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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

TLR Chapter 24

James stopped by Duke’s place once Jeff and Mutt left his house after their talk about Mutt’s misadventures in Elmville.

Duke heard a knock on his door when he opened it he gave James a tentative smile. The memory of their discussion about the sling that he made sure to put on this morning was still pretty fresh in his mind. “Hello James…come on in.” His brother in arms invited.

James placed a hand on the taller man’s shoulder and squeezed. “I came on by to see how you were doing. Did Dean leave already?”

Duke stepped back and allowed James to come inside and the older man shut the door behind them. “Yeah he left just after breakfast.”

“I didn’t get a chance to tell him how much I appreciated his being there for Mutt and you yesterday,” the resort owner commented.

“He knows, James. And he was glad to help.”

James led Duke over to the sofa and sat down and patted the space next to him. “So, tell me how you are doing.” James prompted.

Duke sat next to James and said, “I’m doin’ okay, a little bored, but I’m glad you stopped by. There’s somethin’ I wanted to talk to you about anyway.”

James studied the big man he had known since he was a new recruit and could see the younger man had something on his mind, but didn’t press. “I’m glad you’re feeling okay and I’m sorry you’re bored, but we’ll see if we can do something about that when the time is right and Heath gives you permission to do more.”

Duke wrinkled his nose at this, but nodded in agreement, not wanting to cross James on his medical health again.

James smiled and put his hand gently on Duke’s splinted arm. “I heard this morning from Mutt how you dealt with Gene Thomas and I want to tell you how proud I am of how you handled yourself.”

Duke blushed a bit and smiled. “Thanks James.” He said softly.

James said, “It was good you didn’t go in there halfcocked, looking for a fight.”

Duke nodded, then bit his bottom lip slightly and said, “I did almost hit him though. Mrs. Thomas was givin’ Mutt a shoe box with somethin’ in it for Jax. The dumbass stepped around her and knocked it outta her hands. It hit the ground before Mutt could take hold of it and the contents spilled out all over the place. I almost clocked the coward for stompin’ on and breakin’ one of the pieces.” Duke explained. “Dean grabbed me and held onto me or I just might have slugged him.” Duke confessed looking down.

James listened quietly and then said, “I believe in that circumstance I myself might have done the same. I have no doubt Jeff would have. When he heard about everything Gene did to Mutt he was out for blood. I had to make him stand down.” James told Duke.

Duke smiled. “Mutt didn’t tell me everythin’ Jax’s stepdad did but from the marks on his face I can totally understand Jeff wantin’ blood James, but I also know how important it is to all of us to not create problems or trouble that could expose our resort and what we stand for.”

James nodded. “I’m very glad you consider that Duke. I totally understand your reaction to the man, especially after seeing Jeff’s reaction as well and knowing if it were Jax, I too, would probably have wanted to pulverize the coward, but none of us can afford to lose control over our actions or it could mean the loss of everything we’ve worked for here at TLR and all our dreams and hard work would go up in smoke.”

Duke nodded. “It’s what Mutt was worried about the whole time, the police bein’ called and TLR bein’ exposed. I’ll continue to honor my contract about keepin’ TLR discreet by my behavior, actions, deeds and not talkin’ about it outside with others who could cause problems for us.”

James smiled and put his arm around Duke’s shoulders and hugged the big man. “I trust you gunny. I trusted you with my life and I trust you now just the same.”

Duke smiled and leaned into the comforting hug. After a while he looked up at James, his grey eyes meeting the smoky blue ones. “James?”

James smiled, “Yes Duke?”

“Umm…I’d like to take some classes…even though I’m not in a relationship or gay or anythin’ I’d like to learn a bit more about the discipline aspect of things and learn to understand the people who come here better. Jake thought it might be a good idea. He talked to me last night after you and I had our discussion. He stopped by to see if I was okay and we talked some about the discipline.”

James smiled to himself. He'd known that Duke had homosexual tendencies since he was a brand new recruit, but he'd kept them hidden so well and for so long, and had continued to do that most of his life. He was glad the two men were becoming friends, and perhaps this big sensitive man would finally see himself as he truly was and have some happiness in his life. “Yes, I have no objection to you taking any classes you’re interested in. I’ve notice you and Jake have been becoming pretty good friends and if you both want to go to the classes together that might be good for both of you.”

Duke looked up at James relieved and nodded. “Yeah, Jake was a good friend before but ever since I hit that big dumb old bull moose Jake’s been here for me.”

James laughed. “That bull moose isn’t old, he’s just about old enough to leave his mother.”

Duke grinned “Yeah, but he was pretty big.”

James squeezed Duke’s shoulder. “Well my friend, I need to go about TLR business now, but I’m glad you’re doing okay and maybe the classes will keep you from being totally bored.”

Duke nodded. “Thanks James, I’ll talk to Jake and let you know what we decide.”

James stood. “Good. Take care of yourself brother and I’ll see you later.”

“Bye James and thanks for stoppin’ by.”

James left and Duke sat on the sofa thinking about the conversation he had just had with James.


Jake stopped by Dukes bungalow as was his usual habit to check on the big man to be sure he was wearing his sling and splint and wasn’t doing anything he shouldn’t be doing. He offered, “Why don’t we go for a walk?”

Duke smiled. “Sounds good. I’m gettin’ bored readin’ and watchin’ TV.”

Jake grinned. “Then let’s go big guy.”

Jake and Duke walked along one of the less used paths through the woods, not too far from the falls.

Duke said, “It sure is beautiful here. I’m glad I chose to come here to live and work. James and Jeff are really good guys.”

Jake nodded. “Me too. I love this place…and the people who live here as well.” He turned toward Duke and pulled the big man close, hugging him tight.

Duke returned the hug leaning close to Jake. He had become used to the hugs now and liked them, even though he wouldn’t admit that to either himself or Jake.

Jake watched the big man and thinking to himself that it was time to attempt something a bit more than the hug moved in and kissed the side of Duke’s mouth.

Duke was a bit surprised by the intimate gesture, but didn’t push Jake away or stop him.

Jake, emboldened by Duke’s receptiveness gave him a small tentative kiss on the mouth.

Duke, found himself returning the kiss then, with an expression that Jake could only interpret as terror, jerked away from Jake. He turned and stomped off as quickly as his long legs would take him. Tears blurred his eyes as he half ran toward the spot at the falls where he liked to go to think or just relax at times.

Jake went after Duke, knowing he would find him at the falls. He sat beside him quietly at first, then asked, “Do you want to talk?” Jake put a gentle hand on Duke's shoulder and gave him an understanding look.

Duke wouldn’t look at Jake, feeling too embarrassed by what had just happened. His grey eyes were still full of tears. He felt he had betrayed himself by what he had done and was feeling very confused and appalled by his own reaction to Jake. He didn’t pull away from Jake’s touch though.

Jake spoke quietly to the big man. “Everyone goes through this, Duke. The self-doubt, the guilt. With some people it just takes longer to come to grips with who and how they are. You just took a little longer. Your friends, and you have a lot of them, will understand."

Duke continued to look down, tears leaking out. "I shouldn't have done that." He sniffled. “It weren't right."

Jake continued softly rubbing the other man’s back. “We are how we were created. We are how we were born. Many of us knew early on what we liked and came to grips with our sexuality. It’s people on the outside, homophobes, religious zealots, who condemn us and make us feel like freaks. We are not freaks. There is nothing wrong with being gay, if that’s who you are. And you're surrounded by men who understand that."

Duke no longer sobbing, but still sniffling a bit gave Jake a quick glance and looked down once more. "It’s not wrong?" He asked hesitantly.

"It’s as natural as breathing. It’s as natural as the color of your hair and eyes. You can change the color of your hair but you will always be who you are, and there's nothing wrong with that."

Duke looked up, his grey eyes watery, "You're didn't think it was wrong...what I did to you? We're supposed to be friends...not for me to be....well doin' such things." He said, blushing and quickly looking down once more.

"What, kiss me? I kissed you first, Duke. You responded naturally. Maybe because you were relaxed and your shields were lowered. Duke, if it’s what you felt, then there was nothing wrong with it. Denying who you are, and denying your feelings, it’s normal. You've been denying yourself for so long, Duke, it’s ok to feel good. It’s ok to be yourself, and to enjoy yourself, and to find pleasure. Some people deny who they are, and end up ruining not only their own lives but the people around them. Some people end up married for the wrong reasons and are miserable."

Duke shook his head. "Men ain't supposed to do that to other men...I'm not supposed to be like that. I know other men are, but...I can't be that way. I've never had those feelin’s for another man like that." He shook with silent sobs.

"What about James and Jeff?"

Duke looked at him uncomprehendingly.

"They're gay. They're retired Marines, just like you. Just like you, they had to deny who they were while they were in the service. Now they have rewarding jobs, loving partners, and can be themselves in a safe place."

"But I'm not gay. I can't be gay... it’s... it’s wrong. Isn't it?"

"Duke, when you look at James or Jeff or Mutt…or any of the guys including me, do you see the man? Or do you see GAY GAY GAY?

"I see the man of course, I know they' interested in other men or are in same sexed relationships."

"Do you think anyone will look at you and see GAY? Or will they see Duke Winslow Montgomery?"

Duke squirmed. ", I don't think so. I think everyone will just see me as they always have, I don't believe anyone would judge me, I don't see that of others who come here, but...well, I don't understand why I felt that kissin’ you back was...well I don't know, was right. I've never done that before. How can I be I've had sex with women before." He confessed to Jake. Duke hung his head.

Jake smiled. "So have I, had sex with women, I mean. I tried to convince myself that I wasn't gay and I thought that having sex with women was the answer. But I didn't feel anything with them. It was a mechanical act. There was no love. No connection. Did you feel any attraction to them, Duke? Or was it just something you felt you had to do?"

Duke shook his head at Jake's mention of women. "It wasn't exactly mechanical, having an orgasm felt pretty good, but...well there didn't seem to be any chemistry between us and I kept looking for that." He admitted.

"One woman after another? Looking for something that just wasn't there. It had to leave you feeling unfulfilled."

Duke nodded. "After a while as I grew older I just figured a relationship just wasn't meant for me."

"Duke, let me ask you a question now. When we kissed... you responded. You seemed to enjoy it. Did you feel any sort of connection to me when we kissed?"

Duke blushed and bit his lip and looked down. "Umm...yes." He said in an almost whisper. "It scared me."

"I understand that. That’s how I felt the first time I kissed a man. It felt like a jolt of electricity. That was when I knew. When I was first able to admit I was gay. Am gay. It was scary, but once I processed that, how I felt, I knew it was right. I knew that I'd been lying to myself and making myself miserable. I felt liberated and...happy." He smiled. "Free."

Duke bit his lip and then asked, "Are you with anyone now?"

"No, I'm not with anyone now. I... well I had a long term relationship that ended just before I came to work here. His name was Robert."

"Robert? How long..." Duke shook his head. "It’s none of my business and I shouldn't ask."

"It’s ok to ask, Duke." Jake replied, smiling gently. "Robert was my college roommate. He was the first man I ever kissed. We were best friends. He died about ten years ago. I've been pretty much alone ever since. I've had relationships, but nothing serious. I've just never met the right guy. Until recently I thought I never would."

Duke wondered to himself why Jake would have kissed him if he had found someone else. He guessed that maybe Jake was just making sure the person he had found was the right one and testing things out. He had no clue the person he was talking about was himself.

Duke said quietly, "I'm sorry for your loss and I'm glad you've found someone else."

"Thank you, Duke. As far as finding someone else... that’s up to you."

Duke, hearing Jake's words stood up. "Well, I'm not too sure about that...I think I'd better get back to my bungalow."

"Duke, wait a second.” Jake said, standing up when Duke did. "I understand that you'll need time to decide what’s best for you. How you feel, why you feel that way. What you're comfortable with. Just know that I'm your friend, no matter what. And I'm here if you need to talk."

Duke looked at Jake, "You just told me that I should find someone if I want to and you just told me you recently found someone so I need to leave. I don't want to mess anything up for you Jake. You're my friend and I want to see you happy."

Jake put a hand on Duke's shoulder. "Duke, the man I found... is you. That is if you want me." Jake paused. "And I can wait for your decision. For me or against me, I'm still your friend."

Duke gave Jake a shocked look. "Me?!" the big man shook his head. "Why me? I thought..." He trailed off. Stunned, he sat back down. Jake sat beside him, turning to look at the other man full on.

"I've admired you for a long time now, Duke. And the more we've gotten to know each other, the more I've developed feelings for you. I was afraid to say anything until I was at least partially sure that you might have feelings for me as well."

Duke said, "Over the past weeks, since the night I came into the bar with my hurt arm I've grown to like you a lot. I know you’re my friend and you care about me. I've liked bein’ hugged. At first, I was uncomfortable with that, then as I got used to that I grew to like it and today...well I guess I was curious and in a way it was instinctive to return the kiss, but that scared me a lot. I don't really understand why I did that, except at first it seemed the right thing to do, but then a part of me told me it was very wrong...I understand what you've been tellin' me and I think I'm still a bit confused. One part of me says yes and another part says no."

"I thought it was wrong too, the first time. Wrong that I did it. Wrong that I liked it. I'd been told that homosexuality was wrong for so long that I didn't want to admit that I was gay. So take your time, Duke. Think on it. Come to your own conclusions. I don't want to say or do anything that’s going to make you feel like I won't be your friend, regardless of what you decide."

Duke nodded. "I do need time to think and to sort things out and maybe takin' those classes together might help?” Duke sighed and took a deep breath. "Since the day I hit the moose I've been…closer to you Jake. A strong friendship, but also a sense of security. I don't understand it." He told Jake softly. “It’s not anything I’ve ever felt I’ve needed before. I’m always the one to provide security, especially to Dean when we were growin’ up, not the other way around. I like bein' with you Jake and well, I do like that you care about me and watch over me. I'm not used to havin' anyone do that for me."

Jake smiled. "I'd like to be there for you. To give you those hugs, to watch over you."

At Jake's words the big man unconsciously snuggled into his side, feeling a sense of security and said softly, "I'm so confused right now." He said again. "I don't even know where to begin."

Jake put a gentle arm around his friend and hugged him reassuringly. "If you want to talk, just talk, we'll make sense of it later. Right now I think you need to sort out your thoughts, and maybe speaking them aloud will help." He turned his head and rubbed his cheek against Duke's soft blonde curls. "I think it’s because you know I love you as you are. As a friend, as anything else you'd like us to be. I think it’s because you know I care about you, and that your safety and well-being means the world to me. I think it’s because you know my feelings for you are unconditional."

Duke leaned into Jake. "Yes, I've been feelin' that and I like it, but it scares me too. I'm a big man, a Marine, a soldier...I'm even older than you by a bit. Why is it like this? I should be able to keep on as I have."

“You pinpointed the problem right there, Duke. You are a man. You're human. Yes, you're a retired Marine, you were a soldier, but you were in the service when being gay was frowned upon and you had to hide who you were. For years you had to deny yourself. Now... can be yourself, and you've finally allowed yourself to give in to your feelings.  Age is just a number, as Jeff says, and our age difference isn't that wide. If you wish to continue as you have, I'm still your friend. But if you feel for me, the way I feel for you, and you're willing to try, we'll take it slow. We'll go at your pace. I'll wait for you.

Duke bit his lip as he was apt to do and blushed a bit. "I'm not sure. I really don't know what to do!" He bit back a cry and broke down into sobs again, covering his face with his hands.

Jake squeezed the slightly older man and continued to rub his back and provide comfort to Duke. He knew the man was distraught and confused by the discovery of his true nature after denying it so strongly for so many years.

"Talk to me as much as you're comfortable with," Jake said, wrapping his other arm around the taller man and leaning his cheek against the soft blonde hair. "Another thing you can do is go home and write down how you feel. It doesn't have to be in order or even make much sense, and then you can share what you wrote with me, if that’s what you feel like doing. Just remember, everyone here has been through what you're going through right now. Every one of us has had to come to grips with our sexuality and to learn to be and to accept who we are. No one will judge or look down on you. We're a brotherhood of sorts, just as you were brothers in arms."

Duke got his sobs under control once more and took some comfort about TLR being a brotherhood of sorts like his comrades in the Marines. Hearing Jakes suggestion that he write things down, Duke huffed a laugh. "I'm not much for writin' things down, but I'll talk to you. I've never been so confused Jake." He confessed.

"That’s to be expected. You've spent so long hiding who you are, it’s no surprise you're confused. Let’s take some of the beginner’s courses, I’ll sign us up. It will help pass the time while you're recovering, and now that Ryan is back he can cover part of your shift, even when you’re back to work. I'm willing to bet that you'll find answers to questions you never knew you had."

Duke gave Jake a thoughtful look. "I'll bet I will. James stopped by this mornin’ and I asked him about me takin’ some classes with you. He thought it was a good idea. Do you think... should... should I tell James? About what happened? About... what happened today?"

"We'll keep a lid on what may or may not be going on between us for now, until you've had the chance to attend some of the classes and have some of your questions answered."

Duke smiled at Jake this time and nodded. "Yes, keeping a lid on things for now sounds good to me. By the way, even though the comment was meant for my brother, you still hit like a girl, that is except for when I’m wearing wet jeans." He gave Jake a quick flash of a smile.

Jake clapped Duke on the shoulder and laughed. He loved Duke's smile.


Harry was unloading the last box of his belongings from his truck when Duke and Jake strolled down the gravel path toward him.  He noticed that the two men were bumping shoulders as they walked.  Well, it was more like they were bumping arms as Duke’s shoulders were a good 8 inches above Jake’s. 

“Hey Harry are you here for good?  Have you and Brody finally moved to TLR full time?” Duke asked as he jogged up to help his fellow security guard with the box.

He stopped in his tracks when he heard Jake clear his throat then say, “I’ll get that Duke, remember your arm.” 

“Yeah, I’ll be glad when I’m allowed to pick my nose again,” Duke grumbled but did step back.

Harry laughed and answered Duke’s question.  “Yes, this is our home now and if you let me know my new schedule I’ll be ready to start work full time by Wednesday after we get my mother moved to her new place.”

“Sorry but you’ll have to check in with Coral for the schedule.  James isn’t lettin’ me do anythin’ till Heath releases me to light duty.”

Brody stepped out on the porch.  “Hey, what’s the holdup out here, Hon,” he started to ask then saw Jake and Duke.  “Hey, guys, good to see you again.  And this time I’m an officially an employee of Teardrop Lake Resort.” He greeted the guys. “Or I will be tomorrow.”

Jake passed the box he was holding to Brody.  “I know you'll enjoy it here, Brody.  And it’ll be great to have Harry here full time."

Harry smiled, fairly shining with happiness. "Thank you." He said shyly.

"Come on," Jake said, "Let's help get the last of this stuff into the bungalow so that Harry and Brody can settle in." Jake said, looking at Duke.

Duke raised an eyebrow at him and cocked his head as if to say, 'Really?'

Jake laughed, "Yes, really.  You can carry the light stuff." He grinned.

Duke growled his displeasure. On a good day he'd have been able to unpack and carry everything into the bungalow by himself and no one would have blinked an eye.

"Duke." Jake said, arching an eyebrow.

"Yeah, yeah, what does his majesty want me to carry in first?" He griped.

Jake leaned toward Duke and whispered something in his ear.  Duke blushed slightly but laughed and bumped Jake with his arm again, nearly causing Jake to lose his balance, causing the men to laugh again.  Harry and Brody looked on, confused and intrigued.

Instead of answering, Duke picked up one of the lamps and put it under his arm, then picked up another one, looking at Jake with a satisfied grin.  He walked them into the bungalow while the other three men carried in one of the dressers.

With the extra help, Harry and Brody had their belongings inside in record time, and Jake and Duke said their goodbyes.

Harry and Brody looked at their new home, the sun just beginning to set in the sky behind it.

Brody couldn't resist, and pulled Harry into a hug.  If he could possibly feel any happier he thought he would burst.  Laughing, Harry hugged back and Brody kissed his partner until they were both out of breath.

Smiling broadly, the two men put an arm around each other and walked into their new home together.


Sawyer was over the potbelly stove making popcorn for their snack before turning in.  It was something they both enjoyed.  

Thinking about their talk the day before he was hoping Jenson had learned his lesson about his attitude. 

When Jenson came in from the outhouse he slipped off his flip flops and plopped down on the couch picking up Natural Explorer to read.  Sawyer came in with a bowlful of popcorn and a couple of beers.

“Jenson, please put the book aside we need to talk.”

“Sawyer come on we just had that talk and I'm done listening.” Jenson snapped.

“Excuse me,' are we getting an attitude?” Sawyer demanded as Jenson looked down to the floor totally embarrassed.
“Jenson eyes on me and not the floor. I asked you a question?”  

“Umm, yes sir, maybe a little,” the younger man answered.

“Thank you. Jenson,” Sawyer said as he put another handful of popcorn in his mouth then took another swig of his beer.

“Let me ask you, do you know what the three R's mean?”

Jenson thought a minute then said, “Ahh, no sir, I believe I don't.” 

“Ok, usually this is used with young children, but I think you need to learn them,” Sawyer explained.  “Before we arrived here at TLR you hadn’t been the in the best mood.  Then since we’ve been here you have been rude to the new friends we met.  You’ve skipped out on the classes.  So I've decided on an essay for you on The Three R’s of Logical Consequences that will help you to remember.

“Ahh, Sawyer what are the three R's?” Jenson asked.

Taking another handful of popcorn, Sawyer said, “The first one is Respectful, the second is Relevant and the last is Realistic. And if you remember, I always follow through on action until I see that you've learned the three R's just like when we hold hands going over to class.  Is that understood Jenson?”

“Yeah I do.”

“Yeah you do or yeah you don't understand?” Sawyer asked. 

“Ahh, I mean, yes sir, I understand,” Jenson mumbled.

“Jenson speak up and I can't hear you”, Sawyer firm voice upped a few notch's.

''Damn it Sawyer how many times are you going to make me say it?”

“Language Jenson and as many times as it takes until you get it right,” the older man answered.

Jenson thought about it and decided to cooperate and answered Sawyer. “Yes sir. I understand.”

“Good.  You have until tomorrow afternoon to get it done. Now I think you should get some of it started before bed.”

Jenson turned and grabbed his bowl of popcorn and beer and went to sit at the table and got started.

Sawyer followed Jenson taking his empty bowl over to the sink then turned to Jenson.  Laying his hands on his shoulders he gave them a reassuring squeeze and kissed his pouty salted lips then said, “This is something we both can work on together,” then gave him another squeeze.

“Sawyer, hush now babe.”

“Yes, Jenson,” Sawyer answered. 

“Love you.”

“Love you too, babe. Now hush and get busy.”

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