This is the first story written due to my Patreon page! A reader wanted to see Zap again, though I didn't think this story rose to the level where I'd feel comfortable accepting the commission, it's not bad! Do you have a favorite SS character you'd like to see? Do you have a favorite series of mine that you'd like to see more of? You can commission works at my Partreon page or just email me with the link above!
There are some Italian terms used in the story. Some can be inferred, but some may not seem as obvious. Nonno is Grandfather, Nipoto is grandson, Patatino is a term of endearment for kids, essentially 'little potato', and Nonna is grandmother.
I toweled off and hurried into the bedroom. Passing Travis's dresser I pulled drawers open on mine to grab fresh clothes. As I pulled up my sweatpants my gaze fell on my favorite picture of Travis and me, right after graduating high school. We were on a small vacation, nothing fancy. We'd rented a house on a lake with a couple of buddies, and we were leaning on each other by the fire at the end of a long day of doing whatever we wanted. It was a sweet picture.
Travis would not be sweet if I didn't get dinner going, like I'd promised I would. He'd been looking forward to me trying out this dish and the marinade alone had been a process. I never used to be interested in cooking, but we couldn't afford to be eating our very much and going to either of our parent's houses only worked so often.
My parents still had kids at home, but the taxes and upkeep on the old family home had grown to be too much. To add to that, my mother had developed Multiple Sclerosis which had forced her to stop working. Medical bills added up and the logical move had been to sell the family home and move into more affordable neighborhood. Unfortunately, that meant my two younger sisters were sharing a room and there wasn't a spot for me, let alone Travis.
Travis's parents had both been state employees and, when a deal came up for early retirement, they took it. That also involved selling their home and moving, but they ran to Arizona for better weather year round. Both folks helped us out in getting an apartment, and we both worked to be able to pay as much of our way as we could during the months we weren't in the dorms.
Getting into the kitchen I started pulling out items I'd need when my phone distracted me.
“Hello?” I asked while pouring the green beans into a colander to wash.
“Salvatore! What are you doing, mio nipote?”
“Hi, Nonno,” I said sheepishly. I should have called him yesterday, but I'd gotten busy. “I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to call yesterday.” I'd been called into work and there was an employee I got stuck with that did nothing but cause drama. “How are you?”
“That damn light on my porch went out last night. I tried to climb up there, but I think it's the fixture. Can you come look at it for me, Patatino?” he asked, his accent thicker than I remembered.
“Yeah, of course.” I turned the water on a low setting and rinsed the beans off before shaking them out and getting them ready to cut. “What makes you think it's the fixture?”
“The smoke, what else?” he asked and laughed.
“Smoke? Are you serious?” I asked, stiffening.
“Of course I am kidding. If it was smoke, I call the fire department.” He laughed again. “I put in two bulbs and nothing! Yes,” he said knowingly, “I hit-a the light switch, too, before you ask. I'm no dummy!”
I grinned to myself, knowing I had been just about to ask that. I turned at the sound of the front door opening as Travis came in from his run. With the warmer weather, he'd taken to running without a shirt and it always left my mouth dry. He tanned so easily and had such great skin, my mind always went blank for a moment when he was like this. The tiny running shorts didn't hurt a bit. He raised an eyebrow at me. “Travis just came home, Nonno. Let me see what the schedule is like for tomorrow.”
Travis changes like the phases of the moon. Streaky some might call him. He was going through one of his horny phases and he'd decided to give me a blowjob. While I'm on the phone with my grandfather. I tried to wiggle away, just to give me enough time to get off the phone.
“You talk to him. How is he?” he asked as Travis wrestled my sweats down with a grin on his face as I tried to pull them back up. That all stopped, though, when he thrust his mouth over my length and I let out a shuddering breath.
“He's, uh, very good, Nonno.” I looked down at Travis. “Very, very good.”
“So good to hear. He's such a good man. He takes good care of you, Patatino?”
Watching Travis as he stared up at me as my length slid into his mouth, I murmured, “Yes, Nonno. Very good.”
“I can't wait for your wedding. When you going to pop the question, eh? I'm not getting any younger and I need a wedding! They are such occasions, Patatino. Make an old man happy, eh? Marry that boy.”
“I- Uh! Oh, I plan to, Nonno. I have to go, but I'll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay. Love to you both,” he said and hung up.
“Oh, my God! Travis I'll have nightmares thinking of this blow job and my grandfather's voice!” I told him. He grinned around my dick and pushed forward, undeterred. His horny phase was such a double-edged sword!
“Nonno! I'm here!” I called out as I entered the front door of his house. It was growing more cluttered over time. After my Nonna had passed, things around the house slowly started to pile up. He had retired when she'd gotten sick, and he'd nursed her through the cancer that finally took her from us. Of all his children, only my father had stayed close to home, raising a family nearby, and as a result we were very close.
“Come in!” he said, hollering. He appeared in the hallway, dressed in his work pants and an undershirt. He had a strong grip on his cane, and a smile split his face. “Look at you!” he said, beaming.
I smiled and hugged him. “How are you, Nonno?”
“It's a good day, now!” he said enthusiastically. “Come, I'll make soda, eh?”
“What about your light fixture?” I asked as I trailed him through the hallway. He waved a hand.
“Eh, we'll do it later, okay? Come, come, sit with me,” he said. His accent was a bit thicker than the last time I saw him, though I wasn't sure what that meant. I took a seat at his table and he brought over glasses with ice, seltzer and a bottle of Campari.
“You going to get me drunk, Nonno?” I asked with a chuckle.
“Hey, maybe you get lucky, eh?” he asked and wiggled his hips.
“I'm lucky everyday,” I told him. Of course, he had no idea just how often I was getting lucky right now.
He chuckled and poured in the red liquor, then covered it in seltzer before stirring with his finger. “Ah! Here, you look thirsty. Now, tell me all about everything. When you getting married?”
I couldn't help but smile. “I haven't asked him yet. He's the one, but I have to make sure his parents pay for his school bills first,” I said with a chuckle.
“You will both be so handsome. Your Nonna loved weddings, you know. She could dance like a dervish!” he leaned forward as he said this, smiling and then leaning back to sip his drink. “You still talk to Alec? From school?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Once in a while. He went to Albany for school.”
“He's a good boy, eh? You always liked Alec. He was good to you.”
“Yeah, he was,” I confirmed and leaned back, sipping the drink.
“My memory is fuzzy. He helped you with Travis, eh?”
I laughed and nodded my head. “Well, yeah. If it wasn't for Alec, I never would have gotten up the courage.”
He leaned forward, resting his head on his palm. “This is a good story. Come on. Remind me.”
I smiled and shrugged. “I was gay, but I hadn't told anyone. I had a few crushes, kissed a boy at a summer camp once, but I fell really hard for Travis.” I looked up at my grandfather, who was smiling happily. “I really didn't know what to do or how to handle any of it. Then, Alec came out and it was like a bomb went off. The whole school seemed to change almost overnight. At least, it seemed like that to me. Suddenly it didn't seem like it was that big a stretch to come out – of course, telling the one I wanted to tell the most? That was still impossible for me.”
“But Alec, he was not your friend? Why did he help you?” he prompted.
I laughed. “Well, his help in that part was kind of debatable. But I will say, he thinks outside the box.”
He frowned a little. “I remember more. When you were younger, it was Alec this and Alec that. I thought you were in love with Alec!” he said and let out a coughing laugh.
“I think I was kind of in awe of him,” I admitted with a chuckle. “He was intimidating because of all the stories and drama surrounding him, yet completely friendly and willing to help someone he didn't know.” I leaned forward and said, “He decided the best way for Travis and I to get closer was to have a mutual enemy. Him.”
His jaw dropped down and he threw his head back to laugh. “He's not trying to make peace? He's supposed to make Travis love you! How did that work?”
I tilted my head from side to side and he worked at refilling our glasses. Jeez, that stuff was sort of strong.
“Well, I've thought about that a lot. He's a very unusual kind of genius. I think he figured we'd have to talk to each other, more than we had already – and he was right! I ended up confessing the whole silly mess to Travis,” I said and chuckled at the memory.
“This Alec, he comes to my shop the one time. Did I tell you?”
“I'm not sure,” I admitted, smiling and curious.
“So, you remember the bathroom in the old garage, yes? Way in the corner?”
“Right! It was like a hidden room. You were the man behind the curtain,” I said and laughed. He grinned and bobbed his head.
“So I was already thinking to myself, is time to sell. What am I doing getting out of bed to come down so I can crap in secret room, right?” he asks me and we both are laughing.
“So one day, I'm a on the crapper and I hear the door. I'm thinking to myself, who in the world is coming into the store? It looks like the building is a going to fall down! So I come out of the bathroom,” he says, waving his hands to accompany his speech. “I use my best American business man voice and I ask what the fuck they want, eh?”
“You did not!” I said and burst out laughing. He grins at me.
“I ask what they want, you know? There was two boys, did I say? No? There were two,” he said, waving his hand as he talked. “So the younger boy, he say 'how much for the blue piece of shit?” By now my grandfather is highly amused with his embellishment of the story and I'm laughing at his casual swearing, something that is private for him. “So I tell him it is junk. It has bad hoses, bad brakes, bad everything. You know, he gets excited when I say these things? Idiot wants to buy! I'm thinking to myself, I've been selling cars wrong! I should tell people 'No! You don't want it, that car is piece of shit' and then they buy! I would be rich!”
I holding my gut laughing, thinking of Lu's old blue VW bus. My grandfather refilled the glasses again as he continued to tell the story. “So I'm thinking I'm a going to take this boy's money, yes?”
“You would not,” I said with a chuckle and sipped the drink.
“Eh? Maybe you're right,” he said with a grin. “But then he says, yes! He wants to buy piece of shit because Kutsenko boys are stupid!”
I guffawed. “He didn't say that, come on!”
“Close!” he said with a laugh. “He says his brother buy piece of junk and fix. Throw money away on junk, is stupid! Yes?” he asked me, laughing. “But then I think, wait. Kutsenko? I ask if this is Alec, the one my nipote says is close to God? He says 'Yes, I am Alec and I am bigger than God!'”
I was wiping my eyes, laughing. “I have no idea how much of that is true, but I can totally see Alec saying that!”
“So I said, well, I cannot steal the little stupid's money, eh? He helps my nipote to get his boyfriend. I must be nice.”
“How were you nice?” I asked, my face sore from laughing.
“I give him the blue piece of shit,” he said, deadpan. “His parents, I thought they would have heart attack when I park in front of their house! I don't think he said 'Mama, Papa, I buy piece of shit!”
He and I are rolling with laughter. I love his stories. The only truth in them was probably that Alec and Lu had come to the shop and my grandfather had given them the bus because, in truth, he loves me to death. Still, it was a hysterical story.
“Alec,” he said, shaking his head slowly and smiling. “He say to me, he wish he could play with you. Football. He said he never got the chance.”
“Only in practice that one time,” I said in agreement.
“I think, of course he wants to play with my nipote. Who wouldn't? He was a good looking boy, I think you would be okay with him...but he has bad taste in cars, so you're better with Travis!” he said, waving his comment away and laughing raucously.
I shook my head with a grin on my face and said, “My life was never the same after Alec, that's for sure.”
“Because of Travis?”
“Yeah, no question. But Alec was popular. After I had talked to him, he treated me like a real friend. Alec would greet me openly at school and my stock went up. People were wondering who he was talking to. I met new people because of him.” I shook my head as I thought of that time in my life. “Alec invited me to be part of his mayhem. He barely knew me, but having asked him for help made him treat me like I mattered. It was a huge confidence boost.”
“I like that boy. Very glad I do not have to work on his car,” he said and grinned at me.
I leaned back in the chair. “At the time I'd have said I had a small, close circle of friends, but the truth was I didn't know what it really meant to be a friend. Alec pushed me in the right direction, but Travis changed all that just by forcing me to show him who I was. He kind of made me mature. ”
“Huh. I always thought Alec was your friend. You know, from your stories.” He waved his hand around in the air. “Alec, he said this! Alec, he did that! I go to worship at the great church of Alec!”
I rolled my eyes but couldn't help but to laugh with him. “Alec was a good friend – is. He opened doors for me. He invited me over to his house plenty of times. I was there the night Lu pulled his infamous 'falling asleep' trick.”
“What is that? How is sleeping a trick?”
I smiled as I said, “Lu had a crush on Robin – who he's dated for the past few years, now. He wanted to be close to him, so he pretended to fall asleep on Robin's shoulder. It was cute and sneaky all in one.”
“Very sneaky,” he said and smiled before drinking again. “I have been thinking,” he said slowly. “I love you very much, Salvatore. Of all my grandchildren, you were always my favorite.”
I swallowed. “I know, Nonno. You were always my favorite Nonno, too.” This was an old joke with us. His other grandchildren weren't close by and hadn't developed the bond we did. Once, when I was a teen he'd leaned over and told me I was his favorite, and I responded with that semi-witty remark. It was true, though, as I wasn't close with my mother's side of the family.
He smiled at me. “When your father was young, your Nonna and me would take the children camping. You know, camping? The tents, the sleeping bags and cooking on the fire?”
“Yeah. Dad took us a few times, he said he had great memories of going when he was a kid.”
He smiled fondly and nodded. “We were poor, you know this? Some families they go to the ocean or to big amusement park. The Zappalas? My children they ask me, 'Papa. Why do we not go to vacation like everyone else?' And I feel bad. I cannot go to fancy places. I work for food on the table, but...is a special kind of pain to see your children look sad.”
“Dad never mentioned that,” I said. “He talked about how much fun you had going camping, swimming and cooking food over a fire. He said it was the best time he can remember as a kid.”
He nodded and then leaned forward. “Your father is the biggest liar!” he said and started to laugh. “When we go camping, your papa he complain, he bitch! 'Oh, Papa! The rocks are under my sleeping bag! Oh, Papa! I don't want to eat no more hot dogs! Oh, Papa! The bathroom is-a stinky! Nothing but complain, that one!”
“What?” I asked, breaking into confused laughter. “He said it was the best time together as a family.”
He tilted his head from side to side. “He like to swim. We let him swim from the minute he wake up until he's is ready to drown. Little fish, your Papa.” He drained his glass and pulled mine to him to make new drinks.
“Nonno, I have to drive home,” I chided him.
“Tell Travis I got you drunk and to come get you. At least I get to see him,” he said offhandedly.
I felt badly at the statement. I knew he was lonely, and he loved me so much. I'd been wrapped up in life with Travis, both the highs and the lows, and not nearly as attentive to the rest of my family as I should have been.
“Well, maybe we should do something together,” I said.
He nodded and pushed my glass over to me. He lifted his in a toast and I copied him. “I think we should go camping.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You want me to take Travis camping?”
He smiled crookedly. “I don't know if I'm going to live long enough to see you two married, but maybe you could propose? Out in nature with the open sky and a beautiful lake in the background? This would make me very happy, Patatino.”
I started to chuckle. “Nonno. Travis isn't what you would call a nature person.”
“Oh? Tell me. Tell me everything about this man you love so much.”
I leaned back in the chair and sipped the drink. It didn't taste quite so strong anymore, but I sure wasn't going to fuck with any electrical fixtures, either. I hadn't even tried to stand yet, and I had no doubt I'd be weaving a little to hit the bathroom.
“This man, he leaves you speechless?” he asked with a chuckle. “Tell me.”
I smiled and let out a breath. “I've grown to think that there are some people who just fit perfectly. Travis is...really perfect for me.”
“That isn't saying much. Give an old man some details!”
I laughed at him and took another drink. “Travis has been studying programming. Computer languages, building apps for mobile devices and tinkering with code for websites – that sort of thing.” I shrugged. “I don't understand much of it, but creating that way speaks to something in his soul. He can't cook to save his life. If it weren't for me, we'd have starved to death,” I said with a laugh.
“So you won him by feeding him, eh? That comes from your mother. That woman can cook like nobody but your Nonna!” he said emphatically.
“I'm not as good as my mom, but we won't die,” I said with a snicker. “Travis...the only real interaction he has with nature is when he goes to exercise. He runs. He's a vegetarian.”
“He don't like steak?” he asked, horrified.
I grimaced a little. “He doesn't like causing harm to anything, if he can avoid it. He lets bugs outside instead of smashing them – except mosquitoes. He won't eat meat, but he doesn't ask me to make things specially for him – like I'd refuse him!” I said with a snort. I glanced at my grandfather and said, “He's a gentle person. He listens to the things people say and he remembers them. That's the first thing that attracted me to him, besides his appearance. I would tell him about anything, and he would remember and ask me about it later. He doesn't pay attention to things. He pays attention to people.”
“He sounds like a good man. But, really, no steak?”
I chuckled. “No, Nonno, no steak.”
“Well, nobody is perfect, eh?” he said with a smile and a swig of his drink. “Tell me more.”
I widened my eyes. “His family is important to him. He talks to his mother at least once a week, and he texts his father all the time. He has an older sister that he adores, even though she's kind of a brat. She graduated last year and is still living with his parents. I guess she has a job, but her parents pay for everything and she can just blow her money however she wants.”
“What a bitch,” he mumbled.
“I admit, I don't know how they could be related.”
“Your father and his brother, Antonio are a good example. Your father is a good man, Antonio spends his life going from bar to jail,” he said with a sniff.
I cleared my throat. Antonio was the black sheep of the family, so to speak. “Travis is a good student. He and I have had a good relationship, most of the time,” I said. “We got mad at each other a few times, mostly in high school. We wouldn't talk for a few days, but one of us would go to the other and fix things, eventually. He forgives. He admits when he's wrong.”
“Okay, so, tell me about the things that are not so good, eh? Or is this guy mister perfect?” he asked, pointing a slightly wavering finger at me. “Like your Nonna? She was a beautiful woman. Smart. Great cook. You know one thing she could never do? Kiss worth a damn. One bad thing!”
I laughed and he grinned at me. “Travis can kiss, no worries there,” I said. “I guess I would have to say Travis can be a bit of a neat freak. He washes and folds all our clothes because he doesn't like how I do it. He showers a lot. I can't imagine him camping without access to showers and bathrooms, and cooking over an open fire?” I shook my head at the thought. “I don't know if he could hack that.”
“It would make a good memory,” he said wistfully. “Tell me, Patatino, have you bought the ring?”
“No,” I said with a shake of my head. “I've thought about it, but I don't have the money.”
“I need to pee,” he said and stood slowly. “You get more ice. Call Travis, tell him to come. You might need a ride home.”
He tottered out of the room and I called Travis.
“Hey. How's my handyman doing?” he asked. “Maybe you can wear a tool belt, just for me.”
“We haven't gotten to the light fixture. I think he was just lonely,” I said quietly. I certainly wasn't going to talk role play when my grandfather could walk in at any moment.
“Poor guy. It has to be hard living alone, especially after he was married for so long. I'm glad you can be there for him, though,” Travis replied.
“Well, uh, he's been making me these sodas. The Italian ones. With that red liquor in them?”
Travis snickered. “Are you getting drunk with your grandpa?”
I glanced at the doorway and got up to go get some ice, as he'd requested. “He's been asking all kinds of questions about the man I'm in love with. He thinks you should come to get me. Probably to stay for a while, too.”
“Aww. I don't get to see him very often at all. He is right, too, you shouldn't drive – not that you would,” he hastened to add. “I can grab those leftovers and drive out so we can eat together. Would that be good?”
“I think he'd love you for that.”
“Yeah? What about you?”
“I'm not sure I could love you more,” I said.
“Hmm. I think I like you when you're tipsy.” He paused. “I'll be there in about a half hour, okay?”
“See you then.” I entered the kitchen and rummaged for a small plastic bowl that I filled with ice and brought back to the table. My grandfather appeared a few minutes later and I took my turn in the bathroom before rejoining him. He'd gotten a plate of crackers out and pushed them toward me.
“Travis is coming to get you?”
“Yes. He's bringing some leftovers with him.”
“We could make a salad. Can I put cheese in his salad?”
“He eats cheese,” I said with a nod.
He leaned forward as I bit down on a cracker and he folded his hands together. “This man. Travis. You can feel in your heart, in your head that he will be the one you can be happy with?”
I smiled at him. “Travis makes me happy every day, Nonno.My only challenge is in trying to make him just as happy.”
He nodded and let out a satisfied sigh. “When your Nonna and I got married, she bought for me a simple ring. We were poor, you remember I said this?” he asked and nodded at me. Without waiting for a reply he said, “I worked with my hands all my life, but I would take the ring off so it would not get damaged.” He paused and looked at me. “One day, I forgot. I was working and I slipped. I put a big scrape in the ring. Your Nonna noticed right away. We decided to put the ring away to protect it – Nonna said I was too ugly for other women to come after me!” He burst out in his rough, coughing laugh.
“I never knew that,” I told him, smiling.
“We bought new rings many years later, so they would both be undamaged. Your Nonna, she worked hard at home and her ring also had many dings. So we got married again, in front of our children, and gave each other new rings.” He held up his right hand to show off the etched gold ring. He opened his left hand to show me a scarred gold band. “One day, you will buy Travis a ring to commemorate your love. But when you ask him to marry you, I think your Nonna would approve of you using my ring.”
Tears pricked my eyes. He proffered the ring to me and I stood to hug him, accepting both the ring and making the promise that Travis would receive it.
“Did you know that Nonna was the one for you right away?” I asked, wondering if the certainty I felt about Travis was something he and I shared, with respect to his marriage.
“No. We hated each other,” he said and burst out laughing. A look of shock was plastered on my face and he launched into a story. “I joke. I was working at a factory, driving a delivery truck. She would work in the morning to sell a cappucino or a latte. In the afternoon she would work for a tailor shop. She learned to be a tailor, eh? Did you know that?”
“No, but I'm not surprised. She used to hem my pants when I was a kid. She altered my suit for prom because she said the rental place had screwed it up.”
He laughed and nodded his head. “Yes, she did say that.” He glanced up at me. “In the morning I would go to her shop and buy an espresso. Just one for the day. I was still a poor man. Every morning I buy a espresso, until one day I notice her dress. Is different, but I don't understand why. So I ask her.” He paused and smiled, a wistful look. “She asked if I liked it, that she had made it herself.”
“She had made her own dress?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said with a prideful smile. “She asked if I liked it. I said yes. I told h er it would look very nice on her if she went dancing with me.”
“Slick, Nonno,” I said and laughed. He grinned widely.
“I knew, after the dance. She was the only one who could make me happy, and I did my best to make her happy for the rest of her life.”
I could hear the sound of the front door opening and Travis called out. “Hello? Sal? Nonno”
“There he is!” my grandfather enthused as he stood and called out to Travis. They hugged and Travis set about putting the leftovers out for us to eat. I was starving, though I hadn't realized it.
“What is this?” my grandfather asked before popping it in his mouth. “It tastes a little like steak.”
“It's tofu, Nonno,” Travis said. “Sal has a great marinade and he's come up with a great way to prepare it. You like it?”
He tilted his head from side to side. “It's not steak, but it's pretty good. Salvatore, you are turning into a chef, eh?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but Travis cut me off. “He's really good! He's learned to make a whole bunch of things. His chili is amazing, and he makes these black bean burgers that are out of this world.”
I blushed a little while my grandfather beamed about the praise being laid on me.
“I can make things too,” my grandfather said and pushed a soda over to Travis. He picked it up and my grandfather smiled, holding his drink up. “Cincin,” he said and we clinked glasses, echoing him. Travis sipped his drink and his eyes widened.
“Oh, this is good!” he exclaimed and drank a bit more. My grandfather brought a bowl of fruit to the table, traditional desert for him, and we sat around telling stories while drinking his Italian soda concoction.
“You know Alec?” my grandfather asked Travis.
Travis rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah. I know him. Did Sal tell you what Alec did to to Sal's car last winter?”
“No!” he exclaimed. “Tell me!”
I lowered my head and started to chuckle. “So Alec and Sasha live in an apartment, but we were still in the dorms. So they invited us over to play games for a night with their foster son, Micah. So we're hearing all about the pranks they play on each other and somehow Alec gets it into his head that Sal is challenging him.”
“I wasn't!” I said with a laugh.
“So the next morning is Saturday and we slept in. When we went downstairs to head out for lunch, we found Sal's car had been wrapped in plastic and sprayed with water so that it was a Popsicle!”
“I was so pissed!” I said and giggled. “I wanted hot food, and Alec had decided to prank me!”
We were laughing, but then Travis got a smug look on his face. “We got him back though, didn't we?”
I nodded. “We did.”
“How?” my grandfather asked, leaning forward eagerly to grab Travis's glass and refill it.
“We did two things!” Travis said, accepting the drink from my grandfather and taking a swallow. “So first, we put zip ties with really long ends around his axles. They made a terrible noise, but don't do any real harm. But first!” he said, holding a finger up and setting my grandfather laughing. “We duct taped a balloon over the end of his tail pipe. The back pressure will make the engine stall, which I'm sure you know, but on top of that he's got this huge thing inflating behind him – and popping!”
We sat at the table for a few hours, munching snacks idly and drinking Nonno's Italian soda. Travis and I weren't big drinkers and, even though the drinks probably weren't that strong, they took their toll. We eventually crashed in one of the spare bedrooms, far enough away that my grandfather's snores were barely audible.
“That was fun,” Travis said as he pulled my shirt off and ran his fingers through my chest hair. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“He wanted to see you,” I murmured as I pulled his shirt from him.
Travis kissed me with all the hunger he possessed. We got heated awfully fast, and though the motions were fervent, there was no actual rush to finishing. All this shows that just because he was drunk, that had no bearing on Travis's phases. All I can say is I hope my grandfather didn't hear us. I would do it again, but dear lord, please...I hope he didn't hear us.
Oh, and Travis agreed to go camping.
“That wasn't fair. Did you plan it with him?” Travis grumbled as we climbed into the car a few weeks later. Although the subject had been brought up several times over the past two weeks, Travis was still grumbling a little. “I shouldn't be held to this. I was drunk.”
“No, no planning. You know that isn't my strong suit.” I glanced at him as he sulked a little. “He wants to share a memory with us.”
“We have some pretty damn nice sheets at home and a real mattress. Couldn't we just have him over or, at worst, stay in a hotel wherever we were going? I'm definitely not a camping and nature person,” he said with a sigh.
“You'll look beautiful, though. That happens wherever you are,” I said quietly and the corner of his mouth quirked up.
“I'm trying to be unhappy. Cut it out.”
“Nah. I think I'm not allowed to leave you unhappy. Pretty sure,” I told him.
“Not going camping would solve that,” he said with a smile and leaned toward me.
“Like you'd ever disappoint my Nonno.” I looked at him fondly as he frowned.
“I hate that you're right.”
“We almost went camping that one time,” I said, looking at him from the side of my eye.
“Jesus! I'll never live that purchase down!” he said and laughed at me. “Alec is the devil. I'm sure of it. I mean, who calls people up and says 'come on, we're having fun!' and it turns out to be going to a city-wide garage sale? I ask you!”
I laughed with him. “It was the biggest garage sale in the world, according to the signs.”
“We did have fun, right up until that guy with all the camping gear. I mean, I still enjoyed it.”
“Jerk,” he said and pushed my shoulder. “You certainly didn't defend my distaste for camping and nature.”
“Well, it's hard to defend you from the truth, Babe,” I told him and he pushed my shoulder again. I grinned. “It was pretty funny.”
“Really? Telling them I'd never go camping because there was nowhere to plug in a microwave? That's your idea of funny?” He raised an eyebrow at me and I chuckled, eliciting a grunt from him. “Well, creature comforts are kind of a thing with you,” I said teasingly.
“You should have stopped me.”
“There was no stopping you!” I said with a laugh.
“We should have tossed the filthy thing.”
“It's been washed,” I said soothingly. “Besides, we can cuddle in it.” 'It' referred to the object of his ire, a two man sleeping bag. Alec had teased him about the whole camping thing, and followed it up with a story about how he, Sasha, Kale and Chase had gone on a camping trip that had been nothing short of a disaster. Yet, somehow he still made it sound fun and funny. Travis was amused it happened to someone else, but then Alec started teasing him that he had no sense of adventure. It all culminated with Travis buying the two-man sleeping bag to prove his sense of adventure, though he had absolutely no intention of using it – except maybe in our living room.
“You're in so much trouble,” he grumbled. “What are we supposed to even do out there that we can't do at home or something?”
“There is a certain peace about being outdoors,” I said slowly, feeling my way forward.
“Except for the bugs in your ear, biting your exposed skin. Then there are the rocks under your sleeping bag, and of course – wait!” he said suddenly, placing a hand on my forearm. “What about bathrooms? Showers?”
“You'll live,” I told him dryly.
“Sal! Are you serious?” he asked, aghast.
“Look,” I said reassuringly. “Just give me some trust, okay? Does anyone, besides maybe your mother, know you better than I do?”
Travis looked at me long and hard. “No.”
“Then trust me, Babe. My grandfather needs this. I really, badly want to give it to him.”
He sighed and looked out the windshield. “Only because I love you.” He smiled as he said it and I relaxed a bit. I know it was asking him to do something he didn't think he'd enjoy and really didn't want to, but I also knew he'd move heaven and earth if I said it was important to me. It has always fascinated me how Travis fights to live as his true self. Even as kids he never batted an eye when I told him I was attracted to him. He just pointed out that we didn't know each other very well, and then he just let me go to work to see past what I liked about the outside. In the meantime, Travis spent his time getting to understand me better than I did myself. I guess he liked what he found because we'd been together since then.
It's pretty amazing to go through life being loved by someone like Travis. Sometimes I think people throw around the word love for mundane things. Like I could say I love tacos, but I just like eating them a lot. Like one of my favorite foods. I don't literally love them. But Travis says what he means and he lives according to who he really is, and I love that. I love him, and who he is.
We pulled up at my grandfather's house to find a pile of things laid out beside his old pickup truck. He had gotten a few things in, but if I knew him he was double checking to make sure we had everything we'd need.
“Buongiorno! Come here, let me see you!” he called out cheerfully.
“Hi, Nonno,” I greeted him and gave him a hug. He patted me on the back and turned to Travis, holding his hands out.
“Buongiorno, Nonno. Come stai?” Travis said as he gave him a hug. I raised an eyebrow.
“Sta bene, grazie,” my grandfather replied and leaned back to beam at Travis. “Are you sucking up to the old man, eh? It's working, keep it up!” He patted Travis's cheek and smiled at me. “I have things from inside. Would you start to load these things in the truck? They are ready.”
“Sure,” I replied. He headed inside and I glanced at Travis. “Learning Italian on the side?”
He shrugged, but smiled in an unassuming way. “It's a language. No different really than COBOL or UNIX. You just have to learn how to use or speak it.”
“I guess, in that context, you could be a polyglot pretty quickly,” I said as I started lifting things into the truck bed. He climbed up to start organizing and accepting the items from me.
“Well, it's not as simple as I made it sound. Speaking a language is a lot harder than writing it.”
“Good thing you have a talented tongue,” I said, glancing at him askance. He raised an eyebrow at me.
“You just want sex in the sleeping bag. Well, you just might get it,” he said and rolled his eyes at me.
“Still, it was nice of you to make that effort. My grandfather adores you,” I said as I hoisted up the tents.
“Only because I'm with you. He wants you to be happy, so he has to make sure I'm holding up my end of that bargain.”
He squatted down to get a grip on the tent and I placed my hands over his forearms to still him. He looked up at me in question and I looked at him, silently. I waited until his curiosity had gotten the better of him and he started to open his mouth to ask what I was doing.
He smiled quizzically. “Every day what?”
“You hold up your end of us every day. I love you.”
He blushed a little and smiled. “Well, it's a lot of work having to carry for two people,” he said demurely.
“Excuse me?” I asked with a laugh.
“It wouldn't be so bad, but you stink at laundry. I mean, really!” he said with a laugh. He was deflecting a little. I love it when I catch him off guard with a romantic moment he didn't see coming. It keeps him curious, and I don't want to lose that.
“You're just so particular. I mean, who cares how my underwear look in the drawer?” I asked, renewing one of our old quibbles.
We verbally sparred as we loaded the truck and then my grandfather wheeled out his cooler. He winked and said he'd stuffed it with Campari and seltzer. I helped him to secure it in back before we put the tailgate up. We lashed straps over the bed to keep things in place. My grandfather pulled out a bandanna from a back pocket and wiped his forehead.
“I forgot how much work that is! Madonna! I'm going to take a nap on the way. Do you want to drive, Salvatore?” he asked.
With an amused thought I said, “I drove out. I can give Travis directions, though.”
Travis looked at me oddly, probably because I drive us most places. “I can drive if you want,” he said uncertainly.
We climbed in, my grandfather in the passenger seat and Travis driving. I sat in the middle of the old bench seat, but leaned a bit toward Travis. Travis adjusted the mirrors and looked the dash over – noting the turn signals, wipers and all that. He was never super comfortable driving a strange vehicle, but when he did there was always a few minutes worth of him acclimatizing himself. Minutes later we were on the road and my grandfather was gently snoring as he leaned against the door.
I leaned on Travis lightly and he glanced at me. “You're not going to pull a Lu on me while I'm driving, are you?”
I chuckled. “No. I was just thinking of that old cliché of a country boy driving his pickup truck with his sweetheart beside him, cuddled on the bench seat.”
He smiled at me. “I don't know about the country boy part, but the sweetheart works out all right.”
I leaned back a bit and looked at him, up and down. “Well, I don't know. I can picture you – very well, actually – in a set of denim overalls with the cuffs rolled up, barefoot and no shirt. Kind of sexy, really.”
He glanced at me, looked back at the road and then back again. “You're twisted. I'm not doing that.”
I grinned, knowing damn well he would if I wanted. And, oddly, I think I wanted. Where do you even buy such a thing?
“Sal,” he said firmly. “Stop it.”
I smiled at him and he sighed. “Travis, you'd look so cute.”
“Babe,” he said with a little chuckle and sparing a glance at my grandfather, who slept on. “What is this sudden obsession with getting me into nature?”
“I think you're kind of into it, actually,” I said thoughtfully. “I mean, the whole reason you don't eat meat is to not hurt an animal. You do enjoy nice days outside – you have the tan for it. I just think experiencing it a little differently than you're used to is a good thing.”
“Overalls, though?” he asked, a little whine in his voice.
“You'll look good enough to eat,” I said, grinning and leaned closer. “And you know how you like being eaten.”
It took about forty-five minutes to get to the campsite. My grandfather woke from his nap as we started hitting the dirt road of the heavily treed area and the truck jounced. He stretched, untroubled by the squeaking and jostling in the cab and then glanced over at us.
“Good couple, you got here in good time!” he said.
“Nonno,” I said, “Can you take a picture of Travis behind the wheel?” Travis shook his head and laughed lightly while I continued my appeal. “He's never driven a pickup. He looks like a real country boy right now.”
The truck jounced to a stop and my grandfather responded enthusiastically.
“I got the camera! Have to take a lot of pictures,” he said, climbing out of the truck and reaching behind the bench seat. He pulled out a relatively new-looking camera and flipped it on. After a quick check he stepped back and took our picture, then told us to sit still as he made his way to the other side and snapped one of Travis behind the wheel without me in the way. Travis rolled his eyes at me, but he tolerated my foolishness more often than not.
We climbed out and stretched. My grandfather walked over to the campsite and scouted about, looking at the area. “I think we can put one tent here, is smooth. The other tent on the other side, here. It is too rough in between, I think, but tents on each side of the fire pit. Looks good, eh?” he asked.
“Sure. Let's start unloading stuff,” I said as I made my way to the back and let down the tailgate.
“Salvatore, you can set up the tents, yes?” my grandfather asked as he placed the camera on the seat of the truck.
“Sure, I remember how,” I said easily, but wondered what my grandfather was thinking. He reached into the bed, right up against the sidewall and scrabbled about for a moment before withdrawing two fishing poles.
“I want to spend time with my other nipote,” he said while grinning at Travis. He turned to lean the poles against the side of the truck and started to adjust his suspenders.
Travis sidled up to me and whispered, “Sal! He wants me to catch fish? I can't do that! Put a hook in a living thing's mouth and yank it from the water?”
I looked at him, a little disappointed that he wasn't following through on trusting me. Just to be a snot I said aloud, “Don't forget to teach Travis how to clean the fish, Nonno,” I said.
Travis tilted his head and his expression hardened. I gave him a tight smile and leaned forward. “Trust me, remember?” He didn't look happy, but when my grandfather came around the truck with the fishing poles he fell in beside him. He was a little stiff, but my grandfather put an arm around his shoulders and started talking to him as they set off, presumably in the direction of water. I shook my head and started to pull the camping gear out of the bed of the truck. As smart as Travis was, and that was pretty damn smart – especially with electronics – I knew he was in over his head with my grandfather. Even though Nonno had sold cars, built houses, driven delivery trucks and who knows what else, he never had cared much for appearances or material things. He was the original fellow to care about the inside of a person. I could remember one instance where I camped with him for a weekend. My parents had told him that I'd been despondent and just not myself. So he'd let me try to figure it out, but then he'd gotten impatient. He finally asked me outright what was bugging me. I dodged for a bit, but he said I was too smart. I had to get this off my chest or I'd think myself into knots.
That weekend I finally confessed to him that I was falling for someone. A boy someone. He told me it better be the best kind of boy because that was what I deserved. Then he asked me why I hadn't told my parents.
“Are you serious?” I'd asked, dumbfounded. “You have met them, right? Dad will make stupid jokes until the end of time and my mother will literally point to every single boy in my school and ask if I like that one or the next one. I'd never get a second to myself!”
He'd laughed, hard. He had to admit that it was true, but said that he would see to it. He was true to his word. I guess adults can express things to other adults, sometimes, that kids can't seem to get across.
I set the tents up, placed the inflatable mattress in each of them for comfort. Then I set about placing the chairs and getting the charcoal set up for the fire so I could make us lunch. The cooler was loaded with black bean burgers, veggie hot dogs and fries as well as fruits and veggies, the latter of which I could make kebabs with. Once I'd sorted our belongings into each tent I started the fire. Checking my watch I was unsurprised to see that noon had come and gone.
The coals were just about ready when they came through the trees. Travis had the fishing poles in hand, still strapped together and clearly having not been used. He placed them in the back of the pickup while my grandfather came over to ask when lunch would be ready.
“I'll start cooking in just a minute,” I told him.
“Great. All that walking got my morning coffee to kick in. I'm going to the bathroom. Travis, you want me to show you where they are? Showers down there, too.”
Travis stared at me. “Please, Nonno.” He fell in step with him and I chuckled to myself. Travis was going to be a lot more relaxed once he saw there was, in fact, modern plumbing close by. I wouldn't have been very surprised to find that he'd been holding it, waiting for a quiet moment to walk away and water the trees.
I put a few patties on the grill and a few of the hot dogs. I'd been surprised to find how close they tasted to a regular hot dog, and I was only too happy to make a bunch of those up. They should combine hot dogs and tacos! My two favorite foods made up into one glorious pile of deliciousness. I told Travis my idea as he returned and he stared at me for a moment.
“I worry about you, Sal. I worry a lot,” he said and laughed at me. “So. You knew we weren't actually going to go fishing. Didn't you?” Travis asked.
“Well, you weren't fishing to eat,” I said with an indulgent smile. “He was fishing for more about you, personally. I mean, there aren't even reels on those fishing poles!” I started to laugh and he pushed my shoulder.
“Nerd. You could have given me a hint,” he said with mock petulance.
“No. That was grandpa's tactic. You wouldn't want me to deprive him, would you?”
“I was worried he was going to want me to kill fish!” Travis burst out and started to laugh. “I was too busy thinking about how I was going to have to say no to that!”
I bent over laughing hard. Travis started swearing at me, mostly playfully, and that was how my grandfather found us.
“What's this? What's so funny?” he asked.
“Travis...Travis thought,” I said, gasping and still chuckling. “He thought you were going to make him kill a fish!”
He chuckled and smiled at Travis, who was blushing. “Cuore mio, che tesoro!” he said with a wide grin and crossed the small camp to take Travis's face between his hands. “You are like a doctor – do no harm. I would not ask that of you, but it makes my heart swell to know you kept quiet and did not assume I would ask you to go against what you believe.” He looked at me, and with a wink said, “You should marry this one.”
“You think so?” I asked and smiled cheekily at Travis, who squished his mouth off to one side, raised his eyebrows and tilted his head down while looking at me. He clearly thought I was up to something, or that my grandfather was, and that look told me he was on to me. Suspicious. Not sure exactly what we were up to, but that he knew there was something.
“Lunch is ready,” I said and started serving up the meal.
“Those smell great. Where did...wow. You two totally pulled the wool over my eyes. Where did the food come from?” Travis asked as he accepted a plate from me.
“Packed under the other gear. To, uh, keep it out of the sun. Keeps it cooler longer,” I said unconvincingly.
Travis smiled at me, with the grace to know he'd been played. “I thought the cooler just had drinks. Uh huh. I got my eye on you.”
I just smiled back at him as I put together a plate for my grandfather, then myself. I joined them in the chairs and we ate while my grandfather talked about meeting my grandmother, some of the hard times they ran into before leaving Italy for the U.S. and how they had found the time for themselves in between raising five children, his working full time, and her doing the same with the household. He told Travis, as he had me the other day, about the kids wanting to take vacations and do fun things as other families did. He told him about buying used camping gear from a friend and packing the kids up for a weekend.
Travis listened, soaking in the story as he always did when he learned about people and their lives. He's funny like that, technologically smart, yet fascinated by people. Eventually my grandfather broke out the Campari and started making drinks. As the afternoon passed into evening, we set up a fire in the pit. My grandfather had packed marshmallows as well as graham crackers and a few chocolate bars. I fired up the grill once more and we ate like kings, drank my Nonno's concoction and whiled away the evening in pleasant company.
“When Salvatore was just a boy, I brought him camping for a weekend,” my grandfather said to Travis. “For a long time he tells me about Alec.”
Travis chuckled. “Alec provides a lot of things to talk about, that's for sure.”
“But he goes on and on. 'Nonno!' he will say, 'Alec, he do this! Alec, he do that! Alec, Alec, Alec!” he smiled at Travis's amusement and I covered my face and chuckled at his antics. “So when he come camping with me, I ask to him 'Salvatore, what is on your mind?' and he say,” my grandfather said, then raised up his voice and placed his hands on either side of his face, “Nonno! This boy, he is so cute! I think I'm in a love! If he no love me back, Imma gonna die!”
“I didn't say that!” I said with a laugh, not that it stopped Travis from laughing as well.
“So...so I ask to him,” he manages to say, laughing as he tells the story. “Alec? You mean you are in love with Alec? It makes sense, no? All he does is talk about Alec!” He wiggled forward on his seat and looked at Travis. “But no, he tells me. Alec helped me, but the boy is named Travis and he is-a perfect!”
I covered my face and laughed as Travis leaned into me, wrapping a hand around my arm.
“Then, he say 'Nonno, I'm going to show him who I am. I'm a little afraid. What if he doesn't like who I am?”
Travis looked at me, smiling and I blushed. Travis knew all this, in general. We'd discussed it at the time, he just hadn't known I'd gone to see my grandfather and that he'd squeezed it out of me.
“I told him, this boy...if you show him how much you can love him, then he's going to love you, Salvatore. And look. Look at you now.” He beamed at us and I felt a wave of gratefulness for his love and support. My grandfather seemed to be going a lot easier on the liquor, and I finally rewarded his patience just as the sun began to dip down behind the trees creating a golden-red fire that sparkled between the leaves.
“You know,” I said to Travis, taking his hand as we sat side-by-side in the folding chairs. “In a few years we'll have graduated. I know those big tech companies will want to whisk you off to California or Washington. Maybe the government will want you in Virginia or something. Then we come to one of those decisions a lot of people come to.” I looked at him steadily. “Sometimes people break up because they go to college in different places. Sometimes they make their careers the important thing. I like my studies, I like my life as it is and I like being close enough to see my family.” I paused and stood, digging the ring out of my pocket. It glimmered in the dying day, the imperfections glinting.
Travis's eyes got big.
“I just want you to know that wherever you go, I want to go with you. I always want to be by your side. I think you feel the same way, so I'd like to give you this ring. The ring my own grandfather was married with.” I knelt before him. “I'd like to ask you to be my husband.”
He glanced at me, then to my grandfather, and back to me. “You did all of this for us? God, I love you,” he said before putting his hand out. I slid the ring on his finger and stood up, Travis standing and falling into my arms.
“Welcome to the family!” my grandfather said. “Now, I make us real drinks!”
Much later, pleasantly buzzed, we snuggled in the two man sleeping bag. Travis was kissing me softly while pressing himself close, our legs wrapped around the others. He grabbed the hair on the back of my head lightly in his fist and pulled me back. Looking me in the eye he said, “Air mattresses? Vegetarian food? Modern plumbing? You let me spin my wheels for two weeks about this and you knew this all along?”
“It was necessary,” I said with a smile.
“And just why was that?” he asked, looking at me with amusement.
“I needed you off balance so you'd say yes,” I said teasingly.
He ran his fingers through my hair and kissed me lightly. “Sal. You can't have thought for a minute I'd pick my career over you, do you?”
“Well, it was something I wanted to talk to you about. But I figured we had plenty of time. I know you get a lot out of your work, and I want you to have what you want. I want you to have everything you want.” I hesitated. “I won't say I was worrying or anything like that. We have two years and I don't know what will happen in that time. My grandfather wants us married already, and God knows I want to spend my life with you.”
“Sal,” he said quietly and then said, “Salvatore Zappala, you went to a lot of trouble to make two men in your life very happy. From the moment you confessed you were attracted to me, you've constantly shown me a willingness to go out of your way if it will make me happy. I want you to know, even though I appreciate your effort every single time – it's you that makes me happy.” He looked at me, his eyes seeming to go back and forth, focusing on one of my eyes and then the other. “Why in the world would I ever choose to leave behind the person that gives me joy?”
“Because I took you camping?” I offered with a grin.
He tilted his head and then nodded before looking at me slyly.
“What?” I asked in amusement.
“You're grandfather is snoring, which means you are all mine,” he said. Hell if he isn't right.