© 2017 Finn Marlowe
Four in the morning was typically a lonely time for Mason, in bed or out. Richard, who always stayed up too late, drank too much and made love to his phone more often than he did Mason, would only be up at four for one of two reasons: he had a flight to catch, or he’d never been to bed to begin with. Mason was on familiar terms with four a.m. That’s usually when an anxiety attack would hit, if one was going to wake him up with a frightening nightmare and then keep him up worrying about things that wouldn’t cross his mind in the light of day.
Tonight’s nightmare had Randy Porterhouse in the starring role of abused kid. The sound of fists smashing flesh had been particularly realistic in the dream, and he’d spent the rest of the nightmare frantically searching for a lost and broken Randy, certain he’d been locked away somewhere, hurting and alone in the dark. Which was ridiculous. Grown up Randy was currently sacked out upstairs, sprawled comfortably with his casted arm nestled in its own pillow and the rest of him taking up every square inch of the queen-sized guest bed.
Mason knew that, because he’d checked. At least five times.
But Christ, that dream had been horrible. He shuddered just remembering it.
After the worst of the attack had faded, and in between trips upstairs to spy on Randy, he’d turned his internet searching skills to finding the whereabouts of a totally different lost kid. One who apparently didn’t exist. Or, if he did, he’d become a monk and was living in monastery somewhere on top of a snowy mountain without internet access.
Even aided by that weird spelling of his first name, Mason came up with nothing. Any leads promptly turned into dead ends. The Geremys of the world were all too old, too brunette, or muddling through life like everyone else, but in foreign countries. But he wasn’t giving up. The photo of Geremy’s smiling face loaded up on his second monitor kept him company as he searched.
Where the heck had he gone? It was if he’d never existed. Had never raced around the Novak yard shooting a water gun, or competed with Mason to see who could spit watermelon seeds the farthest. Mason kept looking at the photo to remind himself Geremy was real.
But enough. He was exhausted. More mentally than physically.
Mason yawned, stretched, and closed all his programs. His eyes hurt. From crying. Like Randy said, he was a big baby. Admitting it didn’t help ease the ache in his heart one bit, though.
Easing out of his chair, Mason looked out the window into the dark backyard. Nautical twilight was upon them. Cool term—Mason always liked the way it sounded. So technical. A few insane birds were already up and trying out a few hesitant notes, not yet awake enough for full songs. That gave him permission to make coffee, right? The birds were up.
But before coffee, he’d check on Randy one last time. Not because the annoying bastard might be lost, at least not anywhere outside in the dark. But inside his mind? That might be a whole other story. They’d shared an uncomfortable evening. Randy had retreated into himself and conversation between them had been strained. Strangely, he’d acted almost…embarrassed.
What the fuck did Randy have to be embarrassed about? He wasn’t the one who’d had a snotty, crying breakdown all over the tight t-shirt of someone he didn’t even like. Much.
Maybe he was embarrassed for Mason? Yeah, that made more sense.
Having the advantage of knowing every squeaky floorboard and stair, and how to miss them all, Mason made it to the guest room door without making a sound. After the first nervous check-in right after the nightmare ripped him from both sleep and bed, he’d left the door unlatched. Now he only had to nudge it with a forefinger to push it open far enough to peer inside.
Yup. Still there.
Still sprawled. Half naked.
The naked bit was new. He’d been deep under the covers on every other visit.
Sadly, the cloud-covered moon and the streetlights didn’t provide enough light to really appreciate Randy, his muscles, and his apparent hairiness.
Make that furriness. Randy was a true blond. Dark blond, but golden, his body hair included, and blonds never really got all that hairy. In the faint, milky light, Mason could barely see Randy’s tats, let alone assess the state of his chest hair.
Not that he liked big, burly men or anything.
Reassured that Randy looked to be both breathing and comfortable, Mason reached for the doorknob, but misjudged the distance and smacked it with his fingernails. The knob rattled ever so faintly. Randy shifted ever so slightly.
Mason froze. Damn it! Last thing he needed was to get caught stalking a guest in the middle of the night—even if that guest was someone he’d known most of his life.
From the deep dark, a groggy voice drawled, “Why don’t you just come in this time?”
“Fuck!” Mason gasped. He lurched backwards, startled. “Damn it, Randy!” There went another five years off his life. At this rate, Randy would scare or startle him to death in less than a week.
“What do you need, Mase?” Randy’s voice sounded scratchy and sleepy, and oddly, kind of sexy.
Need? Mason needed plenty of things. But none of them from Randy. The worst thing about four a.m.? The truth spilled out of your mouth like a bad case of the runs. Lies simply weren’t believable at the soul-sucking hour of four o’clock, so why try spinning one? “I’m just making sure you’re okay.” Wow. That sounded lame. “And comfortable.” Lamer still. “I mean your arm—well, the cast looks hot. And uncomfortable, and…and—”
“Shut up, Mason, you’re babbling. Come over here.”
“No, it’s okay. Go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you.”
Even half asleep, Randy managed a fine, contemptuous snort. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t enjoying it.”
“Do you need a pain pill?”
After what happened with his father, Mason didn’t blame him for not being able to sleep. “Sorry for disturbing you.”
“I will beat you if you apologize again.”
Randy sure woke up cranky. Mason was tempted to say sorry for apologizing, but that would go beyond lame. Only Canadians did that. “Go back to sleep.”
“Why? You’re just gonna wake me up again in twenty minutes. You might as well come in.”
“You heard me?”
“I got a thing about doorknobs rattling in the middle of the night.”
Oh, shit! “God, Randy, I’m—”
“I meant it about the beating thing.”
As if. “You did not.”
Randy sighed heavily. “Just get your skinny butt in here and tell me what’s going on so you can go back to bed. You get bitchy when you don’t get enough sleep.”
Mason hesitated. How could he talk about it? He didn’t even know how to put what was on his mind into coherent thought, let alone words.
“Mase…” Randy sighed. “Come on. I know you don’t believe it, but I’m a pretty good listener.”
“Since when?” Mason sighed, and then relented. “Fine.” Mr. Obnoxious would probably fall asleep again in two minutes flat anyway. Mason shuffled over to the edge of the bed and peered down at Randy.
Yup. Furry, not hairy. And really fucking large.
The mattress groaned and Nat’s good percale sheets crinkled as Randy slid over, rolled onto his side and awkwardly struggled to find a bearable position for his arm. He yanked open the edge of the duvet. “Get in.”
“What?” No way in hell was he getting into bed with Randy. Not even if he wasn’t naked. Which Mason knew damn well he was.
“I’m not going to try anything.”
“I know that!”
“Not that I don’t want to.”
Copying Randy’s snort, Mason followed it with, “Right.”
“It’s true. I’d nail you in a heartbeat.”
“Oh, quit it!” Randy was so full of shit. Always had been. “I’m sure you’re just dying to have a go at my skinny butt.”
“Maybe not dying, but yeah, I’d love to take you for a ride. My earlier offer stands. Anytime.”
After the whole kiss thing, Mason suddenly felt leery about provoking Randy into proving anything else. Mason just might end up being the one to get more than he bargained for.
“Come on. Get in. It’s the middle of the fucking night and its cold in here.”
“I have my own bed, thanks.”
“You want to talk,” Randy argued. “I know you do. I know you. And we’ve slept together before. Lots of times.”
As kids, sure. Not as two grown men who both happened to be gay and had recently shared a spectacularly dirty kiss and dirtier grind. But if he backed out now, Randy would think him an even bigger baby, and Mason had some pride.
He slid under the sheet and duvet. Holy Christ the bed felt amazing. Mason stretched out and settled comfortably, and hoped like hell Randy would fall asleep before he had to come up with an explanation as to why he’d been creeping around in the dark.
“So?” Randy asked not five seconds later.
“So, so, suck your toe all the way to Mexico.” That old smart-alecky reply slipped out before he even realized he’d opened his mouth. Smooth move. Mason was so mature.
“Mason…” Randy replied, exasperated.
Sorry, almost followed Randy’s annoyed huff, but Mason caught himself in time. He didn’t actually think Randy would give him a beating, but why risk it? Randy confused the hell out of him. “Today—I guess yesterday now—was really horrible.” Not all of it—hell, no. Some of it had been spectacular. Confusing, but spectacular. “With your dad, I mean.”
“Don’t let him get to you. That’s what he wants. What he lives for. Just forget him. He’s nothing but a bitter old man.”
Bitter? Try stark raving mad. “He’s malicious.”
“Yeah, he is.”
“How can you stand living there with him again? I don’t understand it. I’d curl up in a corner and die.”
Randy was silent for so long, Mason didn’t think he’d answer. Then the mattress jiggled and Randy inched closer, radiating a furnace-like heat. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’d forgotten what it was like. What he was like.”
In the harsh near-dark of the bedroom, Randy looked haggard and worn. Mason should have left him sleeping in whatever peace he could find. “Then don’t go back.”
Surprisingly, Randy agreed. “I’m not going to. I can’t go through that again, and I fucking won’t. It’s hard to explain, but when you’re in it, when you’re living in that environment, you kinda get immune to the horror—”
“What I mean is you don’t see how awful it is, how bad things are. You shut down inside and just endure. You survive. You do anything you have to do to survive. To make it through another day.”
Mason’s throat tightened up again, hot and painful.
“But I’ve been on my own for fifteen years now, and it’s easier for me to see how fucked up it all is. Because I’m not inside it the hell, not broken down, and not getting told day in and day out how worthless I am.”
Thank god for that. “I can’t believe he threatened to kill you. In front of me.”
“That’s nothing new.”
“I think he meant it.”
Randy snorted. “He did.”
“We should call the cops.”
Randy offered up another one of his famous contemptuous snorts. “No point. He’s dying. He won’t live long enough to go before a judge, even if his old drinking buddies bothered to arrest him in the first place.”
Bothered? Wasn’t that just great. “People suck.”
“Not all people.”
No, not all. Just most of them. “I’m sorry I showed up like that instead of calling. I only wanted to give you your mail. I didn’t mean to set him off.” Like a fucking rocket. That had been such a surprise. Probably because, unlike Randy, Mason had no immunity. He’d never been subjected to such horrible verbal abuse, such hate, in all his life. “I don’t even know your dad, not really. I had no idea he hated me so much. Or why he would.”
“He hates everyone. But especially you. You, your mom, Ginny. He never wanted me, never cared about me, but I think, deep down, he was really fucking jealous. Jealous of your family and jealous of me always coming over here. He despised the fact that someone else might want me. He always wanted to get rid of me, but it really picked his ass that I came over here all the time and your door was always open.”
“Fucking looney bastard.”
Mason sighed and turned on his side to face Randy. “I don’t understand why you went back in the first place. Why you’d even step foot in that house again.”
“I dunno why, either.” Randy ran a hand through his messy tangle of hair. “I guess I was hoping he’d changed or something.”
Yeah, right. Nobody changed that much. A leopard couldn’t change its spots, and all that. “I hope you don’t think you owe him anything.”
Randy hesitated for a moment too long before replying.
“You don’t!” Mason shouted. Shocked at his outburst, Mason lowered his voice. “Don’t you dare think that! You don’t own him a goddamn thing.”
“I know that,” Randy said, as quietly as Mason had ever heard him speak. “In my head, I know that. It’s just hard to…” He exhaled sharply. “It’s just hard.”
Randy didn’t need to explain it more than that. The distance between him and Stephen had grown so far and so deep, it was now a huge fucking cavern the size of the entire state. Mason doubted they’d ever close the distance. Or if he wanted to. Relationships were complicated. Parental relationships were even more complicated. No wonder Randy felt torn. Even though Randy’s father was hateful bastard, he was still Randy’s father, and a son never stopped seeking their father’s approval, even if they knew they’d never get it. “I understand,” Mason whispered. “I really do.”
The replay switch on Randy’s father’s tirade seemed stuck in the same endless loop as Randy’s kiss had been earlier. He recalled every nasty word with perfect clarity. “He seemed really hung up on the fact I’m gay.” Understatement of the year.
“Ah, well. That’s my fault.”
“Because I didn’t keep my big mouth shut.”
“Being gay. He kept asking me about why I didn’t have a girlfriend. Why I hadn’t knocked up some bitch yet and what the fuck was wrong with me anyway.” Randy shifted uncomfortably. “So I told him point-blank it was because I liked guys.”
“Oh, man. Bet that went over well.”
“Fuck, you have no idea. I would have been better off confessing to murdering someone. He actually popped a blood vessel in his eye and it got all red and bloody. I think he already had his suspicions, but he wanted to make me to admit it.”
“Suspicions?” Guess Randy hadn’t hid it as well as he thought.
“He’s not stupid. I been living with him for a few months now and he must’ve noticed I only talk to guys, or something. Sure, I have a few female friends, not that I’d ever let them step foot in that house. Mostly I keep to myself. I’m always at work or in the shop. I basically outed myself by not going to the bar every weekend to pick up women. And because he has no fucking life, he noticed I don’t.”
“And then you came over to ask me about that kid. I think when he saw me talking to you—because he’s a snooping bastard—the little lightbulb went on in his head.”
“We were only talking!”
“Yeah, but see, you’re gay. He knows you are. And I don’t chase women like a good ol’ redneck boy should, or date them, or even really talk about them. So he put two-and-two together. Plus, he’s a cop.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Cops watch people all the time. They read body language. It’s like their sixth sense.”
“I don’t get what you mean. Body language? You don’t give away shit. You didn’t even ping my gaydar. I’m still in kind of in disbelief.” Mason chuckled. “And no, you don’t need to prove it again.”
Instead of answering, or responding to his teasing, Randy retreated into silence. Had Mason insulted him somehow and didn’t realize it? “Randy?” he prodded.
“Shit,” Randy finally answered. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“What are you talking about? Said what?” Because now Mason was really confused.
“That thing about the body language.”
“Why the fuck not? But I have no clue what my body language was saying, so don’t ask me.”
“Not yours. Mine.”
“Yours?” Mason pushed himself up onto his elbow.
After a moment’s hesitation, Randy said, “Fuck it. I’ll just say it, and you don’t get to be pissed at me for saying it.”
“I won’t. Of course I won’t. You can always say whatever’s on your mind around me. I can’t believe you don’t already know that.” What could he possibly be pissed at Randy about? His old man, plenty. Randy, nothing.
Randy sighed heavily. “He probably saw me watching you. He can get around just fine when he wants to, the nosy bugger.”
“Watching me? When?” Mason remembered that day, and that conversation clearly. The horror he’d felt as Randy casually revealed his father’s repeated abuse wasn’t something he’d ever forget. “You said see you later, and then you went back in the garage.”
“Not exactly. I stopped just inside the garage and watched you leave.”
“Okay, weird, but so what?”
“After you were gone, I went to let myself in the kitchen door to give him his meds, but it was already open. He left it open. I never forget to close it because the fumes get in the house and it’s dangerous. He left it that way because he wanted me to know he’d been there.”
“I still don’t get what the big deal is. So you watched me leave. It’s not a crime.”
Randy laughed. “Fuck Mason, you can be so dense. I wasn’t just watching, I was…admiring.”
And here he’d thought Randy had lost the capacity to surprise him. Mason’s arm slid out from under him and his head landed back down on the pillow with a soft plop. “I’m not—I don’t have anything worth admiring.”
“Shut up with that,” Randy snapped. He wasn’t mad, though. The sky had lightened slightly and his expression was more readable. Not that Mason knew what was going through his mind. Randy was as much of a mystery as ever. Randy shoved his heavy blue cast under the pillow so he could lean closer to Mason, and slowly reached over and cupped Mason’s jaw with his warm fingers. His big, calloused thumb brushed over Mason’s bottom lip.
Damn that kiss! Instant recall struck Mason hard and fast. His breath hitched. His dick twitched with interest. “You’re nuts. I’m skinny, nerdy, boring and a pain in the ass.”
Randy snorted in disagreement. “You’re not boring. Who told you that? That smarmy douchebag you were shacked up with? I hope you kicked his sorry ass to the curb.”
Mason smiled. “No comment about skinny or nerdy?”
“You’ve always been a nerd. You wouldn’t be you if you weren’t.”
“You’ve always been skinny.” Randy’s lips twitched. “Probably why I like skinny guys.”
Randy thumbed his bottom lip again. He didn’t smile. “You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever known.” He leaned closer, “and the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever known.”
Ah, Randy. Still blunt. For a minute there, Mason had been worried Randy was going all soft on him. “And you’re still the most obnoxious man I’ve ever known.”
Randy grinned, his teeth bright in the waking dawn. “Thanks.”
What an arrogant bastard! Mason would have told Randy that out loud, except that roughened thumb brushing over his lip was proving rather distracting. Mason’s entire body, every goddamned cell, felt each and every swipe. When Randy nudged the tip into Mason’s mouth, all his inner alarm bells shrieked out danger warnings.
Ask him if he cared. Because good god, there it was again. That poison racing through his blood. Mason couldn’t stop himself. He closed his lips around the tip of Randy’s thumb and flicked his tongue over the rough pad.
“Mason,” Randy growled.
With his tongue otherwise occupied, Mason hummed an inquisitive sound.
“If you don’t stop that right now, you’ll make a liar out of me. Because I will try something.” Randy grabbed a handful of sheet and pulled, almost ripping the fine material.
Prove it, danced on the tip of Mason’s tongue. Excitement danced there along with the unspoken taunt. His taste buds were suddenly alight with the taste of salt and promise and man.
How he loved that taste!
Wanted more of it.
More, more, more!
Having sex with Randy would be a bad idea for a thousand different reasons. He didn’t even like him. Disliking someone less than you had a week ago was not a good reason to get naked with them and exchange heart-stopping orgasms.
And this was Randy. Sex with him would practically be incest.
Before he did something he’d regret—that Randy would regret—Mason let Randy’s thumb slide from between his lips. His hands felt shaky as he rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself up. Like he had in Randy’s shop, he fought the raging urge to rip off his own clothes, launch himself on Randy’s hard, naked body and ride his cock until they both arrived panting at the gates of heaven.
Grinding his fully hard cock against the mattress as he went, Mason slid his legs off the bed. Randy stared at him as he moved away, mouth hanging partly open and eyes wide. He’d hooked the fingers of his broken arm around one of the thin metal slats on the headboard. He kept a death grip locked around the handful of sheet still bunched in his other hand. His muscles were tense, the power within coiled and ready. He looked like predator about to strike.
That predatory pose struck a chord in Mason and his body sang in response.
But he couldn’t acknowledge it. He couldn’t afford to.
He had to get out of here and away from Randy.
Before he thought twice about it, he lurched back up, roughly kissed Randy on his open mouth, pulled back and flung himself from the bed.
At the door, he paused. “You’re not worthless. Far from it.” Then, because he’d known Randy forever and knew he didn’t make idle threats, he ran for it.