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Age Of Aquarius - Book 1
Harmonic Dissonance - Chapter 1
Jase watched as the familiar hills of upstate rolled past. He hadn't been on one of the company jets in over seven years. Hell, I haven't even flown since I was 15, he mused as his hometown came into view. Provence was one of those unusual towns that couldn't quite resign itself to becoming a city but was simply too big to be considered a town any longer. To Jase, Provence felt like a fat businessman with his belt two notches too tight. The flight had only taken a couple hours, and he wondered if he would have to have dinner with the lawyers. After the jet had touched down, Jase realized his hands were cramped from gripping the armrests. He hated flying.
"I hope your flight wasn't too uncomfortable, Mr. Steward. We're all saddened by your loss."
Jase smiled at the flight attendant as he grabbed his bag. He was certain no one knew what had happened when he'd left. He was pretty sure that most people didn't even realize he'd left. His father had probably come up with some plausible reason for his absence. Boarding school or prep school probably. He had never asked Phil Mason what the official story had been. "Thank you. You've been most kind."
Janet smiled. "We will be ready to take you back to the city when you're ready, Mr. Steward."
Jase nodded as the crew dropped the stairs. "I'll let you know when my business is concluded. I expect it will be several days."
"Very good, sir."
Jase grabbed his bags and crossed the tarmac. He moved to the reception area upon entering the terminal and set his bags aside. He looked about for Phil but didn't see anyone he recognized. He was about to head for the taxis when he heard someone call his name.
Jase turned to see a tall man hurrying in his direction. The stranger was large with long black hair and strong features. He smiled excitedly as he put out his hand.
"I never thought I'd see you again man!"
Jase shook his hand, feeling a familiar tingle in his palm and at the back of his neck he couldn't identify. Obviously the man knew him but Jase couldn't place him. He was certain if he'd known someone that good looking he'd have remembered him. Jase saw hurt flash in the man's eyes as he realized Jase had no idea who he was.
He dropped his hand, looking a little sad. "Sorry, I thought you'd remember me, but it's been a long time. Michael, Michael Castanio."
Jase's jaw dropped. Mike had been his best friend growing up. Mr. Castanio had been a good friend of his father's and was probably one of the upper executives in the company. At 16, Mike had been only Jase's height and more than a little over weight. He obviously had been a late bloomer.
"Oh my god!" Jase smiled broadly as recognition lit his face. "Mikey?!?"
Mike smiled, his hurt expression vanishing behind the color that was beginning to rise in his cheeks. "Yeah, I know... I changed a lot after you went off to school."
That's an understatement, Jase thought as he looked over his old friend, if you'd looked like that in high school I'd have figured out my feelings a hell of a lot sooner! He threw caution to the wind and wrapped his arms around a stunned Mike. "It's good to see you."
Mike squeezed him back. After a moment, they stepped away a bit awkwardly. Mike pulled on his pony tail and looked about. "So... got bags?"
"Lets get them and get out of here. Dad asked me to pick you up because the lawyers are going for the world's record for the longest screaming match."
Jase cringed. He really didn't want anything to do with his father's business. He looked down a moment and then set his jaw. "It's not like I intend to take over the company. They can have the damn thing for all I care." Jase turned to his bags and moved to pick them up.
Mike looked at him, surprise written all over his face. "I thought that was why you came back." He took the bigger two bags and started towards the doors. "Dad said you'd been topping out in business school."
Jase looked up at Mike. He had taken business courses but they were his minor. He realized he'd have to find out what his father had told people so he could choose to play along or set the records straight. "I'd ignore just about anything you've heard about what I'm doing here and such, Mike. It's probably mostly corporate politics."
Mike nodded. "Makes sense." He hefted Jase's bags into the back of his Jeep and smiled. "We'll have plenty of time to catch up. Not like they can keep you locked up in a boardroom over the weekend."
Jase smiled and rolled his eyes. "Any bets they're going to try?"
"You were always able to get out of class. I bet you can worm your way out of a boardroom too." Mike smiled at his friend as they put on their seat belts. "You owe me about 6 years of catch-up."
Jase smiled as Mike started the jeep and wheeled out of the lot. If I have to, I'll just mind-wipe the lot of them to get some time away from all of this!
"So, Mike, where you taking me?"
He looked back at the bags and raised an eyebrow at Jase. "To the manor. I'm sure you'll want to spend the night in your own bed before heading to TMC tomorrow"
Jase shuddered. He knew he'd have to deal with things at the house, but the idea of sleeping there was not at all pleasant. "Uh, no thanks. I think I'll get a room here in town."
Mike cocked his head. "Man it's not like the place is haunted!"
"Maybe for you it isn't." Jase felt his stomach growl. He could never eat on planes. "So... hungry?"
Mike smiled. "I'll be happy to escort you someplace for a bite."
Jase twitched at the word "escort" but let it slip. Mike didn't know about what Jase did after he left. No reason to bring it up. "I could use some coffee. Do we have any good coffee shop bistros in this town?"
"Local or chain?"
"Local, please! I'm going to have enough of international corporations soon enough."
Mike turned the jeep off the highway and headed back into town. "Know just the place."
Jase hadn't been surprised that Mike had taken them into the old downtown. It was obvious Provence had gone through a revitalization of its downtown, and it was bustling with boutiques and cafes. What he hadn't expected was the flat Mike brought him to. It was on the 3rd floor of one of the restored buildings. In fact it was practically half of the 3rd floor above "Provence Natural Market & Holistic Health".
"This used to be Mr. Wong's grocery wasn't it?"
Mike smiled. "Still is. His grandson thought he needed to update the name and look."
Mike set Jase's bags beside the couch as they entered. As Jase looked about, Mike pushed past and into the kitchen. "How do you like your coffee?"
"Sweet and blonde like me." Jase pulled up a chair at the kitchen table and smirked. "So, where's the menu?"
"What would you like? They have an organic deli downstairs. I can call Kim and have them make us just about any sandwich known to man."
Jase smiled. "If I didn't know any better Mr. Castanio, I'd think you were trying to keep me all to yourself."
Mike laughed. "Who says I'm not?"
"How is Mr. Wong?"
Mike sighed. "Getting old. He's still doing good. He just moves slower these days."
"So is Mr. Wong the holistic health part of the store?"
"Yep. First floor is the market, second floor is the clinic and studio, third floor is living."
Jase looked around. "So, this is yours?"
Mike shrugged. "It's Mr. Wong's actually. I got to live here as part of my apprenticeship and have stayed to work in the clinic."
"You're a doctor?!?"
Mike smiled. "Well, that remains to be seen. I passed my boards in Oriental Medicine a month ago. Now it's the agonizing wait for the state to send back the license. I am allowed to practice under Mr. Wong's license here at the clinic."
"Wow." Jase looked at his friend with a whole new appreciation. He watched the play of muscle under Mike's shirt and smiled. "I bet you teach a lot of the classes in the studio."
Mike blushed. "Ok, you found me out. I teach the -fitness- classes like yoga and self-defense. Mr. Wong still teaches the Tai Chi and does morning meditations like always."
Jase walked across the living room and looked out onto Main Street. He never thought he'd be back in Provence. He caught Mike's reflection in the window and thought, Hadn't thought there was anything here to come back to.
Mike handed Jase a mug, and Jase sipped it tentatively. His eyes crossed. "Mike... no offense man but I said 'sweet' I didn't mean 'saccharine'!"
Mike laughed. "Serves you right for that remark about how you like it." He took the mug back, poured half into his mug, and then added more coffee.
Jase sipped again and smiled. "Since when was I ever -sweet-, Mike? I remember being a little rich brat in school."
Mike nodded sipping as he looked out the window. "You were, but you were always sweet to me." Jase looked at Mike but didn't say anything. "You were the only guy who didn't treat me like a fat pig."
"You weren't a fat pig, Mike," Jase objected, "you just hadn't grown into your full height yet."
Mike snorted. "I was fat, Jase. If Mr. Wong hadn't taken me under his wing and straightened me out, I'd be a blimp today."
Jase smiled. "Well, you certainly aren't a blimp."
Mike nodded. "Nope, I suppose not." He looked over at Jase out of the corner of his eye. "You don't look any worse for wear either, Mr. Steward."
"Hah. Looks can be deceiving." Jase turned and dropped down on the couch.
Mike narrowed his eyes and looked at Jase critically. "Hmmm. Well, I suppose there might be an ugly, mean, nasty Jason hiding under that pleasant, charming exterior."
Jase choked on his coffee and froze for a moment, the image of the incubus rising in the back of his head. He forced it back and looked around. "Napkin?"
Mike grabbed a towel from the sink. "Man you're jumpy. Chill, Jase; not like anyone is going to attack you. It's just me."
Jase smiled. "Yeah, sorry. Nerves I guess."
Mike sat down across from him and looked a little nervous. "Uhm, I was thinking... why not just stay here?"
Smooth Mike, you couldn't sound more pathetic if you tried. Mike stood up, taking his mug back for a refill. "It's a stupid idea..."
Jase watched him for a moment. His time on the streets had given him a pretty good grasp of body language. Mike was braced for rejection. Jase wasn't sure what kind of rejection he was expecting but it was obvious he thought Jase would push him aside. Like I did when I left? Jase looked around. The apartment wasn't the Ritz, but Jase always felt the Ritz was overrated. "That'd be cool, Mike."
Mike turned around looking both surprised and relieved.
"It'd be good to have someone around. Ghosts usually don't haunt you if you aren't alone."
"You can take the bed..."
Jase held up his hand. "Oh no. This is a sleeper couch; I can feel it. You keep your bed and your room and your life. I don't need to be catered to. Just having a friend is good enough."
Mike smiled. "Ok."
Jase stood in the funeral home looking down at the casket. His father looked almost the same as when he had left. More gray, a few harsher lines in his face, but essentially the same... except dead. Jase put his hand on the edge of the casket and sighed. "Never could understand you, Dad. I'm sorry I didn't tell you I loved you."
He jumped when he felt something cold grip his hand. His father's eyes burned at him with an indigo light. "I told you I wouldn't make the same mistake twice, boy!"
Jase screamed, trying to yank his hand from the corpse's grip. The creature held tight anchoring him in place as it wrenched itself from the casket. "You think you have it all figured out. You will never figure it out boy. You are nothing."
The other hand was reaching for his throat, and Jase couldn't bring up a single spell. His mind was frozen in horror as the claws gripped his neck. The creature started shaking him speaking his name in a confusion of sound. The room went black, and Jase realized someone was calling his name.
Jase snapped to attention as Mike held him from launching from the sleeper couch. His breathing was ragged as if he'd been in a fight, and the bed was drenched.
"Jase, calm down. It was just a nightmare."
Jase looked into Mike's concerned eyes and started to weep. He felt himself crushed against Mike's chest as his friend murmured into his hair.
"It's ok, Jase. It's going to be ok."
Jase cried himself out; letting the tension go and allowing exhaustion to drag him into a dreamless slumber.
Mike held Jase close hoping he was doing the right thing. He looked at the ceiling as Jase snuggled closer in his sleep. Whatever demons were chasing him; Mike was determined to keep them at bay.
Jase felt a soft warmth against his cheek. It took him a few moments to realize his head was resting on someone's bare skin. As he opened his eyes, Jase saw the soft expanse of hair that feathered across a well-developed chest. The tingle he felt tickling his spine was familiar. He was in bed with Mike. Not only was he cuddled against his friend, but Mike's arm was wrapped about him protectively. It took him several moments to remember his nightmare and the events that had followed. Oh gods, what must he think of me? His hand had a mind of its own and Jase found he had been tracing the trail of hair from his chest down to the top of Mike's pajama bottoms. Get a grip, Jase. This is your best friend, not a trick. He brought his hand back up to Mike's chest and safely away from the danger zone.
Mike stirred, his arm pulling Jase a bit tighter to him before his eyes opened. He knew instantly that Jase was awake and confused. Mike remembered the connection from their childhood. He remembered how they would hold near entire conversations without saying more than three words together. His eyes went moist. He had missed having that connection with someone. "Morning, Jase."
Those few words broke the spell that held Jase in place. He pulled up, stretching his neck slightly as he realized the angle he'd slept in had left him stiff. "I'm sorry, Mike. You don't need this grief."
Mike looked at Jase with sincere concern. "You were having a bad night, Jase. I'd be more worried if you weren't. This has to be really rough." He reached out to stroke Jase's cheek, then changed to mussing his perfect blond hair instead. "I didn't mind, really." He sat up, stretching and yawning his way completely awake. He looked back with a smile. "If you feel guilty, you can buy me breakfast."
Jase smiled back. "I still owe you dinner. Your fixing it here wasn't exactly a payment for your hospitality yesterday."
Mike waved him off. "Why don't we just start a tab if you're so concerned about taking advantage of our friendship."
Jase frowned. "Mike, we were friends as kids. We haven't seen each other in six years. You know nothing about me. I'm not the same kid who left Provence." Jase wanted to kick himself. Smooth, Jase, why not just tell him he doesn't mean anything any more? While you're at it, why not kick him in the balls and tell him his cooking sucks.
Crossing into the kitchen, Mike put a pot of water to heating then looked back at Jase. Does the fact we haven't seen each other for six years invalidate the fact we were best friends for 12 before that? Mike couldn't bring himself to ask the question. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Mike returned to the couch and began pulling the sheets off the mattress. "Well, I'm still a big softy, even if I'm no longer shaped like a marshmallow. You're just going to have to deal."
Jase laughed. "So now you're like a Tootsie Pop?" Mike cocked his head and Jase continued. "Hard candy shell, soft chewy middle?"
Mike blushed. "Yeah, whatever, jackass. Now get off the sheets and help me close this thing." Jase was still laughing as they put the last cushion in place.