Reservations – A Novel
By Drew Filchak
Chapter Four: “Appointments”
"Will you move in with me?"
Joel's words caused me to jerk in surprise. I snapped my head to the left and stared at the face of my lover sitting next to me. The light pouring through the airplane's window illuminated his face while casting shadows that made his features indistinct. His eyes were clearly visible, though, as they penetrated my startled thoughts. Intense longing and certainty overcast with nervousness poured across the small distance between our eyes. I closed my mouth and swallowed before I responded.
The gleam slowly faded from his eyes. The slight upturn of his lips lowered, and his face settled into a sober display of confusion. Hurt followed. I saw that my one-word dismissal of his proposal both hurt and unsettled him, but my response was borne from my instinctual desire to protect him ... protect us.
He didn't know what he was asking, or maybe I felt that he couldn't know what he was asking. Not yet, not after only two weeks. I was certain of this, though there had been the confusing exchange a week earlier between his friend Marco and himself after we landed at De Gaulle Airport.
My French is pretty rusty, but I picked up more than I think Joel had planned on. The few words of explanation and affirmation to Marco that I understood after he introduced me as his lover rang again in my thoughts.
'Yes, I am certain ...', then something about '... happier' ... and '... for good ...'.
I could accept that he was convinced that this is what he wanted, but a part of me knew with certainty that once we actually settled into real life after the whirlwind of our fairytale first two weeks, he would see that he was making an enormous life change. Then, instinctively, he was going to hit the brakes and possibly even pull back from me a bit. I wasn't actually worried that he would want to split up or anything. My heart wouldn't allow for that possibility. Still, I knew that he was going to have to 'come up for air' one day soon and when that happened, he would need space for himself -- space in which to reconcile the sudden reality that he was involved sexually and emotionally with another man.
I may have realized all of this, but he certainly hadn't. I knew that I had to say something more to him now, give him more of an explanation. The crushed look on his face stabbed like daggers into my heart.
"You know that I already love you beyond anything I've ever known before in my life? You know this, right?" I whispered lowly, lovingly, as I touched his cheek with my fingertips. His eyes searched mine, striving to find some explanation for my profession of love after my hasty rejection. His silent stare compelled me onward.
"I'm not rejecting you, Joel. You gotta know that. My decision to not move in with you has absolutely no bearing on the feelings I have for you. None at all, okay?" I searched his face for some indication that he believed what I was saying. He wet his lips briefly and blinked, but continued to stare at me as if he were lost somewhere in his own private thoughts.
I suddenly found myself desperate to know what he was thinking.
"I know that we've been extremely ... " I gave my head a quick shake, "no, not extremely ... more ... we've been growing increasingly intense since our first night together. I mean it's actually been beyond perfect for me, but you've never been with a man before, Joel – at least not in a relationship. And you don't talk about it. I don't even know if you think about it." His eyebrow arched in response to my words, and I instantly regretted my choice of words.
I blinked my eyes shut tightly and rubbed my face to clear my thoughts. I glanced quickly past him through the window and briefly studied the endless blanket of the Atlantic miles below us.
I'd probably just insulted him. After all, he was enormously successful in business and he didn't get that way without thinking out very carefully each decision he made. But this was a decision of the heart and he'd already admitted to me that he hadn't made any of those kind of decisions in years.
'Use some balls, Blair,' I mused. I needed to stop trying to talk around the real issue for my rejection of his proposal.
"Look, Joel," I started, encountering a slight scowl as I brought my gaze back to meet his. I swallowed, and then continued. "I'm really afraid that very soon, you're going to realize that you're in a gay relationship and it's going to freak you out and you're going to want or maybe need some breathing room."
I watched his eyes darken as he absorbed my words. The look unsettled me, but I needed to get everything out on the table. "And if I'm already living with you and working with you ... basically spending all of our waking and non-waking hours together, I'm afraid it will all be too much for you. I'm just not willing to risk what we have. In the end, this really isn't Camelot, it's real life."
His eyes flared at my last words.
"Whoa. Enough!" he whispered forcefully. He opened his mouth to continue, but stopped himself with a deep breath. Then he surprised me as he unclasped his seatbelt and began to cross in front of me to the aisle. Panic seized me. Were my thoughts so irrational, so wrong?
"Joel?!" My voice crested above the low din of the plane's engines. The four other people in the First Class cabin glanced towards us in question.
Joel's hand flashed a halting gesture as his eyes shot me a firm look meant to stop any further questions. He stepped to the rear of the cabin and entered the galley that separated First Class from Connoisseur Class. I watched him disappear and was again overcome with panic.
Had I gone too far? I couldn't see that I had, but the flash of anger that I'd seen in his eyes as he stood up, told me something different. I sat, turned in my seat with my eyes fixed on the galley's entrance. Stunned, my thoughts flashed to three days earlier and our walk through the vineyards surrounding Bordeaux.
The morning air still held the tinged remnants of the prior night's chill. I smelled it on the breeze and felt it creep through the weave of my sweater. I snuggled a little closer to Joel as we continued our walk amongst the newly-awakened vines. I felt happy and utterly content as we strolled, arms nestled around each other -- mine around Joel's slender waist, his around my broad shoulders.
"I love it here, Joel. I can just imagine how beautiful it is when the vines are in full leaf and clustered with ripe grapes."
He pulled me tightly to him, his lips grazing my temple. "You're right, it's very beautiful just prior to the harvest. I brought Megan here last summer so that she could see the place where some of the last pictures were taken of Marissa and me. Megan loved it here as much as her mother did."
I stopped walking and loosely encircled his waist with my arms. "How are you doing with being here? The memories must be so painful."
He looked into my eyes from his normal place, four inches above me. I expected to see regret and pain in his brown depths, but instead, a gentle and loving peacefulness flowed back to me.
"No, no pain," he said, brushing his lips against mine. "I miss them both incredibly, but at least with Megan I had time to prepare myself. So, right now, there's no pain. How could I feel pain when I'm looking into the bluest eyes on the planet, eyes that are literally overflowing with love for me?"
I sighed as I felt my knees weaken. The whirlwind of emotions and changes that had shaped our past ten or eleven days continued to encircle us in its protective walls.
My words surfaced as a moan. "My god, Joel. Some of the things that come out of your mouth at times make me absolutely weak-kneed. I'm used to being the aggressive one, in control -- doing the wooing. If any of my ... uh ... previous conquests could see me now, they'd be certain that I'd been taken over by aliens."
He grinned at me and winked.
"See!" I continued, my voice rising in emphasis. "All it takes is a simple wink from you and I'd do damn near anything you asked."
He laughed lowly. "Oh, I don't know. You were pretty aggressive in bed last night. I'm surprised I can even walk this morning!" He growled as I kissed him.
"I could say the same thing," I laughed. "If you recall, I wasn't the only aggressive one. I'm surprised you didn't pound me through the sheets and send feathers flying everywhere."
"Yes, you could say the same thing, but god, Blair ... the way you take my cock, I can tell that you've had a hell of a lot more practice than I've had. I'm actually a little sore this morning. A good sore, but still..."
I grinned, interrupting him. "Well, sorry about that, bud. But for a novice, you sure do seem to like it an awful lot."
He smiled and kissed me. "I like you an awful lot."
I sighed again in his arms, content. Being with Joel soothed me and stimulated me equally. "So you're okay with being here, then? With me?"
"Oh yeah, lover. Especially with you. I've missed my family so much and seemingly for so long, but now you're here, wonderfully patching the hole in my heart that, for a time, I was certain would never close." He kissed me deeply. I felt myself let go, my doubt dissolved in his strong arms. His kiss caused my heart to soar, and as we pulled apart, panting for breath, my mind sought final resolution.
"So you don't think we're moving too fast, getting too intense, too quickly?"
He pulled his head back to look at me. A questioning look covered his features. "No, not at all. What makes you say that?"
I shrugged slightly. "Oh, I just wanted to be sure that you were okay with everything. We've both had a lot of changes lately, and I want you to know that we can slow things down a bit if you need to."
"Slow things down? Blair, I'm ready to rev things up another notch between us. You're okay with that aren't you?"
I kissed him in reply, pouring all of my excitement into the kiss. I had to trust that he would tell me if he wasn't okay with things. I just wanted him to be sure.
I never expected that for Joel revving things up meant moving in together. We'd only known each other two short weeks. I thought again about my nagging fears that he would suddenly wake up and start to question what we were doing together. Rationally, I could see that I needed to trust him to watch out for both of us in the same way that I did, but I didn’t want him to blindly do anything, out of new-love and passion, that he'd regret. I know I would have survived being apart from him, but the amazing thing was, after only two weeks, I couldn't even imagine trying.
So I sat there for five interminable minutes. Finally, Joel reappeared followed by a flight attendant. She pushed a cart draped with a white tablecloth towards our seats. My eyes returned to Joel, his face set with determination. Confused, I glanced again at the cart as it stopped next to me in the aisle. A bottle of Dom Perignon sat in an empty ice bucket, wrapped in a white napkin. Two champagne flutes stood empty next to it. A stunning but simple long-stemmed, burnished red rose lay across the top of the cart.
Bewildered, I looked up to Joel's face again. His firm, strong jaw remained clenched, his lips pursed tightly. Then he grabbed the rose from the table and dropped to one knee before me.
His first words trembled with emotion.
"I know that you're a man. I've known and accepted that fact since our first night together two weeks ago. I've thought a lot about it and it’s possible that I've been in the proverbial closet for my entire life. That doesn't matter. But I know for certain that I've only loved one other person like I love you -- with the totality of my entire being. And I married her."
My eyes opened wide as his words struck me squarely through my heart. It beat furiously in my chest. He held the rose to my face. Automatically, I breathed in its scent. My gaping, startled eyes were locked onto Joel's, held frozen by the intensity of his gaze. I took the rose from his hand as he reached into his pocket and brought out a small box covered in rich, burgundy-colored silk. My head snapped back to stare at him as my mouth dropped open in surprise and astonishment.
He held the box up between us and smiled. "I'm now asking you the same thing. My love, my Lancelot ... I never dreamed that I would say these words again, but ... I love you, utterly. Would you spend the rest of your life with me and make my dreams our shared dreams?"
His face simply showed intensity and love and as he waited for my reply, the last doubt cleared from my mind. My head began to nod slowly.
"Oh ... Joel …we must be insane, but I couldn't want it any other way."
I heard a gasp and slight cry from somewhere behind me. It held no meaning though as I watched tears form in Joel's eyes. I mouthed the words 'I love you' as the memory flashed before me of his sudden, bright smile the night two weeks earlier when I accepted his invitation to join him at his table. Now it seemed as though that night we accepted each other's invitation for so much more.
I watched as his hands opened the box. A flash of light sparkled briefly in my eyes. The box contained two rings made of polished white gold. Encased within the wide band of each ring was set a long, slender emerald cut canary diamond. Their simplicity and beauty overwhelmed me and my mouth fell open in astonishment. I quickly looked into Joel's twinkling eyes. His grin of pleasure caused my breath to catch in my lungs. I heard another gasp from behind my left shoulder and reflexively glanced behind me.
The flight attendant stood with her hand over her mouth and her eyes opened widely. Two of her co-workers stood behind her, watching. Our eyes met briefly and I gave her a quick, dazed smile, then turned back to Joel as I felt his hand grab my own. He slipped the first ring onto my finger, and then with a slight tremble, held the box towards me.
I gazed momentarily at my ring and with my own shaky hands, took the second ring from the box, slipping it onto his matching finger. His smile illuminated the cabin and with an explosion of emotion welling from deep within me, I launched myself into his arms, nearly toppling him from his kneeling position. Our lips crushed together in a brief, passionate kiss before I pulled from him, gushing laughter.
"I love you so much, Joel. I can't believe how lucky I am. This is so insane, so wonderful!" I pulled him to me for another quick kiss, gasping as he pressed his forehead to my chest and sighed.
To my utter amazement, I heard applause surround us. I looked up to see the four passengers and the flight attendants clapping. My happiness overflowed and my face beamed in sheer delight.
"Oh my god! What a spectacle!" I laughed. The passengers across the aisle and one row back from us laughed with me. The man in the aisle seat grabbed the hand of the woman sitting next to him and brought it to his lips. Like his, her eyes gleamed bright with emotion.
Joel raised his head from my chest as the man's deep and heavily accented bass voice rolled across the aisle towards us. "Congratulations, gentlemen. I must say, your little scene even choked me up a bit. We French are known for our romance, to be sure, but it is good to see Americans expressing such emotion."
Shared laughter brightened the cabin as Joel pulled me to my feet and directed us in a slight, humorous bow. Our laughter was interrupted by the arrival of the captain. His smile greeted us and with a flowing, Parisian accent he offered his words and hand in congratulations. The sound of two corks popping in almost simultaneous rhythm caused another round of applause. Our attendant poured the Dom Perignon into our glasses as a second attendant filled a tray of glasses with the plane's standard fare. The captain raised his glass in toast to us, seconded by the other passengers and attendants.
Glowing, Joel and I took our seats, our hands clasped firmly together. The captain leaned towards us slightly as he placed his hand on the seatback behind my head.
"It is a pleasure and an honour, Mr. Summers, that you chose our flight to celebrate such a significant occasion. I wish you both the best." He took a small sip from his glass, then after handing it to the attendant, bowed slightly toward us and returned to the cockpit.
I turned toward Joel and caught a devilish look staring back at me. He smiled widely.
"Now. What were you saying about my freaking out because you're a man or my needing breathing room?" His eyebrow arched accenting his question.
I laughed. Joel joined me as he grasped my hand tighter. "You couldn't have given me a better set-up if you'd tried."
My grin widened in amazement as I shook my head repeatedly. While I no longer had any doubt about Joel's feelings or future intentions, questions suddenly filled my mind.
"Please, Joel. Answer a couple of questions for me, will you?"
He nodded once as if he expected my queries. "You want to know how I set this all up, right?"
Amazed, but not really surprised, I nodded.
"Well the 'how' was very easy. Rob handled the champagne and the rose and Peter somehow got your ring size, but you probably already figured that one out. But the rings were my doing. Well, actually," he grinned sheepishly, "they were my idea, but Marco handled it for me. His wife is a jeweler and craftsman. She actually made them for us based on my design. Christiane was quite upset when we left Paris so soon after arriving."
I tossed my head in feigned surprise. "Is there anything that you can't get people to do for you? You're amazing, but then you already know that don't you?"
He shrugged diffidently and I watched as a sudden shadow crossed his face. In a lowered voice he brought the absurdity inherent in my question crashing back towards me. "I couldn't get the doctors to save Megan."
My heart lurched into my stomach. I reached to cup his cheek in my hand. "I'm so sorry, Joel. I sometimes forget that for you, Megan is always just a thought from the front of your mind."
He smiled into my hand and turned his cheek into my hand to kiss my palm. "Please, Blair. Don't ever apologize for that. Your love and your presence in my life allow me to feel safe and secure enough to think about her. She was my angel, and because of you I can now think of her without the deep, cutting pain that I'd been living with." He brought my hand to his lips, still clasped in his own and kissed it tenderly.
"She would have liked you so much. I miss her ... and find myself longing to be able to watch her grown up. I think that is what I will miss the most ... experiencing the joy and wonder of watching a child mature through adolescence, the teenage years and finally into adulthood. It's a precious gift, Blair and one I was greatly looking forward to." He kissed my hand one last time as I pulled it from his cheek then squeezed his eyes shut tightly and sighed.
Upon opening them, he again turned his mischievous glance on me. "Now, you said you had a few questions for me."
I grinned with a quick nod. "When? You couldn't have had those rings made in the short time we were in France, so what's your story on that one?"
He smirked playfully and shrugged. "That was my second call from the plane after I spoke with Sampson about you. I actually woke Marco and Christiane up a little early that day. But then, what are friends for, right? Christiane pulled off a miracle." He flashed me a wide grin. "And you don't honestly think that Marco was just dying to see us off earlier, do you? He slipped the rings into my pocket when he hugged me in goodbye."
Suddenly, I realized that the word 'astonished' wasn't accurate enough to describe what I was feeling. The implications inherent in his words were staggering. I sat frozen and stunned as I realized what they meant. From the point of his vision in the boardroom two weeks earlier and only 36 hours since our first dinner, he knew and planned with certainty that we would eventually arrive at this exact point in time. His confidence and surety in the end result completely discounted the enormity of the variables tied to his goal. There was no certainty that I would join him in the business world, nor that I would join him in Paris and certainly not that I would accept his nuptial proposal.
I turned to him numbed with realization. "You never once doubted even the slightest aspect of your plan, did you?" I gasped my question at him. It was hard to form the words. He shrugged and gave me a tight, small smile. "You never doubted me, did you? You never doubted my reactions, either. Right?"
His shoulder lifted in a slight shrug and the brief raise of his eyebrows, told me -- 'no, why would I?'
"And," I continued as my voice dropped to a low, astonished growl, "you never once doubted the change in the sex of your lover, did you? You just took it all in mid-stride, didn't you?"
He licked his lips, and then answered. "Well ... doubt isn't the right word. I questioned it, how could I not? But after twelve years my body and mind didn't seem to care because my heart was already committed. Don't forget, Blair, gay people are very open and very out of the closet everywhere you go these days. The country and the world are becoming very used to the idea of same-sex couples. Maybe they aren't overflowing with acceptance and there's still so much hate, but they are becoming used to the idea of it. I think I did too, long before I met you."
His initial statement baffled me. "What do you mean that you didn't care that I was a man because your heart was already committed? When did you know?"
"Uh ... when I woke up that first morning lying in your arms."
"Just like that you knew you wanted a relationship with me?"
"Well, to be exact, I first felt it when you said that you thought about me every day from the first day I walked into the restaurant. I just hadn't been aware of the possibility of it then."
I let out a short rush of breath. "So, basically, though, you knew from that first morning together. No doubts." His eyes narrowed in question.
I could see the fact that my questions and my reaction were upsetting him, but I had to continue. "Joel, please, answer me this. When was the last time that you doubted yourself in anything?"
"Well, actually," he began tentatively, "it wasn't all that long ago. But, Blair, why is this so important to you? I don't understand your questions."
I sighed and longed for nothing more than to bury my face in his chest and allow him to hold me for the duration of our flight to Denver. But there was a critical piece missing in my understanding of what allowed him to move through life with nearly ultimate certitude of his success in all of his actions.
"Please, Joel ... when did you last know doubt? Did it have something to do with Megan?"
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "It had to do with you."
He grinned wryly. "The day you first approached me intent on ravaging my earlobe."
He held his hand up, asking for my silence, and then continued.
"I was in an extremely fragile and volatile frame of mind and when you approached me with your blazing confidence and desires for me, I doubted my own ability to match your animalistic passion and fervor, even though I had long since stopped thinking that I could have sexual passion for another man. I think what I was actually saying when I said those horrible words ‘you make me sick’ was that I was the sick one, I was the one that was flawed.
"Granted," he said, looking down to his lap, "the doubt was buried deeply within me at the time, but it finally surfaced the night we had our first dinner together. Only that time, the doubt was caused by your all-encompassing passion to help me."
I looked at him intently. He returned my gaze and continued. "The thought flashed through my head that evening that I wasn't sure I would ever be able to match your compassion … or your intensity . So that is why I don't quite understand your questions regarding if I've ever doubted myself. Hell, Blair, you've made me doubt myself twice!"
Awestruck, I sat in my seat processing his explanation. "Okay, then, one last question. If I made you doubt yourself, what allowed you to move through that doubt?"
Joel's eyes lifted in recognition.
"I understand your questions now. The answer is that, in time, I was able to move through my doubts because I saw the possibilities inherently tied to you and I being together ... as one. And I wasn't going to allow the fact that you were a male to mar our 'possibility'."
He pursed his lips in thought, and then grinned. "You could say I recognized that my appointment with the 'possibility of us' had finally arrived. I simply chose to keep the appointment. It's the same way that I see just about everything in my life -- as a possibility. I had Rob make the reservations and confirm seats for our trip to Paris because I saw the possibility of it happening. It's the same reason that I had Marco and Christiane make the rings, because I saw the possibilities inherent in keeping our appointment right now. I got very angry with myself as I listened to you try and protect us with your refusal to move in with me. I was pissed because I had failed to talk to you about the fact that I'd thought about and accepted the new or renewed element of my sexual orientation. And that failure was a barrier to us keeping this appointment."
He raised his hand in a gentle, dismissive gesture. "Now, I know that this all sounds ethereal and stuff, but that's because I've never tried to explain it to someone before. It's really just how it is with me and I hope that you're okay with it."
I chuckled at his concern. Finally, I understood what allowed him to move through his life in such a compelling and direct manner. A last piece of understanding clicked into place. "You were able to accept physically and sexually being with a man in a gay relationship because it was already bound up in the possibility of us, right?"
"Yes. And just for the record, the sex is incredible." He claimed my heart forever with his gentle grin.
"Mr. Summers, you're simply amazing." I laughed quietly. "Of course I'm okay with it. I'm okay with you and ... us."
"And all our possibilities, Mr. Michaels?" He grinned as he nuzzled my neck.
"Definitely with our possibilities."
Once settled in the living room, Joel called Rob to check on things while I tried to make up with Mikey. He wouldn't have anything to do with me. Instead, he jumped onto Joel's lap and curled up for a nap. Surprised, Joel looked towards me and shrugged. I scowled disgustedly.
By Sunday night, I could tell that Joel was feeling the need to be around something familiar and since Mikey had settled down a bit, I suggested and Joel gladly agreed to spend the night in his apartment.
Monday morning, a wildly grinning Hank greeted us as we entered the restaurant from the interior entrance.
"What's that grin for, Hank?" I asked, punching his shoulder in greeting as he leaned forward over the corner of the bar.
"Well, for one," he started, "I missed you guys. You know us working stiffs can't just jet around the globe whenever we feel like it." He laughed when he saw me roll my eyes. Joel chuckled.
"And the second reason for the grin would be?" I asked, a little leery as to what his answer would include.
"Oh ... just remembering your comment the first morning you saw Joel take his seat at the bar across from you. If I remember correctly, you told me to skip the food because you were going to have Joel for breakfast."
Joel erupted with a belly-shaking laugh. I blushed immediately and Hank grinned closed-mouthed, obviously enjoying my embarrassment.
Wrestling his mirth to a manageable level, Joel gasped. "Oh that's good, Hank. He may have had to wait a couple of months, but as they say, patience is a virtue."
Hank pulled his head back in question as he looked at Joel. I felt Joel's arm slide around my waist as his mouth nuzzled my ear briefly. He looked towards Hank and grinned.
"He had me for breakfast this morning. We're just here for coffee."
Hank's eyes flew open wide and his face darkened with blush.
The form huddled in the doorway trying to escape the bitter morning wind. The tattered flannel shirt did little to provide protection from the cold and this morning was one of the colder ones even though it hadn't snowed for a while. He wished he were back with the others where at least the wind didn't get at him, but his hunger had woken him an hour ago and he hoped the nice cook was working today. He always gave him something and told him he looked like a skinny bear cub. The other cooks just chased him away, but he didn't care so long as they didn't touch him. He didn't care about anything anymore.
The next two weeks passed by quickly for us. Our days were spent reviewing various scenarios for the purchase of the manufacturing concern in Paris. Twice Joel had to remind me with a chuckle that I was to direct the acquisitions team, not lead it hands on. Additionally, we focused primarily on two separate proposals: one from his team in Chicago and the other from his home office group in Denver. The Denver idea was shelved due to timing concerns, among other reasons, but we gave a green light for the Chicago team to enter into discreet, exploratory talks with a financially ailing shipping concern that had dominated the Great Lakes market at one time. Joel said that he saw the possibility of regaining the market share on the Lakes. Little persuasion was needed on his part. I recognized the potential almost immediately.
Working as closely together as we were, our thoughts began to slowly synchronize. For me, it was as if suddenly a leash had finally been removed. The freedom from preconceived practices and mindsets that I was now able to exercise on a daily basis fostered my own abilities at seeing possibilities in the business setting that Joel readily latched onto.
I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt this alive.
Most mornings began with breakfast at the bar with Hank. It was our third morning back when I heard another of Hank's 'oh my gods' float towards us quietly from across the bar. I paused in the middle of a sip of coffee and looked to see what had caused his exclamation. Hank was staring at us wide-eyed and in short order, we realized that he'd finally seen our matching rings as we'd unintentionally lifted our coffee cups in tandem. He flew across the service area and drew me into a tight hug across the bar, offering his congratulations. He then pumped Joel's hand with the same intensity. He even good-naturedly allowed my ribbing about how long it had taken him to notice.
Our evenings were spent balanced between my place and Joel's. My fears about moving into Joel's place permanently no longer had a foothold in my thoughts. I was all for it, even eager, but the main thing holding me back was that Mikey would never adjust to being a solely indoor cat. He needed to prowl and the neighborhood near City Park where my house was located was his territory. Joel assured me of his understanding and his confidence that the possibility would present itself in regards to a solution.
I don't think that either of us could have fathomed the form that possibility would eventually take.
We strolled slowly down Larimer Street on our way back to Joel's apartment after relaxing with some sushi and sake. The unseasonably warm early spring temperature allowed us to forgo our coats even though it was after eleven. The late evening shadows offered intimacy and our small fingers linked romantically, filling me with contentment and continued promise.
I didn't initially see the darkened form in the unlit doorway as we approached the first alleyway after rounding the corner onto 18th -- my thoughts focused on the incredible man walking next to me. I first sensed Joel's apprehension as I felt his finger contract against mine and noted the slight pause in his stride. Instantly I noticed movement in the shadows and saw the glint of reflected light.
A hooded figure moved from the doorway, brandishing a knife in front of him, waving it back and forth threateningly. Joel grabbed my forearm. I stopped immediately.
"Hey faggots!" My ears heard a menacing, but bright, voice. There was a youthfulness to the tone of voice expressed in the jeer. "Nice night for a walk. Mind if I join you?" A low chuckle accented the question.
"Look, punk," Joel said, protectively stepping partially in front of me. Instantly I flashed with anger and worry. The anger surged from my ego and the worry erupted out of concern for Joel. His continued words stopped me though from reacting further. "I am one hundred percent certain that you will regret your choice in stopping us 'faggots' this evening."
His words caused me to snap my head to look at him. Then the hooded form laughed and I looked quickly toward the sound. Its youthful sound was discordant with its menacing taunt.
"I don't regret nothing, faggot, because you're going to give me your cash and that fancy watch and thank me for not sticking you with my blade. Got it?" The arm holding the knife lifted towards Joel threateningly.
Joel turned to me, chuckling. "Kids these days."
And then his hand sprang forward with the precision and speed of a striking Cobra, grabbing the youth's hand and twisting it sharply enough to elicit a sharp cry of shock and pain from the kid. The knife clattered to the sidewalk as Joel whipped the kid around and slammed his body against the building's wall. Joel's right hand trapped the arm behind the youth's back while his other hand forcefully pushed the kid's face against the brick.
"Whoa!" I exclaimed. He'd moved so fast my reaction was delayed.
"I warned you, punk," Joel growled into the kid's ear. He then turned to me with a voice laced in sickening falsetto. "Honey, would you mind calling the cops and getting an officer here. This has been fun and all, but before Boy-Thug-Wannabee decided to interrupt our evening, I was dreaming about getting to the apartment so you could pack my mouth, and then my butt, full of your dick."
Joel's bizarre statement sank into me through my surprise and I barked laughter.
"My hero!" I snorted, the laugher expanding. "Shit, Joel. That was like Bruce Lee, The Bionic Man and Yoda all rolled into one!"
I was at once astounded by his lightning speed and as my mental processors caught up I was amazed by his instinctive, reflexive actions. Combining the incredible turn-around of events in my head, I felt my entire body flood with relief. I'd never been approached or hassled by a mugger. I may be an aggressive sort of guy, but that primarily has to do with love and its machinations or a juicy business deal, but never previously with the concept of physical violence. I found myself unbelievably -- and disconcertedly -- aroused! Machismo, I found, was a powerful aphrodisiac.
I quickly grabbed my cell phone and dialed the emergency number. I was assured the response to our situation would be immediate. And within a mere few seconds, I heard the distant wail of police sirens. Joel heard them also.
"Hear that, punk?" He asked, again growling lowly into the kid's ear. "That's the sound of you loosing your freedom. Fancy a few nights or more behind bars? Maybe you'll change your tune once the resident Bubba makes you his bitch!"
I felt my skin crawl as I heard his words. The same menacing tone that had only moments before croaked from the kid's lips now flowed from my lover's mouth. An innate revulsion surged within me.
"Joel! Stop. He's just a kid!" My impassioned yell, accented by a forceful grasp onto Joel's shoulder, shattered my arousal. Suddenly, I hated the situation that had erupted, unasked, before me. "I mean it, Joel."
My words caused an instantaneous softening in Joel's demeanor. His shoulders sagged and he dipped his head in realization and resignation. His gasp, growled like an unintelligible curse, split the silence between us.
"Fuck ... sorry." He tipped his head towards me over his shoulder in acknowledgement, and then spoke to the kid. "Well, in the end, you got to me, punk. Hear those sirens? You scared?"
The youth mumbled something unintelligible, then as Joel released the pressure holding the kid's face against the wall, he repeated his words at Joel's prompting.
"Let me go, man."
Joel chuckled. "And why would I do that?"
"I'll ... I'll let you ... fuck me."
Joel tipped his head towards the kid in disbelief, his mouth open in surprise. He relaxed his hold further. The punk squirmed at the reduced pressure in an attempt to break from Joel's grasp. Joel held firm and flashed me a quick, confused look, beseeching me with his eyes.
"What do you mean, kid? Why do you think he'd want to?" I asked, my voice mixed with concern and shock.
The kid twitched once. "You guys are queer and I'd rather be fucked by you than by the ..." I thought he wasn't going to finish his statement, but my heart lurched with his final words. "... the Bubbas in lockup."
Joel and I instantly locked eyes at the kid's words. Maybe I'd watched too much HBO, but a horrid vision of a holding block gang-bang sprang to my mind and by the horror that filled Joel's eyes I knew he was seeing the same thing.
"Uh ...not interested, punk. Kids aren't my cup of tea. You should have thought of that before ...." The kid suddenly squirmed violently in Joel's grasp, trying to break free.
"I'm not a kid," he screamed. "I'm fifteen, so fuck you!" Rage poured from the kid as he struggled in Joel's grasp.
The police siren pulled my attention from Joel and the kid. I watched as the cruiser turned onto 18th from Lawrence and stepped to the curb raising my hand.
Twenty minutes later, I wrapped my arm around Joel's shoulder as the police cruiser pulled from the curb.
"Are you okay, Joel? You've gotten really quiet."
His nod was barely perceptible. "He was just a kid. Did you see his face in the light? He was so full of anger and fear and resignation. It just broke my heart."
"I know. The thought of that kid in lockup makes my skin crawl."
Joel pulled his phone from the clasp on his hip and flipped through the phone list, then punched in a number. He grabbed my hand and began walking quickly towards his building. I followed, confused.
Joel's voice was all business. "John, it's Joel Summers. I apologize for calling you at home so late, but I need your help. I need a favor."
I stood in his apartment looking at the door that Joel had just exited through. The place felt empty without him. The call Joel made from the street was to John Hicks, the mayor of Denver. It wasn't just the fact that Joel had the influence to call the mayor at his residence at 11:30 in the evening, but that he could get immediate action from the top guy in Denver. The mayor assured Joel that he would contact the Police Chief and promised that the kid would not be placed in the general population. Unbelievably, fifteen minutes later, the mayor called Joel's cell phone with assurances that everyone was aware of his wishes and that the kid, Ben, was moving through booking now and would be placed in his own cell.
Joel thanked the mayor profusely and accepted a lunch date with him for the following week. When he finished the call, Joel had looked at me with bright, excited eyes.
"He'll be safe," he said. I smiled and closed my eyes in relief. The thought of the boy being subject to, if nothing more, than the taunts and threats of violence, had sickened me to my core. The thought of an actual rape nearly had me doubled over with revulsion and pain. When I opened my eyes, I saw Joel looking at me, eyes bright, grinning. "That feels better, doesn't it?"
I nodded. "You are so ..." I stopped because I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. He approached me, placing his arms around my waist.
"I couldn't stop remembering the feel of his shudder when I lost it and taunted him with being an inmate's sex toy. God, Blair, I was so caught up in the adrenaline rush that I wasn't even aware of what I was saying." He looked into my eyes, his own were filled with remorse. "Thank you so much for calling me back to myself."
I kissed him softly. "Anytime."
He pulled me into a tight hug then gently kissed my forehead. "I'm going to the jail. I want to talk to the kid."
"Joel, why? It's almost midnight."
"I know. I just need to talk to him. I want to know why he was driven to attack us. I won't be long, I promise. Besides," he said with a grin, "I wasn't just making up the part about wanting you to pack me full of the good stuff. I've been thinking about it all day."
"No, boy. What'd I tell you? Make the drop and then I'll give you what you want. Oh, and … hurry back. This is the good stuff we're talking about."
The boy's heart started to beat faster as he headed through the door and onto the dark, quiet street. He eyed the package in his trembling hands knowing that he couldn't open it, but being tempted all the same. He had to do this right or else he'd never get a chance to make it big, make it cool.
Groggy from too little sleep, I stood in the doorway of the spare room and gazed at the sleeping form as I sipped my coffee. I'd only slept for about five hours during which I'd woken up numerous times. Finally, I'd pulled myself from the warmth of Joel's embrace so as not to wake him with my restlessness.
I now looked on the reason for my unsettled sleep and thought about the fact that last night had really happened.
I'd heard the front door open around two in the morning and Joel's voice asking someone if they were hungry. Confused, I got up from the couch where I'd been reading and met Joel in the entry foyer intending to ask him who he was talking to. I didn't need to voice my question.
Standing behind Joel was the very tired looking and very frightened punk from earlier. My mouth dropped open in stunned surprise. The hood from his navy sweatshirt rested on his shoulders and a very pale face stared back at me -- eyes uncertain and filled with a haunted, hesitant look.
I turned my gaze to meet Joel's and saw a pleading look, one asking me to not respond immediately. I reached forward to lightly touch his bicep.
"Uh ... it looks like we have company."
The gratitude in Joel's eyes shined brightly. He nodded and turned towards the kid. "Blair, this is Ben. I know you two have already met, but I thought we could do some formal introductions to kind of clear the air. Ben, this is my partner, Blair."
"Hi ... uh, Ben. Nice to meet you." A quiet 'hey' was the extent of the kid's response.
Joel stepped into the awkwardness left by our less than enthusiastic exchange. "Hey, let's go into the kitchen. Ben's hungry. And I could use a cup of coffee if you saved me any."
I took a deep breath and decided to trust the moment to Joel. "Yeah, there's some left. C'mon Ben, what are you hungry for." I looked at him and watched as he shrugged noncommittally.
I sent a wink towards Joel then turned to the kitchen. "Well I think you're in luck. I believe we have a lot of 'don't matter' in the fridge."
Now, looking at the sleeping form of the boy, I shook my head in wonder at what Joel had been thinking. It was nine in the morning. Joel and I had finally drifted off to sleep around four. Ben's eyes had drooped tiredly even as he consumed his second sandwich. It wasn't long before his head began to nod and Joel showed him the spare room. Joel had strongly recommended that Ben take a shower before going to bed and Ben complied. Joel's offer of sweats to sleep in was accepted and when Ben emerged from the bathroom, Joel stood waiting with the sweats that Megan had liked due to their bagginess. He began to pull the door shut behind him as he exited the room, but Ben stopped him, asking that the door remain open. Joel told me later that he thought Ben wanted an escape route.
I moved down the hall into the living room and settled on the couch with my coffee. My thoughts again drifted to our conversation a few short hours ago as we lay in bed after Ben went to sleep. Joel had looked at me and shared with incredible sincerity that when Ben told him the reason that he'd tried to rob them was because he was hungry, Joel had made the instant decision to try to help the youth. Granted, he admitted, that he wasn't sure at the moment what all that would entail, but he immediately had offered to drop the charges if Ben would agree to come home with him while Joel figured out a way to help. After repeated unsolicited assurances from Joel that neither of us would hurt Ben, the youth had agreed.
While waiting for the paperwork to be processed, Ben had reluctantly shared with Joel that he was living on the second floor of an abandoned warehouse with six other youth, all of which had either been kicked out or runaway for whatever reason. Joel had asked Ben that if he could find a place for all of them to live safely, would Ben consider it. Suspiciously, Ben wanted to know why Joel was offering his help.
Joel had blushed furiously as he shared with me that Ben asked if once he set them up in a place would they be expected to turn tricks for Joel. Joel told me that he just stared at Ben in horror and finally tried to convince Ben that the reason he wanted to help was because he could and had the means to do it. He wanted the boys to have a place where they could be safe and finish their schooling, give them a fighting chance to make something of themselves. After a long, piercing look, Ben nodded at Joel and said he'd think about it.
I couldn't help but smile at Joel's final words before he'd drifted off to sleep. "Just think, Blair, if this works out, maybe we can help a lot more kids that are stuck in the same situation."
'Oh, Joel.' I thought with a shake of my head. 'You really are amazing.'
I spent the next hour on the couch in thought, then realized that I needed to head to my house to feed Mikey. I definitely had some making up to do with my cat.
I headed to the master bathroom for a shower, stopping for another glance at Ben's sleeping form. Thirty minutes later, I was dressed and heading towards the kitchen when I passed the spare room. The bed was empty and I noticed that the door to the adjoining bathroom was open. I didn't hear any movement so I continued to the kitchen.
On the counter was a note. After reading it, I reached into my hip pocket for my wallet. The cash sleeve was empty. I swore under my breath.
With a gentle touch, I woke Joel. His bloodshot eyes pained me almost as much as what I had to tell him.
"Joel, Ben's gone. I got out of the shower and found this." I extended the note to him, but he closed his eyes and sighed.
"What's it say?"
I squeezed his hand as I looked again at the note. "Someone needs the cash bad. I know it's fucked up real bad taking it. The food and the bed were cool. I'm a fuckup. Sorry."
I took a deep breath and looked at Joel. "I left my wallet on the table," I said, indicating the table just inside by the bedroom door. "He took a couple hundred in cash, but left everything else."
Joel nodded distractedly.
"I'm sorry this didn't work out the way you wanted it to, Joel."
He shook his head as his brown eyes smiled at me. "Oh, I don't know, babe. It pretty much ended up the way I thought it would. It was actually all part of the possibility I shared with you last night; I just hoped that it would be different. But that's okay." He arched his eyebrow at me playfully. "What did you have in mind for today?"
I twisted my head at the quizzical and eager way he asked his question. "I was going to feed Mikey and give him a little attention, but other than that, nothing. Well, I want to review the Chicago preliminaries. I saw them on the desk. Why?"
Joel nodded his head repeatedly. "What say you go say hello to Mikey while I shower and get dressed, then what do you think about hitting the streets with me? I'd like to see about finding our little bird that's fallen from the nest." Joel's smirk brought a half smile to my mouth as I expelled my breath.
"You're sure that's what you want to do?"
He grinned widely. "Yeah. The note didn't say he wanted the money for himself. I'd bet it’s for one of his buddies that needs something pretty important. Plus," he grinned further, "he said he was sorry. Just call me a sucker for polite punks."
Three hours later, I found my feet hurting and my stomach growling. I pulled Joel to a hotdog vendor on the 16th Street Mall and promptly devoured two brats and kraut.
"God, that's better."
Joel bumped me playfully with his shoulder as he swallowed his last bite. "Was my baby hungry?"
I grinned, and then chuckled. Joel continuously made me feel like he was simultaneously my protector, my lover and my best pal. It felt like I'd known him my entire life.
"I was hungry and still am, but I think I'll let those two dogs set a while and maybe hit the cart again on our next circle around. Do you think we're getting anywhere?"
Joel nodded. "Yes, we are. There aren't many abandoned buildings down here and we've hit most of them up to Blake Street. Ben said that the building was in LoDo and I only know of a couple more that are empty. They're on Wazee."
"You know, Joel, even empty buildings on Wazee are in a pretty heavily trafficked area. You'd think that six or so street kids would be noticed by someone."
Joel thought about my comment and I could see his mind working behind his eyes. "You know what? You may be right. Ben said something like 'down back in LoDo'. At the time it didn't make sense, but now that I think about it, he may have meant on the other side of the Union Station tracks."
I nodded. It made more sense than in downtown or lower downtown proper. "That might be it. It's a hike from here, but that might be the right area. I was also thinking about trying to get one of the kids I see hanging out around here to open up a little. Maybe like for ten bucks or something."
Joel's face lit up. "That's a great idea." He pulled out his wallet and handed me the majority of cash that he had. "But I think that ten bucks isn't going to buy shit! Put this with your cash and spread it around. Maybe it'll work. I think I'm going to head to the tracks and see what I can find."
I grabbed his arm, suddenly feeling the back of my neck shiver. "Are you crazy? That really isn't a good area and going in there alone is just asking for trouble."
Joel looked at me and then raised his hand to cup my cheek. "Gosh, you're a sweet man. I can't believe I wasted a month sitting across the bar from you," he winked. "And you're right. Here, take this." He handed me his watch and his wallet, minus the remaining cash, which he stuffed into his pocket.
"That's better," he said. "But I'm keeping my ring. Now, don't worry. I've studied various martial arts forms for close to twenty years. I could give both Bruce Lee and The Bionic Man a run for their money." His eyes twinkled as he blew me a kiss. "Yoda might be a different story though. I'll meet you back here in ninety minutes." He started to head down the mall and stopped as I shouted after him.
"But I have your watch!"
He grinned and bowed to me. "I don't really need it anyway. It just looks good on my arm." He smiled widely then turned and proceeded briskly off.
I sighed and headed in the opposite direction towards Arapahoe Street and the remnants of what used to be Skyline Park.
The concrete and stone thoroughfare known as Skyline Park was now a construction zone as work progressed on the removal of the concrete and the installation of more greenery. Skyline used to be a major hangout for street kids and I hoped that I would have some luck there with someone knowing Ben – at least I hoped someone would know him. My ankle was beginning to throb.
The first few guys shrugged and turned away noncommittally, even after I offered cash. A couple other kids had heard of him, but didn't know where he hung out. I left them with some cash and a card along with a message for Ben that Blair was looking for him and for him to come home. The kids looked at me strangely, but shrugged and thanked me for the cash. Two other groups that were hanging around the last remnants of the three-block long park that had yet to be torn up didn't know anything about Ben. I was getting frustrated, but continued on to another couple of boys that were sharing a can of coke under a tree.
"Who wants to make some money, guys?"
The larger of the two, a kid a few inches shorter than me, but very scrawny, sneered at me. "I ain't blowin' ya buddy, if that's what you think."
The smaller and younger of the two, a kid that could be no more than thirteen or fourteen, cracked up at his buddy's response. They bumped fists. I laughed in turn.
"No, it's nothing that exciting. Why? Do you get solicited a lot?"
The larger boy with the greasy, tangled hair tucked behind his ear just shrugged in response.
I continued as I squatted in front of them. "I'm looking for a friend and I've got twenty bucks for each of you if you can help me with some information. He's about maybe your height," I gestured towards the larger of the two, "and maybe a little heavier. He's got dirty blonde hair and a very pale face. He tucks his hair behind his ears like you do and his name is Ben. Have you seen him?"
At the mention of his name, the smaller of the two jerked his head to look as his buddy. I got excited. This was the first real reaction that I'd received. His buddy squinted threateningly at the smaller guy.
"Do you know him? I really just want to talk with him. I don't want to do anything but help him. Honestly. I'll give you each fifty bucks if you can take me to him or point me in the right direction. I just want him to come home."
The older, larger of the two guys arched his brow at me as I mentioned home and then looked at his friend. Some signal passed between them and before I realized what was happening, the smaller one jumped up as the larger one rolled to his knees and sprang to his feet. His buddy sprinted away, but I reacted quickly enough to grab the collar of the larger kid's jacket and yanked him back to the ground.
"Please. Don't run away. I just want to help Ben. Really. I don't mean him any harm."
The kid looked at me with blazing eyes. I stared back, trying to convey my sincerity and frustration. Gradually, he calmed down and looked to where his buddy stood on the corner watching. He turned again to me.
"Are you Blair?"
Startled, I nodded slowly.
"Thought so. Ben said you were pretty hunky. What do you want with him?"
"Honest, I just want him to know that we're not mad about the money and that we really want to help. We both want to help him get off the streets. We told him that, but his note said that someone needed the money, so we understand why he ran."
The kid nodded thoughtfully. "It's Mauricio. Johnny Ice lent him some money and Mauricio couldn't pay it back and the forty bucks turned into close to two hundred and Johnny's been after him and Mauricio knows he's a dead dude if Ice finds him."
I dropped my gaze and stared at the ground in thought as he continued. "That's why Ben tried to shake you guys down last night. Johnny's put the word out that Mauricio is his, so when Ben saw your buddy's watch, he knew you guys had money. He was gonna get some cash so we all could eat and give the watch to Johnny so Mauricio could keep on breathin' man. Ya know? He said your guy is like kung fu or something though."
I processed his words, sensing the truth. He had honest eyes. "So will you help me? Uh, what's your name, by the way?"
"Cody and that fast little fucker," he pointed to his friend who still watched us, "is Timmy."
"So, Cody, will you help me help Ben?"
Cody looked up to me as I squatted before him. I watched as he read my face, my eyes. I saw when he made his decision. He hollered for Timmy to come over and then looked back at me.
"Yeah. He'll probably be pissed, but you seem pretty chill."
I smiled and stood up, offering him my hand. I pulled him to his feet.
"So that's fifty bucks a piece, right?" Cody asked, looking at me sideways as Timmy tentatively approached. I nodded and reached into my pocket and counted out a hundred dollars. I held them up for the boys to see and then folded them separately and put the bills in the other pocket of my jeans.
"Take me to Ben so I can talk with him and it's all yours, guys."
Timmy shook his head. "He's gonna be so pissed at us, dude."
Cody shrugged and started heading in the opposite direction of LoDo. I followed him confused and finally asked what was on my mind.
"So what Ben said about a warehouse in LoDo wasn't quite accurate."
Cody shrugged again, but remained silent. My watch said that it was close to an hour and a half since Joel and I separated. I thought of calling him as we headed west down Arapahoe towards fifteenth, but decided to wait and see if the guys were lying or not.
After about six or seven blocks, we ended up in the alley behind a boarded up building that faced Colfax Avenue. Cody bent down and pulled the corner of a piece of plywood back. The other corner was screwed in place. Timmy slipped through and Cody indicated for me to follow, then stopped me with a question.
"Ben said your guy offered to try and find a place where all us guys could be together. Was he just shittin' Ben or what, Blair?"
I shook my head firmly. "Nope. That's Joel's plan. We just haven't figured it all out yet."
He nodded and gestured for me to slide into the building. My considerably larger body had a hard time fitting in the narrow space, but I finally wormed my way through. Cody followed. Timmy led us to a set of stairs and we climbed them to the second floor and walked to the end room.
"The dude's gonna be pissed, Cody."
"I know. Just shut up about it."
Cody entered through the door and I followed him. I immediately spied Ben, crashed out on one of the filthy mattresses against the wall under the window. He was asleep.
"Hey, Ben!" Cody said loudly.
Ben sat up quickly, dazed from his sleep. He turned towards us and as his eyes focused, they grew wide in shock.
"You're boyfriend's come to talk with you."
"Goddamnit, Cody! What’d he do? Sucker you with his eyes or something? You're so fuckin' easy, man," Ben scowled then looked at me. "Sorry about the money. I don't have it anymore."
I nodded. "Is Johnny Ice gonna leave Mauricio alone now?"
Ben's eyes darted to Cody who gave him a shrug. "Yeah, thanks."
"Glad to help," I smirked. "We missed you for breakfast this morning."
Ben stared fiercely into my eyes looking for signs of sarcasm. He remained silent.
"You know," I continued. "I thought you looked pretty comfortable in the spare bed. I was kind of hoping that maybe you'd stay a while until we could figure out something better."
The anger flared brightly in Ben's eyes. "That's just it. What's all that shit about? Why you guys doing this? What do you want?"
A little shared anger flashed through me, but I held my initial reaction. "You know, Ben, I'll keep quiet about my own motivations for the moment, but let me tell you something about Joel, and I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your attitude in check and listen real close. Joel has what I consider to be a heart made of pure gold. He's the nicest, most giving man I've ever known and he's set his eye on helping you. And you'd be a goddamned fool to fuck up this chance. Now what's it gonna be, punk? The streets and hangin' here with your boys or what I assume to be a really comfortable mattress and all the food you can eat plus a surprise or two that'll probably blow your mind."
Ben studied me for a minute, the anger in his eyes dissipating. "What do you mean when you say you'll keep quiet about your motivations? What motivations? Why are you doing this?"
I sighed then decided if he wanted to know, I'd tell him. "Look, you already know that Joel and I are lovers. Fine. But what you don't know is that I love him more deeply than I've ever loved anyone else in my life. He's my Arthur and I'm his Lancelot, if you follow. And if this is what he wants to do, then I'll support him completely. He's the most amazing person I've ever known and I'd follow him to the edge of a cliff and jump off if that's where he was going. Am I doing this for you? Some. A little. But I'm mostly doing it for Joel, because for whatever reason, it means a lot to him. So are you gonna come with me? Joel's probably waiting for me at our spot, worried."
Ben took a deep breath, then slowly stood up and nodded twice. "What about them?" He lifted his chin toward Cody and Timmy.
"They can come too, if they want. I don't know where you'll all sleep, but we'll work out something. Maybe at my place, I don't know."
Cody shook his head and lifted his chin towards Ben. "We're cool. I'm not going with you man. But let me know how it shakes. You know where to find me." Timmy nodded in agreement.
Ben looked at Cody and I saw incredible longing and pain in his eyes. Then Ben glanced around at the stuff lying on the floor and grabbed a ratty backpack. He walked towards me and glanced once again at Cody, then catching my eye lifted his head towards the door.
My cell phone rang as we rounded the corner onto the Mall from Arapahoe. It was Joel and I assured him I'd be there in a few minutes.
I hit the off button and looked at Ben. He met my glance briefly, and then looked behind him. Half a block back were Cody and Timmy watching us.
"You wanna go back and try and get them to come with us?"
He shook his head and turned back towards the direction we were walking. He remained quiet and lost in thought.
I spotted Joel at our meeting place, looking in the opposite direction from the way we were approaching. When we were within fifteen feet of him, my excitement got the best of me.
"Hey, sexy man. Look what I found."
Joel whirled around at the sound of my voice and his face broke into a wide grin. We came to a stop in front of him. Ben eyed him with a cautious look.
Joel dropped his grin. "I'm really glad to see you, Ben."
Ben's expression froze as he stared at Joel. He swallowed once. "I'm really sorry I took your money." His words nearly ripped my heart out.
Joel's smile returned full force. "I'm sure you had a good reason. But, I'm not too worried about the money. It was Blair's anyway." His grin widened as he watched Ben's eyes dart to my face.
I smiled at him and winked, then turned to Joel.
"Speaking of money, give me the rest of the cash you have, would ya?"
Joel reached into his pocket and handed me the remaining cash. I handed him his wallet and watch.
"I'll be right back, okay?" I said to Ben. He just looked at me as I turned back in the direction we'd come from.
I spotted Cody and Timmy leaning against a planter in the middle of the Mall about a half block back. As I approached, I waved as they stood up.
"You guys didn't think that I'd forgotten you, did you?" I held up the cash in my hand.
They grinned. I reached into my pocket and withdrew the remaining cash that I had left as well as the hundred bucks I'd promised them. It looked like a little over three hundred dollars in all. I extended it to Cody, and then stopped.
"You guys don't do drugs, do you?."
Both of them shook their heads emphatically, their eyes wide in surprise at the amount of money I was holding. "No way, Blair. None of us do. It's just bad shit. That's why we all stick together."
I grinned and handed the money to Cody. I winked at Timmy. "Is it okay if Cody keeps the bulk of it safe for you?" Timmy nodded.
Then I reached into my wallet and pulled out two of my cards. I gave each of them one.
"Please call if you guys need anything or if you change your minds. Knowing Joel, we're going to have something figured out for all of you soon. You know ... if you like, change your minds." I grinned at my obvious hint.
Cody mumbled something and looked at the sidewalk. I reached for his chin and lifted it so that I could see his eyes. "Sure this is what you want to do?"
He nodded and I wanted to hug him protectively. I pulled him into my arms and gave him a tight squeeze. "You've got my number if you decide differently, kiddo."
I hugged Timmy and told him that I was counting on him to make sure that Cody didn't spend the dough all in one place. Then I turned from them and made my way back to Joel and Ben. As I arrived, I looked back once towards Cody and Timmy and saw that they were gone.
"That was really sweet, Blair."
I just smiled. "Well, guys. I think we have an appointment with some nice, thick steaks. How's that sound? I'm starved."
Joel laughed as Ben gave me a half smile, his eyes glancing back towards where Cody and Timmy had been standing. I reached up and squeezed his shoulder once. He shifted his gaze back to me. There was regret and worry in his eyes.
"I gave them both my card. Something tells me that it won't be too long before you see them again." That earned me another half smile. "Now, about those steaks ... did I forget to mention that Joel has about a gallon of ice cream in his freezer?"
Ben's half smile widened, first into a grin and then into a full smile.
Joel clapped Ben on his shoulder and we turned towards 18th Street and home. It appeared we had an appointment with some good food, and the possibility of a whole lot more.
A pair of deep brown eyes watched the exchange between the youth and the two older men from a recessed doorway across the mall. He’d seen the blond one give what looked like a wad of cash to his other boys which at first caused his gut to clench and nearly forced him out of hiding, but when they accepted the hugs something told him everything was cool. His boys were no pidges. He’d raised them better than that.
Now … to see where the two obvious rich bitches were taking his other boy.
Special thanks goes to Rock Hunter for his endless efforts to edit this mess. Thanks, Bud!
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