Saturday, July 31, 2010

34 East Bremerton

We only have a very few, simple rules. Just a handful of guidelines. Be respectful, don’t go barefoot outside when it’s 25 degrees, be home on time, leave the house on time, don’t be late for Sunday dinner at Liam and Murray’s and if you go barefoot outside in the snow again, Grayer… Most of them are just common sense though, and I don’t lack any common sense, per se… I might just be a little challenged in the area of discerning when and where to use it.

For instance: I know that when I go outside barefoot in the snow it will hurt and my feet will get cold and there is the potential for me to get sick, but sometimes that risk is worth taking so that I don’t have to make the effort to get shoes. This is a line of thinking Dominic has very little appreciation for. And lately, it’s a line of thinking that my bottom also has little appreciation for as well.

It’s hard to enforce even simple rules from a distance, however, and after The Kitchen Wall Incident, Dominic wasn’t near as adamant that we spend time apart. It was about a week before I moved into his apartment. And after that, it took a whole two weeks for us to decide we were not fitting. What with my stuff and his, it was just plain tiny. Enough room for one person and maybe a cat or a small dog if you decided not to own a dining room table, but not near big enough for two whole men plus two easels and forty-eight painted canvases. That much stuff combined in that confined a space can make even walking dangerous. Coat hangers turn into weapons of death.

So, after a trip to the emergency room involving an accident between the wall and my head, Dominic called it quits. We were going to get a house. A real, live house. It was more than just a space issue now, it was a safety issue and Dominic doesn’t play around with safety.


We were sitting on the couch watching an Ethan Hawke movie when the phone rang. Dominic patted my knee and got up to get it. Any excuse to escape the fifth Ethan Hawke that week. I kept reminding him that when you love someone, sometimes you just have to watch their movie six times in one day, but he wasn’t listening very well.

He picked up the phone and came to stand behind me on the couch. “Mmhm,” he was saying and running his fingers through my hair. “The one on the north end?” He lowered his lips to kiss my head.

“Quiet,” I mumbled, barely caring, too caught up in Jesse and Celine talking to the guy by the river.

“That’s fantastic,” Dominic said. “They took it? Finally.”

“This is where he writes them that poem about the milkshake,” I said. “That part I was telling you about.”

“Right, right,” he said. Into the phone, not to me.

I turned around and glared at him, his chin resting on my head, an elbow on either side. “Are you even watching?”

He smiled at me. “He’ll be thrilled. Yes. Thanks so much, Erin. We’ll be over first thing Monday to sign the last of it. Thanks. Yes. All right. Goodbye.” The hand holding the phone dropped down beside me and then Dominic bounded up over the couch and landed on top of me, grinning madly.
I screeched. “You’re RUINING my movieee! I LIKE this one!”

“Oh, you like all of them,” he laughed and straddled my lap. “I believe this was the one that received the… five-hundredth, was it? Absolute, Favorite, Best Movie of All Time Graeme Kinney Award.”
I strained to see the television beyond him and he pinned me to the couch.

“Don’t you want to know who that was?”

“Erin,” I said distractedly. “It was Erin. We got one of the houses on the north end. The one on Handel, probably.”

“Probably?” Dominic kissed me and then climbed off and sat down on the couch, one arm around my shoulders. He put his lips to my ear. “Hey.”

“Wha-at?” I whined. “You’re interrupting everythiiing. This is one of my favorite movies.”

“They’re all your favorites.”

“I know. So?”

“So, you’re not very happy, are you?”

“No, you’re ruining my favorite movie.”

“About the house. I thought you‘d be happy.”

“It’s tiny. It has ugly carpet.”

“I thought you liked this one. That’s why we went for it, remember? Because we both finally agreed?”

“It’s fine with me.”

“Hey.” He plucked the remote from my fingers and turned the television off.

“HEY! My moovieeee!”

He stood and took my wrist, pulling me, with effort, to my feet.

“Where’re we goooing? I wanted to finish watching. I LIKE this one.”

“So I’ve been told. I believe you, too. It’s got to be the seventeenth time you’ve seen it.”

“Fiftieth, at least. Ow, let go.”

He was dragging me toward the door.

“We’re going to walk and talk about this. I’m tired of that television.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t like the house in question. I mean, granted, the carpet in the master bedroom was hideous and it smelled like shit. But that could be pulled out. We could manage that. We could probably even manage not being in the middle of town, not having such easy access to public transit and everything. But what I couldn’t manage -- what I didn’t want to manage OR talk about -- was that this meant I was losing my studio. YES, okay? Yes, we’d talked about that beforehand. And it had been fine.. before. When moving had seemed light years away. We were never actually supposed to BUY a house. A real house on a real damned residential street.

GOD, the crazy things we do for love. Under duress, but we do them.

“Stop grinding your teeth and talk to me.” Dominic’s warm hand slid into my cold one. He’d insisted I bring mittens but I wasn’t going to wear them. He pulled my hand into his coat pocket.

“It’s called shivering and I can‘t just quit.”

“You’re wearing plenty of layers. You’d better not be shivering. Tell me what this is all about. Why are you so upset? You were fine a little while ago.”

“I’m still fine. Just… tired.”

“So you need to go home and go to bed?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Noo,” I said, quietly. The streets weren’t busy, but I still didn’t want people seeing me being, well.. topped.

We walked in silence until we reached St. Paul’s. It was getting dark and there was already a man asleep under a blanket on the steps.

“Here. Sit.” Dominic sat down and pulled me to sit one stair lower, between his knees.
I leaned my head against his thigh.

He put a hand over my exposed ear, covering it to keep it warm. “How was your day?” he asked.
I closed my eyes. “Fine. How was yours?” With both ears covered I could hear the vibrations of my own voice in my head. It was quieter in there than outside. Outside, things were brutal. Uncomfortable. Harder, sometimes, than I liked.

“Boring, but tolerable.” He shrugged.

I nodded.

“Something happen today?” He was running fingers through my hair.

I shook my head.

He combed the hair away from my forehead and we watched couples walk along the river, watched drunk, homeless people shouting. A couple of girls with backpacks passed us, laughing and talking.

“I’m losing the studio,” I whispered against his leg when they‘d gone.

He kept running his fingers through my hair and I curled one arm around his leg, pulling it close to me for warmth.

“It’s the only one I’ve ever had.”

“I know.”

“If we sign off,” I snuggled deeper between his legs. It was getting colder. “Will I really have to lose it?”

He kissed the top of my head. “We can’t afford house payments and the studio, darling.”

“I know, but...”

“We need a house,” he said, gently. His breath was soft against my scalp. Matched his voice. Easy and sweet.

“I like this one. This house,” I said.

“So do I.”

“It’s cute and.. and small. The attic will be a good studio.”

“What color do you think you’ll paint it?”

“White. Just white and keep the wood floors.”

I love the steps of St. Paul. When I was still in art school I would take my sketchpad and a pencil, or even just the book I was reading, and come here to sit. If you sit over to the side, where the man under the blanket was huddled, no one tripped over you. No one really even noticed you. It’s nice to blend in, to get lost in something as solid and ornate as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The way now I get lost in Dominic’s thick arms and trapped between his warm legs.

“Do you think I can do it?” I asked him. Because I didn’t. I didn’t think I could move myself from the heart of the city to a residential street with trees and birds that weren’t pigeons and nosy neighbors.

“I know you can do it.”

“I don’t.” I shook my head and caught a tear with the back of my hand.

“Come here.” He lifted me up and stood behind me, kissing my hair as he started to lead me down the stairs toward the river walk.

“There’s crazy people in there,” I said, sniffling. In the distance, there was shouting about the apocalypse and someone having stolen someone else’s cornbread.

“It’s a Friday night. Police are out. Nobody will bother us. I want to show you something.”

“What?” I sighed.

“Well, the world,” he smirked. “But for tonight, the river will have to do.” He turned to me and smiled.

I looked back at him and shrugged. “I’ve seen it a thousand times.”

We walked at a steady, fast pace to keep our blood flowing, all the way to the bridge where they hold Saturday Market in the summer. Dominic pulled me up short, stopping me just as my foot was about to step onto the grass toward a bench to sit down.

“Stop,” he whispered into my ear.

“What? What are we stopping for?”

“Shh. Just stop.”

I stood still for about three seconds before starting to fidget and then got impatient. “Wha-at?”

“Look at all those boats. In the middle of the city. And all of these trees,” he sighed happily. “We are so lucky to have so many trees in the city.”

“Are you trying to make me feel better about moving? That there are trees in the city just like there are in the suburbs? Because it’s not working, it’s just--”

“Hush,” he whispered gently. “Just look at all those trees.”

“Yeah, I SEE. They’re goddamned beautiful. I love them. Can we go HOME?”

“No. Because you’re being uncooperative. We’re not leaving until you cooperate like a proper gentleman.”

“Well, I’m not GOING to cooperate, so you’d better borrow someone’s blanket and set up camp.” I swung my hand out at all the homeless people with ratted blankets and glared at the river. I was NOT in the mood for philosophical lessons.

“If you’re not careful,” he whispered. “I’ll take you home for something much less climactic than a park full of trees. Do you understand me?”

I blinked.


“Yeah. Yes, I mean. Yes, sir.” My voice dropped and I turned into his heavy wool coat, my face red with embarrassment. I’d been sabotaging his beautiful sweetness, this quiet attempt to cheer me up -- not a very noble or nice thing to do.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled into his neck.

“I know. Here. Turn around.”

I shuffled around and stood in front of him, his hands firm on my shoulders.

“When I was six, before my father left--”

“For the military?”

Dominic’s father was in the army and when Dominic was little, he was sent off for six months. Just six months on a fairly routine trip that wasn’t supposed to be dangerous or anything. Three months later, he came back in a wooden box, shot to death in some bar brawl gone particularly bad. The worst of it was that Dominic’s father hadn’t even been involved. It was his day off and he’d just gotten caught in the crossfire. Literally.

Dominic nodded his chin on top of my head. “We were walking,” he said. “It was close to Christmas and he’d taken me out to get shoes. I needed them because it had started snowing the day before and my others had too many holes. So, for Christmas, I was getting new shoes.”

“That was all you were getting? Just new shoes?” I remembered my own childhood Christmases. Piles of shiny presents under a towering tree, sparkling with lights. Mountains of food, acres of family.

He interrupted my thoughts with a smile in his voice. “We made do. Anyway, on our way back from the shoe store, we were walking by the river. It was freezing and misting rain. We were right over there.” He pointed to a fountain across the street and down a block and I twisted my neck to see. “And he stopped me and lifted me up onto his shoulders and said, ‘Pick a tree.’”

“Stars,” I said, quietly, interrupting. “This should be a story about stars, shouldn’t it?”

Dominic laughed and nodded up at the sky. “Do you see any stars?”

I smirked at the pink night sky above us, everything, almost the moon some nights, drowned out by the city lights. “Okay,” I said. “Keep going.”

“So, I did. I picked one.”

“And he gave it to you?”

“He didn’t want to give me only shoes for Christmas. What would I say at school when everyone asked me what I‘d gotten?” He squeezed me against his chest.

“That’s a nice story,” I said. And I meant it. It was a nice story. I didn’t believe it, but it was nice.

He nodded and bent his head right to my ear. “Pick a tree,” he said.

“I’m not six,” I told him.

“No, but you’re sad.”

“What would the city say if they knew you were giving away their trees?”

He shrugged. “I already own…” He stood on tip toes and looked across the park. “That one,” he pointed. “There, next to that rose bush.”

I laughed a little and sank back against him.

“Pick a tree,” he said again, smiling.

“It’s silly.”

“Is it?”

I nodded.

“Humor me.”

I heaved a sigh and closed my eyes. “Do you really want me to?”


“Okay,” I said. I scanned the several trees around us and then pointed. “That.”

“Where?” he squinted off into the distance, following my finger.

“Right there.”

“Well, which one? Be specific. There are hundreds.”

“I want Benjamin Franklin,” I said, seriously. “Right there.” I nodded at the regal statue of Ben Franklin, set into a huge block of stone, looking as he always does in statues and photographs. Middle-aged, long-haired, with a button down coat and bi-focals.

Dominic laughed hard and turned me around. He kissed me long and firmly and then looked straight into my eyes and smiled. “He’s yours.”


Saturday was boring. We cleaned the house like we always do and Dominic told me no more Ethan Hawke, no more anything on television. I guess I had been watching a lot of movies, but-- I just still wasn’t used to having things like television privileges taken away. It wasn’t even because I was in trouble for anything, really. Dominic had just said, “Enough,” and so.. that was enough.

Sunday, I woke up early and begged Dominic to go to church with me. St. Paul’s. We stopped on our way back to visit my Benjamin Franklin. His bifocals are a little scratched. I should write to the city about that. I hadn’t said The Nicene Creed in a long time, or The Lord’s Prayer. It felt good.

We changed clothes and went straight to Liam and Murray’s after church. They had the kids and were all outside doing yard work so we went inside and took a nap until dinner. I always like napping there. Waking up next to Dominic with the smell of Liam cooking downstairs. Something versatile like spaghetti and meatballs, where Dominic could pick the meatballs out and just eat the spaghetti. Liam was good at things like that.

The kids were either gone or napping when I woke up, because the house was quiet but for soft murmurings downstairs and the heavy clank of pots and pans every so often. I sat up sleepily and moved toward Dominic, laying across his chest in the almost-dark and nuzzling my head under his chin.

“’Ey..” he mumbled then yawned. “Awake, darlin’?”

“Uh huh.”

He laid his hand on my cheek and made one of his sleepy, just-waking-up grunting noises. “Hungry?”

I shook my head.

“Smells like… bacon.”

“Murray said they were making breakfast for dinner.”

“Mmm.” He rubbed my back and slipped one hand down the waist of my unbuttoned jeans, resting his hand on my sleep-warmed butt.

I wiggled and smiled. “Hey,” I whispered.


“I really love you a lot.”

“Hey,” he whispered back, kind of mimicking me, but in a very sweet way.

“What?” I laughed a little.

“I really love you a lot too.”

“Oh, good,” I said. “I do love reciprocity.”

He laughed and rolled us both over, propped up on his elbows above me. He kissed me and then pushed my hair back away from my forehead with both hands. “You’re the sweetest sleepy boy I know,” he smiled, staring directly into my eyes.

I smiled back, my eyes watering. It was.. probably the smell of him unshowered. I’d gotten us out of bed so early that morning that we’d neither of us had time to shower and--

He sat up and picked me up with him, settling me into his lap, one leg on either side of him and rocked while I cried. “It’s gonna be okay, baby,” he said. Back and forth, back and forth, the rhythm helping. “We’re going to be okay.”


I like Liam’s dinners. I like the meat. I like looking around the table at the people I love. Who take care of me, who I get to take care of sometimes. I like just knowing that I get to love them and that they love me back. I like that.

The kids were gone and it was a quiet meal. Liam talked about helping out down in the ER on Friday when they were short a couple of doctors and Murray talked about school and about his thesis. Mostly, I just listened and picked at my food while Dominic nudged me under the table with his foot and gave me eyes that said I needed to eat and not pick, please.

Liam was the one that said it though, and I don’t even think he was really paying attention to the eyes I was getting from Dominic.

“Eat that, please,” he said, gently, and picked a strand of hair off my face, tucking it behind my ear. He’d gone to get more bread and reached over me to set it on the table. “Stop picking and eat it. It’s very good, if I do say so myself.”

I looked up at him and smiled faintly, taking a bite.

The conversation welled back up and I somehow managed to eat most of my waffles and eggs, despite the ache in my stomach.

After dinner, Dominic and Liam plopped us in front of a movie and went back into the kitchen to clean up and drink coffee. That meant they wanted to talk and that we were supposed to be good and try to leave them to it for a while.

We sat on the couch, huddled under one blanket and watched Casablanca, reciting, “Here’s looking at you kid,” right in time with Humphrey Bogart. I was leaned against Murray, my head on his shoulder, only sort of paying attention to the movie when Dominic came in with hot chocolate.

“You look cozy,” he said quietly and smiled, leaning down to kiss our foreheads and hand us each a mug.

I didn’t look at him, just took the mug silently, pretending to be deeply engrossed in the movie.

“Are you not on speaking terms?” Murray asked a few minutes after Dominic had left the room.

“Huh?” I was buried deep in my mug, sleepy and thinking about, well… you know.

“You barely look at him and you came downstairs for dinner all red eyed and traumatized-looking. Are you in trouble?”

I shook my head.

“Then what?”

I shrugged.

He turned his head to look at me.

“We got a house on the north end. It’s um, nice. And it’s got a cute fridge.”

“Soo.. you’re crying about it?”

I laughed. “No,” I said quietly, snuggling closer. “But getting a house meant that we’d get one big enough for me to have a studio. Which means…”

“Aww, Grayer,” he said sympathetically. “The studio?”

I shrugged again and nodded. “Kinda sucks.”

“You’re getting a house though,” he said. Murray. Always the voice of positivity.


“Are you okay?” His eyebrows were furrowed and then he sighed at himself. “No, of course you’re not okay. Is there anything I can do?”

“No, it’s okay. I mean… well, it will be. Someday. You know, like fifty, sixty years down the road.” I smirked.

“I’m sorry.” He leaned his head against mine, still on his shoulder and we sat for a while, just enjoying each other’s company and Mr. Bogart’s deep voice.

“Should we be jealous?” Liam asked Dominic as they came into the living room.

I turned my head to look at them and smiled. Murray had fallen asleep.

“You look sweet,” Liam said, ruffling my hair.

I was tired and had been close to sleep myself before they came in.

“We try,” I said softly.

“I’m going to take him up to bed,” Liam said to me and kissed my forehead.

“But he’s all warm and stuff,” I protested halfheartedly.

“He’ll get warm upstairs.”

“No, I mean, he’s warm for me.”

“Warm? You’re worried about being warm? Get over here.” Dominic plopped onto the couch next to me and held out an arm.

I smiled at him sleepily and clambered up to his chest. He was warm. Liam tossed the blanket at us as he rousted Murray up to go to bed.

“Goodnight, Gray,” Murray yawned at me.

Dominic grabbed his arm and pulled until he’d landed a kiss in the general vicinity of Murray’s head.

“You can stay overnight, or until whenever,” Liam said. “Just shut off the lights and lock the door.”

“Indeed,” Dominic nodded, tucking the blanket up around me. “Goodnight, darlings.”

“Goodnight,” Liam tugged Murray along behind him up the stairs, their fingers laced together.

“I like them,” I whispered to Dominic once they’d gone.

He chuckled, which I felt more than heard.

“They’re nice,” I nodded.

“And good for food, hmm?”

I shrugged.

“You didn’t eat much,” he said.

“Wasn’t hungry. Did it hurt Liam’s feelings?”

“No. He was just worried.”

“Oh.” I chewed my lip and thought for a while. “He doesn’t have to worry,” I said.

“No,” Dominic agreed. “He doesn’t have to. But he does.”

“Yeah, but I just mean… I’m okay and everything.”

“Are you?”

I smirked. “Okay, no. But it’s not that big a deal.”

“Well, maybe it wouldn’t be to someone else, but to you it is. Which is fine. And people who love you will worry about you when you’re sad and upset because that’s what they do. Even though they don’t have to.”

We sat and watched the credits roll for a little while before I spoke again.

“I’m not used to all this… this family stuff.”


“Yeah. You know, like… all the taking care and stuff. I mean, I understand me and you taking care of each other, because… well, that’s just what you’re supposed to do when you’re in a relationship. But they,” I nodded at the stairs. “They don’t have any reason to take care of me, or to love me. They just do it.”

“That’s the way things work,” Dominic said, running warm fingers through my hair and tracing the edge of my ear. “You find that core group of people, the ones who will take care of you and love you no matter what, and you stick with them. Whether that’s your blood family or people you meet in college, whatever. But people need that.”

I nodded. “Are we sleeping here tonight?”

“Mmm, I think.. no. We need our own bed tonight. Some familiarity, hm?”

“Uh huh.”

“Okay then.” He shifted and put me on my feet, standing up behind me and patting my bottom. “It’s late. Shoes and socks while I shut down the house. And here,” He wrapped the blanket around my shoulders. “Take that with you. Oh, and…” He smiled down at me and then kissed me. Long and warm. “You’re going to be okay,” he whispered.

I was going to be okay. Going to. And I knew what that meant. I’d taken English class in elementary. That was future tense.

I was going to be okay.

Not now, but later.


“It’s NOT that late!”

He was valiantly trying to jolly me through our nighttime routine.

“It’s only 10:00 and going to bed at 10 when you’re an adult is like going to bed when it’s still light out and you’re a kid.”

“Is 11:00 bedtime, or isn’t it?” he asked as he laid my pajamas on the radiator and stepped around me to brush his teeth. I’d gone from brushing my teeth to sitting on the counter and, having been kicked off, was now biting my fingernails on the floor.

“But it’s not 11:00,” I said, reasonably.

“Get up and put your jammies on.”

“I think I should shower.”

“I think you should put your jammies on and go get into bed before I lose my patience.” He was smiling, but it was one of those, you-aren’t-getting-off-the-hook-just-because-you’re-cute smiles.

“But it’s only 10:00!”

“I’m not having an argument with you over what time it is. I’m telling you to put your pajamas on.”
I stood up and growled something that MAY have been MILDLY mean and menacing, but not really. I mean, barely.

Dominic reached out and grabbed my arm, leaving his toothbrush to dangle from his lips while he swatted me. “Enough,” he said through the foamy toothpaste. “Jammies. Now.”

I snatched my pajamas from the radiator and stomped into the bedroom, bouncing down onto the bed to pull my socks off, but I’d only just hit the mattress when Dominic, who had so rudely followed me, yanked me up and marched me to the corner.

“Think about who makes decisions about bedtime,” he said simply and swatted me. It’s so hard to take him seriously with toothpaste all around his lips though. I mean, honestly.
It took until he was completely ready for bed and had fallen silent for me to get repentant enough to whine at him.

“I’m sorryyy. I’ll go to bed now.”

“You’ll go to bed when I tell you you’ll go to bed. Hush.”

A corner is the worst place to try to marinate a terrible mood and when he FINALLY called me to come out, I was less angry and much more ready to sleep.
I stood in front of him and stared at my sock feet.

“You don’t get your way whenever you want it anymore,” he said gently, pulling me down onto the bed.

“I know.”

“You’re not going to push me over. When it’s time for bed, it’s time for bed.”

“It just seems… early.” I sighed and laid against him.

“It’s 10:55 now, hardly early. Grab those.” He nodded at my pajamas, still at the foot of the bed.

“Sorry,” I mumbled as he pulled my pajamas over my head.

“For what, exactly?” He sat on the edge of the bed and held the pants out for me to step into. I held his shoulder and did.
“Not going to bed.”

“Would you like it if I let you get your way every day? Everything you wanted you’d get?” He pulled me back onto the bed and held my chin so I would look him in the eyes.

I stared at him.

“Is that what you want from me when you push? Your way?”

Well, I thought so. I mean, wasn’t it what I wanted? I didn’t want to be in bed right then. It was anti-climactic. The notion of discipline was steadily growing less and less romantic and I just plain didn’t LIKE being told what to do most of the time. But even considering all of that…

“I don’t know.” I fumbled with the hem of his shirt and tried to avoid his eyes.

“Look back here at me. Is that what you want? How would it feel to be cut loose? To be allowed to do whatever you wanted?”

“Good, I guess.” I shrugged, chewing my lip.

“Stop that.“ He thumbed my lip from between my teeth. “Would it?”

“I’d get to stay up late and eat cookies instead of dinner.”

He nodded.

“But..” I started chewing my lip and he pulled it out pointedly and Looked at me.

“You’ll chew it off. Stop. You can talk to me without doing that. I’ve seen you.”

“I’d get crazy again,” I said.


I looked at him hard for a moment and with concerted effort, kept from crying. “You wouldn’t, would you?” I whispered. “Let me do whatever I wanted? You wouldn’t give up?” I swallowed.

“Is it what you want?”

I shook my head.

He lifted my chin again and held it. “I didn’t think so.”

“I’m sorry.”

He rubbed at tears with his fingers and watched me sympathetically, falling apart yet again.

“You wouldn’t?” I asked.

He shook his head firmly. “I wouldn’t.”

“I don’t want you to. I don’t.”

“I know.”


The next day was Monday and this Monday meant one thing only: losing my beloved studio.
34 East Bremerton, brick with a red door and one huge window facing the street outside. Cement floors, stained dark with everything from paint to wax. So hot in summer that the patch of floor under the gaze of the window would burn my bare feet.

I got spanked on Monday for going outside barefoot.

I wasn’t even surreptitious enough to fool myself, either. I was just mad.

Dominic had rousted me out of bed too early, he’d made me eat a breakfast I didn’t want and THEN all I had to wear was this terrible old St. Louis T-shirt that’s old in a bad way, not a good one. After that, I rammed my head into the wall while I was brushing my teeth and searching along the floor for a lost contact. And once the contact was officially proclaimed MIA, I slammed my finger in the cabinet door getting a new one.

It was just about time to go and I wanted to get the mail. I get it every morning. I like getting it. And my shoes were right there. I could have slipped them on pretty easily. They needed to be on my feet anyway because I was leaving in only a few minutes. But I was mad. The kind of mad where I tend to do whatever I can to attract Dominic’s attention.

He was in the kitchen when I stomped back in with the mail. I smacked it onto the counter and it slid, hitting the wall. There was no way he wouldn’t know just how mad I really was.

“Get me the spoon, please, Graeme,” Dominic said, mildly from the kitchen table. He was behind the newspaper, drinking coffee at intervals.

“Wh-- why?” I asked, turning and gripping the counter with both hands.

“Because I told you that the next time I caught you going barefoot in this weather, it would be the spoon on your bare behind. Get it now and take it into the bedroom. You can find a corner until I get there.”

I stood and stared at him, positively stunned.

Spoon? The wooden spoon?

I swallowed hard.

The spoon was a character of myth. An evil, yet ultimately empty threat. Wasn’t it?

“Right now, Grayer.” He lowered the paper and Looked at me over the top of his coffee cup, none too amused.

My stomach dropped and I gaped at him. “I didn’t MEAN--”

He set his cup down with a clunk that made me jump. “Right now.”


I did a lot of things to cope before Dominic. Throwing clay bowls and things was probably at the top of the list, then maybe painting or drawing and after that, driving. I used to drive all over the countryside when I needed to think. Up into the mountains, along little dirt roads, sometimes to Seattle, just for a change of scenery, or to the ocean to dig my toes in the sand, to feel real and connected to something again.

But since Dominic, there wasn’t so much of that raw need anymore. I felt connected lately. Connected to another person, something that was a little foreign and a lot nice. Mostly.

And then, on the other hand, he never really went away. He was there in the morning, nudging us through our daily routine and he was there when I got home at night or we met up at Liam and Murray’s for dinner.

He picked me up at lunch that day and we signed the papers. It was done.

I had been emotionless about it. Dominic had kept asking if I was okay and I had kept saying that yeah, yeah, of course I was okay. It wasn’t that big a deal, right? It was just a studio. And he didn’t believe me, but it wasn’t really the time or place to rehash the whole ordeal. He dropped me back at the studio after we’d picked up food at a drive-thru, and went back to work, smiling and reminding me of dinner with the Henderson’s at 6:00.

“The Henderson’s” was the joke of a family name someone had come up with at dinner a few weeks earlier. At the time, it seemed like we needed one. And it had stuck.

I assured him that I remembered and would, indeed, be there.

I shoved my key into the lock and pushed the door open, throwing my bag onto the couch nearby and running a hand through my hair. It was dark inside and I went for the light.


“SHIT!” I swear I jumped half a mile and almost died.

Gareth stood and put his hands up, smiling. “Just me. It’s just me.”

“Oh, my GOD, Gare. You cannot keep doing that. It kills me every fucking time.” I clasped a hand over my heart and sank onto the couch.

He’d been sitting on the floor behind the kiln, reading, and I hadn’t seen him. He had a habit of scaring me like that and since the first time, I no longer believed it was an accident.

“Sorry,” he grinned.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked., irritably.

“Thought I’d come say hi,” he shrugged.

“Yeah, well, you made an impression.”

“Listen,” he sighed, plopping down next to me and laying with his head in my lap. There’s nothing like a good best friend to make you find that the world might be a bit more tolerable.

“Huh?” I asked. I plucked at his eyebrows with my fingers and he wrinkled his forehead.

“I, well, I got some school news and I thought you should be the first to know,” he said, looking up at me, gauging my expression.

“School news?” I asked.

“Um, yeah. For my masters, you know?”

“Yeah, who gets a masters in philosophy anyway. You don’t even use your bachelors.”

“I got accepted to Harvard,” he said, carefully.

I was staring at the ceiling when he said it and I blinked once.

“Graeme?” he said, quietly.

“Shut up,” I whispered. “I hate you for a minute.”

“I know. But you’re going to cry.”

He can always tell. Though I can’t decide if I cry because he tells me I’m going to, or if he just knows. Probably a little of both, I guess.

Either way, I started to cry. He didn’t sit up and he didn’t grab me to hold me, though he did wrap one arm around my waist from where he was laying and squeeze me hard.

“I hate you,” I whispered with little conviction.

He reached up and swiped handfuls of tears off my face, doing nothing but moving the wetness around.

“I’m losing my studio AND my favorite friend. In one day,” I groused angrily at the ceiling. “Either someone is plotting against me, or my fate is to die of suicide at an early age.”

He pinched me hard for saying “suicide”, but I wasn’t paying attention.

“You’re losing the studio?” he asked. He did sit up for that.

“The story’s too long. I don’t feel like telling it.” I gulped on sobs and leaned my head into his chest.

“It can’t be that long. You guys got a house then, huh?”

I nodded into his shirt.

“Where at?” He rubbed my back.

“Who cares?”

“Me. Where at?”

“North end.”

“Sweet,” he said. “You love it?”

“Hate it,” I choked. “Hate. Fiery, burning, passionate hatred.”

“Strong words.”

“Fully intentional.”

“Mmm,” he said, neutrally.

“I hate my life and I want to die,” I said pathetically, sniffling and throwing my arms around his neck.

“Quit saying that. It’s irritating. You know I don’t like it.”

“Why else would I say it? I hate you anyway.”

“I know.”

We sat that way for a while, saying one or two words every so often. I tried to get myself together, not that it mattered all that much, and he rubbed my back while I did.

I sat up once I thought I’d be okay and rubbed my eyes. He smiled at me.

“I need to go,” I said.

“Where? You’re usually here until five.”

“Yeah, but.. I just need to drive for a while. I can’t-- I can’t be here right now.”

“People in your state need coffee and chairs, not cars and open road. Where is there to drive to anyway?”

“Oh.. you know.” I shrugged and stood up, straightening my t-shirt a little, though it was wrinkled beyond what I could smooth and I really didn’t care.

“No. I don’t.”

“Just one of my drives. I just.. go. Wherever. That’s the point. Being free to go wherever.”

He sighed and stood up, looking me over. I waited patiently for the Gareth Brayer seal of approval and finally, he nodded.

“All right.” He leaned in and kissed my forehead, then took his keys out of his pocket. “I need to work at 3:00 anyway, but we’re going to talk about all of this. Tomorrow,” he said.

“Tomorrow,” I nodded.

“Call me,” he said.

“Why can’t you cal me-ee?” I whined.

“Because I called you last time. See you later. Wear your fucking seatbelt, hm?”


I drove to Sherwood and into Tigard, then Newberg and up through the hills of West Chehalem. I ended up at the ocean in time to watch the sunset.

Winter is off season at beaches, of course, and the sea here is cold even in August, so in mid-February it can edge toward unbearable. All of the little streets and highways were bare but for a few year-round residents who looked haggard and colder than I was in my car, with the heater turned up high.

The beaches were dead.

The coast of Oregon isn’t the type to be snowy and frozen-looking in winter. Just wet and windy. It was raining as I parked and got out of the car.

I took my shoes off as soon as I reached the firmer, wet sand, past the dirt of last summer’s tourists. My toes curled in tight at the cold and I gasped, but resolved to keep my shoes off. It was an important part of the whole experience, I reminded myself harshly.

I watched the waves slide in, half absorbing into the sand and half sliding back out. I walked as close to them as I could without actually allowing them to touch my toes.

I scowled and scuffed at the hard sand under my feet.

That studio is mine, I thought. It’s in my name. I’ve practically lived there for half a decade and losing it is like losing a five year old kid I raised from birth. And sure, there’s a replacement in order, but it’s a baby and it’s not the same baby. It’s still in-utero.

I found myself braving the barnacles in my bare feet and climbing onto some rocks overlooking the water to sit. I was starting to shiver, but didn’t much care. One foot bled a little from a particularly fierce barnacle.

I thought about the house. It’s old kitchen fixtures. The fridge it came with was one of those vintage, bubbly looking ones from the fifties, back when things had lots of rounded edges and lots of turquoise trim. Like those old chrome trailers and toasters. The kitchen walls were peeling gold and green vegetable wallpaper.

In the living room there were scratched wood floors, worn and faded so you could see the precise layout of the previous owner’s furniture. Rugs, couch, chairs.

“Maybe we’ll refinish them,” Dominic had said.

But maybe we won’t, I thought, rolling up my wet pant legs There was history in the marks on the floor. It felt like we might lose something if we did too much to them. Like the house might lose something and suddenly become one of those lifeless, empty houses that creep you out just to stand in, much less try to sleep in.

I laid out our furniture in my head. Dominic’s old red couch that we both loved and the gold chair from my studio that only I loved. The television and our coffee table. I put our dining room table in the kitchen and sat at it with our dishes and our silverware and a glass of our water.

I closed my eyes and thought about the trouble I’d be in when I got back home. Probably a lot of it and I felt a pang of guilt that Dominic was worrying about me. Enough to make me wince on.

I put our bedroom together and it was full of warm colors. Browns and greens, greys, oranges. Earthy tones that make you feel connected to things -- everything -- the same way sandy toes do.

I saw myself waking up next to Dominic in our soft, familiar bed surrounded by new walls. He smiled at me, sleepy like he looks on the weekends when he’s well rested and easier on the world around him. Slower moving.

I kept him that way in my head for a while and shivered, wrapping my arms around myself. And when I’d memorized his nice weekend face, I placed my studio alongside it. I looked at them, back and forth, and wondered about picking, about whether it was a contest and whether I needed to choose.

And then it just occurred to me. Like falling asleep, it happened without my knowing.

He wasn’t asking me to choose. He never had been. I wasn’t being made to compare, to weigh attributes.

I remembered something he’d said right after he’d told me of his final decision. We were in the car on one of our Sunday drives, half real estate looking and half just taking in the countryside. Temporarily losing the drone of city buildings and endless pavement.

I had my feet on the seat and he didn’t look over from the road, just pushed them down with one hand and patted my knee.

“It’s my studio,” I was saying. That had been the mantra for weeks. My, mine, me.

He was quiet, his hand still on my thigh and his eyes thoughtfully following the road.

“It’s my decision,” he said quietly. He took my hand into his and squeezed it hard.

I glared out my window.

“I don’t like this decision,” I said angrily.

He smiled faintly and if I didn’t know he’d pull over and give me the blistering of my life, I might’ve slapped him for being so patronizing. “You don’t have to like it,” he said, sighing. “You just have to do as I tell you and remember that I’m doing it for both of us.”

“But it’s my studio,” I said again, more petulantly.

“And I make the decisions,” he said.

I blinked on that as it ran through my head. He made the decisions. He thought about things, he weighed pros and cons, he took my thoughts and opinions into account and then decided.

So, maybe he was just making the decisions like he was supposed to. And they weren’t decisions made strictly for me, they were made for both of us, taking both of us into account. I wasn’t just me anymore, I was part of something. Part of Dominic and Graeme.

I bit the inside my cheek until I tasted blood, then licked at it and rubbed rain off my face.

I was hungry.

And in huge, huge trouble.

It thudded in my stomach like a rock as I climbed down, further cutting my frozen feet on the sharp barnacles, then grating salty sand into the cuts as I walked back to my car to turn my phone on.


There were no missed calls as it was only 5:45 when I got back to the car. But I was still late and that meant I was in trouble. I wondered briefly for how long I could keep myself from calling Dominic.
I got about half an hour before I pulled over at a fruit stand, still closed for the season.

The phone only rang once and he picked up.

“Graeme,” he said. Yeah, I was in trouble.

“Dominic?” I sniffed back either cold or tears, it was hard to tell.

His voice softened immediately. “Honey, what’s the matter? Where are you?” he asked.

“I think I‘m gonna be a little bit late,” I said, softly.

“You’re already a little bit late. Graeme Evan, where are you?”

“I’m coming home right now, I swear!” I said quickly. “I-- I just needed time to think and I know I’m in huge trouble now but I didn’t think I’d be gone this long or I lost track of time or.. something. Nothing bad happened though! I just needed to see the ocean.” It took me until the end of my breath to realize I’d started crying.

Dominic heaved a sigh on the other end of the line and I closed my eyes to imagine his movements in my head. The phone clamped between his shoulder and ear while he stirred something on the stove and motioned to Murray to put more tomatoes in the salad.

“Grayer, what am I going to do with you?” he asked, quietly.

“I don‘t know!” I buried my face in my hands.

“Oh, Grayer,“ he smiled a little and in my mind he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes to think. “Hey, hey. Okay, shhh,” he whispered into my ear. “You’re okay, sweetheart. Nobody’s hurt? Nothing bad happened?”

“No, sir,” I sobbed. “But I’m really, really sorry.”

“I can hear that, darlin’. But now probably isn’t the time to have that discussion. Listen to me. Are you listening?”

“Uh huh.” I swallowed.

“Where are you right now?”

“I don’t know. A fruit stand on the way home.”

“I don’t like the idea of you driving home in this state.”

I swallowed hard and rolled my eyes. “Would you rather I slept in the car on the side of the road in the middle of the woods?”

“Lose the tone,” he said, firmly. “You’re in enough trouble as it is.”

“Sorry..” I was sorry. Tired, wet, cold, tired. Tired. And sorry.

In the background I heard arguing and something banged loudly. “Murray, come over here,” Dominic said sharply. “That is enough.”

“I don’t WANT to!” Murray was saying.

The scene was familiar and I rubbed tears out my eyes, smiling a little.

“Corner,” Dominic said, firmly. “This minute.”

“I’m sorry, Gray,” he said into the phone again. “Liam had an emergency call so it‘s just Murray and I. Now, listen. I don’t want you to make any stops on the way home unless you need to use the bathroom and if you aren’t here by,” he paused. “Nine then I’m going to take off my belt, do you understand me?”

My eyes went wide and I gasped involuntarily. “I’ll be there by 9:00,” I assured him.

“Well, all I can do is trust you because my driving out there to find you won’t really help anything. Can I trust you?” he asked pointedly.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. I love you.”

“Are we staying at Liam and Murray’s tonight?” I asked.

“From the looks of things,” he said. “No stopping, Graeme. Express trip home. Right now. Drive carefully. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

I did drive carefully. I stopped once to go to the bathroom and then kept right on again until I reached the outskirts of town. By then I was exhausted. My clothes were still damp, but with the heater turned up all the way I wasn’t as cold as I had been before. My feet were cut up though and I knew I’d be in huge trouble for going barefoot on top of everything else. It was an ongoing “conversation” between the two of us.

All the lights were on at the Henderson’s and I steeled myself as I parked my car behind Dominic’s and got out. It was 8:43.

Dominic was sitting on the couch watching television and drinking tea when I walked in. I looked at him and toed my shoes off by the door.

“You went in the ocean?” he asked, eyebrows raised at my damp clothes.

I shrugged and walked to him. He sat up more and pulled me down into his lap where I curled up and buried my face.

“You’re soaking wet,” he whispered.

“Rain,” I said.

“Spanking,” he said.

I cringed.

“You’re about to be in more trouble than you know what to do with,” he sighed.

“Yes, sir.”

He was hugging me close and breathing into my hair.

“Where’s Murray?” I asked.

“Not your business.” Dominic sat me up on his lap and undid my jeans.

“Right now?” I asked.

He shook his head. “A shower first.” I raised my arms and he pulled my shirt over my head.

“Will you shower with me?”

“No. I need to check on Murray and do a few other things.”

He stood up, sliding me to my feet as well and helping me out of my jeans. I shivered.

“Come on, kiddo.” He led me into the bathroom and sat me in my underwear up on the counter while he ran hot water for a shower.

I closed my eyes and let him run his fingers through my hair as he waited for the water to get warm.

“All right,” he stood up and pulled the curtain back. “In you go.”


Murray was crying upstairs when I got out and Dominic was back on the couch, looking exhausted. He’d laid pajamas of Murray’s out for me on the coffee table and on the end table next to him was a vicious looking wooden spoon. The bowl was huge and just flat enough to really hurt, I could tell.
I bit my lip and eyed it, which Dominic saw and ignored.

“Put jammies on,” he said.

“What’s wrong with Murray?” I asked as I pulled on the pants he’d laid out.

“He says he’s having a bad life,” Dominic said mildly. “Hush and put on your pajamas.”

“Did you spank him too?” I looked at him tentatively before yanking my socks on.

“Is that any of your concern?” Dominic asked, taking my wrist. He led me to the couch and pulled me into his lap.

I shrugged.

“It’s not,” he said, tugging the shirt over my head. He squeezed me tightly when he was done. “Why am I going to spank you?”

I took a deep breath and looked back at him. “We aren’t gonna talk about it?”

“We are talking about it. You didn’t tell me where you were going. You drove two and a half hours out of the city and if you’d gotten into a wreck or something had happened, how would I have known where you were? You didn’t think. You didn’t stop to consider any of this, did you?”

“I DID think!” I said. “Just… not about telling you where I was.”

“Don’t get smart with me. You didn’t think about what you were doing. You just took off. Why, exactly?”

“I needed to think about stuff!” I wiggled. Suddenly his legs seemed so much harder.

“What stuff?”

“You know what stuff!” I sighed.

“Would you like to continue talking about this? Or would you rather climb over my knees right now and talk later? It’s up to you.”

“I want to go to bed,” I whined.

“And that isn’t one of your options.”

“Nothing bad happened while I was gone though! I went there AND came back -- all in one piece!”

“But for the grace of God,” Dominic said, sternly. Then he scooted forward on the couch and tipped me off his lap. “Stand up.”

“NOT already!”

“Why am I going to spank you?” he asked as he held my hands aside in one of his and then brusquely lowered my sweatpants.

“I don’t know!” I snapped. “You won’t let me TALK about it!”

“I’m asking you to talk about it right now. Why am I going to spank you, Graeme? And if you smart off again you can go to the corner with soap.”

“I was late,” I said.

He paused, obviously waiting for me to add more to the list. “Why else?” he asked.

“I didn’t tell you where I was going.”

“Continue,” he said, pulling me back into his lap, my bottom now bare.

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “I walked in the rain, I went barefoot on the rocks and cut my feet.”

At that he lifted my feet and peeled off the socks I’d put on. He ran his fingers over the small gouges and breathed with irritation.

“They aren’t that deep,” I said, quietly.

“That isn’t the point, is it?”

“Well, they aren’t.”

He was quiet for a few moments as I leaned against him and he thumbed over the cuts on my feet, feeling them and thinking more than looking. Finally, he spoke.

“Why did you run away?”

“I didn’t ‘run away’,” I said sulkily. “I went away. To think.”

“You ran away. Why?”

“To THINK,” I said sharply. “Your ears are BROKEN.” I wrestled myself off his lap and fell onto the floor.

Dominic sat up and looked at me. “This isn’t a production with you in the starring role,” he said to me. “Stop the theatrics.”

I was starting to get a little worked up, having fallen on my butt and with the way he was talking to me without getting upset at all. Just making me sit on his lap. It’s frustrating trying to do battle with a pacifist.

Reaching down, he gripped me under the arms and pulled me back into his lap where I did my best to bite back tears and succeeded moderately.

“Why did you run away?” he asked again. He thumbed one tear off my cheek and pushed the hair back from my face.

“I was mad.”


“Why do you THINK?”

“Why, Grayer?”

“You’re MAKING me give up the studio.”

“I am?” He turned me around a little to look at him. “I’m making you give it up? No input from you whatsoever? I just woke up one day and decided to torment you by making you give up the studio?”
I dropped my head and tears dripped from my eyes as I tried with all my might to keep them from doing exactly that.

“We decided on that house together, didn’t we? That was the one we really wanted. The other one, on State Street was nice, hm? But we decided on the one in the north end. Because both of us like the north end and because it was a good house. An attic for your studio once we renovate it, wood floors and tile in the bathroom. Was I mistaken when I heard you tell me that you wanted it?”

I stared at my hands in silence, sniffling.

Dominic raised my chin. “Was I?”

I HAD wanted it. It’s just that now, faced with the bare facts of the matter, I wasn’t sure if I STILL wanted it. Or, if I did, whether or not I wanted it over my studio.

“I wanted it then,” I whispered.

“You knew then what you know now. That buying the house would mean losing the studio. Didn’t you?”

I nodded. “But I didn’t think about it that much! I didn’t think about how much I loved the studio. Maybe more than the house.”

“Should we live in the apartment forever? Is that a good idea?”

“It makes you tense,” I said.

“And you?”

“I guess I get mad at you easier and stuff,” I mumbled, shrugging.

“What did we decide together about buying a house? In the very beginning, when we first started talking about it, what did we decide?”

“You decided,” I said.

“No, I’m not talking about any decisions I’ve made. What did we decide? Collectively, together.”
I shrugged and he locked his arms around me.

“To buy a house because we needed one.”
Dominic nodded. “That was a collective, you and me decision, wasn’t it? I have veto power in the end, but that decision wasn’t one I made all by myself, hm? Because moving our whole lives somewhere else is big and you need a say in it.”

“Fine. I changed my mind.”

“No. That’s not the way it works around here. We talked about this, long and hard, we decided it would be the best thing for us. For our relationship. And so we pursued it. That decision is made. Done with.”

“Why can’t I change my mind?!” I asked, leaning hard into his chest and bursting into tears. “Why can’t we keep the studio AND the house?! I’ll work harder, I’ll sell more stuff. I can DO it. Really, I can. We can keep the attic as storage and I’ll keep the studio…” I trailed off into sobs.

It wasn’t about it being unfair anymore, because I knew what he was asking of me was fair. I had agreed to it. And I had agreed to it because I knew it was the best thing for both of us and because, really, I did like the house. I did.

“We don’t need to work any harder than we do, sweet boy,” Dominic whispered in my ear. “You work like crazy already and I won’t have us spending anymore time apart than we have to. We need to give the studio up because it’s not realistic. It’s asking too much of both of us. I know it’s what you want and I know it doesn’t feel good to let it go, but I don’t put my foot down just for the hell of it, do I?”

I didn’t answer and I didn‘t point out who‘s house he‘d just said, “hell” in..

“You’ll tell Mr. Winner that you’ll move out at the end of the month. And it will be okay. We’ll be okay.” He massaged deep circles into my back and occasionally raked his fingers over the shirt I had on, giving me goosebumps.

“Calm down,” he started saying over and over. “Calm down, calm down, kiddo. Calm down.”

I did, gradually, and he pulled me back after a few minutes, looking me over and wiping tears off my cheeks. He picked up my damp shirt from where it was still lying on the floor and held it to my nose while I blew.

“You aren’t going to get away with running from what hurts and scares you. You aren’t going to get away with not calling to tell me where you are either. Or walking in freezing rain -- barefoot, no less. Especially not after the spanking I gave you just this morning. We’ve had all of these conversations more than once and we’ll continue having them until there’s no longer a need.”

My lip quivered and I refused to look at him, but I nodded.

“Come on then,” he said quietly and helped me to my feet, then took my hand and drew me across his knees.

“Down you go, kiddo. That’s a boy.” He patted my back, adjusted my weight and pushed my t-shirt far up off my back.

Somewhere along the line Murray had stopped crying. I didn’t know when because I’d stopped paying attention to anything but Dominic and I what seemed like hours ago.

“Why are you getting a spanking?” Dominic asked from above me. He cleared his throat.

“I disobeyed about being barefoot,” I started. “And I walked in the freezing rain when I knew I wasn’t supposed to and I didn’t call, I ran away.”

“What do you do instead of running away?” he asked.

“Talk to you.”

“And are you allowed to interrupt me at work?”

“Yes, sir,” I said softly.

“So you should do it then, hm? Say, when a favorite friend drops in to give you some sad news and it hits you pretty hard?”

I swung my head around to look at him and he Looked back.

“I love you and I want to take care of you, but I can’t unless you let me.”

And then he started spanking.

I jumped at the first smack and kept jumping as each new one lit it’s own fire in my bottom. He wasn’t moving quickly, he wasn’t lecturing as he kept up the steady pain. He just spanked and spanked and spanked until I started pleading.

“Dominiiic,” I whined. I kept it quiet because I always hated admitting, even to myself, that it was too much. More than I could handle. “Stop, sto-op! Pleease stop? It hurts!”

But he didn’t stop. He shushed me and kept going. I started to plead more loudly and I put a hand back that he deftly pinned down with his free hand.

“Keep your hands still,” he said sternly. There was a pause and I looked back to see him pick up the spoon and raise it.

Just the sight was enough. I burst back into tears and kicked, cried and screamed until it was over. It felt like the worst spanking I’d ever had.

Immediately after he finished and I was completely gone in hysterics, coughing and spitting and choking, he drew me up into his arms and surrounded me tightly.

“Oh, Graeme. Grayer, Grayer, Gray. My poor kiddo.”

He smacked my back pretty hard saying, “Breathe, darlin’. Breathe. It isn’t so bad you need to keep from getting air. Come on.” He managed to coax some normal breathing but I kept crying hard for twenty minutes or so until I heard footsteps on the stairs.

“Dominic…?” Murray’s voice was close. FAR closer than I liked or appreciated and I hid in Dominic’s chest as he grabbed and threw a blanket over my red bottom.

“Murray Allen Gilbert, you take your bottom straight back to bed,” Dominic said fiercely.
I tensed and he felt it, rubbing my back again.

“But I’m thirsty!”

“And this is the third time you’ve been thirsty in the past two hours. You should have been asleep ages ago. Upstairs. Bed. I’ll be up in a while.”


“I’ve half a mind to bring your paddle with me. Is that something you’d enjoy at midnight on a school night, Murray?”

The sound of footsteps ran back upstairs and Dominic called after them, “Stay there. I wasn‘t kidding about the paddle.”

I’d stopped crying at the sound of Murray, in self preservation mode, and once he was gone I took a deep, shaky breath.

Dominic squeezed me tightly and tucked the blanket in around my shoulders. “I talked to Gareth today,” he said quietly.

My ears perked up and I remembered what Dominic had said right before he‘d started spanking me.

“He was worried about you,” Dominic said. “He told me you used to take a lot of these drives to make yourself feel better?”

I nodded.

“Do you feel better because of it?”

I shrugged. In a way, I did. It had, as usual, helped me figure some things out. Namely, that I wasn’t allowed to march off and leave unannounced. But also all the time to think just brought some things into perspective. Like how much I love Dominic and how he does always try to do what’s best for me. For us.

“I’m not taking away your long drives,” Dominic said sympathetically. “But I am telling you to run them by me. To get permission and to let me know exactly where you’ll be and keep your phone charged and on at all times.”

I nodded.

“And as for leaving without calling or telling me where you were going, you can hand over your car keys to me for a week. And,” he said. For this he lifted my chin up and looked at me. “I have had more than enough of your bare feet tramping all over solid frozen ground, so you can wear your socks and tennis shoes all the time except for sleeping and showering. All other shoes off limits, only your tennis shoes.”

Now, that was a blow to my person. I gaped at him and a fresh tear trickled down my cheek.


He nodded firmly. “Yes, indeed. This is the third time I’ve had to spank you for going barefoot and it’s going to stop. You will lose all your shoes but the tennis shoes until I feel like I can trust you to use better judgment. And you will wear your shoes at all times. In the house, at the studio, everywhere. Am I clear?”

I fell back against him a little angrily. He KNEW how much I hated shoes. He knew I couldn’t STAND to wear them at the studio most days, much less at HOME. I was outraged.

Sure, I’d hand over my keys. I mean, that would suck, but I wouldn’t die for one week. But my SHOES? All of them except for the pair I hated most? I sank into his chest, terribly remorseful but nursing a little residual fury.

“Do you want to talk about Gareth?” he asked me, rubbing my shoulders and tucking the blanket back around me.

I shook my head. “How long do I have to stay in tennies?” I asked forlornly.

“Until I can trust you,” Dominic said.

“When will that be?”

“When it happens. It will happen. You just worry about obeying me. That’s all.”

It didn’t feel like all.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, swallowing hard. “I’m sorry I made you worry and-- and that I ran away and didn’t tell you and I got all wet and.. I’m sorry I went barefoot.”

“I know you are,” he said quietly. “And that’s over. We’re all better.”

We sat for a while longer before he reached for the remote and turned on the news.

“I need to go see Murray, darlin’. Lay here and I’ll be right back,” he said, moving to stand up.


“Shh. Lay down.”

I laid down gingerly on my stomach and he spread the blanket over me, tucking it in and kissing my cheek, now all dried with crusty tear stains. “Be right back. Try for some sleep, why don’t you?”

I nodded.

I tried to stay awake long enough to hear some of his interaction with Murray, just for curiosity’s sake, but sleep was too close. I woke up as Dominic eased me into his arms to carry me upstairs. I heard Liam whispering nearby and Dominic picked the blanket back up to cover my still bare bottom.

“Goodnight,” Liam whispered, running a hand over my head. He smiled wearily.

“Mmnn,” I grunted and shut my eyes again.

“It’s past your bedtime,” Dominic whispered as he took me up the stairs and into the room that had been mine for a while. The bed was made and the covers were turned back.

“I’m going to stand you up to put on some boxers. Come on.”

I wobbled sleepily, but stepped into the boxers he held out and only hissed a little as they grazed my sore bottom.

“All right,” he said softly. He was holding the covers up. “Get on in there, sleepy boy.”

I fell into bed gratefully and cuddled up to the cool sheets and pillows.

“Come t’bed?” I mumbled, still feeling Dominic’s presence somewhere nearby.

“Working on it. You sleep and don’t worry.”

“Can’t ‘thout you.”

He chuckled and bent to kiss my ear. “Shh.”

It took forever and I dozed while he changed into pajamas, brushed his teeth and turned out lights around the house, but he finally crawled into bed with me and I scrabbled blindly for his chest as soon as I felt the weight of his body on the bed.

“Murray go t’sleep?” I yawned widely.

“Eventually, I’m sure,” Dominic said. He stretched beneath me and then wrapped an arm over my back.


“Rather. Shh.”

“Why for?”

“Bad night, love. Sleep.”

“He get in trouble, or what?” I wanted to know. It seemed like I should know.

“If you keep talking you’ll wake up and if you wake up I’ll have a devil of a time getting you back to sleep. So,” he pulled me closer and rested a hand in the small of my back, too close to my bottom for me to continue arguing comfortably. “Hush and go to sleep. Immediately.”

I laughed into his chest. “How’re we gonna get home tomorrow in time to change for work and, you know, like take showers and stuff like that? If I’m late to the studio because you’re making us spend the night here you can’t spank me, you know. And you’ll be late to work. How much vacation time do you have? Maybe we should go home-- OW!”

I heard the rumble of Dominic’s laughter. “You’ll be sleeping on the floor in a minute if you don’t hush up.”

“You would not!” I whined.

He swatted me again, trying not to laugh too loudly. “Quiet. It’s late. Why are you worried about me getting to work?”

I slid my hand up Dominic’s shirt. He was warm and hairy and I like to twirl my fingers through it because it makes him wince, but he usually lets me keep it up for a little while. “Maybe I just like to sleep at home,” I whispered.

“Well, what would you get at home that we don’t have here?”

I grinned and considered for a moment or two. “Well,” I pulled really hard on the hair near his nipple. “I can’t have my way with you here.”

“Ow, Gray!” he smacked my hand through his shirt and then dug it out, firmly laying it across his chest where it could do less harm. I could have sworn he was getting hotter.

“Liam and Murray are all the way down the hall,” Dominic said, finally. Like he was just offering me some information. Like what I did with it didn’t really matter. Whatever, either way.

Yeah. Whatever.

“But are they sleeping?”

“You certainly aren’t.”

“Maybe I need to be sleepy first.”

“And I wonder how you’d propose I make that happen…?”

I let out a heavy sigh. So put upon, I am. “Yeah, I am an awfully hard customer.” I led his hand straight to The Source of the Matter and he rolled his eyes, audibly.

“You can do better than that,” he chuckled. His eyes were closed. He was tired, but not too tired if he was encouraging me. “You’re a creative genius,” he said. “Put it to work.”

I giggled as his fingers poked at my rib cage from both sides. I scooted as close to his ear as I could and whispered, “Fuck me.”

“I can’t hear you when you curse,” he said piously.

“Fuck me,” I said again.

Hey, it’s not like I couldn’t tell I was making an impact. There was a flag pole in his pajamas. And what else was I supposed to say anyway?

He smacked my bottom hard and I whined.


“Oh, Grayer Evan,” he sighed.

I buried my face in his chest to laugh so that it wouldn’t be too loud. “You’re hard as a cast iron skillet, Dom’nic!” I whispered loudly. “Don’t ‘Grayer Evan’ me!”

“All right, you monkey, you,” he said huskily. In one move, he was on top of me, pinning me to the bed on my stomach. “You don’t know what you’re in for, brat.”

“I’m not going to the studio tomorrow,” I giggled as he grabbed both my wrists in one of his and held them.

“Oh, you aren’t going anywhere tomorrow. I‘ll make sure of that.”


“I can’t do this,” I whispered as it started to ring. “You do it,” I said to Dominic. “YOU do it. I ca-- Hi, Mr. Winner?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He always sounded angry. It drove me crazy. I wanted to send the guy flowers, send him to the Oprah show, ANYTHING if he’d just pretend to like me, at least.

“Uhh, th--this is Graeme Kinney from uh, 34 East Bremerton?”

“The one who plays that rock and roll all the time? Because I‘ve had words with you and--”

“No, that’s the people above me. Hammons.”

“Oh. Then you’re the one who sliced open his own arms and ruined the linoleum so I had to call the ambulance.”

“What?” I gasped allowed and tried not to gag. Talk of blood makes me faint and the visual wasn’t helping. Mr. Winner’s fucked up idea of a guessing game was making me nervous, too. I scrambled around in my brain for anything that would set me apart from the rest of his apparently unstable tenants. I was used to these drawn out phone calls, but they were different each time. I was always surprised at the depth of Mr. Winner’s cynicism and general moodiness. In short, he was a grouch.

“You been doing any drug deals lately?”


“Breaking windows? Kicking out plumbing?”

What? Who kicks out their own plumbing?

“No!” I said, indignantly.

“You been housing too many a’them stray animals, haven‘t you?”

“No!” I sighed. GOD.. Then it hit me. “I left the water on in the dark room and flooded the whole floor,” I said quickly.

“AGAIN?!” he demanded. “I thought I told you the last time--”

“No,” I said, forcefully. “NO. The LAST time. That was me. Remember?”

I caught a glimpse of the Look Dominic gave me and tried to regulate my tone. He was making breakfast in Liam and Murray’s kitchen. Scrambled eggs, bacon and toast.

“Oohh…” Mr. Winner groaned. “You. You called me last week because of the cockroaches and week before that about those people with the rock and roll and ’fore that you called about the sink not working and the heater going dead.”

Yeah, it’s not the best studio. In fact, in retrospect, I guess it kind of sucked.

“Yeah, well, I don’t play loud rock and roll, Mr. Winner, do I?” I asked reasonably. “And when was the last time I tried to commit suicide, hmm?”

“Okay,” he conceded, sighing. “So, why are you calling THIS time?”

“I’m moving out at the end of the month.”

“Oh, good god,” he groaned. “You’re going to leave me STRANDED like this? With no tenant to take your PLACE? This is my LIVELIHOOD, you know. This is how I make my money. You can’t just up and--”

“I’m paying YOU, Mr. Winner,” I said, calmly. “And I’m moving out at the end of the month.”

“Who will I find to rent the space?!”

Like that’s MY job?

“It’s fucking downtown!” I said, harshly. “Everyone and their goddamned dog is going to want to rent the space. This isn’t MY fault, all right?”

Dominic snapped his fingers at me to catch my attention and I got a glare the size of Antarctica. Nearly as cold too.

I took a deep breath.

“Look, I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to, okay? It’s important. I don’t want to do it, but it’s.. it’s out of my hands. So, we’ll all just have to cope, won’t we?”

“Tenants,” Mr. Winner growled. “Damned tenants.”

“The end of the month. Everything will be gone by the 31 and it will be clean, all right? Is there anything to sign?”

“Well, hell, I don’t know. Nobody ever TELLS me ‘fore they leave. They just up and do it.”

“I’m telling you. Is there any paperwork?”

“I guess not. I want that key back though. Too many times people got to keep their keys and they wandered back sometime when nobody was lookin’ and just stayed forever without me having any idea. OR they stole everything they could find. So, I want my key back.”

“You can have it back. I’ll push it through the mail slot when I leave.”

“Yeah, well… All right.”

“Bye, Mr. Winner.”

“Yeah, bye. DON’T leave that water on again, or--”

I hung up.

“That man cannot have any friends,” I glared at the phone in my hand before shoving it back into it’s cradle against the wall.

“Come here,” Dominic didn’t turn from the frying bacon, just pointed at the floor next to him. I remembered the colorful incident on the phone from moments before. He didn’t like fucks and goddamns while we were in Liam and Murray’s house. He really wasn’t a huge fan in general, but I was allowed when it was “appropriate”, when it wasn’t disrespectful and wasn’t offending anyone else.

“Whyyeee?” I whined.

“You know exactly why. Come over here.” He was rummaging through a jar on the stove full of cooking utensils. He pulled out a rubber spatula.

I took one look at it and my lip poked out.

“Here,” he pointed. “Now. Breakfast is almost ready.”


“If I have to come get you, darling, you’ll be sorry.”

I scowled and went to him.

“You don’t talk that way to people on the phone, or ever.”

“He DESERVED it! You don’t know what he was saying, do you?”

He took my arm, turned me and smacked me hard with the spatula, a good ten or twelve times until I was biting my lip and squenching my eyes shut.

“Sorry!” I said quickly, reaching behind me to try to rub out the sting. “Really. It wasn’t nice, I know.” I took a deep breath. “Sorry,” I said again, more quietly.

He caught my hand before I could rub, and slid the spatula back in with the rest of the spoons and scrapey things then turned me back to him. “I’m very proud of you for making that call. You didn’t want to, but you did it and I’m very proud.” He hugged me tightly and then pulled away. “But you don’t talk that way. That’s not how a person conducts a telephone conversation. So, I want you to go face the corner, please, and think about that for a few minutes while I finish breakfast.” He pointed to the empty corner.

I gave him a plaintive look which he met with a hard nod and kissed my forehead.

“Go on.”

It wasn’t that long and he told me again, once he called me out, how proud he was of me and how this was hard, but it would be okay.

“Yeah…” I shrugged and leaned into his hug.

As long as he didn’t use that spatula again, I guessed it would be okay.


I went to the studio in the evening because Dominic had a meeting. It was nice to be back there as it got dark and watch the night life start. Lights came on, people walked past the window with their friends, singing and laughing and carrying coffee. It had been several months since I’d seen that happen.

I cleaned up my paints once it got dark and curled up in the corner with a mug of coffee and a book from one of the shelves. “On the Road” or one of those ones I’ve read a million times. One of those comfort books a person reads again and again; whenever they need the reassurance of familiarity.
I pretended for a while that Dominic and I had never met, that I hadn’t called Mr. Winner and that I could keep the studio forever.

Why hadn’t I come here? I wondered. When Gare kicked me out last October, why hadn’t I come here? I could’ve slept on this gold couch and been creative 24/7. I could’ve lived here and been fine.
And what if I had?

What of us? Dominic and me.

I leaned my head back against the wall and moved to scratch my foot, somewhat hindered by the shoe I found there.


Why was I keeping my shoes on anyway? Dominic wasn’t around. He wasn’t coming to pick me up, I‘d taken the bus. In fact, I was on my honor to return home by 9:00. I would, too. I’d promised and had no intentions of doing otherwise.

But why was he trusting me to obey when I hadn’t, just the night before? And why was I planning on it? What did he hold over my head? Was it because he spanked me? Was that the only reason?

No. I loved him. I wasn’t afraid of him. It was, well, yeah, in part it was fear of being spanked that kept me from explicitly disobeying him, but that wasn’t all of it. It was also… also… just that I loved him. I didn’t like to scare him by being late. I didn’t like him to worry. I liked him to be happy, I like him to be happy with me… and why did I like that?

Well, I loved him.

A year or so back, Gareth had painted on the wall, “Love is all you need,” and that line from Moulin Rouge that, at the time, wasn’t nearly as overused as it is now: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” And underneath those, a million other things. For some reason, he’d even memorized that verse, that “Love is patient, love is kind…” verse and it was painted in long, crooked lines across the wall.

He was going through some fucking cheesy love phase then. “In love” with a guy called Spud who had bad hair and smelled terrible, always of black licorice and pot smoke. I didn’t love him. The relationship lasted about three weeks and was in the very immediate wake after Marc, when Gare was still suffering the leftover tremors of heartbreak. So, what are you gonna do? Deny the guy wall space to grieve?

He was, I mean. Grieving. Not much more. It just came out as love for some half-witted, badly smelling thrift shop throwback.

Oh, Gareth.

Love isn’t all you need. You don’t have to listen to Dr. Laura to know that. You need other things too, like stamina to stick it out, work through things. You need commitment, which isn’t the same as love. And you need tolerance. Other people are always quirkier than you are and it takes a certain amount of tolerance to deal with even those things that seemed cute and endearing the first five times. Also, the greatest thing you’ll ever learn may be the whole love bit, but it’ll also be the hardest thing to learn. Yeah, the best. But the most life-fucking, too. And the most risky. And.. and the most devastatingly worthwhile.

By the time Dominic answered the phone, I was crying. God, it must’ve been time for my fucking period. I was a basket case.

“Baby,” he said in his best stage whisper. He’d left his meeting to talk to me. I was only supposed to call for emergencies and damnit, damnit this was an emergency!

“I love you,” I sniffled through my tears, wiping them off on my sleeve. I swallowed on the stickiness in my mouth to say more and he whispered a sweet, “Shh…” into my ear.

“Are you at the studio?”

“Uh-huh. I just-- I just… you shouldn’t have to make me give up the studio and I’m sorry I made you make me. I want to do it. I love you. It isn‘t, I mean… It‘s not just my studio; it’s our studio. And we‘re both giving shit up.” I choked a little and cleared my throat.

“Shh. Sweet boy.” I could see him sitting in the old newsroom, just outside the conference room door. “Go on home now, hmm? I’ll be there in about an hour.” He was smiling. I heard it.

It was only 7:30, but I didn’t argue. “I love you,” I whispered.

“I love you too. You’re my favorite.”

I laughed and swallowed again. “Favorite what?” I asked pathetically.

“Favorite everything,” he said, softly. There was a quiet, easy pause while I collected myself. He waited, just letting me hear him breathe for a good 60 seconds or so and then said, “Go on home, darling. I’ll be there in no more than an hour, I promise.”

“All right,” I nodded hard. “But I’m okay, I really am. So don’t leave the meeting on account of me.”

He chuckled softly. “Too late. Go on.”

“I really am okay.”

“I can tell,” he smiled again. “I’ll see you at home.”


“I love you,” he breathed and hung up.


I’d fallen asleep on the couch by the time he got home, wrapped in blankets, tennis shoes sticking out. He didn’t drag me up or make me move, just nudged and maneuvered, sliding underneath me so that I lay on top of his chest.

“How was the meeting?” I asked.

“Brilliantly dull,” he smiled, kissing me full on the lips and with fervor.

We lay in silence for a while and he rubbed my back, stealing some of the blanket to cover his shoulders. He was cold from being outside, his cheeks rosy and making me shiver every time he moved them over my head.

“I’ve made us miserable for the past, like, three years,” I said, finally.

“Have you? Has it been that long already? Three years?” he smirked.

“You know what I mean,” I whined, trying not to laugh at his poking my ribs. “I’ve made us miserable. I wouldn’t give up my stuff for us. It’s not even my stuff, not just mine. I was being selfish. Bad selfish.”

“It was hard. I understand that. It is hard. You can’t just hand over things like that without a second thought. I know that. I just wanted you to consider us and you have.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“It’s all right,” he kissed my temple.

“Is it?” I asked him, wanting to believe.

“Do you trust me?” he asked into my ear.

I nodded.

“It’s all right.” A pause. “Do you believe me?”

I nodded.

It’s been a long time now, for us. For Dominic and I. And I’ve been told before that I’m abused, that when Dominic takes away my decisions he’s taking away my basic rights as a human being. He’s brainwashed me so that he can control my every move, beat me into submission.

But that night, the first time I really felt myself submit of my own volition. The first time I really, honestly, gave up what I wanted for us, that was when I really began to realize what we were about.
Not Dominic spanking me and not the power exchange -- though I seriously get off on it -- we’re about each other. We’re about the greatest things we’ve ever learned. Loving each other and being loved in return.

So, he spanks me when I do something we’ve agreed I won’t do. So, I do things we’ve agreed I won’t do. What people don’t understand is the irony: this is the freest I’ve ever felt. This is the most liberation I’ve ever known. I can’t expect them to understand, I guess. And they don’t need to.
We do. And that’s enough.


“Wake up, sleepy head,” I whispered into Dominic’s ear. “Jesus loves yooou.”

He groaned and rolled away from me so I straddled him and sat on his butt. Hey, it was a last ditch effort.

“Come on, pleeease?” I whined.

“We went last week,” he mumbled through the pillow he was holding over his head.

“I wanna go this week too. I like the building. I like being up early on Sunday. I like walking around before most people are up and you know, feeling productive. You’re the one who always wants me to be productive at god awful hours of the morning. You should be all for this!” I’d started bouncing up and down on him and he was trying to get a good enough hold on me to drag me off. It wasn’t working.

“Come to church with me and I’ll suck you off,” I grinned, grabbing his flailing arm and holding it to his back.

“That is an ungodly bargain,” he said. “If we go to church after you’ve sucked me off, we’ll probably be struck by lightning.”

“It’s gorgeous outside,” I said.

He made whining noises into the bed and slumped limply. “You’re not going to get off, are you?”

“I’ll suck you off and iron you a shirt to wear.”

“Oh, I can hardly contain my joy.”

I tore the pillow off his head and bit his ear. “You are SO coming to church with me.”

“Do I have to take a shower?”

I lifted his arm and smelled. “Yes.”

He sighed and sat up, resignedly. “Then I want my blow job in the shower.” He stood up, threw me over his shoulder and tickled me mercilessly all the way to the bathroom.


Church was nice. It’s not something I love, not something I’d done two Sundays in a row since I was a kid, but I like it. The liturgy grounds me and the act of going makes me feel good. Like I’m awake and alive and doing something worthy of being up so stinking early.

Afterward, I begged Dominic for ice cream. He argued that we hadn’t even had lunch yet, so… of course, I suggested we do so immediately. We ate at a little pub on Hawthorne, then started back for the car.

“Let’s walk a while longer,” he said as we neared the car, nodding across the street to the river.

I nodded and we walked across to the river walk.

“It’s starting to get warm, I think,” I said.

“Saturday Market will be back soon,” he nodded.

“When?” I asked. Saturday Market was when summer started. It meant that things were going to get warmer and greener and that we’d survived another winter.

“Next week, week after,” he shrugged and gripped my hand, pulling it into his pocket.

I leaned against him as we walked.

“Let’s go see Ben,” I said.

He looked down at me and grinned.

“And your tree, too,” I added.

“Yeah, my tree’s right over there.” He pointed.

“What? Where?” I squinted in the direction of his finger.

“Right there. Next to the bridge.”

“That is NOT your tree,” I said indignantly. “That’s just a tree. Your tree is next to a rosebush.”

“No, that is my tree.” He nodded resolutely. “I think I should know. It is mine, after all.”

“No, it’s not! Your tree is within sight of my Benjamin Franklin and my Benjamin Franklin is on the other side of that bridge where you can’t see it yet!”

“You’ll be able to once we get up there.”

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t own a tree, do you?” I asked.

“I own that tree!” he said, pointing back at the damn bridge.

“No, you don’t! That’s someone else’s tree. Probably just the city’s. Yours is on the other side of the bridge, next to a rosebush. You don’t own a tree, DO you?” I asked, looking up at him pointedly.

“I do too.”

“You’re only holding out for yourself,” I smirked. “It doesn’t do me any harm if you don’t, it just means you made up a story to make me feel better which is SO darling and sweet and mushy-gooshy of you that I can hardly stand it.” I grinned and he grabbed me, tickling until I laughed so hard I thought I’d never catch my breath.

We fell onto the cold, wet grass and lay for a moment before we realized just how wet it was, then we found a bench and sat down.

I moved close to him for warmth. I never wore enough layers and it drove him crazy. But it offered a good excuse for public affection.

“You made that story up,” I said. “didn’t you? You made it up to make me feel better. It never happened.”

He was silent, staring out at the boats on the water. “I did get shoes for Christmas,” he said, finally.

“And that was it?”

“That was it.”

“So the story was about stars,” I said. “I knew I heard it somewhere.”

He turned to me, grinning lopsidedly. “There are no stars here. Too much light pollution.”

“But if there were it would’ve been a story about stars, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, I guess I wouldn’t know that, would I?”

We watched the boats pulling in and out and the occasional person or two passing in front of us. Two homeless people stopped to ask for change and Dominic forked it over both times. I love him for always having change to give away. If you lived in this city, you’d know just how much money it required.

“Dominic,” I said softly after a while.

“What?” He rubbed my thumb, still held tightly in his coat pocket.

“Pick a boat.”

“What?” He laughed.

I moved closer into his side. “Your tree story was ridiculous, so pick a boat. If I get Benjamin Franklin, you should get a boat.”

“You can’t just give away other people’s boats, you know,” he smirked.

“It’s no different than trying to steal the city’s trees,” I pointed out.

“Hmm.. you’ve got me there.”

“So, pick,” I said.


“I like that one. The Beast,” I pointed at the boat floating past us and tried not to laugh. Who names a little fishing boat The Beast?

“Now, don’t influence my decision,” he said, swatting my hand down. “I can pick by myself.”

I laughed and waited.

“That one,” he said. He was pointing at a group of larger white boats with big blue decks.

“Those are those terrible tourist attractions!” I said. “Only people from out of state ride those.”

“I guess we ought to make a lot of money then, shouldn‘t we?”

I gasped and smacked the back of his hand. “That is NOT the reason you were supposed to be picking one!”

“Oh? Then what was the reason?”

I wasn’t sure what the reason was. I thought and then stood up.

“I guess it was more of an ulterior motive than a reason,” I shrugged. “I think I’m ready to go home now.”

“Why?” he looked at me suspiciously.

“People who go to church take naps on Sunday afternoons. All that preaching probably wears them out.”

“Naps?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Something tells me you’re looking for more than a nap…”

I smacked his arm again. “Don’t be all loud about it! Come ON.”

If I’m not mistaken, he broke the speed limit once or twice on the way home. That rebel. Really, someone should do something about him...

A Starry Night

It was raining by the time I got off the bus. It had been cold, but still a little sunny, only twenty minutes prior. I stepped out into it, wishing I had thought to bring more with me. At least an umbrella or something.

But then, why bring an umbrella when it's supposed to be sunny?

Damn unpredictable weather.

I slung my messenger bag over my head and slipped under the covering of the bus stop to call Dominic.

By my calculations, his apartment should only have been about a five minute walk from the stop I was at. But even still, I knew he would ask me what in the hell I was thinking if I didn't at least try to call him to pick me up. He’d gotten so much more protective the last few weeks. I leaned hard against the glass of the enclosure and sifted my hands through everything in my bag. Everything. Then searched all the pockets of my jeans and the front pocket of my sweatshirt before realizing I'd left my cell in the window sill at Gareth's loft.

And yes, it was only Gareth's loft.

Cursing myself at that point, but desperate, I pulled up the hood of my sweatshirt, braced myself and set out bravely for Dominic's apartment.

For a fleeting moment, the masochist in me grinned. He would pay me quite a bit more attention if I were frozen and wet. And... having thought of that, I figured it wouldn't be entirely out of the question to walk just a little bit slower. I mean, shivering couldn't hurt. Or turning my lips a pretty shade of blue. To match my eyes?


By the time I got there I was more than a little ready to kill my inner masochist. I did end up reasoning that killing a piece of yourself is really rather masochistic in itself and so….

But being as I was a little out of sorts right then, any philosophical standpoint on the issue was entirely lost on me.

And to make life just that much more exciting, it was still raining. I was soaked to the skin, dripping, my ears ached, my lips and fingers were numb and I was a little too close to tears.

He wasn't just going to pay me closer attention, he was going to kill me.

I had to buzz up for him to let me in because he lived in one of those really secure buildings.

Something about "safety issues". I think that was the phrase he used.

Yeah, in the real world, we call that "paranoia".

Personally, I liked the loft Gareth and I shared in China town. It was eclectic, conducive to my artwork and had an air of adventure about it.

Besides, the Asian boys were hot and always walking past our window where we could cruise them without anyone really noticing. Which pissed Dominic off. But the look that it put on his face made both of us laugh so hard that we saved all our cruising exclusively for his visits.

"Graayyer," Gareth would turn around from the kitchen window and grin at me, lasciviously. "That hot guy from the video place is walking home from work again."

"The one with the 'fuck me' eyes?" I'd ask, casting laughing eyes at Dominic who would undoubtedly be ready to strangle both of us.

He still gets that look sometimes. And it still eggs me on.

"Yes?" the voice over the intercommy thing ground out. He sounded tired. Work stuff probably.

"Dominic?" I mustered in my most pathetic voice. Which wasn't hard at that point, considering the state of my being.

"Who is this?" he asked. Like maybe I was some sort of vacuum cleaner salesman holding a midnight sale.

Fuck, it had only been two weeks. Not some kind of eternity. Had he forgotten my voice already?

"Graeme?" I ventured, carefully, suddenly not at all sure he'd even want to see me. "It's Graeme."

"Graeme?" He was silent for a moment. "Grayer? Gray?"

I laughed nervously in spite of myself and nodded before realizing he couldn't hear physical gestures.
"Uh huh," I said. "Can I come up? Please? It's cold and--"

"Get UP here," he said. "It's freezing! What in the hell are you doing out in this weather?" He didn't wait for an answer.

Above me, I heard grating and saw a window open, then Dominic's head. The first I'd seen of it in what seemed an eternity right then.

"I have a good excuse?" I called up.

"Well, now really isn't the time for that, kiddo," he said, not necessarily annoyed... not really very pleased. He dropped something. I moved to catch it. The key. "The buzzer's broken. Get your butt up here. Right now," he said. Like I was five and he'd just gotten my report card in the mail with three D's.

I fumbled with the key at the lock, my hands stiff and cold, but somehow managed to twist the thing in there and turn it.

On my way up the three flights of stairs to his apartment, I further evaluated the tone of his voice. Angry? Annoyed? I mean, it had been two weeks and we.. were.. kind of. Boyfriends. Kind of. If you go for those sorts of things. Bothered? In a bad way or a good way? Had he stopped liking me over the course of two weeks? It is a long time...

I guess I hadn't thought much about that before then. I'd just known that I needed him, in spite of myself. And anyway, all of my friends were stuck in cramped dorms, had ten roommates already or were still at home with their parents. I couldn't stay with any of them. Still, I hadn't even considered until that moment that he might not want to take me in.

I ascended the last flight of stairs slowly, anxiously aware that I should have come up with a Plan B. I stopped in front of his door and leaned back against the opposite wall.

What if he never wanted to see me again and this was all a huge, gigantic, awful mistake? What if he told me to leave and shoved me back out into the rain? But, no... he'd just told me to come up. That had to mean that, at least on some level, he wanted me in his apartment. Right? And, I supposed, if worse came to it's very worst, I could sleep here in the hallway tonight, where it was warm, and find something better tomorrow.

I'm well known for my rationality under pressure.

For now, however, I focused my attention on the door and willed it to open without my having to knock. It must’ve worked too, because just as I moved to knock, it swung open.

I stumbled into him.

"What took you so long?" he demanded, taking me by the shoulders and righting me. "I was worried you were in some sort of danger, just showing up like this. In the rain and so late? I have been so worried about you, Graeme Evan Kinney. What is the matter with you, young man? You haven't returned my phone calls, you stood me up at everything we had planned last week. Look at me."
But I couldn't. I was too busy crumbling into tears. "I'm sorry," I babbled. "I'm sorry. I'll go. I didn't mean to, I just- Gareth and I-"

"Hush..." he drug me into his chest and hugged me, all wet and miserable, then pulled me inside and shut the door behind us. "I'm not angry. Gray? Grayer, take this off." He lifted my bag off my shoulder for me with a grunt at how heavy it was. I'd forgotten it was even there.

I rubbed at my eyes with the heels of my palms in an attempt to compose myself and then looked up at him. A shivering, wet mess of tears, emotions and now a trickle of snot finding its way out of my nose.

"Come on, let's get you out of these. You're freezing." His voice was gentle and smooth. He smelled good. And most importantly, right now, he was warm.

"I just needed- well, Gareth and I- I um.." I sniffed, my breath hitching.

"One thing at a time, Graeme. First, we'll get you out of these clothes and then into the shower. There will be plenty of time to talk after that. And believe me, we will be." He was already peeling off my sweatshirt.

I toed my shoes off. "I'm sorry..." I sniffed again, lifting my arms for him to pull my T-shirt over my head.

"What were you thinking walking out in that rain?" He was towing me to the bathroom.

"It's wasn't that far," I shivered visibly and wrapped my arms around my damp body. "Just from the bus stop."

"That's ten blocks away. How long were you out there?" He bent and turned on the taps, adjusting them and waiting for them to get warm.

"L-longer than I'd f-figured," I shrugged through chattering teeth. "Dunno. I forgot how f-far... it was." I gulped for air and leaned against him.

He turned me toward him and unbuttoned my jeans. I looked closely at him for a long moment as he slid the rest of my clothes to the floor. Nothing in his demeanor to suggest that I shouldn't have come or that he was annoyed about the abruptness of it all... he seemed somewhat upset about the whole avoidance thing. But... I guess that was to be expected.

After a nine month relationship, I suppose it isn't all that nice to just up and stop talking for two weeks, explanations withheld.

You should note that that was his fault though. In... a manner of.. speaking.
One that may be a little biased. On my part. Maybe.

He turned the shower on and stood up, bending slightly to kiss my forehead. "I missed you," he said, softly then nudged at me. "Now get in there. Warm up." He pulled the curtain back and I stepped in.
Dominic does everything like he's had years of practice. Like nothing is new to him and he's done all it all a thousand times before. There's this calming ease about him. It's really very comforting and normalizes even the most awkward of situations.

He was applying that ease here in heavy doses.

"Are you hungry?" he asked, over the hiss of the shower spray.

"No," I lied.

Of course I was hungry. In fact, I was starved. But I was also well aware of Dominic's vegetarianism and even more disenthralled. I, for the record, ate only GOOD food. None of this vegetable, health food crap he forces into me now. Dominic Food consisted then, and still does, of things I hate touching even with a ten foot pole. Carrots, lettuce, and... tofu. The ultimate vegetarian atrocity.
I maintain that making human beings eat wet, slimy bricks of gelatinized soybean by-product is far worse torture than any animal has ever endured at the hands of a slaughter house. Though, Dominic doesn't listen anymore when I say so.

"I'll make you peanut butter and jelly and some warm coffee. We'll see if we can't find a hole in your stomach for it. Then we're going to talk for a while, Grayer."

"I'm sorry, I just-Gareth and I-"

"No," he interrupted me. "Shower first. I'm going to make your sandwich. Toasted or plain?"

"Toasted?" It was more of a question. I was aware toasted took more effort and I felt pathetic, I felt sorry for myself, I wanted to be babied in whatever form that took. Regardless of how I usually felt about toast. Which was not fondly.

But peanut butter and jelly actually did sound pretty good. And so did coffee. Thinking about them made me feel a little hungrier and I set to work scrubbing myself as I thawed out.

So, with food in mind and a growing ache in my stomach, I was out of the shower in fifteen minutes.

A feat for me.

I had nothing to wear, so I just wrapped the towel around my waist and folded it over to hold it there. I'd wear that and sleep.. naked or something.

He was in the kitchen, listening to the BBC on NPR while the coffee perked. I could practically smell all the warmth that the kitchen was radiating and walked straight for the table.

"Pajamas," he said, simply, and motioned to the back of one of the chairs. There were flannel pants and one of his gigantic sweatshirts, topped off with socks and a wife beater tank top.

I grimaced a little and looked at him. "Who wears pajamas?" I asked, skeptically.

He smiled at me, raising his eyebrows as if I were challenging him to a duel. "You do. As long as you're sleeping here. You've risked enough illness for one day, kiddo. Put them on."

No suggestions ever made with Dominic. Even since the beginning. If he thinks something should be a certain way and he's really, really convinced... then that's how it is.

Infuriatingly, he's always right.

"Pajamas," he said again, when I hadn't moved. My mind carries me off a lot, but he knew that already and I didn't feel like I needed to apologize.

"All of these?" I asked, skeptically, eyeing the clothes neatly folded over the back of the chair.

He smiled at me, looking me in the eyes and challenging me right back. "Just you try it," those eyes said. "All of them,” he said aloud. “Now, please."

I grimaced one more time at them, but somehow managed to get them all on. All of them. I felt mummified, but rationalized that if it got me a warm bed, it was pretty much worth it.

"D’you do your apartment?" I asked, conversationally, pulling on the socks. It was a nice place I noticed, now that I was a little calmer. Lighter colors than I might have chosen, but nice, matching ones at least.

"Decorate it, you mean? Yeah, I did." He set a plate down in front of me.

Wheat bread. My arch nemesis. But it was cut diagonally, I had to give him that. And since I hadn't seen him in so long and was still trying to feel my way back into things, I refrained from telling him how much I loathed wheat bread. I don't refrain anymore, but I have a feeling that even if I had then, I would have gotten the same response I do now.

"Eat it anyway."

"Warmer?" he asked, taking the pot out of the coffee machine and pouring black-black coffee into two mugs.

Black-black. The way I like it. If I hadn’t before, that was when I decided he was a keeper. The whole pajama and wheat bread thing could be dealt with as long as he made good coffee.

Not that I was sure we had anything going here that I would keep him for... but minor details like that are to be left ignored at all times.

I nodded, in answer to his question and he handed me a mug that said "Denny's" on it. I looked at it for a moment and had to wonder if he - the ever sensible, moral, upstanding Dominic - had stolen it from the restaurant. But I filed that question/remark away for later use and took a bite of sandwich.

"Cream? Sugar?" he asked, going to the fridge.

"Chocolate syrup?" I asked back.

"Is that all you ever eat?" He peered at me over the top of the fridge door and smiled good-naturedly. "Junk food?"

"Junk food?" I said, incredulously. "I eat from every food group, thank you."

He was laughing as he backed out of the fridge. I noticed he carried no chocolate syrup to the table. "First of all," he was saying around an amused smirk. "I have no chocolate syrup. Though if you'd wanted hot chocolate, you could have said so. Secondly," he sat down across from me. "Cheetos do not qualify as cheese or vegetable just because they're made of corn and covered in orange powder. Nor is milk chocolate a dairy product in spite of the name. Ketchup is also not a vegetable. Tomatoes are fruit anyway. Everything McDonald's makes practically comes out of an EZ-Bake Oven and frozen pizza and ramen simply have no nutritional value whatsoever." He took a deep breath, looking proud of himself.

Well. All right then. I quickly saw how it was going to be and began weighing my options.

But not before arguing.

"Ramen is a grain!" I said, defensively, around a mouthful of peanut butter and strawberry jam.
He shook his head and put his coffee mug down on the table. "Hardly by the time they get through with it. And eat that, don't talk through it."

I rolled my eyes.

We'd been together one month. Which may sound like a long time – I mean, it does to me, Mr. Non-commitment – but up until that point it had been almost painfully casual. We ate dinner together on Wednesdays and took drives on Sundays. Sometimes he would show up at my studio with coffee or I would drop by his office "just to say hi".. but that was about it.

It was kind of weird because I actually saw him a lot more when we weren't together. Off-hand visits whenever he happened to be with Gareth at the loft or when he came by and Gare was two hours late. Which actually happened fairly frequently, but I think, in part, that could have been... well, I mean maybe, maybe because I translated a few phone messages wrong... which could have been, maybe, so that Gareth would think he was supposed to be there two hours late. Which was, I guess, a little conniving with maybe a twinge of evil thrown in, but nothing I felt too bad about. I mean, they weren't that serious anyway, right? And all of my careful scheming played a part in us getting together. Which is definitely a good thing.

Seriously though, it had been 2.5 weeks since I had last seen him and two since I'd last spoken to him.
I'd gone out for a drink with some of my friends from this gallery - the one that gave me my first showing (how could I not consider them friends?) - and we'd ended up on Rochester Avenue (kind of the city's gay district), at Corky's, a little bar that positively everyone hangs out at. We got a bit tipsy as we were celebrating the first real showing of my friend Andrew, and on our way back home, we weren't really paying attention and got a bit discombobulated down by the questionable end of the street.

I call it the questionable end because it houses both the leather bar, Chains, and the supposedly-secretive-but-not-so-much-anymore S&M club, The Gash. Two places I avoid with a vengeance. Mostly because I look all too the part of a blonde boy slave and every time I find myself in that general area, I get all sorts of weird come-ons. Like, "Hey, little boy, do you need a daddy?" And what is that supposed to mean? Do I look completely untamed or what? I am SO obviously an angel.

Okay, so it turned me on. Not THAT much, but a little.

What did not turn me on, however, was when I saw Dominic walking into The Gash with another guy.

And then when he saw me.

It was like one of those TV scenes or in the movies, when somebody sees their lover doing something hurtful and the camera flashes from one set of eyes to the other. Pain crumpling the gaze of the one and shock and bewilderment flashing across the other.

"Fuck!" I heard behind me as I started back down the road at as quick a pace as a pretty tipsy man can manage. "Graeme! Graeme Evan Kinney! Fuck, stop!"

But he told me later that he lost me in the crowds. It was a Friday night, after all, and things get crazy around there on Friday nights. He said he looked all night and I believe him because he woke me up at 4:00am, pounding on my door.

I refused to let him in or speak to him. Gareth tried to overrule me and open the door, but I threatened to splatter paint his bed in primary colors on a background of white when he went to work. He got Dominic to go home. Probably by telling him he'd “talk to me”. Because for the next four days, all I heard from Gareth was, “Are you sure you don't want to call him?”

Sometimes I wonder now what possessed Dominic to let me in the door out of the cold and rain after how I'd treated him, but I didn't wonder at the time. I always just took for granted that I could get my way with anything I whined at enough. Because up until that point, it had worked out pretty well.
Little did I know how immune Dominic is to whining.

Still, I was marveling at his ability to fall right back into step without missing a beat. It was as though we'd known each other for nine years instead of months and like we'd never been apart at all.
Like I said, he's very at ease with himself and the people around him. He's completely unafraid to say what he thinks when it's appropriate, regardless of who he's talking to. Still, his skyrocketing level of comfort when talking to me and being around me, caught me off guard.

Through my entire sandwich, he sat there, in what to me was painfully awkward silence, just reading the paper and drinking coffee. And it didn't bother him one bit.

Feeling really uncomfortable and weird, I made a couple of efforts at lame conversation, but he always left them for dead after a few, short replies.

I was coming under the impression that he was not appreciative of my being there. Granted, I got the occasional glance-from-the-corner-of-the-eye type thing every few minutes. But this guy was sending out major vibes of annoyance.

I mean... wasn't he?

But then there was the undressing, the kiss on the forehead, the sandwich...

What was he trying to do here, confuse me half to death? Drive me out of his home by means of indecipherably mixed signals? Was he amusing himself at my expense?

That didn't sound very Dominic-ish, but still... I ate the last half of my sandwich, in a growing state of irritation.

And now we should take The Way Back Machine for a ride really quickly. There are a few things you should know.


First, the story of Dominic and Gareth. In short, of course. If I'm at all capable of those sorts of things.
From what I've gathered, they met at some sort of press conference thingy. Dominic is a writer for The Weekly. Gareth was there almost illegitimately with some pass he got who-knows-how. Through some friend at school or something. It's possible that Gare is even more conniving than I am.

So, Dominic was standing there in the press room, listening to the governor or some congressman or something, rambling on about whatever it was that was pertinent to local politics nine months ago. And all of a sudden, up pops this guy from the crowd of reporters, shouting.

Sweet Gareth.

Whenever they retold the story, Gareth would vehemently swear never to tell me what the whole thing was about. Even Dominic still won't tell me anything, though I've repeated to him over and over that promises you make to ex-boyfriends have no bearing once you've broken up. He's just entirely too conscientious for his own good.

However, I have it on fairly good authority that the whole fiasco involved a Gay Straight Alliance Gareth was a part of and had quite a bit to do with the fact that the guy holding the conference was a Republican, adamantly opposed to everything homosexual.

Anyway, Gareth was shouting and the story goes that the Republican political guy made a complete idiot out of him until he shut up. But Dominic was interested in what he was saying. So, after the conference, he tracked Gareth down and found my poor best friend/ex-roommate (Whom I still love dearly, you should note. Now that we've straightened out a few minor details and I paid for the professional refinishing of his floor. He's so picky sometimes.) in a dark corner, down a side hall of the state capital building, sobbing.

To make Gareth feel better and because he was intrigued by anything that would make this kid present himself as such a fool in front of people who could easily take his picture and record the entire event, Dominic took him out for lunch and then... they just kept going out, I guess.
Dinner, the movies, the theater, operas, long walks in The Common. All those sorts of sappy things that couples do.

I met Dominic about two weeks after Gareth, when he came to the door on a Saturday afternoon carrying flowers he'd picked himself to surprise our lovely darling with a picnic lunch. Of course, that would have been the Saturday that Gare decided to drive out into the country with his friends and get drunk at this weird little bar off the highway that they liked a lot (too much?). So, when Dominic came to the door, well... I couldn't just say, "Sorry, Gareth's not in, I'll tell him you stopped by," now could I? I mean, he had flowers and a picnic lunch out in the car and everything. So I told him Gare had run to the grocery store and was due back in five or ten minutes.

That was the first time I witnessed his supreme comfort in social situations. He had me buried deep in conversation immediately. Not the annoying, chattery sort either. And I am a social cripple, to say the least. Almost entirely incapable of carrying on a decent, interesting conversation. Therefore, it was quite the accomplishment on his part.

Over the next two months, I saw him quite a bit, considering he was Gareth's boyfriend and I don't think I'd ever even met one of them before in the two years I lived with him. He said they existed. I'm skeptical. I tend to believe he just wanted a good excuse to go to that weird bar without having to explain himself. Not that I would have minded. Or even asked for an explanation.

After a month and a half or so, things looked like they were going really well for them. There was even a little talk of permanent arrangements and moving in together.

Which, of course, was the precise moment at which Mark came back along. Gare always said he had the most perfect timing.

Cataclysmic timing sounded more like it to me.

When I moved into the loft with Gareth, it was straight after Mark had moved out. Straight after. As in, he'd forgotten everything in his underwear drawer and it was all still there.

And Gareth... Gareth was a wreck. I mean, they'd been together three years. Which is a pretty long time, you know? There were some major attachment issues there. And since we were sharing a loft... which, by nature, has basically no privacy whatsoever... I was also dealing with his attachment issues.
He did a lot of venting those first six months or so. A lot. I practically know what went on between them from the day they met until the day Mark left him for some twinkie with a tighter ass.

Don't think I'm complaining though, I'm really not. What happened in the beginning is what cemented our friendship. We knew each other better than probably any of our previous partners ever had. Including Mark.

It was just a really odd situation. I went into it completely oblivious and got drug into the middle of a hurricane. The very first week, I repeatedly found myself getting up in the middle of the night to wrap my arms around his shaking shoulders and make him tea.

And I still couldn't remember his last name.

So, without meaning to be self-righteous, it was me who walked him through all of that. I was there when Mark wasn't and before Dominic was.

Therefore, if there was one thing I knew for sure, it was that Mark had fucked Gare up. Really badly. And something else I knew for sure was that I didn't like the bastard. Seeing him just sweep back in after over two years and steal away the heart and mind that I had spent ages trying to mend... made me incredibly angry.

Also, I knew right away that it was the end of Dominic and Gareth. And I knew it wouldn't be clean cut. Not by a long shot.

It wasn't.

It was awful and bloody and involved lots of repeats of our first nights together. Waking up to find Gareth sobbing at 3am. Lots of comforting him, lots of laying there in bed with him until he fell asleep.

In the end, Mark got him. Gareth felt so bad about having fucked Mark that he ended up telling Dominic. And when Dominic asked where his loyalties laid, Gareth said that he had to say Mark. Because that's what he felt.

Which still sounds stupid to me. But what can you do?

And so Dominic kissed him, rubbed his thumbs over both their tears and left him there. Outside our building.

Which was where I found him three hours later when I was on my way out to get some midnight coffee. Huddled on the steps, tears dried on his face. It was, perhaps, the saddest I've ever seen anyone that I love.

We'd grown somewhat close, too, Dominic and I. And I was sad as well, thinking I wouldn't see much of him anymore, if any at all. Though I'm sure it didn't compare to Gareth's sadness.

That was the only time I let anyone see the sketches I'd done. Until Dominic and I moved in together, that is. But Gareth was the first.

I ditched midnight coffee and towed him back into the loft with me.

All of those times when Gareth had been late because I'd screwed things around on purpose, or because he was genuinely a rather late person in general, Dominic and I would sit and talk for sometimes, up to two hours. He would lay on the couch and complain about Gareth's always being late, wander around looking at my paintings, or find something else to entertain himself. But all of those times when he was there and thought I was sketching the cat or the street or some cheesy still life, I'd capture him. Sometimes just the way his shirt hung over his shoulders or the way his hair fell into his eyes at the end of the day when he was tired. But I have so many of these little sketches. Moments frozen in time.

I showed them to Gareth.

Who got pissed. Which I hadn't figured in.

I meant them to comfort him. Obviously, I didn't think it through. Yeah. At all.

I was obsessing over his boyfriend, after all... which made him, oh.. a bit uncomfortable. And once I put it all together, it made me very uncomfortable.

We avoided each other for five days. After that, things went back to normal as though nothing had happened and I think that he's convinced Dominic and I fucked. But we never spoke about it again. Mostly, I think that's because he just wants to believe that Dominic cheated and that I was weak and thoughtless enough to hurt him that way. So that he can feel marginally better about leaving a fantastic guy for one who has now left him twice.

And we let him think that.

Because he has a right to believe whatever he wants. And more because we love him.

He took my plate from in front of me and laid it in the sink before sitting back down. "So then," he crossed his arms and took a deep breath, looking at me intently. "What happened with you and Gareth?"


"The whole story," he interrupted me. "From the top."

I sighed and slumped back in my chair. "You'll only be annoyed."

"Well, what's the worst I can do to you?" (That he said this makes me laugh now. Now that things are so, um... different.) "I'm not sending you back out on the streets. So, I guess you'll just be stuck with a talking-to and bed."

A talking-to? He could not be only 32.

I sighed again and rubbed a hand over my face. "The tip top?" I asked, tiredly.

"The tip top."

"All right, don't kill me then. I know what you think already, you've told me. But you weren't there! And anyway, it was my loft too!"

"The beginning, Gray. I know you know what that means." He smiled, waiting.

"Fine," I relented. "Fine. I painted the floors green. All of them. While Gareth was out w.. working."
I'd almost inadvertently said, "with Mark".

I squenched my eyes shut tight directly after I said it and waited for him to be supremely annoyed.

And waited.

After a moment, I tentatively opened one eye to look at him.

He blinked at me, then shut his eyes for a long moment and drew in a very deep, very deliberate breath.

"It looked NICE," I defended myself. "Really. And I didn't get any on the couch this time!"

"Is that the point?" he asked, calmly.

"Yes? I was TIRED of black! It was boring. I couldn't stand it anymore. It was squelching my creativity."

"I see. So whenever someone else's property makes you uncomfortable, it's all right to irreparably alter it?"

"What do you mean, 'someone else's property'?"

"You know exactly what I mean, don't play dumb. That loft is Gareth's. He owns it. You pay him rent. Do you know what that means?"

I glared.

"It means," he said, oh-so helpfully. "That you can't screw with it. Because it doesn't belong to you. Even if you do live there. If you want so badly to redecorate everything, Graeme, you need to get your own place."

"I didn't screw with it!" I said, angrily. It seemed such a mean way of putting it.

"All right, all right," he said, more gently. "Whatever you want to call it, the gist is the same. You can't change other people's property whenever it fails to meet your artistic standards."

"But I'm an artist! I have... artistic license!" I whined.

Dominic laughed. "Barbers don’t get barbaric license to shave old women’s hair into permed Mohawks if it so pleases them. Do they?"

Ha. Ha. Ha. You are SO not funny.

Barbaric license? Please.

But as he sat there, staring at me, it became increasingly apparent that he was actually waiting for an answer. That hadn't been a rhetorical question. How weird.

"No," I answered, sullenly. "But that's entirely different! A floor is NOT the same as someone's hair."

He sighed. "You’re right. Because hair grows back.”

“And you can paint back over a floor!” I shot back.

“Grayer,“ he said, in a tone that suggested I shut up. “The principle remains the same. You simply cannot do these things, there is no good excuse." Running a hand through his hair (which was really hot, by the way and took my mind off his lecturing me for a couple of seconds), he stared me straight in the eye and thought for a moment. "Did he finally kick you out then?" he asked, when I was getting really uneasy about the silence. "Like he should have more than a year ago?"

"Heyy..." I whined, hurt this time. "That's not fair." I could feel the emotions from earlier just beneath the surface and tears burned in my eyes.

"Oh, listen to me," he leaned forward on his elbows to be closer to my face.

I didn't want to listen. He was being mean and unfair. I folded my arms on top of the table, dropped my head onto them and burst into tears.

"Grayer," he reached across to touch my hair and I jerked away. "No, you don't," he said, coming around the table and pulling my chair away. He lifted me to my feet by the underarms and turned me around into a strong, bone-crushing hug.

I fought him at first, but he trapped my arms smoothly and efficiently between us and held me tightly enough to his chest that escape was a hopeless endeavor.

"You're MEAN," I sobbed into his shoulder, finally giving up the fight. Something gave me the feeling that would definitely not be the last time I'd say that.

"Hush," he said, making me feel all of five years old. Which... made my stomach do a half flip. And confused the hell out of me.

"Don't touch me," I groused, not moving at all to prevent him.

"Too late," he yawned. "And I think you need sleep. I'll pull out the futon in the bedroom. You can have either that or the bed. Whichever you want."

"The bed," I said, tearily, then paused to consider something before decidedly acting upon it. "Me and you in the bed?" I lifted my head and looked at him, hopefully.

He kept refusing to have sex with me, saying he wanted to make sure this was serious before we got that involved. I think he was less worried about damaging any potentially long lasting relationship we might be on the verge of and more worried about irreparably damaging our friendship.

His eyebrows raised at me like they had about the pajamas. As though he knew I were challenging him and, furthermore, knew I hadn't a chance in the world. "No," he said, quietly. "That's not the way it works. You take the bed, I'll have the futon and we'll talk about the rest of it in the morning. I haven't seen you in a long while, remember, and the last time I did, it was not on very friendly terms. There is a lot of explaining to do."

I slumped back against him. Explaining? About what? And why couldn't we have make up sex? Anyway, I didn't want to talk about The Gash thing. It didn't matter anymore, whatever. What I wanted to talk about – If we had to talk -- was the way he'd been looking at me all night. Like he was perfectly aware that I'd just been waiting for an excuse to show up on his doorstep for ages.

"You also need to pick your things up from Gareth's tomorrow and then we need to find you somewhere more permanent to stay."

I sniffed, still disappointed about the bed thing and even more so now about the "somewhere more permanent" thing, which seemed to imply that his apartment wasn't open indefinitely.

"I think he hates my guts," I said, pathetically. "I should wait a couple days."

"You're not sulking around here like a puppy for a couple of days. You're going over there, apologizing to him, and getting your things so that we can find you another place to live. You and he mean too much to each other to lose your friendship over a silly floor. Things happen. People do thoughtless things. Life moves forward. Everything will be fine, kiddo." He stood me upright and looked me squarely in the eye.

"I am NOT apologizing," I said, resolutely. Okay, maybe a little petulantly.

"Yes you are," he smiled. "And Graeme?" he lifted my chin. "If you ever pull anymore painting stunts on anyone again, you'll be one sorry little boy. And don't think for even one second that I'm kidding you or that I'll forget we had this conversation."

I bit my lip and stared at him in shock for a moment, wondering what he meant. I'd be sorry? That didn't sound nice.

Was he still that loyal to Gareth? Or just really, really upstanding and opposed to anything remotely bad or questionable?

"Is that clear?" he asked.

I continued to just stare at him for a moment, stunned.

"Gray, is that clear?"

"Yes.. yes." I nodded for good measure, not wanting to find out what he meant by that whole spiel just yet. I'd save all that for later.

"Good. There's an extra toothbrush under the sink in the bathroom. Use it and then get into bed. I have a deadline and I'll be up a little later."

He was telling me to go to bed? Telling me. Like I was a kid who had to get up for school tomorrow.

"But it's only—" I tried to protest.

Protests. The only things I could get out of my mouth tonight.

"Go on," he said and pushed me gently toward the bathroom. "And get into bed, Graeme. Do not pass go, do not collect—"

"Two hundred dollars, I know." This time it was me who interrupted. Yeah. I felt good about that.
But I was still being given a bedtime. Which sucked.

"Go," he pointed. "I have to work." And he leaned down, kissed my forehead again and pushed me, a little more firmly this time, toward the bathroom door.

And this time, trying to conceal a grin, I went.


It's been five years since all of this happened, so I'm not really sure I remember everything as clearly as I make it sound. Still, the important parts are all here. Conversations paraphrased, but the same general gist.

Dominic woke me the next morning at the ungodly hour of 8:00am with more amazing coffee and his EVIL good morning song. Mostly he only uses it now as his secret weapon (and to amuse himself, I'm sure of it), but I was so difficult in the beginning that he used to sing it nearly every morning.
We had a very long conversation about our relationship and The Gash thing. Complete with my bursting into tears when he told me it was a story he was working on for The Weekly about what motivates leather slaves to so willingly submit themselves to sometimes horrific acts of violence. And that the twinkie he was with was an interviewee. Apparently, they wanted the "inside scoop" written from the standpoint of a "real gay man". Regardless of whether or not said gay man was into leather. Because all gay men are the same, right? Doesn't matter; chocolate.. vanilla... they're both flavors.


Makes me laugh too because... fuck all Dominic knows about the leather scene. Even since he did the story. He is so anti-clubbing that it's a riot.

But things started getting better.

I stayed with him for, oh, about a week. Until his friend offered me his guest room. Until Dominic begged his friend to offer me his guest room, no doubt.

Liam is Dominic's closest ally (next to myself now, I am quite proud to say... except when it comes to matters of discipline anyhow...). Sometimes it seems that they're actually clones of each other, but Liam is even more painfully honest than Dominic. If you can imagine that. And though he still subscribes mostly to the rule of appropriate timing, he sometimes slips up a little. Which can either be incredibly embarrassing or incredibly hilarious. And he's British. Other than that though, I could swear they were separated at birth or something.

Liam lived with his partner, Murray, who was closer to my age. Only maybe a couple years older. And that made the whole thing sound a little more tolerable, so I agreed. Though no one ever actually asked me... But I never planned on refusing, I guess.

It was almost directly after I moved in with Liam and Murray that I was finally hit head on with everything. The reality of the situation. The situation I had so blindly stepped into.
At first, it scared me out of my mind. But that wasn't for very long. An hour at most. And then I was just constantly annoyed and severely irritated for weeks. Actually, you could say that I still am. Though, not so much anymore.

The story.

My very first day there, I woke up midmorning and wandered downstairs, still in pajamas (as I had been told the night before that I would be wearing them just as consistently at Liam's as I had at Dominic's. What was WITH these people and their all-encompassing mandates?), to scavenge for food.

It was a Saturday and Liam was home because I saw his car in the drive, but I didn't actually see him anywhere. Murray had mentioned some sort of hiking trip the night before so I assumed that was where he'd gone. I mean, I figured I was safe. For breakfast at least.

I had been rummaging through cupboards, taking things out, leaving doors open and I had a half gallon carton of milk halfway to my mouth when Liam walked in from the garden.

He just looked at me for a moment, blinking. I was frozen, unsure of how I could turn this around to look like I hadn't just been putting his milk carton to my lips when he fixed me with a Look that could terrify a hardened criminal. One I recognized, but hadn't seen since I'd graduated high school. It was very, um, authoritative.

"Uhmmmm..." I stammered as he looked around at the chaos I'd just instated.

How do you FIX a situation like that?

I lowered the carton and tried to look appropriately contrite.

"It seems we have some rules to establish," he said, not meanly, just matter-of-factly. Then he walked to me, took the carton from my hands, put it back in the fridge and beckoned me into the living room.
What was it with these two? Just one look from either of them and I felt like a little kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Scared, guilty and nervous. It was very disconcerting. Especially as it continued and seemed to get worse.

I followed him, as there really was no other option, and sat where he pointed on the couch. He stood.
If that's not menacing, I don't know what is.

I had known him for approximately 48 hours and the man was already ordering me around and preparing to lecture me on proper manners. Two things Gareth may have done, but never in seriousness! Unless we were fighting, I guess. But even then!

The difference here was that though this man looked rather perturbed and I wanted to tell him to bugger off (I figured maybe he'd understand it better if I put it in British-speak), there was no fight going on. Because he was obviously in control, leaving no room for me to argue. He wasn't going to put up with it. And fucked up as it felt, as angry as it made me, as much as I refused to admit it... I kind of liked the feeling of security it gave me. I was not in charge. I was not expected to be in charge. I was supposed to pay attention and do what I was told. And that was basically it.

However, I was not at all used to this sudden change in dynamic.

"Dominic called about an hour ago and we had a lovely chat," he was saying, leaning back against the radiator. I was too nervous to move.

Lovely chat? I wanted to ask. And what was it about? But I kept my mouth shut. Tight.

"He was surprised you were still asleep. Said he'd been waking you at 8:00am every morning for the past few days and that perhaps it might do you some good for us to continue the practice? Today was Saturday though, so I thought it would be all right."

Whooaa, hold on there, buddy. I did NOT sign up for this. This is where I draw the line. THIS is where I put my foot down.

"Um, that really isn't necessary. I'm an artist, just running my own little pseudo-business, so I have no reason to be up at any certain time. Y'know?"

He gave a long, thoughtful nod and I was SO sure I'd won at something when... "Sleeping through the afternoon is hardly healthy and breeds laziness, my boy. So, 8:00am it is." He smiled antiseptically.

I wanted to throw a couch pillow at him. There was no WAY I was waking up at 8:00am every morning! And no way he could make me!

Hahaha... I am so naïve.

"Anyhow, Dominic said you were a good boy and that I should treat you well - which I have every intention of doing - but he also said that a short set of ground rules might be beneficial."

Ground rules? Dominic had said that? Well, well. Dominic and I were just going to have to have our own "lovely chat" later on.

"It's all very simple and easy to follow. In fact, there are only three rules. Though perhaps I should mention right off that drinking straight from the carton of anything is strictly forbidden," he smirked in very, very slight amusement. I saw it and took note. He drew a long breath. "Did you and Gareth ever have guidelines?" he asked.

I shook my head no. "Well, I mean, not really. None that we both, um... kept anyway."

"Well, here we keep them," he said. Again in that matter-of-fact way that was beginning to drive me up the fucking wall.

And what happened if we didn't follow the rules? What then?

Something told me that I didn't want to know.

"The first is simply to clean up after yourself."

That was the second time he'd used the word "simple". But thus far, I was not convinced that any of this was truly simple.

"Which means," he continued. "That you wash your dishes, keep the bathroom and your room clean, make your bed, don't leave your things lying about. All of those sorts of things."
How was that simple? It was a list of like twelve things! And making my bed?! What was this, reform school?! Fucking boot camp?!?! This HAD to be a joke. A really mean one.
I had never seen the use in daily fixing something that I would nightly ruin. There was no logic to it. What was he going on about? What had happened to normal roommates? Suddenly, I missed Gareth fiercely.

"Second," he said. "The doors shut at midnight and if they have to open again, no one will be happy."


But wait...

"You can absolutely stay out later..."

Oh, thank God. There is a tiny bit of decency in this old toad.

"...if you're wanting to be made unhappy when you finally turn up or if you're staying with Dominic. But, of course, common courtesy dictates that if you won't be coming home, you call to let me know by 10:00pm."

What the FUCK?! I'd stumbled into the fucking Twilight Zone!

"If you're out past midnight and you come home to locked doors, you're going to reckon with Dominic to roust him out of bed and come get you. Which will inevitably end sorely.”

Umm.. what was that about Dominic and soreness? Between that and his threat that I'd be sorry if I did anymore painting without owner consent, I was wondering about these people.

“I want you to feel like family and I want to treat you like family, Graeme," he said, his gaze softening, seemingly in response to my expression of complete shock. "And I don't want to be worrying all night about where you are. What if something happens?"

I don't know. Nothing ever happened before! Why would things suddenly start happening now? Is there some sort of curse that I am unaware of? A curse that requires a ridiculous amount of ridiculous rules in order to avoid wrath?

"Third, and this is the last - though I reserve the right to add more as things come up - I cannot allow you to swear."

Cannot allow me? To swear?

"My last partner, Paul, and I had two children together - Aidan and Hazel - of whom I have part-time custody. And I will not tolerate them being exposed to vulgarity in their own home."

Fine. So make a damn rule that says I can't cuss when they're here. THAT makes sense. THAT I can handle.

And as though he were capable of mind reading, "It just makes more sense to rule it out all together than to create fuzzy lines around things. Besides the fact that I, personally, have no appreciation for any of it and don't allow to Murray to speak that way either."

Don't ALLOW him? It was starting to sound to me as though we were entering into controlling and abusive right about then. At that point it didn't even occur to me to consider that perhaps Murray wanted it this way. I just started thinking, "poor thing."

Seriously, this was INSANE. All of it.

"So, I think that's all. Do you have any questions?" He sat down, elbows on his knees, and looked at me.

He and Dominic were officially fucking twins. Oh, sorry. Just twins.

"What did you mean?" I asked, dumbly. "That it would end sorely if Dominic had to come get me in the middle of the night?"

"I meant that you'll get yourself into more than you want to deal with, young man. And if you want a more detailed explanation, I suggest you speak to Murray. Or I suppose you can find out the hard way if you have your heart set on it. But if not, just keep to the rules and you'll be fine.

"I'm late for Aidan's hockey match. Think about what I said, Graeme." And he gave me what looked like a forced smile, grabbed his jacket and keys and was gone with a good-natured wave through the window.

What the HELL had I gotten myself into?


"Anyone home?" Murray called as he came in, back from hiking earlier than I'd expected.
I heard him shut the door and glanced around myself at the state of the kitchen I'd been painting in all afternoon. It just had... such a great view.


Fuck. It was a disaster.

"Fuck!" I heard behind me in a disbelieving gasp. I jumped and turned toward him in the doorway, giving him a look sure to let him know he'd just ruined my entire afternoon.

"That word isn't allowed," I said, piously.

He rolled his eyes. "Believe me, I know that. But you're going to be in far worse trouble than I will for cursing if you don't get this cleaned up. Fast." He dropped his backpack on the floor.
I didn't think that was allowed either, but didn't mention it. There were bigger fish to fry.

"What IS all of this about trouble?" I demanded, loudly, throwing my paintbrush onto the palette on the table.

Murray looked at me, gauging, perhaps, how much I knew.

NOTHING, I was trying to say. I know NOTHING.

"You don't know?" he asked, eyebrows furrowing. No, how could you tell? "You lived with Dominic for a whole week and you don't know?"

"Do I sound like I know?" I asked, rudely. "Am I being unclear?" I didn't care about niceties. I wanted the TRUTH. "TELL me! They said to ask you."

He laughed. "I suppose I would be the one to know."

"Then tell ME."

"The question is," he was going on without stopping, "Do you want to know?"


"Well, then let's get this straightened up and I'll tell you. Otherwise, you're about to find out first hand. Which will not make for a pleasant second night here."

"Stop being cryptic!" I glared, refusing to get out of my chair to help. He was already capping paint jars and collecting brushes.

"Listen," he said, calmly. "I don't want to have to deal with your uh.. 'initiation' tonight, okay? Because if we don't get this done, it will be your ass on the line, not mine."

"Swear word number two," I said, oh-so helpfully.

"Would you just help me out here? Liam is due home in like fifteen minutes. Is that what you want?"

"Tell me what the fuck you're talking about!" I shouted, standing abruptly. My easel fell and I stomped my foot. "Shit!" I shouted, even more loudly, as the piece I'd been working on for three weeks fell with it.

"Curse word," Murray smiled. Then sighed at me in complete annoyance. "Stop being a brat and help."

"If you do not tell me..." I threatened. It came out... less than threateningly.

"Spankings," he said, stilling his hands to look at me, squarely. "Dominic and Liam. They spank." And then he smirked, apparently enjoying my reaction. "They spank bare bottoms of little boys who don't do as they're told. And you, my friend, are one of those little boys. Especially in the midst of.. all this." He motioned at the disaster around us, then paused for a moment. "As.. am I." His face was straight again when he said that last bit, his eyes focused earnestly on mine. "One of the little boys," he clarified. "In a manner of speaking, that is." He cleared his throat, seeming somewhat uncomfortable.

I waited for another grin to erupt and to hear an amused, "just kidding!" followed by laughter.

I got neither.

I waited longer.

Nope. Still nothing.

I blinked, completely stunned.

"You heard me and that's exactly what I meant," he said, when I didn't move. "Now, we can talk more later. Right now, CLEAN."

And this time, I did. Fast. Because even if he were kidding, I'd rather hear him laugh at me than risk.. That.

We got the kitchen clean and everything back into my bedroom closet with about thirty seconds to spare. Just as soon as we fell onto the couch out of breath and turned on the TV, Liam walked in.

He was carrying his jacket and a small boy, asleep, in his arms.

"Hey," he whispered, taking the remote from Murray's hand to turn the television volume down and bent to kiss his forehead.

Murray smiled. "They win?" He nodded at the boy I assumed was Aidan.

Liam nodded back in confirmation. "Played hard, too," he whispered.

"Looks like it," Murray replied.

"So listen," Liam was still talking softly. "You take him on up and put him into bed, would you? And then go get out of those clothes and shower. You're going to get your fresh mountain dirt all over the furniture."

Murray laughed quietly and got up, easing the little boy out of Liam's arms, into his own. He stirred only slightly before settling against the smaller frame.

"I'll be up in a minute," Liam said after them.

Then he turned to me.

"How was your day, Graeme?" he asked. Kindly. Maybe.

"Uhh.. good," I said, hesitantly. "Yeah, good."

Okay, repeating my answer twice was not helping.

He eyed me.

I decided saying everything just one time would be enough. For future reference. File that one away under, "Helpful Tips for Dealing With Volatile, Suspicious Old Toads".

"Good," he said. "Dominic's coming over for dinner in a little while and we'll eat. I don't imagine you've had much of sustenance all day?" He smiled. More genuinely this time. Maybe.
But I decided that he looked nice enough right then and told the truth.

I shook my head.

"Well, he's cooking. He always ends up having to do it whenever we get together. We don't know the first thing about cooking vegetarian and since it's all he'll eat, well..."

I nodded, smiling back because it seemed appropriate.

"Well, make yourself at home, my boy. Dominic is usually here by 6:00." And he smiled. Again. And went upstairs.

So, one conversation successfully endured. Ten bazillion more to go.

But hey.. score one for the Graeme Kinney Team.


They were both still upstairs when the knock came at the door. Knowing it was Dominic and suddenly remembering that I lived there too, which gave me door answering rights, I did so.

"Gray," he smiled and came in, kissing my cheek and tousling my hair. As well as he could with so many bags in his arms anyway.

So much smiling around here.

"How are you doing?" he asked as I followed him to the kitchen.

He looked up at me from the groceries he was pulling out of bags. His eyes were such a warm brown. I tried not to melt.

"Something happen?" he asked.

"Well, no... I mean... kind of. No. Yes. I don't know, can we talk after dinner?" I slurred out unintelligibly.

He chuckled and put out his hand to me. When I only looked at it reluctantly, he reached for my wrist and drew me to his chest, holding me there. "We'll go for a walk, kiddo," he said, comfortingly. "Now, look at me." He lifted my chin with two fingers. "I trust Liam and Murray. I've known them both a long time. So whatever happens, I'm telling you that you're safe with them. Entirely as safe as you would be at my place. Do you hear me?"

"Then why can't I BE at your place?" I asked, softly.

"Because we're not ready for that yet." He's always so reasonable! It's irritating. "We haven't even had the inevitable, 'What am I to you?' talk. And it's only been a week. Let's give it some time, shall we?"

"We can have that talk tonight!" I argued. "And it's been longer than a week and you know it."

"Graeme," he looked down at me, his face showing enough firm resolve for the both of us. Something I still admire about him. Most of the time. "No. We'll talk more about that tonight, yes. But we're only talking. Only. Talking."

I sighed and slumped back against him in defeat. I hated that he could shut me up. It bugged me.

"They said I was a brat," I whined. "I don't think they like me."

"Liam did not tell you you were a brat," Dominic said, matter-of-factly, giving a sigh of mock exasperation.

"Murray did," I pouted.

He expertly pushed my bottom lip back in but continued listening patiently to my complaints.

"And Liam gave me all these rules," I sulked.

"Oh, he did?"

"Rules he said were your idea."

"Oh, he did?" I heard the grin in his voice.


"In part," he chuckled.

"He does not like me," I said again.

"That's not true. And we're going to talk about it later, okay? I need to get dinner done." He pulled me away and kissed the top of my head. There had been a lot of that sort of thing going on lately.

"Be good during dinner," he said, looking at me with big, smiling eyes.

"I will," I said, absently and leaned back against the counter with a sigh.

“Where's everyone else?” he asked, casually, pulling out ghastly things from his grocery bags and preparing to chop them up.

“Who knows,” I sulked, trying to be surreptitious. Not succeeding. “Probably upstairs fucking each other's brains out.”

He turned and cocked an eyebrow at me. I think I was growing to recognize that as a warning. A warning to watch my mouth. "What?" he asked, very deliberately.

I slumped down to the floor, curling to a lotus position and sighing melodramatically. This was stupid. He'd let me cuss at his house. He cussed at his house.

"I said..." I debated quickly whether to repeat myself verbatim or the way he wanted it. "They're probably fucking each other's brains out."

"Rethink your word choices, please," he said, mildly, not bothering to turn around.

"They're not even down here!" I whined. "And anyway, Murray does it. Even though Liam says no."

"I am perfectly aware of that. But Murray doesn't do it in this house."

"Does so."

"All right. Then he knows better than to do it when Liam and I are here."

"Well, how come you let me cuss at your house and not here?"

"Because there are no kids at my house and because I never made a rule about it. However, now the rule exists. And that means that you never do it. Never. That's what you agreed to."

"Dominic! You cuss!" I said, petulantly. "This isn't fair!"

"Stop it. Don't escalate this any further. If you aren't cussing, then neither am I. I'm not going to torment you that way. Liam and I have different ideas, but as long as you're here, you're to obey his rules. Not cussing is hardly that difficult and if you're not allowed to do it, I'm not going to either. So calm down."

"But you let Murray when he's not at home?" I whined, pouting.

"Murray's language isn't my responsibility,” he told me, his voice entirely too calm. He could at least engage in some level of argument. Just to appease me for once?

Oh, seriously, you would think after this long I would have learned something.

“But you..." he continued, before I cut him off.

"I am yours?" I widened my eyes, disbelieving of my own ears.

"We're going to discuss this later, Graeme. Now is not the appropriate time."

"Can't we just do it right now? Really quick? Or can't Liam come down and cook and we can talk? It's important!"

"Graeme," he said, in such a way that made me stop pouting to look at him. "Did Murray tell you anything?" he asked, finally turning to look at me.

Correction: LOOK at me.

"He.. well, yeah, I guess.."

“Enough that you know what I mean when I say that I'll take you outside if you keep this up?"

I froze.

Murray had been serious. For reals serious. And now I was being for reals threatened with it. I wasn't at all sure how to react, so I just went with natural instinct. The instinct that had gotten me through childhood, I guess.

I muttered a, "yes, sir," and then shut my mouth.

"Okay then," he said. "All of this is overwhelming at first, I know, but we'll talk about it. It will be fine. Stop stressing out, okay?"

I nodded, mutely, tears welling in my eyes from the harshness of his voice before. And from sheer manipulation. I wanted him to be NICE to me.

He reached down to press my head to his leg for a moment, stroking my hair, then just left me leaned up there while he stood by the stove, stirring some tofu thing. Didn't say anything, just let me cry quietly and went on cooking.

I wasn't sure whether to think that was really nice or really mean.

I figured I'd just wait until our walk.


Dinner was friendly and dull.

Food sucked.

Conversation... ehh...

They've all known each other so long that I felt like an outsider, you know? Dominic and Liam met in college and then Murray came along like six years ago. Aidan had woken up just in time for dinner and even he fit in better than I did. And he's only seven. He calls Dominic “Uncle Nicky”. And there I was, Dominic's sort-of-halfway boyfriend of one fractured month ½ or something, trying to pry my way into things.

Weird and totally uncomfortable to say the least. Like I'd just joined a frat house and had to be initiated.

And that was the word Murray had used earlier too. "Initiation". It all felt scary, awkward. And, contrary to what Dominic had said, it felt very unsafe.

But things went smoothly, for the most part.

I was quiet. In part because my eyes were still red and puffy from having been crying which embarrassed me, but mostly just because I'm really bad with conversation.
Once the dishes were in the dishwasher and the horrible, meatless leftovers (that I didn't so much as make a foul face at, thankyouverymuch) were in the fridge, Dominic took my hand.

"Our walk, my darling?"

I was more than a little relieved and let him pull me along toward the door.

"We'll be back in a while!" he called up the stairs. Liam had gone up when Aidan woke from a nightmare and hadn't yet come down.

"And we'll still be here," Liam called back in that long time friend tone that means, "You don't have to be telling me this."

"Where you going?" Murray asked, not prying his eyes from the television screen.

"Why do you care?" I asked, blithely, before Dominic had a chance to answer him.

"Well, sorry, Mr. Selfish With His Boyfriend," Murray stuck his tongue out at me, good-naturedly. "I just wondered."

I was not feeling good-natured.

"We," Dominic gripped my wrist and jerked me toward him, quickly. "Are going out for a walk." I think that was body language for "Straighten up. Right now."

"Ooh.. are you gonna have The Talk?" Murray asked, eagerly, his eyes suddenly bright and interested.

Dominic laughed.

"What's The Talk?" I asked, warily.

"That's it, isn't it?" Murray grinned like he knew something I didn't. And he did. "It's either The Talk or a 'talk'. Which?" He looked intently back and forth between us.

I didn't have any idea what they were referring to, but both of the options Murray had mentioned sounded uncomfortable to me.

"WHAT is the The Talk?" I demanded, impatiently.

Dominic tightened his hold on my wrist. "Maybe we'll have both. If Mr. Kinney here doesn't decide to stop being so sullen," his voice was entirely too cheerful and he shot me a Look, disguised with a smile. But Murray and I both knew what it was. He got the same one from Liam all the time, I was sure.

Dominic.. hmph. Condescending troll.

I glared at the floor.

Murray just laughed again and nudged at my leg with his foot. "Hey. Dominic's not all bad. He's reasonable most of the time." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "And I think he likes you." Then he cleared his throat. "Anyway, he doesn't even know how to spank. It barely hurts. Trust me. I've gotten it from him. Twice." He nodded.

"Oh, I've spanked you," Dominic said, hands on his hips, holding back a smile. "And it was more than twice.”

"I'm always GOOD!" Murray laughed and curled in on himself as Dominic bent to tickle him.

"Liam and I are going to have to have a serious discussion about your discipline regimen, young man," Dominic grinned, straightening and pulling me back to him. I wasn't sure I wanted to be so close to his body at that very moment, but I think I still trusted him. Even with all of this spanking talk. Even with what I hoped was only joking about my getting one.

But mostly, I was just ready for he and Murray to be done flirting mercilessly right there in front of me so that we could be alone. And sort this stuff out. Or just fuck. Either way.

"We're leaving," Dominic shook his head, both of them still laughing, and towed me out the door.

"Liam, you'd better come down here! And bring the cane!" he called as he shut the door behind us.

"What if Aidan heard?" I asked, elbowing him in the ribs.

"He'll live," Dominic laughed harder. "I should be more careful. Don't let me get away with things like that, you." He pulled me close to him and kissed my hair.

"You're just a brat, I guess," I said, quietly. "What's a top to do?"

He poked me in the ribs until I cracked a smile.

"So, what's up, kiddo?" he asked, smiling as he wrapped an arm around my waist and started walking us down toward a nearby park.

Unlike Dominic and Gareth, Liam and Murray actually live in a neighborhood. In a real, live house. On a little residential street. If you can imagine.

I hated it.

But I was still being good! I didn't say anything.

"I don't know," I sighed.

"Of course you do."

"Well, do I have to bring it up?" I asked, softly, pausing to look up at his face. He looked down for a moment, smiling again, then tugged me onward.

"What did Murray say to you then?" he chuckled.

"Not enough for satisfaction." I was staring at the ground with great intent.

"Well, then what to you want to know?" he asked. I thought he looked over at me, but I wasn't sure.

"Dominiiiic," I whined. "Just TELL ME."

He squeezed me, comfortingly. "I've never had this talk before. I don't really know exactly how it goes either."

"Not even with Gareth?" I asked. "After that long?"

"I like taking care of the people I love," Dominic said, slowly. "And I think... it's important for people to be in relationships that mold to their specific needs. Some people need to be very tangibly held accountable for their actions. Gareth never needed that from me. Not during the time we were together anyway. He needed other things. Just not so much of that."

"But it's important for.. me?" I asked. Almost a little hurt. Did he think so little of me that he thought I needed spanked? And what did Gareth have that I didn't? I mean, I like the guy and everything. But I guess I always thought we were pretty much on the same level... ish...

"It's not a fault, Grayer," he said, gently.

I was silent. Unconvinced. Completely.

"It's not," he said, firmly. "It's just who you are. People need various forms of accountability. It's a matter of personality and specific character type. Not some sort of flaw to be fixed. Do you know what I mean?"

Various forms of accountability? What the flying fuck? Did he have to speak in jibberish terms all the time?

I shook my head.

"Everyone has things they need to work on. And when you're in a relationship, sometimes your partner can help with those things. Whether it's the knowledge that someone else is going to know if you don't do what you're supposed to or if it's actual, physical discipline. It's different for different people. Because everyone needs something unique to them."

"You think.. I mean, you want.. you want.. to beat me?" I asked, widening my eyes.

He looked a little annoyed at that and promptly dragged me to a park bench. "Sit," he pointed.

I did.

He sat down too. "Listen to me," he said, firmly. "I know this is a big step for us and if it's not what you want, I'm not going to force you into anything. It's important that you tell me the truth about what you want to do, too. Because once you consent, kiddo, that's it. That's the end of it."

"What do you mean?" I was getting confused, tired and not just a little nervous.

"That you can't back out when it hurts. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right. And that means that when you do something we've agreed that you shouldn't, you'll be punished. Regardless of the excuses. Regardless of the pleas you come up with. When I say you're going to be disciplined - in any way, shape or form that I see fit - it's simply going to happen. There's no opting out." He paused. "Are you listening to me?" he asked.

"Yes," I sighed. "But it sounds so... weird! And not fun."

"Is any relationship full time fun, Gray?" He pulled me to his side and I laid my head on his shoulder.

A tear dribbled down my cheek. I was exhausted.

"Shh..." he whispered. "I know it's scary at first. But nothing gets decided until we talk about it. And no, I do not want to beat you. This isn't about me having power over you. It's about both of us trusting each other enough to let this work. I love you, Graeme. I don't want to lose you. And I think the way for us to keep each other is to create a relationship that works for us. Not for other people. This isn't about anyone but us."

"I hate this," I sniffed.

He reached up and thumbed a couple of tears off my cheeks, then tucked my head under his chin.
"I'm not asking for any split second decisions. I definitely don't want those. You need to think this through. But it's more than spanking, Gray. And you should talk some to Murray about that. He likes you and I think he's kind of excited about the prospect of someone he knows, someone his age, finally sharing in this um... lifestyle. He'll be honest with you."

He was stroking my jawbone with his thumb while I tugged at buttons on his work shirt.

"Will I still get my own decisions?" I asked, pouting.

"Mostly." He pushed my bottom lip in without pausing to really recognize it. "We'll talk and come up with some rules."

"I hate rules," I whined.

He laughed. "I know. And you know that they're good for you. So don't whine."

"Everything good for me tastes bad, or feels bad. Or IS bad."

"Just the way it is, kiddo." He chuckled, kissing my hair again.

"But... I won't be allowed to do things? For reals? And you'll for reals spank me?"

He heaved me up onto his lap then. In the middle of the park. One thing I've always loved about my Dominic. He's not afraid of PDA.

"Sometimes," he said, matter-of-factly. "Other times, you might have to write lines, or I'll ground you, give you chores, send you to the corner..."

"The corner?" I asked, incredulously.

"It works," he smiled.

"Well..." I was feeling sick and strangely secure all at once. "What kinds of things will you, um... not allow me to do?" I asked tentatively.

"It's all in what we come up with, Grayer," he said, patiently. "We'll talk a lot and figure out what it is you want to change and what we can both live with and set some reasonable rules from there. Oh, one thing though. Unauthorized redecorating is OUT," he chuckled.

I made a face.

"If I agree," I said, hesitantly. "Can I back out? Like... if I say I'll give it a month? At the end of that month can I say no more if I want to?"

"Two months. Give it two months. One isn't long enough. We'll still be adjusting and you won't have settled enough into things. But yes, if you want out after that, you can do it. Just know that it will be hard at first. Really hard at first. But it gets better. Ask Murray about it, Gray. He'll be helpful, I think."

I nodded. "Can I say I'll try then? Try?"

"You want to make that decision right now?"

"Well, w-what if... what if it hurts too bad? Do you stop? Do I get a safe word?" I'd heard about safe words from some of my gallery friends who were brave enough to actually take the scary Gash guys up on their bad one-liners every once in a while. I felt so smart using the term in conversation.

"This isn't play, kiddo,” he smiled down at me. “It's the real thing. When it gets to the point that I need to spank you, you will have done something legitimately against the rules and you will be legitimately punished. Until you are legitimately sorry. In more than word only. But it will never do real damage. That's not what it's about. It's about what works for us. In the end, it all goes back to trust. You trusting me enough to know what you need, when you need it, and how to give you what you need. And letting me decide when you're done being punished falls under the heading of trust, too. Because you may be a little biased at that point."

"Oh," I said, softly. "Can I give you an answer whenever I want?"

"Whenever you want within reason."

"Okay... Okay. So, for two months?"

"Yes. Two months. Sixty days.”

"Not just thirty?" I tried again.

"No," he confirmed, very matter-of-factly. “We'll do this right or not at all, hmm?”

"Okay,” I sighed deeply. “And I can talk to Murray? And call you? Tomorrow? Can you come tomorrow? And get me?" I buried my face in his chest, embarrassed at my apprehension.

"Of course. Or the next day or the next. As much time as you need. We'll talk more about it whenever you want." He squeezed me tightly.


"What do you want me to tell you about it?" Murray asked, turning to me from his email.

I was sketching in the window seat, propped up against the bookcase.

Dominic had gone home an hour or so earlier and Paul had come for Aidan not too long after. Paul was weird, I had decided. Good thing Liam broke up with him. Murray may have been slightly annoying, but in comparison, I was thrilled with him.

"I don't know," I said, trying to sound preoccupied and not nearly as interested as I was. "Just tell me what you see from your angle, you know?"

He laughed. "I see a lot of Liam's calves. Upside down," he smirked at me over his shoulder.

"Murray, I'm serious," I said, dropping my pencil to look at him, menacingly. "Don't fucking scare me anymore than I already am."

"Graeme!" Liam called from upstairs. "One more time and I'll come down there."

Fuck, fuck, fuck. He was so picky.

"Sorry," I called back, halfheartedly. "I didn't mean to?"

"You'd better pay closer attention," he said, sternly. "If I have to come down there, I'm bringing soap and a timer.

He's such an eavesdropper.

I sighed and tried to roust some sympathy from Murray, who gave me nothing but a knowing shrug.

"Yes, sir," I said, obediently.

Murray continued. "The only thing that's really scary is right before you tell them something that you know will get you spanked and right before it actually happens. You know you're about to get it, but they're still lecturing and going on about the whole thing. Not that you're listening at that point anyway," he said the last bit loudly. Presumably so that Liam would hear.

Laughter came from upstairs. "Don't get yourself into trouble!" Liam chuckled.

"Yeah.." Murray stuck his tongue out in the general direction of the stairs. "Anyway, that's the only really scary bit. And once that's done, everything's okay again. They don't hold it over your head and nobody's angry. Everything's forgiven and what isn't fixed with the spanking is fixed afterward. Which is sometimes uncomfortable, but never unbearable. Thus far, anyway." He smiled. "And there are lots of benefits. I promise."

"Like what?" I asked, skeptically. This is what I'd wanted from the beginning.

"Like... I'm safe," he said, earnestly, swiveling his chair toward me. "No matter what I do. If I wreck the car, screw something up at work, come home late. I get punished and it's done. We never fight. We don't have to. I'm better at a lot of things, too. Because I have a reason to be now. Like.. I don't procrastinate as much and smoking is extremely off limits. Which sucked at first, but I'm glad now. Liam won't let me do a lot of things. And for a while, I thought it was really mean and controlling, but now I appreciate it. To an extent, you know. I still hate that he butts into things sometimes and that the last word is always his, but he sets me straight. And a lot of the time I like it, even. I really do. I hate being punished, but..." he lowered his voice to a whisper, "If you don't tell Liam and Dominic, I do know that it works. It does. It's not always easy, but it always works and it's always worth it. It keeps our relationship thriving. And this is coming from the guy who just got paddled four times last week. So, you should believe me. My butt still hurts and here I am giving you a list of benefits."

I stared intently at my sketch.

"Bottom line," he said. "Is trust. We trust each other. I don't always know the right things to do. Liam is good at that. And he's kind of boring on his own," he laughed. "I'm good at that. It evens itself out. The hardest thing to do at first, and the most important thing... is to trust him to know what's good for you. And to trust him to be able to give that to you. Even if it hurts for a while. You have to. It's vital. Dominic is a good man, Graeme. He loves you dearly, he will do what's best for you. I know it's hard, but it's worth the leap." He smiled at me, triumphantly. "How was that for a sappy speech?"

"Bed, Murray!" Liam called. "You too, Graeme!"

"One more email?" Murray asked, in something akin to a whine.

"No, come right now."

"Please? Just one?"

"Murray, do I have to count?"

"Liam," he sighed and rolled his eyes, then turned back to me. "See? The benefits must be worth it if I'm willing to put up with an enforced bedtime."

"One," Liam was saying loudly. "Two."

Murray ran up the stairs. "I hate it when you count," he whined, the sound muffled by the distance. Then there were a few swats.

"Brush your teeth," Liam said. I heard him walk to the edge of the stairs. "Graeme!" he called down again. "Bedtime. This minute."

"But I-"

"Graeme, don't make him count!" Murray warned. And I thought I heard just a couple of tears in his voice. "This one's not worth it."

Maybe I could like these two. Maybe.

Or maybe just Murray.


Dominic and I spent a lot more time together over the next couple weeks. And when I didn't bring up the issue of our Talk - and made sure I stayed on my BEST behaviour - he didn't say anything either.
Of course, Liam and Murray did. But Dominic would just casually fend them off of me like nothing was wrong with the fact that it had been two weeks and I still hadn't made any concrete decisions.
Anyhow, it should be quickly noted that when I met Dominic, I was working in my own little studio most week days. In China town, just a couple streets over from the loft. Right then, of course, what with Liam being all over me like a skin rash, I went in every single weekday. And very strictly from 10 until 6.

Thank you, Dominic, for having such a nice, friendly chat with Liam, giving him so many helpful pointers.

I was used to going in around noon and staying until 8 or 9 at night, so it was a little shocking to my system. At first, they almost insisted on 9-5, but somehow I slithered out of that. Still, they said I had to be around for ah, "family dinners". But then, that just meant I'd get an extra couple of hours with Dominic every night. And how could I honestly complain about that?

Of course, it also meant vegetarian dinners. But sacrifices must be made for love, I suppose. And believe me, they were. They still are.

Though having real, good "family" was nice for once.

The highlight of the week was Saturday. It seemed that both Murray and Liam always had something or other to do. Murray went hiking or mudding in one of his friend's SUV's (how that is entertaining I have yet to figure out). Liam usually had a kid's game or just took them out somewhere. Which left me perfectly unadulterated alone time for up to eight hours. And with the great view through the kitchen window, I loved dragging out my easel and paints and totally wrecking the kitchen. I'd wait until the very last minute - usually whenever Murray got back and chided me into it - to clean it up.
Only, this particular Saturday... I was bored. All of my pieces were getting old and my friends were busy.

When a BRILLIANT idea hit.

All right, brilliant may be slightly overstated.

Stupid and manipulative could more accurately describe the actual thought process. But it seemed so brilliant at the time.

Doesn't everything?

I mean, but when you think about it now, you can kind of follow my line of thought.. you know?

It would avoid my actually having to give Dominic answers one way or the other. He would have to make the final decision. It would relieve me of practically UNBEARABLE boredom, at least temporarily. And... I'm not exactly sure when the yearning to feel safe - the kind of safety Murray had spoken of - overrode the apprehension I felt, but somewhere along the line I had realized that I wanted - that I needed - to try this.

Maybe I would finally lose that fear of failure that constantly plagued the back of my mind. And.. there was other stuff too. I don't know. My mind was scattered all over the place. I couldn't make sense of what I felt. I just knew that right then, at that moment, I wanted Dominic in control. I was tired of spinning around in my self-depricating havoc and chaos. And I was really tired of constantly being scared of myself. Somewhere, though I wasn't fully ready to admit to it out loud, I wanted to trust him. With everything.

The somewhat sudden roundabout may also have had something to do with the fact that I'd heard Murray getting spanked the night before...


I was watching a movie in the living room, distinctly aware of Liam driving ruts into the kitchen linoleum with his pacing.

Murray wasn't home and he'd been due back at 7:45 from a work meeting.

I was a little worried myself. Though maybe more for his butt than with the thought that he'd actually been hurt or was in trouble somewhere.

It wasn't until long after Liam had called all of Murray's friends at least twice, and Dominic was on his way over just for damage control, that Murray finally walked in. That was 10:30. Two hours, forty-five minutes past when he was due back. He looked sheepish and exhausted.

Liam was out of the kitchen like a shot at the flash of headlights on the drive.

He opened the door before Murray could, his voice ominously low. "Where have you been?"

Murray shrugged. He mumbled something unintelligible.

"I asked you a question," Liam said, fiercely.

"I don't know!" Murray snapped.

Liam nodded like he does sometimes when he doesn't believe a word you're saying and he's just trying really, really hard to keep himself from saying something evil. "Oh," he said, still nodding. He can keep it up for hours, I swear. Or, what seems like hours, anyway. "You're almost three hours late, Murray. And you're just not quite sure where you were?"


"Go to the kitchen."

"Liam!" he whined.

"Right. NOW." Liam pointed at the doorway.

Murray went and I tried to make it look like I wasn't, but I watched him stumble into the corner and lean against it.

"Stand up straight, young man," Liam called into the kitchen.

From the way his shoulders quivered, he was already beginning to cry. But he did what Liam told him to.

"It's time for bed, Graeme," Liam said, turning to me.

"But it's only 10:30," I pointed out, oh-so calmly.

"Did I ask for a time check, Grayer, or did I tell you it was bedtime?" he asked, softly.

"Bed," I replied, dutifully. "But Dominic's coming!"

"And he can come upstairs and roust you out if that's what he's going to do. But for right now, I want you in bed."

"IN bed?" I asked, tentatively, chewing at my nails and staring at him wide-eyed.

"Put on your pajamas and get into bed. That is what I'm telling you." He put out a hand and I took it, resignedly. Liam is not one to be reckoned with. Period. "Stop the pouting," he sighed, pulling my head toward his and kissing my forehead. "Now, go," he pointed toward the stairs. "And don't let me catch you up."

Scandalized, I glared and sulked toward the stairs.

He reached out and swatted me - HARD. "Don't give me that look," he said, his voice still gentle and reasonable, not angry.

"Sorry," I said, chewing my lip. I turned to look at him. "Can you tell Dominic-"

"I'll tell him you're in bed and that he can go up," Liam said, kindly. "Now, not another word. Go."
A few minutes later, in bed with the lights off, staring at the ceiling, I heard it.

Lecturing, lots of lecturing, then pleading.. and finally, spanking. And louder pleading. Then crying.
And silence for a long time.

Against all better judgment, I crept out of bed and silently down the old, creaky wooden stairs (it had taken me a full three days work to master all of the creaks in those damn things. Just in case I ever needed to... sneak out. To evade thieves or something. You know.). The door at the bottom was open only a crack, but enough. I sat down on the last stair and peered out, uber cautiously.

Murray was curled in a blanket on Liam's lap, his face buried. His shoulders still shivered a little with shaky breaths and Liam rubbed his back. The television was on softly and Liam whispered things in Murray's ear that I couldn't hear, but they seemed nice because Liam smiled when he said them and rubbed his fingers through Murray's hair.

They both just looked so... calm. Murray was a little ravaged, perhaps, but not without cause. If he'd scared me as badly as he had Liam, I'd probably think it justified to have done the same thing. It was just like, suddenly, the rationale for all of this hit me.

Murray had come home late - very late - and in any "normal" relationship that probably would have provoked a fight. Especially once he'd said he didn't know where he'd been. But in this relationship, there was no room for fighting. They didn't need it. When Murray pushed, Liam stopped him. They kind of stabilized each other. And once things were taken care of, that was it. Murray curled up in Liam's lap. No anger or spite or unnecessary hurtfulness. It all ended.

I crept back to bed when I heard Dominic's car crunch into the driveway and lay awake thinking. Maybe that was when I decided I had to say yes.

I heard Dominic and Liam's muffled voices beneath me. There was creaking on the stairs. Murray stuck his head in my door and just looked at me a minute, rubbing his eyes. I didn't say anything but I scooted over in my bed and looked back at him. He smiled weakly and glanced over his shoulder before clambering under the covers beside me.

"Hurt?" I asked, yawning.

He laughed, softly. "What do you think?"

"I think it sounded really, really traumatizing. That's what I think." I leaned my head against his shoulder.

"I think I traumatized Liam first," Murray sighed.

"Maybe," I nodded. "Are you okay?" I looked up at his face, still a little red and splotchy, even in the dim light of my bedroom.

He looked at me and smiled again, more convincingly this time. "Of course."

"Really?" I looked at him, skeptically.

"He didn't murder me, Gray," Murray chuckled. "I was three hours late."

I nodded.

More creaking on the stairs and then Dominic's head in my doorway. I smiled. He looked haggard and sleepy but really damn good.

He sighed. "Murray, where are you supposed to be?" he asked, gently.

"Not here?" Murray offered.

"Up," Dominic said, coming in and sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"It's warm here..." Murray whined.

"I can see that. And a very specific bit of your anatomy is going to be even warmer if you don't get yourself ready for bed."

"Ha, ha, ha," he wrinkled his nose.

Dominic gave him the patented Look. "It's not funny, Murr. Go. Liam has had enough for one night, don't you think?"

Murray got up, grumbling.

"Come here," Dominic said, holding out his arms.

Murray eyed him cautiously, but went and let himself be hugged. Then swatted. He scowled. Dominic kissed his forehead and then walked him to my doorway and gently pushed him out.

"I don't love you anymore!" Murray called over his shoulder as Dominic shut the door.

"I guess I'll just have to take back your birthday present," Dominic replied, holding back laughter.

"You never buy birthday presents on time, much less early!" Murray pointed out, grumpily.

"Murray!" Liam called from upstairs. "BED. And don't make me tell you again."

Dominic and I were both laughing as he came back to my bed and fell on top of it, his head resting on my chest.

"Hi," I smiled down at him, running fingers through his hair.

"Hey," he smiled back.

Yeah. I think that was when I knew.


Still though, actually saying yes was a little too much. It was just so.. I don't know, too hard. I couldn't do it.

Therefore, to my way of thinking, an alternative was of definite necessity.

DEFINITE necessity.

Only, I knew what it was going to get me. So, it took a little self-convincing, but I managed. Or maybe, I just tried really hard not to think about it. I'm good at ignoring the obvious.

And I set to work building my own gallows immediately.

Figuratively speaking, that is.



When Murray got home, he never made his way to the kitchen. Thank God. I didn't want to have to deal with his chastisement too.

"Liam's on his way!" he called to me on his way to the stairs. "You'd better hurry, Gray. I have to shower or I'll be in trouble. Can you do it by yourself?"

"Sure," I told him, biting my lip hard to keep from thinking about what was on the verge of happening.

"Dominic'll be here in half an hour too," Murray said.

That, I knew.

"How was hiking?" I asked.

But he was already upstairs.


My project was well underway by the time Liam got home. It wasn't done. But then, finishing wasn't the objective. Shock value and outrage were.

I'd been straightening up a little - after all, the outcome would be the same regardless of the mess in the kitchen - when I turned around to put a handful of paintbrushes into a jar and... there was Liam. Standing in the doorway, mouth agape. Just staring at me.

I froze.

Why the FUCK had I EVER thought this was a good idea? Why had I DONE this?! Stupid, stupid, stupid. STUPID.

I flinched as he wordlessly pointed at the floor directly in front of him. Automatically, I got up and found myself standing where he'd pointed.

He whirled me around to face the far wall and held me by the shoulders. "WHAT is this?" he asked, gravely, shaking me.

The tone of his voice rendered me terrified and dumb.

"I-I don't... know?" I stammered, helplessly.

He let go of one shoulder, grabbed my arm tightly and I winced instinctively, knowing exactly what was coming.

"This is not okay," he said sharply, swatting me in time with each syllable. Then, "Look at me, Gray," he said. "Look at me," his voice gentled a little and he turned me to face him, lifting my chin.
Tears burned in my eyes.

"No," he said, firmly. "You're not pulling that on me. Stop."

I knew what he meant and obediently rubbed at my eyes, nodding. It hadn't been blatant manipulation, but close enough I figured. How he can so immediately figure me out is still a mystery, but he's nearly an expert at detecting manipulation. Sometimes better than Dominic.

"Now, listen to me." He still held my chin firmly in his grip. "You get this kitchen straightened up and then I want to see you in that corner." He pointed to the one I'd seen Murray standing in the night before. "And you can stay there until Dominic gets here to deal with you."

I dropped my eyes.

"No, look at me," he said again.

I did, though hesitantly.

"I know you didn't want to give him any direct answers because it puts you in a very compromising position and that's frightening. But decimating my kitchen wall in a ploy to get his attention is hardly acceptable. Do you understand me?"

I nodded. Damn, he's good.

He sighed and shook his head, then dropped a kiss on my forehead. "When you want trouble it's no holds barred with you, isn't it?"

I didn't answer and he patted my back. "If you ever use my house for any of your schemes again, Graeme Kinney, I will spank you myself. And then hand you over to Dominic who will absolutely spank you again. Are you listening to me, Grayer?"

"Liaaamm, I'm sorry..."

He swatted me lightly. "Grayer, I asked if you were listening to me."

I nodded but couldn't keep my lip from quivering. In earnest now. "Yes. Yes, but I'm sorrrryyy..."

"Not nearly as sorry as you're going to be, young man," he said gently. "Now get this mess cleaned up. Dominic will be here soon." He swatted me toward the disaster I'd created.

I put everything away, suddenly entirely too aware of the situation I'd created for myself, and walked slowly to press my nose into the corner. Where I had to FORCE myself to stay, thinking; terrified of the moment He would walk in.


He came in about twenty minutes later.

"Honeys, I'm home!" he called into the house in his best falsetto. Falsettos, even really mock falsettos, do not suit him.

Lucky me, he headed straight for the kitchen.

And there I was. Sheepish, nervous and very regretful, shifting from foot to foot.

And there It was. Bright and actually very lovely, if it hadn't been on someone else's non-consensual kitchen wall.

I heard him stop short and he was silent for a moment. Then I heard slow footsteps behind me and felt a warm hand on my shoulder. He turned me around. "I presume this is yours?" he waved at the wall.

I didn't look at him.

"Well, I like 'A Starry Night'," he began, conversationally. Then, "Look at me." He lifted my chin.

I met his eyes hesitantly, but dared not pull them away. His gaze can fix you so that even if you tried you'd be perfectly incapable of averting it.

"It's a beautiful mural," he said. And he meant it.

Did that mean I was getting off? Because, damn, that was too easy.

He kissed my forehead as ominously as one can kiss another's forehead. "What did we talk about?" he asked me. "Do you remember?"

Of COURSE I remembered. What, was I stupid now?

Oh. Yeah. I was, actually. In fact, this whole thing pretty much felt like The All Time Stupidest Thing I'd Ever Done. EVER. And what with everything I've pulled in my short lifetime, that's really saying something.

I lifted my fingernails to my mouth, nervously and chewed at them, shaking my head no.

No, I didn't remember. Of COURSE I didn't remember.

"Stop that," he said, brushing my hands down and holding them in one of his. His other went back to hold my chin in place. "What did we talk about, Graeme?"

Damnit, the full name.

"And don't lie to me," he was saying. "This was obviously an attempt to get my attention." He thumbed hair out of my eyes, behind my ear. "Which means that you knew it was the wrong thing to do. So, kiddo, you've got my attention. Though let me tell you, negative attention seeking only gets you negative attention. Every single time."

I stared at him, blankly. I kept losing everything he was saying in the pit of fear that was deepening in my stomach.

He seemed to gather as much. "What did we talk about in regards to defacing the property of other people?" he asked again, patiently.

The ever-patient Dominic.

No, believe me, it is far more annoying than it is admirable.

I thought, chewing my lip, trying to form something coherent.

"Come on," he pressed. "You've had more than enough time, I'm sure, standing in that corner."
"Yeah, I was there like two hours," I muttered.

"Try not even half an hour," Murray smirked from the living room. He has super-sonic ears, that Murray. Another annoying trait. The people I love are just chalk full of them. Isn't that the way, too? You always love the folks with the most annoying habits while the ones on television and in the movies, those perfect ones, you never even get to meet. Life is SO unfair.

"Don't you have somewhere to be, Murray?" I asked, glaring at him over Dominic's shoulder. "Fucking yourself or something?"

Dominic swatted me so hard I gasped and reached back to cover the offended area. He pointed a finger at me and I got a Look. "Do not dig yourself in any deeper, young man. At the rate you're going, you don't need it, believe me." Then he called into the living room, "Upstairs for a few minutes, please, Murray."

"It's MY house!" Murray whined.

"UPSTAIRS, Murray!" Liam's voice gets deeper when he's annoyed. "Come up here. RIGHT. NOW."

And he went.

A few swats resounded along with a couple of whining yelps and apologies.

Confident that we were alone again, Dominic sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I wish we'd had some time to discuss this. Or was that the intent? Making me decide for you?" He gave me a very pointed look.

I shrugged.

"I see," he said, nodding. Ew, that was a Liam nod. All, I-don't-believe-a-word-you're-saying-to-me-ish. "Well, I suppose this is as good a yes as any."

Was it?

Damnit, I wasn't sure I really wanted to say yes now. Maybe this was moving a little too fast. Could we back this truck up just a little? Couple feet maybe.

"What happens if I say no now?" I asked, softly.

"You knew you were making your decision when you painted this wall and now you're going to be held to it,” he said, quietly, trailing his hand to the nape of my neck where he rubbed, comfortingly.
"Maybe I don't want it anymore though..." I said, eyes going wide with fear.

"You're a big boy, Van Gogh. I guess you should have thought about that before you let your 'creativity run away with you'."

"I'm not a big boy. I'm 23. Doesn't that make me a man or something?" I asked, admittedly very whiny. I wouldn't have admitted it then.

Dominic studied my face for a moment, then the wall behind me. He nodded again. "You're right, Graeme. You're not a big boy. In fact, in some aspects you're a little boy. Look at yourself, young man. You just colored all over the wall like a two year old. So don't go expecting grown-up treatment. Besides which, we talked about this not one month ago, and before that countless times. Every time you did something to Gareth's apartment without his consent. Don't drop your eyes. Look at me."

I sighed this time. Already more than tired of all this. "I know we talked about it," I said, frustrated. "I
just... forgot or something. My creativity ran away with me! You said it yourself!"

"Fix your tone," he said, sternly. "And I don't believe that. Not for one second. It's far-fetched and holds no basis in reality."

"But it's true! You know how artists lose their minds and everything..."

"So you're pleading insanity?" he asked, incredulously.

"Will it help?" I asked, leaning into his stomach. All rules of body language dictated that he should wrap consoling arms around me.

Which he did. But I didn't get out of shit.

He pried me off his chest. "Go get in the car. I have things to talk to Liam about. I'm taking you home with me."

Fuck, yeah! A night at Dominic's!

Then I remembered what for.

Damn. It.

"Am I getting a spanking?" I whispered.

He untied a sweatshirt from his waist and pulled it over my head then straightened it. "Get in the car," he said into my ear.

I ran the back of my hand across wet eyes and he tugged me into the living room, planting one last, solid kiss on my lips before opening the screen door for me.

"Dominic!" Murray yelled from upstairs. "Grayer's clothes!"

Okay, so someone had been eavesdropping.

"I'll get them..." I turned toward the stairs.

Dominic caught my arm. "The car," he said, firmly. "Listen, I love you. And we're going to work this out. Don't worry about that. Nothing is yours to worry about unless I say it is. All you need to do right now is get yourself into the car and stay there. I'll be out in a minute. Hurry up now before you get into more trouble."

I blinked at him for a moment. I felt scared and little and out of control. Like everything was spinning around me and I couldn't stop any of it. Like I'd started this, but I didn't have the power to end it. I wanted to push him, to gain back a little ground. He couldn't DO this to me, could he? But he was. And furthermore, I could still feel his handprints on my bottom. Was this worth it? It hit me that I'd probably be asking myself that a lot for a while.

"GRAYER'S CLOTHES!" Murray yelled louder. We both glanced in the direction of the stairs.

"Grayer," he said, reeling me back into reality. "Car. Now. Don't make me tell you again, young man."

"I'm sorry..." I ventured.

"Not yet, you're not," he told me softly, tugging his sweatshirt straight on my chest again.

They kept saying that. It was terrifying. Couldn't they have just a little mercy?

"I am..." I said, quietly.

He swatted me and my eyes stung almost as badly as my butt. "You had time to think about this before you did it. And you had time to talk to me about it then. But you chose not to. I'm not talking with you about it anymore right now. This is neither the time nor the place. If you make me tell you to get into the car again, Gray, you'll regret it. Move."

He didn't look angry. But he looked serious. And I went, hurriedly, closing myself in the car and watching the front door. Half wishing he'd hurry up and half wishing I could get out, run into my room and lock the door.

He appeared about five minutes later, my messenger bag slung over his shoulder and clothes in his hands. I watched him making a profusely apologetic speech to Liam while taking lots of deep breaths.

Liam smiled, hugged him and bent, kissing him lightly on the lips. A quiet gesture that would have, under normal circumstances, made me somewhat jealous. Had I been of sane mind at that moment. But I figured Liam was probably just about as happy with the mural on his kitchen wall as I was with him kissing MY boyfriend, so it all evened out.

From the corner of my eye, I caught the curtains at the picture window moving and saw Murray giving me a sympathetic wave. To which I wrinkled my nose and lifted a hand.

"You'll be okay," he mouthed (at least that's what it looked like) before Liam pulled the curtains shut.

"Seatbelt," Dominic said, opening his door and startling me.

I didn't argue.

"Dominic?" I asked, keeping my voice very soft and bewildered. The way I undeniably felt.

"Yes?" He gave me a good, strong look before backing out of the driveway.

"Can I-- Can I take back my yes?"

I was serious!

"You never said yes," Dominic pointed out.

A MINOR point. Did he have to be so particular?

"This isn't play, Grayer," he said, pulling out onto the road. "You really painted Liam and Murray's kitchen wall in a giant reproduction of 'A Starry Night'. A well done reproduction, yes. But after I specifically told you to neither paint nor alter what was not your own, it doesn't matter how good it was. You really disobeyed me, Gray. And that is no longer acceptable."

"Disobeyed?" I asked, blinking. Maybe it was a little incredulous. Maybe.. a little too incredulous?

"If I have to remind you about your tone one more time, I'll pull the car over. And don't think for even one minute that it will be pleasant."

"But.. but I don't know what to do!" I whined.

"You don't do anything unless I tell you to. And right now, I'm telling you to watch yourself. Carefully."

Be a little more cryptic why don't you.

"Okay," I relented. "Sorry. But... I don't know what's going on. I don't know what to... do."

"I'll tell you what to do when it's time, kiddo," he said, gently. "And right now, it's time to be quiet. No more talking. No more questions. If you would have thought this through a little more carefully before now, you wouldn't be feeling quite so unsure of the whole situation. Because we would have been able to discuss all of this at length." He rested a hand at the base of my neck and rubbed at specific knots he was beginning to learn by heart.

"But Dominic-"

"I can pull over, Grayer," he said. Not unkindly. "It would be easy to take you into the back seat and get a few things straightened out before we get home. Is that what you want?"

I shook my head and turned toward the window.

His fingers trailed up my scalp, into my hair. "Then stop talking," he said. "The time for that is later."


He parked the car on the street and came around to get me out, correct in his assumption that I wouldn't have done it on my own.

I quietly let him lead me up the stairs and tow me inside the apartment.

He turned me toward him. "Kitchen corner, Grayer," he said, calmly. "Find it and stay there. I'll be in in a minute to start dinner."

"I just got OUT of the corner!"

"And now you're going back. Perhaps next time you'd like to consider your actions a little more carefully?"

I huffed and pouted. A combination that got my arm grabbed. He swatted me twice.

"I didn't ask for your input. Now, go. Quietly."

Tears welled up in my eyes again and he didn't give them a second glance. I went to the corner. Quietly.

I hate corners. And he leaves me in them for centuries. Millenia. It's totally unfair and unreasonable.


"Stop fidgeting, Graeme."

"I'm just supposed to STAND here in silence and do NOTHING?"

"No, you're supposed to stand there and think. And who was it, kiddo, that jumped the gun on all of this, hmm? If you would have talked to me, I could have explained to you in greater detail the full consequences of your actions. As it is, you'll just have to do as I say."

"You mean you won't tell me what you're gonna do to me?" I whined, turning around in defiance, arms crossed over my chest.

"Turn around," Dominic said, mildly.


"No!" I stamped my foot and looked straight at him, giving him such a blatant, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ look that I was sure he couldn't ignore it.

I mean, if I'm already screwed, I may as well go the whole nine yards. Right?

He didn't ignore it.

Walking to me quickly, he grabbed my arm, jerked me to the chair at the head of the table and sat down. He threw me headlong over his knees and before I knew what had even happened, he was spanking me. HARD.

I kicked and shouted and protested.

That was what he chose to ignore.

My eyes stung and I threw a hand back without thinking. At that point, the only thing I could register properly was that this HURT. And I wanted it to stop.

He pinned my arm to the small of my back and landed a few more before roughly righting me and pulling me down to his lap.

I wasn’t crying hard, but there were a couple of tears on my cheeks and the surprise of the whole thing had scared me a little. I wanted to be angry with him, but I felt too vulnerable and moved for the safety of his chest.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asked, tucking my head under his chin. It sounded like he really wanted to know. But I certainly had no idea. And since he wasn’t going to TELL me…

I kept my mouth shut.

He sighed. “Dinner is almost done,” he said, calmly, his arms around me. “I want you to set the table and eat something because when we’re finished, you’re going straight to bed.”

It was only 7:30, but by that time, I knew what would come of my whining and continued to keep my tongue under control. Something I wasn’t all that aware I was capable of before.

I started to say something. I wasn’t even sure what at the time, but it seemed like I should say I was sorry or something.. Apparently he didn’t think so. His forefinger pressed against my lips as soon as they opened and he dug my head out to look at him. “Ah, no. I believe you’ve said enough for now, young man. If you aren’t going to think in the corner, you can think through dinner. No more talking.”

More tears welled in my eyes. No more talking? Again? That wasn’t fair! And I couldn’t even TELL him so.

“Set the table,” he said, quietly, standing up, which forced me to stand also. He straightened my clothes and rubbed my neck before nudging me off toward the dishes.


“You can’t push that around all night, Grayer. Eat it. And if you make me tell you again, you’ll be sorry.”

He never quits! There is no reprieve from the wrath of Dominic Engle. Not even when there’s an impending spanking already on the books. Not even when there are five. I still have to obey.

And, although under duress, I did eat it. Whatever it was. I was too upset to pay attention. I just know that no matter how slowly I chewed, the plate cleared itself far more quickly than I would have liked. And when there was nothing left I tried to discreetly pick at my plate and chew on my fork, but after approximately thirty seconds of getting away with that, he took my plate and tugged me up by my hand.

“Don’t make me go upstairs. I don‘t want to be alone…” I whispered, just barely audibly.

“Hush.” he squeezed my hand and led me along behind him, stopping to drop my plate in the sink. He’d finished eating and had washed all of his dishes ten minutes earlier.

“No, Dominic.. Noo…?” I begged, as loudly as I dared, which still didn’t break a whisper.

“Stop, Graeme,” he said, his voice gentle and very stern. It cut me off, pulling me back into line. Dominic was in charge, and however strange that felt, the overwhelming security of it outweighed everything else. I followed him as led me upstairs and into his bedroom.

“No futon tonight?” I asked, tentatively.

He Looked at me for a moment before lifting the back of my shirt and giving me a smack on my bare skin. It stung. Not too much, but enough. “Stop, Grayer. I mean it,” he said.

That right there got me. All my life, people had told me that they “meant it”. My parents, my teachers, the fucking school principal. And all my life, no one ever had. Not really. They’d tried maybe. They’d said I’d be in trouble, or that this was the last time, or “Watch your step, mister. I mean it.” And then they would forget, or throw me in detention for fifteen minutes, maybe send me to my room or half-heartedly ground me for all of one full afternoon. But how is that punishment when my friends are all in detention with me and the teacher never pays attention? When my room houses all the video games and movies any kid could ever want?

When Dominic said it though, I knew it was true. He did mean it. He was serious. I couldn’t back out or pull away or plead myself out of this. He was going to make me deal with it.

And with that, relief that I couldn’t explain washed over me. It didn’t really calm me down, because I still didn’t want spanked and was still willing to do almost anything to get out of it, but it made me realize that regardless of what I did, I was still getting spanked.

He sat down on the edge of the bed. “Come here,” he said, quietly, but with what seemed to be enough resolve for the both of us.

I shook my head weakly, my lower lip quivering. It was less defiance and more fear and pleading with the little communication he‘d left me.

“Come. Right now.”

I burst into tears and stomped my foot, screaming nothing in particular, just making any noise to keep myself from going crazy.

“Stop that,” he said, gently, getting up from the bed and wrapping strong arms around my shaking body. I screamed into his shirt and clutched at his back until his hand found it’s way to my bottom and rested there, unmoving. That silent gesture still straightens me up pretty quickly. “Stop, honey,” he said again, still quietly and gently.

“I can’t not talk!” I spat around snot, tears and hiccups. It sounded far more petulant than I’d meant for it to.

“Is that the way to tell me something?” he spoke into my hair while he rubbed my back.

I shrugged.

“Come over here and we’re going to talk about this for a minute.”

“I can talk?” I whimpered.

“If you adjust your tone and choose your words respectfully.”

I nodded.

He kissed my forehead, pulling me after him toward the bed. The walk of death. I wanted to resist but I knew better. He sat me down on his lap facing him, my legs on either side of his.

“Why are we going to do this, Grayer?” he asked me, quietly, brushing hair off my cheeks and lifting my chin so that I looked at him.

I blinked my eyes and thought for a minute. “Because I.. I.. disobeyed you,” I whispered. I hated the “disobey” word and yet, that’s what it was. He had told me no, he had told me I’d be sorry. And I did it anyway. And boy, was I sorry.

“What did I tell you about painting other people’s things?”

“You said no,” I swallowed.

“Why did I say no?”

“B-because it’s not my wall..”

“So why did you mural Liam and Murray’s kitchen if I’d told you no and we’d talked about it?”

That was a harder question. I dropped my eyes to my hands and twisted my fingers through each other, pulling and rubbing at them until he stilled them with one of his own.

“It’s time to talk now. Look back up here at me. Why did you mural the kitchen wall?”

“I had to.”

“Oh?” His eyebrows raised.


“Try again.” He scooted me closer to his chest and locked his hands behind the small of my back, leaning his forehead against mine to look directly into my eyes.

“I don’t know..”

“Yes, you do. You know exactly the answer I’m looking for.”

“Because I was scared..” I offered, softly.

“Scared of what?” One hand unlocked and trailed up my spine to rub my neck.

“Scared to.. to say yes. I couldn’t just say yes… it was silly…”

“How is committing to a strong, trusting relationship silly?” he asked, his voice tender, if demanding.

Well, when you put it that way…

“It’s not, I just…” I trailed off.

“Just what?”

“I just didn’t want to say yes. You know.. out loud.”

“So you thought this would accomplish the task rather nicely without the discomfort of having to discuss it?”

I shrugged again.

“Well, we’re discussing it tomorrow,” he told me, softly. “And this isn’t going to happen again, is it?”

“Painting other people’s walls?”

“Altering other people’s property in general.”

“No, sir.”

“Stand up,” he said, pushing me back and helping me set my shaking feet on the floor. I closed my eyes tightly while he unbuttoned my jeans and slid them off of me. Then he pulled his sweatshirt off of me, followed by my T-shirt and then my underwear.

“Down you go,” he said, gently bringing me across his lap and positioning me until I stopped squirming quite so much.

“Do we have to?” I asked, starting to cry again. I laid my head on my arms and hid my eyes.

“You need to be more careful, kiddo. This will only happen when it needs to -- when you’re not doing what you should be.”

“Am I gonna cry?”

“Probably. It will be over soon.”

“How soon?”

“We’ll be here as long as it takes.” He rubbed his hand up my back. “One more time, honey. Why are we here?”

“I painted Liam and Murray’s wall without permission and screwed up their property.”

I started to sob as soon as his hand landed the first time.

I don’t know how long it lasted. Hours, it seemed like. But then, it always seems like hours. The first time seemed worse though, because I didn’t know it could hurt that bad. It really did. It hurt like hell. Like the burning fires of Hades. Times five million.

No, I am not exaggerating.

I went from sobbing to kicking and begging, to screaming bloody murder, to just lying there limply over his lap and crying into my arms, hopelessly. All I could think or feel or hear was the pain and the sound of the pain.

When he stopped, he lifted me and pulled me straight into his arms. I struggled for a few moments when I realized he was trying to sit me on my butt -- the butt that was currently on fire -- and he had the gall to chuckle. But he laid down on the bed and pulled me on top of him, cooing soft, sweet things into my ears. Things I never hear, but he says anyway. Just the cadence of his voice soothes me, even if I’m not listening.

“It’s okay now, Grayer. Honey, you’re okay.”

“I AM NOT,” I sobbed into his neck.

“As long as you’re alive enough to protest, I think you’ll probably make it through the night,” he smiled.

“I’ll DIE and it will be all your fault!”

“Do I need to pull you back over, honey, or are you going to be good?”

I cried louder.

“Grayer?” he pressed, pulling my wet face from his shirt. “Be good.”

I nodded penitently and pushed against his hands until he let me nuzzle back down into his body. “I’m sorry…” I mumbled, shakily, tears subsiding.

“I hope so. I don’t want to have to repeat this any time soon.” He kissed my hair and squeezed me once before sliding out from beneath me.

I clung to him, frantically, and burst back into tears, begging him incoherently not to sleep on the futon.

“I caaaan’t sleep by myseeeelf,” I whined, through hiccuping sobs.

“Who said anything about sleeping alone?” he asked, gently, cupping my face in both hands. “I’m just putting on pajamas. Get on up for a second and go brush your teeth. Your toothbrush is right in there where you left it.”

I swallowed hard and gave him a pleading stare.

“Teeth, baby. Right now. Go on.”

“Do I need to wear ‘jammas?” I asked, pathetically.

“Yes. Murray packed you something. Up. Teeth. Now.” He held out his hand and I decided not to reckon with that tone of voice. It sounded risky. And risks weren’t something I felt like taking at such an.. um, vulnerable juncture. I took his hand and he pulled me up from the bed, delivering a sound swat to my already blistered rear end as I walked past. It made me jump and I clutched at the offended area, turning around to give him my best attempt at a glare. Though it turned out in more of a pout due to the state of my face. I let a tear slip out, mostly for effect, and he sighed at me, shaking his head.

“Oh, come here,” he said, softly, dragged me to his bare chest, our skin pressing together in a very warm, very nice sensation. One that was still fairly new to us. “Enough,” he whispered. “That’s enough for one night.”

I sniffled and nodded, obediently, beginning to feel a little less indignant and more genuinely sorry.
“Good boy,” he smiled, pulling away at arms length and looking me over. I rubbed my eyes and nose and he brushed my hands down to kiss me firmly and thoroughly. Then, pulling away again, he patted my back. “Teeth, Grayer. Move.”

I went, and even made sure to do a halfway decent job at cleaning my teeth so that he wouldn’t make me come back. Something must have been sinking in at that point.

When I got back, he was in a grey undershirt and flannel pajama bottoms, lying on top of the covers, reading some book. I crawled in next to him, gingerly avoiding touching my bottom to anything. I still had nothing on and was hoping he’d -- at least temporarily -- forgotten about the pajama rule.
He smiled as I sidled up to him, pushing his book out of the way so that I could lay my head on his chest.

“Don’t get comfortable yet. Pajamas first,” he kissed the top of my head.

“But I hate--”

“Hmm?” he interrupted me, patting my bare bottom. He looked up from the book and raised his eyebrows, challenging me.

I backed down, sighing. “Yes, sir.”

“Atta boy. They’re on the radiator.”

“How come you get to wear a T-shirt and I have long sleeves?” I whined, pulling up the pants Murray had packed me and wincing as the waistband scraped against sore skin.

“Because I love torturing you unnecessarily,” Dominic rolled his eyes, not looking up from the book. “Get in bed.”

Still sniffling a little, I pulled the shirt on and climbed onto the bed with him, cuddling closely to his side again and nuzzling kisses into his stubbly chin.

“Dominic?” I ventured, throwing a leg over both of his.

He grunted and gave me a sideways glance away from his book and a slight smile.

I took the opportunity to throw the rest of my body on top of his, grabbing his book and tossing it to floor, but covering his mouth with my own before he could protest. I grabbed his hands and, reaching behind me, slapped one onto my back and one, without even thinking, straight onto my ass. I gasped at the pain, but it caught between our mouths and got lost.

“Graeme…” he pushed me up and looked at me, a little stricken with the sheer surprise at first, before softening his gaze as I stared back at him, wide-eyed.

Then it was him who grabbed me first and stuck our mouths back together, locking them there but for periodic, desperate gasps. He trailed his hands up my spine, bumping slowly over every vertebrae. And then I was on my stomach, out of breath and he was fumbling in the bedside table.

“Now, Dominic,” I breathed, heavily. “HURRY.”

“Shh...” he slid back over me, sucking my ear in this way that makes my eyes roll back in my head. “Be good, or else,” he whispered.

I nudged my butt up against his thighs anxiously. “Or else wha-at?” I whined.

“Lay still,” his voice gave away his smile.

I started to ask why, but he was pushing his way in before I could and after that, well... all coherent thought was lost.


Sleepy and sore, but more than satisfied, I lay sprawled half over him, my head tucked under his chin, his arms securely wrapped around me. The room was dark, we'd somehow burrowed under the covers so everything was soft and warm.

“Dom'nic?” The first “i” in his name tends to lose itself to my exhaustion sometimes.


“I'm sorry I... painted the wall,” I said, so softly even I barely heard it.

“I know,” he ran light fingers over my back, tracing lazy figure-eights and circles. “That's over now. We dealt with it. Tomorrow, we'll make plans for you to repaint the kitchen wall. And then we'll just never do anything like this again so that we won't ever have to worry about it.”

“Mmn,” I grunted, chewing my lip. He'd said “we won't ever do this again,” not just “you”. Did that mean we were like an official – OFFICIAL official -- “we”?

“Are we a 'we'?” I asked, hesitantly, lifting my head to look him in the eyes.

He chuckled and kissed me before firmly pushing my head back against him. “Of course we are, honey.”

There was a peaceful few moments of silence. And for once, I didn't truly hate it. I lasted like a full ten seconds. Practically a record.

“I like you fucking me,” I said.

Where it came from, I have no idea. I was just trying to fill the silence! He sure as hell wasn't doing anything. What was I supposed to do? Just lie there and sleep? Hah. Not likely.

No, I had to dig myself a hole instead.

Immediately, he smacked my exposed ass.

“Ow! That was a good thing! It was nice!” I whined, jerking up to give him an indignant look.

“And what's the rule about that word, Gray? I know you haven't forgotten it.”

“Yeah,” I pouted. “You won't let me.”

“Right. I won't. Now, what is it?”

“No cussing. I know, I know. But we're not even AT Liam and Murray's!”

“Are there exceptions to the rule?” he sighed, obviously too exhausted to be doing this.

“Exceptions?” I thought for a moment. I wished there were exceptions. “Wellll... no, but--”

“So, if there are no exceptions, why do you think you won't get in trouble regardless of why or where you use such language?”

What I wanna know is WHY the “no interrupting” rule applies only to ME?

“I don't know...”

“So the rule is?

“No cussing...” I muttered.

“The rest?”

“Umm.. no matter where I am?”


“Why I'm saying it?

“And who you're saying it to. It doesn't matter, Grayer. Those words are not for your mouth. Period. Understood?”

I nodded, mumbling a sheepish, “yes, sir.”

“Good boy. No more trouble now. Sleep.”

Five minutes passed and I knew he was hanging onto his last shreds of consciousness waiting for my breath to steady.

“Dominic?” I whispered. “Ow!”

“You are the pushingest little boy I've ever met.”

“I'm not little!" I protested, smirking at his grammar. Sometimes Dominic makes up words when he can't be bothered to think of what he really means to say. I think he was too tired. It amuses the hell out of me. Especially when he means to be serious and it just doesn't happen. "Pushingest, Dom'nic?” I smirked.

“You are pushing, little boy,” he said again, sternly, ignoring my amusement and punctuating every other syllable with a smack to my bottom. The smacking, slowed up by blankets and exhaustion, didn't really hurt so much as it just pushed me closer to his warm body and when he stopped, I snuggled deeper under his chin.

I was pushing. Less because I really made it a point to do so, and more because it just felt so damn good to feel him stop me. Maybe it was subconscious at the time, but someone was actually putting up a hand and saying, “This is where it ends.” Which felt crazy and so.. utterly.. satisfyingly.. safe. One of those things that you hate at the same time that you fucking love it.

Mostly, right then, I fucking loved it.

“Sorry,” I whispered and felt one more smack that made me wince before he tightened his hold around me and gave a grunt.


“Yes, sir.”