Disclaimer: I don't know any of the people that appears in this story. I guess that means that the people that I do know are somebody else. But then that doesn't really have anything to do with this disclaimer.
And it is all fiction.
Actually, I kind of like snakes.
Warning: Subdued homoerotic contents. (I hope it's erotic, the romancing admittedly is a bit warped.) You know your own local laws on that better than I do.
Feedback: Yes. Please! Please? It's welcome and my mailbox is roomy.
The Tail of the Tiger, chapter 8
"Er du da helt fra forstanden?! You are not doing that. Get your ass back in here, you... dummernik!"
"Look at it, Mikkel, it's a-fucking-sleep! It's okay, you just stay here. I can manage." Chris closed the door and gave me a friendly wave through the window.
"No way! I'm not going to sit here, watching when you are eaten by cold-blooded monsters." I had opened the door in my side and jumped out before it occurred to me that there might be monsters under the truck.
I stalked after Chris. "Asleep!? You mean pretending to be asleep! And what about the other ones?" Talk about which - I looked around. There were no alligators in sight.
It just made things lots worse that they were hiding.
"This is crazy! And where is the one we saw? The big one? Huh? Lurking, I say."
Chris picked up his shovel and paused to point. "It's behind those bushes, Mikkel; we can only see it from the truck." He began scattering the small pile of rubble. It sounded like he was grinning.
This was so not funny. "Fucking hiding, that's what they are." I still couldn't see them and it wasn't because I wasn't looking.
"There weren't any others. They are hibernating."
"Hibernating? It's summer. I can feel them. They are staring at us." Didn't he have any sixth sense at all?
"It's early March. Move, you're standing on my next pile."
"No." The pile I was standing on was the largest one. There was no way I was giving up my best vantagepoint within reach of Chris. I had everything planned out. As soon as I saw or heard anything that reminded me remotely of a reptile larger than a chicken then I would pick up Chris and run for the truck.
"What?" Was that an alligator head? If it was then it was awfully bent and crooked.
"Look at me."
Of course if an alligator got into a fight with another alligator it might end up looking something like that. "No." It was still approximately twenty meters away and not in a position to get between the truck and us. Or was it? How fast can an alligator run?
I looked at Chris. I didn't think I could convince him to move; the stupid punk had an unhealthy appetite for danger and no survival instinct at all. Should I make a grab for him now? It was probably better to wait until he was digging rubble again. Then I could take him by surprise and have a good shot at getting all the way to the truck before he tore himself loose. Besides, I wasn't even sure it was an alligator out there. I checked it again. Hadn't it moved, just a tiny bit?
"Mikkel, look at me." He sounded like the grin was gone. I hoped that he had begun realizing how serious the situation was.
"Isn't that an alligator head, over there?" I pointed.
While he looked I turned my head and checked the bushes that hid the big one. That was the one that had me rattled the most. If it sneaked through the bushes it could come between the truck and us. It suddenly occurred to me that if they moved in on us simultaneously then they could take us in a pincers move.
Chris grabbed my wrist and yanked. I nearly lost my balance. "Look at me already."
Apparently he wanted me to look at him. But somebody had to look out and I couldn't do that when I was looking at him. On the other hand he wasn't going to let up until I had heard what he meant to say.
"What is it?"
"Are you here?" The dark eyes searched my face. "Can you hear me?"
"I want you to listen closely."
"Closely." I blinked, focusing my attention on Chris as well as I could. "Okay."
"We leave the 'gators alone and they leave us alone. It's, like, a deal. Nothing's gonna happen. You understand?"
"You'd trust a deal with an alligator?"
"No. Just... Fuck, I know about alligators."
The clear brown eyes softened. "Yeah."
"Oh." His words settled in my mind. Suddenly I could breathe a lot easier. "Why didn't you say so?" I stepped down from the rather flat pile.
"You had to pick up the phone first." He broke into a grin. "Man, you're weird when you freak. What was the deal with standing in rubble?"
I don't know if I took him by surprise or he chose to let me pick him up. He was laughing when I ran to the truck and dumped him on the truck body. Just to check the validity of my plan.
He had been heavier than I thought and the run had been frighteningly slow.
He rolled up to sit, swinging his legs over the edge, flashing pale golden knees with old, white scars on them. Odd how he could look slight one moment and broad the next. I ran a light finger along the most impressive of the scars. Chris hissed and grasped my wrist. "Stop that." Had he reached his limit of 'make out'? No. He gave a tug before he let go of my wrist and slipped his arms around my neck; hooking his legs around he pulled me in for a slow, wet and playful kiss.
For an evasive maneuver it was overwhelmingly convincing.
He sniffed and chuckled softly. The can of soda that we had used for cleaning up hadn't gone very far.
"You smell goat, too?" My voice had thickened.
His was a breathy purr, warming my face. "I hate to break this to you, but I think the goat is you."
"Yes?" Focusing was difficult; our noses were touching.
"Yeah." He licked my nose. "'Gators really like goat, by the way. It's their favorite dish."
"I'll just hide in your smell." What a splendid idea.
"Think the smell of goat in a flowerbed is going to deceive them?"
"Yeah. Flowerbed. Me."
"With flowers in it?"
He flashed a grin. "Sure."
"And a cat?"
He laughed and let me go. I stepped back so that he had room to get down and we went to finish shoveling.
When we got back in the truck I could see that the alligator was still there looking like it hadn't moved. Which of course didn't mean that it hadn't been in the bushes to spy on us and had gone back again, repulsed by the smell of a goat in a flowerbed with a cat. According to my gut, that was highly likely.
Chris started the truck and it labored slowly up the small but steep hill. Small hands on the wheel, masculine and sturdy. He had put on his shirt and had rolled up the sleeves.
"You really have alligators running around like that - in populated areas? No fences or anything." Will had to be much less sane than he had appeared to be, building a house in the middle of an alligator pond.
"Yeah. Well, there are signs around the public lakes. The 'gators keep to themselves - as long as people don't feed them."
Alligators really read signs? I thought not. "Feed them?" I had a mental picture of alligators in Peter's garden coming to feed where he fed the birds in winter. The birds certainly wouldn't like that. Nor would the neighbors. "How fast are they?"
"Pretty fast over short distances. We couldn't outrun them from a stand still." There went my neat plan, right down the drain. Chris proceeded to tell me about alligators and I did what I could to absorb every fact. Sorting out the urban myths would have to wait until I could ask Tom.
He almost managed to talk his way past the boulders, stopping to check the traffic all the while going on about a man that had gotten his dick bitten off when peeing on an alligator. I tapped Chris on the shoulder.
"I can drive," he quipped.
"I know." I got out of the truck and went around to the other side trying to keep my thoughts far away from the subject of dick eating alligators hiding under trucks. Opening the door and looking up at the driver did a lot for that. "Scoot."
Several responses got discarded behind the calculating eyes before he grimaced and crawled to the other seat, once again reminding me how well he moved. The parts of his body came together so neatly in a perfect fit. There was a new tear in his jeans, across the back of his thigh just below the left buttock. He might have gotten it when I threw him onto the truck. A flash of skin sent the bottom out of my belly and my mouth went dry and drooly all at the same time. Oh, what a beautiful ass!
"What?" Chris looked over his shoulder, backside still pointing my way, skin showing like a warm smile through the tear, winking when he moved.
"Just... another debate."
His eyes widened, then he grinned. "Oh. Get in here already, will you."
Were those red spots on his cheeks? He rolled his eyes and chuckled, plunking down on the seat.
I climbed in and got the truck unto the road. Chris finished the story about the man, insisting that, yes, they really had found the dick in the belly of the alligator after they shot it and, yes, the missing body part had re-attached itself, if somewhat crookedly, once it was sewn back on. Happy end.
I shivered at the pictures left in my mind. "I can't believe somebody would want to pee on a live alligator."
He watched as I shifted gears. "Guys pee on all sorts of weird things."
Which set that topic and it lasted for most of the highway drive. Chris sitting with both feet on the dash board, waving his hands when he was talking. Smiling when our eyes met. Punching my shoulder when I interrupted his story.
"You sure you wanna take the time for this?" he said when I flicked the indicator.
"I still want to drive properly 'right past' your house. Could we go see if Sally is at home or are we too smelly?"
"Sure, we can go." Chris smiled one of his short-lived, small but high-intensity, smiles that would echo in his eyes for long after his mouth had stopped smiling.
He guided me through the streets, every so often putting a warm hand on my arm to get my attention, pointing places out as we went along - the dump with the best pool table in the neighborhood, the pizza bar he had run delivery for, his favorite eating place (which made me shiver) and other noteworthy places like that. I listened to him talk and slowed to a stop if it was safe and had a better look, mentally adding him to what I saw and to the pictures he painted with his words.
"This is the street. Just keep going. There's a parking lot up ahead but it would be easier if we could find a spot in the street. You'd never get out of the parking lot again. Unless you let me drive, of course. So - let's take the parking lot. Yes, it's coming up here on your right..."
This close it was obvious that he had been right when he said that the buildings were run down. They were in need of a major overhaul, not merely a bucket of paint. If the roofs were the in same shape as the rest there were bound to be apartments where the rain got through.
I drove slowly, there were kids running around on the walkway.
"Right here. Turn-"
We passed the parking lot and a little further ahead there was a free spot just large enough for the truck.
We got out and walked back in the direction we had come from. I hadn't thought of it amongst the wild alligators but here I suddenly was very aware that we were no longer inside the fences of Mormor's community and I didn't know the rules of this place.
When we walked past the parking lot, Chris stopped in his quick-footed track and took a step back, looking at something in the parking lot. He swore to himself. "Sorry, man," he then said. "We're leaving, like, right now." He turned and walked back towards the truck at an almost run.
Well, he was the one that knew about alligators. I hurried to catch up with him, heart hammering and my eyes rolling around in my head as I tried to look everywhere at once. "Mind telling me what is going on?" I asked when we met in the cab.
"Just go." He scowled; looking more irritated than afraid so I relaxed a little. Then I tensed again. Irritated was just what he would be if he was scared.
I started the truck and checked the mirrors. A young blonde woman stood on the walkway by the parking lot. She had her hand on the arm of a dark haired man and was pointing towards us, talking. She didn't look like somebody with a gun in her purse but then Jenny had taught me a lesson. I lost sight of them when I inched the truck unto the road. When I next had the stretch of walkway in the mirrors they were gone.
Chris was still scowling, his feet were on the dashboard and it creaked in time with his legs that were jumping up and down. We drove in silence. It was a while before it occurred to me that the reason Chris wasn't giving me any directions wasn't necessarily because we had to continue straight ahead. He wasn't paying attention to where we were going.
"Fuck." He proceeded to give me directions in a tight, clipped voice. His legs continued jumping. If it was a rain dance then Florida was likely to get flooded; he had shed all pretension and was all frustrated shaman.
Of course I kept my eyes rolling, since I still didn't know what was going on.
"What's going on?" I asked, unnerved by his silence, but he acted like he didn't hear me.
A couple of turns later I became aware of a car behind us. It was going in the same direction we were and had done that for a while. There were cars between it and us. When we entered the highway it had come close enough for me to recognize the blonde woman and the brown haired man.
Heavy rain or not - I thought Chris should know so I told him what I had seen. The only reaction was a deepening of his scowl and the jumping speeding up a little.
"Who are they?" I didn't really think he was going to answer and was getting somewhat impatient with him.
He was quiet for long enough to convince me that he wasn't going to answer and I was beginning to get angry. Then, "Joey and Dani. Think you can lose them?"
I let out my breath. It was good to know this wasn't going to end up in a shoot out. "In this junk pile? Certainly not here on the highway." Joey and Dani had hurt him? Somebody had; that had been quite clear yesterday - and now. The anger didn't leave me; it changed target. "You want me to try?"
My quick look in his direction was met with dark amusement. He shook his head once. "It's all your fault," he grumbled.
"My fault? How?"
"You wanted to go there. Your fault."
"Is that supposed to be a convincing string of arguments?"
"If you really don't want to talk with them - there are other tricks than a car race. The most simple would be having Jer stop them."
"Jeremy. The guy in the guard booth by the entrance to Mormor's community. Actually, we might not have to do anything for that to happen. He'll want to know who they are visiting. Do they know?"
"No." He took another moment scowling. "Just pull in where it's convenient. Ah, when we get off the highway. Might as well get this over with."
Shortly after we had gotten off the highway I pulled in by a store. Chris was out before the truck had stopped properly. I kept an eye on him in the mirror. He stood waiting with his arms crossed.
The car pulled up next to him and Joey and Dani got out. Dani looked nervous. Joey had concern all over his face. It didn't look like there would be a fight coming up so I shrugged on my jacket and got out, heading for the store.
"Chris, we need to talk," Dani said as I passed them.
"Yeah? Well, talk, I'm listening."
"Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gone off like that..."
Which was what the mother hen in me needed to hear to feel less like a coward disappearing into the store; the hen also wanted to hit this Dani-person on the head with a rolling pin.
Joey came into the store when I was paying for the soft drinks. He checked me curiously and nodded. I nodded back and picked up my purchase. The bench and a table outside the store were free and I sat down. Chris and Dani were still between the cars. Dani was talking and Chris listening intently; the frown was gone. I relaxed and opened a can of soda, trying to look as if I wasn't staring at them as much as I was. They were too far away for me to hear what they were saying.
The door to the shop opened and Joey came out.
"Hi," I said and he smiled a warm smile that made his eyes crinkle and made me smile too.
I got up to shake hands when he came over.
"Joey. Pleased to meet you."
"You want a drink?" I gestured towards the soft drinks on the table.
"Thanks. I have." He showed me the six-pack he was carrying. "You want a beer with that?"
"No thanks, I'm fine." I sat down leaving him space on the bench. It gave when he sat.
He pulled a beer loose and opened it. "You're that Danish guy that Chris talked about? The one with the dogs."
"Yes. You're the Joey that he lives with?"
"Yeah." He drank, his gaze straying to Chris and Dani. Chris was talking now, his hands dancing in the air, a dance that would fit words about pugs and pups so maybe that was what they were talking about. It could have been a sales talk. "Man, we've been looking for him all day."
"He's been with my cousin and me since yesterday, giving us a hand renovating my grandmother's house."
"I thought Danielle was leaving this morning."
"She changed her flight for tonight. She wanted to talk with Chris before she left."
"He was pretty upset about something when he came over yesterday but he hasn't said anything about what is going on." Dani was laughing now and Chris smiled.
Joey chuckled. "That's Chris; keep 'em guessing." Which was a polite way to say that he wasn't going to discuss Chris with me, a stranger.
I smiled, liking him better and better. "He taught me that lesson-" and I proceeded to tell him about the alligators though I left out the parts about making out. And I found out it was easy to make Joey laugh, and that he would laugh with his entire body and somehow involve the surroundings in the laughter too so that one felt wrapped in his warmth.
"- so I was really relieved, you know, believing he made the alligators up. I figured I was going to chuck him into a really muddy piece of the lake. Then the annoying little twit tells me to look and there's this..." I gestured with my hands, searching for the words and not really finding any that covered what I wanted to say. "Like, huge, huge, fat, bloodthirsty monster right outside the truck. It has those glowing, red, evil eyes and it's glaring at us, like we are dinner." I had to stop; Joey was laughing again.
"Annoying little twit?" Chris and Dani had come over.
"Yes. I'm talking about you."
He grinned, eyes sparkling. "I thought you were gonna wet your pants."
I did! I like that kind of wet.
"I did, too." I looked up at Dani. "Hi. I'm Mikkel." I reached out to shake hands.
She smiled. "I'm Dani. Pleased to meet you."
I had wondered about this 'pleased to meet you' that people were saying on a first meeting. How could they know that they were pleased when we hadn't met before? Then it occurred to me that not saying it likely was considered bad manners. It still would feel like a very awkward thing for me to say, especially when I wasn't feeling pleasure but a strong inclination to tap the person on the head with hard kitchen utensils - which wouldn't do since she quite clearly was important to Chris.
"Have a drink?"
"Thank you," she said and took one of the Cokes and Chris grabbed one of Joey's beers.
"I invited Dani to come over and meet Busta." Chris smiled to me.
"Good. You come too?" I asked Joey and he smiled. "Dinner around seven. It can be moved if it doesn't fit your flight?" I looked at Dani.
"I... We can't just come barging in like that. Chris said you guys were busy. I'd just like a few minutes with Busta and get to know him."
I was about to tell her that a few minutes hardly were enough for that but Chris started talking before I could open my mouth. "Oh, don't worry about being in the way. Mikkel will put you to work. He always does, it's a Danish thing, putting the guests to work. It's expected. He'll have you tearing up the kitchen floor for aperitif. Besides, he's addicted to stuffing people with food."
"You asked to work," I reminded him.
"I'm good at tearing up floors."
Dani laughed. "We know, Joey."
Chris looked curiously at Joey. "With pneumatic hammers?"
"No, with women."
"Ouch. Not with me. You cause me enough hangovers as it is."
Mother hen clucked encouragingly. Perhaps Joey had heard because he smiled broadly at Dani. Then he frowned and looked at me. "Really? You let Chris use a pneumatic hammer on your grandmother's house?"
"Yes. Of course. He has the hands of a workman and he knows what he's doing."
Chris blinked at me.
Dani didn't look like she quite believed me. "You mean - this Chris? The Kirkpatrick one?"
"Yes. That annoying little twit that I mentioned earlier."
Chris grinned and drank his beer and didn't protest when his free hand was picked up by Joey who studied it closely. Rather he looked proudly at it, mirroring Joey's curiosity.
"You really need more than a few minutes if you want to get to know the dog," I told Dani. Nevermind the rolling pin, I wanted to do my best. If it was important to Chris that she got to know Busta then it was important, period. "You're welcome to spend all the time you like and if you have questions - just ask."
She eyed me. I thought that she had me figured out, rolling pin included. "Thanks. I'll just tie up a few ends and then I'll be over. Is that okay?"
"Sure. Chris gave you the address?"
We both looked towards Chris whose right hand suddenly had acquired its own personality and was getting out of control, trying to get a solid grip on Joey's nose and, when it missed, grabbing a fold of cheek flesh.
"No he didn't."
I wrote the address down for her, using the backside of one of my business cards. By the time I finished writing, both Joey and Chris were engaged in getting the irate hand under control. It looked like a cobra had possessed his arm.
"Hold still - I got it!" exclaimed Joey when he finally trapped the protuberance-seeking monster on Chris' back.
"Ouch. Good going, Joey! I can take it from here."
"You sure you got it? It's still moving."
"Yeah. I got it. Man..."
Joey let go and Chris straightened, clenching and unclenching his hand, eyeing it somewhat suspiciously. The suspicion was well founded in reality. Suddenly the hand attacked his own nose. "'Uck!" Chris pulled at it ineffectively, his eyes rolling madly. "'Oeyy, 'elb!" Cutting off the nasal air supply really did funny things to his speech.
Joey was laughing with Dani and me. "Help yourself, I'm not getting close to that thing again."
"No, no. You just keep away from me." Joey moved around the table, keeping it and the benches between himself and Chris.
Chris sighed and stopped. He crossed his eyes to look at the thing that had attached itself to his nose. Then with great care he closed his obedient hand around the neck of the cobra and tore it loose. "Ouch! Fucker." With some difficulty he got the writhing hand stuffed into his pocket. "Got ya. See?" He sent us a triumphant grin when the cobra stopped moving. His nose looked out of shape. "It's asleep."
"I don't care what it is," mumbled Joey, whose nose and left cheek looked as red and sore as Chris' nose. "Just stay away from me."
Chris sent me a sunny smile. "Ready to go?"
"Ah. Yes." I stacked my purchase on one arm while moving around the table to keep out of Chris' way.
Dani disposed of the empty cans. "Stay away from me!" she laughed and moved away from the trashcan when Chris turned his attention on her.
"Man. What am I? Outcast or something?"
"Seriously infected," I said.
"Yeah? Then it's probably best I drive the truck. You can sit with the buckets to evade the germs; you get lots of fresh air that way," he offered generously.
"Then I'll sit with the buckets." It was diplomacy at full tilt.
I walked with Joey and Dani towards the cars and Chris bounded around us. The three of us would have gotten permanent nervous cricks in our necks if the walk had been just a trifle longer.
"Farewell hug? Guys?"
"No!" Joey and Dani laughed.
Both of them smiled and waved from the safety of the car before driving off. I stacked the cans and bottles on the floor in the passenger's side while keeping most of my attention on Chris. The cobra twitched and I jumped, ready to defend myself. But nothing happened.
Chris patted the restlessly sleeping cobra and smiled. "It reached the REM phase."
One-handed but agile, he had no trouble getting in without the cobra falling out of either pocket or phase.
It was still quietly submerged when I settled into my seat and turned the key. The truck started, coughing, choking and reliable, and we entered the traffic again. Chris was humming to himself, sitting sideways on the seat one foot tucked under the other leg. He rested one arm along the backrest, almost touching me. The wild hand stayed in his pocket.
I kept silent, listening to the humming that could barely be heard over the noise of the motor. "Bitch," he mumbled at some point and I figured he meant the driver of the car that had just swung out in front of us, the idiot relying heavily on my quick reactions and the brakes of an old truck. He fell quiet after that, no more humming.
"You and Dani okay now?" I asked.
"Huh? Yeah. I think so."
"It was my fault, really. I mean, I should have asked her; instead I just kind of told her that she's going to co-parent Busta with me."
"Yeah. When we're on tour. I need a plan B in case it doesn't work out having Busta with us. Dani didn't like being plan B. Surprise, huh? Who doesn't want to be somebody else's plan B? Besides, she likes cocker spaniels best."
"Let me get this right - Busta is still going to be Chris' dog, ownership not depending on choice of plan?"
"Dude. Of course. He's mine."
I could imagine it. Chris all bubbly and happy telling Dani about having found his Busta and then, wham, Dani going off and crushing him. My inner mother hen was still loud and the rolling pin was still rattling in its sheath. I tried to shut up the mother hen for a moment and imagine myself in that kind of situation; imagining Kurt telling me that I was plan B in case he couldn't have his dog with him for weeks at a time. With Kurt it would likely be a poodle or some really obnoxious breed. No, it wouldn't be a dog, it would be a snake or some other creep that had to be fed live food. I hated to admit it to myself but, frankly, that situation would likely have made me angry, too. Even if it was just a poodle.
Still, this was Chris.
Well, nobody said I had to like Dani.
Mother hen clucked in agreement.
Chris shifted and put both feet up on the dashboard. "We're not, you know, going out or anything." 'Going out' was probably like 'making out', a round about way of saying things. Why was he telling me that? Perhaps he thought I was jealous. "I mean, there isn't anybody." Or maybe he just thought I should know because it was important to him.
"I'm not going out with anybody, either." Hadn't I already told him? Never mind, now I had. "Why am I telling you this?"
He chuckled and gave my shoulder a light punch, telling me I was being stupid. My heart lurched and my chest ached. I chanced a glance in his direction. He had bent his head a little and was glaring at me. His eyes softened, darkened, and the glare was slipping. I didn't think he knew just how impishly coquettish he was when a smile tugged at his mouth. His eyes suddenly widened in alarm; he turned his head; I tore my attention away from him. "You're a frigging traffic hazard," I growled when I had the truck back in the right lane.
"Me? You're the driver, dumbass! You should be behind the cab with the buckets. I told you so."
His voice rose to an indignant high pitch at the end of the sentence and I laughed shakily. "You're just saying that because you want to drive."
"Of course." There was a grin in his voice and I found myself smiling broadly. I didn't dare look at him, knowing perfectly well just who had been a master idiot a few moments ago and that luck had ridden with us for that one.
Chris had begun humming again, slapping at his legs in time with the rhythm. For a moment I considered making a detour so that I got to listen to him for a while longer. A long while longer.
Then the slapping woke up the cobra and it attacked Chris' thigh ferociously.
I took the shortest way home.
"Whaddaya mean, 'get out and direct'? This thing is killing me!" was his response when I told him to get out of the truck. He was curled up in an uncomfortable position on the seat and grimacing with pain; the monster kept chewing at his thigh.
"Well, it's your own fault. You slapped it out of its sweet dream; no wonder it's pissed. Now, get out."
"Ouch! Man, help me." The cobra chewed an extra deep chew; he groaned and nearly slid to the floor.
"Maybe you could drive and I direct."
The cobra immediately stopped chewing. Chris sat up. "Sure." He looked down at the hand that had let go of his thigh and now lay immobile in his lap. "I think it died." He lifted it by the thumb. The arm hung limb from his grip. "See." He shook it and there was no reaction.
I tested it cautiously, grasping it with two fingers behind the neck and shaking it a little. "Fine." I let go and the hand landed lifelessly on Chris' thigh. Nice thigh. "Now, get out and direct me into the driveway."
I was pierced by a fierce glare and tumbled hurriedly out of the truck, convinced that the cobra had taken over not only the arm but also the entire Christopher. I had a few doubts about my own sanity when I was standing in the driveway behind a truck driven by a cobra possessed shaman, waving the truck closer and closer to my own person.
This time it only took two tries before he managed getting in at just the right angle. He was getting better quickly.
We got the things from the truck. I paused to watch Chris climb to the patio, getting another cheerful glimpse of skin when his jeans smiled and felt like thanking somebody for the sight. Chris took my jacket, freeing me to climb up.
"The keys are in one of the outside pockets," I said while crouching to pick up the soft drinks.
He didn't move.
I looked up to see what was going on with him and was met by a smoldering gaze, enveloped by heat, skin burning where his gaze touched. Beautiful. Touch, want to touch, free his skin, take him... Bubbles and fuzzy aches in my chest when happiness suddenly struck, and I laughed a little when the bubbles tickled.
Chris smiled and glowed. "One of the outside pockets?"
"Yeah." I got up, staggering, my knees were soft. "The right side."
He stuck a couple of fingers into my 'lucky pocket' and pulled out some shells from sea snails and a small but detailed fossilized sea urchin. "Got string, dried frogs and a knife in here too?"
I thought I remembered throwing out the piece of cast off slough. "I trashed the frogs but - yes."
He grinned and tried the pocket above and came up with the keys, my monthly season ticket for public transport in Copenhagen, and a piece of string. He opened the ticket and checked the photograph before putting it and the string back; then he unlocked the door and held it for me.
I was about to put down my load when Chris jumped my back and bottles and cans tumbled down on the counter. He chuckled hotly against my ear. I grabbed his legs, making sure he wasn't sliding down. Incidentally also making sure I was totally defenseless when the cobra decided that it had had enough of being dead.
"Watch out, it's back!" yelled Chris but it was too late; the beast closed its jaws around my nose.
I tried to pull it off. Chris shifted on my back to get a better grip with his knees, his legs a warm living vice squeezing my hips. He reached around me with his other arm to pull at the beast and I yelled, nasally, because it hurt.
"Sorry, man. Just give me a moment and I'll-"
I wasn't about to wait to have my nose detached from my face. Some sort of sneak attack was entirely in order. The last thing I wanted was having to carry his full weight with my nose; I staggered across the kitchen to get at a free spot of wall, trapping Chris against it.
"Good," he said; my move had freed him to get a better grip on the cobra.
I started my sneak attack, tickling his knees with quick light fingers. He jerked, yelling, "Hey, stop that-" and let go of my nose trying to fend me off, swearing and laughing. I didn't stop, intending to use every moment I had before he managed to free his legs for a proper comeback. Not quite realizing just what I had let myself in for but finding out quickly.
I had the strength and size on him - he had the agility and speed on me.
But most of all he had a total disregard to any ground rules and an enormous bag of tricks, apparently to be used by instinct.
Maybe that is what you get from being the little guy. Or maybe it is what you get from being Chris.
I had had my hair pulled, my balls seriously threatened, my ribs bruised by tickling, my instinctive reaction to his 'Ouch!' abused and gods knew what else before I finally managed to get a hold on the crazy bugger.
Tom and Paul had arrived and had been standing in the doorway for a while. Leika looked at us from the safety of Paul's arms, wagging her tail. Until then I had only been aware of them in a remote way; I was quite busy with the cobra possessed shaman.
Tom chuckled, eyeing us as we lay tangled on the kitchen floor. "Just what are you two doing?"
"I'm teaching your cousin a lesson," panted Chris, fighting for breath since he was getting crushed beneath me and this time I wasn't holding back or trying to be gentle. As he said - I had just learned my lesson. This is good, make him wriggle more, squirm and wriggle, nice bottom...
I didn't have much breath left for talking but I could snort. I had been about to let him go but changed my mind when Chris tried to elbow me.
Paul and Tom laughed and walked through the kitchen, heading towards the back.
Come what may, I let go of Chris and untangled myself. Both of us rolled up to sit, shoulders touching.
Chris sent me a small breathless grin. "You give?"
"Second cousin once removed."
He elbowed me.
He nodded and elbowed me again.
"Say 'Chris Kirkpatrick rules. I'm a pathetic loser groveling at his feet'."
"Chris Kirkpatrick rules. I'm a pathetic loser groveling at his feet." I stopped for breath. "May I lick them too?" Yes! Nice feet!
He chuckled and pulled my hair before resting his hand on my shoulder. "That's kind of kinky, with the cat and all."
"Mmm." I doubted he was opposed to kinky on principle. "Too quick, huh?"
"Yeah. Kinda. I'm still freaking from getting a beard burn on my neck." He was smiling, glowing assurance at me. It wasn't an entirely bad sort of freaking.
"Okay." I kissed him on the nose before trying to make my voice deep and bedroomy. "Then perhaps you wanna... work with me when I have... taken care of the goat?"
He laughed and rolled to his feet.
I went to the bathroom while he tried explaining the cat to Busta. Afterwards, when Chris took his turn in the bathroom, I went to hear what Tom and Paul had to tell.
I was leaning against the doorjamb listening to them. Chris showed up just in time to hear about the crisis, pushing me aside and sitting down on a paint free area of the paper-covered floor. Paul was sitting in the windowsill and Tom on a chair between Paul's legs.
"... then Paul's dad said that he wanted to sue my parents and Granny went, like, 'YES! count me in, that's exactly what I was thinking, I'll pay, I don't care what it'll cost; I know a really good lawyer'."
Tom had run out of breath and Paul took over. "It was like nothing could stop them. The last thing I want is having to stand in front of some jury and telling them that I am gay. And if it got out..."
"You went all white in the face."
Paul grimaced at Tom. "So did you. I told you, I was scared. Sometimes dad's like... a freight train or something and it's just impossible to get through; my mum is the only one that can. Your granny was like a second jet engine on the train, you know, and they smelled blood. Tom really tried to make them stop."
"Yeah - I kept thinking about Maria and if my parents lost. It would be fucking bad. I mean, she's just a kid, right? I couldn't wish that for my sister, I'm not that fucked up. Imagine if my parents, like, lost everything. Granny just sent me this glare..."
"The get-out-of-my-way-you-impertinent-punk one?"
"Yeah. That one. Makes you wanna hide in a corner; I kept telling myself to just enjoy the fireworks, like you said I should... Anyway, she wouldn't listen. She had the whole fucking indictment ready in her head and Paul's dad went 'yeah, yeah' to everything she said. If Kate hadn't been there - whew. She was great."
"Mum made them stop and listen to us, like, everybody has a say in this."
"Keeping us all in order," smiled Tom. "Even Granny."
"So, no court case?" I asked.
"No court case. Granny is not happy about that."
"Neither is my dad but he'll cool down. Sometime. I'm not so sure about your granny, though."
"Oh, Tom will only hear for it for a decade or two."
"Yeah." Tom sighed, then he smiled. "Things were on track after that. We're good. End of story." Paul ran a hand through the dark stubble on Tom's head. "Kate wants the recipe for the dirty cakes, she'll probably call." He turned his head and looked up at Paul. "You lucked out on parents, you know that?"
Paul grinned and nodded before sending Chris and me one of his mischievous smiles. "Tom cried."
Tom rolled his eyes. "I didn't."
"You did! When mum said that thing about being welcome-"
"It wasn't that. Your dad and his damned habit squeezing people to pulp... My ribs fucking hurt."
Paul didn't look convinced.
"Anyway." Tom rose. "We have a job to finish." They had finished painting before they left and only needed to tidy up the room.
"Yeah. Let's get kinky." Chris reached for my hand and I pulled him to his feet.
He and I went to continue where we had left off. We worked back to back, removing the leftover stumps of wall, which were attached to the other walls, brick by brick. The tapping of bricklayer's hammers made conversation a lot easier than the noise of a pneumatic hammer had.
I smiled at the way he aped my tone and accent. "I was thinking..." I stopped to find the words.
"Should we be wearing helmets?"
I looked up at the bricks sticking out from the wall. "I suppose we should. If it bothers you to work above head height, just leave the high ones for me."
"Dude!" There was a broad smile in his voice.
"Huh? Oh. Got me."
"The invincible Kirkpatrick wit strikes again."
I laughed. "Yes. I was thinking..."
"I'm having a deja vu here."
"I think I just got struck again. Anyway, think you can keep your mouth shut for about ten seconds? I'm attempting communications here."
"Yeah. Like, Tom's parents kicking him out and Jenny going on about evil and praying to god to save them. The only thing I can relate that to is horror novels and music like Black Sabbath."
"I don't think that's far off target. Black Sabbath? You listen to that?"
"Yes. Martin had me translate a lot of their stuff for him. Not that I was good at it..." Chris had done it again. I shook my head, returning to track. "I always thought those songs were like pictures painted with large, quick strokes of words, not literally true... But Jenny really believes this, right? Like, evil and demons are real to her, walking around in the streets, threatening her family."
"She probably does. You don't believe that demons exist?"
"Not like that. Never met anyone that did either but then it's not something I've talked about with anybody. It's very strange. Kind of unreal."
"Around here you'll meet a lot of people that believes in good and evil like that. Jenny wasn't kidding when she said that Paul was evil; she meant it - in the biblical sense. "
"Like, in possessed or what?"
"I don't know. It's possible. She might not know the answer to that question either. I heard what she said to Paul last night and I'm pretty sure evil's real to her. Man, she was praying until you began arranging her husband on the floor..."
"I just can't get my mind around what the impact it has on one's view of the world if one believes in evil as some outside force..."
"Why is this so important?" He stopped tapping and I turned to find him watching me.
"Like, it makes them alien and terrifying when they believe the demons that they see are unconnected with themselves... I cannot think when I am terrified - you know that."
He grinned. "Standing in rubble. I still don't get that one."
"I'm not going to explain it." I turned back to the wall. "Anyway, I figured if I got to understand a little bit I could maybe elevate myself from stupefyingly terrified to functionally scared. Besides, assessing the situation and getting to know the... opponent is usually a sound strategy." Not 'enemy'. Such a dangerous word, quick to leap to tongue and mind, ripe with hate, clouding the view of the ethics and consequences of one's decisions.
Chris stopped tapping for a moment. "There are good forces and angels too," he said and started freeing another brick.
"Angels." Now, that was a lot nicer to think about. "Christmas songs."
"Yeah." We worked in silence for a while. "You are afraid what Frank may do."
"Yes. He didn't quite come across as a very balanced person."
Chris snorted. "You can say that again. He was totally gone."
"One of my friends sometimes lost control like that. He wouldn't have sought anybody out again. Frank... I wish I knew."
We stopped talking for a moment; Tom and Paul had finished clearing the guestroom and stuck their heads in to confer with me on their next job. Tom was smiling and hardly saying a 'fuck'.
"Why would Frank and Jenny throw Tom out for being gay?" I asked when they had left again.
"Man, you gotta ask them, I don't know." Chris was quiet for a moment. "Don't you think understanding that is a bit outside your scope?"
"Heck, if I can make a guess - I just can't. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't throw him out for being gay, though. But that doesn't explain anything."
"If they didn't throw him out for being gay - then what for?"
"For doing gay."
That one took a moment's thinking. "Doing gay - as in he could stop? Make it go away?" My mind was creaking, stretching.
"Yeah. As in making a choice. That's where Paul could come in. Not that it would be an excuse for what they they've done; I mean, there isn't any."
My mulling and tapping was interrupted when the sound of footsteps preceded Paul's voice. "Mikkel?" He stopped in the door, shooting Chris a shy glance before focussing on me.
"The 'NSync CD - do you know where it is? I couldn't find it in the library."
I really tried not to show how much I'd have liked to be without that question with Chris being within listening distance. "It's in CD-player in the car. The keys are in one of the outside pockets of my jacket."
"Thanks." He left again.
I returned to the work at hand. Tap, tap, freeing a stone, tap, tap, tap, and another. Unfortunately, the Situation wouldn't go away.
"Well?" Chris was grinning, I could hear it, and crookedly, I was sure.
"I like it less than I would have liked to like it."
"You like it less than you would have liked to like it... How many times did you listen to it?"
"I don't know. Five, six? Maybe more. I can hear that you guys are good; it's the music that doesn't appeal that much to me. Tom said that he has from an almost reliable source that I'll be converted once I experience one of your shows." For all I cared there didn't have to be any other guys in the group; they would just get in the way of the main attraction. All right, Joey was kind of nice; I'd like to see him dance too - if he kept behind Chris. "I'm looking forward to conversion."
"Will you tell me about it?"
"About the show? No, not in detail."
"I wouldn't want that, no - the CD. Why those songs? Stuff like that."
"It's a lot of politics and not much of us. I mean, we didn't get to pick the songs for the album. There are a lot of decisions we don't get to make. Yet." I turned to see him wave the hammer in the air. "When we get bigger and meaner and know more about what we're doing, then we'll be able to throw our weight around a lot more; get to do more of our own stuff, get involved in the production, that kind of thing."
"When you break through in the US."
"Yep. The contract is up for renewal some time next year."
I thought of what he had told me that evening when we first met. "So you have an album coming out this spring and the upcoming tour to strengthen your position. "
"Yeah. Something like that."
"Management okay to deal with?"
He was quiet for a while. "It's a tough industry. I don't know if Lou is any worse or any better than the rest. Why are we talking about this? It's boring business. Tell me why you were standing in that pile of rubble." This was not a subject he wanted to dwell on at all.
"It's so stupid," I said and told him.
Joey and Dani arrived before Chris had finished giving me snide remarks about my aptitude at emergency planning. After he had taken them to the dogs' den, Paul came in to scold me for not having warned him that Joey was coming.
"You think you would have stammered less if you had been warned?"
Paul rolled his eyes. "No! I would have felt less like a goof."
"I'll try not to let it happen again. By the way, they may be staying for dinner."
He blinked. "You know, at least I didn't faint. He's almost as cute as Lance."
"And Chris isn't?"
"It's different when you get to know him."
"And kiss him."
Paul reddened and laughed. "Yeah." He sent me a sly grin and left with a, "You certainly didn't seem to mind getting a piece."
Which was very true and at that moment I wouldn't have minded another one.
It was a lot less fun doing reconstruction without my partner in demolition. When Joey appeared, asking if he could give me a hand, I said yes! and put him to work without hesitation.
We talked while he stood on the patio receiving the buckets that I passed him through the window. At first I thought he was just being polite, asking about my grandmother. Then I found out that he really was interested. He didn't mind my curiosity either. Apparently New York, where he had grown up, was a lot different from Orlando. And Europe, that had been different too...
"You must have missed your family a lot when you went on tour."
"Yeah. All of us got homesick sometimes. Steve came over a couple of times, that was good, like a little bit of home. Lou, that's our manager, I think we have been lucky getting a guy like him, I mean, he makes us work hard, but he really cares."
"Yes?" What? I took a look at Joey's face before picking up another bucket and passing it to him. He looked earnestly back.
"He buys us birthday presents and stuff like that. He's like an uncle or something."
"To all of you?"
"Yeah. Like, he really does his best and - yeah, like an uncle. Makes sure we're alright and don't get into trouble. He's cool."
What was going on here? Chris certainly hadn't shown any kind of enthusiasm when it came to Lou. Joey moved on and I missed the start on his sentence.
"... like brothers. You know what I mean?"
I thought I could guess. "Kurt, that's the guy I started the business with, is a lot like a brother. Friendships like that are... We're lucky, to find friends like that."
"Yeah. I know what you mean." Joey smiled. "The girls may change and stuff, but friends like that are for life. Duuh." He grimaced. "I sound sappy don't I?"
"A little. A lot." For life? I wished. And I thought we better change the subject.
Joey laughed easily. "You got a girl? I like European girls a lot."
Thank you, Joey.
"No, there isn't anybody right now. I wouldn't know about the girls, I like the boys better."
"You're gay?" He straightened and looked curiously at me before pulling the next bucket across the board. "What's that like in Denmark?" He frowned. "Man, that was a stupid question."
I smiled and nodded. "You have to be way more specific than that."
"You have a girl?"
He shook his head. "With my kind of job - going steady just doesn't work. There was one, but... You know, when you are gone for months and. I don't know. I just think one has to be there for the little things to make a relationship to work. Kelly... Maybe if I hadn't chosen this job. It sounds cold but right now the career is, like, everything."
"Uh. I don't know about cold. I mean, sometimes there are things you just have to do when the chance is there." Like starting a business. It had been too much for Peter.
"That was the last bucket. You know how to mix concrete?"
"What? No. Man, I'm afraid I don't have a workman's hands. You have to tell me."
I climbed out and helped him get started before I began loading the buckets unto the truck. Chris and Dani came walking from the dogs' enclosure. "So, what do you want us to do?" asked Dani and I thought that maybe I liked her a little better because Chris was smiling and sated from dog therapy. Plan B was apparently secured.
Later I was busy in the kitchen; the house was noisy with voices around me. The living room was cleared and usable again. Tom and Dani had been looking through things in the basement, finding something to fill out the empty spots in the living room. They had had to fight off Chris. Of course he had his own plentiful and very original ideas about interior decoration. Joey had been his loyal support in extreme tastefulness. It sounded like the decoration project was finished, getting dissolved in laughter as people waited for their turn under the shower.
Dessert? There was ice cream; Chris hadn't gotten around to the unopened one. He probably didn't mind having ice cream twice in the same day. I went downstairs to fetch it from the freezer. It was very much a deja vu walking into the room under the stairs. Hopefully the rest of the story wouldn't play once more. I listened. The voices seeping down the stairs were happy. I moved cans and jars around to see if there was anything interesting among the canned goods on the shelves. It was an odd collection, really.
On impulse I checked the dates on some of the odder stuff in the back. Canned ham, how disgusting. It was outdated too. Pale and too even-sized potatoes with a furry looking surface, swimming in big glass jars with dust on the lids, bwadr!
I jumped. Chris had managed walking down the stairs without making a sound; he must have learned to keep to the far right on the stairs. Or I had been too far gone in a satisfying trip on righteous disgust to hear the creaks.
"Bwadr." I held the offender up for him to see. "It's offensive! Why, why would anyone keep something like this around?"
Chris grinned and looked around. He was still in his work attire. The shirt was open in front; his nipples looked warm and inviting, little happy islands in a sparse dark bramble on pale golden skin. The jeans had slipped down his hips.
Sweet belly, oh, and the lovetrail, kiss, kiss, kiss. Now!
"Food that doesn't need cooking... Hurricanes? This looks like a shelter." He opened the closet. "See, chemical toilet." He lifted the blankets that were piled on top, lifted the lid, and looked into the bucket. "I doubt it's ever been in use, though."
"Oh. You do get those, don't you. Hurricanes. Right. I suppose that explains it. At least in part."
He touched the fire extinguisher on the wall, leaning in close, squinting, trying to read a label on it. He wasn't wearing his glasses. "It is a bit paranoid."
"Well, somebody certainly stopped being paranoid. Some of these cans and jars are years out of date. Look, May ninety-six. It's just a question about time before something explodes."
He grinned. "This one should've been serviced," he checked the date again. "The year before that, I think. Can you see it?"
I came over and looked. "It's not a five, it's a three. That's the year after Mormor's husband died. Maybe that explains it. This could have been his project."
"There are no accommodations for the dogs.."
"She got them after he died, I think."
"Uhu. What are you doing down here, anyway?"
"Looking for something to go with the ice cream. Not everything is outdated. What do you like best - burned figs or plums in rum?"
He was standing close to me and he squinted, watching my face. "Do I have to choose? Can't I have it all?"
Chris, Chris, beautiful Chris. Kiss, kiss. "."
"What?" he asked softly, his eyes darkening, the pupils widening. I could feel the heat of his skin and it was doing things to my breathing.
Kiss him. Caress and lick. Beautiful Chris.
"Just one of those stupid debates. You can have both, of course. It's not like there are rules. There are cherries too."
His mouth quirked, and his cheeks flushed. I wondered what was special about cherries.
Beautiful Chris. Strip him beautiful. Lick him all over, kiss, taste, smell. Strip him!
"Are you offering me cherries?"
He smiled but didn't explain why he thought it funny. "It should be the other way around, you know. Tell me about the debate. What's your dick saying?"
"What? You don't want to know."
"It's not like it's in English and it's pretty garbled.."
"Well, translate the garble."
"Ah. Beautiful Chris.."
His eyes widened and he swallowed.
"You want me to stop?" I asked hopefully.
He shook his head. "Not if it gets better."
"I don't know about that."
"It's like a mantra - beautiful Chris, beautiful..." I touched his flushed cheek and he shivered.
He looked incredulously at me. "Doesn't it get juicy at all?"
I laughed. "Sometimes, yes. Like - strip him beautiful. Lick him all over, kiss, taste, smell. Strip him." It really sounded stupid when I said it aloud. It makes perfect sense! Now, do something about it! "Is that juicy?"
He shivered and grinned, eyes smoldering. "That's better. More."
I didn't think he wanted me to talk. I certainly didn't want to. So I kissed him. Not touching anywhere but our lips and my hand cupping the back of his head. Lips soft and alive against mine.
Grasp him, hold him. Rub him all over.
No. Just like this. Yes, his tongue came out to play with mine. Warm and silky. Curious and playful. His hands slid up my legs, cupped my ass, causing shivers up and down my spine.
The smell of Chris was intoxicating.
Lick his armpits! Strip him! Lick beautiful Chris all over. Lick, lick.
I pulled back. Both of us were panting. "We better stop. I have a dinner to finish and we might end up on the floor."
"Uh." He drew a deep breath and grimaced. "Man, I stink. Again."
I stepped away, went over to the shelf, wondering if the distance was enough. "Lick his armpits. Strip him. Lick beautiful Chris all over..." The words rolled out of my mouth on their own volition, little tufts of noisy air.
Chris made a very strange sound in his throat. Then he cleared it. "Just the figs," he whispered and cleared his throat again. "Mikkel."
"Well, I came down here because I'm leaving with Dani and Joey. I need some time on my own."
I wasn't surprised. "Still freaking?"
So, I wouldn't get to see him before they returned from Texas. At the earliest. They were leaving early on Tuesday and wouldn't be back before the week end, perhaps not until late Saturday, Chris hadn't known for sure. "Is there anyone you can talk with?"
"Joey, perhaps JC."
I nodded, hoping he actually would talk with somebody. Mother hen wanted me to make him promise and I mentally swatted her with the rolling pin.
"Would you mind?" He looked at me, apparently expecting me to be able to fill out the sentence.
"I don't know what you are talking about. But I'm sure I don't mind."
"How out are you?"
"Near the Oort Cloud, thereabouts."
"Plain out, I guess. It's all right. I don't mind if you tell your friends about me."
He nodded and joined me by the big freezer, holding the lid and watching me excavate the ice cream.
"How did your talk with Dani go?"
"It's good. Busta convinced her." He beamed genuine happiness and let the lid fall shut.
"Sensible woman." I headed for the stairs and Chris followed.
"Yeah. I guess." He sounded distracted and I turned to see what he was up to. His gaze lifted and he smiled before he stroked my ass with a finger.
Ooooh yes, yes!
"Move!" He slapped me.
I laughed and ran up the last steps.
"Hey!" The little imp scaled the stairs in no time and tried to get through the door to the kitchen at same time I did. Doors just aren't that wide. "You big cheat! You're supposed to tell before you race. Ouch! Get out of my way, you-eeek!"
The last and very interesting sound happened when I pressed the ice cream against his naked back. He wriggled free and I nearly lost the ice cream and the figs.
"That was evil!"
I dumped the foodstuff on the counter, keeping an eye on him. The cobra was quick and he yanked my horsetail.
"Ouch!" I grabbed for him but missed. "Go take a shower. You stink!"
"Leave the cook alone!" Tom said. "I'm hungry!" He appeared in the door to the living-room.
Chris ignored him, eyeing me, tense like a coiled spring, watching for an opening that I was not going to give him. "I stink? Me? That's the proper smell of man, Perfumeboy. I smell good, so good. And I'm gonna to get you for that one."
"Oh, yeah? See if you can. Twit!"
He didn't see Tom behind him. Didn't hear Tom and Paul move quietly closer.
"Tykskallede kraftidiot." Chris had an uncanny knack for picking up foreign words that could get him in trouble. His pronunciation was only a little off.
"Will you two stop it," said Paul, and moved into Chris' view, probably to keep Chris distracted from the lurker behind him.
Tom put a heavy hand on Chris' shoulder and he jumped. "Leave the cook alone. The fridge has an ice machine and there's lots of room for ice in your pants with you being there too. Do I need to spell it out more?" My cousin looked very mean, the bruise didn't make him less mean. It was the twinkle in the eyes that totally destroyed the image. I wondered if he was aware that he had just declared a cold war.
"Fuck. The kitchen is full of perfumed barbarian bullies! You stink, all of you stink! Lilies in a bottle with their heads in pink pheromone clouds." Chris retreated, continuing to call us names. I stuck my tongue out at him and he gave me the finger before he disappeared through the door opening.
"And you!" It was my turn to have Mean Tom's and Tough Paul's glare on me. "Stop playing and get cooking!" Having both of them glaring at me was pretty intimidating.
"Uhm. Right. Did you set the table and put out the drinks?" I threw the ice cream in the freezer.
"Yes!" said Paul. "Well, almost."
"We'll help," said Dani.
"I'll supervise and drink my beer," grinned Joey and proceeded to do just that, though after he had finished his beer he came over and helped me get the food on the table.
The noisy gang descended on the table. I got the usual complaints.
"I'll end up fat, living with you," murmured Tom and reached for the sauce after having tasted a drop on a potato.
"This is actually not high calorie, well, just keep away from large quantities of sauce." I had made the horseradish sauce thinner than I prefer it myself, mostly for Tom's sake.
"Exactly." He began squashing the potatoes with his fork, mixing them with a good helping of sauce.
Joey smiled and reached for the sauce. "Mikkel, will you marry me?" He began making the same kind of pulp Tom did.
"Sure. Can it wait until after the desert?"
Chris grinned. "Joey has this huge harem of cooks. You'll be like wife number twenty-something."
"I do not have a harem!"
"Yes, you do." Dani ticked them off on her fingers. "Justin's ma, Lance's ma and your own aunt, Santino and Pedro, no, that's Chris'."
"And that fellow we met in Germany, what was his name? The one that owned a pizzeria." Chris frowned, trying to remember.
Joey shrugged, unperturbed.
"Mehmet? Yes. And the one with the huge balcony - Christiane. And her ma. How many was that?"
Dani looked at her fingers. "Seven, I think."
I had to admire the industrious Joey. "You married all of them?"
"The thing is, none of them said yes. All that talk about a harem is nonsense. I'm a steady guy-"
Chris produced a very odd snort and Dani bent her head over her food and began humming a tune.
"Well, I have a house. That counts for something. A nice kitchen and a pool."
"See, he doesn't really love you, now he is trying to buy you. It's just because he doesn't want to pay you a proper salary."
Dani stopped humming. "The house has Chris in it. Now, there is a drawback."
Joey waved his fork. "I can put him in the shed during daytime."
Chris pouted. "What is this? Put-Chris-down-day? Eat your food, Joey."
"Continue," Tom smiled to Joey. "I am collecting put-Chris-down-ideas."
I patted Chris' shoulder. "I'll let you out on Sundays. Take you for a walk."
Tom nodded. "I like that one. Put him on a choke chain. The list is growing."
Chris studied his food. "How kinky..."
Joey sent me a smile. "Oh, you can put a collar and chain on him if you are into that kind of thing. I'm not the jealous kind."
What, what, what? Yes, yes. Beautiful Chris with a collar and a leash...
I busied myself with my food. And drink, yes I definitely needed a drink. Didn't dare look at Chris. Did his leg next to mine suddenly become warmer or was it just my imagination heating up?
"Well, Joey - you forgot one thing."
I hoped Dani was changing the subject.
"Guys like Mikkel are always married."
"No he isn't. I already asked. He left his boyfriend."
"He got tired of my cooking."
"He? I knew it! If they aren't married they're gay."
"You are surprised? Am I wrong - Joey is male, isn't he?"
"I know several someones we could ask."
"Shut up, Shed-dweller." Joey cuffed Chris. "I'm a very manly man, I assure you."
"I'd wait a bit if I were you." Paul looked at Joey. "I mean, obviously Mikkel is lying when he says that his ex got tired of his cooking. There is something he isn't telling you, I think."
Tom sent a questioning look. "Maybe he was just tired of growing fatter and fatter?"
"He got fat?" Joey asked me.
I shrugged. "Peter wasn't and isn't fat. Comfortably soft but not fat."
"You got pictures - like, before and after Mikkel's cooking?" Chris asked.
Tom pushed his empty plate away with a wistful glance towards the sauce and the roast. "We probably can get Kurt to mail some."
Chris grinned. "Ask for the really compromising ones too."
"I already did. He's still working on the collection."
I looked at Dani. "So, how did you like the dogs?"
She chuckled but went along willingly. "They are great. Cute. And Busta is the cutest."
Chris beamed happily. "Told you."
Joey chewed and swallowed. "Do I get to play with him too?"
"But that's when I'm getting married. To the cook."
"Believe me, you'll rather play with Busta than get married to Mikkel. Busta is special."
I tried to look hurt. "And I am not?"
"Not that special."
Joey blinked. "I'm not marrying a dog."
"Not Busta, that's for sure."
"What's so special about Busta?"
"He pees on the carpet," said Paul.
"That was an accident." Chris piled food on his plate.
"She peed on Chris, too."
"Because he had a nightmare about a lot of water."
"She's a bitch, Chris."
"Well, things tend to get confused around you. He'll come around."
Tom joined in. "It runs away when ever it gets a chance. Had us searching all over the neighborhood a couple of days ago."
"So? You got to know your neighbors. Paul liked that."
"It doesn't come when you call."
"He does so. When you whistle like Mikkel."
"That's new. Really?"
"Yeah." Chris turned to Joey. "Busta has real personality, you know. And he's got superpowers."
"He zaps nightmares and cures hangovers like your stuffed teddy?" Joey asked curiously.
"What stuffed teddy? The stuffed teddy is Justin's. Now, Busta-"
"But it's always under your pillow."
"Of course! Otherwise he drools on it and that's disgusting. Gotta show some respect for the teddies. Anyway - Justin's teddy doesn't begin to compare to Busta at all. He-"
"But didn't you say the superpowers only worked for the owner? That's why you wouldn't let me borrow the teddy. You said it worked for you after that night in Vienna - no hangover."
"Listen, we are talking about Busta here! Fuck my - Justin's teddy-"
"I'd rather not. I mean, you drool worse than Justin does and it's a long time since Vienna. The teddy must be kind of grungy by now-"
"Yeah?" Amazing how innocent he could sound when his eyes were leaking water from suppressed laughter and the rest of us, except Chris, were laughing so hard that it hurt.
Chris' frown had a rather cramped quality to it. "Let's talk about Busta."
"Sure. Just one thing-"
"Do you ever wash the teddy?"
"Arrrgh! Why should I wash Justin's teddy?"
"Now, Busta's superpowers - do you or don't you want to hear about them?"
"Sure. Go ahead. No need to sound prissy. Are you prissy?"
"That's it! I'll let you discover his superpowers the hard way." He reached for the sauce and I pushed it towards him. "Thanks. Will you marry me?"
"Ah. And compete with Justin's teddy and Busta? Do I really stand a chance?"
" I guess not. You are too big to fit under the pillow for one thing."
"You're not putting Busta under your pillow!" Dani glared at Chris who grinned and dove into his food.
The phone rang and Tom went to answer it.
"Hi, Ian, it's Tom here."
Ian? I looked at Paul willing him to explain. "One of Maria's classmates, his brother goes to our school."
"Is he trying to hook up with a girl?" Joey asked and began mashing another load of potatoes and sauce.
"Yes, in a way. It's a bit complicated."
Joey raised a questioning eyebrow at Chris.
"That's right. 'Don't ask'. Pass me the salad-stuff, will you."
"After I have some."
"Well take some. Eat. Don't listen in."
"As if you aren't doing it. Here, take it. Stop listening."
"You two are the nosiest bunch." Dani pushed her plate away. "Holy cow, I'm full. The plane will fly crooked with me on board. I don't think I can eat any dessert. This was very good, Mikkel."
"Glad you liked it. Say, you might become involved taking care of Busta, right?"
"Yeah. I'm plan B." She grimaced and smiled. "Why?"
"He's gonna give you the second sermon," Chris warned. "The one about twelve years of commitment. Look out for sermon eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen, it's really gross. Sermon number one will make you cry, that's the Big Words."
I smiled. "I was going to say that you are welcome to call or drop by when you have any questions about the dog."
"Sermon number five - there are no stupid questions or questions too small. The offer stands as long as the dog's alive and it's free," added Chris.
We exchanged smiles. Really, she was kind of nice. I looked at Chris. "You have them numbered?" Was it just something he said? "How many are there?"
"Well, excluding variations on the same theme, the count has reached thirty-eight."
"That many? That's a lot."
"Oh, yes. Of course some of them were so gross they have to count for more than one. The one on genetics has a gross-factor five, that's because of what you said about the eyes popping out. It's sermon eleven through fifteen, all in one. The one on germs and parasites counts for three."
"Eyes popping out? Do they pop out?" Dani didn't like that thought at all.
"It's no problem, really-"
I stopped listening to the conversation, alerted when Tom said good bye and hung up the phone.
He came back to sit down; oddly quiet, perhaps a crying bout was threatening. But it was one that stemmed from relief. He sent Paul and me a quick glance and small nod. He had found his mole.
"Man, it's quiet." Tom stood in the door to Mormor's dusty bedroom, watching me pack up the toolbox. Paul had just left though the absence of Chris likely had something to do with the intense feeling of quiet as well.
"Yes. How about a beer before you go to bed?"
"Sounds good. I'll get it."
I let the lid fall close. There, I looked around making sure that everything was ready for tomorrow. Would the plumber comment on the stick-pugs that 'someone' had drawn in the concrete? I grinned to myself. Considering how pugs are built then a stick-pug with just a little resemblance to a pug is quite amazing. A pity that the drawings were going to have a wall on top.
Tom was right. The house was very quiet, as if it already had gone to sleep.
I found him in the library, he had put some music on. It was some country and western thing I didn't know. Frida made herself comfortable on my lap, making sure to step in all the wrong places before she lay down.
"Did you tell Chris how you like 'NSync?"
"Of course. He asked."
He smiled and came over to the sofa sitting down next to me. I put an arm around him and he picked up his beer and leaned back, snuggling against me and scratching Frida behind the ears.
He grew pensive, sipped his beer.
"What is going on in your head?"
"I was just thinking, I'm lucky. All things considered, I'm a fucking lucky guy."
"What do you mean?"
"You, Paul, Granny, Chris, Kate and Daddy-Paul... Meeting people like Joey and Dani. Ian. Sitting like this, having a beer inside my home, a home with a bed, food, clothes, a friend... That's lucky."
"Damned right." Frida rolled over and Tom obediently petted her belly. "Ian's gonna talk with Maria tomorrow and I've got to get a couple of cells. Ian will keep one with him so that my parents won't find it and Maria can use it when she's at school. Man, Ian, that's the kid that my sister dislikes most in her class. But he sounded real nice, you know." He sighed. "God, what am I gonna tell her?"
"What about the truth? Maybe you can meet her outside the school or something. How much freedom does she have?"
"At school? They are not allowed outside unless they have a written permission from the parents. Which she won't fucking have, not now. I'm sure that our fucking crazy parents have revoked it. She's gonna cry, hell, I'm gonna fucking bawl when we talk."
I chuckled and rubbed his shoulder and thought about asking questions about his parents, and about his dad in particular, but dropped the idea again. Tom was still snuggling, and I knew he was fragile right then. I wasn't going to infect him with my own paranoia on top of that. Not tonight.
Instead I said, "Tell me about Maria. What she likes to do, the trouble she's gotten into, things you've done together, what she has on her walls other than 'NSync, stuff like that." He had already told me some but I was sure there was a lot more.
There was. I listened, keeping an eye to other possible openings for communications other than clandestine telephone talks but didn't see any, not right away. I tried hard not to let my worry show, imagining a fourteen year old girl kept in isolation by her parents, missing her brother as much as he missed her, and not knowing where he was or how he was. And sharing a house with an unstable person like Frank.
Tom emptied his beer and fell silent. Apparently he had talked himself dry and perhaps had done enough thinking of Maria for now.
"I noticed you don't limp anymore. How are your ribs?"
"I'm fine. How's your scalp?"
I grinned. "Still a little tender."
"I thought Chris was going to pull all your hair off. Man, he's a mean guy in a fight."
"You didn't see half of it."
"What's going on between you two, anyway?"
"A lot of sexual tension."
"I may be new at these things but I'm not blind. I saw you kiss. You hardly touched and zap! He called you dangerous - think he is falling in love with you?"
"It's hard to tell with all those hormones getting in the way..."
"Maybe he meant dangerous for his career."
"Yeah. Like, if it got out he had sex with a man - 'NSync could lose everything and Chris might never get into show business again."
Suddenly there was a cold lump in my belly. Chris probably expected me to know this. "Well, we haven't, really."
He grinned. "You would like to?"
"Oh, yes. He is so sexy. I'd like to-"
Tom clamped a hand over my mouth. "No details, please!"
I nodded, and he let go.
"He probably would like to too. Paul noticed that Chris looks at your ass every time you turn your back to him."
"He does?" I was tingling all over, an odd combination with the lingering cold.
Tom chuckled at the expression on my face and nodded. "Yeah."
"Paul is catching up fast, huh?"
Tom nodded and his cheeks reddened a little. "We're still taking it slow. But, yeah."
The question was out of my mouth before I could think. "What would you like to do to him?" Chris really thought I should give him, Tom, the Talk? It felt more like Tom should be the one giving me one.
"Not going to answer?"
"But you've agreed to let the slowest goer set the pace?"
"What? Oh. Well, yeah."
"That would be me. The slowest goer."
"Yeah. Like, I wanna be sure..."
"That Paul is serious?"
"No, I know he is. More like that there is an us and, well, I think there may be and I really want it to work." He bit his lip. "I'm... afraidhe'llbedisappointed."
I ran the odd word over in my mind, disassembling it. "Why would he be disappointed?"
Tom was beet-red and shook his head. "Fuck, I shouldn't have said that. Just fucking forget it, okay?"
"Look, if it's because you have trouble getting an erection-"
"It's not that. Christ!" He hid his face with his hands. "Can we stop now?"
"Okay. Do you remember what I said about stupid?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I remember. I gotta tell Paul. Fuck, if I can."
"Then maybe you can talk with me. If not now, then perhaps later. If it upsets you like this..."
He sighed, still hidden. "It's just, I'm not..."
Oh. That. "You're not equipped like a horse?"
"Yes." I didn't think I should ask him to show me so that I could see for myself. What else to say? "How important is Paul's size to you?"
"Huh? Not important at all." He sighed and looked up from his hands. "I told you I'm stupid."
"Yes. And in this case you don't even have to tell me, I realized it all on my own." I rubbed his shoulder. "Maybe Paul deserves a little more trust than you're showing him here?"
He blinked and nodded.
I thought it over, running a comparison of my own experiences. "You know, actually, I like it if my bed-partner's dick is smallish. It's easier to swallow and it takes less preparation before he can go in. I have yet to meet someone who isn't big enough to reach the good spot."
Tom hid his face again, laughing. He stayed hidden for while after he had stopped laughing. Then he looked up, still fiercely competing with a red neon sign. "What do you mean, 'preparation'?"
So, perhaps the shaman had been right after all. "You use your fingers and lots of lubricant to widen him before you go in. First one finger, then two and perhaps three." I scissored a couple of fingers to illustrate. "Lots of lube on the dick too and go slow. You never hurry the first part, unless you know each other real well. There's a little trick to being on the receiving end - push, like when you shit. That makes the muscle relax."
Tom swallowed. "Okay," he said weakly. "Okay."
"Even if you're sure none of you have HIV - you might want to use a rubber, because-"
"I understand. Mikkel..."
"The first time you - did it hurt a lot?"
"I don't think so. I mean, I would have remembered if it did. The guys I was with knew what they were doing." A deep breath and my voice stayed calm. "At least when it came to technique."
"It's like I missed something. Too much happened so fast that I really didn't have time to really experience and enjoy it. Also, I was so high on weed that the memory is - hazy, to say the least. Not that it was unpleasant, it really wasn't. It was good in a wild way. I remember that much. I just wish I had known better."
Tom stared at me. "How many were there?"
"... okay. I think I'll stick to just one at a time. Um?"
"Did you... see them again?"
"Yes. Martin was one of them. We were kind of doing things backwards compared to you and Paul, I guess."
He frowned. "How old were you?"
A kid? "Yes. A kid. But nobody got away with telling me that back then, not without me yelling something back in their faces."
"I was the same way." He smiled. "Granny calls you kid."
"I don't have the guts to yell at her. She calls you kid too."
"I don't have the guts either. Did you fall in love with Martin before or after you...?"
Did I really start this topic? "Hum. 'Before' isn't like a long stretch of time, just like a couple of hours. I certainly was in love with him when I woke up. Or maybe I was just in heat with him and the love part came later. It's kind of blurry."
"Because of the weed?"
"Maybe. I smoked a lot. Also it's almost eleven years ago."
"Eleven... Now I feel like a kid."
"And I feel old. You want another beer?"
"No." He yawned. "I think I'll go to bed. What about you?"
"I have a bit of business stuff I want to do first."
"Okay." He patted my shoulder and got to his feet.
"You know, you can always ask..." I moved Frida from my lap to the warm spot where Tom had been sitting.
"Yeah. Thanks. I probably will." He sent me a grin. "Right now I've had what I can take. I go slowly, remember? You want me to make you coffee? You probably don't want any of my tea."
He picked up the bottles and went towards the kitchen. Frida rose and made to climb unto my lap again. "Sorry, girl." I got up.
I had finished what I had to do within an hour and sat listening to the quiet and sipping my coffee. I wasn't ready for sleep.
During the last couple of days I had talked more about Martin and the guys than I had with anyone since they disappeared. It almost didn't hurt anymore, though the confusion was still there. Would likely always be, I realized, unless I hunted down the guys and got some answers from them.
I called up my bookmarks. Perhaps now was the time to take a look at the Danish penal code. It was a place to start, anyway. Hopefully I could do this without Sonja's help; she probably already knew the answer since she had worked as a lawyer's secretary for years. There, the law collection. I activated the link.
* * * * * * *