Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 7

Posted: N/A

Since their initial meeting at the gym in April, Jack Gamble had been over to Phil's condo for intimate encounters numerous times, and Phil Perez had visited Jack's home. As springtime moved closer to summer, each man eagerly looked forward to the frequent workout sessions at the gym and the comfortable banter that resulted when together - spontaneous humorous jabs and personal tidbits that occur between buddies who trust each other as they forge a friendship. And when their schedules matched, the chance to lustfully explore each other's bodies became the ultimate fringe benefit - friendship aside, both were bona fide cock hounds in good standing.

As Jack put it succinctly one evening, "I may be 40, but all my body parts work just fine." Until he'd met Phil, Jack hadn't experienced sex on a frequent basis with the same person for several years. But that had all changed and compatibility aside, both strongly subscribed to salacious variations of the three V's: variety, versatility and vanilla.

By mid-May, the routine had been expanded by Phil's invitation for Jack to stay overnight. Or, as Phil had put it, "Come over for a quiet Saturday dinner, have a little fun and do breakfast the next morning." The implication of how they'd spend time after dining - until breakfast - was understood but unspoken. They also agreed, for several reasons, that Phil's house in South Henderson was better suited to spending some quality weekend time together than Jack's place in Boulder City. Aside from the comfort of Phil's immaculate two-bedroom house and its convenience of being in a city locale, Jack's trailer wasn't soundproof to nearby neighbors - especially a Nevada 'good-ole-boy' living next door who was anything but gay-friendly. An unspoken by-product of this arrangement was Jack's chance to spend less time - alone - in his worn and disheveled bachelor 'pad', and enjoy quality time with a pal in a real home environment instead.

The first Saturday in June found both men busy earlier in the day: Phil attending the afternoon Coronado High School graduation ceremony with his fellow teachers, and Jack supervising the check-in of a large convention at the hotel. As the sun drifted toward its westward last hurrah - hovering just above the distant mountain range - Jack felt satisfied that the hotel was functioning well and confirmed that the event planner was happy. He bid the duty manager a goodbye, got in his truck, and headed to the city. In the back was a bag packed with a few tees, shorts and underwear that would allow him to change into something more comfortable after a quick skinny-dip with Phil in his small pool. Jack had left a toothbrush and toiletries the weekend before and he wondered if he should leave some of his clothes there as well. 'I'll play it by ear,' he decided as he merged onto the freeway, 'and see if Phil is comfortable with the idea.'

Predictability is good when you're middle aged - at least it was in Jack's case - but he wasn't opposed to doing new things, whether it was hiking on a new trail, seeing a show on the Strip or even attending an exhibition at the art museum. Sharing life's routine mundanity with someone you enjoyed was a real treat, especially if you'd previously been dealt such a crummy hand in the relationship game.

Life was good and each man understood the game rules.

The activities earlier in the evening included groping horseplay in the pool, an uncomplicated dinner with a few beers while sharing their day's events and a DVD movie - that night's entertainment was the newest Clint Eastwood film with Clint portraying a gritty old retired auto worker in Detroit. A geriatric Dirty Harry. However, as had been the case the previous weekend, they started a not-so-innocent make-out session halfway into the film that resulted with the two aroused men adjourning to the bedroom.

The phrase, 'practice makes perfect,' floated through Jack's mind as he lay on the rumpled bed, fully sated by Phil's sexual attentions. His new friend had masterfully combined energetic anal pounding with precision accuracy and the goal to please. In the past, Jack seldom had sex with a guy who was so intent on making the experience enjoyable for both parties - usually it was more about just getting off. As a result, when Jack took the lead on top, he returned the favor of discovering how best to effectively graze Phil's nut and carefully, but aggressively, bring him to an orgasmic high.

Phil's 'chorizo' was still burrowed up Jack's willing but worn chute, and the men embraced each other while their breathing ratcheted down to normalcy. Jack opened his eyes and noticed Phil's muscled, sweaty back glistening in the reflection of the full moon's light as Saturday midnight slid by. 'His mild-mannered teacher façade is quite different,' Jack thought as their hearts beat in synch, 'in the privacy of a bedroom.' Phil enjoyed and encouraged loud dirty talk: sexually descriptive language including prompts that Jack hadn't heard since his army days. But with all the bravado and verbal fantasy, Phil's concern for Jack's pleasure was a constant feature: be it foreplay, caressing or oral teasing. Even nipple-tweaking was administered with precision: finding the point just before the erotic gesture went beyond the threshold of pain. Both men agreed that they preferred a conventional approach to sex and decided to leave clamps, cuffs, oversized toys and leather fetishes to others.

"I'd better grab a wet towel," Phil said, as he slowly rose off Jack's body and slipped out his wilted, condom-cased penis. Their chest hairs were tangled and temporarily bonded with the remnants of Jack's ejaculation.

"Why don't I join you in the shower?" Jack turned on his classic grin and cocked his head. "Fucking's great but it gets pretty messy when you pull bottom duty." He had discovered that military role-playing and the occasional use of army jargon was a turn on for both of them.

"Something, no doubt, I'll find out in the morning." Phil got up on his knees and continued, "Okay, big boy, let's get squared away and hose ourselves down."

"Yes, Sir," Jack replied with a mock salute. He followed his compact bedmate into the bathroom and turned on the shower while Phil disposed of his used Trojan in the commode.

They had become very comfortable around each other. Jack, with his pale, lanky six-foot frame, and Phil's brown 5'8" body, melded well together. Everywhere - bed, shower and couch - like a human puzzle, the pieces fit. In their conversations, each had shared the most private details of their past lives, and they were to a point where each man could read the other's inner emotions. Tonight, almost like scripted action, they verbally completed each other's thoughts while they helped the other get clean - with deliciously inappropriate touches - and smiled with satisfaction as they toweled dry.

"If you're not too sleepy," Phil said, "let's go out by the pool…"

"And talk? Yeah, I'd like that." Jack wrapped his towel around his waist and watched Phil do the same. "After that workout we just had, I'm too wired…not to mention a little sore."

Phil laughed, slapped Jack on the butt, and led the way out to the small pool and patio. "As I said earlier, I fully expect to have the favor returned in a few hours."

"I aim to please," Jack said with a snicker, "cuz I'm big on guest satisfaction."

"And you do that very well." Phil took a deep breath of the evening air, exhaled and added, "I'm certainly not complaining."

"My only concern is what your priest must think when you arrive at Sunday mass walking bow-legged."

"I think that, plus a shit-eating grin, probably gives me away. But the padre is on our team; he even gave me a wink with a knowing nod last week."

"That's cool…as long as he doesn't try to be a substitute hitter." Jack put his hand on Phil's shoulder and squeezed it.

"No worry, Mr. Gamble. My priest is into twinks at the Backdoor and I've got the man I want…right here beside me."

"Same here." Jack sensed that Phil wanted to say more but didn't push it.

They padded over to a double chaise lounge, sat down on opposite sides and lay back. The midnight temperature was a comfortable 80° F and the moon cast a romantic shadowy light on the pool area. It was a cloudless night and the body of stars shown with high power LED intensity. Jack placed his arm around Phil's shoulder, moved closer and lightly brushed Phil's toes with his foot.

"This is pretty cool," Phil said quietly.

"Absolutely the best," Jack replied, "and not a cloud in the sky."

"No…I mean…it's cool that we met and…"

"Everything else that's happened?" Jack redirected his thinking and focused on the man lying next to him.


"You'll get no argument from me, Mr. Perez." Jack turned his head and smelled Phil's freshness from the shower - a combination of male muskiness and soap - and thought about the messy romp that had climaxed a half-hour earlier. 'That was quite a workout on the bed.'

"You seem to be a happy camper when we're together," Phil said, more as a statement of fact than a question.

"What's not to like? We've become good friends and certainly enjoy all the extra things that two healthy gay boys can get into." Jack decided to fish for affirmation and added, "At least, I do."

"Me, too. My point is, whaduya think about kinda dating on a permanent basis…just the two of us? You know…"

"Like going steady?" Jack asked cautiously. He liked the direction the conversation was going but decided to hang back and let Phil say his piece. 'Jeez, I almost feel like a teenager again, playing a cat and mouse game.' He considered Phil to be a pretty hot 'cat' and it felt great to be the pursued rather than being the pursuer.

"I guess that's exactly what I mean…in a way. That is, if mature guys do that."

"Hey, we're not old farts…yet," Jack replied, wrinkling his nose and sticking out his tongue.

"Well, I'm certainly not complaining."

"Then why don't we settle on the term, 'young mature'? That gives our generation a realm of possibilities." Even though Jack was five years older, he thought they were close enough in age to be lumped together.

"But if, as they say, 40 is the new 30, that means I'm only 25."

"That might be doable," Jack said, "but if we go back any further, you'll be meandering in post-pubescence…and who wants to experience that…again?"

"Jerking off to Playgirl magazines wasn't so awful." Phil grinned and pumped his fist.

"As long as you remembered to lock the bathroom door so your mom wouldn't walk in on you."

"I had a few close ones. Mom didn't believe in knocking before coming into my bedroom and one time - I must have been 14 -I was getting ready to explode when she walked in. Thank God I had good reflexes and the blanket nearby." Phil laughed and shook his head. "But we're getting off topic."

"Point taken. Rewinding back to 'young mature' and the topic, what have you got in mind for us?"

Phil snuggled closer and took Jack's hand. "I haven't noticed or seen other men since we first met, babe. We hit it off and it's just gotten better between us." He paused for a moment and added, "And with us now sharing our weekends…it just seems like maybe we should figure out where this is heading."

Jack waited to make sure Phil had completed his thoughts and decided that he'd continue playing the role of the 'mouse'. He then squeezed Phil's hand hard and said, "You know my schedule pretty well. Except for work, most of my free time has been spent with you…but I'm not complaining. Far from it…I enjoy being with you."

Only the murmur of distant traffic disturbed the silence.

"What would you think if I said that I'm feeling very serious about you…beyond being friends and everything else? Serious enough to suggest that we become boyfriends - exclusively."

"Whoa," Jack replied, "That is serious." He mulled over Phil's comment and the best way to reply. "Maybe I shouldn't be surprised with all that's happened between us over the past couple of months, but what you're suggesting really puts it on the line."


"Shush, hot stuff…let me continue." Jack leaned over and kissed Phil on the cheek. "I haven't felt this close to someone else for a long time. Since that first evening - I call it our 'sushi and sex' night - everything's been very easy with us. I look forward to seeing you…and the weekends are the best…certainly beats staying home alone and watching TV."

"Or an evening with one of Sean Cody's J.O. downloads."

'Yeah, that too," Jack said with a chuckle.

"And the load that comes as a result."

"That's why God invented Kleenex." Jack wiggled his eyebrows and continued. "Seriously, I guess if I was being honest…I already think of you as my boyfriend." He paused to gauge the reaction and saw a broad grin creep over Phil's face. "And although it wasn't planned that way, there's no one else…and I don't want to change that. So if you're asking me to be your boyfriend, I accept." He aimed his lips for Phil's and moved in for a wet, tongue-led kiss.

"Mmmm," was Phil's only comment as they passionately traded saliva. He wiggled and sighed as Jack moved on with light kisses around his face.

This was the usual point in their physical intimacy when one or the other would initiate genital stimulation. However, Jack had another goal in mind. He rose on his elbow and looked into Phil's eyes. "I think we should figure out how we handle being boyfriends. Okay?"


Jack lay back on the lounge, his arm returned to Phil's shoulder and said, "To me, dating exclusively means just that. What's the term…monogamous? And when the time is right, we make love without condoms." He stopped when he realized he'd used the "L" word, even in a broad context. "You know, when we…"

"Make love," Phil replied. "I understand the concept and it sounds good to me. If we're going to be honest with each other, I think we moved beyond the 'get-our-rocks-off' stage some time ago. I'll even go a step further and tell you that I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you. No, scratch that…I am in love with you."

"No one has said that to me for quite a while." Jack took a deep breath and continued, "I…I think I feel the same way, Phil, but it's hard to take a big step like this on the spur of the moment. Wow, I didn't see this coming…at all." He wanted to think over the proposal and analyze his feelings when he had a moment alone. 'I don't want to screw this up,' he thought as he clenched his teeth, 'like I have the other times.'

"I won't push you. Let's start with being boyfriends - exclusive, steady, monogamous…all of that - and see where that goes."

"Don't worry," Jack said, "it won't take long for me to sort things out." He squeezed Phil's hand for emphasis and looked up into the vastness of the universe. He spotted a meteor streaking through the sky and wondered if it was a good omen.

The big sky after midnight, and its vastness, was calming to Cray as he contemplated all that had occurred earlier in the evening. He was now stretched out on a chaise lounge in the darkness of the pool patio at home, still wearing the clothes he'd appropriated from Michael. Bob's car was in the garage but Drew's Bimmer was missing. 'He's probably still tied up at the hotel, hand-holding some big spender in the casino,' Cray thought as his attention was briefly drawn to the sight of a shooting star. He recalled from a science class that a meteor travels at least 100,000 miles per hour.

'What a screwy week this has been, starting with Michael kissing me off…and ending with him making an ass of himself at Benny's party.' He could only imagine the scene in the morning between Michael and Mr. Turner. 'Bud's going to figuratively 'tan Michael's hide,' Cray thought, kicking off his flip-flops, 'for pulling that drunken stunt.'

When Tim and he returned to the party, after tucking in Michael, everyone was curious about their missing 'shit-faced' classmate. With Cray's self-censoring, and Tim's earlier agreement not to reveal the more personal aspects of taking care of Michael, the two had managed to create a somewhat sympathetic picture. Benny had concluded that Michael had celebrated way too much, way too early, and would probably remember the evening with a splitting headache - not to mention some stern fatherly counseling. Benny actually had an earthier phrase for Mr. Turner's counseling: "The 'rent will be crapping major bricks."

Mr. Boren fired up burgers for the two re-arrivals and there was enough food remaining from the buffet to satisfy their appetites. While Tim and Cray were wolfing down their food, Bob broke away from the parental chaperone contingent and joined them. Cray, comfortable that Tim would tone down his usual wise-ass commentary, told Bob the details - slightly edited - of getting Michael to bed and confirmed he'd hidden the truck keys. When he was finished, Cray looked at Tim with a nod and slightly moved his eyes in the direction of the dancing area.

"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Harrington, I'm going to find my date," Tim said.

"See ya in a few." Cray watched Tim pick up his empty plate and toss it into a garbage can while walking away. He turned to Bob and said, "I don't understand what got into Michael's mind, but I'm really ticked off about what he did. More so for him than for me."

"Has he ever gotten that way before?" Bob asked. "Not that I'm prying."

"Naw. Just a beer once in a while with the guys - and no one in our crowd is a big drinker." Cray decided not to add that smoking weed was the drug of choice for some of his pals. "And when he was at our home for dinner, we'd have some wine." He frowned and bit his lip. "It's like I don't know him anymore…especially with his new boyfriend…changing schools an' everything."

"You know the term 'buyer's remorse'?"

"Sure," Cray replied with a shrug.

"Could be that Michael is having second thoughts about breaking up with you and tonight's antics were a way of letting off steam." Bob put his hand on Cray's shoulder and added, "If that's the case, what's your reaction?"

"It really hurt when he blew me off at the INN-N-OUT and I was pissed," Cray paused and pushed the last of the potato salad around his plate with his fork. "But you guys got me through that and, as Drew recommended - as well as Spike - I'm moving on."

Bob didn't say anything, but cocked his head with a raised eyebrow.

"Okay, it'd be dumb to say that this thing is completely behind me…but the door is pretty much closed."

"No thoughts about what you'd do if he called you tomorrow and begged you to take him back?" Bob asked.

"Earlier in the week, I woulda jumped at the chance…I think. Now, I just feel sorry for Michael and really hope he makes a go of it with this Randy. But I gotta wonder if he'll pull the same thing with the new guy." Cray decided not to mention that Michael had wanted him to hop in bed back at his house. 'He was drunk, but Michael knew what he was doing. Trying to get me to hop in the sack was way over the line.'

"Whatever the case, Drew and I are behind you, one hundred percent," Bob said. "I don't want to get preachy on you, but here's my read. What happened between Michael, his new friend and you is one of the harsh realities possible with two men in a relationship. Maybe you should check this off as a good learning experience."

"Not to let a boyfriend out of my sight?" Cray asked with a snicker.

"Maybe that, too." Bob joined with a laugh and shook his head. "This whole topic should probably be shelved until we're home some evening with time on our hands. And right now you should party with your friends."

"I'm cool for a few more minutes, if you are." With few exceptions, Cray always made room for quality time with either or both of his dads. In the past two years, they had patiently shared life experiences and offered advice when appropriate.

"The chaperone squad seems to be doing a good job with their martinis," Bob replied after looking back at the patio, "and I won't be missed. My only point is that men are basically hunters - predators, if you want to be a little grittier. Genetically, it's the way we're wired. In a traditional hetero relationship, the woman is the nurturer, mother, nester, and the man is the provider, protector, father, et cetera. Obviously, there are those couples who reverse the roles, but you get the picture. So when you throw two hunters into the mix, who are together in a relationship, there is a double jeopardy factor."

"Meaning that both guys are going to stray?"

"No…not necessarily. Just that the odds of two guys staying together, as opposed to a man and woman, are cut in half by the genetic factor. It doesn't mean that you won't find the right one for a long-term partnership - Drew and I are solid - but you have to work at it. Does that make sense?"

"Very much so." Cray decided that this was a conversation he wanted to have on a quieter occasion with both his dads. "Thanks for pointing out the obvious."

"Constant communication with your significant other is the key to making sure neither gets into the straying mood." Bob smiled softly and, with a nod, added, "If you're all set, I'll return to the parents and get ready to referee any olive fights."

"And I'll mosey over to the gang and see if I can dance a little more."

"Excellent idea," Bob replied as he stood. "Have a good time and don't blink or you'll miss me exiting early. This week at work has been strenuous and I'm ready for a good night's rest."

Cray stood and they shared a brief hug.

By the time he'd returned to the activities, Cray sensed that Michael was a forgotten casualty. For the remainder of the evening, he gossiped and joked with the guys and danced with the single girls. He knew Benny had laced the fruit punch with vodka and decided that drinking alcohol was not in his best interest. The remainder of the evening was sane, safe, sober and fun, and shortly before midnight the party broke up. He thanked Benny, said a few warm goodbyes to his closest friends and departed, a little weary but much wiser.

"It was a learning experience," Cray said to himself as he looked at his new graduation watch that he'd saved from going into the pool with him earlier in the evening. It was one o'clock. "This whole week has been a whole bunch of friggin' learning experiences."

He could only guess what had been going through Michael's mind to get drunk, risk his life by driving and arrive at the party with such a bang. 'Or, splash is more like it.' But he concluded Bob's suggestion concerning Michael having second thoughts about Randy made sense. 'If Michael wants to call,' he thought, 'so be it. But I'm not anxious to find out the nitty-gritty details about confronting his dad.' Cray wasn't too concerned about what Mr. Turner's reaction would be with his son's screw-up. Bud was a good man, in Cray's judgment, and he would handle discipline in a fair way. 'Michael will probably be in deep doo-doo for a while and will definitely be without truck privileges.'

A sudden breeze introduced a slight chill to the air. At that moment, Cray realized the flame of their love relationship had been extinguished, and his anger was defused. It was a moment of clarity - the decisions Michael had made were those of his own doing and the two young men had drifted apart beyond the point of return. 'No pain, no gain,' he thought as he let out a loud yawn, 'also works in the love department.' He stretched, got up and slipped on his flip-flops. As much as he wanted to remain on the chaise lounge and peel off a few more layers of this segment of his life, Cray decided it was time for bed. He would be helping to serve several hundred hungry breakfast guests in the Café Bogatell at the Barcelona in less than six hours.

The Tuesday noonday sun was intense and Cray was relieved when he finished cutting the grass. If the backyard didn't abut the 16th fairway, he would have peeled off his sweaty clothes and immediately jumped in the pool to cool off. He amended that action by adding a fast trip to the pool house and slipping into a pair of swim trunks. 'No reason to give the golfers a floorshow,' he thought as he jumped into the water, 'although a few of them might enjoy it.' The water was refreshing and Cray decided to swim a few laps before returning to the house.

Swimming also gave him time to think without interruption. For the past three days he'd been busy with day shifts at the café and chores he'd promised to complete around the house. He had touched base with Tim and Benny via text messaging: mindless B.S. thumb-typing concerning life after Green Valley. And except for a call from Michael to Benny to apologize for his drunken behavior, Michael was below low profile. Cray had also spoken to Spike to confirm that he'd be able to help his old friend move from the Mondrian Tower to his smaller condo on Wednesday.

Ten minutes and 15 laps later, Cray climbed up the ladder, grabbed a large towel and was drying off when his cell phone rang. He picked up the phone and looked at the window. The expected call - the final personal housekeeping from last weekend - had arrived.

"Yo, Michael," he said after flipping open the phone. He decided to be friendly, as one would with a casual acquaintance.

"Hi. Um, is this a good time to talk?"

"I just finished mowing the grass and I'm cooling off. Whazzup?"

"Not much…'cept going crazy in the house. I wanted to get a few things off my chest." Michael paused and let out a deep sigh . "I'm, number one, so sorry that I made such an ass of myself the other night. And two…I wanted to thank you for getting me home in a safe condition. I don't know what I was thinking when I got into dad's beer."

"You were fucked up." Cray wasn't going to be the lone hero in this saga. "Tim was a big help, along with a couple of other guys at the party." A part of him wanted to know all the details, but he decided to play cool. "But, like a lot of things, that's all history."

"I know better…but thanks anyway. And except for getting my diploma, I wish I could erase all of last week, ya know?"

"That was a big week for both of us…and we don't get to re-do what happened, Michael. You made some decisions I didn't like…but that's the way the big cookie crumbles. Right?" Cray's curiosity had been stirred concerning what part of the past week Michael wanted to erase. "You and Randy will be off to Reno this fall and I'll be here holding down the fort."

"Yeah, well…after my stunt, Dad's not sure about the Reno bit." Michael sniffled and continued, " He says that it'll be a stretch to help me with the extra costs involved in going away to school. This is something we're going to talk about later this week."

"Even with the scholarship that you were able to snag at the last minute?" Cray had heard, through the rumor mill, that he had scored a great assistance program for qualified pre-med students.

_"Dad will come around, I think. And I'll be able to save money from my summer job. In the meantime, I'm pretty limited where I can go. He won't even consider letting me use the truck." _

"There's always the bus and your bike."

"I don't have a lot of options on 'when' I can go at the moment."

"Like grounded?" Cray asked. "You're 18, not some 15 year-old kid." He wanted to add that Michael had been acting like a kid but restrained himself.

"I pointed that out when things got kinda heated between us on Sunday. Dad told me that I was living in his house and he made the rules. He went so far as to say that I was old enough to move out if I didn't like them. Crap, there's no way I can afford to do that."

"Why not move in with Randy?" Cray couldn't resist the dig but decided not to expand that thought any further.

"Not even close to being an option. I'm pretty sure I told you that he's not out to his folks. No… I've just got to eat this shit sandwich and figure things out. Randy's not too happy that we can't see each other, but I'm sure Dad will loosen the reins in a week or so."

"Then everything's covered." Cray stopped and decided how best to wrap up the conversation and set the tone for their future. "Listen, buddy, things will work out. I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't hurt when you told me we weren't going to be a couple. Shocked and hurt. But that's over and I'm going - and the word really is 'going' - to be fine. What we had is over, severed by you. Maybe we'll be friends again someday…but right now we need to go our separate ways. I think it's best that we don't try to contact each other." He took a deep breath and hoped his statement would be taken the right way. 'I do think Michael and I can be friends again.'

Silence. Nothing.

"Michael, are you still there?"

"I didn't think it would come to this…but you're right. I guess we've got each other's cell numbers and leave it at that. It was an amazing two years…I won't forget that…nor do I want to."


"I won't forget, either. Good luck." Cray disconnected the call, picked up his clothes and returned to the house.

Once he had showered and redressed in the Vegas summer uniform of the day - tee, shorts and flip-flops - he made a sandwich out of leftover tuna salad and washed it down with iced tea. 'I need to get out, be with some buddies and get my mind free of that phone call,' he thought as he flipped open his cell. 'Maybe a movie or cruise the mall since I don't have to work tomorrow morning.' The only plan for tomorrow was to help Spike on his move. 'Spike might want to do something. It's been too long since we just hung out - I'll give him a buzz.' He scrolled to Spike Jenkins' name and hit 'send'.

The call connected after the second ring.

"Hey, dude, what's goin' on?" Spike said with enthusiasm.

"Not much 'cept trying to decide what to do tonight. I was wondering if you wanted to get together for a flick or dinner?"

"Cool idea. I'm pretty well finished with my packing and had planned on going over to Mario's for dinner. He called and said he wanted me to meet a new guy who's going to be one of his star players. Why don't you join me for a few shits and giggles? Mr. Ed will be cooking up his usual spectacular food."

"You're sure this is just social and not some pity hand-holding? I mean it would be fun to see Mario and chow down on Mr. Ed's food, but…"

"Asshole, it's purely social and we discussed this in detail the other day," Spike said with a laugh. _"Mario would love to have you over and you haven't seen his new casita he built for himself. It'll be fun. Why don't I pick you up at your house around six and we'll go from there?" _

"Spike, this sounds like fun."

"See ya then."

Cray set down his phone, sipped the remainder of the tea and wondered about the 'new guy'.

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