I love watching him eat. He enjoys his food the way he makes love, completely and with all his heart. I've never done that before but I wanted to. I wanted to be the man he saw first thing every morning and last thing every night. I wanted to take him inside of me and never let him go. And somehow, after a lifetime of being told how inadequate I was, I finally know that I'm not.
Not cold and lonely.
Not incapable of loving or being loved.
Because I love him with all my heart and soul.
And he loves me.
Wishes really do come true.
When I was young, I went with some cousins to a Disney movie, called Sleeping Beauty and all the other kids knew the story behind the film but me. Maude wasn't a fairy tale kind of mother. I watched, mesmerized by the unfolding story and when Briar Rose sang 'some day my prince will come', I was hoping with all my heart that he really would.
But Malificent was too strong for them and when she turned into the towering black dragon, I just knew what the ending would be. Then Prince Philip succeeded in killing her and racing to the sleeping princess. When he woke her with a kiss, I wanted to cry but kept those shameful tears inside. My cousins wanted to play dragons and princes after that and I played along.
But even then I knew that I wanted that fantasy to be true and not just a fairy tale. And as the years went by and I learned the hard lessons of life, I tucked that hope deep inside where nothing could ever harm it. But love needs attention and my heart was almost frozen solid when my Vin woke me with a kiss. Oh, I knew that he wasn't a knight in shiny armor but he's just as noble as any prince in this day and age.
And while I'm no sleeping beauty, I must admit that I hadn't felt this alive in years. He awakened me to a passion that overwhelmed and sometimes frightened me. But he's worth any pain or fear. He's my talisman and I will do anything I have to, to keep him safe. Even if that means moving into a neighborhood that isn't safe at all. My suggestion had him smiling and planning out loud while he gestured with his fork.
His passion for hard work is legendary and I fear that means that I will have to follow where he leads. However, the trust fund that I inherited from Grandmother Esther when I turned 30 will no doubt help with the initial work. I'd never built a home before but then I'd never really known what a home really was.
Home is where the heart is and mine will always be with Vin.
I would still have some doubts now and then but for once, I was determined to give myself wholeheartedly the way he had given himself to me. That frightening thought should have put me off my food but Miss Daisy's ham was too good not to enjoy. And Vin had convinced me that he knew what he was doing.
"Ezra, those heavy thoughts are back." His knee pressed against mine and I smiled at his reassuring gesture.
"Not heavy, Vin, but definitely unknown thoughts for me." I owed him my honesty. "I've no experience with building a relationship or a home but I want to build both with you and only you."
His bright smile was my reward, that and his husky drawl that did such severe damage to my heartstrings. "I don't have any experience either, Ezra, but I figure we can build the future together. Step by step, just like we do everything else. 'Course we'll have to be sure to make plenty of time for us. Not to mention all those baths in our new home."
I chuckled and nodded, finishing the last of my sweet potatoes. Vin was ahead of me again and he poured us both ice tea while I was scraping my plate. Only good manners kept me from licking it clean. Some day, Miss Daisy would perhaps take me on as a cooking student and I would learn her secret of cooking sweet potatoes.
"You really think we can do it, Ez'?" He had set his plate aside and used his fork to draw patterns on the tablecloth.
"Yes. I'm looking forward to it, not the mess of construction but the creation of new space out of old. I've always fancied trying my hand at remodeling." I also set my plate aside and waited for Miss Daisy to notice.
"You'll be real good at it, Ezra. You know about stuff like that." Vin pressed his knee in closer to mine and I pressed back.
"We need to work together on it, Vin. The space will be our home and I never want you to be uncomfortable anywhere in it." I leaned in and briefly touched his hand. "I can be rather anal retentive when it comes to design."
He grinned at me and returned the touch. "Not an altogether bad thing to be, Ez'."
And I blushed, just the way he meant me to. "Some things need to be less formal than I have had them in the past. My apartment looks nice but isn't very comfortable. I look to you to steer us in the right direction there. Your rocking chair isn't very pretty but I could see that you find great comfort when you sit in it."
"I found a bunch of great stuff in the garbage along Worthington Street, a few years back. I been meaning to refinish it but I never got around to it." He laughed and shook his head. "Too busy sitting and rocking to go to work stripping it."
"Perhaps Mr. Larabee would allow you to bring it out to his ranch for stripping? I have never done any furniture renovation but I could learn." I ventured and watched his face light up.
"That's a good idea, Ez'. Half the problem with stripping is the fumes that can mess you up, not to mention fill the whole apartment with the stink." Vin shook his head. "When we get home, I'll call Chris and see if he would mind."
I felt a thrill that he thought of my apartment as home. Or did he feel as I did that wherever the other was, there was home? "Yes, when we get home."
He smiled at me and would have spoken but Miss Daisy arrived with our dessert. She set the chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting before us with a bit of a flourish and whisked away our dirty plates. Vin's first bite had him closing his eyes and moaning in appreciation while I watched him with bated breath. His enjoyment was almost orgasmic and I smiled tenderly at him.
Opening his eyes, he caught my look and blushed. "I know, I know. I've got a real sweet tooth. Must be why I love you so much."
"I am hardly sweet, Vin." I shook my head ruefully and took my first bite of the moist, rich cake.
"Sweeter than honey, Ezra, that's what you are." He chuckled and took another bite.
It was my turn to blush and drop my eyes. We finished our cake in a simmering silence that bode well for our evening. I could hardly believe that we'd made love all day. He'd given me so much joy that I felt as if I'd fallen through the looking glass into an enchanted world where anything was possible.
He finished his ice tea and sat back to watch me finish my cake. "You know, Ez', we've got a lot on our schedule. How about we go to my place so I can get some clean clothes and load the rocker into my Jeep? Then I'll follow you back to your place."
"I think it's a stellar idea, Vin." I could hardly bear to let him out of my sight but sooner or later we would be separated if only at work. "Perhaps you could pack a suitcase full for the near future?"
He laughed and agreed. We finished our dessert and paid at the front, but not before being hugged by Miss Daisy and promising to come back soon. He drove us to Purgatorio and I went up with him to help him pack. The small homey touches he'd picked up here and there were a very good example of why his apartment looked like a home and mine looked like a designer model.
The sampler that was framed on the wall drew my eye and when I walked over to it, I saw that it was old, very old and very beautiful. It was signed Elizabet Tanner and dated 1797. The stitch work was intricate and centered on the cloth was a house depicted more like a bayou mansion than a home in the East.
"She was my father's great-great-great-great-grandmother." His voice was gentle. "I don't have much of my past left but when I went back to where my Ma was buried after I was grown, the little old librarian of the public library recognized me and gave me that sampler. She said that Ma had given it to her for me when I grew up. Do you see the little knots along the fence?"
The little protrusions were the same color as Vin's hair and I had an inkling of what they might be. "She used strands of her hair?"
"Yep. So I come by this color naturally. I kind'a feel like I know some of my ancestors when I look at her sampler." His eyes were gentle when they looked at the finely woven linen.
"Would you like to bring it with you to my place? It would look very nice over our bed." I offered a bit hesitantly.
"Yeah, it would, wouldn't it? Take it down and carry it home in Pegasus." He grinned at me and went back to finish filling his battered old duffel bag.
I carefully lifted it down and laid it on the distressed green table. Going to the bathroom, I took a clean towel from the stack on the back of the toilet and came back to carefully wrap it. I wouldn't take a chance on breaking the glass. Then he was ready and I took the duffel and sampler while he hefted up the rocker to carry out. The door shut behind him and I had a sudden premonition that he would never come back here again to live.
Not a bad vision if it meant he'd be living with me from now on.
"Vin, is there anything else that you wouldn't want to lose?" I didn't know where my premonition was coming from but I'd learned the hard way to pay attention to it.
He cocked his head and set the rocker down. "Bad vibes, Ez?"
"I think so." I didn't know what else to say.
"Hold on then while I get my photo album." He smiled at me and went back inside, returning in a moment with a three-ring binder that he put in the rocker seat before picking it up and starting down. We went slowly down the stairs and I put my burdens in the Jag before going over to help him fit the awkwardly shaped chair into the back of his Jeep.
"Darn thing. How's that runner?" He asked me and I had to admit that it was still hung up on the side railing.
"Vin, if we put the heavy rockers inside first then even if the back window doesn't close completely, it will stay inside while we drive." I hesitated to make the suggestion but for some reason, I could always see how shapes could be reconfigured.
"Let's try it." He hauled it out with a jerk, glaring at the wood that was giving him the problem. This time we slid in the back of the rockers and slowly began to rotate the chair into position. Finally it would move no more but Vin had a short bungee cord that kept the back hatch from flying up. "Thanks, Ez'. That works just fine."
"You start off first, Vin and I'll follow you home." I wanted to be sure that the old car didn't break down in this part of town.
"Worry-wart." Vin grinned at me but got in and started his engine.
The trip was accident free and it was much easier to get the rocker out then it had been to get it in. The elevator also helped in bringing it up to my floor. It looked rather incongruous amid my modern furniture but then I'd never spent enough time to really sit in any of my chairs for long periods. I could see that my tastes would have to change but then I had a vision of a fat overstuffed leather chair with footstool. It looked very, very comfortable and I could hardly wait to find it.
"Ezra, what are you thinking about so hard?" Vin had placed his photo album on the glass and chrome coffee table. He came over and slid his arms around me.
"I had a vision of a forest green leather chair with footstool." I confessed with a blush. "A big, fat chair that would hold both of us."
He laughed out loud and kissed me quickly. "Sounds good to me, Ez'. We got to keep this sofa though. Can't let it go to strangers after we made out on it."
It was my turn to laugh and return his kiss. "No indeed, Vin, we couldn't let it go. But we really need a new table for the dining room so we can fit all the others around it."
"Shoot, we've got to go out to Chris' tomorrow." He hugged me close. "I sure hope they don't mind that I've got to touch you at least once every five minutes."
"The need is mutual, Vin. Very, very mutual." I leaned in and captured his lips to remind me of his sweet taste. We feasted for a long time before breaking apart to breathe. "We should get ready for bed. I'm feeling a little tired."
His sharp-eyed gaze passed over me quickly. "I agree. Care to snuggle a little?"
"Always, my angel Vin, always." I let him lead me back to our bedroom and we undressed each other slowly. I never fail to feel a sense of wonder at his beautiful body. He's all long lines with sleek muscles and a deceptively thin form, which hides his strength. Curling up under the blankets, I held him close and took a deep breath of Vin-scented air. He appealed to all my senses. Not even the worry about how the others would react the next day could keep me from falling deeply asleep safely held in his arms.
We took the Jeep out to the ranch the next day with the rocker lashed onto the roof. Vin didn't want me to catch cold and he swore the draft would be too much for such a long drive. He let me tune the radio to the classical station and we listened to Mozart all the way out to Mr. Larabee's ranch. We held hands most of the way except when he needed to shift gears and I tried to blank my mind so I wouldn't worry about the impending meeting.
When we pulled in and parked beside the other cars, Vin brought my hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "It will be all right, Ezra. They're our friends and they want us to be happy. And being with you makes me happy."
"Oh, Vin, never doubt that being with you makes me happier than I've ever been in my life. But this is all so ... so new to me that I don't know how to act." I confessed.
"We were friends first and now that we're lovers, we can fall back on our friendship to show us how to act." He suggested.
"I will try, Vin, truly I will try." I promised him, leaning in and taking a kiss to help me through the next few hours.
He smiled through it and when I opened my door, he made me a promise. "Watch your back, Ezra. I plan on grabbing a hug and a kiss whenever I can."
Laughing, I helped him unlash the chair and lift it off the roof. By then, Mr. Larabee had come out and was looking askance at us. "Good morning, boys. Just why did you bring a rocking chair with you?"
"Chris, could I use the storage shed to strip her?" Vin widened his eyes and I watched our leader sigh and shake his head.
"Of course you can, Vin. Are you helping him, Ezra?" He shot a keen look at me that seemed to assess my condition. "Those fumes might not be the best thing for you right now."
"Hey, he's right, Ez'. Why don't I put it in there and get the first coat of stripper on while you watch me from a safe distance? It's the sanding more than anything else that I'll need help with." He smiled at me and I would have agreed to almost anything he'd said at that point.
"You've got half an hour, boys before the pizzas come out of the oven." He shook his head and walked back inside.
I carried the cans of stripper, gloves and brushes, following in Vin's wake. I was still mute but at least I was thinking again. The paralysis of meeting Larabee again was fading away. J.D. joined us five minutes later and we chatted of this and that while Vin slathered on the first coat of stripper. The ugly green showed a faded blue underneath and I wondered how many layers we would find beneath the chipped paint.
Buck joined us shortly thereafter and they eased me into conversation as if they knew how vulnerable I was feeling. I was a very lucky man to have such good friends. Before I knew it, I was laughing at one of Buck's jokes, which J.D. topped quite neatly, making the big man blink in consternation. I'd always wondered about their friendship and thought that perhaps I could see the early signs of another couple.
It would be interesting to see how it all worked out. We went back into the house where Vin made a beeline for the hall bathroom. Even with the gloves and an old barbecue apron on, the acrid smell of stripper seemed to linger. I leaned in the bathroom doorway and watched him roll up his sleeves and wash all the way up to his elbows. But his sniff brought a frown.
Stepping into the kitchen, I asked Larabee if he had a t-shirt that Vin could borrow. He told me where to find one in the hall closet. I got it while trying to figure out why he'd keep such a thing in there. It had several holes in it and the neckline was misshapen but Vin greeted it with relief, slipping out of the pretty blue shirt and into the faded navy t-shirt.
I took his and hung it up outside in the fresh air on a hanger rather precariously hung on the railing. There wasn't much of a breeze so it would hopefully still be there when we left. While I was hanging it up, Nathan arrived and we re-entered together while he quizzed me about how I was feeling and how the appointment at the Clinic had gone. They'd given me a clean bill of health and so I informed him. He clapped me on the shoulder and told me that after lunch he'd take me for a good, long walk around the property.
Vin had warned me about that but I was feeling too good to worry about it. Vin would no doubt come with me and it would be nice to walk with him in the sun, even if it was barely 34 degrees outside. I'd never been one much for nature but he was a fervent advocate and I would share with him whatever I could.
He was waiting for me inside the door and Nathan joked with him about his fashion sense, telling him that he should let me pick his clothes out. I wouldn't have believed that our medic would be so accepting of our relationship but it seemed he was. The outer world was confusing the hell out of me. The people that I thought I knew were revealing surprising depths of acceptance and compassion.
Perhaps I really had fallen through the looking glass like Alice had. If so, I was never going back. This world was much more to my liking. Larabee was yelling in the kitchen and I took that to mean that the pizzas were ready. I'd brought a salad with us, not that the others would do more than nibble on it. Nathan and I were the only two who seemed to know anything about nutrition.
But I thought that I could get Vin to eat a little more healthily if I just didn't tell him how nutritious some of my recipes were. It had worked for Grandmother Eugenia and the young boy she took care of each summer. Good Southern cooking didn't have to harden your arteries.
I stuck to fruit juice, which I'd also brought with me. I was a little leery of drinking beer again. It would take a while to forget how the badly the last ones had treated me. Vin refused it too and gave me a steely look when I would have protested his abstention. I subsided meekly and none of the others said anything about his choice of beverage. We were all it seemed, feeling our way into this rearrangement of our old relationships.
The hockey game was good but not great since it didn't have my beloved New Jersey Devils in it. But the Colorado Avalanche were an adequate substitute and it was nicely satisfying to watch them pound the Detroit Red Wings into the ice. I admit to getting just a little excited when Joe Sakic got a hat trick. If the game could no longer have Gretsky, I was willing to admit that the Avalanche captain was the next best thing.
Vin was laughing at me when I pumped my fist in the air and somehow he got his arm around me before I leaned back. When I noticed it, I took a quick look around to see if anyone else had seen it. But no one seemed to care and I curled in just a little so I could feel all of him against that side. He's such a furnace that I found my eyes resting a little when the second period ended and the inane sports commentators came on.
Before I knew it, Vin was shaking me gently and whispering in my ear that the third period had started. I must have fallen asleep on his shoulder but once again, no one seemed to even notice. The last period was marred by several fights, which held no interest for me. It's the beauty of the skating and stick handling that keep me watching, not the blood sport that so many of American sporting events had become.
That was not something I shared with the others.
Vin's finger was tracing my ear, pausing every once in a while and softly pinching the lobe. My jeans were getting uncomfortably tight and I squeezed his knee in warning only to have him smile innocently at me. The little tease. Well, two could play at that game. I let my hand drift to the inside seam of his well-worn jeans, pressing ever so slightly before moving up a little higher.
He retaliated by slipping his index finger into my ear and making me shiver. So, I spread my hand wide and came within two inches of his groin, rubbing back and forth until he began to stir restlessly. The game was barely over before he jumped up and pulled me up with him.
"Let's start on that walk, Ezra. The sun isn't going to wait for us and you need a nice long walk in the fresh air." He was practically dancing with the need to go but when Nathan invited himself along, he sent me a heated look that told me I would just have to wait a little longer for the kiss he was saving for me.
That was all right with me. The team friendships were just as precious to me as he was and they warmed me with their care and concern. J.D. jumped up too and teased Buck into going along. Pretty soon, the entire team decided to go and I just knew that somewhere along the line a snowball would make an appearance and then we'd be in for a free-for-all.
I could hardly wait.
End part thirteen