Tag Archive | Crystal Milton

Britland – Chapter 25 – Growing Pains (Finale)

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Entering the house Rush let the door slam shut behind him. Dropping his duffel bag on the floor he stomped into the kitchen. Opening the fridge he reached for a Gatorade. Twisting the cap off he guzzled the cool contents in front of the open fridge door. The cool air as it wafted from the refrigerator refreshing his overheated sweaty skin.

“Hey” the calm low voice of his dad brought him back to reality “close the door.”

“Sorry” he mumbled kicking the door shut with his foot. Turning he gave his dad a sheepish grin.

“How was practice” Britland asked looking up at the gangling form of his teenage son. It was hard to imagine this was the same boy who had begged them to grow bigger. Rush was already four inches taller than his 5’10”.

His bony shoulders rose and fell. “It was alright I guess.”

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“Anything you want to talk about” Britland asked sensing that something was wrong. Before Rush could respond Felix, his best and oldest friend came into the kitchen.

“Well if it isn’t the basketball star” Felix said by way of greeting not noticing how his words made the boy squirm. “With someone like you on the team the others just have to get the ball to you to win the game.”

Ducking his head in a failed attempt to hide his flaming cheeks Rush mumbled “yeah I guess.” He set his empty bottle on the counter “I’m going to shower.

“You should tell the others hi first” Felix called after him “they’re excited to see you especially Adalynn.”

“I will once I’ve showered” he said walking away.

“Didn’t you teach him any manners” Felix demanded confronting his old friend.

“Of course I did” Britland said picking up the empty bottle to toss in the recycle bin. “He just didn’t like your overt attempt of setting him up with your daughter. It’ll never happen if you keep shoving it in his face.” As he spoke he went to get the discarded duffel bag from the entryway.

“Maybe I don’t want him for my Ada. I don’t want her having to clean up after him.”

“So says the guy who had a butler and a maid to clean up after him” Britland shook his head at him laughing softly.

“You should take my example as a warning then. He’ll never learn responsibility if you do everything for him” Felix insisted.

Britland stared at him for a moment before saying “I think I know my son. He’ll never turn into you.”

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“You make it sound like a bad thing” Felix laughed clapping a hand across his friend’s back. “Believe me Rush is going to have plenty of opportunities being the basketball star. Every girl or guy is going to want to be with him. That’s a lot of pressure. It might even go to his head.”

Britland wanted to say it wouldn’t happen to his son. Ego had a funny way of distorting reality and Rush had been acting differently lately. Giving Felix a tight-lipped smile he mumbled “I guess we’ll see. I sincerely doubt Rush will let a game go to his head.”

“I thought you were getting me a drink” Crystal said coming into the kitchen.

“I was. I mean I am” Felix assured her “I got a little distracted giving Britland some parenting advise.”

“Oh” her eyebrows rose.

“Yeah” shrugging he grinned ruefully “I don’t think he liked what I had to say though.”

“I certainly hope not” Carson said coming in to join them. “Britland is probably the best parent here.”

“Hey I resent that” Felix grunted. “What was that for” he asked glaring at his wife.

“A reminder of your promise” she said giving him a stern look.

“I remember” he mumbled rubbing his side. “I was behaving.”

“No you weren’t” she said taking her drink and going to sit down.

“Crystal” Felix pleaded following her leaving Britland and Carson alone.

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“What was that all about” Carson asked putting an arm around the blonde.

“I’m not sure” he smiled up at him “If I had to guess. I think Felix promised to be nice.”

Chuckling softly “I guess Crystal didn’t think he was” He gave Britland a peck on the cheek “come on honey we better join our guests.”

“Carson” Britland grabbed his hand before he could take more than a step. “Don’t go in there with the intent of antagonizing him.”

“Would I do that” he asked his tone serious but his lips twitching at the corners.

“Yes you would” he said seeing the mischief sparkling in Carson’s eyes and knew the evening was going to be interesting.

***

Sighing with relief Rush closed the bathroom door securely behind him. Turning the lock he pulled his shirt over his head. Grimacing as his eyes caught sight of the black and blue marks along his rib cage and back. “Some basketball star” he mumbled stripping out of his gym shorts. More bruises covered his skin around his thighs and hips.

When he agreed to play for the team he had no idea how painful it would be. The bruises were the result of the teams retaliation of the coaches unwarranted praise of his abilities. Letting the water run over his aching body, hissing as it stung his bruises. He liked playing basketball. Thought it would be fun playing on the team. Had excelled at it. Seeing the pride in his parents eyes as they cheered him on during the games. The last thing he wanted to do was disappoint them.

The water sprayed over his head as he tried to silence his thoughts. He could handle the jeers and snide remarks the others on the team made about him. They were spoken just loud enough for him to hear and the coach to ignore. The petty jealousy he could handle. It was the constant physical abuse on the court as they would throw the ball at him when he least expected it or knocking him off his feet as they charged him too aggressively to take the ball from him. The blind eye the coach had for their actions only fueled their aggression.

Quitting seemed to be his only option. He’d thrown it out there in front of the coach who only guilting him into staying. Telling him not to let the team down right before the championship game. Mostly he didn’t want to disappoint his dads. They took such pride in his playing. My son the basketball star. He’d heard that a hundred times.

Drying himself off he wiped the mist from the mirror. Gazing at his reflection he grumbled accusingly at it “coward.” Mist once again obscured his image emphasizing the feeling that he was in a no win situation. Damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

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Hastily he threw on some clothes hoping Beckett and Adalynn would offer a welcome distraction from his turbulent thoughts. If nothing else Beckett might give him an excuse to work out his aggression. The guy never realized when he stopped being amusing and became irritating. Walking from the bathroom he heard the chatter of the adults in the living room having what sounded like a serious discussion. Ignoring them he dropped his things in his room. Smiling as he realized someone had brought his duffel bag into his room. A gentle rebuke from his mild-mannered dad no doubt. He’d remember next time not to leave it in the entryway.

Knocking on Bristol’s door he waited a moment before letting himself in. He sucked in a breath of air before exploding. “Dude that’s my sister.”

“And your point is” Beckett demanded draping a casual arm around Bristol’s shoulders.

“Get your hands off her” he demanded taking a menacing step forward.

“Don’t you think that’s up to her” Beckett smirked confidently up at the older boy.

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“Where’s Adalynn” Rush asked abruptly changing the subject.

“She went to get drinks” Bristol explained sounding shy and a little guilty.

“I bet you put her up to it” Rush glared at the other boy.

“It’s just a kiss” Beckett replied nonchalantly “there’s nothing wrong with kissing.”

Bristol frowned squirming out from beneath his arms. “I thought you liked me.”

“I do babe” he leaned in close puckering his lips as if getting ready to kiss her.

“Eew dude not in front of me” Rush moaned.

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“Then leave so it won’t be in front of you” he suggested his eyes never leaving Bristol’s lips.

Bristol seemed to be mesmerized by the nearness of the boys lips so close to hers as her head tilted to the side. She wanted this, didn’t she? She tried to ignore all the conflicting thoughts shouting at her. All the books she had read said the first kiss was supposed to be special, magical. At this moment with her heart pounding and her brother glaring at her with disapproval it was anything but the moment she imagined it would be. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea” she mumbled sliding from the couch in time for Beckett to smash his face into the cushions.

“Hey what gives” he cried face a dark crimson. “It’s not funny” he raged at Rush who was doubled over laughing.

“What’s going in here” Adalynn asked upon opening the door with an armful of soda’s.

“Your brother was trying to kiss my sister” Rush gulped for air laughing harder.

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“You idiot” she said her voice taking on a scolding tone. “She’s just a kid.”

“I’m fourteen” Bristol hugged her arms around herself “I’m not a kid. I’m a young woman.” She blinked as everyone burst into giggles at her proclamation. “Get out all of you” she screamed flopping onto her bed burying her face into the pillow.

“Look what you did” Beckett glared at Rush as if he too hadn’t been laughing along with the others.

“Me? What about you” Rush glared back at the boy “you’re the one trying to kiss a little girl.”

“She’s not a little girl anymore” Beckett objected not seeing how contradictory his actions were.

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“Just because she’s gotten boobs doesn’t make her a woman” Adalynn smacked her brother upside his head. “You should have known better.”

“You’re just jealous” Beckett grumbled crossing his arms.

“Dude so not cool” Rush scowled at him before going over to comfort Adalynn. She moved easily into his arms, crying softly.

“I’m watching you. No monkey business” Beckett fumed.

“Really” Rush asked looking surprised that Beckett would even think that he would take advantage of the situation like that.

“Hands north of the equator” Beckett ordered protectively.

“I’m not a pervert” Rush grumbled “unlike someone I know.”

“Whatever” Beckett mumbled shoving his hands in his pockets staring at the floor.

***

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Once Beckett and Adalynn left with their parents it was time for their weekend movie marathon. Bristol turned the lights down low while Rush popped the popcorn. When everything was ready they began watching the first movie only the sounds of their munching breaking the silence. Bristol giggled turning to her brother who was doing the same. Neither one needed to be told what the rhythmic tapping coming from their parents room was.

“It’s amazing we don’t have more little brothers or sisters running around” Rush said with a conspiratorial grin.

“I know right” she laughed with him. “When I was little I used to think a monster was trapped inside the wall. The tapping was the monster trying to escape.”

Rush’s eyes turned towards the movie, a teen boy was screaming while attempting to hide from his would be murderer. “Don’t you think it’s kind of nice knowing our parents still love each other as much as they do?” he asked keeping his tone low as if he were afraid someone might overhear him.

“Yeah I guess” she shrugged “I never thought too much about it.”

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Nodding Rush knew she was like most kids taking their parents for granted. “Maybe you should think about it” he suggested “you’re not a little kid anymore.” He fell silent images of the movie passing in an unseen blur. “Did you really want Beckett to kiss you?”

“Yes” she said her chin jutting out defiantly. Sighing she relaxed “at least I thought I did.” She pulled her knees into her chest “when the moment came and his lips were puckered up and ready it suddenly didn’t feel right. I don’t know, maybe I’m not as grown up as I thought.”

He gave her a gentle nudge “I hope when the time is right that your fist kiss will be with someone you really like.”

“I like Beckett” she cried almost defensively.

“Does he like you” he asked.

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“Well I … don’t know.”

“I hope the next time you’re about to kiss some guy that you do know” Rush said “you deserve the moment to be special.”

“How old were you when you had your first kiss” she asked turning to watch him instead of the movie.

Keeping his eyes on the TV he watched a young blond girl go screaming to her death. “Sixteen” he whispered.

She gave him a curious look like she suspected there was more if she only knew the right questions to ask. “What was it like?

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His fingers traced his lips. His eyes had a dreamy unfocused quality to them as he said “it was good. Unexpected but good.”

Raising an eyebrow she asked “were you in love?”

A sad almost melancholy sigh escaped him. “I thought I was” he reached for the popcorn bowl. Looking up he accused “you ate it all.”

“It wasn’t me” she giggled as she munched on the last of the popcorn. “Want me to make some more?”

“You better” he threw a few kernels at her that had fallen onto the seat cushions.

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A few minutes later Bristol plopped down beside him with a bowlful of freshly popped corn. “Are you going to tell me who the mystery guy was?”

“What makes you think it was a guy” he asked his lips twitching at the corners.

“Girl then” she pushed his shoulder “whatever.”

They both managed to remain silent to the end of the movie. “What’s next” she asked as he got up to change movies. “This would be so much better if we had Simflix.”

“Yeah it would but suck it up” he grimaced at the next movie as he picked up the case. A bloody chainsaw was on the front cover.

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“I bet it was Missy” she said suddenly “you remember the girl who chased all the boys at recess….”

“How can I forget” he moaned.

“What’s the problem” she asked “it’s not like she ever caught anyone.” She gasped as he averted his eyes and his hands shook putting the movie into the blue ray. “OMG she did catch someone didn’t she? You?” Her laughter filled the room “how did I not know this?”
Glaring at her he slumped onto the couch “can we not talk about this?”

“Why are you so upset” she asked “it happened years ago. I bet no one even remembers.”

“Yeah right” he grunted wishing that were true. Unfortunately Missy’s little brother was on the basketball team and made sure everyone knew what Missy did all those years ago.

***

“Awe” Britland put a hand out touching Carson’s arm “isn’t that adorable?”

Grunting Carson smiled over at him “don’t you think they’re getting too old for this?”

“For what? Staying up late and passing out on the couch.” Britland shrugged “not really. I’d rather have them here than out partying somewhere.”

“I almost wish Rush was out partying” Carson said following Britland into the kitchen “at least then he’d have some friends.”

“He has us, his sister and Beckett and Adalynn.”

“Yeah I guess. They don’t live around here though” Carson chewed on his bottom lip. “I hoped when he got on the basketball team he’d make some friends.”

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Britland glanced over at his husband a worried frown forming. “I don’t think Rush is hurting for friends and I have a feeling he’s not that happy being on the team.”

“Yeah you’re probably right” he sighed “he has so much talent though.”

“I think he likes the game. He just doesn’t have the competitive spirit.” Britland gave Carson a reassuring smile “I think he just prefers to play for fun without the pressure of having to be the best and winning.”

“You’re right that’s not him” he leaned against the counter. “I hoped he’d have an easier time in school than we did.”

“Dad” they both looked up startled by the sound of their son’s voice.

“What is it son” Britland asked recovering first.

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“I heard you talking about me” he looked towards the floor to avoid seeing the disappointment in his parents eyes. Overhearing them discussing the basketball team had encouraged him to speak up. Taking a deep breath he asked “would you be terribly disappointed if I quit?”

“Is that what you want” Britland asked.

“Yes but I’ll play if you want me to” Rush added rapidly. “I know it cost a lot for me to play and you’d be out all that money if I quit.”

“Rush” Carson cut him off “the only thing that matters is your happiness. If you don’t want to play don’t feel obligated to continue because you think that’s what we want.” He glanced over at Britland than back to their son “we love you. We’re proud of you no matter what you do.”

“Really” his voice sounded relieved “I was so afraid you’d be disappointed in me.”

“In you never” Britland assured him. “Your dad and I will always be your biggest fans regardless of what you do.”

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“What your father said” Carson said with a smile “but I need to know if this decision is being prompted because you’re being bullied by the team.” Over the years Rush had been a favorite victim of the meaner bigger kids at school. “If you are you need to tell us so we can help.”

“Um” he glanced into the living room where he could see Bristol stretching and yawning as she stirred to life. “No. I mean the guys are jealous of all the attention I’ve been getting…”

“What about the coach” Britland inquired “doesn’t he do anything about it?”

“He’s part of the problem, telling everyone we have no hope of winning if I don’t play.” He tried to have a nonchalant attitude “he’s going to be furious when I tell him.”

“You can’t play a game just because the coach wants you to” Britland said. “It’s your decision and we’ll back you no matter what.”

“If you need to give the coach a reason, tell him we made you quit.” Carson suggested “tell him you need to concentrate on your studies.”

“Thanks Dad” the relief in his voice was all the confirmation they needed that he wasn’t telling them everything. “I really appreciate this.”

“Breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes” Britland said “why don’t you go and get dressed.”

“Love you guys” Rush smiled his thanks to them before walking away.

When they were alone Carson came up behind Britland wrapping his arms around him. “You think there’s more to his decision to quit don’t you?”

“I think we gave him a way out of a bad situation” Britland leaned into his husband “he’ll be ok.”

“Yeah I think you’re right” Carson kissed his cheek “I wish I knew exactly what was going on though.”

“Give him time” Britland advised. “Rush will tell us when he’s ready. I’m willing to let him solve his own problems. If he needs help he’ll tell us.”

“And we’ll be here when he does” Carson added.

“Always” Britland agreed.

Chapter 24 – The Stranger /

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Britland – Chapter 24 – The Stranger

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“Hey old man” Felix said in way of greeting as he and his family entered Britland’s backyard.

“Careful who you’re calling old” Carson cautioned giving the smaller man a glare.

“The big three oh” Felix continued with a devil-may-care grin. “That’s huge. I mean that’s old.”

“Your day is coming little man” Carson glowered turning back to the grill.

“By that time you’ll be what?” Felix paused for effect. Grinning when he had everyone’s attention he continued “halfway to forty?”

“Thirty-three is not half way to forty” Carson grumbled flipping the steaks.

“You’re right it’s not” Felix conceded “but what’s a couple of years?”

“Honey” Crystal warned coming along side her husband “maybe you should cool it with the old man talk.”

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Frowning he glanced down at her. “Are trying to tell me I’m going overboard?”

Raising a hand she gauged the distance between her thumb and index finger “just a little dear.”

“Alright I’m sorry” he sighed. He gave her a contrite peck on the cheek. Over the seven years of their marriage Crystal had a way of helping him see when he was becoming obnoxious. Her gentle rebukes kept him from making enemies of their closest friends.

“Don’t tell me” she chided “tell him.” She pointed “apologize to him.”

“Sorry” he mumbled in the direction of Carson’s back.

“What kind of sorry ass apology is that” Carson demanded handing Britland the steaks and putting on some hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids.

“The only kind you’re going to get from me” Felix said with a grin.

“I tell the kids if you’re going to apologize you should at least make it sound like you’re sorry” Carson raised an eyebrow at him. “You sound more like you’re afraid of your wife than sorry for hurting my feelings.”

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“Were your feelings hurt” Felix asked. “I had no idea you were so sensitive about your age.”

“I’m not” he objected.

“You are” Felix insisted “otherwise you wouldn’t be so grumpy now.”

“Cool it you two” Britland glared at his best friend “this is supposed to be a party not a pissing match between the two of you.”

“Babe you’re absolutely right” Carson set his grilling tongs down to pull the blonde close.

“I’m sorry” he murmured before kissing Britland in front of everyone in the yard.

“Eew gross” Beckett complained loudly.

“I think its sweet” Adalynn said pretending to swoon.

“Hey dumb dumb you supposed to catch her” Beckett jabbed Rush in the side.

 

“How was I supposed to know that” Rush demanded glaring at the other boy.

“Girls always swoon over mush like that and expect us to catch them.” Beckett gave his friend a penetrating look “don’t you know anything?”

“More than you” he mumbled shoving his hands inside his pants pockets. Somehow Beckett always found a way of making him feel stupid.

“Prove it” Beckett challenged the older boy.

Rush held his ground staring at the younger boy. Even though Beckett was two years younger he was an inch or two taller. A fact that made Rush feel even smaller for his age. Before things could escalate further Rush looked down when someone took his hand. He met his sister’s eyes. They were round with fear “don’t fight” she pleaded.

 

His body relaxed as the anger seemed to melt from him. “I’m hungry” he announced “let’s get something to eat.” He smiled down at her. When she returned his smile he knew he had made the right decision.

“Don’t walk away from me” Beckett called after him “this isn’t over.”

“Give it a rest” Adalynn advised “we’re supposed to be friends remember?”

“We are” Beckett said “it’s just a friendly challenge. I know I’m smarter than him.”

“Are not” his twin contradicted.

“I am” he insisted stomping his foot to emphasize his words.

“You’re not even as smart as me” Adalynn giggled “otherwise you wouldn’t need me to do your homework.”

“There’s a difference between not knowing how and not wanting to do something” he pointed out.

Her eyes narrowed “then you won’t mind doing your own homework from now on.”

“Whatever” he mumbled.

***

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“Daddy” Rush began then stopped. Fiddling with his fingers he stared at the floor.

“What is it son” Carson asked turning from the sink, tossing his towel aside to give his son his undivided attention.

“When will I get bigger” he raised his light green eyes from his toes to meet his dad’s gaze.

Carson could see the anguish in the light green eyes. It reminded him of the many times Britland had looked at him in the same way when they first met. “Everyone grows at a different rate. You’ll get bigger when the time is right.”

“But when” his voice rose as his bottom lip quivered and his eyes became moist with tears.

From experience Carson knew a hug wouldn’t fix the problem. No matter how much he wanted to just pull his son close and tell him everything would be ok. “Follow me son” he led the way to the living room where he sat on the couch. “When I was your age I was small for my age too.”

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Rush jerked his chin up “you were? But you’re so big now.”

“I grew up.” He smiled gently at his son “you’ll grow up to.”

“I wish I were big now” he mumbled slumping back on the couch.

“I know it sucks that you have to wait but it’ll happen.” He noticed Bristol quietly playing with dolls in the corner of the room where her dollhouse was set up. “Did something happen…”

“No” Rush replied hastily.

Bristol turned from her dolls “that’s not true. Beckett was being mean today.”

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“Don’t” Rush warned glaring across the room at her.

“But he was” she insisted determined to tell now that she started. “He was picking on Rush for being littler than him and he’s only six.”

Rush groaned burying his face in the couch cushions.

“Thank you sweetie” Carson smiled at her. The worried frown relaxed as she smiled back obviously relieved she wasn’t in trouble for being a tattle tale. “Why don’t you go help Daddy with the dishes?”

“Ok” she said easily as she carefully put her dolls away.

“Don’t be upset with your sister” Carson admonished the back of his son’s purple head, his face hidden inside the couch. “I need to know these things so I can help you. You don’t have to hurt alone.”

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“I wasn’t hurt” he denied his voice muffled “besides they’re just words.”

“Stop right there” Carson ordered. “You and I both know words hurt. Don’t try to pretend otherwise.” He considered his young son a moment. Beckett had the same lack of empathy his father had. They both had the ability to go overboard when they were teasing someone. He’d have to discuss this with Britland later. Right now he was more concerned with how to extract Rush from the seat cushions.

Sitting up Rush wiped at his red rimmed eyes. “I don’t want to be little any more.”

“I know” Carson kept his voice solemn not wanting to give his son the impression he was making fun of him or taking his situation lightly. “I can’t make you grow faster. I wish I could. That part of growing up is out of my control.”

“What can I do” he cried in near panic. “It’s not just Beckett. He’s tame compared to the kids at school. Most of the girls are bigger than me.” His cheeks reddened as his thoughts went to how Missy had thrown him over her shoulder and carried him across the playground like some sort of crazy cave woman. It hadn’t been so bad up until that happened.

“How about taking karate lessons” Carson asked “just don’t go around karate chopping everything and everyone.”

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“Not even Missy?”

Carson looked over his shoulder where his husband and daughter were finishing up the dishes. He was inclined to give Rush his approval. The girl was built like a tank and was at least two years older. “You have my permission to protect yourself. If Missy tries to pick you up again you do whatever’s necessary to prevent that from happening again.”

“I don’t want to hurt her” Rush said quietly “she is after all a girl even if she is mean.”

“I’m sure you’ll learn how to defend yourself by other means then hitting in karate” Carson assured him. “Come here and give your old man a hug.”

“You’re not old” Rush protested as he wrapped his arms around him “you’re the best.”

Carson watched him walk away after that towards his room. He smiled thinking that only his son would be concerned about hurting someone who had made his life miserable at school. Missy’s parents had done little if anything to correct their daughter’s behavior. She chased after all the boys. Rush just happened to be the unlucky one she had been able to catch.

***

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“What are you smiling about?” Britland asked as he sat beside Carson on the couch.

“Don’t be shocked when you get calls from the school….” He stopped laughing at the exasperated expression Britland gave him.

“Why would they be calling” he prompted.

“I told Rush he could do whatever was necessary to keep Missy from picking him up.” He could see the instant disapproval in Britland’s gentle green eyes. “Don’t worry. Rush is as tender-hearted as you. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“That’s something at least but I don’t understand.” He shook his head at his husband. “If he doesn’t like the idea of hurting anyone why will the school be calling?”

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“Karate.”

He gave Carson a dubious look “is that supposed to be a joke?”

Shaking his head Carson pulled the blonde into his lab. “No it’s not. I think it’ll be a good idea for him to feel he can protect himself. It’ll help him build up his confidence. I think once he knows he can defend himself if necessary then he’ll have a lot less problems with the other kids.”

Wrapping his arms around his husband’s neck Britland stared thoughtfully into Carson’s eyes. “Alright we’ll give it a try.” He raised a finger to Carson’s lips before the other man could say anything. “If we get any calls from irate parents you get to talk to them.”

“Deal.” In one swift move Carson rolled Britland onto the couch beneath him. “Now I want to unwrap my birthday present.” He pressed his lips to Britland’s muffling any response he may have wanted to make.

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Once his husband released his lips Britland smirked up at him. “This is no place to be unwrapping presents.”

“I think right here is perfect” he reached for Britlands belt buckle as his lips moved down his neck. His fingers from his other hand skimming beneath his shirt.

Moaning with desire Britland ran his hands up Carson’s back releasing his hair from its clip. The click of his buckle releasing jolting him back to reality. “Not here. The kids” he whispered.

“They’re asleep” Carson groaned his hands gliding over Britland’s body.

Squirming beneath the larger the man Britland could feel himself relenting, wanting, needing more of this man’s touch. Only the thought of the kids coming out and seeing them. Plus the knowledge that he’d never be able to see the kids sitting on the couch again without seeing what they did on it kept him from giving in. “The bedroom. Please.” It was a weak request. They both knew a little persuasion and his reserves would break.

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Sitting back with effort Carson brushed his hair back. “I know what you’re thinking” he smiled. Standing he held his hand out to Britland.

Taking it Britland asked “what am I thinking?”

“You’re remembering how grossed out you were seeing Felix doing the neighbor on the couch.” He swept Britland into his arms “and you don’t want to traumatize the children the same way.”

“You know me too well” he leaned his head onto Carson’s shoulder. After a moment he stretched to place his lips close to Carson’s ear whispering “bedroom. Now.”

The need and urgency in the low husky whisper was all Carson needed to propel him forward. “Your wish is my command” he said his voice deep with desire.

***

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“Can I go outside” Rush closed his book with a decisive thud. He sighed turning sideways to look out the window where he could see the sun shining brightly, inviting him outside to enjoy its late afternoon glow.

“Is your homework finished” Britland asked trying not to be swayed by the wistful look on his son’s face.

“Yyyeah”

The slight stutter was enough for Britland to frown. “You know the rules. Homework first. Then play.”

“I know it’s just” he sighed. He hated reading. Well that’s not exactly true. It was mostly just this one book. “I have to read” he mumbled looking longingly out the window.

“Is it the same book” Britland asked. He smothered a smile at the woeful face his son was giving him. Knowing he might regret this decision he asked “if I let you go outside to play for an hour will you promise to read your book when it’s time to come back inside?”

“Yes” he smiled jumping from his chair to throw his arms around his dad. “You’re the best.”

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“I thought that was your other dad” Britland chuckled as the little arms squeezed tighter.

“Your both the bestest” Rush enthused “just in different ways.”

Ruffling his son’s hair Britland smiled “hurry up and go outside. Enjoy yourself.”

Without further encouragement Rush ran for the door. The first thing he did was look around to find Bristol. Calling her name he walked towards the swing set first. He found her near the gate instead talking to a blonde man in a suit.

Calling her name again she jumped moving a few steps away from the man. “That’s my brother Rush” she said to the man.

Coming to a stop beside his sister Rush eyed the man. “We’re not supposed to talk to strangers” he informed them.

“He’s not a stranger” she protested “he’s our grandpa.”

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“Who told you that” he demanded reaching for her hand before she was able to unlatch the gate.

“He did” she pointed at the pleasant seeming older man.

“He’s lying” Rush assured her.

“It could be true” she insisted “we’ve never met this grandpa from the city before.”

The way she said it made it sound like he was from another world. “Go get Daddy” Rush told her “he’ll be able to tell us if he’s really our grandpa.”

“But he’s…”

“Just do it Bristol” he growled “for all we know he could be some weirdo who takes kids from their homes. He could be lying when he said he was our grandpa.” Pushing the girl towards the house he repeated “go get Daddy.”

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Bristol took one last suspicious look at the blonde man before turning and running towards the house. The man smiled down at Rush. “You’re pretty smart. I knew you would be.” He reached over the gate to unlatch it from the outside.

“Stay back” Rush warned taking the one karate stance he had learned so far in his lessons.

“I’m not here to hurt you” the man gave him a friendly smile “I am your grandfather.”

“I don’t care. I don’t know you” Rush kept a wary eye on the man as he came closer “I’ll scream if you come any closer.”

Putting his hands up he chuckled a little. He took a moment to look around the yard. Grunting he muttered “this is what my son wanted to give you. My grandson living in this middle class mediocrity.” Turning his gaze back to the boy “you could have so much more than this. Come with me and I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted.” He held his hand out as if he was sure Rush would accept this offer.

“Anything” Rush asked “including a puppy.” He relaxed just enough  for the man to grab him. Panic gripped him as the man started to pull him towards the gate he’d left open. Rush heard the back door of the house open and close. He knew Daddy was coming. A hand went around his mouth as he tried to scream.

“Let him go” Britland yelled running towards them.

 

Rush’s eyes grew wide at how angry and scared his daddy sounded. He’d never heard him sound like that before.

“He’s my grandson” the man hauled Rush closer to the open gate. A car with dark windows was parked nearby.

Rush could see the fear in his dad’s eyes as one of the car doors opened and someone got out. Desperate now Rush kicked out with his feet smashing into the man’s knee. He could feel the man’s grip relax enough for him to wriggle free but it wasn’t enough. Someone grabbed his ankle dragging him across the ground. “Daddy help. Don’t let him take me.”

After that he wasn’t sure what happened. There were a lot of feet he had to dodge to keep from being trampled. People were shouting and yelling. Over all was the welcome sound of police sirens coming to the rescue.

The silence afterwards was almost worse than the fighting. Daddy had blood running down the side of his face. The strangers had been handcuffed and standing to the side glaring at everyone. “Daddy” he whispered clutching his hand “he’s not really my grandpa is he?” He could see the answer in his dad’s eyes before he even opened his mouth. It made is stomach burn and rumble uneasily that he could be related to someone so awful.

“I wish I could tell you differently” Britland knelt beside him drawing him close. “I want you to remember that being a grandpa is more than just sharing the same blood.”

Sniffing Rush snuggled deeper into his dad’s arms seeking warmth and safety. “He didn’t act like a grandpa should. I don’t like him.”

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“Oh my gawd” Carson’s strained voice made them both look up.

Standing Britland hurried over to meet him with Rush in his arms. “We’re ok” he assured him.

Touching Britland’s bruised and bleeding face Carson blinked back tears. “Did did my da…that man do this to you?”

“You should have seen him dad” Rush interrupted “Daddy wouldn’t let that man take me. I even used some karate on them. It slowed him down some.” He leaned over wrapping his arms around Carson’s neck.

Britland let Carson take Rush from his arms sensing they needed each other. “Go inside. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”

Nodding Carson walked inside too stunned to object. He found Bristol standing by a window watching everything..

It was late by the time Britland made it inside for the night. The police had left and Bristol was with her grandparents for the night. He shivered trying not to dwell on how close they had come to losing their son that day. Walking into the bedroom found his husband and son sound asleep each clutching tightly to the other. With a soft smile he realized that was the best ending he could have wished for under the circumstances.

Chapter 23 – Sand in the Sheets / Chapter 25 – Growing Pains

Britland – Chapter 23 – Sand in the Sheets

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“What” Carson smirked catching Britland staring at him.

“Nothing” he shook his head turning away his cheeks turning a brilliant green.

Reaching across, Carson gently tilted Britland’s chin up. “Tell me” he requested softly.

“Really it’s nothing” he turned to snuggle into Carson’s side emitting a contented sigh.

“Do I need to remind you of your promise” he asked tenderly kissing the tip of Britland’s nose.

“Don’t you believe me” he asked his bottom lip sticking out.

“It’s not that I don’t believe you” he leaned up on his elbow gazing down at Britland’s face. “I know you. You hold things inside. If there’s a problem I’d like to know so we can work through it together.”

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Gazing up into Carson’s gentle eyes the corners of his mouth quirking upwards. His right hand traveled lazily up his husband’s arm to his head where his fingers gently played in his short hair. “It’s nothing really” he bit his bottom lip. His fingers continued to play in Carson’s short hair. “Why did you cut your hair?” He glanced away not wanting to pressure Carson into answering. “I know you said you wanted a change but” sighing he returned his gaze to Carson’s face. “I think there’s more to it than that.”

Carson ran his fingers across Britland’s chest, drawing circles here and there. After a moment he met Britland’s eyes. His eyes had a far away sad look to them “I couldn’t look in a mirror without seeing him. My Uncle” he added as if Britland needed an explanation who him was.

Britland had to strain to him as he was talking so low. When it was apparent he was done Britland asked. “Is that why you thought I thought you’d become like your Uncle?” The tiny flicker in Carson’s downcast eyes was his only answer. “I never thought that. I never doubt you with our son. I know he’s safe with you.”

The small sad smile that came and went tugged at Britland’s heart. “When I first cut my hair it was liberating.” He sat up on the beach towel they had been lying on. A slight breeze lifting the short strands of hair whipping them across his forehead. “It was like I was cutting all ties with the past.” He chuckled sadly “a lot to ask from a little old hair cut I know.”

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Taking his hand Britland sat beside him letting his presence say what he couldn’t. After a while he pressed his lips to Carson’s cheek “what about now? Why don’t you grow it out?”

“I…” he took in a deep breath exhaling it slowly “I’m afraid of looking in the mirror and seeing him staring back at me.” His fingers played in the short strands of hair tugging on them. “It’s kind of silly isn’t it?”

“No” he shook his head. Standing he held his hand out “let’s go for a stroll along the beach.”

Taking his husband’s hand Carson walked side by side with the blonde. Their shoulders brushing the other. Dark clouds were moving across the mainland. “Looks like we might get some rain” Britland observed.

“Do you want to go back to the room” Carson asked putting an arm around Britland’s waist.

“Not really” he sighed trying to retrace their steps. “I guess we should if we don’t want to get wet.”

“It’ll give us an excuse to use the hot tub” Carson said turning and retracing their steps back to their beach towel.

“Since when do you need an excuse” Britland huffed. “I bet we’ve used it every night since we got here.”

“I’m going to really miss it” he turned giving Britland his best sad puppy eyes.

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“We can always use the hot tub at my parents place” he suggested.

Groaning Carson rolled his eyes “that’s not the same and you know it.”

“Well it’s not like we don’t … you know” his cheeks darkened as he struggled to put into words what they’d been using the hot tub for. “There are other places for that kind of thing.”

Touching his cheek Carson laughed, a deep jovial sound. “I do love that color on you” he pulled Britland flush with his body. “I really can’t wait to get back to our room” his fingers slipped skimmed past the elastic band of Britland’s shorts. His mouth already seeking the blondes making them both moan.

Gently Britland brought his hands up between them. “Not here” his eyes darting around the deserted beach.

“No one’s here” Carson leaned in close kissing Britland’s smooth skin along his neck to his shoulders. “Throw caution to the wind and do something wild and carefree.”

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Desperately Britland struggled to retain control as Carson’s mouth and hands were stoking the fires of passion. The sound of the ocean waves crashing onto the nearby rocks and the rolling thunder of the approaching storm was almost a match to his wildly beating heart. “Over there” he pointed towards some rocks where he hoped would give them a little privacy.

“I don’t know if I can last that long” Carson pressed his lips against Britland’s driving his tongue deep within him.

“Try” he gasped breathless pushing Carson in the direction he wanted him to go. His skin was flushed, needing to feel Carson’s touch he tried to melt into the magic of his touch. His shorts slipped lower on his hips as Carson’s hands slipped inside. “Almost there” he panted almost giving in to his growing excitement.

The first raindrops fell as they lay comfortably in each others arms, spent from the culmination of their desires. “We should get up” Carson yawned stretching.

“I can’t” Britland whined “someone’s laying on top of me.”

“Then you can’t prevent me from doing this” he leaned in quick giving Britland a heated kiss that stoked the embers of desire between them.

“You’re insatiable” Britland laughed beneath him. “Thanks to this little escapade I now have sand in places I never imagined I could.”

“I have to admit I’m surprised you actually had sex on the beach.” He pressed his lips to his husband’s collar-bone feeling Britland’s heart beat increase.

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The sand beneath was becoming damp from the steady sprinkle from the incoming storm. Britland pushed against Carson’s weight. “As much as I’d love to go another round I really don’t want mud in the same places where I have sand.”

“The rain will wash you clean” Carson argued undaunted.

“You my dear husband are a bad influence” he laughed wiggling from beneath the larger man. “If you want round two you’ll come with me to our room.” He made sure his shorts were secure before taking off running.

Shaking his head Carson called out “what do I get if I beat you back to the room?”

Looking over his shoulder Britland shouted back “round three.”

***

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Six weeks later Britland stood outside a house on the outskirts of Riverview. His hands were being squeezed tightly by the man beside him. Turning his head he glanced up at his husband “isn’t this exciting? Our very first house together.”

Grunting Carson turned his gaze from the small house to the blonde at his side. “To be honest I’m terrified.”

“Why” Britland asked without thinking. When Carson didn’t respond he continued on a little more cautiously. “Is it because your Uncle used to live here? Not here here but in this town.”

“That’s part of it” he shrugged inhaling deeply. “You’re going to think it’s silly.” Carson looked around, the only sounds to be heard the chirping of the birds in the trees and the gentle rustle of leaves as the wind blew through the limbs. “It’s too quiet here. I’m a city boy. It’s feels strange not to here the buzz of cars and the sound of people going on about their day.”

“I never thought about it but you’re right, it is quiet. It was one of the things I missed living in Bridgeport” he admitted. “Just wait until night-time when the wolves are howling” he couldn’t resist teasing Carson just a little.

Carson’s eyes darted around the yard “do you think we should put up a fence?”

“There’s nothing to worry about unless we plan on getting chickens” Britland assured him. “The wolves don’t often come near people. The kids will be perfectly safe playing the yard.”

“Kids” Carson repeated putting his arms around the blonde. “Last time I checked we only had one.”

“Maybe it’s time you counted again” Britland challenged attempting to maintain a straight face.

“Is this your way of telling me you’re pregnant” Carson asked excitement building inside him.

Nodding Britland beamed up at him. “I think it was that day on the beach.”

“How do you feel about it” he asked in concern. “I know you wanted to wait a little longer. At least until after we had settled into the new house.”

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Britland smiled raising a hand over Carson’s moving lips to shush him. “That doesn’t matter now. I’m happy about this. We’ll manage getting everything set up before the baby comes.”

Glancing around the yard Carson lips twitching he asked “where’s the pod that stole my husband.” He ducked as Britland swatted at him “you’re always the one wanting things to be a certain way.”

“Like I said on our honeymoon. You’re a bad influence” Britland teased.

“I’ve heard that before” Carson smirked “but you still love me right?” His tone was half teasing half serious, his deep-seated insecurity bubbling up.

“More than anything” he took Carson’s hand and led him into the house. “I want to show you something.” He stopped in front of a closed-door. Turning to Carson he instructed “close your eyes.”

“Why” Carson demanded “I know what’s in there.”

“Do you” Britland challenged “what exactly do you think you’ll find in there?”

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“Boxes and boxes of stuff we have yet to put away.” Grinning he continued “maybe a bed beneath all the stuff piled on top of it.”

“You could be wrong” the blonde smiled his back to the door “close your eyes or you’ll never find out.”

With a long-suffering groan Carson closed his eyes. He felt Britland take his hand and lead him inside the room. “Alright you can open your eyes now.” Opening his eyes he couldn’t keep from smiling “wow” he blinked “you’ve been busy.”

“Mom helped” Britland looked away blushing “do you really like it?”

Turning he took Britland’s hand “it’s perfect.” He could see the uncertainty drain from around Britland’s eyes.

Taking a step forward Britland tugged on Carson’s shirt pulling it free from his jeans. “Good” his fingers grazed the skin beneath.

“I have a feeling showing me our finished room isn’t the only reason why we’re here.” He helped Britland pull his shirt over his head.

“Nope” he leaned in close almost knocking Carson onto the bed.

“What about Rush” Carson asked before giving into the moment.

“He’s with his grandparents for the weekend” Britland crawled on top of him on the bed. “We’re supposed to be getting the house move in ready.”

Rolling Britland over Carson smirked down at the blonde. He wasted no time capturing his soft, supple lips muffling any other words Britland might have said. When he pulled away he could see desire darkening Britland’s eyes “I see you have picked up on a few of my bad habits” he teased.

“The worst ones I’m afraid” he admitted working on unbuttoning Carson’s jeans.

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“I think I like this new you” he grinned helping Britland remove his jeans. When that was accomplished he pulled Britland’s hands over his head, his free hand roaming up the blonde’s body before pressing his lips to Britlands. His roaming hand found its way inside Britland’s shirt causing the younger man to moan inside his mouth. “We may need more than a weekend to get the house ready” he mumbled as he pulled Britland’s shirt off.

“That can be arranged. Mom said she’s available to babysit whenever we need.” He lifted his hips allowing Carson to remove his pants.

“There are definite advantages to living near willing babysitters” Carson gazed down his husband eyes bright with the love and desire he had for the man. “I thought the room was perfect.” He moved his hands across the blonde’s smooth skin “it doesn’t compare to you.”

***

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Felix sat beside his wife while the kids played nearby. He took her hand, his eyes crinkled as he smiled down at her. “Have I told you how much I love you lately?” he asked.

Tilting her head to the side, she pondered his question. “Not today” she giggled as he pulled her close. “The kids are watching” she admonished him as his fingers skimmed beneath her shirt.

Groaning he let her wriggle free. “Where are your parents when we need them?” he complained.

“They’ll be back in a week” she shook her head at him. “I know it’ll be difficult but please try to behave until then.”

“A week” he whined “that’s like forever.”

“Daddy” Adalynn toddled over to them “no whining.”

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“Yeah” Beckett nodded falling to the ground. “Mama says no one likes a whiner.”

Adalynn nodded in agreement. Giving Crystal a sideways glance “I’m not whining.” At the sound of her laughter he smiled blowing air through his nose. “Maybe I am just a little but a week is going to tax my patience.”

“Daddy” Beckett called “come play.”

“Please” Adalynn added clapping her hands together.

“How did I become their playmate” he asked Crystal hoping she would rescue him.

“Don’t pretend you don’t enjoy it” she gave him a little push. “You love it when they want you to play with them.”

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Grinning as he got up to join his children he remembered a time when he had thought kids would be a fate worse than death. It ranked up their with being married. Six years ago he thought he had it made. An apartment in the city. A fake ID card and access to any woman he could ever want. He thought he was happy. Today he was a happily married man. The father of two. He’d never been happier.

Crystal had shown him what he had been missing in his life. Things he never knew he needed or wanted. He never would have imagined this life for himself. Leaning down he whispered something in his son’s ear.

Grinning Beckett filled the air with his high-pitched giggle. Adalynn watched with large round eyes taking Felix’s hand.

Looking down at her a frown flickered across his brow. Her hand was warm and sticky he couldn’t help but wonder what she had gotten into. He resisted the urge to either wipe his hand off or take her over to the public restroom to wash her hands off. Doing either one would extinguish the little girls radiant smile.

“Mama come” Beckett held his little hand out to her his eyes pleading.

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Crystal gave Felix a suspicious look like she knew he had put their son up to something. “What did you tell him to do?”

“Nothing” he shrugged pretending an innocence he didn’t have.

“You did I know you” she sat back crossing her legs. “I want to read my book” she explained opening a book she had been trying to read for the past month.

“Mama please” Adalynn chimed in holding her free hand out to Crystal.

She stuck a finger in her book marking her place. “What are we doing” she asked still sitting on the bench.

“Mama we go” Beckett bounced up and down unable to stand still.

“Where are we going” she asked staring at her husband.

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“Walk” Beckett pointed towards a path “there.”

“Alright” she put a bookmark where her finger had been before replacing the book in her bag. Walking towards them she gave Felix a stern look “you knew I wanted to finish my book.”

He shrugged nonchalantly letting the kids do the pleading for him.

“Please mama” Beckett begged taking her hand.

“Please mama” Adalynn mimicked her brother.

“How can I refuse” she glanced down at her children then meeting Felix’s gaze.

Smirking he leaned over giving her a soft peck on the cheek “you can’t. I’m irresistible.”

Chapter 22 – What’s Your Price / Chapter 24 – The Stranger

Britland – Chapter 22 – What’s Your Price?

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Britland pushed the magazine aside tired of the abundance of never-ending choices. “Tell me again why we can’t have a simple justice of the peace wedding?”

Carson grunted unintelligibly from his position in the living room. He was on his back lifting Rush into the air with his legs. “We waited long enough for this day. We deserve something special.”

“It will be special regardless of where we get married” Britland grumbled moving into the living room. “What does it matter if we’re wearing a tux or a nice suit?”

“Or nothing at all” Carson’s eyes sparkled with mischief.

“Rush Daddy’s being silly” Britland snorted giving his fiance an irritated look.

“We could have a location wedding” Carson continued as if Britland wasn’t glaring at him. “A nudist beach. It would be legal and warm.”

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“Absolutely not” Britland tossed the offending magazine towards Carson’s head. It fell harmlessly to the floor missing him by a foot. “You could help with the planning” he huffed.

“Alright” Carson grunted lifting Rush into the air to the little boy’s delight. “Our wedding colors will be purple and green. More green though. Purple can be the accent color.”

“Won’t that look a little too Christmasy” Britland asked.

“So what if it does” Carson challenged “it’s our wedding. Those colors represent us. Who cares what anyone else thinks.”

“Ok smarty pants what tux should we get” Britland moved from the couch to the floor picking up the magazine from the floor in the process.

“Let’s skip the tux and go with a casual suit” Carson suggested. “Rush can wear a little suit with a bow tie. He’ll be adorable.”

“No” Rush nodded his head vigorously in response, making both his parents laugh. They exchanged amused glances, their son’s favorite word at the moment was no. It didn’t matter what the question was the answer was always no.

“Now that we have that taken care of” Carson carefully lifted Rush from this legs and set him on the floor. He sat up crossing his legs Indian style on the floor. “Let’s discuss the honeymoon.”

Shaking his head Britland moved to get up “we can’t…”

“Why not” he demanded gently placing his hand over the blonde’s. “Give me one good reason why.”

“Rush” Britland nodded towards their son who was attempting to stand on his.

“What about him” Carson asked watching Britland’s facial expression closely. “Your parents volunteered to watch him while we’re gone.”

“I know it’s just that” his voice faded. “Rush is so active now. What if he’s too much for my dad to handle now? We can’t expect my mom to do all the work.”

“Honey” Carson scooted closer to him “you have to stop seeing your dad as an invalid. He can do almost everything we can do. He has that new lift wheel chair that allows him to stand and reach things that he wouldn’t normally be able to reach.”

“I know it’s just ….” he bit his bottom lip stifling the words he almost blurted out. He still blamed himself for what happened. He could feel Carson envelop him in his warm comforting embrace. Leaning into him Britland sighed “I love you.”

In response Carson pressed his lips to Britland’s forehead before moving to capture his lips. “I love you too” he murmured running a finger along the blonde’s jaw line. “Is that a yes” he asked peering deeply into Britland’s eyes.

“Yes we’ll have a honeymoon” Britland grinned leaning forward to resume the kiss Carson started. Groaning at the sound of someone impatiently pounding on their apartment door.

***

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“I get it” Rush yelled running for the door. Jumping to his feet Carson caught the toddler before he reached the door. “You know better than that” he scolded lifting the squirming little boy into his arms.

“No” Rush shook his head from side to side.

Ignoring him Carson opened the door. His happy grin disappeared as his eyes took in who stood in front of him. “What are you doing here” he demanded.

At the unfriendly tone Britland moved to Carson’s side worried about who had come to visit. Gasping in shock he found an older man he had only ever seen from across a court room. “I’ll take him” he murmured reaching for Rush.

“Is that” the man reached out to touch Rush “is that my grandson?”

“No” Carson crossed his arms barring entry into their apartment concerned that the man would attempt to take Rush.

“I don’t blame you for being upset” the man eyed Carson. “We need to talk son.”

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“What could you possibly have to say to me” Carson demanded. He tried to disguise the quiver present in his voice as he spoke. Catching the expression on Britland’s anxious face he knew he hadn’t succeeded.

“A few minutes is all I ask” the man persisted “please. If you still want me to go I will.”
He glanced over his shoulder locking eyes with Britland “I don’t know…”

“I’ll put Rush down for his nap” Britland offered. His eyes moved towards the man standing in their doorway. “Do you want me to come back” he asked Carson.

Nodding Carson was grateful he wouldn’t have to confront his father on his own. He stepped aside allowing the older man access into their home. “We’ll talk.”

The man stepped inside. His eyes followed Britland as he took Rush into his room. “Can I see my grandson” he asked taking a step to follow after them.

Moving quickly Carson stepped in front of him “he doesn’t like strangers.” He came up with the first excuse he could think of even though Rush was fearless when it came to meeting people. “What right do you have claiming my son when you kicked me out?”

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“I know you’re angry. You have every right to be” the man attempted to placate him. “As I said at the trial I had no choice. The past is the past. I so see no reason for you to keep me from getting to know my grandson.”

“I’ll be the judge of that” he glared at his father. “You may have fooled the judge and jury into thinking you were a victim but I’m not buying the whole act.”

“That’s part of the reason why I’m here” he turned towards Carson a contrite expression on his face. “You’re my son. I love you. I want to make amends for what I’ve done.”

“How am I supposed to believe that” Carson demanded. There was something off about this whole situation. His father’s words sounded sincere but there was a coldness in his eyes that chilled him.

The door down the hall opened and Britland emerged from their son’s room. His eye took in the defensive posture of both men. “We can talk in the living room” he suggested. He led the way and casually sat in the chair closest to the hallway not giving his soon to be father-in-law the advantage of being closer to their son’s room.

Nodding Carson appreciated how Britland had maneuvered the situation to their advantage. “Say what you came to say and go” he growled at the man he knew as his father but felt nothing but a deep loathing for.

Slowly he crossed the room taking the empty chair opposite the one Britland was sitting in. “You have a nice place here” he mumbled looking around.

***

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Carson rolled his eyes “no thanks to you” he mumbled.

“Look son, I’m sorry” he leaned forward like he intended to take Carson’s hand.

Britland watched as Carson scooted closer to the other end of the couch away from his father. “You don’t get to call him that” he found himself saying. “A father doesn’t do what you did. He does everything he can to protect his children from harm. He doesn’t just stand by while someone hurts them.”

“You don’t understand how it was” the man’s voice took on an offended tone. “They threatened to kill him if I didn’t go along with them. I had no choice.”

“So you say” Britland mumbled unconvinced. He rose from his chair feeling too restless to sit. “All you had to do was change your will. That’s all it would have taken to keep your children safe. Yet you couldn’t bring yourself to do that. You found convenient little ways to oppose them to keep your money safe but not your children.”

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A hard calculating expression hardened the man’s face to stone. “How dare you! You have no idea the things I suffered because of them. I lost one son. I wasn’t about to lose another.” Getting up he moved over to the couch. Sitting down he directed his next words to Carson. “Son I made mistakes. I admit that. Maybe I could have done more to protect you. That’s no reason to cut me out of my grandson’s life.”

“You didn’t want me. A gay son” all the hurt, the pain and the guilt came out in his voice.

“I had to say those things. I had to get you out of the house by any means I could. I was trying to protect you.” His words sounded sincere but there was something in his eyes that told a different story. They remained remote, cold like he was talking about someone else far removed from him.

“You need an heir” Britland blurted out in the sudden silence of the room. “You don’t care about Carson. From the moment you got here all you wanted was to see Rush.”

The man stood up facing Britland. “You’re not as dumb as you look” he said all pretenses falling away “I need a suitable heir. Someone to take over the family business. Keep the family name going.” He looked down at Carson chuckled dismissively. “I can nurture that boy into something I can be proud of. A fine young man unlike his father.”

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Carson gasped “he’s our son not yours.”

“Don’t be ridiculous” the man snorted “I can give him the best money can buy. The best schools. The best teachers. Everything you can’t.” Turning his back on Carson he approached Britland “how much?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his checkbook.

Stunned Carson stood up hands clenched into fists “get out.”

“Don’t be stupid. You can have other children. I just want the boy. I can give him all the advantages that come with the Ratcliff name.” He wrote out a sum on the check and held the check out to Britland confident he could buy what he wanted.

“You heard my fiance Mr Ratcliffm, it’s time for you to leave.” Britland took the check and tore it in half without looking at it. “We don’t want your filthy money. Our son’s not for sale.”

Smirking he casually wrote out another check. Silently he held it out to Britland.

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Britland took it. Read the sum. His hands shook as he lifted his eyes from the sum on the little piece of paper to the confident sneer on the older man’s face. “How dare you assume we would give our son to you. You may have been willing to jeopardize your children’s well-being for your millions we are not.”

Something in the man’s eyes shifted as they narrowed. “I’ve found most people have a price. All I have to do is find yours.” Looking around at the comfortable apartment he nodded slowly as if reaching a decision. “I can make living in the city very difficult for you. How long do you think the court will let you keep custody of your son once they find out your homeless?”

Walking to the door Britland opened it wide. “You have our answer. You may be able to make our lives miserable but you can’t give our son what we can.”

Carson stared at Britland a smile spreading across his face. Grimly he turned to the man who caused him so much grief when he was growing up. He could see by the befuddled expression on the man’s face that he had no clue what Britland was talking about. “You can’t give him love. You never could. You never loved me or Dawson. That’s why you never did anything to protect us from those monsters. You were more concerned about protecting your money. Your one true love.”

Grunting he made his way to the door “you’ll regret this.”

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“I sincerely doubt it” Britland assured him closing the door in the man’s shocked face.

“That’s it I’ve decided” Carson said taking Britland’s hands.

“You decided what” he asked relaxing into him.

“I want to move” he brushed his fingers over Britland’s face. “I want our children to grow up around family. I want to know they’re safe and far away from anyone with name Ratcliff.” He stopped puzzled “what’s that look for?”

“You said children” Britland smiled up at him “does that mean you’re planning on us having more kids some day?”

“It does” he leaned in close pressing his lips to Britland’s forehead. “I want them all to have your name too. Once we’re married we’ll all be Olivia.”

“You don’t have to do ….”

Carson cut him off by kissing him “I want to” he said with a smile. “I don’t want anything tying me to the Ratcliff name.”

***

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“Are you ready son” Robbie asked watching Britland twirl in front of the mirror.

“Dad” he cried cheeks darkening.

“It’s alright son” Robbie grinned from where he sat. “Everyone wants to look good on their wedding day.”

“I have so many butterflies fluttering in my stomach right now” Britland confided in him.

“Are you sure it’s only butterflies” Robbie asked with a knowing grin.

“Dad” he protested turning a deeper shade of green.

“Well it’s been known to happen” he shrugged.

“Aren’t you supposed to give me the speech about waiting until the wedding night” he asked trying to straighten his collar.

“Let me do that” Robbie rose with the lift. “That ship sailed a long time ago” he patted the shoulders of his son’s suit. “Now hurry up and give me a granddaughter.”

“After the honeymoon” Britland turned to appraise his dad’s work in the mirror “thanks.”

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“Nothing to it” Robbie assured him.

“Are you sure you and Mom can handle Rush while we’re gone” Britland asked.

“Don’t worry about us” Robbie winked “worry about keeping your husband satisfied.”

“Dad that’s just gross” Britland screwed up his face in disgust.

“It isn’t” Robbie contradicted chuckling softly.

“It is when it’s your dad saying it” Britland protested.

“Point taken” Robbie shook his head laughing. “I’d have felt the same if my dad had said that to me.” He fell silent for a moment watching his son. “Britland I’m so proud of you and the man you’ve become.”

“Thanks” he mumbled “are you trying to make me blush or something.” He complained loudly as his cheeks burned.

“No” Robbie chuckled “I don’t think Carson will complain though.”

“Knowing him probably not” he smiled “this is it. I’ll be a married man soon.”

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“Any second thoughts” Robbie asked.

“None” he smiled “Carson is the only one for me.”

“Good then let’s get you married” he put his arm out putting his chair in gear. “I thought I’d only get to walk Ariel down the aisle.”

“I know it’s a bit unconventional” he stammered “I wouldn’t have asked if Mom hadn’t suggested it.”

“I’m honored” Robbie patted his hand that rested on his arm “besides since when has our family ever been conventional.”

***

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Crystal leaned into Felix. “I have something to tell you” she whispered in his ear.

He smiled without taking his eyes from the couple saying their vows.”What’s so important it couldn’t wait until after my best friend says I do?”

“I don’t want you to freak out.” She grinned up at him.

“I don’t want to miss this” his attention drifted back to the couple under the arch. He clapped loudly whistling in approval when the couple kissed for the first time as a married couple. Several attendees turned with disapproving glares at him for disturbing the solemn moment. He shrugged unabashed. Robbie caught his eye giving him a nod of approval before clapping his hands along with him followed by several others. If anyone deserved a standing ovation it was this couple after everything they had gone through to get to this moment.

“Felix please” Crystal grabbed one of his hands.

“What” he demanded looking down at her “can’t I be happy for my best friend?”

“It’s not that. I need to tell you something” she placed his hand on her stomach.

He raised an eyebrow staring at his hand. It was obvious she wanted him to notice something. He moved his hand around noticing the subtle changes he had been missing now that he was forced to observe them. He gave her a wide-eyed look “you’re not…” he choked up. Swallowing he blinked “am I going to be a daddy?”

Nodding she let the tears fall “yes.” The next thing she knew she was being swung around through the air. Her feet knocking into chairs and hapless people who couldn’t move quick enough.

“We’re having a baby” Felix shouted to one and all. “We’re going to be parents.” He set her down as he lost all color in his face. He fell to his knees as if he were about to be sick. “I’m going to be a dad” he whispered as he if didn’t quite believe it.

Crystal ran her fingers through his hair heedless of the stares from everyone around them. “You’ll be a wonderful dad” she assured him.

“What if I screw up? What if I become like my parents” he mumbled pressing his face into her stomach. His arms snaking around her waist holding her tight.

“You won’t” she told him firmly. “You’re ten times the man your dad is or ever will be.”

That was enough for him to relax. As long as she believed in him he could do anything even if becoming a dad was the most terrifying thing he could imagine.

Chapter 21 – The Jagged Age / Chapter 23 – Sand in the Sheets

Britland – Chapter 18 – I Do

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Felix followed Crystal with his eyes. Her laughter filled the air around them. She seemed intent on sneaking up on a butterfly. She got within a hand’s distance before it flew away.

“Damn it” she stamped her feet trudging towards him.

“Next time use a net” he suggested.

She glared at him a moment before her infectious smile spread across her face. “That’s your problem Felix. You always want the easy way.”

“What’s wrong with that” he asked.

She gave him a look that clearly said he had to be kidding. “Getting things the easy way has never brought you happiness.” She walked towards him “it was all about instant gratification. Then you were off to the next best thing. It left you feeling hollow. Empty.”

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He stared into her eyes a moment. He wanted to deny her summation of his previous life. He brought a hand up to caress her cheek “you weren’t easy. I had to fight myself to get to you.”

“Oh” she ran her fingers up his shirt stopping when she reached his heart. “How did that make you feel?”

The heat from her fingers penetrated through the thin material of his shirt. “I’ve never been happier in my life than when I’m with you.”

“So” she grinned standing on her tip toes “good things come to those who wait.” She pressed her lips gently to his. She could feel his lips moving in sync with hers. Their tongues connecting in a complicated dance. She pushed him away as his hands tightened around her waist threatening to drive them to the next level.

“What” he breathed hard running a hand through his thick colorful hair. He took several more breaths seeking calm “what did I do wrong?”

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“Nothing” she shook her head, her hair swirling around her shoulders. “I just can’t” nodding towards a frowning figure. “Not when my Dad’s watching and glaring at us.”

A part of Felix wanted to sweep her up into his arms and carry her off to his lair to make sweet passionate love to her. “We’re getting married tomorrow. He’s going to have to get used to me kissing his little girl.”

“I know. It’s just” she bit her lip “I am his little girl. Give him time.” She made sure she had all of his attention before continuing “imagine how you’d feel if it was your little girl getting married.”

“That’s easy” he grinned “she wouldn’t be getting married.”

“Oh” her eyebrows rose “why’s that?”

“Simple. I’ll have her locked up inside a tower where no one could find her” his tone serious.

“That didn’t work for Rapunzel” she giggled at his pained expression twisting out of his arms.

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He watched her run up to her father throwing her arms around him. Kissing his cheek. He wondered if that could be him in twenty odd years. His eyes went to Charity and Ryan. They had their hands full chasing after two little ones. Twin boys just learning to walk. Felix smiled seeing the way the little boys clung to their parents hands, their knees wobbling as they took small hesitant steps.

“What’s on your mind” Britland asked gently rocking an infant in his arms.

“Do you think I can do this” he asked beseeching his best friend.

Britland nodded seeing the panic in his friend’s eyes. “Do you love her” he asked “don’t think about. Just listen to the little voice inside you. What’s your heart telling you?”

“I love her” he glanced across the manufactured meadow where Crystal was laughing with her parents. He envied her relationship with them. “What if I hurt her” he mumbled “you know I have no idea what a family should be.”

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“Nonsense” Britland held his son out for Felix to take. “You’ve been a part of my family for years. You’re my son’s godfather. His Uncle. If anything were to happen to me or Carson I know you’ll be there looking out for our son.”

Gazing into the eyes of the tiny bundle in his arms Felix relaxed. “You trust me that much? You’re not worried I’ll botch the job?”

“No more than I’m worried that Carson or I will botch the job” Britland smiled. “It comes with the territory. You’ll always worry because you care. Once you stop caring, you stop worrying. That’s when you’ve failed.”

Handing the baby back Felix sighed. “Thanks for believing in me. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Lucky for you, you don’t have to” Britland grinned cheekily. “No matter where you go Felix I’m just a phone call away.”

***

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Nodding Felix walked away thankful for the well-meaning words from his friend. It did however bring up unpleasant feelings for him. After the wedding he and Crystal would be moving. Britland wouldn’t be right down the hall from him. What if he couldn’t do this without him?

“Having second thoughts” a deep voice asked beside him.

“What” he looked up to find Crystal’s Dad peering at him in a none to friendly manner.

“Err” he swallowed over the lump forming in his throat making it difficult to breathe. He wanted to run. To hide. To do anything but stand there enduring the man’s disapproval.

“Easy son” Trent’s voice was less imposing then it had been just a moment before. “Is something wrong?”

Felix stared at him a like a deer in headlights. “What if I fail? What if I get scared and run?” He thought for sure the man beside him would knock his head off for even having doubts. This was the father of the girl he was going to marry. He was marrying this man’s little girl and he just admitted he was having serious doubts.

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A small stiff smile graced Trent’s lips. “Son if you didn’t have doubts I’d be worried. This is a big moment for you and Crystal. It’s only natural to wonder if this is the right thing for you.” He rubbed his chin giving the young man before him an appraising look. “I have a feeling that’s only part of the problem.”

Felix stiffened “what makes you think that?”

“Crystal told me about your father’s job offer.” Trent could tell by the look on the young man’s face that he had struck a nerve. Felix’s whole stance became tense, unyielding almost angry. “Tell me about it” he offered “maybe I can help.”

Something snapped inside Felix as he stared into the older man’s eyes. The gaze he’d always thought was cold, harsh, almost judgmental. Now he could discern a warmth, a kindness, an understanding he never realized was there. All the things Crystal had said were there. The things he’d never received from his own father. Not even when his father offered him the position of taking over one of his many acquisitions. “I didn’t take it” he mumbled half turning away afraid to see disappointment in the older man’s eyes.

Trent watched the myriad of emotions that flashed across Felix’s face. Foremost was the pain he could perceive in the young man’s eyes. “It came with too many strings attached, didn’t it?”

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Felix nodded staring at his feet. “I….” gulping his fingers curled into fists “he wanted me to choose between the position and Crystal.” He lifted his eyes towards Trent “he thought I’d choose the prestige, the money over her. He thought the money would mean more to me. I love her. Not his money.” Tears trickled down his cheeks unheeded “I can’t help but wonder how I’m going to manage without his money though. I’ve never had to worry about making a living before. I don’t know how to set a budget, led alone how to live within one.” To his shock he was engulfed by a pair of strong arms hugging him tight.

“Why didn’t you come to me” Trent demanded patting him on the back. “I would have helped you.”

“I…I” he groped for words “I wanted to figure it out on my own.”

“Son you’ve been doing that for far too long,” Trent said “it’s time you learn to ask for help.”

“I thought….” Felix shook his head overwhelmed “what do I do?”

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“First let me ask you something. Why are you moving to Brooklyn Heights?” He waited for his future son-in-law to answer.

“Crystal suggested it” he sighed his eyes searching for her. “She said she could still take classes and commute to Bridgeport when she needed to.”

“The job study program” Trent nodded in understanding “she mentioned that to us.” He gave Felix a penetrating look “what about your classes?”

He laughed harshly “what classes? Without my Dad’s help I can’t afford school. My grades weren’t the best in high school so I don’t qualify for scholarships.”

“You’re not stupid” Trent pointed out.

“Well it certainly wasn’t smart to think Daddy’s money would never run out” he mumbled. He chuckled a little “who would have thought that my Dad would cut me off over a girl. A girl, who this time deserves so much more than me.”

“I’d say he’s testing you” Trent suggested “give him time. Hopefully he’ll come around.”

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“I don’t care” Felix said forcefully. “All my life I’ve done everything I could think of to get his attention and for what? A few emails. A text message. Money enough to ruin myself with.” He shook his head “I finally get my life together and he cuts me off. He didn’t even give her a chance. He doesn’t even know her.”

“Then walk away” Trent advised him. “Crystal loves you. Gayle and I will do everything we can to help you. All you have to do is ask.”

“You’d do that for me” he asked, after a moment of silence like he didn’t quite believe what he had heard.

“I’d do that for family” Trent said stepping forward gripping Felix’s shoulder. “You’re family now.”

“I don’t” he blinked “know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything” Trent assured him. “Just know that you’re always welcome to come to me for advice.”

“Thank you” he shook his head unable to maintain his composure. Once again he felt the comforting warmth of being hugged. It felt like coming home.

***

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Britland glanced over at Carson a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. The vows that Felix was saying filtered through his mind “to love, to honor, to cherish, till death do us part.”

“I know what you’re thinking” Carson’s lips were close to his ear sending puffs of warm air across his skin. The sensation was oddly sensual. “What am I thinking” he asked smiling up at him.

“You’re wishing that was us up there” Carson jerked his chin towards the bride and groom.

“Since when have you been able to read minds” Britland teased turning to face Carson in time to miss the happy couples first kiss as man and wife.

“I don’t have to be a mind reader to know what you’re thinking” Carson teased “I do want to marry you.”

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“I never thought otherwise” Britland assured him. “It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen.”

“You don’t think I’m making up excuses to put it off” Carson inquired.

“No of course not” Britland reached out to caress Carson’s cheek. “We just have really bad timing. Seriously bad timing.”

Looking down at the tiny sleeping bundle in Britland’s arms Carson smiled. “I guess we have had other things to deal with.” He lifted his eyes to meet his fiance’s “I do want to marry you more than anything.”

“I know” Britland returned his smile. “We don’t have to wait. We could go down to the courthouse. Make it official.”

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Looking around at the lavish decorations Carson opened his arms wide “don’t you want all of this?”

“No” he shook his head “I don’t need anything fancy.” Taking Carson’s hand he squeezed it tight “all I need is you.”

Carson snorted softly “if I live to be a hundred I’ll never know why you chose me.”

“Here I thought it was you who chose me” Britland shook his head. “We make a good pair. All we really need to know is that we love each other. What more do we need than that?”

“You’re right” Carson agreed “so on Monday, shall we go to the courthouse and get married?”

“Sounds like a plan” Britland beamed happily “just let me tell my parents so they can be there.”

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“I wouldn’t dream of getting married without them” Carson admitted. “Go tell them maybe they’ll even volunteer to babysit for a day or two so we can have a little alone time.”

“Don’t go taking advantage of my parents like that” Britland teased.

“I’m not” Carson blinked innocently “they offered to babysit any time we needed them.”

“So they did” Britland agreed “I’ll go ask them now.”

“There’s no hurry” Carson called after him.

“I know but they’re standing in the receiving line” Britland explained “this way they can’t disappear on me before I get over there.”

***

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Tucking a stray strand of hair behind Crystal’s ear Felix asked “how do you feel Mrs Stokes?” His fingers gently caressing her soft smooth skin.

“Like I’m on top of the world” she gazed up at him, her eyes shining with love for him.

“I’m counting the minutes until we can be alone” his eyes traveled down her dress before coming back up to meet hers again.

“We don’t have to wait” she giggled “there’s all kinds of store rooms around….”

“As good as that sounds I’m going to have to say no” he kissed the tip of her nose. “You have no idea how difficult it is for me not to take you up on that. I want tonight to be special.” He groaned as Crystal pressed her body into his as if trying to get him to change his mind. “Are you trying to get me to lose all control? I want you so much it hurts.”

Giggling she ran her tongue across his cheek to his ear “your loss.”

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“I hate to interrupt this moment” Carson cleared his throat getting their attention. He smiled thinking of a time when he had despised the scrawny little man who now stood with his arms wrapped protectively around his wife. Things had certainly changed in the past couple of years. “I wanted to offer my congratulations to you two. I hope you’ll be happy together. If there’s ever anything I or Britland can do all you need to do is ask.”

“Well there is something” Felix started to say only to grunt rubbing his side. Turning to Crystal he demanded “what was that for.”

“To remind you to be nice” she chided him.

“I’m always nice” he protested.

“That’s debatable” she shook her head at him “you were saying?”

“Um yes” Felix grinned “take good care of my best friend. You hurt him and you’ll have to answer to me.”

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Carson looked down at him, arms crossed unimpressed. “I promise that I’ll die for him if it meant protecting him.”

Holding his hand out Felix continued as Carson shook it. “That’s why I’m not worried about him. He’s in good hands.”

“Thanks” Carson said sounding relieved “that means a lot to me. I know we haven’t actually…”

“Don’t worry about it” Felix assured him. “I was as much at fault as you. I didn’t like the idea you were going to replace me as Britland’s best friend. That was more my issue than yours.”

“I could have trusted Britland in his choice of friends more than I did” Carson added. “I thought you were an annoying little man.”

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“What do you think now” Felix asked puffing himself up.

“Well” he rubbed his chin “you’re still an annoying little man.” He grinned at the crestfallen younger man “but you’re growing on me. You’re Britland’s best friend. I hope one day to call you friend too.”

“I’d like that” Felix admitted throwing his arms around him. “If we make a habit of hugging each other, do you think we can make Britland jealous?”

“Hey cool it you two” Crystal slapped playfully at Felix’s shoulder. “I’m your wife. I’ll not stand by while you talk about making another man jealous.”

Turning from Carson he pulled her close “you my dear wife have nothing to worry about.”

Chapter 17 – Too Soon / Chapter 19 – Night Visitor

Britland – Chapter 16 – Be There For You

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“Is he alright” Felix asked as Carson emerged from his room with a haggard look on his handsome face.

“To be honest I don’t know” Britland turned his gaze from the firmly shut bathroom door where Carson had barricaded himself behind. To change the subject he asked “how was you’re visit with Crystal’s family?”

“Her father is way intimidating” he leaned back trying to appear relaxed but the tension in his eyes was unmistakable.

Sensing a story Britland leaned forward staring intently at his friend. “This should be interesting. Do tell.”

“Well” he leaned forward a touch of pink on his cheeks.

“This is going to be good” Britland teased “hardly anything ever makes you blush.”

“You know how I told you we had to make an emergency landing?” Britland nodded so Felix continued “well we were only a couple of hours outside of Brooklyn Heights….”

“Wait don’t tell me” Britland chuckled “let me guess. Crystal called her parents to come get you.”

“Yeah” he sighed “except I hand no idea she had.” His cheeks deepened in color as heat spread across his face. The way Crystal’s soft lips felt as they left a trail of feathery kisses across down his neck. The way his hands trembled as he released her towel letting it flutter to the floor of the tiny hotel bathroom. The way his heart leaped into his throat at the sound an impatient knocking on their hotel room door.

“They’re early” Crystal muttered stooping to grab her towel. She looked up questioningly at the sound of Felix’s smothered groan. “Don’t be like that. It’s probably just my parents” she secured her towel around her as kissed his nose.

He stepped further into the recesses of the bathroom wondering if it were too late close the door before Crystal let her parents inside. Crystal’s excited voice saying “daddy” as she leaped into an older man’s arms was all the answer he needed. “Felix come out here and meet my parents.”

Searching the tiny room for a towel Felix groaned remembering how they had used the majority of them to mop up a spill the night before. The towels were in a pile under the sink on the other side of the wall. “Um” his voice cracked as he peeked around the half-open door. “Hi” he clutched the door as if it were a shield.

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“Felix” Crystal motioned for him to come out.

“I’m not exactly dressed” he protested his eyes pleading with her.

“It’s alright” Crystal assured him ignoring the scowl furrowing the crevices of her father’s face.

“Maybe we should come back later” Gayle suggested tugging on her husband’s arm.

“Nonsense” Trent’s lips were a thin straight line. “I want to meet the young man boinking my daughter.”

“Dad” Crystal protested.

“That is what you call it isn’t it?” Trent demanded his voice deadly serious.

“That’s just crude” she glared at her Dad “it’s not like I haven’t done it before. I just didn’t bring them home to meet you.”

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“Crystal” Gayle cried “that’s uncalled for. Your father only wants what’s best for you.”

“I’ll be the judge of what’s best for me” she said her eyes locking with her dad’s.

Challenging him. She jumped a little when Felix came out of the bathroom behind her to take her hand.

“Mr Milton” he swallowed hard “I…” he gripped Crystal’s hand. “I love your daughter. It’s more than just sex to me.” He smiled down at her. His eyes softening as he gazed into her eyes. I may not be the best thing for her but she’s the best thing for me.”

Gayle moved forward placing a hand on her husband’s tense shoulder. “Thank you for telling us. With everything we’ve heard about you we did have our reservations.”

Trent grunted prodded by Gayle’s elbow in his side. “We’ll be in the lobby. Finish whatever you were doing.” He turned stomping from the room.

Gayle gave them an apologetic shrug. “I’m afraid your Dad still sees you as his little girl. Give him time.” She turned walking from the room following her husband.

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“I’m sorry” Crystal cried when they were alone again. “I thought he’d be cool about this.”

“If my daughter was dating someone like me. I’d be anything but cool” Felix assured her touching his forehead to hers.

“Did you mean it” she asked entwining their fingers together.

“Mean what” he asked somewhat confused.

“That you love me” she glanced up meeting his eyes. “It’s ok if you don’t…”

“I meant every word” he brushed his fingertips across her cheeks until they curled into her think wavy hair. He pulled her close “I love you more than I can say” he murmured brushing his lips across her forehead.

***

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“Wow I never thought you’d ever say it” Britland teased.

“Say what” Felix demanded sitting up tense. His eyes darting around defensively.

“Say I love you to anyone” Britland shook his head. His tone serious no hint of his earlier amusement remained in his voice.

“I never thought it’d happen to me” Felix sighed. “I kind of hoped it wouldn’t. I did everything to make sure it wouldn’t.” He glanced at the floor images of him with multiple faceless women danced before him. “I kind of cringe to think about the way I used to be.”

“Why” Britland inquired “it’s not like you forced anyone to be with you. I mean they knew it was a fling. A one night stand. You weren’t offering them forever. Just a fleeting moment of passion.”

Felix gave his best friend a shocked but curious look. “Wow listen to you! You’ve really loosened up since you’ve been getting some.”

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“Yeah yeah” Britland put a hand up to conceal the rising heat on his cheeks. “I was a bit uptight before. I do see things differently now. I doubt I could ever …. you know…”

“Have lots of anonymous sex just for the fun of it” Felix finished for him. He lifted his head meeting Britland’s eyes smirking a little.

“Yeah I’m more the kind of guy who wants that deep commitment and connection with someone before I could ever be with them intimately.” His cheeks became a deep emerald-green as his eyes darted around refusing to settle on any one thing. A part of him was afraid Felix would laugh at him for his notions of love and commitment.

“I never understood that about you” Felix took in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “I thought you were missing out on so much fun.” He got up moving restlessly around the room. “Now I realize I was the one missing out.”

Britland moved to join him “you really do love her, don’t you?”

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Nodding Felix glanced out the window. His eyes taking in the skyline of the city he loved. The city he loved more for its nightlife than its beauty. The easy accessibility of clubs, booze, gambling, women. All his vices all in one place. It reminded of the life he once thought he enjoyed. “I was never really happy here” his own shock at his words was thick in his words. He turned towards Britland as the blonde placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. I was doing so many things to fill a hole I didn’t know how to fill. I didn’t know it at the time. Not until I met Crystal and she made me look at things in a different way.”

“I’m sorry” Britland mumbled “I should have been there for you more than I was.”

“It’s not your fault” Felix shrugged “I was in a downward spiral. You couldn’t have stopped me if you tried. Besides you had other things on your mind.”

“Yeah I guess” he glanced over his shoulder his eyes full of concern. “I should go check on him.”

“Yes go” Felix nudged him forward “I have homework to do anyway.”

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“Since when? You never did homework” Britland chuckled.

“I know” he shrugged self-consciously “people change.”

“Have you decided on a major yet” Britland asked moving away.

“I’m thinking business” Felix said moving towards the couch. Retrieving his books from the coffee table. “I like numbers.”

“Felix the accountant” Britland quipped “it’s doesn’t sound quite right.”

Grimacing Felix shook his head “I was thinking more like a financial advisor or stock broker.”

“I’m still undecided” Britland breathed in deeply feeling weighed down.

“I think you should go into early childhood development” Felix suggested “I think you’d do well.”

“Pediatrics” Britland said thoughtfully.

“You can do it” Felix encouraged “you’d be good at it.”

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“It’s a big commitment” he mumbled rubbing his stomach as he thought about his friends suggestion.

“Have you told him yet” Felix asked out of the blue.

“Tell him what” he asked jumping a little at the intrusion of his thoughts.

Raising an eyebrow Felix looked from his text-book “that your pregnant.”

“How did you …” his hand dropped to his side.

“I guessed” Felix chuckled “you’ve been sick every morning. Plus you’re always rubbing your stomach.”

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Glancing over his shoulder like he was afraid someone was listening. “You haven’t mentioned this to Carson have you?”

“No of course not” Felix assured him “he needs to know but he won’t find out from me. Keep in mind it’s not something you can hide for long.”

“I know” Britland sucked in his bottom lip “I just don’t know if he can handle the news on top of everything else.”

“Who knows? It might give him something good to focus on” Felix suggested.

Considering his words Britland’s expression changed to doubtful skepticism. “I’ll think about it” he mumbled moving towards the hall.

“I’ll be better if you do it sooner rather than later” Felix called after him knowing the blonde could still hear him whether he acknowledge him or not.

***

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Walking away Britland knew Felix was right. He couldn’t hide his pregnancy from Carson forever. Sooner or later Carson would notice. The bathroom door was open indicating Carson must have come out and went back to their room. Automatically Britland went to the room they had been sharing. He expected to find Carson inside instead the room was dark, silent and empty. Backing out Britland went down the hall to Carson’s room. It felt strange that Carson had retreated to his room.

Knocking softly he waited for a response. Not receiving one he opened the door a crack “Carson I’m coming in” still he received no response. Releasing his pent-up breath Britland took the silence as acceptance he walked in. At least it wasn’t a point-blank no.
The room was silent. A single light from a lamp on the nightstand alleviated the darkness. Britland’s eyes were directed to a corner in the room where the rustle of clothes drew his attention. Carson was curled up in the corner, staring blankly into space. His heart sank knowing that today was going to be another bad day.

Settling on the floor with a muffled groan Britland faced Carson. He sat silently watching as his lover suffered and him not knowing how to help. “Are you going to be ok?” It was a stupid question. Anyone could tell just by looking that Carson was the furthest thing from ok.

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Carson’s eyes flickered in the blonde’s direction. He held his I-phone in his outstretched hand. “They called” his voice was small shaky and mournful.

“They who” Britland wondered frowning at his fiance’s phone. The furrows deepened as he read the display “your parents. What did they want?”

Carson dropped the phone as if it suddenly scalded his hand with intense searing heat. Pulling his knees to his chest hiding his face behind his hands. “Dawson’s case has been reopened. Something about new DNA being found.”

“Oh” Britland mumbled. From conversations he’s had with his Grandpa he knew the DNA wasn’t new. It was old DNA they discovered while examining the same evidence from seventeen years ago with new forensic science they use today. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” The misery he saw in Carson’s eyes told him otherwise.

Instinctively he knew Carson’s parents hadn’t called pleased with the news. Why? Wouldn’t the parents of any missing child want to know what happened to their child? A little voice inside his head kept telling him Carson’s parents knew more about Dawson’s disappearance then they admitted to and were now afraid of being discovered.

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“What did they say to you” his voice was thick with anger.

“They said….they said” Carson gulped for breath “I should have left things alone. That I” his breaths were ragged and painful “I shamed them enough.”

Helplessly Britland watched large tears roll down Carson’s cheeks. “This is not your fault” he moved slowly towards Carson. Carefully he pulled Carson close not wanting to upset him anymore than he already was. “You were a child. You are not responsible for what happened to your brother. Your parents should be ashamed for what they’ve done. Then and now.”

“I know” he sniffed into his Britland’s shoulder. “I thought I had put this behind me. I thought they couldn’t hurt me anymore.” He drew in a shallow breath “here I am a puddle of mush.”

Holding Carson’s face between his hands Britland forced his fiance to look at him. “You don’t need them. If they can’t see what a wonderful person you are they don’t deserve you.” He clamped his mouth shut on the words he wanted to say. The ones that he felt were true but had no evidence to support them. Sooner or later he knew Carson would have to face the truth that his own parents had either covered up what happened or had been the culprits that night his brother disappeared.

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“I won’t let them hurt you anymore” Britland pressed his forehead to Carson’s feeling inadequate as the strong emotional support but if he wasn’t, who would be? “You’ve done nothing to ashamed of. Shame on them for making you feel this way. Shame on them for putting their image above finding the truth. Shame on them for not loving their children enough…” Carson’s shoulder shook his arms “what? Are you laughing?”

“Thank you” Carson leaned back resting his head on the wall. “I needed to hear that. I know what you said is true. It’s just after being told all your life how its your fault it’s easy to fall back into that mind-set. I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I’m an emotional wreck.”

“There’s no need to be sorry” Britland assured him. “You can lean on me. I’ll be your support.”

“Fight my battles too” Carson smirked a hint of a shimmer of humor in his eyes.

“That too” Britland settled into Carson’s lap. “Everyone needs someone to be their dragon slayer.”

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Smiling a little the tension easing around his eyes “alright dragon slayer. How are you going to keep my dragons from getting to me?”

“First of all” Britland leaned forward planting a soft kiss on Carson’s lips. “We’re going to get your phone number changed. They don’t need to contact you. Anything your parents have to say can be said to the police.”

He saw the immediate recoil in Carson’s eyes before he shook his head in refusal. “What if they need to contact me? What if they find out something about Dawson?”

“Grandpa will keep us informed of how the investigation is progressing” Britland assured him. He didn’t mention it would be without the theatrics, the drama and the guilt inducing comments that never failed to erode Carson’s confidence. Gently he put a finger over his fiance’s mouth “he’ll tell us everything we need to know. We don’t need your parents to tell us anything.”

“My parents….they really are suspects, aren’t they” Carson asked looking down unable to meet Britland’s gaze. Profound sadness filled his eyes.

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“Did they tell you that” Britland asked. He had been aware that whatever evidence that the new testing techniques had discovered pointed towards the parents as suspects. He hadn’t wanted to tell Carson until there was more proof.

“It’s what they implied. Mom kept saying the investigators were asking for alibi’s for that night during the time Dawson would have been taken.” He closed his eyes squeezing his eyes tight. “I think she wanted me to tell them who I saw in the room that night.”

“You didn’t tell her” Britland stated careful not to pose it like a question. He didn’t want Carson to feel he didn’t trust him yet it would have been easy to fall into the trap to give information to an emotional appeal.

“Of course not” Carson mumbled. “I’m probably wrong anyway. It was so long ago.”

“Don’t worry about it” Britland said standing up “the police will figure it out. You don’t have to.”

“Why didn’t they figure it out then” Carson demanded.

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“I don’t know” Britland shook his head “it was almost twenty years ago. They can do so much more now than they could then. DNA can be discovered from the smallest things. Things they couldn’t test for then. I’m confident that they’ll figure out what happened. My Grandpa will get to the bottom of it.”

“What if he’s dead” Carson asked. His voice low as if he were afraid it was true.

“At least you’ll know” Britland sighed. He knew that’s not the answer Carson wanted to hear. It was however the most likely outcome. After seventeen years the chances of Dawson being found alive was slim to none. Getting up he held his hand out “let’s go out.”

Carson stared at Britland’s outstretched hand a moment before taking it “out where?”

“I have a craving for frozen cheesecake with chocolate sauce.” Britland laughed at the face Carson gave him.

“It’s too cold to eat that” Carson protested retrieving his coat from the closet. “How about we go out for Italian?”

“And tiramisu” Britland added eagerly. His stomach growling in anticipation. “I’m starving” he announced hoping that over dinner would be the perfect time to tell Carson he was going to be a daddy.

Chapter 15 – Reflections of the Past / Chapter 17 – Too Soon

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