

“Oh.” His guilt was effective, and I was about to apologize, when I remembered something else and my rage rushed back in. “So, wait, you’re the reason I had a slur on my door this morning? What the fuck was that?!” I knew he was never pleased I was gay, but it’d never seemed more than disappointment, not violent homophobia.

“No.” He slammed his beer down, and his expression became angry, his mustache moving as he scowled. “I’m sorry about that. I was in the city yesterday, and someone else decided to make a statement to you despite me making it clear that I wanted to deal with you, if not this directly. I’m sorry, as well, for Kim’s shop last week. Despite warnings, one of my boys seems to feel the best course of action is property destruction. We’re going to talk to him.” The way he said that made me very glad not to be that man. “Truly, Isaac, tell Kimberly I’m sorry. She was not meant to be involved in this, and I’m very angry at those criminals for pulling her in.”

“In what?!” I said, incredulous. “What is going on here? Are you at war with the Channings?”

“War? No.” my dad shook his head. “War would be better than this moronic, hopeless detente.” My dad, an avid reader of 1000 page nonfiction books about glorious battles and dead british dudes, always did like a fancy turn of phrase.  “The Channings have been strong arming the business people of this town for decades, and have even convinced some of them they’re in their corner. They are not, and with Christo’s stroke-”

“He had a stroke?” Shit, Sandy hadn’t mentioned that. But, of course, why would he?

“Yes, a couple of months ago, and is recovering in a home outside of town. Things have been falling apart since then, and Alex is trying to salvage what’s left; who knows what he’ll do to maintain that legacy.” A legacy of what, I thought grumpily, cagey liquor store clerks and suburban hush money? A grand inheritance indeed. Fucking Christo and his bullshit. I always knew he was a shady bastard.

And so is his son, said a voice in my head. And then another voice, quieter, asked if I really believed that. I told both voices to fuck off, because right now I was dealing with the fact my paterfamilias was actually involved in this whole clusterfuck.

“So… what’s your role in all this, then?” I asked, warily. “Still running the City Council?”

“I stepped down,, for various reasons.” His face clouded. “I now consult with the City and with some other interested businessmen. We are nothing but concerned citizens, Isaac, and we’re trying to regain control of this town. You may have heard this, but drugs are involved, and they’re corrupting our community. Do you see that man over there in the corner, in the grey shirt?” I turned, and saw it was a hard man to miss - a tall, broad middle-aged guy, with steel grey hair and glasses. “That is the police of chief, Dan Nichols. He is a friend of ours. The cops take this very seriously as well, and we will rid this town of the filth, and stop them from running their little shadow cartel from behind the scenes.”

“Does that mean you can get Kim out from under her loan?” I sat up straight. “And me out from under from having to work from them? Oh, fuck, dad, that would be great.” I started to feel a wave of relief and affection for my father. He wasn’t the most expressive or loving of men, and I wasn’t crazy about the way he’d ignored my mom for so many years, but if he saved us from this bullshit I’d nominate him father of the goddamn decade.

“Unfortunately not for Kim, not at the moment. She signed their papers, and we’ve learned untangling them in court can cost a pretty penny. There’s nothing we can do, at least until they can no longer afford their lawyers.” I slumped down at that in disappointment. “But you.” He pinned my eyes with his, almost glaring at me through his glasses. “You can actually really help us.”

Oh, fucking goodie, I thought despairingly and feeling about 10 years old again under that gaze. I’m sure I’m going to love this one.

*********************************************

I got out of there at 11:30, exhausted in every way a man could be, and drove straight for Kim’s after a short phone call confirming she was up. After parking across the street I dragged myself up to front porch and rang the doorbell, expecting the worst.

She opened the door with what I can only say was a look. Then she slammed that door after I was inside, started walking down the hall, and then whirled on me, her features scrunched up in anger. “Isaac, are you trying to make all my friends’ lives difficult?”

“No?” I tried to look contrite. It wasn’t hard, with how tired and beat down by my conversation with my dad I was feeling.

“First the thing with Kristina! Oh my god, she was a mess all night. And then I just got off the phone with Abbey, it’s in the middle of the day where she is - you were supposed to keep it low key!  She’s appreciative you paid for it and are taking care of the sublet costs, but she’s pretty embarrassed. Who did you piss off enough to get them to write slurs on your door?”

I gave her a weak smile. “Who do you think? It said ‘choose sides or die, fag.’ I’m pretty sure the Channings are one of those sides.”

That stopped her dead. “Oh. Oh. Fuck, Isaac. I’m so sorry. Shit. Of course. She didn’t know exactly what it said.” She flopped down into one of her bar chairs, looking very deflated and waved me in the general direction of her wine rack, which I assessed swiftly and grabbed a big, angry cabernet and the wine opener.

What’s the other one?”

“That’s… quite a story. We have a lot to talk about.”

First I started with the part about the restaurant, and we went through my many complicated feelings on it. She felt the guilt I thought she would, but I verbally kicked her out of it, and pointed out the issues and my conflicts went way beyond the blackmail at this point. I ensured her it wouldn’t effect the cafe, and she waved that one off. “Whatever,” she said with a savage bite of a piece of pizza, “at this point, I don’t even think I want the damn thing any longer.”

I couldn’t blame her. Then I told her about my dad, which had her blinking in shock, and then she got angry he ordered the breaking of her window. I passed along his apologies, but she still looked unimpressed. “God, he always was kind of a self-impressed asshole. I’m glad I’m not really related to him. So… are you going to do it?”

“Snitch on the Channing crew? Fuck, I don’t know, Kim. I don’t know what’s right any longer. I mean, obviously, the chief of police is in on it - I won’t be going to them anytime soon. And my dad is a dick, but he was kinda being nice, too. He promised he could help us if we helped him.  I’m totally tangled up.” She looked really worried, so I mustered up my best devil-may-give-a-shit smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll wing it, like I always do. Let’s switch topics for a bit, because this is really depressing me, and I need to sort shit out. I have more, but it’s your turn. Tell me about your club night.”

And so she did, having me wincing about how upset Kristina was, and how the night ended up revolving around distracting and soothing her. The poor woman. “But, you know what, Isaac, you have a fight on your hands for that one,” she lifted her eyebrows and pointed her wine glass at me. “Because Kristina admitted she was somewhat aware he was bi, but she doesn’t think it’s very serious. Like, just leaning that way on the Kinsey scale, he’d never let it go further and that you tricked him into kissing you. And, with you being you, I couldn’t deny it’s possible.”

“What?!” I was offended. “At what point have I ever had to trick people into making out with me?! Fuck off.”

Kim ignored that aside from a grin and poured more wine. “So, yeah, she doesn’t think he’ll let it go beyond that, and she can win him back. It’s not gonna be easy.”

“Not gonna be easy my ass,” I said with a snort, killing my glass. “Who do you think he was fucking last night? Because spoiler alert, it wasn’t her.”

“ISAAC.” She was scandalized. “Like, seriously? Full-on?”

“Full-on.” I said with some guilty self-satisfaction. “And while it may have been a post-clubbing drunkish dial, there was certainly no tricking.”

“Oh, shit.” She blinked, and gulped her wine down. At this rate we’d definitely need more wine. “Fuck, poor Kristina. I don’t think I’ll be telling her all this, but I guess I really do have to start believing your version of him over hers. So you’re an item now?”

I made a face. “Not even slightly. He’s definitely up for fucking men, but being in an open-air relationship with one? I’m not convinced he’s down. Or at least, not down with this man.”

“Ugh. I am not liking this side of Jason I’m seeing here. Poor you.”  

I couldn’t disagree, and that line of thought made me think of the next revelation. “Oh, yeah, and one more thing.”

“What?”

“Alex is gay.”

She literally shrieked at that one. “No!”

“Yup.”

“How do you know?!?” A hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, god, Isaac - did you fuck him too?”

“NO. Ugh ugh ugh no, no and No. I hate him, remember? God, what a thought.” An appealing thought, yes, but only in ways that made me hate myself. “I stopped by his place at his command and he had a twink there, and when I confronted him he confirmed it.”

“Huh. HUH. Well, shit then, I guess we know why he’s not married now. That’s been a local obsession for a while.”

We sat in silence for a bit while she digested that piece of information, probably thinking back to high school, when they’d been in intersecting social circles. “I guess it explains some things. But, god, to hear that he’s gay after how he treated you. No wonder he was trying to kiss up to you later.” She shook her head. “What a mess.”

“He didn’t kiss up hard enough, since I barely remember it. And yes, yes he is.”

“Oh, Isaac.” She reached over and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry. Your life is so complicated right now, and there’s nothing I can do to help.”

I squeezed it back and smiled, and our hands hung there, entangled. We’d get through this stupidity somehow. “Just be my friend, girl, just be my friend. I can really use one right now.”

“Deal,” she said with a tired smile. I looked at her, and saw bags under eyes, as well.  “Although I’ll continue to try to think of other ways to help. I’m not whining, don’t get me wrong, I know you have it worse -”

“Stop it,” I said, waving that away, “this isn’t the Misery Olympics.”

“You do have it worse,” she repeated stubbornly, “but I’m not sleeping, I’m eating too much or not enough, I can’t make it to the gym, and I don’t know what to do with myself. I miss my dog, and am pissed I let my ex take him. A lawyer who’s been after me forever keeps calling, and despite the fact he’s really cute and smart as fuck I can’t be bothered to pick up the phone. It sucks, and I’m miserable, and it’s all this shit is my fault.”

“For fuck’s sake, Kim, you were tricked into this by professional criminal asslords. Stop beating yourself up, and sleep with the hot lawyer. It might help.”

She laughed, suddenly and genuinely. “Asslords?!”

“Asslords. And you know what we both fucking need, probably more than sex with handsome men? A nice dinner out, and we are doing it in two nights. My treat.”

“No! You can’t do that!” I could tell, however, she loved the idea, and her resistance was token.

“Yup. You have no choice.”

“Isaac,” she said, and looked genuinely touched. “You’re better than this world deserves.”

I was about to make a witty asshole remark to that when the doorbell rang, and we both started. Who the fuck would ring the doorbell at 1 in the morning?

Kim got up slowly, as if trying to hide the fact she we were there, and tiptoed to the door to look out the peephole. “Oh.” Her voice was bemused, and she started to undo the locks.

“Kim! Who is it?”

She looked at me, eyebrows sky high on her face. “The police.” She opened the door wide so I could see who it was, and turned to give a small, judgemental smile to the visitor. “Hello, Jason.”

“Kim,” my confused blond adonis said in greeting, his brow drawn in clear embarrassment, that broad, boyish face slightly flushed. He turned to look at me. “Isaac, we need to talk.”

“How’d you find me here?” I asked, sitting up straight. After talking to my dad and learning that the police had definitely taken a ‘side’, I had a flashing fear that he was in on this whole fucking mess. Hell, if my old best friend was, and my dad was, why not the guy I’d just fucked? I mean, it’s not like it was outside the realm of possibility at this point! It was definitely turning into a grand fucking conspiracy.

Although, honestly, I was just exhausted and afraid of what was coming. I still wasn’t sure if I’d made the right decision in leaving when I did, but I’m not sure I was ready to find out, either. And yet...

He looked so handsome, his round, gym-perfect muscles highlighted in his grey T-shirt and stone-washed jeans, with a slight sheen of sweat and the tired eyes that seemed to be the theme of the night. I felt guilty, then, for keeping him up the night before. But god he was so fucking hot.

Jason seemed taken aback by my vehemence. “Your car was out front. Kim usually parks in the spot out back when she has it, so I figured it was you. I just got off, and when I saw you weren’t at the condo I tried here.”

“Oh.” That made a stupid amount of sense. I guess cops noticed these sort of things. “Why didn’t you text?”

“Because when I tried to call your phone it went straight to VM, and I was worried you’d ignore my messages.” That was valid; there was a possibility I might. He looked at Kim, who was leaning against the wall of the foyer, watching us with open interest and an arch expression. “Can I talk to him alone?”

“Be my guest,” she said, smiling as she took a small sip of her wine and ignoring my look that told her I’m not sure I liked that arrangement, “but hell if I’m vacating my own living room for you two.  I definitely don’t trust you upstairs.” She pointed through the kitchen. “The balcony’s all yours, boys, but please don’t wake the neighbors. And my roommate’s back early tomorrow, no doing dirty things anywhere.”

I snarled at her as we shuffled by, and she shrugged with an amused smile.

We closed the sliding door behind us, and Jason sighed, running a hand through his hair which left bits of it still sticking up in the back, where I suspected he had a natural cowlick. I fought the desire to smooth it down. “I don’t think she likes me much now.”

I snorted. “Despite the fact she was just telling me how grateful she is, she’s not being the nicest fucking cousin to me, either.” He laughed, an unforced sound, and I was pleased to have entertained him. That pleasure became uncomfortable when I noticed how alone and close we were.

The balcony was very small, with only a tiny table and two chairs there. The light that shone through the sliding door reflected off his body, and the suburban summer sky shone with muted stars. It was humid but not too, and the sounds of bugs and faraway cars hummed through the night. Jason was so solid and broad, and so present and aware in that way cops and military men were, that the intimacy we’d had last night suddenly felt inescapable and powerfully present. I remembered laughing with him and teasing him the night before, and the flush and pleasure on his face as I fucked him. Oh, shit, why was I letting my exhausted brain travel down these roads? And somehow, where the road ended was that what I wanted, more than anything else, was to lean into him and get a goddamn hug from those strong, beautiful arms of his.

Instead I moved to the farthest corner of the balcony, leaning on it and looking back at the sparse trees and the apartment complex beyond it. Oh, Suburbia, so comforting and familiar, so good at strangling me. “What’s up?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful. I failed.

I heard him take a deep breath. “I think we had a misunderstanding last night.”

Well, I knew that, handsome. But which one are we talking about? “Oh?” I said lightly, finally looking at him.

He made a sound that was like a mix between a sigh and a growl, and god, he looked even more tired than I felt. He crossed his arms, those grey eyes upset. “Why’d you leave like that?”

“Because I thought you wanted me to, and I was fucking hurt.” I had no energy for lies.

“That’s not what I meant! I was going to ask if you wanted to stay and lock the door behind you when you left or if you wanted me to drop you off back in town. I didn’t want you to leave, but you moved so quickly, and were so upset, I didn’t know what to say. Why do you always leave so quickly?”

I wrapped my arms around myself and looked down. “I don’t know. It seemed easier than staying and finding out what you meant.”

He moved forward and gently placed a large, warm hand on my neck, turning my head up to look at him creating spots of warmth that I desperately wanted to lean into. His touch moved up to my jaw, and ran down its edge with one large thumb.

“I’m sorry I shut down on you, babe.” His voice was quiet and his eyes genuinely upset as he cradled my face. The pet name made me blink and, I was pretty sure, blush. Was that what he called Kristina? Probably. Did that matter to me right then? Probably not. “I really enjoyed last night, and I didn’t know how to process it. Like I told you, I don’t do easy sex that well. It stresses me out. And when I really like it, and the guy keeps leaving, it stresses me out even more.”

“I’m sorry, too,” I said, letting my head fall onto one muscled, warm shoulder. There was no fight left in me. “I’ve convinced myself you don’t like me aside from the sex, and it was easier to run away than get rejected.”

And then he wrapped his arms around me. They were so big and warm and strong and I can only say I melted into him, and he tightened his grip. “I don’t fool around multiple times with guys I don’t like. I’ve been thinking about it all day - hell, I’ve been useless - and I noticed that when you’re around you’re the only thing on my mind. I think I want to keep doing this.”

“This? Like what we’ve done so far?” I said, lifting my head to grin up at him. “So, fucking around, then?”

Jason pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, and I noted I liked him a bit peeved. “Not just that - I’d like to keep seeing you and maybe, you know, actually schedule times together.” His arms tightened around me, and my heart lifted as he moved closer, his voice quiet. “I know it’s not much, but I don’t think I can do more right now, after Kristina; I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t need to pull you into the mess. I have a lot to sort out.”

I sighed and let me hands settle around his muscled back, loving how solid he felt, and pulled him closer. “You are definitely not the only one.”

“Good. We can be confused together,” he said, and kissed me, his lips landing on mine gently and his hand behind my neck. It was the first tender kiss we’d exchanged, and it was lovely and sexy and sweet, and I lightly bit at his lip as we pulled apart. My mind was a lot calmer than it had been before he came.

Jason reached up and gently pulled a strand of my hair through his fingers. “So. I’m not working tomorrow. What are you doing tonight?”

I smiled. “Ideally sleeping? I’m so goddamn tired.” I put a hand up to his cheek, lightly touching the dark circles underneath his eyes. “I think you are, as well.”

“Yeah, well,” he threaded a hand through mine, and the side of his mouth quirked. “Some hot tattooed punk I can’t say no to decided to booty call me last night.”

“What a dick,” I said sympathetically. “I hate that shit. I think you should go back to that tattooed asshole’s place with him and crash in his bed and make him make you breakfast so you can show him who’s in charge. I hear he makes a mean breakfast.”

“I think I’d like that,” Jason said, stepping back but not letting go of my hand, and then gave me  tired but sincere smile. “Especially the showing him who’s in charge bit.”

I smiled back, and squeezed his hand. We went back inside, where Kim was on the couch, sleeping with the TV on. She heard us enter the room and opened her eyes pushing herself up on her arms. Her hair was askew and she’d washed her face and she looked so tired and beautiful and scared. My resolve hardened to do what my dad asked of me, if it would get us out of this bullshit. I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “You should go to bed.”

“I know,” she said in a blurry voice, “but sometimes I prefer to sleep with the light and TV on, when Martina’s not around. It’s less lonely.” Her eyes sharpened a bit, and she looked over my shoulder at Jason standing there, his hands shoved in his pockets. “Going back to your place?”

“Yes,” I said, refusing to feel shame, and squeezed her shoulder before stepping away.”I’ll call you tomorrow about that dinner, okay?”

“Sounds good. Night.” She closed her eyes and laid her head down again. As we headed out the door, “Don’t let Kristina see you!” drifted sleepily but clearly after us. Jason flinched.

I squeezed his forearm comfortingly as we walked to his cruiser. “Don’t worry about it- you know the path to her building is on the other side of my building from my door. And her window doesn’t have a clear line of sight to the sidewalk, either. The blinds are closed; we’ll be fine.”

He nodded with a small smile, and kissed my temple. “Thanks.”

I noted a distinct heart fluttering on my part as he went over to the driver’s side and we both got into the car. This new, sweet and engaged Jason was going to take some getting used to, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

We were both pretty quiet on the drive over, but it was companionable. He was nervous as we walked down the sidewalk to my door - and we parked two blocks away so Kristina wouldn’t see the cruiser near by in the morning - and as I was pulling out my keys he tilted his head at the door, and the ‘fresh paint’ sign taped to it. “They repainted the doors?”

“Only mine.”

“Really? It looked fine a couple of nights ago.”

“You know, touch-ups,” I said vaguely, and was grateful he was too tired to push it, because I couldn’t lie worth shit right then.

Jason had bought a Gym bag with him from his car, and as soon as we got in he asked if he could take a shower, noting that it was a bit weird being in an apartment so much like Kristina’s but definitely not hers. Letting that roll off me I gave him a towel, and as I’d just taken one earlier that afternoon it didn’t seem necessary to wake myself up enough to follow suit. I brushed my teeth in the kitchen sink; it didn’t feel quite right yet to do so in the bathroom at the same time he was showering. Then I chucked my clothes to the side and collapsed into bed in my underwear. I’d meant to stay up until Jason was done showering, but my body has other ideas, and I only had the vaguest sense of him moving around, the lights going off, and the feeling of a large, solid body easing into the queen bed next to me before I felt the warmth of skin at my back and those arms around me again.

“Goodnight, Isaac,” he whispered into my hair, and I smiled and murmured something back. What followed was the best non-alcohol fueled deep sleep I’d had in days.

*************************************

First I sensed the light behind my eyelids, my brain very slowly waking up to the fact that there was bright sunlight shining through the edges of the curtains. My thoughts wrestled to pull out of sleep, and I stretched, hoping to use my body to speed up the process of regaining consciousness.

And then I groaned as I felt the distinct sensation of large hands traveling up my inner thighs and stomach, and there were lips kissing my collarbone as hair tickled my chin.

Who the hell is - oh yes, my brain noted with fully awake pleasure as a palm brushed up my morning erection, you didn’t come home alone last night.  

I wrapped my arms around Jason’s head and broad upper back, and rolled my lower body into his touch. “Good morning, Officer Michaels,” I said in a groggy but happy voice. “Been awake long? Oh fuck.” He’d brought his hand around my cock, and was running it up and down, slowly and lightly and fantastically maddening.

“Only for a little bit. I was waiting for you to wake up.” Jason’s voice had that cop tone to it, and he moved his hips and I made a pleased noise as I felt his erection against my leg. “It’s been a long wait.”

“I appreciate your patience,” I said, and ran my tongue along the top of his ear, which caused his hand on my chest to dig into my skin. I then slid myself down so our lengths met, and I wrapped a leg around one of his beautiful, round thighs. “How’d you sleep?” I grinned at him sleepily.

“Very well,” he said in brisk voice, and his free hand wrapped around the back of my head to bring it forward into a firm kiss, and I laughed at his manner into his mouth before sucking on his tongue hungrily and teasing it with my own. My hands moved downward to his ass, and I ran my nails lightly down his glutes and then my fingers back up between the crack, gently pushing the fabric between his cheeks and causing him to push back into my touch while tightening his grip on my cock. Yeah, I knew what he wanted. But I kept my touch soft, and moved in little, slow circles around the general area, including his back and the sides of his thighs. He groaned in my mouth, kissing me harder, and I felt his frustration with satisfaction.

Two nights before I’d been drunk, emotionally in turmoil, and exhausted. We’d both had fun, and it’d been a good ride, but it’d also been fast and almost frantic. Now that I was awake and had slept what must have been 8-9 glorious hours, I was feeling deeply grateful to Jason for rescuing what had felt like one of the worst days of my life. He’d said he’d really enjoyed it regardless. Well, if he liked me quick and dirty, it was time to see how he felt about slow, deliberate and teasing.

“Isaac,” he said with far less command than before and moved his lips to the side of my face. I rotated my hips against his in time with my fingers, and he started to speed up, moving his hand up and bumping up against my head, causing me to grip his ass in pleasure. I steeled myself with a deep breath and put my hand into my briefs after his, pulling it out with a firm grip.

“Not yet,” I said, and that vexed look came across his face again. Fuck, he really was way too cute.

He opened his mouth to speak but before he could I pushed his shoulders flush with the pillows and pulled his checkered boxers down over his thighs, smiling as it caught on his cock, and threw them to the side. He looked up at me with those big grey eyes and that boyish face, full of a really sexy mixture of lust, peevishness, and trepidation. I don’t think the smile I was giving him helped any of those emotions. Straddling his legs, I leaned down and licked his head, around it’s ridge and then down it’s lengths and then to his sac; I sucked gently on his balls and then kissing his thigh, first the left and then the right while I leisurely ran his cock through two of my fingers, up and down.

I moved my lips back to his now rock hard tool to engulf it quickly down to the root, and also slip a finger up to the tight ring of his ass, slipping just the tip of my index finger within. I laughed around his cock as he bucked in pleasure and grabbed my hair, attempting to get me to move faster. I let him attempt to control the rhythm because I rightly suspected he wouldn’t notice that I was reaching into the drawer near the bed to pull out the opened but long-unloved lube I kept there. He might have noticed when I threw the bottle on the floor, as I felt his grip slacken, but by then I’d moved two slick fingers up against him and had started to push them in, swirling them around carefully as I pulled my mouth up to watch his reaction.

He was biting his lip and a hand grabbed at the pillow near his head, and he pushed onto my digits, making a noise of frustration that I took meant he wanted me to go faster, deeper. His face was flush and his hair sticking out all over the place; his wild, rising need was a stark contrast with the sculpted perfection of his body, giving him that porno-come-to-life look. Don’t fuck him yet don’t fuck him yet don’t fuck him yet…

Deeper I did go as I went up on my knees and leaned over him, bringing my lips down to one broad, pink nipple and licking lightly before moving up, kissing that collarbone and up that strong neck in a deliberate manner, accompanied by playful licking along his jaw and kissing his cheekbone.

“Fucker,” he swore, and turned his head to kiss me angrily, losing control of it as I thrust three fingers into him hard and fast, reveling in his tightness and desperation.

“So close,” I teased, going back on my haunches so I could also work my hands around his throbbing cock again, pulling the skin just a little bit up and down, now and then kissing his slit and licking as he started to precum. I then nuzzled his knees, which he’d put up so he had more traction to push into my hand.

“Isaac, please.” This was not a plea, it was an order, said in the same voice you might hear a ‘ma’am, please’ from a cop on a TV show when a woman is yelling at him. “Fuck me now.” His pulled himself up with those incredible abs and grabbing me through my briefs, the mere touch taking care of the very little bit of hardness my cock had left to acquire. The authoritative words were at odds with the desperate, boyish expression.

“Yes, Officer,” I said with a grin, and pulled my fingers out and my hand away to step off the bed and drop my briefs, grabbing a condom that had been next to the lube and putting it on me, and then reaching down to lube myself very deliberately, jacking myself as I crawled back on the bed, staring at him the whole time. He watched my every move, his eyes following my hand around my hardness as I moved closer.

“Turn around,” I said, and licked his leaking head one more time for good measure. “I want to fuck you from behind.” I also didn’t want him to be able to see me, or use his considerable strength to control my rhythm with his hands.

Jason narrowed his eyes at me but obeyed quickly, and I kissed his back as I pulled his cheeks apart and centered myself behind him, noting the freckles that came from a pale man who’d gotten too much sun once or twice. Those chiseled shoulders were so stunning I wanted to bite them. I seriously considered actually biting them, but I had other tasks at hand.

I pushed, moaning lowly as I entered that impossible tightness, feeling his muscles flex against me and that round tight ass push back, tentatively at first but then with impatience. I didn’t let him, working slowly as I fondled his scrotum gently and touched his cock. And then I was buried, and it felt so perfect and really hard to not just pump the fuck out of him right then.

Instead, I pulled and out slowly, clutching at the the hard side of his ass and running a hand up his side, soothingly, letting him feel my nails and touch and that I was still in control of myself. Than I speed up, beginning to stroke in measured, long pulls and returns, taking deep breathes to stay centered and not come right then and there. His hands clutched at the pillow and he turned his head.

“Ah, Isaac, please, harder, AH!” I did fuck him harder but not faster, moving a hand to his cock to see that it was crazy hard and that it would take very little touching to get him to come; I heard his moans and sounds of pleasure get shorter and sharp.

Just a bit more like this, I thought, not wanting to turn it into torture for both of us, my own games starting to get to me as well as my breath came more ragged and I felt the tightening of my balls.

Before I could move faster, however, a hand reached back to touch mine, and squeeze.

And before I know what he was doing he’d pulled forward so I was no longer in him, turned around to grab me by my arms and push me down on my back. Holy shit was he insanely strong. As much as I knew that already in theory the practice was really shocking. The first condom hadn’t survived that move, hanging half off me, so he threw the first one to the floor and grabbed another from the bedside, ripped it open and pulling it over me, causing me to growl in pleasure at his touch, my hands on his thighs and entranced by what this Scandinavian wet dream was doing.

Not wasting any time he lifted his hips up to center on my cock, grasping it to aim, and we both let out groans as he slide down, my hips slamming up almost of their own volition as he slammed into me.

And then Jason fucked me hard and in the most demanding way possible, those astounding thighs and that boyish, focused expression riveting me and the feeling of being inside him making my vision start to blink and go white, the feeling of my cock starting to reach the point where I had to come, needed to come. Determined not to be first this time I pulled my torso up and grabbed his thigh for balance, using my other hand to jack him hard with his own rhythm holding on for dear life as he bucked, lost his flow in order to yell and jerk into my hand, spasming and swearing as I refused to let go until he was done, his cum spraying on my chest and my face, making me smile as I felt it hit me, flowing around my chest.

And I grabbed his hips and pushed upwards, two, three, four times, hard and yelled as I came inside him, falling back and clutching at the inside of his knees so I could arch my hips and come as deeply into him as I possible, reveling in that fantastic tightness.

It took a moment for the sensation to pass and I closed my eyes, letting the waves of pleasure roll over me until they were light fog as I rubbed his lower legs until I felt him thud to the side of me. We both lay there, breathing, and I floated in residual ecstasy. Finally I opened my eyes and looked over at Jason.

He’d pulled a pillow over his face, and his other hand was laid out wide, his breath still ragged.

“Goddamn, Isaac,” his muffled voice said. “What happened to me showing you who’s in charge?”

I looped an arm over his chest and kissed one large bicep, closing my eyes in spent contentment on his shoulder, making sure not to rub his cum off on him. Now I was really glad I hadn’t taken a shower last night, because I certainly needed one now. “What do you call the whole pushing me down and climbing on top thing you did? And I definitely remember some ordering around happening there. Those are not complaints.“

I felt him lift the pillow, and an arm wrap around me possessively. “I’m not sure what to say, after that.” He was silent for a moment, then kissed my forehead. “God, you’re trouble. That was amazing.”

“Aim to please, pleased to aim,” I said, smiling into his skin as he let out an ‘oh god’ at that stupidity.

I let contentment wash over me for a little longer, his fingers brushing along the back of my neck.  

We finally untangled ourselves and I took a shower first, and while he rinsed off I started breakfast.

When I was done and had placed his plate in front of him Jason stared at the western omelette, blueberry pancakes and potatoes I’d made as if it was alien food, and then back up to me. “I thought you said you barely had anything to cook with.”

“I don’t,” I said with a shrug, putting my plate down and handing him cutlery and a napkin before sitting myself. “This is just what I had from my last grocery run a couple of days ago. There’s a lot more I could have done if I’d planned. This is really simple, mostly things I can do all in one pan. The plus is it’s really fast.”

“Hm.” He took a bite, and blinked, looking at me and then the food. “Wow. Okay, it doesn’t just look like it comes from a really nice restaurant, it tastes likes it comes from an even better one. Damn, babe.”

I glowed with pleasure. Not every professional chef is this way, as I know some very talented cooks who barely cooked outside of work, but I personally took great pleasure in feeding people in my day to day. This was especially true of those I’d fooled around with and was feeling a warm glow of affection for.

We chatted, and I was pleased to see Jason didn’t seem thrown off by the fact that we fucked again. Quite the opposite, really, as he kept saying how good the food was and telling me about himself. He was still friends with a lot of people he’d known since elementary and middle school, a fact that stunned me. When he asked why, I shrugged and took a sip of my coffee before speaking.

“My best friend since from when we were little found out I was gay at 12 years old and flipped out at me, calling me a fat fucking fag and refusing to hang out again. We’d been inseparable, and I didn’t notice how isolated that made me, friend wise, until he was gone. It took me until high school to feel like I really could make, and keep, other friends.”

“I’m sorry, Isaac. That sucks. How’d he find out?” Jason had a straightforward but sympathetic listening style, and I thought not for the first time that he was the very model of a police officer.

I sighed and took a pull of my coffee, hating this part of the story, because it brought all the old humiliation rushing back in. “He’d found what was essentially my spank bank, a bunch of magazines and pictures I’d started collecting, hidden in my closet. It didn’t exactly help that there was a picture of him in a swimsuit in there as well.”

“Oh, shit. So you liked him?”

I nodded. “First love, yeah. I was crazy about him, honestly for forever up until that point.”

“Yeah, wow. That must have really fucked him up.” I just nodded again and started to clear the table. I used to feel that way as well, blaming myself for Sandy’s betrayal underneath the surface anger I had pushed forward to survive my teenage years. I used to think because he was straight, Alex was at least somewhat justified in his horrible treatment and mockery of me at the end of sixth grade, and the cold stony silence that lasted most of the seventh and eighth.

But now I knew he was gay. Not bi, not confused, but gay. That brought up so many feelings - a new shame that said he was disgusted by me wanting him more so than my sexuality, an anger that he never tried to fix our friendship once he figured out his own desire, and a disappointed, sad puppy depression that wondered if that was because maybe we weren’t half as close as I’d convinced myself we were. False memories were a real, verifiable thing, and I wondered if that’s what all mine of him were, rose-colored versions of a much more mundane, casual friendship that only I romanticized. Although him bringing up old movie nights certainly didn’t help.

To move my brain away from that topic I started the dishes and asked Jason about what his typical day looked like. He told me having a couple of amusing stories from his job that had me chuckling. At some point I looked at my phone, left on the counter, and saw that the aforementioned former best friend wanted me at three again, and this time I needed to be there dead on time.

Luckily Jason was pulling his stuff together or he would have seen me take a deep, steadying breath and close my eyes for a minute. It was going to be okay.

We stood at the bottom of the stairs inside my door, him having just refused my offer to walk him to his car, saying it was too hot. “You’ve done enough,” he said sincerely after we’d lightly kissed, his eyes searching my upturned face and and blushing. “Thanks again for the breakfast, and this morning. I… really like being with you. Don’t get a big head, but you may be the best I’ve had.”

I smiled, genuinely flattered but mostly happy to see him so relaxed and natural around me. “I’ll save that big head for you, then.”  

He snorted and shook his blond head. “You are the worst.”

“Weren’t you just saying the opposite?”

“You!” And with another kiss, this one a bit more annoyed and fun, Jason ran a hand through my hair and then disappeared the humid midday.

I went back up the stairs smiling, and sat down with a fresh cup of coffee just to think and take it all in. This might be a very good thing, this thing with a beautiful hunky cop. It might be exactly what I needed. Honestly, I think I could very well fall for the guy.

I looked down again at the text summoning me to the restaurant at three, and for the first time in days didn’t feel powerless. With my dad and his buddies in my corner it seemed to me like I had official backup, and although I might have to work for Alex for a while it also meant I could be subversive while doing so. It felt like Kim and I would be out of this bind soon, and the younger Mr. Channing had no real power over me whatsoever. And as for our little fucked-up sexual flirtation thing, well, that’d be a lot easier to ignore now that Jason was well and truly around. I genuinely believed it would be easy from here on out to pretend to do what Sandy said and then be done with him, completely and easily, when the time came.

If you haven’t noticed yet, I am often a delusional idiot. This was one of those times.

To be Continued.

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