|Far From Home|
Authors Note: Standard disclaimers apply here... If it illegal to read about homosexuals and any physical expression thereof, then go away (though there isn't any sex yet... so if that is what you are looking for, then it might be best to move on). This is my first time writing fiction, and I appreciate feedback.
I have managed to put together a website for the story. Check it out at http://www.crosswinds.net/~charlatan. I hope you like it. Let me know what you think... I enjoy getting email.
from last time...
"Charles, take this ring and place it on Ryan's finger. Now repeat after me: With this ring, I thee wed."
"With this ring, I thee wed."
"Ryan, take this ring and place it on Charles' finger. Now repeat after me: With this ring, I thee wed."
"With this ring, I thee wed."
"May you always cherish the love you feel for one another. I now pronounce you husband and husband. You may kiss."
And we did.
"Ladies and gentleman, I present our newest couple, Ryan Kirkpatrick and Charles Ashby."
After all the usual hoopla immediately following the wedding, people began making their way back to our neighbor's back yard for the reception. Ryan and I, our families, and the wedding party (Sam and Mike) stayed behind for photographs. When we got to the reception, people were already beginning to sit down for dinner.
The food was excellent, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Ryan and I were seated next to each other with our "best men," Sam and Mike, on either side. About half an hour into dinner, Sam stood up and started tapping her fork against her glass.
"Can I get everyone's attention? It's that time folks; Mike and I get to give the best men's toast."
Mike stood up and began speaking. "When I decided to move to Georgia and go to Tech, my parent's thought I was crazy. My entire family had gone to Minnesota, and they did their best to get me to follow that tradition. But I moved, and my brother John followed me a year later.
"When I finally found my dorm room, Ryan had already settled in. He seemed pretty reclusive at first, but we soon became good friends. After our freshman year, we decided to get our own apartment, and we've been roommates ever since. I couldn't ask for a better roommate or a better friend.
"As for Charlie, I met him at the same party where he met Ryan, though I didn't get to know him until a few months later. This wedding has been a long time coming, and I'm glad that both of them have found happiness. Charlie and Ryan, I wish you all the best in your new life in Chicago. Cheers!" Everyone raised their glasses following Mike's cue. Sam spoke next.
"I met Charlie in tenth grade when he moved to Virginia. Back then he was painfully shyalmost too nervous to speak. But in the time that has passed, he's grown into a successful, adorable, and charming young man. And I'm glad to call him my best friend.
"Ryan, I love you like a brother, and you're one of the few who gets my seal of approval as far as Charlie is concerned. Take good care of him and good luck in Chicago. Cheers!"
The assembled crowd raised their glasses once again and started chanting "Speech! Speech!" Ryan and I stood up, both of our faces red with embarrassment as the crowd continued chanting.
"Okay, okay," I said. "You know, I never thought this day would come, but it's here now, and I've got a lot of people to thank. Mom, in more ways than I can count, I wouldnt be here without you. Sam, you're my best friend and you've always been by my side through thick and thin. Momma T and Dr. Tillman, I couldn't have made it without the support you gave me. Stacey, you're the one who dreamed up this party where Ryan and I met. And last but not least, Ryan, who taught me all about unconditional love." I leaned over and kissed him, turning his face a brighter shade of red.
"I've got a few people to thank too," he began. "Thanks to my parents, who've always been there for me. To Stacey, who threw that fateful party. To Mike, who's been there since my first day in Atlantaand the one that convinced me to actually go to that party. And I couldn't have driven back and forth to Charlie's house without John and Geoff, who fixed my Saab more times than I care to think about." There was a slight chuckle from a few of the guests. "And to Charlie, whom I fell in love with the first time I saw him."
The band started up after dinner, and people gradually began making their way to the dance floor. There were about twice as many people at the reception as there were at the service, mostly because Sam has a small back yard and we couldn't hold everyone. After a dance with Sam's mom, my mom, and Ryan's mom, I finally got a chance to dance with Sam.
"You know, for a gay guy, you can't dance for shit."
"Oh, and you're a regular Fred Estair."
"Very funny. How are you holding up?" she asked.
"A little tired, but that's about it. I got the 'mother of the groom' speech from Ryan's mom and your mom. You know the 'take good care of him' and all that. I'm sure he's gotten the same from both of our moms."
"Tell me about it."
"Hey, speaking of moms, who's that dancing with Ryan's mom?"
I scanned the crowd to find Mrs. Kirkpatrick. "Oh, that's Geoff."
"He's gorgeous! Who is he again?"
"You've met Mike's brother John, right? He's the guy who works at the Swedish auto repair place. Geoff is his best friend. He works there too. He's a really nice guy. You'd like himhe's got a wild streak."
"Hmm " she said.
"If you're interested, you should go introduce yourself."
"Hold on." Sam walked off, pulled Ryan away from his Aunt Vivian, and dragged him backed to me. "Dance with your husband," she commanded both of us.
Ryan and I started dancing as soon as Sam was out of earshot. "What's up with her?" he asked.
"Ryan, why have we never introduced Sam to Geoff?"
"My god, you're right. They're perfect for each other!"
"I know! If anyone can handle her, it's Geoff," I said.
"Yeah, they're a much better match than that guy she went out with last year. What was his name? Duane?"
"Emphasis on the 'Duh'," I said. I looked over to see Geoff and Sam dancing. "Ryan, what in the hell are they doing?"
"It looks like they're dancing the Lambada to Barry Manilow. I told you they were perfect for each other."
"Hey, where have you been? I've been looking all over for you."
"I'm sorry honey," said Mom, "but the limo got here. I had to make sure that your and Ryan's bags were taken care of."
"Oh, okay. Where'd you put the plane tickets?"
"The tickets and both of your passports are in the side pocket of your suitcase. I double checked before the driver closed the trunk. You've got a change of clothes for tomorrow in your carryon, and I put your shaving kit in there too."
"Thanks for taking care of that. I'm gonna find Ryan and say goodbye to a few folks before we make our getaway." I found Ryan sitting with Geoff and Sam, who had been inseparable since they met. We made the rounds saying goodbye to a few people before the mandatory showering in birdseed on the way to the limo.
Sam's mom had booked the hotel as part of our honeymoon getaway. It was easily the nicest hotel I'd stayed in since the Westin in Philadelphia. The honeymoon suite was so large that they felt it necessary to give us our own doorbell. "I've gotta get out of this tux. Care to join me in the hot tub?" I asked.
"You go ahead. I'm gonna call room service for a late night desert. I'll join you in a minute."
The hot tub was already filled and bubbling when I got to the bathroom. Along the side of the tub were several bottles of bath oils. I picked up one and poured it in, and within moments the bathroom was filled with the smell of mandarin oranges.
Ryan appeared at the door a few minutes later. "Everything will be set up in about an hour. They'll ring the doorbell on their way out to let us know that it's ready."
"Hmm what are you up to Mr. Kirkpatrick?"
He climbed into the tub behind me and wrapped his arms around my chest. "Me? Absolutely nothing."
Ryan continued to hold me, and it was quite sometime before either of us spoke again. "You know, I could sit in this tub all night."
"Tell me about it. I didn't realize how stressed I was from the wedding, but this is sure helping," said Ryan. "What time do we have to get up in the morning?"
"Yuk! Why so early?"
"Our plane leaves at nine."
"Are you ever gonna tell me where we're going?" he asked.
"I've told you enough."
"I hardly think that 'pack for warm weather and bring a bathing suit' qualifies as enough."
"You'll find out when we get to the airport, and you had better not go snooping for the plane tickets either!"
The doorbell rang signaling that the hotel staff was finished. I climbed out of the tub, dried off, and grabbed one of the bathrobes that the hotel provided. I made it out to the living room a few moments before Ryan did, and what I saw there nearly took my breath away. Candles and rose petals covered every flat surface, and in the middle of the room was a silver cart with a bottle of Port, strawberries, and melted chocolate.
Ryan emerged from the bathroom wearing, much to my delight, nothing but a towel. "Strawberries, chocolate, and alcohol," I said. "It looks like you're planning something kinky."
"Charlie, wake up."
I opened my eyes to see Ryan kneeling next to the bed and looking at me. "Hey, I didn't hear you get up. You look like you're ready to go."
"Yeah. Um I've got some bad news," he said.
"What is it?"
"WHAT?" I asked, springing out of bed.
"Well, I got up about twenty minutes ago and realized we had missed our plane. I didn't want to wake you up before I had to."
"Oh god. OH GOD! How could theyI didn't hear the wake up call, did you?"
"I think we forgot to ask for one."
"Oh shit. I need to call"
"No, you're going to go take a shower, relax, and get ready. You're too stressed to be dealing with this. I'm sure we can get space on another flight today." To enforce his point he turned me around and pushed me towards the bathroom. "I'll call the airline and get it all set up. Where are the tickets?"
"But I wanted it to be a surprise "
"And it will be. Now where are the tickets?" he asked.
"Mom put them in the side pocket of my suitcase."
"Okay then, you go shower and relax! And make sure to wash the chocolate off your neck."
I turned around and gave him a smirk. "You know, it's not my fault it's there."
Trying to relax was, of course, easier said than done. I really didn't want our honeymoon to start out on a bad foot. It wasn't good luck. But I emerged from the bathroom feeling fresh, clean, and a little better. Ryan was just hanging up the phone as I came out. "I told you not to worry. They've got a six o'clock flight that has plenty of seats left. I called the front desk and arranged for a late checkout, and I called your mom to let her know the change in plans."
I walked over to him and joined him on the bed. "Thanks for taking care of that."
"No problem," he said. "So we're going to Barbados?"
"Yeah, but "
"I know, you wanted it to be a surprise. I promise it will still be special. Besides, you've still got a few surprises you still haven't give me my wedding present."
"I told you that you'd get it the day we close on the house. And it's not like you've told me what I'm getting either."
"Oh, you'll know soon I promise."
"Do you two need to be let off at the North or South Terminal?" asked the driver.
"South," I said.
"Actually we need to go the North terminal,"
I leaned over to Ryan. "I thought we were taking Delta. They're in the South terminal, right?"
"No uh they had to put us on one of their partner airlines, so we have to go to the North terminal."
The driver took the North Terminal exit and dropped us off at the curb. Ryan and I grabbed our bags and walked into the airport. We walked up to the British Airways ticket counter and Ryan handed the agent our tickets. After a few questions, we were on our way to the concourse.
"Which gate are we leaving from?" I asked.
"It's this one. Sixteen."
I looked over to the counter and then back at him. "I think this is the wrong one. It says British Airways to London-Heathrow."
Ryan arched his eyebrows and smiled back. "No, it's the right one."
"Aaaahh! We're going to London???? What How?" I was all but jumping up and down trying to contain my excitement.
"Oh, I've had this planned all along. Surprise!"
"What But how did you I thought Sam's mom "
"She was in on it. Everybody was. And that's not all." Ryan unzipped his backpack and pulled out an envelope. "Go ahead, open it."
I took the envelope and looked inside. "Radiohead?" It took a moment to sink in. "OH MY GOD, WE'RE GOING TO SEE RADIOHEAD?"
"Yep, they're playing at Wembley the day before we come back."
"Holy shit! But how did you manage all this? I mean, I saw the tickets to Barbados myself. Sam's mom gave them to me when she got here."
"Nope, the tickets you saw were no good. She did buy us tickets, but she got a refund when I called her to let her in on the plan. Your mom did some rearranging of your suitcase. And I knew that if you had the slightest bit of alcohol, there was no way you'd wake up early enough to make our plane this morning, wake up call or not."
"You little devil!" I grabbed him and gave him a big hug. "Thank you so much. This is the best present you could have given me."
British Airways really knows how to treat their passengers. We were only flying in coach, but it was easily the nicest serviceand the best foodI'd ever gotten before. Ryan slept most of the way, and I dozed on and off, but for most of the trip I was too excited to sleep.
"Ryan, honey, wake up."
Ryan grumbled something and shifted positions in his seat. I nudged him a second time before I managed to get his attention. "What? Are we there yet?"
"Not quite, we've got about forty minutes. Look out the window." Ryan leaned across my seat to see what I was talking about. We were still pretty far away from Heathrow, but there were lights everywhere, and it wasn't even six-thirty in the morning. I guess that by itself it wasn't that exciting, but this was the first time I'd ever been to a foreign countryI got excited when I heard the accent of our flight attendant.
"Ladies and Gentleman, this is the captain speaking. We're about half an hour from landing at Heathrow. We should be pulling up to gate 15 of Terminal 1 at about 6:52, which puts us about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Currently its about 9 degrees in London, or about 48 degrees for our passengers from the United States. The forecast for today calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 13 degrees Celcius or 56 degrees farenheight. Flight attendants please begin pre-landing preparations."
"Oh God We're almost there." Despite having hardly slept I was no where close to being tired. I was practically shaking with anticipation.
"Charlie, you've said this to me too many times to count over the last few weeks, but calm down. You can't make the plane land any faster."
"I know, I know. I am just so excited!"
Ryan leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "I know," he said.
The flight attendants began making announcements and traveling through the cabin instructing passengers to "put up your tray table and return your seat to the upright positions." Within a few minutes the plane started to slow as we made our descent. When we finally landed, Ryan had to remind me that I couldn't get out of my seat until we reached the gate. After we pulled up to the gate, we made our way into the airport and, got our passports stamped at immigration, and headed to baggage claim.
"Okay, we've got a few options. We can take the tube inthe Picadilly Line runs straight into central London. We can take a bus with a bunch of other people, or we can grab a taxi. I probably wouldn't recommend the tube because it will be rush hour by the time we get there."
"How much is a taxi to our hotel?"
"Probably around forty pounds."
"That's about sixty-five dollars, right? Let's go for it. The sights will probably be better on the way in."
Ryan spotted a free taxi right outside of our terminal. He talked with the driver a second before taking care of our bags and climbing into the taxi. "You're coming, aren't you?" he asked.
"Ohyeah," I said as I got in beside him. "It's just all so surreal. Im in a black cab traveling to our hotel in London and just this morning we were in our hotel. Where are we staying anyway?"
"It's called the Belvedere. It's on the strand."
"Um where is that?"
Ryan dug into his bookbag and retrieved a well-used book. "You'll live and die by this book when you're here. They call it the 'A to Zed,' and no Londoner would be without it. It's a street map of the entire city." He flipped to some pages in the middle of the book and pointed out where we'd be staying. "The Strand is an area in central London right on the Thames and just below Soho. We're within walking distance to Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Oxford Street."
"When were you here again?" I asked.
"My parents and I came here during the summer before my twelfth grade year. We spent most of our time in London but we headed over to Calais for a day to take advantage of the duty-free shopping. They don't have that anymore because of the European Union."
I flipped through the A to Zed for a few minutes before getting distracted by the outlying areas of London. As we headed into the city, I realized I was much more tired than I had been on the plane. I leaned into Ryan and promptly dozed off.
"Hey, wake up, we're here," I heard. I opened my eyes to see Ryan staring down at me. "We're at the hotel."
"Already? How long was I asleep?"
"About half an hour. Come on and help me with the bags."
We were greeted by a bellhop as soon as Ryan had paid the cab driver. After checking in at the front desk he led us to our room. "Not as nice as the honeymoon suite, but I think it will do," said Ryan. The bellhop deposited our bags in the room and politely waited by the door. Ryan fished a bill out of his pocket and handed it to the bellhop.
"I've got to get some change," he said. "I just tipped that guy five pounds."
"Oh yeah. They don't have one pound bills here."
"Nope. A fiver is the smallest they've got. Don't worry though, you'll be swimming in coins by the time we leave. I came home with almost thirty dollars in British coins the last time I was here, and they don't let you exchange those in the U.S."
"So what's on tap for today?" I asked.
"Well, I'm still kinda tired, and you're probably going to be crashing any minute. We should probably sleep until the mid afternoon and then go grab something to eat."
"Sounds good to me," I said.
"That was the most amazing food I've ever had," I said as we walked out of the restaurant. "What did we eat again?"
"You had Chicken Tikka Masala, and I had Lamb Tandori. The green stuff we ate is called sag aloo, which means spinach with potatoes, and the bread is called nan. To get better Indian food you'd have to go to India."
"Where are we going now?"
"There's this really nice pub around the corner that my parents took me to called The Rising Sun. They have the best cider that you've ever tasted. They'll be open for another two hours."
The pub was indeed nice, and quite a shock when you're used to bars in the States. Everything inside was wooden which gave it a very Old World feel. Ryan and I walked up to the bar to order a drink.
"Hey, what would you like?" said the young guy in a decidedly American accent.
"You don't sound local," I said. "Where are you from?"
"I'm from Toledo," he said. "I'm here on a work exchange program until September."
"Cool," said Ryan. "Can we get 2 pints of cider?"
The barman, who introduced himself as Foster, prepared our drinks and took a five pound note from Ryan. We found a small table in the back corner and took a seat. "You know what I was just thinking?" I asked.
"I was just thinking, 'I'm in absolute heaven. I'm in London, in a pub, listening to the accents of people around me, and sitting across from my husband.' And then it hit mehusband. It's the first time I actually thought about ityou're my husband."
"It's pretty cool, isn't it?"
"Yeah," I said.
We stayed in The Rising Sun until just after the last call. Ryan got me to try something called a "cider black," which was cider with a shot of black currant cordial. It was like drinking candy, and I had two or three of them. Our hotel was a pretty hefty walk from The Rising Sun so we decided to take a cab.
I woke up the following morning to find Ryan sitting at the desk flipping through his guidebook. He had marked a few pages that had information about all of the typical tourist destinations. Over the next few days we saw Phantom of the Opera in Leicester Square, toured the National Gallery, the London Transport Museum, the Tower of London, and we even went on a "Jack the Ripper" walking tour of the east end of London. We spent the following day visiting a few street markets, hitting the shops on Oxford Street, and taking the mandatory trip to Harrods. I went a little overboard at the Virgin Megastore, but I picked up a lot of CDs that I couldn't get at home. And finally, the day of the concert arrived.
We took the tube to Wembley and arrived about an hour before the concert was supposed to begin. The crowds were enormous, but we managed to find our seat in the stands. The opening band was one that I had never heard of before, but they weren't that bad. I was impatient thoughI'd been a fan of Radiohead since Sam bought me The Bends CD in 1995. Seeing them live, and in London, was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
They took the stage at about half past nine, and fired up the crowd with an amazing rendition of My Iron Lung. The next hour and a half I sat next to Ryan as the songs literally washed over me. Most of the time I had my eyes closed as I sang along to every song. Ryan wasn't a big Radiohead fan, but he appeared to be genuinely enjoying himself. At about eleven o'clock Thom announced to the crowd that they were on their last song. I immediately recognized the opening chords of Bulletproof... I Wish I Was, which is easily my favourite song. The crowd was on their feet, swaying back and forth as Thom began singing. I grabbed Ryan's hand and joined in.
"Hey kids!" shouted Sam. "How was the trip?"
I put down my carry on and gave her a hug. "It was amazing. Sam, you've got to see Radiohead in concert. It was a religious experience."
"He was in a trance the whole time," said Ryan. "I thought he was going to fall over and start speaking in tongues."
I turned to Ryan and gave him a smirk. "Let's go get our bags, I'm tired as hell and I can hear my bed calling me from here."
Sam drove us back to our house and I slept until eight o'clock the next morning. I stopped by work to clean out my office and pick up my plane tickets to Chicago. I was due to fly out on Wednesday and Ryan was to follow me the next day for his interview. The bank was kind enough to put me up in a nicer hotel than in the past, mostly because they knew I'd be staying there for two weeks and they wanted to keep me happy.
Ryan's interview went very well. He was there for five hours and afterwards they took him out to dinner. I told him that was very promising since a company probably wouldn't shell out a few hundred bucks for dinner and drinks unless they wanted to hire him. Ryan stayed in Chicago for a few more days before heading back to Atlanta to get ready for the move. We spent most of that time furniture shopping.
He called me as soon as he got back to Atlanta. "They left a message on my answering machine."
"Who did?" I asked.
"Bolin Liggett & Greene."
"Did they mention anything about the job?"
"They just said to call them back as soon as I get the message. They said it was important."
"Well are you going to call them?"
"I don't know. I'm really nervous," he said. "Maybe I should wait until tomorrow."
"Ryan, if you wait until tomorrow, you're going to sit up all night worrying," I said. "Who left the message?"
"Ryan, you've got the job. If they were going to turn you down they'd get a secretary to leave the message, not a senior partner. Go ahead, call them."
"Okay. I'll call you back as soon as I find out anything."
I was a little worried when an hour passed and I had not heard from him, but he did end up getting the job. I spent the next several days at work getting to know my staff and getting comfortable in my new office. The place was nearly busting at the seams with people, and a two-month delay in moving to our new office wouldn't help our situation. I could tell I had my work cut out for me.
It wasn't easy being separated from Ryan. My hotel room was very lonely, and we really hadn't spent any time apart in the last several months. We would call each other late at night and talk until one of us fell asleep. That helped pass the time until he arrived in Chicago for good. He got on a plane to Chicago as soon as the movers had finished packing both of our houses.
"What time is it?" Ryan asked, fidgeting in his seat.
"Don't worry," I said. "We don't have to meet Joanne until 12:30. We've got about fifteen minutes."
"Okay. I'm just nervous I mean, after today, it's going to be our house."
"Our house. I like the sound of that."
We pulled into the driveway to find Joanne and her contractor standing outside. It was a brisk but sunny day in Chicago, but it wasn't so cold that you couldn't stay outside. Joanne waved as she saw our car drive up. "Good afternoon gentleman. Ryan, I see you made it up safely. How was your trip?"
"It was okay," Ryan said.
"Well, I'd like to get this done as quickly as possible, and I'm sure you would too. Let's go ahead and do the walkthrough." Joanne opened the door and went inside and the contractor followed behind us. "What I normally like to do is go through a quick run through of the house and then let you two roam around for a while to see if you're satisfied. If you find anything that we need to fix, we can set up an appointment to have that done later this week."
Joanne gave us a tour of the house, but Ryan paid much more attention than I did. It was only his second time here, but I'd seen it a number of times. When she let us go we wandered around looking for any defects we could find. There weren't that many though; the builder had done an excellent job. "Joanne?" I called from upstairs.
She appeared a few seconds later. "You two done? What did you find?"
"Could we get another coat of paint in this room? It's a little uneven," said Ryan. "And there is a piece of molding that needs to be replaced in the master bedroom." Joanne pulled out her planner and jotted down notes as we showed her the things we wanted fixed as we led her around the house. The contractor followed right behind her.
"Well, if that's all, let's meet up at the title office at three o'clock. Will that give you enough time to go by your bank and get the certified cheque?"
"That should," I said. "We'll probably have time to get some lunch too."
"Great, I'll see you two there," she said before getting in her car and driving off. Ryan and I stood in the front yard for a few minutes just to look at our new house.
"It's beautiful," he said.
"Yes, it is. And in a little while, it will be ours."
After stopping by the bank and grabbing a bite to eat, we met Joanne at the title office. I don't think I've ever signed my name so many times, and judging from the look on Ryan's face, he felt the same. Eventually we got to the end of the paperwork and gave the title officer the cheque.
"Thank you gentlemen, I believe we're done here," he said.
"No, thank you," said Ryan.
"Congratulations Charlie and Ryan, you're now the new owners of 2325 Taylorsmith Avenue, Evanston, Illinois." And with that, he pitched us the keys.
Sorry it took so long folks. I hope everyone had a happy thanksgiving. I'd like to say that I'll get the next chapter up before Christmas but I don't think I'll be able to. I'm going out of town for a week, and then it's "end of semester" time at work... and that's always crazy. I'll try to get it up ASAP.
For those of you who emailed me and haven't gotten a response, I PROFUSELY apologize. I've not had time to clear out my inbox lately with work, planning for thanksgiving, and planning for this trip taking up my time. I'll try to get to you as soon as I can.
Have a happy Christmas!