Monday, May 23, 2016
TLR Chapter 69
Back in town the others still hadn't found Mike and were getting worried. "We can't leave without him." Mutt said.
“Why not?” Tor said walking up to the group. "If he left the group he deserves to be left behind."
"Torren Luis Ruiz," Adam began, “If anything happens to him we're the ones in trouble. Charles and Gary let us take him out in good faith that we'd bring him back in as good condition as when he left, if not better. How would you like it if we left you behind?"
Tor had the good sense to look embarrassed for all of two seconds. "I don't know why we had to bring him."
"Because he's really trying to change, Tor." Mutt said, “He was a lot of fun at the barbeque, he was a lot of fun on the ride to the movie. He's got a wicked sense of humor. You'd like him if you gave him a chance."
"You were picking on him since we got in the van," Bo added.
"Yeah,” Little Jake added. ”You never gave him a chance."
"Give him a chance?" Torren said sarcastically. "I have no reason to like the guy and I'm not going to kiss his ass like you guys." He continued hotly.
"You don't need to kiss his ass, Tor. You just need to be civil to him." Mutt said. "He is trying to change."
"We need to call someone," Mutt interrupted. "We need to let the others know we lost Mike."
"Llame a los Ghost Busters para lo que me importa. Just leave me the hell out of it." Torren snarled.
(Call the Ghost Busters for all I care.)
“Tor, you are the reason we're all standing here trying to find Mike." Adam growled.
"Not my fault if the dude had a hissy fit. Reina del drama f'ya ask me." He spat. (Drama queen)
Bo gave Torren an unfriendly look and pulled his cell phone out. "Who do I call?"
"I think we should call James, or Jeff." Mutt said. "They'll know what to do."
"Do you want to do it, Mutt?" Bo asked.
Mutt sighed. "It was my idea," he said with a sigh, not mentioning that it had been Jeff's idea to invite Mike. "I can't believe I never thought to get Mike's cell phone number before. Can't even call him to find out if he's alright." Mutt berated himself.
"He probably wouldn't answer anyway." Jax said.
"You're probably right Jax. Well, here goes nothin'." Mutt said, swallowing the hard lump in his throat. He dialed Jeff's number.
"Honey, I thought you'd be home by now. What happened, did the van break down?" Jeff asked.
"Jeff, don't freak out..."
"What happened?" Jeff asked, immediately on the alert. "Did someone get hurt? Do I need to call Heath?"
"I said don't freak out." Mutt pleaded.
Jeff took a deep breath and calmed himself. He had to keep his head for Mutt's sake. "Alright hon, now just tell me what happened."
"We lost Mike."
"You what!?" Jeff asked, forgetting his decision to remain calm for the moment.
"I asked you not to freak out." Mutt said, face palming himself for blurting it out like that. He looked at Bo for help.
Bo took the phone. "Jeff, Bo here. Mike got mad and took off. We've been looking all over for him but can't find him."
Jeff took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'll have to call Charles and Gary. Where are you guys now?"
"Still in front of the theater.”
"Stay by the van. Keep your phone on. I'll call you right back."
"Ok, Jeff, we never thought he would take off," Bo stammered apologetically.
"What happened anyway? Why on earth would he leave like that? I always thought he was a level headed kid."
"Um...well...he got mad..." Bo stammered, unwilling to rat out Torren, as much as the other boy might deserve it.
Adam held out his hand for the phone. Tor was the reason Mike left and he felt it was his responsibility to tell Jeff.
"Tor has his mad on about Mike." Adam began, his accent a little thicker than usual. "He was mad the whole time we were in the movies because he had to sit next to Mike, who's a talker. That on top of his anger ended up with Mike having an impromptu soda bath."
"Bath, yeah. Torren poured his soda in Mike's lap. Mike got mad and stormed out. Bo convinced him to come back into the theater but he wouldn't sit with us after that. We thought he'd cool down by the end of the movie but we saw half way through that he'd gone. That's when we all started looking for him."
"Did you stay together while you searched?" Jeff asked.
"Um, we split up except for Tor and Jax.” Adam answered, wondering why that mattered.
"What would have happened if one of you had been hurt while you were split up?" Jeff asked. Then he said, "Don't bother answering. Considering the circumstances I don't imagine you had much choice. I have to call Charles and Gary right now. I'll call you all right back."
Jeff looked at his watch and then reluctantly called Charles and Gary. Charles's sleepy voice answered. Jeff was surprised that they'd be asleep without Mike being home.
"Charles," Jeff began when he heard the other man's sleepy voice, "I have some bad news."
Charles was instantly awake, wondering what could have happened.
"Mike... Michael is missing. The boys just called from town and they told me that he and Torren had a run in and that Michael took off. I'm really sorry, Charles. This is the last thing I'd ever want to have to tell anyone."
“What are you talking about?" Charles asked, "He's right here, asleep with us."
Gary woke up and sleepily asked what was going on.
Instead, Charles shook Mike awake. "What's going on, Michael Anthony?"
"Huh? HUH?! What?" Mike asked groggily.
"Jeffrey is on the phone and he told me that the boys don't know where you are! They've apparently been all over town looking for you. What happened? And how did you get home?" he demanded.
"He's with you?" Jeff asked, astounded and relieved at the same time. "But... but..."
"We'll get the whole story out of him, Jeff," Charles replied, forgetting to be his usual formal self. "Just get the others home now. We'll explain things in the morning."
"I'll do that. Thank you, Charles. Goodbye." Jeff said, not waiting for an answer, he called Mutt back.
"Jeff?" Mutt answered on the first ring.
"Yes, hon. Stop the search and come home. Mike is already here. He and the others were asleep when I called."
"He's home?! How did he get there so fast? Never mind, I'm gonna kill that... him."
Jeff could hear the others in the background all talking at once. "Just come on home, hon, we'll work everything out. In the meantime, if Shorty, Eric and James haven't called you guys yet, call them."
"Yes sir. We'll be home as fast as we can."
"Drive the speed limit, little boy!" Jeff warned, "You speeding isn't going to do any good, for many reasons."
“Ok, Jeff. I promise we'll be careful. Goodbye for now. I'll see you soon."
"I love you, sweetheart." Jeff said quietly.
"I love you too." Mutt said with a little smile before hanging up.
Turning to the others, Mutt said, "Jeff says to call your men."
Jax pulled his phone out and called James and Heath. When Heath answered he simply said. "We’re running a little late, Heath."
"Is there a problem, Jax?" Heath asked, concern in his voice.
"Yeah, but we're all ok, and will be home soon. Love you." Jax said hoping that would be enough for now.
Bo had pulled out his phone as well while Little Jake and Jare looked on nervously. He also told Shorty that they were running late and would explain as soon as they got home in about a half hour.
"It had better be one good damn explanation then, boy." Shorty had said, relief clear in his tone despite his words.
Bo hung up, his fears allayed for the time being. Even though he and the twins had had nothing to do with the night's events he worried that they'd be in trouble for something.
Jarrod growled at Torren. "If we're in trouble it's all your fault, Tor."
"Al diablo con eso." Torren muttered. (To hell with that.)
"Tor, just get in the van," Adam ordered as he pulled out his phone to call Eric.
Eric saw the number on his caller ID, feeling the weight that had been on his chest diminishing. He'd just been about to call them. "Ad, honey, what's the hold up? You guys said you'd be back by one, latest. It's late! Where are you?"
"We had a little bit of a problem here, Eric. I'm sorry we didn't call sooner. Everyone's alright, don't worry,” he said before Eric could ask. "We're headed home now. See you soon? We can tell you everything when we get home."
"You'd better." Eric replied. "Be careful getting home." he added softly.
"We will, Eric. I promise." Adam replied before hanging up.
"Man, they are never going to let us leave the resort again," Little Jake sighed.
"At least not with Torren." Jarrod said angrily.
Torren shot Jare a nasty look but didn't reply.
“Ok, guys, load up and let's get going." Bo instructed.
Torren angrily shoved past everyone so that he could sit in the back. He didn't want to sit near any of the others if he could avoid it, and he didn't want their eyes boring holes in his head the whole way. Once again, he crossed his arms and legs and stared out the window.
Bo ended up sitting across from Torren in the back seat. He wasn't pleased in the least but he knew that none of the other guys wanted to sit near him at the moment.
Mutt took the keys back from Jax who sat in the front with him for more leg room and they headed back home.
It was a quiet ride back to the resort. Mutt pulled the van into the parking lot and they were met by James, Jeff, Heath, Eric and Shorty who had all been awaiting their arrival.
The boys piled out of the van and rushed to their Tops giving and receiving hugs and reassurances, except for Torren, who was the last to leave the van. He had remained silent and sullen all the way home.
Jarrod, Bo and Little Jake gladly went home with Shorty, who had tea waiting for them. They explained what had happened at the theater and Shorty's eyebrows were nearly lost in his hairline from his surprise.
"I'd never thought Mike as being the kind to run off like that." he admitted. "I'm proud of you boys for looking out for Jax and for helping to look for Mike. Now, it's late, and you've already lost enough sleep. Get to bed, my boys. You look ready to fall over as it is."
The three younger men were more than happy to do as they'd been bid. Shorty held out his hand to Bo and together they followed the twins up the stairs. Once the other doors were closed Shorty pulled Bo to their bed and the two big men were asleep very quickly.
Jeff heard the story from Mutt as they laid in bed, Mutt's head on Jeff's shoulder. Jeff smiled down at Mutt and gave him a kiss on top of his freshly washed hair as Mutt fell asleep mid-sentence.
He knew he couldn't be angry at Mutt for suggesting that they all split up. He agreed with Mutt that it would have taken even longer to search, and he admired the fact that his husband had been able to stay calm in the face of an incident like this.
James and Heath helped Jax into bed between them and listened as he told them about the events of the evening. He snuggled deeper into the mattress and drifted off to sleep.
Eric knew that his husbands were tired, but it was important for him to hear exactly what had happened. He was not the least bit pleased to hear what Torren had done.
"It's too late now to deal with this." He said, glancing up at the wall clock and then at his watch. "But we are going to deal with this first thing in the morning, Torren Luis."
"But I have to go to work in the morning!"
"Then you'll go to work with a sore backside."
"You're not even gonna listen to my side, are ya?" Torren demanded.
"I'll listen to your side, in the morning when I'm more awake and calmer. Now it's time for you two to take a shower and get to bed."
Adam got up and did as he'd been told but Torren sat there stubbornly and refused to move.
"Torren Luis Ruiz..."
"No, I'm gonna have my say now. Ya think I'm gonna be able t' sleep right now?"
Torren had been refusing all of Eric's attempts to calm him since he'd gotten home, but he tried again. He stood up and walked over to his brat.
Torren's eyes widened, worried that he was not only not going to have his say but that he was going to be spanked right now. He was surprised when Eric pulled him out of his chair and hugged him. Hard.
Torren once again tried to pull away but Eric was having none of it. If anything, he hugged harder, pressing his body as close to Torren's as he could.
Tor resisted for a few moments longer but finally gave in to Eric and hugged him back, resting his head on Eric's shoulder. Eric rubbed Torren's back until he felt the muscles beneath his lover's shirt begin to relax.
"¡Lo odio! ¡Los odio! Él y sus socios!" Torren began to cry, his shoulders and back tense as he pressed his face into the curve of Eric's neck.
(I hate it! I hate them! Him and his partners.)
¿Cómo piensan que está bien tratar a personas tan mal? ¿Lo que piensan es correcto tratar a la gente como una mierda!? I jus' don' understan' it, Eric!" Torren cried into Eric's shirt.
(How can they think it is alright to treat people so badly? How can they think it is right to treat people like crap?)
"Me tratan como si yo fuera un idiota, estúpido, debajo de ellos ! La suciedad debajo de su size tens."
(They treat me like I'm an idiot, stupid, beneath them! The dirt under their size tens)
"Always with the 'You speakie da Engie, Pedro?' Hablo Inglés mejor! Eso es jodidamente seguro!" he continued, sobbing and becoming harder and harder to understand. "¿Desde cuándo es ser bilingual es algo malo?" he demanded.
(I speak better English! That's for f****** sure!)
(Since when is being bilingual a bad thing?)
"Y la manera en que me mira cuando trabajo! Al igual que ellos piensan que voy a robar algo de mierda! ¿Sabes cómo degradante que es eso?"
(And the way he looks at me when I work! Like he thinks I'm gonna steal their shit! Do you know how demeaning that is?).
"I understand that you're upset, Tor, I do. I've also been with you long enough to understand most of what you're saying. I certainly understand enough to know I don't like the language you're using, and you know it's not the Spanish I'm talking about."
Torren blushed and tried not to laugh, this was too important to him to get further onto Eric's bad side than he was already.
"Lo siento, Eric. I'm sorry, Eric." he corrected himself. "It's just... I hate the way they treat me. I hate the way they talk down to me. I hate him, and I hate them."
"Tell me everything, honey." Eric prompted.
Torren took a deep breath and began to tell Eric everything that he'd been holding in for so long.
"So it was Charles that did this, and not Gary or Mike?" Eric asked in order to get the story straight.
"Yes, Charles," Torren said, slurring the name. "It wasn't all of them, not really, but they never stopped him either. They had to see the way he was talking down to me, how he was treating me. They never once told him to stop."
"But it wasn't Mike that treated you like that."
Torren took a shuddering breath. "No, I guess not. Not entirely."
"I think you need to apologize to Michael, honey."
"For what? For getting upset about the way they treat me?" Torren asked, hurt and astounded.
"No, honey. For taking what Charles did out on Mike. For losing your temper. I'm sure that's why Michael left, isn't it?"
"In English, honey. Calm down, take deep breaths, and speak slowly. I promise I'll listen. I'll get the whole story from James and the others in the morning, but for now, I want you to tell me what happened. We can work this out, ok, Tortuga?"
For the first time that night, Torren gave a genuine smile. Eric was going to listen, really listen, and everything was going to be fine.
The next morning James got together with the other tops and heard their versions of the story. The only thing that had apparently been left out of Michael's story was the fact that Torren had dumped his soda in his lap which was the reason that Mike had finally snapped. Charles didn't say anything during the meeting but he planned to have a little discussion with Michael about lying by omission. He'd already dealt with the fact that Mike had hitchhiked home.
"I've already given Torren instructions that he's to apologize to Michael, and to you," Eric nodded to Charles and Gary, "For his behavior..."
"Apologize!" Charles sputtered angrily. "That boy needs his bottom toasted for good and all. I for one am not going to accept a simple apology coming from that... that..."
"Human being." James said sharply. "Torren is a human being, a member of this family, and has every right to be treated as such. From what I understand you have treated him deplorably. That's why Torren behaved, or misbehaved as you will, as he did last night."
"That still doesn't excuse..."
"His bad behavior. No, it doesn't, but Eric has seen to that. Now we need to discuss your bad behavior." He said pointedly.
"My... how dare you..." Charles stammered, his anger making him less than coherent.
Gary put a hand over Charles's to soothe him and Charles gave his husband a grateful glance before returning to the subject at hand.
"Are you prejudiced, Charles?" Jeff, who had been sitting by quietly with the others, finally asked.
"Prejudiced! Of course not!"
"Then why do you assume that Torren doesn't speak English?"
"The kid barely speaks at all." Charles said in his defense. "And when he does he's constantly muttering in that language of his. Someone should teach him that he's in America now and that we speak American English here."
"That reminds me. That 'kid' is named Torren. He's been working at the resort since he was sixteen, and you should know his proper name by now. Show him some courtesy and remember his name. That would be a great start." Eric said angrily.
"If he's not smart enough to tell me his real name then how am I supposed to know it?" Charles stated flatly.
"And yet another point. Torren is quite intelligent. He's had a difficult life, mostly because of people like you who underestimate him because he's quiet around people he doesn't know or doesn't feel comfortable around. And he will never feel comfortable as long as you watch him like a hawk while he's working."
"People like that need to be watched or they'll steal you blind." Charles said huffily.
Gary closed his eyes and tried to pretend he hadn't just heard that. He took his hand away from Charles's, ashamed of him though he'd never say as much in front of these men.
"People... like what exactly?" James asked in a dangerous voice. He looked over at Eric who was positively livid.
"Those people." Charles said, unaware that he'd stepped over a very shaky line. "Those foreigners, they take jobs away from good, hard working Americans."
"Torren is an American." Eric said in a tight voice. "He was born here...."
"An 'anchor baby', no doubt." Charles replied, disdain dripping from every word. "Parents came over on the raft? Dropped the baby and considered themselves safe? What happened to them afterward, they probably abandoned him, am I right?"
Eric shot up and prepared to punch Charles in the mouth.
"No, Eric!" James commanded. Those two words alone, spoken in that tone of command were enough to settle Eric down, but he was still breathing heavily and his fists were clenched, prepared to punch Charles out at any given moment.
"Charles," James said in a tight voice, “I think we're going to have to go over your evaluation again. In light of what you've said I wonder if you're really TLR material. I'm putting you on probation for the next six weeks. After that we'll conduct a review and see if anything has changed in that time. If not, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave TLR property permanently. I'm sorry if that means we lose Gary and Michael as well but that decision will be up to the three of you, along with Jeff and I, at the end of the six week probation period, should you decide to stay that long."
Charles's jaw dropped. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Over this?!" he demanded.
"You're creating a hostile work environment, Charles. We've put up with your holier than thou attitude for years because you're good at what you do, but we can't allow this to continue." James said solemnly.
Before he could say anything more, Gary put a hand back over his partner's and shook his head. Charles, very red in the face and obviously shaken, merely nodded his head and asked if they were done.
"We're done for now. I'd advise you to think very hard about what we've spoken about today. Feel free to speak to me or Jeff if you have any questions."
Without another word, Charles stalked out of the office with an embarrassed looking Gary close behind.
Mutt and Adam had finished their job for the day and clocked out, their evening free to enjoy the resort and relax.
"How about we head to the falls?" Adam asked.
"Sounds good to me. My head is aching and the falls are just what I need to calm down."
He was referring to the call he'd gotten from Charles that morning, specifically requesting that Torren no longer be sent to his bungalow to do work of any sort.
"You can send the dummy if you have to," Charles had said, "But I don't want anything to do with the sp... Torren." He said, slurring the name.
"And who exactly is 'the dummy'?" Mutt had asked, irked beyond words that any of his men were being called names by the sanctimonious Charles.
"Look, I don't care who you send." Charles had snarled. "Just don't send that one. Understand?"
"I will send whoever is best suited to serve your needs, Mr. Petersen." Mutt had replied tightly, and had hung up before the older man could respond. He then called Jeff to tell him about the conversation.
"Right now, Chief, I just don't want to send anyone there. I'd just as soon let the damned thing fall down around their ears than subject any of my men to that venomous atmosphere."
"But you won't, because you're a professional." Jeff had rejoined. "Just send whoever will do the best job and tell them to avoid speaking to or acknowledging Charles at all. Be polite, of course, but you don't have any obligation to do more than that."
"Ok, Chief. But only because you said to." Mutt replied with a pout.
"No pouting. It doesn't look good on you." Jeff joked.
Mutt smiled. His husband knew him so well. "Yes sir."
So now he and Adam were headed toward the falls, since Torren had ended up grounded for a month, a very lenient punishment coming from Eric who hadn't had the heart to do more than that to his boy who was in so much pain. It actually wasn't so much a grounding as time for Eric and Torren to be together and reconnect, but Torren had appreciated the structure and hadn't complained.
As they walked up toward the beach, they saw a figure huddled up on the sand. It was Mike, taking some time to be alone and think. Mike had his knees drawn up to his chin and his arms linked loosely around his legs.
"How ya doin' Mike?" Mutt asked quietly, trying not to startle the young man.
Mike turned his head to look at Mutt and Adam and then turned his head away quickly so they wouldn't see him crying.
"Hey, Michael," Adam said, his Irish accent having an immediate soothing effect on the upset man sitting on the beach. Mutt sat on Michael's left while Adam sat to his right. "Talk to us, mo chara."
Mutt put a tentative hand on Mike's arm.
"How much did Eric and Jeff tell you about this morning?" Mike asked quietly, not shaking off the offered hand.
"Not much. Just that they were going to have a meeting about what happened last night. And this morning after the meeting I got a call from Charles asking that Torren not be sent to do any more repairs at your place."
Mike's head shot up. "He did?!"
"You didn't know." Mutt stated quietly, more to himself than to Mike.
"No. James... James has Charles on probation for creating a hostile work environment. Charles is talking about packing up and just leaving and to hell with the six week probation period. I don't want to leave. Neither does Gary, but we're going to have to if Charles decides that's what we're gonna do."
"Gary and you don't have a say?" Adam asked, surprised.
“‘Course we do. But think about it. If Jeff or Eric were given that ultimatum, wouldn't you all stick with your Top and leave with him?"
Mutt and Adam nodded. There was no question. "I'm just sorry it came to this." Adam said.
"Me too, and I blame myself. I knew how he was treating Torren. I was... I was guilty of it myself. Monkey see, monkey do, I guess. I'm not excusing myself, there's no excuse. I just... it never occurred to me to worry about how Torren felt. He's just... I never thought... I mean, he's just maintenance." He glanced quickly at Mutt and Adam sheepishly and apologized for the remark.
"I have the same problem sometimes, Mike," Mutt said by way of reassurance. "People talk over my head and assume I don't know what they're talking about, or they just ignore me as a lowly maintenance man. It doesn't bother me, but I'm a lot more outgoing than Tor is. He's very quiet around people he doesn't know or isn't comfortable around, Eric calls him the turtle because he's so shy. And people can see he's Hispanic so they just automatically assume he only speaks Spanish or doesn't understand English. He lets it stew rather than telling people that they're wrong."
"I feel so horrible about the whole thing. I wish there was some way I could apologize that he'd accept. Charles has told me that I'm not to accept any apologies from Torren, but... it's just not right. I mean, we're the ones who were wrong, but Charles has forbidden any contact with him. I don't know what to do. I want to make things right, and I want to stay at TLR."
"When do you have to be to work tonight?"
Mike looked at his watch. "Shit, pretty soon. I was sitting out here longer than I thought." He said, getting up and dusting off his slacks, absentmindedly rubbing his backside and wincing. He wiped at his face and left a streak of dirt across his cheek.
Mutt smiled and took out a clean tissue, wiping away the smudge before pronouncing Mike fit for duty. "When's your next day off?"
"I mostly work nights so I'm off pretty much every day."
"Well, come on over to my house tomorrow before work," Adam said. "You don't have to tell Charles about it. I just think it would be good for you and Torren to talk, get things aired out. Maybe that will help with Charles as well."
"I can't not tell." Mike said, a little embarrassed, “He's already had a discussion with me about lying through omission. I didn't tell him about Tor dumping his soda on me, he found out by talking to the other guys."
"Then bring Gary with you, I'm sure he wants this taken care of as quickly as possible as well," Adam offered. "I mean, I know that Charles can be something of a pillock sometimes, but Gary's more open minded about things, and I'm sure he'd be willing to come with you, if only to make sure you're alright." Adam smiled.
"A-alright. I'll see if I can get Gary to come with me tomorrow. Are you sure it's going to be ok with Eric if we just show up?"
"I'll tell 'imp. I'll tell Torren too, so it won't be such a surprise. Don't worry, Michael. Between the bunch of us we'll make it all right."
"You can call me Mike," he said. "Michael makes me feel like I'm in trouble all the time." Mike said with a small grin. "And I really hope we can get everything settled." he continued, wiping away a stray tear, angry at himself for crying again. "I gotta go now. I'll talk to you guys later?" He asked hopefully.
"Later." Adam said with a smile.
The next morning, Gary and Mike arrived at Eric's bungalow. James and Jeff were there as well and they smiled at the newcomers. Mike blushed but smiled back. All but Gary and Mike were surprised when Charles came in after them, almost timidly. He lowered his eyes when he saw the scowl that Torren aimed at him. Adam and Eric looked worriedly at Torren but when the young man said nothing they relaxed even as they closed ranks about him. Until Eric tapped his thigh, Adam was unaware of the matching scowl he'd been aiming at the man.
James, Jeff and Eric got over their surprise quickly and welcomed them in. Eric invited them to sit at the kitchen table. He had freshly baked croissants, and coffee set out. He placed an extra chair, plate and cup out for Charles who thanked him quietly and sat down.
"This is more than we deserve, Eric." Gary said sadly, surprised that the three of them were being treated so kindly.
"I'm surprised that Charles is here, but perhaps it's for the best right now." Eric replied quietly, sitting down between Torren and Adam.
Torren sat quietly, staring down at this cup of coffee, an untouched croissant on a plate in front of him.
"We understand," Gary sighed.
"I'm glad you made it, Charles," James replied. "The three of you do a wonderful job here, and we'd hate to lose any of you, but from what Adam tells me, Charles, you would rather quit than try to change your ways."
"That was true, before last night." Charles admitted. "Gary and Michael... Mike... spoke to me at length, and made me see reason. I am what I learned growing up, I'm afraid, and it's difficult..." he trailed off.
"We're not excusing it, of course," Gary said, "But Charles and I, and Michael... Mike... grew up a certain way. Our friends were picked out for us and we weren't really allowed to associate with... well..."
"Minorities." Mike said, blushing deeply with an apologetic look at Torren. "I'm so sorry, Torren." he said earnestly. "I know I should have said something earlier... done something sooner... but Charles is..." The boy searched for words that wouldn't hurt his partner's feelings.
"An ass." Charles said finally. "Overbearing. Bigoted. I was wrong. I'm very set in my ways. I've been trying to change... not only in how I view our little family but in how I view and interact with other people."
"He has." Gary added. "But it’s hard to change in a few months the conditioning of a life time. Again, I'm not excusing his behavior... our behavior. I'm just trying to explain it a little. Torren, I too am very sorry about the way we treated you. I hope that someday you can forgive us."
Jeff and James exchanged a look. They were both surprised that Charles was allowing Gary to speak for them, and they had spent the past few minutes trying to figure out why Charles seemed.... chastened, for lack of a better word. They looked questioningly at each other and finding no definite answer, turned their attention back to the conversation at hand.
Eric nudged Torren lightly under the table.
Torren rewarded Eric with a scowl but turned his full attention to the men he'd been so angry with for so long. He looked pointedly at Charles who had the good grace to blush.
"Charles." he began calmly. "My name is Torren. Not Pablo. Not José. Not Pedro. Not Juan. I do speak Spanish, but I also speak English. I was born in America. I was not an anchor baby, as you have insinuated. My parents did not abandon me, they died when I was young." Torren said levelly. He'd been hurt and infuriated by what Charles had said about him and he wanted to make sure these people knew it. If he hadn't heard Eric talking about this to Jeff, he'd never have known the awful things that Charles had said, and at this point he didn't care that he was basically outing himself as an eavesdropper.
"Maybe, when I was younger, I would have fit your profile, but ever since coming to TLR I'm a better person."
Charles and Gary couldn't help but to be surprised by how well-spoken Torren was. He was showing an intelligence that neither of them had expected. Charles felt a knot of something in the pit of his stomach. If he didn't know any better, he'd swear it was guilt. It was an unpleasant sensation.
Gary felt badly that he'd never taken the time to speak at any length with the younger man. He'd never considered himself as 'stuck up' as Charles was and had prided himself on treating everyone equally, but here he found that he'd been sadly mistaken. He couldn't maintain eye contact with Torren and looked down at his untouched croissant.
"Torren?" Gary said, finally looking up at the boy.
Torren looked at Gary but didn't respond.
"Tor..." Eric began.
"Yes, Gary." Torren said, stressing Gary's name.
"I just don't understand. Why did it take so long for you to say anything? Why didn't you say anything sooner? Why did you let it eat away at you like that?"
"I was afraid. There's a lot of prejudice out there, as your partner Charles has demonstrated. I was worried that if it came down to my word against his, that he would win, and I would be out of a job."
James frowned, not angrily, but more in thought. He looked at Torren. "Did you really think that I wouldn't take your side into account?"
"Everyone knows me. Everyone knows how I am with the ones who know me. The real me. How I mouth off. How I just say whatever comes to mind. I just figured that that would work against me if I said anything. So I kept quiet."
"How long has this been going on?" Jeff asked.
"Has it happened with anyone other than Charles?" James asked.
"With some of the guests, but it didn't bother me so much with them. I don't really know them, and I don't have to live with them. I just kept to myself, did my work and got out. They didn't seem to expect more which was fine with me."
"Torren, if you run into that attitude again, from anyone on TLR property, you have my permission to say something if you think it's necessary. Just be polite about it." Eric said. "And you can certainly come to me." He added sadly. He felt guilty that his boy had been going through this alone. It had taken a long time for Torren to come out of his shell and begin to speak to anyone, but Eric thought that their relationship was open enough that Torren would have known he would listen.
"I'm sorry I didn't come to you," Torren said as though reading Eric's mind. He hated the fact that he'd caused such unhappiness and hurt. "It's just hard for me to talk about some things, and this was something I thought I could deal with myself. I thought that if I just kept quiet and did my job well, that Charles would eventually learn that I wasn't what he suspected. But keeping quiet just made it worse, it seems."
He looked up at Mike. "I'm sorry for dumping the soda on you, and for treating you so badly that night. I know it wasn't you that had been treating me like that...."
"But I never did anything to stop it, when I was there to see." Mike finished for him.
"Nor I." Gary admitted sadly. "Guilt by association."
"I guess." Torren admitted. "I'd just like to make this whole thing go away. I don't want you or Mike to leave... I guess I don't want you to go either, Charles, knowing how much James counts on you. I just can't stand to be treated like that anymore. Do you think talking is going to help? I mean, I'm still nothing more than a lowly maintenance worker." he added, unable to disguise the anger he felt.
"I have behaved deplorably, Torren. I see that now and as loathe as I am to admit it, I have no choice but to see how badly I treated you. I... speaking to you... I see how wrong I was. I have no idea how I can possibly make this up to you." Charles said, sincerely.
Several responses came to Torren's mind, none of which Eric would appreciate him giving voice to, so he remained silent for a few moments, doing as Eric was always reminding him to do, and think before speaking. He picked up his croissant and took a small bite, chewing slowly as he considered his words.
At last he looked up at Charles and said quietly. "Prove it by doing, not by saying. You called Mutt and told him you didn't want me to be sent to your place to do repairs anymore." he said flatly.
Charles blushed again. "I was angry when I did that. I'm very sorry." He replied guiltily.
"You asked for 'The Dummy'. I know you were talking about Tank. He's not stupid either. He just doesn't say much even on a good day. His whole family are like that. But you wouldn't know that either. Outside of your own little threesome, no one else is good enough to talk to and get to know. It stops now. You say you're trying hard to change. I say it's not hard enough. I think, Charles, that if you did my job for a few weeks and saw how truly difficult it can be, that you would change your mind a little more quickly."
Charles reddened slightly. "Are you suggesting that I..."
Gary cleared his throat and gave Charles a LOOK, which James, Jeff and Eric all recognized very well. They exchanged glances but said nothing about their suspicions.
"That might not be a bad idea." James said slyly. "Charles, what do you know about plumbing?"
"Nothing!" Charles was quick to respond.
"How about electricity. Wiring? Repairs?"
"Can you paint a building? Or shingle a roof?"
"No." Charles replied, finally getting what James was driving at.
"Do you know how to use a power mower? Prune a tree or a plant? Do you know how to fertilize and water plants?"
Charles scowled. "You know I don't." He replied a little petulantly.
Gary cleared his throat again but said nothing else. Charles straightened up and removed the scowl from his features. He licked his lips and took a deep breath. "You've made your point, James." he said reluctantly.
He turned his attention back to Torren. "Once again, Torren, I am very sorry. I will endeavor to treat you with more respect..."
"Just me?" Torren asked pointedly.
"Everyone here, but especially you. I admit that I misjudged you, and if I so grossly misjudged you then the chances that I have done so with everyone else here are quite high." he concluded, giving Gary a look both loving and apologetic.
"I explained things to him very clearly last night." Gary said, an odd tone to his voice that only served to confuse the boys but which said volumes to the tops in the room.
James smiled, his first genuine smile of the morning, and looked at Gary and Charles in a new light. He could tell by the way that Charles blushed that he knew the secret was out, at least to the tops. Charles gave James a pleading look that clearly asked that no one else be informed, and James gave a slight nod. Charles gave him a quick, but grateful look. Gary grinned, knowing that James, Jeff and Eric would keep that unspoken promise. He nearly laughed when he saw the looks on Mike, Torren and Adam's faces as they tried to decipher the silent 'Top speak'.
"Torren, do you feel more at ease now, both with Charles and with coming to me with your problems, no matter how big or small you think they may be?" Eric asked his partner as he placed a gentle hand on Torren's cheek.
Torren leaned into the caress and nodded, his eyes full of love for this man who loved him with such unconditional passion. Eric held his boy's gaze for a few moments to make sure that he wasn't holding anything else back and then smiled. He put his hand on top of Torren's and turned his attentions back to his guests.
"Gentlemen," he said, smiling and at ease for the first time since everyone had arrived, “The coffee is going to get cold, and I'd hate for these croissants to go to waste. Why don't we eat up?" Eric suggested with a smile.