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Sunday, October 4, 2015

TLR Chapter 16

Chapter 16

That night, after everyone had gone, Jaxon said his good nights and Heath rolled him into his room while James straightened up the kitchen and made sure the house was secure.

"Just let me help you get into bed and you'll be all set." Heath said.

"No, thanks. Really. I can do it." Jaxon replied. "If you could get me a glass of water if I need it during the night, I'd appreciate that." He suggested.

"It's no problem." Heath replied with a smile, thinking that Jaxon was once again feeling like a burden. "Let me help you and then I'll be happy to get you the water."

Seeing no way around it, Jaxon allowed Heath to pick him up and place him on the bed. It was all Jax could do not to wince in pain as even Heath's gentle touch caused his shoulder pain.

"Are you all right?" Heath asked, concerned. "You're sweating. Why don't we take that long sleeved shirt off and put you into a tee shirt?"

"No, I’m fine." Jaxon said quickly. "I tend to get a little chilly at night and this shirt is perfect."

"Well, if you're sure."

"Yes, thank you. I'm fine. Just a little achy." Jaxon confessed.

"I'll get you that water then, and you can have some more ibuprofen."

"That'd be fine. Thanks." Jaxon smiled gratefully.

Heath took the glass from Jaxon's bedside table, went to the bathroom and filled it with cold water, then returned to the bedroom. He opened the drawer of the bedside table and frowned. The cap to the pill bottle was partially off. It wasn't like him not to cap a pill bottle completely but he brushed the incident aside, thinking that there was a first time for everything.

"Here you go,” He said, holding the pills and the water out for Jaxon, who promptly took the pills. He finished taking a sip of the water and gave another grateful smile to Heath.

"Are you going to be all right?" Heath asked. Something seemed off with Jaxon but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it might be.

"I'm fine.  Just sleepy.  It's been a long day."

"All right then, sleep well." Heath said, placing a fond, gentle hand on Jaxon's cheek before turning to leave. "Just remember to call me if you need anything. I'm nearby and you won't be disturbing me." He reassured the younger man.

"Thanks, Heath. I will. Good night."

"Good night, hon." Heath said with a smile. He turned and left, turning out the light and leaving the door ajar so that they could hear if Jaxon called.

While Heath had been completely unaware of the endearment, it hadn't been lost on Jaxon who experienced a strange but pleasurable sensation in his chest. Despite the pain in his knee and shoulder, he eventually fell asleep, smiling.


Mutt on the other hand, couldn't sleep. He tossed and turned, kicked off the blankets only to pull them back on minutes later.

"What's wrong?" Jeff asked, turning on the light to look at his husband. He was concerned by what he saw. Mutt was pale and sweaty. Jeff put a hand on Mutt's face but felt no fever.

"My stomach is bothering me. I'm all right."

Jeff suppressed a laugh. "Well, you did have dessert after dinner and then went to James's to make sundaes. Your stomach is probably just upset. I'll get you an Alka-Seltzer and you'll be all right."

Mutt only nodded and laid back down on his pillow, looking miserable. Jeff came back minutes later with a glass full of the fizzy stuff and watched as his husband drank the contents. He nearly laughed again as Mutt reached the bottom of the glass and wrinkled his nose at the bitter taste. Jeff put the glass aside and turned the light back off. He pulled Mutt into his arms, surprised when Mutt tried to pull away.

"If I have something I don't want to pass it to you." Mutt explained. In actuality, even though Jaxon had insisted that he was fine after the accident, guilt was eating at him, first for injuring Jaxon and then for not telling Jeff about it. He didn't feel he deserved to be taken care of or cuddled but he knew that if he told Jeff, then Jeff would call James and Heath and then Jaxon would be in trouble for not telling them. Then there was the issue of James and Heath being angry with him, not to mention what Jeff would do. So he kept his tongue.

Jeff felt Mutt's forehead and cheeks again but still felt no fever. "If you have something chances are you've already given it to me and the other guys already. I still think it was just too much dessert, so just hush, lie down and try to sleep." Jeff said gently, pulling Mutt back down so that his head was on Jeff's chest.

Despite the churning in his stomach, Mutt finally passed into a fitful sleep.


The next morning when Heath checked in on Jaxon he was sound asleep. He tried to wake him but Jaxon mumbled grumpily and Heath, smiling, left him to sleep a while longer. Breakfast could wait. He went into the living room where James was waiting to say goodbye. The two men kissed and smiled at each other, enjoying their new lives together.


Mutt, despite the Alka-Seltzer, had had a restless night but was now sleeping more or less peacefully. Knowing that there was nothing pressing for him to do that morning, Jeff unwilling to wake him up, left to go to the lodge for breakfast. Jeff knew that the pancake special was a favorite of Mutt's and he decided to get it to take home for him before he had to wake his husband.

James smiled at Jeff as he joined him at the table waiting for Harry and Brody to meet with them. "Jeff, any idea what Harry wanted to talk about?" He asked.

"No, but it must be important if he agreed to meet for breakfast.”

James studied his friend who was his administrator. "I hope he doesn't want to resign now that he's found a partner. He's a good man. I'd hate to lose him."

"I'd hate to lose him as well. I didn't get that vibe from him, but I guess with him finding a man of his own, anything is possible. Let's hope for the best.  He should be here any minute."

James nodded. "Yes, no sense in borrowing trouble or worrying about anything until it happens."


Harry smiled at Brody as they approached the lodge. "Bet James and Jeff will be surprised when we tell them what we're proposin'."

"Well, I admit that I'm eager to see the looks on their faces," Brody admitted. "But I'm also a little worried that their expressions won't be what I want them to be. Yeah, I work with money, but... that's not the same thing."

Harry said, "I have faith in you Brody. Aren't you studyin' accountin' nights?"

"Yes, but I don't have my Bachelor's yet. I'm worried that I won't have the qualifications they're looking for. The best I can do is go in there and put a good face on it. I'm very good with numbers and can balance a checkbook," He joked. "Maybe they'll be satisfied with that for now."

Harry nodded. "Yes and I'm not sure how complicated accountin' is, after all I'm a security guard. I only know how to guard the money." He teased as he opened the door to the restaurant in the lodge.


James, looking up and seeing the familiar form of Harry outlined in the door said, "Looks like they're coming now."

Brody took the door and gallantly gestured Harry in before him.  Indulging himself, he put a light hand on the other man's shoulder.  He felt as though a jolt of electricity went through him and he smiled. He loved how this man made him feel.

Harry grinned at Brody, then turned to look around the dining area for James and Jeff. He glanced up at Brody and smiled. "Come on." He said. Harry had felt a spark as Brody touched his shoulder, but tried not to make too much of it. After all, they were just getting to know each other. He didn't think it really meant much right now, not being very experienced at these things. He headed over to where he saw James and Jeff at a table set for four.

"Good morning, James, Jeff." Harry said, echoed by Brody as they sat down across the table from the two retired Marines.

James smiled as he saw Harry heading toward him with his new partner. "Hello Harry, Brody, come join us...have a seat gentlemen."

Harry seated himself and waited for Brody to join him. Brody sat down and reached for the glass of ice water to his right. He took a sip to hide his nervousness.

James smiled as both men seated themselves. "Hello gentlemen. I'm interested in what this meeting is all about, but let's get you some coffee and your breakfast ordered first.”

A waiter came over and took their order and then with a look at Jeff James asked, "All right Harry, tell us why you requested this meeting."

Harry, looked at Brody and smiled. "We wanted to ask if you'd like to have Brody and me as permanent residents here at Teardrop Lake Resort. Brody's really good with numbers and is still studying accountin' at college at night while he’s been working at the bank."

James raised an eyebrow in surprise. He exchanged a look with Jeff.

Brody laughed, "I think Harry is a little nervous, James."

"Since we left last week, we've been talking about moving here and with you needing an accountant, I thought I could help you out." When the two big men didn't say anything Brody continued, “I have an Associate's degree, and have on the job experience. I'm also taking night courses to earn my Bachelor's Degree, to become a full time CPA. I'm very close to graduation and I've just applied to take the Uniform CPA Examination."

“Two years college, continuing education, three years on the job experience at the bank." Jeff said thoughtfully.

"Yes, I've been at the bank as a senior teller for a year and as a teller two years before that." Brody answered. "They've had no problem asking me to help out with the books on occasion."

Harry chimed in. "He's real good at what he does Jeff.  Owen, the bank manager, we told you about last weekend, promoted Brody to senior teller over the other tellers at the bank."

Brody put his hand over Harry's to ground him. "I have my résumé here for you to look at Jeff."

James put out a hand to take the paper from Brody, scanned it and then handed it over to Jeff. "Pretty impressive, Brody." He said. "Even without a Bachelor's or Master's degree."

"Thank you, James," Brody answered with a smile.

Jeff smiled in his own quiet way. "We don't need a big staff, just an extra person in the office and someone who can take over for me when I'm not available or on my day off." He looked at Brody expectantly.  "And it's always good to have a second pair of eyes to check the books. I don't know about you but staring at those numbers for too long makes my vision blur."

Harry looked at Brody, surprised and impressed. "You can do all that kind of accountin’ stuff they need?"

"Yes... well... I do it for myself, and as I said, I have helped in other areas when it was needed." Brody replied, “and if I need a bit of help I'm not too proud to ask."

Jeff looked at Brody's résumé. Impressed that Brody had advanced as fast as he had Jeff asked Brody what some of his duties were.

“Customer service, of course,” Brody answered, “but an average day includes processing deposits, withdrawals, transfers and loan payments; preparing cashier’s checks, money orders, travelers checks, international and domestic wire money transfers and savings bonds; and assisting patrons to subscribe to credit cards or insurance. As well as granting customers access to the safety deposit box lobby. I also take care of the beginning and ending of shift drawer accounting and am responsible for scheduling and evaluation of other tellers.

James nodded and turned to his security guard, "What made you decide that you wanted to come live here after all this time, Harry?"

Harry said sheepishly, "I know you've wanted me to come live here as a permanent resident and become a full time security guard for a long time now James, but I never felt like I quite fit in, but now I have Brody. It's different. I even found I can get my mother into a home about a half hour from here so I can continue to visit her every night if that's all right with you?"

James nodded. "I don't see that as a problem Harry."

Harry smiled. "Thank you, James. It just seems to be the perfect opportunity." Harry replied. "I didn't want to try to have a long distance relationship with Brody or ask him to leave his job."

James nodded. "That would be hard and I'm glad this opportunity has come up and that Brody is interested in the position."

"I never thought about leaving the bank until I found out about TLR and that Harry worked here." Brody said. “When Mike said he didn’t want to be your accountant any longer, well, it just got us thinking.”

James grinned. "Well, I think Jeff is pleased and I know I am."

"Then, you think Brody can be the new accountant?" Harry asked hopefully

"I want you to earn your Bachelors. You've put too much time and effort into studying for it and you said you were close enough to completing your hours and have made application for your CPA. I'd hate for that to go to waste. But in the meantime, you seem to be heaven sent. James?" Jeff said, not really needing to ask the question as he was sure of the answer.

"As far as I'm concerned, Brody, you have the position." James smiled, reaching across the table to shake Brody's hand.

"But we couldn't start for two weeks, we have to give our notice at the bank." Brody replied.

"James and I have been doing the books.  Two weeks longer won't be a problem," Jeff said with a grin, also reaching to shake the two men's hands to seal the deal.

"Thank you James. Jeff. You won't be disappointed." Brody said, smiling ear to ear.

"We're just happy to have you." James answered. "We're looking forward to having both of you here with us."

It was all Harry could do not to shout his happiness. He reached under the table and put a shaking hand on Brody's thigh. Brody put a hand down and covered Harry's with his own and squeezed gently.

Almost as soon as Brody and Harry left Shorty and Bo walked into the restaurant. James waved them over to join them. The new comers ordered coffee and began to look at the morning's specials.

"So, Bo, how was your first night?" Jeff asked.

"Oh, all right enough, I guess." Bo answered, his face unusually pale. "I was worried about Jaxon though. How is he today?" He asked.

"Jaxon was sleeping soundly when I left him. What were you worried about?" James asked, frowning in confusion.

Bo hesitated. "He... he didn't say anything last night?"

"What was there to tell? Did something happen?" Jeff asked, trying to keep the concern from his voice.

"Oh, well if he didn't say anything..." Bo began.

"No,” Shorty said, jumping into the conversation.  "Whether or not he said anything last night is secondary. Jeff asked you if something happened.  Answer the man." he said sternly.

Bo blushed and looked down at his coffee cup. "Really, if Jaxon didn't say anything he's probably fine now." Bo prevaricated. "Uh... the bacon egg and cheese on a roll looks good." He said, trying to change the subject.

"Robert."  Shorty said sternly. "If you know something then speak up. And look at us when you talk."

Bo, head still down, looked up from beneath his lashes to find the three men looking at him with mixed expressions of concern and curiosity on their faces. Shorty looked a little angry as well.

Embarrassed that he hadn't done what he should have done the night before, he haltingly told the men at the table about the accident at the lake.

"Why didn't you say something?" Jeff asked.

"Why didn't you call, or have Jaxon call?" James demanded.

"I... I'm sorry."  Bo replied, blushing. "He insisted that he was fine. We wanted to call but he begged us not to. I... it's no excuse... I did want to call but Jaxon insisted he was fine." Bo repeated, trying not to sound defensive.

"If you'll excuse me, gentlemen,” Jeff said quietly, “I need to get back home and check on Mutt.  He wasn’t feeling well last night and now I think I know what the problem is."

"I was heading back home after breakfast anyway, but I'll call Heath and let him know what happened so he can check Jax out." James replied as he stood up and pulled out his cell phone. He stepped away from the table and called Heath.

Bo put his menu aside having lost his appetite. James noticed the action and returned to join the two men again. “Bo, you’re new to TLR. You took Jax at his word so I’m not blaming you for any further injury Jax may have received last night.” He explained. “However in the future please let us know if something like this happens again.”

“Yes, sir, I will, you can count on it,” Bo promised.

“Good, now get yourself something to eat while I go check on Jax.”

James left a tip for the waiter as he usually did and left the restaurant.

When Bo didn’t make a move to pick up the menu again Shorty rose. "Come walk with me, Robert. I think you and I should have a talk." Shorty said sternly as he began to leave as well. Bo didn't ask any questions or complain, but followed meekly in the older man's wake.


After he got off the phone with James, Heath went back to the younger man's room to wake him and give him the chance to explain.

Jaxon, who had been trying to rush to get dressed, had ended up becoming tangled in the shirt he was trying to put on. The finger shaped bruising on his arm where Mutt had tried to grab him the night before was evident immediately.

"What happened?" Heath demanded, giving Jaxon the opportunity to confess.

"No-nothing. I'm fine, really. Nothing happened." Jaxon replied quickly, still struggling with the shirt as he sat on the bed, his sweat pants still only half up, revealing another bruise on his right hip.

Heath walked further in and despite Jaxon's efforts to stop him, pulled off the tangled shirt. He grit his teeth when he saw the large purple bruise on their boy's shoulder.

“‘Nothing’ doesn't leave bruising like that, young man." Heath replied, keeping his voice steady. "I'm going to give you one more chance to tell me what happened."

Jaxon bit at his lower lip and lowered his gaze to his hands. "It was just an accident. And I'm fine. Really."

"We know what happened last night." Heath interjected. "James found out this morning at breakfast. We would have liked to have heard it from you last night, which is what you should have done rather than try to keep it a secret from us." Heath said, unable to keep a frown of disappointment from his face.

"Please don't let Mutt get into trouble!" Jaxon said pleadingly. "We were all being silly and weren't watching what we were doing. No one meant for anyone to get hurt!"

"That's not the point, young man." James replied, iron in his tone as he walked into the room. "The point is you should have told us last night and not have let us hear it second hand. I'm very disappointed that didn’t happen."

Jaxon could feel the pressure behind his eyes and blinked a few times. "I'm sorry." He said quietly.

James fought down his first response to the boy's apology and leaned against the door jamb, arms crossed, looking with displeasure at Jaxon, who averted his eyes.

"Let me look at your shoulder and leg then help you get dressed and we'll talk about this more in the kitchen." Heath said sternly.

"Yes sir." Was the soft reply.

In doctor mode, Heath pulled Jax’s sweats totally off then helped their boy lay back on the bed. He removed the brace on Jax’s leg seeing the increased swelling. “Did you fall on your wrist?” he asked.

“N…No sir,” Jax whispered. “It’s probably the only thing that isn’t hurting.”

“I guess this explains the lid being off the ibuprofen bottle. How many did you take before I gave you those two pills last night?”

“Bo gave me two after I got out of the shower.” Jax answered. “I took two more about four this morning.”

Heath shook his head and watched as a tear ran down Jax cheek. His voiced softened as he reached up and wiped it away. “I know you are hurting, Jax, but I need to see if you did any more damage to your leg.” The doctor gently manipulated Jax left leg and knee. “Your knee is still in place, which is a good thing considering the swelling,” Heath explained. “If the swelling doesn’t lessen or the pain increases, I’ll x-ray it again just to be sure.”

Heath pulled Jax’s sweats the rest of the way up. Then he replaced the brace leaving it over the sweats so he could monitor the swelling. He moved up to examine Jax’s shoulder. He frowned when he saw the hand shaped bruise. “Who slapped you, Jaxon?”

The younger man didn’t want to get Mutt in anymore trouble but Jax couldn’t see any way not to tell the truth. “When I fell out of the chair Mutt tried to stop me and grabbed my arm, Doc. He didn’t mean to bruise me,” Jax whispered. “He doesn’t even know it happened.”

“What do you mean he doesn’t know, Jax?” James asked.

“I didn’t show him. He felt bad enough that the chair tipped, I didn’t want him to feel worse,” Jax explained.

“I don’t understand why you didn’t call me or James, Jax,” Heath said.

“Mutt and Bo both wanted to call you but I told them I was ok. And I was,” Jax said looking at Heath. “Well, I guess I wasn’t as ok as I thought.”

“No, I guess you weren’t,” Heath agreed.

“I’m sorry,” Jax said. “After all you and James have done for me…I lied to you…I can’t blame anyone but myself if you s..send me a…away.” Jax mumbled.

Heath pulled his boy into a hug. “I’m not happy with your choices, Hun, but we aren’t going to send you anywhere. This is your home for as long as you want it to be.”

Jax wrapped his arms around the man holding him and breathed in his scent.

They sat that way until Heath said, “Come on, let’s get you up and dressed.” He helped the young man pull on a t-shirt then transferred him to the wheelchair, but not before giving the boy a swift, stinging swat on his backside.

Shocked, Jaxon allowed himself to be seated. He looked wide eyed at the two men.
"Just be glad it's nothing worse." James said, wryly.


"Matthew!" Jeff called as he entered their bungalow. "Matthew Elijah! Front and center!" He heard Mutt in the bathroom and shouted again. "Now!"

The water ran briefly. Jeff knew that Mutt was taking the time to wash his hands but that didn't stop him from feeling a twinge of irritation at the delay.

Mutt presented himself a moment later, his hands in his jeans pockets and walking a little stiffly.

Concern warred with Jeff's irritation when he saw that, and the dark circles beneath his husband's eyes.

"You know." Was all that Mutt said, looking down at the blonde wood floor.

"Yes, I know. What I want to know is why I didn't hear it from you last night. Take your hands out of your pockets." Jeff ordered.

Mutt gingerly removed his hands from his pockets and Jeff grabbed one, turning it over so that he could see the scrapes on the palm.

"Where else are you hurt?"

"I'm ok." Mutt said quietly.

"Where. Else. Are. You. Hurt." Jeff reiterated.

"My knees." Mutt admitted reluctantly. "Musta landed on some pebbles or something. I didn't notice anything till this morning when I got up to take my shower."

"Look at me, young man."

Mutt looked up from beneath his lashes, sorrow plain on his features.

"Head up. Shoulders straight. Look at me."

Mutt did as he was told, but looked somewhere in the vicinity of Jeff's chin.

"Why did I have to hear about this second hand?" Jeff demanded.

Mutt stood mutely, unable to answer immediately.

"Matthew!" Jeff said, not shouting but loudly enough to get his husband's attention.

Mutt swallowed nervously and took a breath. "We were just having some fun. We wanted to watch the sunset from the beach. We would have been fine if it hadn't been for the sand."

"The sand?" Jeff asked incredulously.

"Yes sir.  See, if the sand hadn't been there we wouldn't have had a problem." Mutt explained. "The sand was all uneven. It hadn't been raked yet and... well... we hit a rough patch and... Jaxon fell out of his chair and I kinda fell on top of him. He said he was all right!" He said, finally looking at Jeff squarely.

"Just like you're all right this morning?"

Mutt looked down at the toes of his sneakers and didn't reply.

Jeff took Mutt's chin in his hand and made him look up into his eyes. "That boy already has a sprained wrist and a dislocated knee. What do you suppose falling out of his chair and then you falling on top of him did to those injuries?"

"He said he was fine, Jeff." Mutt replied defensively. "If he'd said he was hurt we'd have called."

"You promised Heath and James that Jaxon would be safe with you." Jeff said pointedly.

"He is safe with me!" Mutt replied earnestly. "It was just a freak accident, and he said..."

"Yes, I know. He said he was all right." Jeff interrupted. "But judging from the fact that you were worried about it all night I'd still say you knew what you should have done and yet you didn't do it. I'm very disappointed right now, Matthew."

"I'm sorry, Jeff. I know I messed up. I'm really sorry!"

"Do you think that sorry is going to fix this?" Jeff asked. "I want you to call James and Heath and ask how Jaxon is, and apologize. After that we'll decide what to do with you."

Mutt swallowed again but nodded his head. He'd brought this down on himself. He only worried that Jaxon would be angry, or worse, that James and Heath would forbid him from hanging around with Jaxon ever again. They'd quickly become friends and Mutt valued that friendship. He went to the phone and dialed James's number.

James picked up on the third ring. "James Harrington." He said automatically. He shook his head, chiding himself mentally for allowing himself to become distracted and looked at the caller ID.

"Hello Jeff." he said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. There was no sense being angry at Jeff for what Mutt had done.

"It's... it's me, sir. Mutt. I... I'm calling to see how Jax is and...and to apologize for last night." Mutt said, afraid that as soon as James heard it was him that he'd hang up.

James once again fought back his first response and calmed himself. "He's doing well, Matthew." No thanks to you, he thought. "He's stiff and sore and his knee is a little swollen, but otherwise it looks as though his experience last night didn't cause any lasting damage that we can see."

"I'm glad, sir. And...sir I really hope that you and Heath will accept my apology. I really am sorry about what happened last night, and for not calling you as soon as it happened. I honestly didn't mean for Jax to get hurt."

James could hear the genuine concern and knew the apology wasn't forced or fake. "I know... we know... that you didn't do anything purposely to harm Jaxon, however, the fact that he didn't come right out and tell us when it happened..."

"Please James! Please sir! Don't be mad at Jax! It wasn't his fault, it was all mine. I was the one controlling the chair and I was the one who promised he'd be safe."

"There's enough blame to go around, Matthew,” James replied, his tone softening slightly. He took another breath and let it out in a sigh. "Right now, Heath and I are having a talk with Jaxon and I suggest that you get back to Jeff. I'm sure he has a few words for you as well."

"I'm sorry, sir!" Mutt said, near tears. "Please accept my apology."

James looked over at Heath, who had been listening to James's half of the conversation. He could clearly hear Mutt's words even though the phone wasn't on speaker. After a brief consideration, Heath nodded. There was no way to keep Jaxon completely safe from harm short of wrapping him in bubble wrap. He understood that Jax was as guilty as Mutt, and that with all of them living on the resort, holding grudges would just complicate relations between James and Jeff.

James seeing Heath’s nod, said into the phone, “Heath and I accept your apology Matthew. We hope something like this doesn’t happen again any time soon.”

Mutt said, “No Sir, it won’t, and thank you both.” Mutt hung up the phone and turned to Jeff with tears in his eyes. “Jaxon is okay and James and Heath accepted my apology.” He informed his husband as Jeff pulled him into a firm hug.


James disconnected the call from Mutt and studied Jax as Heath settled the young man at the table and they began to eat their breakfast. "Jax, can you tell Heath and me why you decided to not tell us about your injuries last night?  I don't want to hear that you were worried about getting Mutt and Bo in trouble. I'd like to hear what you were thinking about Heath and me." He said a bit sternly.

Jax shifted in the wheelchair not really sure what to say.  "Um, I don't know why," he mumbled.  "I mean, I guess I just didn't want you two to have to worry about me anymore."  He looked across the table at these two men that he cared so much about.  "And I guess I didn't want you to know I would let myself get hurt again."

James shook his head. "Jaxon...when are you going to realize that we both care for you? We are concerned about you. Just because I own this place and Heath here is a doctor doesn't mean we don't have feelings like any other man here." James said quietly. "We want you to be able to trust us and tell us things. I'm not disappointed that you got hurt again. You will probably get hurt in some way or another even after you heal from these current problems. What I'm disappointed about and what hurts is that I had to hear it from someone else instead of you."

Heath put his fork down looking closely at the young man across the table.  "James is right Jax, this isn't really about you getting hurt.  It's about you not trusting us enough to tell us you were hurt.  We care about you.  We have since the first minute I found you," the doctor revealed.  "I know you haven't been with us long and I know where you came from wasn't the best place.  But you need to know we care."

Jaxon didn't look at either man.  He didn't want them to see his face because he couldn't stop the tears.

James got up and went over and put his arm around the young man. "Jaxon, what Heath said is true and if you ask anyone else here who knows us they would tell you that before you came into our lives Heath and I didn't connect. You're the one that helped that to happen." He hugged the boy and pulled out a clean handkerchief and wiped the tears. "Tell us what the tears are about and Jax...please remember not to mumble. That's something we'll need to help you work on. You can speak your mind and if it's something Heath or I don't like we'll say so, but please don't judge what comes out of your mouth until you put it out there for us to respond to."

"I'm s...sorry," Jax stammered.  "I couldn’t tell Gene stuff like me getting hurt.  He would just call me a sissy and tell me to buck up."  Jax took the handkerchief from James and wiped his eyes.  "I guess I learned not to make trouble for myself."

Heath reached his hand across the table and covered Jax's bad hand.  "Some habits are hard to break, Hon, but we can do it if we work on it together."

James nodded and agreed with Heath. "We both want to help you to overcome those fears. We will never be angry with you for telling us things. We'll discuss it and then decide what to do about whatever it is together. We may be disappointed or annoyed, or even angry at times, but it will always be with your choices, behavior, but never with you Jaxon. You are precious to us."

"I care about you guys too," Jax stated with pride in his voice.  "The last time I felt cared about was when Dad was still alive."  Jax's voice trailed off.  James and Heath waited for him to compose his self.  "It's hard for me to understand that you do care even if I know you do."

James asked softly, "What makes that hard?"

"I don't know," the young man answered.

James exchanged a look with Heath and then asked, "Do you have any ideas as how we can make it easier?"

"I think we are just going to have to keep reminding him that we care," Heath said. 

James smiled. "I can do that...I see you're already doing that." He winked at Heath referring to the swat he gave Jax.

"Am I in trouble for not telling you sooner?" Jax asked.

James asked, "What kind of trouble?"

"I don't know," Jax answered, "but Mutt say Jeff was gunna kill him."

James nodded. "Do you know or understand why Mutt might say something like that?"

“Not really, but he was upset.  It wasn't his fault the chair turned over and he did try to stop me from falling," Jax explained.  "And he wanted me to call Heath.  Bo did too."

James said, "Your friends were concerned for you and they wanted to make sure you were okay. Friends do that."


James nodded. "Mutt's husband cares about him as well and he knew if he didn't do everything he could to help you after the accident Jeff would have been disappointed with him." He added.

“Jaxon, you aren't in trouble this time.  I'm, we, aren't happy that you didn't come to us but we understand why." Heath said. "But...

"But I need to trust you and come to you next time." Jax said.

James said, "Exactly."

"I'll try to remember, James."

James exchanged a look with Heath and said, "Let's hope you do and there are ways we can help you to remember if you forget, but that's for another time. Right now just work at remembering that we care for you, that this is your home until you decide to leave it on your own. Heath and I won't send you away, ask you to leave, abuse you or kick you out."

"O...ok," Jax mumbled then remembered what James had said about speaking up.  He looked at both men and clearly said, "Yes, sir."

James smiled. "Thank you Jax, good catch. You're already practicing speaking up instead of mumbling and we like that." He flashed Heath a grin.

“Now finish up your breakfast, Hun." Heath instructed.  "Then I want you to park your rear in the recliner and take a nap."

"A nap?  But I just got..." Jax stopped and looked at the grin of Heath's face.  "Yes, sir, I am a little tired.  Didn't get much sleep last night."

"Good boy, I'd hate to have to swat you again."

"Yeah about that swat, why did you hit me?" Jax asked.

James said to Jax, "Heath didn't hit you, he swatted your backside."

“Ok, but why?"

"Did it get your attention?" Heath asked.

"Yes sir it did."

"That's why. Sometimes a swat will get the person to pay attention to the person who gave it." James answered.

Jax reached down and rubbed his rear.  "Well it works."

James chuckled. "That's why we use it."

Jax laughed, "So it's another way to show you care?"

James nodded. "Absolutely."

"So if you stop swatting me I should get worried?"

James looked at Heath, then said seriously, "We won't stop because there's not anything you'll ever do to make us not care for you anymore."

Jax looked and both men and said "Promise, because I don't want you to stop me?"

James smiled. "I promise."

“Me too,” Heath added.

Jax smiled and stabbed the last piece of pancake on his plate and put it in his mouth and chewed. He drank down the last of his milk.  Heath waited until he was done and stood up.  He rolled Jax's wheelchair closer to the recliner, picked Jax up and carefully placed him in the comfortable chair.  "I want you to rest, Jax," he said.  "And I'll get an ice bag for your knee."

James went over to the recliner while Heath went for the ice bag. "I sincerely hope you'll learn to trust us and become comfortable enough to stay here Jax."

"I'll try James."  Jax promised.  "I do trust you, now I just have to remember that it's ok to show you I do."

James smiled and kissed Jax's forehead. "Good."

Heath smiled at the grin on their boy’s face.


Shorty led the way across the lodge, through the kitchen and out the back door.  He held the door open and waved Bo ahead of him.  The younger man stepped across the threshold, moved to the side and waited.  Shorty didn’t say anything as he strode past the garden and into the woods.  He fully expected Bo to follow as they moved silently through the morning toward the bunkhouse.  And Bo did follow.  He followed without speaking. 

Shorty walked slowly, taking the time to cool off.  He knew Bo wasn’t really at fault.  The young horse wrangler had only been at TLR less than 24 hours.  He couldn’t possibly know the mechanics of the relationships here.  If anyone was at fault it would be Mutt, but Shorty also knew that Jeff’s husband wouldn’t intentionally do anything to cause harm to one of his friends.

When the two men came to the corral behind the stables, Shorty leaned his forearms on the top rail.  Bo followed suit.  “Bo, I’m sorry I snapped at you back there,” he said as one of the horses came up to him nuzzling his hand for a treat.  The resort vet produced a peppermint for the horse.  “You haven’t been here long enough to know how things are done.”

“True,” Bo agreed, “but I did know I should have told someone Jax fell and was hurting.  So I understand you and James being upset. I'm really sorry about that."  He said sincerely.

"You've only been here for a day," Shorty said, "But from now on, if something like this happens again, if someone gets hurt, or if you're hurt and don't say anything about it, well, we just don't put up with that here.  Understood?"

"Yes sir." Bo replied, looking down at his worn boots and scuffing one into the dirt.  "I didn't mean any harm."

Shorty put a hand on Bo's shoulder, his face kind.  "As long as we don't have a repeat of this, we'll be just fine."

"Then I'm not fired?"  Bo said, looking up into Shorty's eyes.

Shorty smiled slightly.  "No, you'd have to do a lot worse to be fired from this job.  This was an honest oversight on your part, and we're not going to hold it against you.  However... I would suggest that you take a few of the classes that TLR offers, so that you can get a better idea of the men who work here, the clientele that we cater to, and the purposes that TLR serves.  You're also welcome to talk to me, James, Jeff or even Mutt, provided he's not in too much trouble right now."

Bo looked up at Shorty with concern in his eyes.  "Mutt said that Jeff was going to kill him.  I know that he didn't mean that literally but... I mean... does... I mean, Jeff doesn't... jeez I'm not even sure I can ask this, being so new here..."

"No, Jeff doesn't abuse Mutt," Shorty replied with an understanding expression. "We'd never allow anything like that here."

The tension in Bo's shoulders decreased visibly and the lines of concern on his face lessened.  "I'm glad.  I'd hate to think that I got him into trouble and that Jeff... I feel a little guilty even thinking it now." Bo admitted.

"Did you completely read the nondisclosure agreement before you signed it?"  Shorty asked, a light going off in his head at Bo's words.

"Well, it was kinda long,” Bo replied sheepishly.  "I mean, I did read most of it, but it all seemed on the up and up so, I kinda skimmed.  Is there something important that I missed?"

Shorty resisted the urge to explain the DP aspect of TLR, worried that too much information all at once would scare the other man off.  "You didn't get anyone in trouble.  Mutt did that all by himself." He answered, sidestepping the question for now.  "Tell ya what, let me look into some of the beginners classes and see if they can fit you in as an observer.  I'll see if I can get you a class or two on your days off."

Bo was a little confused but nodded agreement.

"In the meantime, you've got some horses to take care of.  There's a list of all the horses, their names, their temperaments... you've got your hands full with a couple of them, I'll tell ya.  Then you've got to familiarize yourself with the trails, one or the other of the twins can help you there until you've familiarized yourself with them. They've been doing an all right job up til now so you can rely on them to act as guides on your days off."

"There's also a list of advanced riders who know the trails and can ride out on their own.  Always ask for ID.  The men who visit here frequently know this, so you shouldn't have much trouble.  It's the bra...ones who try to slip by that cause the most problems, but remember, I'm almost always nearby if you need back up."

"Do you... do you think it would be all right to call Mutt first?  And..."

"Not right now, Mr. Stable Master.  You don't want to be late first day on the job do you?"  Shorty joked.

"No sir,” Bo smiled as he walked into the stables to acquaint himself with his new charges.


Jeff could feel the rapid beating of his husband's heart, and feel the tension in his body.  He held him until both returned to normal and then broke the hug gently.  He held Mutt at arm’s length and looked at him solemnly.  He knew that Mutt was sincere in his apologies but that didn't negate the facts of the matter.

"Matthew," He began.

Mutt looked back at Jeff, trying not to cry.  He knew that he'd messed up big time and that tears weren't going to save him from whatever Jeff had in store for him.

"Just do it, Chief."  Mutt said quietly.  "Please."

"Do what?"

"You know.  Don't make me say it."  Mutt replied, a tear running down his cheek.  He brushed it aside, angry at himself for being, what he considered, weak.

"Tell me what you did wrong."  Jeff said gently, beginning their small ritual.

Mutt hated this part almost as much as he hated the spankings that almost always followed.  

"I promised Jax would be safe but he got hurt anyway because I was fooling around.  I didn't call James or Heath when it happened.  I didn't tell you about it.  You had to hear it second hand."  Mutt recited.  He wondered how James and Heath had gotten the story from Jaxon, who had been so adamant about no one telling about what had happened the night before, and he worried that Jax would be in some sort of trouble, and worried what it might be.

He looked up at Jeff pleadingly.  "Please tell me that Jax isn't in trouble?  It wasn't his fault."

"I don't know what's going to happen with Jaxon, hon.  That's between him, James and Heath, and I suppose Jax can tell you what happened when your grounding is over.  But I don't want you asking him, understand?  If he wants to talk about it he will."

The word 'grounding' wasn't lost on Mutt.  His stomach sank.  When Jeff grounded him it usually meant he wasn't allowed to do anything except work, eat and sleep.  The restrictions usually drove Mutt to distraction within a week. Then there was the possibility of a spanking and how severe it would be.  He knew he'd messed up pretty badly this time and dreaded whatever Jeff was going to come up with.

"Matthew, I want you to stand in the corner.  I need time to think about an appropriate punishment."

"Can't we...?"  Mutt began hopefully.

"Grounding isn't enough. No, hon.  This is... just not like you, and to say that I'm disappointed is an understatement."

"I'm sorry, Jeff."  Replied, Mutt, contrite.

"I know you are.  Now go do as you were told."

"For how long?"  

"For as long as it takes me to decide what the fairest course of action would be in this case.  Now go."  Jeff said, turning Mutt and sending him to the corner with a firm swat to his backside.

Mutt walked to the corner with his head down and clasped his hands behind his back.  

Jeff went to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee.  He sat at the table and thought hard about the situation.  Mutt had lied to him.  Granted it was by omission, but that was the part that hurt him the worst.  He'd thought that he and Mutt had enough trust between them for his husband to come to him whenever he had a problem.  It also explained why Mutt had slept so badly the night before.  He thought that the bad night might have been sufficient punishment but he knew Mutt too well.  Mutt could, at times, be harder on himself than Jeff could.

Jeff thought for a good five minutes before coming to a decision.

"Matthew."  He called.  "Come here."

Mutt turned from the corner to see Jeff stand and slowly remove his belt.  His heart felt as though it had dropped into his stomach and his eyes grew wide.

Jeff pulled the chair away from the table and sat back down, doubling the belt in his hand.  "You know what to do."

Mutt was conflicted.  He knew he deserved to be punished, and that a belting was always done quickly and over his jeans, but the sight of the thick leather belt and his husband's sad look tore at his insides, making him feel worse than the actual belting would.

He walked over to Jeff and began to unbuckle his own belt.

"No, not bare."

"Not bare."

Mutt wiped away the tears he couldn't control and laid himself across Jeff's knees.  

Jeff adjusted his young husband so that his back end was at it's highest point, and brought the belt down.  He felt Mutt's body jerk but he knew it was more in response to the sound of the belt snapping than any physical pain at this point.

He brought the belt down, snap, snap, crack right onto Mutt's sit spot and upper thighs.  He wanted this lesson to be remembered for a long time and the fact that he was using his belt and not his hand or another implement was a sure way to get his point across.

Mutt laid quietly after the first jump and took the spanking as stoically as possible, until the burn began to build up.  He wriggled, trying to get the belt to land in a spot that it hadn't already been ignited but Jeff was too practiced and wasn't falling for it.  The burn built and built until Mutt thought that he couldn't take any more.  The tears flowed unchecked.  He tried to hold in the gasps and sobs but his body shuddered with them.  Jeff continued the punishment for what felt like an hour to Mutt but in actuality wasn't much longer than a minute.  It took another thirty seconds for Mutt to realize that the punishment was over and Jeff was rubbing his back.

Slowly and carefully, Jeff helped Mutt to stand so that he wouldn't lose his balance and then stood to put his arms around him, not minding the tears and runny nose on his shirt front as Mutt buried his face in Jeff's chest, holding onto his husband as though for dear life.

Jeff held tightly to his husband, arms encircling him protectively, one hand stroking the long black hair, the other rubbing Mutt's back.  He rested his chin on the top of Mutt's head and rocked him slowly until the crying and jagged breathing stopped.

"There's nothing pressing for us to do today, so I want you to go back to bed and catch up on some of the sleep you missed out on last night."  Jeff said quietly, planting a kiss on top of Mutt's head.  "We can talk more later if you want to."

"I'm grounded?"  Mutt reminded him.

"Yes, you're grounded.  Two weeks.  No visits or phone calls to or from any of your friends.  I think that will be more than enough for you to learn to appreciate them..."

"I do appreciate them!"  Mutt said earnestly.

"To appreciate them,” Jeff repeated more firmly, “And not horse around with a friend who is already injured, thereby causing him further injury.  You made a promise.  You broke it.  You hid the fact.  You wouldn't have told me if I hadn't heard it from someone else..."

"I would have,” Mutt said, his eyes tearing up again.

"We're not going to discuss this anymore, Matthew.  The fact is that you didn't tell me when you should have."

"Are you still angry with me?"  Mutt asked, looking up at Jeff with pleading eyes.

"I'm not angry with you, hon.  I was disappointed and hurt, and yes, I was angry at first, but we've dealt with the matter, right?"  Jeff said, looking down into the dark, liquid eyes.

"Yes, we've dealt with it."  Mutt answered quietly, hugging Jeff again.

Jeff returned the hug and kissed Mutt again.  "Now it's time for you to go to bed.  I'll call you for lunch."

Mutt only nodded.  He turned away, head down, feeling suddenly very tired.  Without getting undressed he slid back into their bed and fell into a deep, uninterrupted sleep.


The following Monday Harry and Brody both delivered their notice in writing to Owen, the bank manager.

"I'm sorry to lose you."  Owen said to Brody as he read the resignation letters.  "You've been great assets to this bank for the past three years."

"Thank you, Owen.  I've enjoyed my time here.  But this opportunity is too good to pass up."

"Do you need a letter of recommendation?"  Owen asked.  "Either of you?"  He continued, smiling at Harry who smiled shyly back.

"It wouldn't hurt, thank you." Brody replied.

"So, I'm curious where the two of you found jobs together."

"You know I have a part time week end job?  They've ask me several times to become full time but I've always said no. But they have an opening for a full time accountant and are willing to train Brody."  Harry smiled. "We're excited about our move. I'm even able to move my mother to a really nice place nearby so I can continue to make regular visits."

"Sounds like you two have given this a lot of thought."

Harry nodded. "Yes, we've been talkin' about it since I invited Brody up to the resort."

"That's another thing we wanted to talk to you about."  Brody answered.  "It's at a resort called TearDrop Lake Resort."

"I've never heard of it."  Owen said curiously.

"And that's the way they like it."  Brody joked.  "It's a very exclusive year round resort.  Membership is through resident or member invitation only.  I’m there because Harry invited me.”

“Since we're going to be permanent residents we mentioned you and Freddie to the owner and we have an application for membership for you... if you're interested."  Brody smiled.

Harry glanced at Brody and said, "It's a safe haven for gay men."

"So you aren't kidding?  There really is a place for men like us?" Owen asked.

"Yes. I've worked part time there for several years now."

"And I'll be working there as an accountant.  And since you're my best friend, I'm inviting you and Freddie."

Owen leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful look on his face.  "What do we have to do?  Just show up?" Owen asked.

"You'll need to fill out the application and then it will need to be processed and after that a letter of invitation will be sent." Harry explained. "They do a background check and things."

"I guess I can understand the precautions if it is for the members protection," the bank manager agreed.

"Yes, and security is both to keep the residents and guests safe and unwanted persons out."  Harry smiled at Owen. "Why don't you arrange to come for a weekend?  The owner of the resort doesn’t charge for accommodations or services except alcoholic beverages and shopping at any of the shops on the property, although he doesn’t frown on money being offered.  He’s very understanding and will answer any questions anyone has about the resort, the amenities or the instructional classes offered.  I hope you'll like it.  Just let Brody know when it would be convenient and we can make the arrangements."

"Will they still need to do the background check?"

"Oh yes, it's mandatory." Harry answered.

"Well, then, where are the applications?"  Owen said rubbing his hands together.

Brody laughed and handed the applications over along with a brochure.  "I'm looking forward to seeing you and Freddie there."

Harry nodded. "It will be interestin'."

"I'm still sorry to be losing you two but at least we will still get to see each other," Owen smiled.

Harry grinned. "Yes and in a more pleasurable environment where we can relax and do some enjoyable things together."

"I'll talk to Freddie about the resort tonight and get started of filling out the applications," Owen said.  "And I'll see you two back at your posts because you are still mine for two more weeks."

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