This story is based in the Fearless/Weghtless universe created by Cynus and continued in the serial The List and Wild Heart. The events depicted here happen 5-6 years after the events of Wild Heart.
The office was busy, reaching a paper-shuffling crescendo I hadn't thought possible. Phones rang, people spoke and it all rolled into one busy sound. It gave me a sense that something was happening, something was being accomplished. Someone was listening to the things we said, and we were talking to more and more people by the moment.
"Shane? You have a man asking for you out front," Vickie said, leaning in my office door. It's really more of a broom closet, but it has a door and walls.
"Okay, thanks," I said, turning back to my screen. I glanced over the wording of my note one last time before hitting send. I stood and glanced around the office. The Gun Safety Coalition was an outreach effort that worked with the victims of gun violence as well as the sportsman's associations in the state to try to find gun control legislation that could be supported by both sides. We'd spoken to candidates so that we could make inroads into both camps and have a shot at reform no matter who won.
I know. Pipe dream. Still, we felt closer. I wasn't sure if that was the truth, but here we are, in the mix of things and trying to make a difference. I left my small office and threaded my way between the cubicles and tables packed with literature and flyers. I glanced in a strategically placed mirror and straightened my tie for whoever was here to talk to me and entered the lobby.
I glanced around but no one stood or approached me. I glanced over at Vickie and raised an eyebrow. "Was I too slow?"
"Um," she mumbled as she glanced around the room. "He was just - there, coming back in the door."
I turned to follow her gaze and paused in mild shock. Some people age well. Some start out pudgy and soft, then puberty hits them like a loaded freight train, and people who were okay turned into something else. Something desirable by the masses, I guess. I say I guess because I wasn't one of those people. I'd never been a hard body or an athlete, but my metabolism was starting to hint that carbs were no longer going to be disposed of quickly.
Parker, though, had become a swan. Not that he'd ever really been an ugly duckling, but compared to him now....
"Hey, Shane," he said with a grin and I couldn't help but smile back.
"Parks!" I exclaimed and hugged him.
"It's always the pretty ones," Vickie said, tisking to herself. I ignored her.
"What are you doing here?" I asked. "I thought you were headed over to that competition - where was it? Riverview?"
"Oceanside," he said and rolled his eyes. "Glad to know you still listen to me as much as ever, Shane."
I narrowed my eyes. "Are you in town just to bust my balls? You could have done that on the phone."
"Nah. Ulterior motives. Want to have dinner?"
"Yeah!" I said and glanced at my watch. "I need about twenty minutes and then I can break away."
"If you don't go back there with him," Vickie said in a dry tone of voice, "it'll be four in the morning and he'll wonder why you didn't wait."
Parker looked back and forth between Vickie and me and then pointed at her while addressing me. "She knows you, Shane."
"She's been here two weeks," I said and shot Vickie some side eye.
"We've been neighbors for two years," she replied in that same dry tone of voice and then started to chuckle.
"Oh? Um, Shane, go do what you need to do and I'm going to make friends with Vickie, here," he said and placed the side of his butt on her desk.
"Yeah, no. You know too much about me already," I said with a snort and pulled him past her desk and into the bullpen area with its chaotic sounds.
"Seriously. Is there a bathroom I can hit?" Parker asked.
I paused for a moment, knowing he probably didn't have to go. "Yeah. Over on the left there," I said. "My office is in the back, third door on the right when you're done."
"Okay," he said, glancing around the room and then setting off.
I hurried back to my office and pulled out my list of things to get done and started trying to figure out what I could delegate, what could wait and what couldn't. My mind, though, wandered. After high school I'd kept in touch with my friends, but college and...life, I guess, took us all in different directions. Well, not Clint and Zane.
My phone rang, breaking my train of thought. "Shane Blankenship," I said as I picked the receiver up.
"Shane, it's Marcia. I have a new mail list coming to you - can you coordinate with the mail house and make sure we get this out immediately? We are sending the 'B' package of forms to this group, okay?"
"Yeah, on it," I said. "You want it to drop in the morning? The mail house will bring up overtime if they process tonight is why I ask."
"Approved," she said immediately. "I'm sending the file now. It should be clean."
As I hung up the phone I felt a surge of excitement. The 'B' forms were for the real movers and shakers we were looking to help us. It was a major voting bloc and we'd been trying to get a very special mailing list that had those names and addresses. I dove into reaching out to the mail house that processed our brochures and stored our printed stock until it was time to run them to the post office. While I was on the phone making arrangements, Parker wandered in and plopped down into the chair across from my desk.
He watched me while I moved as fast as I could to forward the incoming file from Marcia and get it onto my contact's computer, authorize the overtime expenditure and flog them for a guarantee that this would be at the post office first thing in the morning and that, yes, I'd need a confirmation notice.
Parker whistled at me as I hung up the phone. "Damn, Shane. You can tell people what to do, that's for sure. When did you get so bossy?"
"When they started paying me to be a boss," I said with a laugh. I glanced down at my list. 'Fuck it,' I thought. I never get to see Parker anymore. "Okay, let's go."
As we passed the front desk I told Vickie I had my cell on me and she gave me one of her looks. The woman doesn't have to speak very much; she has some facial expressions most actors would envy. This one clearly judged me for taking my phone out with Parker.
"He's a friend, Vic," I said with a roll of my eyes. "Come on," I said to Parker.
"I heard about a Mexican place close by. You been yet?" Parker asked as he fell into step beside me.
"No. How do you know about food places near my office?" I asked and burst out laughing.
"Research, man, research," he said with a chuckle. "So how's the work thing going?"
"Really good! We've had some great breaks go our way, and I'm pretty hopeful we're going to get something done this cycle. How about you? How's the broadcasting business treating you?"
He shrugged. "It's fun, I guess. Pay is good. Travel was a plus," he said.
"Yeah. Gets old, living out of a suitcase. I think when people talk travel they think Hawaii, Europe or something. Not Oceanside."
I chuckled, but before I could ask what he meant he was holding the door open for me. I nodded in thanks and walked in, glancing around at the décor that matched a million Mexican restaurants. There was a metal stand with a menu and we both squeezed in front of it to see what sort of things they offered.
"Hey. They have stuff to go. Want to take it back to your place and watch something? I mean, if you don't have to go back to work." I looked up at Parker and felt a flash of warmth run through my chest. I could still see the mischievous, irreverent boy he used to be, hidden in his features. That adventurous streak had never really faded from him, but it was always a thrill to hear it in his voice.
"Yeah, sounds like a plan." I figured I might have to answer a few emails, but I can do that from my phone.
We made a few selections and placed an order. The entryway became a little crowded and I didn't really want to sit at the bar, so we stepped out in front of the place and took a seat on a bench.
"So this is a cool surprise. What brings you to town?" I asked. Parker and I have stayed pretty close through phone calls, social media and the occasional Skype session. If he's coming to town, he always tells me so we can get together and he crashes at my apartment. Out of everyone I'd known in high school, Parker was the closest to me.
"Couple things," he said and let out a small sigh. He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. "Steve has a parole hearing."
"Oh," I said in sudden understanding. Steve was Parker's older brother, but all the awesome in the Reid family had gone to Parker and the vast majority of 'loser asshole' genes had gone to Steve. "How are your folks?"
He shook his head slightly. "They aren't coming for it. They said they mailed in a statement, but they don't want to see him. Honestly, I don't either."
"Yeah, I understand that," I said firmly. While my first encounter with Steve had been unforgettable - him attacking Parker at school - he'd only gotten worse with age. About a year after we'd graduated high school, Steve had attacked his parents in their home. Parker had been away at school - everyone had. I was in the local community college and had been the one to keep Parker informed and comforted that his folks were okay, in the end. Steve had been charged with a home invasion and sent to prison.
I put a hand on Parker's shoulder. "How are your folks? I mean outside of all this?"
He nodded his head a few times before he spoke. "Mom is learning French. She says it keeps her mind sharp. Dad is...he's steadier getting around. His knee won't ever be at one hundred percent, but he's okay. He says my mom wants to go to France, so he's got to get ready to walk all over Paris."
I smiled. "That sounds like him. They have a good relationship; strong."
"Yeah." He nodded again and sat up and glanced at me. "How's the little guy?"
Parker had always had a fondness for Travis, and though Travis is much more of an average height these days, old nicknames die hard.
"He's pretty happy out in California," I said with a little smile. "He's dating this geeky film school chick and I'm pretty sure he's got it bad for her. They do all kinds of nerdy things together. You should see his Instagram, it's the dorkiest, cutest thing ever."
Parker laughed out loud. "You sound like such a girl."
"Eat me," I said with a snort and he laughed again.
We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. The air was crisp, the fall nearly done surrendering to winter. It would snow here, soon, as it was wont to. Cars passed by and people hurried past toward the parking garage at the end of the block as well as the restaurant behind us. I glanced over at Parks, whose hands were clasped together and a tiny smile playing about the corner of his mouth.
"Mom sends her love," he said. "Dad said you could have a handshake."
I chuckled and shook my head. "Your dad loves me, man."
"Yeah. Um." Parker cleared his throat. "That's true. I was trying to come up with a quick burn, but...." He held his hands out and we both laughed. "How's your mom and Cliff?"
I opened my mouth to answer, but a voice behind me interrupted. "Blankenship? Order up."
"That's us," I said and we went in to grab our food. Twenty minutes later I pulled into the parking lot of my building with Parker pulling in beside me. I live in a one bedroom apartment and it's pretty damn small, no two ways about it. I kicked my shoes off and set the box on the stove.
"Beer?" I asked.
"Please," he replied. "Blankets still in the closet?"
"Uh, yeah," I said as I pulled two beers from the fridge. I turned to see that Parker had kicked off his shoes and his pants and was walking into the short hallway that leads to the bathroom and my bedroom. I brought the beers out to the little coffee table and headed back to the cupboard for some plates and silverware.
"I found it," he said as he reentered the living room. He had a faded blue blanket that he'd passed to me in mock solemnity when he'd left for college. We'd used it a lot on his own couch while we were teens and I kept the ratty thing for when he was in town.
"Pants chafing?" I asked as I put the food on the coffee table and sat down.
"Oh, no you don't!" He grabbed my wrist and pulled, awkwardly getting me back on my feet.
"What? What are you doing?" I asked, a little amused and a little annoyed.
"This is not how we watch TV, Shane. Really, have you slipped in your training? Off with the pants. Let's go." He had his hand out, palm up and was moving his fingers in a hurry up gesture.
I rolled my eyes. "We're not kids anymore," I said while undoing my belt. "I don't know why we have to do this every time."
"Tradition!" he said importantly. "Plus, legs need room to breathe, Shane. We've talked about this."
"You've talked," I grumped good-naturedly.
"I hope the remote isn't dead like that one time," Parker groused.
"One time. One time! My God, Parks!" I said with a laugh as I tossed my khakis on top of his jeans. We sat and he thumbed through the selections on the screen.
"Remember when you were in your gangster phase?" he asked.
"Me? I didn't hear you complaining," I replied with a snort.
"No. I was just going along with it. I was trying to help you get laid, considering Travis was all gung-ho about old movies and you went along with it, trying to get a piece of him." Parker glanced at me from the corner of his eye and I flipped him off. He burst out laughing.
He put something on and we dug into the food and beer, only stopping when I went to grab two more bottles. Once the food was gone, he covered us in the blanket and we squished together like old times. The movie was kind of crappy, but the company was great. I got us a third round and we watched a few episodes of something stupid. I answered a few emails and at one point had to pause the show to talk to the mail house, but all in all it was a great evening.
"I have to work in the morning," I said apologetically as I stood up to stretch. Parks usually arrived on a Saturday, not mid-week like he did now. I wasn't complaining. Showing up on a Wednesday just means I get a few more days of having him around, which I'd never turn down.
"Do you have the weekend free?"
I rolled that thought around for a moment. We were exceptionally busy, but I've had to manage things from the road before and I wasn't the only person in the office. Besides, it was Parker. If anything could be more important to me than my career, it was my family and that meant Parker. "I could. What's up?"
"The hearing is Friday. I thought, maybe, it might be nice to check out the old town. Hit up some memories. You know, hang out."
I smiled at him and I knew he was watching my reaction from the corner of his eye because he started to smile as well.
"Parks," I said demurely, yet amused. "Are you asking me away for a weekend?"
"Not really. Back Friday night." He turned to look at me. "But don't you sound excited. Been a while?"
I frowned at him. "I've dated."
"Your hand doesn't count, Shane," he said and laughed.
"Who are you seeing?" I asked as I picked up the beer bottles. "A fleshjack?"
"I've had some booty calls," he said in a superior tone.
"Yeah," I replied with a laugh and a roll of my eyes. I had no doubt about that. I put the bottles in the recycle bin and he brought our trash over to the counter. I took the plates from atop the pile of our trash and put them in the tiny dishwasher while Parker leaned on the counter, resting on his elbows.
"So what happened to...Carl?"
"Cal," I said with a sigh. "He was all right, I guess." I glanced at Parks. "Actually, he bored me to death. I like video games, but I draw the line at people calling themselves athletes and the whole e-sports thing. So you can play a first person shooter. That's nice, but you shouldn't get a medal for it."
Parker threw his head back and laughed.
"What about you? Anyone?"
His laughter trailed off and he shook his head. "Nah. I've been spending most of my time watching cooking shows and trying to watch my girlish figure," he said with a snicker.
"You? I knew you liked eating, but when did you get into cooking?"
"Eh. Started to gain weight." He held a hand out. "You go on the road, you tend to eat fast food or prepared stuff. Turns out my parents were right - you get older, you can't just shove food down your gullet and keep the weight off."
"Ugh, I know," I said as I patted my stomach. "I never liked cooking, though." I turned back to the counter and picked up a towel to dry my hands. "So nothing serious, huh?"
"A few offers, a few hook-ups. Nothing that made me think of buying jewelry." He paused as if in thought. "I have to admit, though, that being asked out by a couple was weird."
I raised an eyebrow at him. "Did you go?"
He glanced at me and deadpanned. "Nah, the wife was a troll."
I rolled my eyes and snapped the towel at him, but beneath my actions a thread of...jealousy? Excitement? Possibility? Some twining of the three and something more? Whatever that was, it slithered through my consciousness and past my heart to the pit of my stomach. I shivered involuntarily.
"So? Can you?"
I smiled, though he couldn't see. "I'll have to check my calendar."
"Right. You've looked at your phone six dozen times tonight. So you coming with me?" he asked.
I turned around and leaned on the edge of the sink. "What do you think?"
He stood up and flexed. "I still got it."
I laughed. "Whatever it is!"
He flipped me off and went to get cleaned up. I watched him go, filled with affection and spent just a minute indulging in a game of what if? No one made my life complete like Parker did.
I hope you enjoyed chapter one! There are five more chapters and, as a final reminder, the rest of the story can be purchased ahead of time for as little as a dollar. Just go to the Donate button on the main page and make sure to include 'Afterglow' in the note!Next Chapter