Chapter 28

“Where are we going?” Connor asked.

“Out of town for a while,” Robert replied with a smirk, as he slung the heavy pack over his shoulder.  Connor took a lighter one and followed him.  They slipped off in the dark and made their way as directly as possible toward the wooded outskirts of town.  They mostly kept to secluded country roads and ducked for cover at the approach of headlights.

This time, when they left the county, it was to head the opposite direction of where they had dumped the woman’s car.  They were hiding out, after all.

As it got to be pitch dark, Robert said, “Let’s take cover in the woods and get some sleep before first light.  We’ll have to walk in the woods during the day so we’ll need our rest….”

Connor nodded obediently and followed Robert to where he put down his pack, and unrolled his sleeping bag right next to Robert’s.  Again Robert smirked a bit, but he quickly stripped down and climbed in his bag in just his underwear.

Connor followed suit after watching him as best he could in the dark of night, and soon they lay still.  Minutes passed and Robert could hear a noise.  “Your teeth are chattering,” he said with mild annoyance.

“I’m cold,” Connor whined quietly.  Then he heard Robert unzip his sleeping bag.

“Hurry, unzip yours too,” Robert said.  Connor did as he was told and soon, with expert efficiency, Robert had zipped them together and slid in beside Connor, who curled into him like a puppy dog.  Robert wrapped an arm around the boy and kept him close; it was nice to be warm.

***

Billy held his hand out to Alan who grinned after a mock-angry face and took it.  Billy helped him out of the back of the taxi and handed him his cane.  “Thanks,” Alan said.  “Getting in and out of the car REALLY is hard,” he explained with a little embarrassment.  He tried so hard to hide any weakness that the admission was telling, though the boy didn’t fully appreciate that it meant Alan REALLY liked him.

Billy walked next to Alan, opposite the cane, hoping the young man would take his arm again, and Alan happily obliged.  “So where are we heading?” Billy asked.

Alan smiled and said, “Aren’t you worried someone will see you on my arm?”

“Nah,” Billy said, “no one knows me here….”

“Paul said you were romantic,” Alan said with friendly sarcasm.

“Besides, I’m not hiding anymore,” Billy said.

“People will say you could do better,” Alan said self-deprecatingly

“No one will say THAT,” Billy said, blushing a little.  “You’re really cute….”  Alan blushed and looked away.  For all his bravado, hearing that embarrassed him deeply as it was hard for him to believe.

“My legs,” Alan said, beginning a speech Billy knew he didn’t want to hear.

Billy moved so he was standing face-to-face with Alan in the busy mall entryway, already beginning to blush from what he knew he was about to do.  He leaned in and silenced the young man with a kiss.  To say that there were fireworks from that little kiss on the lips would be an overstatement, but not by much.

“Hey, lovebirds!” a grouchy voice called, barely concealing a good humored laugh, “Get out of the doorway!”  The old security guard motioned for them to move along and Billy and Alan laughed and cleared the way.

Alan dropped into the first bench he could find and asked, “What was that?”

“Something I always wanted to do and never had the guts,” Billy said.  “Something that still scares me….”

“Why?” Alan asked. Though he knew full well, he wanted to hear it.

“Because I LIKE you,” Billy said.  “I could tell even through texting that you REALLY cared about what happened to me, and besides that you’re cute as hell!  And I wanted to do something to SHOW you how much I like you….”  Billy sighed and said, “I don’t think what I’m about to say is gonna come out right but … here goes.  If anything, those things….”

“Braces,” Alan inserted.

“Those braces … make me like you more,” Billy said.

“You got a cripple fetish?” Alan teased with an impish grin.

“Shut up!” Billy laughed.  “You and Paul and the deflecting humor!  Jesus!”

Alan took his hand and squeezed.  With a chuckle he said, “I’m sorry….  Go ahead!”

“You are NOT sorry,” Billy smiled.  “First off, you’re so strong and confident … how you deal with your condition, you’re an amazing person!  I mean look at how poorly I dealt with just being gay!”  Billy said, blushing in response to Alan’s embarrased look.

“You aren’t ‘just gay,’ Billy,” Alan whispered.  “With your parents….”

Billy nodded and held up a hand, and despite his embarrassment, he soldiered on.  “And then  there’s the other … and don’t hate me … but I think part of the thing that turns me on to smaller guys is that I feel like there are things I can do for them, that they might need me.  Even if it’s just hold them in my arms….  Now I did a terrible job of DOING that before, but….  And I don’t mean to imply you and Paul are weak….  You are two of the strongest….  Shit, this is … I told you I’d mess this up,” Billy said, looking a little despondent.

Alan kissed him on the cheek, which brightened him up.  “That’s really sweet, Billy.  I do understand, and as long as you don’t infantilize me, we’ll do just fine!”

“Infantilize?” Billy asked.

“Don’t treat me like a baby who can’t do anything for himself,” Alan said with a smile.

“Oh….”  Billy said.  “I won’t….  You must think I’m stupid,” he muttered to himself.

“Billy!” Alan said, chastising.  “Please don’t let things I do or say make you feel that way, as I certainly don’t think that about you.  It’s hard for me sometimes … it alienates people from me because my intelligence makes them uncomfortable or insecure.”  Billy looked at him confused, and Alan tried to explain, “I was singled out as a kid, both by school and by the kids….  When I was tested, my IQ was 167….  People who are afraid of brains, or who need to be the smartest person in the room have a hard time with me.”

“I guess!” Billy exclaimed.

“Well?” Alan demanded, looking afraid of the answer.

Billy blushed and grinned and said, with a wink, “I kind of have a nerd fetish too!”  Then he added, “It would kind of bother me if you lorded it over me how much smarter you are than me, but other than that….”

Alan brightened tremendously, and when he smiled again, Billy felt something click.  He knew he liked Alan and thought he was cute.  Suddenly, in that smile, he was every bit as beautiful to Billy as anyone ever had been.

Alan grabbed his hand and said, “Help me up?  We need to get a few things before this place closes!”  Billy stood and lent his hand, which Alan took gratefully.

***

Carl was eating his dinner without much relish when there was a light knocking at the door.  He looked over and saw his wife standing there, waiting to be invited to enter.  He dropped his fork on the plate and closed his eyes tight, trying to control his breathing.  The machines he was hooked up to, however, told the story as his heart rate increased.  And yet he said, “Come in….”

“Carl,” Bethany said softly, stepping forward.  He stopped her with a raised hand and motioned to a chair for her to sit.

“No excuses, no apologies,” Carl sighed hard.  “I’m tired and I’m not in the mood….”  Bethany nodded and sat there silently.  “What else?  How many other lies have there been?  What all don’t I know about my life, my family?”

“Carl,” Bethany whispered, “I SWEAR IT WAS ONLY ABOUT GLORIA!”

“How can I believe you?  If you lied about the most important things in our lives, how can I trust you about the rest?” Carl asked.

“I … I was just trying to protect my daughter,” Bethany plead.

“BUT SHE IS OUR DAUGHTER!” Carl snapped.  “YOU HAD NO RIGHT TO JUST….”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” a nurse said, stepping inside after hearing Carl’s voice and the feedback from his monitors, “but you’re going to have to leave….  You’re upsetting my patient….”

Bethany looked at her husband’s red face, the vein in his neck throbbing, and then at the nurse before rising and leaving without further comment.  When she was gone, the nurse asked, “Can I get you something?”

“Could you find my grandson?  Jim,” Carl requested.  “I’d like to see him before they have to leave….”

A few minutes passed before Jim entered and sat on the edge of the bed.  “What’s wrong, grampa?” Jim asked, putting his hand on the man’s arm.

Carl sighed and said, “Your grandmother was in here, Jim.  I got a little upset….”

“She was crying when she came out,” Jim said, nodding.

“She doesn’t understand that she shouldn’t have kept these things from me,” Carl said.

“I think she does,” Jim said.  “I think she just doesn’t know how to say she’s sorry….  You know, to do that is to admit a lot of what’s happened might be her fault.  You know how that feels….”

Carl squeezed Jim’s arm and nodded.  “You’re so much smarter than we are, Jim,” Carl sighed with a smile, his eyes glistening.

“We?” Jim asked.

“Me and your dad,” Carl smiled.  “We’re so much alike….  Righteous and solid, but the bad side is that we don’t bend much, and things that don’t bend a little break, Jim….”  Jim blushed.  “That’s why I asked for you.  I want to forgive her, Jim, but I don’t know how if she can’t ask….”

Jim nodded and said, “Tell her you want to move here to be closer to Jonathan and me….  You know how much she loves it down where you guys are.  Let her make a sacrifice.”

Carl thought about it and nodded.  “I hate the fucking sand, Jim, always have!” Carl laughed.  “And God knows she does love it down there!”  Jim grinned and might have felt bad for the ruse, but he wanted to help his grandparents, and his brother, and himself.

***

When Alan and Billy left the mall, Billy was carrying two medium sized bags.  “Think you got enough?” Billy teased.

“For tomorrow?” Alan laughed.  “Yeah, but you’re taking me shopping FOR REAL tomorrow!  We’ll go to Nordstrom’s and maybe Saks if there’s time, and then a few smaller shops.”

“Well I guess it beats sitting around the hospital,” Billy laughed.

“Oh you have no idea,” Alan said.  “It’s gonna be a blast!”

“I’m not a huge fan of shopping,” Billy said.

“We’ll see,” Alan said, smiling.  On the ride back to the hotel, Alan leaned against Billy and was pleased when the boy put a beefy arm across his shoulder.  “That feels good,” he hazarded to whisper, and felt Billy squeeze.

When they got out of the cab, Billy called Sean.  “You guys back?” the man answered.

“Yep, just pulled up.  Should Alan check in?” Billy asked.

“We already got his room and checked him in,” Sean said.  “We’re upstairs already, just come by our room and get his key….”

The young men took the elevator and walked to Sean and Andy’s room.  “Come in, boys,” Andy answered.  “We got a room with two beds so you guys could give Paul and Jim some time alone.  I hope you don’t mind, Billy,” Andy said trying to control his smile as he handed Billy his key.

“That’s okay, I guess,” Billy said, trying not to sound too excited.  “I guess I’ll go get my stuff….”

“The boys brought it down for you earlier,” Sean said, pointing to Billy’s things.  Billy loaded himself up with his bags, and the men told them goodnight.  Soon Billy and Alan were back on the elevator to find their room.  When they got there, Billy struggled to reach for the key in his front pocket.

“I got it,” Alan said with a smirky grin and reached over and slid his hand into Billy’s front pocket and pulled out the key with a gentle touch, making Billy quake all over.  Then he opened the door and held it for Billy.  Billy dropped the bags in the closet and heard Alan chuckle.

“What?” he asked, stepping back and looking at the young man.

Alan nodded at the bed and said, “Looks like there was a mixup….”  The room was a single king bed.

“Maybe,” Billy said, figuring maybe someone was giving them a blind wink-and-nod.

“Is this okay?” Alan asked.

“I guess,” Billy said, putting on an act of being put out before shrugging and smiling.

“Don’t think this means you’re getting any, though, jock boy,” Alan winked.  Billy smiled and nodded.  Then Billy watched Alan’s face as he watched Billy strip down to his underwear and slide beneath the covers of the big bed.  Alan retreated to the closet and got a pair of pajama bottoms from the bag, before retreating to the bathroom.  After a while Billy heard the clatter of the leg braces as one of them fell to the floor.

And then Alan emerged, leaning much heavier on his cane, holding the wall with his free hand.  His pants hugged his tight waist tellingly, and his smooth, lithe torso bore only the faintest whisps of hair trailing from his belly down beneath the waistband.  Alan sat heavily on the bed and propped his cane against the nightstand before drawing his legs up onto the bed with his hands and lying down.

Looking over at Alan across space enough to hold two people, Billy suggested, “Meet me in the middle?”

Alan smiled with a gentle pinking of his cheeks and nodded, scooting himself over.  Billy slid his arm beneath Alan’s neck and drew the young man into him firmly.  Alan rested his head on Billy’s meaty shoulder, and Billy put an arm on his smooth side.

Billy sighed contentedly, but his attention was soon drawn to Alan as he felt moisture on his chest.  “You’re crying,” Billy whispered.  “What did I do?”

Alan whispered, “Thank you….”

“What?” Billy insisted.

“I just … I mean I’ve messed around with guys before, kissed and things, but … laying here in your….”  Billy tightened his hug and just held the young man in his arms like he wanted.  He kissed Alan on the cheek and held him til they both fell asleep.

***

“What would you do now, if you were him?” Ryan asked Eric as they sat on the couch after dinner.  They’d been trying to figure out a new thread to follow now that the whole Ken episode had played out.

“I don’t know,” Vickers said with a sigh.  “We just aren’t equipped to deal with this kind of thing….  But what he does next will tell us a lot.”

“What do you mean?” Ryan asked.

“Well, to all the world, or the few people who know what he’s doing anyway, he looks like a devolving serial killer.  But is he?  Devolving I mean?  There’s a real part of me that’s worried it isn’t the case.  Every step he’s taken has a kind of reptilian rationality behind it, and he’s not gotten any more careless,” Vickers said.  “If anything, he’s learning as he goes….”

“Well,” Ryan asked, “if we’re at a loss, and we’re both suspended, why don’t we take a break?  I mean, with no new information, and no access, can’t we just … spend some time together that doesn’t revolve around gruesome murder until we have more gruesome murder to think about?”

Eric wrapped his arms around Ryan and turned on the television, enjoying the feeling of the young man reclining on him.  He enjoyed it so much that he did let Robert slip from his mind, at least for a while.

***

The following morning, Jim woke up with Paul’s head on his chest, but the boy wasn’t sleeping.  He was staring at Jim.  “What?” Jim laughed groggily.

Paul squeezed him tight and nuzzled his muscular pec, teasingly kissing the boy’s nipple.  “Alone at last,” Paul grinned.

“You know you wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Jim responded, squeezing him back.

“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy now that we are alone,” Paul smiled.

“I gotta run to the restroom,” Jim said, slipping away quickly.  Paul intently watched him walk away before stretching and sighing.  When Jim opened the door again, he found Paul awaiting his turn, the boy’s shorts tented suggestively.  “You gonna take care of that too?” Jim teased.

“Unless you are,” Paul winked and passed him.  And he wasn’t joking; Jim could hear the telltale sounds from the bathroom, and fought every urge he had to rush in there and help the boy out.

When Paul emerged, a little flush in his cheeks, he found Jim stretched out on the bed, his muscles on full display, watching television.  “You’re torturing me now?” Jim teased with a grin.

“Who’s torturing who?” Paul smiled, hopping on the bed.  Putting a hand on Jim’s smooth back, he ran his hand down through the small of Jim’s back and then up the curve of his ass, before giving the muscular mound a firm smack.  “Parading all this around and holding out on me!”

Jim rolled over onto his back and pulled Paul down on top of him.  “You know I’m not holding out on you, Paulie?” Jim asked seriously.  “That’s not what I’m doing here….”

“I know,” Paul said, resting his cheek on the big boy’s chest.  “I was just kidding.”

“Good,” Jim said, running his hand through the boy’s unruly caramel hair.  “I love you, Paulie….”

Paul closed his eyes and smiled.  Sighing gently, he said, “I love you too.”

***

It was only midmorning when Robert and Connor made it to their destination, though they’d covered a lot of distance.  “What is this place?” Connor asked.

“That,” Robert said, “is Jim’s family’s cabin….”

“Are we gonna stay there?” Connor asked.

“For a bit,” Robert said.  “I doubt anyone will think to look out here….”

“I wonder if there’s a shower?” Connor said.  “It’s been a few days….”

“It’s cold water,” Robert said.  “If you want to rinse off, you’d be just as well hopping into the lake for a dip and then drying off.  But let me build a fire first.”  Connor nodded, and watched Robert grab some firewood and carry it inside to the stove.  Connor followed him inside and looked for a towel as Robert built the fire.  “If you give it half an hour, it’ll be pretty warm in here.”

“Thanks,” Connor said, blushing.  Robert squeezed his shoulder, and patted it simply, before searching out a couple of towels.  Connor waited for Robert to strip down and followed suit; they ran down to the water’s edge and plunged in, splashing around for a minute or two in the cold, cold water.  To all external appearances, they were two carefree boys acting recklessly over winter break.  Laughing, his teeth chattering, it was Connor who broke first, and ran for shore and up toward the cabin, with longing looks over his shoulder.  From the water, Robert watched, a smile on his lips.  He lowered himself in the water until everything beneath his ears were submerged and sat still, looking for all the world like a crocodile.

Five minutes later, Robert walked leisurely toward the cabin, finding a dry, clean and naked Connor lying face down on one of the cots, his face resting on crossed arms.

***

Alan woke first the next morning, finding Billy’s back pressed firmly against his own.  He leaned his head back until it rested on the muscular shoulder behind him and sighed.  But soon nature called.  He struggled to the edge of the bed and turned himself with difficulty.  The muscles in his thin legs were incredibly tight, painfully tight, as they often were in the morning.  The constant spasms in his legs meant the muscles never truly relaxed.

Alan winced as he stood and leaned more heavily than usual on his cane.  Normally he would have them by the edge of the bed, but he couldn’t bear the thought of Billy seeing him take them off and undress in front of him just yet.  He’d let his vanity get the better of him and now he’d pay the price as he struggled to the bathroom.  Locking the door, he sat on the toilet and tried to massage the wirey hard muscles, but to little effect.

Leaning forward, he turned on the water and ran a hot bath.  Hopefully, he could sit and soak, continuing his massage, and get some relief.  He’d lost track of time when he heard a knock.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Billy called.  “You’ve been in there a long time….”

“My legs hurt,” Alan said.  “I’m trying to soak them in the tub.”

“The guys are heading to the hospital,” Billy said.  “I told them we’d meet them somewhere for lunch, so take your time.”

“I’ll get out in a minute,” Alan said.

“Good, cause I need to go to the bathroom,” Billy laughed.

Shortly, Alan pulled himself up and out of the tub and sat to dry himself off.  “Billy,” he called, “could you bring my bag of clothes to the door?”

“Sure,” Billy replied, and knocked softly when he sat the bag down.  Alan grabbed it and pulled it inside, putting on fresh clothes and his braces.

“Sorry,” he said as he emerged.  “I didn’t mean to be so long….  My legs are bothering me today.”

“Are you sure you feel like going out?” Billy asked, his hand on a very firm tricep.

“I’m used to it, Billy,” Alan said.  “I’m not going to let it ruin my time!”

Billy nodded and stepped into the bathroom, showering quickly while Alan checked his email.  Alan tried not to ogle Billy as he emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.  Billy dressed in the short hall in front of the closet, giving Alan an occasional glimpse of his firm ass and muscular back.

When Billy finished and turned, he saw Alan blushing.  “You alright there?”

Alan blushed and said, “You’re … very handsome….”

Billy walked over to the bed and took Alan’s computer, sitting it on the side table, and sat next to Alan.  “So are you!” he said, kissing the young man tenderly on the lips.  Then he asked, “So is that confidence all an act?”

“No,” Alan said shaking his head, “not all….”

“Then what’s going on?” Billy asked.

“It’s just,” Alan began, and then began yammering nervously, “I already liked you before we even met, and usually when I meet a guy I don’t have any high hopes or expectations that he’s gonna be able to get past the disability thing, but it seems like you are, and that’s just as scary because it makes me hope, which sets me up to be so disappointed if things don’t….”

Billy smiled as he pressed his lips against Alan’s again to shut him up.  Then he pulled Alan into a hug and felt the boy sigh and place his head on his shoulder.  Billy whispered, “I’m not going to promise you forever, I don’t know what’s going to happen….  But I do know the confident Alan is WAY hot and I want to get to know him better!”

Alan squeezed him back and, with a smile, said, “LET’S GO SHOPPING!”

***

Smiling, Vickers put Ryan’s plate in front of him and settled in next to him with his own.  “So,” he asked Ryan, “if we’re going to enjoy this little enforced exile, what should we do today?”

Ryan smiled and asked, “What would you do if it was your time off?”  Then he began shoving food into his mouth.

“Youth,” Eric said, rolling his eyes playfully.  “Normally, I’d probably sit over in that chair with a book….”

“Liar,” Ryan said with a grin.

“Alright … with case files,” Eric smiled, shaking his head.

“That I believe….  But what else?” Ryan demanded.

“Well, I have a boat out at the lake,” Eric said.  “I might go fishing or just get out on the water….”

“And when was the last time you did that?  That sounds nice,” Ryan said.

“Too long … I go there when I just want to get away, where no one would be able to find….”  Eric looked far away for a moment and then his face filled with a sudden clarity.  “No one would look there….”

“What?” Ryan asked.  Eric burst from the table for the case files, and shuffled until he found his notes from his conversation with Jim, Billy, and Paul.

“He knows they’re gone,” Eric said.  “That’s why he broke in to the house and left a message….”

“Yeah?” Ryan said.

“Jim and his dad have a cabin out by the lake,” Eric said.  “Robert caused some trouble for the boys out there about a month or so ago.  He knows no one will be out there for a while.  If I was lying low, it would be a good place, and it would be like the boy to use their own vacation spot as his sanctuary….”

“So, I guess we ARE going to the lake?” Ryan asked, smiling but less than enthusiastic.

“We’ll swing by the cabin, and if nothing seems out of the ordinary, we’ll go out to the boat,” Eric promised, squeezing Ryan’s shoulder.

“Just so you know, when this whole mess is over, I’m making you take me on vacation!” Ryan laughed, faking a pout.

“Are we already to vacationing?” Eric asked him, repressing a smile.  Ryan looked embarrassed and blushed a bit.  “I’m giving you a hard time, Ryan….  To be honest, I’m wherever you are; I just don’t want to come on too strong.  I am, after all, an old guy … don’t want to take advantage of a young thing like you,” he added with a wink.

Ryan gently punched his arm and said, “Sorry gramps, hope that didn’t hurt.”  Then after a break, he said, with a mischievous grin, “When can I move in?”

“Today if you like,” Eric said, “but some of your stuff would have to go into storage….”

“Whoa,” Ryan said.  “I was just trying to make you uncomfortable!” he added, laughing.

Eric smiled at him and nodded, “I know….  But I was telling the truth, both times.  I’m ready for what you’re ready for, when you are, Ryan.”  Eric looked away and put his hand on the young man’s hand.  “I’ve been waiting a long time.”

Ryan squeezed his hand and said, “It would be crazy….  Let’s give it some time, but maybe I could bring a few things over, some clothes and a tooth brush, and a few things like that?”

Eric smiled at him and nodded.  “Good.  Why don’t you spend the night at your house tonight and think it over?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. This time Ryan hit him with a little more force and said, “Stop picking on me!”