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Sunday, July 3, 2016

TLR Chapter 76

Tuesday morning Jax woke with a smile on his face and he kissed his men awake.  His body ached a little from the exertions of the day before but again, it was a good ache and he felt he could live with it.  He grinned down at Heath and James who smiled back up at him sleepily.

James looked at the clock and said, "You're an early riser today. I thought for sure that you'd sleep a lot longer after doing all that unaccustomed work yesterday."

"I'm too excited to sleep.  Mutt said there's more work to be done in the stables today, and that I could help."

At James's look, Jax quickly amended, "If that's ok."

James and Heath both sat up and looked at each other in a way that made Jax nervous.

"Please," he said sitting back on his heels, "this is the best I've felt in months. I feel really good... it’s like I really belong here. Like I'm making a difference. Like I'm useful for something besides watching TV and doing minor clean up in the house."

"Your leg..." Heath began.

"Is much better! And Shorty made sure I wore knee pads and that I got plenty of rest throughout the day. And Griff... Griff was smiling and laughing, we all were, we were having fun," Jax continued, trying to keep the desperation from his voice. "And this kind of work is right up my alley.  Please guys?" Jax begged.

Heath and James both exchanged another of those looks that said volumes without actual words.  "We spoke to Shorty and Jeff last night after you went to bed," Heath said. “While the three of us weren't happy that Shorty made a decision like that without consulting us, we can see that the work was good for you and Griff, and we're willing to allow it, but you have to be listed as a permanent resident of the resort, for insurance purposes, and the correct employment paperwork has to be filled out."

Jax nearly cheered but settled for a wide, beaming smile as he clasped his hands.  "Thank you! You won't regret it! I'm really good at what I do!"

"That's what Shorty said," James said with a smile.

"What about Griff?"  Jax asked, suddenly concerned.  "He was so happy. You... well... can you do for him what you're doing for me? Make him a permanent resident?"

Heath sighed. "We're not even sure if Griff wants to become a resident yet, but we can hire him as an outside contractor just to make things legal, and he's welcome to stay as long as he likes."

Jax knocked his two Tops over as he jumped on them to give them hugs and more kisses. "You two are the greatest, have I told you that?" he asked, gratitude and love in his tone.

"Once or twice," James laughed, pulling Jax down on the bed to kiss him back before gathering him into a hug. Heath rolled over and put an arm around Jaxon, kissing him on the back of his neck and snuggling closer, more than happy to go back to sleep for a little while longer, but their brat wasn't being cooperative.

"Can we get the paperwork done now, James? Please? I really want to get back to work with Mutt and the others, and they're starting in a couple of hours. I don't want to be late on my first day as a legal, honest to goodness resident and official employee."

"We'll have to call Jeff to bring Griff over so that we can have him fill out the appropriate papers as well," James said, more to himself than the other two.

"I'll take care of that," Heath promised.  He looked at the clock.  "Chances are they're already awake.  I'll give them a call and ask them to go over to your office."

James sighed.  "Which means we have to get showered and dressed quickly, so let's get going," he said, getting out of bed and stretching.

“But I showered last night,” Jax all but whined.

“Then it’ll be a short one for you this morning,” Heath chuckled.

Jax bounded out of the bed and grabbed James around the waist to give him a bone cracking hug. "Thank you James! Thank you, Heath!  You won't regret this, I promise!"  He released James to give Heath a hug before grabbing some clothes out of his dresser and nearly running toward the downstairs bath to take as quick of a shower as he could and still be considered clean.  

When he'd finished his shower, he poured three bowls of shredded wheat cereal so that they couldn't insist that they make a big breakfast therefore taking up more time that he didn't want to waste.  He poured three glasses of orange juice and paced the kitchen floor impatiently until James showed up. Raising an eyebrow at the breakfast Jax had chosen he shook his head and grinned as he gathered his boy up into another hug.

Heath walked in only minutes later, still towel drying his hair and was gathered into a three-way hug before sitting down to breakfast.  Heath and James both had to remind Jax several times not to inhale but to chew and swallow properly.  After what seemed an eternity, James gathered up the bowls and glasses and washed them before they headed to his office to meet up with Jeff and Griff.

"Can I come?

"You'll have to," James said to Jax.  "We still need to get the proper paperwork filled out for you."

"Jeff and Griff will be there soon as well," Heath reminded them. "Mutt said he was more than willing to put off their start time until the legalities are seen to."

"He's gonna wait for me?" Jax asked, smiling widely.

"He's going to wait for the two of you," James replied, matching Jax's grin.

Jax slipped on his sneakers and followed James out of the house, bouncing with excitement.  Heath took note of the sneakers and vowed to take his boy to Masonville to get proper footwear for the work Jax was going to be doing.


Griffin was smiling broadly as Jeff told him the news.

"Now, I was going to wait a little while before I asked you if you wanted to become a permanent resident and work here, but it seems I'm not the only one with that idea," Jeff said.  "The options are for you to become a permanent resident here, or for us to hire you as an independent contractor. In either case you'll be staying here on the resort with us.  So, which way do you want to go with this for now, Griff?"

Griffin, with a knowing smile in his eyes said, "Does that mean that Mutt is done... fumigating... and I have to move back into my own bungalow?"

Jeff laughed and blushed slightly. "I think he's just about done, and if you feel up to it, you can move back into your own place but you don’t have to.  Now, I'm not trying to force the issue, Griff, since we'd still have to talk to James about it, but I'd like you to think about whether you want to stay or not."

Griff chewed the inside of his cheek with a distracted expression on his face.  Finally, he looked at Jeff and said, "I'd like to give that some thought, if that's ok. I mean, I think I'd like it, but I'm not sure if there would be enough work on the resort for me to be a full time resident."

"I understand," Jeff replied kindly. "In the meantime, let's go and talk to James about hiring you as an outside contractor for the time being."

Griff finally smiled and nodded at Jeff that he was ready to go.

"I'll meet you at my office, Griff, ok?" Mutt said as he walked into the kitchen to join the other two men. "I have some paperwork to do, and some work orders to prioritize before I can get back to the stables, if at all. So call me when you get done and I’ll be ready when you guys get there.  You have my cell phone number or you can reach me on the radio."

"Sure thing, Mutt. And thanks," he grinned as he followed Jeff.

The paperwork took a little longer than expected to complete but as soon as they'd finished Jeff retired to his office to handle all of the legal work.  It was a bit of a headache but it was worth it just to see the looks of happiness on the two young men's faces.  James gave the two men copies of the employee handbook and sent them on their way with Heath.

Heath did a work up on Griff and rechecked Jax's knee. He was pleased to announce that both young men were healthy and able to work.  He had to place his hands on Jax's shoulders to keep his boy from jumping around and possibly re-injuring his knee.

"But you just said my knee is alright," Jax complained.

"You slipped on wet leaves and dislocated it in the first place. Who knows what jumping around will do," Heath replied trying not to smile as he scolded his excited lover. "I want you to continue to wear the lightweight support.” 

Jax frowned but didn’t argue with his partner.

"Now you two go ahead and meet up with Mutt. I'm just a phone call away if you need me for anything."

"Thank you, Heath!" Jax said happily, giving his lover a huge hug.

"Thank you," Griff said as well.  "I can't tell you how excited I am at the prospect of working here. Thank you for giving me this opportunity."

"Our pleasure," Heath assured him, pulling him into a one armed hug and bumping his cheek lightly against Griff's.  “I’m going to take Jax to Masonville tomorrow to pick up a few things for him like boots and a tool belt,” Heath said with his arm over Jax shoulder, “and you are more than welcome to join us, Griff.”

“I’d like that, sir,” Griff answered.  “I could use a few things.”

"Now get a move on, you don't want to be late for your first day of work," Heath grinned. "I'll call ahead to Mutt to let him know you're on your way."

"Thanks again, Heath," Jax grinned as he grabbed Griff by the elbow and dragged him out of the doctor's office, eager to begin his first day as an official resident.

Mutt greeted the two men with a smile, pleased to see them both looking so relaxed and happy. "We have a big day ahead of us, guys. We're going to finish the stables today, and then if the two of you would like to make the rounds with me, we can look for other things that may have been missed that need repairs. With two extra sets of trained eyes it should be that much easier.  Now have a seat.  There are some things I'd like to go over with you, now that you're official," Mutt smiled. 

"In a couple of weeks I'll have a job that will be perfect for the two of you.  Some of our rustic cabins are in need of repairs.  Normally I'd draft the other guys and we'd work on them between other jobs, but with two pros available and specializing in wood work, I know I can give you this job and that it'll be done well without a lot of supervision... actually, most likely with no supervision at all," he laughed, "since you're both experienced."

"What sort of work needs to be done?" Griff asked.

"Mostly replacing loose roofing, fixing the floors like we did at the stables.  Nothing fancy but they do need to shed water and keep the elements out. Griff, do you know anything about stonework?"

"Yes, I've erected some fireplaces and fire pits for customers in the past."

"And Dad and I built our own," Jax added, eager to show that he was capable as well.

"Excellent guys. Jeff and I are going to go out and look around the property, and I'd like the two of you to come with us as an extra set of eyes so that we can see what needs to be done and make a list of supplies we'll need."

"Now, the cabins that need work are a little out of the way from the rest of the resort, more than a few of our guests prefer the solitude and quiet that they provide, so they get a lot of use.  During a quick once over I noticed that some of the stone work needs to be replaced, as well as the woodwork.  Cary, Tank and I are more than happy to help if we're needed, but the fact that you two know what you're doing means that we probably won't be unless it's an emergency."

"I appreciate the trust you're showing us, Mutt. Thank you," Griff said, touched by Mutt's words.

"Don't thank me yet," Mutt laughed. "It may mean that you two have to stay there until the work is done, rather than making the trip out and back every day.  I've already told Jeff, Heath and James about this and while they're not entirely crazy about the idea, they know that it's necessary. And they have perfect faith in the two of you as well."

"Like a camp out?" Jax asked excitedly.

"Yep, you'd take supplies and your bedrolls with you and stay out there till the work is done. All you have to do is contact me or Jeff if there's anything you need and we'll deliver it. You, Jax, have to promise to check in every night before you go to bed. James and Heath's orders," Mutt said grinning, then he looked at Griff and said, "And Jeff and I expect you to contact us as well, for anything, but most importantly to let us know that you're alright as well."

Griff grinned widely and shook his head in disbelief at this good fortune that had fallen to him. He still mourned Chad, he knew he would for a long time, but being given the opportunity to do the work they'd loved just made him feel a stronger connection... almost as though Chad were still with him, watching him and enjoying his happiness.

"Alright then, there's just a little more to be done at the stables that the two of you and Shorty can finish and which leaves me available to catch up on some of these work orders. Shorty's expecting you guys as soon as you can get there, so git!" he joked, waving the work orders at the resorts two newest employees.

With a glance at each other, Griff and Jax stood at attention and saluted Mutt before turning to report to Shorty.

Mutt couldn't help but to smile as he began to look through the work orders, sorting them into piles for himself, Adam, Torren and the others to deal with.


Shorty, Jax and Griff finished off the temporary repairs on the stables before the end of the day and all were happy, tired and hungry after their day’s labors.  With James and Jeff's permission, the two young men stayed at the bunkhouse for dinner before heading to their respective homes, showering and falling into bed, asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows.

James and Heath stayed up for a while longer, talking about the proposed absence of their brat.

"I'm still not crazy about the idea," James said, frowning a bit and sitting back against the couch cushion with a cup of coffee.

"I'm not either," Heath said, leaning toward James and crossing his leg. He laid his right arm along the back of the couch, gently playing with James's silver hair, "but if it had been Mutt doing the repairs that's exactly what he and the other guys would be doing. Staying out there till the work was done.  And... Shorty said something yesterday that kind of struck a chord with me," Heath admitted.  "He said he felt we were coddling Jax too much. Trying to protect him from everything to the point where we weren't allowing him to do anything. Even Jax admitted it in his own way. You know he's not the sort to complain, especially if he thinks he might seem ungrateful.  We have to give him room, James."

The older man grinned ruefully, "How about if I kick a few holes in the walls and tell him we need him to fix them. That should keep him home with us for a while."

"No kicking holes in the walls," Heath replied with mock sternness. "Besides, Mutt would probably either come himself or send Adam to fix the drywall and repaint it."

James sighed and wiped his hand over his face, knowing what Heath had said was truer than he was ready to admit.  "The bed is going to seem awfully big with just the two of us."

"I promise to sprawl across the whole bed and leave you only a corner to sleep on until Jax comes back," Heath grinned, referring to the way that Jax would often do just that, leaving narrow spaces for James and Heath at the edges of the bed until they reasserted their need for space and sandwiched the boy between the two of them.

"James shook his head with a little laugh and said, I'll hold you to that."

"Deal," Heath said, sitting closer to his partner to give him a consoling kiss, “besides we have a couple of weeks before we need to miss him.”

James returned the kiss a bit more passionately, his heart racing at the closeness of his partner, reveling in the scents of mild cologne and the sweet aroma that was just naturally Heath.


Early the next morning Mutt, Jeff, Jax and Griff took two of the ATV’s and headed out for the closest cabin.  A little over two hours later when the furthest cabin came into view the boys worried that there wasn’t much to do but the closer they got to it the more damage they saw. 

Jax looked over at Griff with a big grin on his face.

The other man returned the grin from his seat behind Jeff on their ATV.  He could see that the cabin needed more repair work than Mutt described. 

Pulling up to the cabin and dismounting, the four men walked around it.  “Boy, that last storm did a number on the cabin,” Mutt observed pointing to a broken window.

“Let’s look inside, but be careful,” Jeff cautioned.

Mutt rolled his eyes but smiled at his husband. "Jeff, all of us are experienced at this kind of stuff.  You really don't need to worry, ok?"

Jeff grinned and nodded. "Sorry hon," he said, "I just care about you. I hate to see you hurt."

Mutt went to his husband and gave him a hug of reassurance. "I know, Chief. And that's why I love you." He squeezed Jeff and whispered in his ear, "No one has ever cared for me, or loved me the way you do, and I appreciate it."

Jeff gave Mutt a quick squeeze back before releasing him and the four men went into the first of the cabins.

Putting a match to the wick of one of the kerosene lanterns that hung just inside the cabin door, Jeff waited for the flame to take hold.  He adjusted the height of the wick until a warm glow filled the room then nodded to the others.   The men walked carefully along the walls of the one room cabin to open the windows and allow natural light in.  The floorboards creaked, and Mutt could definitely feel some warping and places where they had been worn.  They immediately moved the furniture and rolled up the rugs, placing them aside.

They did their walk around, taking measurements and marking things that needed to be fixed with chalk as they went along.

"This is going to be more than we can handle, I think," Griff admitted with a frown.  "It's going to take more than Jax and I to get all of this work done.  I have a feeling that the floor joists and the blocking are going to have to be replaced. We'll have to tear it up and completely replace it.  We'll have to check the foundation. Then there's the roof and the stone work..." he looked at Jeff and Mutt.  

Mutt frowned, "And this is only the first cabin we've checked out," he sighed.  "The rest of us are already a little behind on regular maintenance. Tank, Cary and I can come out to help after work but..."

"You can't work more than an eight-hour day, Mutt, you know that," Jeff reminded him, "That goes for all of us. We'll have to figure out another way to get this work done in a timely manner.  Luckily for us these cabins are mostly used during the fall when the leaves are changing, so we have time.  Now it's just a matter of manpower."

"Well, let's move the furniture back for the time being and go check out the next cabin," Mutt suggested.

By the end of the day they'd worked their way back toward the lodge checking out all of the cabins.  Four of the six were in need of major repairs beyond what Griff and Jax would be capable of doing by themselves in the month or two Mutt had planned for the repairs.

"Well, I don't like to rush repairs but if Tank, Cary, Adam, Torren and I get a move on with the general maintenance we'll have time to help with the cabins."

Jeff gave Mutt a look which made words unnecessary.

Mutt sent Jeff a pleading look, and Jeff shook his head.  "You're a perfectionist when it comes to repairs, Mutt. It's one of the many things that makes you such an asset to the resort. You'd drive yourself to distraction if you rushed a job because then you'd be worried afterward that you hadn't done your best and would end up going back to recheck it.  'Measure twice, cut once.'" he quoted to Mutt.

Mutt grinned sheepishly.  He knew that Jeff was right, but he was also embarrassed that he and his crew had let the little cabins get run down as much as they had. He was usually right on top of things like this and he worried that he'd been slacking off and not doing his job to the best of his ability.

Jeff put his hands on Mutt's shoulders and made his husband look him in the eyes. "The resort is not huge," he said, "but it's definitely more than enough for the five of you to try to keep up on. You do a wonderful job, hon," he reassured Mutt. "You all do. There's nothing to be ashamed of or blame yourself for, otherwise you'd have to add James and I to that mix," he smiled. "That would ruin our reputation of omnipotence, and we can't have that, can we? The result would be total anarchy," he joked, making Mutt and the others laugh.

"Thanks Jeff," Mutt said, standing on tiptoe to kiss Jeff once again. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Ditto," Jeff whispered back, returning the kiss.

Mutt noticed the wistful expression on Griff's face from the corner of his eye and he deliberately but gently detached himself from Jeff.  "Well," he said, "we have much work to be done and little time to do it all."

He turned his attention to Griff and Jax and said, "Ok, guys, let's head back to my office to do the calculations and make our lists."

"Actually, gentlemen, it's almost time for dinner so let's head to the lodge for a nice hot meal and you can take care of that afterward. No arguments," the only top in the group decreed quickly, although none of the young men had had a chance to even open their mouths to try to argue. “I’ll call Heath and let him know you’re eating with us, Jax.”

Griff, Jax and Mutt all grinned and said, "Yes, sir," before they parked the ATVs at the garage, washed up quickly to remove the dust from their hands and faces.  Then walked to the lodge where they found a happy looking Duke sitting at one of the tables and chatting excitedly with Jake who was smiling and trying to convince his lover to keep his voice down.

"I'm tryin'," Duke said, a grin nearly splitting his face, "but it's too good to be true.  Dean'll be closer to the resort and we won't have to drive three hours to see each other anymore."

The four men approached Jake and Duke and asked if they'd mind more company.

"Not at all," Jake said with a welcoming smile. He helped the four men move another table over so that they could sit and eat together.

"I didn’t expect to find you two here on your day off?" Jeff asked conversationally.

"Normally we wouldn’t be here," Duke replied, still grinning, "but Dean just called me with the best news so we decided to celebrate.”

"Well, don't keep us in suspense, Duke, what'd he say?" Mutt demanded with a grin to match Duke's.

"He's movin' his business to Masonville!  He said there isn't much construction work to be done in Elmville, it's so small, and all the jobs he's been seein' are closer to here because we get hit with the hardest weather. So he's movin' closer!"

"Well if this isn't convenient I don't know what is," Jeff said, surprised and pleased. "We were just talking about how we needed more help repairing the cabins. Do you think he'd be interested?" he asked.

"Interested? You bet, his first job as a resident of Masonville, and he hasn't even moved out here yet," Duke said delightedly.

"When does he plan to move his business?" Jeff asked.

"Within the month," Duke replied. "He’s found shop space to rent, but he's got to find a place to live out here. He's got a few interviews with realtors to get through but he's such a great guy I can't imagine anyone not rentin' or leasin’ to him on the spot."

"Well, let me talk to James about this, Duke. But if we can get Dean out here sooner he can stay on the resort until one of those rentals comes through, and he can help Griff and Jax out with the repairs at the cabins."

Duke and Jake both looked at the two young men in surprise. "You're doing repairs on the resort? When did this happen?" Jake asked, smiling with pleasure.

"James and Jeff made me an official resident with a job and everything early this morning," Jax replied happily.

"And I was hired as an independent contractor to help with repairs while I'm here," Griff added.

"Jeff, d'you think James'll hire Dean?" Duke asked excitedly, nearly knocking over his water glass.

Jake pulled the glass away from Duke's hand and put his own on top of the larger one to keep it still. Duke looked at Jake gratefully and clasped his lover's hand before turning his attention back to Jeff.

"Once I explain the situation, I believe it's a good possibility, but I can't speak for him."

"I understand," Duke said, deflating a little, "but please try to convince him, Jeff. Please?"

"I'll do my best," Jeff promised with a grin, reaching out to pat the large man's hand.  "Now, why don't we order dinner? I don't know about the rest of you but I'm starving."

"I'm so happy, I don't think I can eat," Duke began.

"We're all going to have dinner, Dove. If you can't finish we'll wrap it up to go so you can have it for lunch tomorrow, but you have to eat something. Got me?" Jake said, gently.  Jake was very much aware that Duke had a very large appetite and wasn’t really worried about the big man not eating.

Duke blushed but smiled. He loved it when Jake asserted his authority.  "Yes, sir," he said bashfully.

"That's my darling," Jake said lovingly, once again squeezing Duke's large hand.

The men looked at the menus even though most of them knew it by heart.  There were many choices and they were all delicious. The hard part was deciding which meal to get.  Finally, they put the menus down and as though appearing from nowhere, one of the waiters was standing by the tables, order pad in hand.  He took their orders and left, returning promptly with their drinks and disappearing again.

"How does he do that?" Griff wondered, looking all around the room for the man.

"His name is Simon, but some of us call him Houdini," Mutt joked. "No one knows how he does it, but he's one of the best waiters on the resort. Then there's Frank, 'The Flash', who always manages to be everywhere at once."

Several minutes later Simon appeared at the table, bearing a large tray with their food on it along with a folding table to place the tray on.  Without having to ask, he placed the correct meal before the person who had ordered it and asked if there was anything else he could get for them while he was there.

Jax and Griff were determined not to take their eyes off of the man and each ordered another soda even though they hadn't finished their first one.

Simon grinned and said, "My pleasure. I'll be right back."  He turned to leave and then was lost in a group of people who had come in for their evening meal. Griff and Jax kept their eyes on the group but didn't see Simon emerge on either side.  They looked at each other for confirmation and shrugged.  Some things were better just left unanswered, and they had to admit that they liked his particular ability to blend in and disappear.  Houdini indeed. They didn't try to keep him in sight after he delivered the extra drinks and simply enjoyed their meals and each other's company.

When dinner was over, Mutt, Griff and Jax headed back to Mutt's office to begin their calculations while Jeff walked into the accounting offices where Brody and James were just getting ready to leave for the day.  Brody said his good-bye’s and left the other men to talk.

"So, how is Jax doing?" James asked.

"His knee is fine," Jeff smiled. "Our work today wasn't physically taxing, and he's happy as a clam, as the saying goes. He's thrilled that he's finally a legal resident, and he and Griff have hardly stopped smiling the whole day."

"Hardly?" James asked, picking up immediately on the word.

"Well, the only problem is that some of the cabins are in worse condition than we'd imagined, and Griff said that he and Jax couldn't possibly do all the work by themselves.  However, " he continued, seeing James's disappointed expression, "it appears that Duke’s brother Dean is planning to move his business to Masonville, and he's just the man for the job.  He's experienced, has his own business, is available, and more importantly, he's family, and we can count on his discretion as always."

"Would he be bringing any of his men with him? We don't know them and it would take time to get background checks on them."

"From what Duke described, there's not a lot of work to be done in Elmville so it's just Dean right now, which is why he's moving to Masonville. Apparently there's more work out here, which, judging by the condition of the cabins, is quite true. Once Dean finishes with this job, if you decide to hire him, he'll be working from Masonville and can call his crew back, or hire a new one if they can't make the trip every day or are unable to relocate."

James sat back with is arms crossed and focused his gaze on his desk, weighing his options. "It is fortuitous," he said distractedly. "Does he have a place to stay in town?"

"Not yet, he has a few places he’s checking out. I was thinking... ah... that instead of him coming in a month's time, he could arrive before the end of the week with as much of his stuff as he can bring with him, and we can put him up in one of the resident bungalows until the job is done or until he finds a permanent home in Masonville."

James finally smiled.  "It's too good an opportunity to pass up. Now I suppose we just need to see if Dean is willing."

"Only one way to find out," Jeff grinned.  He picked up the phone and speed dialed Dean.  With the phone on speaker James and Jeff explained their situation.

"I'd be happy to!" Dean replied, the delight plain in his voice. "I appreciate you guys giving me this job. Business has been really slow lately over here."

"Would you like us to send Mutt and the boys out your way in the big truck to help you pack and move your things?" Jeff asked. "The bungalow we have for you is spotless and ready for you to move in any time you're ready."

"If I do it myself it'll take a few days to pack just the essentials," Dean said thoughtfully. "Yeah," he decided, "I'd appreciate it if Mutt and the guys could help me. It'll go a lot faster.  Thanks, James.  Thanks, Jeff."

"Our pleasure," James replied.  "The sooner the better I say, we’d like to get the repairs finished before the fall when those who usually come out to the resort for the colors and all that begin to arrive. When would you like me to send them?"

"I can get my clothes packed up tonight, and my dishes and kitchen stuff... I don't have much.  It's the dining room table and the bedroom set that'll take the most time, and the entertainment center. Oh, jeez, I have to pack up all my CDs and books," he sighed.  “And I’ll need to make sure I have all my tools and business files and records.”

"Don't worry. I'll send Mutt with enough boxes and bubble wrap to satisfy a Marine battalion and you'll be packed up and ready to go in no time," James joked.

Dean laughed and thanked the men once more.  "I'll be looking forward to seeing them tomorrow then. Say, noon? I'll treat them to lunch and then we can get things moving."

"I'll pass the word along, Dean. Thanks for taking the job. I'll have the necessary paperwork ready for you when you get here.  Make sure you bring along any paperwork you'll need on your end."

"Will do!" Dean replied cheerfully. "Bye for now, guys."

"Goodbye, Dean," the two older men replied in unison.  They grinned at each other as Jeff hung up the phone.

"I nominate you to call Duke with the news, JW," Jeff said quickly.

"And why wouldn't you want to be the one to tell him?" James asked with a smile. 

"I'm one of the ones who had to hear him rave on all during dinner about his brother moving closer to the resort," Jeff laughed. "My ears need a break."

James phoned Duke to tell him their decision. It was when Duke let out a loud "OOOOH-RAH!" that he understood why Jeff had warned him to keep the earpiece away from his ear.  Eardrum still ringing, James laughed and assured Duke that Dean would be well taken care of during the move.

"Can I help?" Duke asked excitedly.

"I already have Mutt, Torren and Adam heading out there tomorrow to help with the move. Besides, you need to stay and enjoy your day off with Jake,” he said with a smile.

James heard a sullen, "Yes sir," and nearly laughed. 

"Goodbye for now, Duke. I'll see you soon," James said.

"Soon?" Duke asked, confused.

"You're going to want to help Dean move in, right?  We'll have all hands on deck to help him, and I know he'll be happy to see you."

This time James made sure to keep the handset away from his ear and laughed before he said goodbye again and disconnected the call.


Jake and Duke talked animatedly after their dinner, with Duke making plans and talking about all the fun he and his brother would have during his stay.  After talking with James, Duke had to admit that Mutt and the others were more than capable of handling the move, they'd done a wonderful job of moving Jake into his place, so he decided to spend his available time the next day while the others were helping Dean move sprucing up the bungalow that the younger man would be using when he wasn't working on the cabins.  


The following morning Duke turned on the radio and sang while he and Jake scrubbed the already clean cabinets and wood floors with Murphy's Oil Soap in the bungalow that would soon become his brother’s home. 

Jake was smiling and singing along softly when he suddenly realized that his partner was no longer singing. He looked at his lover questioningly, his good mood vanishing only to be replaced with worry at Duke's expression. 

"What's wrong Dove? Talk to me."

Duke, a crestfallen expression on his face, bit his lip as he searched for the words he needed to express himself.

Jake looked at Duke with concern. "What's wrong, hon? Tell me." he said, taking one of Duke's large hands in both of his own.

Duke half shrugged and avoided eye contact with his lover.

Jake gently took Duke's face in his hands and made the love of his life look at him. He smiled up at his brat encouragingly. "You know you can talk to me about anything that's troubling you, don't you hon?" he asked.

The large man gave another half shrug and nodded.

"Then please tell me what's wrong," Jake said, taking both of Duke's hands and leading him toward the couch, gesturing him to sit down.  "It's obvious that you have something on your mind."

“Yeah, I did…do…there’s a couple of things, Jake,” the big guy hedged.  “Dean, doesn’t know …well…he doesn’t…”

“He doesn’t know we're living together?” Jake prompted, filling in one of the blanks.

“Yeah, and he doesn’t know I’m…um…well…gay.”

Jake almost chuckled but didn’t.  “He knows the resort is a haven for gay men, right?”

"Right..." Duke began, unsure of where Jake was headed.

"And he knows that your best friends are gay, and accepts that..."

"Yeah, but... how will he react when he finds out that his big brother... the retired Marine... the guy he looked up to his whole life..."

"You just hit the nail on the head, Duke. You're his big brother. He did, and still does look up to you. He loves you. He's obviously open minded..."

"But what if that only applies to the other guys here? What if he... what if he's repulsed by the fact that his big brother is... what if he hates me afterward... rejects me... I don't think I could take it," Duke said brokenly, tears clogging his throat.

Jake reached up to put his palms gently on Duke's cheeks, once again making his lover look him in the eyes. "I truly don't believe that Dean will reject you. I don't believe that he could ever hate you. Ever," he said with emphasis.  "I know you're concerned, sweetheart, but I think that once we talk to Dean, he'll understand. In the meantime, I want you to try not to worry. You'll just make yourself sick and that won't help either. Understand?"

Duke put his hands over Jake's and closed his eyes, enjoying and appreciating the touch. "I'll... I'll try," Duke promised.

"That's my love," Jake said, pulling Duke's head down gently to plant a kiss on his mouth.  "Now, I don't know about you but I'm tired and could use a little sleep.  What do you say we finish this, then go home and take a nap?"

"It's our day off," Duke said with a sly grin, "I can think of somethin' else we can do instead."

"Even more reason to get this done, then, don't you think?" Jake replied with a matching grin.

The two men finished up in record time and nearly ran, hand in hand, toward their own home.

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