Castle Roland

Forever 2 - Changes

by Jack Schaeffer

In Progress

Chapter 21

Published: 19 Sep 16

FOREVER Book II - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015, 2016. All rights reserved.

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." - Robert F. Kennedy, Senator and U.S. Attorney General

I pulled five shirts from my closet that I wanted to take on our trip to Rhode Island. I was aiming for dressy casual. I wanted to look relaxed and comfortable, not sloppy and disrespectful. I took two steps, and every shirt slid off its hanger, landing in a heap of despair at my feet. Tears threatened. The stress of packing was wearing me out.

I sighed and looked over at Sam, humming some tune and happy as a lark. His suitcase was nearly full, mine was still empty. Why was this so hard? Thankfully he wasn't paying attention to my inability to manage even simple tasks. I quietly picked up the shirts and carried them to the bed.

Sam looked up from the other side of the bed and smiled at me. "Can you hand me those shorts?" I attempted to pass him a stack of folded shorts and fumbled the handoff. They were now just a jumbled mess.

"Crap! What's the matter with me," I said, turning and sitting on the opposite side of the bed, shoulders slumped. My hands were shaking. Sam crawled across the clothing-strewn bed and grabbed my shoulders from behind, squeezing them as he slipped a leg on either side of my waist. He wrapped his arms around mine like a strait jacket and pulled up tight against my back.

"It's okay, it's no big deal," he said against my neck, his warm breath on my skin sending shivers down my spine. I leaned back, sinking into his embrace.

"I so want to believe you," I said. "I'm screwing up left and right, and we haven't even gotten on the plane."

"Shhhh," he whispered, rocking me gently back and forth. "Breathe, Jack. Just breathe. I promise you, you have nothing to be worried about. I love you, and my family will love you, too."

"They have to," I whispered, as tears fell from my eyes, matting the hair on Sam's muscular arms.

"Talk to me, little man. What's going on?" said Sam. He kissed my temple and rested his chin on my shoulder, his head against my left ear. I reached up and held a hand to his face.

I didn't want to tell him, but keeping the fear bottled up clearly wasn't working. I took a deep breath and reached up to wipe my eyes. Sam's arms never moved. If anything he held me even tighter.

"I'm scared," I said around the lump in my throat.

"Scared of what?"

"Of being alone again."

Sam stiffened. I could feel his heart beating against my back, his pulse quickening. I was afraid to move, glad I couldn't see his face. I should have kept my mouth shut.

It took him a full minute to gather his thoughts, then he let go of me and carefully pulled his legs back. I slumped forward and buried my face in my hands, pushing on my eyes in a failed attempt to keep the tears at bay. The bed shook as Sam shimmied back to the other side. I felt the bed move again as he stood up, but I was afraid to turn around and face him. He'd had enough of my weakness. I didn't blame him.

Suddenly he was in front of me, kneeling down at my feet. When he looked up, his beautiful blue eyes were full of pain. I touched his cheek.

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

"Why do you think you'll be alone?"

"Because," I said, dropping my hand. "Everyone I've ever loved leaves me. I do something wrong, and then...they just leave."

"I'm still here," said Sam, resting his chin on my knees and wrapping his arms around my legs. I wanted to scream. I hated this part of me, the weak, snively kid whose insecurities got the best of him. I thought I was getting better, but the stakes with Sam were so high, and I couldn't fight the thought I would eventually lose him, too.

I sighed, looking across the room toward the windows, watching the faces of former loved ones cross my mind. "I never knew my birth parents. My adoptive father didn't like me. I he left. My brother hates me. I'm sure he wishes I was dead. Even my mom...she...I don't know, it's not the same now. It's like she just...let go. Why? What's wrong with me?"

I fell back on the bed. Sam released my legs, and I pulled them up into a fetal position. The pain and loss overwhelmed me, and gave in to the tears. Sam pushed unpacked clothes out of the way and spooned up behind me, squeezing an arm underneath my shoulders, and wrapped me up in a tight embrace. I sobbed and sobbed, like something was dying inside, and he just held on, crying softly with me. He didn't leave.

The sun was setting when I finally stopped crying, physically and emotionally exhausted. Sam was still there behind me, holding me like he would never let go. I desperately wanted to believe he wouldn't. Years of experience told me otherwise. I reached up and held on to his strong arms for as long as I could.

He inhaled sharply behind me, sensing the resignation in my soul. With great strength, he managed to spin me to face him. Inches away from his lips, his breath hot on my face, he said, "Don't. Don't you dare lump me in with everyone else. I'm not your dad, or your mom. Or your deadbeat asshole of a brother. I'm not Amanda, either."

"Sam...I..." He kissed me, but it wasn't passion. It was frustration, intended to shut me up. I complied.

"I get it," he said. "You were abandoned at birth, and adopted by people who didn't appreciate you for who you are. That sucks. Yeah, you're different. But so are they. Everyone is different. Different is why I love you. And it's why I'm never, ever, leaving you."

I started to say something but he gave me a look, and I shut my mouth.

He put a hand on my chest. "You don't get to decide if I stay or go, Jack. That's my decision. And let's get another thing straight - I'm not here because you're perfect or have it all together. Face it, you're a bit of a mess."

I looked down, away from his blazing blue eyes. He pulled my chin up to face him again.

"But I love your mess, little man. I love that you need me. I love that I can be an anchor for you when life gets crazy, and life with you is definitely not for the faint of heart. I'm here...because I want to be here." He kissed the end of my red nose.

"I don't want you to be perfect, Jack. I want you to have flaws and quirks and use crazy words and say silly things and smile that smile you have when you first wake up, happy to see me. I want to take a million showers with you and make love to you every day and marvel how you give and give and give of yourself to everyone around you. I want to kiss you until I can't breathe, and hug you until you feel safe again. But most of all, I want to be the guy I am when I'm with you. I don't want to be anyone else. So I'm staying, Jack. You're just gonna have to find a way to deal with me being in your life. Forever."

I blinked, stunned at the force and fire in his eyes, boring deep into mine. It was like he was daring me to believe him. I looked deep into his soul, trying to find any uncertainty. I saw none.

"I don't deserve you," I whispered.

"Nope, you don't," he said, grinning. "But does anybody ever really deserve someone else? I certainly don't deserve you."

"How do you figure? You just said I'm a mess. You had a simple life until I dragged you into my...whatever this is."

"Total chaos?" he said with a soft chuckle.

"Yeah. At least it's not boring."

"Exactly. I love my new life with you. I feel...alive. As long as we don't have anybody shooting at us, I can deal. Besides, I get the best part in the whole thing."

I raised an eyebrow. "How's that?"

He put our foreheads together and looked into my eyes. "I get a front row seat to watch you grow into the man you were always meant to be."

I smiled. "You're the only reason I'm even in the game. If it wasn't for you..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah...I'm wonderful. I'm also hungry. Let's go see what Maggie left us for dinner." He let go of me and sprang onto his feet. He reached down and pulled me up next to him.

I grabbed him and buried my face in his chest, trying not to cry again. He hugged me and kissed the top of my head. I sighed and looked up.

"How do you know how to love me so well?" I asked.

Sam shrugged, his hands dropping to my waist. "I don't know. But honestly, Jack, you're not that hard to love."

I snorted in disbelief. "Did you not just hear what I said about everyone leaving me? Believe me, I'm not that easy to love. You just have some kind of superpowers or something."

He let go of me, his lips pressed in a tight line. "Look...I don't want to be unkind about your family, but you're wrong, Jack. You aren't the one with the problem...they are. Every one of the people you think you drove away...they didn't leave because of something you did. They left because of what they couldn't do."

I took a step back from him. "What do you mean?"

"Think about it. Didn't Amanda tell you in her letter she gave you up for adoption because she couldn't handle the responsibility of raising a child by herself? Your adoptive father abandoned the entire family, not just you. Clearly he didn't have what it takes to be a husband or a father. Your brother...well, it sounds like drugs and alcohol got hold of him, and he's unable to deal with life in general. Your mom...I have no idea about her. I think you need to give her the benefit of the doubt for now, but that's just my opinion, having never met her."

I sighed. That was an unlikely meeting if there ever was one. "Maybe you're right," I said. "I never thought of it from that angle."

"Two sides to every relationship," he said, rubbing my upper arms. "All I'm saying is, you aren't the reason they left. You didn't make some kind of mistake to push them away. For reasons of their own, they bailed on you. You don't have to take the blame for their weaknesses."

I stared at him, trying to comprehend this new point of view. "But...what you're saying is they didn't love me enough to stay."

"No...I'm saying they loved themselves too much to stay. They were selfish, Jack. They did what they thought was best for them. There's not much room for anyone else when you have yourself on your mind all the time. I learned that from you," he said, gently tapping my heart with his finger.

"From me?"

He reached up to hold my chin and fix his beautiful blue eyes on mine. "Yes, you. Remember when I took off up the mountain without telling you?" I nodded. "I had myself and my problems on my mind, and ignored what you needed. I thought I was doing the right thing, but in the end, I hurt you." He moved his hand to my cheek, stroking it tenderly. "I won't make that mistake again."


Sam's stomach rumbled. "You know what - I'm famished," he said with a grin, moving his hand to grip my shoulder. "Come on, I smell barbecue."

A full stomach put everything into a better perspective. We still had to finish packing and I needed a good night's sleep before my big tests - the GMAT...and meeting Sam's parents.

Back in our bedroom, I helped Sam refold the clothes on the bed, and we started packing again. Sam was finished in less than thirty minutes and started getting ready for bed. When he came out of the bathroom, I was still trying to figure out where to put all my stuff.

"I need another suitcase," I said, throwing a stack of pants on the bed. I still had socks and underwear to fit, too. I flopped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.

Sam leaned over the side of the bed and looked upside down at me.

"You're packing too much, Jack," said Sam. "We're only going for five days. I told you, all you need are flip flops, your swimsuit, a few t-shirts, and some shorts. Done." He put a hand of either side of my chest, then planted a kiss on my lips. I reached up and held his head so he couldn't escape when my tongue invaded.

Kissing upside down felt weird, but sexy in a strange way. Sam certainly didn't seem to mind. He moved his tongue to my neck. He had me writhing and moaning, clawing for his cock somewhere over my head.

"That feels so good, Sam. Don't stop." He didn't, and pinched one of my nipples playfully. Now it was on. I scooted backwards until my head was at the edge of the bed, and reached for his boxer briefs, trying to pull them down. I was close enough I could smell him, and my own dick pushed against my shorts.

"You want it?" asked Sam. I moaned something that sounded like a yes. He laughed and stood up long enough to push his underwear to the floor and step out of them. Then he inched up to my face, gently placing his balls on my nose, his dick landing on my chin. I inhaled his scent with a long, deep breath, then pushed my tongue against his taint, just under his sack. That spot always drove him wild.

I played there for a moment or two, my tongue happily swirling, massaging his prostate from the outside. He did his best to stand still and enjoy it, but I knew his knees were weakening. I felt a drop of pre-cum hit my neck, then another. I reached up with my fingers, scooped it off my skin and rubbed it on my tongue. That was all it took. I opened my mouth like a hungry baby bird begging for a morning worm. What I got was more like an anaconda.

Sam slowly pushed his hard, veiny cock into my mouth. He teased me with it, going only halfway in, then pulling out and rubbing it across my nose and eyes and forehead. He repeated this several times, until I reached back, grabbed his ass, and pulled him deep into my throat. I gagged but held on tightly, not letting him pull back.

I did my best to massage his cock with my tongue and throat. I could hear Sam moaning above the rush of blood in my ears. I let him pull out only long enough for me to grab a breath and then buried his dick even deeper in my throat, savoring the taste of his pre-cum on my tongue and the intense Sam scent. I could feel my own pre-cum pooling in my underwear.

I pushed Sam's hips back until his dripping cock popped out of my mouth. "Fuck my throat," I said.

"You sure?" he asked in a husky, animal voice.

"Do it!" I said.

Sam lined up his dick on my lips. I opened my mouth and he aimed for my tongue, adding pressure. I shifted my head back to make a better angle, and it slid further in, hitting the ring of muscle at the back of my throat. Sam leaned over, put a hand on either side of my waist, and pushed in deeper. I felt my throat ring give way and his cock went all the way in. My nose was now almost touching his hole. He held still, knowing it was easier for me to not gag if he didn't move.

Sam pulled halfway out, and I moaned for more. I took a quick breath through my nose and Sam pushed back in, all the way in. My whole body lurched, but he maintained the pressure. I could feel a few tears slide out the corners of my eyes. I loved every second of it. Because I knew he loved it.

There is something about being in my throat that drives Sam wild. Sure, he loves, loves, loves to fuck my ass, and I crave him in my hole. But when I do this - when I swallow his cock to the root and massage the head with my throat, he goes insane with pleasure.

I swallowed hard three times, then he pulled back again. Another quick breath, then he went deep. More swallowing. More moaning from both of us. I grabbed Sam's hips and started pushing and pulling them, trying to create a rhythm I could handle without gagging. He let me set the pace, then reached for my wet cock, unfastening my shorts. He pushed them down enough to get my underwear locked under my balls.

Sam stroked my cock with his hand and I stroked his with my throat. Once I had my breathing figured out, I ignored the tears and swallowed even harder. His piston grip on my dick was so tight, it felt like he was trying to rip it off my body.

I was getting close, and so was Sam. I could tell, because now he was all over the place. I struggled to breathe on the out and not gag on the in. The whole time I kept my hands on his ass, never letting him pull completely out of my mouth.

"Oh fuck, Jack. I'm gonna cum. I'm gonna...Ahhh!!" I pulled him hard into my throat and held on for the ride. I could feel the ridge on the underside of his cock pulsing against my lips. His balls had tightened up against his body and even my nose, buried in his taint, could feel the muscle spasms of his release.

He was breathing hard. I wasn't breathing at all. I tapped a hand on his ass lightly, and he gasped, then tried to pull out of my mouth. I stopped him long enough to savor a drop or two of cum on my tongue. Delicious.

Sam dropped to his knees where he was, then kissed me with my head still hanging upside down off the bed.

"That was incredible," he said, still trying to catch his breath.

"Mmmm. That was fun," I said, wiping tears from the corners of my eyes. Sam saw it and freaked.

"Oh my god, I hurt you!" he said, lifting my head and shoulders off the bed and sliding underneath them to sit on the bed. I was looking up into his eyes, smiling.

"I'm fine, big guy. Relax. You didn't hurt me at all."

"But you're crying."

"Nope. Just a little eye watering. No big deal. All part of the fun."

Sam looked down at me with his radiant blue eyes, and I just sighed happily. I'd wanted to do it that way for a while, but he always went for my ass first, which I'm always happy to give him.

"You are fucking amazing, little man," he said.

"I know," I replied with a shrug. Not a good idea. Moving my shoulders upset the delicate balance of my body on Sam's lap. I slid off, landing on the floor in a heap. He fell on the floor next to me, laughing hysterically.

"You think that's funny," I said, squeezing his right nipple.

"Ow. Hey, now."

"What are you going to do about it, big guy?" I goaded, squeezing it again. He grabbed my wrist and held it tight. He leaned into me, pushing me backwards to the carpet, but not before I grabbed his head and pulled him down with me.

Laying on top of me, smiling, blue eyes slanted with need, he looked at me with animal lust. My dick was rock hard, and I needed release. Pressing me down with his full weight, Sam kissed me, his tongue pressing past my lips and doing battle with my own. I tried to wrap my legs around his waist, but my shorts and underwear were still in the way.

He lifted my t-shirt, his fingers finding my nipple and tweaking it mercilessly. I was writhing under him now, aching with need. With his other hand he somehow managed to push my shorts and underwear down to a point where he could finish the removal with his foot.

He kissed me again, his own lust kicking into overdrive. Starved for oxygen, he reluctantly pulled back, the look in his eyes mesmerizing. This man loved me. He needed me. And I needed him.

"Don't move," he said in that commanding voice I'm smart enough to obey. I put my arms down at my sides as he leaned over and licked my neck, sending chills down my spine. He moved to my left nipple, circling it with his tongue, teasing and taunting. My dick pulsed up and down, a river of precum flowing freely into my navel.

He looked up at me, deep blue eyes fixed on mine, telling me without words everything I needed to hear. He wasn't going anywhere.

Except down on me. I yelled out when he swallowed my dick, my hands flying to his head, trying to pull him off. He grabbed my wrists and held them down as his tongue slid up and down my shaft, only to stop at the head and slurp up leaking precum.

Somehow he pushed my hands behind my back, so I was laying on them. The look he gave me made it clear - don't pull them out. My whole body shivered with excitement. Sam was in full control mode now.

He went back to slowly sucking my cock. Up and down, his tongue a velvety light touch. I tried to stay still, but my hips started bucking to meet his movements. He pushed down right above my dick. With his other hand, he coated two fingers with the pool of precum in my navel, never stopping the slow milking of my cock with his mouth.

He reached under my ass and started probing with one wet finger. In one fluid motion, he buried my cock in his throat and his finger deep in my ass. I ground my hole against his finger, gyrating my prostate against the internal intruder.

"Fuck me, Sam. Please...please fuck me," I hissed.

His response was to suck harder. A second finger squeezed into my hole and, together with the first, assaulted my prostate. Sam grabbed my cock with his other hand and started stroking as he sucked. The combined pleasures of his handiwork put me over the edge.

"Oh, god! Don't stop! I'm cumming...oh, fuck," I yelled, arching up and holding my breath as my ass muscles contracted against Sam's fingers. Then I was pleading with him to stop, everything too sensitive to continue. He slowly slid his fingers out of my hole and I exhaled in relief. He looked at me, his mouth closed, a question in his eyes.

I nodded. He grinned, sliding slowly up to my face. I opened my mouth and he did likewise, sharing my seed with me. I pulled my hands out from behind my back and grabbed Sam's ass, squeezing it firmly. After a few minutes of kissing and hands roaming each other's bodies, Sam pulled back to look at me.

"Do you understand now?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied, knowing without a doubt he was committed to being with me forever.

He sighed. "Good. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's finish packing. You've got a big day tomorrow."

I groaned, and he helped me to my feet. We were a mess, so our first stop was the shower. It was very late when we finished packing.

"We'll see you in a few hours," said Sam, giving me another wonderful kiss.

"If you don't get in there, Schaeffer, they aren't gonna let you take your test," said Ben, standing with us in the brick courtyard outside the building where the GMAT test was given. He frowned under his mirrored sunglasses, pissed they wouldn't let him inside the testing facility.

"Fine, I'm going," I said, leaning into Sam for one more hug.

"Go. And don't've got this," said Sam.

I sighed and went inside. The next four hours would determine in great part whether or not I would be admitted to Washington University along with Sam. The check-in process went smoothly. The lady at the counter took my picture and checked my ID. She also took a digital scan of my palm. Weird.

I filled out a bunch of forms, pledging on pain of death I was who I said I was, and I was shown to my cubicle. The test would be administered by computer, and once I had viewed the instructional video, the first task appeared, and the timer started.

The writing section was fairly straightforward. Carol had coached me on the basics, and said not to worry too much about this part. After the reasoning section, I raised my hand and was released to use the restroom and take a break. I took another short break after the quantitative/math portion, and finished up with the verbal section. This final part was a little tougher. My brain hurt by that point, and I wanted to be done. Thankfully I had taken so many practice tests, I was never overwhelmed.

The test proctor came over when I raised my hand indicating I was finished. She said to wait a couple of minutes and my score would show up on the screen. I nearly fell off my chair when it did. I scored a 730 and was in the 95th percentile. Yes! I pushed the "accept" button to record the unofficial score, and was smiling ear to ear when I stopped to sign out.

"I take it you did well?" asked the assistant at the desk.

"730. That's good, right?"

She laughed. "Yeah, that's a great score. Good job."

I grabbed all my papers and exited through the revolving door. Sam and Ben were standing up against a brick wall on the far side of the courtyard. He saw me and pushed off the wall, moving toward me. Ben went on alert. I ran over to Sam, straight into his open arms. I kissed him, not caring who might be watching.

"'re excited. The test went well?" asked Sam, grinning, his hands on my waist.

"Yep. 95th percentile."

"Holy fuck, Jack! That's fantastic. I mean...surely that's good enough to get into Wash U, right?"

"It better be. If not, I'll start some endowment or something, and they'll have to let me in."

"This is happening...we're both going to school?" he said.

"That's the plan. You still want me to come with you, right?"

He grabbed me and hugged me tight. "You better believe it. This is so awesome. Come on," he whispered in my ear. "Ben's wound tighter than a two dollar watch. Let's get to the airport."

Ben nodded to me as I approached, then turned away in the direction of the parking lot without a word. Sam and I followed a few steps behind. We didn't talk for the short drive over to the hangar at Centennial Airport.

As he pulled the car to a stop close to the plane's front steps, Ben said, "Jack, get on board. Sam, you, too. I'll get the bags onto the plane." Sam looked at me and I shrugged. Something was up, but I wasn't going to challenge his directive. We still needed his cooperation with staying out of sight.

Nancy Albertson was waiting when we boarded. "Hi, Jack. Sam. Good to see you guys again. Find your seats. I'll have lunch ready once we're airborne."

"Thank God somebody's got their priorities straight around here," said Sam. I smiled at my perpetually ravenous lover and led him by the hand to the main cabin. Gary Johnson looked up from a legal file.

"Hey, guys. What's up?" he said, getting up to shake our hands.

"Sit, sit," I said, flopping down on a leather couch. Sam sat next to me and reached over my lap to buckle me in, then did likewise for himself.

"You and Justin having a little vacation, too?" asked Sam.

"Yeah. It's okay if I tag along, Jack?"

"Of course. What do you and Justin have planned for the holiday?" I asked, leaning against Sam's shoulder. I yawned.

"We're headed up to Provincetown on the Cape. I booked us a room at a B&B a couple of blocks from the ocean. We both need to unwind a little."

"What are Ron and Nancy doing? Do you know?"

"Justin said Ron and Nancy are going up to Boston. I think they have some friends who live around there, but I'm not sure."

"Cool," said Sam as Ben arrived, still on edge. Talk about someone who needed to unwind. He took his usual seat in the rear, yanking off his jacket and slipping his gun and holster off his shoulder. I started to say something, but Sam tapped me and shook his head.

"What are you guys up to on this trip?" asked Gary.

"Meeting Sam's family for the first time," I said, feeling a twinge of nerves course down my spine.

"Oh, so no pressure, then," said Gary with a grin. I rolled my eyes and Sam chuckled.

"Jack's worried about it, but everything will be fine. Five days on the beach is exactly what we need. I can't wait to get there."

"They know you're bringing a boy home?"

"Yep. First time," said Sam. "My mother is beside herself eager to meet him."

"Oh great! You didn't tell me that," I said.

Sam patted my knee. "Relax, little man. It's a good thing, I promise."

Justin, the co-pilot, stepped into the cabin. "Everybody locked in?"

"Yes, Captain," I said. He smiled at me.

"Wheels up in five," he said, then turned back. Nancy squeezed passed him and sat in the first row nearest the galley.

A minute later the engine whine increased and we were moving. Soon we were airborne, headed east. I squeezed Sam's hand and closed my eyes. I was asleep against his shoulder before we reached cruising altitude.

I woke up when Sam unbuckled to help Nancy in the galley. I grumbled something and he laughed, then laid me gently down onto the couch. The seat where he'd been sitting was warm, and I went right back to sleep.

Two hours later I woke up, momentarily confused as to where I was. My first sight was a scowling Ben looking down at his cell phone, muttering to himself. He looked up and saw me staring at him.

"You awake?" he asked. I nodded.

"Good. We need to talk," he said.

"Give me a minute and I'm all yours," I replied. I stood, put my hands on the ceiling, and stretched out my back. The couch was not the most comfortable bed in the world. I used the rear lavatory, and when I came out, I saw Sam and Ben sitting at the table near the front of the cabin. Gary was nowhere to be seen, and I could hear Nancy working in the galley. Sam had pulled the curtain across the aisle so we had a little privacy.

Delicious aromas wafted in from the galley. "What is that smell?" I asked, sliding into a seat next to Sam. He kissed my cheek.

"Nancy's making chocolate chip cookies. I can't wait."

"You get something to eat, big guy?"

"Yeah. We had sandwiches. I let you sleep."

"Thank you. I needed it. So...Ben...what's up?" I said, turning to my sour-faced personal protection agent.

"We need to discuss security plans, and I need you both to pay close attention. We have a lot of moving parts in this scenario."

"We'll do whatever you need us to do," I said, meaning every word. Ben stared at me. I was waiting for him to roll his eyes, but he just nodded.

"Thank you. Okay...first off, the Bertrands left on Friday. I had people in the house on Saturday to diagram the layout and chart routes of ingress and egress."

"Routes of what?" I asked.

"How to get in and out of the house. Pay attention," said Ben. Sam grabbed my hand under the table and I bit off my retort.

"My team will be set up in a house across the street and two down."

"Team?" asked Sam.

" didn't think I was working this alone, did you?"

"I have no...never mind. Continue," said Sam.

"When we cased the house, we put three discreet cameras in the main living areas, nothing in the private rooms. One is on the front door, one on the back patio area and pool, and one in a fake vase on the fireplace mantle in the main room on the first floor."

He looked right at me and said, "Don't look for them, and for God's sake, don't move them." I rolled my eyes. He couldn't help it - his mouth cracked into a slight grin at that.

"Wait...the Bertrands let you in their house and agreed to cameras?" asked Sam.

Ben sighed. "Sam...the Bertrands are enjoying a nice visit with their daughter in Florida. What they don't know won't bother them. The important thing is I think I can cover you guys without having to be in the house with you, which is what you wanted, right?"

Sam nodded, but I could tell he wasn't too thrilled with violating the Bertrand's privacy. Me either, but I understood why Ben did it.

"During your stay, you'll see some of my people around. There will be a guy doing yard work and minor projects around the house. He'll look just like any other landscaper. He'll keep his distance, but if there's any danger, tell him you need Nora and he'll take it from there."

"Who's Nora?" I asked.

"No one. It's code for need officer right away."

"Cool," I said. "This could be fun."

Ben scowled at me. "Don't get any ideas, Schaeffer. This isn't a game. These guys are trained agents. If you say you need help, they're going to crash the party and ask questions later. You got that?"

I swallowed. "Yes, sir."

"You said guys, plural. Who else will be around?" asked Sam.

"I'll have two or three agents on the beach at all times. They will blend in, so you shouldn't notice them. They all have instructions to stay back from the house, but they are seconds away if you put out a distress call."

"Distress call? How do we do that?" asked Sam.

"With these," said Ben, placing two small black boxes half the size of a cell phone on the table. In the center of each was a gray circle. "You press the gray button three times rapidly and help comes running."

"What if we press it by mistake?" I asked.

"That's why you have to press it three times in short succession. If you do make a mistake, you can call off the cavalry by pressing it twice more. Is that clear?"


"Good. Try it," he said, nodding toward me. I pressed the gray button on my device three times rapidly, but nothing happened.

"What did I do wrong?" I asked, looking at Sam. He shrugged.

"Nothing," said Ben, reaching up to his ear. "I heard it just fine. See this faint light on the edge, right here? When you've activated the device, this light is illuminated. That's how you'll know."

"So we can call for help without anyone knowing about it," said Sam.

"Exactly. Keep these on you at all times. They also serve as a GPS tracking device, so I'll know where you are. If I catch you without these, all bets are off."

"What if we want to go swimming in the ocean?" I asked.

"They're waterproof to a hundred feet, so don't do any deep sea diving and you'll be fine."

"And if I lose it?" I asked.

"Then I'm gonna lose it all over your ass. Pay attention and be smart, Jack. Your security may not seem all that big a deal right now. We haven't had any credible threats, and that's due to you keeping a low profile, which is good. But now that your business is making moves, and you're starting to impact other people, that could change rapidly. You need to be in the habit of doing the right things now."

I couldn't argue with that. "I will. I promise."

"As for you, Sam, I'm upping your security profile to match Jack's. From this point forward, as far as I'm concerned, you're as much of a potential target as Jack. You'll be in the bubble, same as him." Sam nodded.

"Now...when we land, I'll have an SUV waiting for you. Do not go anywhere on this trip in any other vehicle but this one, you got it?"

"Yes. But what if Sam's family wants to go on an outing?" I asked.

Ben sighed again, clearly not happy with such an idea. "If you have to go out, the first thing you do is text me with the details, as far in advance as you can. You wait until I give you a thumbs up. Second, use the SUV. It seats eight, so hopefully you can keep most of the family together. But try to stick close to the house, please."

"Are we okay to walk on the beach?" asked Sam.

"Yes, but make sure you have your radio with you. We'll see you on the move. You might see someone trailing you or hanging around in your vicinity. If you make eye contact, they will nod twice." He looked at me. "Do not engage them in conversation. They have a job to do, and it's not to gab away the day with you guys."

"So we don't offer them a water bottle or anything?" I asked with a grin.

"Unless you want me to shove that water bottle where the sun don't shine, they are invisible to you. Do you always have to be a pain in the ass? Do you ever give it a rest?"

"Hey, I'm only thinking of them. I don't want my watchers to get dehydrated or something."

"They can take care of themselves. Any questions?" We both shook our heads.

"Thank you," said Sam.

"For what?"

"For doing this. For keeping us safe from a distance. I appreciate it."

"You can show your appreciation by following the rules and not causing any headaches. If there are no questions, I have to review some plans before we land."

We all stood up. Sam headed to the galley to check on the cookies and I turned to go back to my seat on the couch.

"Jack...what are you doing?" asked Ben.

"What? I'm just sitting down."

"You forget something?"

"Oh crap! I'm sorry! Sorry," I said, retrieving my security radio from the table. Ben collapsed in his seat with a deep sigh, rubbing his eyes with the pads of his hands.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah...sure," he said.

"'re not. You've been acting like someone pissed in your cornflakes all day. What's wrong?"

"Jack...I'm fine."

"You can tell me or not, it's your choice. But you're not yourself, and it's not just about this trip."

"Stay out of my head, Schaeffer."

"Fine, I'm just trying to help," I said, sitting down. "And for your information, I don't have to be inside your head. I can see it all over the outside. Something happened and you don't know how to handle it."

"Geez...will you give it a rest already?"

"Okay, okay." I looked toward the galley, hoping Sam would come back with some cookies.

"She left," said Ben softly.

"Peggy?" He nodded. "What happened?" I asked.

"Same thing that always happens. She has her work, I have mine. She wants more than I can give her."

"Only this time, it hurts more."

He sighed and looked out the window next to him. "Yeah," he whispered.

I needed to tread lightly here. I barely knew what I was doing with Sam, so I wasn't in much of position to offer relationship advice. Still, he was hurting.

"You want to let her go, or try to make it work?"

He looked at me with a shrug. "I don't know how. This is all I've known. This is who I am. I don't want to be anybody else."

"Can you be you without her?"

He shrugged his shoulders. He was definitely hurting.

Sam popped through the curtain with a plate of piping hot chocolate chip cookies. Ben took two. Sam brought the plate over to me and I took one as he sat down.

"Mmmm...these are yummy. Nancy made these?" I asked.


"How come you aren't eating any?"

"I already had mine."

"Mmm hmm. How many?"

He grinned and held up five fingers. I rolled my eyes and enjoyed the rest of my one. Ben declined any more, and Sam took the plate back to the galley, after he tried to kiss off the bits of chocolate on my lips.

When he was out of earshot, I looked over at Ben. "Whatever you need to do, just say the word, okay?" I said.

He nodded. "You guys are going straight to the house when we land, right?"

"I'm not really sure. Sam would know. Here he comes."

"Sam," said Ben. "Are you and Jack headed right to the house when we land?"

"We're supposed to meet my parents for dinner in Narragansett first, then follow them to the house," said Sam.

"You know the name of the place?"

"Yeah. Let me see," he said, pulling out his phone. He scrolled through some app and found what he was looking for. "Arturo Joe's on Point Judith Road."

"Fine. You guys drive straight there, no detours. I'll be in the car following you. Don't try to lose me. I'll be very pissed off if you do."

"Ben...we aren't going to ditch you," said Sam, throwing his hands up. "What's with you, man? You've been a pill all day."

"Don't worry about it. It doesn't concern you," said Ben, looking away.

"What's going on, Jack?" said Sam, looking at me for answers. It wasn't my place to say, so I shrugged my shoulders.

Sam walked over to Ben and stood very close, looking down at him. "I'm trusting you with our lives. You gonna look me in the eye and tell me it doesn't concern me?"

Ben stood up and stared into Sam's eyes. Their noses were six inches apart. Sam didn't give an inch. The veins in Ben's neck and the sides of his chiseled head pulsed.

"It's personal," said Ben.

"You bet it is," said Sam.

"Guys...walk it back, right now," I said, standing up. They both turned to look at me, startled by my stern voice tone. Sam looked into my eyes as I tried to silently ask him to stand down. Somehow he got the message. He nodded, then took two steps back from Ben. Ben's shoulders relaxed as he inhaled.

"Shit. Sit down," said Ben, indicating the seat next to him. "This is so fucking unprofessional."

"Just tell him," I said. Sam gave me a look.

Ben sighed. "Peggy left, case closed. Except I'm pretty messed up about it," said Ben. "I thought I could just put it all in a box and lock it away, like I always do, but...fuck it, this is why I don't get in too deep. It never works." I swear he looked like he was on the verge of tears.

"You've got it bad, don't you," said Sam.

Ben looked at him for a moment, then gradually started to smile. "Fuck, you."

Sam smiled big. "Call her. Find a way to tell her. Put the ball back in her court, then see what she does with it."

"It's not that easy. I still have my job," said Ben.

"So build a bigger team, so you're not always on call," I said. "We want you in charge, but if this trip is any indication, you can't do it all by yourself. So get some help."

"You need to do this," said Sam. "If you don't, this is one you'll regret forever."

Gary and Nancy pushed aside the curtain to the galley and returned to their seats.

"We're landing in a few minutes. Better take a seat," said Gary, strapping in.

I walked up to Nancy. "You need any help with the galley?"

"Nope. All done. Did you like your cookies?"

"They were fantastic. We should have you flying with us all the time," I said.

"We could talk about that," she said, smiling. "I miss flying."

"When we get back to Denver, you and Ron come out to the house for dinner and we'll talk."

"That would be nice. Now you better find a seat before Ron comes back here and ties you down," she said, grinning.

I returned to the couch and sat next to Sam. Ben nodded to me, mouthing a silent "Thank you."

The engine whine died down considerably as the plane came to a stop next to the main hangar. Ben motioned for Sam and me to stay put until he gave the all clear. Nancy busied herself with last minute work in the cabin, while Gary gathered his things.

"Where'd you go for the whole flight?" I asked.

"I was up talking to the guys."

"Oh, well, that makes sense."

"Did you miss me?" he asked with a smile.

"Kinda. Maybe we can chat on the flight back."

"Sure. You boys have a wonderful time meeting Sam's family."

I inhaled sharply, feeling nervous again.

Gary grinned and put a hand on my shoulder. "Relax, man. It's obvious you love Sam. They'll see it, and nothing else will matter. You've got this."

"Thanks, I hope you're right."

"Well, just remember, I've got Justin to myself for the next five days, so if you decide to fly home early, you'll have to go commercial. Once we get to P-town I'm hiding all his clothes and keeping him naked until it's time to leave. Don't mess this up for me, Jack."

Sam laughed, and hugged me from behind. "Too bad we can't do that, eh, Jack?"

"If only," I replied.

Ben gave us the all clear, and Sam and I headed for the door. Captain Ron was waiting at the bottom of the steps outside. "Hey guys, sorry I couldn't say hello earlier. How was your flight?"

"Great, as always. Your wife tells me she wants to fly more often. We should make that happen," I said. "The big guy here wants chocolate chip cookies on every flight from now on." Ron laughed.

"I don't know about every flight, but we can certainly use the help on longer flights."

"Gary said you guys are headed up to Boston?"

"Yeah. We've got some friends up north of town. We might drive up to Vermont for a night. Depends."

"Have fun. Where are we, anyway?" I asked, looking around.

"Quonset State Airport. This is better for private aviation than T.F. Green up the road. We'll put the plane in a hangar and lock it up tight."

"Whatever you say, you're the driver," I said.

"See you guys, Friday."

"Bye, Ron," said Sam.

Ben was waving us toward the Providence Jet Center building. We crossed the tarmac into a nicely appointed passenger lounge. Ben made a call on his phone, checking his watch. Sam grabbed a cup of coffee from a carafe at the Concierge Services counter. I tried not to throw up.

I was meeting Sam's parents in less than an hour, and I had to make a good impression. I pointed to the bathroom and excused myself. Inside, I looked in the mirror over the double sinks. Sam insisted on casual clothes, and my khakis were not too wrinkled. I tucked in my shirt better, then splashed some cold water on my face. Of course, I got water on my shirt, which is why Sam found me crouched under a hand dryer trying to get rid of the wet spot.

"What are you doing? Ben says the car is here."

"Oh. had a little water accident...almost...dry. There, that's got it," I said, straightening up.

"Look at me, Jack." I did. Then he kissed me, pulling back with a smile. "I'm so happy you're with me. I can't believe this is happening. Thank you so much for doing this."

He was bouncing on his feet like a little kid. Seeing his enthusiasm chased away all my fears. "I really am glad to be here with you, Sam. And I'm honored you would want me to be a part of your family. You'll never know how much."

"Let's get out of here before we both start crying," said Sam, grinning. He grabbed my hand and we went out to find Ben.

A gleaming black Cadillac Escalade was waiting in the half moon drive outside the passenger facilities. Right behind it was another smaller SUV with tinted windows. Both engines were idling.

"You go straight to the restaurant. We'll be right behind you. I'll text you when you can go in. Got it?" asked Ben.

"Got it. This thing have a GPS?" asked Sam.

"It has everything. Alright, let's do this," he said, stepping back. I climbed in the passenger seat while Sam put the address for the restaurant into the GPS. I noticed all our luggage was in the cargo area.

Sam looked at me and grabbed my hand. "You ready?"

I nodded. "It's one meal, right? What could possibly go wrong?"

Author's Notes:

Jack and Sam finally make it to Rhode Island. For the moment, Jack seems to be holding it together, unlike Ben who appears to be falling apart. Way to go, Jack, on nailing the GMAT (did any of us really think he wouldn't?). Will Jack survive dinner with the parents? Will Sam convince his sister that Jack's the one? Will Ben survive this trip with his sanity in check? Stay tuned for more

Big thanks to the editors for turning this around with lightning speed. And welcome to newest editor, Tony. He did a great job his first time out, and along with Harry and Mark, I think they successfully pulled this one out of the fire.

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