Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Let’s join the werewolves again for another episode! Here’s part four of Jamie and Sean. Check out the tags to find the previous episodes if you’ve missed any. And no, we aren’t done with them after this. Enjoy!**

I couldn’t shift. I was so weak, I couldn’t even move. I’d never been stuck as a wolf before, but I could barely think, let alone gather any strength to change forms. Everything hurt, my brain was fuzzy, and though I was being carried, each step jolted through me. Except I couldn’t even whimper out my pain.

I smelled Sean. All around me. Some part of me recognized he was the one carrying me, but my last clear memory had been running in the forest. Before that it had been a long day with the pack, fun and food and sunshine, as we waited for the day to fade into night and the moon to rise.

Sean set me down as gently as possible, and he lifted my lip before swearing.

“Gods, Jamie, you’re so pale,” he whispered. He raised his voice. “Bring me water. Now! And some chicken and rice.”

I laid there on the soft floor—a rug maybe?—and tried to keep breathing. I knew this was my fault, somehow, but I couldn’t get my brain to process. I pushed closer to Sean, and he buried his fingers in the scruff of my neck, squeezing tightly before he rubbed my ears.

His breath ghosted over my fur, the top of my head, and he used his strength to pull me even closer until I was half in his lap, my head pressed against his stomach. He smelled so good, the scent of him strong, but I couldn’t even appreciate it, and I managed another tiny whine.

“I thought you ate, sweetheart. You said you did, but I should have made sure. You can’t run if you don’t—” He made a rough noise which abruptly cut off. Sounds of footsteps, then Sean’s quite murmur of “Thanks.”

He readjusted my position and brought the water close to my muzzle. It took a minute to get everything working but eventually I was able to lap at the bowl. The fresh, clean taste burst over my tongue and I managed to get half the bowl gone before I had to take a break. At least now, I could keep my eyes open for longer than a second.

“Jamie, sweetheart, you need to eat, okay? I know, I know what I’m asking you is huge, but you need to eat this. You can’t shift back if you don’t. I don’t want to force a shift, because I don’t want to do that to you when you can’t consent. But more than that, I’m scared that if I pull you through it, you won’t survive. So, please, for me, just eat this so we can get you back into your human skin.” I heard the desperation and worry in his voice, and it was a testament to just how out of it was because when he held a cupped hand with chicken and rice to my mouth, I ate it.

He made a pleased sound, murmured praise, and fed me another bite. And another. Handful by handful, I ate what he offered because he was my alpha and he was scared, and so was I. Then he urged me to drink more, and I did that too.

Because werewolf metabolism was so fast, it only took minutes for my brain and body to come back online. Even as a wolf, with those instincts riding me, I had my human mind too, and embarrassment, shame, and worry coursed through me. I wasn’t sure if I made a sound or if it was a change in my scent, but Sean quickly soothed me. A rumble in his chest and a shushing sound.

“No, no. You’re fine, it’s all fine. Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it. We’ll talk about it when you’re better but right now, do you need more to eat?”

I shook my head, let out a little whine, and tried to back away. Sean wouldn’t let me go, but he was gentle about it, making sure I had his whole attention.

“Jamie. Do you need more to eat?” That tone of voice, commanding but still understanding, had me relaxing just a fraction. Just enough that I could really assess my status.

I didn’t. Not at the moment. I couldn’t make myself eat even if I did, but I was good. I shook my head again, so he would know, and he stared at me for a very long, intense few minutes until he decided I was telling the truth. Finally he let me go, and I stepped back as he stood up.

Sean was naked, but that wasn’t a surprise, and usually I didn’t notice nudity at all. Because as wolves we were constantly getting undressed around each other to shift into our fur. He wasn’t body shy in the least and he definitely wasn’t going anywhere, judging by his firm stance.

It took longer and was much harder than it should be to find my human side, pull it forward, and work through the shift. It hurt until my pain receptors turned off, and felt like forever before I was crouched on all fours, body shivering and shaking, having burned through all the energy I’d just consumed in calories just get into my skin. Cold washed through me, and black spots danced at the corners of my vision.

“I’m so sorry,” I managed to whisper before I passed out.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**And here’s part three! Time for Sean’s POV, and a date. And don’t worry. We’re not done yet. Enjoy!

I was a problem solver, cool under pressure, but it turned out that planning a date that didn’t involve food was harder than I anticipated. It was easily the fall back, the way we’d all become accustomed to dating. But I was very conscious of the fact that Jamie had a problem with food, and even though I really wanted to know what that was all about, I wouldn’t push it. 

I wanted to. The fact that he was hurting in some way just about killed me. I’d been leading this pack for five years, and I was only peripherally aware he was having a problem. I should have pursued it sooner. Or, at the very least, kept an eye on him. I knew he was eating some, because he was in good body condition and seemed healthy enough. But clearly there was something more at work there. 

I wanted to take care of him. But it was more than just me being his alpha. I wanted to do it on a more personal level, to be the one that supported and cared for him as a partner. I should have made a move when I first recognized my attraction to him, even though I knew that was walking a fine line. I’d been honest and serious when I told him I was aware of the power imbalance. So many alphas in the past had abused their position, forcing their pack members to do what they wanted because they could. I refused to be that man. So I bided my time until I could be sure there was no coercion. 

When I picked Jamie up, he gave me a shy smile and for a moment, I couldn’t speak. He looked amazing in the dark jeans and light gray button up. When all I could do was stare, he fidgeted a little and dropped his gaze from mine.

“Am I dressed all right?” His voice was soft, uncertain, and shook me out of my daze.

“You look fantastic. Perfect.” I sounded like an idiot, but since I meant it, I didn’t care. I stepped into his space, loving the way he tilted his head to show throat. It was instinctive for him but it still sent a thrill through me. I didn’t hesitate to scent mark him with a touch to his throat, but then quickly took his hand and led him to the other side of my car.

We were quiet as we began  the ten minute drive to our destination. I could tell he was nervous by the way he fidgeted and bit his thumbnail. I reached out to capture his hand, and kept it tucked into my own.

“You all right?” I kept my voice soft, inquisitive, and hoped he would answer honestly.

He let out a shaky breath that was tinged with the hint of a laugh.

“Yeah. just…just nervous, is all. Been a while since I’ve been on a date and…”

When he didn’t finish the sentence, I gently prodded him. “And what?”

“I’ve wanted you,” he said, barely above a whisper. “I sort of can’t believe this is real.”

“It’s real.” I smiled, taking my gaze off the road for just a moment so I could flash him a smile. “And hopefully, this is just the first of many dates.”

He shook his head, letting out a little chuckle. “I don’t get it.”

“What?”

“What you see in me.” He sighed, and it sounded sad. “I’m probably going to end up sabotaging everything but I just don’t understand. Why me?”

“Besides the fact that I find you adorable, you mean?” This wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have in the car. I’d rather be able to see his face clearly, and for him to see mine. But it was more important to me that he knew I was sincere and earnest. I didn’t want there to be any doubts. 

“Besides that.”

“Well, I expect it’s for a lot of the same reasons you gave me.” I had to let go of his hand to make the sharp left turn off of the boulevard, but once it was done, I reached out again. I was gratified when he didn’t hesitate to reclaim my hand. “I see you, Jamie. I see your kindness and your selflessness. I see how you interact with the pack, and how you put everyone else first.”

Now that I thought about it, I wondered if that had something to do with his tendency to try and shrink into the background. He gave ground to everyone else in the pack. Was he that submissive a wolf? Or were there other self-esteem issues at play? I gave myself a mental kick. I thought I was such a good alpha–and I knew I was to a degree–but clearly I’d missed important things with Jamie. What else had I missed? 

“Uh, Sean?”

My name on his lips did funny things to my insides, sending a thrill through me. I wanted to hear it a lot more. And the fact that he hadn’t used my title made me that much more sure that he viewed us on even footing. Yes, I was his alpha. But right now, I was his date, and that was important. I was glad he could separate the two. I wasn’t sure I could. I was an alpha because I had a drive to care for the wolves under my protection. But with Jamie it was so much more.

“Sean?” he repeated, and I realized I hadn’t answered him. I pulled into a parking spot and turned off the engine so I could give him my full attention.

“Yes?”

From his wide-eyed stare at the building in front of us, I had a pretty good guess of what he was going to say and he didn’t disappoint.

“We’re at the aquarium.”

“Yep.”

He turned to me, and the hint of suspicion in his expression made me want to smirk. I held it in, but just barely.

“The aquarium which closed–” he glanced at the dashboard “–fifteen minutes ago.”

 “Ah. Well, ordinarily yes.” I drew out the silence for a moment, letting the anticipation build. “But once a month, they do limited after hours tours. I’m told it’s amazing, with the low lighting and the tanks lit up. It’s sold out months in advance.”

Jamie squinted at me, suspicion growing. I didn’t know what it said about me that I loved seeing it on his face. 

“Then how did you get tickets?” His face paled. “Were you planning on bringing someone else and–”

“No.” I cut that off really quick, not wanting him to think for one second that this had been meant for anyone but him. “I called Lorraine, and she made it happen. There are perks to being alpha. And one of them is sometimes, you can call the wife of one of your pack members and get special treatment.”

Jamie stared at me for a long moment, then turned his attention to the building. After another minute, he looked back at me.

“I don’t even know what to say to that,” he admitted, bewilderment clear in his tone.

Slowly, so he would have time to pull away if he wanted to, I reached toward his face. When he didn’t move, I cupped his cheek and let out a soft growl of contentment when he turned into the touch. He let out a long slow breath as I caressed his cheekbone with my thumb.

Needing to be fully transparent, I went for complete honesty. “I’m glad I thought of it, and was able to make it happen. I wanted to do something special for you, show you how serious I am, without it being a trigger for you.”

Jamie went tense but didn’t pull away. I was glad, because I would have wanted to pull him back. He swallowed hard, the click in his throat a telltale sign, but I stayed quiet, letting him figure out what, if anything, he wanted to say.

“You haven’t asked me about the food thing.” 

“And I won’t.” I made that a vow, and a reminder to myself. “When and if you’re ready, we’ll talk about it. Until then, we do what makes you comfortable.”

“How are you real?” he whispered. I wasn’t sure that was meant for me, but I answered it anyway.

“I assure you, I’m real. This is real. We’ll figure it out, you and me, together. All right, sweetheart?”

Jamie melted into my touch, the tension leaving his body, and he nodded against my palm. I wasn’t sure if it was my acceptance–which was easy because I knew, eventually, I’d find out what his issues were and if we could work on them–or the pet name–which was also easy, because he was a total sweetheart–but it didn’t matter. All that did matter that he was here, we were together, and we were going to see where things led. 

I slowly pulled away, hiding my smile when Jamie whimpered at the loss. Instead, I got out of the car and, quick as a flash, ran around to open his door. He blinked up at me with his big brown eyes, and when I held out a hand, he took it with a grin.

“Let’s go see the fish, yeah?”

His grin grew impossibly wider, and he squeezed my fingers. “Yeah.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

** Let’s check in with Jamie, as he has that conversation with his alpha. You can read part 1 here. And in all honesty, there will probably be a part 3. Enjoy!**

The pack run had been exhilarating in a way I didn’t normally experience. But Sean had specifically asked me to run with him, though he made it clear it was entirely my choice. The bright full moon led our way as we ran through the forest, howled to the pack, cavorted and hunted. Well, I didn’t hunt, but I did manage a scrap of rabbit Sean caught and offered to me. It was his way of providing for me, and I knew that. But even in my fur, I had trouble with food. And Sean didn’t seem to judge me for that, even though wolf instincts were at the forefront. Just offered me a small chunk and made a pleased little growl when I gulped it down.

We could shift into our werewolf form whenever we wanted, but there was no doubt the moon had it’s pull. It didn’t make us shift, but it called to us, and it was hard to resist. Sean had structured monthly pack dinners, then runs, to coincide with the moon cycle as a way to encourage pack bonding. It had worked. Our pack was stronger than ever. 

As the sky lightened, Sean lifted his head and let out a long, ululating howl, calling the rest of the pack in. The answering yips and howls were music to my ears and I couldn’t help but join in. Sean rubbed his muzzle on mine, then nudged me toward the pack house. I went, trying to keep pace. But I was tired, and low on reserves. That was one of the reasons the dinners beforehand were so important. It took a lot of energy to run on four paws. 

Shame washed through me, knowing I was slowly my alpha down as Sean adjusted his pace to match mine. With each mile I lagged even further. I didn’t usually run this far out, or for as long, because I knew my limitations. But being at Sean’s side had given me a burst of adrenaline that was now faded and making it difficult. But Sean didn’t seem upset or frustrated. Perhaps a little worried. But he never pushed, just kept my pace until we finally broke through the treeline and into the clearing behind the pack house.

We were the last ones back.

Sean shifted immediately. The rest of the pack was human too, and in varying states of dress, all happy and chatting and full of energy from the night spent in fur with the moon. Some of them called to Sean, wanting the alpha’s attention. But he ignored them for a moment to crouch down beside me and bury his fingers in the scruff of my neck.

“Take your time, and come inside when you’re done, all right?”

I acknowledge that with a tiny yip, pressing my nose against his bare chest for just a moment. I wanted to roll around in his scent. Comfort and caring radiated from him, as well as something sharper and deeper underneath. But my wolf brain couldn’t parse the meaning and I didn’t worry about it. My alpha had said to take my time, and so I did.

It took a while, and when I finally got going, calling up my human skin, the change was slower than normal. Though I wasn’t overly quick with the change, it usually didn’t take this long. After the initial few seconds of pain, my synapses shut off, blocking it out, so all I felt was the pull and twist of muscles shifting, of bones breaking and realigning. When I was finally done, my chest heaved as I fought for breath, and I was still on all fours, the dew causing the grass stick to my skin and making me shiver. I just wanted to flop over and curl up instead of moving.

Sean’s scent assailed me an instant before he wrapped his arms around me, holding me close. I shivered, the contrast of the heat from his body and the chill in the air too much for my body to process. He coaxed me up, first to sitting on my heels, then gently to my feet. I had to lean heavily on him but we made our way across the grass, up the six steps, and onto the deck. Instead of going inside, Sean gently lowered me into one of the chairs, and then wrapped me in a couple of warm flannel blankets. 

With a soft touch to my hair, he disappeared, but he was back a moment later with a glass of juice, a small portion of scrambled eggs sprinkled with cheese, and a half piece of toast smeared with a thick layer of peanut butter. Protein, fat, and sugar. All the things I’d need to get back on my feet. 

“Eat as much as you can, sweetheart.” Sean’s voice was low and kind. And even better, he left again so I could eat without an audience. The little voice in the back of my head said he was probably just on the other side of the glass sliding door, watching me, but I purposefully didn’t turn around. If I didn’t see him, he wasn’t there.

I managed most of it, with only a few bites of the egg and a quarter of the juice left, before I just couldn’t make myself eat any more. I sat back, pulling the blanket a little tighter around me, and heard the door slide open.

Yup. He’d definitely been spying.

Sean took a seat next to me, his pleased smile after he glanced at the plate showing me he was proud of me. That warmed my insides and a tiny smile bloomed across my lips.

“So, you and I need to have a conversation.” Sean’s voice was light, easy, but my stomach clenched. I knew he was going to ask me about my eating problems, and I just didn’t want to talk about it. He could make me—a command from him would have me spilling my guts—and even though I didn’t think he would do that, it still made me nervous.

“Okay. Yes.” I made myself say the words even though I didn’t feel them.

He nodded, pleased, and leaned forward to rest his forearms on the edge of the table. “As I said, I’m very aware of the power imbalance between us, and I want to state up front that you have the control here. This is all about your consent, and I promise you right now I will never violate that.”

I blinked, my slow brain taking a second to catch up to what he was saying. Oh. Oh! This was about our mutual attraction. Relief flooded through me and I grinned. This was so much easier to talk about than the food, because I knew he returned the feelings. Homophobia was prevalent in werewolf culture, but things were changing. And Sean had worked hard to oust any intolerance in the pack. I freed a hand, because I wanted to touch, and laid it over his where it rested on the table. He flipped his hand and gripped my fingers.

“You have my consent, Sean,” I assured him, deliberately using his name and not his title, so he would know we were on even ground. “I’ve wanted you since I met you, but I couldn’t imagine you’d want me back. So I kept to myself.”

Sean’s smile turned a little wicked, just the edge of it, but it was enough to quicken my pulse. His thumb caressed the back of my hand, and it felt so good, I would have purred if I’d been a cat. Instead, I let out a little, happy sigh.

“I noticed you right away, Jamie. Make no mistake. But I had to focus on the pack, of making it better and stronger. Of getting rid of the bigots and the racists. And not just because I’m bi and wanted acceptance in my own pack, but also because I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. It’s unacceptable and I won’t have it.” His voice was threaded with a hint of steel.

I squeezed his hand. “I know. You showed us all right from the start that you were fair and kind, and that you only wanted the best for all of us.” Heat crept up my cheeks but I forced it back with a deep breath. “I was physically attracted to you right from the start, but I wouldn’t have started crushing on you if you hadn’t been a good person.”

His expression morphed into a leer, but there was a twinkle in his eye that softened it. “A crush, huh?”

I laughed, partly from embarrassment. “Yes, well.” 

“Yes, well,” he repeated, but playfully. “Then how about we go on a date? Just the two of us, away from the pack. We’ll see if the spark we feel can grow into a flame.”

“Yes, please.” My voice came out breathy but I didn’t care. 

“Good.” Sean leaned in, closing the distance between us, and kissed my cheek. He lingered there for a moment, nosing along my jaw, inhaling deeply before murmuring, “You smell so good.”

I swallowed hard, unable to make my voice work as my blood sang through my veins.

“Tonight?” He asked as he pulled back, though he kept hold of my hand.

“Yes.” It came out whispered, and I cleared my throat to try again. “Yes. That works.”

“Good,” he said again. “I’ll plan the whole thing. I’ll text you later about times, once I get things worked out. And Jamie? Make sure you eat beforehand, yeah?”

Damn. The food thing. I peeked up at him, opened my mouth to say something, but he shook his head, a kind smile gracing his lips.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll talk if and when you’re ready. But I want you to know you’re taken care of, and since I can’t do that for you, I’m trusting you do it yourself.” He made sure I was looking him in the eye before he continued. “I won’t push. I will never do that. But I will gently check up. Are you okay with that?”

My voice failed me, touched that he cared enough but even more so that he wasn’t going to push and demand. It meant so much to me, and more importantly, made things easier on me. I nodded.

Sean smiled, stood, and then scent marked me by dragging his wrist along my throat. “Stay as long as you want. Get dressed and go only when you’re ready.” He cupped my chin in exceedingly gentle fingers, tilting up until our gazes locked. “Look for my text and I’ll see you tonight.”

Excitement raced through my veins and I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt.

“Tonight,” I agreed

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**It’s time to resurrect Flash Fic Friday! This might turn into a serial if there’s interest. Enjoy!**

No one noticed I wasn’t eating. Most of me was relieved about that. I didn’t want to, couldn’t, and having to explain or make excuses would have been exhausting. I didn’t have the spoons to deal with that today. But a small part of me was also sad. Because if no one noticed, that meant I was as invisible and insignificant as I imagined I was.

Pack dinners were always raucous affairs, filling with tons of conversation, laughter, and joy. I did my best to fit it, to talk and joke with the rest of my pack. But it wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t important enough to hold anyone’s attention for long. We all knew each other—in a pack of thirty wolves, it wasn’t hard—but even though we were always in each other’s pockets, it was surprisingly easy to hide. People saw what they wanted to see, and werewolves were no different.

Our alpha, Sean, was an outstanding leader. Fair but firm, patient and kind. He’d stepped in the role five years ago and turned the pack around. Before that, things hadn’t been horrible, but the alpha had been ineffectual and indifferent. Sean had swooped in and taken over, immediately made changes, and now we were one, big, happy and thriving pack.

Mostly.

I was so lost in thought I didn’t even realize the alpha had approached my corner. Within the walls of the pack house I was safe, and so wasn’t on high alert, keeping my senses tuned into my surroundings. Beside, the place smelled heavily of him, always did, so I might not have noticed anyway.

I tilted my head as soon as he stepped in front of me, showing my submission. He reached out, fingers gentle as he placed them along the side of my neck, leaving his scent on me. I couldn’t help the tension seeping out of my shoulders. It was how it should be when the alpha was there. He offered me a warm smile, his dark eyes shining.

“Hello, Jamie. How are you?”

“Hello, sir.” I returned the greeting but wondered if I’d get away with not answering his question. When Sean slid his fingers around and squeezed the back of my neck, I physically relaxed even further even though my brain told me that meant he wasn’t going to let me refuse to answer.

Sean leaned in, his gaze never leaving mine, but his tone was light and conversational. “Have you eaten?”

“Yes,” I answered quickly, because it wasn’t a lie. I had eaten, just not here and not since breakfast this morning.

“When?” he asked, still with the same tone, though his fingers tightened just a touch. I lowered my gaze, unable to keep his in the face of his scrutiny. I did not answer, only because I knew I wouldn’t be punished for it. But if I told him the truth, he’d be upset with me for another reason, and I didn’t want that either.

After a long moment of silence, he let his hand drop and he took a step back. “Please come with me.”

I didn’t have a choice. It was a command as much a request. But I didn’t want to disobey anyway. Sean was worthy of following, and if he requested something, I had no qualms about doing exactly that. I wasn’t like other werewolves. I didn’t blindly follow whomever was in charge. But Sean was a good man and a good wolf, so it was easy.

Until he led me to the food table. 

Unconsciously, I dragged my feet. I didn’t want to go near it. But his gentle touch had me moving forward. Sean’s hand on the small of my back propelled me forward, and when he handed me one of the small plates, I took it automatically, glad it wasn’t one of the large ones. Then he leaned down so he spoke directly in my ear. It wouldn’t stop other’s from hearing, but they’d at least know to ignore whatever he said.

“Pick out something. Just a little. A couple of bites, if that’s all you can manage.” His breath blew softly against the shell of my ear, and I fought a shiver. I opened my mouth to insist I wasn’t hungry, but before I could he added, “Please.”

I took a tiny piece of grilled chicken that seemed bland enough and hoped that would be sufficient. But Sean raised an eyebrow, so I added a tiny scoop of broccoli salad to the plate as well. That, I knew, had been made by Adaira, I’d had it in the past, and it was good enough I’d be able to force down a few bites. 

That seemed enough to satisfy Sean, and he handed me a fork and napkin before gently leading me to the large table. I balked again, not even thinking about it, just my body reacting before my brain could get online enough to follow my alpha’s directive. I had to take a breath, to try and make myself move, but Sean was so attuned to me in that moment, he easily changed course.

Without realizing where we were going, I suddenly realized we were on the back door. Which was suddenly and suspiciously absent of pack members. Usually there were always people hanging out here when it was nice. But no one was around, and the door slid shut behind us. I didn’t get a chance to turn and see who had shut it, because Sean didn’t let up the slight pressure on my back and I had to move to the café table in the corner. He pulled out a chair for me, and I sat. He took a seat beside me.

“Please try and eat.” His voice was so soothing, lacking all judgment and with only a little concern. I speared a piece of broccoli and forced myself to eat it. The approving rumble that Sean let out warmed my insides and I went for another bite.

“You know I try to stay out of my pack member’s personal lives. Unless it directly effects the pack or harms them, that is. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about how little you eat.”

The few bites I’d taken soured in my stomach. “I eat.”

Sean nodded. “Clearly you do, at least sometimes. But rarely with the pack. I thought I was imagining it, at first. I asked around, and no one seemed to see it, so I was sure I had to just miss you eating. But you don’t, do you, Jamie?”

I couldn’t lie even though I wanted to. “I don’t…I don’t like…it’s weird…” I blew out a frustrated breath. “I have issues with food sometimes.”

Sean nodded, his gaze still judgement free. “You don’t like eating in front of people?”

I blew out a breath, pushing the plate away. “When I was young—” Nope, I couldn’t do it. “Stuff happened and it’s hard. I’ll try to do better.”

“Jamie,” he said seriously, leaning forward so I couldn’t avoid his gaze. “You don’t have to ‘do better.’ We just need to find a way that works for you. We take care of you and your needs, okay, sweetheart?”

It was the kindest thing anyone had ever said to me in relation to my food issues but my brain was stuck on the last word. Sean wasn’t the type to use endearments with his wolves, so it had to mean something more. I opened my mouth to ask, then shut it because I didn’t know what to say. But the look on my face must have telegraphed my inner turmoil because Sean hung his head for a moment.

“Shit,” he muttered. Then he blew out a breath and lifted that dark gaze to mine. “I didn’t mean to say that.”

Disappointment coursed through me. I nodded, trying to not let it show on my face and knowing I was probably failing. “Oh. I understand.”

Sean grabbed my hand, his grip gentle but firm. “No, I don’t think you do. I didn’t mean to say it because I’m very conscious of the fact that there’s a power imbalance between me and my wolves. I would never want anyone feeling like they had to do something because I was alpha. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Kind of. “I think so.”

Sean’s gaze bored into mine. “Just because I’m attracted to you doesn’t mean I’d act on it, okay? I have excellent control. In all things. So you don’t have to worry, all right? I’d never force you or expect something you’re not willing to give.”

“What if…” I cleared my throat, trying to find my bravery to voice the one want I’d had since I first laid eyes on him. “What if I want you to?”

His eyes blazed, a hint of his wolf showing through. “Want me to what? Be very clear here.”

I let the shiver course through me, showing him how much his words affected me. His nostrils flared, no doubt taking in the scent of my spike of arousal.

“I want you to act on it. You’re beautiful, Sean. And kind and good and I—” I was rambling. I sucked in a deep breath. “What if I want you to act on that attraction because I feel the same?”

“Well then,” he said, twisting his hand to twine his fingers with mine. “Then we talk about it.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**And we’re back with episode 6 of Kyle and Asher’s tale. (Click here if you need to catch up) And as an added bonus, it also has a cameo from Alan…who’s finding his own relationship with Jon over at Nell’s house. I adore Alan so much, I asked if I could borrow him. And Nell decided to use Kyle as well. So here’s the other side of the conversation, and what happens next. Enjoy!**

I heard Kyle’s voice before I saw him, and just that much made me smile. The past few weeks had been amazing, and I looked forward to coming home more than I ever had. Because I was coming home to Kyle.

I just finished my shower when Kyle’s voice drifted up through the cracked open window. I stopped mid-towel.

“Okay. Stop being an idiot.” He paused for a second, and then “What’s going on that you need to be reminded of this?”

I chuckled. That answered whether he was talking to himself or not. Clearly he was on the phone. I dropped the towel in the hamper and pushed up the sash a bit more. Kyle paced back and forth on our patio, and he’d already lit the fire. Now that I’d cleaned the worst of the day off me, I was anxious to get down there and enjoy the evening with him.

I dressed at top speed, occasionally catching snippets of Kyle’s conversation that out of context meant absolutely nothing. But just as I was pulling on my sneakers, I heard something that made me freeze.

“Alan, babe, you really are an idiot.”

Babe? He was calling someone else babe? No. There was no way in hell he was dating someone else. I wouldn’t believe that. Kyle was not that guy, and even though we hadn’t talked in explicit words about what we wanted, it seemed clear to me we were on the same page. Or at least, I thought we were. I wasn’t worried, exactly, but I did jog down the stairs at a greater than normal speed. I needed to talk to him.

“You got that right. Go. Call me later and let me know what happened. Love you.”

Kyle blew out a breath as he thumbed off his phone and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Who do you love?” I hadn’t meant to say that, but now that it was out, it seemed as good a place as any for the conversation to start.

“What?” Kyle gave me his confused face, the one where the line between his brows squinched tight.

“Who were you calling babe and telling you love them?” When Kyle clearly still didn’t get it, I gestured to the phone in his hand. “Who were you talking to? You voice carried through the window.”

“Oh!” Kyle’s face lit up and then he shook his phone at me. “Alan. The fool. I love him, but holy crap. Poor man is high strung sometimes. Totally adorable, but high strung.”

I wracked my brains trying to put face or story to the name, but I was coming up empty. “Alan?”

Kyle nodded and cross the space between us. He shoved his phone in his pocket and wrapped his arms around my neck. “Alan. My best friend.” He inhaled, and added, “Damn you smell good.”

This close, my body reacted to his. I grabbed his waist and pulled him in tight so I could feel him everywhere. Then I bent my head and kissed him thoroughly and completely. I knew he wouldn’t cheat, and I hadn’t even considered the best friend as a possibility. I’d met Alan once a few months ago. Kyle’s assessment of him was pretty spot on.

Kyle eventually shoved me back, needing to breath, and he gave me a wicked grin. “Why Asher. You weren’t jealous were you?”

I shook my head, and then grinned. “For like, two seconds. Before I realized that there was no way you were cheating. Had to be something else.”

“You’re damn right. I’ve finally got you, I’m not letting you go and I’m not going to do anything to mess it up.”

“Same goes for me.” I kissed him again, and then tugged him down next to me in the oversized deckchair. It was a tight fit, and he had to drape a leg over my lap. I was fine with that.

As the night settled around us, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A few months ago, I’d never have imagined this as my life. Now, with Kyle tucked against me, I couldn’t imagine anything else.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 5 of Asher and Kyle’s story! Click here if you need to catch up. Enjoy!**

“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

I chuckled, and I didn’t miss the way Kyle shivered at the sound. I caught the curl of his lips, and I had to check my own impulse to shudder. God, he was so sexy. And there was something about him wearing a blindfold that I, surprisingly, really enjoyed. I’d picked up the black silk scarf just for this occasion, and I was pretty sure I’d have to keep it around. Maybe Kyle would want to play with it in other ways one day.

“Ash?”

“No,” I said softly. “I’m not going to tell you. That would ruin the surprise.”

“You’re no fun,” he huffed, but there was that twitch of his lips again.

I dropped my voice deliberately. “You’ll find I am all kinds of fun.”

He swore softly, then pressed a hand to the front of his pants. I was so enraptured by the sight, I didn’t realize the light had changed until the car behind me honked. I took off, a little faster than necessary, but I was anxious to get to our destination.

It only took another ten minutes, and Kyle was petulantly quiet the whole time. I knew him well enough by now to know it was just an act, but I appreciated it nonetheless. And I knew my surprise was going to make up for any minor disgruntled feelings. I parked close to the entrance, ordered Kyle to stay put as I got out, then jogged around the truck to open his door and help him down. He clung to my arm, and I knew he was uncertain without being able to see. Slowly, carefully, I released the knot holding the scarf, and pulled it away from his eyes.

He blinked, wide eyed and staring, and then turned to me. His grin was huge, but his eyes were narrowed.

“It’s the aquarium.”

“It is.”

“But it closes at eight and it is…” he made a show of tapping his Fitbit so the time popped up. “Eight-oh-five.”

“You’re right about that.” I took his hand and tugged him toward the front doors. My friend Marcel was waiting just on the other side, and he unlocked the doors and ushered us in. It was deadly quiet inside, and the lights from the huge tank in the lobby cast an eerie glow.

“Asher,” Kyle whispered. His fingers squeezed mine and held tightly. “What’s going on?”

“We can only have an hour, but there’s nothing better than viewing this place at night without crowds. Marcel was kind enough to give us time. And since he runs this whole place, I figure he’s got the right.”

Kyle’s eyes were huge again, and I chuckled. Marcel grinned too, and then made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “Enjoy, gentlemen.”

“How did you know?” Kyle asked after we’d wandered in silence for about fifteen minutes. I was happy to meander at his pace. The aquarium was huge, and I knew we wouldn’t get to see everything in the time allotted us, especially with what I had planned. But we could see a good deal of it.

“Know what?” I knew what he was talking about, but I wanted to make him say it.

“How much I love this place? What it means to me?”

I lifted our joined hands and kissed the back of his. “I listen, baby. You told me stories about your grandfather bringing you here as a kid, and how much that time meant to you. And how it’s still a place you love to be, but it’s always so crowded you don’t get to enjoy it. So I called my friend, and he was able to arrange this.”

“This is…amazing.” Kyle stopped dead in the anteroom to the huge cylindrical ocean aquarium. He pushed into my arms and kissed me hard. When he pulled back, his eyes were blazing. “Thank you.”

“You haven’t seen the best part.” I gestured to the doorway, and we went through. When Kyle saw the small, candle lit table already set for two, he clapped a hand to his mouth. I’d had the meal delivered directly here, and Marcel had taken care of the rest. I owed him free landscaping for the rest of the summer, but the look on Kyle’s face was worth it.

I led him to the table and pulled out a chair. His pasta primavera was still steaming, and the sight made me smile. Kyle, however, couldn’t take his gaze off the manta rays swimming by. I sat myself, and poured the wine, then set a bread stick on the edge of his plate. Eventually Kyle tore his gaze from the tank and looked at me.

“This is the best date I’ve ever had. You’ve spoiled me for anyone else.”

I stood and leaned over to kiss him, and I looked him straight in the eye when I said, “Good.”

He chuckled, pecked my lips again, and then set to eating while repeatedly glancing up at the tank. I sat back with a smile. I’d done this for him. Gave him this much joy. And it was the perfect start to what I hoped was a very long relationship.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

** And here’s episode 4. If you need to catch up, just hit the serial tag here and you can read all of the adventure. Enjoy!**

I should be freaking out.

It was midnight, I’d just realized I was bi, and that I wanted my neighbor turned best friend. There should be some sort of internal crisis going on. But there wasn’t. Weirdly, I found the realization to be comforting some how. And when I took a few minutes to really analyze why, it was simple. Kyle might be the first man I’d acknowledged my attraction to. He might be the first one that I actually wanted to do something with. But he wasn’t, in fact, the only man I’d ever looked at and considered pretty. And with that thought, everything settled in my brain.

It was sort of like a piece I didn’t know was missing slotted into place. And with that, I took a deep breath and relaxed. So what if I was bi? It didn’t change anything about me. Just who I might have a relationship with. And in this case, that was a very good thing. Because I wanted more than just to hang out with Kyle on the patio, talking with him. I wanted to do that and then kiss him. Touch him. Fuck him.

I just didn’t know how to get there.

***

Three weeks later, and I was still in limbo. Kyle recovered from his ordeal with no issue. He’d been a little off for a couple of days, but hanging out seemed to fix it. He relaxed and was himself again.

I’d been trying to figure out if he felt anything for me. He’d always been free with his affection, and a touch on the arm or his hand ruffling my hair wasn’t anything new. But I spent so much time just watching him, trying to see if there were signs, that he kept asking me what was wrong.

“Seriously,” Kyle said, a bemused sort of grin on his face. “What is with you?”

“Nothing.” I didn’t know why I just didn’t come out and say something. Maybe before that whole thing happened to him, I might have. But I didn’t want him to think I was being forceful. “I’m just tired. What were you saying?”

“I knew you weren’t listening.” Kyle chuckled and threw me a fond look. He sipped his wine and then sighed happily after swallowing. “And I was saying that I have a date Friday.”

My blood ran cold and he had my complete and undivided attention. “What?”

“Yeah,” he said and smiled. “Jane…you remember, my friend Jane from work. Anyway. Jane has this friend, and he’s exactly my type, so she was telling him about me and me about him, and we decided to meet. We’re getting together for drinks.”

For a split second, I froze. He seemed happy about it. But I knew this was the moment I had to speak or forever lose my chance.

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

My words came out soft, and for a second, I wasn’t sure Kyle had even heard. Then he turned to me, his brows creased in confusion. He set his glass down very carefully on the table between us.

“What?”

I cleared my throat. “I…I don’t want you to go out with that guy.”

He squinted. “Why not?”

“Because I want you to go out with me.” The words were rushed, but Kyle heard them.

“Friday night? You’ve got something you need my help with?” He was so confused. I heard it in his voice.

“Uh, no. I mean…” I let out an explosive sigh. “I want to date you. I don’t want you going out with someone else. I want you with me.”

Kyle went very quiet and I held my breath until he spoke again. “I don’t understand.”

“Yeah you do,” I responded softly.

“But you’re straight.”

I shook my head. “Bi.”

“Huh. You never said.”

It sounded a little bit like an accusation. And I got it. I did. He’d told me he was gay, and I’d implied I was straight. How did I explain that I’d been denying the knowledge of my own sexuality? It hadn’t been on purpose, but I’d still ignored it. I wavered for a few minutes and Kyle’s frown grew. So I took a deep breath and told him everything.

He listened quietly, nodding occasionally but never interrupting. After I was done, he still didn’t speak. I got fidgety and had to clasp my hands together to keep them from shaking. As the silence stretched, the crackle of the fire and the burble of the pond all I could hear, my worry grew enough that I finally spoke.

“If you’re not…” I cleared my throat and tried again. “If you’re not interested, I’ll understand. We, us, this doesn’t have to change. I would never–”

I stopped because Kyle stood so fast, and before I could figure out why, he was in front of me, his hands on the side of my neck. He looked down at me, and I got lost in his deep gaze. I couldn’t read his expression. Then he swept his thumb along my jaw and I shivered.

“I was hoping,” he whispered. “I tried not to, because falling for the straight friend is such a bad idea. But you…I wanted you. And you came when I called and you hugged me so tight.”

I turned my head and kissed his palm, then looked up at him again. His face was much closer, and I parted my lips. Kyle’s mouth kicked up into a sexy grin, and then he closed the last few inches between us.

He tasted like his wine and the steak we’d had for dinner, and I groaned and pulled him closer. He came easily, collapsing down into my lap as he wound his arms around my neck. It was all heat, and lips and tongue, and I couldn’t stop even when I needed to breathe. A quick gulp of air and I dove in again, devouring his mouth as though it was the last drink of water and I was parched.

After a while, Kyle gentled the kiss, sweet little nips of his teeth and tiny licks of his tongue. He pulled back and my gaze immediately dropped to his kiss swollen mouth. God, he was so damn gorgeous and with that mouth and the firelight playing across his features? I could have stayed right in that moment forever.

“So,” he husked. “A date?”

I chuckled and kissed him again, quick but full of heat. “Yes. A date.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here’s episode 3. You can catch up by following this link. Enjoy!**

Kyle had a date.

I was weirdly edgy and restless. I’d grown used to hanging out with him in the evening, winding down, shooting the shit, enjoying our fire and our pond. The reason for the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach was as easily explained as that. For weeks we’d been spending our evenings together, and since I didn’t get that tonight, everything felt off. Unsettled.

I tried to remember what I’d done before Kyle. After a shower and dinner, I used to sit down in front of the TV and watch whatever until I was tired enough to sleep. But there was nothing on TV tonight. Nothing to hold my interest anyway. I flicked aimlessly through the channels. All the way up to the top until they started over, and then did it again. And again. My agitation grew because what the hell? A few weeks with Kyle and I suddenly couldn’t entertain myself anymore. That was bullshit.

The phone rang, loud in the room, and I scrambled to answer it. I was stupidly pleased when I saw Kyle’s face on the screen. It was a shot I’d playfully snapped, and the firelight danced on his features, making his eyes shine.

“Hey.”

“H-hey. Uh.” Kyle’s voice shook, and I sat up straight. “Uh, can you come get me?”

I was on my feet before I even thought about it. “Yeah. Of course. What’s the matter?”

Kyle drew a ragged breath. “He, uh…he didn’t understand the word no. I got away but…” I heard a small whimper. “I need a lift.”

Rage boiled in my veins but I managed to keep it out of my voice. “I’m coming.”

“Shit. Lift. I should have called a Lyft or an Uber or…never mind, Asher. I’ll just–”

“No!” My voice came out loud and harsh, and I softened it immediately. “I’m coming. Are you somewhere safe?”

“Yeah.” He blew out a breath, and I knew I didn’t imagine the relief in that one word. “I’m at a diner. Plenty of people. I’m okay.”

Thank God for that. “Which one?”

He told me, his voice a little surer, and I relaxed.

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Okay?”

“Okay. Thanks, Ash.”

I drove faster than I should have, and maybe ran a red light or two, but I was anxious to get to him. I didn’t like the way he sounded, and I was worried. Whatever that rat bastard had done to him had shaken him up, and I’d be sure the asshole got what he deserved. After I made sure Kyle was okay.

The diner was brightly lit, and I saw him the moment I pulled open the door. I beelined right for him, and he looked up as I approached. The tears in his eyes were a surprise, but the utter relief I saw on his face was a gift. I grabbed his wrist as soon as I got close enough, and yanked him out of the chair and right into my arms. I squeezed him tightly, pressing his body into mine, and held him. His breathing was harsh against my neck, but he hugged me back just as tightly. I rubbed up and down his spine, wanting to soothe.

He made a noise and I literally felt him calm and settle under my touch. After a moment, I chanced a whisper into his hair. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Another breath shuddered out, ghosting on my skin, and it made me shiver. He sucked in a breath and then eased out of my hold. “I’m all right.”

I looked down at him, and that’s when I noticed the red mark on his cheek. I grabbed his chin, and narrowed my eyes as I tilted his face.

“I’ll kill the fucker,” I growled.

“Hey, no.” Kyle wrapped a hand around my wrist, and buried the fingers of his other hand in my shirt. “He didn’t hit me.”

My scoff let him know I didn’t believe him.

He gave me a tremulous smile, and something else, some other emotion I couldn’t name, seeped into his eyes. “He didn’t. I swear. I fell when I was running away. This wasn’t him.”

I released my hold on Kyle’s chin, and then slid that hand around the back of his neck, holding him lightly. I stared at him, and I saw the truth of it in his eyes. Okay then. Maybe the asshole hadn’t hit Kyle, but that didn’t mean he didn’t deserve retribution.

“What happened?” I asked softly.

Kyle shrugged, and his expression turned sad. “Just…I don’t know. We were getting along fine, and then he was suddenly all over me. I said no, but he didn’t seem to think I meant it. I finally managed to get him off me and left. But he drove, so I was stuck and…” He shrugged again. “Can we go home?”

“Yeah, of course.” I didn’t want to let him go, but I needed to so we could walk to my truck. I pulled away slowly, but stayed close as we headed outside. I opened the door for him, helped him up, and then made sure he was seated before shutting the door and jogging around to the other side. Kyle closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat as I pulled into traffic.

I kept stealing glances at him as I drove. The streetlights flashed across his face, temporarily lighting up his features. He looked like an angel, his skin flawless and perfect, his dark lashes resting against his cheeks. I wanted to reach out and touch him, rub my thumb along the sharp crease of his cheekbone, or across the fullness of his bottom lip.

What the hell?

I was grateful he was okay. That’s all this was. Just relief that he was well and whole and hadn’t been hurt.

Even as I thought it, I knew that was wrong. I was grateful he was okay, but that’s wasn’t all it was. It took me the last five minutes of our journey to put a name to the feelings swimming around in my gut.

Holy fuck, I had feelings for Kyle.

I pulled into the driveway and stopped a little harder than necessary. The jerk of the truck shook him, and he sat up straight. He blinked as he peered around, and then turned a smile on me.

“Thanks for coming to get me. I really appreciate it. I needed you. To come for me, I mean.”

He opened the door and hopped down before I could say anything and I scrambled after him, dogging his steps up onto his porch. He shot me a curious glance, but let me take his keys from him and open his door. Kyle sighed wearily as he toed off his shoes, and I hung his keys on the little hook by the door where I knew he liked to keep them.

“You need anything?”

Kyle shook his head, then winced a little. “Maybe some ibuprofen. And sleep.”

“Go lie down,” I ordered, already heading for the kitchen. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

He gave me a confused look, but did as I said. I got a bottle of water out of his fridge, then put some ice in a plastic bag and wrapped it in a dish towel. After a stop in the bathroom for the pain killer, I headed into his bedroom. Kyle was just pulling on his T-shirt, and I got a glimpse of his smooth stomach before it disappeared beneath the cotton. He slipped under the covers before he looked up and noticed me there.

I handed him the pills and water, and watched him take them before I sat on the edge of the mattress and held the ice to his face. Kyle gasped at the cold, and then gave me a small, sweet smile.

“It’s really not that bad.”

I shrugged one shoulder. “This will help. You don’t want it to swell or bruise.”

Kyle put his hand over mine where I held the ice pack and I felt electricity dance along my skin. He squeezed my fingers, and then I slowly slid my hand free.

“Thanks for taking care of me.”

“Always.” The word was out of my mouth before I thought it, and Kyle’s dark gaze widened at it. But he didn’t say anything. And neither did I. I didn’t want to take it back, but I didn’t know how to go forward either. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know if I should.

“Make sure you lock the door on your way out.”

I was being dismissed. Part of me rebelled at the thought, wanting to stay and make sure he was okay. But the other part realized that Kyle wanted some time alone. And I didn’t know what to do with myself in the moment anyway. I stood, and then before I could second guess myself, leaned down and kissed his forehead.

“Sleep well. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said gruffly, and then I turned and left.

It wasn’t until I was back in my own house that I let myself think about what happened and what I was feeling. The jealousy earlier tonight that I’d played off as an interruption of my routine. The swoop in my stomach every time he smiled at me. The way he smelled and the way I loved listening to him ramble. It all coalesced into one shining realization.

I sat down hard on my couch, letting the thought seep into my brain and settled there.

I wasn’t straight. I was bisexual. And I wanted Kyle.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Asher and Kyle continued. Read Part 1 here if you missed it. Enjoy!**

I’d bought my half of the duplex ten years ago, and in the past decade, I’d had several neighbors. Kyle was, by far, the best one. I never heard him. We only saw each other if we left or arrived at the same time, and then he always had a cheery wave and greeting for me. Sometimes we talked for a few minutes as we walked to our front doors. But never more than that.

Which is why I was surprised to answer the door one evening and find him standing there. He was wearing a smile that lit up his face, and holding two bottles of local microbrew that I loved. He held one out to me, and I took it with a hearty thanks.

“So,” he said, leaning back against he railing of my porch. “I noticed by the sticker on your truck that you’re a landscaper.” He gestured with his bottle toward the logo on the driver’s side door.

I squinted at him as I took a pull from the bottle. The beer went down smooth, hoppy and delicious, with just a hint of a citrus aftertaste. “Mhmm.”

His grin turned mischievous. “So I have to wonder, why haven’t you done anything with the backyard?”

I laughed and shook my head. The duplexes shared both a front and back yard, and I had a deal with the guy who owned Kyle’s house that I’d split yard work with his tenant. The family that had lived there before Kyle had mowed the back, because they took their kids out there to play, and I’d taken care of the front. I knew the backyard was overgrown. The hedges were ridiculous, but I’d never felt the need to go back there. The pavers that acted as a patio out my back door were far enough, and only because I kept the grill out there.

I shrugged. “Don’t spend too much time out there. And I guess I get enough of it at work.”

It was his turn to squint. “But I would think, if you love your job, you’d want to take care of your own place. Unless you don’t?”

“No, I do,” I assured him. I took another drink, trying to think of what to say. “It’s satisfying right down to my bones. And I enjoy every part of the process. But like I said, I’m never out there. Plus, the last people had kids, and I didn’t want them to ruin all of my hard work.”

He nodded. “Makes sense. So, would you mind if I did some stuff out there?”

I shook my head and straightened up from where I’d been leaning against the door frame. “Knock yourself out. What did you have in mind?”

His whole face brightened, and he practically leaped off the porch, beckoning me with his free hand. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

I followed along in his bouncing wake, amused by his enthusiasm. He was always full of energy whenever I saw him, whether that was six o’clock in the morning, or eleven o’clock at night. I didn’t know where he got it all, but I was happy to be apart of it. He jogged the last few steps around the house, and by the time I turned the corner, he was standing in the middle of the patio with his arms spread wide.

“Okay, so.” His grin got even bigger and I was afraid it would hurt his face. “Obviously trim the bushes and cut the grass. That’s the first thing. But also, I was thinking of getting those big cement planters, right? I mean, I only lease, so I’d want to take them with me if I ever left. With bright colored flowers, though I don’t know what kind, to bring some color back here. And I would put them around the patio.” He gestured, making sweeping motions with his hands. “I’d love a fire pit right here.” He pointed to the edge of the patio. “And I’d get some great furniture out here. Loungers and a table. Oh! And over here.” He jogged to the edge on my side of he patio. “I know it’s your half, but man, this would be the perfect spot for a pond. I’ve been researching, and there are above ground pond kit thingies. If you wouldn’t mind me taking some space up, I’d love to do that.”

I stared at him, my breath catching in my throat. His joy was infectious, and I could see everything as he’d laid it out. He made it sound perfect, like an oasis, and if I had that kind of space back here, I’d sure as hell spend more time out here. For a minute, I felt foolish that I’d never done anything more than the basics in the back.

“Sounds great,” I said, and I had to clear my throat. “I’ll help.”

Kyle went still, and then slowly turned around to face me. “You don’t have to. I mean, that’s not why I talked to you. I just…you know, thought I should get your approval before I do anything. Since half of this is yours.”

“No, I want to. Help, I mean. It’ll be great. Together we can make a great space.”

The smile on his face made my heart pound.

***

We’d made plans to get started on the backyard that weekend, but when a mix up at my job site had me calling it an early day on Friday, I got started early. Saturday morning, I met him outside at eight like we agreed. Kyle was standing in the middle of the patio, his hand over his mouth. When I walked out my back door, he turned wide eyes on me.

“What?”

“You…” he gestured, first to the fire pit I’d installed, and then to the hole I’d dug. “That’s…you.”

I shrugged, ridiculously pleased for some reason that he was overwhelmed. I could see how much he loved it already, and that made me stupidly happy.

“Well, if we’re going to put in a pond, we might as well do it right. I have the stuff in the truck to line it, and the pump. But I needed more daylight to do it. I thought I’d do that while you did the hedges and the grass, and then we can head to the garden center and get your planters, flowers, and potting soil. Sound like a plan?”

He nodded mutely. I hid my grin.

“The mower and shit are in the shed.” I jerked my chin to the back of the yard. “Get to it. We’re burning daylight.”

He nodded again, and I could swear I saw him wipe his eyes when he turned away. I ignored that, not knowing what to do with it, and went to get the crap for the pond out of my truck.

***

It had taken us the whole weekend, but the backyard was done. Snapdragons, petunias, and marigolds were planted in long, rectangular planters strategically placed around the patio. We had a fire in the pit, and I’d grilled steaks that we’d enjoyed sitting at his new table. The night air was cool, but not cold, and we sat in the silence–save for the crackling fire, the burbling pond, and the occasional cricket–and just enjoyed the space.

Kyle reached out, put a hand on my arm, and squeezed. His touch felt like a brand, and I savored the warmth.

“Thank you Asher,” he said reverently. “This is…this is perfect. Exactly what I wanted.”

“You’re welcome,” I responded softly. My heart was thumping again, and I didn’t know why I was so happy that he was happy. I shook my head, tipped my bottle at him in salute, and then smiled. “Any time.”

And I meant it.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

*Here’s part 1 of the serial story! I’ll tag them all so they’ll be easy to find. And in upcoming weeks, I’ll link back in case you need to catch up. So without further ado, meet Asher and Kyle. Enjoy!*

“Goddamn motherless son of a wonky titbasket!”

The curse was creative. I had to give him that. The questions was, though, why was it being shouted outside my house?

I’d just finished my workout, so I was sweaty and hot. But I put down the water bottle and headed outside to see what the commotion was about. The Uhaul parked next door explained part of it. The other half of the duplex had been empty for months–ever since the family with two screaming toddlers moved out–and I’d relished the silence. But apparently that was changing today.

He was standing on the ramp stretched from the back of the truck to the front porch. The broken box spilling half of its contents on the muddy ground explained the curse. I stood for a moment, just taking in the scene. The frustrated man had his hands in his dark hair, knuckles white, as he breathed deeply. Trying for calm? Probably. He was smaller than me, leaner and shorter, and it looked like he was alone. I felt bad for the dude.

I pushed my sweaty hair out of my eyes, then jogged closer.

“Hey, need some help?”

He squawked and turned quickly, nearly losing his balance and toppling off the ramp. I ran, but he righted himself before I made it across the yard to him. He pressed his hand to his chest, his brown eyes wide.

“Jesus Christ, you scared me.”

I tried for an apologetic grin. “Sorry.”

He flapped a hand at me. “It’s okay.” Then he looked down at the mess, sighed heavily, and dropped his hands. “Fuck.”

I had to check the grin. “Basically. Really, you need some help?”

He bit his lip, and looked into the truck. I was close enough now that I could see it was still pretty packed. Boxes and bags filled every available space, tucked in tightly around a couch, several dressers, and what looked like a dismantled table and matching chairs. He shook his head.

“I don’t want to impose.”

The way he said it, with a bit of hesitancy, made it known that he would really like the help but he didn’t want to ask. Since I offered, I figured he was off the hook. I started picking up the bedding that had fallen out of the box, wadding it around itself until I had a makeshift sack.

“No imposition. I’m not busy, and we are neighbors after all. Let me help.”

He eyed me for a long moment, before he heaved another sigh. “Thanks. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. You can pay me in pizza and beer when we’re done.” I shot him a grin. “That’s the customary payment for helping someone move.”

He laughed, and I liked the sound. “You got it.”

I waited until he retrieved another box, then followed him into the house with my bundle. I knew where the bedroom was, since his house was the mirror opposite of mine, but I thought maybe he’d want to wash the sheets and blankets I held, considering they’d been on the ground. I took the whole thing into the laundry room off the kitchen, then met him back in the entryway.

“Thanks.” His voice was softer, and now that we were close, I could see how tired he was. His big, dark eye were lined, and had bags underneath big enough to be luggage. His T-shirt sported a faded rainbow, and hung off his frame. Put together, it gave him a careworn look.

“You’re welcome.” I took a step back, putting some distance between us, because I knew I probably stunk. But I held out a hand. “I’m Asher.”

“Nice to meet you. My name’s Kyle.”

We shook, and then I gestured for him to proceed me out the door. When we were both tromping up the ramp, I said, “So Kyle. Don’t you have any friends that were willing to help?”

He laughed a little, a short aborted sound, and shook his head. “Too busy. I didn’t give them enough notice. Once the house next door to me blew up, I decided to move fast. I didn’t have time to round up a moving posse.”

I froze. “Blew up?” I couldn’t keep the incredulity out of my tone.

Kyle waved his hand again. “Just a little explosion.”

I stared at him, automatically taking the box he handed me but not taking my gaze off him. He turned and retrieved a bag, but when he looked back at me and saw me staring, he cocked an eyebrow.

“What?”

I shook my head. “You can’t just put that out there and not explain.”

“They were cooking meth.”

My expression must have shown my shock, because he laughed again. “Just a little batch. So only a little explosion. But no way was I staying around after that. So I gave notice, and found this place, and paid extra so I could move in right away. I think the landlord was happy to have someone reputable, because he said it had been vacant for a while, and he didn’t give me too much of a fuss when I asked.” He cocked his head to the side. “Are you going to earn your pizza and get moving?”

I chuckled and turned, heading back into the house. “And don’t forget the beer!”

***

It took us the better part of three hours, but we worked well together so the time flew. I went back to my house to shower and change, and by the time I knocked on Kyle’s door, he had hot pizza and cold beer waiting on his newly reassembled table. Boxes and bags were still stacked everywhere, but it would take him a while to settle in.

Kyle gave me a huge smile when he let me in, but neither of us said much until after we’d both sated ourselves with several slices and a long neck apiece. He sat back in his chair, and patted his stomach.

“The pizza alone is worth moving to the neighborhood.”

I grinned. “It’s good. I order from them at least once a week.”

He shot me a look as he stood up. Kyle threw out the garbage before he turned back to me, resting a hip against the counter. “Not much of a cook?”

I snorted. “Hell no. I burn water. If I ever find a woman to put up with me enough to live with me, I hope she’ll want to cook.”

Something flickered over his face, but it was gone before I could put a name to it. Then he smiled and shrugged, and crossed the floor to pick up the few remaining pieces and put them in the fridge.

“Tomorrow’s breakfast.” He laughed. “I love to cook. Maybe sometime I’ll make you a meal.”

“You any good?”

Kyle scoffed. “I should hope so. My mother is a gourmet chef, and she taught me everything she knew. I think she was determined to give me that skill, knowing that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

I saw it then, the little flinch, and it took me a second to work out why. He was gay, and he was worried about what I’d think or say. Or do. But he didn’t have to be.

“You won’t have any problem snagging a man then.” I paused, considering. “Unless you already have one.”

He breathed out a soft sigh, and his smile was sweet. “Not at the moment. Not for a while, actually.” He shooed the thought away, a quick flap of his hand. “But I’m not worried about it. Yet. I’m not even thirty, not for another year. I’ve got plenty of time.”

I studied him for a moment. I thought he was younger than that. I only had five years on him, but his skin was smooth and clear, showing none of the age mine did. Of course, I worked outside and the sun had done a number on me.

“Anyway, Asher, I really appreciate your help today. If there’s anything I can do to repay you, just let me know.”

“You already did.” I held up the beer in salute. “But if you want to be a good neighbor, then don’t throw any wild parties, and keep the noise down. That’s all it takes to make me happy.”

Kyle snorted out a laugh, and then tossed his empty bottle into the recycle bin. “You’re easy.”

I waggled my eyebrows. “You have no idea.”

We said goodbye a few minutes later. He thanked me again for the help, I thanked him for the pizza, and left him standing on his front porch. Our gazes caught when I looked back at him before opening my own door, and we stayed like that for a long moment. The wind picked up, and a lock of his hair blew across his forehead. Kyle really was a very pretty man. He was funny and kind. I had no doubt he’d find someone to love him someday.

I lifted my hand in a wave, and went into my house.