I could bore you with the details, but the long and the short of it was Mr. Alexopolous had a CB unit in his back room, and this was how we arranged for a Ranger in a Sno Cat to get our friends from the wreckage of the Jeep. We sat clustered about the counter in the store, listening to the exchange on the radio between the Ranger station and the rescue vehicle. I could say we were all calm, all cool and collected but I’d be lying. Matter of fact, the Sno Cat didn’t stop for us on the way back, just headed back into Tahoe to a medical center to get the guys looked at, and that was the hardest thing of all. Now I wished I had stayed there, so I could know what was going on with Case, but I had no way.
Then I realized that if I had stayed, Grant might be gone. I guess I had to settle for not knowing. Grant looked out the window up front, and Quinn was slumped on the counter, head down and snoring softly while Mr. Alexopolous and I sipped coffee to keep warm.
“It was lucky for us you opened up today,” I commented by way of idle conversation.
“I never closed, always hev opened especially after snowstorms,” he shrugged at me before continuing, “You never know, someone may need something, maybe just somewhere to go. If they make town, then there is someplace to go, if they lose their roof, there is someplace to go.”
“If they wreck their car,” I said slowly.
“There is someplace to go,” he finished for me.
“Yeah,” I sighed.
“You are worried about your friends?” he asked.
“Yeah, one, Casey, he hit his head,” I trailed into silence.
“Doctor in town is very good, he take good care of your special one,” he smiled at me.
“How’d you know he’s special?” I asked.
“Vy else you be worried?” he chuckled. Ok, he had a point.
As darkness fell on the mountain Mr. Alexopolous gathered us up and we plodded back out into the frozen tundra to make our way to his house. His wife wad been home all day, cooking it would seem by the smells and amount of food arrayed on the dining room table. Quinn looked at Mr. Alexopolous questioningly.
“She listens to radio all day,” he shrugged.
I can’t begin to spell the items that were arrayed at the table, all I can say is the vast majority of them were good. The only ones that I can’t confirm whether or not they were good was because I was too full to eat them. Quinn was worried about getting a message to the house, but they weren’t answering their radio, so there wasn’t much we could do. The phones were out and power was supplied by a generator so for the time being we were stuck.
Mrs. Alexopolous spread blankets and pillows on their living room floor for us all to share. The wood stove gave off heat well into the night, keeping the small house comfortably warm. Not long after we bedded down, Quinn was snoring loudly. I nudged him and he rolled over, stopping the snoring. Huh, what do you know, that old trick really works!
I lay awake, looking at the spackled ceiling of the living room and wondering about Case and the others. I knew they had been picked up, but there was that lingering worry about what had happened afterward.
“He’s fine, Just,” Grant said from the gloom to my left.
“Casey, he’s fine. I know you, you’re worried and you won’t sleep at all if you keep worrying.” He sat up and his mussed hair hung across his forehead and hid his eyes in shadow. “He has a hard head, I think it’ll take more than a windshield to do any real damage,” he smiled in the darkness.
“Wise guy,” I muttered.
“Well, can you think of anything harder?” he giggled.
“I’m not answering that!” I giggled myself.
“Oh, come on, there has to be something solid to keep you hanging on!” he giggled into his pillow.
“Stop, you little pervert!”
“Little?” he replied indignantly.
“Well, I only go by what Cris says, since you don’t share,” I smiled to myself in the dark.
“Cris never complains,” he replied, the grin evident in his voice.
“Except that he isn’t getting any!” I laughed into my pillow while Grant flicked my ear with his finger.
“Yeah, I know.” I replied.
We sat in the silence as the wind moved outside, like the unseen hand of god, rearranging the snow and piling it against the little house. I wondered to myself about a great many things, as I am wont to do in the gloom of night in that place between wakefulness and sleep. At least I was until Grant elbowed me.
“What, pest?” I asked.
“I…Can I sleep close to you?” I tried to look at his face in the gloom, but it was swaddled in shadows. I reached out to him and found his warm face with my fingertips. Tears had run down his cheeks making damp runners on his face. I moved along his hot skin to the back of his neck and pulled him to my chest, resting his head near my heart and feeling his arm drape across and embrace me. I inhaled the smell of him, his hair near my nose and hugged him tight. His head lifted up from my chest and he looked at me, searched my eyes before speaking.
“What is it about you?” he asked.
“What are you talking about?” I asked in return.
“You swoop in here, take Casey off the shelf and gave Cris the courage to try and get me adopted. You make all these changes to us, and I just wonder…what is it about you that makes that possible? You completely changed us, all of us.” He looked at me intently and I grew uncomfortable under that gaze.
“I don’t know!” I whispered fiercely, “I just thought Kyle was so cute and tried to be his friend. He found out and…well, he didn’t kill me so blame him.” I sighed deeply. “Casey came after and he was just…he just was. He’s like a force of nature.”
“You are the force here, you changed everything,” he said while laying his head down and continuing to look in my eyes.
“Grant,” I began to respond.
“No, seriously. I mean, you didn’t have this all planned out, but everywhere you go you seem to touch people.”
“We never had sex,” I said thoughtfully.
“I didn’t mean that kind of touching!” he giggled, “I meant that you change people all around you.”
“Wasn’t always like that, back home I had nothing. Nothing except for Chris, anyways.”
“That’s a pretty impressive something,” he smiled.
“He’s the bestest friend, loyal and…” I trailed off.
“You left out hot as hell!” Grant giggled.
“Grant! You are practically married, you shouldn’t be having those thoughts!” I sniggered
“If you guys can make comments about my ass…” I felt his grin spead, what with his cheek on my chest..
“We will always and forever make comments about your ass,” I chuckled in reply.
“Think about it though, all the changes, none of these things that have happened would have been, if you hadn’t happened here. Even this now, never would have happened.”
“I can’t take credit for this stuff, the life that happens around me, it just happens,” I said.
“I wasn’t giving credit, I was just saying,” he grinned and I smacked him in the back of the head.
“Seriously though, you know….”
“I know, Grant. Don’t say anymore,” I traced his cheeks in the dimness and pushed his head down to rest on my chest, “I love you too.”
Morning came with the fanfare that might accompany camping, the urge to pee was almost overwhelming and I couldn’t remember where the bathroom was, exactly. Where was I again? I tried to sit up and found Grant holding me down, breathing softly and having thrown an arm over me in the night. I slowly disentangled myself from him and hunted for the bathroom, only pausing to grunt at a wide awake Quinn. I discovered the bathroom, and just in time I might add. Having disposed of the mornings most pressing matters, I headed back to the living room and the now awake Grant, who asked for directions to the bathroom.
Quinn and I sat in the morning, me in a daze, and he turned to look at me. I gave him a confused look.
“What?” I asked.
“I was just wondering, how do you feel about Grant?” he asked.
“He’s awesome, like a little brother,” I mumbled.
“You’d never mess with him?” Quinn asked.
“Well, despite the rhyming phrase about incest being best, I’d have to be single again and he’d have to be interested and all that. I like him how he is,” I replied.
“How is that, exactly?”
“Happy, in love, and my friend,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Because…well, none of my business, I just saw you laying so close and started to wonder what I missed last night.”
“You missed Grant making me sound like some sort of deity,” I sighed.
“You’re that good, huh?” he grinned.
“Well, I don’t like to brag but…” I let the statement hang before shifting gears. “Stuff has just happened here, a whirlwind since I got here. This place is so different from the town I’m from, I didn’t have the advantage of a lot of friends to back be or to lean on, just Chris. Not to discount him, cause he is still a total rock for me, it’s just so many things have happened. It’s like there hasn’t been any break, just one thing after another, and Grant traces it all back to me.”
Quinn sat in silence after my statement, regarding me with what I would call a critical eye. I had the feeling of being judged, and frankly it was pissing me off. Maybe it’s just because I am not a morning person.
“Gut morning my guests, I vas thinking you vould sleep all de day through. Are you hungry?” Mr. Alexopolous asked as he joined us in the living room, dressed, bright eyed and bushy tailed. My opinion of him dropped a few pegs, morning people are generally to be avoided at all costs.
“Yes, Mr. Alexopolous, I’m starving,” Quinn replied. We were joined by Grant and headed into the kitchen where we were hit with a all of cooking smells, and Mrs. Alexopolous merrily cooking away.
“Would you like some help?” Grant asked her.
“No, no thank you, sit down and be comfortable. I have not cooked so much in long time, not many people to enjoy good food here,” she replied softly as she resumed her task. I sipped on a cup of coffee while Mr. Alexopolous had left the room to get on the radio to contact the ranger station, now that the weather had died off.
“You eat,” I was poked with the end of a cooking spoon by Mrs. Alexopolous, who had placed a plate in front of me. I grinned and thanked her.
“Vell, ranger say that the plows are verking their way to us, maybe by noon ve see them. Ve take car to Tahoe ven dey get here.” He sat at the table and began filling his plate with food. Grant had polished his plate off and was starting to wash dishes before Mrs. Alexopolous shooed him out of the kitchen.
We got cleaned up and generally milled about until Mr. Alexopolous said we needed to clear a path for the car to the road, so we began to pull on our winter wear and do battle with that bitter bitch, winter, once more. The conversation with Quinn was beginning to eat at me, and I vented my frustration on the snow. Was he questioning my loyalty to Casey? I shoveled harder, gritting my teeth in growing frustration, just who does he think he is to judge me anyways? I shoved the end of my shovel into a pack or hard snow and strained to lift it, refusing to give in to mother nature and fueled by my anger…the handle snapped.
“God DAMNIT!” I yelled in frustration, spiking the handle into the snow and feeling a twinge in my back that I hadn’t a moment before.
“Easy, Justin, you’ll hurt yourself,” Quinn said from my side.
“Oh, screw that,” I turned to head to the house and felt my back do a little more than twinge as I slid heavily to one side, caught by Quinn.
“Ok Justin, I got you, take it easy man,” Quinn said in a soothing tone that only salted my bruised ego. I would rather have fallen on my ass in the snow than have him catch me. He hoisted me carefully and I shook him off, but reconsidered when I found I walked like a crippled crab. Grant steppe dup and took my arm, slinging it over his shoulders and helping me to the door.
We crossed the threshold and Grant tried to set me gently on the couch, but I proved too heavy and tumbled unceremoniously.
“What was that all about, showing off or something?” he asked while gasping for breath. I looked at him with aggravation and just shook my head. Mrs. Alexopolous bustled in asking what was wrong.
“I hurt my back, I think,” I replied and she bustled out to find ibuprofen. She is a woman who embodies the word bustle.
“What the heck happened?” Grant asked me, gazing with obvious curiosity.
“Nothing, I’m just in a bad mood I guess. I’ll be fine,” I said looking away from him. He looked at me for a few moments, I could see his face in the periphery of my vision. His face clearly showed that he didn’t believe me.
“If you don’t want to say, that’s fine. But don’t lie to me Justin.” I turned to look at him and saw the hurt in his eyes and immediately felt ashamed.
“I’m sorry, Grant. Quinn said something earlier about you and I sleeping together last night, made me feel like he is questioning my integrity. I don’t think he has the right to question that, he doesn’t know me or you.” I sat sullenly.
“You know, anyone can say something. That doesn’t make it true, and you shouldn’t let them affect you so much. You barely know Quinn, what difference does it make what he thinks? I know nothing happened, except you made me feel safe like any friend would. He might not have even meant much by the comment, but you can’t be ruled by what someone else thinks,” he stood up to go back outside, “trust me, I know.”
I sat and stewed, knowing Grant was right but not liking it one bit. That would mean I was being a big baby, allowing a simple question to lead into all this speculation and frustration. Maybe it was some guilt too, because I do feel an attraction to Grant as well? Damn Quinn for putting this in my head and damn me for allowing it to go so far!
They re-entered the house about twenty minutes later, driveway cleared and Grant having my broken end of a handle in his hand, which he handed me with a smile.
“Why are you giving me this?” I asked with a confused look.
“I figure now that this stick got pulled out of your ass, you’d be in a better mood,” he grinned at me and I gave him an evil, appraising look.
“I know I’d be crabby with that thing in my ass. The only way I figure you can still be grumpy is if the shovel is still up there somewhere,” Quinn remarked with a grin. Grant began laughing and I found a smile creeping to my face, in spite of my attempt to not be caught up in this obvious effort to get me to stop being such an asshole.
“Grant probably wasn’t supposed to open his pretty mouth, but for what it’s worth, I was just trying to find out how close you all are as friends, to…I dunno, understand a little better this relationship you guys share.” He sat down across from me, “I have never met people as close as you are, so interlinked and dependant. I wanted a better idea if Drew and I could ever fit into that circle you guys have made.”
I was shocked, and I felt stupid. Well, more so than I had before, if that was possible. I stuttered for a few moments before Grant started to snicker.
“I don’t believe it, you actually left Justin speechless!” Grant cackled and I stuck my tongue out at him.
“We ok?” Quinn asked, offering me his hand.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, “I’m sorry for being an asshole.”
“It’s ok, I think you paid a hefty price already,” he smiled, “Let’s just hope there are no splinters left up there to aggravate you any further.”
“If you can move, ve should go. De plows have cleared the way,” Mr. Alexopolous said as he shrugged his coat on. We got out to the van, a boxy Volkswagen, and climbed in.
“You sure this will make it?” Quinn asked nervously.
“Ya, has four wheel,” he replied from the drivers seat.
“They all have four wheels, Mr. Alexopolous,” Quinn said nervously as the wind began tilting our brick shaped ride.
“No, all go at once, four wheel,” he said.
“This has four wheel drive?” he asked, jaw open.
“Ya, was expensive, but works very vell. Ve get there in one piece, you see.” He smiled. I lay in the back seat, back moaning lowly in pain as I waited for us to reach Tahoe, and Casey.
To be continued…