Britland – Chapter 15 – Reflections of the Past

Author’s Note: This chapter may be triggering for some readers. It deals with brief glimpses into the past of the one of the characters that experienced abuse as a child. The chapter does not go into great detail nor will it be depicted by pictures.

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“Can you hand me that jar of pickles” Britland asked. His back was turned to Carson eyes on the shelves searching for the items on his mother’s list. He moved several feet away before realizing Carson hadn’t moved to follow him. “Babe what’s wrong” he asked retracing his step coming to a stop beside his fiance.

“I” he shivered. He didn’t think he’d ever hear that voice again. The jovial deep voice he and his brother always anticipated with growing excitement. How long had it been? Fifteen years? He hadn’t heard it since Dawson had been taken. Blinking he gave Britland a weak grin “I’m sorry what?”

Britland gave him a concerned look. Something was definitely wrong. Carson’s eyes lacked their usual luster and there was the nervous way his fingers picked at his sweater. Carson was never this inattentive or lost looking. “I asked for a jar of pickles” he gestured towards the jars Carson was blocking.

“Oh sorry” he mumbled “I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Are you feeling alright” Britland’s brows furrowed together. “You didn’t sleep well last night.”

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“I’m fine” he snapped brushing off Britland’s concern. “What’s next? Produce? Dry goods? I know …. diapers. Your mom would be delighted if we popped on of those out.”

“You didn’t have to come” Britland grumbled grabbing the pickles that Carson had walked away from. He pushed the cart silently pouting.

“I wish I hadn’t” Carson grumbled following Britland down another aisle.

“Why don’t you just leave then” Britland said coming to a stop glaring at Carson having reached his limit with his surliness.

“How would you get home” Carson demanded his tone one of long-suffering.

“I’ll call my Dad” Britland glanced at his phone “he should be done with work by the time I’m finished here.”

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Nodding Carson followed Britland down another aisle with the air of a martyr. “I think I’ll leave then.” He turned taking a couple of steps before stopping at the light touch of Britland’s hand on his forearm. He was tempted to stay but everything in him was screaming for him to run. Run as far and as fast as he could while he could. “I’m sorry” he mumbled before walking away. He refused to look back knowing if he did he’d see the wounded hurt expression in Britland’s eyes. If he turned he wouldn’t be able to go.

As soon as he could he stopped leaning on the end cap, breathing hard. He needed air. Needed to get away. It didn’t make sense. How could a half remembered voice instill such a reaction? He felt like an idiot running from nothing. Just a feeling of danger. He took a deep steadying breath his mind made up to go back when he froze in terror. That deep voice again.

Peeking around the end cap he saw Britland talking to an older vaguely familiar man. He could feel his body start to shake as he mumbled to himself “I know him, but how?”

***

“Hey Mr Svir how are you” Britland asked smiling at the older man. He had the brief thought that the man looked familiar. Kind of like an older version of Carson. That couldn’t be right. Carson didn’t have relatives outside of Bridgeport. The thought of the purple haired male brough a pang of regret. Britland couldn’t help but wonder what had gotten into him. Carson seldom if ever got upset with him especially not over grocery shopping.

“I heard you got engaged” the older man enthused “congratulations. Whose the lucky lady?”

Color rose over Britland’s cheeks. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed to admit he was engaged to a man. He wasn’t sure how everyone would react when they found out. Riverview was a small town that held onto their traditional values. “Um actually you just missed him. Carson had to run some errands. You’ll meet him at my parents New Years Eve party.”

The older man’s eyes lit up beneath his heavy brows. “I’m looking forward to it. Did you meet in Bridgeport? How old is he? What color hair does he have?”

Nodding Britland looked furtively down the aisle uncomfortable with the man’s sudden interest in Carson. “If you’ll excuse me. I have a few more things to get for my mom.”

“You’re a good boy Britland” the older man grinned winking at him “reminds me of my nephew.”

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“Err” Britland was loath to walk past the older man as his feet seemed stuck to the floor under the man’s piercing gaze.

Carson moved from the end cap seeing the predicament Britland was in. Taking several deep breaths that did little to restore his oxygen supply or calm his beating heart. “Hon did I give you the keys” he asked patting his pockets “I seem to have locked myself out of the car.” He gave Britland a sheepish grin shoving his hands into his pockets.

His brow creasing Britland mutely shook his head. Carson never lost his keys he thought. “I’m pretty sure you have them.”

The older man lingered nearby eavesdropping. “I can give you a ride” he offered. Giving Carson a head to toe appraisal he smiled “Carson is that you? When I heard my good friend Britland had gotten engaged I thought it might have been you.” Stepping forward he pulled Carson into a hug patting his back “you look just like your mother.”

Carson shivered in the mans arms, every muscle in his body stiff with tension. He wanted to scream but he didn’t have enough air even to squeak. The man’s arms felt like crushing weights. Hot and heavy making it impossible to draw breath into his oxygen deprived lungs.

The man pushed him away to peer into his eyes. Carson’s face flushed with heat “you don’t remember me do you boy? Don’t you recognize me?”

Cautiously Carson shook his head afraid to admit it even to himself. He squeezed his eyes tight hoping this was just another nightmare. He’d wake up safe and sound with Britland curled up beside him.

“It’s your Uncle Lars” the man rubbed his hands in circles on Carson’s back “it’s been almost twenty years but I’d still recognize you anywhere.” He squeezed him tight making Carson squirm in the heat of his embrace.

“Mr Svir” Britland nudged his card forward bumping it into the back of his legs “we need to get going. Mom’s expecting us.” He didn’t know what was going on but he had a bad feeling. The blank lost look in Carson’s lavender eyes was heartbreaking. “We’ll see you later at the party,” he said to the man hoping he would release Carson so they could get on their way.

Patting Carson’s back again grinning from ear to ear “we’ll catch up then.” He stepped back his eyes never leaving Carson’s face. Carson stood as if hypnotized. “I can wait for you boys and give you a lift when your done.”

“Err” Britland glanced over at Carson who still seemed to be under some sort of spell.”That won’t be necessary. I had the keys all along. They were in a different pocket.” He gave a small self-deprecating laugh before tugging on Carson’s arm to get his attention.

“That’s good” the man nodded a fleeting look of disappointment in his eyes before he turned and walked away.

***

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Carson stared at the spot his Uncle had stood. Shivering he turned to face Britland “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Looking around Britland grabbed a trash can from a nearby shelf. “Use this” he shoved the can into Carson’s hands.

Carson sank to the tile floor hugging the rubber trash can to his chest. Several people walked past staring in open curiosity. Britland did his best to shied Carson from their disgusted gawking stares.

“Excuse me sir” a man’s voice spoke behind him “is he alright? Does he need an ambulance?”

Britland detected the man’s concern was more for the disgusted customers than any real concern for the guy puking his guts up on the floor. “I’m sure he’ll be ok. I’m afraid breakfast didn’t agree with him.” He looked over at Carson adding “we’ll pay for the trash can.”

Frowning the man asked “are you sure he’s ok?”

“I’m positive” Britland assured him “we’re almost done shopping. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

“We can hold your items” the manager offered “it’s really in everyone’s best interests if you take him home.”

“Carson” Britland knelt beside his fiance “do you think you can get up?”

“Mmm” he moaned letting Britland pull him to his feet. He swayed for a moment turning a sickly grey.

Britland followed the manager who took charge of his cart and marched them towards the exit. “What about the trash can” Britland asked before exiting.

The manager gave him a stiff thin-lipped grimace “don’t worry about it. Just take him home.”

Without further argument Britland helped Carson to the car. It felt somewhat awkward to sit behind the driver’s seat. He had to adjust the seat forward to reach the pedals comfortably. “Keys” he asked holding his hand out.

A moment later he felt the weight of Carson’s key chain being put into his hand. He glanced over towards his fiance to find him leaning against the door, his face resting on the cool window. There were a million questions fighting for attention in his brain. None of them felt appropriate, instead he said “we’ll be home in a few minutes.” He hoped the worst of the sickness was over. The faint scent of vomit filled the small confines of the car’s interior.

***

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Once Britland turned into the driveway he ran around the car to help Carson into the house. Carson’s silence was as unnerving as his sudden sickness had been. As soon as Britland got his winter gear off and into their room Carson curled into a ball on the bed, shivering with his eyes closed. Britland hesitated at the door “I need to go back to the store….” He sighed unsure what he should do. He didn’t want to leave him in this shape. “Will you be ok until I get back?”

Carson nodded waving a hand weakly in Britland’s direction. “The light” he called indistinctly his voice muffled by the pillow “leave it on.”

Removing his hand from the light switch Britland glanced towards the window. The curtains were open letting in the weak winter light. Snow was in the forecast for later that night. “Ok” he said softly biting his tongue to keep from prying Carson with a million questions.

When the door clicked shut Carson sighed rolling onto his back. His skin was cold and clammy. Shivering he tried to imagine pulling a blanket over himself but lacking the energy to do more than wish it would just happen. “You look just like your mother” his Uncle’s voice echoed in his head. He moaned out loud as his mind drifted further back in time.

“Come give your Uncle a hug” his mother’s voice encouraged taking his hat and gloves off. He watched helplessly as Dawson ran up to their Uncle arms open wide, giggling and care free. He had hung back trying to hide behind his mother’s back. “Go ahead” she pushed him forward “give him a hug.”

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“No” he cried shaking his head his eyes pleading with her not to make him do this.

“What’s wrong with you” she asked sounding irritable pushing him towards his Uncle. She looked over at him “he’s acting like you’re a stranger.”

“I bet if I were he’d be screaming stranger danger” his Uncle joked although he could hear the anger beneath the joking tone. He took his coat off stepping forward to comply with their wishes. His arms trembled as he looked into his Uncle’s face. His eyes were cold and calculating, the smile he wore was fake like someone had painted it on him. He almost cried out when his Uncle’s arms wrapped around him, drawing him close, suffocating him. He tried to squirm out of the embrace but he was too small and soon found himself sitting on his Uncle’s lap….

He cried out jerking up right on the bed gasping for air. Running a shaky hand through his tangled hair he tried to rid his thoughts of the past. He hadn’t thought about his Uncle in years. Why now? He pulled his knees to his chest hugging them close. He always thought he liked his Uncle. He remembered having a lot of fun when he came to visit. Uncle Lars would take him to the park. Then they’d go back to his hotel where they…

He shivered. He didn’t like going to his Uncle’s hotel. He could never remember anything beyond walking through the door. The memories that should be there were shrouded in darkness, a blank void. Just a terrible sinking feeling that something bad happened there that he didn’t want to remember.

***

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Carson emerged from his room when he heard movement in the other room. “Want some help” he offered upon seeing Britland with grocery bags.

“Are you feeling better” Britland asked setting the bags down and going to hug him.

Carson stepped back flinching. For a brief moment he was back in the store having his Uncle’s arms around him. “Yeah. Fine” he choked attempting to cover up his momentary fear.

Stepping back arms dropping “is something wrong?” Britland bit his bottom lip to keep from crying out. Not once since they had been together had Carson ever flinched from his touch. It was always Carson being patient with him. Why now? Without thinking he asked “did your Uncle do something to you?”

“I don’t….” Carson visibly shrank inside himself. Staring at the floor he refused to meet Britland’s eyes. Shame twisted his stomach muscles into knots. Shame that he didn’t know the answer to that question. Shame that maybe he did and didn’t want to admit it. Shame that he hadn’t said anything when he was a kid and it was somehow connected to whoever took Dawson. “I don’t want to talk about this” he said abruptly walking towards the door.

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He could feel Britland’s gaze following him as he shoved his arms into his coat and his feet into his boots. He sensed the inner turmoil going on inside the blonde. A part of him wanted Britland to force him to talk about it. Another part just wanted to punch something. “I need air” he mumbled throwing the door open letting in a cool blast of cold air before stepping outside and closing the door on a very stunned and upset Britland.

Britland watched in horrified fascination as his fiance walked out. He didn’t know what to do or how to help him. He could see the pain in Carson’s every movement and his eyes spoke volumes without him having to. He wanted to hold Carson and tell him that no matter what he’d always love him. That it wasn’t his fault. But he just stood there. Rooted to the floor.

To get his mind off of what just happened he put the groceries away. Intermittently he’d glance at the door hoping Carson would come back. He knew he couldn’t have gone far. His car was still here as he still had the keys. He shivered imagining Carson walking aimlessly around in circles in the cold. The door opened and he looked expectantly at it.

“What’s Carson doing outside?” his dad asked coming inside.

“I don’t know” Britland sighed sitting at the table his head in his hands. “Something happened at the store today.”

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Taking his coat off Robby asked “want to tell me about it?”

“I’m not sure I understand it myself” he looked up hoping his dad could help. “It’s more a feeling I have.”

“Tell me about it and maybe together we can find a solution” Robbie sat at the table.

“We ran into Mr Svir” Britland began “did you know he looks a lot like Carson?” His dad thought a moment before shaking his head. “Well I found out he’s Carson’s Uncle.”

“I didn’t know he had family around here” Robbie said somewhat surprised “I suspect from the way you’re acting it wasn’t a happy reunion.”

“Far from it” Britland frowned “Mr Svir did seem to notice how tense his presence made Carson. The more I think about it the more I’m sure Carson’s afraid of him.”

“Afraid? Of his Uncle” Robbie rubbed his chin deep in thought. “We are talking about Lars here aren’t we? I mean the guys never said a mean thing in his life. All the kids adore him….”

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“Yeah him” Britland fell silent absorbing his impressions “It was like Carson couldn’t stand the guy touching him. He was stiff when Mr Svir hugged him. The look on his face when his Uncle touched him made me think of mom.” His voice drifted off as he thought about it “I think Mr Svir isn’t who we think he is. I think he did something to Carson sometime in the past.” He looked up meeting his dad’s eyes “the expression on Carson’s face is the same face mom makes whenever someone mentions her Mother.”

“I think you might be right but we can’t assume anything based upon your gut instincts” Robbie sighed glancing at the window. “I’m going to call Grandpa to see if he can pull some strings and have the guy checked out.”

“Thanks Dad” Britland stood up to give him a heartfelt hug “you’re the best.”

“I do my best” he blushed turning a deep emerald-green. “You should go out there and convince your fiance to come inside before he turns into a Popsicle.”

***

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“Carson honey” Britland called out softly not wanting to sneak up on him without warning. “Why don’t you come inside? You’ll freeze to death if you stay out here much longer.”

He shrugged as if to say he didn’t care. His eyes never left the ground. “You should go back inside” he said instead “I’m fine.”

“No you’re not” Britland said refusing to be sent away.

Carson grunted a little in response his breath coming out in puffs. “Then you better come over here so I can keep you warm.” He pulled Britland close to his side once Britland had moved close to him “I’m sorry about today.”

“You don’t have to apologize” Britland said quickly somewhat reassured that Carson was acting more like himself now. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.” He took Carson’s hand and squeezed it best he could through their gloves. “I just want you to know I’m here for you. You don’t have to be strong all by yourself. We can be strong together.”

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That brought a quick spontaneous smile to his lips. “I love you. You know that don’t you?”

“I know” Britland affirmed “I love you too. That’s why when you hurt I hurt.”

Turning Carson wrapped his arms around the blonde leaning his cheek on his shoulder. “I wish I could tell you what happened today. I don’t what came over me. I don’t know why.” His shoulders shook “I keep getting flashes of things that may have happened in the past…when I was little.”

“You can tell me anything” Britland assured him “whatever it is. You don’t have to shield me.” He wrapped his arms around Carson holding him tighter. He was out of his depth finding himself the comforter, holding Carson as he cried on his shoulder. He wanted to tell him that everything would be ok. That things would be alright. Instead he was silent letting his presence show he was there and that he loved him more than he could say.

Sniffling Carson mumbled into Britland’s shoulder. “I think I know who was in my room that night.”

Chapter 14 – Home For Christmas Part 2 /

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Britland – Chapter 14 – Home for Christmas Part 2

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They sat cross-legged on the floor. The pizza box open between them. “Want the last piece” Carson asked smiling when the blonde shook his head.

“How can you eat so much and stay so fit” he asked watching as Carson demolished the last piece.

“Good genes” he smirked. He worked out for hours in the gym. Britland sometimes joined him but he was more sedentary by nature and didn’t join him often.

“What? No lecture on how I should exercise more” Britland asked in mock shock.

“Why? Do you want one” Carson teased winking at him “if you insist I can oblige.”

“No I’m good” Britland shook his head gathering the debris from their meal.

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From experience Carson let him tidy things up. He knew asking him to wait or to leave it would only make the blonde anxious. While Britland was busy Carson took the moment to retrieve his duffel bag and take out the battered gift wrapped box.

“What’s this” Britland asked when Carson presented the box to him. Taking it from his outstretched hands with a tiny frown.

“Open it and find out” Carson encouraged eyes dancing with excitement. He watched intently as Britland raised the box to his ear, shaking it.

Sitting down Britland carefully removed the bow, picking at the tape holding the wrapping paper in place. “Just rip it” Carson suggested.

“No” Britland mumbled prying up the tape and carefully removing the paper. He took a moment to flatten the paper once it was off like he was going to preserve it.

Carson yelped in surprise when Britland slapped his hand to keep him from taking the used wrapping paper. “I’m keeping it” he informed him.

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“Why” Carson blinked “it’s all crumpled up and torn from being inside my duffel bag. It can’t be reused.”

“Who said anything about reusing it” Britland asked “I save it. I have wrapping paper going back for years.”

Carson had images of their house after fifty years of marriage. A hoarders’ delight. Filled from floor to ceiling with wrapping paper scraps. A fire hazard if he ever saw one. He shook his head shelving that discussion for another day. Anxiously he watched Britland remove the lid. He smothered a laugh as the blonde removed another smaller wrapped box.

Groaning Britland demanded “how many of these things are there?”

“You’ll just have to open them all to find out” Carson chuckled at the murderous look in Britland’s eyes. He knew the Blonde was annoyed with him more so than he had ever been.

“This is getting ridiculous” Britland complained as he held up a much smaller box. The fifth one “if there’s another teeny tiny box in this one I’m going to throw it at you.”

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Carson knew by that comment how much he had taxed Britland’s patience by this little scheme of stacking smaller boxes inside larger ones. He could barely keep his face straight in anticipation of what Britland would find in the last box. “Go ahead” he encouraged “open it.”

With the same meticulous care Britland removed the wrapping paper. “This isn’t” he gasped staring at a small ring box. Looking over at Carson, eyes shimmering “you didn’t have to.” He protested his hands shaking “we were already engaged. I didn’t need a ring.”

Carson reached over gently taking the box from Britlands trembling hand. “I know I didn’t have to. I wanted to.” He opened it to reveal a small oval-shaped purple diamond on a silver band surrounded by small brilliant green emeralds in the shape of hearts. “Will you marry me” he asked repeating the same question he had asked Britland a couple of months ago outside their apartment building. “From the moment we met I knew you were special.”

Britland’s face flushed a deep emerald-green. Tears rolled down his cheeks temporarily rendered speechless. “Yes” he choked when he thought he could speak “you know I will. A million times over.”

“Purple and green” Carson murmured slipping the ring onto Britland’s finger. “Our colors. You captured my heart and proved to me that love does exist.”

“I love you” Britland sniffed staring at the ring on his finger.

***

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Britland stretched out on the bed moaning when the warm blanket fell from around his shoulders exposing his bare back to the chill of the room. Something didn’t feel right. It felt wrong. He was alone. His eyes flew open as his heart leaped into his throat. “Carson” he called falling to the floor as his legs tangled in the sheets.

Turning from the window Carson hurried towards the blonde. “Here let me help you” he said offering his hand.

Relief flooded his system leaving Britland feeling weak. “I thought…” he closed his eyes blotting out the doubts from his mind.

“You thought what” Carson asked caressing his partners cheek when he could see the color deepening in the blonde’s befuddled state.

“I thought you left me” his eyes turned away fixed on the floor. He saw all the things the maids neglected to clean. Shivering he tried not to think about having sat on the floor the night before eating pizza.

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“Now why would I do that” Carson asked his voice gentle. Lifting the blonde’s chin up “I’d never leave you in the middle of the night like you were some cheap lay. You’re more than that to me.”

“I know” Britland’s voice quivered “I wish….” He shook his head “never mind.”

“What do you wish” he asked. A part of him didn’t want to know. As soon as Britland put it into words he would have to explain.

“You were talking in your sleep” Britland said instead of answering.

Carson felt his entire body stiffen. “We forgot to leave a light on,” he mumbled. It never failed. The nightmares would return every time that happened. It might still have happened even if the light was on. The nightmares always increased this time of year. A half remembered face shrouded in darkness. Familiar yet monstrous to his five-year old self. It was almost like his conscience was trying to tell him something. Deep down he was afraid he knew who had come into his room that night .

“I wish there was something I could do to help you” Britland glanced up intending on meeting Carson’s normal calm steady gaze. This time however Carson was staring at the floor “you always know what to do or say to help me and I….I don’t do anything.” He watched in horror as tears slid down Carson’s cheeks. “I’m sorry” he cried thinking he had done something to upset the older man.

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“Hold me” Carson mumbled his words almost indistinct. “Just hold me. Tell me everything is going to be alright.”

Britland wrapped his arms around the larger man. A feeling of inadequacy swept over him as he held the man who meant more to the him than life itself. He didn’t understand what was going on. He sensed something was terribly wrong to make Carson act like this. It frightened him.

They sat like that for what felt like hours but was no more than a few minutes. Clearing his throat Carson wiped his reddened eyes with the backs of his hands. “We should probably get ready to go.” He stood up holding a hand out to help him up. He tried to ignore the worry he could see in the light green eyes staring up at him. “I hate Christmas” he muttered gathering his clothes and running into the bathroom.

Stunned Britland stared after him. Not once in the months since they had gotten together had Carson felt the need to dress in another room. It was an all new horrifying experience. Walls were being erected between them and the happiness from the night before was slipping through his fingers.

***

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They drove in silence for about ten minutes. Britland kept glancing over at Carson. The words he wanted to say stuck in the back of his throat every time he saw the rigid tense way Carson gripped the steering wheel.

“Go ahead and ask it” he mumbled catching the furtive way the blonde kept looking at him.

“What” he asked taken off guard.

“Ask me why I hate Christmas” Carson said his voice bitter almost angry.

“Not if it’s going to make you upset” Britland turned his gaze to the passenger window staring unseeingly at the beautiful white world that lay beyond. The snow sparkled in the sunlight. A winter wonderland full of hope and promise.

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“I’m not angry” Carson denied out of hand “at least not at you.” He took his right hand from the steering wheel and held it out to Britland who took it. “I told you about the night my brother was taken.” His voice was rough like he was stuck in the memories of the past “what I didn’t tell you was the night he was taken. It was Christmas Eve. My parents had a party. Lots of people.” He shivered as a half remembered face came to mind shrouded in shadows. “We were sent to our rooms early. Put to bed. The music drifting up from the floor below keeping us awake.”

“That’s why you hate Christmas” Britland nodded with understanding. “Why didn’t you tell me? If I had known I wouldn’t have insisted you come with me. My parents would have understood.”

“I know” Carson squeezed his hand “I guess I was hoping this year would be different. That the nightmares wouldn’t come if I could see Christmas through your eyes. I hoped with you by my side it wouldn’t hurt as much.”

Britland turned his gaze from the window “I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you. I’ll understand if you don’t want to participate in all of the things we do to celebrate.”

“Thanks to me you’re going to be worrying about me” Carson sighed “I didn’t want that. I thought if I could avoid telling you. That you would be able to enjoy the festivities. I didn’t want to ruin your time with your family.”

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“I care about you” Britland’s voice cracked “I appreciate you trying to protect me but I’m not that fragile.” He heard the muffled grunt that Carson tried to disguise. “I’m not. Alright maybe I am but I want to be here for you. I don’t want you picking and choosing what you think I can or can’t handle. If you do that than what kind of relationship will we have? I’m not your child to be coddled from the real world.”

Carson found himself nodding in agreement. His eyes locked on the glint reflecting off the engagement ring on Britland’s hand. “I know” he spoke quietly “I’ll try to do better. Please forgive me if I revert back to how I’ve always dealt with this in the past. It’s always been easier to bury the memories and the feelings that went along with that night.”

“I understand” Britland nodded when in all reality he didn’t. He had no idea how living through something like that would affect him. “Please don’t shut me out. I want the chance to at least try to help you if I can. You’re always there for me. I want the chance to do the same for you.”

“You’ll get that chance” Carson’s voice quivered “you already are by just being you.” Seeing the sign welcoming them into Riverview he asked “where do I go from here?”

“Take a left at the next road” Britland instructed “my parents won’t be home. They’re going caroling this morning. They said to make ourselves at home if we get there before they arrive.”

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“Is that part of the festivities? Caroling?” Carson asked sounding somewhat relieved that they hadn’t arrived sooner to join them.

“Don’t worry you’ll get another chance to join them” Britland smiled enjoying Carson’s discomfiture for once “they’ll go out again tomorrow morning before church.”

“Oh joy. Can’t wait” Carson gave him a weak thin-lipped smile.

“Don’t worry” Britland chuckled “no one will care if you sound like a croaking frog.”

“Thanks a lot” Carson mumbled his lips twitching.

***

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Sunday morning Felix took Crystal for a drive. It had taken some fast talking to get her to agree but it had been worth it he thought as they turned into his families private airstrip. Smiling at himself and what he had to do to keep her distracted from the fact he had never unpacked the car. Watching Christmas drama’s wasn’t exactly high on his list of things he enjoyed doing. But they watched one movie after another until they all blurred together. The best thing about it was being able to hold the girl who had his heart wrapped around her little finger. It had been worth it. He doubted anyone would believe him if he told them what he did yesterday. Maybe Britland. That would be about it.
As usual his parents were away for the holidays too wrapped up in their own lives to think he might want to be with them. They had sent him their usual offering. A larger than usual extension to his allowance, as if money could make up for their absence.

“What are we doing here?” Crystal demanded looking over at him her voice breaking into his thoughts.

“It’s a surprise” he grinned over at her only to find her staring back at him. Her eyes large with child like wonder. It was that look that kept him coming back for more. Kept him interested. That wasn’t quite it. It’s what made him want to be a better person than he was.

“Felix what did you do” she demanded “you know there aren’t any available flights.”

“At the airport” Felix turned into a parking space marked as reserved and opened the door.

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“We can’t park here” she said her voice rising with irritation. “Let’s just go home. We’ll figure out what to do for tomorrow. Maybe go shopping so I can make Christmas dinner for us.” Her eyes told him the last thing she wanted to do was spend hours sitting in an airport hangar.

He walked around the car. Took her hands in his “I promised you that you were going home for Christmas.”

“And I said not to make promises you can’t keep” she mumbled looking away.

Tilting her chin up he asked “how do you know I can’t keep it? I did say I had contacts, remember?”

Focused on their feet Crystal nodded “I thought you were just saying that to make me feel better. I didn’t really believe…” her words ended with a sigh.

“Do I detect doubt” he asked his voice teasing.

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“Maybe a little” she admitted meeting his eyes. A smile twitching at the corners of her lips “is this why you refused to unpack the car?”

“It would have been near impossible to keep it a secret if I had.” He grinned smugly down at her “what would you have thought if I had started to pack up the car this morning?”

“That you were crazy” she giggled her eyes lighting up with excitement.

“Right” he leaned forward pressing his lips to her forehead. “It was so much easier to just ask you to come for a drive.” Stepping back he took her hand and walked towards the hangar. “We’ll have to thank my Dad later for the use of his jet.”

Crystal stopped making Felix stumble before turning to look at her. “What’s wrong” he asked.

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“We’re flying in a jet?”

“Well yeah” he shrugged like it was the most normal everyday thing that people do.

“I’ve never flown on a private jet before” she stammered “what do I do?”

“It’s like any other plane” he shrugged “my parents use it to host business parties. There’s even a bedroom…” He stopped talking wondering why he had felt the need to add that part. It’s not like he hoped, well he did, he just didn’t think it would happen.

She giggled throwing an arm around him “don’t get ahead of yourself lover boy.”

***

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An hour later Crystal had her face pressed against a window looking down like a child on their first flight. Looking up she found Felix watching her “I can’t believe you did all this for me. Why?”

He tried to give her a nonchalant shrug. “It meant so much to you to go home. I wanted to make you happy.”

“I am happy” she got up moving towards him “but why go through so much trouble? I accepted I wasn’t going home this year. I was willing to stay here with you.”

He looked up at her a tenderness in his eyes that wasn’t normally there. “I spent too many holidays alone. My parents were never home. They’d send me money thinking that would make up for them not being there. I was left in the care of either the butler or the maid both of whom made it clear that if it weren’t for me they’d have been able to go home to their families.”

She sat in his lap wrapping her arms around his neck. “You know it was the weather that caused our flight to be cancelled, right?”

“Yeah I know” he looked away.

“Don’t” she whispered gently caressing his cheek. “It wasn’t your fault that I might not have been able to get home. I love that you went through all this trouble for me. It means a lot.”

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“I didn’t want you to resent being stuck here with me.” He bit his lip like he hadn’t meant to say any of that. “The only person who never made me feel like a chore to be around is Britland. But even when I spent the holidays with him and his family. I always felt like a an intruder looking in. Like I didn’t belong and I wondered if they really wanted me there.”

“Of course they did. I know how much you mean to Britland.” She held his face firmly in her hands “you never have to feel that way with me or my family. They’ll love you.”

“No they won’t” he shook his head trying to shove the growing melancholy aside.

“Yes they will” Crystal asserted “give them a chance to show you. Don’t close down before you’ve even met them. They might surprise you.”

“I’ll try” he looked into her eyes. He could feel himself falling, deeper and faster than he ever had before. His arms tightened around her waist. How had he let this happen? He wasn’t supposed to fall in love; especially not with the girl next door.

The next think he knew her lips were on his igniting a fire he didn’t know was there. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted anyone. Yet he found himself withdrawing from her. He pulled away. He could see the confusion in her eyes.

“What’s wrong” she asked “don’t you want me?”

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“God yes” he gasped “but you deserve something special for your first time…”

“Whoever said this was my first time” she laughed softly.

“I…” he gulped an uncomfortable burning sensation filled his insides. He didn’t know if he should be jealous of the guy who had been her first or if he should be thankful because the guy had been stupid enough to let her get away. “I just assumed you were.”

“Does it make a difference” she asked her eyes holding his.

“No” his heart raced, beating loudly in his chest. “Are you sure? I’m not…”

Putting a finger over his lips “shh I don’t want to hear why you think you’re not. I know what you are.” Standing she held her hand out to him “and what you are is good enough for me.”

He stared at her hand. Her words echoing in his head. No one other than Britland had ever said that he was any different from what others saw him as. Somehow he always felt that he was never good enough. That he needed to be more than he was. He took her hand letting her guide him to the bedroom. The room he hadn’t thought they would need. The touch of her lips on his reminding him to turn his thoughts off and enjoy the moment.

Chapter 14 – Home For Christmas Part 1 / Chapter 15 – Reflections into the Past

Britland – Chapter 14 – Home for Christmas Part 1

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Britland woke up early savoring the feel of Carson’s warmth next to him. It was strange how normal it had become to wake up next to someone. He was loath to move knowing when he did Carson would wake up. Carson’s arm was draped over his hip. He could feel Carson’s breath tickle his neck. Gently he tried to squirm from beneath his arm without disturbing him.

“It’s too early” Carson whined tightening his grip around Britland.

“We have a long day ahead” Britland whispered “I need to get up. Get things ready.”

“Ten more minutes” he mumbled.

Placing a soft kiss on Carson’s forehead Britland rolled from bed before the larger man could protest further. “Sleep” he encouraged smiling down at his partner. It never ceased to amaze him how much younger Carson looked sleeping with his long hair cascading over the pillow.

Collecting the clothes he had laid out the night before Britland made his way to the bathroom. He hoped a hot shower would help wake him up. His entire body felt like it was still asleep. Yawning so much he almost dislocated his jaw he entered the shower letting the water beat down on his head.

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Feeling somewhat revived he walked into the kitchen to prepare their first holiday meal together. He searched the cupboard for the rolling-pin he knew they had but never had the opportunity to use before. checking the last cabinet he smiled relived upon finding it. Now he wouldn’t need to use a skillet.

He opened a bag of candy canes that were lying on the counter. He stuck one in his mouth while he unwrapped the rest. He placed the candy canes inside a plastic bag then raised the rolling-pin. Forgetting that Carson was asleep in the next room he gave the candy a whack. Then another and another until candy was crushed.

Carson stumbled from the bedroom holding a baseball bat demanding “what’s going on in here?”

Turning Britland gasped finding Carson standing ready to swing the bat. “I’m uh making breakfast” he wasn’t sure if he should be worried that Carson was sleep walking and dreaming.

“Did you have to kill it first” he grumbled leaning the bat against the wall “I thought you needed help.”

“Sorry” his cheeks flushed with heat “I didn’t think about the noise.” He gave Carson a strange look before turning to get a cup “hot chocolate” he asked.

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“Sure” Carson yawned rubbing his eyes “why are you looking at me like that?”

Britland waved his hand helplessly towards Carson “you’re sitting on the ….”

“What’s wrong with me sitting here” he frowned taking a sip of the rich chocolate drink Britland set in front of him.

Turning his back on him Britland sighed “you’re not ….well….dressed.”

“Oh” Carson stared into his cup lips twitching. “Sorry” he managed to choke out “I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s alright” he looked up from the bowl he was mixing batter in. “I need to overcome my squeamishness.”

“You do that” Carson chuckled “and I’ll try not to sit my bare bottom on the furniture.”

“You’re making fun of me” Britland pouted as he flipped a pancake.

“Whatever gave you that idea” Carson asked draining the last of the hot chocolate “I’m going to get dressed now.”

Britland nodded removing the pan from the stove. Once he heard the bedroom door close he grabbed the Lysol to sanitize the stool.

***

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By the time Carson was showered and dressed breakfast was ready. “Smells good” he complimented the chef. “What is it” he asked sitting on the same stool as before. He could smell the faint scent of Lysol beneath the prevalent scent of peppermint.

“Peppermint pancakes” Britland watched intently while Carson took his first bite of the confection. “Every Christmas while I was growing up Mom would make this for breakfast.”

“Christmas is still three days away” Carson pointed out “why make it today?”

“Because today is special” he laid his fork aside “it’s our first holiday together.”

Chewing the sugary morsel Carson could feel it sticking to the back of his throat. He knew the blonde had been planning something with all the decorating he had been doing even though no one was going to be home for the holiday. “Thank you” he mumbled blinking several times. He hadn’t thought about Christmas in years. Not since his brother was taken. His parents could barely look at him after that night buying him presents was beyond their capabilities.

“Did I do something wrong” Britland asked noticing how quiet and solemn Carson had become. The look in his lavender eyes was heart wrenching.

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“No nothing” he choked attempting to smile “it’s altogether right not wrong. I …. I forgot how magical this time of year could be.”

“Don’t you have any family traditions” Britland asked covering the hand Carson had resting on the counter with his own. “I know I’ve upset you. I’m sorry. I just wanted to share with you some of the things I look forward to each year.”

“I appreciate that you went through all this trouble” he gulped “it’s just it makes me sad I can’t do the same for you. I have no family traditions. No family to visit who want to see me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong” Britland gently reached up to dry the tears from the older man’s cheeks “you have me. My family is your family.”

Sniffling Carson nodded “what are these traditions I’m now a part of?”

Taking a bite of his pancake Britland grinned “you’ll have to wait and see. I don’t want to spoil all the fun.”

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Nodding he took another bite of his peppermint infused pancakes. He had dreaded the approach of the holidays. Had ever since his brother disappeared Christmas Eve.

“What are you thinking about” Britland asked his voice gentle.

Glancing up with a smile that did little to hide the sadness in his eyes Carson replied “nothing.”

Taking the empty plates Britland sighed “you don’t have to tell me. I hope one day you will. What hurt you hurt me.”

Standing up Carson moved around the counter to help Britland with the dishes. “I don’t want to damper your holiday spirit. I know how much you’ve looked forward to this.”

Britland gave him an uncertain look before nodding in acceptance. “Tell me when you’re ready.”

“Thank you” Carson sighed “I just need a little a time.”

***

 

“Is this everything” Carson asked surveying the assorted bags and boxes.

“You don’t have to say it like that” Britland complained.

“We’re only going to be gone for a week” he pointed out.

“Not all of its mine.” Pointing to several colorfully wrapped gifts “those are presents.” Pointing to several grocery bags “Mom needed a few things she couldn’t get in Riverview.”

“Ok ok” Carson raised his hands in defeat “but you packed two big suitcases. Not to mention they weigh a ton.”

“I didn’t know what to pack.” Shrugging he continued “I gave myself plenty of options.” Surveying everything his brow knitted “should I repack?”

“No” Carson shook his head “we’ll make it fit.”

 

Thirty minutes later. “It’s never going to fit. Just give me my bags and I’ll go and condense down to one bag.” His voice was high full of the frustration he felt.

“No” Carson grunted “it’s going to fit if I have to tie it to the roof.” He slammed the trunk down in frustration. They stared at it like they had just witnessed a miracle. The trunk stayed down. “I guess that takes care of that.”

“I should go and check that everything is turned off” Britland said hurrying towards the apartment.

Carson let him go knowing that Britland had already checked everything at least twice before they came down to pack up the car. He knew it would do little good to insist that they leave now. It would only result in Britland fretting over something he had forgotten to turn off. Carson would turn around to let him check only to find it was off. In holiday traffic he didn’t want to waste the time of doing that. He got into the car drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

Ten minutes later Britland climbed into the passenger seat. “Dad call to tell us to be careful. It’s been snowing there and the roads are icy.”

Nodding Carson backed out of the parking space and merged into traffic. A car horn blasted the silence as they narrowly missed being hit. “Sorry” Carson mumbled hearing Britland gasp beside him.

They drove on through the crowded street of Bridgeport. He could feel Britland giving him concerned glanced but thankfully he refrained from asking him any questions that might have diverted his attention from the heavy traffic. Once they left the city behind them the snow became heavier and the wind seemed to pick up speed. “Maybe we should wait until tomorrow” Britland suggested squinting out the window at the swirling whiteness.

 

“It’s not that bad” Carson assured him.

“If it weren’t for me over packing” Britland continued “we could have been on the road sooner.”

“You had no way of knowing it would snow” Carson said attempting to reassure him.

“I should have checked the weather” Britland’s voice cracked. He had heard too many stories of travelers getting stuck in blizzards and freezing to death.

“It’s not that bad” Carson used the same tone he normally reserved for photo shoots Britland was uncomfortable with. “We don’t have that far to go. Riverview is only two hours away.”

They traveled on for another twenty minutes in silence. Gripping the steering wheel like a vise his knuckles were white with tension. “Can you see the car ahead of us? I know there is one but I keep losing it in the snow.” He took his feet from the gas pedal letting the car slow gradually. He had no desire to wind up in the ditch like a few cars they had passed a few miles back.

Leaning forward Britland strained to see the tail lights of the car in front of them. “It’s there. I see it. Do you think we should turn around?”

 

Carson could hear the fear in the blonde’s voice without taking his eyes from the road. “Keep your eyes open for a turn off. I need all my concentration on the things in front of me.”

“I know there have to be turn offs along here somewhere” Britland said “I just can’t see them soon enough for you to slow down.”

“Is there a town between here and Riverview” Carson asked his voice strained and scratchy.

“Yeah. It’s small. Do you think we should stop for the night in a hotel?”

“Unless you want to drive in this” Carson leaned forward trying to see “I’m barely going 25 miles an hour and I still can’t see more than a few feet in front of us.”

“There’s a little town about thirty minutes from Riverview. There’s not much there” Britland informed him “it has a hotel. It’s run down and dumpy…”

“It’ll be better than the ditch” Carson clutched the steering wheel wondering if he would be able to straighten his fingers after this. “I didn’t think it’d get this bad.”

***

 

“There it is” Britland shouted pointing at the dimly lit hotel sign.

“Great” Carson slowed the car to make the barely discernible turn off. It had taken them three hours to make it this far in the snow. “I hope they have vacancies” he said as he drove up to the flickering sign that said office. “I’ll go and check” he could tell from the horrified look in Britland’s eyes that the blonde didn’t think much of the accommodations. At the moment Carson couldn’t care less. He couldn’t drive anymore in this white soup. He’d take a cardboard roach infested box to driving another mile.

Emerging from the dingy office Carson hurried to the car. “We’re in luck they have a room.” He drove around to another entrance closer to their room for the night. He handed Britland the room key. “Why don’t you go inside and I’ll bring in our stuff.”

Giving him a dubious look “don’t you want my help?”

“I can manage” he grunted moving towards the trunk “go on get out of the cold.” Carson could see that Britland wasn’t happy but he shuffled towards the door anyway uncertainty in every step he took. Once Carson was sure Britland was out of sight he slipped the present he had brought for him into his duffel bag. It barely fit and he knew the wrapping paper was going to get ruined but he wanted to give it to him tonight. Just the to of them.

He grabbed Britland’s two big suitcases wondering if he really needed both. He decided he better bring both and save himself the extra out into the cold.

449

By the time he had made it inside their room for the night Britland had stripped the bed and was struggling to lift the heavy queen sized mattress. “What are you doing” Carson asked setting all everything down near the door.

Grunting Britland let the mattress fall back into place. “Checking for bed bugs.”

Carson raised an eyebrow deciding that this was not at all surprising. “Can I help?”

“We need new sheets” Britland pointed towards the pile of discarded sheets.

“What’s wrong with those” Carson asked.

“They’re dirty” he gave them a dismayed glance “I’m not sleeping on them. There was hair all over them.”

450

“How do you know it wasn’t yours” Carson teased.

“It was long and dark” he shivered screwing his face up in disgust. “I’m not sleeping on them” he repeated.

With a long-suffering sigh Carson picked up the wadded up sheets and walked to the office. Several minutes later he returned with a sheets still in their original packaging. Tossing it on the bed he shrugged out of his coat “you don’t want to know how much I had to pay for that.”

“Thank you” Britland said wrapping his arms around him and giving him a soft sweet kiss on the lips. “I’ll make it up to I promise.”

“You better” he grumbled nibbling on Britland’s ear and his hands slid down his back and hips pulling him closer.

“Not here” he squirmed out of Carson’s arms.

 

“We don’t have to use the bed” Carson winked at him “there’s a nice sized shower.” He watched the color rise along the blonde’s cheek bones.

“Maybe” he murmured eyes shining bright like he had shocked himself that he would even consider it.

Sensing that now was not the time to press his luck Carson hugged him close then released him. “I’m going to order a pizza.”

“Do you think they’ll deliver” Britland asked opening up the package of sheets to make the bed.

“I hope so” Carson enthused “I’m starving.”

***

454455

Felix sat beside Crystal. His leg bouncing as they waited for their flight. He sensed that Crystal was looking at him in concern. Nothing she said could alleviate the ball of anxious nerves he had become. He was going to meet her parents. This time as the guy the girl brought home to meet the parents. Not as the guy the dad wanted to shoot. “What if they don’t like me?” he asked for the hundredth time.

“Don’t worry they will” she assured him.

“I need air” he stood up abruptly walking away.

“Felix where do you think you’re going” she demanded running up alongside him.

“I can’t do this” his heart was beating wildly in his chest “I’m not the kind of guy you bring home.” He began to walk faster making Crystal jog to keep up.

“Felix” she shouted “stop running.” Her sides ached from the exertion of trying to keep pace with him.

456

The entreaty in her voice broke through his haze. Stopping he looked behind him. “I’m sorry” he mumbled watching her jog up to him, her cheeks red softly panting.

“Remember what you promised” she prompted.

Nodding he looked towards the floor “to tell you when I’m about to freak out.”

“Uh huh” she reached a hand up to caress his cheek. “You keep forgetting. One day I’m not going to run after you.”

“I know” He shoved his hands inside his pockets “I wasn’t planing on running. I just couldn’t stop once I started moving.”

“You don’t have anything to worry about” Crystal assured him. “I promise my Dad will be on his best behavior but he…”

457

“He’ll ask me questions I might not have the answers to” Felix sighed. The same old fears and doubts were rising up inside him.

“Just be honest with him” she smiled up at him taking his hand and guiding him back towards the terminal. “What ever you do don’t run.”

He dragged his feet along the now familiar terminal. He had gotten up a few times in the past couple of hours. He had yet to make it to the exit door. “I’ll try. I wish the plane would hurry up and get here.”

Glancing out the windows Crystal stopped “it’s snowing a lot more now. I hope all the delays don’t mean they’re going to cancel the flight altogether.”

Putting an arm around her he said “we still have time.”

“Three days” she mumbled walking towards the window leaning against it. “I really wanted to go home.”

458

They weren’t far from their terminal. He could see the looks of dismay, disappointment and in a few instances anger on what would have been their fellow passengers faces. “We better get back” he urged even though he already knew their flight had been cancelled due to weather.

The first thing they noticed were the big letters announcing their flight had indeed been cancelled. Waiting in line for the beleaguered flight attendant at the desk Felix asked like the others before him did “What’s the next available flight?” Her response by ow was mechanical without feeling or warmth.

“But’s that’s after Christmas” Crystal cried.

Felix could hear the tears in her voice even though she wasn’t crying yet. “Isn’t there anything earlier?” he demanded trying his best to keep his irritation in check. He knew it wasn’t this woman’s fault that the flight had been cancelled or the weather was crap.

“No I’m sorry that’s the earliest flight to Brooklyn Heights” she made a small flick of her hand to indicate they should move along.

Felix’s eyes narrowed but before he could say anything Crystal pulled him away and out of line. “Don’t. It’s not her fault.”

460

“I know” he cast a nasty look over his shoulder towards the irritating woman “it’s more her attitude.”

“I just have to accept I won’t be going home this year.” The despondency in her voice and sadness in her green eyes made Felix’s heart ache.

“I’ll think of something” he assured her. Walking a short distance away he pulled his phone out. “Dad can i have use of the jet….Yes I know it’s snowing….Tomorrow….Crystal wants to go home for Christmas….Sunday….That’s great….Thank you!” He looked over at Crystal. She looked so small standing there alone a lost expression on her face.

She caught him looking at her. She smiled attempting to cover up her disappointment. When he approached her she sighed “I guess we better go home. I can always ship the presents home. It won’t be the same as being there though. What other choice do I have?”

“You’ll be home for Christmas” he assured her kissing her forehead “I promise.”

She shook her head at him “don’t make promises you can’t keep. I know you’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“I’m not” he smiled down at her “I’ve got contacts.”

Chapter 13 – What They Want / Chapter 14 – Home For Christmas Part 2

Britland – Chapter 13 – What They Want

395

The soft glow from the setting sun coming through the partially open curtains falling onto Britland’s face. Opening his eyes he breathed deeply, comfortable in the loving embrace of his lover. A soft blush deepened his cheeks. His mind replaying their first time together. His first time ever. He fumbled his way through it with trembling hands and was thankful for Carson’s patience. Not once had he been made to feel as awkward and shy he knew he was. Carson patiently guided him, making sure he was alright with everything they did before taking the next step.

He snuggled in close. His head comfortable in the crevice between Carson’s arm and chest. Their legs tangled together a gentle reminder of the passion they had shared. A low, quickly smothered sigh escaped Britland’s lips. He felt Carson shift beside him. Looking up he found Carson’s gentle lavender eyes gazing down at him.

“Are you alright” he asked sounding concerned as he pressed his lips to Britland’s forehead “no regrets?”

A small shy smile tugged at Britland’s lips “no regrets.” He brought a hand up to Carson’s torso drawing lazy circles with his finger tips. “I’ve never” he bit his bottom lip “I didn’t know” he looked up gazing into Carson’s eyes, cheeks heating up.

“What” Carson asked his fingers gently threading a trail up Britland’s spine stopping to tangle in his blonde hair.

“Nothing I just never knew it could be like that” he ducked his face attempting to hide. “You must think I’m an idiot.”

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“What makes you say that” Carson demanded gently tugging on the blonde’s hair to get him to look up.

“Well you’re so …. and I’m so….” he lifted his chin up eyes focused on the rumpled sheet beneath them.

“You’re so….what” Carson inquired sensing the turmoil going on inside the blonde but unsure what the problem was. He wondered if he had pushed Britland to far too soon. He knew what Britland said but sometimes what he said didn’t match how he felt.

Looking up Britland met Carson’s eyes “I know what you’re thinking.” Determination making his voice firm “you think I regret what we did, don’t you?”

“Do you” his pulse racing he waited for the blonde’s answer. He knew he should have waited. Should have made sure he was ready. His hands felt shaky and clammy as he held Britland lightly in his arms.

Britland’s brow furrowed as he leant his ear against his chest. He could hear Carson’s heart race. Was he upset with him? Was he tired of catering to his neediness? “I’m sorry” he murmured sitting up pulling the sheet around his shoulders.

398397

Carson blinked forcing tears back. What had he done? He pulled his knees up to his chest shivering from more than cold. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s me. I should have waited. I’m the one who should have known better. Stopped before we crossed that line.”

“I thought we were in this together” Britland stared at the floor trying to make sense of what Carson was saying. “I wanted it as much as you.”

“But I thought” Carson stirred behind him reaching for Britland he felt him stiffen at his touch.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t any good” he continued lost in his own thoughts “you could be with just about anyone and you chose me. An awkward first timer who had no clue what they were doing. You probably regret being with someone like me….”

Blinking Carson asked “is that what you think?” When Britland nodded looking miserable huddled inside the sheet Carson pulled him close “that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s a gift you gave me being your first. Experience isn’t everything.”

“You’re just saying that” the blonde mumbled eyes fixed on the floor at his feet.

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Carson gently lifted Britland’s chin so he could look into the blonde’s troubled green eyes. Words would do little to reassure him at this point. Slowly he lowered his face to brush his lips across Britland’s. He slid his tongue along Britland’s lower lip until he opened his mouth inviting him in. Their tongues swept across each other savoring each other’s taste. Britland raised his hands to the back of Carson’s head letting the sheet fall from around his shoulders.

***

400

Felix sat stiffly beside Crystal on the small couch. Ryan sat across from them with looked like a permanent glare on his face. Charity was in the kitchen attempting to make them dinner. Crystal moved as if to get up “where are you going” Felix asked reaching for hand.

She smiled sweetly, squeezing his hand “Charity could use some help with dinner.” She giggled at the unspoken plea in Felix’s eyes “don’t worry. Ryan won’t bite.” She winked over at her brother “he’s really just an old softy.”

Ryan glowered at her crossing his arms in front of him. “There are two things I don’t take lightly. Anyone who hurts my wife or takes advantage of my sister.”

“He’s not taking advantage of me” Crystal shook her head at him. “Now behave” she admonished both of them before joining Charity in the kitchen.

The two men stared glumly at each other. Ryan broke the silence by asking “what do you do for a living?”

401

Jumping at the sound of his voice it took Felix a moment to gather his thoughts. What do you do for a living? Such a simple every day question. Yet Felix had no answer for it. He doubted Ryan would find the truth palpable. Up until this moment Felix never thought twice about his lifestyle.

“Let me guess” Ryan said sitting forward giving Felix a cold hard stare “you live off an allowance from your parents. No need to work right?”

“Yeah so” his voice was challenging even though inside he was squirming beneath Ryan’s steady gaze. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Tilting his head to the side Ryan considered the other man’s words. “I never said there was. You’re the one becoming defensive. So do you think something’s wrong with it?”

“I’m not defensive” Felix grumbled crossing his legs attempting to appear nonchalant. “I just haven’t found anything I like to do yet.”

“Have you been looking” Ryan asked “what kind of things do you like to do? I mean besides the obvious women, drink and money. I don’t like the idea of my sister dating a gigolo.”

402

Gigolo. Felix’s mind repeated the word over and over in his head. He wasn’t that bad was he? A man whore? Sure he liked sex. Lots and lots of hot steamy sex. He preferred it with a different girl each time with a few exceptions like the horny neighbor lady and that was primarily because she didn’t take no as an answer. His eyes moved involuntarily towards Crystal. Feelings of unworthiness nearly drowned him as if he had a cloud over his head.

She caught his gaze. Smiled at him giving him a thumbs up sign before turning back to whatever she was stirring on the stove. His stomach growled. Whatever was being prepared for dinner smelled fantastic. Felix appreciated a good home cooked meal even though his mother had never cooked a day in her life. Meals were either take out or catered events. It was odd that the person Felix found to be the most challenging appeared to be basic, domestic, sweet and innocent. All the things his mother was not and would frown upon.

“What are you thinking” Ryan asked intruding upon his thoughts.

“That my mother would eat Crystal for lunch” he shrugged “my mother doesn’t put much stock on the domestic arts. She would say that’s what she hires people for.”

“My sister isn’t hired help” Ryan sounded like he was speaking through gritted teeth.

403

Waves of anger and disapproval washed over Felix in waves. “I didn’t say she was or that I agreed” he mumbled unsure exactly what he said to give Ryan that idea.

“We may not look or act it but we do come from money” Ryan postured causing both girls to give him worried looks from where they were in the kitchen.

“It’s just never been important” Crystal added her brow wrinkled in concern.

“It’s not important” Felix assured her glaring at Ryan “I know your Dad is in some famous rock band.” He shrugged like it didn’t matter. “I know my parents. It’s not what they call old money. They like to tell everyone they’re aristocrats. Old money.”

“Ah” Ryan nodded relaxing “that’s explains it.”

“Explains what” Felix demanded somewhat confused.

“You’re lack of interest in doing anything useful” Ryan arched an eyebrow. The room seemed charged with tension while everyone waited to see what Felix would do.

“What’s that supposed to mean” he demanded “just because I don’t have to work or have any desire to do so doesn’t mean I’m not useful.” He had no idea why Ryan’s comments stung so much. Other people had said similar things. Almost always he had let their comments roll off his back. They were after all mostly true. He didn’t want to work. Saw no point in it.

404

Ryan crossed his arms waiting “have you done anything useful?”

“Well no” Felix admitted recounting what he had accomplished since he had been on his own.

“Don’t you think it’s time you stop playing games” Ryan asked sitting forwards expectantly. His green eyes smoldered “if you’re serious about my sister you should be…”

“Hey” Felix growled standing up “she knows what I am. I’ve made no effort to hide it. I don’t see why you have such a problem with me if she doesn’t.”

Standing Ryan towered over him “I’m her big brother. It’s my job to protect her from jerks….”

“Guys” Crystal shouted at them “I told you to be nice.”

“We are” they said glowering at each other.

“Doesn’t sound like it to me” Charity said giving her husband a disapproving look.

Ryan shrank a little under her gaze. Shrugging he gave Felix a brief smile. “Just giving you a small taste of what it’ll be like when you meet our Dad. I suggest you come up with some answers to those questions I posed. Dad’ll ask and he’ll want answers.”

***

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The banging of the door as it hit the wall hard enough to dent the plaster made Britland jump in Carson’s embrace. “What the hell” Carson demanded looking into Britland’s shocked green eyes.

“Shit” Felix grumbled “this is a fine time for you to get some action.”

“Do you mind” Carson asked of the pink haired dynamo pacing in front of their open bedroom door.

Looking up Felix gave him a sour look that might have withered lesser men. “I need to talk to Britland” he announced seemingly unaware of the blonde’s discomfort.

“We’re kind of busy” Carson growled trying his best to block Felix’s view of the blonde who was doing his best to become one with the mattress. He glanced around for a blanket or sheet but found both wadded up on the floor. He could reach for them but that would leave Britland completely exposed. Not something he was willing to do even if it were only in front of Felix.

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“Yeah I can see that” Felix snorted “if it weren’t important I’d leave you to have at it. You’ve both waited long enough to get some.”

The unusual entreaty and almost apologetic tone in Felix’s voice had Carson’s attention. “Is something the matter?”

“Yeah” shaking his head as if the world had lost all meaning. “Do you mind getting dressed? I think I’ve seen more of you then I’ve ever wanted.”

Chuckling a little Carson glanced down at Britland who was staring up at him pleading with his eyes for him not to move. “That kind of happens when you forget to knock. Doors are there for a reason.”

“It’s never been a problem before” Felix said in an almost whining tone. “How was I supposed to know that you two would choose now to get your freak on? I mean I kind of thought Brit would hold out until the wedding night.”

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Carson looked down into Britland’s face to find it a dark emerald-green. His eyes were round and watery. Bending forward Carson placed a quick feathery kiss on the blonde’s forehead. “After this I wouldn’t be surprised if he does,” he winked at Britland “if you want to talk to him you’re going to have to leave so we can get dressed. Otherwise I think he’s going to stay right here and melt into the mattress.”

“It’s not like he has anything I haven’t got or seen already” Felix huffed “I’ve already seen more of his boyfriend than I’ve ever intended.”

“Fiance” Britland corrected from beneath Carson.

“Oh” this time it was Felix’s turn to be shocked as he bumped into the dresser “um yeah …. finish what you were doing.”

“Dude the door” Carson called after him “talk about a mood killer.” Carson grumbled loud enough so that Felix could hear wherever he might have retreated to.

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He moved to get up and close the door when Britland wrapped his arms and legs around him preventing him from moving. “Babe you’re going to have to let me up. We can’t stay like this forever no matter how much we might want to.” He brought his face down to nibble on Britland’s bottom lip wondering if he could get the mood back.

“The door” Britland mumbled against his lips.

Nope guess not Carson chuckled pulling himself away from the blonde. “You’re going to have let me go” he said as Britland released him leaving him feeling somewhat cold and empty. By the time he closed the door and turned around he found Britland sitting on the bed with a sheet wrapped him.

Shaking his head Carson walked over to Britland whose face was a deep emerald-green. “One day you’re not going to be this bashful in front of me in the buff.”

Britland’s eyes grew even rounder at the idea “I don’t…” he stammered shrinking further into the sheet.

“It’s really not so different from walking around in your boxers” Carson grinned “you do that all the time.”

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“There’s a big difference” Britland objected as his eyes followed Carson around the room as he collected his discarded clothes. A part of him envied the other man’s ease at walking around in the nude with someone watching.

“You better get dressed” Carson smiled over at him as he pulled his pants up “Felix isn’t known for his patience.”

“Do you think you could um” he bit his lips feeling rather foolish for his request considering what they had just been caught doing.

“What’s the matter babe” Carson asked walking over to him.

“I can’t” he gulped glancing away unable to meet Carson’s concerned gaze.

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“Can’t what” Carson asked kneeling down beside him on the floor.

“I can’t” Britland pulled the sheet to his chin “not in front of you.”

“Babe there’s no need to be embarrassed” Carson chuckled softly “I’ve seen everything there is to be seen and ….”

Britland groaned remembering how his body reacted to having Carson’s hands and mouth on areas of his body that he was now desperately concealing beneath the sheet. “Go ahead and laugh” he mumbled “I know it doesn’t make sense…..but I just can’t.”

“Alright I’ll go” Carson’s shoulders shook as he tried not to laugh too hard. As he got to his feet he leaned forward placing a soft kiss on the top of Britland’s head. “I do love you and your many contradictions.”

***

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“You changed” Carson said looking up when the bedroom door opened and Britland walked out.

“Well yeah” he shrugged glancing over his shoulder. He had stripped and changed the sheets, gathered his discarded clothing that had been strewn across the floor. He had tossed it all into the hamper ready to be washed.

Deciding not to pursue that line of conversation Carson glanced at Felix who was busy staring at his feet, knees bouncing a chaotic rhythm. Carson raised an eyebrow but wisely kept his mouth shut. He had no desire to agitate the little pinked haired dynamo anymore than necessary. While Britland had been in the hospital Felix had been there for him, offering support, a shoulder to cry on. Carson had seen a side of Felix he hadn’t thought existed and only existed in Britland’s imagination. “I’ll be in my room” he told them with a brief smile encouraging Britland to come sit instead of standing and staring.

“Is he gone” Felix asked without lifting his head up.

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“Um yeah” Britland shuffled forward watching Felix in concern. “What’s wrong” he asked sitting in the opposite chair avoiding the couch still unable to rid his mind of what Felix and the neighbor lady had done on it.

“Is something wrong with me” Felix growled lifting his head up to glare at Britland.

“Nnno” he stammered unsure what was prompting the question. It was unusual for Felix to spend much time in self-reflection. It was even more unusual for him to let other people’s opinions influence him. “Are you alright” he asked his concern deepening as Felix buried his face in his hands moaning.

“I think there is” his voice muffled “I’ve never been in a relationship. Never had a job before.” His pale eyes were vague as his thoughts turned inward. “Am I really that useless?”

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“Where is all of this coming from” Britland asked “did someone say you were? Did you and Carson get into an argument?” He knew the two didn’t really like each other. They had been getting along recently but he suspected that had more to do with him being in the hospital than them liking each other. “I’ll go get him. We’ll get to the bottom of this.” He got to his feet but didn’t get far before Felix’s voice stopped him.

“It’s not him” Felix shook his head “it wasn’t anything he said.” He ran a hand that appeared to be trembling through his disheveled hair. “Crystal deserves so much more than I can offer.”

“Maybe we should get Carson” Britland suggested feeling he needed some back.

“No” Felix shook his head “only you. Please.”

The plea in his voice had Britland sitting again “did Crystal say you weren’t good enough?”

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Shaking his head vehemently, his eyes unfocused “no not her. Her brother kept asking me things. Things I had no idea how to answer. Things that normal people would know. What do I do? What do I like to do? Am I doing anything useful with my life?” He blinked several times “I realized then I wasn’t good enough. None of those things mattered before. I never cared before” he moaned hanging his head, elbows propped up on his knees.

“And you ran” Britland concluded. Watching Felix nod in agreement he realized he had never seen his friend so upset about anything in his life. In the past he had a revolving door of girls coming and going. It never occurred to Britland that Crystal would be any different. “I have a suggestion that might help you figure out some of the answers.”

Felix lifted his head eyes full of interest. “I’ll do anything,” his voice rising with excitement as he latched on to the hope Britland held out to him.

“I’m taking a few college courses at the university here in town” Britland explained “I don’t really want to model for a living. It’s not who I am.”

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Nodding Felix leaned forward eager to hear more “do you think that might help me figure things out?”

“It couldn’t hurt” Britland smiled “maybe we could even take a couple of classes together.”

“I’ll do it” Felix jumped to his relieved to have made a decision about his future. He walked towards the door “I can’t wait to tell Crystal.” He stopped face twisting in pain “oh no I can’t go back. I ran. She said don’t come back.”

“Come on” Carson’s voice made both of them jump.

“Were you listening” Felix accused shrugging off the larger man’s hands, eyes filling with indignation.

“I needed to use the bathroom” Carson pointed to the door he just came out of. “I heard enough to know you have to go back.”

“She told me I can’t” Felix deflated just as quickly as his anger rose. “She hates me.”

“Do you like her” Carson asked ignoring his statement.

“What difference does that make” he demanded drooping against the wall like a plant in need of water.

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“I repeat. Do. You. Like. Her.” He emphasized each word slowly and distinctly.

“She’s everything and more” Felix sighed “I ruined it just like everything else.”

“If you like her” Carson cut into the steady flow of recriminations “then show her. Tell her. Do whatever it takes to prove it to her.” Glancing over at Britland “under the counter by the coffee maker I have a bottle of wine my Aunt gave me. She thought it would go well with an engagement dinner I was planning to surprise you with. Can you get it for me?”

Nodding Britland hurried to do as he was asked. Retrieving it he held the bottle out to Carson who cradled it in his arms like baby. “If I give this to you, will you promise to do your best not to run again?”

Felix nodded although his eyes were suspicious “why are you helping me?”

Shoving the bottle into Felix’s hands he smiled “I don’t know really. I’m not sure I like you but Britland does. I have a feeling you’re in my life for good now.” He shoved Felix forward “besides I think everyone deserves a chance at finding love. If she’s the one and I think she just might be, I want to help you get out of your own way.”

***

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Felix stood in the empty hallway. He heard the door lock behind him a signal that there was no turning back. Taking a deep breath he inspected the bottle of wine in his hands. It was an exceptional, expensive wine maybe Carson wasn’t the dweeb he thought he was. The thought brought a faint smile to his face. Knowing he had delayed too long he walked the short distance to Crystal’s apartment. Lifting his hand he froze. What if she didn’t want him there? What if she didn’t give him another chance? Did he deserve one? He ran twice in one day. How many chances did he deserve?

He half turned from the door sure he had let the best thing to ever happen to him go. It was better this way. All he would bring her was pain anyway. He should just leave and spare her. She’ll forget about him in few days. He’d go back to drinking and having wild anonymous sex with random girls. That was the only life for him even if it wasn’t what he wanted anymore. The thought was somewhat disturbing to him. He had never considered settling down before. The idea of it made him nauseous.

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The door opened behind “what are you doing here?” Crystal’s voice demanded sending his heart rate soaring. What was he supposed to do now? Sorry didn’t seem enough. Yet that was all his overworked brain could come up with. Slowly he turned around, holding out the wine bottle, “I’m sorry” he mumbled holding his breath for her response.

Ignoring the wine she glared at him “you ran. Again.”

There was pain in her voice that he caused. He flinched when he looked up meeting her eyes. “I’m sorry” he repeated hoping his heart would stop beating in his chest so he could drop dead at her feet. Then his misery would be over and she could go on with her life.

“Tell me why are you sorry” she demanded hands on her hips voice rising. “I told you I didn’t give out infinite second chances. I told you to tell me when you were freaking out. Instead you ran.”

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“I know” he cried eyes darting around like a cornered animal. “I ran. All those questions. I didn’t have any answers. I don’t know what I like to do. I never had to find out. I don’t know what I’m good at. If anything. I’m not a useful person but I…” He stammered to a halt “I want a chance to find out” his words came in a near whisper like he was afraid to jinx it by saying it too loud.

Taking the wine bottle Crystal smiled softly “what are you going to do about it?”

“I’m” he met her eyes encouraged by the gentleness in them he replied “I’m going to beg for a second chance. Then I’m going to explore my options by taking some classes. I don’t know what I’m interested in yet but I’m going to find out.”

“Good” she held the door open for him “you better come in so we can enjoy this wine together.”

Hesitating before stepping over the threshold it almost felt like he was starting over. He couldn’t believe she was giving him another chance. A chance he didn’t deserve. A chance he didn’t intend to squander this time.

Chapter 12 – Breaking Barriers / Chapter 14 – Home For Christmas – Part 1

Britland – Chapter 12 – Breaking Barriers

Reluctantly Felix followed Ryan from the bar. His feet heavy as he walked along the cement sidewalk. A stark contrast to the thoughts sizzling along inside his head. The last thing he wanted to do was have a heart to heart talk with the one girl he cared about most. What could he say? Sorry didn’t seem enough. Yet that was all his brain was coming up with.

Slowly his surroundings were penetrating his thoughts. Stopping he frowned staring up at his apartment building. “Why are we here” he asked confused.

“Charity brought Crystal home,” Ryan explained prodding Felix forward “they’re waiting for us.”

If it weren’t for the dread filling his heart Felix might have been excited. He had tried so hard to be invited into her apartment and had been denied every single time. The closing of the elevator doors felt like a steel trap. A part of him half expected for the floor to drop out from beneath his feet. A fitting punishment for someone like him. It’s what he deserved.

Stepping out he wondered if he could make a hasty retreat to his apartment a few doors down. He couldn’t face her. Face himself. He squeaked when a hand grabbed his arm propelling him forward as he half turned in the direction of his apartment.

The hand Ryan had wrapped around his upper arm squeezed painfully gaining his full attention. “I meant what I said” Ryan whispered harshly in his ear “you’re going to tell her everything. You’ll either prove to her why you’re such a colossal mistake or she’ll stick to why she thinks you’re redeemable.”

Felix swallowed as he waited for the door to open. His inside quivered. He wanted to run. To scream. To jump from the nearest window. Anything but face the sweetest girl he had ever known.

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The door opened a crack. A girl he hadn’t met yet stuck her face out frowning severely at Ryan. H could only assume this was Charity, Ryan’s wife. “What is he doing here?” she demanded her eyes sliding towards Felix “she doesn’t want to see him.”

“I know” Ryan put a hand on Felix’s shoulder as if he were worried he’d run away. “She really needs to hear what he has to say.”

Charity opened the door allowing them both to pass by her. Her eyes never leaving Felix as if she too were afraid he’d disappear or maybe she hoped he would. He couldn’t quite tell.

Felix stared straight ahead ignoring the hostile glare the others were directing in his direction. Why couldn’t Crystal’s family be like everyone else? he had met more than his fair share of angry dads and brothers. None of them ever made him confront their daughters or sisters. Mostly it was a lot of bluster and threats of breaking every bone in his body. He had received more than one bloody nose during these encounters yet he’d prefer that to this.

This was different. He was going to look into the eyes of sweet innocent girl and see the devastation he had caused. He was going to have to deal with the pain and the hurt. He glanced over his shoulder wondering if it were too late to take his beating and leave.

Ryan leaned casually against the door, crossing his arms in front of him. “You are going to do this” he asserted his green eyes serious.

Charity glanced between the two men. The air thick with tension. “I’ll go get her” she offered leaving them alone.

***

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“Sweetie” Charity sat on the edge of the bed beside the quietly weeping young girl. “You have company.”

“Tell him to go away” she sniffed wiping the backs of her hands across her face.

“You need to hear what he has to say for himself” Charity gently squeezed her shoulder “come on you can’t mope in here forever.”

“It hasn’t been forever” Crystal mumbled glaring at her sister-in-law with red swollen eyes. “If it’s who I think it is I don’t want to hear anything he has to say.”

“Normally I’d agree with you” Charity sat beside her “you deserve so much better.”

She gulped looking away “he’s not all bad.” She had been flattered when he sought her out instead of some anonymous bimbo he’d usually find at some bar. Not that she had let him inside her apartment. They had nothing more than hold hands and kiss. It had been sweet, undemanding. Felix had never pressured her to have sex with him. It was almost like he had put her on a pedestal. Something pretty to look at but couldn’t touch. “I don’t want to be a porcelain doll” she mumbled to herself.

“What was that” Charity asked.

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“Nothing important” Crystal assured her getting to her feet. She peered at her reflection in the mirror “I look a mess” she stated finger combing her hair.

“You look fine” Charity watcher her as she attempted to hide signs of her tears.

“I don’t look fine. Thanks for trying though” she moved towards the door. Her hands smoothing the wrinkles from her clothes.

“Crystal” Charity called from the bed.

She paused with her hand on the door knob “yeah?”

“What did you see in Felix” she bit her lip waiting “he’s not exactly who I pictured you’d like.”

She stared at her hand resting on the door knob. There were so many things that had drawn her to Felix. “He’s like a lost puppy” the analogy made her smile. She glanced up a small smile upon her lips. Her mind went back to their first official outing together. The time she had challenged him to accompany her while she did things she enjoyed.

***

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Felix had looked so uncomfortable standing in the middle of the quaint little book store she loved so much. He had rocked from foot to foot shifting his weight.

“Don’t you read” she asked walking up to him.

“Yeah” his voice held a not of uncertainty in it.

“You don’t sound too sure” she gave her a quizzical look “haven’t you been in a book store before?”

“No” he mumbled. He looked around eyes darting from stacks of books in the discount area to the rows of books separated by genre. “It’s too quiet in here.” He had a desperate haunted look in his eyes.

She tilted her head to the side “what’s wrong with the quiet?”

“I don’t like it” he shoved his hands inside his pocket “I like noise. People laughing. Talking. Being loud. This…” he shrugged “is weird.”

Taking his hand she steered him towards the classics section in the store. “Help me find a book I need to complete my collection. Then we can go.”

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He stared at the titles of the books in front of him. He fingered a couple before pulling one out. The Three Musketeers. He opened it briefly skimmed through the pages. Stopping here and there as he did so.

She watched him. Observing the books he took out. The ones that held his attention longer then the others. The way he went back to the Three Musketeers as if he was trying to decide if he wanted to take a chance on buying it. “Ah here it is” she proclaimed taking a large volume of Emily Dickinson’s poems from the shelf.

Felix quickly moved from his spot to the outside aisle as if anxious to leave. “Great” he said loudly then looking around to make sure no one heard him.

“It’s ok” she smiled up at him “this isn’t a library. You’re allowed to talk in here.”

“Are you ready to go” he asked his eyes showing distress in his unfamiliar environment.

“Almost” she gave him a brilliant smile “I need to grab one more thing than we can go.” She saw the way his shoulders rose and fell. The desperate pleading look in his eyes as he turned to look at her. “Why don’t you wait for me up front. I won’t be long. I promise.”

Nodding he scurried away like a rabbit running for cover after being startled by a loud noise.

Turning to the bookshelf she grabbed a copy of The Three Musketeers that seemed to captivate his interest. She added it to her purchases. Once she had paid for her items she found Felix leaning against the wall near the exist almost like a prisoner looking our from behind bars at freedom.

***

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As she finished telling Charity about that day she could see the worry deepen in her eyes. She knew what she was going to say before she opened her mouth “I’m not trying to change him” she assured the older woman.

“Then what are you trying to do” Charity asked following her to the door. “Felix isn’t the type to hang out in libraries reading classics.” She have her sister-in-law a penetrating look “what do you see that we don’t?”

Crystal chewed on the her bottom lip “I see someone who is lost. He doesn’t know who he is yet. He hides behind a mask. The ladies man. The cool fun-loving guy. Silence leads to too much thinking. Noise and action keeps him from feeling hollow inside.”

“You do realize you can’t fix him” Charity pointed out.

“I don’t want to fix him” Crystal asserted her voice rising. “He doesn’t need fixing. He needs” she paused to think “he needs someone to believe in him. So he can find himself.”

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Shaking her head Charity sighed. “From where I stand he doesn’t deserve you.”

“That’s where you’re wrong” Crystal shook her head “he deserves the best. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

“You’re infatuated with him” Charity shook her head “I’m afraid you’re going to get hurt.”

“You must think I’m talking in circles and not making sense” Crystal acknowledged “one minute I don’t want to talk to him and the next I’m defending him.”

“Yeah something like that” Charity agreed tucking a strand of blue hair behind Crystal’s ear. “Are you ready to see him?”

Staring at the door breathing hard. Crystal nodded “I don’t know if I’m ready but I have to do this. Otherwise I’ll always wonder what if.”

***

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The opening of the door made Felix look up. Panic swelled inside him as he looked into her pain filled eyes. He had done that. The red puffy eyes that hinted at the tears that he had caused. “I’m….” he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t say it. Not in front of everyone staring at him. Not while her eyes pleaded for him to be a better person. To be the person he wanted to be but knew he could never achieve.

Groaning he bolted for the door. “Let me out” he yelled at Ryan who was still blocking the door.

“No” the older man shook his head shifting his stance slightly. Ready to fight if necessary.

“I can’t do this” Felix growled pacing the floor in front of the door. His hands raking through his thick pink hair. “I can’t do this” he mumbled on each rotation.

Charity stepped up whispering in her husband’s ear “this is a bad idea.”

“It has to be done” he insisted eyes never leaving the agitated young man. “Just tell her why. You owe her that much.”

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Felix looked up desperation, fear, panic and pain etched in the contours of his face. “She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Then why” her voice galvanized him. If he were a horse he’d be rearing on his hind legs kicking out blindly. “It’s alright to be scared” she assured him her soft voice soothing “everyone is. It’s scary to know you hold someone’s heart in your hands.”

“I” he gulped taking a step towards him “I hold your heart.” No one had ever said that he held their heart. He had girls scream obscenities at him when he callously slammed the door in their faces. Seen countless girls sobbing as they ran to their cars never to darken his door again. He had left many others asleep in their beds to wonder if he’d call them later. Not once had anyone ever said he held their heart.

“Yes you do” she stepped closer to him “I though you knew that.”

He blinked mesmerized by her words. “I didn’t realize” he looked down confused “I’m sorry.”

“Why? Why did you run” she asked demanding a reason covering his hands with hers.

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He stared at her soft small hands. “I don’t deserve this. You.” He looked intently into her eyes. “All I do is cause pain. I push and push until everyone walks away. My parents. Friends. Girls. Everyone.” He dropped his hands to his side. Her touch felt like a reproach. “I push people away. That’s what I do. For some reason I don’t understand you and Britland won’t go.” He bowed his head wishing he were anywhere but here “why won’t you go?”

“I can’t go” she whispered clutching her hands to her chest. “You hold my heart remember? If I leave I’ll lose something I can never get back.” She ached to pull him close. To hold him close. Tell him she’d never let him go. She couldn’t. At least not until he let her. He had to let her inside otherwise nothing would change.

“What would you lose” he challenged.

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“You. I lose you” she kept her words simple. Firm. She held her breath as her words sank into his head. She watched anxious for any signs her words had any effect.

“Me” he nearly choked on the word “that’s really not that much.” He half turned towards the door blocked now by both Charity and Ryan. “I don’t need your pity” he grumbled misreading the look in their eyes.

They exchanged a look before Ryan took Charity’s hand. “It’s not pity” kissing Charity softly on the cheek he opened the door. “You don’t need pity.” Charity slipped through the door while Ryan said “you need a swift kick in the ass.” He glanced over at his sister “Crystal we’ll be outside in the hall if you need us.” He gave Felix a stern glare “my offer to beat some sense into him still stands.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary” Crystal assured him “but if I’m wrong I’ll do the ass kicking.”

***

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After Ryan closed the door firmly behind them Crystal pointed towards the couch “sit.”

Felix ignored her invitation in favor of leaning against the door. “they’re standing in the hall. Making sure I don’t run.”

“If you want to go then go” she made a shooing motion with her hands. When his hand touched the door knob she called out “if you go, don’t bother coming back. This is a one time opportunity. I’m not a gullible idiot. I won’t tolerate being walked on like a door mat. I believe in second chances. Not infinite free passes.”

“Haven’t you been listening” Felix demanded turning from the door “I leave. That’s what I do.”

“No” she shook her head “you force everyone around you to leave. While you stay safe inside your little bubble. This time when you walk out that door it’s you leaving. Not me. You.” She sat on the couch casually crossing her legs.

Felix watched her a moment before turning his attention to the door. His hand on the door knob felt hot and clammy. His heart beat like he was about to commit an irreversible act. He opened the door a crack. He kept thinking all he had to do was walk out that door. Never look back. All this would be over. He could go back to what he was used to.

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She was the only person other than Britland who could see beyond his outward charm to the scared lost little boy he was. Did he really want to lose that? She was the only person to randomly give him a present. His lips quirked up remembering that day. Their first outing together. He wouldn’t call it a date. A book store didn’t count. At least he never thought so. It was certainly an important day to him.

The book was on his nightstand. He hadn’t planned on reading it. He had scoffed at the idea. One night he had gotten up feeling sick. Not being able to sleep he began to read. Anything would have been ok as long as his mind was occupied. To his surprise he liked it. He liked the concept of one for all and all for one. He probably had that backwards but it still meant the same thing in the end. He wondered what it’d be like to have someone have his back like that no matter what.

His hands dropped to his sides. Turning he leaned against the door until it clicked shut behind him. “Alright you have my attention” he announced to the back of Crystal’s head “what do I do now?”

“Sit” she invited without turning to look at him. Groaning he let his feet propel him forward. He slumped into the couch beside her “now what” it came out harsh, maybe a little defensive.

“We talk” she turned to face him “why did you dump me at the restaurant?” He opened his mouth to respond when she held up her hand “spare me the lies. I want the truth. You hurt me Felix. You owe me that much.”

Slowly he nodded snapping his mouth shut. Silence lingered between them while he tried to form an acceptable response to the question. He heard the tick of the clock from the kitchen. The refrigerator as it clicked on. The gentle rustle of clothes as Crystal moved restlessly beside him. He even heard the low murmur of voices in the hallway.

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He said the only words he knew to be true. “I was scared” he stared at his hands in lying in his lap. He observed the lines kriss crossing his skin. The scratch on his right pinky where he had caught it on the edge of his dresser.

“What were you afraid of? Me? My brother?” She tried to keep her voice neutral free of the tension she felt inside. “Help me understand. Why were you afraid?”

“It wasn’t you” he jumped to his feet. Pacing back and forth in front of her.

“Then what was it” she asked wishing she could ease his anxiety.

He could feel her eyes following him. He wanted to ask her to stop . He felt at any moment that he’d walk right out of his skin. He wasn’t afraid of her or anyone. It wasn’t that kind of tangible fear. “It was the situation” he mumbled turning to face her “I had all these thoughts screaming in my head. I couldn’t take it anymore so I ran.”

“You ran to the nearest bar” she inquired. Silently he nodded his head “did you think drinking would make the voices stop.”

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“It usually helps” he mumbled “if that didn’t work. Sex did.” He looked away unable to meet her eyes.

Wordlessly she patted the cushion beside her. He slumped towards her the picture of abject misery. He confirmed what she had only suspected. He used alcohol and sex to cope with stress. His parents hadn’t helped him to develop any useful coping techniques by ignoring his cries for help. All his acting out as a child had been his way of letting anyone who cared that he needed help. Unfortunately no one was listening.

“Why didn’t you tell me” she demanded one he was seated beside her.

“I…” he looked confused “don’t know.”

“If you had, a lot of this could have been avoided,” she smiled over at him. “Communication is key in any relationship.”

He swallowed convulsively. Were they in a relationship? “Is that what this is” he asked his heart beating out of his chest. He couldn’t tell if that was a good or a bad thing. Did he want to be in a relationship? He had always thought of relationships as a bad thing.

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“Do you want it to be” she asked him her gentle eyes watching him closely.

“I don’t…I never…” he stumbled over his words. The familiar jumble of thoughts boiling over in his head screaming at him to run before it was too late. “I…I…” he licked his lips his eyes focused on hers “think I….no I know I want to try.”

“Good answer” she leaned into him “I promise I’ll help you. I’ll do what it takes to make you feel comfortable.” She caressed his cheek “you have to do one thing for me. You have to tell me when you feel like you might freak out. Do you think you can do that?”

“I’ll try” he gulped. He hated to admit it. He felt weak and afraid. This was new to him. He hated feeling unsure of himself.

“That’s all I ask” she leaned up pressing her lips to his. She sensed how hesitant he was. She wouldn’t pressure him for more than he could give. She’d help him every way she could as long as he’d let her. She felt almost like weeping when she felt him respond to her kiss, pressing into her. Maybe somewhere along the way he’d find out who he is meant to be.

***

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Carson pressed Britland against the door as soon as they arrived inside their apartment. He had restrained himself all the time they were in public knowing how reserved Britland was with public displays of affection. He felt he would burst from the growing tension inside him. He groaned remembering how he had practically had to drag Britland away from the couple standing in the hall outside the elevator. All the time Britland excitedly accepted their congratulations Carson hoped the blonde wouldn’t invite them inside. He wanted a moment alone with his newly engaged fiance.

Carson’s hands slipped beneath the familiar green sweater. Groaning when his fingers encountered the thin button down shirt beneath. Pulling away from Britland’s lips he pulled the sweater up and over the blonde’s head dropping it to the floor where they stood.

Opening his eyes Britland brought his hands up to push against Carson’s chest. “We can’t leave that there.”

“Why not” he demanded leaning in close to capture his fiance’s mouth. His hands moving towards the buttons.

Turning his face to the side breaking the kiss again Britland pushed Carson’s hands away. “What about Felix? He could come it and…”

“Who cares” Carson moved in close pressing Britland hard against the door. He moved his lips across his jaw line down his neck as he unbuttoned the last of the buttons. He slipped the shirt down Britland’s shoulders until it too joined the sweater on the floor.

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“I care” Britland pushed Carson away ducking to scooped up his discarded clothing and scurried into his bedroom. Leaning against his closed bedroom door trying to catch his breath, his mind reeling with what was happening. Every nerve in his body was on fire. He never knew it could be this way. A single touch that made him weak at the knees and make his mind turn to mush. His pulsed raced sending blood to places he had yet to experience.

A soft knock on the other side of the thin wooden door made him jump. Slowly the door opened and Carson’s concerned voice preceding him into the room “are you alright?”

Nodding he clutched his clothes to his chest like some kind of shield. Involuntarily he took a step backwards as Carson entered the room. He gazed into Carson’s lavender eyes wondering if the emotion he saw in their depths was disappointment or concern perhaps a little of both.

Carson ran a hand through his long purple hair “I’m sorry” he murmured his voice deep and husky. “I should have taken things slower” he backed towards the door is eyes downcast.

Britland stood transfixed wanting to ask him to stay but the words were stuck in his brain and his mouth refused to work. Dropping his shirt and sweater to the floor he hastened towards his fiance intent on showing him he wanted him to stay. Words failed him but his body knew what he wanted as he launched himself into Carson’s arms. Wrapping his legs around his fiance’s trim waist he could feel Carson’s strong arms moving to hold him steady. Britland brought his hands up to either side of Carson’s face he brought his mouth down onto Carson’s soft lips in the most passionate kiss he was capable of. Breathlessly he pulled back whispering “don’t go”

Carson resumed the kiss as he stumbled towards the bed. He felt Britland’s hands shaking as they struggled to remove his vest and shirt. He chuckled a little Britland muttered something about too many buttons. As they reached the bed Carson felt his shirt slip over his broad shoulders as he laid Britland on the bed. He struggled from the arms of the shirt gazing into the blonde’s eye searching for any signs of doubt or fear. Straddling him “are you sure you want to do this” he asked “we can wait until you’re sure.”

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“I’m sure” Britland ran his fingers down Carson’s back feeling the contours of his muscles. “I don’t want to wait.”

Surrendering to the moment Carson followed Britland down to the bed brushing his lips across Britland’s mouth their tongues swirling around each other. His hands slid down Britland’s body exploring every inch. He broke the kiss long enough to whisper “I love you so much.”

Chapter 11 – Reflections / Chapter 13 – What They Want

Metamorphosis – Chapter 1 – Introductions

Author’s note:  Metamorphosis is the story of Eddie’s brother Tom after he returns home from appearing on Sim Star Chef. This is a collab story with the author of Sim Star. Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing it!

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Faye shut her eyes tightly. She wasn’t in Monte Vista anymore. Instead, she sat in the airport of Brooklyn Heights. Her hands were shaking frantically, she could barely hold the handle of her suitcase. She tried taking in a deep breath, but she felt eyes on her from every corner of the crowded airplane. She was Faye Ferrari. She couldn’t just go on with her life-like it was no big deal. Sim Star Chef was over. She was moving away from her father’s spotlight and it was hard to adjust to. She felt sick just thinking about it. “Faye? Why don’t you take a seat. We’re waiting for my brother and his husband to pick us up anyway, so we can afford to take a breather.”

She tried looking around, but she felt so dizzy. She let Tom lead her to the small couch. “I’m sorry. You don’t need some washed up celebrity hanging onto your coattails. If your brother could give me a ride to the nearest hotel, that would be awesome.”

He shook his head. “No. You’re staying with us. It’s just for a week, Faye. You can do it.”

“I don’t want to,” She mumbled. “It’s your family, not mine.”

“You have to see how a real family functions, Faye.” He held her hand, giving it a light squeeze. “I know we didn’t do the whole few dates thing before becoming a couple, but you’re my girlfriend now. I want you to meet my family.”

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“I can’t do that,” She whispered. “They’ll hate me.”

“Eddie won’t hate you,” Tom said. “Why would he hate you? He loves cooking. His husband is in a famous band, that’s right up your alley. You love stuff like that.”

“Stop trying to incorporate me into your family. We’re moving too fast!” She could feel her hands shaking. “Please, I like you a lot Tom. I do want to meet your family, but I need time for myself.”

She felt his strong arms wrap around her, as Tom willed her to look at him. “Hey,” He said softly. “Don’t shut down on me. I need you here.”

She shook her head. “I need you more than you need me.” His grip on her arm tightened and he placed a hand under her chin, gazing into her cloudy eyes.

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“No you don’t,” he whispered. “You think you do, but you don’t. You are strong and beautiful. You’ve done all of this on your own. All I did was help a little. But the rest of it is all you.”

She looked up into his eyes and felt a calming serene wash over her. She took in a deep breath. “I can do this. It’s not like I’m meeting your brother, the person you’re closest to, or anything. And if he hates me-”

“He won’t.” Faye’s eyes widened when she heard an amused tone. She looked up to see a man with teal hair, hugging a blonde male. “My husband is a nice guy, he doesn’t bite.”

Faye’s mouth dropped open and Tom had to shake her to bring her back to reality. “Uh, hey Rory, Eddie. This is my girlfriend, Faye Ferrari.”

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The blonde male moved forward a timid smile on his face “I’m Eddie.” He swallowed unsure what to say or do next as the girl just stared at him waiting for him to say something, anything meaningful.

His husband took over, draping a casual arm across Eddie’s shoulder. “It’s a pleasure to have you stay with us. We’re looking forward to getting to know you apart from what we saw on the show.”

“Yeah um…” Eddie nodded, thankful that Rory had stepped into the conversation. He hated meeting people for the first time. “We never missed an episode,” he added, lamely shooting his brother a look that clearly begged him for help. His eyes shifted nervously around the busy airport. “Um maybe we can continue this at home?”

“About that…” Faye began. “Where’s the nearest hotel? I’d like to check in my stuff.”

“Faye,” Tom replied, this time a twinge of annoyance to his voice. “Why do you always have to fight me on everything?”

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She gave him a nonchalant shrug and stood up from her seat. “I’m not fighting you on anything. I’m just saying it’d be best if total strangers didn’t sleep under the same roof.”

“You’re my girlfriend,” He replied, yet again. “NOT a total stranger.”

“He’s got a point,” Rory added. “You’re family by extension.”

Eddie nodded silently agreeing with Rory and his brother. “Please stay with us. We may not know each other yet but hopefully that’ll change.”

Faye still looked opposed to the idea. “I still think it would be best if I stayed at a hotel.”

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“If that’s what you want,” Eddie nodded looking somewhat dejected at her refusal to stay with them, “We do have a few hotels in the area.” Turning to Tom he asked, “Did you want to stay with Faye at the hotel? It’s ok if you do.” He tried to hide the disappointment he felt. This was not the way he thought things would be like.

“Eddie,” Rory’s deep voice said close to his ear. “Are you sure about this? You spent hours cleaning and getting things prepared for them.” He glared a moment at Faye standing to the side of her luggage.

“Rory please.” Eddie took his husband’s hand. “She doesn’t want to stay with us. We can’t force her.” Avoiding Faye’s steady gaze he pulled his phone out, concentrating on finding a quality hotel in the area. The least he could do was find her someplace she’d be comfortable in.

Rory was appalled by the situation and snatched the phone from Eddie’s hands. “Remember Gayle,” Rory replied calmly, not looking at Faye. “Family is family, no matter what. That’s what you said.”

“That’s different,” Eddie argued. “Gayle is your sister.”

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“I’m your brother,” Tom piped up, trying to break the tension. “Do I have a say in this?”

“If you say in the hotel, then no,” Rory replied. “You guys are staying with us.” He finally turned to the girl who stood with her arms crossed over her chest. He had watched the show with Eddie, and while one couldn’t help but root for Tom and Faye in the end, if they looked back at everything Faye had done, she wasn’t a nice person. She was stuck up and full of herself. No amount of self-esteem issues could excuse that. This was the real world and now that the fame had come crashing down around her, she had to grow up. It was what Eddie taught him when dealing with his little sister, Gayle. It was a valuable lesson. “Faye,” He addressed her, “Eddie spent a long time fixing the house for you.”

Faye looked thoughtful for a moment, and then taken aback. “He did?” She asked in a soft voice, not looking at him but at Rory.

Rory nodded. Faye was like a child, he observed. She wanted to be told that people had went out of their way for her. He had no idea if that was her hunger for fame or attention talking. “You did babe, right?” Rory asked, nudging Eddie lightly.

“I uhm…did,” Eddie admitted.

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“He even bought new sheets,” Rory said. “He thought you’d appreciate a nice cotton blend.” He was teasing Eddie now, but his husband had actually purchased new bed spreads for the girl.

‘She’s a celebrity,’ Eddie had said at the store. ‘She probably sleeps with silk sheets or something. What about these? They say that you feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud….’ Rory would be damned if he let Faye dash his husband’s efforts.

“I just thought…” Faye began but dropped her voice and shook her head. “Never mind. We’ll stay.”

No thank you, or even a glance of appreciation. Rory didn’t like that, but he’d give her a chance. He extended his hand. “Here, let me carry your luggage for you.”

“It’s okay,” Faye mumbled, but didn’t protest when Tom took it from her grasp and slid it over to Rory.

“They really want to impress you,” Tom murmured to her quietly. “So smile and be nice, alright?”

Britland – Chapter 11 – Reflections

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Britland opened his eyes. It was dark and almost eerily quiet. “Where” his voice cracked. Turning he followed the sound of rustling clothes somewhere nearby. “Mom” he croaked when a brief light from a phone screen temporarily lit her face.

“Britland” she stroked his hair from his face “I was so worried.” Tears fell from her eyes. “Why didn’t you tell us about the letters?” She bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to bring that up as the first thing to discuss when he woke up.

Squinting up at her “how did you….I didn’t….”

“Shh” she soothed “I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m just so happy you’re awake.” She leaned over kissing his forehead. She had done that ever since he was a little boy “I love so so much.”

“Mom” he whispered “love you too.” His eyes roamed over the room like he was searching for something or someone. His eyes were already growing heave and drooping shut. He tried to fight it but he could feel himself drifting off.

“Don’t worry” Miranda soothed “everything’s going to be ok. Mama loves you. Close your eyes. You’ll feel much better next time you wake.” She smiled down at him watching him relax to the sound of her voice. She stroked his blonde hair remembering how she used to do that when he’d wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. He had a way of looking up at her with such trust like he knew no matter what she’d protect him. But she hadn’t. The monster still got to him.

“I’m sorry” he mumbled as his eyes drooped shut. She held his hand until his breathing became deep and even. “You have nothing to be sorry about” she assured him in a hoarse whisper. She looked up when a hand fell on her shoulder. She knew who it would be before she saw him.

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“How’s our boy” Robbie asked feeling her take his hand and squeezing it tight.

“Asleep” she smiled up at him with tears shining in her eyes. “We came so close to losing him.”

He sank to the floor beside her chair “I know” his voice quivered. It was the fear of every parent to lose their child. “He’s going to be alright” he assured her his eyes never leaving the quiet form of his eldest child.

“Will he” she asked running her fingers absently through her husbands hair. “What if…” she bit her lip to restrain the flow of tears that bubbled up.

“Your mother is back where she belongs. The hospital is already trying to offer settlement deals.” He moved to his knees wrapping his arms around her waist. “She wasn’t responsible for what happened.”

“The letters” Miranda glanced over at her son shivering “He must have been so scared.”

Nodding Robbie shifted his weight on the floor. “Honey” he took her hands “the accident was just that…an accident. Your mother and her threatening letters had nothing to do with it.”

She stared at him disbelief plain in her eyes. Her face contorted “of course it’s related. Mother is capable of anything.”

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“Do you trust me” he asked her.

She nodded staring into his dark eyes.

“Do you trust my father” he asked reaching out to hold her hand.

“Yes but …I” she gulped swallowing loudly.

“Then trust us” Robbie pleaded “your mother is old. Not in her right mind. Her letters were meant to scare. Nothing more. She didn’t have the resources to arrange the accident or pay someone to do it for her.”

“Are you sure” she demanded needing the reassurance.

“I’m positive” he sounded as confident as he knew how to be. A moment later he was gratified when she threw her arms around him crying “It’s going to be alright. It really is. Our boy is going to be alright.”

Sniffling she nodded nestling her head on his shoulder “yes he is and so am I.”

***

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Two weeks later Britland stood on the sidewalk outside his apartment waving goodbye to his parents. “You’re going to miss them aren’t you” Carson asked sliding an arm around his shoulders.

“I am” Britland sighed leaning into Carson’s side “while they were here I forgot how much I missed them.”

The wistfulness in Britland’s voice had Carson looking at him with a mixture of concern and dismay. “You’re not thinking about moving back to Riverview are you?”

“I don’t…” turning to face Carson Britland nodded. “I’d be lying if I said no. The truth is I’m homesick. I miss the open fields. The green grass. The trees.”

“We have that here” Carson pointed across the street. In the distance you could see a tree-lined shoreline and a waterfall. “You just need to know where to look.”

Smiling Britland nodded “it’s different. At home I have that just walking outside my front door. Here, like you said, I’d have to go looking for it. Here it’s one building after another. Doesn’t it ever bother you living on top of someone else?”

Frowning Carson shook his head. “I never really thought about it. I’ve always lived in the city.”

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Taking Carson’s hand Britland began walking along the sidewalk “would you ever consider moving with me?”

Stopping Carson stared at him. His thoughts went to his family. He hoped one day the police would find his brother. He still hoped his parents might one day forgive him and welcome him back home. If he moved he’d have no way of finding out what was happening. The weekly visits to his Aunt’s restaurant would cease. With that so would his link to his family. His silence had gone on too long. He could see the sadness that filled Britlands’ green eyes. “I’m sorry” he mumbled feeling as though he had let the blond down somehow.

“Don’t be” Britland shook his head forcing a smile to his face. It did little to dispel the sadness in his eyes.

“When will you be leaving” Carson managed to get the words out past the lump in his throat. He couldn’t imagine not waking up every morning to the smell of coffee and the sight of the blonde padding around the kitchen in his boxers and bare feet making breakfast for everyone.

“Who said I was leaving” Britland asked eyebrows rising.

“You did…” Carson stopped sighed “that was what you were telling me wasn’t it? You did just ask me if I’d consider leaving the city. I mean you are leaving aren’t you?”

“Eventually” Britland nodded turning away from Carson a far away look in his eyes. “I don’t think I’ll ever really belong here.” His shoulders rose and fell “it won’t be for a while. At least not until I’ve finished school.”

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“School” Carson asked “what about modeling?”

Britland shrugged “I don’t think I’ll ever be truly comfortable with it. I know most people would jump at the opportunity I’m walking away from….it’s just not me.”

“It’s not going to be the same without you” Carson blinked surprised at how much this announcement was affecting him. He liked having the blonde around on set. They had become the it couple for a lot of photographers. He didn’t want to think about modeling with anyone else.

“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty” Britland mumbled “you’re doing a good job.” He couldn’t help but feel like he was letting Carson down with is decision. He could feel his disappointment like it was buffeting him. “Nothing’s changing right away. I’m still looked into a two-year modeling contract. We’ll still be working together. I’ll just be taking a few night classes to start with until I can transfer to a full-time student.”

Carson felt the tension in his back muscles ease somewhat. Casually he moved close to Britland draping an arm across his shoulders. “Don’t scare me like that” his voice thick with emotion.

Turning Britland brought a hand up, his fingers stroking the well-trimmed purple beard. “Scared” his eyes searched Carson’s “you’re not scared of anything.”

Carson pulled Britland close “I am when it comes to losing you.” He shivered as images of seeing Britland lying underneath iron girders. The fear that rushed through his body as he stumbled towards his body afraid that he’d be gone by the time help arrived. Shaking his head he tried to rid his mind of the images that gave plagued his dreams at night. “I never want to lose you.”

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Leaning forward Britland pressed his face into the larger man’s chest. “Wish we could stay like this forever” he murmured closing his eyes. A content happy smile spreading across his lips. He felt Carson’s arms envelop him in a warm secure embrace. “I love you” the words slipped out before Britland had a chance to check them. Instead he pressed his ear into Carson’s chest listening the reassuring steady heartbeat.

Carson felt like he was struggling to breathe. His chest couldn’t draw in enough to oxygen fast enough. His arms tightened around Britland as if he were afraid the blond would disappear if he didn’t hold on tight enough. “What did you say?” he asked not quite sure he had heard correctly.

Britland pulled away enough to bring his hands up to caress Carson’s face. Looking deeply into the other man’s lavender eyes he made sure he had Carson’s undivided attention. “I love you” he repeated. He watched intently as his words sank in transforming Carson’s face from stunned disbelief to pure undiluted happiness making him wish he had said those three words sooner. Carson had said them to him but not once had he repeated them back. All his self doubts had held him back from letting his true feelings out.

Carson could feel the goofy grin that seemed to have taken over his face. “Will you marry me” his eyes grew large and his mouth formed an oh as he were shocked those particular words had come out. He had meant to say he loved him too. He closed his eyes and let his mouth fall shut hoping he hadn’t just ruined the moment. The silence lengthened between them. Stepping back Carson let his arms drop to his side. He turned away afraid to read the answer in Britland’s eyes as if the silence wasn’t answer enough.

“Look at me” Britland requested an unusual firmness in his voice “you can’t ask me something like that and turn away.” When Carson turned to face him he could see tears shimmering in his eyes. “Were you serious asking me to marry you?”

Carson wanted to turn away but he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop from gazing into Britland’s eyes. “Yes” he murmured “I’ve never been more serious in my life.” His heart was painful in his chest as it raced like he was running a marathon. He blinked as a brilliant smile spread across Britland’s face that was brighter than the sun on the brightest day in the middle of summer.

“Yes” he nodded laughing “I’ll marry you.” Without reservation Britland threw his arms around Carson almost knocking them both to the ground. He could feel Carson lift in slightly in the air as he wrapped a leg around him. “Yes a million times yes” he cried kissing Carson over and over again to prove how much he meant it.

***

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“Aww” Crystal sighed coming to standstill on the sidewalk leading up to their apartment building. “Isn’t that just the sweetest?”

Felix stopped. Glanced in the direction Crystal was looking in. He groaned. His dismay growing. He could feel Crystal’s eyes watching him. “What” he grumbled looking away.

“Don’t you approve of your roommates” her green eyes gazed up him brimming with innocence and hurt.

“It’s not that” he assured her “I’m happy for them. It’s just…” His mouth twisted as he gagged at the idea of committing himself to one person.

“Just what” she pressed as she gazed across at the happy couple kissing on the sidewalk oblivious of the gawking stares of the people passing by.

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“It’s too” his hands waved around in the air as he searched for the right words. “Sweet. It’s too sweet. Sickening sweet. I’m happy for them but….”

She raised an eyebrow “it’s what.” All of her attention on him “some of my favorite people are in same-sex relationships. If you have a problem with that…”

He raised his hands as if to defend himself “whoa it has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. Britland is my best friend. Straight or gay has nothing to do with it. I love him like a brother.” He ran a hand through his think pink hair a sure sign his frustration was rising. “It’s all the mushy stuff.”

“Oh” her eyes sparkled taking a step closer to him “I thought you liked the mushy stuff.”

“I do” he mumbled realizing the peril he was in He liked Crystal. She was the only girl he hadn’t brought to his bed for a one night fling. He didn’t want that to change but he was beginning to see she wanted more. Something he might not be ready to give. Something he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to give. “They’re so committed to each other,” the way he said the word committed was like he was swearing.

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Crystal took a step back detecting the contempt in his voice. She had known from the beginning he wasn’t the type to enter into a committed relationship. She had hoped that maybe just maybe he’d change. That maybe he’d want to change for her. She looked at her phone trying to cover up her disappointment “we’re going to be late.” She waved down a passing taxi.

Reluctantly he followed her. He could tell her awkward jerky motions she was upset. He could imagine that her green eyes were large, round and miserable. Her unhappiness radiated between them. It felt like a crushing weight against his chest making it difficult to breathe. “Crystal I…”

She jerked at the sound of his voice. She heard the entreaty in his voice. She had been such an idiot to believe she’d be the one he’d want to change for. She slid next to the far door hoping to put space between them “I don’t want to hear it.”

“Crystal you knew from the beginning I don’t do relationships. Commitment isn’t for me.” His voice had a pleading note to it. “Crystal please….I don’t want to hurt you.”

She inclined her head refusing to look at him. She knew if she looked at him she’d burst into tears. She could feel the floodgates about to burst anyway. She was such stupid naive little girl. What had she expected of him. That he’d realize he couldn’t live without her? Not very likely considering he hadn’t even tried to get her into bed. She jerked her hand away when he tried to touch her. She hissed as if his touch was painful. She managed to keep it together long enough to make it through the doors of the restaurant before she covered her face with her hands. She could feel every eye in the restaurant watching her. She knew she was making a spectacle of herself crying like fool in front of complete strangers.

***

Ryan took one look at his little sister and took off after the pink haired snake that made her cry. He trusted that his wife, Charity would be able to calm Crystal down. Right now it was important that he catch up with the little rat that hurt his sister. He clenched his hands into fists imagining how it’d feel to pummel the runts face. No one made his sister cry and walks away like nothing happened. He slowed down as the guy seemed to dither indecisive in front of a club he wasn’t old enough to enter.

Ryan followed him inside somewhat impressed the guy had managed a good enough fake ID to be allowed inside. He sat down beside him ordering a drink. “Rough day” he said as if he were speaking to just anyone who’d answer.

“You could say that” Felix grunted into his drink before he downed the glass. Setting it on the bar he ordered a new one. He downed the next one as soon as the barman set in front of him.

“The night’s still young” Ryan observed taking a swallow of his beer “you should take it easy.”

“Easy for you to say” Felix eyed him “you didn’t just make the worst mistake of your life.”

Tossing his drink back Ryan waited for the bar man to refill his glass. “What do you call someone who dumps their pregnant wife at a restaurant?”

“Dude” Felix shook his head fluffy pink hair flying every where “I’d call you a dead man.”

Ryan tossed back his drink. The liqueur burning its way through his stomach like it was on fire. “Might as well embalm myself” he chuckled “save her the time of doing later.” he had a slight buzz going on telling him to take it slower, to eat something. “What mistake you did you make?”

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Felix lifted his glass to the light inspecting it. “I let this wonderful girl slip through my hands.” He set his drink down without touching it “I wasn’t good for her. She’s better off without me.”

“What makes you think that?” Ryan asked slurring his words slightly. Definitely need to eat something before he drank any more

“It must be my lucky night” a familiar voice purred behind Felix.

Groaning Felix closed his eyes as a woman’s hands caressed his shoulder. “Leave me alone” he shrugged off her hand “I didn’t come here for that.”

“Of course you did” the older woman asserted taking his drink for herself “you’ve had enough of this I think.”

“Who are you” Ryan demanded eyeing the woman uneasily. A definite man-eater he thought as he gazed at her.

As if seeing Ryan for the first time she smiled seductively at him. “You can join us” she offered running a finger along his jaw line.

“Um I” his brain seemed to be backfiring as he tried to come up with something to say.

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“Leave us alone” Felix demanded “we’re not in the mood.”

Outraged by the rejection and the sneering laughter from the bar man she waked away muttering to herself.

Nodding towards the middle-aged woman “that’s why I’m not good enough for her.” Felix shook his head looking like he was about to cry “I came in here for that.”

“Then why didn’t you take her up on her offer” Ryan asked relieved that the woman was across the room even if she were still glaring at them.

Felix frowned “I couldn’t get Crystal’s face out of my mind.” The way he said it made Ryan chuckle “what’s so funny?”

Ryan shook his head “you’re in love and don’t even know it.” Taking Felix’s arm he stood up to leave tossing money onto the bar to cover their drinks.

“I’m not going” Felix mumbled trying to break loose from Ryan’s grip as he was dragged towards the door.

“Yes you are” Ryan smirked “if you don’t I’ll tell the bar man over their that your ID is fake.”

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“You wouldn’t dare” Felix looked suitably shocked by the thought of having his ID confiscated.

“Yeah I would” Ryan assured him as he managed to drag Felix outside the bar. “You broke my sister’s heart tonight. I followed you here to punch some sense into you.”

“Oh” was all he managed to say as his eyes grew large at the prospect.

“Just so you know I’m not going to do that” Ryan informed him still walking with a firm grip on Felix to keep him from running. “I have a better idea. You’re going to tell my sister exactly why you think you don’t deserve her.”

“I’m not doing that” Felix tried to jerk away almost tripping both of them.

“I can always just beat you up” Ryan suggested “Crystal needs to know who you are and decide for herself whether you’re worth her time. She won’t listen to anyone else but you she might.”

“What if she decides I’m not worth it” Felix asked sounding as if he’d rather be thrown into a pit of snakes than face a sweet innocent young girl.

“That’s your problem” Ryan told him “you made this mess. You need to face it and accept the consequences of your actions.”

Chapter 10 – Clerical Error / Chapter 12 – Breaking Barriers