Chapter 9: An Arrangement
Monday came far too early for Kent. But he rolled out of bed, showered, put himself together, and walked to the bookstore. Luckily, he lived in Eureka, and though it was a long walk, he could manage to do it in a half hour. His car was still in the shop and would be until a little after lunch. Liz said she'd take him there on her lunch break, and then he'd have wheels again. He would miss one of his afternoon classes at Humboldt State today, but a single absence wasn't going to hurt him too much. He was a good student and kept up on his courses.
Stanley had taken him home yesterday in the early afternoon. They had spent the morning together, and they got lunch in Eureka before the blue-eyed man grudgingly took Kent home.
"I really liked having you over." Stanley's eyes took in Kent's features, an enigmatic smile on his face. "Can we meet up tomorrow night? After you pick up your car? I should be home a little after six."
Of course, Kent had agreed. Stanley was something utterly new to him. He allowed Kent to explore his tastes, desires, and he was so patient. Stanley made Kent feel strong, powerful, and masculine. Everything about their time together gave Kent confidence he had never possessed.
Kent timed things well for his arrival at work. He walked up to the bookstore right as Liz was opening. She smiled at him through the glass of the doors, and the bolt scraped back as she turned it from inside.
"Hi, Kent." She pushed the door and he helped prop it open.
"Hi, Liz. Good morning." Kent felt good, and he was happy to have his job at the bookstore. He only worked part time around his school schedule, but it was great to earn his own money and support himself as he worked his way through his first semester at HSU. That also kept his student loans to a manageable level.
He entered with her about five minutes before his starting time of nine a.m. A couple of minutes later Nate came in. Nate put his bag down behind the counter and nodded in greeting at Kent. Kent debated, then he walked over. "Hey, good morning, Nate."
Nate seemed to be in a better mood compared to the last time he was in the store. Though it would be hard for him to be in a worse one. Still, Kent was happy to see Nate more positive. Nate seemed pleasantly surprised that Kent spoke to him. "Hi, good morning, Kent." His smile spread a bit. "How are you?"
Kent smiled back at him. "I'm pretty good. Thanks for asking."
Nate nodded while he eyed Kent. Then he sighed. "Kent, I'm sorry." He shook his head. "I've given some thought to how things went between us, and I could have been a better friend." He grimaced. "I never meant to hurt you, at all. I just wasn't being very empathetic."
Hearing Nate apologize gave Kent pause. He had no idea the man even had an awareness of what he had done. Kent smiled in happy surprise. "You know, it's okay." Kent said the words, and he internalized them at the same time. He really was fine with Nate, now that the guy showed some remorse for his callousness. Kent patted Nate's back. "Thanks. I accept your apology."
"You're welcome." Nate smiled, and he looked more carefully at Kent. "You doing all right? You seem a little different."
Kent wasn't sure what he meant. "Uh, yeah. I'm fine." Then he grinned. "I'm actually great. Thanks for asking."
Nate grinned back at him, then he looked across the store. Liz stood, her hands on her hips, and a big smile on her face as she saw the guys interact. Nate rolled his eyes and snorted a laugh.
Kent snickered and they got their day started. He had a feeling that it was going to be a good one.
It was lunchtime, and Nate drove to Tad's apartment. He was taking his whole hour today to hang out and just be with his dark-haired boyfriend. He also had designs on maybe tempting his lover into a little bit of fun after they ate the sandwiches Tad planned to make for them.
He tried the door to the place and found it unlocked. Nate pushed it open. "Hey, Tad?"
"Come in, Nate!" Tad's voice came from around the partition between the living room and the kitchen.
Nate stepped inside, and Kali met him with a rub around his ankles. He grinned as he reached down to stroke her sleek, black little body. She loved on him for a bit, then she was off again, padding into the apartment.
Nate followed her inside. He entered the kitchen to find Tad putting a couple of thick, meaty sandwiches together. He caught a glimpse of pepper-jack, avocado, spinach, tomato, onion, roast beef, and stone ground mustard before Tad put the bread on.
"Hey, Nate." Tad turned with the sandwiches on a plate. He smiled as Nate stepped close. "How has your day been so far?"
Nate leaned in, careful to avoid knocking the plate out of his hands. They kissed. It was short, but it carried the promise of what Nate wanted out of his time with Tad today. "Mmm. It's better now." Nate grinned.
Tad chuckled. "Okay, loverboy." He nodded at the small kitchen table against the wall. "Let's eat. And I need to talk to you about something too."
"All right." Nate pulled out chairs for them, Tad put the plate with their food on the table and they both sat. "Man, that looks good." Nate picked up the nearest one and looked at the thick stack of fillings in the middle. "Jeez, it's like a Dagwood sandwich or something!"
Tad laughed. "Dagwood?" He smiled affectionately at Nate. "I've not heard that name in a while. You're going back for that pop culture reference."
Nate took a bite, and he shrugged. He chewed, made an appreciative sound, then he swallowed. "Yep. That's me. A throwback to the eighties and nineties." He sighed. "I was born thirty years too late."
Tad chuckled and looked knowingly at Nate. "They didn't have Grindr thirty years ago."
Nate guffawed. He shook his head. "Fine," he acquiesced. He looked at Tad, then pulled out his phone. Tad watched with a quizzical expression as Nate unlocked the device. Then he selected Grindr. "Annnnd, uninstalled." Nate put the phone on the table and looked up at Tad. He shrugged. "I don't really need that anymore."
Tad's face shifted. Now he looked at Nate with a completely unguarded, bittersweet smile. "Well, I appreciate the display." He stood up, and he took Nate's hand. "I need to show you something. Unfortunately, it's nothing sweet."
Nate got up, and he let the dark-haired man lead him into the kitchen. Tad swallowed nervously, then he nodded at a sticky note on the fridge. "So, this is pretty important." He watched Nate's face as the man began to read. "It's a list of symptoms to watch for. Some are things I might not recognize myself. My sister has one too." Tad watched as Nate's smile melted. "I'm sorry. I know it's a little bit of a buzzkill."
'Headache, Temperature Fluctuations, Nausea, Drowsiness, Vision Problems, Personality Changes, Seizures, Breathing Pattern Changes.'
Nate read through it then set his jaw. He couldn't entirely hide his dread. "So, once any of these starts then it means you don't have much time left?"
Tad nodded. "Yeah. It could be as short as a few weeks to as long as a year and a half." He shrugged. "I try not to think too much about it. I can't. I just, I just live. Every day." He pulled Nate close. "I'm so sorry to do this to you, but I'm glad I'm not alone. I know it makes me a terrible person, but I can't help it." Nate began to speak, but Tad continued, "I love you, Nate. I know I do."
Nate squeezed Tad, and he cleared his tight throat. "I love you. And you're not terrible. You're," Nate closed his eyes as he held on, "you're wonderful."
Their food lay forgotten on the plate, and the two men clung to one another as they stood in Tad's little kitchen.
Markus helped Victoria Cooper set the table. He had been invited over for an evening barbeque to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather. His father, Tony, was outside at the grill, and his uncles and aunts were on the way as well. There would be a pile of Coopers in the house soon, each bearing some side dish to go along with the chicken and flank steak Tony grilled.
Victoria brushed by her son as she set plates out.
"Mom?" Markus put the last set of silverware down in its place on the long, wooden table. Colorful, cloth napkins lay folded carefully under the utensils. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants. "Mom, can I talk to you?"
She glanced at him, then checked his work at setting out the silverware. It met with her approval and she nodded once. "Sure." Victoria went back to prettying up the table, primping the flowers in the vase in the center. Markus knew she wanted everything to be perfect for the family. Her husband's kin always judged Victoria with a harsher eye than most. She was Hispanic, while Tony was white. So, growing up, Markus watched his mother rise to meet the challenge with a tremendous effort to always meet with their approval.
Markus took a breath and fought against a maddening fear. "Mom, I ah," Markus struggled to get the words to come out of his mouth, "I have to tell you something."
She frowned in impatience. "Okay, well, it'll have to be quick." The graying, heavyset woman finally stopped moving and turned to him. "What is it? They'll be here soon."
Markus nodded. "Yeah, I know." He blinked and tried hard to get it out. He didn't know of a way to soften the words, so they just blurted from him. "I'm gay."
His mother's countenance shifted. There was a subtle narrowing of eyes, and her jaw tightened. Markus's stomach dropped as she stepped close. "Don't you ever say that again." She stared up at him, her brown eyes hard. She slowly shook her head. "Don't ever say that again in this house. We didn't raise you that way."
"Mom, I, I can't help it." Markus hung his head. "I've tried. I can't help it."
"I always wondered." The disappointed tone in her words was almost too much for Markus to bear. "God help me, I don't know what I did to deserve this."
Markus began to say something when his father opened the back door. Victoria grabbed his arm, her grip like steel. "Don't say anything to your father." She shook him and her voice dropped to a mutter. "Do you understand me?"
Tony frowned at them as Victoria stepped back. His green eyes were suspicious. "Everything all right?"
"Oh, yes. Everything's fine." The facade of happiness presented by Victoria almost sickened Markus. She looked at her son. "Isn't it, Markus?"
It was everything he could do to keep his voice level and smile at his father. "Of course. Everything's fine, Dad."
Christopher was in the middle of his Monday night dinner prep. He hadn't had a chance to do much more than preheat his oven when he heard the slightest knock on his door. He frowned and moved into the living room. Chris checked the peephole, and his face fell.
He opened the door and Nate leaned forward with both of his hands on the doorframe. His head was down and he exhaled.
Chris quietly put an arm around his shoulders, and he straightened with the redhead. "Come on." He led Nate over to the futon and helped the deeply emotional man sit.
He put a hand on Nate's shoulder. "Talk to me. What's going on?"
Nate's expression was one of lost desolation. "I, ah..." He cleared his throat. "Tad showed me the list. The symptoms." His eyes were so far away as he stared at imagined horrors. "I just, it's just so real now. I want to save him. I want to help him, and I can't."
Chris felt his own emotions twist in agony. Everything Nate experienced, he had too. He knew how the blue-eyed man hurt, and how impotent he felt. "You can't focus on that. You have to understand, Tad doesn't want you to save him. He just wants you to love him."
Nate blinked, and he looked up at Chris. "That's what he wanted from you, too."
Chris felt as if he'd been punched in the face. He stared at Nate. He wasn't angry, or even upset with Nate. Instead, his mind struggled. 'He's right. Oh god. I left him. I left him alone when all he needed was for me to hold him.'
While Chris fought with his own thoughts, Nate dropped his eyes back to his hands. "I don't know if I can do this." Nate shook his head and blew out a forlorn, shaky breath. "I thought I could. But the closer I get to him, the scarier it becomes." He put his head in his hands. "God, this is so fucking hard, Chris."
Christopher looked down at Nate where he sat on the futon. He hadn't had a chance to wash up, so he remained filthy from work, and he still wore his mechanic jumper. But that wasn't the priority right now. He sat beside the struggling man. "How can I help, Nate?" He put an arm over Nate's shoulders and pulled the smaller guy close. "Tell me what you need."
"This," Nate whispered, and he pressed his body against Chris's. "Just, let me be here for a while."
Christopher couldn't help how his body reacted to Nate. Something about the redhead turned all of his desires into overdrive. Add to that his growing regard for him as a person, and it meant that Nate rang all kinds of alarms. It took more and more willpower to avoid seeing him as a potential sexual partner. He hated his weakness but also enjoyed Nate in his arms. "Okay."
They sat together awkwardly on the futon. Then, after a few minutes, Chris grimaced as his back began to complain. He shifted, and Nate sat up. Then Nate stood. "I'm sorry." He turned to the door. "It's getting late. I'll let you get back to your dinner."
Chris could feel Nate's distress and his desolation. He couldn't let him leave that way. "No. Wait." He stepped into Nate, and the men hugged. Chris's hand was on the back of Nate's neck and his face was down against the smaller man's cheek.
They both stood and breathed together. Chris swallowed, then he let his lips scrape the tender skin of Nate's neck. "You," the tall, brown-haired man breathed Nate's scent, "you smell like Tad." The words were hushed and his voice wavered. Nate raised his face, and their lips barely brushed.
Christopher's breath grew ragged. He struggled for control and nearly conquered the instinct to pull Nate to him.
Then Nate kissed him. It was a slow-motion study in desire, emotions held in check for too long, and the raw need for comfort.
'No, no, no.' Chris's mind thrashed as his tongue entered Nate's mouth. 'You can't. It's not right. No.' His body was not listening. And his strong hands rubbed down Nate's spine to grip his perfect, firm rear.
Nate gasped, and then he stepped back and peeled off his shirt. Chris unzipped his jumper and stepped out of it. He wore only his underwear beneath, and he helped Nate take off his jeans.
There were only two thin layers between their bodies now. As Nate's blue, needful eyes stared, he rubbed his hand over Christopher's barely-contained dick.
Christopher groaned. Then he pulled Nate's underwear from his hips. While he stood and appreciated the sight of Nate's fiery pubes and his cut cock, the redhead stripped Chris's underwear as well.
They embraced again, this time all of their skin touching. Christopher's long, thick penis was as hard as it had ever been, and he rubbed his bearded face against Nate's neck.
The smaller man sat on the futon and pulled Chris down with him. Nate lay back, and it felt so natural as Chris knelt between his legs and pulled him into position.
A generous dose of lube out of the nightstand drawer went on Chris's cock, and then he rubbed some on Nate's opening. Chris pulled Nate toward himself, and he leaned over. He pressed forward, and Nate's mouth opened as Chris's bare, wet organ began to enter him.
His head slid inside, and Nate exhaled. Chris leaned into him. The kiss was one of hunger - greed, desire, almost pure lust. Chris's hips began to slowly move forward.
The warmth and pressure of Nate's body felt amazing around him and Chris moaned as he finally bottomed out. Nate's cock streamed a continual flow of precome, and he made incoherent noises as Chris started to move his pelvis.
As he continued to slide into and out of Nate, Chris took Nate's hard, wet dick and began to stroke the writhing man.
Chris felt his own finish approach, which was just as well because Nate's eyes rolled back and he tensed up. The redhead's cock spasmed in Christopher's grip and a shot of come landed in a streak up his body. He continued to twitch and moan in the throes of the moment, right as Christopher began his own.
He exhaled his breath in a rush, and Christopher pushed himself deep into Nate. He held there, speared as far as he could reach inside Nate's body, then grunted as he unloaded. He continued pumping in time to his releases.
Finally, they were still. Sweat ran down Chris's furry body and they both panted. Each stared at the other. Each wore an expression of disbelief and shame.
Nate broke their silence.
"Oh my god." He shook his head as he looked up at Christopher. "What have we done?"
Christopher paced in his apartment, and Nate bit his lip as he watched the brown-haired man. "What are we gonna do?" Chris rubbed his face. Some of the engine grease on his fingers left a black mark on his cheek. They had both put their underwear back on, and now they flailed about, trying to come up with a plan. "Fuck, what, what is wrong with me?"
Nate sat on the couch and hung his head. He set his jaw, slowly nodding. "This is my fault. I kissed you."
Chris had stopped moving, and he stared at Nate from his spot a few feet away. "It wasn't all you. I knew better. I let it happen."
"Doesn't matter." Nate closed his eyes. "God, I've wrecked everything. I've wrecked everything."
"No. No, everything's still fine." Nate heard the insistent tone in Christopher's voice. "Nothing is wrecked. You can still be with Tad. Everything's fine." His voice shifted and almost sounded panicked. "I can't have fucked this up. It has to be fine."
Nate looked up at him. "What? We're going to lie to him? I'm going to lie to a dying…" he felt a spear of intense self-hatred, and he grimaced. "I can't. He just told me he loves me. He told me today."
Christopher audibly groaned. His hands hung at his sides, and his shoulders slumped. "Fuck."
"Yeah." Nate lay back and looked up at the ceiling. "And, Jesus, I let you fuck me bare."
Chris flinched. "I don't have anything," Christopher said. "You're the only one, ah, after Tad."
Nate nodded. "Well, that's good. I'm clear too. And that's the first time I've ever been screwed without a condom."
They were both quiet for some time as each man's mind turned madly. Christopher sat beside Nate on the couch and cleared his throat. "Are you going to tell him?"
Nate's jaw moved as he clenched it. "I'm not going to lie to him. If he ever has a reason to ask, if he ever wonders, I'm going to come clean."
Christopher processed that, then nodded. "Okay."
Nate forced the next words out of his mouth. "I don't think I should come here anymore, Chris." He felt as if he had swallowed a block of ice when he thought about not seeing Chris again.
The tall man took a moment, then he reached. He put a warm hand on Nate's back. Nate hated that he liked it, but he did. "If that's what it'll take, then okay. But I know this is hard for you - being with Tad. I would rather you come see me, as a friend, if it will keep you with him." Christopher let out a big breath. "I, ah, we'll just not do this again." He nodded, reaffirming his decision. "Yeah. I mean, we're not slaves to our hormones. We'll just be friends, and that's that."
Nate closed his eyes, debating. He chuckled at his plight. "I don't think I trust myself."
"I'll keep you honest." Christopher's voice became more certain. "Yeah, we'll just make sure things stay platonic, from here on."
Nate didn't say what he was thinking - that Christopher had failed to keep things platonic when Nate had caved and kissed him. Instead, he nodded. "Okay."
Christopher smiled with relief. "Good."
Nate stood while Chris looked up at him from the futon. "Shit, what time is it? I have to get home. Tad's coming by tonight."
"Ah, hang on." Chris fished his phone out of his mechanic jumper lying on the floor. "Uh, it's almost seven."
Nate frowned. "Yeah, definitely gotta go. He's spending the night with me." Chris handed him his clothes and Nate quickly dressed. Nate tied his shoes and stood up. He walked to the door and looked with worried eyes at Christopher. "Wish me luck."
Chris nodded and did his best to look confident. "You won't need it, but good luck."
Nate smiled slightly in thanks. Then he opened the door, and he headed home.
Tad got to Nate's place around fifteen after seven. He grinned at the redhead when he opened the door. "Hey, boyfriend."
A smile flickered on Nate's lips. "Hey, Tad." He stepped aside. "Come in."
Tad entered and Nate walked to his kitchen. "Do you need anything? Want any snacks?"
Tad stood in the living room, and he debated for a moment. "Do you have popcorn? Can we make some and watch a movie?" He smiled at Nate. "I wanna sit on the couch and snuggle with you."
Nate nodded, and he pulled a box from a shelf. He began to unwrap a packet of microwave popcorn.
Tad stepped over next to the kitchen counter near him. "How was the rest of your day?" He made a face. "I hope you didn't dwell too much on the whole 'brain tumor' thing."
Nate glanced at him. His expression was an odd neutral. "I admit, I thought a lot about it." He put the popcorn into the microwave and set the timer, then turned to Tad again. "I ah, I visited Christopher to talk it through."
Tad grinned. "Yeah? That's good. I'm glad you guys have each other." Tad wasn't the jealous type, so Nate's connection with Christopher was something he tried hard to encourage. "Chris really needs someone." He frowned. "Has he been looking for anybody? I mean, to date?"
Nate's face didn't change at all. "I, I don't know. I don't think so."
Tad felt disappointment, and then, much to his annoyance with himself, he also experienced relief. "Ah, that's too bad. I hope he finds what he is looking for - whatever it is."
Nate swallowed, his Adam's apple sliding up and down. "Yeah." Nate turned away again. He seemed to watch the microwave count down.
Tad felt something in the air. There was something on Nate's mind. Tad stepped up behind him and let his arms circle the moody redhead. "You're not still upset because of the list, are you?"
"Maybe a little." Nate shrugged while Tad held him. "Sorry, I'm not trying to be a downer."
Tad raised his face, and he started to speak. Then his nose picked up a faint but familiar odor.
'Engine grease.' Tad's eyes widened just a little, and he drew back to get a look at Nate's head. 'Oh shit.' There was a greasy mark behind Nate's left ear. A big meaty thumb was very clearly outlined there.
Tad's intelligent, logical mind went to work on the information. It didn't take long for him to come to a conclusion. Tad still held Nate, and he cleared his throat. His feelings were so complicated. He felt a roiling mess of them, and he forced himself to think before he spoke.
The microwave beeped, and Nate opened it. Then he put his hands on Tad's arms that still held him. Nate hung his head. "Tad, I have to tell you…"
"Wait." Tad had decided, and he forged forward. "I just wanted to say, Christopher is one of the most important people in my life. And I know that makes me a terrible boyfriend to you, because of all I still feel for him - because of the value I place on his happiness." He squeezed Nate. "But, I want you to be happy too." He turned Nate around. The redhead looked at him, near-panic on his face. "Nate, I just want you to be happy. And Chris. Because those two things? Well, they would make me happy too."
Nate stared at him. As he did, tears gathered in his eyes, and the tiny drops gently rolled until they streaked down his face. Nate shook his head. "I, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry." Tad cried tears of his own and hugged Nate close. "Chris was my last, big worry. The guilt from knowing I would leave him behind, it was," he inhaled, "it was crushing." Tad laughed. "But you're here for me." He pushed back, and the two teary-eyed men looked at each other. "And you're there for him too." Tad had one final fear, and he gave it voice. "I just, I just hope you can find enough room for us both?"
Nate's face fell. "Tad, I won't leave you."
The black-haired man couldn't help the sob that escaped him. He squeezed Nate tight to his chest. Nate's head was down, and Tad put his chin to rest on the redhead's hair. He breathed, in and out.
Tad spoke with a wavering, unsteady voice, "if you ever have to choose, then you choose Christopher." He uttered the words and meant them.
Nate answered by squeezing him, then Tad felt him shake his head.
Despite Nate's refusal, or perhaps because of it, Tad smiled through his tears.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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