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The Conquered - Chapter 30: Trials (part 4)

***** Sean *****

"So school's been going well?" Taylor asked as I plopped down on my bed and nodded uselessly against the phone. I wished he were in the room instead of three thousand miles away.

"Yeah." I played at my belly button and flinched. The damn thing was still sore. I'd be cleaning the piercing for a month at least. How the hell did Katie con me into getting a belly button ring? It wasn't like we'd been drinking. I frowned at the irritating little thing and tried to ignore it by focusing on the conversation. "Isn't the same as High School."

Taylor chuckled. "That's for sure." I heard Andrew call out something in the background, but I couldn't make it out. Taylor translated, "Andrew wants to know if you've made any friends yet."

I smiled. "Yeah. I've been hanging a lot with a girl from class, Katie. She's 'family friendly'."

"God I hate that whole stratified group thing," Taylor groaned. "The last thing I'm going to think about a gay or bisexual man I meet is 'oh look, family'!"

I snickered. "Okay, so it's kind of stupid, but it's kind of cool too. Like being a member of a club or something."

"Talking about memberships, have you thought about Tyrone's suggestion?"

I sighed. "Yeah, I've thought about it. I guess I should try to find a social resource or something."

"According to Yahoo Maps, the GLBCC is only a couple miles from where you live, Sean."

I sat up, cautiously so my jeans wouldn't rub my piercing. Thank God most of my jeans were hip huggers and not at my waist. "You already looked it up?"

"Of course," Taylor chuckled, "you don't think I'd suggest something I hadn't checked out first, do you?"

Damn it. Sometimes Taylor was worse than Andrew. Andrew got a bit smothering, but Taylor was like a mother hen. He couldn't just let me do it on my own. He had to predigest the information and spoon-feed it to me. "You don't have to do that, Taylor. I can look shit up online myself, you know?"

There was a pause on the other end of the line, and I heard Taylor sigh. "Yeah, I know, Sean. I know."

I chewed on my lower lip for a moment before swallowing. "Sorry. I appreciate the help, really."

"Tell me more about Katie. I know Andrew won't rest until I give him all the details."

I grinned. "Why not just put him on the phone?"

"Same problem, Sean. He'd have to give me all the details. I have a larger vocabulary, so I'm better suited for translation duty."

I giggled as "I heard that" came through clearly, if distantly, over the phone.

I heard Taylor make kissy face noises and call out, "Love you babe!"

"So, what are you two up to?"

"Andrew just hopped into the shower. We're having a late dinner with Becca and Larry."

"Wow, it's what, eight out there?" It was eleven here, so it had to be eight there.

"Yeah, reservations are at nine." Taylor seemed to pull away from the phone, and then yelled, "If Mr. Hairy Ass could wash it a bit faster we might actually get there on time!"

God, I missed them. I missed gay-man banter. Grandma was great, but I couldn't get raunchy with my grandmother. Maybe Tyrone was right. Maybe I did need to find a social group. "You guys crack me up."

"Any other news?"

I shrugged, resisting the impulse to play with my navel ring again. It hurt to do it, but it sometimes jolt made my dick twitch. "I lost my virginity a couple weeks ago to a girl."


I laughed. "Well, not sexually..."

There was another frustrated pause, and Taylor recovered his normal speaking voice. "Exactly what kind of virginity have you lost?"

"I got a belly button piercing."

Another pause. "Oh-kay...."

I shrugged again. "I don't know why I did it."

"Uh huh."

"Really. We were at the beach with Carlos and Marc and Janie, and it just happened."

Taylor snorted. "What, a wild, rabid beach-combing piercer came over the dunes and attacked your belly while you were napping?"

"No. We were all hanging, and Marc, he's this muscle head, kind of like Leon?"

"Okay, so all pecs, no legs?"

"No, he's a bit more balanced, but I think that's only 'cause he hasn't been at it as long as Leon. Anyway, he has huge nipples, and he said he was thinking of getting them pierced."

"And this translated to your midriff how?"

"Well, then Janie said she was thinking of going for her third piercing. And Katie said she'd been toying with the idea of a belly button piercing, but wasn't sure."

Taylor groaned. "So it was a solidarity thing?"

I blushed. It really was stupid. "Kind of... when we got to the piercing place, Katie was looking over belly piercing jewelry to buy, and Carlos commented that I had great abs and I'd look hot with a belly ring..."

"Why do I get the feeling that you've got a problem with resisting Spanish speaking boys, just like Don?"

"I do not!" Okay, so the idea that Carlos thought I'd look hot with a piercing made my toes tingle. I wasn't crushed out on the guy.

I heard Andrew ask Taylor what's going on, and Taylor covered the phone, though not very well. "Sean has a crush on a Hispanic guy and got his belly button pierced cause the guy said it'd be hot."

"I DID NOT," I yelled into the phone. He made it sound so stupid.

Andrew's voice came over the line. "You're doing the Hispanic boys? I heard something about virginity."

"No, no, no!" I wanted to reach through the phone and strangle them. "I just got a piercing, with my friends, that's it. I'm still a virgin. I don't have a crush. Everything is cool."

"Uh huh," Andrew replied, sounding anything but convinced.

I was about to snap at him when Taylor came back onto the phone. "I've sent the water-logged ape back to dry off, Sean."

I blew out my breath. "You guys are jerks at times."

I could almost feel Taylor's smile. "Most big brothers are. Doesn't mean we don't love you."

I grinned. "Yeah, I know."

"Play safe, you brat. We've got to get moving."

"Okay," I replied, sighing. "Love you."

"We love you too kiddo." There was a pause as Andrew called something out from the bathroom. "Andrew says to use that camera phone feature you've got and send us a picture of Carlos. Oh, and you with the belly button ring."

"When it's healed up."

"Talk to you next week."


I clicked off the phone, got off the bed, and walked in front of the dresser mirror. Lifting my shirt, I flexed my abs a little, looking at the piercing. I ran my hands over my abs, gyrating my hips slowly to the Latin beat in my head. I imagined it was Carlos watching. I started to breathe heavier as I pulled my shirt up past my pecs and tweaked my nipples. It would be so hot to do a strip for Carlos. Have his hot mouth on my chest, licking down my abs, tugging at the ring, and then get to my jeans. Yeah, that'd be so good. His mouth was caressing my cock through the fabric while his hands gripped my ass. "Oh, yeah...."

I snapped out of the fantasy when I heard the knock. "Sean?"

I yanked my T-shirt down and hoped the hem would cover my stretched jeans. "Yeah, Grandma?"

She opened the door. "Would you like something before I turn in?"

I smiled. "Nah thanks. I'm pretty full from dinner."

She nodded. "I talked with Mr. Harmon today. He says you can go over and pick up the weight set this weekend."

"That'd be cool. I've been porking out since I got here."

She shook her head. "To be that young and 'porked out' again."

"Night, Grandma." I walked over and kissed her cheek.

"Good night, Sean." She closed the door.

My dick was still half hard, and my ass was itching. I quietly locked the door, went back to the bed, knelt down, and pulled my "toy box" out. I didn't have a Carlos, but that didn't mean I couldn't scratch that itch.

***** Taylor *****

"So, think he's covering," Andrew asked as he came out of the bathroom for the second time. At least this time he was mostly dry.

"No. I think he's just embarrassed."

"A belly button ring?" Andrew shook his head and pulled out a pair of boxers. "He hasn't even been gone a month. What's next, tattoos?"

I cringed. "Don't say that."

"And what's up with this 'Carlos' character?"

"Sounds like he has his first crush."

"Second," Andrew corrected.

I shrugged. "Okay, first crush that could become something."

"I hope he doesn't just hop in bed with the guy."

I smiled. "I'm sure he won't, big brother. He's a sensible kid."

"True." Andrew looked at the closet. "What should I wear?"


"Ha ha." He tossed his towel at me.

"Just shirt, slacks, jacket. Maybe the sweater Mom got you."

He nodded. "Yeah, I haven't worn it yet. Where is it?"

"Your side, upper hangers, about half way back."

He found it quickly and pondered. "What color pants?"

"Just get out your black slacks, Andrew. You don't have to look like a fashion plate."

"Jeremiah's is a nice restaurant," he argued, but took the black pants out anyway. "If you're going to make me eat at an over priced restaurant, I'm going to dress the part."

"And you'll look good no matter what." And I thought I had image issues.

"Sweet talker," he chuckled, and pulled out his black shoes as well.

"Oh, good. I didn't have to remind you about the shoes," I said, teasing him a little.

"I dressed myself just fine before you, Mr. Fashion Model."

"Uh huh, tell that to Queer Eye. You dressed more like a butch-dyke than a gay man."

"I'll show you how butch this dyke is," he growled before tossing his pants at the bottom of the bed and pouncing me.

"HEY!" I tried to squirm out of the way, but the leg brace and wrist made that impossible. I hated the fucking things. What point was there in even trying to play when I had a club for my left hand and a log for my right leg?

Andrew pinned me to the bed, making sure his thinly covered monster was pressed against me, and grinned. "Who's your butch dyke?"

"Uhm.... Becca?"

"Wrong answer!" I couldn't form words as he tickled me to within a few moments of choking. Finally, he stopped, leaned in, and kissed me through the last tear filled giggles. "Love you, you little instigator."

I smiled. "Get off me, you big ape. We're going to be late."

Andrew laughed, and got off me. "If we were early, they'd think something was wrong."

"Yeah, well, I still have to finish dressing." I looked pushed off the bed and hobbled to the mirror. The tie I'd had draped loosely about my neck had been crumpled beyond immediate salvation by Andrew's antics. "Could you help me with my tie?"

He walked to the closet and laughed, "You remember who tied both mine and Sean's ties at Christmas, right?"

I shrugged and scrutinized the hopeless task in the mirror. "I did."

Andrew came back out with gift a student had given me for Christmas. The tie was worse than ugly; bright neon orange and purple, and was probably from a thrift shop time-warped from the seventies. He held it out. "This one, right?"

I was not amused. "Don't be ridiculous."

He tossed the garish piece of polyester over his shoulder and brought the right one out. "Just kidding."

"No time."

"Then turn around."

He placed the tie over my shoulders. "Right over left?"

I watched as Andrew made quick work of the tie. It wasn't the best job, but we weren't going for GQ.

I grumbled, but nodded at his accomplishment. "It'll do."

***** Andrew *****

I grumbled as Taylor brushed at his leg for the fiftieth time. "Stop worrying about the damn pants. I'm more concerned about the leg."

Taylor dropped his hands back in his lap and stared straight ahead. "The leg is fine."

Sure it is, I thought at him, but kept quiet. Stubborn, hard headed, irritating, bastard. The thoughts were more frustration than actual anger. So we were going to be late. It hadn't gotten us on the road any faster for him to try to ice skate to the car on that damn cast while I was locking the kitchen door. He couldn't wait thirty seconds for me to help him? I didn't care what he said. Even in perfect condition doing partial splits and smacking down on frozen ground hurt, period.

Taylor didn't add anything to the conversation. He hated to be reminded that he wasn't ready for independent activity yet. I supposed I couldn't blame him. We rode into town without talking, until the silence became oppressive.

"So why are we going to this fancy restaurant again?"

Taylor looked over to me, his face catching the highlights of oncoming traffic, and flashed me a strained grin. "Because Becca and I always go before the start of the season for one last big blowout."

I shrugged and stared back at the road. One last big blowout? They couldn't have chosen McDonalds? Whatever. "So an overpriced dinner is considered a blowout?"

His fist lightly punched my arm. "Not just the food, but the wine." I glanced over at him when he paused. "Plus they have desserts to die for. Their best is called Chocolate Explosion."

I bet they don't have fried peanut butter and bananas.

Taylor looked back at the road with a shrug. "The closest they have is Bananas Foster."

I chuckled and stared at him at a red light. I'm sure I looked like a fool. "That's scary when you do that, Bacon."

He smirked and rolled his eyes. "You're easy to read. Especially when you're thinking about cheat foods."

I grinned and tried to act put out. "Fine. Make me eat delicious food." I rubbed my belly and looked over at Taylor forlornly. At least how I hoped a forlorn person would look. "I still haven't lost all the weight from the road trip."

Taylor reached his hand across the center console and rubbed my belly. "I like the bit of padding. It makes you more cuddly."

I took his hand from my belly and kissed his fingers. I wanted to kiss his palm, but the wrist brace prevented that. "Just don't make me eat escargot."

Taylor laughed and pulled his hand back. "I promise; it won't even come up in conversation."

I pulled into the restaurant parking lot and paused a moment. It was snowing again, and I really didn't want to make Taylor cross a snow and ice covered parking lot. I drove to the portico and the valet parking. When the valet came around the side of the SUV to open Taylor's door, I was expecting a fight. He didn't even bat an eye. Taylor said `thanks' to the valet and flashed the kid a smile. He'll accept help from strangers, but bitches when I do it? When my door was opened I was scowling into the windshield; so much so that the valet attendant stepped back. I glanced his way and flashed a grin at him before I got out and headed around the back of the SUV. Only once I got there, I saw Taylor hobble and then almost slip on the icy pavement.

Stubborn, independent, frustrating... I scowled again as I walked, and he hobbled, into the restaurant. I didn't pay much attention to what we said as we entered. I was lost in the memory of Monday morning.

I woke up to Taylor's hideous alarm clock and hightailed it downstairs to start the coffee brewing. On the stairs back to our bedroom, I heard the shower turn on. I grinned as I dropped my briefs and tossed them in the hamper. I knew I'd set the alarm a few minutes early for a reason.

I almost laughed once I was in the bathroom and saw Taylor's arm, the one in the cast, hanging on the shower stall wall. His fingers hooked onto the glass so he wouldn't get it wet. I opened the door and stepped inside and pressed myself against Taylor's back. "Excellent idea, Bacon."

I leaned down and sniffed his hair as he pushed his ass back into me, forcing me to step back. "We don't have time."

In his scuffling, he dropped the soap. I knelt down and picked it up. While I was down there, I pressed a kiss to the small of his back, right above the crack of his ass. His moan made me smile. "I think we have a little time." I stood and sniffed his hair. "At least for a thorough washing."

Taylor turned around and glared at me. He took the soap from my hand and began running it over his body. I watched as he tried to reach all of him, but one handed, he missed a good portion. I reached for the soap, and lowered my head to whisper in his ear. "Allow me."

Taylor pressed his hand against my chest. "Forget it." He dropped the soap in my hand and leaned into the spray so he could rinse off. Oh well, I guess playing would have to come later.

I put the soap back in the dish and grabbed the shampoo. "Duck under, babe, and get your hair wet."

Taylor lowered his head under the spray but grabbed the shampoo bottle from my hands. "Hurry up, we're going to be late."

I stood and stared as he tried to lather up his long hair with only one hand. "We got up twenty minutes early."

After Taylor had rinsed his hair, he looked at me and smiled. "When have you ever been ready on time?"

I snorted and started soaping my own body. "When you need to be on time for a staff meeting."

Taylor patted my ass and got out of the shower as I was rinsing the shampoo from my hair. Once done, I turned off the shower and stepped out to dry. I slung the towel around my hips as I went over to the sink and lathered my face so I could shave. As I made the first swipe of my left cheek, I saw Taylor in the bedroom struggle to get his briefs on. I made one last swipe with my razor as I heard Taylor cursing a blue streak as he tried to button his pants. I wiped the last of the foam away from my face and grabbed my deodorant. I had just capped it when I heard a frustrated, "Andrew?" come from the bedroom.

I peaked my head around the corner and had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Taylor sat on the edge of the bed with his shirt hanging off his arm. "Problems?"

He huffed his hair out of his eyes and grinned at me. "Not at all. I often dress chaotically for work."

I snickered as I dropped to my knees in front of him and pulled his socks on. "Not ticklish today?"

Taylor pulled his foot from my hands. "Don't you dare."

I leaned forward and brushed his lips. "I wouldn't think of it."

I stood and got Taylor to stand. I did his button and zipped his fly. "Turn around, babe."

Taylor turned and I untangled his shirt and got his hand with the cast in it through the sleeve. "I feel like I'm four years old." He muttered it under his breath.

"I don't know. It's sexy as sin to undress you." I leaned forward and kissed the top of his head as I reached around his chest and tweaked a nipple before I started buttoning the shirt. "It's kind of sexy to put clothes on you too."

I put on my clothes and headed towards the stairs. Taylor followed, hobbling along. I reached out my arms and grinned. "Your chariot awaits."

His sullen, pouting look made me grin as I picked him up and carried him downstairs into the kitchen. I got down a couple of mugs and filled both up. As I reached out to give him his, he took it and grumbled, "I can get my own damn coffee."

I ignored him as I grabbed his coat and briefcase and started for the door. "Come on, Taylor. Let's get you to school."

And that had been one of our better mornings this week. I snapped out of the memory as I leaned down and whispered in his ear. "How are you holding up?"

He looked up at me and shrugged. "I'll be fine once we sit down and I take an Aleve."

At least he was willing to admit he was in pain.

I helped him off with his coat as he scanned the dining room for Becca and Larry. When he spotted them, I nodded towards them and took his coat and mine over to the coat check room. I handed our coats to the hostess and asked if she had any Aleve. She rummaged through a box and I grumbled internally over it. His doctor had given him Tylenol & Codeine. Not Vicodin or anything stronger. I knew Taylor got loopy with meds, but when you were in pain, the drugs mellowed and calmed. He could have taken something stronger and been okay at dinner. Perhaps his face would have been flushed and he'd have to avoid wine with dinner, but at least he wouldn't be hurting. Taylor didn't have anything to prove, least of all to me. He was a rock and probably the strongest person I'd ever met. Which is probably why he fights everything and everyone over his recovery.

The hostess looked up with an apologetic smile. "All I have is some Advil. Will that work?"

I smiled at her, feeling guilty for my bad mood. "Thanks. It will do fine."

I took the paper packet of pills and started back to Taylor. As I walked through the lobby, I promised myself I wouldn't let Taylor's stubbornness ruin our evening. His independence was something that made up all of Taylor, who I loved more than life. Even if he was a pig headed stubborn bastard.

A tall, pretty, sophisticated and probably high maintenance woman stood at the table near Becca's shoulder. As I stepped closer to the table, I overheard her talking. "No wonder you haven't returned my calls."

I blinked. Why would Taylor call her? I noticed Larry fidgeting in his seat, Becca's expression was strained, and Taylor looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Who the hell was this woman? I figured that Taylor's headache was only getting worse, so I handed him the pills. "I got some Advil from the hostess. They didn't have any Aleve."

I put my hand on Taylor's shoulder and slightly rubbed his neck with my thumb. He tensed under my fingers. I had no idea who this woman was, but some of Mama's manner lessons held true. I put out my other hand. "Hi, I'm Andrew."

She blinked. Her eyes went from my hand back up to me. "Trish."

Taylor set the packet of Advil on the table, reached up and squeezed my hand. "Thanks babe."

***** Taylor *****

We got to Jeremiah's about ten minutes late. That was still "fashionable". Andrew hovered beside me as I walked to the door. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Sean called me a mother hen? "Yes, Andrew. With the leg brace to protect my knee, I'm allowed to walk."

He opened the door. "I meant the ice."

Okay, so I'd slipped. "My hip feels a little strained, but the brace did its job for the knee." Maybe strained was underplaying it just a little. I felt like someone had tried to use my leg as a wishbone. I already hobbled when I walked in the brace, so I didn't think anyone would notice my uncomfortable gait. Leave it to Andrew to notice. "I'll be fine once we sit down and I take an Aleve."


I looked past the hostess; I spotted Becca and Larry about five tables in. "There's Becca."

"I'll hang our coats," Andrew commented, helping me out of mine. "You go sit down."

I smiled. "Yes, Daddy."

Andrew gave me a mock-irritated look, and then grinned as he took the coats to the coatroom. I crossed to the table, hobbling slowly behind the hostess, and waved down Becca as she stood. "Don't stand; I'm not the Queen Mother."

She laughed, sitting again. "Snippy tonight. At least you still have a positive attitude."

I grunted as I sat down, jutting my leg out behind Larry's chair. "I've put a road block behind you."

"Noted," he said, smiling at me. "You're moving around well. I'd think it was normal if there wasn't that strained clench in your jaw."

I grumbled. "I slipped on some ice. At least I didn't hit my knee."

"Why didn't you let Andrew drop you off at the door?" Becca always had reasonable suggestions, but she seldom took into consideration the male ego.

"I did; we used valet parking. I slipped at the house." She looked at me skeptically and I shrugged. The tension from the earlier fall was slowly creeping up my neck. "I just got the brace yesterday, Becca. I wanted to walk."

"So you nearly cripple yourself, again, out of pride?"

"Becca..." I really wasn't in the mood. My neck was tightening by the moment and I didn't want to visit the Chiropractor again. A bottle of wine and some Aleve would solve the problem.


I looked up to see who had said my name, and blinked. What the fuck was Trish doing here? "Trish?" Damn she looked good. "What are you doing here?"

Her gaze went from my face, to my wrist, to my leg, and back. "I just finished dinner with a friend and was coming over to say hello to Rebecca when you walked in." She looked briefly at Becca. "You're looking well."

"Thanks," Becca responded. She glanced at me, apparently as caught off guard by Trish's presence as I was. "Just a night out with friends."

Trish nodded and looked back at me. "What happened?"

I shrugged. Damn it; the pain was running up from my shoulders to the base of my skull. "Fell skiing."

"No wonder you haven't returned my calls. I'm so sorry." Her 'friend' came up with her coat, which she took with a brief glance at him. "Thanks, Bret."

He looked at me briefly and then back at Trish. "I'll get the car. It has started snowing again."

"Okay. I'll be right out." She patted his arm and then looked back at me as he left. "Is there anything I can do?"

Yeah, she could leave. "No. Thanks."

"I got some Advil from the hostess," Andrew said as he got to the table. "They don't have any Aleve." He stood behind me for a moment and rested his hand on my shoulder before looking at Trish. He extended his other hand. "Hi, I'm Andrew."

She blinked. Her eyes went from his hand back up to him. "Trish."

I felt like a rabbit in a cage. I squeezed Andrew's hand; though he meant well, the pressure on my neck was making my head pound. "Thanks, babe."

Everything clicked for Trish as her eyes flicked from our hands, to Andrew, and back to me. "You're, together?"

I looked back at Trish. The hardening in her eyes wasn't much warning. "Trish."

"You're gay?" Did she have to be so fucking loud? Trish was never one to be quiet, in or out of bed. She looked at me like I'd just stabbed her. "What were you doing when we were together?"

"Trish, it wasn't like that..." Couldn't she just shut up or leave? My head was pounding.

"Trish, calm down," Becca said as she gripped Trish's arm. "This isn't the place or time..."

Trish yanked her arm from Becca's grip. "No wonder you never called." She didn't let me get a word in. "I must have cramped your style."

"Now wait a minute..." Andrew said as he let go of my shoulder.

Trish glared at Becca. "You knew. This whole time you knew! What kind of friend are you?"

Becca frowned, her eyes hardening. "One who doesn't play games with people's lives, Trish. You had yours, and Taylor had his. I told you he wasn't available any longer. That's all you needed to know."

She glared at Becca before looking at Andrew. "The whole thing is disgusting." Her eyes fell back on me one more time before she turned on her heel. "I hope you're happy, Taylor," she spit, "Obviously, you never were with me."

Becca stood, tossing her napkin on the table as she followed Trish. "Oh no. She is not getting in the last word like that."

I sank into the chair. My head felt like it was going to split. I just wanted to go home. Any resolve I had to make this a great evening was gone.

The waiter appeared at our table and adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. Andrew shot him a withering look. "Could you give us a few minutes?"

He nodded, tucking away his pad. "Of course, sir."

Andrew sat down, looking disturbed at the least and just this side of pissed at the worst. At least he wasn't rubbing my neck any longer.

Larry cleared his throat. "Anyone hungry?"

"Not really," I responded. The pain had already cut into my appetite, but now I was feeling a little sick.

Becca came back to the table, fuming, and sat down. "Jesus, Taylor. You sure know how to pick `em." She dropped her napkin back into her lap. "How long has she been calling you?"

I didn't need to answer that question. The brief widening of Andrew's eyes, and then the dark, smoldering anger I saw in them left me with no doubt that he knew. "It doesn't matter."

Andrew set his jaw, and grunted. "Want to just go home?"

I wanted it all to go away; everything. I wanted it be summer again. I wanted to be lost in nights of endless sex, not frustrated by limitations and helplessness. I wasn't sure I wanted to go home, but I definitely didn't want to stay. "Sure."

"You two don't have to leave," Becca objected as she and Larry stood as if to follow us.

"I think it's for the best," I sighed. "See if they can move you to a table for two."

Becca frowned, but nodded. "Call me."


Andrew got our coats and we stood outside as the confused valet retrieved the truck. I managed to remember to tip him. Andrew didn't say anything as we drove out of town. Silence was the worst. It was easy to argue with someone else, but when all you can do was sit and listen to your inner demons, all you did was tear yourself down.

As we got off the freeway at our exit, I looked over at Andrew. "I'm sorry I ruined our evening."

He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. "You're still recovering."

Good move, Taylor. Piss him off more. I kept quiet for the rest of the ride. What was I going to tell him? Trish was old history. She wasn't a threat to us. She never had been. Why did she have to come back?

Andrew pulled into the drive, parked, and came around as I opened my door. I stared at him for a moment. "What?"

He reached out and roughly lifted me from the truck before setting me on the snow and closing the door. "Making sure you don't hurt yourself again."

I clenched my jaw but didn't fight him as he hefted me up and carried me to the house. I felt so fucking useless. Once inside, he set me down near the couch and went upstairs. I shrugged out of my coat as he came back down with some prescription painkillers and a glass of water. I should have taken them, but I put them down on the coffee table.

Andrew frowned. "Who's Trish?"

"No one important; just an old girlfriend."

He grunted. I was sure he'd already figured that much out. "And how long has she been calling?"

I shrugged. "Since just after Christmas." Had it been six weeks already?

He folded his arms over his chest. "She's the one you keep turning your cell off for?" I didn't answer him. Why hadn't either of us sat down? "And if I weren't around, would you have answered? Is it her you want?"

It felt like he'd kicked me in the gut. "No. Of course not. How can you say that?" I felt like I was balancing on a knife-edge, and it had very little to do with the fact I was trying to stand with my weight only on one leg. I sat down.

Andrew started to pace. "I don't know, Taylor. She's been calling you for six weeks. She has no clue that you're with me. Every time she calls you hide it." He stopped right in front of me and stared down at the top of my head. "What the fuck's going on?"

"Nothing," I snapped back, looking up at him. How could he think anything was going on? So I hadn't told him, big deal. I wasn't going out and getting some pussy on the side. "I don't ask you to explain who you meet or talk to Andrew."

"I don't have exes calling me constantly."

I glared at him. I'd had to face more than a couple of his past fucks with a smile and nod. One of my old relationships shows up and I'm the bad guy? "Of course not. You never hung around long enough to get a last name let alone a phone number."

"That isn't the point!"

I struggled to get off the couch. "Exactly what is the point, Andrew? How many of your old fucks have I bumped into in the last year? Hell, I was even stalked by one of your old fuck's fucks. You get pissed 'cause one of my old girlfriends throws a fit in a restaurant?"

Andrew snarled at me. "I don't give a shit if you have a hundred girlfriends show up and act like bitch queens. Why the fuck didn't you mention her? I've told you about every fuck I can remember, Taylor. I admit I probably missed more than a few on the list. I don't even know how many women you dated before us."

What did that matter? None of them had ever meant as much to me as he did. I lifted up my broken wrist and started counting on my fingers. "Let's see. There was Kim, and Marcia, and Lisa, and Megan, and Julia..."

"I don't CARE how many there were, Taylor. That isn't the point!" Andrew clenched his fists.

"What's the point?" Shouldn't I have seen the point? I just couldn't. Everything I did was about him and for him. How could the bastard think I'd cheat on him?

"You're HIDING things from me, Taylor. I trust you with everything; my hopes, my fears, the rape, EVERYTHING." He waved at me. "You won't even share something as stupid as the fact one of your exes is back in town and calling. What else are you not telling me?"

My gut clenched. "Nothing."

"How do I know that?"

"Because it's true!" He had to believe that.

His eyes held mine, and my heart sank. "I don't believe you."

You don't believe me? I stood there, my head throbbing like it was going to explode, and I just couldn't deal with it at that moment. I wasn't broken. I wasn't the one healing from abuses and horrors in my past. My shit was together. I broke his gaze and hobbled around him for the stairs.


"Well, what," I grumbled as I got to the stairs.

"That's it?"

"My head's killing me, Andrew." Not to mention, my stomach was burning.

"Then take the damn pills!"

"I don't need the pills, Andrew!" God. Every word was like a flash bulb in my brain.

"Fine." I didn't notice him move until I felt his hands readying to heft me up.

I flinched, spinning away from him. The pain between my eyes was blinding. "Leave me the fuck alone, Andrew. I don't need you!"

He stood there, looking at me, and I couldn't read him. Had I really just said that? He took a slow breath before saying anything. "I guess you can make it on your own then."

I watched, mutely, as he climbed the stairs, vanished into the bedroom, and slammed the door. The sound was like a spike through my head. I managed to hold onto the railing as I turned to the wood floor and I threw up.