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The Conquered - Chapter 16: Giving Thanks
***** Taylor *****
Someone once said, "it always happens in threes." As we pulled off the interstate and finished our near-midnight emergency run to Don and Seb's place, I wondered if we were at number two or number three. "Please, God, let this be number three," I prayed as I swung the SUV into the closest parking space to the apartment. Andrew was off his seat and out of the door before I had the key out of the ignition. "Andrew, take a breath!"
He stopped short of throwing the door closed. His eyes burned as he took a deep breath, trying to pull in his anger. Anger was something I had been swallowing down the entire drive. "How could the fucker throw out his own kid?"
"We all knew Sean's dad was a reactionary, religious zealot." I took a deep breath of my own, deliberately making myself slow down before releasing the seat belt and climbing out. "Let's deal with the problem at hand. Sean needs us now. We can worry about his father later."
We managed to walk up the steps and knock on the door instead of bounding up and banging our way into the apartment. Don pulled it open, barefoot, jeans, no shirt, and looking ready to spit nails. We didn't say a thing as we got passed him and into the living room. Sean was on the couch, looking defeated and scared. What was worse was the bruise coming up on his cheek, the busted lip, and the dark area forming around his right eye. I ignored Andrew's intake of breath as I walked over to the couch and sat down on the coffee table in front of Sean. His eyes were hollow and he looked brittle; a porelain doll ready to crack.
"Hey, bud," I said as quietly and gently as possible. Sean just looked at me and I knew how he felt. I'd been there not three weeks before. Reaching out, I ran my thumb lightly across his bruised cheek. He shuddered, closing his eyes and pressing into my hand.
"I don't want to go to hell," he whimpered, trying not to break down. God, what had that bastard said or done before Sean had been able to run?
"You aren't, Sean." He looked into my eyes, desperate to believe me. All I wanted to do was to pull him to me and promise him everything would be alright. Unfortunately, though I knew he'd survive it, a part of me knew it would never be alright again. I didn't have to pull him to me. He leaned in, wrapped his arms about me, and cried. Andrew had to step outside. It was probably too close to home for him. I wasn't so sure it wasn't too close for me, but Sean had been one of my kids for nearly the last half year. It didn't matter that he was eighteen and out of school. I'd be there, period, end of story. It was nearly an hour later that Sean was asleep on Seb's couch and the four of us were outside trying to figure out what to do in hushed but heated voices.
"He fucking beat him," Don growled, his arms about Seb as we talked. "What kind of sick fuck beats his own kid?"
I shrugged, looking at Seb. "Did he tell you anything?"
"He was panicked when we got to him." Furrowing his brow, Seb thought for a moment. "He said something about cures and the devil and being a bad person."
"Bastard," Andrew hissed, holding me a bit tighter against the chill that had little to do with the October night air.
I squeezed his arm. "Whether it's with fire and brimstone or drugs and shock therapy, sexual-reorientation is barbaric on any level." Okay, I wasn't feeling as calm and rational as I made it sound. I wanted to storm over to the asshole's house and beat some sense into the narrow minded bigot. That wouldn't have helped Sean. Violence in response to violence always resulted in more problems than it solved. "Regardless, Sean's going to need a lot of support for the next few months."
"What if is father tries to force him into a... what ever you called it... reorientation program?" Seb had every reason to worry.
"Sean's eighteen. His father has no legal rights to make him do anything Sean doesn't want to do." I sighed. " We just have to be sure Sean knows that before it happens."
"Can't we do anything?"
I shrugged again. "If he was still a minor, I could have his father picked up for abuse in a heartbeat. Because he's an adult, Sean would have to press charges. Somehow I doubt Sean is willing to have his father arrested and stand before a judge proclaiming he's gay and a victim of domestic abuse or a hate crime."
Seb groaned. "So, what can we do?"
Andrew grumbled. "What ever we do, he can't spend the next few months on your couch."
Don's eyes narrowed. "He can stay as long as he wants."
"He needs a bed and a room of his own," Andrew answered, his tone final. "He needs a home, not to feel like a burden or long term guest." Their eyes locked and I saw two primary protectors rising to do battle over the prince in distress.
"Guys?" They broke glare and looked at me. "Chill."
It took both of them a moment or twelve to get things under control, but they managed it. We were all ready to beat something, and the man who deserved it wasn't available. I had to admit, I was proud as hell of Andrew for being able back down. He had a major "big, strong, protector" inside who no longer had a job. I'd taken that job, so he was free to find another hurting child to focus on. "Okay, so how do we handle that," Andrew asked.
"Andrew's right," Seb answered, squeezing Don's arm. "As much as I'd like to keep him here, it is only a one bedroom apartment. The kid needs his space." He looked at me and I nodded. Seb smiled. "I assume you two don't mind if we are over at your place more often."
Andrew laughed. "I think we'll need the help."
I sighed, patting Andrew's arm to let him know I wanted out of the embrace. "Of course, what matters is what Sean wants. He's still not particularly comfortable with who he is, what he wants, or anything else. His reality has just been turned upside down. What ever we do, we had better do it with his wishes clearly understood." Was I ready for an angst-ridden, confused, scared teen in my home? Ready or not, that was exactly what I got.
I had a list of tasks to do a mile long, and those were just to figure out what we could do for Sean. Andrew had taken him about to get his legal records from the court house and such, like his birth certificate, social security card, and school records. Seb and Don had tried to get Sean's stuff from his house, but they'd been rebuffed in language that I wouldn't use for an axe murderer. It didn't look like we'd be able to help Sean recover anything of his life. The most we could do was help him rebuild.
I looked up as Jackson came through the door to Goals and Dreams. He'd only been in a few times since we opened. I was pretty certain he wasn't here for a workout. "Hey, Taylor."
I smiled. "Hi, Jack."
He nodded at Andrew, who was with a customer, and looked back at me. "You have a minute?"
"Sure," I motioned him around the counter, and we went into the office. "What's up, Jack."
He sat down while I got around the desk. "I want to thank you and Andrew for taking Sean in."
I smiled. "He's one of my kids, Jackson. I wasn't going to let him sleep on a couch when I had an empty bed at my place."
He nodded. "I went by his father's last night. The man refused to give me any of Sean's stuff."
I frowned. "I bet he was a bit more colorful than 'refused'."
"Yeah. He had a few choice words to say about the situation. He claims Sean ran away, from him and from God."
"He ran away because the fucker beat him!" I clamped down on my emotions. Yelling at Jackson about it wouldn't solve anything. "Sorry."
"Trust me, I know how you feel." He sighed. "Wendy and I want Sean to stay with us."
I blinked. "Why?"
Jackson shrugged. "I've been teaching him since he was thirteen, Taylor. I remember his mother." He smiled, but it was sad. "She was a wonderful woman. When she died, I worried about Sean. It never occurred to me to pay attention to how his father reacted to her death. The man couldn't reconcile himself to it. I think he threw himself into the church to find meaning in something that has no meaning."
I sighed. "That still doesn't tell me why, Jack."
"Wendy and I think Sean should have a normal home. He needs stability right now."
Jackson looked at me. "What was that for?"
"What was what for?"
"The tone," Jackson replied, gesturing at me. "All of a sudden, you're all Mr. Professional."
I shrugged. "It was either switch to counselor mode, Jack, or bite your head off."
"I know you just want what's best for Sean, but what can you and Wendy give him that Andrew and I can't? In fact, I think I'm far more qualified than either of you when it comes to dealing with the healing of an abused child."
"That isn't the point."
"Oh. So what is the point, Jack?"
"Damn it. Sean needs a home." I held Jackson in my gaze, silent. "Taylor."
"Sean has a home, Jack. He has a home with people who know what he's going through." Jack was about to object, but I rode over him. "You believe there is nothing wrong with being a homosexual, right?"
Jackson frowned. "Of course not. I wouldn't be working to get Don in business with me if I did."
"Yet we don't have normal, stable homes?"
"I didn't say that."
"We can't love unconditionally?"
"No, that wasn't what I meant." Jackson was flustered. Most people got that way when you forced them to look at the inconsistencies of their beliefs.
"Then we aren't suited to the rearing of children?" Jackson looked at me, uncomfortably. I pressed on. "I won't even touch that one, Jack. That's something you'll just have to resolve for yourself. However, Sean is an adult. He's over eighteen. He is a young, gay man who needs love and guidance. He has lots of questions, fears and doubts. Isn't it better that he see that being gay is just as 'normal' as being straight? All he has to go by is what he gets fed by the media, shows like Queer as Folk, and what he finds on the internet. Do you really want him to think of gay life that way?"
"No, I don't want that." Jackson looked at me for a moment, then looked at his hands. "I just want the kid to have everything. He's the closest thing to a son I've ever had. I think I've spent more quality time with him than his own father."
The longing in his voice really pulled at my heart strings. It didn't, however, change my mind. "He still needs you, Jack. He needs all of us." I smiled. "Wendy's getting him new clothes down at Good Will, right?"
Jackson nodded. "Yeah. I wish we could afford to buy him new stuff, but when Wendy got laid off, it really took a bite into our budget.."
"We're all doing what we can. Let us give Sean a better idea of what it is to be a gay man, Jack. We aren't going to take him to the clubs or shit. We aren't like that."
Jackson sighed. "I know. I'm sorry, Taylor."
I smiled. "You're still taking him to the Martial Arts exposition this weekend, right?"
Jackson smiled. "Yeah. I'm really looking forward to it."
"You concentrate on showing him that straight people don't hate gay people, Jack. We'll concentrate on showing him that being a gay man is just being a man who likes guys, nothing more."
"Think we can put him back together?"
I smiled. "I'm sure of it."
***** Andrew *****
It was almost three weeks since we'd picked up Sean and taken him home. The bruise around his eye was finally gone, thank God. I still wanted to go beat the bastard for doing it, but watching Sean the last few weeks made me glad Taylor and Seb had pulled me back. The kid didn't need someone fighting unnecessary battles for him. He needed friends and support. Without a job, or a car, Sean was left with very little to do but hang around the house, the martial arts school, and the training studio. I wasn't sure exactly when Sean had become our receptionist. He handled clients like a champ, took care of a large chunk of the business needs, and even worked to sign a few extra clients while Lee and I were busy training. In short, he'd become a godsend and quickly.
The only problem with the whole thing was that Sean refused to take any money. He wouldn't accept any wages, saying he would work off his room and board. Taylor, Don, Seb and I all tried to talk him out of it, but it was Lee who got us to see the logic of it. "You can't take away all his dignity. He has to have something. His pride is barely there, you all came in and rescued him. Give him this."
I narrowed my eyes at him, thinking about finally having someone to pound my rage into. "No one works for free."
Lee hugged me tight and I could feel him willing me to understand. "Take the money you'd have paid him and set it aside. Put it in savings. Do anything with it, but don't give it to him now. Let him feel like he's doing things on his own."
Taylor looked at me over Lee's shoulder. "He's right, but we'll have to talk to our accountant to figure out how to make it legal."
Lee laughed. "I'll ask Tyron to look into it. I'm sure we can figure something out."
It sat ill with me, but I really had no choice. He was a friend. Friends took friends in when life turned to shit. Staring over at Sean at reception, I knew that Taylor and I had gotten the better part of the deal. He kept up the house and even did laundry. Not that Taylor and I were anywhere near slobs, but Sean took over. It was like having a live-in maid. I shook my head as I turned back to Buck. He continued with his leg presses. Soon, Buck wouldn't need our help anymore. I knew he liked the results of our time together and wouldn't be leaving. We'd met his goals, and answered his dreams.
"Son? Go talk to the boy."
I turned to face him when he'd finished his last set of reps. "What would I say?"
"I see it too. He stares off into space and the look in his eyes could break a statue's heart."
My shoulders slumped and I looked at Buck squarely. "He's the best kid in the world. It God damn kills me to see him like this." I shrugged helplessly. "I don't know what to do."
Buck clapped his hand on my arm and grabbed his towel. His workout done. "What would you do when a friend had a problem?"
I laughed but it was a half-ass attempt. "Eat junk food, watch wrestling on TV, and then when the time was right, let the words flow."
Buck chuckled and I stared at him, really noticed him for the first time. The man's eyes weren't as haunted as they once were, now they almost sparkled with... affection maybe. "I'd say find out what his favorite junk food is, skip the TV, and let him come to you."
"Chocolate chip cookies and milk. Warm from the oven."
"Sounds good." Buck grabbed his bag and clapped me on the shoulder. "I suggest you find some and then workout with me tomorrow to burn off the calories."
Rolling my eyes, I knew he was right. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
I watched Buck leave, but stopped to give a kind word or two to Sean. Sean lit up while he talked to Buck, but the moment the door shut, the life went out of him again. Fuck. This was going to have to stop. I went into the office and called Mom. Offering her a huge bribe, involving Taylor and I and Sunday dinner at our house, I got her to bake me a batch of chocolate chip cookies that I'd pick up later that evening.
For the rest of the day, I watched Sean off and on. The boy never really smiled. He was fast, efficient, and a hard worker, but except when dealing one on one with anyone, his eyes were almost dead, like a pretty doll's. I told Lee I'd lock up after I got back and ran over to my mom's house. She had three dozen cookies on a plate, that was so hot it singed my fingers. I stopped by a convenience store and grabbed a couple of cartons of milk and made it back to the gym just as Lee was walking out our last client.
After shoeing Lee out the door, I locked the front and waited for Sean to finish up whatever paperwork he had before coming to the back. I'd set the plate of cookies on a bench, grabbed a couple of inflatable balls from the corner, and waited for Sean.
Looking up, I could see the apprehension in his eyes. "Sit down, Mom's chocolate chip cookies are still warm."
He sat on one of the balls as I did and grabbed a cookie that practically folded in half. He bit into and moaned. "What's with the cookies?"
I opened up one of the cartons of milk and handed it to him before grabbing my own and slugging a good gulp down. "We need to talk."
Sean set the rest of the cookie back on the plate and took a drink from his milk. "About what?"
Staring between my clasped hands at my feet, I started letting it pour out of me. "This isn't working Sean." I waited for a response, but he just sat silently. I looked up. Tears were pooled in his eyes, but before I could say anything, he blinked them back and swallowed the lump in his throat.
"I can be out of your place tonight."
He looked confused. "You said it wasn't working out..."
Groaning, I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration. "Damn, that isn't what I meant. Sean... Taylor and I love having you at the house. That isn't what I meant at all."
Sean shook his head. "Then what did you mean?"
Frustrated, worried, and completely out of my element, I stood and paced. "Shit. I'm no good at this," I muttered to myself as I paced. I felt Sean's eyes on me. "God damn it all to hell. Poor kid's dying here, and I keep fucking up."
Sean stood too, staring at me. "You aren't fucking up."
I figured I'd let honesty take the place of what I thought was right. "I'm worried about you Sean."
He shrugged, looking away. "Don't. It doesn't matter."
I caught him behind the neck and made him look at me. "You do too matter! God damn it! You matter a lot."
I watched as his eyes began to tear again. "No, I don't."
My own eyes clouded as I pulled him into a fierce hug, whispering into his ear. "Yes, you do. You're a good guy. I know of at least ten people who would be pissed off to hear you say that."
He fought so hard to keep from crying. He tried to get out of the hug, but I wouldn't let him. Finally, he clung to me as big, racking sobs took over. I felt powerless to stop it, but knew that it was what he needed. I sat down and cuddled Sean in my lap and stroked his hair as the tears flowed. After my legs had fallen asleep under his weight, Sean's crying quieted down to hiccupping sobs and he tried to pull away from me. I didn't let him do it, holding him tightly to me. "You matter, Sean. Very much so."
"No, I don't. I'm a horrible person."
Anger at his father kept me quiet for a few moments before I could calm down. "Don't listen to him. He doesn't matter. He got it wrong. Not every parent is always right."
"It isn't him. It's me."
That was new. "What are you saying?"
He sat up but didn't move out of my embrace. Staring at my chest, now soaking with his tears, he mumbled so quietly that I had to strain to hear. "I believed what he said, to the point I did something terrible."
Feeling fear rise in my throat, I kept my arms still as I asked, "What did you do?"
The kid has guts. I never doubted that. He lifted his gaze and stared straight into my eyes. "I helped three other students beat the hell out of Sebastian the night he was outed."
I sat there in stunned silence. I remembered when I first met Seb how he looked like he'd been beaten with an ugly stick. Obviously, it wasn't in training. "Tell me."
"God. It was so stupid." He shrugged. "Don was pissed off at him, I think they were having a fight or something, and he called him a fag. You should have seen the devastated look on Sebastian's face." He swallowed. "I knew it was true. He was gay. I could feel it." He gripped his gut. "Right here. I knew it was because I was too." He wiped his face and held my gaze as he told me. "When he left, three other guys were talking crap about how the fag needed a lesson."
He paused, haunted by the memory. I stroked his hair at the base of his neck. Taylor would do that to me when I was upset. "Sean, what happened?"
"We followed him to the parking lot and harassed him. He's better than the four of us, but he just stood there, listening to us spit trash." He blinked away the tears. "His eyes were so sad. He was hurting, but it had nothing to do with us. It was like someone had ripped out his heart and he didn't care any more. I don't know who started hitting him, but it didn't matter, we all did it. I waited for him to fight back. I wanted him to prove that being gay didn't mean weak. Dad said that fags were too wimpy to face the trials of being with a woman. He just stood there taking blow after blow, until finally, I joined in too."
He felt guilty, so much guilt that it had preyed on his mind all this time. "What happened after you beat him up?"
"We left him. By the end of the next week, I felt so damn guilty I went to Jackson and told him I was leaving the school. He argued me out of it and took me by to see Sebastian. I offered to go to the police, but Sebastian refused."
I nodded. "Sebastian's a great man."
"He knew I was gay. He made me admit it." He closed his eyes. "Then he hugged me. Why?"
I hugged him up and murmured in his hair. "Because he could see who you really were. You didn't want to do it. Nothing can forgive it, but he knew it wasn't really you doing it."
"But it was me."
"No. It wasn't. I know."
I stood and walked back over to the cookies. "Sit down. I have a tale to tell you."
Between munching on cookies and drinking milk, I told Sean everything. Every last detail of my life from the time I was raped until the day I met Sean. My predatory fucking, my near rape of cherry asses, even what I'd done to Don; I left nothing out. Not one thing. When I was done, the cookies were gone and it was past eleven. "So you see, pain can make any person do something stupid."
"But I wasn't raped."
"Maybe not physically, but you were abused. Your father spent every waking moment making you feel that you were defective, less than perfect, and worthless; probably because he suspected who you really were. He tried to make you into what he thought was right. " I cupped his face. "He was wrong. You are your own person, and nothing he did could change that."
"No. There are no buts. It's taken time, but I've forgiven myself for what I've done, apologized to the people I needed to apologize to, and tried to move on."
Sean shrugged then asked me anyway. "Was it hard?"
I laughed. "You have no idea. It still is. It would be easy to go back to where I was before I met Taylor. But I don't want to. That life is easy, but empty." I hugged him again. "The question is, Sean: do you want to have an easy, but empty life?"
"Good. Come on, we'd better get home before Taylor sends out the search and rescue squad."
Sean laughed. "That wouldn't be so bad. Have you seen some of those guys?"
"Yeah, I have. I've even fucked a couple of them."
Sean looked at me with a flush to his cheeks. "What was it like?"
I shrugged. "Empty."
"Yeah, come on."
We drove home in silence, but comfortable silence. When we got home, Taylor was waiting for us. I hugged him up tight and kissed him lightly before letting Sean give him a hug before heading to his room. Before he hit the stairs he turned back and hugged me. "Thanks, Andrew."
When I turned to Taylor, he had one eyebrow raised. "What happened?"
I picked him up in my arms and slowly climbed the stairs. "I have a story to tell you."
Placing Taylor on the bed before stripping down to curl under the blankets with him, I began telling him what had happened that day. After I'd wound down, Taylor lay across my chest, his fingers trailing through my chest hair, his pinky caught in my nipple ring. It wasn't in an effort to arouse me, but it didn't take much when it came to Taylor to arouse me. "Did I screw up?"
"No, of course not."
Taylor looked in my eyes and smiled. "I think you should be the counselor in the family."
I snorted. "Bullshit. I had no clue what I was doing. I expected him to self-combust at any moment."
"He didn't. I think you were the only one who could reach him. You're probably the one of us who is closest to coming from the same background, and he's bonded with you."
I kissed the side of his head, smelling his shampoo. "Taylor? Will you hold me?"
Taylor sat up and turned out the bedside lamp. He turned back to me and had me curl on my side. "Of course, you big gorilla."
I chuckled as I felt his hands trail against my back, my nose pressed into the hollow of his throat. Our legs mingled under the covers, and I finally felt that I'd done something good that day. With a few brushes of his hands, he'd melted away my fears. "I love you, Bacon."
"I love you too."
***** Taylor *****
Sean looked out of the window as we drove away from the dentist's office. Every time we made progress, his father managed something to kick Sean's legs out from under him again. I sighed as I stopped at the red light. "Talk to me, Sean."
"What's there to talk about?" He stared out the window, looking as grey as the weather.
"About what you're feeling, for one. About how we can deal with this, for another." He ignored me. "About whether you'd prefer to top or bottom for your first time."
Sean snapped around. "What?!?"
I grinned, pulling through the intersection as the light changed. "I just wanted to be sure you were listening."
Sean sank back in the seat. "That wasn't fair."
"No one says life is fair, Sean. It got you talking."
"So what was your first time? Top or bottom?"
"My first, first time, or my second first time?" Unlike Larry, talking candidly with young people about sex was not a problem for me.
Sean blinked. "Um... your first?"
"I topped. Her name was Veronica. She was twenty-two. I was twenty. We were on the same modeling job. She was tired of big, bossy guys and thought she wanted a sensitive, understanding guy." I laughed. "That relationship lasted a month, but I learned a lot that month."
Sean frowned. "I thought you were gay."
"Bisexual." I shrugged. "I always liked men as well as women, Sean. I just didn't fall in love for keeps until Andrew."
"At least you had the option," he grumbled.
"It didn't make it any easier to accept I was in love with a man, or coming out to my friends and family, or having my father refuse to accept it, Sean."
Sean looked at me. "How'd you come out?"
I smiled. "I got caught sucking face with Andrew at the mall." That was still one of my more uncomfortable, happy memories.
I laughed, tapping my earring. "We'd just decided to make it 'official', and he'd said something that left me no choice but to get up in those arms and kiss until we dropped."
Sean grinned, his cheeks turning a little red. "I wondered why you'd gotten an earring."
"Andrew said he got his as a nipple ring because it was closer to his heart." The memory still melted me, but I laughed it off. "I think he just wanted to look even sexier."
"Was Andrew your 'second first time'?"
I nodded, pulling us onto the interstate. "First and only guy."
"So..." Sometimes Sean was the shyest person I'd ever met.
I nodded. "Sex isn't always like the way the stories portray it, Sean. Yeah, it can be incredible, and mind blowing, but sometimes it's just okay and other times it can just go wrong. Our first time went all wrong." I was no longer traumatized by my first bottoming experience. We'd proven it was a fluke. "What allowed us to get past that was that we were in love before we had sex. What ever you do, Sean, don't think that sex will lead to love. There's no truth in the myth that if the sex is good enough, love will follow."
We pulled off the interstate and stopped to fill up before making it the rest of the way home. Sean pumped the gas while I grabbed a few items from the mini-mart. After we got back on the road, Sean frowned. "Did it hurt?"
"Yes, Sean, it hurt really bad." I shrugged. "I was stupid. I tried to be a tough guy and bite my tongue through it. I thought it was supposed to hurt, but then it'd get better. It never got better."
"But it's okay now?"
"Yeah." I smiled. "It took us a long time to be able to swap again, but it was worth the effort." I looked at him. "Not everyone enjoys swapping roles, Sean. It isn't a requirement in a relationship, but I think a gay man who is sexually active but hasn't even tried has issues he really needs to address." We pulled up the drive and I parked the SUV near the kitchen.
Sean looked at his hands. "I'll find a way to pay you back for the dentist, Taylor."
I smiled. "Consider it payment for all the hard work you put in around the house."
Sean helped me carry the packages in, and we put away the groceries. Between a growing eighteen year old, and the endless food processor known as Andrew, stocking the fridge was a true exercise in fiscal gymnastics. "Want some hot chocolate?"
Sean and Andrew had a certain way of asking if I wanted something when they wanted permission for what they wanted. I laughed. "Sure, Sean."
It hadn't snowed yet, but I was certain we'd have our first snow before Thanksgiving. We sat down in the living room after I slid a lasagna into the oven. Sean sipped his hot chocolate and smiled at the snapshots on the coffee table. "I liked Andrew's costume for Halloween."
I picked up the picture and grinned. "He did make a great Viking warrior, didn't he?"
"Not as good as Tyron's Othello." He slid the picture to me. Sean was right. Tyron's sister had sewn him a theater quality costume, and the man had looked devastating as Shakespeare's tragic Moor.
"Yeah," I slid my favorite picture over to him. "But this one was the best." Sean frowned at the photo. He'd snagged some of Andrew's old overalls and a plaid shirt, and borrowed Grace's straw gardening hat. I thought Sean made an adorable, if tall, Tom Sawyer. In the photo, he was being tickled into submission by a Viking warrior and an Asian Achilles.
"It was a good party." He smiled, sliding the picture back. "Thanks for letting me go."
"We weren't about to leave you here by yourself while we went over to Lee and Tyron's for a good time."
He grinned at the photo of me trying to determine what ancient Greek warriors wore under their skirts. "You were hysterical as Charley Chaplin."
I laughed. "Tyron wasn't very pleased that I got my cane under Lee's skirt and gave everyone a happy view of sunshine."
Sean blushed. "I don't think it helped that Tyron had just been groping him."
That was true enough. Lee was at half-mast when I'd done my little Chaplin waddle over and asked if he had a cigar, before checking under his skirt for pockets. Lee was nothing compared to Andrew, but he and I were about the same size. "Tyron's fault, if he hadn't cause Lee to tent his skirt the way he had, I wouldn't have been curious."
Sean smiled. "Maybe some day I'll be able to do that to someone."
"Lift a guy's skirt?"
He laughed. "No. Cause a guy like Lee to get it up just by kissing and touching him."
"Give it time, Sean. You've got your whole life ahead of you." I blinked. "Oh, which reminds me." I got off the couch and grabbed my briefcase. Opening it, I pulled out the envelope that had come today. "This is for you."
Sean took the package, noting return address on it. "What's this?"
"A duplicate of your acceptance into school and your scholarships and loan approvals."
Sean stared at the envelope. "How?"
I smiled. "I was your guidance counselor, Sean. I was able to pull some strings and get the records sent to the school." I leaned across the coffee table and mussed his hair. "Just because you left without your records, clothes, or a car, doesn't mean you can't get most of your life back, Sean. Your father doesn't control your life."
He blinked back some tears. "How do you cope?"
He nodded, rubbing his sleeve under his nose. "You said your dad couldn't accept you and Andrew."
I sat down. "By remembering how loved I am, Sean. It is the only thing that gets me through at times."
"I don't have that," he mumbled, putting the envelope on the table.
"Yes you do." He looked at me, and I smiled. "You aren't in a relationship with anyone at the moment, Sean, but you are far from unloved. You've got at least four men who love you like a brother. And one like a son."
He blinked back his tears again. "Why couldn't Jackson have been my Dad? He'd have been a great Dad."
I smiled. The greatest sadness in Jackson's life was the he and Wendy could never have kids. She'd been too badly injured by the robber who'd nearly killed her, and she could no longer conceive children. In a way, Jackson was a second father to dozens of kids and young men. "I bet he'd have loved to have had a kid like you, Sean."
Sean took a deep breath, and a gulp of his chocolate. "I keep trying to hate him, you know?"
I nodded. "That's not an easy thing to do, and is damaging to more than yourself."
Sean nodded. "Even with everything Dad did, I just can't bring myself to hate him."
"That's because you have a good heart, Sean. Cherish it."
His head perked up as we heard Andrew's truck coming down the drive. "Andrew's home."
"You set the table, Sean. I'll get out the food before the hungry beast is unleashed upon the household."
He laughed, and went to accomplish his task.
***** Andrew *****
Before Taylor, Thanksgiving for me was a day for gluttony with my mother. Period. No one else was around unless Moira and Tom wanted to make the long drive. This year, I had friends and family and like all things lately, I wanted the day to be perfect. Taylor and I had debated holding dinner at our house for all of ten minutes, before realizing that we didn't want to. Mom wanted to have us all over, as many as we could bring. Sean, Don and Sebastian were going to join us; my extended family. As we drove over to mom's house, I couldn't stop the silly grin.
The house mom had moved into after Moira and I settled over my house was a two-bedroom bungalow style home with three great features: a huge yard, a large, gigantic great room, and an almost industrial kitchen. Always before, it had been just the two or perhaps four of us, now, the house was being put to the use it was meant for. As I walked in the door, inhaling deeply the wonderful aroma of roasting turkey, I realized that mom had missed out on a lot with us.
I took Don, Sebastian, Taylor, and Sean's coats and made my way to the closet to hang them up, watching as Taylor disappeared into the kitchen, calling out for my mother. Sean looked around, a tad nervous as he took in the new surroundings. I pulled him to my side, and tickled his ribs. "Come on squirt, let's take the two cent tour."
Sean elbowed me as I showed him the great room, where the bathroom was, the large dining room table, with place settings for seven. Seven? When we had made the simple circle, I led everyone into the kitchen where mom was basting the turkey and swatting at Taylor's hands as he tried to help her out. "Damn it, Taylor! Keep out of my kitchen. Do I do this to you?"
Taylor laughed almost hard enough double over. "Every time!"
Mama grumbled under her breath, but the deep grin and stage whisper said she wasn't really angry. "Every damn time I go over there, you almost let the food burn. Damn horny bastards."
I watched as Sean blushed, grinning like a fool. The kid shouldn't have, hell, he probably heard Taylor and I going at it from time to time. "Come on squirt, what do you want to drink?"
Mom wiped her hands on a towel and came over to hug everyone. "Sebastian, what a great sweater." She kissed both his cheeks as Don handed her a bottle of wine. "Don, how thoughtful." She stood on her toes to kiss Sean's cheek. Poor kid had shot up an inch since he'd been with us. "Sean! Your braces are off. How handsome you are!" We all chuckled as Sean turned redder from embarrassment, but he seemed to glow in her praise.
Turning to all of us, she shoed us into the living room and turned on the football game. Then she looked at us collectively and turned on Trading Spaces on The Learning Channel. "Perhaps this works better."
Don started laughing outright and Sebastian clucked his tongue. "We're gay, Grace, but not that gay."
Mama grinned and then handed Taylor the remote. "Find something, honey. Dinner will be ready in an hour."
I left the guys to argue over the television and hunted down my mother. I found her in the bedroom, applying a bit of lipstick. Huh? "Mama, what's going on?"
She fidgeted with her hair with a brush before answering. "What do you mean?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "Makeup? The hair? You're nervous. Why? Too many people? I'm sorry if—"
"No! I love having all these handsome men in my house." Her words were sharp, but her smile took the sting out of it.
"Then what has you so riled up then?"
Just then, the door opened up and a deep, familiar voice carried from the door, "Grace honey? I got the cranberry sauce."
I froze in my place, watching as my mother fidgeted. I stood still as the cadence I'd become so familiar with moved closer. Step, tap, step. Step, tap, step. I simply raised my eyebrows at my mother, who avoided my eyes. When the strong hand clapped on my shoulder and the so familiar voice said, "Happy Thanksgiving, son," I nearly bolted from the room. Buck Jacobson? What the hell was all this? A million questions flooded my mind, with no answers forthcoming. Mom looked a bit guilty and more than a trifle unsure, which of course scared the hell out of me. Grace Jackson was unflappable. She was the rock in the center of my universe.
I turned away from her, from the secret she had kept and the hurt that kept slapping at me. I plastered a smile on my face that I'm sure looked as cold as I felt and shook Buck's hand. "And to you, dad." Okay, so the `dad' came out sarcastic. The flash of sadness in Buck's eyes didn't help the guilt any either. This was way too much, way too soon. I stepped passed Buck and walked down the hall into the great room where Taylor and Sebastian looked at me in absolute shock. Sean and Don were engrossed in Trading Spaces.
Taylor glanced at Sebastian and trailed his hand down his arm as he walked to me, taking my hand and leading me through the kitchen and out the sliding glass door. He walked me over to the lawn swing and we sat in the icy wind. I gripped his hand tighter as I tried to process it all. Taylor must have gotten tired of waiting, because he grabbed my hand and kissed it. "Say something, Andrew!"
I stared at some twirling leaves being blown around by the wind. "I'm not sure what to say."
Taylor squeezed my hand. "What are you feeling?"
I blew a breath between my lips before answering. "Confused. Hurt. Lost." I shrugged my shoulders. "A bit angry."
Whenever I'd been handed a shock, like when Taylor and Lee ambushed me over the place for Goals & Dreams, it always took me some time to work it out, before I become coherent. Thank God I wasn't some army general who had to make snap decisions, because when hit too hard, I shut down while I tried to process. Of course, I could think that, but not process the shock that my mother had a boyfriend.
"What are you angry about?"
I looked at Taylor, square into his eyes, drowning in the warm brown of them, finding my center, pulling on the love I felt for him, used it to try and drag my sorry ass from where I had stumbled. "I'm angry at myself."
When Taylor only raised an eyebrow, I rolled my eyes and shrugged. "Why didn't I see this? I'm pretty fucking unobservant at times, you know?" When Taylor chuckled, I pulled him to me to kiss him quiet. "She's been alone for so long, but now I just want to kick my own ass." I looked down, and felt my voice get small. "She was afraid to tell me. The look on her face when Buck came in... God, Taylor. I'm a world class shit."
While I had been talking, Taylor was stroking my chest, working his hands in between the buttons to claw at my chest hair. At my last words, his pinky found my nipple ring and he yanked hard. "Ouch! What the hell was that for?"
Taylor sat up and squared his shoulders. Uh oh! I'd stepped in it again. "You are not a world class shit. Perhaps a city class shit, but not world class." He cupped my face in his hands. "From what you've told me, Grace has been alone since your dad left. She's gotta be scared. Of a lot of things, not just what you think, but everything."
I hated it when he was right. Damn it. I pulled Taylor into my arms, kissing him until he melted under my lips, taking more, pushing harder, needing to feel connected again, centered again. "I love you, Taylor. So fucking much."
I grinned as Taylor slowly opened his eyes, blinking to bring me into focus. "Dirty trick, Mr. Jackson." I chuckled. "But so very effective, Mr. Madison."
When we heard a pot banging in the kitchen behind us, Taylor looked up and saw that mom was muttering to herself in the kitchen. "I think I should go see if I can help calm her down." He turned to look at me. "Stay out here for a few minutes, until you're calm too."
"I'm plenty calm."
Taylor looked down at my slacks, causing me to follow his gaze. I felt the blush creep up my neck. "Okay, so I'm not calm, not around you."
Taylor chucked me under the chin and I watched his ass move as he walked towards the house, feeling my calm fade completely. Damn, but that man made me hard, and all he had to do was exist to do so. I caught some movement out of my peripheral vision and saw Buck walking around the house, rubbing the back of his neck. When he spotted me, he paused before walking over towards me.
He hunkered down on the seat next to me, sighing as he straightened his leg. The professional in me took over as I placed my hand on his leg, feeling for cramps. "Why have you stiffened up so much?"
Buck actually blushed. "I skipped a workout and the cold affects it."
"You're walking as if you have stiff muscles, but none of these are knotted." I reached up higher on his leg, feeling his upper thighs knot with strain. "You've overworked some..." As the dawning realization hit me, I felt my own blush hit. "Oh."
Buck straightened up beside me, clearing his throat. "Look, I don't want you to think I'm a dirty old man, Andrew." He shifted in his seat. "My intentions are honorable. I want your mother to marry me. She hasn't said yes yet, but..." He put his hand on my shoulder. "I didn't know she hadn't told you about us. I'd hoped she had, but..."
It was a lot to process. Marriage? But then again, I'd gotten to know Buck pretty well. He was an old fashioned guy. Him telling me all this was who he was. He was a good, honest, honorable man. I liked him immensely. Putting all my other issues, mostly having to do with my mother, aside, I stuck out my hand. "So you're sure you want to take me on as a son-in-law?"
Buck had to blink twice to clear the moisture from his eyes. "It would be a true honor."
Okay, damn, but that made my eyes moist too. "Thanks, dad."
He hugged me up, wrapping his arms around me, letting me know that I would no longer wonder what it would be like to have a dad's love and acceptance. "You're welcome, son."
A few minutes later, after I had told Buck some stories about growing up in the Jackson household, Sean came outside to call us in for dinner. It took a moment to come to terms with it all; thankfully, the walk into the house did it. When I saw my mom, who looked at me almost shyly, I mentally reminded myself to kick my own ass again then walked up to her, picked her up in my arms and hugged her up tight, kissing her cheek and twirling her around. "Hey, everybody! My mama's getting married!"
Several calls of congratulations as well as some clattering knives against glasses sounded as mom swatted my shoulders. "Andrew Jackson, you put me down this minute!"
I set her down, backing away from her angry expression. She followed me with her finger digging in to my chest. "Who said I was getting married?"
I looked to Buck who surreptitiously sidled away from me. "I thought he'd asked you? I mean... I mean..."
Mom turned on Buck, staring at him as he reached into his pocket and took out a ring box. "I kinda stepped ahead of myself there, son. But I was serious." Dropping his cane, he stepped up to my mother, and held her tight in his arms, . "Grace Jackson, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
I watched as Don and Sebastian grinned, Sean swallowed deeply, and Taylor came to stand by my side, smiling up at me with a watery grin. Hell, my own return smile was just as watery. I heard mom sniff a few times, before smacking Buck in the arm. Damn, but I was going to have to work on his chest and arms a bit so he'd survive thirty years of her affectionate pats. "You stupid man."
Buck took my mom's chin in his hand and raised her tear-streaked face to his. "I love you, Grace. With all my heart. I never thought it would happen again, but it has. Please say yes." He kissed the tears away from her cheeks. "Please?"
Her nod was so subtle at first, but soon she was nodding fast, saying yes many times. With a hearty cheer, we sat down to eat, once mom had splashed some water on her face. God families were complicated, but I wouldn't change mine for anything.