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Sunday, October 4, 2015

TLR Chapter 12

Saturday night, after Brody and Harry had eaten dinner and were relaxing and watching a movie, Harry's phone rang.


"Harry, it's James.  How are you?"  Came the jovial voice from the other end of the phone. 

"I'm fine, James, thank you."  Harry replied, somewhat surprised as James would usually just drop by if he wanted to talk.

"I'd have dropped by but with your new guy being there... well, I didn't want to just walk in."

Harry could hear the teasing tone in James's voice and blushed.

"What's up, James?"  He asked quickly, trying to change the subject.

"Well, we're having a barbecue at the house tomorrow afternoon to celebrate Jaxon and Heath moving in.  Jeff and Mutt are coming and I'd like it very much if you would come.  And bring your man with you.  I'm eager to meet him before you leave.  Will you be able to make it?"

Harry chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully.  He'd been to more than one barbecue at James' house but he'd always gone solo.  He wanted to show Brody off but wasn't sure if he wanted to share him with other people just yet.  Making a decision, he said, “Hold on a moment, James, please? 

 I'll ask Brody if he's up for a barbecue, all right?"

"Sure."  Harry could hear the smile in the other man's voice.

Harry covered the mouthpiece and looked at his man with affection.  "It's James.  He wants to know if we want to go to a barbecue tomorrow afternoon, before we leave for the week.  Do you feel like going?"

Brody could hear the slight tone of reluctance in Harry's voice but was eager to meet the rest of Harry's friends. "If you don't mind, Harry, I would like to meet them, but it's up to you. If you don't want to go that's fine with me too."  He said quietly.

Harry shot Brody a grateful look and smiled.  He uncovered the mouthpiece and surprised himself and Brody by saying "Yes, James.  We'd like to attend."

"That's wonderful, thank you."  James replied happily.  "It'll be around lunch time.  That will give you two plenty of time to pack before you have to leave."

"Thank you for the invitation, James.  We'll see you around twelve then."

"Great, see you then."

After Harry hung up Brody cocked his head to one side and smiled warmly.  "I know you really didn't want to go, so I appreciate your thoughtfulness."

Harry smiled back, a warm flush running up his neck to his cheeks.  "I want you all to myself, but we have tonight, and all week.  I figured a couple of hours with James and the others wouldn't be so bad."  He said as he sat back down on the couch beside Brody.

Brody put an arm out and gathered Harry into a hug.  Without thinking he pulled back and planted a chaste kiss on Harry's lips.

Harry blushed deeply and smiled shyly, looking at Brody from beneath his eyelashes.  "I liked that.  Want to do it again?"  He asked.


Jaxon couldn’t sleep.  He was both excited and nervous that James and Heath wanted him to live with them.  Excited because he really liked both guys and wanted to be close to them.  Nervous, well nervous because he really liked both guys and wanted to be close to them.  Nervous because he didn’t want to get in the way of their time together.  Both guys tried to assure him that they wanted him with them.  In their home. But they were just starting out.  Yeah, they had known each other a long time but this was living together.  They needed time to adjust to living in the same house, their home.  They didn’t need Jaxon hanging around.  Not that he could do a lot about it.  Not with his leg banged up.

He was restless and his thoughts wouldn’t stop.  Every time he drifted off to sleep the thoughts would worry him awake again.  Finally Jax gave up.  He threw the covers back as he ground out, “shit” in a huff.  He thought about trying to get out of bed but knew he wouldn’t get far. 

Heath was standing just outside Jaxon’s bedroom door watching his boy, yes his and James’s boy, fight an internal battle.  They weren’t going to ask him to join them yet but he was theirs.  It had only been three days and the young man needed time to adjust to being safe.  When Jax threw the blankets off Heath stepped through the doorway before the young man could attempt to get out of bed.

Jax looked up startled when Heath came in the bedroom.  “Sor…sorry, I woke you, Doc,” he apologized.

“Waking me isn’t a problem, Jax,” Heath countered the words.  “I learned to be a light sleeper when I did my residency so you have nothing to be sorry about.”  Pulling on his doctors shroud Heath sat down next to Jax on the bed.  One leg still on the floor and facing the younger man he asked, “What seems to be the problem, Jax?  Does your leg hurt?”

“No, it’s ok, Doc,” Jax answered. “I’m just having trouble sleeping.”

“How can I help you relax and get back to sleep?” Heath asked.

Jaxon sighed, “I’m not sure you can help, Doc. I just can’t get my head to turn off.”

“Maybe it’ll help if we talk it out.  That way it’s not trapped in your head.”

Jaxon blushed, “Um, it’s nothing,” he mumbled.  He didn’t really want Heath or James to know what was bothering him.

Heath nodded. He stood and pulled the blankets back up over Jaxon then walked around the bed.  There was enough room for him to sit on the bed and lean back against the headboard.  “Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone will help.  So I’ll stay here a bit till you doze off.  How about that?”

“Um, don’t you need to get back to James?” Jax asked.

“Naw, he’s sleeping.  Which is something you should be doing.  You need the rest to help you heal.  So as a doctor my place is here with you,” Heath explained.

“Well, if you put it that way I guess there isn’t much I can do about it,” Jax grinned.  “Nite, Doc.”

“I’m here Jax so relax, clear your mind and sleep,” Heath said.  He took Jax’s good hand in his and slowly rubbed his thumb over the back of his hand.  A few minutes later the young man was softly snoring next to him.  He waited a few more minutes and slipped off the bed.  He softly placed a kiss on Jaxon’s forehead and left him sleeping in peace.

Heath crawled back into the sofa bed and was pulled into James’s arms. 
“How is he?” James asked.

“Sleeping,” Heath whispered, “finally sleeping.”

“Did he tell you what was wrong?”

“No, he didn’t but I think he is nervous about moving in with us and getting in the way,” Heath answered.

“Yeah, he was worried about that this afternoon,” James revealed.  “We’ll just have to keep reassuring him that we want him with us.”  James kissed Heath’s neck.  “And now good doctor you need to get some sleep too.”

“Yes, sir,” Heath chuckled.


The next morning Heath got breakfast ready while James helped Jax with his morning routine.  Once breakfast was over and the dishes done up, Jaxon napped in the recliner while the two tops went about collecting everything that didn’t belong to this bungalow.  James made a trip to his, their, home with their belongings.  Then went back to help Heath move Jaxon to the house.

James picked the young man up to carry him to the golf cart.

"You don't have to carry me,” Jaxon protested fruitlessly.
"I'd rather we be safe.  You're not supposed to be walking anywhere just yet," James reminded him with an arched eyebrow.  "Believe me, when you're well enough you'll be doing plenty of walking.  Right now just relax and enjoy yourself."  He smiled.

Jaxon sighed but allowed himself to be carried and placed into the passenger seat of the golf cart.  James drove carefully to avoid any bumps that would jar Jaxon's leg, and they arrived at the house in record time.  There James lifted Jaxon out of the cart and to the house.  Heath jogged ahead of them and opened the door. 

The first thing Jaxon noticed was the fresh scent of Murphy's Oil Soap.  He breathed in appreciatively.  Then he took in his surroundings.  The main room was large.  The walls were made of fitted pine, as was the floor which gleamed after it's recent scrubbing.  The furniture was rustic looking, but comfortable and attractive.  To the far left was a large fireplace with a couch and two arm chairs around it.  Not far from that was a staircase leading to the second floor.  To the right of the fireplace he saw a door that opened onto a bedroom.  To the far right was a long pine table surrounded by eight chairs, and a door that led into the kitchen. Jaxon could just see the stove.  From what he could see it looked quite old.

Straight ahead and about eight feet from the entryway was another couch and two chairs stationed around an old Victor-Victrola.

James gently placed Jaxon on a slate blue recliner and carefully raised the leg rest.  Beside him was a beautiful, round topped table made of maple and inlaid with different woods, stained in gold, cream, brown and blue which nearly matched the blue of the recliner.  The sofa was six feet long with a maple wood frame and very comfortable looking cushions along the seat and back.  Accent pillows were thrown casually at each end.  A zig zag patterned, crocheted afghan in brown, rust, and cream hombre was draped over the back of the couch.

On one side of the couch sat a cream colored rocker recliner, and across from that was an antique looking rocker and ottoman that looked as though they had been made in the 1900s.  He couldn't help but to wonder if they were as old as they looked.

The area rug took up most of the floor, it's oriental pattern picking up all of the colors of the furniture, soothing and masculine. 

"That will be your bedroom until you feel better and can be moved to one of the upstairs rooms."  James said, noticing Jaxon's gaze.  "Behind us, next to the kitchen, is the downstairs bathroom.  Heath and I will be sharing the pull out couch here so that one or both of us will be able to hear you should you need anything during the night.  Even though it's close, you are not to try to walk to the bathroom on your own.  Not until Heath gives you the all clear.  Understood?"

"Yes, sir."  Jaxon replied with a shy smile.

"Show him."  Heath mock whispered with a grin on his face.

"Show me what?"  Jaxon asked, intrigued.

James went to the old, mahogany Victor-Victrola and opened the lid.  Inside was a flat screen TV.  He laughed when Jaxon let out a gasp of surprise.

"The Victrola was a lost cause, it had been left in the cellar for so many years that the works rusted and the spring that used to wind it up crumbled, but the case was still in good shape and with a little hard work, I restored that and installed the television."  He opened the front doors where the horn would have been and revealed several shelves full of DVDs beneath a built in DVD player. He pressed a button and out popped a tray that would easily hold five disks.

"I like to use this when I'm watching Lord of the Rings.  This way I don't have to keep getting up to changing DVDs." He grinned.  "What can I say, I'm lazy." 

Jaxon shook his head in amazement.  "This place is beautiful!  I can't believe what you did with that old Victrola."  He laughed.  "That's genius."

"Stop it or he'll get an even bigger head than he already has."  Heath joked.  James laughed and poked Heath in the ribs, causing the younger man to laugh as well.

"Now, I have something for you but you have to promise only to use it if it's necessary and neither one of us is here."

James said once they'd done laughing.

Jaxon cocked his head, curious and puzzled.

James walked into the bedroom and came back out with an antique wheel chair.  The woven wicker of the seat and back had been painted a fresh white, and the wood trim a bright red.  The old metal wheels had been replaced with new, shiny bicycle tires.  Jaxon could see the new wheel locks that had been attached to keep the chair from rolling while its owner got in and out.  James turned the chair around so that Jaxon could see the back.  On the back of the chair, Mutt had painted the words Wild Man across the top of the backrest.

Jaxon let out a laugh.  "It looks old but new at the same time."

"It's from the 1930s.  Mutt repaired it.  I'd completely forgotten about it out in the shed, but he rewove the back and seat and painted it and it's good as new.  He's the one who put the new wheel locks on as well.  I don't think it had them originally, or if it did they'd broken off at some point.
"It looks amazing."  Jaxon said, admiringly.

"This is only for use if Heath and I are not here or available and you need to use the bathroom or to get to the kitchen.  Despite its looks, it is not a race car."  Heath said sternly. 

"Yes sir."  Jaxon grinned.  He didn't plan to be using it for long but he knew he was going to have a lot of fun in it while it lasted.  "Can I have a ride in it now?"

"That's the plan, young man."  James smiled back as Heath gently picked Jaxon up and placed him in the wheel chair.  Jaxon expected the chair to be hard and unyielding but it was actually quite comfortable.

James took the handles and began the tour.  He turned the chair toward the kitchen door.

"The kitchen, of course."  He said proudly.  It was a smallish kitchen compared to the rest of the house but Jax could see that if needed, three or four people could work in it without stepping on each other.  The white porcelain, six burner Wedgewood gas stove took pride of place.  Top and center was a small clock, just beneath was a towel bar.  The six burners beneath were spotless, and the stove looked as new as the day it had been made. Double oven doors above double broilers suggested that this house had held a large family.

To the left was a large, double porcelain sink, and to the right was a marble topped preparation table that looked relatively new. Hooks on the wall to either side of the oven held gleaming pots and pans as well as cooking utensils.  To the left was the largest refrigerator Jaxon had ever seen.  It stood six feet high and seven feet wide, White porcelain with brass fittings on the six smaller doors and the one large door on the right.

"This is amazing! I've never seen a fridge like that before."

James smiled proudly and Heath grinned.  

"The stove and refrigerator are from the 1930s.  This,” James said, pointing to the refrigerator, "came from a restaurant in Connecticut. When it went out of business, my uncle bought it because the family was so large.  You'll be getting a chance to use all of this once you're better."

Jaxon loved to cook and was determined to recover as quickly as possible so that he could not only show these men what he could do, but repay them for all of their kindness by cooking up amazing meals.

James turned the chair and led the way back into the living room, toward the bedroom.  Jaxon noticed a door to the left that he hadn't seen before and asked about it.

Heath walked ahead and opened the door, revealing a porcelain, claw foot tub, a commode with a porcelain tank with a chain pull, and a single, small porcelain sink.  An antique medicine cabinet mirror hung on the wall above the sink, and a shelf held antique shaving items, a cup and brush, a bottle of shaving powder, and a straight razor.

"Those were my grandfather's.  I just couldn't bear to box them up."

"What's that cylinder there?"  Jaxon asked.

"It held styptic powder."  James explained.  "Whenever he would nick himself, he'd dab a little of the powder on the cut and it would help seal it up quickly."

Jaxon laughed.  "I remember that my grandfather used to stick bits of toilet paper on his face."

The men had a good laugh as they remembered uncles, grandfathers and fathers who used to do the same thing, as James wheeled Jaxon into the bedroom.

Jaxon shook his head slowly in awe as he looked at the room.  It was about a quarter of the size of the living room, which made it still quite large. 

The bed was full sized and covered in a blue, grey and white plaid comforter on a sturdy oak frame.  On either side of the bed stood a bedside table with a tasteful lamp with wrought iron bases.  Two dressers, one on either side of the room, and the tallboy beside the closet were quite old looking but clean and well built.  On the floor was a large rug which, like the living room, picked up and accentuated the colors in the room.

"We took the liberty of filling the dressers and tallboy with clothing for you, since the clothes you had were ruined."  Heath said, smiling as he opened the drawers to reveal all new clothing. He opened the door to the tallboy to reveal dress pants and shirts.  In the closet were more casual dress clothes, as well as three suits, dress shirts, ties, and a selection of belts.  Lined up on the floor were two pairs of sneakers, work and hiking boots, and two pair of dress shoes.

Jaxon felt tears running down his face.  "You... you did all this for me?  You... I mean... thank you.  I don't know how I'll ever repay you."

"You don't need to repay us, hon.  We were glad to do it."  Heath said, smiling fondly at the misty eyed young man.

Jaxon had been doing, what he thought was, a great job holding back the tears, until James said the three words that broke the dam.

"Welcome home, Jaxon."


Jax watched James from his lawn chaise lounge.  He had the grill fired up just waiting for the others to show up.  Before he knew it, Mutt and Jeff walked into the back yard, grinning and carrying bowls of potato and macaroni salad.  "We didn't want to come empty handed."  Jeff said with a smile.

Heath smiled back, "That wasn't necessary but thanks.  There's room on the table for your contribution."

"We spoke to Harry earlier and he said he and Brody would bring some drinks."  Mutt added.  "Heya, Jax!  Look at the king on his throne there!"  He said, giving Jaxon a quick, gentle hug.

Jax hugged Mutt and laughed at the look on Mutt's face when Jeff spoke to him.

"Time to talk in a minute, Mutt, put that salad down before you drop it."  Jeff ordered.

“Yes sir," Mutt laughed, putting the bowl on the table next to the large tossed salad and dressings that had been put out.

"Is there anything we can do to help?"

"Well, could you bring the drinks out, Jeff?" Health asked.

"Sure, come on Brat.  Are they in the cooler or in the fridge?"  Jeff asked.

"Cooler,” James answered as he placed the first burger on the grill.

Jeff and Mutt went into the house and returned soon carrying the cooler between them.  Mutt had a scowl on his face.

Jax picked up on the changed in Mutt's mood but didn't say anything.
"Did Harry say when he'd be coming?"  Heath asked, also choosing to ignore the look on Mutt's face.

"He said they would be here at noon when I invited them," James answered.

"They were just going to the store." Jeff replied.  "Harry thought some of those wine coolers would be a good addition to the party."

"So I don't doubt they'll be here soon."

"I'd love to try a wine cooler," Jax whispered to his friend.

They put the cooler down and Mutt plunked himself down on a chair next to Jaxon.  "Me too!"  He said, frowning at Jeff before turning with a smile toward Jaxon.  "So how do you like your wheels? Have you had a chance to put them to the test yet?"

"I love them, Mutt.  Thanks for fixing the chair for me," Jax said.  Then lowered his voice, "I can't wait to try it out when I'm alone."

Mutt chuckled, a mischievous glint in his eyes as he whispered back, “I plan to take you on a roller coaster ride as soon as I have another day off.  We'll have a blast."

"James said I can only use it if it’s necessary when they aren't home."

"Yeah, but if you're with me, and we want to go out then it’s necessary. I'm pushing the chair, then you're not alone, right? Don't worry buddy, we'll find a loop hole."  He laughed quietly.

Jax laughed, "That makes sense to me."

"I'm not going to let you get stuck in that house all day long with nothing to do but watch TV.  Though, I have to admit, I love James's contraption.  Maybe...  hey, James?"

James looked over at Mutt wondering what he was up too.  "Yes, Mutt?"

"Well, I was just wondering, I'm only on three days this week.  Is it all right if I take Jax out and give his wheels a work out?  I can show him around the resort.  Or I could even just hang out with him and keep him company."

Heath looked at James and James looked at Jeff.  "Maybe we should discuss this later and set down some ground rules."

"Oh, I completely agree.  With the mood he's in and the way they've been whispering, I think that would be best."  Jeff replied, giving Mutt a side long look.

Mutt rolled his eyes but turned toward Jax and winked before looking back at Jeff.  He stuck his tongue out and grinned.

"Do that again, Brat, and I'll put a little Tabasco sauce on that tongue.  Understood?"

“Yes, sir,” Mutt answered.

Leaning over Jax whispered, "What's going on, Mutt?"

Just then Brody and Harry drove up in one of the golf carts, another cooler on the back seat.

"I'll explain later,” Mutt whispered back. Once again he plastered a smile on his face and waved hello to the two men.

Heath walked out to help Brody and Harry bring in the cooler.  “Glad you two could make it.  Nice seeing you again, Brody."

"Thank you, Heath.  Same here."  The man replied, holding out a hand to shake.

"Come on and meet James and Jaxon."

Brody released Heath's hand and followed Harry toward a tall, very handsome man with smoky blue eyes and another, younger man, propped up on pillows. 

 "James,” Harry said, a shy, sweet smile on his face, "This is Brody.  Brody, James Harrington, the owner of the resort. 

James stepped forward, "Brody, it's pleasure to finally meet you."

"Hello James.  Harry speaks very highly of you.  It's a pleasure to meet you as well."

"I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to you yesterday at the infirmary."

"You had a lot of other things to worry about, I understand completely.  Thank you so much for inviting us to your house.  It's beautiful!  And this back yard is amazing. Did you build this grill yourself?"

"I'm glad you like the place.   As far as the grill goes, well, I had a little help from Mutt." James answered.

"I'm going to have to buy some land and build something like it back home."  Brody joked.

James led both Brody and Harry over to Jax. “This young man is our new family member, Jaxon Wilder."

“Welcome to the family, Jaxon,” Harry said shaking Jax hand.

Brody shook his hand next.  “Nice to meet you Jaxon.”

“Nice meeting both of you.”

"Mutt, have you met Brody yet," Heath asked.

"No sir, not yet."  Mutt replied with a smile.  He didn't bother to mention that he'd certainly seen Brody before today.  He stood up and extended a hand.  "Mutt Tailor, at your service." He smiled.

"Mutt?"  Brody thought.  He was unaware that he'd said the word out loud.

Jax snickered at Brody's reaction to Mutt's name.  Mutt smiled.  People hearing his nickname for the first time often had that reaction.

"Mutt and Jeff are married," James revealed.  "And Mutt just might be the best maintenance man alive."

"If he built this grill, I don't doubt it.  Harry speaks very highly of you too, Mutt."

"Thank you, sir."  

James loaded the burgers and buns on a platter and handed it to Heath.  "Chow’s on, men," he announced.

Before Brody could ask, Mutt explained, “I'm called Mutt because I'm what my father calls, a typical American."  He said, taking a plate and bringing it to the grill for a burger.  "I'm a little bit of everything mixed into one sturdy package."  He joked.  "Hispanic, African American, Italian, Native American, Irish...  in other words, a mutt.  My father can trace his ancestry back 300 years, and he's very proud of the mixed heritage.  Mom used to joke that if she hadn't insisted on the name Matthew, he really would have named me Mutt."

All the men laughed at Mutt's explanation.

"Did you know that Mutt has a degree in engineering?"  Jax added, proud of his new friend and his ability to make friends so easily.

Mutt blushed but smiled. "It's not that big a deal."

"But why do you work as maintenance when you have a degree in engineering?  If you don't mind my asking."  Brody asked apologetically.

"Because I like to be outside. I like to build things. I like to create and fix things.  I don't like to work in an office.  I like being in the sunshine and in the snow.  There's plenty of time for me to be office bound when I'm older.  No offense to those of you who work in offices, by the way."  He smiled charmingly.

Jax chuckled at the ease Mutt handled people and their questions.  He wished he was more like him.

"Ah, this burger is fantastic," Jeff said just before taking another bite.

”Jax, what do you want on your burger?” Heath asked his young man.

"Everything except onions, please?”

"I'm with you there, Jax.  I like cooked onions just fine but raw ones on most foods just tends to overwhelm me."  Mutt agreed. “Wait till I make you a Mutt special.”

The doctor fixed his plate and brought it to him.  "Here you go.  Let me know if you need anything else."

"I'm good, Heath, thank you.  A drink would be great though.  You can make me that special after I finish this one, ok, Mutt?  In the meantime, can I have one of those wine coolers?"

Mutt stood and went to the cooler that Brody and Harry had brought.  "Do you want Strawberry, or another flavor?  They bought a little of everything."  He announced, looking back over his shoulder at Jaxon.

"Strawberry is good."

"Strawberry it is.  Can I get anyone else one while I'm here?"  Mutt asked.

 Heath took the drink from Mutt and put it back in the cooler, choosing a juice instead.

He handed it to Mutt to give to Jax.

Mutt tried to hide his surprise, but Jaxon wasn't happy with the change. 
 "What's the deal?"  He asked, a little sharply.  "I'm nearly 21."

"You are also on pain meds," Heath answered.

James heard Jax's response and raised his eyebrow.  "And as you said, you're nearly 21.  When you are 21 you can have a wine cooler. Until then you can drink juice" James said sternly, giving Mutt a disapproving look.

Mutt looked abashed.  "I'm sorry, I didn't think of that," he apologized.

"I know, Mutt.  No harm this time," James said, his tone softening.

Mutt put his own wine cooler down and took another juice before going to sit back down beside Jaxon.

"Thanks," Jax said taking the juice, "but you didn't have to do that."

 "Couldn't let you drink alone, man."  Mutt laughed.  He raised his bottle to Jaxon's and said "Cheers." before chugging the drink.  "Ah!  Brain freeze!"  He grimaced as the cold of the iced juice went straight to his head.  As intended, it did make Jaxon laugh.

Wanting to change the subject Brody asked, "How did you injure your leg, Jaxon?"

“Um, I slipped and dislocated my knee,” Jax answered softly.

“Ouch, that’s not fun,” the older man said.

"Yeah, mud under wet leaves. Took quite a spill."  Mutt said, trying to shield Jaxon from further questions.

Mutt looked up when he heard a knock coming from the front of the house.
"Wonder who that is?" James said and he put down his burger and stood to go into the house.

"Hey, maybe it's Duke!  He said he was going to stop by."  Mutt said.  "I'll tell him to come 'round back."  He offered.

"Sure thing," James said turning back to sit at the table.

Mutt jogged around the side of the house only to stop dead in his tracks when he saw Mike and his tops.  Mutt cleared his throat and tried to wipe the surprised expression off of his face.  "Um, hello.  Uh... we... weren't... I mean... we're around back if you'd like to follow me?"

"Thank you, Matthew," Charles said.

Mike cleared his throat looking at Charles.  "Hi Mutt,” Mike said, shyly as he and his Tops followed the young maintenance man around the house.

Mutt looked back at Mike, a little confused "Um, hi Mike," He replied. 

 Usually Mike referred to him as Matthew, or used his nickname as a slur, so the sound of his nickname flowing naturally from Mike's mouth threw him off balance.

He couldn't help but notice the look between Mike and Charles but he didn't say anything. 

Genuine smiles turned a little wooden as the men at the picnic table turned and saw the threesome rather than the tall security man.  Shaking off his surprise, James stepped forward.  "Hello Charles, Gary. Hello Michael."

Jaxon looked a question at Mutt, who only shrugged back before going back to sit beside his friend.

"Mike, please," the young man requested.  "Hello, sir.  Hello Jeff, Heath."  He nodded toward the two men.

With a more genuine smile, James corrected himself.  "Mike.  Hello.  I'd like you all to meet Brody and Jaxon."

"Hello." The three men said in unison.  Charles and Gary shook their hands.  Mike gave a welcoming smile.

"We can come back another time," Gary said.  "We didn't realize you had guests."

"Quite all right,” James replied, "The more the merrier.  Please, join us, won't you?"

"Sure, come on in," Heath joined in.  "We have plenty.  Duke hasn't gotten here yet," he laughed.

Charles was surprised at the friendly greeting and jokes and wasn't able to keep the surprise from his face.  Gary nearly laughed but managed to maintain a mostly straight face.  Mike did snicker watching his two Tops.

He glanced over at Jaxon and Mutt, who were whispering and looking at the goings on, and wished, with a pang, that he were there with them, sharing whatever joke or secret they had.

"Well, if you're sure," Gary agreed.

Jeff saw the look on Mike's face.  "Mutt, why don't you show Mike where the drinks are?"

Mutt was about to gesture toward the coolers but saw the look in Jeff's eyes.  With a sigh, Mutt stood up and walked toward the coolers.  "This one has beer, soda, and wine, this one has wine coolers, water, and juices."

He said, looking at Jeff who nodded his approval.  "Can I get you something?"

"Three wine coolers please," Mike said.

Mutt wasn't sure he liked the tone of Mike's voice, but then, Mike wasn't acting or talking like the Mike he knew.  He chose three wine coolers and served the newcomers.

"Thank you, Mat, er, Mutt," Gary said. 

"Is... is it all right if I join you?"  Mike asked, aware that his voice had sounded a little brusque before and tried to make up for it.

"Sure, come on... Mike. And you're welcome, sir."  He said to Gary, giving Charles an uncertain look when he handed the tall man the bottle.

"Thank you," Charles said taking the bottle.  "Mutt."  The name sounded very strange coming from Charles.

Mutt looked at Jeff, an unspoken question hung in the air.  There was something different about Charles but he couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was.

He pulled a lawn chair up for Mike and sat down again to finish his lunch.

Mike had barely sat down when Duke stepped around the corner of the house, “Hi everyone, sorry I’m late but that yearling bull moose was up on the trail.  He wouldn’t budge so I had to wait him out.”

“Come on in, Duke, we just got started.” Heath answered. 

"Let me introduce everyone," James said.  "You already know Charles, Gary, Mike, Jaxon and Harry, and this is Brody.  Harry's partner."

"Hello gentlemen,” Brody said with a smile, aware of the tension but trying to put a good face on it.  His heart beat a little faster and he couldn't contain a smile at being introduced as Harry's partner and not as a boyfriend.  The difference made him happier than he could describe, especially when Harry didn't correct James.  He looked at Harry, his partner, and saw yet another of Harry's endearing, shy, happy smiles.  ‘Oh, how I love this man.’ Brody thought as he reached under the table to take Harry's hand in his own for a moment.

“Hi,” Jax said.

"Hello Brody, so you're Harry's new partner. I'm happy for both of you." He smiled at Jaxon. "Good to see you again Jax and now you get to live here. James has a great place."

Duke nodded and said, "Hello Gary, Charles. Good to see you. I see Mike has joined us as well. Good to see everyone enjoying' themselves."

All of the men smiled as Duke shook their hands before taking a plate and making a bee line to the picnic table where he promptly served himself three burgers.  He piled a bit of everything on the burgers and helped himself to large helpings of the potato and macaroni salads before sitting down with the others.

He bit in, making appreciative sounds as he chewed.

"So, what brings you here today Charles?"  James asked congenially.

Charles cleared his throat, his cheeks turning pink.  This wasn't a conversation he'd planned to have in front of other people.  "I, ah... I wanted to apologize for my actions and attitude over the years."

James, Heath, Jeff and Mutt all tried to conceal their surprise, all with differing levels of success.  Duke choked a little on a bite of burger, but rallied by taking a swig of the beer that Heath had put beside his plate.

Mutt knew his mouth was hanging open a little and closed it, schooling his face into one of polite interest, but Mike and Jax had both seen it and suppressed smiles, taking their cue from Mutt and also looking at the Tops, silently but with great interest.  Jaxon only had Mutt's description of Charles's character to go by.

"That goes for me as well."  Gary said.  "I can only say that we were carried away, being one of the only threesomes at the resort for so long, and the only one with two Tops."  They planned to apologize to the other Tops and Brats they'd offended over the years, but first things first.

"It's not an excuse by any means." Charles continued, the pink flush still on his cheeks.  "It wasn't until after Michael... Mike... climbed those rocks, and we had a serious talk, that we came to realize how..."

"How arrogant we've been."  Gary finished. 

"And how unhappy that made Mike.  We weren't aware of his feelings.  Our own shortcoming as his Tops.  We can't lay blame anywhere else."  Charles added, his ears and neck also turning pink, embarrassed by his own admission.

"So we've come to apologize, try to put the past behind us, and see if we can start over again."  Said Gary sincerely.

James looked a question at Heath who gave a slight shrug.  Duke arched an eyebrow in surprise at the apology as he continued to chew his food thoughtfully.

"That's a lot of time to forget, Charles."  James replied quietly.  "Six years of the two of you behaving as though the rest of us were somehow beneath you.  Your treatment of Mutt and the other singletons as you called them was... I won't say unforgivable but it was..."  The words contemptible, deplorable and disgraceful came to mind but he was unwilling to use such harsh words when the men were so obviously trying to make things right.

"Wrong, to say the least."  Gary voiced, although the same words were running through his head.

Duke nodded. "Yes, although wrong might not be the word I'd use." he remarked with a hard edge to his voice.

"Then there is all that time you spent going behind my back to the department managers, trying to convince them to turn them against me when I made a decision.  Especially about the falls."  James said, trying to keep the hardness out of his tone and face.

Duke added, "Besides, I warned Mike several times to stay off the rocks and away from the falls."

Harry nodded. "I had caught him there a couple of times too and chased him off."

Charles took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh.  "I am very sorry for doing that, James."  He said, his tone unusually humble.  "I... we... suspected that Mike had been climbing the rocks for some time now but..."

"But I lied to them."  Mike said, finishing the truth that Charles so desperately wanted not to admit.  "It was my own fault.  If I'd spoken up earlier... but I was afraid.  I would like to apologize as well.  To all of you, and...Well, I hope you'll accept my apology, but... if you don't... I'll understand." He said, looking down at the ground, afraid of what the men would say. Wondering if they'd turn down the apologies flat out, and if they'd be asked to leave the property.  He often wondered why, with the way the three of them spoke and acted, they'd been allowed to stay and work at the resort at all.

"If you really mean what you say," James said thoughtfully, “then I'm more than willing to accept your apology, and try to start fresh.  Heath?  Jeff?"

"I'm willing to forgive and forget."  Heath said tentatively.

Charles wasn't a Top for nothing.  He recognized the reticence in the other man's manner. 

"I realize it's going to be a process."  He said.  "It will take more than one apology and an hour to let things go.  It will be a process for us as well, to let go of the behaviors of many years.  We may still relapse into our old ways out of habit, but we're going to do our best to change, if you'll give us the chance." 

"I believe that people can change,” Jeff said, “and I believe that everyone deserves a second chance.  I'm willing to let the past go."

Duke agreed with James. "The attitude that was given to James and the rest of us was makin' things harder and harder around here. I'm glad to hear that that's goin' to stop."

"Thank you," Gary replied, smiling gratefully.

"Yes, thank you, from all of us."  Charles added, the unusual humility in his voice throwing the other men off kilter a little bit.  It was unlike his usual condescending tone.

James wondered if it would last.

"So, gentlemen, how would you like your burgers?" James asked, resisting the urge to ask if they wanted some crow to go with it.


After lunch everyone sat around talking and laughing.  Mutt and Jax talked at length with Mike who was surprisingly good company. He had a wicked sense of humor and knew all sorts of jokes.  Mutt was pleasantly surprised to find that Mike was good company, and the three men quickly became friends, sharing their stories and laughter.

Charles laughed at the jokes and offered a few of his own.  They were a little flat but the other men laughed appreciatively, and little by little Charles relaxed and was content to listen. 

They played Trivial Pursuit and Gary turned out to be a wellspring of information.

After the game, the other men were surprised when Charles cleared his throat, that slight flush on his face again as he looked uncertainly at James.  "There was one other thing we came here for.  I'd nearly forgotten it, but if you have time I'd like to address it now."

"What's on your mind, Charles?"  

"Well, after the incident at the falls, Mi... Mike, Gary and I had a long talk.  It appears that Mike is not feeling fulfilled as an accountant, and would like to try his hand at another profession.  We wanted to talk to you about that because if he does what he'd like to, you would be short an accountant."

All of the men looked enquiringly at Mike who blushed deeply at being the center of attention.

James, aware of the young man's discomfort, asked gently, “What is it you would like to do, Mike.  Don't be afraid to tell us."

Encouraged by James's tone, Mike haltingly began.

"I... well... I... as Charles said, I don't want to be an accountant."  He murmured apologetically.  "What I'd like to do is be out among other people more often and not holed up in the office."

"So what would you like to do?"  Jeff asked with an encouraging smile.

"I thought... I'd like to be... a waiter at the lodge."  Mike finally blurted out.  "I mean... if that would leave you shorthanded... I'll stay but...  I'd really like to do something different."

James and Jeff looked at each other.  "I don't see why you can't try your hand at something new."  James replied.

"It's going to be much harder than sitting at a desk,” Heath added. 
 "You'll be doing a lot of running back and forth, carrying heavy trays and drinks, dealing with the public.”
”At times some people may be out of sorts and snap at you or treat you rude. You need to be aware of that too and how you might handle such situations without losing your own temper or actin' disrespectful to them."  Duke added to the conversation, "You'll need to deal with men at times here to learn about the discipline life style.”

“Are you sure this is something you really want to do?" James asked.
"Yes, sir.  I'm sure."  Mike said.

James looked thoughtful, then glanced up to look at Jeff.  "That would leave you to do the bulk of the work,” he said.  "But I think that if you and I split Mike's duties we can cover for him until we can find another accountant."

"It's going to be difficult at first, I admit.  Mike pretty much runs the office when I'm not there, but I'm sure between us we can manage."  Jeff replied with a smile.

"Then I don't see why you can't train to be a waiter then, if that's really what you want." James said.

"I'd like to try."  Mike replied, his own smile hopeful.

"And obviously Charles and Gary are on the same page, so I have no objections.  Very well, Mike.  I hope the job is all you hope it will be.  If you decide for any reason that it's not for you, we'll try to find another position for you.  Will that suffice?" James asked.

"That's great, sir!  Thank you!"  Mike replied, resisting the urge to jump out of his chair and hug everyone.

"Congratulations."  Jeff grinned.

"I know you'll be great at it."  Mutt smiled, clapping Mike on the shoulder.
"You'll rock."  Jaxon agreed.

"Thank you all."  Mike replied, grinning ear to ear. 

"Hey!" Jaxon said happily, “This will give me the opportunity to wear one of those suits you bought for me.  We could go to the lodge for dinner and sit at Mike's table."

 "Well,” Mike laughed, “I'm going to need to start the job first.  I'll need some black pants and white shirts, and an apron.  And then someone to show me how to hold those big trays, and..." he began excitedly.

Charles laughed and shook his head affectionately.  It made him happy to see his young husband so happy.  "One step at a time sweetheart.  One step at a time.  We'll take a ride to the store tomorrow to get you the things you'll need." 

"You'll need to study the menu and go through training before you can start serving solo."  Gary reminded him. 

Mike stood up and ran to his husbands, enfolding them both in a huge hug that left the two of them gasping for air. 

"All right now,” Gary said, patting Mike on the back and kissing him on the cheek, “You may regret wanting to work under me, darling."

"I do a lot of things under you and I don't regret any of them."  Mike whispered, laughing when Gary blushed. 

Charles grinned, uncharacteristically, showing even, white teeth.  "All right then, young man, let's thank our hosts and get started, shall we?"

"Yes sir!"

"Gentlemen,” Charles said, releasing Mike and standing.  "I'd like to thank you, for your hospitality and your kindness.  If you have the time tomorrow morning we'll stop by to fill out the appropriate paperwork for the job change, and Mike can begin his training tomorrow afternoon."  He said to Jeff.

"Tomorrow is Monday and usually slow, so any time is good.  I know Gary has to be there to take care of the breakfast rush, so perhaps we can meet up at the lodge for breakfast and do the paperwork then."  Jeff replied amiably.

"Thank you again, Gentlemen.  We'll be on our way now."

The three men left in a much lighter mood than they'd been in when they'd arrived.  It looked as though things would be all right after all.


Before they knew it, it was time for Brody and Harry to leave.  They helped clean up and then sat down to a cup of coffee for the road.  They took a thermos of coffee and some donuts and said their goodbyes.

James walked them to their truck, chatting the whole time.  There always seemed to be so much more to say.

"Ah, James?"  Harry began hesitantly.

"Yes, Harry?  What's on your mind?"

"Well, see, there's a couple I'd like to invite to the resort.   One is the bank manager, Owen, and the other is his boyfriend, Freddie.  I think they'd be a good couple to invite.  They're really nice guys and they're just starting out as a couple.

"Well, give me their names and addresses and I'll have Jeff start the background check.  After that we'll see how it goes.  All right?"

Harry smiled gratefully.  "Thank you."  He said as he got into his truck. “See you next weekend, James.”

“Drive safe,” James said.  “Bye.”

"That was really nice of you."  Brody smiled.

"Well, they're good people, and Owen especially needs a vacation.  This is the perfect spot."

Brody kissed Harry on the mouth and gave him a hug.  "You're a very thoughtful person.  I'm lucky to have found you."

Harry blushed and gently disengaged himself from Brody.  "It's time for us to get going," He said, "And I'd like to see my mother before visiting hours are over.  She may not remember that I wasn't there this weekend, but I still like to see her."

"I understand," Brody replied.  

They drove several miles in easy silence, until Brody looked over at Harry to see him frowning in thought.

"I know you're thinking something.  Want to talk?"

"Well, I was just thinking that James and Jeff will be looking for a new accountant."


"Well, I've always wanted to live full time at the resort.  And there's a rest home just a half hours ride in the other direction from the resort in Masonville."

"You want to be the new accountant?"  Brody asked, surprised and worried that he might be looking at a long distance relationship.

"No, I was thinking that you could be the new accountant.  I mean, you're good with numbers and all."

"I don't have a degree in accounting."  Brody replied.

"No, but you could take classes, and I don't think that the job would be a challenge for you.  Do... do you think... that you'd like to move to the resort full time?  I could move mom to the home nearby and...We’d be together."

"Are you asking me to move in with you?"  Brody asked with a pleased smile.

Harry smiled shyly back for a moment then turned his attention back to the road.  "Yes.  Yes, I guess I am."


"Well, that was a surprise."  Duke said as he finished his last burger.  "I wonder what brought that on?"

"Charles did say that Mike was unhappy," said James, "I know that they're...  they were... prigs about being a Top heavy trio.  I guess we'll have to wait and see."

"I'm not surprised."  Duke added.  "I know how Charles and Gary feel about Mike.  I know they'd do anythin' to make him happy.  Even if it involved them havin' to apologize."

"Yes,” Heath agreed, “it had to be hard for them to come to us and do that, especially with other people present."

"D'ya think it'll last?" Duke asked.

"We'll have to wait and see, as James said."  Heath replied. 

"They seemed sincere, and I've never known them to apologize for anything." Jeff added thoughtfully.  "And Mike was a completely different person today.  He seemed more at ease.  I could see that he was much happier."

"He's a blast."  Mutt said.  "I'd never have thought he was that laid back, and he knows a lot of great jokes.  If he stops calling me and Jeff singletons and keeps his nose out of the air, I can see us being friends."

The older men nodded in agreement, then turned the conversation to Charles. "I wonder if he'll start lettin' people call him Charlie."  Duke joked.

"Let's not get too carried away.  We have to see if this change of attitude sticks."  James replied with a smile.

While Duke and the tops talked about the change in the trio, Mutt and Jaxon carried on their own quiet conversation.

"So what happened?"  Jaxon asked.


Jaxon was surprised that Mutt didn't remember, but continued.  "What happened in the house when you and Jeff went in for the cooler?  You were happy and smiling when you went in but when you came out you seemed in a bad mood."

"Oh, that,” Mutt replied dismissively.  "Jeff told me to behave myself, or else.  It just bothered me that he'd say something like that.  Like I was a kid and I was going to start a food fight or something."

"I wonder why he felt the need to say that to you?"  Jaxon wondered.

"Because the last barbecue we attended, I was involved a food fight."  Mutt laughed.  "It wasn't my fault." He insisted.  "One of the other guys flung mashed potatoes at me and I tossed a hand full of peas back.  The guy got mad and got me in the face with some cold chili. Well, I couldn't just sit there with chili all over my face so... well, you get the idea.  Before I knew it almost all of the brats were involved in it.  We made a pretty good mess of it too. Our Tops made us clean up every speck and when we got home... well... let's say that none of us were sitting comfortably the next day."

Jaxon laughed.  "I'd have loved to have seen the fight.  I have pretty good aim.  I'd have helped you nail that guy.  Who was he, by the way?  If that's all right to ask."

"His name was Percy.  He and his top were seasonal help but decided to look for permanent employment, so they moved shortly after."

Jaxon grinned, "Percy?"

"Yeah," Mutt chuckled.  "Poor guy took a lot of ribbing because of his name, and because of how he acted."

"Was he like Mike?  I mean, was he snooty?"

"No, he was... flamboyant.  His gestures were always big, and he always wore bright colors.  We used to refer to him as the screaming queen.  He didn't like that one bit, of course, but he was so easy to tease that we kind of got carried away sometimes."


"Me, Adam, Torren... nearly all of the brats and even some of the tops, in private anyway, used to make comments about him.  I sometimes wonder what happened to him.  Where he and his top ended up.  If they're all right and happy wherever they are."

"Can you search for them?  I mean, the same way you found information about me?"

"I tried that but apparently there are seven men with that name, and I never knew his middle name so it was hard to pinpoint which one was him.  See, because the resort is private, we have PO boxes in Masonville the next town over, where they used to live."

"They didn't live at the resort?"  Jaxon asked before he smacked himself on the forehead with his good hand. "Duh, obviously they didn't, sorry."

Mutt laughed good naturedly.  "No.  Percy insisted that he didn't want to live in one of the bungalows only to have someone else use it off season, so they had a little house the next town over.  I'll bring you there, to the town I mean, once you're healed.  You'll like it. As a matter of fact, you, me, Adam and Tor can go on a road trip once you're better.  There are a lot of beautiful places in Maine that I'd love for you to see."

"Provided my guard dogs let me go, I'd love that."  Jaxon replied happily.

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