HEART FOR TRADE: WEEK 19
Most of the hallways Ryan passed had been dimmed for the night, with only a few lights to give him away. He wasn’t really trying to hide from anyone. He just didn’t want the wrong person to see him and start grilling him on what he was up to so late. With Avery on watch, he could probably say he was running an errand for her, but he still wasn’t very good at lying. They would know immediately something was up and call Sam.
Thinking of Sam, Ryan picked up the pace, half jogging to the D wing. He could ask Rick a few questions and get back to his rooms quickly. But the journey was proving longer than he’d originally thought. By the time he saw the Commissary sign jutting out of the wall, he almost fell to his knees, out of breath and tired. He collected himself before turning the corner. Floor to ceiling windows took up the small corridor with an open doorway to let him in.
Thankfully no one was around as he entered the Commissary, no one except for a hunched over, white haired man behind the counter. The man had to be Rick, Ryan thought. Rick looked up from his book, arching a brow, scanning him over before returning to his reading. Not big on small talk himself, Ryan briefly circled the shelves, fingering a blanket and a few used books. He flicked his eyes back to Rick several times, unsure of how to ask what he wanted to know.
“You need something, Ryan?”
Ryan gasped, spinning around. “Uh, do I know you?”
“No, but I know you. Word gets around pretty quickly here. Plus I’ve seen you and your friend hanging out in the Mess Hall. You two are kind of hard to miss.” Rick turned a page.
Ryan slowly crept towards the counter. “Oh, right. I guess you’re Rick then.”
Rick swiped his finger across the tip of his tongue, turning another page. “Yep. Now that we’re best friends, what do you need, Ryan?”
“I’m sorry. I can come back another time. I know it’s late.” Ryan frowned, shuffling his feet to the door.
“We’re open twenty-four seven and you didn’t come here to browse. You’re the Commander’s boy. They have people to do that for you. So, I repeat, what do you want?” Rick put his book down, his irritation behind the slap of cover to counter. “Come on, out with it.”
Ryan bit his lip, trying to come up with an excuse. Why had he come here thinking Rick would be friendly and open to conversation? Damn, he thought, moseying down the aisle. “Why wouldn’t I be here to browse? I’ve never been to a Commissary before. I don’t understand the concept. Do you trade for items or do you just take things?”
“You’ll just have to excuse me while I go find a beginner’s manual for you.” Rick drummed his fingers on the counter, not moving an inch.
“I’m sorry, but what did I do to you?”
“I was at the good part. I always get pulled away from the good part.” Rick slid the book across the counter, clutching it in his hand before he put it on a shelf behind him. “Never mind, it’s not like I haven’t read it ten times before.”
Ryan smiled. “I hate that too.”
“When people interrupt me during a good book.” Ryan shyly stepped up to the counter. “If you don’t mind, what were you reading?”
“The Odyssey, it’s a Greek—”
“I love The Odyssey! When Odysseus and Telemachus stick it to the suitors is the best part. I’m not a really violent person, but when they killed Antinous, I almost cheered. I hated that guy.” Ryan realized he was talking with his hands and put them to his side. “I mean, I liked it.”
Rick slowly smiled. “Any smart man would have cheered over Antinous’s death. He was a real scumbag.”
“I know! Moving in on another man’s wife and planning to kill Odysseus’s son? That’s low.” Ryan laughed.
“That it is.” Rick put his elbows on the counter, studying him in a different light. “You read a lot?”
“Whatever I can get my hands on.”
“You sound like Sam.” Rick smirked. “Not that he reads much lately, I imagine.”
Rick turned away. “We don’t talk much these days. Can’t say I really know what he does other than work. You know more about him than I do, I suppose. I did say he has people that come here for him, didn’t I?”
“Did you guys have a fight?”
Rick snorted, scratching his head. “For a smart kid, you don’t seem to know much about your boyfriend.”
“I know he doesn’t like to talk about his dad.”
“Which is why you’re here, isn’t it? You want to know all the deep, dark secrets so you can figure Sam out and heal him, right? Good luck, Ryan. I already tried that, but the fact is…he isn’t broken. He’s delusional.”
“Excuse me?” Ryan put his palms on the counter. His teeth ground together. “Sam is a good man.”
“That’s what I tried to tell him.” Rick spun around. “He just doesn’t believe it.”
“Because in his head, he thinks his father never thought he was good enough. It’s why he breaks his back to fix everything when there’s nothing he can do. It’s why he looks like a zombie half the time. It’s why we were all shocked as hell when he finally took care of his little problem and got himself a beau. He seems to think Sam Sr. only gave him the Commanding position because he died, that he would have never been anything other than a shadow if his father hadn’t passed. And even after the fact, he still thinks he has to prove his father wrong. But there isn’t anything to prove! Whether Sam finds the password or not, he’s amazing at what he does, dare I say better than his father? We all love him, respect him, and worry about him. He’s the real deal, Ryan. But he’ll never see it until he puts himself into the grave over that damn password. You know what he told me the last time we talked, over four years ago?”
Ryan exhaled. “Four years…”
“He said he thinks his father took that password with him to the grave because he didn’t think his son would know what to do with it. Ain’t that some bullshit? Sam Sr. loved his kid, loved him something fierce. If he were here right now…whew, don’t get me started.”
“Death can change people’s perception of what is and what seems to be.” Ryan crossed his arms, feeling cold to the core. Was Sam really hurting that badly? And here he was, sneaking around the base like Sherlock Holmes, when Sam probably needed him the most.
“Hey. None of this is your fault. Don’t get sad on me.” Rick sighed. “It just makes hurt a little to know how close he and I were, and now he won’t even speak to me because I try to tell him the truth. He’s just…”
Ryan nodded. “I want to help him, Rick. I love him.”
“And it would take a blind man not to see how much he loves you.” Rick patted his hand. “But you gotta answer my question now, Ryan. Why are you here? I don’t know how I can help you.”
“Yes. You can help me.” Ryan swallowed. “Do you know where Sam Sr. would have left a little black book when he died?”
“What did you just say?” Rick gave him a deadpan stare.
“So you do know what I’m talking about.”
“First off, how do you know about that? And secondly, why are you asking?” Rick threw up a wall between them. Gone was the small talk about broken hearts and Greek adventures.
“One, it doesn’t matter. And two, I’m trying to put a stop to this craziness once and for all.”
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific, son.” Rick leaned in, narrowing his eyes. “What do you want with the book?”
Ryan leaned in closer. “I want him to save the world, and if that book has answers, I want them.”
“With an appointment book? That’s a little farfetched, Ryan. This isn’t some epic adventure novel. This is real life and people can get hurt when their loved ones meddle in the wrong places.”
“Is that so? And you know because?”
“Because I’ve had that damn book for over fifteen years and it doesn’t have a fucking thing in it other than Sam’s scribble shit.” Rick pounded a fist on the counter. “What are you playing at? Did Sam ask you to do this? Is he that scared to ask for it himself? I’ve tried to give it to him, but he threw it in my face and told me to keep it, that it wasn’t anything to him.”
“Then you won’t mind giving it to me. If you love him like I think you do, and you want to help, you’ll hand over that book and act like I was never here.” Ryan was ready to crawl over the counter. He was so close. His sixth sense screamed at him. This was the next clue. He had to have the book.
Rick closed his eyes, letting out a heavy exhale. “It’s all I have of him, Ryan.” His eyes opened. “He was my best friend. He left it here on accident the night it happened.”
“The night he passed?” Ryan’s anger dulled, hearing the pain in Rick’s voice.
“Yes. I went to take it to him after I closed up, because he took it everywhere. Halfway there, I heard the alarms going off and Avery screaming orders over the speakers. When I got there, he was already gone.” Rick rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Rick. I really am.” Ryan reached over the counter and squeezed his hand. “But if that book holds anything, any little detail that might help us and you never gave me a shot, what good would that serve his memory? He wanted to help those people topside or he would have never taken the Commander position in the first place.”
“I’m telling you, Ryan, there isn’t one iota of information on the password in there.” Rick stubbornly backed away.
“That you could see anyway.” Ryan walked along the counter, following Rick. “Please, give me a shot here. If I don’t find anything, I’ll bring it right back. I promise.” His eyes checked the clock above Rick. It was well past midnight. Sam would start to search for him at any minute. His pulse raced.
“I don’t know you, Ryan. Why would I give up one of my most prized possessions to a stranger?” Rick stopped.
“Because you love Sam and you want what’s best for him, for all of us. And deep down you know I mean well and the thought that I may be onto something gives you a little bit of hope. That’s why.” Ryan pleaded with his eyes. “Please, Rick. I’ll beg if I have to.”
Rick stared at him for a minute. “Damn it.” He put his hands on his hips and started to pace. When he got to the end of the counter after three laps, he stopped. “I’ll give you a few days with it.”
Rick held up a hand. “If you don’t have it back by the end of the week, I’ll go to Sam myself and tell him what you’re up to. I’m doing this against my better judgment, because I hope to God you find something I didn’t, but I won’t have that boy’s heart broken all over again, even if he hates me. He finds out you’re sneaking around, poking into his past, even for the right reasons, and he’ll never talk to you again. And if he does fall to pieces, I’ll be right there at his back. Do you understand me?”
“Don’t let him find this, Ryan.” Rick reached into his back pocket and pulled out the book. “Don’t you dare.”
Ryan almost burst into tears as the book was slid over the counter. This was it, the Commander’s appointment book, the last key he had to the password. His fingers tingled when they touched the leather surface, gently picking it up. It was no bigger than his palm and well-worn with little dog-eared pages. He looked up at Rick.
“When I find what I’m looking for, and I know I will, I’ll make sure Sam understands how much you care.” He held up the book. “I know this was hard for you, and I know you don’t know me, but giving me this means more than you’ll ever know. Thank you.”
Rick bit the inside of his cheek, overcome with emotion. “Get out of here, Ryan. I think I’ve had enough for one night.”
“One week.” Ryan slid the book into the back of his jeans, covering the top with his hoodie.
“One week,” Rick agreed. “Go.”
Ryan turned around and walked out of the Commissary as fast as he could. His footsteps echoed in the hallway. The cameras moved with him and the speakers crackled.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Ryan.” Avery came over the system. “And I hope you can run like the wind. Sam just stepped out of your rooms.”
“Shit.” Ryan pumped his legs, arms bent as he ran as fast as he could. His boots squeaked, sliding around corners and racing from wing to wing. The SD cards jostled around in his pockets and the book slid around at his back. His lungs were near bursting as he came to the double doors of his wing. He pushed them open, almost running right into Sam.
His lover’s strong hands grabbed him around the arms. Sam’s dark brows narrowed. “Where have you been? I called Benny and he said Jarum came back almost an hour ago.”
“I-I checked in with Avery after we finished in the storeroom.” His eyes flicked to the camera nearest him. “I ran back because I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Why didn’t Avery call me herself?” Sam’s eyes were suspicious.
“I-I don’t know. I’m sorry, Sam.” Shit, he thought. Sam was going to find out. He wasn’t a very good liar. Jarum always said so. His face would always give him away.
“Sir,” Avery interrupted. Sam glared at the camera. “I’m sorry not to notify you sooner. I wanted to show Ryan how well he tested today on the typing program. I didn’t mean to keep him so long. Forgive me.”
Sam relaxed, pulling Ryan into his chest. “Thank you, Avery. A little sooner next time would be nice. I was worried.” His hands moved lower on Ryan’s back. Ryan stiffened.
“I’m sorry again, Sir. Have a good night.”
“You too, Avery.” Sam looked down at Ryan. “I’m sorry for being overprotective. I know you don’t need me to stress you out any more than you already are.”
“It’s okay.” Ryan pulled back. “I’m just tired.”
“Me too. Rain check on…you know?” Sam gave him a lopsided smile.
Ryan blushed, still nervous. “Sure.”
“Let’s go to bed. I’m beat.” Sam put an arm around his shoulder, leading him into their rooms.
Ryan sent a wide eyed look at the camera. He mouthed thank you to Avery before going inside. Now his only problem was where to hide his new treasures so Sam wouldn’t find them, because if Sam did find them, Ryan could kiss his heart goodbye. There was no going back now. He had to find the answers. His heart and the lives of every person topside depended on it.
TO BE CONTINUED…