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    Here you will find bits and pieces of backstory from the points of view of secondary characters in my Six of One series.  Some of these snips will be included in future published works, but not all of them.  I'm sharing them here for readers with a deeper interest in the characters.  These entries have not been professionally edited so please excuse any little errors or inconsistencies.  And please, do not copy or share anything from this page.

     

    Just as in the published works, these stories will often include adult content.  Some pieces will center on my main characters as children and teenagers and will spotlight their youthful explorations in sensuality.  A notation will appear at the beginning of those stories for anyone who does not wish to read that type of content.  Long-time readers of mine will be familiar with my work in this subject matter and will know what to expect.  Others, please use discretion and caution.  It is not my intention to offend anyone.   

     

    These entries will not be in any chronological order; they are 'scenes' I've written to help me see the larger picture of the lives of my Kathryn and Kellan Broch.  Each entry will be noted by the date it was added to this page and will list the character 'speaking'.

    Just a reminder that comments are not enabled on my blog.  If you would like to discuss anything you read here, please drop by my author Facebook page and start a discussion.  All opinions are welcome, but please be civil and use punctuation.

    I hope you enjoy these glimpses into the understory of Mount Iolite.  Some of these are my very favorite moments.

    ***

    Scene Title:  The Peach

    Date Posted: March 21, 2019

    Speaker: Sandie (local woman in M.T.I., timeline 2008)

    Content Level: PG-13 

     

     

    The new girl was sweet, but Sandie didn’t think she had the goods to stick out the server circuit in M.T.I.

     

    During the high seasons, most of the locals with any restaurant skills worked at two or more of the eateries and watering holes in town. It was a grueling work-until-you-fell-down schedule, but the quiet times when one could truly enjoy the beautiful area made it all worth it. The freedom of that schedule alone had been the reason Sandie moved to Mount Iolite from Reno the year before.

     

    Marlena relocated from Humboldt where she’d recently graduated with a degree in agriculture. She was pressed from the same mold as most of the young women drawn to the high desert mountains: lean, athletic body, glossy, thick hair down to her waist, big, friendly eyes and a smile for everyone she met. She liked to be called ‘Marley’ and was a pretty good drinker for being a whip of a girl. She was hired at the Rhino a week before and Sandie offered to train her.

     

    So far, she’d been doing well for someone with only barista experience under her belt. Marley was a good listener and did everything Sandie told her; she learned quickly and kept a great attitude even when things went bonkers during busy times. The customers liked her, which was half the battle when those customers were locals. They had expectations of the wait staff at the Rhino and could get surly if their standards weren’t met.

     

    On a sunny Wednesday between lunch and dinner service, Sandie and Marley sat in the kitchen cleaning and refilling ketchup bottles. Perched on stools at a prep table, they sipped ice tea and kept an eye on the few customers in the dining room through the line cook’s pass-through.

     

    “You’re getting the hang of everything really quick. Are you liking it?”

     

    Marley smiled as she carefully poured one half-full bottle of ketchup into another. “I think so. The people are nice and I’m feeling more confident when it’s busy. At least I haven’t dropped food on anyone yet. That’s my biggest fear.”

     

    Sandie chuckled. “My first week, I dumped one of those giant tankers of ice tea all over this couple who were on their first date. Amazingly, they were really cool about it. It just depends on how you react when you mess up. They made jokes about having a funny story to tell at their wedding.”

     

    “That’s cool. If that happens to me, I hope I’m that lucky.”

     

    The bell over the front door rang and they both glanced up to see how many new guests had come in. It was just one and he went directly to the bar to chat with Max. Sandie noted the tight white t-shirt Evan MacTavish wore with his ratty Levi’s. He had the already short sleeves rolled to show off the new ink high up on the inside of his right arm. His skin was tanned and glowing with health, which made Sandie smile. The boy had been a wreck when he came back from the war last year. It was great to see him fully recovered and thriving. Then again, the Brochs had only left M.T.I. a week ago, so their glow was still all over him.

     

    “He’ll probably stay at the bar so Max has him.” Sandie took a clean towel to the bottle she’d just filled, then reached for the next one.

     

    Marley, however, was frozen in place. Her smooth skin had gone pale as a sheet and her pretty brown eyes were wide like she’d seen the ghost of Jesus.

     

    Alarmed, Sandie rested a hand on the girl’s slim shoulder. “You okay?”

     

    Marley blinked, laughed nervously, then returned her attention to the ketchup bottles. “Yeah, totally. Sorry. Do you know that guy that just came in?”

     

    Sandie glanced out at the dining room again. Evan had parked himself on a stool near the pinball machines and Max put a drink down in front of him. She knew it was a Jack and Coke because that’s all he and Kellan ever drank. “Yes. Evan MacTavish is a born and raised local—there aren’t too many of those. He’s been here his whole life except for when he was overseas in the war.”

     

    “Afghanistan?”

     

    “Yep. Only back about a year.”

     

    Marley was still working on her ketchups, but her eyes were glued to the young man at the bar. “He’s hot.” She spoke so softly, it might have been a prayer.

     

    “Yes. And he’d be the first to tell you so.” Sandie shook her head.

     

    “I’d forgive a guy that hot for being stuck-up. Do you know if he has a girlfriend?”

     

    Sandie reached for her ice tea and took a thoughtful sip. “I’m not sure how to answer that. He’s got a girl but she doesn’t live here all the time—only a few months a year—so they’ve been keeping things lose. When she is here, they’re tight as hell, though. She’s what we call a summer local. Her family owns a cabin down on Bonny and she comes up for a few months at a time every year.”

     

    “Is she cool?”

     

    “Oh yeah, Kath’s great. She comes up with her little brother. They have a band; do a lot of shows locally. I’m sure you’ll see them eventually.”

     

    Marley gave that data serious consideration as she gathered the bottles she’d cleaned. “Her name’s ‘Kath’? Sounds like she might be a badass.”

     

    “That’s certainly been said.” Sandie smirked. “But again, when she’s not here, Evan’s not tied up. This is common knowledge in town. I mean, he won’t be available to date, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be … ya know, friends.” She nodded toward the bottles in Marley’s hands. “As long as you’re cool with that, why don’t you bring those out there and say hello.”

     

    After another moment’s deliberation, Marley shored herself up. She held the ketchup bottles close against her belly, then backed out through the batwing door to the dining room.

     

    Sandie watched her deliver clean bottles to a few of the booths along the window before she went to the middle of the room. Evan had been watching Marley from the moment she came out of the kitchen. His gray-blue eyes took inventory of the girl’s long legs poured into tight black jeans, the gentle curve of her compact ass and the sweep of her long light-brown ponytail at her waist. When she met his eyes from the table in the center of the room, Evan flashed his flirty, pretty-boy smile.

     

    “Hey. New girl, right?”

     

    “Right.” She smiled and extended her hand. “I’m Marley.”

     

    “Nice to meet you. I’m Evan.” They shook and he continued to watch her placing ketchup bottles on empty tables, especially when she had to bend over to do so.

     

    Sandie gave it another minute, then went out with her own bottles. She swung by the bar and elbowed MacTavish playfully in the ribs on her way to her station. “Dog,” she teased.

     

    He gave her a light smack on the butt, but he was laughing.

     

    It didn’t take him long to engage the girl in a conversation. Between servicing customers, Marley leaned on the bar, chatting and flirting with the handsome blond local boy. As the restaurant filled up for dinner, Sandie saw them leaning closer to each other to be heard over the growing bar noise. Marley slipped him her phone number before he left for the night.

     

    Back in the kitchen after closing, Sandie and Marley sat in the manager’s office going through their evening checkout. When the manager stepped out to go the register, Marley leaned in to whisper.

     

    “Evan texted me. He wants me to stop by after my shift.”

     

    Sandie wasn’t surprised by this, but acted like she was. “Stop by his house? At 1:00 in the morning?”

     

    The young girl took out her phone and scrolled through the messages, holding the screen up for Sandie to see. There was a lengthy exchange she only glanced at, culminating in his invitation.

     

                         I’m not working tomorrow so I’ll be up late. Come by after work for a drink. 319 Crawley St.

    Since Marley was new in town, she said, “Is that in the village here, or down canyon?”

     

    “It’s right here, down the road from the bar. He just bought that house a few months ago.”

     

    She blinked. “He owns a house? He’s only, like, 24.”

     

    Counting out a stack of singles, Sandie said, “He got a break on the price from the previous owners because he’s a wounded veteran. It’s a long story. I’m sure he’ll tell you about it if you ask.” She winked. “Listen, Marley—you’re welcome to have fun and enjoy the hot boy and everything, but remember what I said about Evan not being available. I don’t want you to get all tangled up emotionally when there’s nothing to grab onto there. Plus, small towns suck with stuff like that.”

     

    “I gotcha,” she said. “All good. And thanks for looking out for me.”

     

    The manager returned and closed both of them out for the evening. Sandie walked to the parking lot with Marley, taking note of how anxious the girl was becoming. She kept looking in the direction of the houses in the village and checking the time on her phone. They were parked next to each other in the small lot behind the building. Marley leaned on her open car door watching Sandie toss her handbag into her own backseat.

     

    “So?” Sandie said. “Are you going by?”

     

    Marley looked toward the village again, then took a deep breath. “Actually, no.” She smiled proudly. “I’m going home and taking a hot bath. See you tomorrow. Good night.”

     

    “Good night.” Sandie knew Marley was renting a studio apartment near the entrance of town, in the opposite direction of the village. She waited, pretending to be engaged with something on her phone, until Marley pulled out of the lot and headed for the main road. Sandie watched the girl pause for a long time at the stop sign, then ultimately turn toward the village. She wasn’t surprised.

     

     

    ***

     

     

    After coming in early to help with an especially busy breakfast, Sandie was already in the kitchen when Marley arrived for her lunch shift the next day. There was no one in the Rhino at 11:00am except Julio the bar back, getting things ready for Max to come on duty. Marley clocked in, got her apron, then came to the dining room to help Sandie with the lunch set-ups.

     

    “How was your bath?” Sandie stood close and lowered her voice in case Julio decided to get curious.

     

    Marley placed a small stack of napkins at the end of one of the booth tables. Her expression reminded Sandie of someone trying to converse in a language they didn’t quite speak. “I … decided to go to Evan’s after all.”

     

    Crossing her arms, Sandie gave a knowing smile. “I confess that I knew that. I saw you turn toward the village after you drove out of the lot last night.”

     

    Sheepishness flitted over Marley’s face, but that confused expression intensified. She leaned against the table, glancing at Julio and whispering. “Something kinda strange happened.”

     

    Sandie frowned. “Wait, he didn’t do anything weird to you sexually, did he? I’ll kill him.”

     

    “No, not at all!” Marley held up her hand. “He was very sweet and, you know, made sure I enjoyed myself and everything. He was yummy.” She dug her hands in the pockets of her jeans as though she might find the words she wanted in there. “We had sex twice and by then it was like 3:30 in the morning. He was falling asleep so I got up to get dressed. My boots were on the floor next to the bed and when I bent down to pick them up, I saw some photos sticking out between the mattress and box spring.” Her cheeks colored. “I know it was none of my business, but I was curious and he was half asleep, so …”

     

    Lifting her eyebrows, Sandie grinned encouragingly. “If I’d just done him twice, I would have looked at those, too—anyone would have. So, what were they?”

     

    Marley’s frown deepened. “That’s the strange thing. They were of this really hot guy with dark hair and pretty, sort of orangey-brown eyes.” 

     

    Sandie swallowed but didn’t say anything yet.

     

    “He was in bed in the pictures. They looked like they were either selfies or taken by someone lying right next to him.”

     

    “Were they porn?” Sandie had to ask.

     

    “Not exactly.” Marley sighed, frustrated. “The guy was naked, but the sheets were up over his waist.” She laughed nervously. “I saw his bare hip in one of them, but they weren’t dick pics or anything. There was just something so … I don’t know, erotic about the pictures. The way the guy was looking into the camera gave me chills. These weren’t magazine pictures, they were prints of photos.”

     

    Reaching into her apron pocket for her phone, Sandie scrolled through her photos looking for a group she’d taken a few weeks ago at the Rhino. There were two snaps in particular she was after and when she found them, she handed the phone to Marley.

     

    “Was this the guy in the pictures?”

     

    The girl’s pretty eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. “Totally this guy. God, he’s so hot. Who is he?”

     

    Before she replied, Sandie reached over to swipe the screen to the next photo. “He’s this girl’s baby’s brother.” The image was of Kathryn laughing with her long, thick hair flowing down over her slim shoulders. She had no make-up on other than a touch of tinted lip balm, but the light in the shot had hit her in a way that made her look like a super model.

     

    “Holy shit.” Marley’s frown deepened. “Please don’t tell me this is The Girlfriend.”

     

    Sandie draped her arm over Marley’s shoulders. “Sorry, doll. That’s Kath Broch and the hot boy is her brother, Kellan. They are The Girlfriend and The Best Friend of Hot Mr. Last Night.”

     

    All Marley could do was sigh as she swiped back and forth between the two photos. She paused on Kellan’s, finger zooming for better detail on his face. “His eyes are so crazy. It’s like they burn.”

     

    “Everything about him burns,” Sandie laughed. “Trust me. He’s a heart-breaker whenever he’s in town, even if he doesn’t mean to be.”

     

    “But he likes girls, right? Kellan?”

     

    “Graphically.” Sandie rolled her eyes. “He and Ev together are the biggest skirt-chasing hounds I’ve ever witnessed. Not that the skirts do much running away, mind you.”

     

    “Right.” Marley handed the phone back, but her perplexed frown persisted. “Evan was half asleep when I found the pictures, like I said, but he saw me looking at them. I asked him ‘who’s the cutie?’ and he got this sexy little grin on his face. He was mumbling but I heard him clearly say ‘that’s peach’, and then he conked out.” Marley pursed her pink-painted lips. “He was lying on his back with his hands tucked under the pillow. He has this big tattoo on his right bicep that’s new—it’s still scabbed over. It’s this huge peach. When he said ‘that’s peach’, I started thinking that tattoo was about that guy in the pictures, but … that doesn’t make any sense unless Evan’s bisexual, right? I mean, why would you get a tattoo like that about someone unless you were doing each other?”

     

    Sandie shrugged then went to the shelves by the wall where the utensils were kept and brought back a handful of forks and knives to be placed on the tables. She split the pile with Marley. They stayed close together while they worked and kept their voices low.

     

    “I’ve been in M.T.I. just over a year,” Sandie said. “And one of the very first pieces of micro-town gossip I heard was about Evan MacTavish and the Brochs. There was a lot of threesome talk and bullshit of that nature, but I blew it off as small town jaw-flapping. But when I finally saw them all together, I understood why the rumor mill was grinding so hard.”

     

    She glanced over her shoulder to make sure Julio couldn’t hear them, then pointed to the booth at the far end of the window wall. “They were sitting right there drinking and munching on a plate of fries. Kath was on the inside by the window and had her feet on the bench across from her, next to her brother. Kellan and Evan were sitting opposite each other. You could see their knees and calves sort of rubbing under the table. This was a year ago so they were 22 or 23. That’s not the behavior of young guys who chase skirts.”

     

    “No,” Marley said. “But they’re best friends so maybe they were just being affectionate?”

     

    “Maybe. I didn’t give it much thought myself, but the other servers working that day made the biggest stink out of it. All this yap about how someone saw those two guys making out on the Robbin Lake trail last week, and how they used to disappear for hours up at Swamp Rock when they teenagers—some crap about a pup tent. All these horseshit reports. It didn’t seem like anyone knew anything for sure. It wasn’t until the next time they came up that I got to know Kath a little.”

     

    They’d completed the set up and headed into the back, tucking into the doorway of the linen closet to continue. The dishwashers and cooks were busy in the kitchen and too far away to hear them.

     

    Sandie leaned in. “She and I became friends and hung out a little while they were here last fall. They invited a bunch of people to their cabin down on Bonny for a BBQ one night and Kath and I got into this long, alcohol-induced conversation. I told her the stupid stuff I’d heard about her brother and her boyfriend and I remember her giving me this look. She was sort of smirking in this knowing way. I asked her if the rumors were actually true. She pointed across their backyard to where her brother and Evan were sitting at a picnic table and said ‘you tell me’.”

     

    Marley moved closer, her eyes widening slightly. “What were they doing?”

     

    “They were both drunk and hanging all over each other, laughing. They were talking to a bunch of other people seated around the table. Kellan rested his head on Evan’s shoulder right here,” Sandie pointed to the spot on her arm where she’d seen Evan’s new peach tattoo earlier in the week, “and he fit into the curve of Evan’s body like he’d been born there. Evan’s fingers were in Kellan’s hair while he was talking; he wasn’t even aware he was doing it. They were both totally engaged in their conversation, but there was all this PDA.” She shook her head. “I’m not gonna lie, girl; they’re both so damn hot that it was really sexy watching them be all lovey-touchy like that. I couldn’t help imagining what they got up to when no one was watching.”

     

    Marley’s eyes sparkled a little and she blushed. “Can I tell you something else about last night?”

     

    “If you want to.”

     

    Looking around the kitchen, Marley determined they couldn’t be heard by any of their coworkers. Her cheeks flushed a little darker. “There was a t-shirt tucked under one of the pillows on his bed. My hand caught it when he had me on my back, but he didn’t see. His attention was elsewhere.”

     

    “I hope so,” Sandie grinned.

     

    “Right? Anyway, we’d been making out for a while and I’d commented on how good he smelled. It wasn’t like cologne or anything; just his skin. It’s a great, but very distinctive scent. I thought this t-shirt was his for sleeping in and I kinda brought it to my nose to smell it. The shirt was obviously a little dirty, but the scent was totally different—not like Evan at all.”

     

    Sandie waggled her brow. “Did you see the shirt—like the color of it or if it had anything printed on it?”

     

    “Yes,” Marley said. “It was old and dark green and it had the logo of a coffee house in Glasgow, Scotland on the front.” Her smile broadened. “This is gonna sound so crazy, but it smelled a little like pastry—like some sweet, warm, buttery thing you’d want to eat ten of when no one was looking. It made me salivate.”

     

    Sandie laughed. “That was Kellan’s shirt, all right. I saw him wearing it a few times when they were here. He went to college in Scotland.”

     

    “Oh my god.” Marley’s blush was creeping down her neck. She pulled at the color of her t-shirt. “If that’s what Kellan smells like, no wonder Evan got a tattoo in his honor. Yum.”

     

    Sandie had more she could have said, but their conversation was interrupted by the manager calling a quick staff meeting about a large party coming in for lunch that day. Marley was on her break when Evan came in for an after-work drink with Henry Hunter. They sat at one of the window booths in Sandie’s station. She brought their order, then sat down next to Evan.

     

    He gave her a puckish grin. “Don’t start with me. New girl had a good time.”

     

    “I wasn’t gonna say a word about that.” Sandie winked across at Henry. “But she’s really curious about that hot guy in those pictures under your mattress.”

     

    Evan sipped his drink and shrugged, but had nothing to add.

     

    Henry shook his head. “You let some random girl find compromising photos under your bed?”

     

    Laughing, Evan said, “There’s nothing compromising about them. And they were none of her business, anyway. She got what she came for and then some.”

     

    “I told her he was your boyfriend,” Sandie deadpanned, making Henry chuckle.

     

    Evan’s cheeks colored slightly. “I don’t care what she or anyone else thinks, Sandie. If you’re trying to get a rise out of me, I’m sorry to disappoint.”

     

    “Right.” Sandie flattened her hands on the table and stood up. “You, my handsome young friend, are zero fun. I didn’t really say that, by the way. I told her I didn’t know anything for sure because I don’t. But when you told her the guy in the photos was ‘peach’, she drew her own conclusions from your new ink.”

     

    “Again,” Evan said. “I don’t care what she thinks.”

     

    Sandie lifted an eyebrow. “Since you don't care, is that new ink about Kell?”

     

    Those lovely gray-blue eyes leveled at her, but Evan was still smiling. “Yes. Stick that in your gossip pipe and smoke it.”

     

    Laughing, she went off to greet some new customers, but there was a little pep in her step. Sandie felt like she’d learned a good secret, but she didn’t feel the need to share it. Not even with Marley. Instead, she would tuck that tidbit away and let it fuel her naughty imagination the next time she saw those two hot young men together.

     

    Besides, Sandie knew better than to mess with Kathryn’s boys. Being struck by lightning wasn’t on her agenda that year.

     

    ~

    ***


    Scene Title:  Red Flag

    Date Posted: February 19, 2019

    Speaker: Kath (23 years of age)

    Content Level: PG-13 (language and suggestive comments)

    Vons Supermarket

    Bishop, CA

    September 2006

     

     

    Kathryn scanned their extensive grocery list as Kellan maneuvered the already loaded cart down the canned goods aisle. Well after Labor Day, it was still hot as blazes in the high desert. She’d been happy to be in her thin yellow sundress when they were outside on the road, but she had goosebumps in the air-conditioned grocery store.

     

    “I almost forgot what it’s like to be in a proper supermarket.” Kellan leaned over the hand rail of the cart, half walking and half riding it along the gleaming floor. 

     

    “The Scots would say it’s wasteful; too many choices.”

     

    Kellan nodded. “This Yank is happy to be overwhelmed with options of canned beans.”

     

    She smirked as she selected a few varieties of said beans: refried, black, pinto and cannellini.  She put the cans in their cart and continued reading the list. “I’ll make a batch of Grandma’s minestrone and we can freeze some.”

     

    “I want tacos.”

     

    “Tonight?”

     

    Every night until I pop. I’ve been craving good tacos for five years.”

     

    She laughed thinking of how many times they’d already been to Taco Bell and La Salsa since they’re returned to California two weeks earlier. All the Americans they met while in school had the same longing for the familiar comfort of fast Mexican food. Burgers were decent there, but the UK hadn’t quite figured out the art of a perfect taco or a simple bean burrito.

     

    Looking down at the list, Kath loosely guided the cart with her fingers. They rounded the corner into the frozen food aisle and she heard her brother snicker from behind her.

     

    Sotto voce, he said, “Heads up, girl; tall, blond hotness at ten o’clock.”

     

    Kath looked up immediately. 

     

    Ahead of them on the left, a young man with messy blond hair down to the top of his spine was rummaging in one of the coolers. His back was to them, so she let her eyes roam the length of him; long, strong legs, beautifully shaped tight ass, all encased in well-worn 501s. Black biker boots. She glimpsed the black leather of his belt just under the hem of his white wife-beater. The man’s waist was narrow and appeared even deeper cut by the broad expanse of his powerful shoulders. 

     

    She could make out most of the tattoo spread across his upper back around the armholes of his shirt; an eagle holding up the globe in its talons. Kath had seen that design before on the last leg of their home-bound flight. They’d connected out of JFK and a group of returning soldiers took up the whole first row of coach. Several of them had this design tattooed on arms and shoulders.

     

    “The ink’s a Marine thing, right?” Kellan said.

     

    “I think so.” 

     

    Her eyes moved down the man’s large, sculpted biceps, noting how the dense blond hair along his forearms gleamed flaxen in the florescent light. He wore black aviator sunglasses even though they were indoors. His face was in limited profile, but she took in the generous pout of his full lips as he fished in the cooler. Unkempt golden stubble covered his jaw and part of his throat. 

     

    “We didn’t see much of this sort in Scotland,” Kellan said, still amused.

     

    She grinned. “Nope; that one’s 100% American made. Grade A Choice, if I do say so myself.”

     

    “Go engage. I’ll finish the shopping while you molest him in the rest room.”

     

    Never one for being shy, Kath still found herself unwilling to approach this man. Something about him struck a chord of primal unease that she’d never felt. Perhaps it was because he appeared so much stronger than her physically. She’d always felt more comfortable with men she knew she could overtake, should the need arise. This young man could capture and hold her effortlessly—maybe even with only one hand.

     

    Her brother pushed the cart forward, bumping into her backside. “What’s the hold up, sissy?”

     

    Frowning, she said, “I think I’m afraid of him.”

     

    “Why, cuz he’s all inked up and in cop shades?”

     

    Eyes still moving over the attractive man’s body, Kath murmured, “I don’t know … something’s flying a red flag.”

     

    “Maybe he likes dudes and your gaydar is picking that up,” he smirked.

     

    Lowering her chin, she smirked at her brother over her shoulder. “You go talk to him, then.  You spotted him.”

     

    Kellan snorted. “Come on. Stop bein’ chicken. He’s totally your type.”

     

    “Totally.” Kath eyed the man again but still stayed where she was.

     

    He’d found what he was after in the cooler and was consulting a slip of paper, most likely a shopping list like her own. Kath was thoroughly enjoying the long, strong construction of him and her preference had always leaned toward fair-haired men. Still, she just couldn’t make herself walk over to him.

     

    Kellan sighed irritably and then she heard one of the cooler doors open. Something sailed past her; a large frozen pizza box. It landed on the floor right at Kath’s feet, flat and loud.

     

    Instinctively, the man turned toward the sudden noise, glancing down at its source. His glasses hid his eyes, but he was smirking as he strolled toward them, boot heels thudding solidly on the polished floor. When he was close enough, Kathryn registered his unmistakable features. Her heart began to pound.

     

    “Kell …” She tried to speak, but her voice got lost somewhere between shock and excitement. Kathryn didn’t need to speak, anyway. Her brother had seen it, too. 

     

    The man striding toward them down the center of the frozen food aisle was none other than Evan MacTavish.

     

    He was smiling full out by the time he reached the pizza box. He picked it up and handed it back to Kellan. “Drop somethin’, lady?”

     

    Kath was staring, not quite believing this was really her first and only love. He looked so different from the last time she’d seen him when he was only seventeen and still a lean, athletic boy. This full-grown man was bulked up with hard muscles and pulsing with animal sexuality. 

     

    He was staring at her, too. Evan took his glasses off and hooked them on the neck of his t-shirt.  Once his slate-blue eyes were exposed, any doubt Kath may have had that this was really him vanished. She swallowed hard. 

     

    “Oh my god,” she breathed.

     

    Evan smiled at her—into her—and stepped close enough to take her in his arms. “You’re more beautiful than ever, Kathryn.” He drew her into a tight embrace. She worried his sunglasses would be broken between them if he squeezed her any harder.  

     

    Kath was in a daze. He was taller than she remembered because of his boots, but also at least three inches larger all the way around. The last time she’d held him, she could feel the bones if his shoulder blades under her hands; now they were encased in tightly chorded muscle. His scent was different, too; a mix of the sun-baked desert dirt, woodsy skin lotion and the acrid sweat of a laborer. It was unspeakably delicious. Kath took a deep breath of him, closing her eyes.  

     

    She felt Evan press his nose into her hair, sniffing a few times and then kissing the top of her head. He was smiling when he looked at her. It was the same glowing, boyish smile that had always liquefied her socks, but now it radiated from a handsome man’s tanned face.

     

    “You guys didn’t tell me when you were coming,” he was saying, but his voice sounded very far away. Kath feared she may be about to faint. She was so stunned to see him like this, it wouldn’t surprise her if she did.

     

    Kellan came around the cart on Evan’s left, his amber brown eyes dancing with unbridled joy.  Evan moved away from her, turning all his attention to her brother. They folded into a long, tight hug, swaying with their eyes closed. She leaned on the cart for balance, watching them run their hands over each other’s backs and shoulders, learning the changed terrain. They held each other’s faces in their hands and touched foreheads, then Evan pulled Kellan close again. For a long time, they didn’t speak and then her brother started laughing.

     

    “She was checking you out,” he told Evan. “I spotted this tall, hot blond dude down there and told her to look. Big sis was diggin’ the view big time.”

     

    Evan chuckled, grinning at her. “I felt eyes on me, but I was kind of focused.” A brief flash of concern creased his brow as he took hold of her shoulders. “Kathryn, are you okay? You’re really pale.”

     

    She nodded and took a much-needed deep breath. “You freaked my shit out, dude, that’s all. I literally did not recognize you until you were right here in front of us. You look so different, Ev.”

     

    “Yeah, you said that. I guess I have changed. The Corps really puts a guy through it.”

     

    Kellan walked around behind Evan, pushing his t-shirt up and out of the way of the large tattoo. “This is monstrous ink. It’s huge.”

     

    “It commemorates a huge experience.” Evan smiled at his boyhood friend, but tugged his shirt protectively back down over his torso.

     

    Kellan glanced at his sister, his brow knitting in concern. “Ev, we know you were injured. We’re not afraid to see the scars.”

     

    Kathryn didn’t say anything, but she couldn’t agree with that statement. She was terrified to see them, if only to see how close Evan had come to death.

     

    He sighed and forced a smile. “Some other time. All that matters is that I’m standin’ here, right?  Got all my fingers and toes and I’m walking and talking.”

     

    “Yeah, of course, but …” Kellan stepped close and touched his fingertip to the plump curve of Evan’s mouth. On the right-hand side, there was a thin white vertical scar about an inch long that cut straight across his upper lip. “Someone stabbed you in the face?”

     

    “Nah, that was one of our own. Drill sergeant punched me for insubordination,” Evan grinned. “Wasn’t the only time, either.”

     

    Kath frowned and put a kiss on her finger that she touched to the thin scar on Evan’s lip. “I hate that you were hurt in any way by anyone. We were so fucking worried about you, Ev.”

     

    He opened his arms and pulled them both to him, like he’d done thousands of times when they were kids. Kath and her brother wrapped around him on each side and held on.  

     

    Reassuring them, Evan said, “Easy, guys. I just got a little banged up. I was much luckier than some of the guys in my unit. I got to come home and in one piece.”

     

    She and Kellan said nothing, they just held on to him next to the coolers of frozen pizza. She’d had just enough time to adjust to the fact that they were really with Evan again so talking about almost losing him in the war was more than she could manage. She felt how tightly her brother was holding Evan and knew he felt the same. 

     

    Evan kissed them both on the forehead and then changed the subject. “My Brochs are back in the Eastern Sierra,” he beamed. “Were you going to tell me you’d arrived or had you planned to blow me off?”

     

    “Shut up,” Kath said. “We didn’t know for sure when we’d get up here because we had to wait in Lone Pine to pick up some parts Big Jackson ordered for the generator. We were there overnight.” She stepped out of their tight hug, but Kellan remained. 

     

    Evan gave him a good squeeze. “I’m okay, Peach. I promise.” 

     

    Kellan still gave him a worried frown bordering on tears. Evan lifted his chin. “Buck up, you.  They didn’t turn you into a sissy school boy in the UK, did they?”

     

    Kellan smirked. “Not that I’m aware of.”
     

    “Good,” Evan said. “So, are you headed up the hill now?”

     

    “As soon as we decimate this list,” Kath said. “Dad gave us a million things to do. We should be up in a few hours.”

     

    Evan nodded. “Okay. I have an appointment to keep here in town, but I should be back in M.T.I. around 7:00. You guys want to settle in on your own tonight or should I come by? I’ll bring dinner.”

     

    Kellan grinned. “Corsero’s?”

     

    Laughing, Kath nudged him. “I thought you wanted tacos every night until you popped.”

     

    “I can eat both.”

     

    “Whatever you want.” Evan put his arms around them both again, giving Kathryn a light kiss. God, she’d missed those gorgeous lips that were somehow more gorgeous decorated by that tiny scar. “7:30?”

     

    “Sounds good,” she said against his ear.

     

    “I’ll see you cuties then.” He patted her backside playfully and pressed a kiss into Kellan’s cheek, then he walked off toward the checkout lines.

     

    They were quiet while they finished their shopping, only talking about gathering the list items. It wasn’t until they came to the liquor section that Kellan stopped the cart and looked at his sister.

     

    “There’s something wrong with him.”

     

    Kathryn frowned darkly. “He got severely wounded in the war. He’s probably traumatized.”

     

    “He doesn’t seem traumatized,” Kellan said. “He just seems . . . off. Not quite Evan, you know?”

     

    She knew. She’d sensed the same thing but couldn’t quite articulate it. “That’s why I was afraid of him before we knew it was him. I didn’t want to approach that hot guy because he scared me.” Kath looked at her brother uneasily. “Evan MacTavish has never scared me.”

     

    Kellan shook his head. “Maybe we’re imagining it.”

     

    “Maybe.”

     

    He sighed, trying to shake off the unpleasant feeling. He reached for a bottle of Jack Daniels on the shelf and put it in their cart. “I’m gonna pray that’s the case.”

     

    Kath nodded but her gut was tight with anxiety.

     

    They focused on finishing their shopping and by the time they reached the alcohol section, she felt less apprehension and more excitement to be back in Mount Iolite. Kellan was so excited to be able to buy alcohol legally in the States that he’d been snatching up bottles wherever they stopped and adding them to the supplies in their vehicles. They probably had enough to stay drunk for a year by then. Still, Kathryn grabbed a bunch of different wines and some vodka, just to round out what would be their first bar in the cabin. She was both excited and scared to be there without their dad, but she knew they could handle it. Plus, Jewel was always there to help.

     

    They made their way to the front of the store and chose a line to get into. They both leaned on the cart while they waited, thoughtfully quiet. 

     

    “I spoke to Cindy last week,” Kath said. “She said Evan was doing fine—that he seemed to be coping really well with what happened over there, and with being back and all.”

     

    Kellan nodded. “He told me they were making him see a doctor down here in Bishop—a counselor. He said they did that with all the soldiers who came home wounded.”

     

    “That’s only going to be helpful if he actually talks to this person, and we know how clammed up Evan is.”

     

    “Maybe he’s not like that anymore.”

     

    Kathryn doubted that. If anything, she expected his experiences in the war to make him even more self-protective. Pulling forward in the line, they began unloading their cart onto the conveyor belt. 

     

    “He smells different.” Kellan stacked some paper towels on the belt.

     

    “I noticed that, too. But I kinda liked it.”

     

    “Me, too. I just noticed it is all.”

     

    Kath sighed. “I’m sure we smell different to him, too. We’re all five years older.”

     

    He quirked a grin. “We probably smell like bus exhaust and pub food.”

     

    “Definitely like those burgers at the White Hart.”

     

    “I love those,” her brother said reverently.

     

    “Not as much as tacos, though.”

     

    “No. Tacos are sacrosanct.”

     

    Kath had almost forgotten how strange Evan had seemed by the time they got back to the cars.  They loaded up their groceries and then got behind their respective wheels for the last leg of the drive up the mountain. They were parked next to each other in the large lot that serviced the Vons, the K-mart, the gas station and the lawn and garden supplier. She winked over at Kellan as she pulled on her seat belt. Kath started her engine, and then suddenly burst into tears.

     

    The wave of emotion came on so fast and hard, it jolted her physically. She squeezed the steering wheel and let the sobs pull through her. She had no choice, really; they were in control.  She heard Kellan get out of his car and come around to her driver’s side. He tapped anxiously on the window until she opened the door, then leaned in to put his arms around her. 

     

    Kellan didn’t ask her what was wrong, he just held onto her until the sobs subsided enough for her to speak. He reached over her lap to the packet of tissues she had in the cup holder, pulling out a few for her.

     

    “Thanks.” Kath blew her nose and took a deep breath. “Jesus H!”

     

    Still kneeling beside her, Kellan watched his sister’s face with concern. “Was that all about Evan?”

     

    “Fuck if I know. It must’ve been, right?”

     

    He shrugged. “Maybe you’re just really tired? Haven’t done this long-ass drive in five years.”

     

    She looked at him incredulously. “I’ve never been so tired that I suddenly cried hysterically.”

     

    “Okay, well … Evan then.”

     

    Still uncertain, Kath frowned. “But I’m crazy happy to see him.”

     

    “Me, too,” he said.

     

    “So, what the fuck? This isn’t me at all.” She blew her nose, pressing on a throbbing point just above her eyes. It went away after a second.

     

    “Are you okay now?” he said.

     

    “I think so.” She offered a weak smile. “Thanks.”

     

    He put a kiss on her cheek as he stood up and headed back to his car. “You’ll feel better once you see Bonny,” he said.

     

    “I’m sure.” Kath got a bottle of water out of the small cooler on the passenger floor and took a few deep gulps. She felt steadier right away and thought maybe she was just a bit dehydrated. Putting the car in reverse, she pulled out and followed her brother back to the Interstate.

     

    Once they were back on I-395 headed up the Sherwin Grade, Kath felt like herself. She couldn’t wait to see their friends and be at the cabin again. But she still couldn’t shake that strange panic hovering just under her surface. Something was wrong with their precious Evan, and she knew he’d make it nearly impossible to find out what.

    ~

     

    ***

     

     

    Scene Title:  Rites of Spring

    Date Posted: June 15, 2018

    Speaker: Kath and Kell’s Mother, Michelle

    Content Level: PG-13 (closed door, reference only)

     

     

    1997

     

    Michelle Gibson-Broch didn’t know what to expect when her husband returned from the train station. She’d been hearing about this boy, Evan MacTavish, for five years, but all she’d known of him were photographs and a polite, sandy voice over the phone when he’d call from Mount Iolite to speak to her children.

     

    He was the same age as Kellan, give or take a few weeks, and both boys would be fourteen this coming summer. Her son was still reaching toward his full height, but Jackson warned her that Evan was ahead a few inches. Must be all that fresh mountain air, he’d said.

     

    The kids had a half day that Friday before Spring Break. Evan had taken an early morning train and would arrive an hour or so before they got home. Michelle was surprised by her own anxiety and attributed it to the hype her children created around this young man. He was the love of both their lives. They adored and admired him in a way she’d never seen them do with any of their other friends. He held a nearly mythical status.

     

    As she chopped vegetables for the tacos they had planned for dinner, she felt the vibration of the garage door opening under the kitchen. Their house in Laurel Canyon was taller than it was wide, with the living space technically on the second floor and the bedrooms up top. She and Jackson parked their cars tandem to leave room for the kids’ musical instruments in the garage. When they played down there, the whole house shook. They considered themselves fortunate that their kids were actually talented since they were such a frequent audience.

     

    Michelle wiped her hands on a dishtowel as footsteps echoed on the stairs that lead up from the garage. She heard her husband talking and a young man laughing, then the kitchen door opened. Jackson met her eyes briefly through his sunglasses and gave her a little wink.

     

    “Hi, honey; we’re home.”

     

    “So I see.” She kissed him, then turned to their guest. “Evan, welcome. Come on in. It’s so nice to finally meet you in person.”

     

    In her bare feet, Michelle stood 5’ 7” and this thirteen-year-old boy looked down on her. Kellan wasn’t quite eye-to-eye with his mom yet. Evan wasn’t as tall as he would become in manhood, but his bones were obviously in a big rush to get him there.

     

    “It’s nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Broch.” He shook hands with her and offered a gentlemanly smile that should have been on the face of man ten years his senior. It was clear this kid knew way more than he should at his age about interacting women. Michelle tried not to appear unnerved.

     

    “Please call me Michelle. We want you to feel at home.”

     

    “Thank you. My parents sent you guys a present for letting me stay with you this week.” He set his canvas duffle bag down on the floor and unzipped it, reaching in for a box large enough to hold a pair of cowboy boots. It was beautifully wrapped in brown and gold printed paper and tied with a wide yellow satin ribbon. Evan handed the box to her. “My mom designs greeting cards and wrapping paper for an online company—that paper is one of her creations. It sells really well.”

     

    “It’s lovely.” Michelle was surprised by the weight of the box and figured there must be a bottle of something inside it. She set it on the kitchen counter for the time being. “That was very thoughtful of them, and it’s our pleasure to have you. The kids are so excited, they couldn’t sleep last night.”

     

    Evan’s beautiful, slate-blue eyes twinkled as he laughed. “I couldn’t, either. I can’t wait to see them.”

     

    “They should be home from school in about half an hour,” Jackson said. “Let’s get you settled in Kell’s room.”

     

    Michelle followed them up the stairs, leaning in the doorway of her son’s freshly cleaned bedroom while Jackson showed their guest around. They had a well-appointed guest room down the hall, but Kellan insisted that Evan bunk in with him. He’d cleared out a drawer in his dresser and set up the air mattress by himself, complete with crisp sheets, a stack of fluffy pillows, and his own favorite blanket.

     

    Kathryn had perched a well-worn stuffed bear that Evan gave her for her twelfth birthday on the pile of pillows. She still slept with it every night, even though she was nearing sixteen, so parting with it for a week was quite a sacrifice. Michelle had gently teased her that, at two years younger than her, Evan was too old for teddy bears. Her daughter just smiled as she arranged the bear just so on the mattress. Michelle had to laugh. They acted like this boy was visiting royalty.

     

    While Jackson showed Evan some of the photos on Kellan’s walls, Michelle took quiet stock of him. Long, lean legs in faded Levi’s, a white t-shirt and a plaid flannel tied around his narrow waist, nearly new tennis shoes. His thick, honey-blond hair curled softly at the ends where it kissed his lightly freckled neck and framed his smooth, tanned cheeks. He was stunningly handsome for such a young man and already showed the glimmer of the masculine beauty he’d grow into. Michelle could see why her children were so enamored. Evan was a strong, healthy American thoroughbred that could outrun any challengers without breaking a sweat.

     

    He practically hummed with intelligent awareness; she’d been watching him noting the body language between her and Jackson while he took in all the details of Kellan’s private space. He was learning with every glance. Growing up in a tiny resort town could have pushed him toward delinquency out of boredom, or driven him inward out of isolation. Part of her expected Evan to be socially awkward and even a little inappropriate, but he was far from that. This young man was a confident, born leader.

     

    But there was also a note of darkness about him that Michelle couldn’t put her finger on. It wasn’t alarming, per se, and may even have been intentional. Maybe he was trying to appear dangerous and edgy to make himself more attractive. Michelle wasn’t sure yet. But she had a week to observe him and learn why he’d had such a hold on her children for over five years.

     

     

    ***

     

     

    Things had finally calmed down in the house after the thunderous reunion when the kids came home from school. It had only been seven months since they’d last seen their friend, but Kathryn and Kellan carried on like they’d been separated for decades. Their uncharacteristic gleeful exuberance had been hilarious.

     

    Standing in the kitchen getting the taco fixings together, Michelle glanced over her shoulder into the family room where the kids were dogpiled on the sectional sofa watching a movie. Once the initial burst of chaotic energy waned, the three of them slipped into an easy, companionable silence. They seemed perfectly content to just be together without the need to converse. Or perhaps they were conversing, just not on a level she or Jackson could hear.

     

    Michelle leaned close to whisper to her husband as he shredded cheese at the counter next to her. “Is this how they are at the cabin? Quiet like this?”

     

    Jackson popped some ribbons of cheddar into his mouth. “Most of the time. They run around like banshees, too, but this is the default position. It’s like they’re recharging each other. Kellan will fall asleep soon—always does.”

     

    “He’s not usually an afternoon napper,” she said.

     

    “I think Evan makes him feel safe. He always passes out when they’re in a heap like that—ever since they first met. You’ve seen all those photos I took for you.”

     

    “I have.” Michelle secretly referred to the tangle of limbs and cuddles she saw in those photos as the ‘puppy pile’. Their son had always been extremely affectionate, unlike his independent sister who was happy to sit close, but would rather not be handled.

     

    Kellan loved to be touched, hugged and petted. It was the only sure-fire way to calm him when he went on one of his bonkers energy explosions. The pediatrician told them those bursts would wane with age, and they had, but Michelle figured there would always be some semblance of them present in Kellan’s life. Jackson’s mother used to call her grandson an ‘energy furnace’; always lit and ready to burn.

     

    Michelle went to the fridge to get the sour cream. From there, she had a straight sight-line into the family room, but was tucked out of sight from it by the angle of the hallway. She observed the configuration on the sofa.

     

    Evan stretched out in the middle with his long legs propped on an ottoman. Kellan aligned along his right side, his cheek resting on Evan’s chest, and Kathryn sat on Evan’s left with her legs draped over his lap. His arms were around both of them, on either side, but the fingers of his left hand intertwined loosely with Kathryn’s. The siblings weren’t touching each other; they both had their own territorial acreage of Evan’s body. Evan could not have looked more pleased. And to Michelle’s surprise, her highly energetic son appeared so relaxed, he might indeed drift off at any second.

     

    Back at the counter, she snagged a bite of cheese for herself. “Those photos from the cabin only showed Kellan and Evan napping together. Kathryn doesn’t join them?”

     

    Jackson picked up his beer and turned around so he could see into the family room. He kept his voice low. “The boys pass out on the floor in front of the TV and she’s usually in my chair or on the sofa right near them, but she isn’t down with them. The naps are an Ev and Kell thing.”

     

    Michelle glanced back at the kids. “Kellan is quite dominant with his buddies here at school, but with this boy, his body language shows deferral.”

     

    “What do you mean?”

     

    “Like Evan is the alpha wolf and our son is the beta—the second in command.”

     

    Jackson considered this. “I can see that. Evan is definitely the alpha in their little Mount Iolite pack, but he doesn’t swagger. All their friends up there love him.”

     

    “I’m sure,” she grinned. “Look at him, for Christ’s sake.”

     

    Jackson chuckled. “I know, right? Up there, Ev’s like the pied piper with the local girls. He’s got a trail of them everywhere, all puffing up like little peacocks trying to catch his eye.”

     

    “And do they all hate our daughter?”

     

    “Who cares? She’s the one he chooses; Kath wins.”

     

    The first time Michelle noticed her daughter’s change of focus toward Evan was the summer after Kellan’s twelfth birthday. Jackson and the kids returned from Mount Iolite and resumed their usual routine of preparing for the upcoming school year. Multiple trips to the mall for new clothes and shoes, haircuts, new backpacks and supplies filled those last weeks of freedom. The last errand was a trip to Macy’s annual white sale where Michelle always bought the kids a new set of bed sheets for every school year.

     

    She’d been standing in the bedding department rifling through the sale bin with Kathryn across from her, rifling from the other direction. That year, her daughter’s thick, lovely chestnut hair was cut in long layers that slipped free of ties, barrettes or any other attempt to contain it, leaving girlish wisps tumbling around her delicate-boned face at all times. Her cheeks and nose were still kissed by the mountain sun.

     

    On the edge of turning fourteen in December, she’d only just begun experimenting with make-up, but Kathryn would never be a girly-girl. A light touch of mascara to her long, dense lashes and a swipe of pink lip gloss over her plump pout was all she would ever need. Her daughter was right on the edge of becoming a stunning beauty, but the active tomboy who loved fishing the alpine lakes with her dad couldn’t have cared any less.

     

    While they continued to rifle, Michelle noticed something flashing on Kathryn’s right wrist. It was a fine silver chain with three charms dangling from it. Michelle reached across and took her daughter’s hand, turning her wrist over. “How pretty. Who gave you this?”

     

    “Evan.” Kath held her arm out so Michelle could see the charms in the store’s overhead light. The first was a dark blue crystal bead, the second an etched silver pentagram, and finally a simple silver heart-shaped locket. “He said the topaz crystal is for my birthstone and the pentacle is for Grandma Ginny. All three of us put some tiny pieces of pine needles, aspen leaves and wild roses in the locket so I can keep Mount Iolite with me all the time.”

     

    “That’s very sweet,” Michelle had said. “Did he save his allowance to buy that for you?”

     

    Kathryn moved a heavy lock of hair off her shoulder. “He does lots of little jobs for people around town—mowing lawns, cleaning rain gutters, raking yards and stuff. He’s always got money in his pocket.”

     

    “How very enterprising of him. And does that bracelet mean you’re his girlfriend?”

     

    Kath had laughed and rolled her eyes. “Mom, he’s twelve.”

     

    “So? I had my first boyfriend when I was twelve.”

     

    Her daughter’s large, dark eyes had fixed her across the sale bin. “But it was puppy love, not like love love.”

     

    With a playful smile, Michelle had said, “No, true. We waited until we were thirteen before we got engaged.”

     

    Kathryn laughed as she went back to rifling the linens. “I’d like to be his girlfriend someday.”

     

    “You would? That’s new.”

     

    “Not really.” Kath shrugged. “I’ve always thought he was super cute, but he’s still too young. Maybe in a year or two we can give it a try. We’ll see.”

     

    That had been two years earlier. Michelle hadn’t heard anything unusual about Evan when her kids returned that summer—the reports had been the same as always; fishing, bike riding, camping in each other backyards, tooling around the lake on their neighbor’s skiff, annual Fireman’s BBQ, paddle boating on Robbin Lake and swimming at Swamp Rock. They took photos in the same locations every year but the landscapes never changed, only the kids themselves.

    Michelle loved seeing that as much as it made her sad to not be there to witness it. Mount Iolite was a huge part of her children’s identity, but she just couldn’t bring herself to make that horrendous drive and fight the heat and mosquitos in the mountains. She hated the mountains; always had. When she and Jackson were first dating, she told him she had no desire to visit his ‘mountain paradise’, despite how he tried to convince her. Part of their agreement when they married was that he was free to go as often as he liked as long as he didn’t pressure her to join him.

     

    When the kids came along, their father couldn’t wait to teach them to fish, let them run loose in the forest and share that sacred space with them. They would inherit the cabin one day, after all. So, Michelle hid her anxiety as she packed her two and three-and-a-half year old into her husband’s truck and sent them on their way up I-395. He was a great dad and could handle them fine, but she lived for his check-in phone calls.

     

    Once Virginia moved up there permanently, Michelle let go of all worry during her kids’ visits. Their grandmother watched over them closer than she did herself. Evan came into their lives the year after Ginny died, so she never knew him. If she had, Michelle would’ve known everything about that kid from the beginning. Her husband just thought of Evan as the kids’ friend in the mountains. Michelle didn’t think he paid much attention to the nuances of those complicated developing relationships.

     

    But now that this boy was under her roof, Michelle was very aware of them.

     

    The tacos were a great success and the kids insisted on cleaning up the kitchen. The dinner conversation had been lively and animated with Evan showing off a gift for storytelling that rivaled Kellan’s. Michelle sensed no competition between the boys, only a radiant and mutual adoration rarely seen in men of any age. They bloomed under the other’s attention like flowers opening to the sunlight. Kathryn was always in the middle of them, always included by them, and clearly admired.

     

    Still, something she couldn’t yet pin down stuck persistently in Michelle’s craw. Evan was almost too perfect. A bit eerily so.

     

    Jackson slipped in bed that night after brushing his teeth, leaning over to give his wife a kiss. Michelle lowered her voice to a whisper.

     

    “I like him.”

     

    Jackson smirked, knowing her all too well. “But?”

     

    She put her book on the night table and turned to him. “But, he’s so polite and charming, great sense of humor, considerate—and those looks. Jesus. He’s like a Stepford Kid, don’t you think?”

    Jackson smooshed his pillows into the football-shape he liked. “He comes from an idyllic little town in the mountains. His parents are salt-of-the-earth folks with good hearts. He’s their only child and the light of their lives. What other result would you expect from that equation?”

     

    She laughed. “The Unabomber would be just as likely, dear. Or a drug addict, or a worse. Isolation isn’t necessarily great for kids.”

     

    “He’s hardly isolated; it’s a resort town. There’s a constant influx of people for each season. Believe me; the kids up there get plenty of exposure to the outside world. Their friend, Henry, is just as exceptional but in different ways. I’d love for you to meet him, too. He’s a great influence on Kath and Kell.”

     

    “He’s the native boy?”

     

    Jackson nodded. “Smart and insightful. I love that kid.”

     

    “He’s older than them, though, right? By a few years?”

     

    “Yeah, he’s graduating high school this year. He and Evan spend every day together.”

     

    Laughter filtered through from Kellan’s bedroom next door where the three kids were playing Scrabble on the air mattress. Michelle looked in her husband’s eyes. “You assured me you’ve been watchful for signs of sexual activity between Evan and Kath.”

     

    Rolling onto his back, Jackson sighed. “Of course I have. They hang out a lot and I know there’s kissing involved, but she just told me last week that she’s still a virgin. She said she’s the last holdout among her high school friends, but she wants to wait.”

     

    “For Evan,” Michelle said.  “That’s what she told me, anyway.”

     

    “That’s the scuttlebutt.”

     

    More laughter filtered through the wall and Michelle sighed. “I guarantee you Evan’s no virgin. I think that’s what bugs me; he radiates experience he’s really too young to have.”

     

    With a quirk of his eyebrow, Jackson said, “The same could be said about our son, who is also not a virgin.”

     

    She shook her head recalling Kellan’s triumphant reveal of the loss of his innocence last summer. “It was some townie girl up there, right? She’s older than him.”

    He nodded with a grin. “Pam Chisholm, the fire chief’s daughter—she’s around Kath’s age.”

     

    “God,” Michelle said. “Thirteen seems so young to me.”

     

    “I was also thirteen when I crossed that bridge to manhood.”

     

    She reached over with a smirk to turn out her bedside lamp. “That makes you a boy-slut and a terrible influence on our son.”

     

    Jackson chuckled. “Kellan is his own worst influence where sex is concerned. Probably always will be.”

     

    She frowned toward the wall between the bedrooms. “Yeah, but I’m positive that blond Casanova in there is teaching him a thing or two.”

     

    “Such is the nature of boys, my dear. We share our experiences with our brothers, both out of competition and a desire to improve our own understanding.”

     

    “I see,” she grinned, turning to him. “So, that’s what circle jerks are all about—improving understanding?”

     

    “And hand-eye coordination.”

     

    “Right. Tell me about this fire chief’s daughter—was she cute?”

     

    “Yeah, I suppose.”

     

    “You suppose?” Michelle knuckled him in the arm. “Don’t act like you didn’t notice.”

     

    “She’s our daughter’s age,” he said. “Even if I did notice, I sure as shit wasn’t going to show it.”

     

    “Understood. I’m just curious; Kellan wouldn’t tell me much about her. I’m wondering if he has a type yet.”

     

    Jackson snorted. “Yeah, anyone with boobs. Boobs are king.”

     

    Michelle rolled her eyes recalling the first timed she found a stack of Playboy magazines under her son’s bed. Every page with a breast-centric photo was crusty. “I’m sure he has no trouble finding playmates eager to take their bras off for him.”

     

    “No,” Jackson smirked. “Our little beast is quite the charming cutie pie. He gets a lot of attention up there. Both our kids do.”

     

    “The Hot Brochs, eh?”

     

    He just grinned. “You and I agreed that I wasn’t going to helicopter them when we’re in M.T.I. We want them to have a sense of freedom and be responsible for their own decisions.”

     

    “Yes, we agreed to that,” Michelle said. “And even though they’re both good kids with level heads, I still worry about them getting in trouble. I’m their mom; I can’t help it.”

     

    Jackson turned off his bedside lamp. “I know, sweetheart. But I still don’t think Evan is a bad influence on either of them. He’s a good kid, too.”

     

    Glancing toward the muffled sound of the kids’ voices, she bit her lip. “But do you see the way they both look at Evan, right? There’s something about it that feels off to me … I can’t put my finger on it.”

     

    “Well, Kellan idolizes him,” Jackson said. “He’s never responded to any of his local friends that way. Maybe that’s what you’re seeing.”

     

    With that, it finally came clear to her. “That’s what it is. Evan idolizes our son, too. I think that’s what has my spider sense tingling.”

     

    Propping up on his elbows, Jackson stared at her in disbelief. “Wait, you’re worried about the boys being sexual with each other?”

     

    “’Worried’ isn’t the right word,” she said. “I wouldn’t be concerned if either of our children was gay. It’s just that Kellan might get tangled up emotionally if things got too … touchy between him and Evan. He’s so open with his feelings all the time and everything is right on the surface. With all the hormones and chemicals coursing through him right now, that could easily scramble his emotional response. He might get confused.”

     

    “Confused about what, exactly? He obviously likes girls—they both do.”

     

    “Yes, but our son might also like boys. Or he doesn’t know yet and he’s just stretching out and learning.”

     

    “And is there something wrong with that?” Jackson said.

     

    “Not at all. But his mother thinks he’s too young for a broken heart.”

    “Honey, Evan MacTavish is the last person alive who would break Kellan’s heart. He’s so over-protective, it’s a little scary. Ever since the bee sting episode, Ev watches our boy like a hawk.”

     

    “Too keep him from getting stung or bitten by something, sure,” she said. “But this is different territory.”

     

    Jackson sighed and gave his wife another kiss in the dark bedroom. “Or this is just the mad spinnings of his mother’s over-wrought imagination.”

     

    “I’m sorry. Evan is too damn good-looking. It’s freaking me out.”

     

    “Hush now,” he said with a wink. “You’re making your old man jealous. Good night, sweetheart.” Jackson rolled over and settled in to sleep.

     

    “Good night.” Michelle wanted to go to sleep, but instead she lay awake until the kids finished their game and she heard Kathryn’s bedroom door close across the hall.

     

    It was just before midnight and they had big plans for the next day; breakfast at the Farmer’s Market, the afternoon on the beach, and then a drive up the coast for a sunset dinner at Gladstone’s Malibu. Jackson would slip out before the kids woke up to rent a convertible for the day. They wanted to give Evan an ultimate Los Angeles experience.

     

    Michelle dozed off for a while, but woke around 2:30. She popped into the bathroom, then crept out into the hall to get a fresh glass of water from the kitchen. Kathryn’s door remained closed, but Michelle peeked in on her. Curled up and sound asleep with her hair flowing out over her pillow. Across the hall, Kellan’s door was closed but not quite latched. The light was out in the hall so she knew she wasn’t throwing a shadow under the door. Michelle leaned her ear close and listened for her son’s purring snore.

     

    What she heard instead was whispering; soft murmurs of earnest conversation. She couldn’t quite make out words but the tone was clear. Whatever the boys were discussing was weighty indeed.

     

    Deciding they’d likely talk themselves to sleep soon, she padded off to the kitchen. While she stood at the fridge refilling her water glass from the cold pitcher, Michelle heard something strange.

     

    At first, she thought it was muffled laughter coming from Kellan’s bedroom, but quickly realized it was actually panting. The rhythmic protesting of bed springs came next, followed by stifled moans. She distinctly heard two voices moaning, both her son’s and Evan’s. It was over in seconds and then there was silence.   

     

    Heart racing, Michelle slipped back into the master bedroom with her water and silently closed the door. She sat on the end of the bed for a long time trying to decide if she felt vindicated for guessing this correctly, or simply concerned for Kellan’s emotional wellbeing. She tried to not let her maternal protectiveness rise up and cloud her perception. Her son wasn’t easily influenced and she didn’t want to blame Evan where he had no fault. For all Michelle knew, this activity was Kellan’s idea.

     

    And what were they doing exactly? She couldn’t quite picture her son engaging in anal sex, but then … what did she really know about that aspect of his young life? All she’d been exposed to were the types of erotic photographs he enjoyed looking at. That really didn’t tell her anything about his behavior with a live partner.

     

    Michelle sipped her water, staring at the wall between the master and her son’s room. She thought she heard movement in there, but couldn’t be sure. Were they sleeping or talking, or still touching each other? Her curiosity was welling up like a tidal wave, but she really didn’t want to invade Kellan’s privacy. Jackson was sound asleep behind her and couldn’t talk her off this ledge. Finally, she took a deep breath and snuck back out of the room.

     

    The door of the bathroom opened as soon as she stepped into the hallway and Kellan came out. He wore his pajama pants and a sleep t-shirt, but the soft cotton clung to his skin slightly. He rubbed his eyes, smiling when he saw her.

     

    “Hey,” he whispered. “What’re you doing up so late?”

     

    She ruffled his messy hair, feeling how warm and moist his skin was. “Didn’t you know? Old ladies walk around the house in the middle of the night hunting spiders. It’s how we keep our gray hair shiny.”

     

    He chuckled sleepily. “You’re so crazy, mom.” Kellan kissed her forehead. That close, she caught the earthy scent of semen on his skin. “Good night.”

     

    Michelle gently snagged his wrist as he headed for his bedroom; he looked back at her.

     

    “Kell, are you okay, honey?” she said.

     

    A tiny frown knit his smooth brow. “Yeah, totally. I just had to pee.”

     

    “No, I mean …” She stopped herself. Whatever her issues were, she hadn’t had enough time to make sense of them. Sharing them with her son now would only create confusion. “Never mind. I’m half asleep. See you in the morning. You boys have enough blankets?”

     

    “We’re good, thanks. Good night.” He was clearly puzzled by her behavior, but went off to his room nonetheless. When he opened the door, Michelle caught a glimpse of the air mattress on the floor. It remained neatly made with the teddy bear still perched on the unruffled pillows.

     

    She wondered if they would try to act like Evan slept down there in the morning or if it would even occur to them. In truth, why would it concern them? She and Jackson hadn’t set any rules about them sharing a bed. It was likely the boys hadn’t thought twice about it.

     

    Deciding she’d had enough of her own mental hamster wheel that night, Michelle took herself back to bed.

     

     

    ***

     

     

    “You don’t know what you heard, honey.” Jackson held her hand as they strolled down Third Street Promenade. The kids were ahead and out of earshot, distracted by taking photos of each other with the ocean in the background. “Your imagination was working overtime.”

     

    “Jackson, we’ve been listening to our son masturbate for four years now. I know what I heard.”

     

    “Okay,” he said, turning to her and gently taking her shoulders in his hands. “Let’s say you’re right and you did hear them touching each other. They’re boys; they’re curious and raging with hormones, so they’re exploring. It’s human nature.”

     

    “I know.”

     

    “Then what’s your true concern here?”

     

    Michelle sighed, frustrated with herself. “You’re right. It’s not like they can get each other pregnant.”

     

    He chuckled. “There’s that. But I don’t want to minimize what you’re feeling. Tell me what’s bothering you most.”

     

    When she thought about that honestly, she had to laugh. “That my son is being violated, which I know is ridiculous.”

     

    “I would think so, yes. Whatever he and Ev are doing together, it’s most assuredly consensual.”

     

    “Of course it is. They’re boys. They’re exploring and they feel safe with each other. I’m over-reacting and being crazy.”

     

    Kathryn’s laughter rang out on the ocean breeze making them both look in that direction. Evan had her hoisted up on his left shoulder where she held on for dear life while her brother took a picture.

     

    Michelle smiled at them. “I think I want to talk to Kell about it; just to make sure he’s not … muddled about anything.”

     

    “Okay.” Jackson reached for her hand again and they headed toward the laughing kids. “But approach with caution. He’s equally as protective of Evan as Ev is of him. Kell! Give me the camera and get over there. See if Evan can lift you both up.”

     

    Michelle stood by smiling as Evan did he best to lift both her children up onto his shoulders. Alas, the closest he could get was having them both wrapped around his waist, laughing like fools. But it made for an excellent, joyful photograph that would be framed on their mantel for years to come.

     

     

    ***

     

     

    They returned from Malibu after ten and Michelle asked Kellan to help her with the recycling in the garage. Kathryn and Evan were with Jackson in the family room in negotiations over what movie to watch. Kellan brought the bin in from the kitchen and he and Michelle began sorting the glass, paper and plastic into separate bags bound for the recycling center.

     

    When she felt certain the others were settled and wouldn’t disturb them, Michelle spoke to her son softly. “Are you enjoying Evan’s visit?”

     

    “Hugely.” His beaming grin underlined his response. “Today was awesome. I’m so glad you finally got to meet him after all this time.”

     

    “Me, too. He’s great. Very sweet and charming.” She broke down a tissue box and slipped it in between a stack of newspapers. “Honey, can I ask you something personal?” She met his eyes. “You’re free to say no.”

     

    “I am?” he teased. “Since when?”

    Michelle laughed. “Since now because what I want to ask you is invasive. You’ll feel like it’s none of my business.”

     

    Kellan flashed the little smile she only saw when she was alone with him. It was full of adoration, but boyishly vulnerable. Michelle imagined her handsome son could break a thousand hearts with this one expression that always melted her own. His amber eyes twinkled in the overhead light of the garage.

     

    “You can ask me anything you want, Mom.”

     

    “It’s about Evan,” she said. “And you will think it’s invasive—I promise.”

     

    He paused with an empty Diet Pepsi bottle in his hand. “Okay, what?”

     

    Taking a deep breath, she glanced at the open door to the kitchen to make sure they were still alone. “It seems that your relationship with him is a bit more complicated than just friends.”

     

    He frowned, tossing the bottle into the bag of plastics. “Yeah, he’s my best friend. That’s definitely more than an ordinary friend.”

     

    “I understand.” She paused to steady herself. “And is your relationship intimate?”

     

    Kellan blinked, thoroughly turning this question over in his head. “Well, yeah. I mean, I tell him everything.”

     

    She sighed at her own vagueness. “Honey, I’m sorry—I’m being overly cautious and probably don’t need to be. I mean is your relationship physically intimate?”

     

    “Oh.” His expression softened into a playful smile. “Then, yeah. Sort of.”

     

    She tossed a Perrier bottle into the glass bag. “Sort of?”

     

    “Uh huh.”

     

    “Okay, that must bring another layer of emotions into things. Possibly feelings of romantic love?”

     

    Without hesitation, he said, “possibly.”

     

    Encouraged, Michelle smiled. “Right. Well, that’s what I thought and I just wanted to check in with you—to see if you had any questions or wanted to talk about anything.” She reached for his hand. “You can tell me anything, Kellan. I promise I won’t flip out, no matter what.”

     

    He laughed lightly. “Thank you, but I’m okay. I’m actually really happy.”

     

    “I’m very glad to hear that,” she said, even though she wasn’t exactly sure it was true. Her heart began to race. “So, you and Evan are … together?”

     

    He grabbed the last two plastic liter bottles out of the bin and transferred them to the bag. “We’re not boyfriends, if that’s what you mean.”

     

    “It is. And that’s not happening?”

     

    “No. We’re just us; doing our thing.” For the first time in his life, Michelle was distinctly aware of purposeful evasion from him. She and Kellan had always been close—he was a classic ‘momma’s boy’ until he turned ten and discovered girls. Up until that point, his mom had been his favorite person. He still spent a lot of time with her, but puberty put an unspoken distance between them that she knew was necessary for his growth. But this was something new; he was flat out hiding something from her.

     

    “I take it you don’t want to elaborate,” she said. “And that’s fine. Like I said, I know I’m prying.”

     

    “It’s not that, Mom. You’re my mother; you’re worried about me. That’s a good thing.” He flashed that radiant, boyish smile again. “But I don’t have Evan’s permission to talk about this with you, so … I don’t want to say anything more.”

     

    She couldn’t argue with that even if she’d tried. In fact, she quite admired his integrity. Michelle crossed her arms over chest and smiled. “That’s fair enough, honey. Thank you for sharing what you did. I won’t ask you about it again, but please remember that you’re welcome to talk to me about anything, any time. I’m always here for you.” She put her arms around him and gave him a good squeeze.

     

    Against her neck, he said thank you and told her not to worry.

     

    Michelle wasn’t sure she could manage that, but she was still glad she’d asked him about it. Even if she hadn’t learned much, she’d discovered something new in her son: he was becoming a unique and interesting young man who clearly had little use for societal norms. What didn’t suit him would simply be discarded.

     

    She knew full well this might trip him up down the road, but she had faith in him. Kellan had a kind heart and a strong spirit; he genuinely cared for others. Virginia once told her that her children were special in a way that would reveal itself in their young adulthood. Michelle wondered if this was the beginning of that disclosure. Was she witnessing the first blush of her son’s significance?

     

    She often wished she could still talk to Ginny. They had such great conversations and Michelle always came away feeling enlightened; she missed that. And she also knew deep in her bones that Ginny hadn’t given her all the information Michelle needed before she passed. There were gaps and blank spots that needed filling in—both about her husband and about her children. But she’d have to learn those things for herself now.

     

    As she headed out of the garage, she switched off the light and glanced back toward the corner where she and Kellan had stood talking. A wave of melancholy washed over her as she realized her adorable baby boy was gone, but now she would have the privilege of knowing the young man he would become. The trade was more than fair, but wrought with emotional potholes. Some part of her would always see him as that messy-haired, loving little terror running up to her when she’d pick him up at school.

     

    Michelle closed the door and went to join the others in the family room.

    ~

     

    ~