HEART FOR TRADE: WEEK 9
Benny stomped around his room, angry at himself, at Jarum, and at the universe in general. He’d tried so hard to keep his emotions in check. Hell, for a minute there, he thought he could get away with his feelings for Jarum, but his attitude was starting to give him away. To himself or to the rest of the base, he wasn’t sure, but he knew he wasn’t going to last much longer. Ever since he laid eyes on Jarum back at Whispering Creek, it had been a struggle not to run away. No one knew his sexual preference. No one knew what he dreamed about at night. Seeing Jarum again put him over the edge. Case in point, he acted like an asshole to hide his feelings.
He didn’t want to give Samuel any ideas for one. Sam was his best friend, like a brother, and the only openly gay man at the base. Benny thought that if Sam knew, he would get it in his head that they were meant to be or something. He could never love Samuel like that, no matter how close they were. Sam just wasn’t the person that did it for him. Jarum was.
After throwing his clothes into the laundry bin, Benny slumped into a chair by the wall. Memories of that day at the pond rushed his mind like a stampede of wild horses. He covered his eyes and hung his head with shame. He should have never done it. He should have just kept to himself in the tree line and never approached Jarum. He should have never led the man away from the water and into the trees. He should have never whispered things like that to another man. He should have never tasted Jarum on his knees or allowed a stranger to take him in such an intimate way.
He should have been the one behind Jarum, but he knew, he just knew it was the other man’s first time. His compassion wouldn’t allow Jarum to hurt, to go through that first painful experience. So he’d given up a part of himself just to feel another man against him. Desperation had taken hold of his body and given him Jarum in a neat little package, and now, he regretted it. Not the coupling, but the consequences from it. Now he would have to face Jarum every day and know that the snarky brunette hated him. This was all his fault. He deserved this guilt and shame. He had no right to be angry with the other man. Jarum was right for once. He should just fuck off.
Jarum had been through a lot of grief in his life. His parents dying at such an early age, victims of a late night robbery on their way back to the village. They left him alone in the world, without a sense of direction or a means to cope. As he got older, he used his anger to cover the part of heart that was missing. He couldn’t allow anyone to think he was weak or sensitive. Yet, here he was, tears streaming down his face and running down the halls of a military base with a breaking heart.
All this time, Benny had lied to him. The man that he was supposed to trust had covered up their coupling because he was obviously ashamed. It was clear to Jarum that he wasn’t wanted, but his heart wanted to know why! He was cracking under the pressure of this new world. He was losing his edge rapidly, giving it up to his deeply embedded insecurities, because yet another person had abandoned him. He knew that wasn’t really the case, but it felt the same. Benny didn’t want him. The ugly, dirty kid who could barely read—who would want that anyway?
Still, his boots thudded over the concrete floor, down the hall where he remembered Benny had said he and Samuel roomed. He needed to tell Benny what he thought of him. He needed to let go of this fire in his chest that burned so badly it was painful. He needed to hear it from Benny’s lips. Why! Why would he do this? What was he hiding? What had he done wrong?
A group of men were gathered in the hallway as he reached the last wing. A few signs for a medi-something and storage units made him frown. This wasn’t right. Where was he?
“Hey, kid,” one of the men called. “You okay?”
“Looking … for … Benny,” he wheezed, catching his breath as he bent over.
Another man cocked his head in thought. “You’re Jarum, right? Sam’s boy is blonde, I think.”
“Yes. Wait,” he sucked in another gulp of air, “he’s not Sam’s boy.”
The group chuckled before the first man looked at him again. “Okay, kid, whatever you say. If you’re looking for Gardent, his rooms are in the C wing. This is E. Go down that hall and hit the exit door. Keep going across the platform and you’ll see entrances for C and D. Or do you need one of us to take you?”
Jarum looked up from his bent over position, a look of hatred in his eyes. “I’m not a child. I don’t need a babysitter.”
“You look upset. I mean, you’re, uh, crying. I didn’t mean anything by it.” The man stepped forward with concern. “If you’ll just let me help—”
The speakers crackled overhead and everyone glanced up. “I’ve got it from here, Williams,” Avery startled them all. “Jarum, proceed to the left and hit the exit door.”
“Avery?” Jarum scratched his head.
“The one and only,” she chirped. “Excuse us ladies.”
“Come on, Avery!” One man threw his hands up. “Really?”
“Party’s over. Get going, Jarum,” she commanded.
Dragging his feet for a second, Jarum looked over his shoulder at the men behind him. He hated the concern on their faces, the pity they felt for him. Turning back around, he picked up his pace and ran for the exit door. Hitting the bar on the exit door, he opened it onto a platform with stairs going up and down. The speakers crackled, echoing in the hallway.
“The door marked C,” she spoke softly.
“Got it.” He raced across the metal flooring, his steps sounding louder than they were. Another white hallway appeared. Another long stretch of doors stared back at him.
“Last one on the right,” she instructed. “If you need me, you know where to find me. Lunch is at one. You can find the time at the end of every hallway. You good?”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks,” he said to the ceiling. “Are you going to watch … uh…”
“No,” she laughed. “I have better things to do than watch Benny in his natural habitat. Watch yourself, kid.” The speakers crackled then she was gone.
Shaking his head, Jarum journeyed down the hall until he stopped in front of the last door on the right. Benjamin Gardent was printed on a small plaque to the left. Jarum swallowed, wiping his eyes. He shook out his hands, took a deep breath, and banged on the door. He was not a baby. He could do this. He could look Benny in the eye and give him a piece of his mind. But as the door opened and Benny stood there shirtless with a pair of pants low on his hips, Jarum couldn’t think.
Benny opened his mouth then closed it. He fought his eyes to keep from looking surprised. He fought his heart from leaping out of his chest. Maybe he hadn’t noticed before, but looking at Jarum now, Benny saw how much older the man looked all cleaned up. A fresh set of clothes, shiny, brown hair that he could smell from feet away, and a baby soft jaw that had been shaven recently—Jarum looked good and Benny was in trouble.
“It was you,” Jarum blurted.
Benny’s heart kicked into overdrive. “What?”
“It was you back in Surik. I…” Jarum leaned in, conscious of the listening speakers above. “I fucked you.”
Benny peeked out of the doorway and looked to his right. Satisfied that no one but the cameras were watching, he yanked Jarum inside and closed the door with a smack. “Don’t you come here and start shit with me. This is my home and those people out there will talk. Don’t run your mouth when you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Jarum pulled his arm out of Benny’s hand. He attempted a growl and got in Benny’s face. “Is that all you care about, Benny? You’re worried that they’ll know you’re gay? You aren’t the least bit concerned that you lied to me, made me feel like shit this whole time to cover your fucking secret!”
“Keep your voice down!” Benny pushed Jarum away. He began to pace the small sitting room. “So what if it was me? What do you want, Jarum? Is this the part where you tell me it was more than sex and go blab your undying love to the entire base? Are you trying to ruin my life?” And immediately he regretted his words. His shock and fear put him in someone else’s body. This wasn’t him. What had he done?
Face fallen, Jarum knew he was losing his anger. The emotional chaos working through his body threatened his tear ducts. “Ruin your life? Are you serious, Benny? You and Sam took me from my home, brought me here, and you don’t even care. All you’ve done since we’ve been here is made me feel like shit. I’m a person. You may not see that because I’m some poor boy from the topside, but every time you talk to me, you make me feel like nothing. I gave you my first time. Yes, I was desperate, but I’ll never forget that. The fear of knowing what I was doing could give me a disease, knowing you could rob me or kill me when we were done. I let all of that go because it was so nice to be that close to another person and know that they wanted me, even it was for only a few minutes. And again, you soiled that for me. You’re poison, Benny, not my savior.”
Whirling around, Benny showed his face, wet with tears and eyes wavering. “I never said I didn’t want you. I’m just not ready for … whatever this is.”
“Right, because you’re a mind reader on top of your other charming qualities.” Jarum backed away. “This was stupid. I knew what you would say. I should never have come here. I don’t know why I did. I don’t want anything to do with you. I just want to go home.”
He turned and wiggled the door handle, embarrassed and irritated as it wouldn’t open. He couldn’t turn around and give Benny the satisfaction of his tears. The other man was only crying to save his ass, to make it seem like he cared. Jarum banged on the door with his palm, simultaneously pulling on the handle that wouldn’t work. He stopped as a body molded to his back, hands smoothing over his arms, and down to his hands to pull them away from the door.
“Stop,” Benny whispered. “Just stop.”
“Don’t touch me,” Jarum warned, but his threat was barely audible.
“We were never supposed to go to the pond in Surik. Samuel had forbid us from going near there, but I couldn’t stop myself. Every week I went to the trade market, trying to find Samuel a suitable match. I looked for ads with his preference. I kept my ears open and my eyes peeled for over a year, Jarum. But every week, I saw you instead.
“I didn’t know about Ryan at the time. I only watched you. Helping the others around you, selling their stuff with that crazy mouth of yours, and getting them the best price out of the goodness of your heart. Giving the last of your chocolate to the little ones, taking your shirt off when it got too hot in the summer, working those muscles to load up the carts. Pulling your hair back away from your face so I could see those dark brown eyes, petting the horses with a smile when you thought no one was looking, closing your eyes when you were eating because it tasted that good. I saw it all, Jarum.
“When you went to the pond, I followed you if only to see a glimpse of what was underneath, but we both know it was more than that. I saw you standing there all alone after that woman left. You were so disappointed, so needy like myself, and so, I made my move. You call me poison, but do you know why I let you take me?”
“No,” Jarum choked. He couldn’t think. His head was spinning.
“Because I knew without a doubt it was your first time. It was in the way you touched me, the hesitant kissing, the desperate way your fingers clung to me. After I’d watched you for so long, I felt a connection with you, Jarum. Albeit one sided, but I didn’t want to hurt you. It … it hurts the first couple of times. I couldn’t do that to you. I didn’t want you think that sex, if you chose to be with another man, would always be that way. Encounters topside are far and few between, if it was going to be your only chance, I wanted it to be good and with me.
“The reason I don’t want anyone to know, is not because I don’t want you. It’s because I didn’t want Samuel to think I was holding out on him. There you were, this gorgeous, healthy man that willingly touched me in the woods. You could have been Sam’s, Jarum, not mine. I couldn’t let that happen,” he rasped. “Or worse, Sam would have got the idea in his head that the only two gay men on the base should get together. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I wasn’t willing to lose my friend because of sex and I’m still not willing to lose you either.”
Jarum’s need made his stomach flip flop. Benny’s hands on his arms, slowly moving to his chest made him shake. Lips on his neck caused his head to tilt and his eyes to close. Roughly hugged into Benny’s chest, Jarum’s hand reached up, cupping the back of the soldier’s head. Fiery locks filtered through his fingers—so thick, yet soft. He wanted to melt.
The lips on his neck grew hungry, opening wider to allow the heat of Benny’s tongue to sweep over his skin. Jarum couldn’t stand being in the dark anymore. He wanted to know what Benny’s mouth tasted like again. He wanted to see those hazel eyes thick with lust instead of cloaked under a hood. He wanted to soak it all in.
Shifting quickly in Benny’s arms, Jarum stared into the eyes he sought after. Full of want, not desperation, Jarum found what he was looking for in Benny. Their hands grabbed at one another. Boots shuffling awkwardly around, their bodies connected. Jarum tilted his head and Benny accepted the invitation. Their mouths sealed together in a greedy kiss. Their arms locked around each other. This was how it was supposed to be, Jarum thought. This is what he’d been missing the first time. Benny didn’t just want him, he needed him.
The fear between them dissipated. Man to man, they fed from each other’s mouths while moving slowly to the bedroom. Jarum had no idea what was about to happen, but all he knew was that he never wanted to let go of the man against him. As his back hit Benny’s bed and the red head gasped for air, hazel eyes stared down at Jarum as if he were the answer to the universe. The moment was short lived as Benny switched from staring to touching.
Hands roaming down Jarum’s body, his mouth sought out Benny’s again. One hand cupped his growing erection through his jeans. His eyes lit up. His mouth opened with a startling gasp before settling into a smile. Better than any apology in the world, Benny lifted his shirt, and kissed his exposed chest. A small nip drew Jarum’s eyes open. Hazel eyes looked back—hungry and narrowed.
On the precipice on a major turn in events, Jarum gently cupped Benny’s face. “I’m not scared of you, Benny. I can take it,” he managed.
“Take what?” Benny sat back on his heels, thrown by the statement.
After a moment of silence, Jarum took his jacket off and pulled his shirt over his head. His boots clunked to the floor when he kicked them off and his fingers trembled as he went for his jeans button. Determined and stubborn, Jarum wrenched his pants off unceremoniously. They hit the floor, the sound sealing the deal as Benny stared wide-eyed at his naked body.
“I can take it,” he repeated, spreading his legs, and lying back onto the bed.
TO BE CONTINUED…