Author's note -- thanks to those of you who've written to ask if everything's ok. It's fine. S and I are just having a really busy summer at the store and by the time I get home each nite, I don't have much creative energy left.

I have no intention of abandoning this story, and altho I can't promise chapters in any sort of timely manner, I will continue to write when I can because I love these guys and have a need to tell their story.





'52 Panhead


Chapter 39



Evan took a hit off his beer, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and asked again, "Talk about what?" When neither Rafael nor I spoke up, he looked back and forth between us, studying our faces carefully until his eyes settled on mine. "You finally kissed him, I bet."

I jumped out of my chair. "Jesus, did everyone know about this but me?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Evan confirmed. His voice was calm, but when he moved away from me to sit on the porch rail, my face went hot with guilt and my chest tightened up. I stood there a moment, looking at the side of his face, profiled against the black field beyond, wondering what the hell to do next. When nothing came immediately to mind, I slowly sat back down.

Rafael upended his bottle with one last chug, and then pushed to his feet. "I gotta roll," he announced, handing me his empty. "Let me know when you wanna work on the coop some more."

He patted Evan's leg on the way down the steps and got a "See ya," from him, snapped his fingers at Elvis, and then he was gone around the side of the house. We heard his truck fire up a few moments later, and then slowly die away as he went down the drive.

When the night was quiet again, Evan slid off the rail and sat down in the chair Raf had vacated. I risked a quick glance at him, but he was sitting with his head tipped back and his eyes closed. His beard was heavy by this time of day, shadowing the hollows of his face and throat. I didn't know what sort of reaction I'd expected from him, but this silence was killing me.

"Are you angry?" I blurted out, unable to stand it a moment longer. I could probably look down the barrel of a loaded gun longer than I could hold out when I thought Evan might be upset with me.

"Would you be, if the situation was reversed?" he asked in a quiet voice.

"Well... that's not the same. You've already kissed him a zillion times."

Evan rolled his head to look at me for a moment before turning back to the dark. "Not since you."

That surprised me a little and I took a moment to think about it before I replied. "Well, it wasn't much of a kiss," I began, mostly to try and make myself feel better about it. "I mean, it was pretty quick. You know, not a real--"

"I get it," Evan said, cutting off my bumbling explanation. "No, I'm not angry. The two of you've had a thing since the minute you met. It had to go somewhere eventually, so I figured it was pretty much a matter of when, not if, one of you'd do something about it. Or else you'd end up beating the shit out of each other. I suppose I'd rather have you kiss him than kill him," he added with a slight smile.

"I didn't plan it or anything. He came over to me and..."

"But you made the move, I bet," he stated, aiming a raised eyebrow in my direction.

"Well... yeah."

I looked away, confused as hell. On the one hand, I was relieved that Evan wasn't mad at me, but on the other, I couldn't understand why he wasn't at least a little irritated. It was true that it hadn't been much of a kiss, but still, I had kissed another guy. But the other guy was his best friend, and I wasn't sure if that made it better or worse. The fact that the three of them were so close made it both more and less weird.

Evan interrupted my mental masturbation by getting to his feet. "I'm gonna go change."

I sat out on the porch a little while longer. My initial guilt was giving way to annoyance at feeling somewhat set up for the whole thing. Why had Raf come to me and put his arms around my neck? If that wasn't an invitation to a kiss, I don't know what was. Or maybe I'd read a lot more into that than he meant. Maybe he was just gonna give me a hug. But he'd kissed me back, for a second or two, at least. I sighed. Life had been way simpler when I was on my own, taking home whatever looked good in the bar at closing time.

I sat there until I figured Evan should have been back but wasn't, then got up to go find him. He was lying on the couch in the dim living room, wearing only boxers, and when I hesitated, unsure of my welcome, he held out his hand and pulled me down to him, turning so that I lay against his bare chest. I nestled into him, relaxing a little for the first time since he'd gotten home, but not completely sure that we were done talking about Rafael.

Evan slid his hand under my shirt and began to scratch my back in big, slow circles. I stretched against him as a soft mmm of pleasure hummed in my throat, and I was just starting to nod off when he spoke softly. "Ok.... so you finally kissed Raf. What did you think?"

Well, we weren't done talking about it, but his tone of voice was as neutral as if we were discussing a movie we'd seen, so I answered him honestly. "Um... that he kisses good?"

Evan snorted softly into my hair. "That he does."

The lack of angry accusations made me feel as though I had to explain myself. "I just... I don't know. Him and me were like oil and water at the beginning, you know, and then we sorta got to where we could tolerate each other, but..."

"But all the time, something was simmering," Evan finished up for me.

"Yeah. I wouldn't have kissed him all on my own, but he came over and put his arms around my neck and... I just did it," I added lamely.

"It's ok. Really. Like I said, I knew something was gonna happen between the two of you." He slid lower on the couch until our faces were close together. "How about kissing me instead?" he asked in a husky voice as he nudged his nose into my cheek. He bit along my bottom lip in a move that tightened my gut before closing his mouth over mine in a kiss that chased all thoughts of Rafael right out of my head. I was new at this relationship thing, but the certainty I felt with Evan was like nothing I'd experienced, and it gave me real hope for our future.

When we finally came up for air, our legs were entwined and we were grinding against each other. Evan shoved a hand down between us, popped open the button of my cutoffs, then dragged the zipper down and reached in to grab me. As he squeezed my dick with one hand, he helped me yank my shirt over my head with the other. I kissed him roughly, and then wiggled the rest of the way out of my shorts while he tugged his boxers off.

They say make-up sex is the best and although this wasn't really make-up sex, it had an element of that in it, at least for me. I loved Evan in ways I hadn't even known I could feel when we first met. In one short year, he had become the center of my life, the one person whose approval and respect mattered more to me than anyone else's. That he loved me as deeply in return was still amazing to me, when I stopped and thought about it, but I seemed hell-bent on testing that love.

As I lowered myself onto him, he grabbed my ass in both hands and pressed himself against me almost hard enough to hurt before pulling his knees up on either side of me. Evan was generally the more laid-back of the two of us in bed, while I got rowdy and a little rough now and then, but tonight -- tonight, he was urgent and forceful as he tried to guide me into him with a minimal amount of foreplay. But because I felt guilty about kissing Raf, I was feeling all tender and sweet toward him and wanted to go slowly, so I pulled my hips back until he met my eyes.

"What's the rush?" I whispered.

His jaw tightened for a moment. "Nothing," he sighed. "I don't know." He lay there for a moment staring at my chest, then gave me a little push. "Let me up."

I rolled off him, watching as he sat up and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together. He played with his fingers for a bit before turning his head toward me but not meeting my eyes. "Just because I'm cool and calm most of the time doesn't mean I don't have my own little... whatevers." He waved a hand. "After so long without Luke, I had begun to believe that I maybe wasn't gonna find someone that I could... really invest myself in, you know? That I could care so much about that Luke would finally become just a memory." He paused again, and this time, he turned enough to look at me. "You kissing Raf didn't bother me, he's like... part of me or something, but it did make me realize that I'd be pretty goddamn pissed if you kissed somebody else." He paused to flex his hands into fists, then straighten them, staring like he'd never seen them before. Then he added in a quiet voice, "And it scared me because I really don't want anything to fuck this up."

"God, Evan... nothing's gonna fuck this up. Don't even think about it."

I pulled him to me, surprised but pleased to hear that he needed some reassurance as badly as I did. I lay back on the couch, dragging him along until he was stretched out on top of me. We lay there quietly for a few moments, but soon Evan's weight on my dick had the usual effect and he shifted his body so that our cocks were lying side by side.

"Can we fuck now?" He asked it in a soft whisper just before licking my left ear and I could only grunt my reply. "Good... but I wanna do you," he added. "That ok?"

That surprised me a little. "A few minutes ago, you were trying your best to cram my dick in your ass. Why the turn-around?"

He shrugged a bare, pale shoulder. "I don't know... It's just what I feel."

We stared at each other for the few seconds it took me to decide if I felt like doing it that way, and then I nodded. "Yeah... ok."

Evan smiled at me as he pushed himself back onto his knees between my legs and leaned over so that he could fish the bottle of lube out from under the couch. We kept one stashed there for our occasional living room sex emergencies. He drizzled lube around my crotch and into the palm of one hand, snapped the top shut, and then rubbed his hands together. Once both palms were slippery, he gripped the insides of my thighs, rolling his hands around to the front, then back so that his thumbs slid down below my nuts, pressing more firmly the lower they went. I pushed into the pressure with a groan, vaguely thinking how much better it felt when Evan touched me than when I did it to myself. As his hand reversed direction and moved upward, he gathered my balls in the V of his thumbs and shoved them snugly up under my straining cock.

"Unnnh... God, Evan," I muttered, every brain cell I had focused on the feel of his hands on my body.

He glanced up at me then, his mouth open slightly as his breathing picked up, and then his gaze went back to my cock and his hands went back to driving me crazy. Thank God for opposable thumbs cause he did some great stuff with those hands, wrapping both of them around my dick, then rotating them in opposite directions. He varied the pressure of the hand around the head of my cock, so that it was a pulsating sensation, and it damn near did me in. I finally had to stop him.

"You better get to it," I panted, holding his wrists tightly as I pulled his hands off me and did long division in my head, "or it's all gonna be over real quick."

Once I was sure he got the message, I let go of him and pulled my knees toward my chest. It'd been a while since we'd done it like this, so I closed my eyes and took a slow deep breath as Evan worked a couple fingers into me. After only a few minutes of that, I felt him move closer to me and take aim. The concentration on his face as the head of his cock pressed against me was replaced by a grimace when the pressure gave way to penetration, and that was followed by an open-mouthed sigh as he pushed steadily into me, stopping only when he was buried deep. After taking a moment to calm down, he placed both hands on my chest and kneaded my pecs as he scooted the last bit closer and began to rock his hips in a slow rhythm. I pulled him down for a kiss in between playing with his cock and tweaking his nipples.

God, getting fucked was such a different feeling, and not just physically. It was a whole head trip for me, and I've read enough stuff online to know that a lot of guys feel the same way. Giving that control to someone else is difficult for me, even when that person is Evan, but I gotta admit - once it gets underway, I totally get the attraction.

After I stopped him a few times in order to keep from blowing too soon, Evan leaned back a little to get a better angle inside me, and we chased each other to the finish line. I got there a few strokes before him, making harsh noises in my throat as my body jerked with each contraction. The sight and sound and smell of me coming did him in, and he pumped into me until he was empty and winded before slowly collapsing forward onto my chest, my cum making squishy sounds as his belly met mine.

"Jesus..." he muttered as he got his breath back. "Sometimes it's so good." He sat up enough to give me a quick look. "I mean, it's always good, but sometimes it's just amazing, you know? So intense. I wonder if it's an emotional thing or a physical thing?"

"Prolly both," I said, stifling a yawn. "But, yeah, I know what you mean. And it seems to be good for both of us at the same times. Maybe it's a bio-rhythm thing or the phases of the moon or something."

"Or maybe sometimes you're just better than others."

"Maybe sometimes you're just hornier."

He laughed. "Yeah, that's probably it. Bed?"


The following Saturday morning was hot and sunny, perfect for a ride up into the mountains. We grabbed a quick bowl of cereal before going out to the barn to get the bikes, but then Evan pushed his out into the sun and refused to go anywhere until he'd washed it, so we got all caught up in cleaning them and were still farting around at 11:30.

I finished wiping down the last of the forty spokes in my rear wheel, snapped the cap down on the Maguire's polish, and got slowly to my feet. As I arched my back to undo an hour's worth of hunching over the spokes, Evan glanced at my bike and then nodded his approval. "Looks good."

"Yeah, sitting here in the yard," I agreed. "By the time we've gone five miles, it'll be covered in bugs again."

He shook his head at my negativity and went back to putting Armor All on the sidewalls of his tires, but after a few moments he said, "You know the glass half empty, half full thing?"


"Well, you're the worst half empty guy I ever met."

I snorted. "Cause I know my bike's gonna get dirty?"

Evan met my eyes just then, a steady look that didn't tell me much, but after a moment he gave me a one shouldered shrug and turned away to pick up the rags we'd been using. When he didn't reply, I suddenly realized he was talking about more than a few squished bugs on my headlight. He was talking about us. His black jeans pulled tight across his butt when he bent over, and as I stared at his ass, I knew that if this was bothering him enough to bring it up, we needed to talk about it. But being the immature asshole that I was, I got defensive.

"God, Evan - life crapped on you pretty good, didn't it? Why the hell's it still look half full to you?"

He shrugged again as he turned back to me. "I don't know, but I don't wake up every morning worrying that today's the day you're gonna get hit by a truck or leave me for a hunky construction worker."

But I did. I worried about damn near everything, but I didn't appreciate getting called out on it. "Yeah, so we look at life differently. Is that a problem?"

His answer was slow, careful. "Well, I knew from the start that you were way more like that than me, but I guess I expected you to be more... reassured by some of the things we've done. Buying the Farm, our rings, the joint checking account. To me..." He paused to stare out across the field before continuing. "To me, those things mean permanence. They're things we've done together, things that bind us to each other."

"But they won't stop you getting hit by a truck."

"No... no, they won't do that," he agreed with a heavy sigh. "But I don't understand how you can live every day worrying about stuff like that. Worrying about it doesn't make it not happen."

"And I don't understand how you can't."

We were silent for several moments, just standing there in the yard looking at each other, contemplating this vast difference in our approaches to life. What had begun as a simple conversation had taken on a completely different feel and it made me really uncomfortable. Finally, I walked over to him, stopping when I was close enough to lay my hand flat against his chest. His heart thudded steadily under my palm and this close, I could see the little scar on his cheek and a smudge of dirt on his forehead from where he'd brushed his hair from his face. His eyes were pale in the noonday light, and a little sad as he gazed at me.

"I don't spend every day thinking that you're gonna leave me. Honest," I added, when he gave me a look. "I know you love me, but I grew up a lot different than you. I know I'm probably too conscious of it but it's kinda hard not to be sometimes."

He put his hand over mine and gave it a squeeze. "Go back to school, Jeff," he said, his voice low and urgent. "I know you're thinkin' about it cause I saw the application on your desk the other day when I went in there for something. Don't worry about less money coming in." He tightened his grip when I tried to pull away. "It's not that, is it?" He moved so that he could look into my face, his eyes narrowing, and because he knew me well, saw it immediately. "Oh, God... you're plenty smart enough. There's a huge difference between uneducated and stupid. You may be one, but you sure as hell aren't the other."

I waved away that idea. "I know, I know. It's... just..." This time when I stepped back, he let my hand go, but his eyes held mine.

"It's scary," he finished, knowing exactly what I couldn't admit, even to him. "But you won't be the only guy there who isn't right out of high school. People of all ages go to college for all sorts of reasons." He stopped to study my face for a second, then said, "Well, I'm not gonna bug you about it, but you're a smart guy and I think you'd fuckin' love it once you got going. There's just so much out there to learn."

Evan flung an arm wide to illustrate his point, dropping a rag in the process. Chewy jumped up and grabbed it on the run, but I let him go, too engrossed in Evan's enthusiasm to give chase. When it had been my little secret, going to college had seemed pretty unlikely, something that I'd maybe think about for a year or two, but never actually do. But knowing that Evan thought I could do it was enough to get me thinking seriously about filling out the application and seeing if I could even get in.

"I'll see, ok?" I told him. "Let's hit the road or eat lunch, one. I'm starvin'."

We ended up riding out to the restaurant on the river where we'd gone not long after we bought the Farm. In daylight, the place lacked the romantic feel I remembered from our first visit - candles and moonlight'll do that to you - but the food was good and our table on the deck was right out over the water.

On the way home we made a big loop through the countryside, riding past fields of cows, fields of sheep, fields of beans, and fields of stuff I couldn't identify. Looking at all that agriculture going on around us poked at some deep-rooted farmer gene in me and I thought about the chicken coop for a few miles. Just how hard could chickens be, anyway?

We came back into town along the river again, but from the west, and as we cruised along, I saw a familiar figure ahead. It was Kathryn, out front painting her mailbox a dark grey to match her house. I slowed and pulled to the curb, tipping my sunglasses down to wink at her as Evan pulled in behind me. Today she was wearing shorts and an X-Files t-shirt, looking way more casual than I'd ever seen her, but still projecting that control and confidence even with I Want To Believe typed across her chest. She smiled and plugged a finger into her ear with one eye closed until we shut down the bikes.

"Out for a ride?" she asked.

"Yeah, we went out to lunch. How you like the house?"

"I love it. In fact... are you in a hurry? I'll give you the nickel tour."

While she put the finishing touches on the mailbox, I studied the house. It was 2-story with a deep covered porch that went across the front and wrapped around both sides. White shutters bracketed the large six-paned windows, echoing the white porch trim. The front door was a deep vibrant red, a perfect exclamation point to the crisp grey and white.

Inside, the rooms were filled with the sunshine and shadows of late afternoon, giving the place a moody feel. Her furniture was older, wooden - oak maybe - with clean, simple lines that suited Kathryn's personality to a T and made the house seem very much hers. I don't know doodly about antiques, but when Evan asked "Mission?" Kathryn nodded with a smile.

She had created a home office in the larger of the two upstairs guest rooms, with a desk and matching chair in a more ornate style than the rest of the furniture in the house, and walls filled with books that looked as old as the desk. A small black and white photo of a suited man standing behind the desk hung to the right of the door. He looked to be about fifty and had a don't-fuck-with-me look on his face. Evan stopped to study it for a moment. Just below was the same man, much younger, smiling across the hood of a car.

"Your great-granddad?"

"Yes." She nodded at the car. "That's the day he brought home his first new car. It's a 1927 Model A Coupe Deluxe and it cost him something like $460. Can you imagine?"

"Too bad he didn't leave it to you. It'd be worth a hell of a lot more than $460."

The office windows looked out to the river and we admired the view for a moment before going downstairs and into the kitchen at the back of the house. Here, the river was only a hundred feet away across the back yard and we could hear it tumbling over rocks as it went through a narrow section. A cool breeze came off the water.

"This is a great place," I said with feeling. I could've lived there quite happily. "Sharon sold it to you, didn't she?"

"Yes, and it was love at first sight. I'm ashamed to say I barely haggled over the price."

We stayed for a bit, eating cookies on the side porch, and talking about her great-grandpa and motorcycles and gardens. She had a big flower garden growing along the back of the house, but not a single thing you could eat, which seemed weird to me. Why would you not just stick a tomato in there somewhere?

"I may branch out next year," she laughed, "but this year I just went with a feast for the eyes. Besides, from what Evan tells me, you'll have enough tomatoes for half the county."

Back home, we put the bikes away and, since it was past five o'clock, declared it Happy Hour. I'd bought strawberries from a roadside stand the day before, thinking strawberry shortcake, but Evan got out the blender and made strawberry margaritas, which was a way better use of the strawberries. By seven, we'd drunk two pitchers of the damn things and were pretty happy. Evan offered some to Dory when we staggered out to give them their carrots, but she turned up her nose and almost butted the glass from his hand.

Then we got hungry.

Tacos aren't especially funny, but we giggled our way through making them and doing the dishes, and then took a walk down the lane to the mailbox. Evan's hand was warm in mine as we strolled along, and as I thought about what a lucky son of a bitch I was, I squeezed it hard for a moment. Evan glanced inquiringly at me, but I just smiled at him. By the time we got back to the house, we were relatively sober but uninspired to read or watch the tube, so we just sat there for a while as the house got dark, talking, kissing a little, being quiet together. Sounds dull as hell to tell about it here, but it was really good.

It's one thing to get along when there's lot of stuff to do and other people to entertain you, but to enjoy simply being with Evan like this, during the every-day times, was another of the reasons I felt we had the potential to make a lifetime of our relationship.


On the way to Kenny's on Monday, I was a little anxious about `The Kiss', as I'd come to think of it, but Kenny never brought it up. I had no idea if Raf had even mentioned it to him, and I decided not to ask, so we had a normal day. There was a lot of history between the three of them that I'd never understand, and apparently, me kissing Rafael -- because as Evan had said, he's like part of me­ -- fell into the `acceptable' range of behavior because to this day, no one's ever said another word about it.


Monday night we had a power outage so our bedside clock was off when Evan rolled over to look at it. The room was getting light, but the clock said 5:03, so we rolled over and zonked out again. When I woke up a while later, the clock said 6:24, but it was way too bright to be that early, and when I looked at my watch, I saw that it was actually 8:37.

"Shit!" I said as I shook Evan's shoulder. "Wake up. It's late."

"How late?" Evan yawned.

"Twenty to nine."

"Jesus Christ!"

He hit the floor running as I fell back into the pillows. Being late didn't matter much to me, but Evan's office opened at nine and he hated to be late for work like I hated to be late for a meal. The shower ran for less than two minutes, and then Evan dashed back into the room scrubbing at his hair with a towel. The rest of him was mostly dry and what wasn't, got dried off as he yanked his clothes on.

"What the fuck happened?" he asked as he shoved his shirt into his trousers.

"Power went out, I guess. Slow down, you're gonna rip a hole in that shirt."

He hopped around for a moment trying to get a sock on, but finally sat on the edge of the bed to finish the job.

"Wear loafers, they'll be quicker," I said helpfully from where I was lounging in bed with Chewy curled up next to me.

"This isn't funny," he scowled. "I have people expecting me."

Evan ran out the door at 8:49, so he had a good chance of getting there right by nine if he broke the speed limit the whole way.

"Take Chewy," I yelled from the bedroom, pointing so that Chew would follow Evan. I was gonna have to ride the bike and there was no way I could get Chewy to sit still all the way to Kenny's.

"Chewy!" Evan hollered as Chewy sprinted down the hallway after him.

I waited until the Jeep fired up and roared away before dialing Kenny's number.

"Hey," I said when he answered. "Evan's on the way with Chew. Our alarm didn't go off so he's all frantic."

He chuckled. "Yeah, our power went out, too. Ok, I'll go look for a dog flying out the window of a speeding Jeep."

I showered, shaved, dressed, ate a bowl of cereal, and then rode the Pan over to Kenny's where I found Chewy prancing around the back yard with Elvis, and Kenny in the office working through his email. He glanced up with a smile.

"He actually slowed down long enough to run him up to the door and toss him inside."

Around one Evan called. He was all calmed down from the morning, but now he was hungry since we hadn't had time to make lunches.

"Come have lunch with me."

"You're just using me as the delivery boy."

"So? Don't you have any delivery boy fantasies?"

"Well, sure, but we can't do anything about it with all those women around."

He laughed. "My office door locks. Come on," he begged, "bring me a hot pastrami. I'll make it worth your while," he added in a seductive tone, followed by little smooching noises.

"All right, all right," I chuckled. "I'll be there shortly."

I slid my cell shut and rolled my eyes when Kenny grinned at me. "Want me to bring you back anything?"

"Nah, we got leftovers."

I called in our order to the deli, went out to throw a ball for the dogs for a few minutes, then hopped on the bike and rode into town. The back lot of Evan's building was never full, so I parked there and walked up the alley to the sidewalk, picked up the food, then took the stairs up to Evan's office two at a time. As I neared the landing, I slowed down and ran a hand back through my hair. The place was always full of women, and since they had good reason to regard most men with distrust, I always walked slowly and talked softly when I was there. Many of the regulars knew me well enough to smile, but I usually felt defensive and slightly guilty when I was around them simply because I was male.

Anyway, today the place was pretty quiet. I could hear telephones back in the offices, and a soft murmur of voices from the community room, so I walked just to the edge of the doorway and peered around the frame. Evan was talking with a few women, and as I watched, one of them handed her baby to him. He took it with a look of surprise that melted into a sweet smile as the baby nuzzled into his neck and squirmed a little to get comfortable in his arms. He began to rock from side to side as he turned his face to the side of the baby's head and closed his eyes.

The women had fallen silent, gazing at Evan holding the child, and it suddenly felt as though I was spying on an intimate, unguarded moment that wasn't mine to see. I pulled my head back and turned to retrace my steps, but the deli bag bumped into the wall with a crackle of paper that made me wince. I was almost to the lobby when Evan spoke from the community room doorway.

"Jeff? I'm in here. Come meet Amy."

I turned to face him and he gave me a smile that I'd never seen from him before. A little sheepish, slightly defensive, with a touch of wonder as his mouth curled up at one corner. As I came near, he leaned slightly toward me.

"Smell her hair." I leaned forward and took a polite sniff from a foot away, then met Evan's eyes, but he shook his head at me. "No, like this."

He touched his nose to her hair and drew in a long slow breath that ended with his eyes shut. Then he opened them and smiled at me as he closed the distance between us. I stared at him for a moment, thinking that I'd never seen this Evan before, this tender, careful Evan. There'd been many times in our lovemaking when Evan was tender with me, but the tenderness you show to another man is worlds away from the tenderness you use with a baby.

I leaned close this time, close enough that I could feel Evan's breath on my face as I took a long, deep breath of the baby. She smelled faintly of shampoo, of warm skin, of sleep. I rubbed the back of my finger down her cheek, barely touching her skin. She was so soft that it barely felt like I was touching her at all. I stepped back as she struggled awake in Evan's arms, leaning back a bit to blink solemnly at him. They looked at each other for a moment, and then a woman came to the door.

"Let me take her. Your lunch is here."

She took the baby from Evan, ducked her head shyly at me without making eye contact, and went back to the other women. Evan watched her for a few seconds before turning to me.

In a low voice he said to me, "The kid's father's a total asshole." Then with a smile he exclaimed, "I smell pastrami!" as he lead the way to his office.

I trailed along, still trying to process what I'd seen -- what I'd felt. Evan's comments months ago about maybe wanting to adopt a kid flooded back. It's just something I want us to at least think about, he'd said. A kid -- yeah, maybe -- but a baby? I hadn't given it a single thought since that day, but now I was pretty sure that the image of Evan holding Amy, the way his hands had gently cradled her little body close to his chest, weren't ever going to let me forget.

While we ate lunch, Tracy was in and out a few times with questions or papers to sign. We'd met shortly after she began working at the Center, and the difference in her was good to see. The bruises had faded, and Evan said she was dedicated to help other women get out of the same situation she'd been in.

Evan hugged me goodbye in the privacy of his office, and when we came together, I caught a whiff of baby shampoo trapped in the fabric of his shirt, faint but unmistakable. I went back to work, typing code and chatting with Kenny, but thoughts of Evan and babies rolled around in my head and on the stroke of five, I shut down my computer.

"I'm outta here," I announced. "Can Chew stay tonight?"

"Of course," he replied, eyebrows raised. "Something wrong?"

"Nope," I said, squeezing his shoulder to take the abruptness out of the word. "See you in the morning."

I needed to move, so I went the opposite direction from the Farm and made a big loop through the countryside that took a couple hours and brought me home past Bill's place. He was leading a team in from the field at the front of his property, and raised a hand as I cruised by.

The Jeep was in the drive, and when I rolled past the house to put the Pan in the barn, I could see Evan on the back porch, bare feet on the rail, almost-empty beer in one hand. He gave me a close look as I came up the steps and went into the kitchen for two more, but didn't say anything until I sat down and handed him one.

"I did carrots," he said, waving his beer toward the mares and Dory, halfway back the field by now, "but I didn't eat yet. Are you hungry?"


We ate dinner and cleaned up, but I was more quiet than usual and when Evan picked up the remote, I stopped him. He looked at me for a second before setting it back on the table, and then pulling me down onto the couch next to him. He rubbed the back of my hand, tracing the tendons with his fingertips for a moment before saying, "The baby freaked you out, huh? The look on your face..."

"I've just never been around them and seeing you holding her was... I don't know. Weird. I know you mentioned it that one time, but I just never thought about you -- us -- with kids, especially a baby."

He smiled and gave my hand a squeeze. "I hadn't really thought about it before we opened the Center, but it's one of the things I really enjoy now -- that there's always kids around. Usually they've just gotten out of a bad situation, so they're all serious and subdued. It's great to see them start to relax and just be kids again." He was quiet for a moment, thinking about it. Then he looked at me and smiled. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna bring one home any time soon. That's something for the future."

"Maybe," I qualified. "Right?"

He turned his head to face me and really studied my expression for a few moments before leaning in to kiss me slowly and thoroughly. "Right, maybe" he agreed just before he picked up the remote again.

I looked at his profile as the bluish glow of the TV lit his face. Why did it seem somehow inevitable that we'd end up parents, just like I knew that we'd have those damn chickens before it was all over?

Well, I decided to take Evan's advice and not worry about it so much. I shifted sideways on the couch and put my feet in his lap. As he rubbed them, I dozed off to the sounds of the war movie he was watching, and dreamed of Evan in a roomful of children with a baby in each arm.