PART ONE (in case you missed it...)
The car eventually stopped and Bob was wrestled out of the car. The pavement beneath his feet was uneven—bricks?—and seemed to be a longish sort of driveway judging by the distance walked.
“Step up,” said his captor, who had one hand on his shoulder to guide him. Bob stepped up, but caught the toe of his shoe on the step and nearly went sprawling. The fingers on his shoulder tightened and the man sniggered.
Bob straightened and then nearly fell again when he was shoved forward. His outstretched hands stopped his fall. One splayed against glass and the other on rough stone that scraped his fingers. His hand was knocked away from the glass and a door was opened. Bob was thrust inside.
The hand returned to his nape and he was pushed through a large room, evidenced by the echoing sound of their footsteps on a wooden floor.
“Step down,” he heard, too late, as his foot encountered nothing and he sprawled forward again. This time his flailing arms caught nothing until coming up with a painful jolt on a thankfully carpeted floor. The man laughed again.
Bob angrily tore the sack from his head and pushed himself to his feet. He expected a blow or a shove, so he danced away, half turning. The man only grinned at him.
"Take off your coat and stay awhile," he said and gestured to a wooden chair in the center of the room. "In fact, I insist."
Bob glared at him. "Are you Snyder?"
The man laughed and shook his head. "Am I Snyder? I wish I was Snyder. No, you'll know when Snyder gets here. Now take off your coat unless you want me to do it for you."
Bob did not like the sound of that, considering the man's willingness to see him humiliated and his lack of hesitation in nearly breaking his thumb. Bob unzipped the wet coat and shrugged out of it, wishing he could pull the phone from his pocket without the guy noticing.
He did not get the chance as the man stepped forward and yanked the coat away, tearing it from Bob’s arms. He rooted through the pockets, ignoring Bob’s, “Hey!” of protest.
“Sit down,” the man growled and picked up Bob’s cell phone. He glanced at it and then pulled Bob’s wallet from an inner pocket and flipped it open. Bob debated grabbing for it, but a sharp glare stopped him. Another man walked in, killing Bob’s half-baked plan to try to engage the bigger man in a fight.
The second man held a coiled length of rope.
“Robert Davis,” the first one read. He glanced at Bob in amusement. “Is it Robbie, then? Or Bert?”
Bob winced. Damn it, couldn’t his parents have named him Dominic or Victor? No one ever made fun of Dominics or Victors and they probably never got themselves into these sorts of situations, either. “Robert,” he replied, hoping for the best.
The wallet thief snorted a laugh. “Sure, Bertie. Now sit the hell down. Mike, tie him tight. He might be more dangerous than he looks. Can never tell with people named Bertie.” He chuckled at his own joke and then made a threatening motion toward Bob, who glared at him, but sat.
Bob gnashed his teeth as his hands were bound to the chair near his hips. If his name were Dominic he would never allow himself to be tied. Pragmatism shouldered through his self-disgust and he knew as Dominic he would probably be beaten and bound to the chair anyway, and at least this way Bob was healthy and well while waiting for whatever was to come, instead of nursing broken teeth and fractured ribs.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I want Jordan Takara,” said a voice behind Bob, who craned his neck to look at the newcomer. A tall, slender man stood in the doorway. He had sandy hair and wore stylish oblong-framed glasses. A pale blue shirt with faint stripes covered a slender, almost-too-thin torso, and a silver-striped blue tie was knotted around his neck. “Or more precisely, I want that code.”
“You must be Snyder,” Bob said. He felt somewhat relieved. The man looked like a stereotypical nerd and Bob could easily imagine him sitting in front of a television for hours with a gaming controller in his hand.
“How nice that my reputation precedes me.” Snyder walked forward and lifted the wallet from the first man. Bob caught a glimpse of the movement until a protesting muscle in his neck forced him to face forward. There was nothing in front of him except an expensive-looking wooden cabinet before a window with thick drawn curtains.
“If you say so,” Bob muttered.
A hand reached out and gripped his chin, squeezing painfully. “Where is Takara?”
“I don’t know.”
The squeezing tightened, but Bob met his cold blue eyes steadily. If that was the worst he could do, then Bob could take it, even if his name wasn’t Dominic. “Wrong answer.” Snyder released Bob’s chin and stepped away. “Grind, remove his shirt.”
Bob nearly grinned at the name. Grind? Except that Grind was suddenly grabbing Bob’s t-shirt and his hands were tied to the chair, so how the hell was he planning to—?
The fabric gave with a ripping sound and Bob yelped. “Hey! I liked that shirt!” Grind ignored him and kept tearing until Bob’s former shirt was nothing more than a shredded rag. He pulled away the remains and wadded it up.
Snyder sneered. “You will soon have more to worry about than your substandard department store clothing. How long have you known Takara?”
The third man had exited, but now he returned with another set of ropes and tied Bob’s legs to the chair. “Don’t you think this is a bit much?” Bob asked. “I’m obviously not going anywhere.”
“I asked how long you’ve known Takara.” Snyder’s voice was low and Bob frowned when he looked at the man. Snyder was not even looking at him, instead tapping on a blade-thin electronic tablet.
“I just met him today, actually.”
“Curious. And obviously a lie, since he entrusted you with the code. Are you in a relationship?” He asked the last with a sneering tone and then added, “Apparently not, according to Facebook. Although it seems you don’t post there much. I see you are a fan of sushi. What do you know? We have something in common, Bobby. Two sisters, mumsie… no father, or is he just another technophobe? What a cute photo of you as toddlers. No gay pride banners. Are you in the closet, Mr. Davis?”
Bob gaped at him, horrified. He had never bothered to lock down his online profile. He was a bank teller, for fuck’s sake. No one had ever cared about him enough to dig through his personal information.
Snyder made a clucking noise. “You haven’t even friended Takara. Definitely in the closet. Or are you just experimenting?” Snyder looked at Bob and smirked, but his eyes did not carry an amused glint. “Whatever. Are you planning to tell me where the code is?”
Bob glared at him. “You realize kidnapping is a felony?”
Snyder gasped. “It is? Oh my, I’m in trouble now.” He rolled his eyes. “Your loyalty is wasted on Takara. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself. And you haven’t answered my question.”
“I don’t know where the stupid code is. “ Bob’s tone was flat. He wondered how long Snyder planned to keep him.
“How much do you know about Jordy-boy? Did he tell you about his daddy?”
Bob tried to keep his face an impassive mask, but Snyder shook his head with a laugh. “Poor thing. You really are the flavor of the week. Where do you think your loverboy got the code? His father is Anthony Takara. A very big name at Newtomi.”
Bob was not much into video games, but even he had heard of the popular gaming company.
Snyder nodded. “Yes, little Jordan is nothing but a dirty thief. I’m sure daddy will be very upset when he finds out his offspring is stealing from the company. Not that his father has much to do with him ever since he pranced out of the closet. Takara’s act of pulling one over on the old man will be my gain.” Snyder pulled a sleek phone from his back pocket and smiled. “Speak of the devil.”
Snyder lifted the phone to his ear. “Hello, Takara. Yes, he is here with me. Bob, you say? I would have expected something a little classier for a bank employee. No, Bob and I are going to play a little game.”
Bob listened intently, but he could hear nothing except a muted voice through Snyder’s phone. Snyder listened also and then said, “Hmm, no, I can’t do that. Not unless you’re willing to bring me the code.” Snyder paused and then chuckled. “I don’t know that at all. You started this, so maybe you should man up and see it through. Bob will be here with me until you make up your mind.”
Snyder put the phone back in his pocket. He jerked his head and Grind left the room. Bob waited, feeling a curious sense of bemusement. The whole thing seemed unbelievable and he nearly cracked a smile. Snyder seemed to be trying to emulate a dangerous criminal and it wasn’t quite working.
A different man entered holding a large semi-spherical item. He was a bit shorter than Grind, but stockier. He placed the device over Bob’s head, earning a start. Bob thought for a moment that it was an upgraded version of the sack. Were they taking him somewhere? It was dark, but he felt something like a cord trailing down over his torso. A buckle was fastened beneath his chin, holding the light-blocking helmet in place.
Something cold and wet was rubbed in a circle on his torso, just above his left nipple. Bob jerked away with an oath. “What are you doing?” he demanded. The cold wetness was repeated on the other side. Bob pulled against his bonds, but he was held fast.
“All part of the game, Bobby.”
The wetness dried quickly and then something was taped over the spot. Cold metal in the center of a round piece of adhesive, with something that felt like a… Fuck. “What is this?” Bob asked and heard the edge of panic in his voice.
“You’ll see. Are you ready to play? You like Apocalypse games, right, Bob?”
“I’m not into games,” Bob admitted, feeling nervous for the first time. It was disorienting and a bit terrifying to be locked in the dark with no idea what they planned to do him.
“Too bad. I’m going to boot it up now. Get ready.”
Someone moved the helmet on Bob’s head and something brushed against the side of his mouth for a moment. He tried to pull away, but he was held fast. “There you go,” a voice said. “Your microphone.”
Bob blinked at the sudden brightness before his eyes. It flashed in a static pattern for a moment and then turned to a flat gray with three white lines at the bottom. Words appeared and Bob realized it was a screen. He was wearing a virtual reality helmet.
His relief was nearly overwhelming. “You’re seriously going to have me play a game?” he asked dryly.
“Disappointed? Your heart rate is pumping pretty fast there. Don’t worry, things are about to get more exciting for you. Now what you need to remember is that this is a voice command game. You issue instructions and your avatar obeys.”
As Snyder spoke, an artistic rendering of a man appeared on the screen, standing in a barren white hallway with tile floors. Bob could only see his back from the thighs up. He had short dark hair and looked both right and left. His face showed a bit of stubble and he looked like a typical burly video game character, square-jawed and steely-eyed.
“Tell him to walk,” Snyder said.
“You know, I really don’t want to play,” Bob replied.
Bad command, a female voice said in Bob’s ear moments before a jolt of electricity nearly tore him out of the chair.
“Fuck!” he yelled. “The fuck was that?” His heart was suddenly in his throat and the blood hammered in his veins. He heard dim laughter through the pounding in his ears.
“That is what happens when you issue a bad command,” Snyder said. “And also when you make a wrong turn, get hit by a foe, or pause too long in one place. Now, tell him to walk.”
Bob opened his mouth to protest, but the thought of a repeat of bad command was fresh in his mind. “Walk,” he said reluctantly. The avatar moved down the white hallway.
“When you reach the end of the hallway, say ‘right’,” said Snyder.
Bob clenched his teeth. He wanted to scream. What sort of sadistic asshole hooked up electrodes to a video game? He tried not to think about karmic revenge for underestimating Snyder as he rotated his wrists in his bonds. There was some slack, but not much. “Right,” he said when the avatar reached the end of the hallway. The burly character turned right and continued down another long hallway, this one lined with windows on the left and doors on the right.
A door burst open and Bob nearly shrieked when a shambling creature emerged. Its rotted, peeling skin was dotted with suppurating green sores.
“Back!” Bob yelled. To his relief, the avatar backtracked. The creature advanced with a growling moan, hands outstretched and fingers curled into claws. Its fingernails were talons. Bob definitely did not want it touching him.
A second jolt of electricity slammed through him and the chair legs jerked on the floor. “Ouch! Damn it!”
“Got hit by the one sneaking up behind you, didn’t you?” he heard Snyder ask. Bob turned his head and the viewpoint swung dizzily to reveal a close-up of a second terrifying creature.
“Back!” he barked and then swung his head around. The first one was closer. “How do I kill them?”
Bad command. Another jolt drew a sobbing gasp from him and his muscles strained against his bonds.
“You’re a smart guy. You’ll figure it out.”
“Shoot!” Bob said.
You are unarmed, replied the female voice. The zombie-creature moved closer. Bob dared not move his avatar backward.
“Hit! Kick! Punch!” Bob cried frantically.
The last one seemed to do the trick. The avatar’s fist lashed forward and smashed into the face of the creature with a meaty sound. It fell away.
The avatar bolted down the hallway as more creatures spilled from the doorways, reaching scabrous, skeletal hands out to grasp at him. Bob bellowed commands to strike the monsters, cringing each time an electrified jolt announced contact from one of the foe’s claws.
“Open door! Down!” he yelled when he reached another stairwell. The screen froze when the avatar reached a landing. It wasn’t until the noise ceased that Bob realized dramatic theme music had been playing, adding to his heart rate by increasing the tension.
“Having fun?” Snyder asked. “Maybe you want to tell me where Takara is now or better yet where he hid the game code.”
“I don’t know!” Bob replied frantically, almost wishing he knew. He liked to think he wouldn’t have sold out Jory, but in reality he might have done anything to avoid being subjected to more of the game.
“You’re stronger than I expected, Bobby. Back to the fight.”
The music returned and Bob swore. He moved his avatar down the steps, hearing shuffling and moaning sounds from above. His mind whirled. Obviously there was a pause function and if the game was voice-controlled…
“Pause!” he said.
Nothing happened and he heard Snyder’s amused tone. “Nice try.”
“Reset! Reboot!” Bob tried as the stairwell door ahead opened to disclose a glut of monsters.
Snyder laughed. “Surely you don’t think it will be that easy?”
“Restart!” Bob yelled. The screen shifted and went black. After a dozen of Bob’s pounding heartbeats the opening scene appeared. Bob’s avatar was back at the beginning.
“Son of a bitch,” Snyder said just as his phone rang.
Bob tried to control his breathing, knowing he only had a few moments before the door opened and he would have to deal with the first creature again. He wondered how many times he could restart before Snyder found a way to override it, or thought up a new method of torture.
“I was beginning to think you didn’t care about your new boytoy, Takara. You have fifteen minutes and you’d better have the code. Try anything stupid and I’ll mess Bobby up so badly he won’t be able to think about you without screaming. Got it?”
A moment later the VR helmet was removed. Bob glared at Snyder and clenched his teeth as the electrodes were torn from his chest.
“Lucky you, Bobby. Takara has decided to trade the code for you. Isn’t it touching?”
Bob held his breath to avoid speaking. While he was glad to be free of the tortuous game, he was alarmed that Jory planned to turn over the code. It could have serious repercussions if what Snyder had said about Jory’s father was true. Bob wondered if Jory had stolen from his father’s company. He wished he knew more about Jory, but going by instinct alone he simply could not believe Jory was a bad person.
“Untie him, Mal,” Snyder said to the new man. “Takara might be an asshole, but he always tells the truth. He’ll be here.”
Mal shrugged and knelt to untie Bob’s feet, keeping to the sides of the chair, likely to avoid a swift kick should Bob decide to retaliate. “Sorry ‘bout the game,” Mal muttered, low enough that Snyder would not hear. Snyder was poking away at his cell phone. Bob looked at Mal in surprise, but the man only shrugged and worked on the knots near Bob’s wrists.
Bob flexed his hands as soon as his arms were freed. He stayed in the chair, unwilling to give Snyder the satisfaction of seeing him leap away from it the way he would have liked. “Where is my wallet and my phone?” Bob asked and fixed Snyder with an even stare.
Snyder seemed to evaluate him for a moment and then he waved a hand. “Give his things back. If you’re smart, Bobby, you will run back to your predictable life and stay far away from Jordan Takara.”
Bob frowned and wondered if Snyder’s warning was prompted by jealousy. Was there more than a competitive rivalry between them?
“I’ll take it under advisement,” Bob said dryly and accepted his belongings from Grind. He slipped his phone and wallet into his jeans pockets. “You owe me a shirt.”
Snyder chuckled. “You have moxy, Bobby, I’ll give you that. Let’s go wait for Takara.”
Bob followed him into a huge living room that bordered a parquet-floored foyer. Tropical plants, dark wood, and expensive-looking antiques abounded. It felt like opulence and old-world money. The main door opened and Jory stepped inside, accompanied by the man who had tied up Bob. Jory looked long and hard at Bob, as if evaluating his condition. Bob forced a smile.
“You shouldn’t have come,” Bob said, hoping his expression made it clear that he was very glad Jory was there, despite his words.
“Had to,” Jory replied.
“Where is my code?” Snyder demanded.
“In my pocket,” Jory replied with a sneer. “Want to dig for it?”
“You wish!” Snyder said. “Hand it over.”
Jory shrugged and opened his coat. All eyes were fixed on him and Bob had a sudden, completely crazy, idea. He shoved Mal, hard, knocking him over the back of the nearby sofa. Mal yelped and Bob leaped forward to grab Jory’s hand.
“Let’s go!” he yelled and bolted for the door, lashing out at the other man with a fist. That’s for tying me up, asshole, he thought vindictively as his fist connected. Bob’s knuckles stung, but he yanked open the door and leaped down the steps he had nearly fallen over on his way in.
Jory kept pace with him, not releasing his hand, and he whooped as they jumped over a low hedge of decorative flowers and crossed the manicured lawn. At the end of the long driveway, an iron-barred gate stood open.
“Hurry!” Jory yelled as it began to close.
The wheeled gate moved too slowly to box them in. They slipped through the opening and onto the street with inches to spare and Snyder’s shout of rage following them.
“Which way?” Bob yelled as they pelted down a curving, downhill grade. He had no idea where they were, only that the neighborhood was filled with fancy homes enclosed with brick walls and iron fences.
“I don’t know, but we’d better find somewhere to hide fast! Snyder will be out for blood.”
Bob risked a glance back and thought he caught sight of Grind chasing them. The road curved and Bob spotted a pristine lawn with no fence and what looked to be untamed forest beyond. “This way!”
They ran across the lawn and dove past a hedge of native plants. A sharp incline led downward to a small rock-lined stream edged in brambles and ferns. Bob let go of Jory’s hand to keep his balance. They jumped across the flowing water. A stray bramble snagged on Bob’s chest, tearing a long scratch. He winced.
Jory grabbed his hand again. “Look, a path!”
A small track cut through the thick undergrowth. They were forced to slow in order to duck under branches and hop over moss-covered fallen logs, but the path eventually led upward through the trees to a large, open field.
“It’s a park!” They stopped to catch their breath, alert for any sign of pursuit, but no one followed. They had hopefully lost Grind and anyone else chasing them.
“I think I know where we are,” Jory said. “Come on, the main road is over there. We can hop a bus if we get lucky.”
“Is that how you got here?”
“Yeah, I figured they would take you to Snyder. He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
Bob shook his head and gave him a ghost of a smile. Bob realized he would put up with a lot of torture in order to have Jory’s concerned look turned on him.
“Geez, you must be freezing. Here.” Jory stopped and shucked his coat. He held it open for Bob to put on and he did so gratefully, soaking up the warmth left by Jory’s body.
“Now you’re going to freeze,” Bob commented. It was no longer raining, thankfully, but Jory’s meager clothing was no protection from the cold.
“Not if you warm me up,” Jory said and stepped closer. A faint blush dusted his cheeks and his lashes lowered, as if he feared Bob would reject his obvious offer.
Bob wrapped his arms around Jory and pulled him close, then leaned in for a kiss. Jory’s lips were cold, but they parted after a heady, breathless press, and his tongue was very warm. Jory leaned even closer, until they stood torso to torso. Jory kissed brilliantly, not too dominant or passive, but with just the right amount of give and take. His tongue explored the sensitive areas of Bob’s mouth thoroughly and Bob thought the rhythm of his heart during the insane video game was nothing to what it became; his own skin felt electrified now. Once begun, Bob was not sure he would ever be able to stop.
Jory pulled away just when Bob started to consider air as optional rather than necessary. Their eyes met and Bob wondered at how a little kissing could make someone even more attractive. He supposed it was nothing more than seeing Jory’s wet lips and knowing the potential for more kissing was not only possible, but likely.
“Bobbin,” Jory said breathlessly and chuckled.
Bob leaned in and nipped him on the jaw. “That is a terrible nickname,” he growled.
“It’s perfect,” Jory replied. “Come on, we’re standing out in the open and Snyder will have his goons looking for us.”
He pulled away and then linked his hand with Bob’s again. They crossed the soccer field and skirted the edge, staying near the woods while watching the parking lot for suspicious-looking cars.
“Did you really steal the code from your father’s company?” Bob asked, not wanting to do anything that would cause Jory to pull away, but also unwilling to enter… whatever they had… under any illusions.
Jory did not seem bothered. He grinned at Bob. “It isn’t his company, but yeah, I snagged the code from one of his encrypted servers. The man never could come up with a decent password. I started cracking them when I was ten.”
Jory shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I do it so he’ll notice me. We used to do everything together. I was his favorite until he found out I was gay. Then everything changed.”
Bob squeezed his hand and nodded, knowing there was nothing he could say. Bob had been one of the lucky ones. His mother was a kindly soul who had accepted it with a shrug and a gentle, “Just be happy.” Bob’s father had died when he was small, so Bob had no idea how he would have reacted.
“I used to work at the same place as my father, but I left everything behind and moved out. Now I make lattes and crazy art that I can’t sell. I’m about as big a disappointment as it gets.” The words were flippant, but the pain beneath was obvious.
“Well, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the outcome. If you were still working in cubicle-ville I never would have met you. Why did you pick me, anyway? To play your game, I mean.”
Jory smiled. “I noticed you the first time you came in with Alyssa. I pestered her like crazy asking questions about you. I thought you didn’t like me, since you never gave me more than a cursory nod.”
“What? She never said anything! And I was terrified to even say hello. You’re so… Well, you know you’re gorgeous, right?”
Jory stopped long enough to plant a molten kiss on Bob’s lips that left him wishing they were anywhere but a public place miles from a decent horizontal surface. “Alyssa thinks I’m not good enough for you. She always tried to warn me away. She’s probably right.”
Bob made an indignant huff. “I think I can decide who is good enough for me! I’ll be having a talk with her when she gets back.”
“You’re adorable when you’re angry. I think I’ll—oh shit, there’s Snyder’s car. Run!” He took Bob’s hand again as the dark car spun through the parking lot with a squeal of tires, obviously intent on heading them off.
“Where should we go?” Bob asked. Despite the urgency and the fact that he was unwilling to end up in Snyder’s clutches again, Bob felt like laughing. Jory thought he was adorable. Bob wasn’t sure anything could pierce his bubble of glee.
“We need to get to a public place. They can’t grab us with witnesses.”
Bob wasn’t so sure. They had kidnapped him downtown in broad daylight. “There is nothing around here! We’re too far into this residential area. I think we should go back to the woods and take our chances. They can’t follow us in the car there and we’ll be on more even footing if we have to fight.”
Jory looked reluctant, but he nodded. “Let’s do it.”
They dove back into the underbrush and found themselves nearly trapped by an enormous bank of brambles. A single small track gave evidence that someone—probably local children—used the area as a shortcut to the park. They followed it and ignored several offshoots that seemed to lead toward walled houses.
“I hate this,” Jory complained. “I hate the outdoors. We are never going camping. Never. Tell me you hate camping.”
Bob glanced over his shoulder and laughed. “I hate camping.” It wasn’t completely true, but since Bob had never actually been camping he supposed it wasn’t that farfetched.
“I like you more and more every minute, Bobbin,” Jory said.
Bob made a huffing sound and then stopped short. “Hey, look!” He skirted Jory and then ducked under an overhanging shrub. A small track led beneath a canopy of evergreen branches and then up a steep incline. Bob thought he had spotted something from the path below and he felt a surge of satisfaction when they reached an old wooden fence.
“Dead end,” Jory said and turned to look back the way they had come. There was no sign of Snyder or his minions, but angry shouts and the cracking of branches could be faintly heard. Bob had no doubt they were being pursued. He hoped Snyder’s men were all crap at tracking.
“Why would this path dead end at the fence? Look.” Bob tugged at the fence boards until one of them lifted away from the base board, held by the top nails. Bob swung the board aside. A second board was also loose, allowing enough room, barely, for a person to squeeze through.
“Excellent. Let’s hope they don’t have dogs.” Jory crouched and stepped through, then held the boards for Bob. Once inside, they fixed the boards back in place as best they could. Bob surveyed their surroundings.
They seemed to be in an overgrown portion of a back yard. A stone-walled patio could be seen some distance away.
“We might be seen if we try to bypass the house and get into the front yard. It’s guaranteed to be fully fenced in this neighborhood, but maybe the gate will be open.”
“No, wait.” Bob grabbed Jory’s arm to prevent him from walking. “Look there.”
Bob edged along the fence and pushed past several overgrown native bushes. He stopped beneath a large tree and looked up into the branches.
“A treehouse.” Jory sounded awed.
“Yeah. Should we?”
Jory glanced at the house and then nodded. Several boards had been nailed to the tree trunk. Bob went first, gripping the boards carefully and pulling himself up. He moved as quickly as possible, not wanting to be spotted by the residents or their pursuers.
A hole in the floor opened to a small room that only creaked a bit when Bob entered. He crawled onto the dusty floor and moved aside to allow Jory access.
“This is cozy,” Jory said in a hushed tone. A small window looked out on the house and beneath that had been built a small countertop. A plastic child’s stove stood next to it. A small table had been overturned and sat neglected in one corner. A built-up section resembled a bed. Bob wondered how many nights a child—or children—had spent huddled in a sleeping bag on the hard wood.
“I don’t think it’s been used in a while,” Bob commented. It left him feeling nostalgic; the children that had once played here had likely grown up and moved away, or perhaps they lived in the house now, watching television, paying bills, and cooking with real dishes and utensils. Time always moved on.
Jory stretched out on the makeshift bed. His feet and most of his shins stuck out past the end, nearly touching the wall. “Like to join me?” he asked in a tone that would have been more at place in a candlelit bedroom. Nevertheless, it worked on Bob.
He moved carefully, not wanting to make too much noise, but also not quite trusting a structure that had been built in the distant past. He lowered himself next to Jory with one leg thrown over Jory’s thighs. Jory’s arms tightened around him and then they were kissing, all tangled tongues and hot breath. It was even better when horizontal.
Time moved on.
Bob woke up feeling stiff and cold. He opened his eyes to darkness. Only his front side felt warm and he realized he was still wrapped around Jory in the tree house. It had begun to rain earlier and their kisses had grown lazy until Bob had dropped his head to Jory’s shoulder and dozed off to the sound of rain drumming on the roof.
Warm fingers brushed over Bob’s wrist. “Finally awake?” Jory murmured.
“Mmm. Why did you let me sleep?”
“You were tired. I dozed a little, myself. We should probably go now. It’s nearly dark.”
Bob nodded and reluctantly pushed himself away from Jory’s warmth. He felt bad for wearing the coat when Jory was clad only in his blue t-shirt shirt and jeans. He had to be freezing. And hungry. “I’m starving,” Bob said, realizing he felt the same.
“Me, too. Let’s get somewhere warm and I’ll buy you the biggest dinner you ever had.”
“Deal,” Bob said and crawled to the opening. He let himself down and was glad to find it wasn’t quite so dark outside. The shadows were long and purple, and lights were on inside the house, illuminating small patches of the yard, but the sky was twilight blue.
They slipped back through the broken fence and made their way down the hillside. The journey back was more difficult in the growing darkness, and involved plenty of bruised shins, scratches, a couple of falls, and a lot of swearing. Bob was exhausted and filthy by the time they found themselves out of the undergrowth and standing on a paved road.
Jory fell to his knees. “Oh lovely asphalt, sign of blessed civilization! Never leave me again!” He bent down in an attitude of supplication.
“If you kiss that road you’re not kissing these lips again for the rest of the night,” Bob warned.
Jory looked up. “Ohhhh, you’re jealous of some crushed rock and tar?” Jory scrambled to his feet. “That’s really hot, but this road looks pretty hard for me. Can you get hard for me too, Bobbin?” He sauntered closer, looking like a wild creature in the dim light from a distance streetlight. Feeling a bit fey himself, Bob reached out and dragged him closer with a fist in his shirt.
“Let me show you,” Bob said and kissed him lingeringly.
“Very convincing,” Jory said after long moments. “I suppose I choose you.”
“I’ll try to be more adequate than a road,” Bob said sardonically. Jory’s laugh was infectious. “Now can we please get the hell out of here?”
Jory nodded. “As soon as we find a damn street sign and figure out where we are I’ll call us a cab.”
They started off, heading in the direction that seemed most promising. At the first cross-street, Jory pulled out his phone and did a quick web search before calling a local taxi company. He sighed as he pocketed the phone. “They’ll be here in fifteen. I suppose we could have waited somewhere warmer.” He shivered.
Bob immediately pulled him closer, glad for the excuse. “Here, share my coat.”
Jory slipped his arms into the coat and around Bob’s waist. They passed the time with more kissing, to the point where Bob was almost certain he was harder than any asphalt street. Approaching headlights pulled them apart and Bob smiled wryly. “Hey, it’s only been five minutes.”
“It might be a local,” Jory said, but the car slowed as it drew nearer, bathing them in the light from its headlights. Bob held up a hand to shield his eyes, and felt a sudden spike of panic that it was Snyder.
“Oh shit,” Jory said, seeming to confirm Bob’s suspicion.
“Snyder?” Bob asked, readying himself for more running.
“No. My father.”
The interior of the car was soft, cream colored leather. Bob felt self-conscious sitting on it, knowing his jeans were dirty from their romp through the woods.
“How did you find me?” Jory asked after hanging up on the cab company he had called to cancel.
“I am not as technically inept as you like to think,” Jory’s father answered and gave him a stern look in the rear-view mirror. Bob shifted aside slightly, trying to avoid the man’s gaze. “Where is my code?”
Jory leaned half over Bob as he stretched out one leg to dig the slip of paper from his pocket. He fished it out and handed it over the seat to his father, who looked at it closely as they pulled up to a stoplight.
“Do I want to know why you did this?”
Jory shrugged. “I think you can guess. I’m really tired. Wake me up when we get where we’re going.” With that, Jory pulled Bob closer and rested his head on his shoulder. He looped an arm across Bob’s waist.
Bob felt like a deer in headlights, unable to relax under Mr. Takara’s stare. He looked away and pretended to focus on the scenery. As they headed nearer the lights of downtown, however, Bob found himself sinking closer toward Jory. He could not resist resting his head atop Jory’s soft hair.
“How long have you worked for B of A, Mr. Davis?”
Bob glanced at the mirror, impressed. “It sounds like you already know. How did you find us?”
“Jordan’s phone is not as secure as he likes to believe. Unfortunately, I had to wait until he made a call to locate him after he left the Snyder residence. I was only minutes late arriving there.”
“Thanks for trying.”
“Was that sarcasm?”
“No, seriously, that Snyder is messed up.”
“So is his father. We have been rivals since childhood and now we work for opposing corporations. His methods have always been less than aboveboard and now his son is stepping over the line. I will have many things to say to his father about such behavior. Kidnapping?” Mr. Takara made a sound of disgust and shook his head.
The car sped up as it entered freeway traffic and they were silent for a time as cars drifted past around them. The city was visible through the right hand windows and looked like a postcard image sparkling with multicolored lights in the darkness. Not for the first time, Bob felt a surge of pride at living in such a beautiful place.
“When did you first know that you… preferred the same sex?”
Bob was surprised at Mr. Takara’s question. He felt Jory’s hand tighten on his hip and knew he was only pretending to sleep.
“When did I choose to be gay, you mean?” Bob asked and rolled his eyes. “It was never a choice. When I was eight years old I met a boy named Gary. He was lovely and I wanted him to kiss me. I never felt that way about any of the girls. I remember being confused as I got older and was told I wasn’t allowed to have such feelings for boys. That it wasn’t natural. It’s natural for me and always has been.”
“How does your father feel about it?”
“He died when I was four.” It was something of a relief to know that Mr. Takara’s information had holes. He obviously knew quite a bit about Bob, but not everything. He supposed it would be hard to learn all the details in a few short hours. Full background checks took longer, even online.
“It’s all right; you don’t really miss what you never had. And my mom is great.”
“Jordan’s mother died several years ago. I sometimes think this would be easier if she were still alive. I have made… mistakes.”
Jory tensed and Bob stroked a thumb across his hand in a soothing gesture. Bob did not know how to reply to that, so he said nothing. They lapsed into silence as the downtown exit approached. Mr. Takara’s attention was fixed on traffic and avoiding the pedestrians that crowded the crosswalks. The weather might have been prohibitive, but it was still Saturday night; people were out in droves.
The car pulled up before their apartment building and Jory sat up and reached for the door handle.
“Jordan. You are a very fine artist and I miss not having you on my team. I also… miss you. Will you come to dinner tomorrow so that we may discuss things? Mr. Davis—Robert—is welcome to join us.”
Jory’s hand froze on the door handle and then he said, “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that.” He leaned forward suddenly and wrapped his father in an awkward hug, hampered by the car seat and headrest. “Thanks, Dad.”
Mr. Takara squeezed Jory’s hand and Bob felt a lump in his throat as he exited the car. He walked a few feet away to give them some privacy, and then Jory left the car and stood in the street for a moment as it drove away.
“Did my father just endorse our relationship?” he asked in an amazed tone.
Bob laughed even as his heart leapt at the word. “Yeah, I think so.”
“This has been an amazing day.”
“The amazing-est,” Bob said in agreement.
Jory joined him on the sidewalk and took his hand. “Like to try for even more amazing?”
“I dare you,” Bob replied.
Mariah sat on the countertop, almost seeming to welcome them back. Bob smiled when he saw the spiny cactus. In a way, she had brought them together.
“Mariah!” Jory cried and picked up the pot. He beamed at the cactus and Bob chuckled at his enthusiasm.
“I’m starving and I need a shower.”
“Thai delivery sound okay?” Jory asked. He set down Mariah and picked up his phone. “I can go home and shower and then come back?”
About to suggest they shower together, Bob thought it might be better to show some restraint. “Okay,” he agreed. “Meet me back here in twenty?”
“Fifteen,” Jory said and tapped on his phone.
Bob headed for the bathroom and gratefully shucked his filthy jeans. The sound of Jory talking in the other room was strangely comforting.
Bob was dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt and drying his hair with a towel when the buzzer sounded. He admitted the delivery man and took the delicious smelling food with a sigh of pleasure. Bob had plates laid out and the curry steaming in bowls when Jory knocked. Bob yelled for him to come in.
Jory’s brows went up when he saw the display. “Real dishes? Impressive.”
Bob blushed. “Just eat.”
Jory sat down and dished up his plate with rice and assorted curries. He had ordered several different selections, some of which Bob had never tried. They were all spicy and delicious.
Jory looked more edible than the food, with his dark hair partially slicked back and damp, but with errant strands still falling over his eyes. He wore dark blue jeans and a button down grey shirt with thin white stripes. Bob wanted to unbutton him.
“You’re staring,” Jory commented.
Jory stood up and leaned across the table to kiss him. Their mouths locked in a curry and cardamom-flavored kiss that sent more heat to Bob’s blood than the seasoning.
“Take me to bed,” Jory murmured.
“God, yes,” Bob replied and stood up with alacrity. He took Jory’s hand and led him to the curtained alcove. Bob’s fingers shook as they reached for the buttons on Jory’s shirt front, but Jory’s eyes were soft and encouraging. His hands tugged gently at the hem of Bob’s shirt, dragging it from the waistband of his jeans.
“I haven’t— I mean, it’s been a long time…” Bob forced himself to shut up. His previous sexual encounters had been awkward and rushed and vaguely unsatisfying. He had never wanted casual flings.
“We’ll take it slow,” Jory said and his hands slipped beneath Bob’s shirt to caress his ribs in a leisurely glide. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Bob let out a nervous breath and nodded. He pushed Jory’s shirt from his shoulders and smiled when Jory pulled his hands away to unfasten the cuffs. He shrugged out of the fabric and let it fall to the floor. Bob tugged his own t-shirt over his head and let it drop.
Neither of them wore shoes—Jory had left his by the front door—so it was a simple matter to step out of their jeans. They did so almost frantically, as though needing to shed their clothing quickly in order to get back to the touching. Bob was too nervous to take the final step and remove his boxer briefs, but he didn’t have time to worry about it as Jory stepped closer and put his hands on Bob’s skin.
Their next kiss seemed different, more urgent and intense, or perhaps it was only Bob’s heightened senses that made it seem so. Jory’s hands were almost too warm, sliding over the skin of his back and seeming to leave tingles in their wake. He drew Bob closer. Another shift brought Bob’s cock into contact with Jory’s and he gasped into Jory’s mouth.
Bob was burning up. He needed more. Impulsively, he slid his hands down Jory’s slender back and into the waistband of his briefs to cup his buttocks. Jory’s answering groan was music to his ears.
Bob took two steps back, not releasing Jory’s ass. They sprawled on the bed in a tangle and Jory chuckled. “Much better,” he said.
“Yeah,” Bob replied. It was. Jory’s erection was a hard pressure against Bob’s abdomen, lined up alongside his cock, and when Jory rocked a couple of times it felt like sparks shooting off beneath Bob’s skin.
They kissed again, sloppily, mouths askew and imprecise. Bob found it hard to concentrate, attention focused on his cock, especially when Jory’s fingers drifted down his side and then into the waistband of Bob’s briefs to tease the head of his cock with naked fingers.
Bob’s hips twitched upward, seeking more.
Jory lifted up to give himself more room, and then his full hand wrapped around Bob’s length, not gently. He pulled once, twice, and again. Bob was shaking and feared he wouldn’t last.
“You’re so hot, Bobbin,” Jory murmured against his lips.
The name drew a surprised chuckle that helped ease Bob’s impending orgasm. “That… is the worst nickname ever.”
“Do you know what a bobbin is, then?”
“Yes,” Bob replied, ending the word with a hiss and a gasp as Jory’s hand twisted. “My mother sews. I know what a bobbin is.”
“I’m your thread,” Jory said simply. “Consider me spooled.” His hand squeezed and Bob tipped his head back, seeing stars. His hands fumbled at Jory’s shorts, wanting to level the playing field, although he couldn’t quite manage a coherent thought after Jory’s admission.
All of it was bliss, Jory’s mouth on his, tongue teasing erotic areas that Bob hadn’t known he possessed, Jory’s hands—his hands—touching him everywhere, the one that wasn’t on his cock was never still, stroking, gripping and caressing Bob’s skin, and his voice was a husky thrum, speaking words that made little sense, but followed a pattern of oh and yes that echoed in Bob’s thoughts.
Their hands found a similar cadence, stroking in rhythm separately and then together when Jory got the bright idea to wrap his hand around both at once. Bob followed suit and it all became a blur of sensation after that, made even better when Bob remembered the lubricant in his bedside drawer and paused to fetch it out and add some glide to the process.
Even though it was only a hand-job that lasted mere minutes, it was the most intense sex of Bob’s life. It was all due to Jory, of course, and his way of making Bob feel like the most important person in the world. Spooled, Jory had said, but Bob knew he was the one firmly wrapped around everything that was Jory.
Their rocking and frantic stroking reached a fever pitch and Bob fought to keep his eyes fixed on Jory, drinking in the sight of dark hair glistening with sweat above piercing chocolate eyes. His panting gasps were mesmerizing, echoing Bob’s, until he wondered which of them would fall first. When it happened it was nearly simultaneous. Jory fastened his perfect teeth into his lower lip and tipped his head back. As the first hot drops fell on Bob’s abdomen, he felt his toes curl and his orgasm exploded through him. Their hands did not stop moving right away, but they gentled and slowed, coaxing free every drop. Even that was amazing.
“Fuck,” Jory said in a whisper and dropped his head to nuzzle at Bob’s throat. Bob let go of their spent cocks and wrapped his arms around Jory to drag him down with a yelp. “Hey!”
Bob laughed wickedly. “Now we need another shower,” he said, not quite willing to admit that smearing their come between them was a bit of a turn-on. Was he finally becoming kinky?
Jory rolled them over in a swift move that left Bob on top. “I see. That was a tricky ploy to keep me naked, was it?”
“Yes,” Bob admitted, “Yes, it was.”
“Good,” Jory said and kissed him.
Sometime later, sated and sleepy and ridiculously happy, Bob padded across the room to the refrigerator. He poured a glass of cold water and downed it, then refilled it to take back to Jory. On the way, he passed Mariah and lifted the glass in a vague toast to the cactus.
Tomorrow he would head to the library and pick up a book on the care and maintenance of cacti, his new favorite plant.