Tuesday, May 9, 2017
TLR CHAPTER 117
Vacation to CA part 1
This wasn’t going to be the event filled vacation most people think of when they plan a get-a-way. No, James didn’t need a hectic schedule that had to be followed, he needed to be able to wind down, to relax and, most importantly, get his mind off of his resort for a while, hence this two weeks away from everything. Heath had seen the disappointment in both of his partners’ eyes when they had to move this trip back a couple of months because of weather, then Jake and Duke’s vacation to Florida, and then Harry’s accident meant he had to be close by in case Harry needed him.
Jax did get to reconnect with his mother before their vacation plans were finally secured although both James and Heath could have done without the stress caused by Jax’s stepdad. Griff, although greatly improved, still showed the faint bruises on his face and shoulder left by the asshole’s fist and foot.
Heath couldn’t keep their general destination a secret. Sitting in an aisle seat of their plane, he turned his head to see both guys peacefully sleeping, James’s hand discreetly encompassing Jax’s. Both men knew they would be landing in Sacramento, California, but neither knew what would happen next. There were plenty of day trips they could make, if they wanted too, in the area: San Francisco, the Wine Country, Muir Woods, the Delta.
Heath felt the plane shift as they started their approach into Sacramento. It had been a very long trip from Bangor. Twelve hours with two short layovers, one in Philadelphia and the other in Phoenix. He had arranged to leave Bangor at 8 the night before and now fourteen hours later, they were reaching their final destination. Once they had boarded again in Philadelphia, Jax slept until they woke him over Phoenix. Then on the last leg of the trip, James and Heath joined their boy in sleep. Being a marine, James could sleep anywhere and Heath learned that skill during his residency.
Heath reached across their youngest lover to gently shake James awake when the flight attendant announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, as we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full, locked and upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Thank you.” Then he gently shook their younger partner, helping him to prepare for the landing.
Once the three men disembarked they headed toward the baggage area with one short stop for all of them to relieve themselves.
Waiting for his partners, Heath pulled his cell out and sent a short text. James walked up just then with eyebrow raised but before he could ask if there was a problem, his doctor simply said, “Just letting our ride know we're here. The car will be waiting for us in 15 minutes.”
Jax schooled his face as he joined his men. This was the airport that he had flown out of after his dad had died. Where he had said goodbye to his friends and his old life. But he couldn’t help smiling when he saw his guys waiting for him with their luggage. He sure loved them and there was no doubt they loved him back just as much.
Heath leaned over and whispered for only Jax to hear, “I know this is a sad place for you, Babe, but we’ll be on the road soon and we'll be making some great new memories.” He dropped a kiss on his boy’s head and then turned to James. “Let’s go find our ride.” Each man picked up a suitcase and headed toward one of the exit doors.
In late April, the mornings in Sacramento hit the scale at 50 degrees which was a good deal warmer than the 35 degrees they left at the resort. Jax was surprised that it was still dark then remembered that California was 3 hours behind Maine. Heath stepped through the door first and smiled at the two men waiting for them. He nodded and stepped to the side so Jax could pass him. He reached out and took James’s hand just before their boy dropped his bag and jumped into the taller of the two men’s arms.
Tears exploded from Jax’s eyes. He buried his face in this man’s neck as the other men looked on. Words were mumbled.
James looked at the two strange men. The older one well over 6’, long dark hair pulled back into a pony tail at his neck. A full beard covered his rugged face. The other a few years younger with wavy honey colored hair. His youngest partner had jumped into the older man’s arms. Surprised James moved closer just to be there in case...he wasn't sure just what might happen, but wanted to protect Jax.
“I’ve missed you, little one,” the big man said carefully lowering Jax back to the ground.
Jax wiped his eyes and turned and ran to Heath, “Thank you, Doc.”
With his arm around his still crying young partner, Heath approached the men with his hand outstretched, "I'm so happy to finally meet you. I'd like to introduce you to our partner, James."
"James, this is Link," he continued, gesturing to the taller of the two men, "and his partner, Wes."
"Link was my dad's best friend,” Jax said, still teary eyed. "I stayed with him after the accident."
Wes stepped forward. "It's great to meet you Jax, T-man told me a lot about you and your dad." Then he turned to the other two men. "Nice to meet you."
James smiled at Wes. "Nice to meet you too, Wes. It was very gracious of you and Link to meet us here."
"Well," Heath said, "why don't we load our luggage, and then we can head out to... um... where are we headed?" he laughed.
“Heath contacted me and asked if I knew of any place you all could stay for a couple of weeks that offered peace and quiet," Link explained. "I could only think of one place," he smiled at Jax.
"Where?" the youngest man asked.
Link laughed. "I'll drive and let’s see if you remember the way."
James began to collect their luggage and waited for Link to lead the way.
Heath took a couple of their bags from James, giving him a look for trying to carry all of their luggage at once even though they'd packed lightly.
James shook his head slightly at Heath's look. He knew he was supposed to be relaxing on this vacation. He was a doer and it was hard for him to step back and not take charge of things. It was something he had to learn, to allow his partners to take care of him instead of him taking care of them and everything else around him like when he was at the resort.
Heath winked at James and then turned to Link and Wes. "Alright gentlemen," he said with a smile, "lead the way."
The oldest member of the group smiled at Jax's enthusiasm and let them lead the way to wherever they were going.
"James, why don't you sit up front with me. There's more leg room," Link said.
Wes grinned at Jax and complained, "Hey are you saying we're short?"
"I'd say, petite." Heath said with a grin.
James smiled at the other man. "Thank you. I appreciate it." He got into the passenger side and stretched out his long legs.
Heath settled Jax in between himself and Wes, making sure everyone was buckled in he tapped the headrest of Link's seat and with a wicked grin said, "Onward, Jeeves!"
James glanced over at Link and said, "Heath is glad it's you driving instead of me. He tells me I drive too fast." He turned and winked at his partner.
"If you'd take off those lead lined shoes we'd be alright," Heath joked, blowing a kiss to James from the back seat.
James chuckled at Heath's remark. "I need them to kick butt and keep everyone in line," he joked back.
"We borrowed the SUV from Link's dad so we would have room for the luggage. We'll meet them for breakfast and exchange it for Link’s work truck before we head up the mountain," Wes explained. “We didn’t want to take it to the airport even if there is plenty of room for all of us and your bags in it.”
"Sounds wonderful," Heath replied as his stomach growled loudly.
Jax started to cry again remembering the kindness Link's parents showed him when he lived here.
Seeing Jax's tears James gave the younger man a concerned look. "It's going to be all right honey," he said quietly.
"I'm sorry," Jax sniffed.
James smiled at Jax. "Don't be sorry honey, there's a mixture of feelings here, both happy and sad, it's natural and we understand."
Link looked in the rear-view mirror finding his lover's worried eyes. He winked to reassure him that everything was ok.
"I can't wait to see your place,” Heath changed the subject. “Jax couldn't stop telling me about it, and you, Link. I feel like I know you already."
James smiled. "Yes Link, it's nice to finally have met you. I had no idea when my partners planned all this it would involve you, but I should have guessed, being how close you were to Jax and his father and how you helped him after his accident," he said softly.
"Hey, I had no idea," Jax said. "Doc is sneaky cuz he never told me either."
James laughed softly. "That he is honey, but I'm glad it has been a surprise for both of us."
Heath laughed. "Well, a little surprise now and then is a good thing. I knew you'd want to see them again."
"You guys are gunna love the place," Wes assured them. "It's beautiful and peaceful. I loved it the first second I saw it."
"Fits my prescription to a tee," Heath smiled, looking at James.
James said, "Just what the doctor ordered for me. It sounds nice. I really appreciate the fact that you're going to put us up."
"If I found out you came within a hundred miles of us, I'd be pissed that you didn't visit," Link growled. "So would Mom and Dad."
James said sincerely to Link, "Don't worry, if we had been within two hundred miles I would have made sure Jax contacted you. I wouldn't have denied him the chance to reconnect with people who love him.”
"I'm looking forward to meeting them," Heath replied, "Jax told me a lot about them while he was recovering."
Jax buried his head in Heath's shoulder. He couldn't seem to stop the tears.
Heath wrapped his arms around his young partner as well as he could for the seatbelts in the way and kissed the top of his head. "Shhhh," he whispered, "it's all ok now. It's all going to be fine."
"Some vacation this is gunna be with me blubbering the whole time," Jax groused.
James turned and reached back to touch Jax and murmured, "We all love you honey, it's all okay, you cry as much as you need to."
"Tears are natural and there's nothing wrong with them," Heath assured the young man, his own eyes misting up slightly as his heart went out to Jax, imagining what he had to be feeling.
Link said over his shoulder, "You really didn't get the time to say your goodbyes to Nick, Jax, so besides making new memories with your partners while you are here, you'll get to come to terms with losing your dad."
Heath hugged Jax closer and laid his cheek against his lover's soft hair.
James wished he could do more, but trusted Heath to take care of Jax.
"You being here will help me too," the big ranger said. "You were ripped away before either of us wanted."
Heath was sure he could feel Jax's heartbreak at first losing his father and then the only friends he'd known so he tried to change the subject. "So, Link, how far to the restaurant? I'm looking forward to meeting your folks."
“Another mile or so," Link said as he left the freeway and headed into town.
Heath could feel Jaxon's anticipation and rubbed the young man's shoulders. He smiled encouragement when Jax looked up at him with a slight smile on his face.
Turning into the parking lot Wes said, "There's your truck, T-man."
James, seeing how his youngest partner was grieving began to make plans in his head as how to help Jax. It was habit for him to begin to take care of things and his smoky blue eyes reflected his inner actions as well as crinkling at the corners when he was deep in thought about solving a problem.
Link parked next to his official pickup, then after stepping out of his dad's SUV waited for Wes and the others to join him on the sidewalk.
As the men got out of the SUV, a woman came running out of the restaurant with a wide smile on her face. She immediately hugged and kissed Link and Wes and then ran to Jaxon who she took into her arms while she covered his face with kisses. "Oh, welcome back you darling, darling, boy!" she crowed.
James watched the petite woman hug the stuffings out of his youngest partner. He arched his eyebrows a bit, mildly concerned, but then realizing that Jax had no problem with it observed quietly, his brain still whirling with plans.
"Let me look at you!" she said, making Jaxon do a little spin. "You look marvelous!" she complimented the boy with another great hug.
Jax, tears streaming down his face buried his head into Betty's neck. She was the closest thing he had ever had to a grandmother.
The woman hugged Jaxon closer and rocked him slightly side to side to help him calm down a little. It felt so good to have the young man back in her arms again.
Then she turned to Heath and James. "Welcome gentlemen! It's so nice to finally meet you!" The woman smiled as she held out her hand to shake without letting go of Jax, "Link told me all about you and your partner, Heath. Thank you so much for taking such good care of our little boy."
As the woman extended her hand to him the oldest of the partners smiled, taking it and shaking it and James said, "It was no difficulty, we love him as much as he loves us."
"Oh, I can tell that from a mile off," Betty replied happily, smiling at Jaxon, her heart full to bursting.
When she finally let him go, Jax looked up at Jason Walker. It wasn't hard to see where Link got his looks, it was almost like he was looking at the younger man.
Jason had stood back knowing that nothing less than a pry bar was going to get his wife to let go of Jaxon. He waved and smiled his welcome until he could properly introduce himself. "Jaxon isn't the little boy you remember, Betty," he laughed.
"He's always going to be my little boy, same as Link and Wes, whether they like that or not." Betty joked. She looked up at Jaxon, remembered when he had finally grown taller than her, and hugged him again.
James watched the reunions and smiled, keeping back a bit so the people could greet each other and smiled at everyone. He chuckled. "We still call him little boy, but it's affectionate from us. I'm sure it's meant the same from you as well Betty."
Wes had moved closer to Link while the others greeted each other. He looked up at his man when he felt him kiss his head.
"How about we get some breakfast?" Link suggested.
James nodded, then his stomach growled noisily and he gave the others a sheepish look, not one that usually graced the older man's face often.
"Well you all must be starving!" Betty said, giving herself a light head smack. "We didn't order anything yet. Come on in!" she continued, handing Jax back to James and Heath.
James put a comforting arm around Jax's shoulders, gently squeezing him and then planted a kiss on his cheek. "Let's go, I think we all could do with some food."
Link’s mom put her arm around her husband and followed the men in. "There to the left," she said pointing to a large table which already had her and her husband's jackets hanging on the hooks.
Knowing he looked a mess Jax said, "I need to go to the restroom."
"Hey, I'll show you where it is, Jax," Wes offered.
James released his partner. "Go ahead honey, we'll be waiting for you."
Having eaten at Tiny’s Diner at least twice a week for most of his younger life, Jax knew where the restrooms were but he let Wes lead the way.
The waitress came up to the table and put out some menus. She smiled at Jason and Betty and asked, "The usual, folks?"
Betty grinned back and replied, "Just coffee for now, please Janine? We're waiting for the others before we order."
"I'll bring some coffee and tea then while you wait," the young lady replied with a salute as she turned on her heel to get the beverages.
Jax followed Wes back to the table his eyes still red but looking much better.
James seeing their young man stood up and enveloped him in a huge comforting hug. "You look much better honey," he said and escorted him to a seat between him and Heath.
Wes slipped in next to Jason then Link sat beside him.
Heath was already sitting next to Betty.
James picked up one of the menus and perused the selections. He turned to Jax and asked, "What looks good to you Jax?"
"I'll have the same thing I used to have when me and Dad would stop here," the youngest man answered. "French toast with sausage."
"And hot coco, if I remember right," Link smiled.
Wes chuckled, "Yeah, but juice is OK now."
James smiled. "These protein pancakes with sausage sound good to me. I like almonds and I think I'll have them with strawberries. This place has so many good choices," the older man remarked.
"Yeah, it's a favorite hangout for the locals," Wes commented. "I work close by so me and Link eat here a lot."
Betty and Jason looked at each other with grins and then at Janine, "Our usual hon."
"You got it," the waitress said, having already written down the order for the two older folks.
"Our usual too," Link said after getting a nod from his boy.
James looked around. "It's rather nice and I like it here. I think we may frequent it while we are here a bit."
Heath put the menu aside and with a sheepish glance at his partners he said, "I'd like the two eggs over medium, bacon, sausage and home fries with a bagel."
James chuckled at Heath and shook his head. "Not adventurous I see."
Janine saluted once again and left to fill the orders. "Let me know if there's anything else you need."
"Will do, hon," Betty replied.
She looked at the new comers, winked then said, "Jan is the best waitress here. You'll have things before you even ask for them."
"Well," Jason said, surprising everyone by speaking to agree with his wife, "like they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
James smiled at Jason. "True, but a little variety is supposed to be the spice of life, or so I heard," he teased, his smoky blue eyes looking at Heath.
"I know you guys are on vacation but Mom wants us all to come down for dinner on Friday," Link said over his coffee cup.
"I'll be very upset with you if you don't come," Betty said sternly but with a glimmer of humor in her eyes. "Just let me know what you like and it'll be on that table."
James nodded. "Certainly, I don't see any problem with that."
"Betty's a great cook," Jax added with Wes agreeing.
The older man said, "I'm not very particular...I like most things."
"Don't say that," Jason mock whispered. "We'll end up eating steamed squid, cabbage and canned peas," he shuddered theatrically.
Betty gave her husband a light tap on the shoulder, "Don't exaggerate. You'll scare them off."
James couldn't help but laugh.
The younger men chuckled too. "Ewwww, peas," Wes groaned.
James grinned. "They're good for you," he teased.
"For your information, I grow my own peas, and I flash freeze them so they're tasty as all get out. Just wait and see."
"Yep, you can eat them straight out of the baggie like that," Jason agreed. "Nothing like that canned stuff."
James nodded. "Fresh is always good." He glanced over at Jax, trying to study the boy to see how he was doing and then studied Heath as well.
Before anyone could say anything else, Janine arrived with a tray loaded with their orders. Without asking she put the correct plates in front of their recipients, replaced the coffee and tea carafes with fresh ones and placed a little bowl full of fresh, cold creamers as well.
"Can I get you folks anything else for now?" she asked with a smile.
James shook his head. "No thank you. I'm good."
Janine stop and looked at Jax. "Don't I know you, Hon?" she asked.
At the look of surprise on the young man's face, Link answered, "This is Jaxon Wilder, Janine. Nick's son. He's here for a vacation with his partners."
"Jax!? Oh, my Lord I'd never have recognized you!" the waitress exclaimed, leaning down to give the boy a kiss on the cheek. "You've filled out! Goodness you were just a teenager the last time I saw you!"
Jax blushed. "Hi Janine, I'm all grown up now."
"You look marvelous hon. Just for that you need an extra helping of sausage. On the house, of course."
James, put an arm around Jax on the back of his chair in a protective gesture.
"Thanks," Jax said. "Um…these are my partners, Heath and James."
"Pleased to meet you gentlemen!" she said brightly. "You all let me know if there's anything else at all I can get for you.
The resort owner nodded to the young lady. "Nice to meet you and to know you've taken good care of our Jax."
"Jax is my little sweet heart, always has been," Janine said with a wink at Jax, " I'll be right back." With a new bounce to her step, she hurried off to get the food.
She was back shortly with the extra helping of sausage, cooked just the way she knew he liked it. A few of the kitchen staff came out as well to welcome the young man back home. "We'd stay longer but you need to eat and we need to get back to work. Hope you come back soon," one of the women said as they scurried back to the kitchen.
James exchanged a look with Heath, but smiled as the women went off.
Wes looked up from his food and saw Tiny, the cook and owner of the restaurant heading the way. He nudged Link and angled his head toward the large man bearing down on them.
"I hear there's an old friend of mine here?" Tiny's voice boomed.
James watched the large man approach and tightened his hold on Jax's shoulders fractionally in order to provide him reassurance that he and Heath were there to protect him if anything erupted.
"Tiny," Jaxon whispered, tears already forming in his eyes.
"No, you can't be my little buddy," Tiny teased. "You're a full-grown man."
The Marine in their oldest partner kicked in and he was immediately on alert, watching the situation very carefully.
As the man gently teased Jax, James, still alert, backed off and smiled at the man.
Jax laughed, "Yup, it's me." He nudged James to let him out so he could properly greet his old friend.
The resort owner let his arm down and moved his chair a bit so Jax could stand up.
Heath grinned at the beefy man and gave Jaxon's hand a little squeeze before the young man got up. He looked at Betty and Jason and mouthed, 'Tiny?' before suppressing a laugh.
Once the young man stood up, Tiny grabbed him up in a bear hug causing the other diners to laugh at the huge man's antics.
Heath, seeing that James was still a little tense, reached out and held his hand under the table. He caught his lover's eye and smiled gently. "It's all ok," he whispered, "he's among good friends here."
The older man looked at his lover, took a few deep breaths, nodded and squeezed Heath's hand to let him know he heard and was trying to relax.
Jax finally safe back on his feet, introduced his partners to Tiny. "James, Heath, this is Tiny. He owns the place. I used to spend a lot of time here when Dad and Link were working."
"Pleasure to meet you, Tiny," Heath said, standing as much as he could behind the table and holding out his hand. The other man's hand engulfed his own and he was amazed at the gentle touch compared to the size of him.
James stood up and shook the big man's hand. "Nice to meet you and I hope our little one here didn't give you too much trouble?" He arched an eyebrow as he smiled.
"No trouble at all, as a matter of fact he was a great help to me," Tiny said. He looked away for a moment, then wiped his face before he turned back. "It's great to see you again, little one."
Jax hugged the big man again. "Great seeing you too, Tiny. Heath set this vacation up for James and me too, I guess."
James nodded and sat down, trying not to see the young man's grief and again began to make plans to help his little one. He looked at Heath.
The doctor nodded almost imperceptibly, understanding what James hadn't said. "What do you say we eat before the food gets cold," he suggested in a friendly way.
James nodded and began to dig into his meal, smiling as it was wonderfully tasty.
"And I need to get back to the grill," Tiny agreed. "Come see me again before ya’ll leave for home."
"With food like this," Heath said as he swallowed his first bite, "we'll definitely be back. A few times if I have my way."
"And you know you'll be seeing us," Betty grinned. "We'll drag these guys here if we have to."
James agreed, "Yes, definitely."
Jax munched on his extra sausage but soon was leaning against Heath, hardly able to keep his eyes open.
Heath loved that Jax was so comfortable but knew the restaurant wasn't the place for a nap. "What say we finish up and get going. I know someone who needs a nap."
James, ever observant said, "I think we all need to settle in and get some rest. It’s been a very long night. I can see Jax is tuckered out from the trip."
Betty gave her forehead a little smack, "Of course you'll all be tired after that long trip. What was I thinking!? Come on, Jase, let's get this young man into the truck and head home ourselves."
Link stood, with the pretense to use the restroom but stopped at the counter and paid their bill instead, hoping to avoid any arguments with James, Heath or his dad over the payment.
Oh," Betty added, "don't you all dare to pay for breakfast. It's on me and Jason. Understood?"
“Too late Mom," Link said waving the receipt.
"Oh you!" she scolded with a grin on her face. "Alright then, we'll just leave Janine a nice tip... unless you did that too, little boy?"
"We can always leave another tip," Jason said quietly, "not like the girl doesn't deserve it," he smiled.
Laughing their son said, "Now why would I take that pleasure from you Mom?" He leaned over and kissed his mother's cheek.
James, who had been taking out his wallet frowned slightly at Link.
"Love you, brat," his mother replied with a grin as she reached into her pocket to take out a 20 to leave as a tip.
Jason laughed, "You've been trumped, Betty."
"Hush you," Betty grinned at her husband.
James said, "Thank you, but the next meal is on me."
"Thank you, James. We'd love that. Speaking of trump... do you think you gentlemen would like to play a game of cards when you come over for dinner on Friday?"
Looking over at the still sleepy Jaxon, Jason nudged his wife. "We can figure that out later, sweetheart. I think Jax isn't going to make it to the cabin if we keep jabbering."
"I'm so sorry," Betty said, "Of course, get him home. We'll be looking forward to Friday then."
Heath roused their boy with a kiss and led him toward the door where they waited for the others to join them.