Reservations – A Novel
By Drew Filchak
Chapter Nine: "Crossroads"
I woke to find Mau snuggled into the crook between my bare shoulder and chest, sleep and security erasing any sign of the horrors he knew intimately from his mien. I studied his perfect face from the vantage point of an open, unguarded gaze. Flawlessly, his features owed their creation quite obviously to the blend of pacific island lines and Caucasian symmetries. Long, black lashes lay at rest against his cheek while an equally dark head of thick hair spiked in multiple directions. Strong cheekbones and a suitably proportioned nose combined with his small, pink lips to complete the angelic vision lying before me.
My final thought from the night before marred the exquisite delight my first sight of the day brought me. We had to get him professional help and it had to happen today. I pulled reluctantly from my semi-awake state to full alertness at the reminder.
Mau lay against me, his face resting on my chest and shoulder while his hands tucked themselves closely to his covered chest. I was loath to move, but my bladder called. Also, I was uncertain what Mau's reaction would be upon waking to find himself semi-draped over me. Then the question surfaced of how I could possibly extricate myself without rousing him.
'Very carefully, Blair.'
I smirked and placed a soft kiss on his forehead then began the delicate process of sliding out from under Mau's sleeping form. I raised my arm, which half-held him, and began to shift my body gently. My stealth and silence were for naught. He whimpered softly then rolled his face further into my shoulder. His eyes opened at the same time and a moment later, focused first on my chest hair then flicked upward to meet my eyes.
He pulled back, a surprised and embarrassed look coming back at me briefly before dropping his eyes.
"Sorry," he whispered.
I ruffled his hair and allowed a slight grin. "Nothing to be sorry for. I was trying not to wake you. Go back to sleep for a while."
He rubbed his face once then reached with his other hand and repeated the action jointly. I heard, more that saw, Joel roll onto his back and a conspiratorial grin stretched my lips. I signaled with my finger for Mau to remain quiet, but again my actions were wasted.
A low, gruff and animated voice growled from the other side of the bed. "Who's that sleeping in my bed?"
Mau's eyes grew wide as he giggled softly. I raised my brows once then winked at Mau.
"Go back to sleep, old man. And no more snoring."
Bright, youthful giggles quickly escalated into laughter. Mau's face lit with childish delight. It was as if the sun decided to rise in our bedroom and I joined him with a couple snorts of laughter.
"I'll get you later for the old comment," Joel growled. "And I don't snore."
Mau grinned and rolled his eyes at me as I nodded dramatically. I heard Joel sigh then his sleep-filled baritone continued.
"Did you sleep all right, Mau Man?"
He tipped his chin upward and grinned. "Yeah."
"I don't snore, do I?"
Mau looked at me, silently asking for the right answer. I arched my brow and returned the look, then swung my legs over the side of the bed and as I looked back at him over my shoulder, he grinned again.
I snorted once more as Joel groaned.
"I can tell you've both sided against me this morning. I give up. I'm going back to sleep."
Mau's grin widened and then he yawned as Joel rolled onto his side away from us.
"Still sleepy?" I asked as I stood up, absentmindedly hitching my briefs a little higher on my hips. A slow nod answered my question. "Then lie back down and catch a few more winks. I'm gonna see if I can rouse Ben and drag him along on a run."
Mau shook his head and began to crawl off the bed. "I'll use my bed." His grin showed slight embarrassment then he yawned again and headed for the bedroom door. He stopped as he reached it and turned back towards me.
"Thanks for ...," he paused and shrugged.
"You're welcome, honey. Any time. And I mean that completely, okay?"
He nodded and smiled, then headed down the hall to the boy's room.
Joel rolled back over to face me.
"I about had a fucking heart attack last night when I rolled over to cuddle with you and found Mau between us. I damn near yelled in surprise!"
I chuckled. "God, love, I'm sorry." I chuckled again. "He had a nightmare, which isn't any wonder, and showed up around one-thirty. I still can't believe he came to us."
"He came to you, lover."
"Yeah, but you're a part of me. I think he's at the same level of comfort with both of us. I've just been there at a couple of crucial times."
"Not quite, babe," Joel yawned and stretched. "He's as attached to you as Ben is. Which I think is just fantastic."
I looked steadily at him as he placed his head in the crook of his arm. "We have to get Bill's friend over here today, Joel. She has to do something for him. I don't know what, but something. Yesterday really rocked him and by some miracle, he had his boys and us around to help. But he's still very much alone."
Joel nodded and yawned again. "I'll call him first thing this morning, okay?"
I smiled tightly and nodded.
"Now," Joel began as he reached towards me, "skip your run and snuggle with me. I'll make it worth your while."
His soft brown eyes beckoned with promise and I slid across the bed, brushing my lips against his once quickly. "Not this morning, lover. I'm too wound up already and need a good run." I kissed him again. He moaned at my touch.
"God, I love my new life."
I felt happy and kissed him one last time.
I moved down the hallway with my running shoes in hand and glanced into the boy's room to see Mau with the rest of the boys on the mattresses. Cody was alone on the bed and there was no sign of Ben. I grinned as I acknowledged that Ben was as much of a morning person as I was.
I found him on the couch in the study with a blanket pulled over him. I ruffled his hair.
"Hey, pup. Come with me on a run."
Surprisingly, he swatted at my hand and pulled the blanket around his neck, tightly. "No."
I grinned playfully. "What? Too tired after our run yesterday. You must be getting soft."
"Go away. Leave me alone."
Alarms wiped the grin from my face. Something was wrong and I had a sudden sour feeling in my gut that said I was the cause. I laid my hand on his shoulder, hoping to prompt a little of our usual tenderness, but he shrugged it off immediately.
"I said, go away. Are you stupid or what?"
His words shocked me. Actually, they stunned me. And through my shock, I felt a knife go through me. What did I do? Why was he so mad at me? My thoughts spun with the questions while at the same time I fought for understanding.
"Ben?" No response. "Ben? What did I do? Why are you upset with me?"
"No, I won't fuck off. Talk to me. Please."
My hand again reached for him and tried to roll him onto his back so I could see his face, but he madly swept the blanket from him and rolled off the couch acting as if my touch burned.
"Don't touch me. Fuck!" He spat his curse at me.
"What the hell is wrong, Ben? I mean it, tell me now!" My anger and hurt and bewilderment swelled in me like a typhoon, ready to expel its raw force on anything in its path.
He took two steps back from the couch. His eyes flashed anger and seething contempt, causing me to rear backwards away from their intensity. My mouth opened to speak, but no words were possible.
"Just stay away, you lyin’ perv," he hissed. "I'm warnin' you."
He turned and ran from the study. In my dazed, wounded state, I hesitated to follow him, but slowly I turned towards the door and made my way down the hallway to the kitchen. I heard a door close down the hallway of the bedroom wing and turned to follow the sound.
The boy's door stood closed before me.
The implication rocked through me and I staggered back towards the kitchen. My mind spun wildly, searching for the cause of Ben's bizarre, yet obviously very real emotions. I continued to the front door and almost blindly made my way to the elevator.
Hank's smile dropped as he took in my appearance through the glass doors of the restaurant. His worried stare watched me as he fumbled with the keys to unlock the inner entrance.
His first words startled me. "What the hell is wrong, Blair? You look like you just lost your best friend. Are you and Joel okay?"
My nod ended up being more of a bobbled head movement than an answer. "I need one of Joel's combinations from days gone by, Hank."
The look coming at me sufficiently related its doubt as to the wisdom of my request, but he nodded and grabbed the back of my arm. "Come on."
He moved from me to enter the bar as I shuffled towards the far corner and slipped onto the stool, propping my elbows on the bar's edge. I dropped my head into my hands and rubbed my face then stopped as I saw the end of the surreal scene with Ben. 'Just stay away, perv. I'm warning you'. I clenched my eyes tightly. 'Perv! How could he call me that?'
The sound of a glass being placed on the bar in front of me caused me to look up. My requested vodka stood before me and I watched as Hank placed a coffee cup and saucer next to it.
"I've never served a guy in here without his shoes on. You're pretty special and all, but you wanna take your shoes off the bar, bud?"
I sighed as I shrunk a little in embarrassment. My shoes found a new home on the floor. "Sorry."
I stared at the vodka. 'Lyin’ Perv.’
"What the hell's wrong, Blair? Talk to me. Please, man."
His repeat of my words to Ben caused my head to jerk upwards. My eyes flooded with rage and hurt. I moved from the barstool.
"Sorry," I said as I slipped into my shoes. Then I turned from Hank and without bothering to lace up, I sprinted to the door.
I had to get out of the bar.
Hank's yell followed me through the door, mercifully cut off by the city noise. I launched across 18th at an all-out run. By the middle of the block, one of my shoes fell off which I quickly remedied. As I finished tying them, Ben's words again rocketed me towards 19th.
'Don't touch me … are you stupid, or what?'
Hours later, exhausted and in pain, I passed in front of the restaurant's windows limping down the sidewalk coming from 17th. I saw only two customers at the bar and nodded to myself. Most people were at work now and the two that I saw would most likely be heading off soon. It felt okay to enter even though my body and shirt were drenched in sweat. My ankle throbbed at close to the same intensity as when I'd first hurt it six weeks ago.
'Of course it does, Michaels. You can't run for hours on a newly healed ankle and not expect it to fuck up … even though you did somehow.' The only conclusion that I'd been able to draw as to the reason for Ben's reaction and feelings was that I'd been touching him too much ... too many times brushing his hair out of his eyes, too many arms around his shoulder, too many offers for hugs. But that answer fell short of balancing the equation. Did I even know what all of the equation’s components were? The thought that Joel may have some insight, some inside knowledge to offer from his experiences with Megan gave me a little hope.
I saw Hank glance at me as I entered then watched as he turned to the service area and picked up the phone. His look wasn't friendly. 'Shit,' I thought. 'Mark up another fuck up for the morning, asshole.'
Limping badly, I finally settled onto Joel's barstool and propped my left foot onto mine. I swore I could almost see it throb. Hank approached, but remained silent. His glance moved from my face to the sweat stains on my t-shirt, finally stopping on my ankle. He shook his head repeatedly and placed a glass of tap water in front of me. I nodded and sipped it gingerly.
"Uh, I'll take that vodka now and a bag of ice, if you wouldn't mind helping me out."
He looked at me and sniffed quietly. My eyes dropped to the water glass to hide my embarrassment.
"And, uh, Hank? I'll also take your forgiveness, if you're offering. I ... uh … sorry, man. I just had to get out of here earlier. Nothing personal, right?"
He sniffed again. "You've been running this whole time?"
"That's close to two and a half hours, Blair. What? Did you just miss your crutches that much?"
The only answer I could give him was a shrug. My head rolled back slowly as I felt the muscles in my back and shoulders begin to cramp from the strain I'd placed on my legs and hips due to favoring my ankle. I took another sip of water. "I'm serious about the vodka."
He placed it in front of me with a shrug. "Joel's on his way down. Sorry, but I was worried when you just took off like that."
My eyes dropped shut for a moment and then nodded. I grabbed the glass with the chilled alcohol and downed it, feeling the burn along my throat and into my stomach. I shuddered. "One more before he gets here, bud."
His mouth dropped open in surprise and upset.
He grabbed the bottle and refilled my glass. I knocked that one back in the same fashion as the first. My shiver the second time was twice as bad.
"Damn," I groaned. "I don't know how he did that every morning for two or three weeks." My face clenched as I felt my stomach turn. "But if it helps with the pain in my ankle, then I might have another one." I looked at him and winked. "Wanna lay odds if I could keep it down?"
He didn't move or react. He just stared at me coolly. I nodded slowly. "It was a joke, Hank." The smile I gave him didn't score any points.
He tipped his chin towards me once, but otherwise remained silent.
My face fell as I grimaced at the pain in both my ankle and my heart. "Ben called me a pervert this morning and it wasn't a term of endearment."
A startled look crossed his face as his eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Why?"
I sighed. "Can I save that till Joel gets here without pissing you off any further?"
He smirked and nodded.
I jumped and twisted to see Joel moving towards me around the corner of the bar. His face showed a mixture of worry and anger and instantly I realized that I'd done a piss poor job of being an adult this morning. 'But, damnit! What did I do to make Ben so afraid of me all of a sudden?' I wanted to rage with the impotent feeling that had consumed me during my run.
Hank and Joel nodded to each other then Hank moved to the service counter and produced a plastic bag. Once filled with ice, he handed it to me and I placed it on my ankle.
"Thanks, man. This should help."
"You look like shit, love. What'd you do to your ankle?"
Uncontrollably, my eyes closed again and I took a deep breath. Hank responded for me.
"The asshole decided to take a two and a half hour run, that's what. And with the pace he took off at out of here, I wouldn't doubt that his ankle was screaming at him even then."
"Nice, Hank," I groaned. "You call me an asshole and a dumb shit all in one sentence."
Hank raised his eyebrows and tipped his head towards me, but thankfully kept his comment to himself.
"Ben told me what happened, Blair."
I jerked to look him in the eye. "He told you that he screamed at me not to touch him? And that I was to 'fuck off'?" My voice dropped as I spouted my last hushed exclamation.
Joel tilted his head in question. His look intensified and held my eyes with his own. "No. Just that you had a fight."
"Joel, I think his exact words were 'stay away from me, you lyin’ perv. I'm warning you'." The emotion in my voice caused it to tighten up as my throat clenched. "What did I do? Huh? I still don't know." My breath forced its way out in an exasperated rush of frustration and confusion and … hurt. I grabbed the empty glass and moved it to the edge of the bar towards Hank.
"C'mon, Blair." Hank said in sympathetic frustration. "No more, all right?"
My head rolled back in irritation. "What?" I yelled. "What the fuck did I do to him to make him so afraid of me?"
The two customers across the bar looked towards me and I glared back at them. The man closest to me huffed once then reached into his pocket and threw some cash on the bar. Hank quickly moved towards them, scooping up the cash before the guy was fully standing. He handed it back to the man and apologized, asking them to come back again. The guy looked at me a last time, then nodded to Hank and left with his friend.
I rubbed my eyes and sighed continuing in a quieter voice. "Did he tell you what I did Joel, what ever it was that made him think that I’d lied to him, that I was a pervert after his ass? I mean, if you could have seen his face and saw the disgust and betrayal I saw … you'd understand why I'm so upset. I love him so much already and his words and his look and his flinch ripped me apart."
Joel nodded once slowly in recognition. "No, he didn't, but I got a similar reaction when I went in to wake him up before I left to come down here. He flinched at me too, even though I didn't touch him. I called from the door to wake him up to see if he knew anything about why you'd left and he wouldn't look at me. He just mumbled that you'd had a fight and he was glad you were gone. He wouldn't say anything else. The other boys didn't know anything."
My head shook resignedly.
"We need to go up there and figure this out," Joel said. When I didn't respond, Joel gently pulled my chin to look at him. "C'mon, Blair. This stuff happens with kids and the only way to stop it from happening again, whatever it is, is to get to the bottom of it, okay?"
"He's right, bud," Hank said. "I may not have kids yet, but my niece and nephew are about the same age and my sister is pulling her hair out because she'll say one thing and they'll hear another."
I sighed then grabbed the bag of ice and handed it to Hank. "Yeah."
I swung from my chair and almost dropped to the floor as the pain in my ankle shot up my leg.
Joel grabbed me under my arm and helped me get my balance. After a minute of standing on my foot, the pain receded and we made our way slowly from the restaurant to the elevator.
"This is familiar," he said with a low chuckle.
Nothing prepared me for the sight of Ben standing outside of the elevator door with his backpack slung over his shoulder and tears running down his face. All I could do was to stare at him and see the sudden surprise on his face to find Joel and me unexpectedly standing in front of him. My mouth dropped open and my first reaction was one of flaring anger.
"What the fuck! You're leaving?"
His chin jutted towards me as he wiped his face with the back of his hand.
"Why? What did I do?" The pitch in my voice rose with the strain of the past three hours.
Joel stepped past me into the entry hallway then suddenly turned his head towards the apartment door. I heard Cody's voice and saw him approaching us, his back pack slung over his shoulder.
"We've been trying to stop him since you left, Joel, but the only one he's talked with is Mau. What's going on?"
"I don't know, Cody, guys, but we're going to find out. What's the backpack for? Are you leaving too?"
“I can’t let him go out there alone, Fu.”
Joel turned and looked at Ben. "All right, this is enough. Tell us what's going on, Ben, now." The command in his voice caused Ben to look quickly from the floor towards him. His eyes glanced at me once as I remained in my spot in the elevator, then they returned to the floor.
Mau stepped into view and touched the back of Joel's hand. "He saw me sleeping in your bed this morning up next to Blair and thought you'd forced me there. Now he's leaving because he doesn't think you'll want him anymore."
Special thanks goes to Rock Hunter for his endless efforts to edit this mess. Thanks, Bud!
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