This story contains homoerotic thoughts. If you are not supposed to be here: leave, or lock the door and remember to remove your virtual footprints once you finish reading.
Thanks to the persistent Questioner that never runs out of questions, which is how it should be with all of us.
Please, let me know if you have any questions or comments. (Or let me know if you don't.) Your response is really appreciated.
Hurray for the a beta-team!
This chapter is the result of teamwork. If you encounter any linguistic disasters it's because I have been tinkering when "they" didn't look... :-)
Thanks to Eagle-eye C for his patience and thoroughness, to W for the admice (yeah, mice), to Paulo who is making my brain hurt (believe me, gray matter has been doing push-ups).
Hugs from Morgenfryd
The Tail of The Tiger , chapter 4
The Dragon's Oath
Thursday morning started fine and sunny. I was happy and full of energy until I accidentally woke the were-bear, and it came growling and hissing out of its lair.
Strong white teeth flashed; muscles stood out in the jaws, leaving no doubt about their strength. The small, glowing eyes would have lit the darkest room in a harsh cold light. By the time the monster finally turned away and lumbered back to its lair I had become very noise conscious indeed.
Leika perkily followed the were-bear. She either had boundless courage or was endlessly stupid to follow the it back into its lair.
House rules?! It surprised me that were-bears could be so into dictating house rules. Hopefully he would get over that once the curse lifted and he became human again.
I changed my plans and did what quiet work I could in Mormor's bedroom. The window stood open so that I could put the debris in a pile outside. Put - not dump and definitely not throw.
Of course, one of the larger pieces of rubble slipped and fell on the patio with a very loud thud. I held my breath until I was sure the were-bear wasn't returning.
"'Morning!" A friendly face appeared in the open window and I jumped. His greeting was loud.
"'Morning, Chris." I pulled off my gloves and brushed the dust off my clothes.
"What are you doing?"
"Removing a closet. Preparing to take down this wall."
"So that the bathroom can be widened enough for someone getting around in a wheel-chair. The new wall goes up around here." I showed the place with my hand. "You can see where the old wall used to be."
He looked where I pointed and nodded. "Did you finish training the pups this morning? I know I'm late.."
"I haven't begun yet." I went over to the window and climbed out. "I figured I would wait for you."
He smiled and pulled a splinter of wood from my hair. Such an intimate thing to do in the morning. I shivered and my cheeks warmed.
His eyes widened and he pulled back his hand. "You are growing splinters."
"Yes. I don't seem to be able to grow true horns."
That earned me a smile. He followed me around the house to the walled part of the garden. All the dogs, except the were-breakfast, were outside. They came running and were by the wall before we had finished climbing it. Chris had grown very popular with them during his stay the day before. He carefully spread his attention among them, greeting each one.
"They recognize me!" He smiled widely. "Where's Leika?"
"I think the beast that used to be Tom ate her."
"Then who's that?" He pointed at the dog that came running from the house, heading straight for him.
"That's the were-pug that used to be Leika. "
Chris grinned and patted her fearlessly.
Thankfully there were no more lycanthropes coming out of the house.
I dared walk to the dogs' den and peek through the open door before entering. Quietly I picked up the leashes and put some goodies in my pockets. Still no were-bear in sight. Hopefully it was asleep again.
The dogs were still excited about the visitor so I sat on the wall pulling debris out of my hair and watching them and Chris. "Ready?" I asked when the excitement had abated somewhat.
He nodded and came over to me.
"Take these. It's bribe material." I handed him the contents of one of my pockets.
"Low fat, good crunch."
He grinned and we picked up a pup each and brought them outside the enclosure for a short walk.
Chris kept saying things to the pups that made me laugh. If they had understood his words, and not the tone of his voice, they would have howled in fear. As it was, they met curiousity with curiousity and basked in the attention. It wasn't the blabbering and loud kind of attention that will often confuse or even scare dogs, but rather the subtle one, involving inflections and body language which dogs read so expertly most of the time.
It was almost scary the way Chris would absorb my answers to his questions.
"Do dogs feel, you know, love?" he asked when we were walking back with Violet and the last trainee.
"Love?" I pondered that. "I don't know. They certainly bond. Why?"
"They get jealous. Their hearts can break, right?"
"Oh, yes. Is that important to you?"
"Knowing if dogs experience something akin to human love."
He frowned. "I don't know if it's important, I just wondered.. Didn't you ever wonder what it feels like seen from their side?"
"Yeah." I couldn't help grinning. "I figured it out too, only I lost the revelation again. I don't even remember what I was on."
He laughed. "If you remember then tell me. I'd like to try some of that too."
I opened the gate in the wall and we walked in and let the dogs loose. "In any case you should be wary of drawing too close parallels between the emotional expressions in dogs and humans. Dogs have been selectively bred for their resemblance to humans for thousands of years and it shows. But some of the similarities are surface only."
"Like... When your dog is scared it will seek the safest spot it can find - preferably you. Now what would your reaction be if your dog came running to you, whimpering and shaking?"
"My reaction? Why, to comfort it of course, hug it and pet it, talk to it. But since you ask then I guess I shouldn't. How would the dog read me?"
"The human way of giving comfort - hugging, snuggling and talking in a voice that resembles a whine, is signaling fear. And when the big strong human gets scared - why, then there really is reason for fear. Look at the way the bitch reacts when scared pups come running for comfort - she is calm, she may lick them but she doesn't participate and sympathize the way we do. I very much doubt dogs have the ability to sympathize."
"I should lick Busta when he's scared," he concluded with a grin.
"You do that and you better start looking for little wriggly things before you flush the toilet."
"You have time for a mug of coffee?"
He nodded and the braids swung. A few of them caught behind his ears.
Sexy ears. Lick, nibble.... "I'll get it." It probably was a good idea to keep a very low profile inside the house. Better keep Chris outside if it was possible; the last thing I wanted was Tom biting him. I walked in, moving very quietly, and breathed relief when I heard that Tom was in the shower. I quickly poured our coffees and escaped before Tom got out. The shower had stopped when I passed the bathroom door.
Chris was sitting on the sofa on the patio when I returned. He had dogs all over him and looked perfectly content under the furry pile. I passed him his coffee; he tasted it and nodded. Apparently, I remembered correctly - five huge teaspoons of sugar and a lot of hot milk.
"So, what kind of day do you have ahead?"
"Mikkel with the curious hat, but I am sure Mikkel with the dog-trader's hat will listen in."
He smiled. "We've a gig in New York tonight. Plane ride, radio show, sound check, dinner, show. Probably clubbing afterwards; Joey's from New York. He's ecstatic about showing us around. We come back tomorrow. I think Lance said something about a photo shoot before we leave, though."
I was about to ask another question when Tom's voice sounded from the door.
"'Morning, Chris. Mikkel, you mind signing this?" He handed me a piece of paper and a pen. The fangs were gone and he looked human. Of course the shave had helped too.
I looked the paper over. It was a form for his school. He had filled out the reason for his absence as illness. "Why do you need me to sign? I mean, you are eighteen, aren't you supposed to be a self-functioning legal unit? You should be able to sign it yourself."
"School policy.." He shrugged, avoiding my eyes. "It'll stop a lot of questions if I can just say I'm staying with family. I have to change my address.."
I scribbled my name and added the phone number.
"Umm, you don't know how to find the school." He passed me a piece of paper and I gave him the form back. "I wrote the address down for you and circled it in on the map. I'll find you in the parking lot. You can probably find a spot by the exit." He checked his watch.
"Sure. Do you have time to eat?"
"Yeah. Paul won't be here for another twenty minutes or so. See you guys." He disappeared into the house with a wave.
"See you," said Chris cheerfully, his voice quite at odds with the sharp look he sent after Tom.
"I'll be back in five."
He nodded. "Don't mind me. I'll just slip out if I get bored."
Tom was pouring milk on his the cereal when I entered the kitchen. "What now?" he drawled softly and opened the fridge to put the milk back.
He turned his head, not too eager meeting my eyes. "What?"
I wasn't at all sure what was going on with him; I just knew that staying behind had been wrong. There was only one thing I could think of as a start. "Any chance of a hug?"
Air whooshed out of his lungs. ".Yeah. I guess."
It was a little awkward at first. Then the tension went out of him and it just felt right to hug my cousin again and very good to be rid of the awkwardness.
"I'm sorry I woke you up like that", I said.
He nodded and sniffled. "Fuck", he said softly and let go of me, reaching for the kitchen roll. "I better get something to eat or I won't be worth shit when second class starts." He ripped off a sheet of paper towel and dried his eyes.
"Want me to pack you a bag of snacks?"
"Yeah. Some fruit would be nice."
While he sat down and ate his cereal I packed the paper bag with fruit, adding some horrible compressed cakes of sawdust. It did say crackers on the package and Tom insisted that it was true. I wasn't sure I would have fed them to a horse. I got a twenty out of my wallet and put it with the paper bag in front of him.
"Thanks. I'll pay you back when I've been to the bank."
"Sure." I picked up an apple and sat down across from him.
"What's Chris doing here this early?"
"Practicing with the pups. We have been walking them on a leash."
"Shouldn't you be out there with him?"
I shrugged. "He's fine. How are you?"
He didn't look fine. Fear was eating him up, I thought, because he really was pale and seemed to have shrunk a size or two. "Would it do you any good if I tell you to tell them to go fuck themselves if they get too nosy?"
He grimaced. "Tell Coach that?"
Ah. We were back to the mad monster coach. I cut the apple in two and put a half in front of Tom. "Sure. Let him blow. Sometimes there is no way to avoid upsetting people. If there is nowhere to hide then you might as well face what is coming at you. Besides, the fireworks can be interesting to look at. If he goes into orbit that would leave you with one problem less." I bit into the apple.
Tom grinned fleetingly and polished off the bowl. "He'll probably think that I have been fighting."
"So? Do I get this right, you are not completely sure that he is only your dad's buddy or that the score of the team has the highest priority with him? You, Tom, may figure somewhere important in the equation."
Tom pushed away the bowl and picked up the apple. "Yeah, I guess."
"Well, then, shouldn't you show him the respect telling him where your limits are? You might still have a friend there. And if he cannot respect you.... Well, then at least you got the fireworks to look at. Let him stay in orbit, getting down is really his problem, not yours."
Tom kept eye contact while he bit into his apple and chewed. "Is that how you negotiate business deals? Lighting what ever looks like a fuse to see if things may go off?"
"Bugger. You sound like Sonja...."
Tom grinned. There was more color in his face now. A car honked outside. "That's Paul. Gotta go." Tom got to his feet and collected his things.
"Call if you need me to come or just need some moral support."
"Yeah. See ya, Coz." He slapped my shoulder and disappeared out the door. I rubbed my shoulder. Tom's friendly pats were memorable. I looked out the window trying to see Paul but he was out of sight in the car. Tom climbed in and they drove off.
"Everything alright?" asked Chris when I returned to the patio in the back.
"I think so."
"Good. Tom is a nice guy."
He looked down at the dogs that still were piled on his lap. "His parents threw him out, huh?"
"Yes, they did. Literally. That's how he got hurt." I frowned to myself, this wasn't really mine to tell.
"I kind of guessed that." He studied my face for a moment. "That's a rather tough thing to land in, for you too."
"For me? Well, my family has a history of not getting along but this is rather... excessive." There was no hiding from the brown eyes. Medicine man indeed. I wondered if he could read thoughts. "Mind if we don't talk about this? It's Tom's."
"Sure. Say, can a guy get a bite of breakfast around here?"
"Of course you can. What do you want?"
"Are you having anything?"
"Yes. Couple of buns with cheese and jam?"
"That's fine with me." He pushed the dogs aside and followed me inside the house. "So, what's up for you today?"
"A plumber. Sounds exciting."
"I've been told he is an 'oddball'."
"Yeah?" Chris smiled. "What's he going to do?"
"Help me hook up the washing machine and the dryer in the bathroom by the dogs' den. Then look at the bathroom by Mormor's room and see how things best can be done. If I am lucky then he will begin the work right away or at least tell me what I can do before he comes back. I am making a door between the bathroom and the bedroom. The plumber can hopefully help me figure out the height of the thing. I don't know how high the new floor in the bathroom is going to be." I got the jam and the butter out of the fridge. "You want juice?"
Chris came over to see what there was in the fridge. He reached out a curious hand and took one of Tom's bottles with soy-solution. "Perhaps some of this."
I shivered. "Be my guest."
He raised an eyebrow at me. "So, what's wrong with this stuff. It has 'healthy' stamped all over it."
"Healthy? You mean it has 'smart marketing' stamped all over it. Look what the small letters say - undefined artificial flavor, undefined bleaching process, undefined colors, undefined preservatives, over-processed gene-manipulated soy-beans - man, it's industrial waste. You probably don't want to know what the manufacture does to the environment either. Go ahead, drink it, be my mutant-guest."
He had been listening with a grin that grew wider and wider. "Hey, you're really on a mission here. I gotta try it now, you know."
"Just don't hold me responsible when you wake up and find you have turned into a cross between a lab-rat and a dotted garden hose." I got the buns out of the breadbox.
"Man, this is really interesting stuff." He squinted at the small letters. "Hey, it says, 'natural flavor'." He sounded disappointed.
"That just means a narrow selection of compounds, compounds that you also will find somewhere in 'nature'. It's still been industrially manufactured, and you are not told what it is, it could be anything. Like potassium cyanide."
"Yeah? A lab-rat and a dotted garden hose?"
"Definitely. Purple plastic skin with green dots. Red eyes - that's from the rat."
"Tail too? I always wanted a tail."
"That's the garden-hose part, that, and the skin."
He nodded, apparently satisfied with the prospect.
He certainly was disappointed when he went to check the mirror after we had eaten. "You tricked me!" he yelled from the hallway where the large mirror was.
"No." I went up to him. "Right now the stuff is just eating its way into your immune system where resides. Once it has taken over it'll go active."
"Man, that's shitty. I have a killer immune system. I'm never sick." He leaned forwards to check his face and spoke with renewed hope while pointing to his chin. "I think that's a green spot, right there...."
"See? In a few days, you'll have ten meters of tail. Cost you two seats on the plane, that will."
"Plane? Fuck." He checked his watch. "Fuck. Gotta run. Lance is gonna rip my tail off."
"Good thing it's not there yet then."
"Yeah. Man." He seemed to be running in circles inside his head.
"Your jacket is on the back patio."
He was off, running. Watch him move! Imagine-
My dick was getting loud again. I saw him out to the car first though. It was with some effort that I didn't mother him and tell him to drive carefully.
By the time the plumber arrived, I had had plenty of time to take the pressure off my balls.
The plumber certainly didn't do anything to raise that pressure. He was about the most introverted man I had ever met and seemed to hold no other interest than pipes and plumber stuff. He didn't have much patience with me, probably thought me a really stupid bungler. I didn't understand most of what he said. My English vocabulary had never been stretched into the area of plumbing before, so I asked him a lot of questions. I wasn't sure he discovered that it was a matter of language, and it was kind of funny. He sure seemed to know what he was doing, which was a relief.
We installed the washing machine and the dryer and agreed on what he was going to do to the other bathroom. The only problem was a clash of schedules. I had to tear down the wall and dig up the floor this weekend instead of making the door as I had intended. I really had wanted to leave the wall and the floor for the bricklayer who was coming in on Monday. It was all right. Things came together anyway. Miguel had said I could use his workshop both this weekend and the next. I just had to show up tomorrow afternoon, and he would show me around and help me get started. I could make the door the following weekend.
I just worried how the volatile bricklayer and the dour plumber would get along when they met on Monday.
When the plumber had left I got on the phone with Miguel. He was very helpful and promised me to find the tools I needed and to pick them up for me.
There. Things were coming together neatly.
Then Sonja called.
"Hi, Mikkel. How are you?"
"Fine." It sounded like she was on a speakerphone. "You guys holding out?"
"Sure. Everything is under control. I think."
She was making me nervous. It was two hours past the time she usually left work, when she was late in leaving, that was. "What is it?"
"Jens Peter Andersen came visiting."
"This is some kind of joke, right? I don't want to hear about that man, I don't want to talk about him, or think about him... What the hell did he want?"
"I just finished drawing up a contract for him."
"You what!" Somewhere in the background I could hear Kurt howling with laughter and I relaxed and grinned. "Right. You got me there. I'm easy, huh? Was that your idea or Kurt's?"
"Uhm. Actually, it's not a joke. Jens Peter said to say hello. Apparently he is working something out with one of the consultants you recommended."
I had not told her about recommending consultants. This was no joke. "You mind going real slow? I'm having mental constipation here. What did he want, what did you put in the contract, which of us is going to work with the guy?"
"Sounds to me like your thoughts are running plenty fast there. Alright. Lars Fisker - you know him?"
"Yes, that's one of the guys I recommended. Go on."
"Well, apparently he proposed using the implementation of the system as a real-life case in developing their organization. Jens Peter wants you two to work together-"
"Me? You just contracted me away to work for that... twit?!"
"Yes. Do me a favor and be professional about it. It's a good deal."
"Hey, I am trying here. Shit, Sonja...."
Kurt was howling again.
Sonja engaged the voice she used with unreasonable customers. "You really made an impression on the man. He is willing to put everything on hold until you get back. I'm mailing you the contract and including his phone number. He said something about wanting to set up shop on-line; he only wanted to talk with you about it."
"What are you guys on?"
"Yes, yes. I'm trying to adjust here, but you keep hitting me with it. He doesn't expect the call today, does he?"
"Set up shop on-line? He's crazy... It's not that kind of market... You know, he is going to bankrupt that business before I get home. His dad must be spinning in his grave."
"You tell him that. Also, Jens Peter said that Lars wants to talk with you about how you two are going to wing this. I included his contact info as well."
"Alright." At least Lars was sane. "I think I can be ready for tomorrow."
"Good boy. Something else. Got three new websites to design. I mailed the info on that too, it's pretty straightforward; they just wanted the standard designs. Ah. Yes. Kurt wants you to storm the castle. The other two guys can only do it on overtime."
"Oh, no...." I hated doing security checks on our systems. Hacking really wasn't in my blood. Or maybe it was just because somehow Kurt was always on the winning side.
Sonja chuckled. There was some rustle and then Kurt came on. I could hear him sniffle. He would do that whenever he came down from a good laugh. "Hi, Houston." I hate being called that. "I can be ready for ten o'clock your time. That ok with you?"
"Right." That would make it... four o'clock in the morning where he was. The guy was back on his crazy schedule again; Kurt didn't live a 24-hour cycle but approximately a 26-hour cycle. He tended to be out of sync a lot.
"Run a log this time, will you?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." I was going to hear for that one for a long time yet. "You warned the other guys this time? I'm going to use the same server...."
"Yes, I did. Sonja is including the IPs in the mail."
"Alright. I'm gonna break through this time." I tried to find the proper frame of mind for storming the castle.
"Probably," he agreed easily. "Just remember the fucking log."
He laughed. "Alright. Talk with you later."
"Sure. Bye, guys. Oh, Sonja?"
"Good work. I hate you."
She laughed. "Bye Mikkel."
"Bye." I hung up. What was the world coming to? I grinned and shook my head. I was so going to hate Sonja for this... or maybe not. Lars and I had talked about trying something like this before. I had met him when we both took a course in communications and we had clicked. In bed too. Hopefully Lars wasn't going to hate me for hooking him up with the Twit.
So. Back to the work that I could do without the heavy tools. It would be a tough weekend. It also meant running ahead of schedule, which was nice.
A few hours later, I left to pick up Tom.
The drive to the high school was less of a fight with traffic than I had expected. Going the opposite way would have been a different story. As it was, I had plenty of time to lose my way - which I did.
I still managed to arrive early and was lucky to find a space near the parking lot exit. I got out and stood leaning against the car, looking at the high school students that were leaving in their cars, and keeping an eye out for Tom.
They looked so young. Well, not younger than Tom but in such amounts they made me feel. not exactly old, though it was something close. At their age - my life had been very different. Watching the hormone charged exchange between some girls and boys that arrived in a group I was glad I didn't have to go back. Even if I could change things.
There came Tom, he was off earlier than I had expected. He was looking downcast.
"Hi." I greeted him, wanting to hug him but also sure that would start him bawling, and he likely did not want that to happen there on the parking lot.
He smiled; it looked more like he was going through a facial exercise than expressing an emotion. "Hi, Mikkel. You found it."
"Yes. You all right?"
"Let's just get fucking out of here." He got into to car.
"Sure." I got in as well and started the car. Tom wasn't looking at me and he was biting his lip. We rolled out of the parking lot and left the school behind. When he had stopped chewing on his lip, I dared a, "What happened, Tom?"
"The fireworks were fucking impressive. Coach threw me off the team."
"'Cause we had this old fucking deal - if I got into any more fights, I would be excluded from the team. He decided I had been in a fight."
"He didn't talk with you or anything?"
"No. Well, he asked me what I had gotten myself into - man, right in fucking front of the other guys. He was already angry because I was late, I had seen the nurse and there had been a line. What could I say? Man, can you see me in front of the entire team, "By the way guys, I'm a fag". No fucking way! I told him it was none of his fucking business. Man... He went beyond orbit." He sighed and leaned back.
"Uhm..." Negotiation strategies? No, this was not the time for that subject.
Tom chuckled tiredly. A couple of tears tickled down his cheeks. "No, it was good advice. Really, Mikkel. I didn't say 'fuck'."
"I'm sorry it worked out like that."
"Yeah. Fuck, I'm not even sure I want to play football again and I sure as hell ain't up to facing Mad Perry again any time soon."
"Why don't you want to play football again?"
". It's, like, a thing I had with my dad. He would come to all the matches and so. You know what I mean? The only common ground where I could fucking relax with him."
"Yeah. I know what you mean." When my mother had thrown me out of the restaurant it had been months before I could stand cooking again. "Try not to let him win that one, huh?"
"Yeah. I need to leave it for a while, though. Besides, I don't have that kind of time for sports anymore. Have to push my grades in the other subjects with the kind of scholarship I want now...."
"Just tell me if there is anything I can help you with."
"I'm good at that...."
"Never figured you for a math freak."
"Used to do proofs for a hobby, back when I just found out what they were all about."
I laughed. "Yeah. Tell me about the deal."
"The. Oh. I used to get into a lot of fights. Like, it took nothing to set me off. I think that I was trying to convince myself what a fucking butch guy I was; butch guys aren't fags. Some screwed logic like that. You just missed the turn. Just take the one after the next... You could have let him out, you know."
The way Tom's attention shifted told me that the last had been about a car we just passed.
"Yes, I guess. Where does Mad Perry come into your fights?"
"I suppose you can say he took me under his wing. He was the only teacher my father would listen to, so he sort of became the spokesman between the school and my parents. Was the only one I would listen to, too. Like he knew some of what was going on inside my fucked up head. Had me prove myself on the football field where it was alright...."
Maybe there was hope for Mad Perry yet. Maybe he had something in common with the Twit. Delayed ignition of common sense.
"He is probably on the phone with my dad, like, right fucking now...."
"There is nothing you can do about it right now. Unless you want to turn around and go back to talk with him?"
"Fuck, no! Just stay on course. Fuck, I forgot about the bank, we should have gone the other way..."
"Want me to turn?"
"Yeah. No. We'll do it later."
"All right. What is it you are afraid of?"
Tom closed his eyes for a moment. "It's like - how the fuck am I going to get through this? I can face myself in front of the fucking mirror, most of the time, anyway, but. I don't want to be a fucking outcast, you know. I just couldn't take Coach looking at me like that, like my dad did, like I'm a fucking creep. You know what I mean?" Tears were running down his cheeks now.
I wanted to tear the balls of this... super-twit. Instead, I rubbed Tom's shoulder while he dried his eyes and blew his nose. "Yes. But you know, Coach might not be like Frank."
"He fucking kicked me off the team...."
"Hey. Chin up. You are Tom Collins, I'm proud of you and you better be too or I am going to kick your balls. You see, my cousin Tom demands a heck of a lot of respect. He's a good guy. Give him his due. Come on, chin up!"
Tom grinned weakly and shook his head.
"Come on. Tell me you are proud of yourself."
"Do it." I poked his side and found he was ticklish.
"Don't! Watch the road, man! Sheesh!"
"Shithead! Argh, man! I am proud of me. Alright?"
"Again. Make it longer and heartfelt."
"I am fucking proud of me. Stop it! I hadn't finished. And the rest can go fuck themselves if they can't show me some fucking basic respect. I have a right to decent treatment, same as I give everybody else."
"Good. You are ready for Mormor."
"Oh, sure. Let me take them all on, on the same day. It's alright. Just fucking drive. What do you think she'll say?"
"I don't know. Just hold your chin up and answer her truthfully. Don't try to hide anything."
"Sure. Send my granny into orbit." Tom paused to find the empty plastic bag I had put in the glove compartment and fill it with used tissue papers. "I talked with the administration. During lunch break. The secretary put you in the place where they write the name of the next of kin that will be contacted in case of an emergency. She insisted on calling my fucked up dad first. Man, he must have said some fucking nasty things to her. She was almost crying when she got off the phone. She let me have things my way after that."
"Man.... They don't expect me to adopt you do they?"
"Actually they do. I already signed the papers in your name."
"That's fraud or something."
He sniffled and wiped his nose. "Figured I would be smart. When I break a window they'll bill you."
"Mind postponing doing the serious wreckage until after I have left the country?"
"I just may try."
"What did the nurse say?"
"She barred me from sports until she has seen me on Tuesday. Well, I expected that. But still. I never feel more like running as when I am not fucking allowed to."
He looked out the window. "How is your family with you being gay?"
"The only one that really had trouble with it is my grandfather, Rose's first husband. It's all right now, though. Peter broke the ice. It took him like two minutes to do what I hadn't been able to do over years. They still go to dog shows together."
"Yeah?" He turned his head to look at me. "Isn't that weird - your ex-boyfriend going to dog shows with your grandfather?"
"Not when you know them. Totally dog mad." I smiled. "They go fishing and camping too, sometimes. With the dogs along. Now, that's a circus."
"You don't mind?"
"No. Why should I? I am happy that they both found a buddy. Besides, it got me off the hook. Morfar has been trying to convert me to the macho free life in the wild for years, make me a real man, killing rabbits with my teeth and so on. I am a city boy, really."
"How about your parents? What do they think."
"I don't really know. Honestly, me being gay was never much of an issue. Compared to the rest of bag of trouble I was when I was a teen it really was a very small item. Not that I would recommend that coming out strategy to anybody."
He smiled. "What did you do?"
"Drugs, crime, crazy stuff. I was a serious pain in the ass."
"You?" He turned in his seat to look at me.
"Being gay had nothing to do with it?"
"I doubt it. There were other sides of my sexuality that bothered me..." I had to concentrate on my driving for a moment before I could continue.
"Ah. Do we take the next exit?"
"No. The third one. You don't want to answer my question?"
"It's all right. Just stop me if this gets boring. You sure it's the third?"
"Yes, I am. I'll tell you when. Go on, cousin. If you don't mind."
"Honestly, the loss of control over my own actions petrified me. Like in being real easy and in doing things that ended up beyond the limits that I was comfortable with. You want a story?"
"No. Maybe later. How is it now?" he asked quietly, his eyes hadn't left me.
"I learned to accept it." Full stop for my train of thoughts. New angle. "The hormonal bursts have mellowed over the years. It takes more to make me roll over and spread now."
"It makes you uncomfortable talking about this?"
"A little. A lot. It's the next exit." He was quiet for a moment. "Heck, I don't even know.. I'm still a virgin." He blushed and came to a stop.
"You are a lot smarter than I was when I was your age. Much better at facing things. It would a good thing for you if you can manage waiting until you are ready - and do it with someone you can trust." Trust! I stopped my train of thoughts again.
".That's what I thought." He sounded relieved. Maybe he had feared I would laugh at him. "You know, I want it to be someone special. Man! You cut that guy off! Fucking rude, Mikkel."
That last part was a comment on my driving. "Umm. Sorry?" I checked the mirror to find out what car he was talking about. "You mean special - like Paul?"
He reddened. "Yeah. Maybe. Well, yes. Not yet, though."
"You two can talk about this? About your sexuality and emotions?"
"I.we really haven't had the opportunity. Not since.. I mean, this is still new to both of us. Realizing we're gay and in.."
"That you are in love?"
"Yeah. Or whatever it is. I'm not sure what it's supposed to feel like?"
My smart cousin. My courageous cousin, daring to be so naked, saying this to me. His parents must have done something right along the way, improbable as it seemed.
"Being in love? I'm not sure I am the right person to ask."
"Weren't you in love with Peter?"
"It wasn't wild." Not like. but I wasn't going there. Seemed like this was one of those days when I stumbled over my own thoughts a lot, seemed like I had been doing that a lot since meeting Tom. No, it had started after my mother's visit at work, hadn't it? "More like deep and slow. I loved him, I still do - but in love, the wild thing, only happened in. very short spurts. No reference to sex there."
"Peter was in love with you? More than you with him."
"Yes. I believe he was."
"You still became a couple?"
"Yes. It's not like you can impose economic rules on a relationship - who loves who more. How would you measure it anyway?" I turned into the parking lot next to the hospital.
"I guess. There's a spot over there." He pointed to an empty slot and I let the car roll into it. The car became very quiet when the engine stopped running. I reached behind Tom's seat and picked up the bag.
"I'm shaking like a fucking leaf." He got out anyway.
"Chin up." I flung an arm around his shoulder as we walked towards the entrance and kept it there all the way to Mormor's room. His remark about shaking hadn't been all in fun, little shivers ran through him and it got worse as we neared the room.
"Hello, Mikkel!" Mormor broke into a smile when I entered. Then her face stiffened. "Who. Tom?"
Tom looked shyly at her. "Hello, Granny."
She turned her suspicious glare on me. "What have you been up to now?" It was almost like my mother back in the good old days, and I felt right at home.
"You two need to talk. Hi, Mormor." The door whooshed shut behind us. I picked up a chair on the way to her bed so that there were two seats.
She eyed Tom who was still standing right inside the door. I had expected him to follow me. "You have been in a fight?"
He touched his forehead. "Sort of." He drew a deep breath. "Dad kicked me out." He came to a stop.
She looked at me questioningly. "Tom came to your house late Tuesday night looking like something the cat had dragged in. He has moved into one of your guestrooms." I put the bag on the floor.
"Don't just stand there. Come sit down, Tom." Her voice had softened. Tom came over and sat. "Now, why would your parents kick you out?"
He hesitated but held her gaze. "For being a fag."
"I. see. You told them you are homosexual?"
He reddened and shook his head. "Dad saw me, umm, kissing."
"And kicked you out right away?"
"She was there. She prayed to God."
Mormor sighed, appearing in despair of Jennifer. "So you came to me."
"What do you want from me?"
He hesitated. Mormor waited, almost patiently. Good. I began unpacking the coffee.
"I need a place to stay, at least until I find a job and." Tom ran dry for a moment.
"You expect me to take you on like that?"
"Stop testing him," I mumbled. "It's not necessary. If you need to regroup, drink some coffee instead."
"Hmph. Then pour it, boy. And stop telling me what to do."
I gave her the mug. Tom had followed our little exchange with nervous confusion.
Mormor sipped her coffee, thinking. "Tom, do you expect your parents to ask you to move back home some time soon?"
He shook his head emphatically.
Mormor nodded. She had probably already known the answer to the question. It had really been a test of Tom's sense of reality. "I will not have loud parties and blaring speakers in my house. No loose morals, no drugs and no excessive alcohol intake. You understand?"
Tom nodded confusedly. I passed him his coffee.
"Mikkel, I want numbers. I have no idea about youngsters now a days."
"You'll get them."
Tom finally caught on. "You're letting me stay? Granny?"
"Can't have you running around in the streets, can we. This family's reputation is bad enough as it is."
He blinked. "Thank you. I..."
"Have you talked with your parents?"
"No. Mikkel went to pick up some of my things, though. My mother was there but she wasn't talking. My school called dad today, he almost made the secretary cry. I don't think it would do any good if I tried to talk with them."
"So they know where you are."
"I am not sure," I said. "Jennifer knows my name but I didn't tell her we were relatives and she sure as hell-"
"-didn't act like she knew. She might have made the connection later, though. She let me have time enough to pack two bags and take the computer."
Mormor frowned at Tom. "They won't let you pick up your things?"
"I don't think so. "
She snorted. "I'll call them. What they are doing is theft."
"Mikkel thinks Mum held a gun in her pocket when he was there."
Mormor's eyes widened with disbelief. "Jenny - with a gun?"
I scratched my neck. "Well, she held on to something in her pocket. Could have been a large good luck charm or a small stuffed toy. I couldn't make out the shape."
Mormor grunted and thought for a moment. "I'll talk with Mr. Miller, my lawyer. Perhaps the thing to do will be to have a removal firm do it and have Mr. Miller keep an eye on things."
Tom shifted in his seat. "I'd prefer that they not know where I am."
Mormor studied him for a moment. "Why is that?"
"Because - well, I just don't want them to show up. Not that I think any of them would, but. I'll sleep better if they don't know. For now."
"Alright. I'll tell Mr. Miller that you prefer they not know your address."
"So, what else?"
"My greatest worry is Maria. I mean, I knew this might happen if they found out. when they found out. Maria likely doesn't know what's going on and. I just hate to lose her. She'll be out of her mind with worry."
Mormor nodded, her eyes suddenly full of pain. "There isn't much I can do about that, Tom. Not if your parents intend to keep her from you and they likely will."
I rubbed his shoulder. "We'll find a way of setting up a line of clandestine communication. Maybe one of her class mates could smuggle a cell phone to her or something like that."
Tom nodded, biting his lip, studying his coffee.
I figured he needed a moment to collect himself. "Mormor, what does 'loose morals' mean?"
She stared at me, frowned and blinked. "You're joking, right?"
I shook my head. "No."
Tom was still busy staring into his coffee.
She translated to Danish.
"That's not - I mean, I don't think you mean the same with words that I do. Perhaps Tom has a third definition. It's a dangerous concept in a, ah, house rule."
That got me an ironic glare from Tom.
Mormor raised an ironic eyebrow at me. "What meaning do you put into it? And mind your language."
"Me? Defining loose morals?"
She smiled. And waited.
"I think you shut him up." The surprise in Tom's voice wasn't all playacting.
"I did, didn't I?" The triumph was unnervingly audible.
"I think - loose morals is not doing what you have to do."
She eyed me sharply.
"You were thinking about loose morals in connection with sex? That's why you told me to mind my language."
Maybe she too had figured that Tom needed to know where he had her. "I think - one should care about the bed partner, as in safe sex and mutual respect. Umm." Mormor nodded me on. "Keep the sex to the bedroom, try not to be too noisy, and give the others in the house room for privacy?"
Tom hid his eyes behind his hand.
"Definitely. Don't change partners often and stick to unmarried ones above the legal age of consent."
"For people above twenty-three it's eighteen. For twenty-three year olds and younger it's below sixteen. And." She hesitated. "Mikkel, you should know that around here, gays are more marginalized than they are in Denmark. It can be a rather uncomfortable experience if you are caught flirting with somebody of your own sex. Especially if that person is a cop in plain clothes. The sodomy law is almost exclusively used to harass gays. Stay away from the cruising spots."
"What? But." Sodomy law - what was that about?
"It's sick? Oppressive? Against human rights?"
"True. It still happens. One of Mr. Miller's colleagues sometimes does work for an organization called Lambda. They offer legal help to gays. He told me about some of his cases."
I traced the Greek letter in the air. "Lambda?"
"Yes." She was telling Tom something here. I looked at him to see if he had caught it. He was frowning his think-frown so maybe he had. "Is there more coffee?"
"Sure." I poured. "Schnapps too, if you want."
"I do want. Boy, what took you so long bringing it out?"
Tom didn't want any so I just poured for Mormor and myself.
She sipped the liqueur and sighed comfortably. "Tom, do you know what you want to do after high school?"
"Do? It depends. I'd like to become a physical therapist."
She blinked. "Ah. Not much career opportunity in that field, is there? I thought you wanted to go to law school."
"It's what I want to do." Tom bit his lip. "Law school wasn't my idea."
Mormor's eyes warmed. "Physical therapist, then. Mikkel, I want the long term numbers on that."
This time Tom understood. "I can work." He straightened in the chair.
Mormor nodded. "You'll probably want to. I am going to be stingy with the pocket money." Tom smiled at that. "But school will have to come first, young man. I'm setting you up with an account; you'll have to administer it yourself. Everything, tuition fees too. You can ask me for advice all you want, but I am not going to control your money."
Tom's eyes had widened. He nodded. "That's a lot. I'll pay you back later."
Mormor snorted. "I squander my fortune as I please." It sounded like a barbed quip to somebody who wasn't there to listen. "Did you hear me tell you to pay me back the money?"
"Ah. No. But-"
"The money isn't important to me. What is important is that you become a good physical therapist. That's how you can pay me back, by doing your best. Give me something to be proud of."
Positive reinforcement indeed. Tom's eyes took on a life that hadn't been there before. He swallowed, was almost in need of the paper tissues he had shoved in his pockets and in mine, nodded his acceptance, taking the oath wordlessly.
Mormor smiled, glowed. A totally different woman from the one I had met just a few days ago. "So, which room did you pick?"
"The one at the end of the hallway, next to Mikkel's."
"Ah. The biggest one. Good. Once Mikkel goes home you can have his room too."
Goes home? She gave me a small nod. So I could stay until then. Welcome, finally.
"We can fix your rooms after the other fixes are done. Paint them and so on. You think about colors and where you want shelves and stuff," I told Tom.
"There you go again, rebuilding my house," grumbled Mormor.
"Sure. I was thinking we could put a door between the two rooms as well."
"Maybe you should ask Tom before you make a hole in the wall. The rooms are his. Tom, let me know if you find a brake on your cousin."
Tom smiled. "You know, he was up at five this morning, using power tools. I desperately want to find that brake and the cruise control too."
"Hey, I'm right here. And it was just the drill."
Tom pulled a couple of sodas out of my bag and took one for himself. "Do you have a brake?"
"Sure. A couple of joints usually make me wind down."
Mormor's eyes let go of a couple of daggers. "I told you, no drugs in my house."
I shrugged. "No drugs, no brake."
"At five in the morning. Man."
Mormor looked from Tom to me and nodded to herself. "You two get along."
"That's good. Is there more schnapps?"
"Sure." I poured her another glass. "Chris said to say hello."
"Ah. Chris. What do you think of him?"
Mormor whacked a reproving eyebrow at me. "Apart from that."
"I spent last night talking with him and he helped with the grooming. This morning he dropped by and we walked the pups. He's good with dogs. There are some things he still needs to figure out but. I trust his decision. The big question is whether he can arrange his world to fit a pup. I gave him your phone number and Karen's. He'll probably want a look at her litter as well. I already called her and told her that he might call. But - I think he has found his Busta. They click."
"Good. Though it's a tough choice."
"I promised him you would provide a list of literature on pugs."
"A list? It's going to be short, there isn't that much. The best one is probably still out of print."
"Add some titles about dog training and dog psychology. He studied psychology at college so he should be able to read the serious stuff."
She nodded. "Mikkel, what do you think about the car?"
"The car? It's all right."
"I'm thinking of buying it."
"Oh... It runs smoothly, is easy to handle and has a good grip on the road. Good acceleration considering the size of the motor. Not the most economic car but far from being a guzzler. I can check the mileage if you want. Not much comfort for a long-legged person on the backseat. The air conditioning works. The stereo is great. No rust that I have noticed." I couldn't think of more to say.
"Good. I want you to talk with Sara's grandson and make sure the price is right." She got out her notebook and found the phone number.
I noted the name and number down. "I need your help on this one, Tom. I have no idea about car prices in Florida."
"Sure." He got the prints and the mail out of the bag and passed them to Mormor. "Today's news report."
"More news? I'm saturated with news." She took the stack anyway. "Hopefully you were the front page."
We talked about the house and about the dogs. Mormor wanted a detailed report on the progress that the pups made. By then the haunted look was almost gone from Tom's eyes. Once in a while, he would zone out for a couple of minutes, then he would be back with us. Tom and I left a couple of hours later.
It had begun raining while we were inside. Outside the entrance Tom stopped and expelled a huge lungful of air, leaning his head back so that the rain fell on his face. "Man!" He shook his head, then he gave me a punch on the shoulder that nearly sent me sprawling. "Why didn't you say she would be like that?"
"Hey!" I slapped the back of his head and he sent me a wet grin. "I didn't know, all right?"
"Right." He flung an arm around my shoulder as we walked towards the car. "Man!" Another deep breath. "I can breathe." He hummed and took a couple of skips. "Fucking knee. I wanna move!"
I tightened my grip around him and swung him around. He laughed and whooped. A man was getting into his car; he stopped to look at us. "I got the best Granny in the whole damn world! And this, this is the world's best cousin. His name is Mikkel. Ain't I lucky?" Tom told the man. The man smiled and nodded, then he got into his car.
Tom laughed and bubbled like human champagne. I laughed with him and we joked our way to the car.
We went to the bank and made it just before it closed. The balance in Tom's account was still what it should be. He had everything moved to a new account. We had a minor session of bickering about me adding a couple thousand. He won, so I didn't. The woman behind the counter probably thought we were high. She certainly thought Tom a bit paranoid. He was.
He fell asleep on our way home.
There was a car parked in front of Mormor's house. Not one I had seen before. I could see the silhouette of a man inside the car.
"Tom? Cousin, wake up. We are home and I think we have visitors." I shook Tom. He snorted, almost like a pug. I let go of him and swung the car into the driveway.
"In the street, silver car." I turned the ignition off and looked in the mirror. The man was slowly getting out of his car. A tall, broad-shouldered fellow. The graying hair was cut same as Tom's, short like the green on a golf course. He looked like a sadistic American officer from a Freewheelin' Franklin comic book.
"... oh, fuck. Tell me I'm still asleep."
"Mad Perry, huh?"
"Yeah. Fuck, I don't wanna wake up like this." There was a mix of panic and were-growl in his voice.
"Chin up." I got out of the car.
The man was coming towards us. He had the gait of a soldier too, so perhaps he was old military. The face was a neutral mask. No anger and no threats. No nothing.
I hoped fervently that he had come to prove himself quicker finding his common sense than the Twit.
He stopped when Tom stepped out of the car. "Tom?"
"Yeah. What do you want?" Definitely a were-growl there. Mad Perry really should watch out for the fangs.
"Can we talk?"
"Sure. I'm listening."
"Look, I made several huge mistakes today. I'm sorry, kid. Truly sorry."
I think it was the "kid" that did it.
Alarmed I went around the car to collect the pieces.
"Not in the fucking driveway, man," was the murmur into my shoulder. A hand found its way into a pocket in my jacket and pulled out a tissue. He was all right, really, and I could breathe relief.
"Let's go then." I looked at the man who had been watching us worriedly. "Do you want to come in?"
He nodded and swallowed. I pulled at Tom and we got inside, out of the rain. Tom shook my arm off and walked towards the back of the house. I turned towards our visitor.
"I'm Mikkel, Tom's cousin."
"Jim, Jim Perry. Coach of the football team. Is he... is he okay?"
"Yeah. Coping just fine. He needs a few minutes to collect himself, that's all. You want a drink? I'm making coffee and chamomile tea. There are cold drinks too."
"I could use a beer."
"Sure." I walked into the kitchen and he trailed along.
He didn't seem to mind that the beer was import.
"So, you talked with Frank?" I asked while preparing the tea and the coffee.
"Yeah...." He took a draught of beer.
"I haven't had the honor myself. I've met Jennifer only briefly."
"I don't know what got into them. Frank is way out of line."
"Yes. He is that. Tom said that you and Frank are buddies?"
"Buddies? Yeah, I suppose you could say that we are. Used to go to the same church. We've kept in contact because of Tom, mostly. He's living here with you now?"
"This is our grandmother's house but yes. She is in hospital with a fractured leg. I'm taking care of the house and the dogs while she is gone. Did Frank tell you why he kicked Tom out?"
"It was hard to tell whether he was just swearing damnation and doomsday or actually trying to tell me something.... I'd already figured that Tom is gay, if that's what you are asking."
"It is. How are you with that?"
He answered calmly. "It's none of my business, really."
Just what I wanted to hear. "Good." Leika and Frida came running. "Hi girls. Tom let you in?" They wagged their tails and said hello.
Tom made an appearance, his hair slightly damp as if he had held his face under a running tap.
I gave him his tea. "Now, get out of the kitchen, both of you, so that I can cook. And call the dogs with you please."
"Aye, Captain," murmured Tom and led Jim and the dogs into the living room.
I got cooking. When I heard Tom laugh, I was one happy cook.
He came into the kitchen when I was about to set the table. "Can Coach stay for dinner? Is there enough?"
I took a moment to look him over, making sure he was all right. He smiled. "You know, there is something infinitely wrong about that question."
"I'm going to make a house rule."
He barked a laugh. "You what?"
"Yes. The rule is - there is always food, beds and room enough. Period. You don't have to ask. This is your home, you know. I am the guest here, really. Understand?"
"Yeah. Though I don't know about you being the guest. Are you just trying to evade cleaning the pups' den?"
"Busted again. Dinner is finished in two minutes; go fetch Jim."
"Man, that's weird." He left me to ponder what he meant by that while I set three plates on the table.
So we had dinner. It was comfortable. I didn't talk much. The other two were off on football using all sorts of words I didn't know. There were a lot of animals involved and some buccaneers too. It was good to see Tom alive like that. I doubted he was seriously off football.
Jim left shortly after dessert.
"So, it looked like you two got along."
"Yeah." Tom came over for a hug. "I'm still not sure I'll be back on the team."
"He didn't want you?"
"Oh, he did. But I want the grades."
"Maybe you can do everything."
"I promised I would try. Right now, I'm going to sit down and do my homework."
"Me too. Sonja called and piled it on me."
"You have no idea. She parachutes, too."
We moved the furniture around in the library, setting up a couple of tables so that we could work face-to-face and talk when we needed a break.
I did manage to find a hole into our server and wreak a little havoc before Kurt cut the connection.
Sure enough, he was ready for me when I logged on for a chat.
"Man, you two are fast on a keyboard," commented Tom who had been watching over my shoulder.
"This is what we make our living from."
"No. You know what I mean."
"What's he writing?"
I watched the next chunk of text appear. "I think he has finished calling me names. Now he is screaming for the log. I just told him he would get it when I have edited it."
"You're going to edit the log? Why?"
"Because he is calling me names."
"You have a mean streak, Mikkel."
"Me? No." I watched as the lines filled the screen. Tom was right; Kurt was lightning on a keyboard. "I'm going to make another mug of coffee while he cools. You want anything?"
"Soy-drink without comments."
When I got back, he was sitting in my chair, chatting with Kurt.
"He's really mad at you," grinned Tom. He finished writing, and leaned back to wait for the response.
I put the despicable bottle down next to him and took the empty seat across from him. He was pouring industrial waste down his throat like he actually liked it. Returning his attention to the screen, he had a growing grin on his face. It made me uncomfortable. When he his eyes widened and he turned crimson, I knew what was going on. Kurt was gossiping.
"Teach you not to ask," I grinned.
Tom swallowed. "I asked him for some funny stories about my cousin, now he's piling it on. Offering to mail me pictures too."
"Pictures? Kurt doesn't have any pictures." I put my legs up on the table and leaned back in the chair.
Tom began ticking on the keyboard and he didn't have to wait long for the reply. "He's got sources."
"Yeah? Like whom?"
"I'm asking, I'm asking.... Sisters and nieces. And somebody named Lars and Peter."
My sisters? Lars? Peter? Nieces? I groaned. Kurt just might take the time to do it. "I'm really going to edit that log, fiercely."
"You know, I had to send it to him in order to get the really good stuff-"
Tom blinked, all innocence. "I said, I-"
"Cream and butter. Whipped cream on your cereal and peanut butter. Powertools. My naked butt in the living room." I found an elastic and began shooting rolled up pieces of paper at him.
He grinned and continued chatting with Kurt for another while before logging off. "He said that he's finished with you for tonight."
"You gave it to him. You quisling." Got him on the forehead.
The phone rang. Tom checked his watch. "Could be Paul, he's probably just come home..." He got up and went into the kitchen to answer it.
It wasn't Paul. "Mikkel? It's Chris. He wants to talk with you."
From New York?
"Hi, Mikkel. How's Busta-boy?" Was he drunk? A little, I thought.
"Asleep last I looked. She was snoring like a good little pug. Did the concert go well?"
"Yeah. Blew the roof off. 'S great. Look, can I drop by tomorrow afternoon?"
"I'll be back from the workshop around six or seven. Just a sec." I covered the mouthpiece. "Tom? When are you home tomorrow? Do you know?"
Tom came into the kitchen. "Around four. Paul is coming over."
"You all right with Chris dropping by?"
I spoke into the phone. "Tom is home around four."
"Perfect. My plane's in around four. How is Tom?"
"He sounded it. Fine. See you tomorrow then."
I checked the clock. Shouldn't he have been clubbing? There had been no background noise. Coming here straight from the plane? And there had been no shimmer.
Maybe he was just feeling ill from the liquor. I hoped his gang hadn't reacted badly to the news about the dog.
* * * * *
End of chapter