Okay, whatever the fuck was wrong with Mason’s brain, it had better fix itself, and soon. He missed the turnoff to Randy’s father’s house. Drove right past it. Then crushed a few flowering shrubs that had the audacity to grow in their own damned bed edging the Porterhouse’s driveway.
“Fuck, man,” Randy gasped. “When did you turn into such a shitty driver?”
Since you kissed me. “Sorry.” How embarrassing. “Got a lot on my mind.”
Randy scowled at him. “Don’t think and drive.”
“Oh, ha-ha and fuck you, Porterhouse.”
“Thanks for the ride, though. I wasn’t sure you’d give me one.”
There was Randy being all polite again. Bastard should’ve been polite twenty minutes ago and not shoving his tongue down Mason’s throat and fucking his entire body with just a kiss.
“I was thinking,” Randy said, interrupting Mason’s mental replay of those shocking few seconds.
“Hey, it happens. But I mean, you know, since you’re not working and I’m off for the summer, we should do some shit together.”
Oh, hell no. That had bad idea written all over it. His breath hitched at the mere thought of all the things they could do together. But for the sake of conversation, he asked, “Like what?”
“I dunno. See a movie. Or we could hike the Gorge again. Been a long time since we did that. Or Silver Falls. I haven’t been there in years. Or you could come to the gym with me. I fucking hate going, but if I don’t go, I get flabby fast.”
Whew. Randy meant doing non-sexual shit together. Not more of that tongue thrusting, dick grinding, ass grabbing shit. Just those normal things friends together did that didn’t involve mouth-on-mouth or mouth-on-dick action. Sounded great, except…exercise. Christ. Mason would die, he was so out of shape. “Um, sure. I’d like that.”
Not like he had anything else to do that couldn’t wait. Watching paint dry was no fun and he knew that from first-hand experience. Besides, Randy would probably go back to hanging out with whoever he’d been hanging out with during the years Mason had been missing in action and turning a blind eye to Richard’s bed-hopping shenanigans.
Randy tugged off his seatbelt and turned slightly on the seat. “There’s this guy in Seattle I get some parts from once in a while. I was thinking about visiting him, seeing what he’s got that’s new.” He pursed his lips. “Well, not new. ‘Cuz new’s no good. Old is good. You know what I mean. You could tag along if you want.”
Seattle, huh? Mason liked it there, even when it rained. Which it did every time the city limits so much as appeared in his line of sight. A mini road trip sounded like fun. But…call him suspicious. Why Randy’s interest all of a sudden?
In case this was some kind of bizarre prank in the making, he needed to have a backup escape plan ready. “Maybe. I’ve been painting the kitchen and the place is a mess. If I’m not in the middle of a paint job when you go, yeah, sure, I’d like to come along.”
And that was that.
With more of that grace so striking for such a bulky guy, Randy hopped out of the truck, walked off and disappeared around the side of the house towards the rear door. No backward glance. No wave goodbye.
Must be nice to be so certain they’d see each other again there was no need for sissy things like goodbyes. Either that, or Randy simply gave zero fucks. Mason stared at the empty walkway. Try as he might, he simply couldn’t figure Randy out.
Gay? All this time?
And that kiss…
The memory of it seemed stuck on instant replay.
He gave his head a shake. No help there—it only seemed to replay certain parts faster.
But now that Randy and his huge, inescapable presence had left the too-close confines of the truck, Mason’s nerves settled and a few brain cells reengaged. He drove home without further incident. No shrubs were harmed during the remainder of the drive. Hallelujah, he even remembered where he lived.
Once home, he parked in the garage, but didn’t get out. He cut the engine so he wouldn’t give himself Carbon Monoxide poisoning, slumped against the head rest and closed his eyes. The truck had always been a good thinking place. His secret place. Stupid now to realize now how much time he’d spent in cars or trucks and lying about being stuck in traffic that didn’t exist to hide from their life in the express lane.
It hadn’t been all bad times, though.
For such an ambitious bastard, Richard had a lot of charm. He had presence, advanced social skills and a smile that drew everyone in, Mason included. He was that charismatic. In short, everything Mason was not. Except maybe the bastard part. For the first couple years, life with Richard had been new and exciting. Richard—also known as Mr. Congeniality—knew everyone and lived to see and be seen. They partied—god, did they ever party. They ate out every night. They rushed. Everywhere, all the time. Downtime was wasted time, as far as Richard saw it.
It was exhausting.
No wonder what they had didn’t work out. It should’ve been over between them years ago. Having a few friends over to share a good meal they made together, or at least made while talking and laughing together, was more Mason’s speed. After work, he simply liked to hang out. Cuddle on the couch. Play video games. Read. Watch the stars. Whatever.
And after all of the above, he liked to have sex…
It still killed him inside to think he’d only been an asset to Richard’s ambition. A tool to be used on his way up the ladder. Only as it turned out, not a very useful tool. A defective one.
For the first couple years, Mason adequately filled the part of a shiny, pretty toy, one to be dressed up and shown off, his intelligence a thing to flaunt. Beauty and brains, Richard always teased when they were out in public. If drunk enough, he’d brag that Mason would be heading back to school to get his PhD as soon as they took the business national.
Not that he wanted that fact advertised. It was a personal goal and nobody else’s business.
Unfortunately, Mason never went back to school or lived up to Richard’s expectations. Eventually, the Dickhead had to all but drag him out the door. Ruining Richard’s master plan to build an empire and grow richer than he already was, Mason failed to shed his nerdy ways. Never a social butterfly to begin with, he began to shrink from the constant networking and nightly drinks at eight.
In retaliation, Richard withdrew affection. Sex too. That had hurt, even more than the cheating. Richard could slip out to fuck somebody else, but not him. Could fuck Mason’s goddamn boss, no less. He'd never seen that one coming.
Mason sighed, and shoved open the truck door. “He was shitty in bed, anyway,” he muttered as he absently grabbed the bundle of papers from the seat and slammed the door shut.
Bet Randy would be good in the sack…
“Get the fuck out my head, Randy Porterhouse! I don’t even like you!”
It didn’t matter that he wasn’t present in person, Randy still wouldn’t let him off the hook that easy. A ghostly echo of his hands kept roving over Mason’s body. His taste lingered on Mason’s tongue. Every time Mason moved his mouth, the stubble burn on his upper lip reignited and stung all over again.
Stupidly, and embarrassingly, his dick kept rising to same ghostly echo of calloused hands on his body and them memory of that grind of cock against cock.
Why couldn’t he get his damned mind off it?
Maybe he was just horny.
Yeah—that’s all it was. Nothing mysterious there. That’s why he reacted to Randy’s kiss the way he had. Not to mention, getting that I’m gay bombshell dropped on him. Richard always said he had an overactive sex drive. Maybe he was right. Whatever. They hadn’t been compatible. No need to assign blame. Just that Mason had always been left wanting more. Left wanting harder, faster, rougher, and dirtier and Richard was, unfortunately, and surprisingly, plain old vanilla.
The man could never entirely let go in bed. An invisible scorecard hung above their bed. It mattered more to Richard that he be perceived to be an expert lover, rather than actually being one. When he topped, it felt like half his mind was elsewhere. Working the next deal? When Mason topped—always conscious of that damned scorecard—Richard didn’t really get into it. But Richard had decided it was important they take turns.
Topping never quite thrilled Mason. In truth, he liked to be the one getting fucked.
Guess he was predictable after all. Like Richard said. The pretty, skinny ones always liked to bottom, right? That doozy had been thrown at him at the end, in that last horrifying fight, along with a contemptuous sneer, as if Mason’s preference somehow made him less of a man. Or somehow made him a—a girl.
Mason shuffled the stack of papers—mail—from one hand to the other so he could fit his key in the lock.
Wait a minute. Mail?
Fuck. Randy forgot his mail. He glanced down at the bundle held together with a dingy elastic band and recognized a familiar scrollwork label. His own address reported back at him from the tidy little rectangle. Nat. What the hell had she sent Randy before she left? The envelope had some heft too, more of a parcel than a letter.
No goddamn way. Another revelation?
Nat had been secretly mailing things to Randy behind Mason’s back. Which made no sense, but there it was, the evidence in his hand. Firstly, Randy made her nervous, and secondly, when she wasn’t scared of him and his fierce scowl, she found him as annoying as Mason did. The two of them didn’t associate with each other, except in passing. So what was up with the letter?
No. Not a letter. A fucking package.
And if they didn’t associate with each other, how did our old couch end up in Randy’s shop?
So much for making a clean escape to the quiet sanctity of his paint-fume scented kitchen where he could think in peace. Or not think. The bundle contained quite a few bills, and Randy had been so damned eager for them stop and pick up his mail there must be something important he’d been waiting for. Then he’d forgotten it on the seat, and Randy never forgot a damned thing.
Sighing heavily, Mason climbed back behind the wheel, backed out carefully in case a missing toddler had escaped from an exhausted parental unit to run behind his truck, and drove back over to the Porterhouse bungalow. This time, he missed every shrub.
At his knock on the front door, a cranky voice bellowed, “Come in!”
Revulsion, and an ugly stab of dislike tightened the muscles in Mason’s chest. Not just the muscles, his heart. That child abusing bastard! Furious on Randy’s behalf, Mason turned the knob and let himself in. In his current agitated state, he might even say something. The rage promptly froze in his chest.
That smell. Stale beer and sickly sweet decay. Mason swallowed, breathed shallowly and glanced around for Randy. Nowhere in sight. That asshole. His eyes followed the odor assaulting his nose and landed on Randy’s father instead of the man he wanted.
Apparently Mason’s hate was mutual. Mr. Porterhouse glared at Mason from his armchair in front of the television. He snorted, a sound rife with disgust. “Fuck. It’s you.”
Whatever that meant. Mason hadn’t laid eyes on the man in more than ten years. “Randy forgot his mail in my truck.” And speaking of Randy, where the fuck was he? He could show up anytime. “Is he around?” Because I only dropped him off ten fucking minutes ago…
“Randy!” his father yelled. “Your little fairy friend is here!”
Ah, that explained the glare. Cold words from a cold man. When you’d heard those words and worse from your own father, hearing them spit out of someone else’s mouth, well, they didn’t have quite the same oomph. They lacked the power to hurt. And fuck him anyways. Mason would rather be the biggest, gayest, flaming faggot in the world than a drunken, child beating cop who was supposed to protect children, not harm them.
Mason was about to tell him so when the door from the garage to the kitchen creaked open. Spotting Randy’s large bulk, Mason escaped into spotless but boring 1980’s kitchen. Their eyes met. Randy’s brows went up in surprise.
“You forgot your mail in the truck.” Mason set the bundle on the counter.
“Oh, shit! I really need to pay some bills at the shop or DeShawn’ll be changing oil in the dark. Thanks.”
“I see my mom sent you something.”
“Really?” Randy’s eyes lit up.
It would’ve been sweet, but the atmosphere in the house sucked all the joy out of it. “Going to open it?”
Randy raised a lone brow and a tiny smirk danced over his lips. “Mine,” he said.
“Asshole,” Mason muttered, keeping his voice low.
But the curiosity got to Randy as well. The old elastic broke as Randy tugged the package from the bundle. He fondled it, looking for an opening. Along with too many photos, labels on everything and an excess of handmade bows on every present, Nat was also fond of tape. That package could probably arrive on the moon unscathed. A look of wonderment crossed Randy’s face as he tore open a corner and opened up the side seam. He pulled out a couple sheets of stationery from the top. “I never got a letter before.”
“Never?” Mason choked out. How was that possible? Sure, everybody emailed now, or texted, but surely Randy had received a Christmas card? Or Graduation card? Boring letter from grandma? His expression answered all three questions with a resounding, ‘no’.
“She even hand-wrote it,” he whispered.
The anger knotted tight in Mason’s chest twisted painfully, and became something else. Something achy and heartbreaking. Mixed with horror. His chest burned, thinking about what kind of life Randy had had growing up, one where he’d never received a simple letter or card from anyone.
Not even from the Novak family?
Guess it was true. Mason really was a sensitive guy. His eyes suddenly burned to match the one in his chest.
Randy peeked at the letter, refolded it and gently worked it back into the package.
“What? You’re not going to read it?”
“I will later.”
“You fuck,” Mason swore under his breath. What could Nat possibly have put in that letter? Goodbye? Or something else? Like keep an eye on poor little Mason for me…
Randy scooped up the rest of his mail, set the package on top, opened a cabinet door and placed the stack on the top shelf visible only to the very tall. Hidden in plain sight.
Something thumped in the living room, followed by a string of curses. Mason peeked around the corner in time to watch Mr. Porterhouse struggling to get out of his chair while grabbing for his fallen cane. “What are you two doing in there? Making a date?” Mr. Porterhouse snarled.
“Fuck, what an asshole,” Mason muttered. “I better go.”
“Might be a good idea. But you lasted longer than I thought you would. Two whole minutes.” He smirked, his usual smirk. “Proud of you, buddy.”
Was that a compliment? Who cared? All that mattered to Mason was that he escape this madhouse of rot and ill intent. With Randy keeping pace at his side, Mason bolted for the front door.
“Yeah, that’s right, you fucking fairy Jew spawn,” Mr. Porterhouse said. “Go back where you came from! Don’t you come around here, waving your little rainbow flag and waggling your ass trying to turn my boy queer like you. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? Randy all to yourself? Apple don’t fall far from the tree. You’re a whore just like your father. He never could keep it in his pants either.”
“Dad,” Randy sighed. But the exasperation in his tone had a sharp edge to it.
“Don’t stand up for him!” his father snarled. “You always stand up for him! You like him, is that it? Or is it his ass you like?” Mr. Porterhouse, having made it out of his recliner, limped closer and balanced himself with one hand on a chair back. He stabbed his cane tip in Mason’s direction. “You want to fuck him, boy? Is that it?”
A strange look crossed over Randy’s face. Whatever it was, cold calculation or impending bloody murder, Mason wanted no part of that death glare falling on him.
“Or have you been fucking him all along?” Mr. Porterhouse’s face had gone white, except his bulbous red nose. And the red veins spider-webbing across his cheeks. His body had gone to flab, but he still made for a formidable presence. He must have been something in his youth. And he ruined it. His body shook, wracked by tremors of rage and ill health.
Mason nervously cast his eyes from father to son.
Randy didn’t move. He didn’t even blink.
Fear slithered across Mason’s shoulders. Mr. Porterhouse might still be a big man and mean as a disturbed rattlesnake, but Randy was bigger. Saner. Or less sane? Randy’s silent stillness set all of Mason’s alarm bells ringing.
Randy slid his cold gaze from Mason back to his father. “Yeah,” he said, low and even. “I want to fuck him.”
“Get out!” Mr. Porterhouse screamed. Spittle flew from his mouth. He coughed and wobbled, clutching the chair with gnarled white knuckles. “Get the fuck out of my house!”
Awkwardly, because he was facing forward since there was no way he was turning his back on danger, Mason fumbled behind him for the doorknob, found it and twisted. His own hands were shaking as he pushed it open far enough to squeeze his skinny self through.
“You get out too!” he screamed at Randy. “I don’t want you here! I never wanted you here! You fucking useless son of a whore! I shoulda fucking strangled you years ago! Nobody would’ve noticed you were gone. Wouldn’t have cared either. I’m not stupid. I know countless places nobody ever would’ve found you.”
Randy faced off against his father while effectively shielding Mason from his enraged, lunatic father.
“Maybe I’ll just take care of you now,” he snarled. “Got nothing to lose.”
“Go ahead and try, old man.”
“You always were a useless brat, and you couldn’t even grow up right! What kind of man gets off fucking another man’s dirty asshole? You fucking fag. Couldn’t you even turn out fucking normal?” Mr. Porterhouse sputtered a bunch of half-formed obscenities and swung his cane, narrowly missing Randy who neatly sidestepped the swing. “You think you took all my guns, you little fuck? I don’t think so. Your old man’s still smarter than you, you fucking little shit! You think I wasn’t on to you? Huh? You think I don’t got friends on the force? Is that what you think? I got a backup piece. I’m gonna blow your fucking head off. I’ll make it my last gift to society.”
Mason’s fear expanded, coiling like snakes through his chest, his guts. This was not an ordinary argument. It had gone so far beyond that. This was the kind of argument that ended in someone’s death.
And no way in hell was that death going to be Randy’s.
As Mr. Porterhouse screamed and took another swing with the cane, Mason grabbed Randy by the arm—unfortunately his broken arm, and pulled, leaning back to leverage enough force to pull Randy out of the house and away from danger.
Half in the doorway and half on the step, Randy turned on Mason, eyes blazing with rage. “Let go,” he snarled.
“No!” Mason yelled, and reaching around Randy, grabbed the door handle and slammed it shut before Mr. Porterhouse could reach Randy. His last glimpse inside was of chairs flying every which way as Randy’s father hopped toward the door, smashing everything within reach with his metal cane.
“I’m going to kill him, Mase,” Randy promised.
“Like hell you are!” Not today and not ever. “He’s not worth doing the time over.” Mason dropped Randy’s casted arm and grabbed his other one. “Come on!” he urged.
“I’m not afraid of him!”
“I know you’re not—but I’m leaving and you’re coming with me!”
Every inch of Randy had tensed up. He felt as solid as rock. Surprisingly, he let Mason drag him away from the door, down the walk and to the truck. Mason’s hands were shaking so badly, he dropped the keys as soon as they cleared his pocket. “Fuck!” he yelled.
“For Christ’s sake, Mason, get a grip,” Randy snapped, and bent down and snatched up the keys before Mason’s trembling fingers could close around them.
“Give them to me!”
“No. I’m driving.”
Mason wasn’t about to argue. He wasn’t sure he even could drive.
Randy shrugged off Mason’s grasp and opened the truck door of his own free will.
The front door opened just as Randy climbed into the cab. Terror clutched Mason around the throat. He turned, expecting to face a gun, hear shots and feel unbearable pain. But Mr. Porterhouse appeared weaponless, and was using his free hand to hang onto the door. His other hand remained busy brandishing his cane. At least it wasn’t a gun.
And with only one foot, he couldn’t exactly chase after Mason with it.
“I know where you live!” he raged.
Mason shoved Randy back into the truck as he tried leaving it, and body checked the door shut.
“Then come on over as fast as you can crawl there,” Mason yelled back. “Your police buddies can arrest you. I’ll film it for you.”
“They won’t do shit! You hear me? They won’t do shit!”
“They sure as hell will, asshole. And when they do, you can pay my dad his four hundred bucks an hour to represent you!”
“Fuck you!” he screamed.
All of Mason’s fear instantly evaporated. He sensed a new emotion building, one he’d not felt before. It took a few seconds for him to process what it was, exactly. Hate. “The statute of limitations might be up on all the child abuse you dished out, but I will make sure everyone knows what you did. Everyone! All your buddies. Your old bosses. All those people who used to respect you. You won’t have a friend left, if you even have one now.”
Mason stomped around to the passenger door as Randy started the engine. “Go back inside and finish rotting, you miserable excuse for a human being. I hope your dick rots off too before you die.”
Mr. Porterhouse Senior yelled something at them as Randy expertly backed out of the drive and, in no apparent hurry, drove down the street. Mason couldn’t quite hear what the miserable old bastard had yelled as his parting shot. Randy might have. His grip on the steering wheel and angry scowl revealed he wasn’t as unconcerned as he pretended to be so very, very well. The four block distance between their homes disappeared in seconds. Mason hadn’t even managed to get his seatbelt on before they arrived in his driveway.
Mason flung open the door before Randy even came to a full stop. He was going to puke. All over his mother’s peonies. His stomach heaved and rolled, but his lunch refused to come up. Maybe he was shaking too hard. But it would come. Trembling, Mason remained bent over, hands on his knees.
How could anyone endure a lifetime of that hatred and abuse?
How did they not die inside, or kill themselves to escape it?
How did Randy make it?
Those few minutes with Mr. Porterhouse had been ten times worse than all his own confrontations with Stephen combined. And he had once loved Stephen, and Stephen had once loved him.
Randy came around the front of the truck and wrapped a heavy, unwanted arm over his shoulders. “Mason? You okay?” he asked in a concerned whisper.
“No! I’m not fucking okay!” His heart was breaking for the kid Randy had once been and for the shame he felt for being blind to it all, for not being there for him. “I’m sorry, Randy,” he cried. Tears ran freely down his face. He straightened and looked through the veil of his tears into the eyes of the man who’d long since left childhood behind, but not the hurt. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
Randy looked almost as stricken as Mason felt. But he didn’t say anything. He simply flung an arm over Mason’s shoulder, dragged him against his chest and wrapped him a tight, all-encompassing hug.
“Don’t be such a baby,” Randy said with a sigh. He tucked Mason’s head into the crook of his neck and held him close as Mason fell apart in his arms. “I’m okay now.” Randy took a deep breath and squeezed Mason even tighter. “Everything’s okay now.”
Sure it was. Mason didn’t believe it for a second.
But he didn’t say it. He couldn’t. Instead of words, he snaked an arm free from Randy’s killer hold, slid it around his waist and hugged him back.