I got the shock of my life tonight. Dr. Alexander came to dinner.
He even shook hands with me. His grip was kind of cold and clammy but I figured that he was more nervous than I was so I just smiled really big and stepped back so I wouldn't crowd him. He was rigid; he was so scared of me. Or maybe it was just the whole coming out of hibernation thing he had going?
His voice was so soft that I could barely hear him and his coke-bottle thick glasses hid his eyes. His black hair was still messy but he'd tried to comb it into submission for us. I had the strangest urge to cuddle him and tell him it would be all right. He ate like a bird, merely pecking at each dish until Lazlo brought out a dish of ginger glazed carrots and he perked up.
"These are delicious." He said in a kind of husky voice and I had a brief auditory vision of what he'd sound like after sex.
Lazlo beamed at him and told him that the doctor's smile was better than a fifth star. Dr. Alexander finished most of the bowl and I made a mental note to make sure that he got some fresh ginger in the next supply run. There was just something about him that made me want to mother him. Up close, I could see that he was younger than me but not by much. His aura spoke of hardship and age instead of youthful vigor.
We had coffee out on the western lanai and watched twilight creep up the beach and over one of the gardens. Dr. Quest had edged the young doctor to the rocker where he usually sat and I watched him forget where he was and start rocking. Just a little at first but slowly he got into the rhythm and relaxed just that little bit more.
It was good to see and the conversation grew sporadic until Dr. Alexander yawned and then hastily apologized. But we all just chuckled and admitted that it had been a long day. I offered to walk him back to his cottage and he blushed although it was kind of hard to see in the gathering darkness. But I insisted and we left my boss and his lover to their own devices while we started off towards the other side of the island.
I love walking in the dark here. The flowering bougainvillea smelled so strong sometimes that you could almost taste them. The rustle of small birds nestling in for the night and the sound of the waves lapping at the shore were soothing to my ears.
*********** Alex ***********
It felt a little surreal to be walking in the dark with Sandy. She didn't react to me the way that I was used to. Maybe it was my wig and glasses but her manner was more mothering than aware. I felt almost neutered and not a sexual being at all. Oddly enough that felt good. I really was an idiot.
"Sandy, thank you."
"For what, Dr. Alexander?" Her alto was soothing.
"For accepting me and making this . . . coming into the open easier." I shrugged and pondered the next few months. "And would you please just call me Alex?"
"Certainly, Alex," she chuckled. "Terrible first name?"
"Zebediah Vanfusen Alexander." I gave her the full name that I'd invented when I went for my advanced degree. It was amazing how much research could be done long distance for a PhD.
"Ouch!" She lightly touched my arm. "You don't really look like a Zebediah."
"My great-great grandfather did and mother was a traditionalist." It was easy talking to her, so easy that I worried I might give something away.
She laughed out loud and I felt absurdly pleased that I'd tickled her sense of humor. "Is the rest of your family that way?"
"I have no family left." That was unfortunately quite true since I'd killed myself off.
"I'm sorry, Alex." Her voice is very soothing. "You're welcome to share mine if you like. We're loud and noisy at times. My oldest brother has terrible taste in women, the other two are in the race-everything-that-moves phase, my mother is a world-class hugger and my dad likes to work on old computers. Maybe you should stick with the Quest family. I think you'll like Jonny and Hadj'."
The lump in my throat was lodged right where I needed to speak. Swallowing hard, I managed a little smile for her even though it was almost full dark. "The Quest family is indeed a very welcoming one. Benton saved my sanity with his offer of refuge. Once his sons have graduated, I may feel a little more like meeting them."
Her pat on my arm was gentle. "Jonny can be a bit boisterous but Hadji is like a clear pool of water that makes you feel better just being with him. You'll see, Alex." Her smile was affectionate and not something that I was used to. "We'll have you coming to dinner all the time. You'll forget the whole vampire-after-dark-thing."
And I laughed out loud.
*********** Hadji ***********
The month of May saw me flying into Palm Key after being up 72 hours straight. I was practically comatose when Race steered me off the Lear jet. He took me straight to my room, stripped me bare and tucked me in. With a soft kiss to my temple, he closed the door behind him. That was the last I knew until about six a.m. the next day. Rolling over, I stretched every muscle I had and opened my eyes.
The soft green walls shimmered in the early morning light. Palm tree silhouettes moved languidly over the bed while the scent of bougainvillea wafted through the open window. It was so good to be home. I split my holidays between here and India but more and more, that continent sapped my energy rather than replenished it. I came away more tired and just plain sad than when I arrived.
Here I could relax and soak up the vibrations of home. Swimming in the salt water seemed to give me strength while walking the beaches and working in one of the six gardens built up the peace in my soul. It was time to make a decision about my life and where I wanted to be. The Quests had taken me in when I was nine and for the last twelve years, I'd been on the taking side. The roof over my head, food for my stomach, the travel all over the world and most importantly the education up to and including my dual degrees had all been given to me.
It was time to give back, time to go to work and contribute to my family. Professor Bailey had approved my master's thesis subject and so had the university. Benton had already told me that I could take over one of the gardens and change it to whatever I needed. I was going to see if I couldn't grow a cure for cancer. The women of my family going back six generations had all died of that disease and it was odds on that I carried that gene and could pass it on to any children I might have.
Luckily, I'm gay so I didn't have to worry about having daughters. Unless my significant other, who ever he might be, wanted children then we'd have to do some negotiating. I'd watched Jonny growing up the last two years and knew that he was going to carry on the Quest family name for another generation. Sandy was waiting for him to grow up enough to realize she was ready for him.
Grinning, I rolled out of bed and headed for the shower. That was going to be a very interesting courtship. I sang to myself while lathering away the trip and made a mental note to order the new Carmen MacRae CD. A good friend had recommended her and so far, I hadn't heard anything that I didn't like. Her husky voice reached a place deep inside of me.
Toweling off, I realized that I was starving. Lazlo made the best breakfasts in the world and I hurriedly pulled on a pair of shorts and a crimson muscle shirt that an old boyfriend had given me last year. It had either gotten a little smaller or the workouts were working.
********* Benton *********
Hadji strolled in and leaned over to kiss my cheek. I gave him my best one-armed hug and breathed in his freshly showered scent. Race had told me that the poor boy had been reeling when they flew in. He looked alert now so he'd probably tried to do too much wrapping up his school year. Watching him tuck into breakfast, I smiled fondly. He'd finally grown into his exotic coloring and even though he didn't look like any Quest in the family album, he was definitely the son of my heart.
Jonny had gone through a phase where he needed Race more than he needed me and Hadji had done just the opposite. He'd floundered for a bit in choosing his path but at least he'd known that he could come to me to vent. When he'd told Race and me that he was gay, my heart had given an extra thump because of what he'd gone through alone.
"Dad, I'm going to take over the garden near Dolphin Cove, if that's all right." Hadji's dark eyes looked expectantly at me.
"All right, although you'll need to transplant some of those plants if you don't want any cross-pollination." I finished my coffee.
"Jonny and I came up with a little something over spring break. We're going to use sonics to make a containment field that will hopefully keep that problem at bay." He grinned at me. "But I will transplant some of the orchids so Sandy has some closer to her boudoir."
"Thank you, young sir," Sandy joined us and dropped a kiss on Hadji's hair. "Welcome home, Hadj'. We miss you when you're away. Did I hear you say that you're going to be working near Dolphin Cove?"
Hadji nodded, swallowing his mouthful hastily before launching into his plans. It was so good to see him enthusiastic about the future, his fork stabbing the air in between eating to make one point or another. The last year had seemed to wear on him and Race had mentioned that he was making some hard decisions. I made a mental note to be available for him in case he needed to talk more.
Breakfast flew by and I declared a holiday from the lab so we could all go to see the garden that would become Hadji's testing lab. Race joined us and we walked down the well worn path towards the far garden. Set on the western shore of our island, it had been planted slowly over the last ten years. There was a real hodge-podge of plantings and it looked like more than just the orchids would have to go.
Our son handed Race a notepad and we got to work. He sketched the garden while we went through each row and cluster, identifying the plants. Some of them Hadji had planted so those sections we left alone except for including them in the sketch. At one point, Sandy left for the house and came back with iced tea and more sun block. While we took a break, Race made sure that all my exposed skin was slathered.
********* Alex *********
From the end window of lab three, I could see the Quests and Sandy working in the garden near my favorite cove. For a brief moment, I wished that I could help, too. But then I shivered and forced myself back to work. The adopted son was still an unknown and I'd take my time watching to see if I could feel comfortable around him.
An hour later, I found myself peeking at them again. Race had Benton between his knees, rubbing in sun screen and my heart gave that little thump again. They were so good together and not for the first time, I wished that life had been different. No matter how much my father had tried to whip the emotion out of me, I still persisted in feeling. Feeling brought only pain but I had more of my mother in me than he'd thought.
Lillian Isolde Luthor had loved me with all her heart and I'd loved her with all of mine.
So it was possible, just highly unlikely, that I'd ever be loved like that again. Wholehearted wasn't a concept that made any sense to my rational side but in my romantic soul, I believed. I cast a last wistful look at the family having fun so close and yet so far away before returning to recording the latest results of my endurance study.
I made myself stay away from the window until I was quite finished for the day. As dusk was settling over the beach, I chanced another look to see the garden radically transformed. It looked like half of it had vanished and I checked hastily to see if my favorite orchid had disappeared. Mother had adored the Koellensteinia ionoptera with its tiny bright violet flowers. Whenever I smelled that sweet scent, it took me back to her side for a moment or two.
They hadn't gotten that far yet and I bit my lip in anguish. Were they slated to be removed or would they stay? Hurrying to the computer, I hastily typed a message to Sandy with a copy to Race asking them to let me know. Then I donned my wig and fake glasses to leave the lab, detouring past the garden to see if they'd left some sign of what was coming. A sketch pad on top of a tree stump showed me what was coming.
It looked like the ionoptera was going to go. I wondered if they could be transplanted and if I could do it myself. Getting my hands dirty in the lab wasn't the same as digging in the earth. Most of my ingredients are dead except for the times I worked with live cultures or bacteria. I should have paid more attention to what Clark and his father were doing.
That thought was one I hadn't had in a while and the pain was a fraction less than it had been at our last meeting. The one where Clark told me that I was as bad as his father had always told him I was. Digging my fingers into the sandy earth of the garden, I pushed that memory away while I watered the tiny flowers with the tears I no longer tried to stop. I had fifteen years worth of crying to catch up on. I hadn't been allowed since the day after my mother's funeral.
********* Sandy *********
Hadji and I walked along the path to retrieve the sketch book that Race had set aside and forgotten. We'd been laughing and talking but for some reason, we'd been silent for the last hundred yards. I spotted him first and put a hand on Hadji's arm to halt him. This wasn't the way I wanted them to meet. Especially when it looked like poor Alex was having an emotional moment.
I put a finger to Hadji's lips and silently asked him to retreat a bit so he wouldn't be seen. Then I carried on walking, making a little noise to warn Alex that he was no longer along. "Good evening, Alex. Have you seen the sketchbook we forgot?"
He sprang to his feet and I had the impression that I'd startled him badly. The new moon didn't give much light but there were silver tracks on his pale cheeks. "S-Sandy? Um, yes I found it a few moments ago. You worked very hard today."
Ah, he had been watching us. I'd had a little feeling he might. "It's Hadji's first day back so we celebrated by getting a start on his garden. Benton is giving this one to him for his experiments. We'll be transplanting some of the orchids to other parts of the island."
"Oh, that's good. I was afraid the ionoptera would be destroyed." He stood up and brushed off his hands. "Is it . . . is it hard to transplant them?"
I looked down at the tiny flowering plants. "I don't think so but I'm not to be trusted with anything live. Hadji will know. Do you want me to ask him for you? He's on the path behind us."
He went rigid and his breathing quickened. "I-I'm not ready yet, Sandy. Would you ask him, please?"
I wanted to hug him in the worst way but I knew that was a no-no. "Sure, Alex, I'll do that and email you the answer, shall I?"
"Yes, please, I emailed you earlier." He was poised for flight and I smiled at him, giving my permission for him to bolt. "Good night, Sandy. Thank you."
And he left down the beach, taking the long route back to the cottage so he wouldn't meet Hadji on the path. I picked up the pad and walked back to the curious botanist. His eyes were full of questions and I wasn't sure what to tell him. "Hadji, he's complicated. It was literally months before I caught sight of him. He's more comfortable emailing than actually getting together."
"Dad said something about him being a recluse but he looks too young and moves too sexily to be too old." Hadji answered casually.
********* Hadji *********
"Ah, you noticed, did you?" Sandy winked at me. "Whatever exercise regimen he's on, it really, really works." Then she sighed. "Someone hurt him badly, maybe multiple someones."
We walked back slowly while she told me little moments that made him come alive for me. An enigma but one who liked ionoptera, I wondered what memories they brought to him. I'd make sure that they were transplanted to his cottage and maybe some near lab three, too. It was little enough to do to make him more comfortable with me and the changes I was bringing to his safe haven.
Three days later, the garden was ready for the first planting. But Jonny flew in and delayed me for a bit while he adjusted to being home. The courtship was due to start soon and I could hardly wait to watch them fall in love. Oh sure, there was a little ache that I didn't have anyone but Simon the Shit had soured me for the moment on love. It would be awhile before I took another chance.
For now, I was content to start my life's work doing what I enjoyed most. The sultry weather probably presaged a storm brewing in the Atlantic so I was taking my time in putting new plants in. There was enough work in transplanting to be done that I was still busy. The tiny purple orchids had been easily dug in on the leeward side of the cottage. I'd done it during the day so Dr. Alexander wouldn't be freaked by me being so close to his home.
I'd left him a note on his front door asking him to please water them for a few days to help them get settled into their new home. He didn't acknowledge my note but I noticed that they were perking up nicely so that was one less concern. It was odd but the small cottage seemed sad to me. Places and objects have always spoken to me on a gut level that I ignore to my peril.
The doctor wasn't as far along on the path of healing as the others might think. While I worked with the soil, forking in the compost that Dad had irradiated for me, I thought about how I might coax him out into the garden. It sounded like he hadn't had much to do with the earthy side of nature. Labs are usually sterile places but Benton Quest was the best possible example of a scientist who got his hands dirty.
He'd raised both Jonny and me to build our experiments from the ground up. In my case, that was quite literally the truth. I'd always wanted to grow things whether flowers or herbs or vines, although those were my favorites. Vegetables were okay and some of the tropical grasses were kind of fun to put into a garden but I had a vague memory of my mother tending to a flowering shrub of some kind.
It hadn't survived her death or the winnowing of my family to just me and a few stray cousins. I moved down the row, turning the soil over carefully to make sure that the consistency was just right. From what I'd been able to get from the Dads, Dr. Alexander was in even worse shape, with no family of any kind left at all. Maybe he'd be amenable to sharing ours.
********* Race *********
Security is a never-ending task but my incentive had just grown with the return of our sons. Jonny had immediately set to courting Sandy and I watched with a nostalgic thought back to the memory of his father's seducing of me. Even after all these years, I still get a thrill when I see him intently studying something without a clue that I'm there. He may have a few strands of gray in that red hair of his but he's in excellent shape.
Of course, I keep him well exercised.
I checked the perimeter beacons one last time before stopping in to lab three to see if Alex was all right. We had a bit of a breeze coming in and I wanted to make sure that he knew the emergency drill. It was just a tropical storm for now but you never knew when one of those could turn nasty.
"Alex, it's Race." I waved to the security camera and he pushed the button to let me in. I watched him turn an inquisitive eye to me and thought for the hundredth time how much better he looked without the disfiguring wig and glasses. "We've got a storm coming in. Don't leave for the cottage too late or the flying sand will sting you worse than a sunburn."
"Experience talking?" He crooked an elegant eyebrow.
"Yeah, I got caught at the marina under a steel beam." I rolled my eyes. "Jonny and Benton used the robot to get it off of me. I was lucky I didn't lose the leg."
He shivered once then stopped himself. "I'll be careful. I'm almost done with this report if you'd like to wait a few moments so you can take it to Benton." He turned back to the computer and typed a bit more before hitting the print button. "Will the new garden be able to stand up to the wind?"
"Hadji's garden," I asked and chuckled when he nodded. "Most of it will. Tropical plants are bred to withstand their climate. It's kind of survival of the fittest in the plant kingdom. He's doing his parallel planting in the greenhouses on the other end of the island."
"Ah, a bit of blind testing and a change of variables," Alex nodded and gave me that little almost-smile that I was hoping would become a real one someday. "I would think that glass would be a bit hazardous in this kind of weather."
"Benton developed a glass substitute that we've used in most of the windows here on the island. The cottage windows are made of it, the shingles, too. It's why the buildings mostly survive the hurricanes we get every so often." I shrugged ruefully.
********* Alex *********
"Except for a steel beam at the marina," I reminded him and he chuckled.
"True, but we fixed that little problem." He cocked his head and got a rather odd look on his face. "The wind has changed direction, time for us to move."
I wasn't sure what he meant but I hurriedly put the reports in a waterproof pouch and handed it to him. Grabbing my disguise, I hastily put on the wig and grabbed my black rain jacket. Sliding the glasses on, I zipped up and tied the hood down so I didn't lose my expensive fake hair to the wind.
Race took a good look around then nodded approvingly before flicking off the lights and beckoning me through the first door into the air lock. The outer door almost took off when he opened it and the force of the wind sucked all the air out of my lungs for a moment. He locked arms with me and for once, I didn't mind since I wasn't sure that I could have stood upright by myself.
Securing the door behind us, he led me down the path to my cottage, each step feeling like six to me. I was out of breath by the time we got there but he just got me inside before telling me to stay in the bedroom so I'd have the rest of the cottage between me and the 'big wind'. Then he started the trip back to the main buildings while I stepped to the computer to email Benton that he'd just left.
I threw off my outer garments then went to the back to undress completely. While I still had power, I wanted to shower away the day. All the water on the island was recycled including all waste water. The tank buried under the cottage was my main supply except for the drinking water that came from a separate source. I had my own generator but I'd only use it in an emergency. The pumps however ran off electricity so I needed to wash up first then see about dinner.
The hot water felt wonderful and I lathered up first then rinsed off completely so I could just stand under the pulsating head. I'd brought the special shower head with me since I'd invented it and had grown addicted to the massaging pulses that soothed my sore muscles. It wasn't bad at assuaging my need to masturbate every now and then. I didn't need it often but occasionally, I needed more than my right hand.
Lately, I'd needed it more frequently. Young Hadji had a penchant for tight short shorts and skimpy muscle shirts. His skin was the color of golden honey and several times I'd found myself breathing a little more quickly over his bending and digging. I wasn't proud of my reaction but rather melancholy instead. How sad that I had to be a voyeur in order to get it up, I thought sadly. The poor boy would probably be shocked if he ever saw my reaction.
Drying off, I headed for the crock pot that had been simmering all day. I'd always enjoyed cooking but had to hide my ability from my father. It wasn't something that a 'Luthor' would do. That lecture was imprinted into my brain. Dishing up the savory stew of beans, lentils and vegetables, I took a quick taste. Hm-m-m, the basil had helped. And using the basmati rice added a nice touch of nutty flavor.
Carrying it over to the small round table that served for dining and work, I set it down on the purple and gold place mat then went back for some of the fresh rolls that Lazlo had sent down that morning. Once again I pondered how to say thank you to the man who kept me so well supplied with those items I didn't make for myself. Saying it just didn't seem like enough.
Tearing apart the whole wheat roll, I spread a thin layer of butter on it and took my first bite. Ambrosia, I hummed to myself. Perhaps I could gift him some spices that were too expensive or hard to find? I alternated bites of roll with spoonfuls of stew until both were gone and I felt pleasantly full. I was slowly putting on some of the weight that the last months in Smallville had stripped from me.
That thought only gave me a slight twinge now and I smiled to myself while I washed the bowl and silverware. Letting them dry in the dish drainer, I turned back to the table intent on going over the readings I'd brought with me. But suddenly all the lights went out and I froze. That's when I really listened to the change in the wind. It sounded like a freight train roaring right past the cottage.
Remembering what Race had said, I headed to the bedroom and the candles that I could light. Finding the electronic ever-light, I clicked it on and used it to light my way to the bedside table where I'd clustered some votive candles. Sandy had gotten me some peppermint candles that she swore would help relax me. She was a fascinating woman and the once I'd seen her and Jonny Quest together in Hadji's garden, they made a good looking couple.
If he was half the man that his father was, he just might be good enough for her. If I couldn't find happiness, perhaps I could help someone else find theirs. That was something to think about instead of my experiments. Then again, my former matchmaking hadn't gone very well so perhaps I should leave well enough alone? I chuckled and stripped to crawl into bed.
There was just enough light to read from my favorite poet, John Dunne. Odd, the sound of the wind was almost comforting now that I was relaxed. Half an hour later and I blew out the candles and rolled to the middle of the queen-sized bed. The cacophony of sound soothed me to sleep.
The end of part two