Hey everyone! I hope you're enjoying the mystery angle of this story. We're all rooting for Ryan to find the password before Sam finds out what he's up to, aren't we? Let's see what he gets himself into this week. :) Have a great day everyone and I'll talk to you soon.
HEART FOR TRADE: WEEK 20
A week had passed since Jarum’s first day of training. He did his best to hide his frustration and jealousy over Ryan’s surpassing skills. And then there was the strange nervousness he’d noticed in Ryan all week. Jarum had thought they were back to normal. He’d been forgiven and forgiven in turn, but every time he tried to talk with Ryan in private, his friend always had an excuse or a place to be. It hurt a little.
It was obvious Ryan hadn’t forgiven him completely or was just uncomfortable confiding in him now that he had Sam. So on top of earning Ryan’s friendship back, he had to try and work through his assignments. A complete failure on his part because he could barely read the words, let alone copy them into his notebook to Avery’s satisfaction. His most dreaded secret was coming to light. Jarum couldn’t write and up until now, Ryan had been the only one who knew.
While Avery had been patient when she found out, giving him tricks and helping him sound out words as he tried to scribble them down on paper, he felt emasculated and was embarrassed. And when Avery finally called it quits for the day, Jarum hurriedly retreated to his room to work out his defeat in private. He didn’t have much time before Benny got back and he wanted to practice as much as he could. He couldn’t let Benny find out.
He didn’t want to be judged anymore. They’d worked past a lot of things in the last week. Benny had agreed to no longer call him a topsider, assuring him he had only meant it in technicality, but Jarum still preferred not to hear it. Benny had been more gentle and compassionate with him lately, being very touchy and intimate in bed and out. He’d even held his hand in the hallway, in front of everyone. Jarum had never felt so wanted before. He had a place. He had someone to come back to, someone of his very own.
And now he dreaded telling Benny about his handicap. It would change things, his inability to function as an adult, barely able to get though his assignments. He’d only slipped by lately because of the instructional audio and the corresponding video tutorials Avery gave them. But come next week, they’d be doing their assignments under Avery’s tutorship without either tools. He would be screwed and become the laughing stock of the base. He couldn’t let it happen. He wanted to make Benny proud. He didn’t want to be the stupid partner of one of the smartest men on the base. Jarum just couldn’t handle that.
He pressed his pencil to the paper, glancing at his open assignment book. Their homework was to copy a series of instructions, teaching them how to login to the database on their own, and run a routine check on their computer. The list was twenty bullet points long. He’d only been able to copy the first one so far and even that had taken all the focus he could manage. He wanted to cry, to throw the damn book across the room, but he had to continue, even if he couldn’t read what he’d written in the first place. His handwriting was terrible, like a child had scribbled across the top of the page.
Instead of giving in to his anger, Jarum calmed down and proceeded to sound out the next instruction.
“Open,” he drew out, “the… log… in… ssss.” He leaned in to look at the text closer. “Ssss…c. I don’t know.”
He rubbed his nose on his arm, getting flustered. The door to the bedroom opened and his mouth sputtered for an immediate excuse. Benny threw his jacket on the chair, unzipping his one piece technician’s jumper.
“Hey.” He smiled. “How was your day?” Benny crossed the distance between them, kissing Jarum on the forehead.
“Fine.” Jarum slammed the book shut, trying to shove his notebook underneath it.
“Avery’s got you doing homework, huh?” Benny chuckled. “She’s a little back breaker, that one.”
“She’s fine.” Jarum gasped when Benny’s hand caught his.
“What’s wrong? You’re jumpy. Did you break something again?” Benny grinned. “It’s okay, Jar. I break shit all the time.”
“I didn’t break anything.” Jarum pulled his hand away.
Benny frowned, letting his open jumper hang around his hips. His sweaty chest caught Jarum’s eye. “Okay. Did you need some help with this?” Benny pulled the notebook out of Jarum’s clutches.
“Stop. I don’t need any…” Jarum hung his head as Benny scanned his paper.
“No offense, but your handwriting is…”
“I know!” Jarum pulled the spiral notebook back into his lap, near tears. “Just leave me alone.”
“I’m gonna take a shower.” Jarum hopped up from the bed, bringing his books with him.
Benny cut him off, crossing his arms. “With your books?”
“Come on, Jar. What’s going on?”
Jarum bit his lip and backed away.
“Jarum, what is it?” When he got no response, Benny sighed and held his hands up. “I’m trying here, Jar. You have to talk to me. I promise I won’t get mad at you, whatever it is. We can work through it. Okay?”
Jarum shook his head. “I’m not stupid.”
“It’s not a trick.”
“No. I mean I’m not stupid like everyone thinks. I just never had any of this.” He looked down at his books. “I didn’t have an education like you did.”
Benny’s brows furrowed. “And no one blames you for that. You worked with what you had and you did an excellent job, Jarum. You’re very smart.”
“Not like you guys. Not like Ryan.” Jarum looked up, eyes full of tears. “I can’t do it, Benny.”
“Can’t do what?” Benny took Jarum’s moment of stillness to move in. He plucked the books from Jarum’s hands and set them on the bed. His hands pulled Jarum closer, content to hold his partner close for a minute. “It’s okay. Settle down.”
“I can’t write and I can barely read.” Jarum held his breath. He had to tell Benny. He couldn’t go around holding it in. It would drive him crazy in the end and split them apart because that’s what he did, got angry and pushed people away. He didn’t want Benny to go anywhere.
Benny held on tighter. “I know.”
“I never told you I couldn’t write.” Jarum struggled to see Benny’s eyes from his position, locked tight within his lover’s strong arms.
“A few days ago, I handed you that note to take to the Commissary and asked you if you needed anything else. Then I remembered we needed a light bulb. I told you to add it to the list. You made a scribble at the bottom and took off, but I saw it, Jarum. It was just a squiggly line.” Benny continued to hold him in place. “I didn’t want to embarrass you, but then Avery mentioned it to me at lunch one day. She asked if I’d noticed you were having trouble and that it would be a good idea if I helped you. And I want to help you, Jar. You don’t have to be ashamed. It’s not your fault.”
“I am ashamed!” Jarum removed himself from Benny’s arms and sat on the bed. “I feel like such a dumbass.”
“But you’re not.” Benny joined him, comforting Jarum with an arm around his shoulders. “This is only a minor setback and the only way you’ll be a dumbass is if you don’t let someone help you. To me, it takes a strong man to admit his shortcomings and do something about them. Did you think you’d embarrass me, Jarum, is that it? Did you think I wouldn’t want someone who wasn’t at the same level as me?”
Benny sighed. “I’m not going to lose you over your inability to read and write. At one point or another, we’ve all been there. Your time is just a little later in life and you know what? Fuck what anyone else thinks if they want to be like that, which I promise you won’t.”
“It’s not that easy. I’ve tried sounding the words out. I’ve tried copying the letters. It’s not working.” Jarum slumped.
“Not right now. It takes time to get it right. Rome wasn’t built in a day, Jar.”
“Huh?” Jarum shot him a confused look.
“Never mind. Let me get changed and you chill out a minute. When I’m done, we’ll go through your homework.”
“I’m not a child. You shouldn’t have to help me.” Jarum hid his eyes again behind his hair.
“No. I’m your partner and I love you. That’s why I’m going to help you. Because if this was me, I’d damn well hope you were there when I needed you.” Benny kissed his head and got up to change, leaving Jarum to think that one through. He couldn’t imagine Benny in his place. But if Benny ever needed him, even for a second, he’d be right there.
When Benny came back out of the bathroom, cleaned up and dressed in his sweatpants, Jarum was staring at his note book again. Benny settled in against the head of the bed, resting his back to the wall. “Come here.” He spread his legs, patting the space between them.
Jarum shamefacedly crawled over and put his back to Benny’s chest. Finally comfortable, he opened his workbook and his notebook side by side over his lap. “First off,” Benny pressed a kiss to his shoulder, “I see you didn’t write your name at the top of your homework. Do you know how?”
Benny covered Jarum’s hand with his, tightening their hold over the pencil. “Then let me teach you.”
As the first j appeared on the page, Jarum smiled softly.
“Now you try by yourself,” Benny encouraged. “Start with the bottom part. Pull the pencil straight down and curve it to the left. That’s it, very good.” He rubbed Jarum’s shoulders. “Now top it off. You got this.”
“I did it.” Jarum grinned.
“Yeah, you did.” Benny leaned in and kissed Jarum. “Now let’s try another one.”
“Okay.” Jarum flushed with joy, leaning back into his partner’s chest. For the first time all week he felt like he could really do this. With Benny, he could do anything.
The weekend came and Ryan was excited to learn the base would be taking it off to run a full system update, which Avery had come up with. It would take a while to defragment, she’d said, and then input the glitch fixes she’d spotted over the past month. She was astonishingly good at her job, in the sense of spotting all of the tiny errors on top of her daily tasks. Ryan wouldn’t have the first clue what to do in her place.
Updates aside, the weekend left him with free time. He hadn’t been able to do much sleuthing this week. Avery had kept him busy with homework, running errands, and having long drawn out talks at night over what he was doing in his spare time and ways to cover his tracks. In such a short time, Avery had become like a sister to him. In fact, she reminded him of his older sisters at home. She was knowledgeable, task-oriented, but always had time to give him advice in the most no-nonsense way she could manage. She wanted him to succeed and she’d put her relationship and career with Sam on the line to help him. If he was found out by Sam, Avery had assured him she would have his back. She was that confident he was onto something.
However, at the moment, he let all of his worries and thoughts of the password slip away. Sam had made a nest of blankets on the floor of the treasure room for them, allowing him to snuggle up to Sam’s warm body as they watched the first motion picture he’d ever seen. Sipping on homemade beer, they lay on their stomachs and waited for the previews to pass, or Sam did. Ryan was enthralled by the short introductions to other films he’d never seen.
“You think the previews are cool, wait for the movie. I can’t wait to see what you think.” Sam chuckled and took a sip.
“What is it called again?”
“Lord of the Rings. This is only the first movie. There are three in total, of this series anyway. I mean, there are more after these, but to me they’re a little unnecessary. I read the books when I was younger and The Hobbit movie didn’t do the book justice in my opinion. Then they moved on to another movie, The Silmarillion, which was based on a partly finished manuscript from the author of the original books. So naturally it sucked, because half of it was purely conceived by the script writers and director. It was nothing like an original Tolkien story. They should have just quit while they were ahead.” Sam snorted.
“Whoa. What? There are books for a movie?” Ryan looked wide-eyed at the screen.
“Of course. There are tons of them. A lot of movies near the end of the digital age were based on books, practically all of them.”
Ryan grinned like a little boy. “Do you have some of these books?”
“Yes. They’re around here somewhere. I keep a lot of classics and Tolkien is definitely a classic. That’s why I thought you would enjoy these movies. They’re epic fantasies and I know how much you like to lose yourself in those books. I know you’ll get a kick out of this.” Sam nudged him. “It’s starting.”
The screen went black. A woman’s voice narrated something about the beginning and the end, moving on to show the creation of rings for dwarves, fairies, and humans. Ryan held his breath, utterly spellbound watching the characters play out the introduction. As the story continued he cowered under Sam’s arm. A raging battle took place with a spiky giant demon and the humans. If he’s ever pictured Satan, this guy was surely him.
“It’s not real,” Sam whispered.
“Shhh! I know that, but he’s fucking scary.” Ryan peeked out from under Sam, pulling the blankets around him.
“You think he’s ugly? Just wait for the Orcs.” Sam laughed behind his hair.
“Don’t tell me anything else!”
“Okay, okay, I promise.” Sam pulled him closer, snuggling in for the movie. “I’m glad we could do this,” he whispered.
“Me too.” Ryan smiled, pressing a small kiss to Sam’s lips.
They spent the rest of the day watching all three movies to Ryan’s delight and afterwards, Sam made good on his rain check. This time they got a little better. This time it was in a nice warm bed and lasted a lot longer. This time Ryan had the chance to please Sam. Now lying naked in bed, Ryan smiled, draped over Sam’s chest. He could get used to this.
In the middle of the night, the heat kicked on, waking Ryan from a perfect sleep. Sam snored into his pillow, assuring Ryan he was dead to the world. Even half awake, Ryan saw the light from the bathroom and bit his lip. This would be the only time he had to look at the SD cards. And this time, he knew Sam wasn’t faking sleep. He knew the difference now after a week in bed together. A little guilty, but ready to make his next discovery, Ryan slipped from bed without a sound. He went to the bathroom and pulled on his pajama bottoms and a hoodie from the hook behind the door, and threw a bathrobe around his shoulders for extra warmth.
Crouching down at the sink, he patted around until his hand found the plastic bag taped behind the porcelain and pulled on the tape. The small black book and the cards jostled around in the bag until he securely lifted them away in his palm. Now that he knew how to properly work the projector, he had a mission. Tonight he would watch the movies and see what the hell was in the little black book, left behind by the former Commander
He cringed his way through opening the secret door and watching it shut behind him. He tiptoed to the treasure room, closed the door, and popped in the first card to view. Ryan waited for the menu to come on screen, fiddled with the arrow keys on Sam’s remote and finally pressed play.
A movie file began to play, one of several on the card from the looks of it. A woman with long dark hair sat on a couch in a room that looked very much like the one he was in. Only this room wasn’t filled with treasures. This room looked slightly more family oriented. The woman smiled and waved at the camera. Her bright green eyes reminded him of Sam. Ryan knew this had to be Sam’s mom, Mona. They shared the same eyes, nose, and hair. As well as the same shy smile that indicated they were truly happy, but overwhelmed by anyone knowing how much.
Ryan tucked a blanket under his feet, cuddling up to watch. A tiny Sam ran around the floor, occasionally stopping to bat at his mother’s knees.
“What did you find?” She leaned down, taking a book out of Sam’s chubby fingers. He couldn’t be more than three, and Ryan fought not to squeal over how adorable he looked. “A book? Is this for me?”
Sam nodded, shying away with a giggle. He raced over to the person behind the camera, attempting to crawl into their lap. “You’re full of it today, aren’t you?” A male voice laughed. He held his hand out, helping Sam up into the chair. “I don’t get a book too?”
Sam hid his face in the man’s chest, still laughing. Finally, he reached up to the camera, smiling. “Daddy.”
“You don’t want to watch a movie with Benny? I thought you wanted me to take you over there?” Sam Sr. ran a hand over his son’s dark hair.
Sam shook his head. “Play.”
Sam Sr. handed the camera to Mona and got on the floor with his son. He rolled a red ball over the carpet, expecting his son to roll it back, but Sam kicked it instead. What three year old wouldn’t? The ball flew across the room, hitting a wood panel propped up in the corner.
“Sam, what did I tell you about kicking the ball?” His mother scolded.
Mona crouched down, putting the camera on its side. The view remained on the corner of the room. The panel was now lying on the ground and Sam Sr. quickly tried to cover the wall again. But not before Ryan saw what had been behind it. A safe was buried within the wall, clear as day. Upon closer inspection he noticed Sam Sr. trying to align the piece of paneling with tiny hinges.
“I told you to get that fixed last week, honey. What if it falls on Sam?” Mona’s hand slid in front of the camera, reaching for her crying son. “Rick could help you.”
“The point of the safe is that no one but us knows it’s here. I trust Rick, but I’d rather not. I promise to fix it tomorrow.”
Mona picked up the camera again. Sam’s little hand covered the lense. “Don’t touch, baby.”
Sam continued to cry. The lens cleared again, showing Sam Sr. back on the floor, putting his hands out. “It’s okay, buddy. Daddy’s not mad at you.”
Little Sam took off running for his dad. His hands went around Sam Sr.’s neck and the Commander stood. “It’s okay.”
“Honey, why don’t I take him? I know you have a ton of work to do and I cleared off your desk already.” Mona zoomed in on Sam’s face, his eyes shutting as his father rocked him.
“Now why would I want to be holed up in my office all day when I can do this?” He kissed Sam’s head.
Mona’s appreciative hum made Sam Sr. smile. “Why indeed.”
Ryan looked away from the screen. His heart beat a mile a minute as he processed the information he’d been given. Sam had mentioned his father blocking off the secret hallway years ago. It hadn’t always been a secret. At one time, it had been the office and living quarters of the Commander and his family. So if the room featured on the video was indeed in that hallway and Mona referred to the office, which was now Sam’s room of insanity, then that could only mean the room in question was right next door, the room Sam now used to store his parent’s old things. And if that room was still there, then who was to say the safe wasn’t still there also? What if Sam didn’t have a clue about it after his father shut down with his mother’s passing? What if Sam didn’t know a lot of things about his father, one being Sam Sr. had loved him very much. Ryan had enough proof of that in the video.
Ryan stood, stretching quickly before he shut down the projector and put the card back in the case. He’d found something. He didn’t want to waste what precious time he had watching all the videos when he already had another clue. That was pushing his luck. Sam could wake up at any minute and discover him gone. He’d already been through that before and once was enough. Although his previous escapade had ended nicely, he knew this time wouldn’t. Sam would be beyond furious with him.
He made sure to clean up after himself and shut off the lights, leaving the room exactly as he’d left it. The next step was clear. He had to get into the second room. He had to see if the safe was still there. He thought about leaving the entire ordeal until tomorrow, but what if he didn’t get the chance to come back? It would only take second to see. The walls would still be the same, the room too, or so he hoped.
The tinkle of his mother’s necklace scared him half to death. He’d put it on recently, scared he would lose it somewhere, and now it was a small comfort, almost like she was with him now. The more he thought about it, the more he felt like all of them were with him now—Sam’s father, Mona, his mother. They were giving him clues from the other side, offering him what they could in hopes of saving the world. He smiled to himself.
“I read too much,” he whispered and opened the second door.
TO BE CONTINUED…