Tainted By Our Choices

 

Tainted By Our Choices Edit 2

Tainted by our choices is a contemporary romance that has flashbacks, sex, environmental awareness, and a slight fixation on dessert. Potentially all at the same time.

Meet Jack. A successful environmental officer working within an industry that is so very far from his childhood dream of saving the planet, that he no longer recognizes himself. How he’s found himself in Houston, Texas, where he has no one, and nothing but his work for company, he tells himself repeatedly he doesn’t know. But when the place that became home had the heart sucked right out of it, and all around him were the remnants of a life he wouldn’t get to have, Jack ran, at the first opportunity given to him.

On a bright, sunny morning, Jack sees a face so familiar to him that he knows it better than his own, one that takes him back first to a beach in his childhood home of Tampa Bay, and second to a college in Boston where Jack learned – and lost – his heart.

Tainted by our choices is the story of first crushes, loves, and heartbreaks, and the fallout that left Jack clinging to his past. Join him on his rediscovery of himself, as a chance meeting reminds him of the life he always wanted to lead. Is he brave enough to live it?

Advertisements

Tainted By Our Choices

 

Tainted by our choices is a contemporary romance that has flashbacks, sex, environmental awareness, and a slight fixation on dessert. Potentially all at the same time.

Meet Jack. A successful environmental officer working within an industry that is so very far from his childhood dream of saving the planet, that he no longer recognizes himself. How he’s found himself in Houston, Texas, where he has no one, and nothing but his work for company, he tells himself repeatedly he doesn’t know. But when the place that became home had the heart sucked right out of it, and all around him were the remnants of a life he wouldn’t get to have, Jack ran, at the first opportunity given to him.

On a bright, sunny morning, Jack sees a face so familiar to him that he knows it better than his own, one that takes him back first to a beach in his childhood home of Tampa Bay, and second to a college in Boston where Jack learned – and lost – his heart.

Tainted by our choices is the story of first crushes, loves, and heartbreaks, and the fallout that left Jack clinging to his past. Join him on his rediscovery of himself, as a chance meeting reminds him of the life he always wanted to lead. Is he brave enough to live it?

Waiting For the Right Time

When Evan’s brother is in an accident, he’s terrified, and doesn’t know where to turn, or who to ask for support. Which is stupid, really, since Peter’s been in his life for longer than he hasn’t, and has always been a rock.


 

It isn’t fair, Evan thinks, staring down at Tom laid pristine white in a hospital bed, willing himself to concentrate on the slightest evidence of his chest rising up and down. Tom’s the baby of the family, eight years younger than Evan is himself, and all Evan can think staring down at him then, is that he’s failed him for letting this happen.

It’s beyond not fair, he adds, eyes closing in anguish at the sight of the apparatus set around the head of that bed, proof that Tom’s only there because there’s machinery keeping him alive. The bandage wound around his head speaks of swelling that hasn’t shown any sign of lessening, and there are enough smaller ones dotted to his neck and arms to make him look tiny, fragile there in that bed.

Tom’s a good guy, the best of them, never done anything but try to live a good, honest life, and do the right thing, every chance that he gets. And okay, so maybe Evan’s a little biased because Tom’s his little brother and he’ll never see him as anything but a hero. But he’s also never willingly hurt anyone, and that’s a heroic quality Evan feels a lot of people in the world are lacking, turning a blind eye where Tom is always sticking up for people. Always jumping to the defence of others without any regard for himself, without ever being asked.

Which is apparently how he got himself into this mess in the first place.

Just a day ago, Evan had been putting the finishing touches to a customer’s garden, enjoying the many perks of outdoor work in the late summer sun, when he’d received the phone call. A quick glance around, his careful eye checking for any small details that needed fixing, was interrupted by the scream of his phone, and Tom’s near-hysterical friend Steven announcing he’d been hurt in a fight.

Evan had driven directly to the hospital, the mantra that Tom was against mindless violence doing nothing but terrify him even more, for all the images and possibilities it stabbed into his mind. Steven’s broken words when he’d collapsed into Evan’s arms, once he’d found him wide-eyed and startled on a hospital corridor outside the operating theatre, spoke of Tom standing like a fortress, when a guy at the table next to theirs in a beer garden had been attacked. Of course he did, Evan thinks to himself for the hundredth time as he reaches out to pointlessly straighten Tom’s blanket, of course he’d done that. Without even hesitating. Without even giving it a thought.

There’s only the two of them, Evan thinks then, his stomach knotting over and over, half-glad that their parents are already long gone and not having to share this burden with him, yet also desperately missing their support. What happens next? Who does he need to call? What can he do to fix this? There’s a thousand things he needs answers to, but no one there to tell him anything.

Thank god, or whatever is out there, he thinks, that Peter is there with him.

Peter is a calming, steady presence beside him as Evan stands watch over Tom, twitching, trying to anticipate whatever Tom might need, or want, even though he hasn’t yet opened his eyes.

“I’m here,” Peter says, seeming to sense how badly he needs him, not offering any platitudes about Tom being okay, knowing it will do nothing to soothe Evan’s nerves. Instead he drapes his arm around Evan’s shoulder and allows him to shuffle closer, the only acknowledgement paid to Evan’s frustrated tears being the circling of his thumb repeatedly against his upper arm.

***

When Evan gets Tom back to his apartment to watch over him as he recovers, Peter is still there beside him offering quiet support. He brings Evan coffee, swiftly grabbing the rapidly emptying whiskey bottle from Evan’s hands with a terse look that speaks volumes Evan doesn’t want to hear about, and replacing it with a large, warm mug he can wrap his fingers around as he quietly nods in thanks.

Peter empties the bowl Tom retches into sometimes, walks with him to the bathroom when he needs help getting there – when he’s sent Evan out on errands to force him into getting some fresh air, and continues his silent vigil over both of the brothers when Evan finally succumbs to much-needed sleep.

Peter is also there, when Tom is screaming, crying out in the middle of a nightmare, and Evan is leaking silent tears of his own for all the things he can’t do for him. Peter rests a hand on Evan’s shoulder, and Evan breaks, grabbing Peter to him and sobbing wrecked into his neck, clinging on with a vice-like grip. Peter soothes with words spoken softly into his ear, and gentle hands rubbing reassurances into his back.

At some point about a week into Tom’s recovery, Evan thinks that in a fear-fuelled moment late one night, he’s kissed Peter, seeking comfort, reassurance, and escape. But his mind is so twisted in confusion with all that’s happening, and so bone-tired, that he can’t even remember if the moment was real, or just an unrealised fantasy that’s taunting him. That has taunted him, for as long as he can remember. Either way, Peter resolutely stays by his side.

***

Tom is strong, and begins to show good progress, with strength returning to his limbs, and wit making a reappearance in his words. Evan looks on, smiling proudly, reminded of a thousand times he’d watched over Tom protectively in sleep when they were growing up, repeating his mantra of thank you over and over for having him there to still do that.

As Tom gets better still, Evan begins to leave him alone for longer periods as a solution to his argument that he should go home, get out of his hair. He’s never far enough away to be out of shouting distance if Tom needs him, or wants to yell at him some more for being an overprotective mother hen; but enough to give Tom what is surely much needed space.

Peter is still there with him, and Evan finds it aches thinking about him eventually leaving when things go back to normal. His overnight bag’s become a feature of Evan’s living room, his favourite shower gel leaves a teasing scent of him in the bathroom, and his attempts to force nutritious food on Evan have filled his cupboards with strange new worlds of ingredients for all the recipes he’s got him trying.

Evan pauses outside Tom’s room, one time, hearing Tom’s soft laughter and a bemused, gentle mirth in Peter’s low, gravelly tone, leaving Evan stuck between listening and leaving, both curious and afraid of what he might overhear.

“Don’t tell him, Pete, ‘cos I can’t handle justifying all his fussing. But I don’t know how I’d have got through this without him,” he hears, and Evan feels a lump form in his throat, that he quickly forces down.

“You too,” Tom adds, and from the rustling sound that follows, Evan’s sure Tom’s reached out to pat Peter on the shoulder, or something.

“Evan wouldn’t leave your side, Tom, not for a second. When we were in the hospital waiting for you to wake up, I had to drag him out of your room to make him take even a five second break. He was terrified for you. Kept telling me, he wished he could take your place there, wished he could be going through it all for you. And though I would do anything for you, help you in any way I can, it’s been… difficult. To have to hear him talking like that. It’s probably selfish, but… I’ve felt so helpless,” Peter finishes with a sigh, and Evan wants to walk in and wrap his arms around his shoulders, tell him how vital he’s been to him throughout all of this.

“You’ve been here for Evan.” Tom answers, stealing his words. “That is far from being helpless,” Evan hears Tom reply, imagines his smile, and closes his eyes, grateful that Tom is finally smiling again.

“He’d be lost without you too, you know?” Tom adds, and Evan freezes at his words, desperate to know Peter’s response.

There is a pause, but finally Peter gives a soft, breathy sigh that sounds like acknowledgement, and answers quietly with, “As would I without him.”

“You guys need to talk stuff out, you know,” Tom tells him, and Evan thinks he can picture Peter shuffling in discomfort.

“It’s not really the time, Tom. We need you to concentrate on getting better, more than anything else.” Peter’s tone is decided, and firm, adamant he’s right in his thinking. He is right, Evan agrees, but it doesn’t stop his heart sinking a little, even if he’s not worked up the courage to do anything about this – them, himself.

“Pete,” Tom’s talking in that gentle, patient, explaining-to-an-idiot tone of his, and Evan kind of loves him for it. “I’ve known you for… it feels like all my life. You two have been friends since forever now, and it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that there’s something between you even if you pretend that there isn’t. If you keep thinking about it like that, that now’s not really the time, there’s never gonna be a right time. So why not make it the right time now? What is it the two of you are waiting for?”

Evan doesn’t want to hear Peter’s answer, too scared it will be the confirmation of rejection, so chooses that moment to go in with the tray of food he’s prepared. But it’s not like Tom’s words don’t play over and over for Evan, or stop him sneaking continual glances in Peter’s direction for the rest of the day. Or give him any chance of sleep later that night.

When he’s admitted sleep is just not going to be happening for him, Evan gets up, sighing heavily at the early hour glaring back at him on his phone, and pads through to the living room, expecting to find Peter stoically asleep on the sofa where he’s taking up what feels like just as much permanent residence as Tom. But Peter is sat at the dining table, his face illuminated by the screen of his laptop, and his eyes raise at the sound of Evan entering the room.

“Can’t sleep,” Evan offers in answer to Peter’s silent question, “What are you doing?”

Peter pauses, then reaches over to flick on a lamp on the table, and silently closes the laptop lid.

“Nothing much,” he says, coming around to lean back against the table, his hands wrapping around the edge, as he watches Evan. “Couldn’t sleep either,”

Evan watches back.

The silence remains heavy, loaded with unspoken questions. And Evan decides he can’t stand just watching anymore, so takes a courageous step forward. He bends slightly to cup Peter’s face and tilt it up, slow to give him time to resist if that’s what he wants to do. And then Evan leans down, claiming Peter’s mouth in a kiss that feels very, very long overdue. Peter’s hands are immediately around his waist, gripping Evan as he adjusts the way he stands between his legs, and pulling him as close as he can get.

The silence between them might not be filled with words, but there’s soft gasps and gentle exploration in their place, and that adds more to the sense Evan has of them finally getting somewhere. Evan feels hopeful, and humble, and more than anything, home. And when they pull apart to catch their breath, Peter’s smile for him repeats the same thing back.

***

When Tom walks through in the morning, rubbing a tired hand down his face, he comes to a stop at the foot of the sofa, his head tilting to one side as he considers the view in front of him.

On the sofa lays Peter on his back, with Evan tangled between his legs and wrapped up in his arms, fast asleep in the crook of Peter’s neck.

Peter looks at Tom, and Tom looks on back at Peter, and where Peter’s smile is small and a little timid, Tom’s is wide, and beaming happiness.

They nod at each other in unspoken acceptance of the change in circumstances between them all, before Tom turns and heads into the kitchen, a spring in his step and a hum in this mouth. He rinses the cafetiere, measuring out a generous amount of coffee, then settles it down on the side, fingers drumming as he considers adding another spoon.

Tom pulls down two mugs from a shelf, leans over to fill the kettle, then leans back against the counter, a gentle smile lingering around his lips for how ecstatic he feels for his brother. And with that smile, and a barrage of teasing already forming in his head, he turns around, and reaches for a third.

Tainted By Our Choices

Tainted By Our Choices Edit 2

Tainted by our choices is a contemporary romance that has flashbacks, sex, environmental awareness, and a slight fixation on dessert. Potentially all at the same time.

Meet Jack. A successful environmental officer working within an industry that is so very far from his childhood dream of saving the planet, that he no longer recognizes himself. How he’s found himself in Houston, Texas, where he has no one, and nothing but his work for company, he tells himself repeatedly he doesn’t know. But when the place that became home had the heart sucked right out of it, and all around him were the remnants of a life he wouldn’t get to have, Jack ran, at the first opportunity given to him.

On a bright, sunny morning, Jack sees a face so familiar to him that he knows it better than his own, one that takes him back first to a beach in his childhood home of Tampa Bay, and second to a college in Boston where Jack learned – and lost – his heart.

Tainted by our choices is the story of first crushes, loves, and heartbreaks, and the fallout that left Jack clinging to his past. Join him on his rediscovery of himself, as a chance meeting reminds him of the life he always wanted to lead. Is he brave enough to live it?

The Next Step

In the whirlwind that is after their first kiss, he knows that he’s got to keep making the decisions that count. There’s too much at stake here if he flounders; it’s like now he’s allowed himself to feel even a fragment of what he thinks he truly does for him, that all the blurred images that were once his rigid world, have been wiped clear, and everything is a sharper, brighter contrast than he’s ever dared imagine.

But what’s more important, what’s become bigger than all of that, in all that time after, is the responsibility he now holds in his hands; maybe, he corrects, more accurately in his heart. Because after all that pausing, all that lashing out when things are overwhelming, now he’s dared allow himself to have a taste, there is no way to resist the need to lean in for it just once more, time and time again. And he couldn’t live with himself if he pulled away from him now, even for a second, even in a moment of doubt; because he is too important, too luminescent to ever have to be smudged with the undignified shade of his awkward hesitation, of not knowing how to start.

They’ve been dancing; oh, how long have they been dancing. One of them will step forward to claim a kiss, a touch, a smile meant only for the other, and the other will then follow, only to pull back again, then lead with his own routine. It’s dizzying, this need that swells in him, more absorbing than anything else he’s ever felt, and coupled with the knowledge, the unyielding certainty of knowing that he is wanted back, well, that’s a little intoxicating.

But he can’t misstep, he can’t hesitate for too long, can’t bear to be the one that taints even a fraction of his smile, because he is too bright, too vibrant, to be anything but happy. It shouldn’t be allowed; he will not allow it, and more important than perhaps anything else, he will not be the one to ever tarnish that smile again. He’s done it too often, both meaning and not meaning to, too wrapped up in his own confusion to ever be good enough for what he might be wanting with him.

But he does want him, that much is clear; he’s never been shy with his affection or intention, so it’s a little surprising, when he reaches out, only to see his eyes widen in a fraction of alarm, before he takes a stumbling step back.

He never stumbles. And he never wants to be the one that makes him stumble; he’s too steady, too sure of himself to let such an unwieldy creature as himself be the one that knocks the backs of his knees, the air from his lungs. The spark from his eyes.

Is he wrong? Is this step he’s proposing too much too soon, or a move that was never destined to happen?

Worry, he hears, and vulnerable, and it’s laced with self-doubt, self-preservation, and so much contradiction; it’s like the want is there, lurking right behind his irises, but beneath his skin he’s twitching, churning. Fearful to reach out, fearful to take, in case he’s pushed away, permanently this time.

He wants this; does he not already know how much he wants this? Can he not tell by the tremble in his lip, the quake of his shoulders, that he wants this, him, so very badly, yet is half-terrified to reach for it as well?

He is an anchor, a port in a storm, a safe haven when the world is too much and the rain of that world comes crashing down to drown him. But he’s also the spark that ignites him, the curve in his lip, the beating of his heart in ways he didn’t ever dare to imagine he’d get to feel, to experience in his life.

This calls for bravery, a courage that he’s not sure he’s really wielding. But he wants this, in fact, he thinks he needs it, that they both need it; maybe if he can surrender his fear of falling, and he can lose his doubt of ever being caught, then they will meet somewhere in the middle. And that loneliness that swells in his gut, that he’s sure he’s seen peering out the corners of his eyes; maybe they can lose that. Maybe they can bolster each other.

What better way to find out? What better time than now?

He has to keep going, he has to keep pushing, because if he pauses for even a second, that strength and certainty he’s pretending to feel will crash and crumble, and if he steps back, for even a moment, maybe he’ll see in his eyes that this, he, is not really what he wanted after all. Not for more than a frivolity, a passing moment, a shiny new thing to brighten one of his endless days before discarding him again.

He can’t be that. He is not that. But what he is, is terrified; how can it be possible to feel so many emotions all at once? Is this what they always warned him against? Not that they could make you weak, but that they would overwhelm you; blur into and over one another, until you have no sense of time or meaning, when you are trying to feel, and be everything, all the versions of yourself, all at the same time?

He smiles then, delighted as he steps back just enough to really look at him, gripping tight enough to reassure that this is what he wants as well. It is freeing, to be on the receiving end of such beauty, to stare it down as though it is a sun he knows is going to burn him, but he won’t ever mind being forever scorched by. Not by him, and not like this; not when he’s leaning in to kiss him all over again, and the door slams closed behind them, and his heart sings at the knowledge that it is coming home.

Daring To Be

There is a feeling, a draw, a pull that he can’t quite put a name to, an urge he doesn’t think he has the experience to understand.

It’s when he looks at him, when he sees him, when he knows him, like nobody else in his world ever has.

It’s when he touches him, soft, in passing, that discreet brush of fingers against his arm that roots him deep, grounds him like he’ll never need to fear again, yet sends him spinning off balance as though he has replaced his gravity with something different, timeless, reverent.

It’s when he’s with him. He can be across the room yet still standing right there next to him, his skin whispering against his in an innocent brush. Wherever he is, wherever he turns, wherever he looks, he is there.

He is… enchanted by him, mesmerised, just as much as he is terrified. Though that terror isn’t borne of fear of him, but of what he represents, what he’s stirred within him that leaves him laying awake at night, and walking haunted by thoughts of him throughout the day.

He distracts him. From duty, from responsibility, from the simplicity that was his existence until he came along. And though he wouldn’t have it any other way, can’t imagine waking to a world in which he doesn’t exist, he doesn’t know what to do with this. Barely knows himself enough to be sure of who he is, who he could be.

He does know, that he wants him. But that’s not something that frightens him; it’s that he can have him. Any time he chooses. The moment that he asks. He is his for the taking, and that openness, that offering, that acceptance of him, just as he is, perhaps that is the thing that is most intimidating about this of all.

But since he doesn’t know, has never been educated on how to just exist, how is he to understand how to do this? How will he know when to finally give in, when to let go of the idea that he is risking all that he is, just by being who, and what, he wants to be?

He wants to be his.

But what if his infinite patience for his uncertainty, his caution, is not the bottomless well that he’s desperate for it to be?

What if he gives up on him, becomes tired of waiting, just at the point when he finds the courage to extend his hand?

How will he ever live with himself, if he doesn’t allow himself to truly live?

Goaded

For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise. And this is just as ridiculous and silly here as it was there 😉


“Jay. I am 34 years old. It is not a question of not knowing how to. Do you honestly believe that… just because I haven’t tried something before, that I couldn’t?”

Dean studies Jay’s face in that way he does when Jay knows he’s being an idiot but just keeps on talking anyway, and waits.

“Uh…” Jay stumbles, feeling lost for any kind of meaningful words.

He’s known Dean coming up to four years now, and on some days Jay still can’t work out how the two of them have become such good friends. Where Jay is practical, act-now-think-later, and very much a learn-by-doing, Dean is meticulous, researches and cross-references things he wants to know about to a point of obsession, and is the first to admit that spontaneity is a dirty word.

He’s also serious, thoughtful, loyal and compassionate to the people he cares about. Dean makes Jay feel he might be worth something, and that’s not something he’s used to being. And above all else, he’s patient with him, stays calm when Jay is close to panic, talks reasonably when Jay’s lost all sense of his. So it’s sort of funny seeing the slightest evidence on his face of being flustered that suggests for all of his blustering bravado, he’s actually a little nervous. It’s kind of cute, Jay thinks, then catches himself thinking it and pretends he isn’t.

“Yeah, Jay,” Matt pipes up next to him, grinning at Jay’s discomfort. Matt’s smirk drops instantly when Dean’s assessing gaze turns to him, as though Matt is being equally stupid.

This is what you get, Jay berates himself, trying to keep a lid on the whine that’s threatening to climb up out of his throat. This is what you get for arranging for your closest friend stroke not-so-secret forbidden crush to come over for dinner, and not forcing your kid brother out of the house you share. It’s inviting trouble, really, and he can’t blame anyone but himself for whatever’s about to unfold.

Dean continues to stare at him as this internal berating goes on for Jay, silently demanding an answer.

“Knowing the theory isn’t actually the same as… you know. Doing it,” Jay finally offers a little helplessly, flinching as Dean’s eyebrow raises a notch.

Jay looks longingly towards the doorway of the kitchen, to safety and escape.

He’s not going to get away from this that easily though, he knows that, acknowledges that the only way out of this is down. But he is going to have this out with Matt later, that much is for sure. How dare he bring up something like this, when he knows… Jay knows Matt knows… about… well. Things. About stuff.

“Well,” Matt relents after a minute, and Jay’s trying to concentrate on that, rather than the way his heart is attempting to leap out of his chest, “we’ve evidence, Dean. For example, from the last time you, uh… tried to help us cook. That… just ‘cos in theory you know how to do something? In practice, it doesn’t always work out all that well,”

“Omelette,” Jay blurts out, and for a moment, all three of them frown in sync, avoid looking at the black scorch mark on the frame of the patio door, and each other. Then Dean’s eyebrow cranks up a fraction more, in blatant disdain for their stupidity.

“I choose not to cook. It is not a question of not being able to,” he retorts, his scowl turning into a full on glare when Matt snorts, and Jay’s mind takes him back to the day of The Omelette pinpointing that as the start of so many of his current problems.

Dean had been insistent. Obnoxiously so. And most indignant, when Matt and Jay hadn’t believed he’d be able to do something as ‘simple’ as make an omelette. He’d raised an unamused eyebrow at both of them – very much as he is doing now – then shrugged out of both his coat and suit jacket in one fluid movement, and slowly rolled up his sleeves, all whilst Jay watched him open-mouthed like a man gaping at a beer after a taxing Dry January. Discreetly, of course. Discreetly.

Jay had continued watching Dean’s back as he’d walked over to the sink to wash his hands, dried them on kitchen towel like a pro, and then stalked over to the carton of eggs on the counter, bringing them back across the kitchen to leave next to the stove. Jay had swallowed roughly to see the pull of the shirt over Dean’s muscle and had stood, transfixed, willing himself to look elsewhere, but failing dismally.

Next, Dean had walked over to the fridge, bending down to peer inside in interest, and giving Jay a very distracting view of the way his pants tightened over his ass. Jay couldn’t help staring at things like that on any given day when he was around Dean, honestly he couldn’t, and at the time, Matt had given a delighted snort, grinning victoriously in his direction. Jay grimaces uncomfortably for remembering the look of comprehension on Matt’s face, still shrinking back from the wickedness emitting from his brother after all this time, wanting to turn quickly on his heel, and leave. Matt had that effect on him a lot when it came to Dean, Jay reflects then, fighting back yet another whine.

But Matt and Jay’s attention had then turned immediately to the bowl Dean clunked down noisily on the counter, and the way he threw in everything at once, before stirring the mixture vigorously and slopping it all over the sides.

Sure, in principle, the idea had been good; eggs, cheese, and bacon were acceptable – essential, ingredients perhaps, for making an omelette.

But, as Jay had sidled up to him, taking in the bits of shell floating on top of the mixture and the bacon fat sticking out like little white islands in a sea of yellow, he couldn’t help but laugh.

Even if Dean did spin on his heel and glare at him in contempt.

The second attempt, when the first had been thrown with some force into the trash, fared slightly better to start with. But Dean couldn’t seem to get to grips with the pan, and even Matt, who had been strictly forbidden from doing anything more complicated than reheating or nuking things in the microwave, howled in laughter, as Dean pushed stubbornly at the black mess that in a former life had once been eggs.

The third attempt, using up the very last of the eggs, had resulted in that black mark on the door frame that all three of them are currently glaring at, and Jay tactfully takes a slight step to the side, blocking everyone’s view.

“This is different,” Dean assures them with the most serious of expressions on his face.

“How is this different?” Matt laughs, boldy. This doesn’t really impact him one way or another, after all. Aside from watching his brother die from mortification. Unless it’s a really underhand way to get his share of the house, Jay thinks, considering just how evil Matt is, and what his limits may or may not be.

Dean stares at Matt curiously, and somehow that makes Matt laugh more. “Because, Matt. The omelette… incident…” Dean glares at them both for a second, daring them to comment. They do not. “I had never considered making an omelette before. It was not something I had ever spent a lot of time thinking about. You are both aware that I prefer to eat meals that are prepared for me,”

Jay straightens up from where he’s been slumped back against the counter, and his eyes narrow. “Wait,” he says, half-extending a hand towards Dean but curling his fingers back before they actually reach him. “You’ve been thinking about this? A lot?”

“Yes, Jay.” Dean tells him with utmost certainty, calm and assured as he is almost always calm and assured.

There is a look on Jay’s face that Matt instantly recognises as jealousy. He knows it, and has known it all his life; usually when Jay thinks Matt’s got more toppings on his pizza than he does, or has unknowingly poured himself an inch more wine from a shared bottle, it’s true. But still. He knows jealousy on Jay when he sees it, and finds himself smirking a little harder.

“With who?” Jay demands, stepping that touch closer, his voice tinged with bristling anger.

Dean’s face contorts, showing he’s really not sure what Jay’s problem is.

“I would have thought that would be obvious by now,” is all he can offer in answer. Which Jay growls, actually growls at, and Matt barks out a peal of laughter at, earning himself another glare from Jay.

“So,” Matt eventually manages when he’s finished his gleeful laughter from the safe step back he’s taken away from Jay’s mood. “What you’re saying, Dean. Is that. Is that. Unlike the omelette thing. You’ve been thinking about doing this. A lot. So you know exactly what to do here.”

“Yes,” Dean gives him simply.

Matt shrugs. “Prove it.”

“Matt,” Jay blasts out, eyes full of rage for Matt and spinning around, fully turning his back to Dean.

His eyes drop the second he feels Dean’s hand on his shoulder, and raise back up again in shock as Dean is pushing him back against the counter with no gentleness at all.

“Uh…” is all he manages, before Dean is against him bodily and kissing him firmly on the mouth.

There is a moment, a tiny moment, when Jay registers Matt laughing hysterically beside them. But it is only a moment, because right now, his brain has shorted out for the absolutely most impossible thing to be happening to him. Dean is kissing him. He’s actually kissing him, willingly, very ably, he’d very much like to add, and from the feel of… yep, that feels a lot like, well, interest, he seems to be enjoying it just as much as he is.

Unconsciously, Jay’s arms curl around Dean’s lower back, pulling him that little bit more firmly against him, making Dean moan into his mouth in appreciation.

I’ll die happy, is the only thought Jay manages, sagging under Dean’s weight.

Matt is doing all but cheering them on, resisting the urge to clap and forcing back the slight tears he’s feeling pricking in his eyes to see what he’s seeing before him.

Never in his wildest dreams would Matt have believed that what was a glib challenge to Dean about his never having kissed another man before, would have led to this. To seeing Jay, so utterly and thoroughly caught up in, well. Kissing Dean, like Matt damn well knew he’d been thinking about for an eternity. It made his little shipper heart sing, it really did.

Although.

Perhaps that level of enthusiasm was a little too much for his eyes, and oh hell he knows he just saw tongue.

Choking back the laughter that’s threatening to erupt yet again, Matt clears his throat, which neither Dean nor Jay acknowledge him doing.

“So, uh…” he tries pathetically, knowing there’s no way he’s getting their attention any time soon.

“Uh… you can thank me later, Jay,” he manages to half-call out eventually, backing up slowly towards the kitchen door.

Jay must be somewhat aware that Matt’s still standing there, because he slowly raises the hand he’s got wrapped hard around Dean up, flips him off, then slowly gives him the thumbs up Terminator two-style, before putting his hand back firmly on Dean, a little lower this time.

Matt’s eyes widen to see that, and he thumbs a gesture over at the door, making a quick exit with an absent wave, averting his eyes as he does.

Tainted By Our Choices – Extract

 

Tainted By Our Choices Edit 2

Jack stretched up just enough to peek down through the tinted glass of his office window at the protesters gathered outside holding hand painted placards and could only bring himself to sigh. They had moved in that morning, encroaching on all the best parking spaces in the parking lot and chanting angry slogans that Jack thought perhaps were kind of funny but would do nothing to stop what was going to happen.

The fracking would be going ahead, whether anyone objected to it or not. Works had all been approved, reams upon reams of paperwork signed and countersigned, and if some bureaucracy involving clandestine deals and exchanges of money between those further up the chain and the local authorities had happened, well. It was absolutely nothing to do with him. Jack had done his job. He had produced the environmental report that had helped win them the contract, carefully detailing all of the possible risks and hazards involved, right down to potentially affected species in the local vicinity, and models indicating the likelihood of contaminated water coming into contact with nearby residential supplies.

With another sigh, Jack looked over his mostly-completed work for the morning and pushed himself back from his desk, spinning one full circuit on his chair before coming to a stop, then doing the same the other way. He stood with an exaggerated stretch, wandering over to rattle the cafetiere and frowning at its betrayal when he found it to be empty.

With every intention of topping up from the coffee machine in the break room, Jack made his way there, the voices drifting out to him immediately changing his mind. He took a brief stop in the restroom and gave himself a quick glance over in the mirror as he washed his hands, tugging at his hair and telling himself that lighter color was definitely blond, not gray, in his usual brown.

Biting down on his lip as he debated with himself with himself, Jack decided on a local bakery with excellent coffee and even better cakes, then shrugged into his suit jacket and headed out. If he was staying late as usual to go over those complex habitat surveys for their most recent site acquisition, and had to survive the dreaded afternoon meeting, caffeine and sugar would be essentials to get him through his day.

With a carefree jog, he took the stairs down, noting with no real surprise that the chants outside grew louder and even angrier the closer he got to the exit. Giving a brief nod to the receptionist Jack stepped out into the bright, sunny morning, shielding his squinting eyes behind sunglasses from both the sun itself and the attention of those protesting. His face became a neutral mask as he passed the group buzzing like irate bees over to his right, hoping they wouldn’t pay him any attention. This wasn’t his first experience with opposition against what the company did and he’d learned early on to feign indifference, despite what he might really think.

A mop of messy black hair caught his attention, though, as it always did, whispering to him to take a look just in case. Jack’s gaze turned casually in the group’s direction as he continued walking, coming to a complete, shuddering stop and ripping his glasses off in disbelief as he watched pale blue eyes look him up and down in contempt, then spark with recognition before narrowing in quiet fury. His stomach sank and his mouth grew dry, and the only sound Jack could hear in that moment was the misplaced shriek of the crashing of waves.

1993

On a clear day, when the sky was the brightest blue and the reflection the sea gave back just as vivid, it made Jack feel like he could stare out at the horizon forever and never know where one started and the other began. The waves roared away any sense of unrest he might be feeling, waxing and waning with soothing sounds that never ceased to keep him calm.

Jack had been visiting this beach since before he could even walk, crawling along the sand and fisting it up into his chubby palms, squealing at the crunch and squeak of it between his fingers. He remembered helping his little brother build his first sand castle and watching the water lick it away one misshapen turret at a time. He remembered a red checkered picnic blanket pinned down beneath a cooler box to stop it blowing away, and laughter as he chased a corner of it that got repeatedly caught up in the breeze. Happy memories were what Jack had when he thought of this place. Happiness and home.

Today was not a clear day. The normally creamy colored sand was painted with jet black slickness, foam churning up gray against the shoreline. As if in sympathy the sky was dull and flat, clouds outlined with dirty smudges that bled into one another. It seemed to Jack in that moment as though all the color had been drained from the world. The waves rolled in as they always did, as they always had, but on that day, could do nothing to bring stillness to Jack, as each crest spewed out further victims of the oil slick everywhere he looked.

Though surrounding him was a flurry of activity, with rescue workers rushing about clad from head to foot in once white hazmat-like suits and carrying bird after bird away to cleaning stations further up the shore, the only noise that got through to him, that broke Jack’s continual horror at what he was seeing all around him was one of heartbroken, hiccupping sobbing.

A boy knelt off to his right, gently stroking his fingers over a bird whose head, he had rested across his lap at an unnatural angle. The oil from the bird’s feathers left glossy rivulets of black running down the sides of his thighs, and he continued his gentle path along its back as though touch alone could bring it back to life. A trembling hand ran over the flat of the bill, tracing against the curved tip that suggested a hint of its natural red color beneath the poisonous black that every other inch of the bird was coated in like a terrible second skin.

Jack looked at the boy’s mass of messy hair and decided it was the exact same shade as the oil staining his fingers. He stepped closer to him, his own heart heavy despite what he’d been witnessing all morning. His footfall caught the boy’s attention, and when he looked up at Jack with a quivering lip and piercing blue eyes rimmed red with tears, Jack felt an inexplicable need to bring him comfort.

Now

“Dylan,” Jack choked out, utter disbelief rippling through his voice as he continued to stare at him open-mouthed. Dylan glowered back at him, dropping the oversized placard he was holding down to waist height and resting his hands along the top of it in a fierce grip. He glanced up behind Jack at the office complex snorting in derision before dropping his eyes back down to Jack’s face in blatant scorn.

“You work here?” he asked, incredulous, a furious glare pinning Jack in place.

“Yeah,” Jack mumbled, and for a second he felt determined not to show any of the shame that surged through him just from being in Dylan’s presence. He managed a full three seconds of maintaining eye contact then found his gaze dropped to the tarmac beneath their feet.

“How the hell did you end up in Houston? Working here of all places?” Dylan demanded, so full of anger Jack struggled not to take a step back from it.

“I-”

“So, this is what you’ve become, huh?”

“Dyl…” Jack pleaded, lost for any other words to say. What was he supposed to say? What could he, after all this time, without it sounding like a string of poor excuses?

As though reading his mind Dylan rolled his eyes, glaring back at him with ice lighting those eyes that Jack had first stared back at so long ago. “Thought you wanted to change the world, Jack? Not rip it apart from the inside out,”

To read the rest, buy here

Oblivious

When is a date not a date? When one of the people on it has no idea that it even is one…

For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise 😊


“Have dinner with me tonight, Seth?” Ryan’s voice was hesitant even to his own ear, betraying the nervousness in the simplicity of his question. The clink of the mug of coffee against the table seemed unfairly loud when he put it down, leaving him wondering how he could even hear it over the blood rushing in his own ears.

Seth nodded without looking up, continuing to turn the pages of the heavy book laid out on the table at the same steady pace he had been doing for the past hour, curling his free hand around the offered coffee. “Of course.”

“Just you and me. Okay?” Ryan’s words came out in a rush, and he flinched when Seth raised a curious eye to him, falling briefly to the mug in Ryan’s own hands then back up to his face.

“What about Louise?”

Louise. Ryan’s long-suffering housemate and self-adopted little sister would probably shriek with laughter at his pathetic efforts later when he told her, and then curl up next to him on the couch for all the gruesome details of his embarrassment. But she wasn’t home, so couldn’t see him suffering first hand, and Ryan felt it was only normal to be thankful for the small mercy that was.

“Louise’s busy. Doing Louise stuff. Besides,” he added, still rushing through his words as he crosses his arms tightly across his chest. “Thought it’d be n- good… for us. Catch up. You know?” although catching up from what, and since when, he didn’t know, since there had been exactly two days in the past three weeks when he had not spent at least a few hours in Seth’s company.

Seth gave a curious smile, nodding again. “Of course, Ryan. That would be good.”

“Good! Good. Okay then. I’ll… I’ll let you get back to your…” and Ryan stopped mid-sentence to glance along the length of the book spin and smile. “To Louise’s compendium on Middle Earth,”

Seth smiled in answer, his eyes fixed on Ryan as he turned away quickly on his heel and returned to the couch, picking up the magazine he’d not been reading and looking up when he was sure Seth had returned to his book.

***

Seth looked out of the passenger window of Ryan’s, fingers idly tapping along to the music against the frame of the glass. They passed an all-you-can-eat buffet, and something that looked like a giant steakhouse, before turning into a parking space outside a beautifully-lit restaurant with a warm glow spilling out of its windows onto the pavement outside.

Noticing this was not the typical kind of place they went for food, Seth looked over the restaurant in interest then and turned back to Ryan, a question clear in his expression.

Ryan cleared his throat. “Thought we’d try something new seeing it’s just us. Saw this place yesterday when we were passing. Figured we’d give it a go.”

Seth smiled, “Of course. It looks Italian?”

Ryan nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Italian. Are we heading in?” He cracked the door open and stepped out into the cold night air, watching his breath cloud in front of him as he waited for Seth to climb out of his side of the car.

At the door of the restaurant, Ryan cleared his throat again and stopped Seth with a hand lightly on his forearm. Reaching forward, he tugged on the cold metal handle and gestured for Seth to go in first. Once inside, they were greeted by a waitress, who studied them for a moment at the ‘wait here’ sign, then smiled knowingly, giving Ryan a wink, and led them to the furthest side of the restaurant into one of the boothed tables offering a little privacy.

They slid in either side of the booth, Ryan studying Seth’s every reaction as he took in their surroundings in interest, then turned back to him with a pleased smile.

After a brief discussion over the menus they ordered, bruschetta to start, and two unpronounceable pasta dishes for main. Ryan played nervously with the edge of his napkin as they waited for their drinks, uncomfortable with their comfortable silence, and scratching around in his brain for an opening to conversation.

Finally he settled with, “So Seth. This okay?”

Again, Seth looked confused. “I don’t know-”

“This. You, me, dinner. It’s okay?”

“We have eaten together numerous times before, Ryan.” Seth replied, reasonably. “The restaurant is a little… different, but that is all. We’ve never had a problem eating together before.”

“Right. Right. Same as always…” Ryan’s voice trailed away with a forlorn edge to it, the napkin between his fingers shredding in one violent twist.

Their drinks arrived then, and Seth’s eyes stayed intently on Ryan, aware something was on his mind. Ryan shrugged the look away in dismissal.

The beer in Ryan’s hand calmed him a little, giving him something else to focus on besides his nerves. He took a long pull of it, then launched into their usual small talk, speaking about Louise, their friends, Seth’s excitement over a new delivery of books that he was looking forward to cataloging and adding to their local library, and Ryan’s own day attempting to make the periodic table interesting to a bunch of 11 year olds.

The bruschetta was announced a messy success, with both of them dropping pieces of it onto their pristine plates with embarrassed laughs. Ryan’s tension lessened every time one of them laughed, his eyes crinkling up at the look of concentration on Seth’s face as he fought to keep everything in one place.

Their pasta dishes met with approval too; Ryan nudged his plate towards Seth so he could try some of his, and Seth offered the same in kind. In fact, by all standards, the evening was enjoyable, and comfortable, and any awkwardness he’d initially been feeling had gone without any trace.

Ryan insisted Seth try tiramisu, even when Seth protested that he was too full to even suck in a breath. After a little debate they agreed on one piece to share, and before Ryan could stop himself, he’d slid a fork through the layers, then leaned across the table, pausing it just in front of Seth’s mouth.

Ryan’s eyes fixed firmly on those lips, licking his own as he waited for Seth to move. Seth opened his mouth slowly, leaning forward to taste, dragging the full piece of tiramisu off the end of the fork and into his mouth, unaware of how still Ryan had become as he did. He chewed, savouring it for a moment then swallowed it down with a wide smile of approval.

“This is very good, Ryan. I think I like tiramisu. I am surprised I have never tried it before,”

Ryan smiled, gathering another piece onto his fork and reaching out again. Seth accepted it with no complaint, huffing out a little sigh of contentment.

“Are you not having any?” Seth asked, when Ryan didn’t take any himself.

Ryan dragged his eyes away from Seth, taking a bite, and when he raised his head again he found Seth watching him in thought.

“Something is different about this meal.”

Seth’s statement set Ryan’s heart off thudding in protest, and he broke eye contact, fingers nervously strumming against his beer. The truth was, he always thought Seth was a little oblivious to things unless they were set out clearly to him, but if it had taken him the entire meal to notice something was up, it didn’t bode well for what Ryan was hoping him to understand.

“Ryan,” Seth prompted softly when he had quite found what he wanted to say back.

Ryan’s hand flew to the back of his neck, his unconscious thinking spot for when he got nervous. “It doesn’t have to be different. Not if you don’t want it to be.” was all he could offer, the words he actually wanted to say stuck in his throat, and Ryan closed his eyes in disappointment at himself, letting out a small sigh.

“How can I want it to be anything when I don’t know what’s different?” was Seth’s bewildered answer, Ryan felt his face flush.

“Seth. Come on. I know you’re not… fluent in people sometimes, but come on, man. I’ve been pretty obvious,”

Seth continued to stare at him blankly and Ryan let out a small whine of exasperation.

“Alright. Pretend you’re doing your observing thing like you do when you’re people watching in the library, making up lives for them, and watching us instead,”

“Okay,” Seth agreed cautiously, suspicion tinging the tone of his answer.

“From the outside. I’ve asked you out to dinner – alone. Taken you to a place we’d never normally come to. We’ve sat here, just us, and… I’ve even fed you dessert off of my own fork.” Ryan hated the feeling of blushing raging across his cheeks, though forced his eyes to stay on Seth’s even when they tried to drop to his own lap. “Don’t make me say it, Seth. What’s it look like to you?”

Seth took in the flush to Ryan’s face, the uncomfortable way he was sitting, and narrowed his eyes in thought. And what seemed to Ryan like several decades later, answered uncertainly, with, “It would look to me as though we were on a date, Ryan.”

“It would.” Ryan’s own response was part confirmation, part embarrassment.

Seth’s face remained a mask, but the thoughts rushing through his mind then made his response curt, and sure. “But this can’t be a date, Ryan.”

And in that moment, Ryan wanted to slide from the seat and run. The plummeting of his heart into his stomach made him feel sick and sweaty all over, fearing the few scoops of that dessert he’d so willingly shared might be about to make a reappearance.

Seth noticed the immediate change in Ryan’s stature and frowned even harder, trying again. “It can’t be a date, Ryan, because in order for it to be a date, you would have had to have asked me.”

Ryan startled at that, his eyes blowing wide. Had he not been obvious enough? “I did ask you, Seth,”

“You asked me to have dinner with you,”

When Ryan said nothing, Seth felt a solitary clutch at his chest and tried for a third time. “But you did not say it was a date.” Seth maintained to himself that he was right. Even if his heart was beating its own excited little rhythm. Even if perhaps his naivety had meant he’d found himself in the middle of something very, very good.

“Well. I know you haven’t dated much, but. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to say the word ‘date’ for the event to ‘be’ a date. You just… you know. Assume.” and Ryan kicked himself again for overestimating Seth’s understanding of, well. So many things. He liked order, and form, arguments to be presented with clear cut statements, and absolutely nothing that even resembled ambiguity would ever stand a chance of being understood.

“Oh.” was all Seth could manage say, because it looked suspiciously like that was a confirmation of what he was thinking.

“Out of interest. If I’d have used the word date. What would you have said?” Ryan’s fingers started up their nervous worrying of everything within his reach, and he avoided eye contact, bracing for the worst.

“I would have said yes, obviously.”

Ryan’s fingers paused and the fork he’d been spinning clattered loudly to his plate. “You… would?”

“Obviously,”

Ryan stared back at Seth, temporarily lost for words.

Impatience crept in on Seth, and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the edge of the table. “Ryan,”

“It’s a date, Seth.” Ryan blurted out, fists bumping against the table. “It’s a date. I’ve been wanting to do something about… this thing between us for… so long. But I keep coming up with excuses.”

“Why?” and there was genuine bafflement in Seth’s question.

Which was exactly why Ryan didn’t do this kind of stuff. He didn’t know how. Didn’t have the words for it. “This is me we’re talking about. I’m not good at… this. Besides,” he added, shifting in his seat, “I’ve never really figured out if you knew what you were doing.”

“What I was doing?”

Ryan laughed, but there was no humour in it at all. “The way you are with me. The way I am with you. How we’re… different. With each other. To the way we are with other people.”

Seth looked away, and swallowed nervously. “I am aware.”

Ryan pressed his fingers into the table then, watching them as they splayed splayed. “If you’re aware, does that mean you feel something? For me?”

“Of course, Ryan, I-”

“I meant beside the friendship thing and the… marathoning shows together thing. Book recommendations. Clothes shopping together ‘cos we both suck at it. Something else. Something more than all that,” and Ryan couldn’t keep the hope from his voice no matter how hard he tried to.

Seth bunched his fingers into the legs of his jeans and let the squeeze of it settle him a little. Took a deep breath. Looked Ryan directly in the eyes. “Yes, Ryan. I’ve always felt something ‘more’ for you. Always. Ever since we met,”

Ryan thought back to the time he’d been finding some book titles for his students to do real, honest-to-god research with in the library, when he’d walked straight into Seth’s book trolley and ended up sprawled out on the scratchy library carpet. It hadn’t been love at first sight, but it had sort of been head over heels, with him instantly fascinated by Seth, and steadily falling for him afterwards and ever since.

Ryan raised his hands in a gesture that screamed about his helplessness. “Then how come you never said anything either?”

Seth shrugged. “I assumed you did not reciprocate.”

Ryan glared then, and without warning leaned across to grab the collar of Seth’s shirt, dragging him forward. “Reciprocate this.” he grumbled, pressing his lips hard against Seth’s and showing in no uncertain terms what he’d not been able to verbalise for years.

Tainted By Our Choices

Tainted by our choices is a contemporary romance that has flashbacks, sex, environmental awareness, and a slight fixation on dessert. Potentially all at the same time.

Meet Jack. A successful environmental officer working within an industry that is so very far from his childhood dream of saving the planet, that he no longer recognizes himself. How he’s found himself in Houston, Texas, where he has no one, and nothing but his work for company, he tells himself repeatedly he doesn’t know. But when the place that became home had the heart sucked right out of it, and all around him were the remnants of a life he wouldn’t get to have, Jack ran, at the first opportunity given to him.

On a bright, sunny morning, Jack sees a face so familiar to him that he knows it better than his own, one that takes him back first to a beach in his childhood home of Tampa Bay, and second to a college in Boston where Jack learned – and lost – his heart.

Tainted by our choices is the story of first crushes, loves, and heartbreaks, and the fallout that left Jack clinging to his past. Join him on his rediscovery of himself, as a chance meeting reminds him of the life he always wanted to lead. Is he brave enough to live it?