Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Love Letters Post #29

Notes:  Time for a long authors note, sorry!  I’ve got some extra things to give you a heads-up about today.  The first is, we’re heading into a rough patch with Love Letters.  Because of this, and because I love this story but writing it is like pulling teeth sometimes, I’m going to be starting up a second serial on the blog.  I need something light and easy to write, and for those of you who read Vignette: Transition, you know what I’m talking about.  However, the new story will be from Cody’s perspective, making it YA, so don’t expect a lot of hot and heavy sex, because no.  I can’t resist, though.  I just can’t.  I’ll be posting it on a different day than Love Letters (not sure which day yet) and will probably start next week, so I hope you all can tolerate a second story to follow. J 

In other news, I have to write a novel between now and the first of October, because I want to take advantage of Riptide’s open submission period.  That means about 2k a day, which I can do with this story (a fantasy, not something I’ve written in quite a while) and a few willing betas who can read super fast and give honest and constructive criticism that will bend but not break me.  Just puttin’ it out there for people to think about! 
On to Love Letters, which, my god, is becoming so long.  It’s over 200 pages on my computer, and the end has receded instead of coming closer like I’d imagined.  Anyway, some R-rated good times for you here. 

Title: Love Letters

Part Twenty-Nine: Dinner and a Show


Ben managed to skip the family dinner that night.  Apparently it wasn’t the formal affair that Sunday was supposed to be, with people trickling into the house in starts and stops throughout the evening.  Even better, Ben managed to get Ryan away from the house with him, even if he didn’t get to keep him.

“I have to be back by ten,” Ryan sighed as Ben started up his car.  “Or Joey won’t go to sleep.  He stays awake until he knows he has the count right, and the one time I tried staying out before now he was completely wired the whole next day.  A wired Joey is the last thing any of us wants.”

“Why were you trying to stay out?” Ben asked as he pointed the car toward The Roasting Company.  It was the only restaurant in Concord he felt he could reliably find.

“Because you and I were sexting,” Ryan replied, and he grinned when he saw Ben get it.  “Yeah, then.  Not the kind of thing I want my nephew around for.”

“Joey really seems to rely on you,” Ben said.  It was skirting around the edges of the things he really wanted to know about: how long will you be here, how much will you have to give, when will you go back to your old life, when will you come to me?  He wasn’t really sure he wanted to know the answers to those questions, but he couldn’t resist poking at the issue.

“He’s doing a lot better now.  It helps Joey to have a schedule, and for a while his life was complete chaos, with Brody dying and Cheryl’s issues.  Mom and I hope that Cheryl and the kids will be ready to move back into their own place by the time the new school year starts.”

“After Cheryl gets some help.”

“Right.”  Ryan leaned his head back against the car seat and closed his eyes.  Ben took the opportunity to really look at him, to see the new lines on his face and the fatigue that settled over him like a piece of gauze.  Ben could still see the Ryan he thought he knew, but that vibrant young man was weighed down with responsibility and expectation and fear.  The weight of a family that didn’t work anymore, that was wounded.  And Ben figured he couldn’t do anything to shift that burden other than try not to rock the boat while he was here, but damn it…it wasn’t enough.

They rode to the restaurant in comfortable silence, split a roasted chicken and some sides that were just as mouth-wateringly delicious as the last time they’d been here, and settled in to eat.  Ryan kept the conversation going by telling Ben more about what he could expect tomorrow.

“About ten cousins,” he said, licking his fingers in between chicken wings.  “Two aunts, two uncles, various boyfriend and girlfriends and in-laws, they change all the time so they’re hard to keep track of.  Then of course my mom and Pam and her kids, and Cheryl and Molly and Joey and me.”

“I hope no one expects me to remember everyone’s names.”

“No, but…”  Ryan got quiet for a moment.  “So, one of my uncles is, um, he’s kind of a piece of work.  He’s very old-fashioned and he was my dad’s lawyer and campaign manager while Dad was alive, and he can get a little…offensive sometimes.  Especially when there’s alcohol, which, this being my family there’s definitely going to be alcohol.”

“Is this a warning to stay away from him?” Ben asked, a little amused.  Ryan didn’t share his smile, though.

‘Oh, you won’t be able to stay away from him.  He eviscerates everyone at these things.  It’s nothing personal, but just don’t get into a fight with him, okay?  Especially if he’s talking about me.  He’s been talking about me for years and I don’t really care anymore, but arguing with him just leads to problems.”

Well, fuck, that didn’t sound okay to Ben at all.  “Why do you guys let him talk to you like that?”

“It’s complicated,” Ryan hedged.  He saw Ben’s skeptical look and chuckled dryly.  “No, really, it’s just awkward family shit that I don’t want to drag you into.”

“What am I doing here, Ryan?”  Oh, shit, Ben hadn’t meant to let that out of his mouth.  Never mind that he’d been thinking it all day and really kind of wanted to know, now Ryan was looking at him with wide eyes and a twist to his mouth that Ben really didn’t want to see.  “It’s not that I didn’t—don’t’—want to see you,” Ben clarified hastily.  “Of course I wanted to see you, I wish I could see you all the time.”

“You know I’m going to be here for—”

“Yeah, I know,” Ben cut in.  “You have family obligations and I get that, I do.  But Maydays seems to be something that you don’t actually enjoy, and it bothers me to see you take shit from your family and not be able to do anything about it.”

“It’s not Maydays, really,” Ryan said, twisting his straw in his hands.  He’d foregone a beer tonight in favor of a ginger ale.  “Usually it’s pretty fun, or at least…when Brody was around, he made it fun.  Uncle Bill actually liked Brody, I think he’s the only one Bill liked.  Brody could tell him to back off and he’d do it.”

Which you certainly can’t do, Ben told himself, not for the first time wondering if Ryan’s issues with his older brother were the real reason that Ben was here.  Ben wasn’t Brody, he wasn’t even Brody-lite.  Ryan didn’t seem to want his help, which was good, because at this point Ben had no idea how to give it.

“Bill’s been coming around more since Brody died, and it’s been more difficult dealing with him, but it’ll get better once Cheryl and the kids are back on track,” Ryan continued.  “He helps mom with some things, and…we can’t exactly tell him to leave.”  He sighed.  “You don’t have a big family, so it’s not surprising that you don’t understand how complicated it can be sometimes.”

True.  Right now Ben didn’t have any family to speak of, since he didn’t talk to his father and everyone else was a distant cousin.  But while he was inclined to be reserved and keep his opinions to himself, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t speak up if someone started going off the rails at him.  Which was going to happen, and apparently his role in this was supposed to be…just letting it happen.  And that was bullshit, but Ryan was looking at him nervously and for all the strangeness of their situation, for all that they’d spent less than two weeks physically together in the five months they’d known each other, Ben had let himself get invested in Ryan to a ridiculous degree.  So he’d try to be nice.

“When I asked you to come, I did it because I wanted to see you and I wanted us to have fun together, not to torture you,” Ryan added.  “And then things went to shit, but I still wanted you to come here because I love you.  So.  There you have it.”

That was the crux of it, Ben knew.  Love was worth a certain amount of sacrifice, it had to be, otherwise people wouldn’t do it.  He had handled obnoxious roommates, he could handle an obnoxious uncle for a single afternoon.  “There you have it,” Ben agreed.  “What time is it?”

“Um.”  Ryan checked his watch.  “Nine-thirty.  We’re going to have to head back soon, I guess.”

“We have plenty of time for what I’ve got in mind.”  Ben put down enough cash to cover their meal and stood up.  He took Ryan’s hand and tugged him out of the booth, then out of the restaurant and over to their car.  They’d parked in the far corner of the lot, well away from the few other cars in the lot, and Ben unlocked the doors with the key fob, then pushed Ryan into the backseat. 

“What is this?” Ryan asked, bemused but more interested by the second.

“This is me giving you a blowjob in the backseat of my rental car,” Ben said matter-of-factly, dropping his jacket to the floor and pushing up his sleeves.  “You’re gonna have to scoot back or I’m not going to fit, and I don’t think we want my legs sticking out the side of the car.”

“You—wait, what?”

“Blowjob.  Me, you.”  Ben wiggled his fingers back and forth between them.  “And while the local cops might give Cheryl a pass for being a nuisance, they probably won’t feel the same about me going down on you in a public parking lot if we’re caught, so scoot.”

Ryan grinned and moved back enough for Ben to wedge himself into the backseat and get the car door shut.  It was cramped and awkward, but that was part of the fun of car sex.  The air felt warmer already, muggier inside than outside the car.  A drop of sweat slipped down the side of Ryan’s face and Ben leaned in against him and licked it away, then kissed Ryan hard.  Ryan opened under him like he’d been dying for a touch, eager and soft and making noises that sent Ben from “interested” to “intrigued and aching” in seconds.  They kissed again and again and Ben tried not to let it distract him from getting Ryan’s pants open, but fuck it, kissing Ryan was really fucking distracting, especially coming off a sexual drought.  Hot, slender hands swept over Ben’s shoulders and back, lingered against his waist and then succeeded in completely distracting him when they trawled down his chest and beneath his waistband.

“Nuh-uh,” Ben said, tearing his mouth away from Ryan’s.  Ryan whined with displeasure and Ben dipped back in, kissed him again and finally, finally got the man’s pants open.  Fucking buttons, mother of god.  Ben pulled and Ryan lifted his hips obligingly, let him pull his pants and extremely tight underwear down until Ryan’s ass was bare against the leather seat and his cock was freed, springing out of its cloth prison with a little “whap” as it hit Ryan’s stomach.

“Oh god,” Ryan breathed, trying to pull Ben down so that their bodies were flush.  “Oh god, please, just, come on—”

“You,” Ben began, pulling away and sliding down Ryan’s body as best he could—Audis were nice, but this backseat really was a tight fit, “are going home to a house full of people.  The less evidence, the better, right?”

“Yeah, but—Ben!  Ben was through discussing this; he didn’t wait, didn’t start slow, just opened his mouth and sucked Ryan inside.  Holy shit, it had been way too long.  Ben had been craving this sensation, velvet-smooth skin against his tongue, the hot, heavy weight of Ryan’s cock filling his mouth.  Ryan tried to raise his hips and, okay, that was a little too much when Ben didn’t have a hand free to grip the base of Ryan’s dick and hold him steady, but he took it and pressed Ryan’s hips flat with his forearm as he sucked from base to tip.

It was a fast, sloppy blowjob, partly because of the location and partly because they were both so desperate for it there was no way to make it last.  The smell of Ryan, sweet sweat and musk and heat, filled the air like perfume, the perfect aphrodisiac.  Ryan’s thighs bracketed Ben’s shoulders, twitching and squeezing and relaxing in no discernible rhythm, and his hands moved restlessly in Ben’s hair as he panted and moaned, forgetting the need to stay quiet since they were in a public parking lot, and Ben wasn’t about to pull off and remind him.  He just worked harder, taking Ryan as deep as he could before pulling back, savoring the slick strands of precome that clung to the head of Ryan’s cock as he got closer and closer to coming.

Soon close turned into now and Ryan gasped out a “Fuck” as he came, and Ben didn’t miss a beat, just swallowed as fast as he could before crawling up Ryan’s body and finally, finally getting the pressure he needed to get off.  It hardly took anything, just his mouth against Ryan’s, Ryan’s tongue darting inside him and tasting his own release and the firm press of their groins against each other.  Ben came like a teenager in his pants, completely without shame because that was what he wanted, the stickiness, the reminder that would force him to be thorough when he showered tonight, to relive every moment of this.  He could think of worse ways to spend the evening if he had to spend it alone.

Ryan giggled, light and relaxed.  It was a sound Ben hadn’t heard much this past month, and it was music to his ears.  “You…are crazy.”

“Mm, you make me crazy,” Ben agreed.  Ryan stroked his hair away from his face and Ben turned and kissed Ryan’s palm.

“Wish we could stay like this,” Ryan said, then modified it.  “Well, not exactly like this, because I think I’ve lost feeling in my right leg, but together.”

“Me too,” Ben said.  He pulled away and helped put Ryan back together.  “Ready to head back home?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”  Ryan darted forward and kissed Ben again before he opened the door.  “Thank you.  It means a lot to me that you’re here, and you’re putting up with all my family’s crap.”

“I’m doing my best.”  Ben hoped his best would be enough to last him through the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The World's End...is epic:)

My man and I saw this movie on Friday:

If you've seen Shaun of the Dead and/or Hot Fuzz, you know the type of movie this is.  It's a freaky weird, adrenaline-building buddy flick masquerading for a little while at the beginning as something completely banal.  I loved it.  Seriously, I loved this movie.  I love the actors, I love the few serious issues that cropped up in the midst of the bizarre, and I loved the way it pulled absolutely no punches with blending genres that just shouldn't work so well together, yet do.  I mean, pub crawls + robots?  The freakiest, funniest robots ever?  Seriously, loved it.  Plus, Martin Freeman, so.  Insta-winner with me.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Vignette: Transition

Notes:  So I decided on a one-shot gift to you, my readers, for getting me over the 100k milestone.  This is a vignette set after Paradise.  Yes, that means Garrett, Jonah and Cody, with a few more guest appearances.  It also means I opened the floodgates in my mind, and now must actively resist delving any further right now.  It would be so easy.  Sooo easy.  These guys are the easiest couple I’ve ever written, and I think I could do Cody justice in a new setting.  What am I talking about?  Read on, my darlins.  And enjoy!
PS-this wont really make sense if you haven't read Pandora or Paradise.  Just sayin'.

Title: Vignette: Transition




                There weren’t many places a person could go to get some privacy inside Pandora City, and after ten years of running all over the place after his kid, Garrett figured he knew where most of them were at this point.  He headed for the park at the edge of the bio-dome that kept the fury of the storms from drowning their little city, ignoring the little specks of rain that floated down like afterthoughts out of the cloudy sky. 

The Box hadn’t changed all that much over the last decade: there were a few new families, other families had expanded and added to their numbers and a continual flow of researchers and contractors kept the place from becoming stale, but the city wasn’t really growing.  The high percentage of naturals in the population meant that, no matter how good their health was and how careful they were, the mortality rate was much higher than on any other law-abiding colony on the Fringe.  The first year, five people had died due to old age or accidents.  That average stayed pretty level for the next decade, excepting the year when a mutated form of pneumonia had slipped past the doctors and killed eighteen of the residents over a hundred years old, and five children under the age of ten. 

Cody had caught the virus but kicked it fairly quickly, thank fuck.  The medical team had fought hard ever since to make sure than never happened again, subjecting all visitors to an extensive decontamination process before they were allowed to mingle with the general populace.  It was a safe but restrictive way to live.

Which was, of course, the problem.

Garrett pushed his sleek damp hair back from his face and scanned the park.  He might have to go along to the next site, it didn’t look like—no, there.  Cody was sitting on the swing set, obscured by the drizzle and the slate-blue uniform Cody was wearing.  It was a Federation cadet uniform, one of two that had come with Cody’s acceptance package.  He’d won a scholarship to attend a prestigious military academy back on Olympus, and he’d been overjoyed.  He also hadn’t discussed his decision with either of his parents, and Jonah’s reaction had been, to put it mildly, explosive.

Cody hadn’t pulled any punches, of course.  When the kid decided he wanted something he went all the way with it, and so he’d gone up to his room, put on the uniform, come back downstairs and calmly announced that he was going to the Federation Academy on Olympus next year instead of continuing his education on Pandora.

“The hell you are,” Jonah said immediately, his eyes almost bugging out of his head. 

“I passed my A-levels with flying colors,” Cody reminded him.

“You’re only sixteen.  Those academies don’t let you in until you’re twenty.”

“They make an exception for people like me.”

“People like you—naturals, people who are more vulnerable, people who can get hurt more easily.  ‘Course they make exceptions, they’ve gotta have time to work on you before something bad happens to you.”  Jonah’s tone was unnaturally harsh, and Garrett knew it was just fear, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear.

Cody rolled his eyes.  “Nothing bad is going to happen to me.”

“You don’t know that.  We can’t even guarantee that here, and Pandora City is designed around your needs.  How are you gonna survive in a place like that?”

“There’s an entire program in place for people with special needs, look—”

“When did you apply?” Garrett broke in, wanting to head off the apoplexy that was building in Jonah’s face.

“Last winter,” Cody said, a little sullenly.

Ah yes, last winter.  When Tamara had come home to visit, bringing with her tales of the graduate-level polyengineering program she had enrolled in at the Academy, how amazing it was, all the things she was learning, the training for covert operations—because that was what naturals did for the Federation.  They were the ultimate shills, wolves in sheep’s trousers, or however the saying went.  Naturals were one of the most vulnerable populations out there, and as such were treated as delicate, looked down upon and generally ignored by much of society.  They might not be able to use Regen to heal their wounds or cure their illnesses, but there was nothing wrong with their brains, and with the right kind of training they made excellent spies.

“And I got a full scholarship,” Cody added.

“It doesn’t matter if they sent a damn Space Ranger to give you a ride back, you’re not going,” Jonah informed his son.  Then the yelling started.

The fight ended with Cody desperate and furious, Jonah heartsick and angry and Garrett getting backlash from both of them.  Jonah thought Garrett had encouraged Cody, and Cody thought Garrett wasn’t sticking up for him enough.  Cody ran off into the rain, Jonah retreated to their bedroom and Garrett…

He went out onto the porch and smoked a cigarette.  An old-school cigarette, with actual tobacco in it and everything.  He kept them as a treat for when he really couldn’t deal with his beloved family, and smoking them gave him the time he needed to center himself and figure out what he needed to do.  Today, it was a two-cigarette problem.

There had been a time when Garrett had considered himself a drama queen.  Hell, he’d been a drama addict, loving the thrill of the emotions that ran through him when tempers got hot.  Since Cody had become a teenager, Garrett had called his own father up at least a dozen times to ask for advice, and to apologize for once being an adolescent himself.  By comparison Cody was a model of teenage perfection: he’d never been arrested, he hadn’t had to be committed to a mental institution for any period of time, he didn’t do any drugs…apart from adrenaline, but Cody didn’t do anything there that his daddy didn’t know about.  At least, that was what Garrett assumed.  He was actually rather impressed that Cody had been able to keep this a secret from both of them.  It begged the question: what else had Cody been keeping to himself?

It didn’t really matter right now.  Kids were entitled to their privacy, and Garrett had no desire to stifle his son’s individualism.  He did want to keep Cody from doing something rash, though, and that meant not leaving him alone for too long.

Jonah was standing in the kitchen when Garrett came back inside, his back stiff and face blank.  He stood there like he was frozen in place, unsure whether he should move to go after his son or go back upstairs to brood.  Garrett ached to embrace his husband, but experience had taught him that sometimes, Jonah just wouldn’t accept comfort.  Sometimes he needed careful handling, and this looked like one of those times.

“I’ll go after him,” Garrett said quietly, pulling on his shoes.

“You do that, and when you find him tell him he’s not going anywhere,” Jonah growled.

Garrett shook his head.  “I can’t say that.”


“He’s not going to listen if all we give him are commands, sweetheart.  Cody isn’t going to stay here forever, that was never going to happen.  You’ve known that for years.”

Jonah shook his head silently.  Garrett moved a little closer and pressed the point.  “He’s too smart and too young and just too bright to stay here, Jonah.  Cody wants to see the universe, and he’s chosen a way to do it that’s going to do a better job of preparing him than anything else I can think of.”

“He could go somewhere with us, we could do a tour, we could—”

“No, Jonah.”  Garrett reached out and rested a cautious hand on his husband’s arm.  Jonah jerked back out of his reach, and Garrett sighed.  “That’s not what he wants.  It’s not what Cody needs: he needs independence, he needs excitement.  He needs to live his own life, and he’s not going to get what he needs if he stays here with us, no matter how good our intentions are.”

“He’s sixteen,” Jonah bit out.  His jaw was clenched so hard it had to hurt.  “He’s just sixteen, he’s too young.  He’s my baby, I can’t let him go.  Not yet.”

“He’s my baby too, and I love him more than anything, but we can’t stifle him.”

Jonah chuckled bitterly.  “You didn’t even know Cody when he was a baby.”

Garrett knew that as soon as his husband had said it, he’d regretted it.  He could see the remorse flash in Jonah’s eyes, see it in the abrupt movement of his hand toward Garrett.  He knew his husband hadn’t mean to imply that Garrett loved their son any less, but he’d done it anyway, and it stung deep. 

Garrett stepped back and opened the front door.  “I’ll find him,” he said before stepping out into the drizzle and shutting the heavy door behind him.  Half an hour later he was at the park with Cody. 

Garrett sat down on the swing next to Cody, but he didn’t say anything.  He tucked his hands around the plastic chains at his sides and drifted back and forth, looking out at the roiling grey horizon Outside where multi-colored lightning did battle in the dark expanse of clouds.  He sat and waited, and after a few minutes of silence, Cody finally spoke up.

“I want to go.”

“I know you do,” Garrett said mildly.  “You made that rather clear back at the house.”

“M’sorry for yelling,” Cody said, scuffing his shoe against the spongy surface of the park.  The surface wasn’t grass, because a natural might be allergic to grass, and not made of gravel or rocks like everything surrounding them, because a natural might fall and hurt themselves.  It was all soft, spongy and safe.  Dull.  Boring.  “But dad wasn’t going to listen to me anyways, and I’m so tired of him not letting me do anything.

“Actually, he lets you do quite a lot.”  Garrett swung around a little so he could glance at Cody.  The kid—young man’s—dark blond curls were plastered to his face, and he was shivering.  Garrett couldn’t tell whether he’d been crying with the rain, but Cody had never had his father’s unease when it came to showing emotions, so Garrett was willing to bet he had.  “I can’t think of any other person in this entire colony who gets to spend some of every year on a fairly unsettled Federation planet, learning diplomacy from a former Governor and getting cross-cultural immersion with the local Drifters.”

You set all that up,” Cody protested.

“You think you’d get out of the front door if your dad wasn’t okay with it?  He let me use my resources to get you opportunities, but it’s all with his consent.  He wants you to have the best, Cody.  He always has.”

“Then why won’t he let me go to Olympus?”

“Hmm, maybe because he’s scared?” Garrett mused, still looking out at the sky.  “Maybe because you sprang this on him with absolutely no warning, no discussion, nothing to let him get used to the idea, just an announcement followed by a fight.  Your dad worries, of course he does, but he’s not unreasonable, Cody.  You know that.  And if you’d told me, I could have helped you instead of being made into the enemy here.”

Cody looked guilty now.  “Are you and dad fighting too?”

Garrett shrugged.  “We might be.  We’ll figure it out, but first we have to figure you out.  When does the school year start?”

“In three standard months.”

Garrett raised an eyebrow.  “That’s not long.  Considering it’ll take well over a month to get to Olympus in a fast ship and you’ve undoubtedly got a whole slew of medical procedures to get through, not to mention academic prep for the Academy’s first year classes, how exactly did you think you were going to accomplish this without our help?  What would have been better, a discussion that led to a real plan, or springing this on your dad and hoping for the best?”

“I can always tell when you guys are fighting,” Cody said, a little out of the blue as far as Garrett was concerned.  “You start saying ‘your dad’ like you’re not my dad too.”

“Legally I’m your father,” Garrett agreed.  “And I love you so much it hurts sometimes, but it’s different for Jonah.  Losing you would break him.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Cody said in a small voice.  “I just didn’t think he’d ever agree to let me try, and I have to do this, Garrett.  I don’t want to stay on Pandora forever, I can’t.”

“I understand.  I don’t think that was ever in the cards, but this is a little sooner than we were expecting.”  Garrett stood up and moved in front of Cody’s swing.  “Let’s head home, okay?  It might be tough, but I think we can talk your dad around.”

“Okay.”  Cody took Garrett’s hand and stood up, then pulled him into a hug.  “I didn’t mean to yell at you,” he whispered. 

“I know.”  If there was once thing Garrett understood, it was how a situation could get away from you sometimes.  “It’s okay, Cody.”  He stroked his son’s wet hair, a little amazed that Cody was almost his height now.  Fuck, where had the last decade gone?  “It’s going to be okay.”

The rest of the walk home was silent, but not uncomfortable.  Garrett was busy marshaling his thoughts, preparing for an argument of epic proportions, and he could sense that Cody was doing the same.  Neither of them expected to be met on the road at the end of their subdivision by Jonah, moving fast and holding both their jackets in his arms.  Garrett’s clothes were water-repelling, like everyone’s here, but that didn’t meant the air wasn’t chilly.

Cody and Jonah both pulled up and looked at each other.  After a moment, Jonah extended Cody’s jacket toward his son.  “Here,” he told him.  “Put it on before you get any colder.”

Cody stared at the jacket, then at his dad.  Then he leapt forward into his dad’s embrace, locking his arms around Jonah’s neck and pressing his face against his shoulder.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry,” Cody babbled, and Jonah dropped the jackets and clung to his son in return, holding him so tight it had to hurt.

“It’s fine, we’ll work it out, we will,” Jonah promised, meeting Garrett’s eyes for a moment over Cody’s head.  “We’ll work somethin’ out.”

Garrett ended up carrying the jackets home, because Jonah and Cody couldn’t quite let go of each other.  They all sat down together at the table and ate reheated food and looked over the details of the scholarship together, and at the end of it all even Jonah had to admit that the deal looked good.  “I like the bit where you have to get checked out once a week by the medical staff,” he said, spearing a bite of macaroni.

Cody rolled his eyes.  “Of course you do.  I like the part where I get to learn to pilot everything from gliders to Class H spacecraft.”

“Piloting’s not exactly an elective, what makes you so sure you’ll get accepted to the pilot’s program?” Jonah asked.

“Because I already know how to fly small ships pretty damn well,” Cody said.  “You taught me, after all.”  He let his father grapple with the feelings that statement evoked and turned to Garrett.  “And I’m way ahead in biological and environmental sciences thanks to you, so I’ll be able to skip some of the low-level courses, and there’s a genetics lab on campus that’s supposed to be amazing, and do you think Dr. Sims will write me a letter of recommendation?”

“Probably,” Garrett said.  “She’s fairly fond of you, after all.”  Actually Martina Sims, like most of the people who worked with Garrett, was ridiculously fond of Cody.

“You know what they’ll be teachin’ you to do, right?” Jonah asked more somberly.  “You’ve got a strong resume, obviously, but these scholarships are granted on the condition that you work where you’re told for at least a decade once you’re done with school.”

“That’s a fair point,” Garrett agreed.  “You don’t have to accept a scholarship, Cody.  We’ve got more than enough money to send you to a Federation academy if that’s what you want.  Or a private university, too.”

“Yeah, but…I wanted to prove that I could do it on my own, you know?”  Cody looked a little embarrassed, and a little worried of giving offense.  “It’s not that I don’t appreciate everything you guys have done for me, and everything that Grandpa would do for me if I asked.  But I needed to have something that just came from me being me.”

“I can commiserate,” Garrett said dryly, and they shared a smile.  Heading to Pandora had been the first real moment of independence in Garrett’s life, and he’d never regretted it.  That decision had gotten him his family, after all.  Well, his immediate family; Garrett had quite a lot back on Paradise.

“And you’re sure this is what you want?”  Jonah pressed.  “Knowin’ that you’ve got options, knowin’ that I’m not gonna throw another fit if you want to go.  You could wait a bit, defer for another year or two.”

“I know I could,” Cody said.  His eyes looked a little misty.  “And I’m really, really grateful for that, but I want to do this now.  I want to get started as soon as possible, because who knows how long I’m gonna have, right?”

“Cody—” Jonah sounded anguished and Cody held up a hand.

“I’m not saying that to make you upset, and I’m not upset by it either.  Not anymore,” he promised.  “I’ve lived like this forever, it doesn’t bother me.  I just want to do as much as I can with the time I have.  And maybe, maybe something will happen that will let naturals use Regen, or to modify our genetic markers and then I won’t have to worry about it anymore, but I don’t want to wait for a miracle, dad.  There’s so much I want to do.”

Jonah stared at his son with a mixture of pride and resignation on his face.  “Then I guess you’d better do it, huh.”

Yes!  Cody launched around the table for another hug from his dad, then again from Garrett.  The rest of the evening was spent on logistics: travel plans, equipment needs and informing the rest of the family.  Everyone on Paradise was at home when their call went through, and Cody got to tell Miles and Claudia and Renee and little Yvaine all at once.  They were all incredibly happy for him, and after a few rounds of congratulations Miles split the call so he could work more of the details out with Garrett while the ladies caught up with Jonah and Cody.

“Can you afford to spend a few days here on the way in?” Miles asked.  He looked relaxed in his loose, light clothes, casual for around the house.  Miles Caractacus had formally resigned as governor of Paradise two years ago, but he and Claudia maintained a house in the capital city Rapture, in part because he liked it there and in part because moving back to the central system would put them further away from Garrett than he wanted to be.

“Probably, if Jezria lets me take enough leave,” Garrett groused.

“Because you know that Jack’s going to want to see him too.”

“I’m so very far away from caring about what Jack wants.”  Jack Vendam was Cody’s other biological father, Jonah’s much-former lover.  The man had wriggled his way back into Cody’s life but it was a courtesy at this point, nothing the courts could enforce. 

“And I’m sure I could get Wyl and Robbie in to port if you give me enough time.”

“Yeah?” Garrett asked with more enthusiasm.  “That would be great.”  Wyl and Robbie Sinclair were two of Garrett’s oldest friends, and after Robbie’s retirement from the marines they’d taken off to see the sights on their private ship and hadn’t stayed in one place for more than a month since then.  They’d come to visit Pandora twice, and Garrett knew Cody would love to see them again.  “I’ll let you know as soon as our itinerary is set.”

“Good.”  Miles rested his hands on his knees and really looked at his son for a moment.  “Are you all right with this?”

“I’m fine with it.”

“Because it’s hard letting a child go.”  Miles smiled faintly.  “Lord knows it was almost impossible for me to let you out of my orbit.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when Renee gets old enough to go off to school.”

“Well, you’ll still have Yvaine for a few years after that,” Garrett said.  “Lucky man.”

“Gare…have the two of you considered having another child?”

Garrett felt his heart literally skip a beat.  “You know we haven’t,” he whispered.  “I’m not meant to reproduce, Dad.  Too many potential problems.”

“None of which are insurmountable.”  They stared at each other in silence before Miles finally said, “Just think about it.  Your history isn’t enough to stop you, is all I’m saying.”

“I will think about it,” Garrett said, and the worst thing was that it wasn’t just a platitude.  He already thought about it, ever since Yvaine had been born and Cody hit his teens.  Cody was an amazing kid, everything Garrett could want in a son, but despite all of that Garrett still felt sometimes like he wanted more.  He wanted to experience a child’s life from the moment of its birth onward, he wanted to see a baby’s first moments.  He wanted a little girl with bright blue eyes, or a baby boy with Jonah’s brown hair.  He wanted selfish, selfish things.

None of them got to bed until late that night.  Cody was the first to drop, exhausted by the emotion and excitement of the day.  Jonah tucked him in bed like he hadn’t since Cody was a little boy, and then he let Garrett lead him upstairs to their room.  The couple was quiet as they got ready for bed, and for a while after they lay down together Garrett was sure they just weren’t going to talk about it.  Which wasn’t going to fly for long, but Garrett was willing to cut his husband some slack after the day he’d had.

Then Jonah rolled over, pulled Garrett close and buried his face against his neck.  “I was an asshole,” Jonah admitted.  “I didn’t mean what I said.  Cody’s as much yours as he is mine, has been from the moment he met you.  Hell, he listens to you a lot better than me.  If that doesn’t make him your kid, I don’t know what does.”

“Is this an actual apology?” Garrett asked tartly.  “Because I still haven’t heard the magic words.”

He felt Jonah smile against the crux of his neck.  “I’m sorry, darlin’.  I shouldn’t have lost my temper today, and I definitely shouldn’t have taken it out on you.  I don’t know what the hell I would do without you.”

“Me neither,” Garrett said.  He didn’t even want to contemplate a life without Jonah.  Seeing the reality of his own father aging, knowing that in another decade Cody would look practically the same age as Garrett, it scared him.  He turned and clung to Jonah just as hard as Jonah was clinging to him.  “I need you tonight.”

“I’ll give you anything you want,” Jonah promised, kissing a line across Garrett’s shoulder and chest.  “Anything.  God, I love you so much, fuck…”

Garrett grabbed the lubricant and pressed it into Jonah’s hands.  “Now,” he urged, shimmying so that Jonah was between his legs.  “I need you now.”

They had sex often enough, and with Garrett bottoming enough, that Jonah didn’t have to worry about hurting him if they skipped the preparations.  Jonah reached down and slicked his eager cock, then pushed Garrett’s thighs up and back, lined up and slid inside.  They both groaned as he sank in to the hilt.

Ten years of sex with Jonah, and it still felt amazing.  Garrett had had his husband more ways than he could count, in different positions and with a huge variety of toys and still, he could find utterly perfect release just like this, with Jonah’s cock spearing him deep, his lips worshipful against Garrett’s pale, perfect skin, wherever his mouth could reach as he thrust deeper, harder.  No one had touched Garrett like this before Jonah, this strange, comfortable desire that still seemed so intense, so new and desperate and alive.

“Love you Garrett, hell, I love you,” Jonah murmured, punctuating each word with a kiss or a thrust.  “Darlin’, Garrett, please…”

“It’s good,” Garrett moaned.  “It’s so good, you’re always so good.  More, I need it.”  He needed harder and faster, and Jonah gave it to him, his breath hitching as he braced himself on his arms and slammed in so hard Garrett had to lift his hands up to keep from hitting the headboard.  Perfect, rough and hot and heavy, and he could feel every tremble that coursed through his husband’s body, he could feel the tension build as Jonah drew closer to the end.  Close, but not quite there: Jonah always waited for Garrett to come first unless asked otherwise, and from the feel of things he wouldn’t be waiting long.  Garrett’s prostate hummed with pleasure, his dick was hard and leaking pressed between their abdomens and his balls were pulled so tight to his body it was like they were begging him to let them release.

Garrett freed one hand and swept his fingers over the head of his cock.  Just a glancing touch, but the light stimulation was all he needed to fall over the edge.  He arched and came, squeezing Jonah’s cock hard as he did, milking the orgasm out of his husband.  Jonah gasped and thrust a few more times, slower, harder, before he finally stilled.  Garrett pulled him in close and they stayed that way for a while, still connected, the rhythms of their hearts slowly coming into synch.  It was moments of intimacy like this that Garrett loved almost more than the sex, when they were sweaty and tired and utterly together.

“It is going to work out, isn’t it?” Jonah asked at last, his voice soft and young-sounding.  “Cody’ll be okay.  We’ll be okay.”

“I think so,” Garrett replied, not wanting to promise anything he might not be able to keep but knowing that Jonah needed his reassurances.  “I think everything will be fine.”  Garrett would do his absolute best to make sure that it was.  Still, the thought of the two of them here alone, no Cody, with no idea when he’d be back…it made Garrett’s heart ache.

“We’ll do our best.”



Friday, August 23, 2013

A Hundred Thousand Visits! Holy Sh*t!

Wow, I am just...wow!  I feel like this:

My blog has over a hundred thousand hits as of this morning.  Holy crap, when did I even start this blog up?  Let me check...looks like September 2008.  So it's been almost five years...WHAT!?  Oh my god, where did my life go?  How did this come to be?  I've been doing this for that long, seriously?  Seriously.  I know this doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, I'm hardly one of those "a million hits in a single day" blogs, but it's a sign of persistence and it means a lot to me that you guys have stuck with me, followed my stories and my life and all of the odd bits and pieces of news and info I've shunted into this medium over time. Seriously, you make me happy.  And stressed, but mostly happy:)

How will I celebrate this moment?  I'm debating that right now...possibly another blog story.  I've been wanting to do one for quite a while.  Maybe a historical, maybe a fantasy, or maybe just a one-shot.  We'll see, but regardless, today is a happy day.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Love Letters Post #28

Notes:  And here we have 2800 words of apology for not posting last week.  I needed the break though, and the trip went pretty well.  Almost perfect, right up until the part where Gentle Mother Nature turned into Freak Accident Mother Nature.  I’m fine, my dad is mostly fine, but grr.  Anyway, I appreciate your patience, your sweet comments that helped make me feel better about the delay, and most of all the fact that you’re reading now.  We’re getting into the heavy stuff, people. 

Title: Love Letters


Part Twenty-Eight: Ballet and Bars




Joey could have spent all afternoon in the paint section in the hardware store.  The place was huge and stocked paint from three major manufacturers, all with their own displays of color swatches, and Joey took samples of each of them.  There were some model kitchens at one end of the store that had tables large enough to lay the swatches out, and the salesperson politely looked the other way while they deposited Joey’s finds on a pale oak dining table and set about recreating the color wheels.

Ben didn’t have the eyes for this, really.  It wasn’t that he was colorblind; it was just that after a while, his vision stopped differentiating between Lemon Chiffon and Papaya Whip.  Joey and Ryan didn’t have that problem, and so Ben was delegated to documenting their expanding organization, which was fine.  Ryan made a bright spiral of color out of the Valspar swatches, which Joey helped arrange and took a picture of when done, before they moved on to Sherwin-Williams.  They had just enough time to finish with the Benjamin Moore colors before it was time to go and pick up Molly at the pool.

The car was mostly quiet, Joey focusing on blending the different manufacturers’ swatches together now that they’d been assessed individually in hopes of finding authoritative names, and Ben too conscious of interrupting the boy’s reverie to want to break the silence.  It wasn’t far to the pool, thankfully, and Molly was waiting for them outside when they got there.

Ben remembered Molly as a slender girl, pale and blonde like her mother, but he wasn’t prepared for how waiflike she seemed now.  Either the black dress at the funeral had hidden a lot, or the kid had lost weight that she hadn’t had to spare in the first place.  She wore a golden yellow sundress (“Citrine,” Ben’s mind provided unhelpfully) that looked at least one size too big, and her wet hair fell in disheveled waves around her face.

“Hey Mols,” Ryan said with a smile as she got into the backseat of the car.  “How was swimming?”

Molly shrugged.  “Okay.  Ballet was better.”  She glanced over at Ben, who, feeling like an idiot, held out his hand.

“I’m Ben DeWitt, I don’t know if you remember me,” he began, but Molly immediately interrupted.

“You’re dad’s friend.”  She shook his hand with her own cool, clammy one.  “You came to his funeral.”


“Buckle up,” Ryan reminded her as he pulled away from the Y.  Molly did, and as soon as her hands were free again Joey reached over and, without looking, grabbed ahold of her closest wrist.  She didn’t grab him back or pull away, she didn’t even twitch, just let him hold onto her like it was completely normal.  Maybe it was, for all Ben knew.

“Why was ballet so good?” Ryan asked, slowing for a stop sign.

Molly smiled, and that was where Ben really saw the resemblance to Brody and Ryan.  “Miss Karinovsky thinks I’m ready for pointe.  She’s letting me into the advanced classes.”

“That’s awesome!” Ryan turned quick and grinned at her.  “Congratulations, that’s amazing.  You’ll be so good, I know it.”

Molly blushed a little.  “Thanks.” 

Ryan’s cell phone went off in his pocket a second later, and he frowned.  “Shoot, can you grab that for me, Ben?  It’s probably Jasmine calling to harangue me, I still owe her three paintings.”

Ben delved into Ryan’s pocket, resolutely keeping his hands away from anything that could remotely be considered flirting at this point, no matter how much he wanted to, and pulled the phone out.  The screen read Tom Bower.  “It’s not Jasmine.”  The phone still rang insistently.

“Answer it anyway.”

Ben did.  “Ryan Kuzniar’s phone.”

“And where is Ryan Kuzniar?” the voice on the other side demanded. 

“He’s with me.  Who is this?”

“This is Officer Bower at Onemor Bar.  Tell Ryan I’ve got Brody’s wife here, and I need him to come and pick her up.  She’s in no condition to drive and the owner’s already complained of her disorderly behavior.”

“Oh,” Ben said, his stomach tightening.  He could feel Ryan and Molly’s attention focus in on him.  “We’ll be right there.”

“Good.”  The officer ended the call and Ryan immediately said, “What?”

“That was Officer Bower,” Ben began, and Ryan grimaced.

“Oh god.  Where’s Cheryl?” he asked.  Ben heard Molly’s breath catch in the backseat.

“Onemor Bar.  Do you know where that it?”

“It’s the same place I picked her up last time,” Ryan said.  “Is he in a hurry, or can we drop the kids off first?”

Very conscious of his audience, Ben said, “I think the quicker the better.”

Ryan’s mouth tightened a bit.  “Right.”  He did a U-turn at the next light and headed back downtown.  By the time they got to the bar, Cheryl was outside, leaning against the hood of a cop car as a man Ben assumed was Officer Bower stood speaking in front of her, his posture intent.  Cheryl wouldn’t look him in the eyes, and when she saw Ryan’s car pull in she pushed unsteadily to her feet and headed their way.

Cheryl had changed just like her daughter had, losing too much weight.  Her hair, so carefully coiffed the last time Ben had been through, was pulled back in a messy ponytail.  Her pale eyes looked stark above the dark smudges beneath them, and she was wearing too-big sweatpants and a t-shirt than had seen better days, none of the beautiful clothes that Ben remembered from the few family photos Brody had sent along.  Her left arm was bound in a sling, held close to her body.

Fiii-nally,” she called out, stumbling a little as she made her way over to the car.  Officer Bower followed close behind, his expression sternly disapproving.  He was an older man, with short grey hair and a slight potbelly, and he had clearly reached his bullshit limit for the afternoon.  “What took you so long?”

“I had to get Molly from swim practice,” Ryan said tightly as he stepped forward.  Ben got out of the car as well, on reflex, and so did Molly.  Joey stayed inside, but didn’t let go of his sister’s wrist, holding onto her as she stood by the back door.

“Molly had…”  Cheryl looked blearily at her daughter.  “You had swimming today?  I thought you were doing…it’s ballet, right hon?  Didn’t I drop you at the studio?”

“Swimming was after, Mom,” Molly said quietly.  “I walked there from ballet.”

“Oh.”  Cheryl looked at her daughter with blank incomprehension before switching to Ryan, and a moment later, to Ben.  The blank look dropped away and was replaced with first shock, then anger.  “Oh, hell no.  I am not getting in a car with that man, I will drive myself home.”

“You aren’t driving anywhere, Mrs. Kuzniar,” Officer Bower told her.

“Stop being so damn formal, Tom, you’ve known me for years,” Cheryl said, rounding on him.  “A few cups of…just, I need some coffee, and I’ll be fine.”

“Mrs. Kuzniar, if you start your car up again I will arrest you for drunk driving and reckless endangerment no matter how many cups of coffee you’ve had.”

“Tom,” Cheryl coaxed, “c’mon now, you wouldn’t arrest me.  You were Brody’s partner for two years, you wouldn’t arrest his wife!”

“I was his partner, true, and I knew him well enough to know that your husband would’ve happily kicked my ass if I let you drive in your state,” Officer Bower said flatly.

“Well, I’m not riding with that man,” Cheryl insisted, glaring at Ben again.  “I’m not!”

Officer Bower glanced at Ben.  “What’s the problem with that man?  Looks like a normal enough person to me.”

“No, he’s not!” Cheryl insisted.  She leaned in and tried to whisper, but being drunk it came out loud anyway.  “He’s Brody’s gay friend.  He’s been trying to steal my husband for years.  Takin’ his attention away from his family, where it belonged…it’s just not right.”

Ben felt blood rise in his face, a mix of anger and embarrassment.  He looked for a cue from Ryan but Ryan just stood there, resolutely silent. 

“Well, there’s no need to fear for that now,” Officer Bower said, his voice gone gentle now.  “Get in the car, Cheryl.  Go home.”

“But I don’t want to ride with him!”

“I could drive her car back,” Ben offered, more than willing to keep his distance from Cheryl.

“No!”  She rounded on him suddenly, almost falling over.  “I won’t have you drivin’ my car!  It’s a…no, Brody bought that car for me, and I don’t want you in it.”

“Then you’re left riding with us,” Ryan finally spoke up, sounding almost as tense as he looked.  “So get in, please.”

“Go on, now.”  Officer Bower took Cheryl’s good arm and led her closer to the car.

“God, why’re y’all so mean to me?” she exclaimed.  “I don’t deserve this!”

“Get in the car, go home and sober up,” Officer Bower said. 

“I’m not going home,” Cheryl pouted.  “I’m going to Brody’s mother’s house, that’s not my home.  God, the way she looks at me you’d think I’d killed her son myself.  Everyone there hates me.”

“That’s not true, Mom,” Molly said, scooting into the middle seat of the car to make room.  Officer Bower kept one arm and Ryan took the other, and they helped Cheryl down into the backseat.  Molly leaned into her mother comfortingly as she helped get her seatbelt on.  “I love you.”

“’Course you do, you’re my good girl,” Cheryl said, then looked past her daughter at her son.  “Joey?  Aren’t you going to say hello to your mama?”

“Hello,” Joey said, not taking his eyes off the swatches.

“That was terrible.  Give me a kiss, I want a kiss.”


Officer Bower shut the door and sighed.  “Ryan, I’m telling you this as a friend.  Cheryl needs help.  Rehab, therapy, counseling…I don’t know, don’t care, but it’s gotta be something and it’s gotta be soon or she’s going to kill herself or someone else.  Those kids need their mama, and she needs to be there for them.”

“We’re working on it,” Ryan told him.  “Once her arm is healed up.  Mom has a list of grief counselors and addiction specialists and programs for her to consider.”

“Do what you can,” the man advised.  “There’s only so much leeway the force can give Cheryl before the chief’s goodwill runs out.”

“I know.  Thank you, sir.”

“You boys have a good evening.”

When they got back in the car, Cheryl was haranguing Molly. “Why does he hold onto you?” she demanded.  “He always holds onto you.  I’m his mother, he should hold onto me.”


“Switch seats with me, I want to sit next to Joey.”

“Mom, the car’s already moving.”  Ryan had wasted no time getting them going.  Cheryl’s mouth twisted with melancholy and she looked away from her children.

“There’s always something,” she muttered.  “Always something to keep me at arm’s distance.  You were always, both of you…you were always your daddy’s children.  Always went to him first, you always liked him best.”

Molly looked like she was on the verge of tears.  “That’s not true, Mom.”

“I know it’s true,” Cheryl said hollowly.  “I come second with everyone.  I came second with you when your daddy was here, and now I’m second again.  Or hell, third, I don’t know.  I was third with your daddy too, now I think on it.  You kids, then his friends, then me.  His friends.  Friends.  Like they could give him something I couldn’t.”  She seemed to have forgotten Ben was in the car.  “He read those letters first, before everything else.  Not the paper, no time for the TV, nothing.  He read that…that damn book…twice, kept it on the bedside table.  I wanted to burn it.  Can’t believe that little shit signed it for him.  Had to make it special, so Brody would hold it close.  And Brody knew what that did to me, and he didn’t even care.  No one cares.”

“Momma…”  Molly was crying now, her face turned into her mother’s shoulder, but Cheryl didn’t notice.  She just stared out the window, drifting through her stupor.  Ben shared a worried glance with Ryan, who drove a little faster than strictly legal to get them back as soon as possible.

By the time they got to the house Cheryl was asleep, snoring with her face mashed against the glass of the window.  Ryan parked the car behind the chain of others that had appeared during their absence, then went around to the door where Joey sat silent and opened it up.  “Let’s go in, guys,” he said gently. 

“But Mom,” Molly protested with a sniffle.

“I’ll come and get her in a minute.  Ben can stay in the car with her until I come back out.”  The look Ryan gave Ben was pleading, but it wasn’t something Ben even had to think about.

“Of course I will,” he said.  Molly looked slightly appeased, and Joey got out of the car without comment, his hand still firmly attached to his sister’s wrist.  Molly immediately turned to Ryan for a hug once she exited the car, and after a moment Ryan turned and led them inside. 

What the fuck am I doing here? Ben asked himself once Ryan was out of sight.  He felt so out of his depth he couldn’t even see the surface anymore.  The kids, okay, he’d been doing all right with that, but for all his private nature Ben wasn’t the type of person who was content to sit back and take abuse.  A large part of him had wanted to lash out at Cheryl for being a complete and utter bitch to him, and it had taken Ryan’s pained expression and Molly’s obvious discomfort to keep him from doing that.  Ben didn’t mind being teased, he could handle professional ridicule and he didn’t even care about being ignored, but a deliberate attack wasn’t the sort of thing he was inclined to let slide. 

But Cheryl was drunk and in pain, and she had good kids and Ryan needed his support, so Ben didn’t say anything.  He just stared straight ahead, staring at the trees and the grass and ignoring the other occupant of the car right up until the moment when she suddenly grabbed his shoulder.

“Why didn’t he love me best?” Cheryl demanded, her grip uncomfortably tight.  “He was so careful with your damn book…what makes you better than me?”

“Nothing,” Ben told her, and he meant it honestly.  “He didn’t think I was any better.  He did love you best, hang on a sec.”  Ben took out his phone and searched his inbox for the text.  He hadn’t been sure why he’d kept it, beyond the fact that it was a keepsake from Brody, until right now.  Ben found the one he wanted and showed it to her.  “Look.”

It’s our 12th anniversary in a month. Google says I have to give her something silk.  I’m thinking lingerie. She looks fucking amazing in lingerie. Does lingerie do anything for you? Is there some manly equivalent?

The conversation had devolved from there into a discussion of jockstraps, but this was the important part.  Ben watched Cheryl work it out in her bleary head, and he was completely unprepared for the tears that filled her eyes once she was through.

“He gave me Victoria’s Secret,” she cried, her face blotchy.  “It was in Moroccan Blue, and that’s my favorite color.”

“I can assure you, Brody never sent me lingerie,” Ben told her.  Cheryl looked at him blankly for a moment, then laughed.  Her breath smelled like gin, but the laugh seemed genuine, not bitter.

“God Almighty, I don’t understand you at all,” she said once she’d settled down.

“Good thing you don’t have to.”

“You like Ryan, huh?  Like, really?”

“Yes,” Ben said firmly.

“That’s good,” Cheryl said, letting Ben’s shoulder go and sitting back against her own seat.  “That’s nice.  Brody worried about him.  The kids love him, y’know.”

“I can tell.”

“Poor boy needs someone to love him in this place,” Cheryl continued absently, looking out the window again.  “It’s a hard place to live when they don’t really want you here.  I know it.  No one knows like me.”  She chuckled, and now the bitterness was back.  “They think I ruined Brody.  Think I’m ruinin’ my babies.  But what do they know?”  Cheryl sighed.  “What do any of you know?”

That, Ben thought, was a good question.  He didn’t know what it was like to lose a spouse, but he did know what it was like not to have a real parent.  Are you ruining your kids?” he asked her, looking straight at Cheryl.  She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Shut up,” she whispered.

Ben shut up.