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The Conquered - Chapter 29: Trials (part 3)

***** Taylor *****

I tried to ignore the stares from the students while I stood beside Grace's car as she unfolded the rented wheelchair. At home I hobbled about using a single crutch for support. I couldn't do that at school. If I'd had both hands available, I'd have been able to move about fairly well on two crutches. That damn broken wrist was going to be the death of me.

"Okay, Taylor. Let's get you saddled up." Grace patted the seat after rolling the chair up behind me.

If looks could kill, that chair would have been melted slag. I glared at it for a few breaths before resigning myself to my fate. I sat. After adjusting the leg support for my right leg, Grace rolled me up the handicap ramp.

I pointed to the handicap door. "Just hit the button."

Grace chuckled. "I've wheeled around a few people in my life, Taylor. Trust me." She hit the button.

Of course she had; she was a nurse. How could she be so cheerful in contrast to my hate-the-world attitude? I resentfully waited for the automatic door to open, and let her roll me in. I had no idea how I'd manage to move around in my office. It wasn't exactly wheelchair friendly.

Principal Harris leveled a disapproving stare at me as Grace pushed me toward my office. "I see you've chosen to grace us with your presence, such as it is."

I glared at him. Normally I could face the fat old bigot down without an effort, but being chair bound put me at a distinct disadvantage. I chose to ignore him and pointed to the left. "My office is that way, Grace."

Grace stopped briefly, and held out her hand. "Hello, I'm Grace Jackson, Taylor's mother-in-law."

Harris flinched before taking her hand. "A pleasure to meet you." He looked from her to me and back. I imagined it was hard for him to come up with a degrading yet permissible response in the face of an employee's parent.

"Have a nice day," she replied, before pushing my chair toward my office. She grumbled as we turned the corner. "That's your boss?"

I groaned. "Satan incarnate, yes."

Grace chuckled. "He's too oily to be Satan, Taylor. He's just a minor minion of hell."

Sometimes I really loved Grace. Okay, I always loved Grace, but there were times I was reminded of why. I grinned. "I love you Grace."

"Of course you do," she agreed as we rolled in front of the counseling center. "Here we are."

Grace opened the door and rolled me in backwards.

"Oh my God." Carole stood and watched as Grace skillfully maneuvered me around.

"Calm down, Carole," I said, trying not to sound pissy. "You didn't think I missed a week of work over a sprained ankle did you?"

Carole shrugged. "I guess I just didn't think about it. Are you sure you're ready to come back?"

I nodded, and my neck twinged. "If I am confined to the house any longer, I'll go insane."

"He's a very irritable patient," Grace commented in a level tone.

"Carole, this is Andrew's mother, Grace. Grace, this is our Mistress of Office Miracles, Carole Landers."

They shook hands. Carole looked at Grace's jacket.

"Are you wearing a guest tag?"

Damn it. I knew I'd forgotten something. "Carole, could you call up to the front desk and tell them to have a pass ready for Grace? It'll need to be valid for a couple weeks."

Carole sat down and picked up the phone. "On it." She looked up at Grace. "You'll have to go sign in at the front office, but give me a few minutes to get it arranged. The girls get snippy when someone comes in before they have their paperwork ready."

Grace wheeled me around the reception desk.

"That one." I pointed to the center door.

We got there, Grace looked into my office, and she shook her head. Before Grace could even turn around, Carole had her hand over the phone.

"I'll get someone in to adjust the furniture and take his chair out."

Talk about a nightmare. I just closed my eyes and counted to ten. Maybe I should have had them lob the damn leg off.

***** Andrew *****

Talking with Buck on Sunday had brought up a lot of memories. Not bad memories, but it made me more introspective than usual. When I got home Monday night, Mom and Buck were in bed and Taylor sat in the living room, looking over a stack of papers.

"Work piled up while you were away?"

Taylor put down the paper he was reading and smiled at me. Going back to work agreed with him; he hadn't given me an honest smile in days.. "A bit." He looked at the clock over the fireplace and shot a look at me. "Late client?"

I nodded. With our new client list, Mondays were hell days. Neither Lee nor I could leave before ten. "Yeah. But I don't think he'll be with us long. He lacks the motivation for long term."

"Didn't you tell me that you're busiest in the two months after Christmas?"

I nodded as I knelt in front of him. "We pick up again a bit just before summer. But yeah, we lose a lot of clients after February. At least at the old place we did." I grinned at Taylor. "Who knows? Maybe we'll keep more of them."

I brushed my lips against his and melted into his taste. I loved coming home to Taylor and that first kiss. That kiss that said `I missed you' and `I'm glad you're here' all in one. When I pulled back, I stared into his eyes, smiling, memorizing everything about him. After a few moments, I sat back. "Did I ever tell you about my grandmother and forts?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so."

I stood and started moving the coffee table out of the way. "Well... Moira and I spent every summer in this house when school was out." I pushed my old recliner against the windows and pulled the love seat closer to the middle of the room. "She somehow, someway turned a few bits of furniture and some blankets into a fort." I walked towards the kitchen and grabbed a couple of the straight back chairs. "I'm not sure how she did it, but I realized I'd like to try and find out."

Taylor sat and watched as I moved furniture around with a small smile on his face. I came back to him and kissed him again, just because I could, before I headed upstairs to the linen closet and grabbed every blanket we had and returned to the living room. I set the pile on the chair and started draping the first one over the loveseat and over the back of the two kitchen chairs. "Somehow, inside, was like a maze. We each had our own rooms and a little place we could all gather and drink lemonade while she told us ghost stories at night."

I pulled back and grabbed another blanket and hooked it over my recliner and the other chair. "I'm pretty sure I can make the big structure, but I have no clue how to do the interior rooms. But that's okay."

I was lost in my construction and it wasn't until I had to pick Taylor up that I noticed how he just watched me and smiled. I cocked my head to the side and stared at him. "What?"

He brushed his hand through my hair and lowered his forehead to mine. "Nothing. Just enjoying watching you."

I shook my head and kissed his lips before I set him down near the loveseat. I grabbed the last blanket and hooked it over the couch and sealed us off. I crawled under and lay on my belly by Taylor. I took his hand and rolled over on to my back so I could look at him. "Now we just need a scary story."

Taylor moved so he could lie by my side. He pulled my shirt out of my waistband and smoothed his fingers up my chest. "Tell me about her."

I covered his hand with mine over my shirt, looked up at the blankets, and let a smile cross my face. "She was very kind. Sweet. She took no shit from me." I shrugged. "She was great."

"One summer, just after I'd turned nine, she had Moira and I under here and was telling us about the gold prospectors who settled the area." I grinned at him. "The first Jackson's were part of that ragamuffin and motley crew." I kissed him again. "She told us how to prospect for gold by swirling mud and water in a big plate until all the sand and silt were gone and the gold was left behind."

I stared up at the blankets as the warm memories came back to me. "The next day, she gave us a couple of tin plates from her old camping gear and took us down to the stream down the road. She helped Moira lift the pan and swirl it around and I did my own prospecting." I turned my head to look at Taylor. "I found three pieces of iron pyrite and thought I'd found a fortune."

I chuckled with Taylor at my foolish ideas. "She made a whole day of it. I have no idea how early she'd gotten up to make the picnic lunch for us. But we sat on the little grassy bank and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drank lemonade, and played in the water all day."

Taylor took his hand out from under my shirt and touched my face. "That sounds like a great day."

"It was. It was a great day." I rolled to my side so I could trace his face with my fingers. "Mom worked so many hours after my father left, that if it weren't for Grandma, Moira and I would've been latch key kids."

"I wish I could have met her."

I smiled at him as I touched his hair. "She'd have loved you. She's the first person I told I was gay. I'd already been fooling around for about a year, but she didn't even blink. She just hugged me and told me she was proud of me." I stared at Taylor. "I was sixteen and scared. But because of her, I told mom later that night." I rolled my eyes. "I'm afraid I was still the horny bastard that my father was, but I wasn't lying to my family either."

"What happened to your grandmother?"

I smiled a bit sadly as I looked at Taylor. "I'd been working all day and going to school at night. I kept meaning to come up here and see her more often, but there was so little time. I swallowed. "I found her here, after she'd died."

Taylor kissed my nose and hugged me. "How awful."

"No. Not really. She was sitting in that old beat up recliner with her feet up. A book was half read at her side on the floor where she'd dropped it." I leaned in and sniffed his hair. "I think that's why I've kept it. She loved that chair."

"It wasn't scary or sad. The tears came later. I just held her hand for a few minutes and looked at her. She looked so peaceful." I could hear my throat get scratchy with emotion. "I still miss her."

Taylor brushed his hand against my cheek. "Of course you do. She sounds like an amazing woman."

"She was. It's been almost six years." I shook my head in wonder. "God, the time goes by fast, doesn't it?"

"It always does."

I lay there quietly with Taylor for several minutes. When I looked up, Taylor was stifling a yawn. "I'm sorry, I've kept you up late."

He shook his head. "No. It's okay. I'm glad you told me."

I grinned as I sat up. "Let me help you upstairs."

"No. Do you want to stay here tonight?"

I grinned. "It isn't very comfortable for you."

He hitched his head to the side. "The couch is right there."

"Are you sure?"

He smiled as he brought his lips to meet mine. "Of course."

"I love you, Taylor."

"I love you too."

***** Don *****

I heard the sound of jingling keys and a click from the front door as I propped my ass against the kitchen counter and bit into my burrito. I smiled at Seb as he dragged his weary self in, dropped his briefcase and keys on the table, and groaned. I taught Seb's Kid's Karate class this evening because he had to stay late at work. It wasn't even February yet and the avalanche of investment flurries had hit.

Seb sniffed the air as he came into the kitchen for a kiss. Stopping up short, he eyed my burrito with disdain. "What the hell is that?"

I blinked, looked at the quarter-eaten burrito, and gave him a funny look. "A buurrrrr-iiii-toooo, Seb. You know, Tex-Mex?"

He looked at the wrapper on the counter and frowned deeper. "Casa Buena? You're eating the shit from 7-eleven?"

"What? I like their burritos. Quick, easy, not greasy."

"I thought Mama cured you of that gringo-imitation shit." He picked up the wrapper and tossed it in the trash. "How can you eat that after having the real thing?"

I frowned, taking another bite. "That's like asking me how I can eat a Big Mac after having one of Taylor's seasoned Angus burgers from the grill. Apples and oranges, Seb. I know the difference between good food and fast food." I chewed down another bite.

"Well brush your teeth before you even think of kissing me. That stuff is nasty." He undid his tie and walked for the bedroom. "I'm going to wash off."

I watched him though the bedroom door while I finished my dinner. He tossed his tie on the bed, kicked off his shoes, and sloppily draped his jacket on the back of the chair. The jacket didn't stay, and slid down into a heap on the seat. Seb ignored it, started unbuttoning his shirt, and disappeared into the bathroom.

Oh boy, I thought to myself as I wiped my hands on my martial arts pants and followed Seb into the bedroom. I hung up his coat and tie as the water heated up and Seb vanished into the shower. His pants, socks, briefs and shirt were tossed about the toilet like a poorly skinned carcass. I scooped them up, took his wallet out and the belt off of his pants, and dropped the rest of the stuff into the hamper. I needed a shower too. I stripped, dropped my gi into the hamper as well, and went back into the bathroom. After a quick swish of Listerine, I slid open the shower door.

"I'm really not in the mood," Seb grumbled as I stepped in while he hung his head under the hot spray.

"Who say's I'm here for sex. I'm hot and sweaty too you know." I snagged the soap and lathered up while he stepped forward to give me a bit of room.

We didn't say anything for a minute or two. Seb washed his hair while I soaped my pits, my ass, my balls, and any other stink producing area. I lightly kissed his shoulder as I bent down to soap between my legs.

He flinched away. "I said I wasn't in the mood."

I stood up. "What? I rinsed before I got in the shower. Who tied your dick in knots today? I know it wasn't me. I haven't had a chance to get near it since yesterday."

Seb glared at me for a moment, and then sighed. "Sorry."

He looked so damn tired. I reached up with a soapy finger and stroked his jaw.

"Can I get a welcome home kiss now?"

Seb pressed up, intent on giving me a brief peck, but I slid my hand up and cupped the back of his neck. After a couple slow, soft, teasing kisses, Seb relented and melted into a more real, less resistant lip mash. I kissed my way down his neck as he melded to me, his hands slowly caressing my back.

"What has you upset, baby," I whispered into his hair as he pressed his cheek against my chest.

Seb sighed as he stood back up and took the slowly melting soap from my hand. He lathered my chest as he talked. "I guess I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and maybe it has."

I blinked at him, frowning, but knew he wouldn't leave me hanging.

"I got called into Jeff's office today."

"Your boss?"

He nodded. "He asked me if I would put the picture of us I have on my desk in a less conspicuous location."

I blinked. Jeff had never had an issue with Seb being gay. Hell, he'd wished us all the best last year at their company dinner after tax season was over. "Why?"

Seb moved so I could rinse off.

"You know Julia is out for maternity leave?"

I nodded and then rinsed my hair. "Yeah, so?"

"Well, we're all covering for her and handling her clients. Friday I met with Carlton McBaine."

"Of McBaine, Riley and Walker?"


I whistled. McBaine, Riley and Walker was one of the best known corporate law firms in town. Comdex used them. "That's big money. I didn't know you guys handled clients like him."

Seb shrugged. "Sierra Investments has been doing really well. Though small, we manage some very prestigious accounts."

"Okay, so, how does this relate to our picture?"

Seb shut off the water, slid open the door, grabbed the towels, and handed me one while he dried himself. "McBaine is one of Julia's clients, and Jeff gave me that account to cover."


He shrugged again. "He apparently saw our picture during my meeting with him, and he called Jeff this morning."

"Why do I get the feeling he wasn't all that happy to have a gay man working on his investments?"

"Because you're smarter than the average bear," Seb replied, but there was no real humor in his voice. "He told Jeff that he couldn't afford to have 'that kind of person' associated with their firm, and that either Jeff handled his account personally while Julia is away, or he was going to take his business elsewhere."

"Shit." I draped the towel over the shower door. "What was Jeff's response?"

Seb grunted, tossing his towel at the hamper and missing. "What do you think? McBaine is a multimillion-dollar account. The commissions alone are more than I make in a year. He took back the account and then politely asked that I be more cautious around the clients."

"That's bullshit!"

"We can't all work for a company like Comdex, Don." Seb walked into the bedroom, pulled open a drawer and grabbed a pair of boxers. "Jeff didn't like it. He didn't like it at all, but the company can't afford to piss off a client like McBaine." He smiled. "I think his words were: we can't afford to alienate closed-minded-bigots like McBaine."

I grinned, catching the pair of briefs Seb tossed me. "Well, at least it sounds like Jeff's still 'family friendly'."

Seb nodded as he slid on his underwear. "Of course he is. His older sister nearly raised him after their parents died. She has a partner of eleven years and they have two beautiful little girls that Jeff loves. He is anything but a gay basher." Seb shrugged. "Could you imagine the damage the bad word of a man like McBaine would do to our prospects of growth? Rich business people have their own network. If you get black listed, you might as well pack up shop and go hawk peanuts on the corner."

"So what are you going to do?"

Seb frowned. "Get some dinner, other than the crap you had, and then try to get my figures together for the replacement client Jeff handed me. I have a meeting with them tomorrow and I have a mountain of data to read over before then."

"Hey," I objected, catching his arm as he tried to get out the door. "You going to be okay?"

"Yeah," he replied with a nod, "I was getting used to not having to think about it, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." I kissed his forehead. "I'll make you something."

Seb held my hand and kissed my ring before he let go. "I still have no regrets."

I smiled. "Neither do I."

***** Sebastian *****

I looked over at the bedside clock again. Three. Freakin' three in the morning, and I still couldn't sleep. Don's soft snores against my neck, which normally comforted me, didn't help. It was heavy tax season and I was beyond exhausted. The workload had been hell lately. Morons who'd overspent at Christmas started receiving all the bills and came crying to us to sell something to get them out of hock. I sighed. I wasn't being fair. People had issues. Money just happened to be one of them.

It wasn't that I was overworked. It was part of my job; a job that I loved. No, this was all about McBaine and his prejudices. Being Hispanic and growing up in Los Angeles, I was used to people looking at me and hating me on sight. Prejudice and I had had run-ins before. But not once, in all my years, had anyone ever given me shit about being gay. All my years. Good one Rodriguez. I'd be twenty-six in July.

Not in my family, not amongst my friends, not even in college, had any one person given me grief over being gay; something that I could not change any more than I could change my ethnicity. Having some bigoted asshole be weary of a Spic handling his accounts because he'd think I'd rob him, that I'd been prepared for. I handled companies and well-to-do clients who I thought were above such small minded and outdated concepts. My mistake, money wasn't a measure of character.

I couldn't fault Jeff either. The company was young. He'd taken me on knowing full well I was gay, and hadn't batted an eye. No, I couldn't be angry with Jeff. McBaine represented millions of dollars to the company. The truth was, I couldn't be angry with the one person who deserved my rage. And because I couldn't tell McBaine to go become real friendly with himself, I'd taken my frustration and hurt out on Don.

I looked down at Don and kissed his forehead as he lay against my shoulder. No. Don didn't deserve any of this. In time, I knew the sting wouldn't hurt anymore, but it rubbed me raw and made me cringe. I tightened my arm around Don's shoulders and took comfort in the fact he was there.

"You're still awake?" His sleepily mumbled words brought me out of my thoughts. I kissed his forehead again.

"Go back to sleep, Don."

He snuffled against my chest for a second then propped himself up on his elbow. "You need to sleep."

I loved this man. He worked early too. I pulled him over and caught his lips with mine. When I pulled away I cupped his face. "I'm sorry for earlier."

Don leaned in and nuzzled against my neck. moving his way up to flick my earlobe with his tongue. "How sorry?"

I chuckled as I rolled us over and pressed my thickening cock into his belly. "Real sorry." I grinned down at his face and nipped his chin. "How about I make it up to you?" I made it up to both of us, until we were both hot, sweaty, and short of breath. The bed was a wreck. Don was right, we needed a new one. Eventually, I fell asleep.

Later, at work, he meeting with my new clients went well. They were a small firm that had grown into a larger one over three years. The husband and wife who ran it were a kick and by the time our meeting was over, I was laughing again. Jim and Marie Walker were good people who had taken a passion for Championship Dogs and turned it into a gold mine.

"So which is your breed of choice?"

Jim Walker started laughing. "Mine's the Newfoundlands. They're big dogs, but with a sweet disposition."

I chuckled as Marie piped in. "We only have three of them. But there had to be room for my beagles."

True Newfoundlands stood equal with my chest, I couldn't imagine them having beagles on top of that. "How many beagles?"

"Five." They spoke in unison like an old married couple, which I guessed they were. We all started laughing.

"That's a bit more dog than I could handle, I'm afraid."

Marie Walker stood even with my height and reminded me of my mother since she was just a tad bit plump, which only added sweetness to her already sunny demeanor. "And which is your favorite, Mr. Rodriguez?"

"Sebastian, please. And I prefer Irish Wolfhounds."

"They are beautiful dogs. We have a couple of them in Oakland and three more in Monterey."

I grinned. "That sounds like a handful."

Jim piped in and laughed. "No way, they are the sweetest, most pampered dogs in the world. And they are excellent with children. Do you have any, Sebastian?"

I cleared my throat and looked away, fear cramping my stomach. Would this be another McBaine? "I don't have children. I'm not married and my partner and I haven't thought about it."

Without missing a beat, Marie smiled at me. "What's his name?"

I let out a laugh that was mostly an exhale and grinned. "Don."

"Well, when you're ready for a dog, let us know. We have connections."

I chuckled and was glad I'd been given their account. After we'd agreed on a few choices for investment purposes, some stock options, and a retirement savings plan, I shook both their hands and saw them to the door. I looked down at my watch and saw that it was lunchtime. I thought about calling Don, but our lunch hours didn't exactly mesh. I went back to my desk and straightened up my files and got out the ones I'd need for my next appointment.

"Hey, Sebastian?" I looked up to see Jeff standing in my door. He fidgeted before he came inside my office. "Are you free for lunch?"

I looked under my desk and in my filing cabinet. "Nope. No clients lurking about. Sure."

I grabbed my jacket and followed him out of the office. We ended up at a salad and soup all-you-can-eat place and sat down after grabbing our food. I took a few bites and wondered what Jeff had to tell me. The way he'd been nervous when he poked his head in made me worried.

When he set down his fork and cleared his throat I looked up from my own food. Here it comes. "What did you want to see me about, Jeff?" I congratulated myself for not letting the fear into my voice.

His fingers played with his fork before he looked me in the eyes. "I'm sorry about yesterday, Sebastian."

I nodded. "I know. We went over this yesterday."

He shook his head. "No. I'm really sorry. If we were in a stronger position where we could turn away a multimillion-dollar client, I'd have sent him packing."

"Jeff. I know. It's okay." He raised his eyebrows at me. "Okay, it isn't fine, but I understand. I'd have told him off too, but we can't lose this client."

I could tell Jeff was frustrated. At least this ate at him as bad as it did me. "Jeff. I know that you don't care. That means a lot. It's not right that McBaine can do this, but I really do understand. And thanks for the Walkers. They're a joy to work with."

"I'm glad you like them. I wasn't sure they'd go with us at first, but they liked that we were just starting out too."

I grinned. "They're great and were willing to listen. Unlike the Gravenstein account."

We both groaned over that one. The man refused to take any advice. He wanted to invest in airlines, because he was a retired pilot, and steel. Neither were stable investments at the moment. Jeff chuckled. "At least you talked him out of sinking cash into one of the bankrupt airlines. I still can't believe he wanted to invest so heavily into one company."

We finished lunch companionably. Even though we didn't settle anything and it still sat ill with me, at least my working relationship with my boss hadn't been damaged. I finished out the rest of the day's clients with a smile on my face. It was only when I opened my desk drawer and found Don's and my picture staring up at me that I frowned. It just wasn't fair. But like Taylor said, nothing in life ever was. At least I had Don waiting for me when I got home. That's more than some people ever had.

***** Don *****

I jerked out of my thoughts, gripping the hand that just landed on my shoulder, and twisted. I didn't realize whom I took to his knees until I heard a masculine grunt. I let go immediately, feeling like a class A jerk.


"Damn," Matt replied as he shook out his almost strained hand. "I'm glad I kept up with yoga for stress management." He flexed his fingers as he stood.

"I didn't see you walk up." That pissed me off more than what I'd been thinking about before. He shouldn't have been able to catch me off guard.

"It's a good thing no terrorists chose today to assault the building," Matt joked as he smiled. "Your mind is anywhere but here."

I looked at my half eaten sandwich and shrugged. "Lot on my mind." I frequently ate my lunch in the atrium. It let me relax and still keep an eye on things. Not to mention, they had a few indoor trees and benches. Today I'd hoped the familiar routine would get my mind off of things.

Matt sat down on the retaining wall beside me. "Nothing bad I hope."

I shrugged. "Not really. Just got a reminder that not every employer is as liberal minded as Comdex." I smiled at Matt. "I know Seb said it at the party, but thanks for making Comdex a place I'm really proud to work for.

Matt smiled. "I didn't have all that much to do with it, but I definitely support the initiatives and policies of Comdex towards our employees." He waited quietly while I took a bite of my sandwich and scanned the area. After a couple minutes, he continued the conversation. "So, what has you thinking about this?"

"Seb got a reminder that even if you have an open minded employer, you can get penalized for being who you are."

Matt frowned. "They fired him for being gay?"

"No, no," I answered quickly, "Jeff wouldn't do that. He's cool."

Matt raised an eyebrow at me and I realized I either had to tell him it wasn't any of his damn business, or just spit it out.

"A client of their company, a really big one, saw a picture of Seb and I on Seb's desk. He called Seb's boss and told him he didn't want 'one of those people' associated with his accounts." I shrugged. "Jeff didn't have much choice but to move the account to another broker and then quietly asked Seb if he could put our picture in a less conspicuous spot."

"That's ridiculous. What does his choice of partners have to do with his ability to handle stock trades and financial accounts?"

I nodded in agreement. "That's what I've been mulling over. It's like someone saying that he doesn't want a woman, or a black man, or an immigrant doing his accounts."

"I'm glad we don't work with people like that," Matt commented. "I'm not sure I could stomach it. Especially since Comdex's official policy is strictly no discrimination for any reason."

I snorted. "Oh, we work with people like that."

Matt frowned. "Who?"

I shook my head. "Forget it. I shouldn't have said that."

"Don, who?"

I grabbed my lunch up and stood. "Seb was just griping. I'm sure there's some form of confidentiality agreement that his telling me violated. I don't want Seb to get into any more trouble."

Matt stood. "Don." He put his hand on my shoulder. "I wouldn't do anything just over hearsay, which at the moment is all this is. However, if there is a chance Comdex is associated with a person or business who does not meet our requirements of non-discriminatory practices, I'd like to have an opportunity to check out the situation."

What damage could it do? I frowned. "It was Carlton McBaine." I put my hand up. "I don't know if he was there over personal accounts of if it's his firm's accounts. Really; we didn't go over the details. Seb just needed to vent."

Matt frowned. "That's a pretty serious allegation, Don. McBaine, Riley and Walker has been working with Comdex for over a decade."

I shrugged. "As I said, forget it. It will all blow over if left alone."

Matt didn't say anything, but nodded as he thought. I finally left him to his thoughts and hoped I hadn't just opened a huge can of worms. With everything else in our lives going so well, there was no reason to rock the boat.

***** Tyrone *****

"Hey, Babe!."

I looked up from my laptop screen as Lee came up to the table, pulling off his coat, with two familiar faces behind him.

"Look who I found." He nodded back at Don and Seb. "I guess great minds think alike."

Don chuckled. "Just getting a late dinner. Seb's been slammed at work, and tonight is our only night without classes at The Dojo."

Lee nodded as he slid into the booth beside me. "Yeah, know the feeling. My nine o'clock canceled, so we made impromptu plans to eat out for a change."

"Well, we'll let you guys have your dinner," Don said with a smile.

"You're welcome to join us," I said as I closed the lid of my laptop. "We haven't had a chance to visit since before Christmas."

Don looked at Sebastian, who shrugged and smiled. Don pulled off his coat, took Sebastian's, and let Sebastian sit inside before sliding into the booth himself. "It has been a while."

I slid my notebook back into its case and squeezed Lee's knee before smiling at the guys. "I hear you two are going traditional on us."

Don grinned. "Not that traditional. We've made it pretty clear that neither of us will wear the dress. And no one is wearing white."

Seb chuckled. "I keep telling him that he could wear a kilt."

"You could wear a sarong," Don countered.

Lee laughed. "And what will I wear, a grass skirt?"

"If I'm not wearing pants, neither will my groomsmen," Don insisted, and then shook his head. "I'm wearing a tux. I didn't spend all that money to only wear the thing at business parties."

I chuckled. "A tux? I always thought of you as the worn jeans and leather vest kind of man."

"Says the man who has black leather pants hanging in the same closet with his three-piece business suits and power ties," Lee chided.

"Really?" Don grinned at me. "Just how tight are these things?"

I grumbled. I hadn't been into the scene for years, but I'd spent a fortune on those pants, I wasn't going to throw them away simply because my dungeon days were behind me. "Pretty damn tight. I'm not as lean as I used to be."

Don laughed. "Yeah, you look every inch the over-the-hill executive you are. Being thirty-eight must be hell."

I stroked my goatee. It was finally showing gray that had shown up on my head years ago. Fortunately, I looked good with a smooth skull. "I've been thinking of coloring. I've got too youthful a lover to have gray."

Lee laughed, and squeezed my thigh. "I like the gray. It makes you look distinguished."

Seb ran his finger along Don's thin, jaw line beard. "When my old man goes gray, I hope he gets color like yours. You were lucky, Tyrone, you got a nice pattern. A lot of men go gray in splotches."

Don changed his facial hair the way some women changed wardrobe. Each season was a new look. I studied his latest style. It was different, but suited him. "By-the-way, I like the narrow beard look. You have the jaw line for it."

"Think so?" Don stroked his bead from jaw to chin. "I wasn't sure it would work."

"Es muy atractivo, mi hombre caliente y hermoso," Sebastian purred under his breath, causing Don to shiver.

I remembered the first time I'd seen Sebastian's effect on Don. I knew, right then, they were meant for each other. Sebastian had made a man out of the confused bundle of testosterone and muscle that had been Don before. I really liked watching them mature together. I chuckled, thinking about how ironic it was that I was looking at two men who could have beaten me to a pulp and thinking of them as little brothers. A decade of age difference colored one's views of people.

"What," Lee asked, drawing me out of my thoughts.

"Nothing. Just realizing that we have a pretty close little family here, even if we don't get together as often as we should." I smiled back at Don. Don had annoyed me at first, but Lee assured me there was a good, honorable man behind his dick and ass hunting ways. As usual, Lee was right. He read people better than he let on. It was something he probably inherited from his grandfather.

Sebastian's cell went off, and he groaned. He snapped it off his belt, eyed the number, and clicked the answer key. "Hey, Jeff. What's up?"

He listened for a few moments, his worn smile dipping to a frown, and he sighed. "I just sat down to dinner. Can I come back in an hour?"

Don rolled his eyes, frowning, as Sebastian's shoulders drooped before he ended the call. "Yeah, thanks. See you then."

"What's wrong," Don asked.


Don growled. "What, now he wants you out of the company?"

"No, nothing like that. At least I don't think so." Sebastian shrugged, tucking away his cell. "He's just making Jeff jump through hoops, changing accounts and investments like a mad man. Jeff needs help handling it all before his meeting tomorrow."

"Bastard's probably trying to beat Jeff into firing you."

"Don," Sebastian sighed, "let's not go over this right now, okay?"

The server came, took our orders, gave us our drinks, and then left us to our conversations. We'd fallen quiet after Sebastian's call.

Something about that call bothered me. "Not a family-friendly client," I asked as I took a sip of my water.

Sebastian shrugged. "Bigots are bigots. Can't live with them, can't kill them."

"Your boss is cool with you and Don, right?" I knew Jeff Halston, he was a good man. Not to mention, his sister would kick his ass if he ever did anything against the gay community. I'd thought about switching brokers to Sierra once or twice, but I hadn't really seen a reason to.

"Oh yeah, he's fine with it. Unfortunately, some clients aren't."

Sebastian and Don were too busy with their lives, the school, and work to be involved in the local gay community. Over the last few years, I'd made the time. Sticking together as a community was important. The blacks did back in the sixties, and we got our civil rights. The gay community needed that same solidarity, or it would be crushed. "Do you have any of your cards?"

Sebastian blinked. "Yeah, sure." He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a card holder, and slid me a card.

I saw he had about thirty in the holder. "Can I just have the stack?"

Sebastian shrugged and pulled out the stack. "I'm going back into the office anyway, so I can load back up. I don't know why I carry so many around with me. It isn't like I'm going to hand a card to the grocery clerk or one of our martial arts students."

I took the cards, tucking them into my shirt pocket for later. "Why not? Networking is the name of the game, Sebastian. That's how small businesses grow."

Sebastian shrugged again. "I guess I'm just not a sales man. I don't like asking a person to 'give me money', even if it is for a service. Makes me think of the guys on the street in LA who dash out to the cars when the traffic light turns red, wipes down the windshield, and then ask for a few bucks. It's degrading."

I shook my head. "You have sales all wrong, Sebastian. I've been in sales and marketing for almost twenty years, over twenty if you count my working as a manager of a convenience store while I was in college." Leaning in, I found myself stepping onto my pulpit. Having a Baptist Minister for a father always crept into my behavior, no matter how hard I tried to stamp it out. "You can have the best product in the world, but if the public doesn't know about it, no one will buy it. Sales and marketing is a lot more than the salesman who promises a client anything for the all important buck. Frankly, that's a poor salesman. A good salesman, no matter what he's selling, respects the product as well as the client. It's about value. If you can convince the client that he is getting value for his hard earned money, he will give it to you and do so happily. You deliver, and he tells others about it. Marketing yourself, or your company, isn't about make a deal in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Marketing is getting someone to remember you, or your product, at a later point when he needs it. The personal touch; a smile, a handshake, a quick bit of advice if the person is lost, can come back a hundred fold in the long run."

Don looked at me with a glazed expression, Lee just smiled at me tolerantly, and Sebastian simply looked tired. One thing my father never learned, which thank God I had, was never to beat an issue into the ground. If your audience wasn't receptive, move on. There was a better chance for something you said to take root later if you left it alone.

"So, what are you two up to this weekend?"

Don shrugged. "We're grooming some new students for the competition coming up at the end of February." He smiled. "This time we won't have the miscommunications we had last year."

Sebastian smiled, adding, "And we've told them all to take lots of vitamin C and wash their hands regularly. We don't want to lose a star student to the flu."

"Amen," Don agreed, squeezing Seb's hand as the food arrived.

Sebastian sighed as he looked at his plate. "Why do I feel like this is the 'last supper'?"

I laughed. "Trust me, it isn't. I've felt that way thousands of times. 'This too shall pass'."

I didn't know the McBaine guy who was causing all the problems, but I had other ideas. A little solidarity usually went a long way.