jh_knight: (Bath)
jh_knight ([personal profile] jh_knight) wrote2012-07-25 11:08

Rob's Story

This is the sequel to my Love is Always Write project, Pillow Talk by J. Knight, which is posted on this journal as well as on the Goodreads.com M/M Romance Group page. A few people wanted to know what happened with Rob, and, well, he was happy to tell me, so here it is. This piece is fine as a standalone, but Jimmy is an attention whore, so if you haven’t read the first one, feel free to check it out.

In a Perfect World
Word Count: 20,845
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Warnings: Smut, Mormons, and general sappiness. My beta buddy is working on his own epic project this month, so this hasn't been edited at all. Consider yourself warned (and please be forgiving lol)
Contains explicit content. Adult viewers only, please.

Thanks for stopping by!


Rob had listened to Scott talk about Jimmy for over a half hour, fairly sure that Scott didn’t even realize he was doing it. He had to ask. “So, you and Jimmy, are you two…?” He knew the answer already even if Scott didn’t.

Laughing, shaking his head, Scott told him, “No, he’s straight, just friends.”

This was downright funny, actually. “But you wish he weren’t?” Scott was sweet and witty, sexy as hell too, but Rob already knew this wasn’t going anywhere beyond friends with benefits. Though he wagered it would be a lot of fun while it lasted.

There was something really endearing about Scott, especially the way his face heated as he all but stammered his answer, “No, uh, it’s not that. I mean, Christ, he’s my best friend, ya know? Sometimes I’m glad he’s straight so we don’t have to worry about messing things up.”

Rob tried to hide his amusement.
Right. How long have you been telling yourself that?

Scott laughed, looking almost like a kid, like a teenager that hasn’t quite figured out how things work, but doesn’t want to let on. “Does that even make sense?”

He thought about telling Scott that it only made sense to Scott because he was in denial so deep he didn’t know which way was up. Instead he laughed, taking a sip of wine and trying not to cackle. “It does, but…I don’t know, I guess I always figured if I were going to settle down with someone, my partner would be my best friend too.”

That, at least, was something they agreed on. Scott lifted his glass, “In a perfect world.”


****

His skin was stinging where his palm pressed into the brick wall behind the dance club. The night was clear and even the alley was crowded, but they’d managed to sneak away a little further down, away from the smokers and patrons trying to escape the heat of the dance floor.

Rob could hear the music even from where they stood, and the voices and laughter of other people, most of them there for the very same reason he was. Dance, drink, hook up, go home and sleep it off. Glancing down, he watched his cock slide past two full lips, his own voice choking out of him and ending on a growl. This guy— Mark? Mitch?-- knew what he was doing. Tongue playing down the slick shaft then circling the head again before sliding all the way down. God, it was good. The faint scrape of teeth, the tight, wet heat at the back of the throat, even the little gag made it good. “Yes, Christ,” Rob hissed, his free hand nestled into straight, jet black hair that had to be dyed. His fingers tightened as his release sped through him, his veins singing with it, body trembling as he fought the urge to force himself deeper down the guy’s throat. He came with a sharp grunt, nearly dizzy as he panted for breath, resting his forehead on the back of his hand against the wall. He was glad he’d taken care of Mark/Mitch/Msomething/Mystery Man first or he’d have a hell of a time thinking clearly enough to return the favor.

Laughing softly as he caught his breath and steadied his hands enough to button his jeans again, Rob stepped back so the guy could get to his feet. “That was… Hell, that was great.”

The guy shrugged and smiled at him, leaning back against the wall and wiping his mouth, his own pants still open from when it was Rob’s turn on his knees. A few feet away they could hear someone throwing up on the other side of the dumpster and they both laughed.

The smell seemed to hit them both at the same time and they started walking away together, both of them put back together, cleaned up and only a little rumpled. “I hate to think of all the bodily fluids that must collect here between rains.”

The guy laughed again, glancing at Rob, “Like invisible graffiti.”

Looking over his shoulder at the person bent over and retching, Rob made sure there was someone with him, someone relatively sober that might help. “And some not so invisible…”

Another laugh and a cocky grin as the guy headed back into the club, “It was good to meet ya, Bob.”

Rob nodded in agreement, amused that he wasn’t the only with the name confusion. “You too,” They didn’t bother to exchange numbers or even get the names right. Some nights were like that.


****

Getting his key in the door, Rob tried not to drop his pile of mail in the hallway of his apartment building. It was late, and for the sake of his neighbors, he was quiet as a mouse as he let himself in. His cat, Misty, stretched her back and looked at him from her spot on the sofa as he kicked his shoes off and stood at the kitchen counter, sorting bills from junk mail. He found a post card from Lake Champlain and smiled to himself, flipping it over and reading Scott’s light scrawl telling him they were having a good time and that Rob should have joined them.

As soon as classes had let out, Scott and Jimmy had taken off for Palm Springs to see Jimmy’s parents. A few weeks later, they had flown out to a tiny town that Rob had never heard of before meeting Scott to spend some time with Scott’s mother and sister. Rob had teased them about taking an engagement tour.

He pinned the postcard on his corkboard next to the one from Palm Springs and another one from his friend Tom who was spending the entire summer in France. Truth be told, most of his friends had flown the coop for the summer, or at least for the first month or two of it. He wasn’t lonely, exactly, but he was getting restless. Which more than explained his need to blow off some steam—so to speak—with a total stranger. Not that it was a foreign concept, or even a rarity, but he’d be lying to himself if he said he preferred it that way.

He made himself a snack and fed Misty, who had finally come over to greet him by jumping on the counter and shoving her face into his. “At least you’re not going anywhere, huh, Miss Misty?” He felt like an idiot when he talked to the cat, but he couldn’t help it. She seemed to think he was an idiot too, but she didn’t mock him outright so that was enough for him.

****

He was starting to regret his decision about working part time hours. When he’d decided it, he had planned this to be his summer of fun before school really started kicking his ass. He’d been warned by professors and fellow students alike that the year coming up was going to be the worst. It was the one that would make him doubt whether or not he really wanted to be a doctor. When a professor ended his class for the year by telling his students to go get drunk, get laid, and have a lot of fun because it was their last chance for the better part of a decade, Rob felt bound to take the advice.

Now, though, with most of the people he’d be having all this fun with out of the state—or country—for the next few weeks, he was rethinking his plan. The first several days of summer were gray and soggy, as expected around Seattle. Rob had cleaned out closets, organized junk drawers, cleared old files on his laptop, got rid of old porn links (and added a few new ones,) and was generally ready to climb the walls when the sun finally showed up.

Fantastic. Days at Alki Beach and Green Lake—alone. Nights at Re-Bar and Neighbours-- alone. He had to laugh. What else could he do?

****

Pulling on a plain gray t-shirt and some basketball shorts that hung nice and low on his hips but didn’t scream, “I’m gay! Come and get me, boys!” Rob grabbed his keys and headed for the outdoor court down the street from his apartment. It was one of those neighborhoods that was still in transition. You had a few condos popping up, a few houses that were being fixed up and sold for too much money, but you still had a healthy dose of overly friendly drunks and extremely talkative crack addicts wandering around day and night. Rob was a little concerned about his sanity when he considered buying a bottle of Boones and joining a few of them.

Basketball was definitely a good idea.

****

Grinning at one of the guys on the court that had just scored on him, Rob paused to get a drink from his water bottle, wiping his forehead on the tail of his t-shirt and laughing. “You know in a real game that shit wouldn’t go over too well.” Rob told the kid. Daryl was only about sixteen and funny as hell. Good at ball too, when he could remember the rules.

Tossing Rob the ball and looking ready to strut, “Since when is this a real game, bro? I don’t see a ref…”

Laughing, Rob tossed it back to the kid and sat down on the bench for a minute, catching his breath. Daryl liked to play hard.

He heard a car pull up to on the other side of the chain link fence and glanced over his shoulder. Kyle. He knew the guy, but mostly from running into him here, or down at the gym on a few occasions. Not a friend, exactly, but a friendly acquaintance at least, and Rob was getting desperate. He watched as Kyle leaned over the console of the car and hugged the curvy little brunette that sometimes dropped Kyle off. He’d assumed Kyle was straight—and not the way Jimmy was straight-- before he’d even seen the girl, feeling like it was better to assume one way than the other, safe instead of sorry and all that. It was a little disappointment that Rob tried not to think about. But, of all the guys Rob talked to even in passing, Kyle was the only one that sparked something in him on different levels; not just sexual, not just intellectual. He hardly knew the guy, but he liked Kyle.

Spotting Rob as he came around the fence, ball held under one arm, Kyle walked over and dropped his backpack on the ground, “How’s it goin’, man? Haven’t seen you in a while.”

Rob tried not to grin at him, which was hard to do since he was quick to smile anyway and Kyle made him feel like smiling even more. “Weather’s been shit and my membership expired down at the gym.” He didn’t bother to add that he was tightening his belt for his Summer of Sex and Wild Adventure that was speeding along at a turtle’s pace. “How ya been?”

Kyle took off his sunglasses and set them on top of his backpack, obviously getting ready to play, “Pretty good. Still tending bar down at the Moon on Thursdays and Fridays; you should stop in when I’m on.”

Giving Kyle a sardonic smile, “I’ll try and work it into my tight schedule. What hours are you there?”

“Eight till closing, sometimes Monday too when they need a hand.” After Rob nodded and made a mental note, Kyle asked, “You heading out or just taking a break?”

“Just taking a break, you wanna?”

“Let’s do it.” Kyle tossed the ball to Rob, the two of them going out onto the court and starting to play.

****

“Christ, I’m beat. You win.” Rob laughed, shaking his head as he walked to the bench for the last dregs of his water. The sun was pounding down on them now, their bodies heated and slick with sweat. It felt good.

Joining him at the bench, Kyle reached for his own bottle, taking a long gulp and wiping his brow with the back of his arm. “Wish I kept score; that’s at least the fourth time you’ve said that.” Kyle’s smile sent an uncontrolled flutter through Rob’s stomach. Damn it.

“And you never admit when I win…”

Laughing again, Kyle waggled his eyebrows at Rob, “That’s because it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Jackass.”

“Loser.”

They grinned at each other, Rob wetting his lips and forcing himself to look away. “I don’t know if I’m up for another round.”

Kyle nodded, tucking his things back into his backpack and getting his sunglasses, “Yeah, I’m hashed, need to go home and get a shower.”

“Same here,” Rob considered his options for a moment. He could just say goodbye and be off and hope to run into Kyle again, or he could man up and see if Kyle wanted to hang out. Knowing the guy was probably straight set him up for the potential of awkwardness, especially if Kyle had picked up on his sexuality at all. But, what the hell, what was the worst that could happen? Rob might have to find another court to play ball. Granted, in this neighborhood, that might be difficult. “Hey, if you’re not busy this afternoon, you wanna…do something? Maybe go down Green Lake or something?” Please don’t think I’m asking you out on a date. Which I would, if I thought you’d say yes. But I don’t, and I’m not. He would have laughed at himself if he thought he could get away with it without looking like a crazy person. This lack of confidence was new and unexpected, and downright uncomfortable. He’d been pretty sure of himself from early childhood and that had never wavered. Until now.

Kyle appeared to be thinking about it, not too long, thank God. “Sure, sounds good. Maybe go for a jog, get a bite to eat?”

“Cool. Meet ya down there, across from the Seven-Eleven?”

Kyle already had his phone out, “Yeah, maybe two hours? Gimme your digits, man.”

Rob rattled off his phone number, already trying to figure out which bus he’d need to take, cursing for the first time the fact that he didn’t bother to get a car when he moved here. “See ya soon, man.”

“It’s a date,” Kyle’s tone didn’t indicate that was an actual date and Rob laughed, nodding his head as they grabbed their things and headed off in different directions.

****

The sun was a few hours from setting, still warm, and the area was fairly packed with a variety of people. Families with their kids, groups of women with their dogs, people on rollerblades, teenagers getting stoned, and even a few suits with their ties loosened and their shoes off in the grass.

Kyle arrived first and he waved at Rob from across the street, trotting over with a Frisbee in his hand. He must have spotted the one Rob held as well, grinning when they were close enough to talk, “Great minds think alike.”

Rob laughed, “Or the unoriginal do, at least.”

****

They walked around the lake once, neither of them quickening the pace, instead talking and getting to know each other better. Rob talked about school and a few of his friends, and Kyle told him about tending bar, life with roommates, taking a year off school to save some money up and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, land he talked a lot about his family. By the end of the afternoon, Rob felt like he knew Kyle’s sisters and brother and had seen a few photos of the nieces and nephews on Kyle’s phone. He was obviously close to his family and admitted that he didn’t like living in a different state.

“Why’d ya move?”

Shrugging and then laughing, “If you’d ever been to Shelley, Idaho, you wouldn’t have to ask.”

Quirking a brow, curious, “I don’t even know where that is exactly.”

“Down near Utah,” They were heading across the street to find some dinner, chatting as they walked, “Town has less than four thousand people, most of them Mormon. My high school mascot was a freaking potato, I kid you not.”

Rob was glad to have something to laugh about, the idea of Kyle being raised Mormon was a little frightening. Not that he had a problem with religion in general, and he’d admit that all he heard about Mormons was usually rumor or random bitching about the church’s views on gay marriage and gays in general. Nothing he ever got was firsthand, so he tried not to judge. “Please tell me you never had to wear the suit.”

“No, but I helped our rivals kidnap it once.” Kyle flipped his sunglasses back into his light brown hair as they entered the café.

“Turncoat.”

They were both laughing when the waitress pointed to a booth on the other side of the room, “Take a seat, guys, I’ll be over in a few.” She handed them their menus from behind the counter and went to the register to ring someone up. In the back corner of the restaurant there was a group of kids, obviously tripping on something—Rob guessed mushrooms since most of them were coloring cartoon mushrooms all over their placemats.

There were a handful of tourists with their small children and a group of tough looking bikers that Rob knew to be regulars. One nodded to him in passing and Rob returned the gesture, never having spoken to the man before, but having seen him inside his first and only leather bar a few weeks earlier. Not his scene, he’d decided quickly, but he did like the look.

As Kyle looked at the menu, Rob watched a man hassle their waitress about the heat and lack of air conditioning, complaining about the menu and being a general shit. “I think I liked this place better before it was featured on Food Network.”

Kyle laughed, “It’s my first time here, but it seems like every time my favorite spot gets highlighted on some show, it quickly becomes my least favorite place to go.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“Glad I watch what I eat; I’d hate to see the cholesterol levels of the regulars…”

Snorting a laugh as he took a sip of the ice water the waitress had stealthily placed on their table, Rob agreed, “Greasy spoon at its best.”

After a few minutes, they placed their orders and talked a little more as they started to do as most of the other patrons were doing; coloring on their placemats.

Rob was sketching out his design, a caricature of Kyle, duct-taping a giant potato. Kyle was drawing in wide sweeps of bright colors, not a picture so much as splashes and waves that looked like a psychedelic sunset over the ocean. He thought the kids in the back booth would really appreciate it.

“So is your whole family Mormon?” The subject had dropped so quickly, Rob hadn’t had a chance to ask and it was killing him.

Nodding, shifting his paper for a different angle, “All the way back to old Joe.” Glancing up and laughing at the confused look on Rob’s face, “Joseph Smith, first prophet, founder of the church, yadayadayada. I’m the first Porter not to go on a mission in like…seven generations.”

Rob absorbed the news, not even sure what to say. The pressure in an average American family seeming high enough, not able to imagine what it would be like to add to it. “Bet that went over well.”

“Mom cried, dad said he was disappointed but he would rather me not go unworthily or if I had doubts. My brother Mike gave me the most shit for it and my sister Cam was really great. She knows me the best, so, she understood.”

The food arrived and they were both shifting things around on the table to make room, getting ready to eat. “I’m glad you had some support, could’ve been tough.”

“You’re not kidding. I had a friend in high school that was disowned by his parents. Crazy shit.” Kyle was shaking his head, looking like Rob felt: totally amazed at the ability people have to take each other for granted and lose sight of what really matters. “My mom and dad are great, though. They don’t agree with my choices and they probably pray for me all the damn time, but they love me no matter what and they don’t try to intervene or change my mind. I kind of lucked out.”

“Sounds like it.”

Rob passed Kyle the ketchup and when he moved his arm, Kyle saw his drawing, laughing, “What is that?”

Rob tried to hide it again, “It’s not done.”

Laughing louder, Kyle snagged the drawing from him, “It’s done enough.” He looked for a long minute, hazel eyes dancing with his smile, “This is great.”

“I felt there should be something to commemorate the Great Russet Betrayal.”

“I’m so framing this.”

****

By the end of the evening, Rob and Kyle were getting along like old friends. He knew more about Kyle than he knew about Jimmy and he liked it.

Standing outside the café, they had said goodnight. Rob was about to walk across the street to catch his bus when Kyle stopped him. “I had fun,” He looked like he wanted to say something else and decided not to. Rob had to wonder if it felt a little too close to an end-of-date comment.

“Me too,” Rob nodded, smiling. For one heartbeat he thought about taking the chance and leaning in, kissing Kyle, maybe just on the cheek. It would be a risk; if Kyle was as straight as he seemed, he could walk away with a black eye or worse. In the end, Rob decided it wasn’t just a black eye he’d be risking, it was Kyle’s company he could lose and it didn’t feel worth it.

The same little car that sometimes dropped Kyle off at the basketball court pulled up to the curb and the same adorable brunette waved and smiled at them. “I’m working tomorrow night, but if you wanna come in, I take my dinner break around eleven.”

“I’ll do that.” Rob pushed down his disappointment and forced himself to smile at the girl, laughing when she rolled her window down to yell at Kyle.

“You two studs need a lift?” she asked, batting her eyes and playing the coquette.

Leaning over the side of the car and smiling, “Just the one stud, my bus gets here in ten minutes and drops me right at my door.”

“Is your bike in the shop too?” she asked, a hint of a tease for Kyle playing in her voice. Kyle had mentioned having a little crotch rocket Honda that was out of commission at the moment. Rob had taken a few minutes to contemplate what the man’s crotch rocket looked like.

He laughed, dipping his head lower when the girl leaned over the console to get a better look at him. “No bike, just too stubborn to buy a car when there’s good public transportation to be had.”

She tilted her head and laughed, “Hardcore environmentalist?”

Rob thought for a moment. He did his best where it came to the environment, but he wouldn’t call himself green. Laughing, he told her, “If I answer one way I sound like an elitist douche bag and if I answer another way I sound like a troglodyte. Maybe just put me somewhere in the middle on that scale.”

“A douchetrog?” Kyle asked from over his shoulder.

Rob turned to look at him, “Troglodouche,” he corrected with a laugh, “I’ll have a t-shirt made.”

The girl in the car laughed, “I like him. We should introduce him to Janie.”

Kyle stepped between Rob and the car door then, “And that’s my cue to leave.” He was still laughing as he got in, “See ya tomorrow night?”

Rob smiled at Kyle, “Yeah, see ya there. Good to meet you,” he added, waving at the girl and taking a step back so she could pull into traffic.

****

The sound wouldn’t quit. Relentless, right next to his ear. Rob reached over and slapped at his alarm clock, but the sound continued. It took him almost a minute to figure out what it was and to find his phone. It stopped, voicemail having picked up, then started ringing again. Squinting his eyes at the caller ID, he answered with a sigh, “Someone better be dead or bleeding.”

He could tell Jimmy was grinning just by the sound of his voice. “Oh, did I wake you?”

Looking at his clock next to him, “It’s four twelve in the morning. Of course you woke me.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

“No you’re not.”

“True. Can I be sorry about not being sorry?”

“Not at four thirteen in the morning. What’s up?”

Jimmy did sound almost guilty as he explained. “Nothin’, just…my whole sleep schedule is messed up and everyone in the house is still asleep here but I’m wired.”

“So you thought I should suffer with you?”

“Pretty much.”

“Why not just wake Scott up with a blowjob? I’m sure that would go over well.”

“Already did. He fell back asleep.”

Rob laughed at that, sitting up in his bed and running a hand through his messy blond hair. He’d been letting it grow out and it was starting to take on a life of its own. “You really know how to hold a guy’s attention, huh?”

“Well, luckily there’s only one guy whose attention I want, and I usually have it. When he’s conscious.”

“Braggart.”

“You say that like it’s news.” Rob just snorted a laugh and waited. “You been cruising the tourists while we’ve been outta town?”

Rolling his eyes, Rob got up from bed, Misty lifting her head to look at him from one of the pillows she decided a long time ago was hers. “Not really. Had a few forgettable hookups a while back, but nothing lately.”

“Oh?” Jimmy sounded like he flat out didn’t believe Rob.

Tripping over his own shoes as he made his way to the kitchen, “Yes. I’ve been too busy the last couple weeks to chase dick.”

“Now I know you’re lying.”

“I’m not.” Pouring himself a glass of water, Rob laughed, shaking his head, “Just been hanging out with Kyle and stuff.”

“Who’s Kyle?”

“Friend of mine from basketball.”

“Ohhhh.”

“No, not ohhhh. He’s a friend. Like, an actual friend, not a friend I made after I blew him.”

“So you made friends and then blew him?”

No. Despite my track record of designated fuck buddy, I do have, ya know, actual buddies.” He didn’t bother telling Jimmy he’d like a whole lot more than being buddies with Kyle.

“So what have you two buddies been doing?”

Stumbling through his dark apartment, Rob fell onto his couch with another laugh, “Hiking, volleyball, movies… We went camping last week, caught a bunch of fish.”

“So, he’s your boyfriend?”

“Maybe if he were gay? Or even bi-curious…”

“I used to be straight.”

“Yeah, well, lightning never strikes the same spot twice.”

“Hey, my lightning never touched your spot.”

Rob couldn’t decide if he wanted to choke Jimmy or kiss him. Laughing louder, “Go back to bed and rim Scott until he wakes up.”

“I like the way you think. What’re you gonna do?”

“Now that I’m wide awake before five in the morning? Probably go jerk off and see if I can get back to sleep until a decent hour.”

“Full of great ideas, aren’t you?”

“Something like that.”

“Well, we’ll be back in town on Monday. Bring your new actual buddy over for dinner.”

“Will do. Asshole.”

“I’d take that as more of an insult if you were straight.”

Rob didn’t bother to respond, hanging up with a laugh and then scrubbing his hands over his face with a sigh.

****

“I couldn’t decide between wine and beer.” Kyle told him, holding up a bottle in one hand and half-rack in the other.

Rob shifted his box of pastries under his arm, “They usually drink whatever is at hand, so I think you’re safe.”

“My kinda people.”

They were walking down the short block to Jimmy and Scott’s apartment, Rob looking forward to it and dreading it in equal measure. “Uh, there’s something…I mean, Scott and Jimmy are a couple, I hope you’re cool with that.”

Kyle made an amused sound, “Cool with me.”

Now was his chance. He could just blurt it out and be done with it. The fact that he hadn’t yet was actually a little embarrassing. Rob reasoned that the topic simply hadn’t come up. Neither of them talked about dating or relationships much at all. The one time they got even close to the subject, Rob had worked up his nerve, but he only got as far as telling Kyle that he hadn’t ever been in a serious relationship, but that he wasn’t against the idea. He was just about to drop something along the lines of, “The last guy I dated…” when Kyle got a bite on his fishing line and they hopped up to pull it in. The conversation dropped and that was it.

He felt like he was coming out all over again, and in a way he was. It felt ridiculous. He had worked hard on the campaign to legalize gay marriage in Washington State, had volunteered at Pride fest and fund raisers and put in hours down at the gay youth center and even worked the phone lines at the LGBT crisis center for a while. He should be able to tell a good friend that he’s gay. Especially one that’s just made it clear he’s, at the very least, not a total homophobe.

Just as he was opening his mouth to say something, Kyle asked, “How long were they out of town?”

“About a month and a half. They went down to see Jimmy’s family first, then Scott’s. His sister lives out there too.”

“Sounds nice. I need to head over to see my folks soon too, been a couple months.”

Rob nodded, turning up the walkway to the apartment, “Mine just came out for a visit before hopping on a cruise ship, they get back next week.”

Kyle just nodded and Rob thought about what a coward he was. He’d had an easier time telling his parents he was gay.

The door opened before Rob could even knock. Jimmy stood in front of them wearing a bright red apron with orange flames all over it that said: It’s not cooking, it’s grilling. “Finally,” Stepping back to let them in, Jimmy went on, “Scott’s in the kitchen tossing the salad, go make sure he’s not burning it.”

Rob grinned, giving Jimmy a one-armed hug as he walked past, “This is Kyle,”

Kyle didn’t offer to shake Jimmy’s hand, instead holding up the wine and beer as Rob walked around the little dividing bar that separated the kitchen and living room. “Any friend of beer is a friend of mine.” Jimmy told him, pointing with a long set of tongs to the kitchen.

Kyle followed Rob, putting the beer into the fridge as Rob held the door open for him. “I don’t know anything about wine. Do we…chill it, or…?”

Scott wiped his hands off on a towel, taking the bottle from him and looking at the label. “For about twenty minutes, just so it’s not overly warm.” Smiling up at Kyle, “I’m Scott, by the way.”

Kyle took the hand Scott offered, “Kyle. It’s good to meet you.”

“You too. Just stick that on the bottom shelf for a few and it’ll be great. Nice choice.”

Laughing and looking a little bashful, Kyle told him, “I just told the guy I needed a bottle of wine that wouldn’t embarrass me.”

Rob raised his eyebrows at Scott, “Since when do you know about wine?”

Jimmy had walked in behind Scott, slipping an arm around the man’s waist, “Since my mother ate his brain.”

Shrugging, Scott smiled at Jimmy and then glanced at the other two, “She decided I had to have something valuable to offer in the kitchen since I can’t cook. My entire vacation was spent touring wineries and learning what goes with what.” He rolled his eyes, but Rob and Jimmy both knew that Scott adored Jimmy’s mother.

Rob gave him a mock-sympathetic pout, “Oh, you poor baby, that must have been so hard to endure.”

Scott narrowed his eyes, but he laughed with them, “Blow me.”

Jimmy smacked Scott on the ass, “Not before dinner.” Turning to look at Kyle, “Hey, man, can you grab the steaks outta the fridge and bring them out to the deck? It’s almost time.”

Kyle had just been watching the scene, smiling in amusement. “Sure,”

Rob started to follow Kyle out with Jimmy, not sure he wanted to leave the two alone for more than thirty seconds, but Scott stopped him, “He seems nice…”

Rolling his eyes, having thought they’d at least make it to dessert first, “He is nice.”

“Jimmy says you two aren’t…”

A little embarrassed now, Rob shrugged his shoulders, “I’m not even sure which way he swings. Sometimes I get the feeling he’s… I don’t know, but if he’s kissing anyone, he’s not telling.” With another shrug, he added, “But I think he has a girlfriend.”

Scott was chopping vegetables, glancing over at Rob as he worked, “Does he know which way you swing?”

“It’s not like I introduce myself, ‘Hi, I’m Rob. I’m gay. Wanna be besties?’ It just hasn’t come up…”

Giving him a disbelieving look, “I didn’t think you’d spend time in the closet for anyone.”

Just then, Kyle laughed out on the deck at something Jimmy had just said, the two men seeming to get along well. The sun caught in Kyle’s hair and made the light brown look almost golden, his head thrown back, smile wide. Rob sighed at the tight feeling in his chest, “He’s a good guy. I’m not…hiding who I am, it just hasn’t come up yet. I don’t want it to be any big deal when it does so I don’t wanna Have A Talk with him about it, ya know?”

Setting the knife down, Scott turned to look at his friend, “Yeah, I get that. And it shouldn’t be a big a deal. He seems open-minded enough, easy going and all. But…I don’t want you to pine after someone you can’t have is all.”

Rob laughed at that, shaking his head at Scott, “This from the guy that dated me when he was in love with his roommate?”

Trying to glare even as he looked like a guilty puppy, Scott said, “So I know of what I speak.”

“Yes, you do. And that worked out so badly for you. Oh, wait.”

Huffing at Rob, “I think mine was the exception, not the rule.”

Giving up, knowing Scott had a good point even if he didn’t want him to, “I know. Hell, I agree. And, it’s not like I’m in love with the guy. I just think he’s…really nice and fun to hang out with. He’s smart and funny and…”

“Don’t forget hot. Good Christ.” Scott was standing next to Rob now, the two of them watching Kyle and Jimmy through the sliding glass door. “You could eat breakfast off his ass.”

“I know, right.”

Shaking his head as if he just remembered he wasn’t supposed to look at other guys like that, “You better go join them before Jimmy outs you.”

“Yeah, probably. You need any help in here?”

“Nah. I managed to get everything chopped without adding a fingertip to the menu, so I think I’m good. Grab a couple beers for them on your way out.”

Nodding, Rob did as Scott suggested, popping the caps off before making his way to the deck, passing Jimmy a beer and then offering one to Kyle. “Scott’s graduated to kitchen knives now?”

Jimmy turned the corn on the cob over on the grill, making room for the steaks, “Usually supervised, but he’s making progress.”

Turning to Kyle, Rob explained, “Scott can’t even make toast without calling the fire department.”

“His sister either. The two in the kitchen together are terrifying. I thought I’d have to call FEMA.”

“Oh, Jesus, did they actually try it while you guys were out there?”

“Twice. Ruby is such a bad influence on him. She keeps telling him that, with a little practice, they should be able to make something edible.”

Kyle took a sip of his beer and set the bottle down on the railing, “Sounds reasonable.”

Jimmy shook his head, “You’d think, right? No so much. Scott got kicked out of a cooking class once. He made it three days, and after four small fires and a pretty deep cut, the instructor told him to drop the course, offered a full refund if Scott promised to never ever do anything in a kitchen again.”

Laughing out loud, Kyle glanced between Jimmy and Rob, “Seriously?”

“Seriously.” Jimmy tried to explain, “He and Ruby both, they just…can’t focus long enough on it to see it through. They’ll start texting someone or talk on the phone or, I don’t even know what.” Jimmy started dropping the steaks onto the grill, the sizzle making Rob’s mouth water, not having realized how hungry he was until then. “When I met him, he was living on fast food and take out. The dorms we were in had revoked his privilege for even having a hotplate in his room.”

As if Scott knew they were talking about him, he opened the sliding door, two white fluff balls skidding out in front of him. “What are you all laughing so hard about?”

Kyle squatted down to pet one of the puppies, smiling as his hand was sniffed and licked. Jimmy glanced down for a minute, “We were laughing at you and Ruby and your cooking disasters. Why’d you let the babies out?”

“They were whining, figured they wanted to meet the company.”

Jimmy just nodded and put his attention back on the grill.

Kyle looked up at Scott, “What are their names?”

“The one trying to lick your face off is Hercules and the one eating your shoe is Persephone.”

Beaming at him, Kyle said, “I had a cat named Zeus when I was a kid.”

****

After dinner, the four sat out on the deck, watching the sun go down as they talked. Scott and Jimmy were surprised when Kyle told them he had a Bachelor’s in computer science, but that he wasn’t working in the field. “I just don’t know what I wanna do long-term, but I know how I am. If I get on with a good company and get benefits and good pay rolling in, I’ll stay there until I retire. I’m just not ready for that yet, ya know? I wanted to take this summer off and live like a bum and set some cash aside and decide if I want to get a job or go for the Master’s program and all that. My problem is, I really like being a student. I’m not sure if I’ll like being a working stiff.”

Picking at his second pastry, Scott asked, “Ever think of teaching?”

“Yeah, that’s another option I kind of like. I mean, ya know, woe is me, I have too many good opportunities to choose from.” Laughing as he took a swig off his beer, “I feel like such an ass when I think about people that don’t have the same choices.”

Looking at his lover, Scott tilted his head, trying to remember something. “Jimmy, what’s that place called? Hand Up? Or…”

“I think it’s Helping Hands.”

“Yeah, that.” Looking at Kyle again, “If you ever get bored or whatever, you could volunteer down there. They help get homeless off the street and do job training and stuff. Give you a chance to teach a little of what you know and it might look good on a resume when you decide what you wanna do.”

Snorting a laugh as he picked at the label on his beer bottle, Kyle agreed, “It would probably look better than bartender and professional layabout.”

Jimmy was popping the last bite of his own dessert into his mouth, “I like to think if I were ever in a position to hire someone, I’d pick the guy that listed layabout on his resume.”

****

It was early Saturday morning, the sun lovely and bright in a clear sky. Rob and Kyle were taking a break on the bench at the basketball court, having been playing hard since seven. “We should hit the beach today. It’s gonna be nice.”

Kyle agreed, standing in front of him and passing Rob’s water bottle to him, “Yeah, maybe get some volleyball going.” His phone rang then, chirping away from his backpack. A look of mild concern flashed on Kyle’s face, probably because of the early hour, most of their friends not even out of bed this time of day. He seemed to relax when he saw the caller ID, putting the phone to his ear, he answered, “Hey, mom,”

After a short pause, the tension was back on Kyle’s face, his brow furrowing. Rob stood up from the bench, wanting to put a hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “When?” Kyle asked into the phone, putting a finger in his ear to better hear as a tuck rumbled down the street across from them. “What’d the doctor’s say?” There was another pause, Kyle turning white as he pressed his lips together in a straight line. He took a step away from the court and Rob didn’t follow, but he could see his friend was in serious distress. When Kyle finally hung up, he didn’t walk back to Rob right away, instead he bent over with his hands on his knees looking like he might throw up.

Rob did step closer then, his hand a light weight on Kyle’s back, trying to ground him, give him something to focus on, “What happened?”

Breathing deeply for a few seconds longer, Kyle stood up slowly. Rather than pull back, he stepped closer into Rob’s space, not quite touching, his face crumpling, eyes wet, “Cam, my sister, she… Her and her daughter, they were on their way somewhere this morning and got into an accident on the freeway. Some eighteen wheeler and a few other cars, I don’t know. Mom didn’t even know all the details, I…”

Trying to sound calm, Rob asked, “Okay, do you know what’s happening with them now?”

Sniffling and wiping his eyes on the back of his hand, “They’re both heading into surgery. Dad and Mike and the missionaries gave them both blessings and…it doesn’t look good. No one thinks they’re gonna--” Kyle started to break down again, his lips trembling as he tried to hide his face. Rob didn’t even think, he just pulled Kyle into a tight hug.

“Okay,” Rob whispered into Kyle’s hair, “Just breathe, buddy. We’ll get ya out there. It’s okay.”

Pulling back to see Rob’s face, Kyle didn’t step back, stayed close, “You don’t understand. Even if there’s a flight available right away, it’s like, six or seven hundred bucks and at least one connecting flight, usually two or three. It takes almost as long to fly as it does to drive.”

“Then we’ll drive.”

Kyle clearly didn’t know how this was going to happen, but he nodded and stepped away from Rob just far enough to shoulder his backpack.

****

“Hey man, sorry to wake you.” Rob was moving quickly through his own apartment, stuffing a few things into a duffel bag as he talked on the phone. Kyle was on his couch, petting Misty and looking like he was hovering on the edge of shock. His roommate bringing some things over for Kyle and Rob was praying Scott and Jimmy didn’t have plans that involved driving anywhere long distance for the week.

“No problem, what’s up?”

“Kyle’s sister has been in an accident and he needs to get there, like, an hour ago. Flying isn’t an option and even if he had a car, he’s in no shape to go out there alone.”

Rob could hear Scott shifting in bed, pictured him sitting up and nudging Jimmy. “Wanna borrow my car?”

He wanted to cry with relief. “Yes. Please. I hate to ask, but…”

“It’s cool, man, don’t worry about it. Where are you now?”

“My place, I’m throwing some shit in a bag so we can hit the road.” He could hear Jimmy in the background asking what was wrong, Scott telling him he’d explain later, to get up and get his keys.

“Be there in ten.”

“Thanks, man. You have no idea.”

“No sweat. Tell Kyle I hope everything is okay.”

****

True to their word, Scott and Jimmy showed up less than eight minutes later. They were both wearing flip-flops. Scott was in pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt and Jimmy only had on a pair of boxers, his hair standing out at odd angles.

Kyle’s roommate had dropped off his bag a few minutes before and he was already on his feet pacing. Jimmy patted Rob’s shoulder as he walked past to Kyle, not appearing the least bit concerned about his lack of clothing. “You okay, man?”

“Not really.” Kyle told him, too upset to lie.

Scott pulled Rob aside, giving him a tight hug. As he pulled back, he dropped the keys into his hand. “There’s a full tank of gas and the battery is charged, but, you gotta remember for freeway driving, over fifty, it’s running on fuel.” Rob nodded, pocketing the keys, “Registration and insurance are in the glove box.”

“Hey, can you feed Misty for me? I…”

“Yeah, we’ll stop by a couple times a day, no worries.” Scott gave him another hug and kissed the side of his head.

Jimmy walked up behind and patted Rob on the back, “Just be careful. It’s not gonna do anyone any good if you guys get killed because you’re trying to get there faster, okay?”

Rob nodded, trying to dredge up a smile for his friend, “Promise.” He gave Scott the key to his apartment and turned to Kyle, “Ready?”

Kyle gave him a tight nod, looking grim.

****

They were four hours into a twelve hour drive when they had to pull over for gas. They still had a little left, but there was a lot of open road between them and their destination and Rob didn’t want to risk hitting empty in the middle of nowhere. The ride had been mostly silent as Scott’s little car ate up the pavement at a fast clip. “You need anything?” he asked Kyle as the pulled up to a pump.

Kyle snorted a laugh, “Time machine to turn back the clock eight hours or so?”

“I’ll see if they have one left.” He knew it was pointless to try cheering Kyle up, in fact he felt like it would be downright thoughtless.

When he was done with the gas, both of them getting out to stretch their legs and use the restroom, Rob met Kyle back at the car, passing him a cold bottle of water, a small bag of pretzels and a pack of mini doughnuts. “Water will help keep you level, and salt is good for the synapses, helps keep you awake.”

Something close to a smile flitted over Kyle’s lips, “And the doughnuts?”

“Comfort food. Doughnuts should come standard in any survival kit.”

Offering a weak laugh, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

****

For most of the drive, neither of them had cell service and Rob could see Kyle’s stress mounting. Not knowing was killing him. “Try again.” he told Kyle as they passed through Boise, figuring it was a big enough city, their phones might have a chance at a signal.

Kyle tried and got an answer. “Hey, mom, how are they?”

Rob couldn’t help but listen as he drove a little faster. Kyle’s breath was speeding up and he could tell his friend was on the verge of a meltdown. “Well, how soon will they know?” Another pause in Kyle’s side of the conversation, “We’re just outside of Boise, another three or four hours.” He was quiet again, sniffling into the phone, “We will. Love you.”

“Any updates?”

Kyle swallowed hard a few times before he spoke, obviously trying to get his emotions under control. “Cam made it out of surgery and they stopped the bleeding and…they had to do something to one of her kidneys and…I don’t know what all else. She’s not stabilizing, though, and now they’re doing another head scan to see if they missed some bleeding or something in her brain.” His voice cracked at the last word and Rob wished he had the time to pull over and comfort his friend, but he knew the best comfort would be getting the man to his family. Kyle was starting to cry again, fighting it with a small grunt.

“What about Patty?”

A brief look of relief flashed across Kyle’s face, as if he’d just remembered there were still things to be grateful for. “She’s gonna be okay. They had to put some pins in one leg and her recovery is gonna suck. Had to take out her spleen, I guess, but they say she should be fine. Shawn is with her, he won’t leave her side since they won’t let him in with Cam yet.” Rob knew Shawn was Cam’s husband, a nice guy who was more brotherly towards Kyle than his own was.

“That’s something, at least, yeah?”

Sniffling again and wiping his face on his shirtsleeve, Kyle nodded, “Yeah it is. It’s a lot to be thankful for.” He gave a wet laugh, “Cam would be pissed at me if she knew I wasn’t jumping for joy. Between herself and Patty, she’d pick—“

“Of course she would. But it doesn’t have to be either or, k? They can both pull through.”

“Shit. It’s just…this hospital is so…small.”

Rob cringed to himself, thinking of some of the backwater hospitals, but he just said, “That doesn’t mean anything. There are some damn good doctors out in the hicks. Sounds like she’s getting good care and Patty obviously did too, right?”

Sighing heavily, “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Damn straight I am, so no borrowing trouble, yeah?”

Snorting a little laugh, “You sound like my mom. Well, without the swearing.”

“She sounds like a good woman.”

“She is.” Kyle slumped back in the seat, watching the darkening sky settle around them as Rob drove, cautious and quick, through the settling night.


****

When they were near the hospital, Kyle called his mother again, letting her know they were minutes away. There wasn’t any more news, except that Cam’s tests looked good and she was starting to stabilize. The next twenty four hours would be crucial. His sister was still unconscious.

Rob was going to drop Kyle at the front door, but it was late, visiting hours over, and the parking lot was fairly empty. He pulled into a slot near the entrance. He could see four people standing out front and he recognized all of them from pictures Kyle had shown him. Kyle’s mother stood close to his father, their arms wrapped around each other. Kyle’s brother, Mike, was off to the side looking restless, and one of Kyle’s sisters, Anna, was texting someone, probably with an update about their sister.

They got out of the car together, Rob feeling like an outsider, at the same time thinking he should see if they needed anything before he fled to the safety of the hotel room Jimmy had booked for him.

Kyle walked faster to his family and nearly broke into a run when he got close, launching himself into his mother’s arms and finally letting himself really cry when his face rested on her shoulder. He looked like such a small kid in that moment that it nearly broke Rob’s heart. Kyle’s father—Adam, if Rob remembered right—was a good foot taller than the rest of the family, and he wrapped both arms around his wife and son, kissing the tops of their heads. Rob really felt like an intruder when he stepped up to them.

Adam pulled away first, meeting Rob and offering a hand to shake, “I can’t thank you enough for bringing him to us.”

Nodding, Rob wasn’t sure what to say. Bringing Kyle to his family when they needed each other seemed like the most natural thing in the world and he would have moved heaven and hell to make it happen. “I just wish there was more I could do, sir.”

“Please, call me Adam. There’s nothing else that can be done now, but, thank you.”

Kyle’s mother was next to her husband now, looking up at Rob with a tear streaked face. She only regarded him for a second and then she pulled Rob into a warm hug. “You’re a good man.” she said softly, Rob having to stoop down a few inches so she could whisper, her voice a little shaky near his ear, “I am so grateful to you.” Christine. Rob remembered her name, and all of a sudden he understood what Kyle meant when he said she was the most loving person he’d ever known. Rob could feel it in her words, in her hug, as if it was all she was made of and her plump little body didn’t keep it concealed, couldn’t keep it concealed.

“I’m just glad I could help.” he said softly, having to clear his throat as he pulled back a little to see her face again, afraid his own emotions might take over.

Christine put a tender hand on Rob’s cheek as she looked at him again, her face pretty and slightly round, still young looking, but washed in grief and fear and even a little gratitude. She looked as if she were going to say something, her eyes filling with tears again, but she only smiled and patted Rob’s cheek before pulling away.

It felt like something significant was in her expression, but Rob couldn’t place it and was a little afraid to try. “Can I get anyone anything? Food or…?”

“No, dear, thank you, but the Relief Society has been by already and my Visiting Teachers brought food and…” Looking at her youngest son, she added, “We have everything we need now.”

Rob knew about the women’s group in their church from Kyle and didn’t need to ask about the teacher thing, assuming it was related. He looked at Kyle at his father’s side and offered a small smile, nodding his head. “I’m gonna go get checked into the hotel and let you have some time with your family. You want me to bring your bag in?”

Kyle shook his head, stepping over and starting to walk with Rob to the car, “I’ll stop by and get it later if that’s okay?”

“Yeah, that’s fine. You can crash there if you want; I just figured you’d stay with your folks.”

“I probably will, but… It might be late when I come over, that okay?”

“Of course. I’ll keep a light on for ya.” He hesitated for a beat, but then gave Kyle a quick hug. He wanted it to be more, something long and comforting, but it really wasn’t the time or the place for that, and certainly not with Kyle’s family watching, Mike glaring at them from the front of the hospital. He really wanted to know what Mike’s damage was, seeming so different—hostile, even—from the rest of the family. But it wasn’t the time or place to ask about that either.

“Thank you,” Kyle whispered as he pulled back, “I mean…for everything. You’ve been awesome, I can’t…”

Smiling as they stepped back from each other, “No worries, I’ll see you later on.”

“Tell Scott and Jimmy thanks for me, if you talk to them tonight. I owe them huge. You too.”

“You don’t owe anything. We’re all friends, it’s part of the deal.”

****

He had stopped at the gas station on his way to the hotel, but, being just after midnight on what they considered Sunday morning in the middle of Mormon Town, he couldn’t even buy a beer. He settled for soda and bought a couple hot dogs there too, since nearly the whole town was closed for the night.

Rob had to laugh when he got inside his room. Leave it to Jimmy to find a place within two miles of the hospital that had a jetted tub and a king sized bed. He was grateful for it, though, when he sank down into hot water with the jets aimed at his sore muscles. Sitting on his ass in a car for twelve hours was more work that it sounded like. His body ached and he was exhausted.

After his bath, he tried to stay awake, watching some television for a while, but his eyes were starting to close on their own. He hoped Kyle would knock loud enough to wake him and rolled over for a few minutes of rest.

The knock did come and he did wake up to it, stumbling across the floor in his knit sleep pants and nothing else. His arms were full of Kyle as soon as he got the door open, his bare chest pressed against the man, Kyle’s wavy brown hair tickling and sending unwanted sparks of heat through Rob’s body. He felt like a complete jerk for a minute, his body responding despite the fact that his friend was obviously still upset. When his brain woke up enough, he asked, “You okay?”

“Just grateful.” Kyle murmured into his chest, “Cam woke up a couple hours ago. Doctor says she’s gonna be fine. They even let me in to see her.”

Rob let out a huge, relieved sigh, “Thank God,” he whispered, glancing at the ceiling as if whoever looked out for Kyle and his family was there watching. “Thank God.” he said again, taking another deep breath and, without thinking at all, brushed a warm kiss to the side of Kyle’s face, pressing his nose there and inhaling deeply.

Everything in the room seemed to change then, Rob painfully aware of the way Kyle breathed against his chest, the way the man’s arms tightened just slightly around his waist.

Rob’s fingers had been threaded lightly through Kyle’s hair and his touch turned more serious, hopeful, his grip firmer as Kyle shifted in his arms, their faces mere inches apart before Kyle rose up and touched their lips together.

The simplest kiss, really, but it set off a chain reaction inside Rob, his whole body suddenly humming with want, the sensation coursing through him as all his barricades and hesitations crumbled like aging mortar. He might have been ashamed of the sound he made just then, wanton and greedy, a wild moan into Kyle’s mouth, if Kyle hadn’t echoed it.

No longer worried that Kyle might push him away, Rob let one hand glide down the man’s spine, fingers moving over a soft t-shirt, tracing the hard muscles hidden underneath. Kyle’s hips jerked forward, grinding against Rob and he pulled back from the kiss with a faint pant of breath, shifting a little and guiding Rob away from the door and further into the hotel room. The door fell shut quietly, locking automatically, and then they were alone.

“God, I’ve wanted to do that for so long,” Rob whispered, almost afraid to talk, afraid to break the spell.

Kyle was pulling him to the bed, kicking off his own shoes as he walked backwards, Rob being his only anchor, “Why didn’t you?”

Rob kissed him again, not wanting to waste the moment with words that didn’t mean anything now. “Wasn’t sure,” he whispered against Kyle’s mouth, pulling back just long enough to drag the man’s shirt off over his head.

Kyle nodded as if he understood, running his palms over Rob’s firm chest, lifting his hazel eyes to find Rob’s face. “You sure now?”

Taking a steadying breath, wetting his lips as he dropped his hand between them, Rob just nodded, groaning softly as he brushed against the hard ridge of Kyle’s erection through his jeans, pressing more firmly at the hiss that escaped Kyle’s mouth.

Reaching his hands for Rob’s hips, Kyle pushed the pajama bottoms down slowly, the soft fabric grazing Rob’s cock before they fell down to the floor, “Christ,” he grunted, moving in again, their mouths meeting in a sharp kiss as he started to work Kyle’s jeans open. “Need you,” he muttered, tongue sliding out to taste Kyle’s whimper as he shoved the man’s jeans down.

Their erections stroked together in a quick thrust of hips, both men moaning, Rob murmuring another curse, before they fell back on the bed. Clothes were quickly kicked aside then, socks urged off with toes, underwear skinned out of quickly.

They tangled together near the foot of the bed, neither bothering to try and move to the center, too wrapped up in each other and the sensations of new skin and warmth and right. It was overwhelming and it was going to be over too quick but Rob couldn’t help himself and he doubted Kyle could either. One hand slid down Kyle’s back, pulling the man on top of him, his palm cupping Kyle’s ass, fingers dipping down lower. Kyle’s small shudder told Rob he was on the right path, but he knew it wouldn’t get that far tonight.

Groaning into Rob’s mouth, Kyle moved against him, his weight pressing Rob down on the bed, his hands tugging sharply at Rob’s hair with his hips moving restlessly, sliding their erections between them on skin slick with precome.

“God, don’t stop,”

Kyle parted his lips over Rob’s jaw, mouth moving lower, licking a line down the man’s throat until he covered Rob’s pulse, biting down lightly, “Can’t stop,” he whispered in reply, moving harder, his rhythm picking up pace, groaning hard against Rob’s hot skin when Rob wrapped a leg around Kyle’s body, holding him as close as he could.

Panting for breath as his release started to build, too hot and too fast to control, “Kiss me,” Rob had meant for it to be a sexy demand, but it came out like a plea from a needy child. Kyle didn’t seem to mind, though, his mouth covering Rob’s as their bodies worked together in a seamless dance, their cadence perfectly matched until Rob started to shudder beneath Kyle, coming hard between them with a harsh cry into Kyle’s mouth.

Kyle followed quickly, his body tensing, losing his rhythm as he clung to Rob, his climax washing through him as wet heat spread between them and he froze, letting out one more harsh breath before dropping his head like a dead weight on Rob’s chest.

They stayed like that for long moments, both of them boneless and washed out. It was Kyle who finally spoke, a soft breath of a laugh slipping out against Rob’s skin before he lifted his head with an effort. “That wasn’t how I planned it.”

Rob shifted a little, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, “There was a plan?”

Sliding to his side a few inches, Kyle settled next to Rob on the bed, hiding himself in the shelter of Rob’s arms, “Yeah, my grand seduction was gonna blow your mind.”

Laughing and tugging at the blankets until they were partially covered, Rob kissed the top of Kyle’s head, “Mission accomplished.” Rob waited another minute, letting his heart find its rhythm again, taking a long, deep breath before he asked, “So…are you gay, or…?”

“As a three dollar bill.”

“Wrong analogy.”

Kyle lifted his head again, his brow furrowed for a beat before his expression cleared, “Oh yeah. I might need a little sleep.”

Grinning at him, Rob kissed his forehead, couldn’t stop himself from kissing Kyle, “I bet you do. It’s been a long day.”

“Yeah it has.”

Rob’s fingers slid up and down Kyle’s back, over his bare shoulder, up into his hair and then back down again. He loved the feel of the guy, the way his skin was soft and warm and the muscles well defined under his touch. “How come you never told me?”

Lifting his head again, Kyle gave Rob a playful glare with tired eyes, “Same reason you never told me?”

“Fair enough. In my defense, though, I thought you had a girlfriend.”

Kyle sat up a little more, shifting on the bed to get a pillow, an incredulous look playing over his face, “Who would be my girlfriend in this scenario?”

“That girl that always taxis you around.”

Thinking for a moment, “Lisa?” Kyle laughed out loud, “That’s my roommate’s—Tony—that’s his girlfriend. She thinks of me as her…gay bff. She made me promise that if she’s not married by forty I’ll let her be my hag. Her words, not mine.”

As Kyle settled next to Rob again, the two of them having wiggled their way up to the top of the bed, Rob laughed again, “God, I’m an idiot.”

Kyle kissed him again, seeming to have the same problem Rob was having, “Yeah ya are. But if it makes you feel any better, I wasn’t sure about you until Scott dropped his car off for us.” At Rob’s questioning look, Kyle added, “He hugged you and you hugged him back just a little longer than the average straight-guy-hugging-gay-guy hug.”

Nodding, laughing a little, “Ah, good observation. Scott and I kind of dated for a while.”

“Didn’t work out?”

Shrugging, Rob considered it for a beat before answering, “Worked out great. He was practically married to Jimmy and didn’t even realize it. We dated, messed around a little, but from day one Scott talked about Jimmy like they were a couple, like…subconsciously saying, you can look and even touch, but you can’t have. I knew where we both stood even if Scott didn’t; now we’re good friends.” Laughing, “And he and Jimmy are a fucking romance novel.”

Kyle pulled back to see his face, biting his lip like he had something to ask that he really didn’t want to, “What about now? I mean, seeing anyone or…?”

Sliding his bare feet between Kyle’s, Rob wrapped his arms tighter around the man’s body, “Right now I’m in bed with a gorgeous guy that I really like, hoping I’m not his new fuck buddy.” There. To the point. Direct. Life was much easier that way, wasn’t it?

Sighing as if Rob just gave the right answer, Kyle nuzzled against his chin, “I don’t do fuck buddies. I’ve had random hookups and whatever, but, usually I’m either in or I’m out, no in between.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Rob didn’t know what to say to that. He had been tired of in between for a long time and it felt like Kyle had just given him a gift he’d always wanted and didn’t know how to ask for. “Good.”

He could feel Kyle’s smile against his shoulder, and he wanted to sit up and talk a little longer, but he knew Kyle was worn out from all the emotional highs and lows of the day. He stayed quiet and Kyle’s body settled against him, breath evening out as he drifted off in Rob’s arms. It felt perfect.

****

Kyle’s phone was ringing from somewhere across the room and Rob pulled away from the man still sleeping next to him. The clock showed that it was nearly ten in the morning. At least Kyle had gotten a few hours of sleep. He nudged the man, thinking the call might be about his sister. “Hey,” whispering near Kyle’s ear, running gentle fingers through his hair, “Kyle, phone’s ringing. Wake up, baby.”

Kyle’s eyes fluttered open, looking mildly confused as he took a deep breath and stretched, “Did you just call me baby?” His grin told Rob that he didn’t mind.

“I might have, yeah.” They both laughed as Kyle sat up, struggling in the tangle of sheets as he tripped his way out of bed, trying to find his jeans. The phone stopped ringing before he found it, but he checked the display and bit his lip with a guilty glance at Rob.

“Um,” sitting back down on the side of the bed, Kyle looked ready to confess something and Rob’s heart seized briefly in his chest. “There’s something I gotta…well, mom wanted me to bring you over this morning for brunch.”

Letting out the breath he’d been holding, Rob laughed, “God, the way you looked, I thought you were putting me in front of the firing squad.”

Kyle tried to smile, but it didn’t meet his eyes. “She wants us to go to services with them this afternoon.”

Rob stared blankly for a beat, “So you do wanna put me in front of the firing squad.” He was mostly teasing, leaning in and kissing Rob’s temple with a small laugh. “If it’ll make your mom happy, then we will. It’s not like we wear signs that display our orientation, how bad could it be?”

“You don’t, but…it’s a small town. When I came out, the church excommunicated me. Pretty much everyone knows why. You’d just be guilty by association.”

“Exca—what?”

Laughing softly, giving Rob a sad sort of smile, Kyle started to explain, “It’s not as bad as it sounds. Basically, I’m just not a member of the church anymore and if I wanna join again—which I don’t-- there’s a bunch of hoops I’d have to jump through. It’s supposed to be part of the repentance process for people that want to play by their rules, but…there’s a stigma attached to it.”

“Ah. How bad would it be? I mean, are we talking pitchforks and torches, or…?”

Shaking his head, “Mom would never ask me to do that. And, it’s hard to explain, like, everyone really does try to be nice, even if they aren’t nice people in their hearts, ya know? It’d be more like looks and whispers. Maybe a harsh word or two, but even that’s unlikely.”

Sighing, trying to decide if he was really up to the task, Rob wrapped an arm around Kyle’s shoulder, kissing his cheek, “Guess we’re goin’ to church.”

Kyle snorted a laugh, “You should probably wash my dried come off your stomach first.”

Grinning and kissing Kyle again, “That shower is pretty big, you could make sure I don’t miss any.”

“Even better.”

****

Kyle didn’t bother to knock when they arrived at his mother’s door, just opening it at walking in quietly. Christine was in the kitchen and Adam was in the living room, apparently putting on some classical music. “No TV, internet, worldly music or books on Sunday.” Kyle explained from the corner of his mouth as if he were telling secrets. Rob felt like the man was translating a new language for him.

Noticing them as they walked in, Adam got to his feet, smiling warmly and looking much more rested and calm than he had the night before. “Glad you boys could make it,” he said, offering Rob a hand to shake. It felt weird to him, not much of a shaker usually, but it seemed to be Adam’s thing.

“Yeah, thanks for the invitation,” He stopped himself before calling Adam sir again.

Looking at Kyle, Adam said, “Your mother is just getting food on the table, Carrie and your brother are around here somewhere, and Anna’s fiancé has joined us this morning.”

“Figured everyone would be here; where’s the rest of the crew?”

“Mary and Beth are still visiting Cam and then they need to get home to get their kids ready for services. Beth’s husband already called twice here and once at the hospital. He’s really not prepared to fly solo with the kids.” Adam laughed, his eyes crinkling a little, looking like someone that laughed and smiled a lot. Rob could see the resemblance between father and son.

“What about Shawn?”

“He won’t leave the hospital. Their home teachers and the bishop stopped by this morning to administer the sacrament to him and Cam, Cam’s visiting teachers brought some food. He’s holding up okay now that we know Cam and Patty are alright.”

Nodding, “We’re gonna head over after, see if they need anything.”

“Good. Your sister wanted me to tell you to bring Rob. She wants to meet your friend and say thank you to him personally.”

Rob couldn’t help the faint blush that spread over his cheeks, glancing around nervously. It suddenly occurred to him that if most of the town knew Kyle was gay, his family probably did too. It explained Mike’s sharp looks the night before, at least. He suddenly really wanted to be alone with Kyle, wanting to know more details about their family situation. His parents seemed a lot more accepting than Rob would have pictured from people as devout as they apparently were.

“Kyle, how about you take Rob upstairs before brunch is on the table. There’s a shirt and tie hanging on the back of the guest bathroom door for him and your mother pressed your suit for you.”

Kyle nodded and started towards the stairs, Rob following quietly behind him until they were alone, “I have to wear a tie?”

“Sorry about that. I should’ve known they’d dig up something for you to wear. Probably weren’t sure about the pants so they didn’t bother.”

“Is it special day or…?”

Giving Rob a maniacal grin, Kyle said in a sing-song voice, “Sunday is a very special day.”

Laughing, Rob glanced over his shoulder to make sure they were alone before pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. “Your family is awesome, but they’re kinda crazy too. Just sayin’.”

“Tell me about it. Just wait until they eat the body of Christ and drink his blood.”

Rob snorted a laugh, standing at the bathroom door, wanting to pull Kyle in and lock the door behind them. “A lot of different religions do the sacrament thing.”

“Yeah, true, I just never liked the imagery.”

“Will I be expected to…do anything?”

“Nah, just sit, smile and pretend to listen.”

“Do we take sacrament or?”

“No. If I do it’ll freak my mother out and visitors don’t usually.”

Rob furrowed his brow, “Why would it freak your mother out?”

Rolling his eyes, Kyle quoted, “For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul.”

“Wow. Seriously?”

“Seriously. I’m surprised more kids raised to this aren’t gun wielding psychopaths.”

“Or at least on anti-depressants…”

Kyle laughed again, stage whispering, “Most of them are.” He leaned in and took another quick kiss, grinning, “I better get changed; I smell food.”

Rob closed the bathroom door and changed quickly. He’d already shaved and showered before they left the hotel and was glad his jeans were dark and in good shape. Nothing to be done about the basketball shoes he was wearing, he hadn’t thought he’d be dressing up for anything on this trip. He was still fiddling with his tie as he came down the stairs, following the sounds of voices in the kitchen.

Christine spotted him when he came around the corner, “Oh, look at you. I knew that shirt would fit.”

Smiling sheepishly as the woman came over and straightened his tie, “Thanks for the loan.”

“No worries, dear, I just wanted you to be comfortable. I’m so glad you decided to join us. Kyle was going to use you as an excuse not to come along.” Her smile and tone told him she was teasing.

Laughing with her as they stepped apart, “No way would I let him get away with that.”

“Get away with what?” Kyle asked as he joined them, his suit well tailored and dark, the tie striped in silver and purple. Rob had never seen him in anything other than jeans or shorts. He had to admit, he liked the idea of Sunday dress a lot better now.

“Your excuses.” Christine told him, smiling at her son.

Laughing softly, Kyle kissed her cheek as he walked past, “I don’t make excuses.”

She arched her brow and gave him a wry look, “This is the first time I’ve gotten you to come to church since you were nineteen years old.”

Trying to look offended, Kyle defended himself, the two of them obviously having had this argument before, “And I never made an excuse once for not going. And, I go to the baptisms and missionary farewells and wedding receptions…it’s not like I never set foot in the building.”

Christine rolled her eyes then, laughing, “Fine, you win, son. Why don’t you and Rob go sit down to the table? The food is all out, I’m just getting a pitcher of ice water.” Rob glanced around to see if he could help, but she shooed them both out of her kitchen. “Try and ignore your brother,” she added as they turned to go, “He’s…in a mood.”

Kyle straightened his shoulders as if he were preparing for battle, nodding at his mother. Rob could almost laugh, starting to think of her as the captain of their little army.

****

The table was heavy with food, a casserole that looked like it was made of egg and sausage, toast, muffins, fruit, and even a ceramic dish with grits. Rob knew people that didn’t eat that much for an entire day and it was oddly endearing that Christine went to so much trouble for her family. The only thing missing was coffee, and Kyle had warned him about that earlier, telling Rob that it was his only chance for the day as he made use of the small coffee pot in the hotel room.

The rest of the family had left two seats next to each other near one end of the table, and Rob was relieved that he and Kyle could sit next to each other. Rob took the chair closest to Christine, nodding a hello to Anna’s fiancé and shaking his hand when the man rose and offered it. “Paul,” the man told him, “It’s good to meet you.”

Rob smiled and took his seat, “Likewise,” He could feel Mike’s eyes on him, but tried to politely ignore it.

No one reached for anything, so Rob sat with his hands in his lap, his foot pressing against Kyle’s under the table. All it took was one small smile and a sideways glance from Kyle to Rob and all hell broke loose.

Mike’s voice boomed across the table, “And, there it is!” His hand shot out, pointing at Kyle and Rob. Carrie’s face flushed crimson and she looked away while Anna rolled her eyes at her brother’s outburst, taking Paul’s hand in her own on the table. Rob was surprised that neither Christine nor Adam said a word, letting their boys go for a minute.

“There what is?” Kyle spat, his jaw clenching, looking like he was ready to stand up and drag Mike into the yard for an old-fashioned smackdown.

That. It’s bad enough that you’re a…whatever, but do you have to shove it in our faces? Bring some guy in here and parade around? I can’t believe you brought him here.”

Their voices were raised, but it wasn’t quite a yell yet, bodies tensing around the table—all but Adam, who seemed to be contemplating his choices, weighing out how best to handle the situation.

“Seriously, Mike? You can’t believe I brought the guy that dropped everything and borrowed a friend’s car and drove twelve hours to bring me here so I could be with Cam? You can’t believe I brought the guy that mom invited to join us? What is your problem?”

My problem?” Carrie placed a hand on Mike’s arm as if trying to hold him back with the simple touch. It didn’t help. “My problem is that you brought some faggot to—“

“Enough!” Christine was on her feet, her palms resting flat on the table as she glared at her oldest son. “That is enough, Michael Warren Porter. I have never in my life been ashamed of you until this moment. You will not use that word in my home, you will not treat your brother as you have been, and you will absolutely not treat a guest in our home with such hurtful disrespect. What is the one rule?” Her question didn’t seem rhetorical to Rob who was watching the family scene unfold in absolute shock.

“I’m sorry, mom, but, he—“

“The rule, Michael?” Her voice was deadly calm now and Rob thought he’d be hiding under the table if that much righteous anger were directed at him.

“Love one another.” Mike muttered, clearing his throat and looking thoroughly chastised, like a small child.

Adam cleared his throat at the head of the table, his voice steady and calm, “I think we should have the blessing now.”

Christine let out an angry breath, nodding her head at her husband and sitting down.

Rob watched Kyle and folded his arms and bowed his head with everyone else, but he couldn’t close his eyes, too focused on Kyle’s red cheeks and furrowed brow, the way his jaw twitched like he was biting back words he’d been wanting to say for a long time.

“Our Heavenly Father, we thank thee for the recovery of our daughter and granddaughter and for your gentle guidance. We are so grateful, Heavenly Father, for our guest that was sent to us by you, to help our family in this time of need. We hope that you will teach us through our trials and put kind words in our mouths for each other. Please help us remember, oh Lord, that you gave your own son that we might live, that we might be saved from ourselves and from our sins. Please help us remember that we are not to judge or be judged by others, that we are only your humble servants on this earth and only you are fit to pass judgment on us, that only you know what is truly in our hearts, and that only you understand the immeasurable worth of each soul. We also humbly ask a blessing on this food that was so lovingly given that it might nourish us and help us to serve you better. Please bless the hands that prepared it, and please bless all those who join us this day with safety, humility, and love. We ask these things in the name of our savior, Jesus Christ, amen.”

There was an echo of amen around the table, Kyle seeming more relaxed as he cast a grateful glance to his father. Rob was trying to think of something—anything—to say as Christine started passing platters around when Mike cleared his throat, looking up at Kyle. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” His gaze turned to Rob and he did look truly apologetic, “Rob…I hope you can forgive me. I’m…working on it.”

Kyle still looked as if he might like to punch his only brother, but Rob offered a small smile, “It’s okay, man. I…” He didn’t really know what else to say. On some levels it was very much not okay. He hated that word even in jest and he hated hearing it directed at himself or someone he cared about even more. At the same time, though, Mike was making an effort. “I forgive easy.” That, at least, was the truth.

Mike gave him a short nod and turned his eyes away, looking like he was honestly ashamed of his actions and feeling uncomfortable.

Christine reached over and laid a hand on Rob’s shoulder, telling him softly, “That is truly one of the best qualities a person can hope to have.”

He couldn’t help but smile at the woman, seeing why Kyle loved his family so much, despite some obvious obstacles. The truth was, they were all trying to fit into each other’s lives from opposite sides of the field, trying to find common ground, Christine probably trying to justify her beliefs to herself while still loving and accepting her son that was abandoned by her church. He could only guess how difficult that was for her. Having been raised by agnostic Catholics that attended church on Christmas and sometimes Easter, it was hard to understand absolute devotion to any religion. Before he met Kyle’s family, people like that seemed like zealots, kind of scary and possibly dangerous. Now, though, he was seeing a softer side to the (in his opinion) overly devout. He doubted, though, that many were like the Porter family.

Mike cleared his throat again, glancing at his brother, “Kyle, could you pass the grits?” There was a hopeful expression on Mike’s face that had nothing to do with his request.

Kyle shook his head a little, but he gave Mike a lopsided smile that turned into a teasing grin, “Want ‘em on your head or in your lap?”

“Lap, I guess. My head is hot enough already.”

Snorting a laugh, Kyle passed the dish to his brother, the two of them mending fences and repairing bridges over Sunday brunch.

****

Going to church with the Porter family was one of Rob’s most surreal experiences. Which was saying something, considering he’d once gone to the circus while high on ecstasy. (Not something he’d recommend.)

He lost count of how many hands he’d shaken after fifty. It seemed like everywhere he turned, there was someone smiling at him, welcoming him, asking his name, was he a guest, was he interested in the church, had he met the missionaries… It was a little overwhelming.

During the first part of the services, sacrament meeting, he did as Kyle did; bowed his head for prayers, tried to follow along in the hymn book for the singing, quietly passed the bread and water trays down the line and didn’t take the offered body and blood of Christ. He even listened to one of the talks, but found himself almost nodding off in the middle, deciding they should keep the chapel at least ten degrees cooler if they wanted people to stay awake for the first hour. As he glanced around, he had to stifle a laugh, noticing several other men with the same problem, one of them even snoring softly.

The room had almost as many children as it did adults, most sitting and coloring quietly while mothers and fathers listened to the speakers. Some of the parents hopping up and leaving quickly with children that got unruly. There were cracker crumbs and bits of cereal in the pew next to Rob and he could guess where they came from.

He was glad Christine had thought to lend him the shirt and tie, looking like he almost fit in from the waist up, but his jeans and sneakers definitely stood out. Even the toddlers were dressed up. Little girls were wearing frilly dresses and the boys had on slacks and shiny black shoes. The setting made him think of an old movie he’d watched as a kid, set in a small town where the women were actually robots, always smiling, with pristine hair and makeup and their little robot children. It was a little unsettling.

There was another prayer at the end of the meeting and then people started to stand up. Rob got to his feet and followed Kyle who was trailing along after Adam and Christine. It took forever just to get out of the chapel because Christine stopped and talked to nearly everyone she passed. Kyle glanced at Rob and rolled his eyes, smiling apologetically.

In the hall, a girl that looked to be about Kyle’s age stopped him with an excited sound and pulled Kyle into a sudden hug. “Oh my heck, Kyle, it is so good to see you!”

Rob watched, amused at the look on Kyle’s face and how much he reminded Rob of a teddy bear getting the stuffing hugged out of him. “It’s good to see you too, Melanie,” Kyle pulled back enough to get a breath, Melanie talking quickly as she looped her arm through Kyle’s.

“I’m so glad you’re here. Your mother didn’t mention you’d be joining today. How’s Cam doing? Did you come out here yesterday or were you already here? We have so much to catch up on.”

Kyle must have been used to her because he didn’t even try to answer her questions until the girl paused for a breath. “Yeah, Cam’s doing better, I just got in last—“

Leaning in as she cut off Kyle’s response, “Are you still, ya know, gay?” She whispered the last word as if it was a secret and she was trying to be discreet.

“As the first day of May.” Kyle told her with a laugh, looking over his shoulder at Rob, “That analogy work for ya, babe?”

Rob picked up on the intention in the endearment and had to beat down the laugh that tried to escape, “Nail on the head, sweetheart.” He added the last with a twinkle in his eye, not sure why Kyle wanted to be so obvious, but playing along and liking it, looking forward to going home with the man where they could walk hand in hand and kiss on the streets. In most neighborhoods, anyway.

Melanie paled a little and then turned bright red, her eyes darting from Kyle to Rob and then back again, “Oh, I… Oh, so…” She leaned closer, whispering again, “Is he your…your…Well, I mean…”

Grinning, Kyle must have decided it was better to be hung for a sheep rather than a lamb, “Yeah, this is Rob. I think the word your searching for is lover.”

Her eyes widened and she glanced around self consciously before laughing and slapping Kyle on the shoulder. “Kyle Porter, you have been shocking me in some of the most unpleasant ways since we were seven years old. I don’t think you’ll be happy until you kill me. I was going to say boyfriend, but I thought you might be, ya know, married or something now.”

“I would, but I haven’t found a wedding dress I like yet.”

She rolled her eyes again, “You are such a jerk.” The accusation sounded like a friendly one, something left over from childhood.

While the two talked, Rob looked around at the people coming and going, many lingering in the halls and outside of small classrooms, talking and catching up. He noticed more than a few glances in their direction, everything from mildly curious to obvious disgust as they murmured to each other.

Melanie was laughing at something Kyle had just said when Christine came up next to Rob and took his arm. “I thought you and Kyle might have run off.” Her smile was warm as she looked up.

“I think we can make it.” Rob teased, patting Christine’s hand on his arm. He looked one more time towards a corner in the room where a small group seemed to be whispering furiously and staring pointedly in their direction.

Following Rob’s gaze, Christine held her head a little higher, standing straighter, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” she said rather loudly, adding a smile at the end. Rob had never heard those particular words sound like fuck off and die before, but he liked it.

Turning her attention back on Rob, Christine told him, “I’ve found that there are two kinds of people in this world; those with the love of Christ in their hearts and those without it. And you can find both sorts in every kind of church, every neighborhood, every school, government, and even every grocery store in this world. I’ve known atheists that had more charity and love for humankind than some of the people I sit next to in Sunday school.” She smiled again and started to pull Rob down the hall towards a large classroom near, surprisingly to Rob, a full size gymnasium.

Glancing back at Kyle, Melanie now had a small little boy tugging at the hem of her dress and a man standing next to her holding a baby in one arm, smiling and shaking Kyle’s hand with the other. He didn’t want to leave Kyle on his own, but Christine seemed eager to get into the classroom and find a few seats together.

Kyle and Melanie, along with Melanie’s husband and their infant daughter, joined them nearly half way through the scripture lesson. Rob was relieved to see Kyle looking relaxed and even smiling. He had to suppress the urge to slide his arm around Kyle’s shoulder or take his hand, but they both settled for sitting next to each other and letting their arms brush together.

After it was over, Kyle leaned close and told him, “We can go now. It’s time for priesthood and there’s no way we’re sitting through that.” He kissed his mother on the cheek and shook his father’s hand, telling them they were going to visit Cam and would be by the house later.

Christine held her son’s hand, not letting him step away, “Tell your sisters that dad and I will be by later tonight, and some of the Sisters from their ward are stopping by with dinner.”

“Will do, mom.”

They both started to pull away from Adam and Christine when she held tighter to Kyle’s hand, stopping him again, “Kyle,” At the confused look on her son’s face, she smiled, “Thank you. I’m so glad you came with us to give thanks today.”

****

On the way to the hospital, Kyle laughed, “They’re so weird.” Rob nodded in agreement, thinking the man was talking about the church people in general until Kyle went on. “I swear, sometimes I think she’s more concerned over the fact that I have a beer every now and then than the fact that I have sex with men.”

Laughing as he turned onto the main road, “She probably tries not to think about the sex with men part…”

“True.” Kyle seemed thoughtful for a minute and Rob decided to sit quietly, waiting for him to speak again. When he did, Kyle’s voice was quiet, a small smile on his face, “I came out to them in the same conversation about not going on a mission, ya know, and… When she started crying, I thought it was because of the gay thing. But, she told me she was crying because she’d wondered for years and had always prayed that God would lift that burden from me and then she realized that he had lifted the burden for me by giving me the strength to finally tell them.”

Rob pulled into the parking lot of the hospital then, letting out a breath, “Wow,”

“Yeah. She said she knew what the church’s stance was on it and what the profit said, but that men interpret the word of God through their own eyes and through their own prejudices and she knows that things will change one day.”

As Rob pulled into a parking spot, turning the car off, he turned to Kyle and asked, “Do you believe that?”

Kyle gave a cynical laugh, “I believe that when it hurts the Church’s bank account enough, the lord will suddenly reveal it’s time to let in all the crazy homos with their double incomes and no kids to pay some heavy tithes.”

Leaning over the console in the small car, Rob pressed his forehead to Kyle’s, “The lord works in mysterious ways.”

Kyle laughed with Rob, tilting his face to catch a kiss.

****

“You look pretty good for someone that was literally hit by a truck.”

Cam looked at her brother with sleepy eyes, managing a smile from her hospital bed as he and Rob walked in. “Mom talked you into going to church?”

Kyle laughed, tugging his tie as he took a seat next to her bed. “What gave it away?”

“You don’t look like a hoodlum.” She noticed Rob, who was lingering near the empty bed in her room and did her best at a grin—hard to do with a bandage wrapped around half of her head and her left arm and leg in a cast. “Is this him?”

“The man himself.”

Rob blushed and wondered what the two siblings had talked about, but he stepped near Cam’s bed, “Rob.” he told her, smiling, “Glad you’re feeling better.”

Kyle glanced around the room, “Where’s Shawn?”

Rolling her eyes, Cam told them, “They won’t let Patty move in here with me because she has to stay in the pediatric unit. Shawn went to see if they’d let her go on a wheelchair ride to get some air and visit me.”

“Has he gone home at all?”

“No, the stubborn butthead. He’s been taking showers here and sleeping in chairs. I keep telling him to at least go home and get some sleep in a real bed, but he refuses.”

Rob listened to the two talk, laughing when Cam called her husband a name, but he couldn’t help a small smile when Kyle spoke. “You should’ve seen him, Cam. Mom said he was a wreck while you guys were in surgery and after, the waiting...”

“I know,” Cam shifted a little, wincing and reaching for the button that was hooked up to her pain medicine. “I bet he was bawling like a baby, too.”

Snorting a laugh, Kyle said, “Well, he wouldn’t be Shawn if he weren’t.”

Cam looked at Rob then, smiling even with the stitches on her lip and chin, “My husband cries like a little girl at the drop of a hat. You should’ve seen him when Patty was born. She didn’t need a bath by the time he was done weeping all over her. Sweet, soppy fool.”

Rob was laughing again when he heard a voice from behind, “Hear that, Patty-cake? Mommy’s making fun of daddy again.”

Patty let out a little giggle as Rob moved for them, pulling a chair out of the way to make room for the little girl with her wheelchair and IV pole.

Leaning over his wife, Shawn pressed a kiss to Cam’s forehead, gentle hands fingering her hair on the undamaged side, “This is better. Got both my girls in the same room now.”

Cam sighed, her uninjured hand draped over the side railing of her bed, holding Patty’s hand as she looked at her husband, “You’re not gonna cry, are ya?”

Shawn narrowed his eyes but he laughed at the tease, “Only if you keep making fun of me.”

Looking at Rob, Cam laughed, “He spoils all my fun when he says things like that.”

Walking around the end of the bed, Shawn came around to Rob, shaking his hand, “Kyle’s told us a lot about you over the last few weeks; it’s good to finally meet you.”

“Especially on such a good hair day for me.” Cam added dryly.

Shawn looked over his shoulder at her, his voice soft, “You look beautiful, honey. Always.” Cam only smiled back at him, though Rob could see a trace of doubt in her eyes, wondering what the doctors had said about possible scarring. He thought in the end it wouldn’t matter. Shawn looked at her with such relief and love, Rob didn’t think the man would even notice the scars, or, more likely, would kiss them every morning and remember how close he’d come to losing her.

“Patty, baby, could you and daddy take Uncle Kyle out and show him the pretty garden downstairs?” Cam still held her daughter’s hand, leaning as best as she could to kiss it gently.

Kyle’s eyes darted between Rob and Cam, looking a little afraid to leave the two of them alone together.

“I think that’s our not-so-subtle hint to leave Big Sis alone with New Guy.” Shawn said, laughing as he stepped behind Patty’s wheelchair and started maneuvering around the small space.

At the look on Kyle’s face, Cam laughed, wincing with it, “It’s not like I can even threaten him like this. Go be good.”

Still looking skeptical, Kyle stood up, kissing his sister, “You be good.” he told her with a laugh before walking over to Rob. “She’s more dangerous than she looks.” His smile was warm as Kyle leaned close, lifting just slightly on his toes to brush a quick kiss against the corner of Rob’s mouth, taking Rob’s hand in his and letting their fingers lace together for a moment. It felt good to be able to touch Kyle like that and not have to worry about anything. “I’ll be back in a few, try and stay on your feet for all six rounds.”

Rob watched them go before sitting down in Kyle’s vacant seat next to Cam’s bed. “Should I be nervous?” he asked her, laughing as he ran a fidgety hand through his hair.

“I’m all doped up, you’re probably safe.” She tried to sit up a little further in the bed and made a pained sound, hissing and reaching for the bed controls. “You’ll earn some points with me if you figure out how to rig my pain med dose, though.”

Laughing and reaching up to adjust her pillows as she raised the head of the bed, “I’m pretty sure dishing out extra morphine would get me kicked out of med school.”

“Good point. Let’s wait until you’ve got your license, then you can write me a prescription for pot.” When Rob raised his eyebrows at that, she laughed again, this time with a little more control so it didn’t aggravate her ribs, “Medicinal use, even the church says it’s okay then.”

“Gotta love a loophole.”

“Tell me about it.” Cam seemed more settled, leaning back on the pillows, looking at Rob for a moment. “There’s a few things I want you to know about Kyle and our family.” Rob didn’t love the ominous start, but he listened, chewing his lip as she spoke.

“Kyle was thirteen when he told me he thought he was gay. I was fifteen and the only thing either of us knew about being gay was that it meant men were attracted to men and that it was unnatural and a sin. We knew that there was a child molester in our ward when we were younger that abused some of the boys, Mike among them.” She paused there, letting her words sink in and Rob knew he looked shocked, couldn’t help it. “Mom and dad worked really hard after it happened to make sure we knew the difference between that and homosexuality, tried to make sure that Mike understood that too, but…we were kids, ya know? We heard all the rumors in town and all the crap people said about that guy and some of it stuck. So Kyle was afraid he was going to end up some raging pervert or be dammed to outer darkness for eternity and, just so much… garbage.

“It took him four years to get his head around being okay with who he is. For those years, I was the only person that knew what was going on with him and it broke my heart because he is the sweetest, kindest, most loving person I’ve ever known, and he spent four years of his life—wasted four years of his life—worrying that he was some kind of deviant or perversion, worrying that the truth would kill our mother, or take away her love for him. He was afraid it would divide our family and…I don’t even know what all. He was so scared and so twisted into knots over it that he even thought about killing himself at one point.”

All the air in Rob’s lungs seemed to freeze at the thought, his chest tight across his heart and his stomach clenching. “Jesus fuck.”

Cam snorted a little laugh at the curse, “Don’t let my mother hear you say something like that.”

“I just…we’ve talked about a lot of stuff, but he never mentioned…”

“When’s a good time to drop that into conversation?” Cam asked, tilting her head and resting against the pillows again. “He was lucky, though. I know of people that have done terrible things to their children because they’re gay. Kicked their kid out, sent them out of state to be rehabilitated, I… Not just in the church, but you catch my drift.”

Rob nodded, knowing already that prejudice and the kind of hate she was talking about wasn’t owned exclusively by any one group of people.

After another long pause and a sip from her cup of water, Cam continued, “My point, and what I really wanted to tell you, is that Kyle has only had a couple relationships and they ended the same way every time. Kyle is…all or nothing and most, well, I don’t know about most men, but the couple of men he’s been involved with weren’t into that, ya know?”

Nodding, Rob smiled a little sadly, “I’ve been there. On both sides. I know what it’s like.”

Taking a breath, Cam looked at him so intently Rob felt like she was trying to read his mind, “So now I need you to really think about it, really know in your heart what you want with Kyle, and if it isn’t all, then you need to tell him. Tell him today, tell him before he gets back to Seattle, while he’s still with his family and has some support.”

“I think I already know the answer.”

Cam smiled again, “Good, because he is so—“

“In the room again.” Kyle said pointedly, narrowing his eyes at his sister as he walked back in, pushing Patty’s wheelchair. The little girl had a tray in her lap with two cups of ice cream and two cups of cherry red gelatin. “We raided the family kitchen in labor and delivery.”

Looking mildly shocked, Cam asked, “Did you steal these?”

Patty grinned at her mother, “No, one of the nurses said I could take what I wanted from the fridge.” The little girl looked up mischievously at her uncle, “Uncle Kyle said I’d make a great con artist with my cast.”

Leaning down, Kyle grinned as he kissed his niece on the temple, “Trying to get me into trouble, twerp?” She giggled for him and let her father take the tray of treats from her so Kyle could give her a small hug.

Rob watched the scene, still feeling the weight of his and Cam’s talk. When Kyle came around to him, Rob reached up his hand and took Kyle’s, wanting a little connection with him, maybe even a little reassurance.

Smiling as she looked at the two, “You look happy.”

“I am happy.” Kyle told her, leaning closer to Rob.

“Good. Now get out of here so I can rest. Jeez.”

Grinning at his sister, Kyle let go of Rob’s hand, leaning over her, “Glad you’re okay, sis.”

Sighing, looking more tired with every second that passed, Cam said, “Me too. Doctor’s said we’re lucky to have both made it. I told him it wasn’t luck.”

Rolling his eyes and teasing, “Fanatic.”

“Heathen.”

Kissing her again, Kyle murmured, “Just don’t race me to the finish line to see who’s right, okay?”

“Deal.” She looked around Kyle as he stood up, eyes finding Rob, “Take good care of my brother.”

Rob smiled for her, taking Kyle’s hand again, “I’ll do my best.”

“You better. I’ll be out of here eventually and I’ll break your legs if you don’t.”

Kyle laughed, “She probably would.”

“I believe her.”

Shawn shook hands with Rob and hugged Kyle as they made their way out of the room, leaving Cam with her daughter and husband to rest and heal.

****

By the time Christine was done feeding them, Rob thought it was too late to drive back to Seattle. They decided to stay one more night and leave at sunrise, getting them home in time for dinner and some much needed sleep.

As they were leaving, Mike had pulled his brother aside to talk. Rob didn’t try to listen in, but he watched as the two hugged for a long moment before pulling away from each other. Something seemed more content with Kyle after that and Rob wanted to hug Mike himself, though he refrained.

After several goodbyes and enough food packed into the car by Christine to feed them for a week, Rob took Kyle down the road to the hotel, not caring that it was technically in the opposite direction of home, if only by twenty miles. All he wanted to do was strip Kyle out of his suit and put him in a warm bath.

****

The water was hot, milky with soap, as Kyle settled back against Rob’s chest. “Be sure and tell Jimmy I approve of his taste in hotels.”

He sounded as tired as Rob felt, but it didn’t stop either of them from taking their time. Rob was stroking his slick palms over Kyle’s chest, rubbing the muscles as he drew his hands back to the man’s shoulders, kneading the knots and letting the tension melt away.

“We should tell him it was a dive. Jimmy doesn’t need anything else to gloat about.”

Kyle huffed a breath that was almost a laugh, reaching up and catching Rob’s hands, twining their fingers together as he brought Rob’s arms around him. “What’d you and Cam talk about while I was gone?”

Pressing a kiss to Kyle’s temple, Rob nuzzled against the damp hair that was curling slightly from the steam, “You sure you wanna know?”

Taking a deep breath, Kyle was quiet for a beat, swallowing before he spoke. “Probably not, but tell me anyway.”

Rob rested his chin on Kyle’s shoulder, the warm water cradling them as Rob held him close, body wrapped around Kyle’s almost protectively. “She told me about Mike. Not any details, but enough for me to understand a little.” Kyle nodded again, relaxing more against Rob’s chest. “She told me about you when you were younger and about…what all you went through.”

“She tell you I tried to kill myself?” The hushed question echoed softly against the ceramic tile lining the bathroom walls.

Tightening his arms around Kyle, wishing he could go back in time and take all that pain and confusion away, “She said you thought about it, didn’t tell me you’d tried.”

“Well. She probably figured it was my story to tell. Which it is, but…”

“But not one you want to broadcast?”

“Yeah, kind of. I mean, I don’t know. I was just so damn young, so…tired. I was just tired of trying to figure things out and make choices and I just wanted a break, ya know? And, in that moment, a permanent break felt like a really good idea.” Rob could feel Kyle’s jaw twitch against his cheek, Kyle taking a deep breath before going on. “I swallowed half a bottle of muscle relaxers with half a bottle of whiskey I’d gotten from one of my friend’s older brothers.” Rob didn’t say anything, just lifted his hand from where it rested over Kyle’s stomach, running it through the man’s damp hair, over his forehead, as if checking him for injury. Kyle smiled then, turning his face against the touch, kissing Rob’s palm before he spoke again. “Luckily the whiskey made me throw up the pills before I got much in my system. Cam found me puking my guts out in the bathroom.”

“Jesus, do you have any idea…”

“I know,” Kyle’s voice was barely above a whisper, almost apologetic, “I’m just glad it was a failed attempt. Mom and dad don’t even know about that.”

Sighing, letting his eyes slip shut, Rob whispered, “Probably for the best.”

Kyle laughed then, “Yeah, she’d probably use it as proof that God loves me and watches over me no matter what.”

Rob smiled against Kyle’s skin, kissing the side of his neck and taking away the taste of salt on his lips. It wasn’t a sexual touch, just a simple one, full of comfort and hope, “Well someone does, that’s for sure.”

After a long, quiet moment, Kyle asked, “What else did you guys talk about?”

Thinking for a beat, having been lulled by the gentle lap of water against their bodies, Rob said, “She told me you’re all or nothing and that I needed to know for sure which one I wanted and to tell you sooner rather than later.”

Kyle was quiet for so long, Rob wondered if he’d drifted off to sleep. “And do you? Know what you want, I mean?”

Hugging him tighter, Rob touched his nose to Kyle’s ear, his voice a steady, calm rumble, “I’m tired of being the transition guy and the friend that likes to play. I’m ready for all.”

Eyes falling shut, Kyle let out a breath he’d been holding, “Good.”

****

The water was tepid, both of them having drifted into a calm almost-sleep. “We should probably think about getting out.”

Rob could feel Kyle smile against his arm where the man’s cheek rested, “Been thinking about a lot of things we should do.” All it took was the teasing lilt of Kyle’s voice and his hand trailing lightly over Rob’s thigh for his cock to take notice.

“Yeah?” Rob’s breath was warm against Kyle’s skin, his pulse quickening as he slid his own hand down the man’s chest, fingers slipping under the water, finding the thatch of dark curls and skimming against Kyle’s erection.

Kyle’s hips seemed to lift automatically, seeking more of that touch, “Definitely.” The husky tone of Kyle’s voice had Rob’s skin pricking with anticipation, wrapping his fingers around in a loose grip and starting to stroke him. Kyle’s hand reached back, finding Rob’s hair and sinking in, tugging gently as he turned his head until their lips were meeting, tongues touching against a moan. “Not in here, though.”

Nodding as he pulled back, Rob had to catch his breath, letting Kyle go so he could shift, so they could both get out of the bath. Kyle hit the lever at the base of the tub as he got to his feet, the water draining slowly, before reaching for the heated rack next on the wall, pulling a towel down and offering Rob a hand at the same time.

They paid more attention to each other than to the task of drying themselves off, but in the end, the job was done, both of them standing naked on the bathroom floor, hands roaming over clean skin, cocks brushing between them as they kissed and stumbled their way out the door. “Do you have anything?” Kyle asked breathlessly.

It took Rob a moment to register the words, confused and answering with the first thing that came to mind, “No, I’m clean.”

Kyle laughed, stopping Rob with a hand on his chest before Rob could kiss him again, “So am I, but I meant condoms? Do you have any?”

His brain finally caught up with Kyle, glad one of them was thinking at least somewhat clearly. “Shit, I…” It hadn’t entered his mind when he was packing his bag that he might be doing this with Kyle. “I didn’t think we’d…” Then he remembered his shaving kit. “Oh, hang on.” Kyle was still pressed against him, grinding his erection against Rob’s hip as Rob rummaged through the little black case, tossing out his travel size shampoo bottle, a mini tube of toothpaste, tissues, cotton swabs, and dental floss. He was ready to dump the entire kit out onto the floor when he finally found one. If it hadn’t been for Kyle’s hand lazily working up and down his cock, slipping lower to cup his balls, thumb circling the head of his erection, he might have had an easier time finding what he was looking for but he wasn’t going to complain.

“Thank God,” Kyle said, plucking the condom from Rob’s fingers, and taking a step away. His grin faded slightly, stopping for a beat, “It’s not like I don’t trust you, I just…”

Rob just shook his head, “Med student, remember? It’s not about trust at this point. We’ll get tested when we get back.” Stepping closer, he paused to kiss Kyle again, hands sliding down the man’s bare ribs, coming to rest on his hips as he walked Kyle backwards, “And again in six months.” Kissing him again before going on, “Then we can trust each other seven or eight times a day if ya want.”

Grinning against the next kiss, Kyle tugged at Rob’s hair, “I do love an optimist.”

When they reached the bed, Rob pushed Kyle back against it, the two of them grinding against each other as they moved higher, Rob groaning at the way Kyle wiggled under him. “We’ll keep a tally, see if I’m optimistic or realistic.”

“Deal…oh God,” Kyle stopped talking, his breath catching tightly as Rob licked a trail down his stomach, stubbled chin grazing Kyle’s cock. Rob smiled against the skin when Kyle whimpered, letting his teeth catch lightly over a hip bone, sucking and stroking his tongue over the mark before dipping lower.

He didn’t pause on Kyle’s erection, instead letting his hair brush against it as he worked his way down to Kyle’s balls, lapping wetly against them, sucking until he’d pulled one into his mouth. He nearly laughed when Kyle actually squeaked, the man’s feet sliding up the bed, knees falling open as he let Rob take over, giving himself up to the sensations.

Rob’s hand rested on Kyle’s thigh, helping him open up more, his other hand slipping in between, fingers playing against the sensitive skin behind Kyle’s balls, slipping lower, grazing his entrance.

“Oh, God, just…I don’t need—“

Rob pulled back a little, trailing kisses against Kyle’s inner thigh, nipping again with his teeth before whispering heatedly, “No lube, baby, you need something…”

He didn’t give Kyle a chance to argue, dipping his head lower, trailing his tongue over Kyle’s clean skin, tasting him, shuddering lightly as the tip of his tongue circled the rough edge and pushed inside. His hand was holding Kyle’s hip, keeping him close and trying to stop him from coming off the bed, Kyle bucking against the sensations as his fingers found Rob’s hair again.

Slicking his tongue deeper, Rob’s free hand spreading Kyle wider, he groaned against the man’s skin as they moved together. Just the little pants of Kyle’s breath were working against Rob, his own cock straining for attention, even the friction against the bed as he ground his hips lightly.

Pulling back again, his hand trembling, Rob stroked his fingertip against Kyle’s entrance, about to press in, when Kyle stopped him with a light tug to his hair, “Just need you inside me,”

“You sure?” Kyle nodded fervently, pulling harder until Rob started to move over him again, rising up on strong arms as Kyle wrapped his legs around his hips. Leaning in to kiss Kyle again, Rob murmured against his lips, “It’d be easier in different position…” He didn’t want to move, though, liking too much the feel of Kyle locked around him, the way the man’s body held him, the way the lined up so perfectly together.

Kyle’s voice was a harsh whisper, “Don’t care.” Having finally let go of Rob’s hair, he tore the condom wrapper open as he spoke. “Want it like this.” His hand slipped between them and Rob’s eyes fell shut for a moment, opening them again to look down between them when he felt the cool latex and the touch of his lover’s hand as Kyle took care of both of them.

With a nod and another kiss, Rob leaned in, kissing Kyle again as he took himself in hand, guiding himself against Kyle and slowly pushing in.

He nearly stopped at the sound Kyle made, but they were both too far gone. Kyle lifted his hips higher, heels pressing in against the small of Rob’s back, and he groaned against Rob’s shoulder, having broken the kiss for air. “More,”

Rob moved his hips again, a moan slipping out as Kyle pushed down to take him deeper, “Feels so good,” he hissed, biting his lips sharply between his teeth, body trembling with want, as they worked in painfully slow motion towards the same goal. “Jesus, so good,” he muttered, dropping his head against Kyle’s shoulder.

He couldn’t help the scrape of his teeth against Kyle’s skin, wanting to mark him, claim him, and Kyle didn’t seem to mind, his hips bucking up at the feel of Rob’s bite.

Whatever shred of control Rob had been hanging onto snapped at that moment, offering the first real thrust, grinding deep with it. “Yes, fuck, do that again.” Rob did, starting to build a rhythm with Kyle, the two of them clinging and grinding against one another In short, heated strokes.

Feeling himself get too close to the edge, Rob slipped a hand between them. Kyle must have lost his erection, or at least started to, because Rob’s hand found him half hard. He wrapped his fingers around, his grip tight and rough against smooth skin, starting to stroke with his thrusts.

It only took a few beats for Kyle, his body responding quick and furious as he moved under Rob, muttering curses and endearments that neither one of them heard but both understood when the first hard shudder surged through Rob.

Pressing his face to Kyle’s temple, Rob drove harder into Kyle, his hand beating out a sharp tempo between them as he tried to pull Kyle over the edge first, “Need you to come for me, baby.”

Kyle whimpered again, his back arching, chest touching Rob’s as he started to tremble, crying out on a sharp breath as he spilled between Rob’s fingers.

That was all it took for Rob, having held on too long already. His release rushed through him like wildfire, one spark setting off a blaze, and it was over with the sound of Kyle’s name whispered harshly into the warm summer night.

****

As they drifted off to sleep, wrapped around each other in a tangle of blankets and sheets, Kyle asked, “Think Scott would mind if I blow you in his car on the way home tomorrow?”

Rob laughed, grinning sleepily as he kissed the man, “Only if we’re driving at the time. Though, Jimmy claims vehicular sex is out of the question in that car unless it’s over the hood.”

“We’ll have to prove him wrong.”

****

Scott was setting the table and Jimmy was piling shredded pork and peppers onto a plate, the tortillas already warm and on the table. Kyle grabbed four more beers from the refrigerator and Rob put the puppies in their room. “I’m not even exaggerating.” Jimmy told them as they all sat down, the four of them passing food around and building their fajitas.

“It’s true,” Scott agreed, taking a sip of his beer, “His mother sent me links to six different designs this morning.”

Rob laughed, dishing out sour cream onto Kyle’s plate while Kyle reached for the bowl of Spanish rice. “Your mother is literally picking out china patterns for you?”

Scott nodded, “He had her on speakerphone this morning. He told her that we’d only been together a couple months and to calm down.”

Jimmy broke in, putting on his mother’s voice a little more effectively now that he had a few beers in him, “You’ve been together for years, son, don’t be foolish.” He finished with a dramatic eye roll.

Kyle sputtered a bit of his drink, wiping his chin on the back of his hand, but Rob nodded, “She’s got ya there.”

Scott’s skin flushed a little, but Jimmy pointed at Rob across the table, “That’s not the point.”

Grinning, “I think it is, actually…” Rob told him before picking up his bottle, catching Scott’s eye, “To a perfect world?” he asked, sure Scott remembered too when the man grinned at him, lifting his bottle as well.

Jimmy and Kyle looked at them for a beat, not understanding the inside joke. “And to drunk boyfriends.” Jimmy said, clanking his bottle against Scott’s and Rob’s.

“I’ll second that.” Kyle agreed, leaning over and stealing a kiss from Rob, laughing at Jimmy’s wolf-whistle.