This happy ending is dedicated to Janelle, who was always there with an encouraging word and a contageous spirit that made me smile. Her stories will be missed. Her presence made an impact on so many people, myself included, and she may have left us here, but she will never be forgotten.
~This is for you, girl. ♥
OUT OF MY MIND FINALE
Link tipped his beer to his lips, taking a nice long swig before putting it back on the table. His eyes were a little hazy, but he was still holding his own in the game. He noticed Casey had barely touched his first beer. A ring of condensation pooled around the bottom of the bottle as Casey studied his cards like he was taking the SATs.
“You’re not getting graded,” Link muttered. “Kick back. Take a drink.”
Casey’s mouth twitched with a hint of a smile. “I’m not good at this. I’ve never played poker before.” He put his cards face down on the table.
“Never played poker before?” Pop Olivette stared him down. “That’s bull. Everyone’s played poker.”
“Casey doesn’t like to gamble,” his mother explained, reaching for a pretzel. “I want to take him to the casino for his twenty-first, but he’s not having any of it.”
“Good Lord, boy. Turning down a trip to the casino? You’re crazy.” Pop chuckled, scratching his beard. “My wife, Willa, never lets me go, says it’s a sin to put my hard earned money in the hands of someone else for no good reason.”
“It’s okay, Casey, I’m not a fan either.” Jamie pulled a card and smiled at his hand. “Willa’s right. There’s no since in wasting money, but we’re just playing with plastic tonight.” He pushed his chips into the pot.
“All in?” Noah snorted. “Someone’s feelin lucky.”
“Oh God, don’t you two start.” Mason groaned. “Better cover your eyes, Case. It’s about to be a suck-fest in here.”
Matt elbowed him, smiling. “Jealous?”
“I do just fine, thank you very much. I just don’t see the point in slobbering all over you in public is all. And in front of pop, no thanks.”
“Ain’t nothing I haven’t seen before.” Pop pushed two chips in, readjusting his hand. “Adam, you’re turn.”
“Slobbering? Jamie, are you a dog now?” Matt held a hand over his mouth to keep the beer in as he laughed.
Jamie stuck his tongue out at Mason. “Woof.”
Casey shook his head, face flushing. “You guys are crazy.”
“You have no idea.” Adam laid his hand out. “Ace high flush, mother fuckers.”
“Ah hell.” Jamie put his cards down, scowling. “I had it.”
“No you didn’t, baby. You only have two aces.” Noah pointed out. “Guess you and Casey should take some lessons.”
“Don’t you make us sound stupid.” Jamie nodded at Casey. “We may not know how to play cards, but we got skills, don’t we?”
“Sure.” Casey shrugged.
“Kid, you need to drink some more. You’re as tight as a bow string.” Mason nudged him. “Take it down, chug it.”
“What?” Casey looked around.
“He means finish your bottle. It’s probably warm by now.” Link winked.
“I hate beer,” Casey finally admitted.
Kim grinned. “Then lucky for you, I brought something of my own.” She pulled a flask out of her shirt pocket, and handed it to him. “Southern Comfort, rather appropriate I think.”
Casey unscrewed the cap, took a sip, and made a face. He shook his head, handing it back to her.
“Damn, woman, you just got it all figured out, huh?” Perry rolled his eyes. “I tell you what, though, you ain’t about to drink me down tonight. I’ve got your number.” He downed the rest of his beer and stood.
“Keep telling yourself that.” Aunt Kim gestured for all the cards to be given to her. She made a pile and began to shuffle them. “But I don’t think so.”
Perry growled. “Oh yes I will.”
“Perry, we have enough shit going on without me having to call you an ambulance. Sit down and have one more beer. Then it’s coffee for you.”
“Yeah, listen to your wifey. He knows what’s doing.” She kept her eyes on the cards, grinning.
Adam gave her a look. “I’m going to take that as a compliment, seeing as how we’re blood, and you wouldn’t say anything to try to upset me.”
“Good. You’d know if I was trying to stick you where it hurts.”
“Like that time you told my mama she needed to stop making clothes out of her curtains?” Adam crossed his arms.
Kim met his stare. “Exactly like that. And she does, make clothes out of her curtains. Just so you know.”
The entire table was busting a gut, even Link who was getting into the scene more than he thought he would. “Come on, I think Dove is sweet.”
Kim snorted. “You wouldn’t say that if you grow up with a sister who didn’t shave her legs or wear deodorant. You’d think I was bunking with a teenage boy half the time. And good God almighty, you should have seen her prom dress. I went to prom at another school just so I didn’t have to be seen with her Mother Nature inspired train wreck.”
Casey’s mom, Trish, howled with laughter. “It was so ugly! Never in my life have I seen something so hideous. She glued leaves and dried flowers to a dress slip. It was like she was a walking house plant. Mama had to vacuum out her room for weeks just to get rid of all the dead greenery.”
“She’s just eccentric,” Adam defended, hiding his smile.
“She’s just Dove.” Kim laughed with her sister. “And we have to love her for it.”
“Damn straight.” Trish knocked their beers together, giggling. “Ain’t nobody who could replace her.”
Casey looked at Link, sharing his grin. Trish’s words were truer than she knew. Casey slid his hand under the table, squeezing Link’s knee. He was about to say something when his phone went off in his pocket.
“Who is it?” Link stiffened, suddenly pulled out of the banter around him.
Kim narrowed her eyes. “Casey?”
Casey sighed in relief when he saw who it was. “Gunner and Roy are back at the cabin. They just want some fresh towels.”
“Thank God.” Adam sighed. “I thought for a minute…”
“But it wasn’t.” Perry kissed his temple. “I hate this.”
“Me too,” Trish whispered. The smiles faded all around.
“It’s okay, mom. It’s just Gunner.” Casey swallowed and stood, looking at Adam. “The towels are in the main house, right?”
“In the storage cabinet in the laundry room. I’ll just get them for you.” Adam stood.
“No. It’s cool. I got this. I wanted to grab my charger from the front desk anyway.” Casey waved him off.
“I’ll go with you.” Link stood, stumbling a bit.
“I don’t think so.” Casey grinned. “Probably couldn’t walk that far if you tried, and there are cops crawling all over the place. I’ll be just fine.” He gave Link a little kiss, blushing at the chorus of cat calls going up around the table.
“You check in with Beauchamp and let him know where you’re headed.” Pop pointed his finger.
“Yes, sir.” Casey nodded. He waved, leaving the dining room then texted Gunner he would be right there.
One deputy was holding a flashlight over the hood of Beauchamp’s car. A map of Shermin was spread out over it and a congregation of uniforms was huddled around the Sherriff as he rattled off commands. The meeting looked to be pretty serious. Casey had already had enough serious for one day and quietly strode down the well-lit path leading around the lake. He knew there were officers patrolling the area. He could even see the swing of multiple flashlights walking through the woods. He felt safe, holding a bundle of soft towels, going down the trail with only the warm night and the sound of his flip flops to accompany him.
There wasn’t any need to panic. If Pedro or his dad were out there, an officer would spot them, and the game would be over. Link was a bit tipsy and having fun, tucked away in a crowd of rough southern boys. His mom was carrying on, drinking and having fun with her sister, something she hadn’t done in a long time. And he was going to visit with Gunner and Roy and see how their little excursion had gone. Maybe the spa was nice, he pondered. Maybe if the price was right, he could treat himself and Link to a day over there too. A smile on his face, he clicked open the private gate to the deluxe cabin, and continued down a smooth stone stairway.
The deluxe cabin was nestled in a thick patch of woods, secluded from the other guests. The rate for a night was just a little more expensive compared to the others cabins, but completely worth it if one were just to look inside. Casey’s jaw had dropped the first time he’d seen it. The place was more like some five-star cabin in the middle of a Colorado resort, not at a haven in the backwoods of Kentucky. A private donor had arranged for the cabin to be built after the festival last year, Adam had told him. They had been so grateful and the only stipulation was that fifty percent of the nightly income be donated to charity benefiting homeless youth, whether they be LGBT or not. The deluxe cabin was a beautiful little story to Casey, and to know that Gunner and Roy were finally sharing it together made him even happier.
Frosted sconces burned outside the polished oak door to the cabin. All the curtains were pulled shut. Casey stood there wondering if he should text Gunner first or not. Maybe they were in the middle of something. Maybe they’d forgotten all about the towels in a matter of fifteen minutes. He looked at his phone and then looked up for some reason, amazed at how the stars were still able to be seen through such a thick canopy of trees.
“Just knock first, I guess.” He chuckled to himself and raised his fist.
Pop Olivette moseyed down the porch steps, adjusting his jeans, which were sitting under his gut. He yawned, patting his stomach full of turkey bacon sandwiches, and held up a hand to Beauchamp.
“Plenty of food in there if your boys are hungry. I’d offer you a beer, but I know how ya’ll can’t be drinkin on the job.” Pop’s boots hit the ground.
“Thanks, Pop. I’ll let them know.” Beauchamp tipped his hat.
“Sure thing. You make any headway on Belgard yet?”
Beauchamp sighed. “He’s definitely here. We’ve got him on traffic cams from New Orleans clear over here. He was driving his partner’s car, and we have a feeling Shane, the partner, is with him. Partners tend to form a bond closer than brothers and Shane won’t be letting Joe take the fall by himself. I can only hope he’s trying to talk Joe down from the ledge, but my gut says they’re both cut from the same cloth. I couldn’t very well roam the streets with a man like Joe Belgard for over a decade without reporting him at least once if I was up to no good myself. And Shane talked Joe up in his report like he was the pope or something. So it seems we got two of them out there.”
Pop rubbed his eyes of his drunken fuzzies. “I hate it that those poor boys are terrified to even walk around here. I know Casey says he’s fine, trying to be strong for Link, but that’s his daddy out there gunning for him. If there weren’t cops crawling round here like squirrels on trees, I wouldn’t have let that boy outta my sight.”
“What do you mean?” Beauchamp put his flashlight on his car, walking to pop.
“Ah, it’s nothing. Casey went to give them boys out at the deluxe cabin some towels. I think we overwhelmed him because he just about ran out that door. He checked in with you, right?”
Beauchamp inhaled sharply. “No. I haven’t seen him since he went inside. Pop…” The Sherriff looked off into the woods. “Those boys out in the big cabin, they haven’t been back through the barricade checkpoint all day. Come to think of it, none of the guests have even left in twenty-four hours.”
“Then how would they text…” Pop gasped and ran back up the stairs as fast his legs would let him. “Call that shit in, Beauchamp. Belgard’s out there!”
Pop bumped into Link, who was holding open the screen door. Link couldn’t breathe. He tried to form words for Pop, but his voice didn’t seem to work.
Breathless, Pop clapped a hand to his shoulder. “It’s all right, son. We got this handled.” Pop raced into the house.
The screen door slammed shut, leaving Link to stare at the chaos that broke out in front of the house. Officers paired off, running at full speed after being given orders from Beauchamp. Even as the Shermin boys flew out of the house, shotguns in hand, Link couldn’t just stand there. He eyed the railing. His mind screamed in agony. Belgard was out there and he was going to kill the only man Link had ever loved.
“Over my dead body,” Link hissed, swimming above the alcohol. He silently went to the edge of the porch, hiked his leg up, and jumped over the railing. He took off down the side of the house. In the cover of darkness, he ran for all he worth through the trees. He had to get to Casey. He had to save him.
The door creaked open to the cabin. Casey frowned. “Hello?” He leaned in, searching for Gunner or Roy. “Gunner? Roy? You guys in here? I have your towels.”
He took a few steps into the cabin and set the towels on the chair. “Hello?”
The door slammed behind him. Casey whirled around to see his dad standing there with a gun pointed his direction. He gasped, backing up immediately. “Dad, please. Please don’t hurt me.” Casey put his hands up. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“The fuck you didn’t. You ruined my life, faggot. You took everything from me.” Joe stepped forward as Casey cowered away. “Why couldn’t you just keep your damn mouth shut? Huh! Don’t you realize what you did?”
“I didn’t want to live that way anymore. You can live your own life. What you did is all on you, dad.” Casey bumped into the couch, searching for a weapon in plain sight.
“What I did?” Joe sneered. “Oh boy, you got some balls on you.”
“Joe! They got us on the radio. They know about them.” Shane ran into the living room and pointed to the bed. “We gotta get the fuck out of here. Come on, grab the kid and let’s go!”
“Shit.” Joe stomped over to Casey, putting the gun to his temple. “Move it. Shane grab Sanchez. Leave the other two.”
Casey cried out in terror when he was dragged past the bed. Gunner and Roy squirmed to get free, knowing once Casey went outside, he was never coming back. “No!” Casey reached for them, but his dad kneed him in the back.
“I said move.” The gun pressed into his skin. Casey was forced to keep stumbling along.
“I could talk to mom. You could have the house and the car. We don’t need them. You won’t ever hear from us again. Please, I’m begging you, dad.”
All Casey could think of was Link and how he would never see him again. Just when he’d found his place in life, his home, it was all going to be ripped away because of his dad’s hatred. He wouldn’t go down that easy. He’d fight to get back to Link. He had to spare Link the grief of his death. He had to touch Link. He had to hold him. He had to share their life together. This was not the end for Casey.
Casey felt warm tears glide down his cheeks, not for himself, but for Gunner and Roy. This entire time they’d been his dad’s prisoner. On the one weekend they’d finally begun to unravel their true feelings for each other, this had to happen. It was all his fault, and at the same time it wasn’t. Casey couldn’t control the chain of events leading up to this moment. He'd come here for a reason, they all had. His was to finally be free of his father. And one way or another, he would be. He just didn’t want it to be after he died.
He eyed the man being shoved out the back door in front of him. They’d called him Sanchez, as in Pedro Sanchez, the man who’d made Link’s life a living hell. But for now, Casey couldn’t view him as a bully. He had to view him as an ally. Pedro was now a victim too, probably played by his dad in whatever crazy endgame fantasy Joseph Belgard had cooked up. Casey ran into Pedro’s back, grunting as his hair was fisted by his dad.
“We’re heading for the water. Anyone screams for help and they get a bullet in the head. Got it?” His dad’s breath was hot on his neck. “Good. Now run, run like your life depends on it, because it does.”
Pedro shot him a terrified look, shadowed in the soft light pouring out of the kitchen window. Something similar to regret and guilt was made clear and Casey gave him a tiny nod. He flicked his eyes back, signaling to Pedro he was on his side, and tore off into the night. He knew this property better than his dad. He could guide them to the water, but not in the direction his father had planned.
Casey’s lungs filled with air. Pedro’s loud footfalls crashed through the trees next to him while Shane and his dad were hot on their heels. They were being hunted. They both knew that once they reached the water there was no turning back. His dad and Shane would kill them both and wait until they could take out the rest of them from afar. Casey knew how his dad worked. Joe was now being pushed into a corner. His anger would peak and he would use the only weapon he had, his anger. He would go down in a blaze of glory, something he seemed to want. Casey wouldn’t give him the chance.
He took a sharp left, heading for the creek with the abandoned house. Pedro hissed, whacking a swarm of thin branches out of the way and followed. Casey knew, from the direction they were headed, that if his dad yelled for them to stop, he’d alert the cops and they’d come running. His only option was to reach the next lighted trail, which was on the other side of the abandoned house.
He heard his dad’s angry growl. He heard them closing in. He saw moonlight filter through the trees, reflected from the lake, and shot Pedro a look. They were almost there. Once they reached the other side of the house, they could scream for help in the safety of the lighted path. Shouting rang through the woods. Flashlights bounced around in the dark. Casey could feel safety reaching for him. His chest burned. There was a cramp in his side. His thighs were on fire, but he kept running. Pedro was sobbing, a blubbering mess trying to keep up. Casey put out a hand the moment they reached the clearing and yanked the crying man with him.
“Stop right there!” Joe gave up and screamed.
The click of his gun was deafening. Shane’s gasp almost made Casey stop. And then came the loudest smack Casey had ever heard. His gut clenched, and in his moment of shock, he turned. Pedro pressed into Casey, horrified, short intakes of breath rhythmically sounding behind him. Link stood in front of the house, a cracked piece of timber with nails sticking out of it raised above his head. Moonlight bathed his shaking form as he brought the wood down again with an anguished cry. Casey’s dad lay on the ground, twitching. His gun slipped from his hand. Blood wet his face and neck, leaking from the wound in his head.
Cops swarmed the front yard, surrounding Shane and Link. Shane immediately put his hands in the air, still holding his gun.
“Put the gun down and get on your knees with your hands above your head,” Beauchamp barked at Shane.
The Shermin boys pressed their guns into his back, forcing him to comply. “On your knees, you piece of shit,” Pop hissed. “Try and shoot me and I’ll make ground beef out of your head, what’s left of it.”
Shane fell to his knees, placing the gun in front of him. “I’m an officer. I’m working undercover on the Belgard case,” he tried.
“The fuck you are.” Perry kicked Shane in the back, pushing his head into the muddy grass with his boot. “Hands above your head, city boy.”
Deputy Gilhart moved in. “We got this, Perry. Thanks.”
Pop blocked his path. “No, Gilhart, we got this. We’ll give him back when we’re good and ready. I promise he’ll still be breathing. Can’t say much for that twisted fuck over there.”
Gilhart looked to Beauchamp for help, and only got a mischievous cut of the Sherriff’s eyes. Beauchamp turned his back, giving Shane over to Shermin for a little while. He put his gun in the holster on his hip and held up his hands. “Link, I need you to put that down and step away. He’s not gonna hurt Casey no more.”
“He was gonna take him away from me” Link sobbed, sucking in air. “I can’t let him do that.”
“Son, he ain’t even moving anymore. It’s gonna be okay. Just put down the wood and come over here.”
“He isn’t moving…” Link gasped and shrieked at the glassy stare in Joe Belgard’s eyes. He wasn’t moving because… “I killed him! Oh my God.” He chucked the timber into the yard and covered his mouth, falling to his knees.
“It was self-defense, Link. You didn’t do anything wrong,” Beauchamp assured him, trying to put a comforting hand on his shoulder. Link thrashed, screaming as he scattered away.
“Link!” Casey rushed him as soon as the deputies let him through. He fell to the ground, pulling Link into his chest.
Link clung to him, fingers digging into his back. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he sobbed over and over.
Casey turned them away from his dad’s lifeless eyes, holding onto Link for dear life. “It’s okay. It’s all okay now. I’m here.”
“I killed him. I’m so sorry, Casey. Please forgive me.”
Casey looked over Link’s shoulder, watching the beating Shane was getting before he closed his eyes. “There’s nothing to forgive. You saved my life. You over him, Link, it’ll always be you over him.”
They held each other, shaking, as their bodies tried to make sense of what had happened. Cops moved around them, buzzing with activity. Calls were made. Radios chirped everywhere. And eventually his mother’s arms wrapped around them both. Sirens blared. Shane was taken away, battered and bruised, bleeding all over. Beauchamp tried to console them, saving his questions for later. But Link and Casey stayed glued to each other, kneeling in the yard of the abandoned house. There was nothing they could say that they didn’t already feel or know. They just needed each other and time to heal.
When the stretcher hoisted his dad’s body into the air, and a sheet was laid over him, Casey started to cry. He was finally free.
Gunner winced, getting to his knees on the lawn. “I got another six flats of white and yellow in the truck bed.”
Ricky sighed. “I thought we were going with pink over here. Adam said pink. I don’t know why I even try.”
“Because you owe them both.” Gunner pointed his trowel at Ricky. “So shut up and get back to planting.”
“I still can’t believe Link didn’t press charges against Pedro,” Ricky whispered, slowing his hand over the dirt. “He was always such a good kid, so innocent, and I think that’s what I saw in him. It was what Pedro was missing after all of these years. He’d hardened over, you know? We’d lost that gentleness between us.”
Gunner cut his eyes over, hand gripping the trowel angrily until he realized Ricky wasn’t talking shit about Link like normal. “Why didn’t you just tell Pedro instead of getting with Link? You’re supposed to talk those kinds of things out. Pedro isn’t my favorite person, but you’re lucky as hell he stayed with you after what you did.”
“I know I am. Jesus, Gunner.” Ricky stabbed the dirt with his cultivator. “When I woke up and found out that psycho had Pedro…I’ve never felt fear like that before. I don’t know what I’d do without him, even yelling at me, the lack of sex…he’s always been there for me, even during the hard shit. I love him so much.”
Gunner scanned the yard until he found Roy with Perry, both of them working on painting the new dock white. His body relaxed, but he still tensed at the rope scars around Roy’s wrists and arms. “Then tell him that. You never know what could happen.”
Roy turned around, meeting his eyes. He lifted a hand and winked then started painting again.
“You tell him that yet?” Ricky followed Gunner’s stare.
“Yeah, I did.” Gunner cleared his throat, going back to the dirt.
“Good.” Ricky nodded. “I’m sorry you got mixed up in this mess. You’re a good guy. You didn’t deserve any of it.”
“No, but does anyone deserve half the shit that happens every single day? No, and I don’t want to dwell on it. I want to move on and be with him. You should too. You should tell that kid how sorry you are and how amazing he is and how much you love Pedro. And that you’ll try to be a better man from now on. Let Link see that. If anyone deserves, fuck that, needs good vibes right now, it’s him. That’s why I’m out here on my knees when my back is killing me, because when he comes back I want him to see how much he’s loved, both of them. Let’s give them that.” Gunner put a hand on Ricky’s shoulder. “Okay?”
“Okay.” Ricky cracked his back and stood. “I’m going to get the bigger plants. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Bring the big shovel while you’re at it.”
Ricky hopped over a strip of sod Mason was rolling out. He ducked out of the way for Pop and Noah carrying the new porch railing, finally dried a glossy white. When he reached the truck, he was swarmed by a mob of tiny old ladies, fussing with the plants.
“Are you crazy, boy, Hydrangeas on that corner? Do you have any idea how much them damn things spread? Those boys won’t know what hit him, let alone think about trimming them all the time. One plant, not ten, and certainly not mobbed all together.” The smallest woman thrust the landscape layout at him. “Azaleas go there, the white ones. Now get a move on.”
“I didn’t come up with this.” He held up the page. “I’m just planting.”
“Are you sassing me boy?” Granny Ella Mae wobbled closer with her walker, narrowing her eyes.
“Then what are you doing still standing here?”
Ricky dropped the page on the truck bed and grabbed two Azalea bushes, barely able to hold the large shovel wrapped up in his fingers. “Thanks?”
The group stayed quiet, waiting for him to leave. His brows rose and he turned on his heel, scampering back to Gunner.
“Home-wrecker,” Ella Mae hissed.
“Now, now, Ella, he’s doing his part.” Miss Merna put a hand on her shoulder. “Let him be. We have plenty to do anyhow.” She lifted the trunk onto the truck bed and opened it. “Let’s see. We’ve got curtains, linens, and who brought the towels? They ain’t here.”
Noah’s mama, Dee, held up a clear Tupperware box with the towels and bathroom supplies. “Got it.”
“Good. Jeanie, you’re on bathroom detail with Dee, and Louisa? You and Marcie are in the kitchen. The supplies are…well, hell, where did I put them?”
Matt smirked, stopping his jeep just shy of the group. He hopped out, unlocking the back door. “I got everything right here. Jamie and I just got back from the city. He’s coming in a second.” He peered around. “It’s looking good around here. I can’t believe they got the window guy to come around so fast.”
“It was meant to be is all.” Dee winked at him. “Baby, will you bring that stuff inside for the ladies? I got to get some lunch on before everyone starts to get hungry.”
“Sure thing, mama.” He gave her kiss on the cheek and started to unload the jeep.
It had been five weeks since his father’s death. Casey stared at his childhood home on Magazine Street. Stuffed between two other homes, painted a soft lavender with hunter green metalwork railings and posts, their old two story house seemed to have returned to its former glory. Instead of dreading going inside, instead of being terrified to look to the second story and see a ghost of himself staring out of his old bedroom window, Casey took Link’s hand and walked inside.
“It’s pretty, Case.” Link squeezed his hand. “You’re sure you want to do this? Your mom said you could—”
Casey ran a hand over the stained glass window of the front door, memorizing the fleur de lis that had greeted him since birth. “It’s a beautiful house, Link, but it’s not home anymore. I’ve thought about keeping the place, I really have, but it doesn’t feel right. I’d always remember him here, the way it used to be and the way it was right before he… Let someone else have a fresh start here. Shermin is home for us.”
Link’s lips twitched with a smile. “I like the sound of that, home.”
“Me too.” Casey kissed Link’s hand. “How about we get those boxes upstairs and get out of here. Pedro will be back soon with the truck.”
“I still can’t believe he’s doing all of this. He’s a different person, Case.” Link shook his head, pausing as he saw Trish down the hall, staring at her empty kitchen.
“He’s doing what he can because he realized how bad he fucked up. He’s doing all this for you.”
Casey guided Link away from his mom. She needed time to say goodbye. The house had been in her family for three generations. Selling was going to be the hardest thing she ever had to do. However, like Casey, she couldn’t imagine staying here anymore. It just wasn’t home. Home was where they were happy, and living with her sister made his mom happy.
The stairs creaked under their feet. His hand skimmed over the chip in the banister where he’d rammed his toy sword in the second grade. He inhaled the scent he’d come to love over many years, oak and lemon. His eyes watered a bit when they made it to the second floor. Link’s hand rubbed his arm. Casey looked at him, shrugging.
“Still gonna be hard. I never said it wouldn’t be.” His fingers twined with Link’s.
“Let’s do this, Case. I’m right here with you.”
“I know,” he murmured. “This is it.” Casey gestured to the furthest door on the left. “My room.”
“I can tell.” Link laughed, touching the caution sign on the door. A few stickers remained, some from bands, some from equipment brands, but every one of them were memories. He pushed open the door, letting it creak wide open on its own as they stood there.
A twin bed frame sat against one wall in the tiny room next to a built in dresser. The slanted ceiling housed one window looking over Magazine Street. To their right, a stack of four large boxes waited for them. This was all that was left of Casey’s past.
“I used to mix over there.” Casey went to the corner, studying the marks where his desk and equipment had rubbed against the wall. “I’d open the window and jam all night when my parents were gone. Sometimes people would stop on the sidewalk and listen. If I was lucky, I’d get a crowd before a patrol car would drive by.” He smirked.
Link opened the window, leaning out. “If we push our beds together, you can have a corner to set your stuff up. I’d love to hear you mix more often. It’d be good for you, plus you’re good at it.”
“What do you want to do when we get back, Link?” Casey joined him at the window. “Do you always want to work the front desk?”
“Hey, I’m good with hospitality.” Link winked. “Although, if I had my way, I’d like to bring a little more to the haven.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, more programs? It’s fun to come out and party during the off season, but Adam and Perry could really benefit from using local businesses to cater activities to the guests. Did you know there’s a vineyard ten miles out of town? And there’s also a guy that does private yoga lessons downtown when the bar closes. I’d also thought about Noah and Matt doing a little tour of their workshop now that they have the private showroom over at Matt and Mason’s place. There are so many cool things about Shermin, but the guests don’t really see any of it. They’ve never been given the option.”
“Why haven’t you said anything to Adam and Perry about this? Sounds like a great idea to me. They’d probably need to get a van or something to transport guests, and a driver, but they could afford it easy if they charged a bit more.”
“Like activity packages?” Link nodded. “It sounds good in theory, but it’s not my place to tell them what they should do. I’m just the front desk guy. I don’t want to push my luck when they’ve been so good to me.”
“You never know until you talk to them, Link. I want you to be happy with your life, not settle. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for advancement in Shermin. If this is what you want to do, tell them. I know I’ll never be some famous DJ. Truth is I don’t want to be. It’s my hobby, what makes me happy. If this is yours, or if it’s something more, go for it. One thing I’ve learned out of all this is to not let my fear hold me back.” Casey kissed his cheek. “You shouldn’t either. We’ve got a lot to look forward to now.”
“You changed my life, Casey,” Link breathed. “I wouldn’t even be thinking about this if it weren’t for you. But I’m scared of what happens next. What if I fuck it up?”
Casey waved a hand. “We’re gonna fuck up a lot of things. It happens. But one thing I’ll promise you is that when we do, I’ll be there for you. You aren’t alone anymore, Link.”
Link turned around, grinning. “No I’m not.” He wrapped his arms around Casey’s neck. Over his shoulder, he spotted a long, thin piece of paper taped inside the closet door. “Is that what I think it is?” He slipped around Casey, smiling.
Casey groaned. “I can’t believe she left that up. Half the time I forgot it was there.”
“I can’t believe you were this little.” Link bent down, tracing his finger over the ruler side of the paper, reading Casey’s age and height. “Four years old?” Link covered his mouth, eyes wide with humor.
“You were four too at one time.” Casey rolled his eyes.
“Tell me you have pictures.” Link looked over his shoulder.
“No way, we are not going there.”
“Oh yes we are.” Link shot to his feet, ready to yell for Trish. Casey put a hand over Link’s mouth, scooting him up to the closet door. His eyes flashed with an idea.
“Stay there.” He let go, backing away slowly. “And don’t you dare scream for my mom.”
“What are you up to? You better not dash and lock me in here. I’m getting those baby pictures one way or another.”
Casey snorted. “Not if I hide them away forever.” He picked up the permanent marker on top of the boxes, popping the top off.
“Are you going to draw on me? I swear to god, Casey, I’ll wax your eyebrows off in your sleep.” Link crossed his arms. “Don’t you dare.”
“Chill out, I thought since you’ve probably never done this before, I could give you your first childhood memento.” He held his hand against Link’s chest. “Stand up straight.”
Link’s frown fell. His heart raced. His height was marked on the paper ruler. His name was doodled above it. It really was the first time he’d experienced what a normal childhood felt like. Things most kids took for granted, spelling bees, marking their height, making macaroni picture frames…he’d never had any of that. A tear fell and he was quick to wipe it away. He sniffed, shaking it off.
“Your turn.” He whirled Casey around.
Casey reached out. “You okay?”
“Will you stop moving? Stand up straight.” Link flicked him under the chin, smiling. “Over six feet? I guess I can wear heels after all.”
Casey laughed as the marker squeaked over the paper. “Whatever floats your boat, dearest.”
“No.” Link wagged a finger. “Dearest is for apron wearing housewives or those chicks on Mad Men.” He wrote Casey’s name and whipped out a heart above it with the date.
“Then what should I call you?” Casey took the marker from his hand, slipping it into Link’s back pocket. He leaned down, hands secure around Link’s waist.
Biting his lip, Link cocked his head, slowly leaning in. He flicked his eyes to Casey, breathless. “Whatever you want,” he whispered.
Casey smiled and kissed him.
The drive home was exhausting. Kim and Trish had barely said a word and Link had a sneaking suspicion something was up. Every stop they made was quick and to the point. Half the time he was snuggled into Casey’s chest, sleeping it off, but he couldn’t stop thinking there was a mystery afoot. Kim and Trish kept whispering, darting glances at him in the rearview mirror. Casey seemed to think nothing of the weird behavior. However, Link knew otherwise.
When Pedro skipped dinner and went straight ahead to Shermin with the U-Haul, he knew for sure.
“Okay, what’s going on? Don’t tell me nothing either.” Link narrowed his eyes as they drove down Main Street, finally home.
“What do you mean, honey?” Trish turned around in her seat, staring at him.
“Remind me not to travel long distances with you.” Casey yawned. “You get cranky.”
Link scoffed. “I’m not cranky. They’re hiding something. I know it.”
Kim turned the suburban onto the road leading towards the haven. “Kid, sit back and relax. Nothing’s going on.”
“Says you, however, I know you’re lying.”
“Link!” Casey pinched his arm. “That’s my aunt.”
“And your aunt is a liar.” Link pursed his lips, cutting his eyes at Casey. “Just so you know.”
“God, you’re paranoid. You probably need to sleep.” Casey gave him mother an apologetic look. She returned it with a sly look of her own. Casey sat back, studying her. “What are you up to?”
“See! I’m not fucking paranoid.” Link slapped his arm. “I’ve slept all damn day, it’s not exhaustion.”
“I have no idea what either of you are talking about.” Trish sat back in her seat, grinning from ear to ear.
Growling, Link scowled. “I hate surprises. I really, really hate surprises.”
“Noted.” Casey smirked. “Mom, seriously, what’s going on?”
Kim cranked up the music, humming along. The gates to the haven were open. Not one car was in the lot in front of the lobby. No one came to greet them. Kim kept driving around…
“Where the hell did this come from?” Link rolled down his window, gaping at the gravel road along the beach. “What is going on?”
“I have no idea.” Dumbfounded, Casey leaned out his window, spotting Pedro’s U-Haul blocking the end of the mystery road. “Link…”
“I see it.”
Kim parked and cut the engine. Link hopped out, slamming the door behind him. “Casey?” A hand found his.
“No way.” Casey shook his head. “There is no fucking way this is real.”
Together they walked up the last of the gravel drive and around the truck. What was once Link’s old haunt, the abandoned house with its glass covered lawn, was now a home. Repainted a fresh white, the house looked brand new. They slowly walked onto the green lawn, scanning the new landscape and resurrected dock.
“What is this?” Link rubbed his eyes.
Casey pulled him close. “A dream.”
His mom walked up next to them. She smiled. “Turn around.”
They looked at each other, overwhelmed and unsure how to react. Together they turned towards the front porch.
“Happy Birthday, Casey!”
Everyone gathered around the porch. There was Adam and Perry, Matt and Mason, Noah and Jamie. Pop and his wife, Willa, were next to Jenna, Sam, and the baby. The entire quilting bee sat in folding chairs, Miss Merna and Dee standing behind them. Sheriff Beauchamp and a few of his deputies came, including Gilhart. They had all come to celebrate Casey’s 21st while he’d completely forgotten about it.
“It’s your birthday?” Link frowned. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because he forgot.” Trish put an arm around Link. “But luckily for him, I never do. How the hell could I forget the day I pushed nearly nine pounds of baby out of me?”
“Mom!” Casey shook from head to toe.
“Cool your jets, birthday boy. Don’t you want to see the inside of your present?”
Link gaped. “His what?”
“And I know it’s technically not your birthday yet, but July was too far away for me. You’ll just have to celebrate together.” She kissed Link’s forehead. “Happy birthday, baby. It’s all yours, both of you.”
“How?” Casey started to cry. “How did you do this?”
“With a lot of help,” she gestured to the waiting crowd, “and with a certain someone’s donation. I was gonna pay for it, but the insurance money didn’t clear yet, and I’m still waiting for the bank to deposit the money for the house.”
“Mom, that’s your money, not ours.”
“It’s whoever’s damn money I say it is.” She laughed. “Now get on up there and check it out. They didn’t work there asses off so you two could stand there and stare. Go on now, get up there.” She pushed them forward.
They slowly walked over the yard, shocked and overwhelmed. Ricky came out of the house with Pedro, walking down the steps to greet them. Link stopped, gripping Casey’s hand. He stared at Ricky, still not on speaking terms with him. Being around Pedro, now that he’d seemed to clean up his act was one thing. Being friends with Ricky was another ordeal entirely.
“Happy Birthday, Casey.” Ricky looked at the ground.
“Thanks.” Casey glanced at Link. “Thanks, all of you. You guys didn’t have to do this.”
“Yes we did,” Pedro spoke up. “We owe you both more than can we spend.”
Link ran a hand through his hair in disbelief. “You paid for this?”
“We both did. I pushed you out of your home because I was angry. I was angry at myself for what I did to you. I was ashamed and wanted you as far away from Ricky as possible, because he saw something in you that I didn’t have anymore. I was jealous, and rightfully so, but you stood up and apologized when Ricky didn’t. All of it was my fault, though. What I did that night opened a door that I didn’t know how to shut. I took advantage of your situation and so did Ricky. We’re all at fault in one way or another, but you didn’t deserve what I did to you. Paying for all of this is nothing compared to what I owe you, Link. In the end, not only did you say you were sorry, but you made me realize how much I loved Ricky. I’m so sorry, Link.”
Taking everything in, Link flicked his eyes to the crowd gathered, more vulnerable than ever. “It’s cool,” he muttered.
“No it’s not,” Ricky argued. “You’re a kid compared to me, and sure age doesn’t matter if it’s legit, but I didn’t have any right to continue our relationship. I knew better. I knew what you wanted the entire time and I never planned on giving it to you because I already loved someone else. I just wanted to feel young again, to feel that fresh adrenaline of something new and exciting. And there you were…” Ricky shifted away from Pop, who looked pissed as hell. “The one thing I’m thankful for was that you never really loved me either. Because you would have never be standing where you are right now, with him to look after you and love you the way you deserve. You were always a great kid, Link. You’re smart. You’re talented. And you make everyone around you feel special. But you were never mine and I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart for leading you on and leaving you to fend for yourself. I’m sorry you’ve had it rough, from me to all of this mess with…Joseph, and everything before that. This is our apology to you and Casey. This house is our hope of making amends and starting over, because even though we both fucked up, we hope to always have you in our lives, both of you.”
“Wow,” Link breathed. “That was some speech.”
“Link, please,” Pedro begged. “We can’t leave here knowing you don’t forgive us. We need to move past this.”
Link wiped his face on the back of his hand. “I agree. I’ve just never heard Ricky say anything that intelligent before.”
Casey smirked, and stuck out his hand to Ricky. “We appreciate what you’ve done, really we do.”
“We do?” Link teased.
“Link,” Ricky groaned. “Come on, throw us a bone here.”
“If I must.” Link sighed dramatically. “Fine.” He stuck out his hand. “You’re forgiven, if there’s pie in there.”
“If there’s pie, he says.” Mason snorted. “You’re one lucky son of bitch, Ricky. You’d done that to me and you’d be wearing a black eye.”
“I thought about it, but what would that help, Mase?” Link shrugged. “Besides, I’m not here to ruin my boyfriend’s birthday.”
Pedro smiled. “I’m happy to hear that.” He stepped aside, happy with Link’s smile. It was a good start to repairing the damage between them all. “Why don’t you boys go see inside while we start up the grill?”
“Now you’re talking sense,” Pop grumbled. “Who wants burgers?”
“Not you.” Willa patted his stomach.
“Damn it, woman, just one!” He pouted.
Willa scowled. “Josiah Daniel Olivette, don’t you call me woman!”
“Come on,” Casey whispered, pulling Link up the steps. He looked over the crowd once more, and held up a hand to his mom. She bit her lip, putting a hand to her chest in silent recognition. As the fight between Willa and Pop took a loud turn, with all bystanders getting involved, Link and Casey slipped through the door of their new home.
Link shut the door, leaning against it. “Happy Birthday?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t mention it. I totally forgot, Link, I swear.” Casey locked the door, pulling the curtains shut over the front window as Perry and Sam put themselves between mother and father.
“Casey,” Link laughed, “do you have any idea where you are right now? Stop apologizing and look around. We’re in our home. We have a fucking house, Case.” He squealed and made a running jump for the couch. He landed, letting his head fall back on a pillow. “We’re home.”
Realizing Link was right, Casey turned around. The house was small, really, really small, but it was cozy and perfect even though it still needed a lot of work. The living room had a couch and an old chair with a quilt thrown over it. A few photos of him and Link sat on the mantle, confusing Casey. When had those been taken? Across the room, kitchen cabinets, painted a bright red lined the wall. Brand new appliances filled the spaces between, crafting a stuffed yet inviting kitchen.
Casey spun in a circle, seeing all the details their friends and family had put into making the old place their home. He sniffed, reaching for Link. “This is too much. I don’t even know how to say thank you for something like this.”
“Me either, but I think they be kind of pissed if we didn’t enjoy it at least. You can’t cry on me.” Link was yanked to his feet. He spotted a hallway, and pulled Casey along. “And I think you might enjoy this part the most.”
“Link, we need to talk about this.” Casey groaned, sneakers squeaking over the hardwood floor.
“Do you want to live the rest of your life in that room off the lobby like it’s summer camp twenty-four seven?” Link stopped, eyeing him cautiously. “Because you better tell me now. I’m falling in love already.”
“Of course not, I’m just…”
“Scared to be happy now that he’s gone? He’s not coming back, Case. I made sure of that,” Link whispered, hand slipping out of Casey’s.
“Do you still blame yourself over that?” Casey moved in, pressing Link into the wall.
“Do you blame me?” Link looked up.
“Not for a second.”
“Then stop being scared so I don’t have to be. I want to put it behind me. I want to live here with you. I want to be happy, Casey, and I’m happy here.” Link started to duck under Casey’s arm. “I just feel like you can’t let go. It’s distracted you for weeks and I understand, but do you realize you haven’t so much as made a move on me since it’s happened, and I don’t mean kissing or hand jobs.” Link sighed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. Of course you’re still upset about it.”
“I thought you didn’t want me to. You’ve been just as down as me. I didn’t think pushing you into sex was the right thing to do. But I wanted to. I always want you.” Casey groaned. “Link, it’s been a long ass day. A lot of things were said. I just moved out of the only home I’ve ever known. You’re upset about a lot of things, Ricky and Pedro, my dad, and you’re just as overwhelmed by all of this as I am. Neither of us know what to do right now and we’re looking for answers in all the wrong places. You want to know how I feel right now?”
“Yes,” Link replied immediately.
“Relieved, I’m relieved he’s dead. I’m relieved you’re still here after all that shit with the cops and the hearing with Shane. I’m relieved we have a place to call home and not that eight by eight summer camp jail cell. I’m relieved you still want to be with me, here, in this house. I’m relieved, Link.”
Link slowly smiled. “Did you think I would really leave you after all we’ve been through together?”
“Either that or spend the rest of your life mumbling to yourself in corner.” Casey swallowed, going to Link. “But you’re a lot stronger than I gave you credit for. Hell, you were holding me up there for a while and you’d just kill…” Casey shook his head. “Not even going there. We’re done with that. I don’t want to bring bad energy into this house.”
“Have you been talking to your Aunt Dove?” Link backed away, grinning.
“Hell no, do I look like the kind of guy who wants to choke to death on burning sage for his birthday?”
“Not at all, you look like Casey to me.” Link put his arms around Casey’s neck. “And that’s who I love. Let’s forget about it all and enjoy this together…birthday boy.”
“You say that like it’s dirty,” Casey murmured.
“It can be if you want.” Link rubbed up against him. “We do have a bed to christen.” Link lifted his chin at the open door to their right.
Casey’s eyes followed, seeing the queen sized bed in their new room, covered in a bright red patchwork quilt. “I guess we do.” He stumbled back, bringing Link into the room. He kicked the door closed, lifting Link into his arms.
Link laughed, thrown onto the bed. He landed on his knees, arching his back like a cat. “Come here, birthday boy. I have a present for you.”
Casey blew out a long breath, pulling his shirt over his head. “Does it unwrap itself?”
“It can…if you like.” Link rose, sitting back on heels. He toyed with the bottom of his shirt, hiking up slowly for Casey to see.
“I think I want unwrap it myself.” Casey crawled onto the bed. The second he touched Link, pounding sounded at the window.
They turned to see Perry and Mason waving at them through the window. Mason held up a beer, saluting them, and Casey groaned, flopping back onto the bed. “So much for privacy.”
Link smirked. “I guess you’ll have to unwrap your present later.”
His mom was the last one to leave the party. Casey sat on the front porch, sipping his beer as she got into the suburban and turned it around in the yard. He held up a hand, receiving a honk. His red solo cup was almost empty and he chugged the last of his mixed drink. Hands smoothed over his back, gliding up and over his shoulders. Link’s lips enclosed his earlobe, sucking gently.
“How much have you had to drink?” Link whispered. Casey closed his eyes, breathing in sharply. A hand drifted over the fly of jeans, rubbing up and down.
“Enough,” Casey moaned. Link set Casey’s cup down.
“We can finish off that fifth later. You still have a present unwrap.”
“I do, don’t I?” Casey leaned back, grinding against Link’s hand.
“Come and get it, birthday boy,” Link whispered.
Casey growled. Link’s hand disappeared. His eyes flashed open at the sound of Link running into the house. “Count to fifty!” Link yelled through the house.
Casey got up, letting the alcohol buzz flood his body. He was feeling good. And knowing Link was about to be in their bed, underneath him, had him feeling even better. He took one last swig out of his birthday present from Adam and put the bottle on the porch floor.
“One…two…three.” He padded into the house and took off his button up shirt. “Four…five…six.”
“Count slower,” Link yelled from down the hall. “Damn it, where did they put my…there it is. Found it!”
Casey chuckled. “Seven,” he shouted. “Eight…”
To pass the time, Casey slipped out of his shoes, and pulled off his socks. He left a trail through the living room before remembering to lock the door. Paranoid of anyone seeing them, he pulled the drapes shut and made sure the windows were secure.
“Why aren’t you counting anymore?”
Casey sniggered. “What are you up to back there?”
“Nothing, keep counting.”
Somewhere around a hundred, Casey gave up on ever being allowed into the bedroom. He leaned against the wall in the hallway. “Link?”
“I’m ready.” This time Link wasn’t yelling. His invitation was packed of heat. Casey shook out his hands, jumped up and down a few times like he was getting ready for a Friday night basketball game, and entered the bedroom.
Casey was surprised to see a few candles going, flickering shadows against the walls. In the middle of the bed, Link waited for him, wearing nothing but a pair of red underwear. Link’s eyes narrowed then widened. “Wait!” He jumped off the bed, scampering past Casey into the living room.
“You’re killing me here.”
Casey hung his head, eyes stuck on Link’s ass as his boyfriend ran around the living room, searching for something. He knew for certain the red material encasing Link’s perfect rear was soft. He wanted to feel it slip through his fingers as he pulled them off. He wanted to feel that shimmery skin under his hands, dig his nails in it as Link gasped his name. He couldn’t wait another minute.
“Aha!” Link ran past him again, this time holding his phone. “Humor me a sec.” He held up a finger, sliding his thumb over his screen. “There it is.”
Music began to play, an ambient tune Casey had never heard, but liked immediately. He moved closer, almost touching Link. But Link crawled onto the bed, posing once more with a smile. “I’m ready now.”
“You sure? You don’t need to check something in the oven or rearrange your makeup in the medicine cabinet?”
“Shut up.” Link laughed. “I wanted it be nice. It’s your birthday.”
Casey’s eyes softened. “Thank you, baby.” He got onto the bed. “Best present ever.”
“I haven’t given you your present yet.” Link straddled his lap, running hands over Casey’s bare chest. “But before I do, I want you to know that no one will ever make me feel like you do. Don’t try and be perfect for me. Just give over and let go.” He ran a hand through Casey’s hair. “I want you.”
Casey looked down Link’s torso and smelled watermelon, triggering his cock. “You’re so sexy, Link, so beautiful.”
“Stop it.” Link blushed, hiding his face in Casey’s neck.
“I mean it,” Casey growled, pushing Link back onto the bed.
Link bit his lip. His eyes darkened. “I know you do.” He lifted his hips, spreading his knees for Casey.
Overcome with longing, Casey kissed Link, prying open his lips with his tongue. The curtains fluttered. A cool breeze flowed over their bodies. Link shivered, moaning into Casey’s mouth. Goosebumps broke out over his skin. Their kiss deepened, allowing them to swallow each other’s moans. Casey lowered his weight onto Link, rubbing his fly over Link’s erection. Hands were everywhere at once, grabbing at Casey’s ass, in Link’s hair, around his wrists.
“Take them off,” Link demanded. “I need to feel you.”
Casey’s fingers shook over his button, requiring a few tries before he was free. The sound of his zipper going down set Link on fire. He reached out, yanking Casey’s jeans down his hips, underwear going with them. He only had a moment to gaze down Casey’s toned body before he couldn’t take it anymore and pushed him onto his back, trapped with his jeans around his thighs. Casey’s cock jutted up, making Link salivate.
“Link,” Casey moaned, kicking the rest of his clothes off.
Link pushed Casey’s thighs open, licking his way from knee to groin on one leg. His hands smoothed up Casey’s skin, skimming his thumbs up either side of his cock, enamored with every twitch of Casey’s body. He gave Casey a sly smile then bent down, continuing to drag his tongue up his lover’s skin. Stopping around Casey’s belly button, Link traced a wet circle, blowing over it when he was finished. Casey gripped Link’s shoulders, shivering as he bit his lip. His eyes closed. His fingers traveled, drifting into Link’s hair. Link nipped a trail to one nipple, taking it between his soft lips.
Casey had never felt anything like it. Not even when he touched his own body did he get a reaction like the one Link evoked. The soft suction turned into a zinging bite. Link laughed when he squirmed.
“And what do you know? We still have another one over here.” Link slung a slender leg over Casey’s hips, rolling his cock against Casey’s stomach. “Don’t mind if I do.” He attacked the other nub, gently biting down.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Casey rolled them over, bringing his lips to Link’s. Putting a thumb to Link’s chin, Casey caught his attention. “It’s my turn.”
“We don’t have to take turns, Case.” Link rubbed his hands up Casey’s arms. “Whatever happens…go with it. I just want to touch you.”
“And I wanna taste you,” Casey whispered into Link’s mouth. He groaned, tilting his head and lifting Link’s legs from under his knees.
“How are you gonna do that like this?” Link laughed, turning his head so Casey could get at his neck. “Casey!” He laughed harder.
Smiling, Casey ground his hips. “That was just a test run. I was seeing if you were still with me.”
“I’m with you.” Link craned his neck, stealing a small kiss before he let his head fall back onto the bed. “Now it’s your turn.”
“I thought we weren’t taking turns?”
Guiding Casey’s hand down his stomach, Link made sure his man got the point. “Or whatever.”
Casey took a hint, clasping his fingers around Link’s cock. “Yeah, or whatever.” He tugged lightly, watching Link’s breath catch. “I bet I can do you one better.” Casey slid down Link’s body.
“Not possible,” Link whispered. His hips moved up with the first flick of Casey’s tongue on his cock. He pushed onto his elbows. “Casey, you don’t have to…oh God. That’s so good.”
Casey’s eyes flicked up. He relaxed his throat, praying he didn’t fuck this up. The taste wasn’t bad like he’d thought it would be. He could actually take a decent amount into his mouth before he started to get uncomfortable, but Casey would never tell Link that. If he closed his eyes and focused on where he was and what he was doing, the nerves would go away. The first time he heard Link moan his name. The first time he felt fingers glide through his hair, gripping him closer, Casey lost himself in Link.
He noticed how Link spread his legs as wide as they would go, inviting Casey in. This was all new territory for him. But his fear of the unknown wouldn’t stop him. He’d make Link feel good, comfortable, and loved. He moved further down the bed, kissing wherever he could.
Link took a deep breath and lifted his hips, drawing his knees up with Casey’s wordless instruction. He caught a glimpse of Casey’s determined brown eyes and almost cried. No one had ever taken so much time with him or put so much care into every move. Fingers whispered over his legs, soothing down the backs of his thighs. Casey pressed kisses to his backside, pinching flesh between his teeth.
“You okay?” Casey lifted his head.
“Mm hmm, just enjoying myself.”
Casey’s smile lit up the room. “Good. You got so quiet.”
“Most people don’t do a lot of talking during sex unless they…” Link shook his head, smiling. “Don’t stop, Case. You’re doing great.”
Curious, but undeterred, Casey slid back into place. He teased Link by tracing one fleshy globe with his tongue. “Unless they what?”
“Talk dirty.” Link slapped his hands onto the bed, groaning when Casey’s tongue wet the skin above his entrance. A finger brushed over his hole, pressing harder, making small circles.
“Like what?” Casey licked over Link’s entrance. He heard a hiss from above. “Tell me.”
Link blushed or he was just really hot all the sudden. Casey worked him over, using his thumb and tongue like he knew exactly what he was doing. “It’ll come, Casey. Just let it come.”
Link reached out towards the nightstand. He grabbed the lube, rolling it to Casey. “Right now, I just want to feel you inside of me.”
Stopping what he was doing, Casey looked at the bottle touching his elbow. His heart thudded over such a simple thing. It meant he was one step closer to being with Link and one step closer to losing his virginity. He smirked, never happier in his whole damn life. Still rubbing his thumb over Link’s entrance, he clicked open the lube with his other hand.
“It’s gonna be cold.”
Lin frowned. “How the hell do you know?”
“I’m a virgin, not an alien. I do know what lube feels like.” Casey dribbled the liquid onto Link, rubbing it in with his finger. “How’s that?”
“I don’t know,” Link murmured. “Put a finger in and I’ll let you know.”
“Okay.” Casey kissed Link’s knee, pushing the tip of his finger in.
Link arched his back, feeling the breeze from the open window slice over his chest. Casey curled his finger as it entered, making the moment so perfect, Link thought he was going to lose it right then and there. His breath came quick. His head spun like he couldn’t get enough oxygen. Casey’s lips wrapped around his cock head, swirling his tongue until Link sang.
Casey’s finger moved in and out slowly. He lost track of time or steps. He didn’t care about what happened next. He finally let go with Link. He let go of all the stress of the last two months. He let go of his past and the man who had terrorized him. He let go of his guilt, his mistrusts, and fear. Casey was inches from Link’s mouth before he knew it.
“I’ll love you forever, Link.”
Link wrapped his arms around Casey’s neck. “I know you will. Because I’ll never let you go. You’re stuck with me. I love you, Case.”
Casey rubbed his cock over Link’s hole, kissing him while spreading lube on his erection. Link moved with him, more than ready. Casey pulled back, holding himself up. “No one will ever make me feel this good.” He squeezed a little more lube on his cock, bringing his hand up and down to ensure he was completely coated. “No one will ever turn me on like you do.”
Link swallowed, jerking himself at the sight of Casey kneeling between his legs. “Fuck me, Case. Fuck me like you mean it.”
“Fucking is for people who don’t give a shit. I give a shit and I’ll show you I do.” Casey mustered the courage to align his cock with Link’s entrance. “Because you mean the world to me and you deserve better than a sloppy fuck.” He pushed in, greeting a tight ring of resistance. His world spun. Heat hugged his cock. Tight, he moaned, so fucking tight.
Link gasped. His hand moved up and down his shaft. Casey burrowed into him, eyes hazing over as he discovered the almighty pleasures of sex. To Link, Casey was the most gorgeous man on earth. His fit body, messy hair, and sure smile had nothing to do with it. To Link, gorgeous was not even once reminding him of his past in the bedroom. It was Casey dominating the situation, taking care of him first and excited to do it. It was in the way his eyes checked Link over for any signs of discomfort. It was the way Link knew what Casey meant. They weren’t fucking. They were in love. And in a way, Link was totally a virgin when it came to love, to the slow, all-encompassing passion Casey blanketed him with.
When Casey was fully seated, he bent over to be as close to Link as possible. Hands immediately clung to his shoulders with trembling fingers. Tears ran down Link’s cheeks, not sad tears, but the complete opposite. Link was smiling at him. Casey smiled back, retreating a tiny bit from Link’s heat. Link threaded his arms under Casey’s, hugging him so he could wrap his legs around his hips.
Link shook his head. “You feel so good.”
Casey sighed, burying his face in Link’s neck. He began to thrust, using his grip on Link’s shoulders to drive deeper. They were so connected he could hardly stand it. The feeling danced through his stomach, sending everything spinning inside. He had to let it out. In kisses and brushes of tongue, in fingers touching skin and burning whispers heatedly delivered to Link’s ear, Casey made love to the man he treasured. He inhaled the scent of watermelon and knew Link was the only home he’d ever want to know. Without Link, there was no point.
Link’s nails bit into Casey’s back. He couldn’t keep the tears from his eyes. His mouth was nothing more than an opening for his garbled nonsense and otherworldly moans. All the while, Casey never stopped hugging him. He was just as needy in the moment as Link was. Maybe it was the first time jitters that called Casey close, but Link knew it was more than that. And like his thoughts had been heard, Casey lifted his head, pushing up on his hands. He stared at Link, muscles bunching with every thrust. Link’s hands locked around Casey’s arms. Neither of them looked away.
Casey nudged Link’s knees up higher, using them to balance himself when he straightened his back. His ass flexed. His hips were hyperactive, moving forward with gusto. His thrusts were smooth, rhythmic, and deep. Heat spread over his neck and jaw, a pricking warmth indicating he was near climax. He grappled for Link’s hands, slinking back down between his legs for the final part of their journey. Their fingers twined on either side of Link’s head.
“Love you,” Casey gasped.
“Come for me, Casey.” Link sucked Casey’s bottom lip into his mouth, letting it go quickly. “I want to feel it.”
The sultry sparkle that Casey had grown to love flashed in Link’s eyes. He lost the battle with his body’s control and came. He’d envisioned some three hour long sex-a-thon, wherein he would be a miraculous Adonis and make Link orgasm at least four times. However, none of that was possible. At times, it had been awkward. He’d fumbled. He’d gagged a bit. Link had laughed. And at the longest, their first time had lasted a whopping half an hour.
But to Casey it was the best half an hour he’d ever spent.
Face flushed and sweaty, he came back around from the whirlwind climax only to have his body rolled and his back hit the bed. Link used his thighs, flexing his muscles to use the last of Casey’s erection for his own pleasure. He danced on top of Casey, whipping his hair away from his eyes. The slap of flesh on flesh made Casey tremble. Link’s slender torso shimmered in the candlelight. His cock bounced and his back arched. His eyes were dazed, lips swollen, and to Casey, Link had never been more beautiful. He wanted to see Link lose it. His hand went to Link’s cock, pumping along his length as fast as he could.
Nails bit into Casey’s chest. Link bit his lip, almost drawing blood. His eyes went wide, staring right at Casey.
Casey growled. “That’s it, baby, let me see. You’re so fucking sexy it’s painful. Come on, do it, right here.” He slid a hand over his stomach, feeling moisture on his palm. He had no idea what he was saying, but it felt do good to know it had been the right thing to do. Eyes transitioning from hard to soft, Link snapped his teeth shut, slapping a hand to Casey’s chest as he fought his orgasm.
Link moaned through clenched teeth. He batted Casey’s hand away in time to hold his cock before he came. Thick white spurts raced through his length, landing on Casey’s sweaty stomach. He thrashed his head, gasping and groaning, attempting to voice the pleasure Casey had summoned from his loins. Link let himself fall one last time, relieving the last drop his cock had to give. His hands caught his weight before he smacked into Casey’s chest. His body was spent, going from hot to cold. Casey’s arms went around him, chest rising and falling. Link moved in for a kiss with the last of his strength. His limbs tingled. His muscles didn’t seem to exist. He felt that if Casey let go, he’d float away.
“Welcome home,” Casey whispered, giving Link another kiss.
Link turned his head, looking into Casey’s sated eyes. He put his hand on Casey’s cheek. “Our home,” he murmured, and returned the kiss with another…and another…
*** Six Months Later ***
“I have no idea how it happened.” Link huffed. He gestured to the weed whacker. “I was trying to edge around the flower bed and the fucking thing went ballistic. It broke itself!”
With a questioning look, Perry pursed his lips. “Doubt that. Someone has to use it. It didn’t just break itself, unless you got a magic weed whacker here.”
“It’s trying to make me look incompetent. I know what I’m doing,” Link snapped.
“Link, you can’t put the end directly against stone. It’ll break the blade, which is what happened.” Casey smiled weakly. “It’s okay, though. We’ll just get a new blade when we go into town. No biggie.”
“No biggie? Yes it is! I didn’t break the damn thing.” Link squinted.
“Of course not, it malfunctioned, right, Perry?” Casey challenged the Shermin native with his eyes.
Perry rolled his eyes. “Must have.”
Link sniffed, looking between them. He harrumphed. “See?”
“You know, Link, you shouldn’t be putting so much damn time into the yard. You’ve still got calls to make for that twenty-two person retreat we got coming in two weeks. I done told ya three times. If you don’t want to take this whole Activities Manager business seriously then—”
Link’s face was murderous. “Are you kidding me with that shit, Perry? I’ve sent you four emails in the past two days with the schedule. I’ve called Adam I don’t know how many freaking times. I’ve got the whole retreat planned down to the t and you two don’t even have the decency to read it. Way to go, boss.”
“You did?” Perry chuckled nervously. “Maybe it went to spam.”
“I’m so sure. You and Adam have just been too busy doing god knows what lately. Half the time you don’t even have your walkies turned on. It’s like tracking down two teenagers with you guys.” Link shook his head. “I take my new position very seriously and I’ve worked my ass off to make you guys proud, and for what?”
“He has,” Casey confirmed, settling a comforting arm around Link’s shoulders. “I haven’t seen much of him lately either.” He kissed Link’s cheek.
“I’m not ignoring you,” Link was quick to assure. “Oh my god, are you mad?”
“Not a bit, baby.”
Perry stood, holding the weed whacker. “I’m sorry if you’ve felt that way, Link. We didn’t mean to leave you hanging. Adam’s been in talks with some people about another festival and the hoopla that comes with it. He’s dragging me from this place to that and most of the time I can’t keep my head on straight. Then top it off with the end of summer, cleaning up all the bunks after the kids leave, and transitioning into the busy season and I’m right out of my mind. I promise when I get back to the house I’ll check things out on your end. We are proud of what you’ve done though, Link. Don’t think we ain’t.” Perry tipped his ball cap. “I best get back and see what shit Adam’s got me doing today. Can’t even piss without him being on that damn phone, roping me into something.”
“Don’t act like you don’t love it,” Casey teased.
Link sniggered. “Uh huh.”
“Ya’ll watch yourselves. I’m the one holding a magical weed whacker.” Perry smirked.
Link growled. “Hey! I told you it broke on its own.”
“When pigs fly.” Perry barked a laugh.
Casey held in his chuckle, saved by the sound of tires trudging up the gravel. He heard voices around the house and then saw the golf cart stop on the lawn. Adam stood from behind the wheel, holding up a hand. Beside him was a guy with long dark dreads and bright blue eyes. Link’s mouth dropped. He quietly fangirled next to Casey. Casey was just plain confused.
“What’s happening, dude?” The man slapped Perry on the back. “Nice whacker. Aww, little guy bit the dust, huh?” He lifted the end, eyeing it curiously. “That sucks.”
“It’s a weed whacker not a little guy.” Perry clucked his tongue. “Don’t be cooing over man tools.”
“Man tools?” The stranger sniggered. “Dude, you totally set yourself up for that.”
Perry was lost. “Huh?”
“Ya know?” The man grabbed his groin, shaking his hand. “Your junk?”
“Heaven help me.” Perry dropped the weed whacker. “You’re deranged, Charleston.”
“And you’re a ton of fun, big guy. You’ve got yourself an ornery husband, Adam,” Charleston teased.
Adam grabbed Perry’s hand. “He’s not ornery. He’s just tired because I’ve been overworking him.”
“Uh, hey guys, what’s going on?” Casey lifted a hand.
“Ah, yeah.” Charleston pointed at Link. “I remember you, grape jelly. You worked the festival. I couldn’t forget the hair. Cool do.” He nodded.
“I’m Link.” He practically drooled.
“Right on, cool name. I’m Charleston, not the city, just the guy.” He held out his hand.
Link made a noise of joy, petting Charleston’s hand with his fingers before remembering to shake it.
Casey growled. “And I’m Casey, his boyfriend.” He narrowed his eyes.
“Perfect. I actually came here to see you. No offense, cutie.” Chareston winked.
“I might throw up now,” Link murmured dreamily.
“About what?” Casey was getting pissed. He saw how infatuated Link was and slowly lost his cool.
Quickly catching on to Casey’s territorial vibe, Charleston stuffed his hands in his pockets and put a foot between them. “I’m Charleston—”
“You already said that,” Casey said.
“He’s the lead singer of The Heavy Petters,” Link finally squealed. “Oh my god, I’m such a huge fan. When they asked me to work the show, I almost died. I can’t believe you’re on my fucking front lawn, talking to my boyfriend!”
“Calm down.” Casey sighed in relief. He’d heard Link go gaga over the band before and had heard enough of their music to last a lifetime. “I get it now.” He put his hands on Link’s shoulders to keep him from bouncing. “It’s nice to meet you, Charleston.”
“We good?” Charleston held up his hands. “Don’t wanna mess with another brother’s butter. You know what I’m sayin?”
“What the hell does butter have to do with anything?” Perry groaned.
“Butter to the bread?” Adam raised a brow.
Perry shook his head. “That’s just dumb.”
“No one asked you,” Link spat. “He can say whatever he wants.”
“Okay, before Link explodes into a pile of glitter, you had something you wanted to talk to me about?” Casey waited expectantly.
“Oh. Yeah! So I’ve been working with Adam, my boy.” Charleston made a show of gesturing to Adam. “And we’ve been talking to a bunch of musicians around the area, some out of state, trying to get them to put on a coinciding music festival for this year’s Love is Love event.”
“And this involves me how?”
Link’s eyes went wide. He caught Adam’s grin. “No way. No fucking way.” He shook Casey’s shoulders. “He wants you to play.”
Casey scoffed. “Look man, I don’t know what you’re into, but I don’t play with other guys. I thought this was a big charity thing not some pervert affair.”
“You can be so dense sometimes. Hello.” Link slapped him upside the head. “Mix, Case, he wants you to mix for the festival.”
“Yeah, I heard a few mixes on your site, and thought your shit was dope. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been bumping it at a few places I know, and my people are really digging it. If you wanted, I’d love you to do a collab with the band. That might make you more comfortable before you set foot on a large stage. I can remember my first time and that was fucking cray, you know? All those screaming people, not that they were there for us at first, we were just an opener, but now they are. It’s wild.”
Casey was frozen in disbelief. “You want me to mix for a music festival?”
“Fuck yeah.” Charleston grinned like an idiot, which only made him more handsome. He brushed his dreads over his shoulder. “You in?”
“I have to think about it,” Casey muttered. “I don’t know anything about this.”
“I told him you’d say that.” Adam pulled Charleston back. “Take all the time you need. Charleston is going to be staying a week in Shermin before he heads back to Frankfort. Come up to the house anytime.”
“Yeah, come save me from that mess.” Perry grunted as Adam nudged him towards the cart.
“Charleston,” Link cooed, reaching out a hand.
Casey slapped his hand down. “Fangirl time is over. You can see him later. We need to talk.”
Link blinked, coming back to the real world. He blushed, turning away. “Sorry about that. I just…”
“Like the band. I get it.” Casey laughed. “Come on.” He led Link up the porch steps.
Casey sat on the porch swing, cradling Link’s head in his lap. He gently toed against the porch floor, rocking them back and forth. The sun was setting over the lake, almost right in there front yard.
“Are you nervous about this retreat?” He looked down.
Link flicked his eyes up. “Nah, I thrive on insanity. I’m just nervous about Perry and Adam. They kind of lose it with the bigger groups. At least we’ll have the part-timers on board. That’ll help.”
“And the vans.” Casey stroked Link’s hair.
Link smirked. “I totally got my way and they were such a good deal. Henrie found them over in Oakley for next to nothing. And the guy who repainted them gave us such a good deal. It’s like it was all meant to be.”
“And you were scared to even talk to them about it in the first place.” Casey smirked.
“Pot, meet kettle.” Link chuckled. “Why are you so scared of talking about your music? People already love your stuff online.”
Casey leaned back. “You’re the one who does all that. I guess I’m scared that if I do it outside of a hobby, it won’t be fun anymore. And then there’s getting up in front of all those people.” He sighed. “I’m a simple person, Link. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“I didn’t say that.” Link sat up, scooting over to Casey. “I just don’t want you to have any regrets because you’re scared. I think your music is amazing. Charleston thinks so too and if his friends, probably music people, are into it. That means you’re good, Case. Why hide that? You don’t have to change who you are to make your dream come true. You’ll still be mine. We’ll still live here. You’ll still make music. Why not try it at least?”
Link grinned. “Hang out with Charleston and his boys a few times. If you feel it, then go for it. If not, you haven’t lost anything. I can tell you want to, but you’re just nervous because you don’t like Charleston that much. Admit it.”
“I never said that.” Casey looked guilty.
“Didn’t have to. The way you got all macho, marking your turf when he touched me,” Link leaned in, “that was hot.”
Casey sighed. “I thought he was hitting on you right in front of me. I mean, it was pretty clear who you were with.”
“Like I said, so hot.” Link kissed him, grinning.
“You’re weird.” Casey laughed.
“No, Charleston’s weird. He called me cutie. Who the heck calls anyone cutie besides your grandmother?” Link made a face then busted up laughing with Casey.
“Good to know you won’t be running away with him anytime soon.” Casey pulled him into his chest.
“If I run, it’ll be with you.” Link exhaled closing his eyes. “Always with you.”
Case stretched his legs, holding Link against his chest. “Okay. I’ll give it a shot.”
“For me?” Link bit his lip.
“For both of us. No regrets, right?”
“Right.” Link craned his neck. “Love you.”
Casey leaned down for a kiss. “Love you too, cutie.”
Link threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, it’s on now!” He hopped off the swing, taking off down the porch steps.
Casey got to his feet, laughing. He hopped over the railing and tore after Link. “Come back here, cutie!”
He followed the sound of Link’s laughter, a sound he would never give up, not for all the fame or money in the world.