Father Michael Kenny was in dress-down mode for a parish priest, but still carried the obligatory Catholic Church dog collar—and he was the last person Ryan expected to meet in the men's restrooms of Atlanta-Hartfield International airport!
At the greeting, Ryan returned the priest a cautious smile, actually quite relieved to find somebody to speak to who knew him. And he liked Father Kenny—an owlish man in his late sixties, whose eyes twinkled with a deep intelligence, and who was surprisingly good to listen to on a Sunday morning. And not JUST because his sermons were short!
Ryan and his parents attended St. Barnabus most Sundays—a modern cathedral-style church situated on a bluff just outside Atlanta’s perimeter highway. It was a beautiful place of worship about a twenty-minute drive from where they lived. If not the whole family, then at least he and his mom would go each week. It seemed to be in her blood and, despite all her problems, church was an immutable feature of her world. They would go for the early service, especially if his father was coming. Getting up early was the one thing the bastard could do well! After church, they would usually go home for an hour or so before going out to lunch together. After that, they went their separate ways for the day.
Ryan preferred it when it was just he and his mom heading for the service together, and sometimes they would stop off on the way home for a late breakfast. His grandparents were the same when it came to religion. Not zealots, but carrying a strong yet relaxed faith in the church and what it stood for. His mom had never made him go to Sunday School or anything gruesome like that, and at first, he'd tagged along for the company more than anything else. Yet, without realizing it, some of it had rubbed off on him.
Old Father Kenny was head of the pastoral team serving the large congregation at St. Barnabus; he was a lively and kindly soul who had time for everyone. What Ryan liked about the guy was that he wasn't religious. At least not in the wrong way—the way that was usually just a show from those who liked making a scene in their own little pulpit!
"Hello, Father—" Ryan’s eyes flicked around, a little sensitive at being caught speaking to a clergyman in such a public place "—nice to see you."
If the priest noticed the tentative response, he didn't let on and asked, "So are you catching a plane, young man?" while he was pulling paper towels from the dispenser to dry his hands.
Ryan shook his head. The truth would do, and he really didn't want to lie. "Actually, I was just getting the MARTA downtown," he replied, deciding to bend the timing of his travels slightly. "I must have been asleep...I missed the stop and ended up getting off here!"
He chuckled as he dried his own hands. "Just needed the bathroom before heading back." Politely, he held the door for the priest. "And you, Father? Going or coming back?"
"Going." Kenny studied his watch. "The five-fifteen to Dallas."
"Five-fifteen?" Ryan didn't need to look at his own watch to know what time it was as they strolled up the corridor together, back towards the atrium. "You're a bit early aren't you?"
Kenny grinned, and his eyes twinkled with humor.
"Son, when you're my age, most things take all day! I hate rushing! I like to get here with an hour or so to spare, get a cappuccino and read the paper." He nodded in the direction of one the kiosks which served the area. "Time for a cup with an old man?"
Ryan would have preferred to slip away, but Father Kenny was hard to refuse. He nodded. "Sure. Let me buy, though."
"Come now," the priest returned, already getting his wallet out. "What kind of a host would I be if a offered you a coffee and made you pay for it! My treat!"
"Better to give than receive?" Ryan quipped.
"Actually they pay us far too much!" Kenny's eyes twinkled again as he retrieved several bills. "I hardly know what to do with it!"
They joined a line and reached the front and were served remarkably quickly. "A tall cappuccino, please, John, and..." Kenny raised his eyebrows to Ryan questioningly.
"Ummm...a latte, please..." Ryan said, adding to the order, surprised Kenny seemed to know the dark-skinned, burly barista who was serving them.
"And a tall latte, too, John, thanks."
The barista shook his head at the proffered cash. "These are on me, Father."
Kenny grinned and seemed to take it in his stride. He continued to hold out three twenties. "That's kind John, but this isn't for the coffee. At least the change isn’t. Get something for the kids from me on the way home, can you? How are they all?”
Ryan watched the subtle emotion play out on the dark, honest face behind the counter. Surprise, pride, but also gratitude. "They're all doing well, thank you, Father." The man leaned forward and took the notes. “And thank you for this.”
"And you be sure to give my love to Ruby."
The man smiled and his voice was quietly husky. “I’ll do that.”
Ryan and the priest took their lidded Styrofoam beakers and navigated around strewn luggage to find an empty table. Ryan was intrigued, yet had no sense that what he’d just witnessed had been laid on for him in any way.
“I married him,” offered Kenny by way of explanation as he sat. He grinned as Ryan worked hard to conceal a smirk, and added, “Okay, let me re-phrase that! What I mean is that I carried out the marriage service for John and Ruby some ten years ago.” He took a sip of his drink. “Still keep in touch if I can.”
“And the money?” Ryan knew it was none of his business, but he couldn't resist. He sipped at his drink, too. It was piping hot. He was feeling a lot better now. The man’s company helped relax him, helped straighten out his head. He was someone to talk to, and with that, his inquisitive nature resurfaced.
“For their kids. Two turned into six.” Kenny’s eyes twinkled. “Don't ask me how, I’m only a priest! But that's a lot of mouths, and I don’t think the kids get many treats.” He shrugged easily and added, "It’s only money. What else is there to do with it when you don’t even have to pay for your own housing?”
Ryan studied the older man, ignoring the inquisitive glances of those sitting nearby. It was a value he believed in, too. If you had the means, then be generous!
“And you do that every time you pass through here?”
Kenny laughed. “Pretty much. As long as I’ve got time for a nice cappuccino! But you make it sound like I come here every week!”
“Hardly, Ryan. Honestly, I’m not much of a fan of travelling. There’s enough trouble at home without going to look for it.”
Kenny pulled a face. “Wrong word. Let’s call it…challenges. Churches seem to attract them!” The priest didn't elaborate as he took another sip from the tall paper cup and settled back on his chair.
“And are you going to a challenge, just now, Father?” Ryan asked, as much to keep the conversation moving as anything. He’d spoken to Father Kenny plenty of times in the past if a few words at the end of the service counted as a conversation. This was the first time he’d sat down with him and spoken at length.
Kenny studied Ryan thoughtfully for some moments. Finally he nodded. “You could say that. I’m visiting a young man who actually used to be a priest. You wouldn't know him. He was never attached to St. Barnabus."
Ryan smirked, though not unpleasantly. "They actually let you leave, then?" Again he found it difficult to resist digging, wondering what led priests to quit.
"Sometimes." Kenny chuckled. "It's not a calling for everyone, son."
Kenny became more serious. "For good or ill, that particular young man fell head over heels in love with a young lady in the congregation."
"Oh." Ryan took a moment to swallow that. Even in their church, that would be seen as an absolute scandal! A priest hitting on a girl was as close to bad as being gay!
"And you're going to visit him?" he surmised.
"They got married?"
Kenny nodded. "And moved to Dallas."
Ryan frowned. It was one of those things about the church that never really made sense. "Don't you think, though, that he might still have made just as good a priest being a married guy?"
The Father rolled his eyes tiredly. "You know, Ryan, even I can't go there!" He shook his head. "However, what's really hard is that they have a little girl, Lilly, who was diagnosed some while back with a nasty kind of tumor.”
"Oh..." Ryan said no more and stared at his cup. That kind of visit.
"The poor mite has been through treatment after treatment."
"And is she getting better?" Ryan asked, though he guessed from Kenny's expression that she wasn't.
With unmasked sadness, Kenny shook his head. "She's being given some last ditch radical therapy, but the surgeons aren't holding out much hope. Andrew and Tina are at their wit’s end. I was speaking with them on the phone last night. They just feel they've let her down." He sighed. "It just seemed the right thing to do to come down and be there for them for a few days."
"Why would they blame themselves, Father?" Ryan frowned as he turned his cup in his hands. "It's not their fault, is it?"
"Their fault? Heavens no." Kenny was thoughtful. "But we all tend to blame ourselves when nothing else fits, don't we? Even priests do that!" He pulled a face, trying to add a little lightness.
"I guess." There was a tinge of it being a little too close to home. "But why?"
Kenny shrugged. "Guilt, I guess. Life is full of maybes and what-ifs. Maybe if they had never met, never broken church tradition, never fallen in love...then perhaps their daughter wouldn't be suffering."
"That's a bit harsh isn't it?"
The Father’s sober demeanor returned. "If we can't blame ourselves, what's left?" He seemed distracted. "What do you say to someone who believes his daughter's sickness is God's revenge for him giving up on his calling?" His eyes were distant and he seemed to be speaking to himself. "Why would God do that anyway?"
Pausing, the man glanced at Ryan over his hot drink again and offered a wry smile. "Sorry. Priests aren't meant to have doubts...at least not in public!"
“Why would they blame God?” Ryan pressed. There was something about Michael Kenny that he found honest and refreshing, but it felt like he was trying to push his way through the thick treacle of some Jesuit seminary!
"Isn't that why most people decide to have a go at the Almighty? When it all goes wrong?" Father Kenny pulled a wry smile. "I think most find it easier if they can let off steam at somebody, and God's always another easy target."
"So maybe all there is to say is that crap things can happen to good people?" Ryan returned. He could write a book on that one.
Kenny's mouth stretched into a smile. "Other than I'm fairly sure there's a Papal Memo somewhere that suggests I'm not allowed to say 'crap' in the middle a sermon, that's about right, young man."
Ryan grinned too, but it didn’t last.
"Tell me about it!" he muttered. Been there, done that...and lost much more than his tee shirt! Talk about crap!
Ryan stared into his latte, but his thoughts were much closer to home than Dallas, Texas. In the large open atrium he felt stifled once more by memories that remained looming in the background. He felt he needed to say something, but nothing would come out as Father Kenny continued to study him.
“Is that the best there is, though?" Ryan muttered, finally. "It doesn't really solve anything, does it?"
Ryan didn't look up, but could hear the subtle probing in the priest's tone. “I mean what if the little girl doesn’t make it?”
Isn’t it easier just to give up?
There was a long silence between them and it seemed they were both distracted by the discomfort of their thoughts. Around them, people bustled and conversation flowed.
It was Kenny who broke the pause. “None of us are an island, son.”
A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries. The haunting words of the Simon and Garfunkel song latched onto Ryan, and he felt his eyes prickle dangerously.
“The worst times, I think," Kenny continued, "are those times when what we really need is friends.”
Ryan grimaced. "You make it sound easy." Too easy when you no longer had any friends.
"Easy?" Kenny closed his eyes briefly, as if digging for inner strength. "You know, Ryan, it's one thing to preach faith from the pulpit; it's another altogether to actually live it when it counts. Easy? No. Living with pain like they’re having to can be a like a prison, and I honestly wish I knew what to say to them that would make sense."
Ryan waited as Kenny stared into nothing. Prison? Yes, he knew what that was like, and it felt even more helpless when it was the actions of someone else who put you there.
“Sorry.” Father Kenny left his musings and came back to the table and smirked. “It’s an old man thing! The flock think I’m meditating and God is speaking to me, when actually I’ve just fallen asleep!”
Ryan chuckled and then his phone chirped. Checking the screen, he could see it was Luke. Again, he decided not to take it.
Kenny raised an eyebrow. “A friend?”
“Something like that.” Ryan found himself blinking as something dropped into place. Maybe he really did have a choice. Maybe he didn’t need to stay a victim.
He didn’t want to be rude, but he suddenly wanted to move. He knew it was time to go home and face the music, however difficult that was. Time to stop looking at departure boards. Time to swallow a healthy dose of perspective and stop running. Sliding back his chair, he made sure the lid was on firmly of his latte and made ready to go.
“Well, I think I’d better get going, but thanks for the drink.”
“You’re welcome. And thank you for keeping an old man company!”
As Ryan stood, Father Kenny caught his eye and said, "So what would you say to them, Ryan?"
Luke and his family?
“To Andrew and Tina,” Kenny added. “If you were in my shoes, I mean.”
Ryan shrugged. "I dunno. I don't think God talks to people like me..." Apparently there was no room for gay kids in heaven, and he didn't even trust Kenny with that one!
“Ah,” Father Kenny gave a knowing smile as he sat up straighter. “I’ve never found it that way. I’ve found that God speaks to me all the time.”
Ryan blinked. “He does? How so?”
“Well, I’m afraid to tell you that, priest though I am, I don’t actually have a direct phone line! Usually it’s through the people he puts in front of me.”
“Oh…” He wondered if Kenny guessed how much of a two way street that was.
The priest raised a hand in farewell. “Hope to see you on Sunday, then, young man?”
“I’m sure you will, Father. Bye.” Ryan turned to leave, and then paused. The thought was buzzing in his head and it just seemed right. He turned back. “When you see them later. I don’t think you actually need to tell them anything. It’s just words. Just being there for them is enough.”
Then, before the owner of those scrutinizing eyes could start digging, he hurried away.
* * *
“I’ve been phoning and texting him all day!" Luke frowned and pushed at his lunch without appetite. "He must have his phone switched off. It’s not like him at all."
In fact none of this was like Ryan. At least the Ryan he thought he knew. The tears, getting drunk, and now bunking off school.
Where had he gone? Was he okay? When would he come back?
Across from Luke at the table in the noisy school cafeteria, Simon looked uptight, too, but there wasn't time to discuss it any further as Toby pulled up a chair, shoved a brimming plate on the table and began chewing on a slice of pizza.
"Hey there, Toby." Luke welcomed his brother's secret boyfriend, trying to sound more at ease than he felt. "How's your mum these days?"
Toby studied him through guarded lids. "She's good," he said, but offered nothing more and chewed on.
On another day, Luke might have pushed further to make polite conversation. Just not that day. And anyway, what was it about Toby sometimes; engaging the guy could be like getting blood out of a stone! A slight and rather irritating grin seeped out of Simon, and upLuke grunted.
Picking up his plate of half eaten food, he left them. Give it ten minutes and he’d try Ryan's cell again
Other than Todd, few seemed overly worried that Ryan was still missing. At least little was said. In fact, it had been a weird morning, with Landon still conspicuously absent, too. Mitchell was in school, but was in a dour mood and, thankfully, kept to himself. Luke was relieved—the last thing he wanted to have to deal with right then was another confrontation.
Hitting re-dial yet one more time, the phone chirped in his ear and, like on every previous occasion, it dropped into the answer phone. Again, like every other time, he left a brief message and hung up.
“Heard from Ryan yet?”
Luke swiveled as he flipped the mobile shut. It was Todd. With him was Jake North.
“Has he said where he is?” added Todd.
Luke shrugged. “No idea. I was just calling mum about something.” Why he lied he wasn’t sure.
“New phone?” Jake noted.
Luke slid it into his pocket and remained guarded. “Not new. Dad got an iPhone, so he gave me this one.”
“Better not let them see you using it then, or it’ll get confiscated,” Jake chuckled, sitting down at a table. “You know the rules—no phones in school.”
Luke picked up his bag and moved off from the table.
Out of earshot, he still lowered his voice as Todd followed him.
“I saw Ry late yesterday afternoon. To be honest, he’s really shaken up!” Even then, he knew he was being cagey about Ryan, and he certainly wasn't planning on telling Todd anything about shopping, tequila, puke or sleepovers. “I’ve never seen him like this before.”
“That bad?” Todd looked troubled.
“Have you ever seen him cry?” Perhaps he shouldn’t have let on, but people needed to know that this wasn’t some stupid joke that was going away. “I don’t think he can face anybody anymore.”
Todd’s face fell.
“Shit…” He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead as it sank in. “It’s all my fucking fault. I should never have let Mitchell and Landon get away with it.”
Luke shook his head. “We’re all to blame. I was there, too, remember?” And he still felt like shit. “I just don’t know what to do. Even if he comes back, you know what they’re like—they’re going to give him hell!”
Todd’s eyes narrowed. “Not if I have anything to do with it.” Then he sighed. “Anyway, Jake’s coming round to my place after school. We were going to play some XBox. Want to come?”
“Maybe. I’ll let you know.” Luke walked off, already knowing he wouldn’t, even though he knew Todd had one of the newer Xbox 360s. Finding Ry was a damn sight more important.
He’d make some excuse later.
By the time school was out, there had still been nothing from Ryan, and he still didn’t dare call the Alexis home, not knowing if Ry's parents had any idea their son had been missing the whole day.
He made his excuses to Todd and waited with Simon and Toby for Grace to pick them up. At home, he could see immediately from his mum’s face that she didn’t know anything new either.
The three of them—him, Simon and their mum—gathered in the kitchen.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Lucy said, trying to sound upbeat. Across from her at the kitchen table, Simon looked worried and, yet again, glanced at his watch. Luke could tell exactly what he was thinking.
How long did a guy have to be missing before the police were called?
They heard the sound of a vehicle pulling onto the drive and all looked up hopefully, but he already knew who it was from the sound of the throaty engine. His mum could tell, too.
“It’s only Dad,” she said.
They waited for Geoff to get through the door, though after quite some time had passed and he hadn’t appeared, Luke began to wonder what was keeping him. Luke finally stood to go check. He was in the hallway when the front door opened.
* * *
After leaving Michael Kenny to his newspaper, Ryan walked quickly back down to the MARTA platforms. Waiting for a train to take the journey back up north, he knew that he’d have to go back to the Summers’ place. He didn't want to, but knew he needed to face up to his behavior. He felt calmer now, and there was no time like the present.
Enough was enough.
Two days of being locked in this prison had been more than enough. He wanted his life back, and that had to start with the Summers family. Having disgraced himself, the least he could do would be to face them and apologize. And if some bridges had been burnt, then he would try to rebuild, however long it might take.
He didn't have to wait long for the train and soon pushed his way into a car that was filled with those who, like him, were going home.
Every stop seemed a drag as the train passed north through the city, and he was lucky to have a seat. In his pocket, his phone buzzed again. Sliding it out in the crowded carriage, he could see it was Luke. Squeezed between office workers heading for home, he knew he couldn’t easily say what he needed to over the phone, and it was running low on power anyway, so he turned it off to conserve the battery.
Finally they reached the station where he’d left his bike. He couldn’t actually remember locking it, so was quite relieved to find it was still there. At last he'd begun to think straight, and it felt like he was breathing clean, fresh air again as he made the long haul back across to the subdivision where the Summers family lived.
He pushed steadily across the miles, though didn't hurry. The destination wasn't somewhere he was in any rush to get to. In fact, by the time he entered the familiar subdivision and could see the house at the top of the rise, he almost balked at going to the door. There had to be a dozen reasons not to! Perhaps he should just go home after all? Wouldn't that be best? Change and freshen up? He could come across…maybe…later… Or maybe just phone?
The temptation was strong, but he knew those other roads would bring no resolution, so, doggedly, he pressed on. At the driveway, he climbed off his bike and stared at the house.
Never had it looked so foreboding.
Once again, he struggled to stop himself just remounting and going home. He almost succumbed, when a car came up the road and drew onto the driveway alongside him. His options got closed down and he felt completely sick. He couldn’t even look up as Geoff Summers opened the door of the car.
“I know it's hardly enough, but I’ve just come to say I’m sorry,” Ryan said, quietly. He felt Geoff's eyes on him, but couldn't raise his own from the sturdy frame of his bike. At best there would be a taut, 'I should think so, too!'. At worst...? Ryan preferred not to even consider it.
“No,” replied Geoff, stepping out of the car.
No? For Ryan, the closing clunk as Geoff shut the car door was unnerving. He looked up and caught Geoff studying him. Holding onto the bike, he swallowed and waited for the hammer to fall. It was only what he deserved—another roasting before he could slink off and hide.
Geoff closed the distance between them, and what came next was unexpected. “Son, it’s me that should be saying sorry,” he continued softly. Without waiting for a reply, Geoff wrapped his arms around Ryan and drew him close.
Ryan swallowed and froze in the gentle but determined grip. The compassion undermined him, and every wall of protection that he’d so carefully wrapped himself in came tumbling down. All at once, a well of emotion was let loose. He thought he’d prepared himself for the worst, but this was so, so much harder. He just couldn’t help it, and began shaking, his whole frame wracked with silent sobs.
Geoff didn’t let go and Ryan held on to him for dear life until the emotion subsided. Finally, still holding his bike so that it, too, wouldn’t go crashing to the ground, Ryan looked up, shocked to see the man’s face streaming with tears.
“I am just so sorry, Ryan,” Geoff said, blinking with his own brimming feelings. “You didn’t deserve what I said to you this morning. You didn’t even take the bottle, for God’s sake!”
Geoff let him go, wiped his eyes with his sleeve, and smiled weakly. "What are we like?!”
Ryan scrubbed his face, trying to get on top of himself again.
“I’d better not stay,” he said, hiccupping as his fragility was threatened. “I just came to say I’m really sorry for what I did. It was really stupid. I’ll pay to replace the bottle, of course.” He still felt miserable.
Geoff smiled and shook his head. “I’m not saying that drinking half a bottle of tequila was a smart thing, but I’m sure you already paid enough of a price for that. Luke said you were going through a bit of a tough time. I was just too damn pigheaded to realize it.”
Ryan was still wondering about when would be a good time to hightail it on his bike, but with Geoff's arm around his shoulders he found himself walking towards the house.
Geoff continued. “I don’t know what happened that brought all this on, and the boys won’t tell me. If you don’t feel able to say, that’s fine, I won’t press you.” His tone was stronger now and as determined as the arm resting across Ryan’s shoulders. “What you do need to know is that, even if you mess up, Lucy and I will always be here for you, and our door is open for you anytime and any day.”
As if to mark that commitment, Geoff opened the front door and held it wide for Ryan to step in.
Ryan felt completely overwhelmed. It was so much easier to give than receive! He would have easily burst into tears again had not Luke stepped out of the doorway and glared at him.
‘WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?” Luke demanded. His furious tone was enough to deflect the prickling eyes that had been brewing. Ryan found it difficult to look him in the eye.
“Sorry. I went for a ride.” Just past Luke, Ryan spotted Lucy and beyond her, Simon. For safety, he returned to his mantra. "I just came to apologize for being stupid.”
He hung his head feeling like a total asshole, unable to look any of them in the eye. He froze at the doorway, which felt as though it were shielded by an impenetrable force field. He glanced back towards where his bike lay on the ground. “Anyway, perhaps I should—”
“You’re not coming in?” Luke seemed frustrated.
He shook his head. “I think I better get home. Mom’s probably wondering where I am.” He felt washed out and hoped they couldn't tell he'd been crying. It was time to leave before he made any more of a spectacle of himself.
Just then the house phone rang. Simon picked it up and then handed it to Lucy. She listened before saying in an overly bright tone. “Yes, he’s just here.”
She held out the handset towards Ryan, forcing him to come inside to take it. “It’s your mum,” she mouthed.
He lifted it to his ear, feeling apprehensive. “Hi Mom…yes, sorry it was switched off. I forgot to charge it. No, I’m fine. Oh, right…you’re out this evening?” He switched the handset to the other ear as the whole Summers family waited with him in the hallway and watched. “No it’s fine…yes I’m sure I can… bye then. Yes, see you later.”
He passed the phone back to Lucy as she raised her eyebrows questioningly.
“Mom’s out,” he said, though he could tell they’d all heard enough of the conversation to figure that out for themselves.
Mom was always out.
“That’s decided then,” Lucy said, her voice determined. “Five for supper.” She put down the phone and, like Geoff, wrapped her arms around him. Ryan couldn’t help himself and started shaking again.
SHIT, SHIT, SHIT! He had to stop it!
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed her shooing away Luke and Simon. He felt a complete wreck.
“Now,” she began, holding him at arms length and studying him once he’d got hold of himself. He groaned inwardly, sensing an inquisition approaching.
Geoff interrupted, and also seemed to sense where she was heading. “Luce, Ryan and I have agreed that we’ll go there only if he’s ready and wants to tell us.”
“Oh.” Ryan could see the slight flare of frustration in her eyes as her motherly instinct for putting things right got thwarted. Nevertheless, she took it well.
“Fair enough,” she said. She gave him a squeeze and then backed off. “What say I put the kettle on?”
He nodded. A good, hot cup of coffee was exactly what he needed right then!
He retreated to the back deck, sitting awkwardly on a chair as he waited, and some minutes later, Luke brought out two. The two of them wandered down onto the grass, settling on a far-off shaded patch where they would have some privacy.
“I feel such a fucking fool,” Ryan muttered before Luke could even get close to asking him how he was doing, let alone where he’d been all day. “You all must think I’m pathetic!”
“Don’t sweat it.“ Luke shrugged and took a sip of his drink. “You had a pretty rough week. Mum and Dad are cool with it.”
“What about you? Will you get in trouble?”
“For yesterday?" Luke shrugged. "Who knows. Grounded probably, but I don’t think it’ll be too bad.” He grinned. “If they throw me out, I can always come and live at your place!”
Ryan smiled humorlessly. “Yeah…right. Look, you need to make sure they know it was all my fault...I was the one who was fucking pissed! They should probably punish me, not you." And he deserved it.
"You?" Luke pulled a face, and even smirked! "Don’t you think you've suffered enough having to go around all day wearing my cast offs?"
Ryan grimaced as he studied himself, and then he almost laughed. Luke was right, he looked a sight. Nothing really matched. He wasn't going to win ‘best dressed asshole’!
Luke leaned back and made himself comfortable. His tone was more circumspect and he said, “We should probably take the clothes back.”
Ryan frowned. “Why? Don’t you like them?”
"I love the stuff," Luke replied quickly. “It’s not that at all. But I still can’t really keep it.”
Luke grimaced. "Because mum says they need to go back. She thinks you spent too much—which you did. And anyway, I don't have the money to pay you back!"
"I thought we already agreed, I don’t need paying back."
"But you were drunk then!" Luke sniggered. "In fact I’m surprised you even remember it! Come on, it's a bit much. We can go back and put it back on your card. I've still got all the tags."
"I tell you what—" Ryan put his hands behind his head and lay back on the grass, too. "You go get me some of those Hobnob biscuits and we'll call it quits! It’s my last and final offer.”
Luke laughed out loud. “You know, I think I've mentioned this before, but you’re total crap at bargaining!”
“What can I say? It’s one of my gifts.” Ryan found himself beginning to relax as they bantered, and it began to feel like it was going to be all right. Propping himself on one elbow to consider Luke, he added, “Honestly, I’m serious. I want you to keep it all, so stop arguing! Anyway, after going to all that trouble with…what was his name at the store…?”
“Raoul?” offered Luke, helpfully.
“That’s him…Raoul!” Ryan paused and pulled a face. “Crap. Did I really put a pair of boxers on my head in front of him?”
Luke sniggered and nodded. “You do remember then! You said I’d need them ‘cos it rained in England!’”
Ryan buried his face in his hands. “Shit, was I really that pissed?”
Abruptly, Ryan rolled over onto his stomach, fidgety and awkward now. “Pissed enough to do some other pretty stupid stuff, if I remember,” he muttered. It was the elephant in the room and he felt uneasy again and dug his hands into the dry soil of the flowerbed they were lying alongside. The weather was parching and the flowers looked like they needed a drink, too.
Luke didn’t reply.
“You must think I’m a complete shithead…” Ryan continued, letting the dry earth sift through his fingers without looking up. The back of his neck was flushed, but he needed to say something. “In your room just before I threw up. Sorry about that.”
Luke chuckled and Ryan looked up. Luke certainly didn’t look like he was about to flip out.
“You did kinda take me by surprise!” Luke grinned widely as he added, “Though I have to hand it to you, bud, you’ve got a pretty good technique!”
Ryan pulled a face. “Asshole!” He aimed a kick, though it was good-natured. Perhaps Luke was right. There seemed little point in being coy. Better just to laugh it off.
Luke continued giggling. “Mind you, I was a bit worried that mum might come in the door and catch you squirting on the floor!”
“Oh, God, I forgot about that! She came in and saw me in the shower as well, didn’t she?” He rolled over on the grass again and stared up to the sky. “What the hell did she think?
“About the pubes?”
Or lack of them!
"Did she say anything?” Ryan resisted the urge to give himself a scratch.
Luke continued smirking, and then settled down on his back too. “Trust me, don’t sweat it. She thinks its normal."
"Normal?" Ryan looked across, trying to figure where that one came from.
"You remember a couple of weeks back," Luke continued. "When I had to trim mine in preparation for the circumcision op?”
Luke turned on his side and seemed full of amusement. “Well, she was getting a bit weird about it. Something about how I didn’t need to be ashamed of trimming or some crap like that, like I was still living in the last century! Anyway, the point is, I told her that almost all guys now were either trimmed or shaved smooth. Everyone did it.”
Ryan lifted and turned his head in astonishment. “Good God! You told your mom that? What did she say?”
"I guess I was just trying to shock her." Luke started shaking. “Hell, I just wished I’d had a camera!”
Ryan grimaced and relented to a deliver a single scratch. “It still fucking itches. Kier wasn’t wrong there!” He sat up at last and took a long swallow from his mug, and then stood and threw the last dregs into the parched soil. “Come on, let’s go shoot some baskets or something. Oh…and that stuff from Justins…all the clothes…”
Luke stood too. “What about them?”
“We bought them for you, and they’re staying, whatever your mom says! And anyway, she can’t take them back without me being there with my card, so you're stuck with them!"
Luke grinned again.
Ryan peered at him suspiciously. ‘What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing,” replied Luke, though he couldn’t stop grinning. “Just trying to figure out the odds of who’d win an argument between you and my mum!”
Luke changed the subject as they walked across to the house. “So where did you go?”
“Today, you mean?”
“I ended up at the airport.” Ryan said no more.
“That’s it? You went to Hartsfield? Why?”
“Don’t ask. Did I miss anything at school?” He wanted to close the chapter and hope Luke would get the message.
Luke smirked. “How would I know. Like you keep telling me, I never listen!” They both started laughing and it felt good. “Let me go get changed, and I’ll see you out front.”
* * *
Later that night, Lucy made ready for bed. It had been quite a day and it seemed boys were already asleep. Geoff was still in the shower as she sat reading the Bill Bryson book she'd recently picked up. She wasn’t really concentrating on it and yawned. It had been quite a day. In fact, with several trips to the urologist under Luke’s belt, it had been quite a week for all of them!
Despite the Bryson book being a hilarious read, another page went by without seeing a word, so she put it down. As a result of the previous days events, they still had to discuss some consequences. She knew Luke had to be appropriately punished, but just didn’t really have it in her anymore.
The boys had played around the hoop before supper, and Ryan seemed to be a lot better for it, though after they’d showered and changed, the meal had been a little reserved.
She grinned to herself. Typical of Simon. Only he could get away with inquiring if letting Ryan have any of the sherry trifle was a wise move! After that, the ice broke and they got on like a house on fire!
Ryan was such a nice kid. It had almost broken her heart when he’d wept in her arms earlier in the afternoon, but Geoff was right, he wasn’t theirs and they had to give him his space to decide what, or what not, to tell them.
The old dog came out of the shower wrapped in a towel and she looked up. “You know that boy can be quite stubborn!”
Geoff frowned. “Luke?”
She shook her head. “No, Ryan! Keep up for goodness sake!”
“Ryan?” He eyed her warily. “Now what are you up to?”
“Nothing! I just told him that we should take all the clothes back that he bought for Luke. I mean, it was way over two hundred dollars!”
“Ah…” A knowing glint reached Geoff’s eyes. “Don’t tell me. He dared to disagree?”
She peered at him suspiciously. “How did you know?”
He wagged his finger. “Uh-uh. Me no tell! Men’s talk!”
“I’ll men’s talk you! So, what are we going to do with Luke? Just let it be?”
Geoff dried himself down and returned the towel to the bathroom. Then he pulled back the sheets and slipped in. She smirked to herself at the absence of any pajamas and began to feel a little rejuvenated. It was pretty obvious what he had in mind, and it usually put her in a perfect position to get her own way!
“Consequences, you mean?” Geoff said at last, getting comfortable. “Well, he still stole a bottle of tequila and got both him and Ryan three sheets to the wind! I know he had some good intentions, but I don’t think we should just let it slip.”
She nodded. “I guess you’re right. What did you have in mind? Ground him at home?”
Geoff shook his head. “No, something that will make much more of an impact. And anyway, it looks like Ryan really needs him around just now. I was thinking of more like taking his MacBook for a while. After the exams have finished, that is.”
“So, we take his MacBook and he’s grounded from being online at all for a month after school finishes?”
“Have a heart!” he gasped. “I was only thinking a week. Two at most!”
“You, Geoffrey Summers, are a big softy!” She turned off the lights and drew close. His skin was warm and inviting and he smelled delicious.
“You should probably know that I’m planning on getting you circumcised like the boys!” She started giggling as his eyes widened. “There’s a three for two offer on at the clinic!” Her hand reached for him. “Here, let me show you some of the benefits!”