My thanks to Craftingmom for editing and Ricky for beta reading.
I slowly woke up to a darkened room. I became aware of a body pressed tightly to mine, holding me loosely as their breath tickled my ear. A leg was thrown over one of mine, almost possessively. A small mumble came to my ear, something being said in a dream, perhaps.
I slowly extricated myself and felt my way to the bathroom. The light inside was nearly blinding and made my eyes water. I forced them down into slits as I made my way to the toilet. Once properly aimed, I was more comfortable with my eyes closed which felt kind of bizarre. I flicked off the light, but could see the after effects which made navigating the room a challenge.
“Sean?” he said, his voice pitched low.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, just had to use the bathroom.”
“Are you coming back to bed?”
I found the bed and circled around to where I'd been and climbed in. As I lifted the blanket, Holden had his hands on me and was pulling me to him. As I settled in, Holden nuzzled my neck and I giggled.
“That tickles,” I said, continuing to keep my voice down.
“Oh really? What does? This?” he asked as he nuzzled some more. I tilted my head, trying to limit his access to my neck and simultaneously hold him tight in my arms. He adjusted quickly and, before I really realized what was happening, his lips were on mine. After a moment's shock, I returned his kiss. He wasted little time allowing it to grow in intensity, pushing at my lips with his tongue. It was clear, though he was shorter in stature, he was in complete control here. He pivoted his body so that he was on me, chest to chest. His hands buried themselves in my hair, holding me still as he kissed me with fervor.
For my part, I was kissing him back with an equal amount of force. My hands roamed his exposed skin, since he was without a shirt. I finally settled one hand on the small of his back and the other holding the back of his head, just in case he was thinking about breaking this lip lock. Breathing heavily through our noses, we made out intensely, the enveloping darkness making it seem like we were the only two people to exist.
He tilted his head to the side, and suddenly our tongues had more reach and we actively tangled them so energetically they could have knotted at some point. My hand shifted from the small of his back to move up and down his spine, stopping just past the waist of his pajama bottoms at his tailbone. He groaned as our lips parted and his forehead came to rest on mine.
“God I have wanted to do that for so long!” he said, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
“It was pretty unexpected,” I said, my own breath coming in pants.
“I've been controlling myself,” he giggled. “I've fooled around before, but I never wanted to so badly as I do with you.”
“Yeah, a little,” he giggled and pecked my lips quickly. He slid back to my side, but pulled me up onto my side as well, so I was facing him. “Want me to share some of my experience with you?”
“Sort of. But I...” But what whatever passed for good judgment in me was failing fast. More and more my hormones were doing the talking, not to mention the fact that I had a large wet spot on my shorts.
“We can take it slow, Sean,” he said softly. “I don't want to rush any of this, I really don't. I want us to be ready.” There was a pause as he closed the distance and lay a tender kiss on my lips, one that lacked the fire of the make out but said volumes more.
“Jesus. You know how to kiss,” I breathed.
“You're not bad, either,” he giggled. “Sean, seriously, though. I want to do this right. But I want you to know it's a constant struggle.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You are such a sweetheart,” he said, kissing me again. “I just...want you. Like, all the time. You're all I can think about. I'll be completely honest. I think part of it is you're the first guy that looks at me and sees something he really likes instead of someone who's just curious.”
“I do like what I see,” I said softly.
“And that is so,” he kissed me, “fucking,” another kiss, “hot.” This time it wasn't a peck, but back to a full on make out. His hands roamed under my shirt and, almost without my realizing it, it was gone. Wrapping his arms around me, our bare chests were together and I was on overload. He wasn't done, though. With very little encouragement, we both lost our remaining clothes and began grinding in earnest, making out until we were both a sweaty, sticky mess.
We laid in each other's arms and I heard him fall asleep, the steady rhythm of his breathing and the feel of his naked body pressed tightly to mine. I wondered just how much experience he'd had and what it meant in terms of us. Oh, wow. Was there an 'us'? Or am I reading too much into this? Does he think this is just fooling around, with the only twist being that I'm interested in him? No, that would be particularly cruel and very un-Holden-like.
I decided a conversation would have to be had on this subject, but for this one moment, I was just going to enjoy this. Thinking that, and pulling Holden just a tad bit closer, I fell asleep.
I woke again to Holden climbing out of bed. I admired his backside as he went into the bathroom and I heard the shower start. I stretched and generally lazed about until he reappeared, drying himself but still without clothes.
I cleared my throat, and he jumped, made as if to wrap the towel around his waist, and then just flung it over his shoulder. Raising an eyebrow, he said, “Good morning. I didn't think you were up.”
“Holden,” I said as calmly as I could, “You're naked. Of course, I'm up.”
“Did you...” he laughed, “Did you just flirt with me? I like this! This is progress!”
“You're the one who's naked. If I'm flirting, what do you call that?”
“An invitation?” he shrugged and smiled. “Your turn in the shower. Harrison called, and he's on the way over.”
“Okay,” I said as I climbed out of bed and, with my cheeks burning, crossed the room as nude as Holden.
“You,” he said. “If he wasn't on the way, I'd be getting in the shower with you.”
I paused in the doorway and looked over my shoulder at him. “Afraid you'll melt?”
He was right, we didn't have much time, but we did make the most of it.
Harrison joined us for a late breakfast, and he had some disturbing news. He didn't just tell us, like a sensible person. Instead, he waited until we were nearly done eating and then he casually mentioned, “It seems there has been another murder.”
“The religious thing?” I asked.
“Indeed,” he replied. “It seems that Anthony's parents were found by the help this morning, and Anthony is missing.”
“Oh no!” Holden exclaimed. “Holy shit. How are they related to the other killings, though?”
Harrison buttered a piece of toast, took a bite and chewed before he replied. “It seems that his parents were key contributors to the St. John's Group.”
“How do you know this?” I asked as I leaned back in my chair and sipped some hot tea.
“Well, after we spoke last night, I went digging in Grandfather's study. He was passed out, and I could have ransacked the place and not disturbed him. In any case, I, more or less, did that and came upon some interesting data.”
“Interesting how?” Holden asked, leaning forward.
“Well, it took some digging, let me tell you,” Harrison said.
“Harrison! Cut to the chase!” Holden said and threw a napkin at him.
Harrison leaned forward and rested his head on his hands. “The killer is going after not just the St. John's Group members, but the people that contributed to good old Father Fucking Jack's going away mission.”
“How did you find that out?” I asked, my chair hitting the floor as I leaned forward and stared at Harrison.
“I told you, it wasn't easy. But something about this was nagging at me last night. So once I got home, I started going through everything I could. My grandfather is about as old school as they come, so I didn't get to his computer until nearly the last thing. But that was where I found the final proof.”
“Harrison, quit drawing this out!” Holden whined.
“Hey, I did a lot of work,” Harrison said, his lips curling. “I think there should be some suspense.”
“Harrison, come on. We're talking murder, here.”
“Yes. You know, I almost called to wake you once I had these details, but then I spent a great deal of time thinking about that discussion we had – when or if it was appropriate to take things like the law into our own hands.”
“How did that affect your timing in terms of telling us?” I asked.
“I was wondering if...well, I was wondering if I wanted the murderer caught.”
Silence reigned. I glanced at Holden who gave me the same before we both looked back at Harrison.
“So you think you know who the killer is after?” I asked.
“Yes. I found documents, a thank you card list if you will, of people who donated to the cause of sending Father Jack somewhere he couldn't be prosecuted. So far, everyone that has died is on that list,” Harrison explained.
“But, that's not proof. It's a large coincidence at best, right?” Holden asked.
“No,” Harrison said calmly. “Because there are more deaths than we realized. Not all the donors were members of the St. Johns' Group, so that's not the thread that ties them together. The common thread is the donor list for that specific event. We know of three deaths – my grandmother, the lawyer and the fundraiser. The ones we don't know about are far more.”
“How many?” I asked, my voice nearly breathless.
“Twelve. The difference is that they weren't higher profile people, and they didn't have the St. John's Group connection. Also, the deaths began almost a year ago, and I'm guessing that the methods of the killer have become refined. For instance, the ones we know about were all killed in a different way. This indicates not only a growing comfort and skill with killing, but an intelligence to vary the method so as to not draw attention.”
“Holy shit! So we really are talking about a serial killer?” Holden asked.
“Yes, that is the case,” Harrison replied, “and their work is nearly done.”
“Harrison...what are you not telling us?” Holden asked.
Harrison looked at Holden steadily and sipped his tea. “Holden, these...people. They pay to help hide pedophiles – rapists. These particular ones helped my rapist flee any form of justice.”
“I know that, Harrison,” Holden said softly. “But I know there is something you still want to say; something you...I don't know.”
“Something I might be ashamed to say?” Harrison asked, leaning forward and placing his cup on the table. He fixed Holden with a look and his eyes brimmed. “Holden. In many things, I simply ask myself what you might do, so that I know what is correct. But here...my pain is interfering with my judgment. I cannot even be sure that you would say there is one path that is correct. Moral.”
“Harrison,” Holden said quietly, “what are those options?”
Harrison smiled weakly. “I could turn the information over to the police. I don't know that they'd believe it, or what they could do besides telling those bastards that someone was hunting them.”
“Okay. What else?”
“I could let it go. I...could be wrong,” Harrison said.
“But you don't think you are?” I asked. Harrison turned his watery eyes to me and shook his head.
“Does it make me a monster that I don't care if these people die?” Harrison whispered.
“No, Harrison. But it's not right to leave them to be butchered. You're better than they are – always have been, always will be. If you give this information to the police, then you've done what you could – no matter how little these people deserve any help from you,” Holden told him and crossed to Harrison, who was now weeping openly. I stood as well and placed my hand on his shoulder, really not knowing what was right.
I quickly realized that the conversation we'd had was fairly academic. How you act in the real world, when it's people you care about who are the victims...it changes things. Even so, I wasn't sure I'd be able to kill in cold blood like this person was doing. But then, seeing how much pain Harrison was in even now...
“What do you want to do, Harrison?” Holden asked.
“We should go to the police,” he said, his voice a rattling whisper. “I'll do what's right, if nothing else but to keep your respect.”
“Harrison, no,” Holden said, taking Harrison's face in his hands. “I love you, I respect you and nothing will change that. You have a point, this could all lead to nothing, but they can figure that out. Right?”
“Yes, right,” Harrison said, nodding. “I'm sorry, I'm a bit of a mess.”
We both hugged him, which only caused him to break down further. It was a good few hours before we recovered enough to make a trip to the police.
Harrison was composed and every bit himself when we told the detective what he had discovered. The detective was intrigued and wanted the information, however the home wasn't Harrison's and so they'd need permission to obtain the documents or a court order. Harrison assured the detective that his grandfather would never surrender the information willingly so the man planned to get a warrant as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we decided to see Harrison home. He was in better spirits as we rode, as evidenced by his tweaking our noses about what may have happened on our overnight. I was reticent about saying much, but Holden jumped in with both feet.
“I was right, Harrison,” he said smugly. “He is at least a nine on the cuddle factor scale.”
“A nine? He's not perfect, Holden?” Harrison teased.
“Close, but I'm going to give him a lot of practice to get that last little bit,” he said, taking my hand and leaning into me. I couldn't help a small smile crossing my face at his confidence.
“Oh, now, do I really have to put up with this happiness nonsense?” Harrison laughed.
“Yes, you do,” Holden stated firmly. “Even though I will need some boyfriend time, I also need my Harrison time, and I'm sure Sean would agree.”
I quirked an eyebrow at Holden, which didn't slip past Harrison.
“Holden?” Harrison asked, raising his own eyebrow and allowing his trademark curling smile onto his face. “Have you actually asked Sean to be your boyfriend? Or did you assume...whatever you did last night...solved that question?”
Holden's head slowly turned towards me as the realization set in and his look was priceless. “Oh. Oh dear.”
“We'll talk later,” I said to him sternly, but smiling at him.
Holden was spared anything more as we arrived at Harrison's. We decided to keep him company for a bit and were headed into the kitchen to make some lunch when Harrison paused and held very still.
“What?” Holden asked.
“The silence,” Harrison said. “Where are the house staff? Why isn't the television or the radio set to 'blare'? Something is wrong.” We followed him through the house, looking for people. When we finally found them, we wished we hadn't.
He was still positioning them. The scene was grotesque, and it was burned in my brain. I still see it sometimes, in my nightmares. It wasn't just the bodies, either, or the blood. It was because of where the blood was and who was wearing it.
There was a pool table in the middle of the room. Flat upon it was Harrison's grandfather, with stakes driven into his eyes. They looked, bizarrely, like a cartoon character whose eyes might have popped out from excitement of some kind. Instead, blood pooled behind the head and soaked into the green felt. If that were all...but it wasn't.
The second man I didn't recognize. I suspect, had I known him, I'd have not recognized him anyway. His face had been beaten to an unrecognizable mass. The same wooden style stakes that now pinned Harrison's grandfather, were driven through the groin of this body. There was also a bloody wooden point protruding from the stomach, and I unwillingly pictured where that had pierced him.
That all would have been bad enough, but a bloody, limping Anthony took this bloody tableau straight into the Twilight Zone. His shirt and face were sprayed with blood and his dark pants hid anything there. Not all the blood was his, though. There was a gash on his face and a flap of his cheek was swinging and showing his teeth. Blood ran freely from this hole in his face. I turned and heaved and Holden simply passed out.
Harrison stepped further into the room.
“Anthony. But...” he pointed to the destroyed face of the body on the floor. “Father Jack?”
Anthony nodded. His tongue came out and touched his lips, almost as if he was feeling no pain. His voice, however, was wild – insane.
“He got to me. I was eight.” He turned and viciously kicked the corpse and screamed. I thought he was repeating 'I was eight', but it was hard to understand. I was frozen with the horror of the scene, and when I did recover, it was to retreat and make sure Holden was all right. As I tended to him, I could hear Harrison speaking, once Anthony had stopped screaming.
“He got to me too, Anthony.”
“I know,” Anthony gurgled. I wondered if blood was running into his mouth, and I nearly heaved again. I propped Holden up and patted his face, urging him to wake up.
“How did you know he'd be here?” Harrison asked.
“Parents. They were planning...” Anthony coughed and then burst out into a laugh that indicated just how broken his mind really was. It sounded lost and dangerous. “They were going to throw him a welcome home party. Do you know why? Do you? Do you know?”
“The statute of limitations,” Harrison said evenly.
“Yes!” Anthony screamed like a demented game show host. “He couldn't be prosecuted!” he yelled, punctuating his words by kicking the corpse. “No more! No more! No more!”
“No. No more,” Harrison agreed.
Holden began to come around, and then we both jumped as a gun discharged, filling the room with deafening noise. Holden scrambled to his feet, and I stood, turning towards the space Anthony and Harrison had been standing. The corpse sported a hole in its bashed in face, but now the gun was aimed at Harrison.
“You can't stop me.” Anthony looked as if he might be smiling, given his teeth showing through the side of his face.
Harrison stood still, appearing to be calm as he placed his hands in his pockets. “I have no intention of stopping you. Who knows how many others this bastard victimized?”
Anthony swung the gun towards Holden and me and I froze, holding my hands out and keeping Holden behind me.
“Them? Did Jack get them, too?”
“No. He didn't. They aren't part of this, Anthony.” Harrison side stepped slowly until he was between Anthony and the two of us. “In fact, I think they should go.”
“No!” Anthony screamed and fired a random shot. Holden and I hit the ground, but Harrison remained unflappable.
“Anthony, you have a bit of a cut on your face. I don't think you're going to get very far like that,” Harrison said, reasonably. “Besides, your work is done, isn't it?”
“No,” Anthony moaned and kicked the corpse on the floor several times. “No.”
“What is there left to do? You've avenged us all with Father Jack.” Harrison had half turned and waved at me with his hand, an indication to leave. But I couldn't, not with Anthony so wild in here. I couldn't leave him alone. I shook my head subtly and he frowned.
Anthony stumbled, and leaned against the desk. The gun was dangling from his hand. “I got them for us all, didn't I?” he asked.
“Yes. You did,” Harrison assured him.
“Hurts,” Anthony muttered.
“I know,” Harrison replied and stepped closer to Anthony.
“My parents. They helped him,” Anthony said mournfully.
“I know,” Harrison replied softly.
Holden took my hand as we watched Harrison try to work his way toward Anthony. I started to edge forward, in case I could help. Holden stayed with me, stepping as I did.
“Harrison,” Anthony said, “Am I done? Can I rest now?”
“Yes, Anthony. Your work is done.”
“No!” Harrison screamed, but there was no way to stop him in time. Anthony pushed the gun into his chin and fired, spraying the ceiling with gore.
The next few hours were horrible. Harrison had withdrawn, not even responding very much to either of us. When the police arrived after our 911 call, they found us on the front step, huddled together. Holden's parents and the Phillips's were on hand to be with us as we gave statements to the police. None of us wanted to be separated from the other that night and, reluctantly, the Phillips let me go back to Holden's home so we could stay together.
We took comfort from each other, from the horror we'd seen. Harrison had been so brave, but Holden and I knew how fragile he really was, and there was no way he could have come out of this unscathed. We nested in Holden's bed, often lying awake, yet not speaking. We simply held one another and drifted in and out of sleep.
Monday, I had to leave for the formalities at the county social services office to have the Phillips officially take custody of me. By Tuesday we were all enrolled in therapy for the trauma we'd endured and witnessed. Although we were still talking and seeing one another, we weren't bouncing back quickly. I don't know what I expected – certainly the nightmares. They took many forms, frequently with Holden or Harrison being shot, sometimes both.
They were vivid dreams. I felt their lives leaving their bodies and, selfishly, that they were leaving me alone. Friday, we were all together for the evening again at Holden's. It was a relief to be with them, not just because they were my friends but because they understood. They, like me, were getting the odd looks at school as the news had broken. It would take time for the connection to Father Jack to be fully investigated, and when it was then there were likely to be other victims to come forward.
Of course, that would expose both Anthony and Harrison as victims as well.
“Maybe I should hold a press conference and simply tell the world,” Harrison mused that Friday evening as we lounged in Holden's room.
“That would be very brave, Harrison,” Holden replied.
“Not really,” Harrison said. “It would just be getting out in front of it, more like. Everyone loves a good scandal, how delicious will the tabloids find it that a famous old family not only bankrolled a pedophile priest's escape but threw one of their own scions under the bus? That should sell very well – think of the lurid details!”
“Harrison,” I said quietly, “I realize I can't really know what you went through or even how you're still holding together now, but I do know that you've been a wonderful friend, even laying your own life on the line in that room. Anthony could have killed one or all of us.”
I crossed the room to where he was seated and placed my hand on his shoulder. “Whatever support I can give you – you have it. I'll stand there while you tell the world, or I'll help fend them off if you want your privacy.”
He pursed his lips and allowed the corner of his mouth to curl up. “Why, Sean Stanley. Those may be the most loving words you've ever spoken to me.”
“I do love you, don't doubt it.” I stared into his eyes and his smile faltered.
“Well. I'm going to go to my room. I would like some time to think about...all this.” He levered himself out of the chair and I seized him, pulling him close and holding him. His arms awkwardly fell into place around me, and I felt him shudder and then take a hitching breath before he began to sob.
Harrison never did make it to his room. Holden insisted we all stay together. Hours later, with Harrison finally asleep, Holden hooked a finger at me and pointed towards the small balcony. I nodded, and we both crept to the windows and the hidden door, and then stood out in the moonlight.
“What's up?” I asked. Holden pressed his lips to mine and pulled me close, his kiss slow and soft. We stayed like that, only moving our lips and kissing one another fondly for several minutes. This felt reassuring and comfortable, and I reveled in his touch. He leaned back, breaking our kiss and looked up at me.
“Sean, I know this is quick and we've been through some terrible stuff together. But, I think I'm falling in love with you pretty hard. I just want to ask if...will you be my boyfriend?”
“I...” I swallowed and decided that, strongly as I felt for Holden, I still had to ask the question that nagged at me. “Answer me something first?”
“You said, before, I wasn't like the other guys you fooled around with. Does this mean...were any of them your boyfriends?”
“No. They were guys who were curious, nothing more. I swear I've never felt like this before and I've never officially had a boyfriend. It'd make me intensely proud if you'd be mine, though.”
“Wow. Um, yeah, of course. I'd love to be your boyfriend.”
Before we could seal it with a kiss, there was a slow clap from the bedroom. “Finally. Now will you two kiss and come to bed? Someone has to be here to tend to me, you know.”
Holden grinned at me and brought our lips back together.
Much later, as Harrison's light snores filled the room and Holden clutched me in his sleep, I felt hope. The future could be ours, us three. Together we'd survived poverty, neglect, abuse and the ticking time bomb that was Anthony.
I worried that Harrison, too, might be one of those damaged people who might be ticking closer to his own explosion. However, coupled with that worry was a resolute feeling that Holden and I could prevent that. He'd never be alone and, together, we'd get through anything. With that thought I kissed the top of Holden's head and drifted off to a dreamless sleep.Previous Chapter