steve: chapter 10

Here's the warning. If you're not 18 or your parents are in the room, don't read this story. If you don't like the thought of two guys doing it until the windows shake, don't read this story. If you're a dumbass, don't read this story. If you don't own at least one CD by Bjork, you have some shopping to do. Otherwise, go ahead and read the story.

It had been about a week and a half since the whole Jeff incident. I figured that I had been handling things rather well, considering the fact that I had been kidnapped and beaten and almost killed. I hadn't. It's not like I was having some big emotional breakdown or anything, but I was a little bit off.

Mike was great, though. He never said anything to me. Even when I got to the point where I didn't want to let him up to go to the bathroom, he didn't say anything. That was the major thing. I got incredibly clingy and wouldn't let him out of my sight for any amount of time. From the way he's analyzed it since then, I put him into the role of my protector and was scared to spend any time apart from him at all.

That night, when we went to bed, I took my usual position of being snuggled up to him, my head on his shoulder and my arm across his chest. I must have hurt him at least a few nights with how tight I held him around the middle. Still, he didn't complain -- he just cuddled back up to me and let me fall asleep how I wanted. I have to say that there was something comforting about having him so close to me, too.

A few hours after we had gone to bed, I woke up. It had to be at least 3:30 in the morning or so. Mike wasn't there. I figured that he had gone to the bathroom or something, but when he didn't come back for a few more minutes, I got up. I slipped on my boxers and went out to the living room. He was standing in front of the window, looking out onto the rain-slicked street. The light from the moon reflecting off the pavement gave his skin a pale blue glow. My first thought was that he looked like an angel.

I walked up behind him and wrapped my arms around his middle. He wasn't wearing a shirt, so I could feel his warm skin against my chest. I took a few moments to just enjoy feeling and smelling and touching him.

"Whatcha doin'?" I asked, breaking the silence.

"Thinking," he said in a very quiet voice.

I leaned down and kissed the side of his neck. "About what?"

"Us," he said in that same voice. "You, mainly."

I pulled my head up from his shoulder. "What about me?"

He sighed. "Why you're acting the way you have been, mostly. About how I can help you. How I can make it all go away."

It was my turn for a thoughtful pause. I stood there with my arms around him for a few minutes, just thinking. He was obsessing over me and how I felt. He wanted to help me so badly that he couldn't sleep over it. He was showing more concern for me than I think anyone ever had before. It just made me want to hold him tighter.

"I don't think you can." I was moving my hand around in a little circle on his stomach. It was a comforting gesture for both of us. "It's something that I'm going to have to deal with. I haven't been doing that. I will, though. And I'm going to want your help."

"Whatever I can do, babe. You know I'm there for you." I could almost feel him smiling. "So, do you know what you need to do?"

"Not a clue." I brought my face down again and nuzzled at his neck. "But I do know that with you there, I'll make it."

Mike moved his head and touched the side of my face with his for a second, then straightened back up. "I love you."

"You'd have to be insane to put up with me if you didn't." I chuckled and kissed him just below his ear. "I love you, too."

Another few minutes passed. We were both lost in our thoughts, staring out at the dimly lit street in front of us. Everything was quiet. It felt like it was just us in the entire world. The lighting, the rain, the moon, the silence -- it was all just for us. It felt so good to be sharing a moment with him. Everything about that point in time seemed perfect. For us, it was.

"Mike?" A little while passed before I spoke. "Do you ever, you know, get scared? Like something bad's going to happen, but you don't know what? Like there's nothing you'll be able to do about it, no matter what? That's how I've felt since Jeff--since he took me."

"Sometimes, yeah," he said. "But I know that I've got a big, strong hus--boyfriend looking out for me."

My ears perked up at that. "A husband, eh?" I teased.

"Damn," he said with a smile in his voice, "I was hoping you wouldn't catch that."

I took my arms off of him long enough to turn him around so he was facing me. "That thought makes me happier than anything else possibly could," I said, looking into his eyes. They were bright and shining, seeming to know what I was going to say next. "Nothing would please me more than that. In fact," I whispered, wrapping my arms around his neck, "Michael Branford, will you marry me?"

He stared at me for a few short seconds before wrapping his arms around me and whispering "Yes!" into my ear over and over.

We had moved over to the couch so we could keep talking. Everything just felt right. It was just us in the dark, speaking as softly as we could so we wouldn't wake anyone else up. We decided that we wouldn't have an actual ceremony or anything for a while. Sure, it would have been nice, but there had just been so much going on that we wanted to wait. There were still things about each other that we needed to discover--after all, we had only known that we were in love for three weeks or so. But damn, it felt like so much longer.

Still, despite our wanting to wait, we started planning a little. Neither of us really wanted a church wedding--or whatever the hell they're called when it's two guys. We wanted something outside. We also wanted both of our parents there, which we figured could mean years.

Eventually, we stopped talking. Mike was lying against me and I could tell by his breathing that he had fallen asleep. As carefully as I could, I stood up, helped him onto his feet, and guided him into the bedroom. When I put him down on the bed, I took another few moments to just look at him. The sight of him took my breath away, and I was sure that it always would.

I slipped into bed next to him. Automatically, he rolled over and pressed himself against me, wrapping his arm around my chest. I had expected it to hurt, but it didn't. It never did when Mike was the one hugging me. After the beating Jeff had given my ribs, being touched anywhere near there hurt like hell, but not when Mike did it. It was one of those weird, cute, incredible things that I loved about him.

I leaned down, kissed his forehead, and closed my eyes.

When the clock radio went off, it seemed like I had only been asleep for a few seconds. It was one of those mornings--one where you wanted to just stay in bed, cuddled up to the amazing guy next to you. My head was right next to his on the pillow and I could see him just starting to wake up. That was another one of those cute things I liked so much.

"Morning," Mike said before he had even opened his eyes.

"Morning to you, too," I said as I kissed the bridge of his nose. He smiled.

"That tickles." He opened his eyes and looked at me in that sleepy way he had early in the morning. "Mmm. Waking up next to my fiancee. I could get used to that, yeah."

I chuckled. "Your future-domestic-partner, thank you very much."

"When'd you get all PC?" Mike laughed a little. "Doesn't have nearly the same ring to it."

"You're right, as usual." I kissed him again. "I just feel bad for you, since my parents are going to be your in-laws."

"Well, they are raving psychotics, yes." Mike gave me a sly little grin. "At least they're trying, though."

Since they came into my room at the hospital, I had seen my parents about four or five times. They were making an effort, but the going was slow and it was intensely frustrating. Dad was still obviously agitated about me, and Mom wasn't really doing that much better. They talked with Mike's parents and I think that his father knocked a little sense into them, but it'd still take a while. At least they were speaking to me, though.

"Come on, let's go get breakfast." I kissed Mike again and got up. The clock said 9:00. "Why the hell are we getting up so early?"

"There are a bunch of things we need to do today." He got up and walked groggily over to me. "Mainly involving college and jobs and stuff."

I groaned. "Can't that wait? I'm still in recovery, ya know."

"No, it can't," he said in his matter-of-fact, you-won't-argue-with-me voice. "I don't want to put it off for another semester, and the good classes all fill up fast. Plus there's the whole first-come, first-served issue on housing, and I want to at least get into a dorm with air conditioning. We're also going to need to save up money for expenses, though I'm sure we can both get enough loans and grants and crap to cover everything else."

"Put a lot of thought into this, haven't you?" I reached over and hugged him. "I swear, if it wasn't for you, I'd still be a sophomore in highschool."

"Exactly. Now go take a shower." Mike playfully slapped my ass as I walked out of the room and he went to go get some breakfast ready.

I spent a little too long in the bathroom, I think. I almost never fog up the mirror, but that morning the entire room was filled with steam. Still, it felt good. I took another few minutes shaving and brushing my teeth and all of those other morning things, then went out to the kitchen dressed in just my boxers. It was only me and Mike in the house, and I knew how much he liked to see me almost-naked.

"Took ya long enough," he said, grinning at me. He walked over and gave me a quick kiss. "Toast and juice are on the table, cereal's waiting to have milk added, and you're gorgeous. Anything else?"

"Sounds like you've gotten everything all taken care of, yeah." I sat down at the table and started eating while he went to go shower. We had both decided that it was better to shower separately on most mornings, since if we didn't, we'd spend all day in there and the water would get cold.

I finished off my cereal and toast in no time and was working on my juice when the phone rang. Mike ran out to the living room and got it, replied with a series of short answers, and looked over at me. He was so cute: he had a towel wrapped around his waist. When he finished, he switched the phone off and tossed it over onto the couch.

"So what's up with the towel? Getting all modest around me now? Looks like someone has blushing-bride syndrome." I chuckled and finished off my juice.

"No, asshole, I just didn't want to drip on the carpet." Mike leaned against the desk, letting the towel slip down so I could see most of his hip. "Mmm, that was a nice shower."

"Your towel's slipping, babe," I said, smirking. He was doing his best to be sexy, and he was definitely succeeding.

"Oh, better fix that then." Mike moved his hand and the towel dropped to the floor. His pubic hair was still a little damp, and fuck if it didn't look like it was glistening a little in the morning sunlight coming from the kitchen window. His cock was full -- not hard, but thicker and longer than usual. It was hanging down over his balls, which were very loose and looked a whole lot bigger than usual. Everything about him seemed to be screaming, "Take me, Steve!"

I smiled at him and got the sexiest little grin back. "You'd better pick that up."

"I suppose I should, yeah." With that, Mike turned around and bent over, spreading the cheeks of his gorgeous ass and revealing his perfect little hole. He had a good amount of hair both around and in his crack, but I thought it was cute (like everything about him). Seeing that was too much for me and he knew it.

I nearly jumped up and ran the ten feet over to him. Without giving him any warning at all, I crouched down behind him and started pressing my tongue against his asshole. The taste and smell were pure Mike and I loved every moment of it. When I had first done it, I thought it'd be disgusting or at the very least unpleasant. It had since turned into one of my (and his!) favorite activities. Before I had gotten too far into it, I pulled off my boxers so I was naked, too.

He groaned as my tongue made contact with the very center. I refused to push it in very far, though. I didn't want to do too much too fast. I started licking my way up until I was at the small of his back, where I teasingly scraped my teeth along the skin. He shuddered and moaned a little. That's another of my favorite things about him. When he first gets excited, he loses the ability to speak coherently.

I made my way down again, moving slowly until I had reached his balls. The skin there was so loose that I could suck one into my mouth from that angle. I did. The taste there was a little different -- still incredible, but different. When his moans died down into small whimpers, I moved back to his hole.

After a few more seconds there, I moved back to admire my handiwork. It was obvious from the good amount of saliva around his asshole that I had been moving my tongue in a circle around it for quite some time. I softly blew on it, cooling it down and making him jump. He shivered, then moaned again. I, of course, did it again, then moved forward until I had my face buried in his crack.

"Mmm, yeah," he said, finally able to form words again. I softly pushed my tongue deeper into him, seeing just how far I could get it. Judging from his reaction, it was pretty far. "More, yeah, unnh."

This was the kind of thing that I could just spend all day doing, but I knew that Mike had other plans. I reluctantly started moving up again, this time working my way entirely up his back. As I kissed his ear, he pointed to the conveniently-placed tube of KY on the desk. My guy certainly does like to be prepared.

"Come on, babe, I wanna feel you sliding into me," he moaned. As if to emphasize his point, he squeezed his ass around my cock, where it had been resting in his crack.

I didn't answer; instead, I grabbed the tube and squeezed out a good amount on to my fingers. I moved my hips, reached down, and started massaging his hole with one finger. Soon enough, it slid in. I started to slowly push it in and out, loosening him up. It was joined by a second, and finally a third. When I thought he was loose enough (it was becoming easier every time), I pulled my fingers out and ripped off my boxers.

"Do you want it?" I asked as I pushed the head of my cock against his hole. Not entering, but just resting against it. I loved teasing him. "Tell me how much you want it and maybe I'll give it to you. What do you want me to do with it?"

Mike grunted in desperation, trying to push himself back against me. I had one hand on my cock and one hand on his side, though, so he wasn't getting anywhere.

"I want you to slide it into me," he said, nearly panting. "I want to feel it rubbing against my prostate, making me want to cum. Come on, give it to me. I want you to pound me so hard I'll explode without even touching myself. Push it in. Come on."

I leaned down and kissed his neck as I slid the first inch or so of my cock into him. He groaned and I could feel his muscles trying to pull me even deeper. I gave in, and soon I was buried balls-deep in him. When he felt the last possible bit of me enter him, Mike let out a sigh and a moan and a grunt and some other unidentifiable sounds all at once.

I made myself stay still for a few moments, letting him get used to having me inside him again. When I felt him stop clenching his muscles around my cock, I started to pull out. He still tried to hold me in him, but not as forcefully. Finally, I had just the head inside him and held that position for a few more moments.

When I started to push in again, I went as slowly as I possibly could, judging his reaction. When he shot up a little bit and groaned, I knew that I had found the right spot. I started to rapidly push in and pull out, just so I could hit it several times and make him jump. I did that every few strokes or so. All the rest were my typical long-dicking thrusts.

I noticed Mike's breathing starting to get heavier, so I started pushing against his prostate every other stroke. Also, I took my lube-covered hand and started to stroke his cock. He was incredibly hard, like he gets before he's just about to cum. A few more minutes of that and he was yelling out my name, shooting a rather substantial load all over my hand and the carpet. Still, he didn't get soft like he usually did.

I kept up my pace until I felt myself almost on the edge of orgasm, then I pulled out. I reached down with my other hand and started jerking myself off. It only took a few seconds until I was shooting a load of my own all over his back. Oh fuck, it felt good. I could have sworn that I could feel every last drop shooting out of me. I was still stroking Mike's cock, too.

My jerking slowed down a little, then stopped as I got sensitive and my hardon went down. Mike was still hard as a rock, though, and I was still stroking him. I thought that was weird, too, since he's usually too sensitive to be touched after an orgasm. Still, he was enjoying it. I got an idea, so I took my hands off of him for a minute while I reached down and grabbed the towel. First I wiped my cum off of his back, then I started wiping all of the excess lube from his cock, then got down in front of him and sucked him into my mouth.

This time didn't take too long. I had barely gotten all the way down on him before he started cumming again. There wasn't nearly as much as last time, but it still tasted incredible. A little salty, but with a flavor that I can't really place. He started getting soft. That time he had me pull off, though.

"Fuck, that was incredible." Mike leaned against the desk. I had sat down on the floor in front of him.

"What was up with that?" I said, laughing. "I'm dating multiple-orgasm man."

"Dunno," he said, smiling back at me. "I've never done that before."

"Well, whatever it was, you can feel free to do it any time." I fell backwards and rested my head on the floor. "Teach me how to do it, too, while you're at it."

Mike laughed again, then reached down to help me get up. "Come on, we've got to get cleaned up. We do have stuff to do today, remember?"

I groaned as I reached up and took his hand. "Maybe it would have been a better idea to seduce me after we had gone job hunting, huh?" That got another laugh. "Oh, hey, who was that on the phone before you corrupted me?"

"Well, let's just say that what we did was me celebrating getting a job." He grinned at me.

"No shit," I said. "Where?"

"You know that new lawyer's office in town? They needed a new 'administrative assistant' or something like that." He patted his chest. "That'd be me."

I had to smirk at that. "So you're a secretary, huh?"

"No, you bastard." Mike was smiling at me. "They needed someone to do the front office work and all of the secretary-like filing things, but they also wanted someone who could program and who was good with graphic design and stuff."

"Ah, good. That means no hunting for you, eh?" I reached over, grabbed the towel, and started to wipe myself off. "Just your poor, unemployed boyfriend."

"Hah, whatever. We're not poor," he said. "The job pays twenty-two an hour."

My jaw almost hit the floor. "Twenty-two an hour for typing and filing?"

Mike shook his head. "And for computer maintenance, design work, and all kinds of other stuff I should be getting paid a lot more for."

"So they're basically ripping you off, huh?" I reached over and started wiping him off, getting rid of all the excess cum and lube. "I take it we'll need to go down there sometime today."

"Yep," he said in a mischievous tone. "We should have been leaving right around the time I was moaning your name and you were shooting a huge load of your thick, warm cum all over me."

I shook my head, though I could feel a slight stirring in my groin. "Careful, you'll get me excited again and have to take care of it, then you'll really be late for your appointment."

Mike just smiled and walked down the hallway into his bedroom, shaking his ass all the way.

The lawyer's office didn't need to see Mike until 11:30, which gave us two hours to kill finding me a job. The trouble was that I couldn't really think of any skills I had. I mean, sure, I could lift well enough to do factory or construction work, but to be honest, none of those things really appealed to me. Then there was the fact that my injuries would prevent me from doing any kind of serious lifting for the next few weeks.

"Okay, so after the highschool, we'll go check out a few of those job-placement agency things." Mike had just turned off the car in the visitor's parking lot. "Damn I hated this place. I mean, I did, but I didn't."

"Yeah, I know." I shook my head, thinking about what it was like being in school with him. Hell, it hadn't even been a year and I was already getting all nostalgic about it. "Well, come on, you know they don't like us stalkers to hang around outside for too long."

We stopped by the office to get our visitor's passes, then went over to guidance to talk to our former counselors. All we needed were a few of our records, and Mike had called ahead (again with the planning), so it didn't take too long. Since we were already in the building, we stopped by a few of our old teacher's rooms. Catching up was cool, though the acting teacher did look like she had figured a few things out about us. Strangely enough, though, it didn't really bother me.

When we finished up there, it was around 10:00. Mike knew one of the staffing places, since he had worked for them a summer or two ago, so that was where we went. It took me about half an hour to fill out all of the forms and get all of the information they wanted, but overall everything went smoothly.

"Well, Steve," the lady started. We had moved into her office for our little private interview or whatever they were called. "We don't have anything right now, but with your qualifications, it won't be very hard at all to find something for you."

"Okay, thanks," I said. "Like I said before, I really don't want to do factory work, but it'd be alright in the short-term. Honestly, I don't think I could do factory work at the moment. I'm not sure my ribs have healed enough."

"Really?" She looked interested all of a sudden. "What happened to you?"

"Oh, umm, let's just say there was an incident about two weeks ago." I shook my head. "Nothing big, just a little bit of kidnapping and intrigue."

"Oh! I read about that in the paper." She looked like she was trying to remember something for a second. "How's that girl you were with doing? I hope she's alright."

"I think she's doing better now." I made a mental note to visit Rachel later that day. "Anyway, like I said, I don't think I could handle any kind of lifting at the moment."

"I'm sure we'll have something opening up soon." She got back to her work. "Now, I just want to double-check and make sure that everything on this form is correct." She read off my address and phone number.

"Yeah, that's right," I said before I gave myself a mental smack. "No, wait. I'm not currently living at home. I've been staying at my friend's house, and I'll probably be there for most of the foreseeable future."

"That's fine. I'll just need those numbers, then." She smiled at me and I gave her Mike's address and phone number. Soon after that, the meeting was over, and Mike and I were free to go.

"Well, I'd say we have enough time for a nice, secluded make out session," Mike said, grinning at me. We had left the office and were now driving around town aimlessly.

"Who said anything about secluded?" I grinned back at him. "I'd be perfectly happy taking you right here."

"Ugh, didn't you get enough this morning?" He shot me a disgusted glare, then turned back to the road.

I laughed. "Says the guy with the amazing multiple orgasms."

"Not my fault," he said, grinning again. "If your boyfriend was nearly as hot as mine, you'd have 'em, too."

I had to laugh a little at that. I had always loved his roundabout way of giving compliments. "I'd be willing to bet he's almost as hot, yeah."

Mike leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. It was a small gesture, but it made me feel incredible. The way he could do such small, simple things that seemed insignificant but weren't -- that was one of the many things I had fallen in love with about him.

"Let's go get some coffee, huh?" I looked over at Mike, rediscovering all kinds of things about him in just one glance. That's one of the best things about being in love, I think -- the fact that I can see new things about him every time I look at him. He nodded, so I pulled into the nearest gas station.

"Okay, so why does a 40-ounce coffee cost 69 cents, but a 6-ounce bag of chips costs four bucks?" he asked as we browsed around, boredly. It was the exact same question he asked every time we went into a gas station, but, for some reason, I still found it funny. Yeah, being in love makes you laugh at overused jokes, too, apparently.

"I've been wondering this," I said. "How did you get your lazy little hands on a great job like the one at the lawyers'? And what's the firm's name, anyway?"

"Well, the firm is Rogers & Steinman, and they're the ones who called me a week or two ago." Mike finished filling up his cup (vanilla cappuccino... or as close to cappuccino as you're going to get in a gas station) and reached around for a lid. "Mrs. Steinman at the school referred me to her husband, since I helped her so much over the years with all of the computer maintenance and stuff."

"Ah, so that explains it." I finished getting my coffee (mine was a mocha). Mrs. Steinman was the head computer technician at the highschool. Mike had been her teacher's aide for the past three years. "My guy's got connections."

"Yep. See? It pays to be a nerd." He grinned, then took a sip of his coffee.

I looked around to see if anybody could see us. The coast was clear. I reached down and grabbed his ass. "A cute nerd, at that."

"Damn," he almost sighed, "you're insatiable."

"Come on, let's go pay and get outta here." I grabbed a lid for my coffee and started walking toward the register. "Don't want to be late for an important interview."

"Whatever, I've still got like 20 minutes." He followed close behind me. "Hmm, I wonder what we could do in 20 minutes."

"And I'm the insatiable one." I walked over to the counter and set my coffee down, then told the guy that we had gas. Mike came over a second or two later, grabbed his wallet, and paid with his parents' gas card. We loved that gas card. It's gotten us out of more than one potentially-stranding situations.

"Alright," I started when we had gotten back to the car, "we have just enough time to get you to your meeting and not look too eager. Damn we're good."

"Well, I'm good, at any rate," he said, smiling. He started up the car and we headed off to the lawyer's office. It was surprisingly close to his house, so he wouldn't have all that far to go in the mornings. It was a nice building, and the interior was well done. It was brighter than I expected, but that was a good thing.

"Mr. Steinman, it's good to see you again." Mike reached over and shook the man's hand. He looked to be about 45 or so, with graying hair around a rather sizable bald spot. "This is my friend Steve."

"Hello, Mike. From what I've heard, I'm going to be quite glad we're hiring you. You shouldn't be here too long today, since I just need to clear up a few formalities." He turned and headed into one of the offices. "You can both follow me into my office and we'll get things taken care of."

We went into the office, which was more traditionally decorated with law books and leather chairs, and got things worked out. Mr. Steinman, who told us to call him Larry, made sure that Mike never had any felony charges (hah!) or anything, then got him to sign a lot of papers for things like health insurance and a 401k. It amused me greatly that he had a 401k at 18, but when we figured out the interest it would earn, we found out that we'd be living in style when we retired.

Larry was right, things didn't take all that long to do. We were finished in time for Mike and me to go out and get some lunch. Mike was to come in at 8:30 the next morning and get acquainted with the computer system. They had just upgraded it and really didn't have all that much technical knowledge, so he was going to have to figure some things out on his own. They also wanted him to get started on doing web design for them, since they wanted a net presence. My guy had his work cut out for him.

We decided to call up George, Rachel, and Susan to see if they wanted to go out to eat with us. Rachel didn't have to work, and Susan was "between jobs" at the moment, having quit being a waitress a few weeks ago. Mike still had his dad's cell phone from when we stayed with George, so I made a conference call while he drove. We all decided to meet up at a Chinese place on the edge of town. Mike hadn't ever been, but I had taken a date or two there and the food was really good.

I made doubly sure that Rachel was going to come. It seemed like she was handling what happened with Jeff and Ryan well enough, but I could tell she wasn't getting along as well as everyone thought. I guess since I was put into a similar situation as she was, I was better tuned into how she felt.

"Table for five, please," Mike said to the lady who met us at the door. "A few friends will be joining us in a bit."

We were led to a table that sat six and the same lady took our appetizer and drink orders. Hooray for eggrolls and crispy fried wantons. We talked quietly until George and Susan came in together.

"Hey, guys," Susan said as she sat down next to me. George took a seat across from her, next to Mike. "Seems like I haven't seen you guys since the kidnapping."

"Yeah, I know it," I said. "It takes an earth-shattering tragedy to get us together lately."

We talked and laughed for a few more minutes until Rachel came in. I patted the chair on the other side of me and she sat down. I'm not sure why, but everything seemed to stop when she did. We all stopped talking, there wasn't anymore laughter, and it was like the entire restaurant got quiet. Nobody knew what to say or how to act, so nobody did anything. I didn't know how to break the silence, either.

A few long moments passed, sitting there, just looking at each other. I glanced over at Mike with a look that said, "do something," and he just shrugged and looked like he didn't know what to do, either. It wasn't supposed to be like this. We shouldn't be getting quiet whenever she joined us. It wasn't her fault, and we were basically telling her that it was. It was George who finally broke the silence.

"So, Mike, I hear you've gotten yourself a kickass job in a lawyer's office," he said. I shot him a "thank you" with my eyes.

"Oh, yeah. It's not really all that interesting to anybody who doesn't know what I'm doing, though." Mike grinned at George. "I'll be doing the work of five men. Yeah, it'll be non-tiring and I won't whine about how much I'm not getting paid."

"How much are you getting paid, anyway?" Rachel asked, finally able to join the conversation. "And how are you going to handle the fact that when you go off to college, you won't be able to work there anymore."

"I'm getting twenty-two an hour, and I haven't really talked to Larry about college yet. I'm sure he knows I plan to go, but it's just something we haven't worked out yet." Mike stopped for a second. "That is something I'll need to talk to him about, though, yeah."

"Damn," George said. "Twenty-two an hour? That's more than I make."

"Yeah," Mike answered with a small smile. "It's more than either of my parents make by far. It's almost triple what I was making last summer, too."

"Looks like you won't be hurting too bad when those college expenses come along." George shook his head. "You know how much those kegs cost."

Mike made a face at George, and the conversation got lighter and active again. I wasn't sure what the whole thing with Rachel was about--I'm still not, really--but it was over, and everything was back to some semblance of normal.

The lady came back again and took our orders. I'd make a list of what all of us had, but it was your basic assortment of generic Chinese/Japanese food. I did find out that Mike likes sushi, though. He made me try it, too. It wasn't too bad, but the idea of raw (or nearly-raw) fish and seaweed didn't really appeal to me.

After lunch, Mike went to go and pay the check (we all agreed that since he was making more than all of us combined, he should buy lunch) and the rest of us went out to the parking lot. We hung around George's squad car and talked, but I pulled Rachel aside after a few minutes.

"How are you feeling?" I reached over and squeezed her shoulder. She grabbed me and pulled me in for a hug.

"Better, I guess," she said, leaning her head against my shoulder. "There really wasn't anywhere I could go but up from where I was, though. It's just... you know how things were when I first joined you guys in there? That's happening a lot lately. Even with my own family. It's like people don't know how to act around me anymore."

"Yeah, I know." I rubbed her back a little to make her feel better. "I think people are just unsure of how you feel and don't want to upset you. I guess that's better than not caring, though, right?"

"Maybe," she said, pulling away from me, "but I just wish that people would care a little less. The thing that would make me least upset would be for everything to just go back to normal. I really just want to forget about everything."

"You can't, though." I shook my head. "It's not the kind of thing you can just forget about, and I don't think it's the kind of thing you should want to forget about in the first place. I know it's not easy, but you're--we're--going to have to deal with things. Mike and I had a talk like this last night. Look, the entire point of this is to let you know that I'm here for you. If you want to talk or cry or go to the prison and offer a carton of cigarettes to the biggest guy if he'll really mess Jeff up, I'm here."

Rachel smiled a little and almost laughed. "Thanks, Steve." She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "You know, if it wasn't a completely worthless effort, I'd be putting the moves on you right now."

"Whatever, I'm a married man. Or at least pretty damn close to it." She looked surprised, and then I realized that we hadn't told anybody yet. "You don't know about that, though. Mike and I are engaged."

"Oh my god! That is so great!" Rachel almost squealed and wrapped her arms back around my neck. "We've gotta tell everybody!"

She ran back to George's car with me right behind her. Mike had come out, so everybody was there when she looked at me and told me to make the announcement. I walked over to Mike and grabbed his hand.

"Well, everyone, Mike and I have news. We're engaged. There isn't a date set or anything, and there probably won't be for a while, but you're all invited to the ceremony." I turned to Mike. "That is, if he's stupid enough to stay with me long enough."

"Damn right I'm stupid enough," he said, then leaned up and kissed me on the cheek. Without even looking around to see if there was anybody watching.

Wow, that one took a while. In the time that's elapsed since Steve 9, I've gotten a new website, rewritten all of the code, and subsequently forgotten to update it for a while. Typical me, I guess. This was written over the course of about two and a half months, with quite a bit of time going between work sessions. I just didn't have the muse for a while, but it seems that it's struck with a vengeanace. I have plans to write DM 3, Steve 11, and get to work on another stand-alone story. I also have plans to revamp my website a little and rework some of the now-outdated code.

My new website is at, and my new email is Look for more work by me soon, I hope.

Send constructive comments and feedback to Flamers will be forced to help me install a CD player in my car (a more arduous task than you might think).