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2016 A-Z Challenge Reflections

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

The A-Z challenge ended over a week ago, but now it’s time to reflect on how it went for me. Basically…really well. I had a lot of fun writing up each of the posts. In fact, most of the time I was about a week ahead on having them written and scheduled. It went a lot better than the first time I participated. I had a theme both times, so I don’t think that’s part of it. But, the first year I chose a theme that required me to do research, a good bit of it. This year, I focused on characters already established in my various series. I really enjoyed digging into their back stories and sharing pieces of them.

From my BC Security series, we had:

Alex Connelly – Alex comes homes after his parents’ deaths but finds something he wasn’t expecting

Casey Brannigan – Casey meets Marie for the first time

Declan Portor – When Declan’s mother dies, he goes home to find things worse than he expected

Hannah Connelly – Hannah’s reaction when her mother goes missing(events during Guarding the Heart)

Piers Quincey – Piers and Xavier realize they’re both carrying feelings for the other

Rowan Portor – Rowan meets Alexandra(Declan’s parents’ story)

Xavier Urban – Things fall apart between Xavier and Piers

Vivienne Quincey Vivienne(Piers’ mother) deals with feelings about son enlisting in Marine Corps

Xavier Urban(take 2) – this is the final in the arc starting with Piers and Xavier’s first post. Xavier faces Piers for the first time since their falling out.(events during Guarding the Heart)

And from my Flames & Hunter family series:

Finn Reddick – Finn deals with learning his mother is leaving his father

Giovanni Magaldi – Giovanni gets ready to interview new bartender for his family’s pub(events during Flames of Restoration)

Megan Luzat – Megan deals with  a lot of changes in he life.

William Boroughs – William welcomes two of his cousins to a family gathering

Dillon Yates – Dillon greets a new colleague

From my Gilbert, Co series:

Erik Matthews – Erik answers questions about his son after his daughter-in-law is killed

Kellie Caldera – Kellie welcomes new doctor to clinic(events during Healing the Heart)

Leann Rudler – Leann meets Rick and his son

Olivia Stevens – Olivia tries to deal with feelings about stepson

Patrick Williams – Patrick tries to come to grips with feelings about mother & stepmother

And from my Kurztown series:

Brian Sharrock – Brian rushes home for birth of his daughter and tries to reconcile having to return to law school

Lila Correlli – Lila deals with feelings of leaving home town and best friends

Joel Holland – Joel learns son was in car crash and tries to handle

Nila Siddell – Nila and Julian start dating and have to deal with attitudes of their small town

Susan Holland – Susan tries to deal with changing feelings for her best friend

Trisha Gosslar – Trisha wants to tie everything up in her last days.

Zachariah Sarrano – Zachariah gets word of wife and daughter in accident and rushes to hospital

I had a lot of fun writing these but am glad the month is over. Of course, now I’m participating in the Story a Day challenge, so really I’m pretty much continuing it. Now, time to start thinking on what next year’s theme will be.

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A-Z Challenge: Z is for Zachariah Sarrano

Z

Tissue Warning: Apparently I’m going to end on a sad note. I had to fight tears a couple times while writing this one, so you’re warned.

“Hey, Boss!”

Zachariah Sarrano glanced down from his position on the roof at the shouted words. One of his men held his thumb and pinky beside his head. Damn phone. He didn’t want to talk to anyone until they were done putting on this roof. “Take a message,” he shouted back.

“Sounded important.”

He didn’t bother cursing again. Just part of being the boss. He hoped to pass that responsibility off to his sons as soon as they could join him full-time. They already worked for him during summer vacations, but he certainly wouldn’t let them up here until they had more training. He thought Gabriel would handle the office work well, or at least better than Chris. That wasn’t saying much, though. His second son was practically a copy of himself.

He made his way across the roof and down the ladder then unhooked his harness. None of them worked on the roof without one. He made sure of it. “Who is it?” he asked Matt as they started toward the trailer that served as a temporary office when they were on a job site.

Irritation shifted to worry when Matt didn’t answer him. Zachariah looked over at him, but Matt wouldn’t meet his gaze. “I think you’d better just take the call, boss.”

Yeah, there was nothing good about this.

He stepped into the trailer and yanked up the receiver Matt had laid on the desk. “Sarrano Construction.”

“Is this Zachariah Sarrano?”

“Yeah. What is this about?”

“There’s been an accident.”

***

This could not be happening. It just could not. He hadn’t been given any details over the phone. Just that Marleen and Lyndsey had been taken to the hospital after being pulled out of the car. His hands shook, and he laid on the horn again. Where the hell were those boys?

Finally they came out of the house. Not in any hurry at all. Damn it. He’d told them to be ready when he got here.

“What the hell, Dad?” Gabriel said when he opened the front door of the truck. “I was going to go pick Brittany up in a little bit. I had to call her and cancel our date. Chris rushed back from Doren’s. What was so damn important?”

“Don’t swear at me, Gabriel,” he said, pointing a shaky finger at his older son. “I don’t care if you did just turn seventeen. Your mom and sister are in the hospital, so I don’t want to hear any of it. Just buckle up.”

Both boys fell silent at that, and Zachariah pulled away from the curb. They’d barely made it out of town before Chris asked, his voice wavering, “What happened?”

Zach’s hands shook on the wheel, and he tightened his grip, wishing that would steady him. “I don’t know. Exactly. There was an accident, and they were both taken in. That is all I know.”

Neither of the boys spoke after that, but Gabriel did put a hand over his when he set it on the gear shift. They pulled into the parking lot at the hospital, but suddenly he wasn’t sure what to do. They needed to go inside, of course, but he couldn’t make himself open the door. “Come on, Dad,” Gabriel said. “I’m sure Mom’s going to want to see you.”

That kicked him back into gear. He led the way into the hospital and up to the desk. “How can I help you?” the receptionist asked.

“My wife and daughter should have been brought in. They were in an accident.”

“Names?”

“Marleen and Lyndsey Saranno.”

She typed the names in–he had to spell Lyndsey’s as always–and he thought something passed through her eyes. But, she looked up at him again, and her face was blank. “Have a seat, Mr. Saranno. Someone will be out to talk to you.”

There was too damn much pity in her voice for that talk to be anything he wanted. “What happened to them?”

“I can’t tell you. Just go have a seat.”

But, he couldn’t sit. So, he paced. He stood at the window and stared out. He crushed a water bottle Chris had gotten him from the vending machine. When he couldn’t handle the crinkling of the plastic, he tossed it into the trash without even opening it.

“Mr. Saranno?”

He turned to look at the weary-looking man who stood only feet away from him. Something in his eyes…Zachariah’s legs nearly went out on him. “No,” he said. “Don’t tell me that. They aren’t-”

“Dad,” Gabriel said, stepping up and taking one of his arms. “He hasn’t told us anything yet. I’m sure they’re going to be fine.”

“Your daughter is going to be fine,” the doctor assured him. “She suffered a broken arm and a few other bumps and bruises, but she’ll heal.”

Zachariah’s shoulders sagged. Maybe he’d imagined it all. His mind was playing tricks on him. They were all going to walk out of here together. As a family.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Sarrano.” He looked up at the doctor, his eyes narrowing. But, he’d just said Lyndsey would be fine. Of course, Marleen would be, too. Why was he sorry?

“Your wife. She didn’t make it here.”

He almost hit the floor, but the doctor reached out and caught him. Gabriel grabbed his other side and helped him into a chair.
The doctor was saying something else, but he didn’t hear anything else. Marleen was gone. What was he supposed to do now?

***

“Dad?”

Zachariah lifted shaking hands to his face. He was sitting in his dark bedroom, not answering his son’s call. He’d done this too many times over the last couple months. He just wasn’t sure if he could handle facing them. If it wasn’t for work, he may not leave this room at all. Some days he couldn’t even manage it for that.

Gabriel wasn’t giving up this time, though. “Dad, you can’t just stay in here. Mom’s gone, but the rest of us aren’t.” He pushed the door open but thankfully didn’t switch on the light. “Lyndsey thinks you hate her because she’s the one who survived. Chris is drifting, even Doren is worried about him. I…I don’t know what to do. We need you, Dad.”

Zachariah squeezed his eyes closed even tighter. His family was breaking apart right now, and he didn’t know how to fix it. His chest ached every day, like part of him had been scooped out and thrown away.

“Where are they?” he finally asked, his voice hoarse.

“Lyndsey’s in her room, finishing her homework for tomorrow. Chris…well, he said he was going to Doren’s. But, he called me a little bit ago wondering why he never came over after church.”

Church. He hadn’t even realized it was Sunday. God, Gabriel must have been taking them, because Zachariah certainly hadn’t been doing it. Just how much had his eldest been doing for the younger two? More than was his responsibility. That was for sure.

“Call him and tell him to get back here. I’ll talk to Lyndsey. And order us some pizzas. We’re all having dinner together today.” They’d need to do more than that to keep this family together, but it would be a start at least.

Zachariah walked slowly up the stairs to his daughters room. He knocked briefly, but when she didn’t answer, he nudged the door open. “Lynds? Gabriel said you were up here.”

“Go away.” Her voice was even rougher than his and filled with tears.

It killed him. Still he was tempted to do as she asked. Most of the time he gave his children what they asked for, within reason, but he thought it would be worse to do that now. So, he pushed the door open and stepped inside. She wasn’t doing homework. She was laying on her bed, the pink of her cast laying overtop the stuffed elephant she held against her. The elephant Marleen had given her when she’d been in the hospital for meningitis a couple years earlier.

“I said to go away.”

“I’m not going to leave you, Lyndsey.”

“You don’t even want me to be here.”

He sat on the edge of her bed. “Of course, I do. I love you.”

“No, you don’t. You wish she was here. That we could have switched places.”

He’d cried at the funeral but not again since that day. Now, tears were rolling down his cheeks. “No. I mean, yes, I wish your mother was still here. I’ve loved her since I was Gabriel’s age. But, no, I don’t wish you’d died instead of her.” He moved closer to her, so he could run a hand over her hair. “I would have been heartbroken to lose you, too.”

“You won’t even look at me.”

He could hardly even look at anyone these days. “You look just like her. You know that?”

Lyndsey nodded. “That’s what everyone’s always said.”

“I haven’t handled things well. I’m sorry for that. We’re going to find our way through this, though. I had Gabriel order some pizza and go to find your other brother. We’re going to start with having dinner together.”

“He’s been doing my hair for school. Did you know that?”

“Gabriel?” He hadn’t even thought about it. Marleen had always handled that kind of stuff. It wasn’t even on his radar of wondering about.

She shook her head. “Chris. They’ve both been trying to do whatever they can to help. I know you’re sad, Dad.”

Sad didn’t even begin to cover it. But, that didn’t matter. Gabriel was right. They were still here, and he couldn’t just ignore that while he wallowed in his grief. His children still needed him, and he couldn’t let them down.

“Come on,” he said. “We’ll all eat dinner together, then I’ll see if I can help you with that homework.”

She rolled her eyes, but got up off the bed with him. “I already got it done, Dad. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Well, at least it was one thing he didn’t have to worry about it.

Note: Chris showed up in Love Who You Love, book 3 in my Kurztown series. And he told me about the family dinners his father had instituted after Chris’ mother’s death. I also just finished outlining Gabriel’s story. And even though he often comes off as the more fun-loving brother, he does step up to take responsibility when needed.

A-Z Challenge: Y is for Dillon Yates

Y

Dillon Yates stepped out of his classroom and glanced down the hallway. There didn’t seem to be any students loitering in the hallway after the last class on the first day of school. He couldn’t really blame them for being anxious to get out of here. It was a beautiful day out, and he didn’t know many people, especially kids, who’d rather spend it inside.

He glanced toward the room at the end of the hallway. He’d met the new Industrial Arts teacher when they’d been setting up their rooms the week before. But, he hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to him. Hunter, he’d said his last name was. Dillon had known a Hunter years ago and wondered if they were related.

He started that way, wanting to find out. And from everything he’d heard, the new guy had kept mostly to himself. He wasn’t going to make it for long here if he couldn’t even make one friend. It had been more than a decade, but he still remembered being the new guy here. It had been rough until he’d made his own connections.

He knocked once on the door before poking his head in. The young man standing in the middle of the room, his hands on his hips, looked a little lost. Dillon thought he looked a few years older than his own daughter, Sakura. Probably a little past his mid-twenties. His red hair fell a little past his ears, a lot longer than Dillon’s own short-cropped hair. He turned then and caught the wariness in the blue eyes.

Blue eyes that looked familiar. “You are Carrick’s son,” Dillon said.

The other man looked stunned for a minute. “Uh, yeah,” he said. He glanced around as if he might be trying to find a means of escape from the crazy man in front of him.

Dillon gave a little laugh. “Sorry. That probably did sound a little creepy. You’d said your last name was Hunter, and I’d wondered if you were related. I didn’t have much of a chance to speak to you before, though.”

“Oh. Yeah.” He ran a hand through his hair and let it drop again. “My brother was at a fire that day. He was taken to the hospital. Or I would have stuck around longer.”

“He okay?”

The other man nodded. “Not much will keep Tate down for long. His guardian angel probably has a permanent handslap mark on his forehead, though.”

That made Dillon chuckle. “Your dad helped build my house ages ago. We realized we had some things in common, mostly time served in the Army”–though Carrick hadn’t been in nearly as long as he had– “and we’ve tried to keep in touch over the years. I haven’t heard from him for a while, though.” Then, he realized something. “I’m Dillon Yates, by the way.”

“Kelan. You already know my last name, so…”

Dillon laughed again. There seemed to be a sense of humor hidden under the nerves. “It’s good to meet you, Kelan. I think I’ll like working down the hall from you.”

Note: I’m currently working on Kelan’s story(which is also Oliver’s story), and his friendship with Dillon comes into play a good bit in it. Kelan’s younger brother, Jace, also gets involved with Dillon’s daughter(not Sakura) in Burning Bright, book 1 of my Hunter Family series.

A-Z Challenge: X is for Xavier Urban(take 2)

X

Spoiler Warning: This takes place during Guarding the Heart, though his part actually occurs off page in that one. But, it does refer to some events in that, so if you don’t want to be spoiled for when that comes out(probably not until the end of this year or sometime next year), you might want to skip this one.

“Hey, X.”

Xavier looked over his shoulder to where Alex’s voice came from the doorway. “What?” He hated how his voice cracked and was sure the other man could tell he’d been crying. But, Alex didn’t say a thing about that.

“They’re here,” Alex said. “Why don’t you come out so we can all talk?”

Xavier hunched his shoulders. He didn’t want to. He looked back at his friend on the bed in front of him, who still hadn’t opened his eyes yet.

“He’s going to be fine, X,” Alex said, though even his voice wavered on the words. “The doctor said all we can do is wait until he wakes up. He will wake up.”

Alex couldn’t know that, though. He wasn’t the one who had found Casey crumpled on the floor, bleeding from his head. For a moment, he’d been sure his boss, his old friend, had been dead. He’d almost forgotten Emelyn was missing in that moment of grief. But, he couldn’t forget. They had to get her back. But, he couldn’t just leave Casey, either.

“You talk to them. I’m staying here.”

“What the hell, X? You and Piers used to be best friends. I’d think you’d be happy to see him again. Even if the circumstances do suck.”

Xavier cringed. Alex didn’t know. No one knew about the last time he’d seen Piers. About the things the other man had said to him. And that Xavier had deserved every one of them. Even more than three years later, and he still wasn’t sure he could face him.

“You need to come out, X.”

Yeah, that was what Piers had thought, too. That wasn’t what Alex meant, though, and Xavier couldn’t really refuse. Alex was still his boss, too. “Fine. But, I don’t know how much I can tell them that you can’t. I wasn’t there tonight.”

“And I haven’t been with it for nearly a week. Not since Sarah was taken and brought back hurt. So, there’s even less I can tell them.”

Xavier tried to control his breathing as they walked down the hallway and wished he could control the rest of his body’s reactions to anxiety. But, his hands were still sweating, his heart speeding along, his chest was tight. Piers had been so angry the last time Xavier saw him. And Xavier couldn’t blame him for that. He’d handled everything wrong. But, even now, he wasn’t sure he would have done it any differently.

His feet dragged a little more as they neared the waiting room. But, his gaze went right to the big man sitting in the corner. Another man sat beside him, skinnier but just as tall. That red hair was instantly recognizable. “Declan,” Xavier greeted the redhead.

“Nothing for me, X?” Piers asked.

Xavier couldn’t even bring himself to look at the other man. If that love he’d once claimed to have for Xavier had turned to hate, he wouldn’t be able to handle it.

“Still a coward then,” Piers murmured.

Xavier could feel Alex looking between them. He didn’t respond, though. Alex sighed. “Piers, you know as well as I do that X is one of the bravest men there is. I’d trust him to have my back. In fact, I have, more than once in the last few years he’s worked for Casey and me.”

“Oh, Oui,” Piers admitted, and Xavier was sure he felt Piers’ eyes burning into him. “You can trust him with your life, just not his word.”

Xavier spun around, not able to take it any longer. “I’m going back to Casey. Y’all can figure this out.”

“Yeah, you’re pretty good at walking away from me.”

That stopped Xavier in his tracks, and he spun back. “You walked away from me, Ghost. You lived up to that name pretty damn well, in fact. Just disappeared. I couldn’t have found you if I’d wanted to. So, don’t put it all on me.”

He turned back around again, and headed for the door. “I’m going back to sit with Casey.”

“What the hell?” he heard Alex say as he exited the waiting room. “Just what the hell was that all about?”

Rien,” Piers responded. “It was nothing.”

Xavier could only wish that was true. And that there was even a chance of there being something again. He missed the man who had seemed to get everything about him. But, it was obvious now that his mistake, his inability to do what he’d promised to, had completely broken anything they’d had.

And that was something he couldn’t blame anyone but himself for.

Note: These two just break my heart. If you missed the other parts of the story: Piers realizes his comrade has feelings for him, too, but then Xavier doesn’t follow through on a promise made. I’m still writing Declan’s story, Protecting the Heart, but once that is done, I’ll be starting on Piers & Xavier’s, Defending the Heart.

A-Z Challenge: W is for William Boroughs

W

William Boroughs watched each of the cars as they passed. Did they even still know how to get here? It had been years since his cousins had been up here to their grandparents’ place. And now they were moving here. Well, not here to his grandparents’, but not too far away.

Both of them.  Of course that wasn’t too surprising. Oliver and Emilia had always seemed to do everything together. He’d been fairly close with Oliver when they’d been growing up. At least as close as they could be. But, William’s older sister, Adia, had been even closer to Emilia. Maybe girls had an easier time of keeping in touch even when they weren’t nearby. But, he didn’t know anyone who was as close as the twins were. Not even his mom and Aunt Letizia, Oliver and Emilia’s mom. And they were twins, too.

Finally, he saw a car pull into the driveway and another one right behind it. That had to be them. Sure enough, Oliver stepped out of the first car and grinned at him. “God, Will, you’re a sight for sore eyes.

William glanced over his shoulder than back to Oliver. “Don’t let grandma hear you take the Lord’s name in vain like that. She’s not above boxing our ears.”

Oliver cringed. “It’s been a while since I’ve had to worry about that. Dad always refused to do church, and Mom didn’t fight him about it.”

William bit his tongue, very nearly literally, to keep from saying just what he, and most of the rest of the family, thought about Uncle Roderick. And what Aunt Lettie let him get away with. He’d hear the opinions soon enough. Not all of his relatives were so good at biting their own tongues.

Emilia came up beside her brother and smiled at William. “Let me guess,” she said, “everyone’s waiting for us in the house?”

“You got it,” William told her.

She glanced over at Oliver and squeezed his hand. “You okay?”

He wet his lips and nodded. “Yeah, sure. They can’t handle it any worse than Dad did. And might as well get it over with first.”

Oliver had confided in William years ago, so he understood his nerves. Especially walking in to a house full of Catholics. “Mom knows,” he said. “Your mom told her.”

Oliver froze in mid-step at that. “She did?”

“It wasn’t her place, but apparently your father refused to discuss it, and she needed someone who wouldn’t judge.”

“And she doesn’t?”

William shook his head. “Neither do I. Neither will Uncle Dougal. I can’t assure you of the rest, but you aren’t any less our family because you’re gay. You haven’t spent too much time around the Magaldi clan, but they’re a lot more accepting than your father.”

“Not from the way he’s always talked,” Oliver muttered.

“Well, maybe not of him. But, that’s because-”

“He’s an asshole,” Oliver and Emilia said at the same time.

William laughed. “Not quite what I was going to say. But, yeah, pretty much.”

“It’s okay,” Emilia said. “We know how he is, probably better than anyone else.”

William could see some of the family standing at the door already. “We’d better get inside,” he said, “before they all come out and mob us.” Oliver wiped his hands on his pants, and William patted his shoulder. “It’ll be all right. You’ll see.”

Note: Emilia and Oliver show up in Some Fools Never Learn, the second book in my Hunter Family series, a spin-off from my Flames series. That’s actually Emilia’s story, and I’m working on Oliver’s right now. William hasn’t actually shown up in any of the stories, but I have a family tree to try to keep all these families straight.

A-Z Challenge: V is for Vivienne Quincey

V

“Mom. Seriously, I will be fine. Stop worrying.”

Jamais.”

Vivienne Quincey saw her son, Piers, roll his eyes. Her only son, and now he was heading to California for basic training. About as far away from her as he could get. Okay, that was not true. She could still be in Sainte-Martine, and then he’d be in a different country. Maybe if she had raised him in Quebec more rather than following Peter to Texas and raising Piers mostly here, he wouldn’t have been so set on following his father’s footsteps right into the Marine Corps.

Oh, who was she kidding? Piers had always been a near copy of his father. There was no changing it.

“Dad, tell her I’ll be fine. We have to leave soon.”

“Viv,” Peter said, slipping his arm around her waist, “he’ll be fine. You know he will. He’s tough. He’ll get tougher.”

But, she didn’t know if she wanted to see him get tougher. She didn’t want to lose her sweet boy who always stood up for others. “Are you sure you have to go?”

“Yes, Mom,” he said with a laugh, though she could hear the aggravation in his voice. “And soon. Or I’m going to miss my bus.”

She hated to see him go. Why he’d had to join up, she didn’t know. She and Peter would have been proud of him even if he didn’t. Even if he didn’t make it through basic training, they’d love him. No matter what ever happened. “I still don’t know why you aren’t doing something with computers. You love your computers.”

“The Marines need someone to run their computers, too.” He sent her that same wide grin he always did. “And I’ll be doing more than being some IT drone in an office.”

But, at least in an office, he would be safe. She couldn’t say that, not now that he was leaving. And she knew it would just make him roll his eyes once more.

“It’s only twelve weeks,” Peter reminded her then tossed a set of keys to Piers. “Go start the car. I’ll be right out.”

Piers stopped to give her a kiss and tight hug. “I’ll be fine, Mom,” he insisted before walking out of the house.

“He will be,” her husband said when they were alone. “I know you’re scared. I know you worry every time I leave still. But, this isn’t the same. He’s going to be okay.”

“Now. And when he’s fully a Marine instead of just a recruit? I don’t want to have to bury my son.”

“You married a Marine, remember?” He pressed his mouth to the top of her head and held her close. “We don’t go down easy. Now, I really do have to go and get him there. I’ll be back in a while. I promise it will be okay.”

She just hoped he was right.

Note: I didn’t have too many characters who started with V. But, there was Piers’ mom. And if you read yesterday’s, you’ll see how far that pride and love stretched(at least at that moment. Really hoping his dad came around eventually. He hasn’t told me that yet, though).

A-Z Challenge: U is for Xavier Urban

U

Xavier Urban sat at a table near the window. He’d see Piers as soon as crossed the street to the diner. His hand shook slightly as he reached out to pick up his coffee cup. He set it right back down, not really wanting to spill it on his hand.

“Coffee not quite up to your standards, big brother?” a voice said behind him. “Don’t tell me the Marines actually served you better.”

He turned his head and grinned at her. “Just letting it cool off, “Magdalene.”

“Oh, Poor Xavier, the big bad Marine, scared of burning his mouth.”

He reached out to smack her arm. “You’re still just as much of a brat as when I first joined up. How does that husband of yours put up with it?”

“He’s in the kitchen. I could send him out so he could tell you himself. You know if you’d order more that ‘just coffee’.”

He almost laughed when she made quotes round the last two words. “I’m not hungry right now.” At least he didn’t think he could eat anything. At least not until after Piers got there, and they talked. And it would be best if her husband didn’t come out to see him. Xavier always seemed to make a fool of himself in front of the other man.

He turned his head at the sound of the bell on the door. And watched as Piers walked into the diner. Damn, that man looked fine. Always. In a t-shirt and combat pants. Decked out in his combat gear or dress blues. Or wearing a dress shirt, tie, and slacks as he was now.

And that smile he flashed now. It always did something to Xavier. Which was going to make this so much harder.

Magdalene smiled. “Welcome, Piers. Let me guess, you want ‘just coffee’ too.”

“I assume I’m missing a joke there. But, yes, I would like that, Mags.”

When she turned away, Piers leaned over the table. Xavier pulled back, though. “Not here,” he hissed.

Piers narrowed his eyes, but he slipped into the chair across from Xavier. When Piers reached for his hand, Xavier pulled that back, too. “I said not here.”

“You’re shaking. Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?”

What was the matter? At least he was pretty sure that’s what Piers had asked. Where to start? “Nothing. It’s nothing.” It was everything. It was the only promise he’d ever broken to Piers.

“You didn’t tell them yet,” Piers accused.

Xavier dropped his gaze to his coffee. “I couldn’t,” he said quietly. “I just couldn’t do it.”

“Seriously? I came out to my strict Marine father and ultra-Catholic mother, and you can’t even be truthful with the people who once put you in private school they couldn’t afford to get you away from vicious bullying. Isn’t that what you told me?”

Xavier nodded. “The bullying didn’t stop with that, it just changed.”

Piers reached out and pulled his own hand back this time, as if he was fighting with himself. “We said we were both going to do this. We’re out of the Corps, we won’t face any blowback there. Our families will come around. But, we said we weren’t going to do this in secret any more. My father would hardly even look at me, but I did it so I could be with you. In the open.”

Xavier finally looked up from his coffee. “You didn’t see them when I came home, Piers. So damn proud. They’d never looked at me like that before.” He was having trouble keeping his voice down, but his sister hadn’t come back out of the kitchen at least. “I couldn’t tell them I’d lied about not being attracted to guys anymore. That I was in love with one.”

Piers snorted. “In love? I’m obviously the only one who suffers under that condition. But, I won’t do it in secret.” He pushed back from the table. “Let me know if you’re ever brave enough to be honest with yourself, let alone your family. I’ll let you know if I still suffer from it.”

The parting words were almost more than he could take. He pressed both hands on top of the table, as if that would get them to finally stop shaking. It didn’t work. And almost before the bell had stopped chiming at Piers’ departure, Magdalene was beside the table, filling a second cup with coffee and joining Xavier.

“What’d you have to go and break that man’s heart for, X?”

He jerked his head up at that. “I…I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, you certainly do. I saw the way you were looking at him.”

“You were spying on us? I’d have figured you’d grown out of that by now.”

“Never, big brother. And I have the right, maybe even the responsibility, to keep an eye on my customers.”

“You are delusional.”

“No, X, just worried about you. Mom and Dad might have bought your story that being gay was just a phase, and the Marines turned you straight again, but I never have. Even before I saw you looking at him.”

“Don’t tell them. You aren’t going to tell them, are you?”

“Of course not. I’ve never spilled any of your secrets before. I won’t start now. But, you should. You’ll never be happy as long as you’re living a lie.”

“Let me worry about my happiness.” But, he couldn’t help looking out the door, even though Piers was long gone by now. Xavier wondered if he’d ever see him again.

Note: Some time has passed since Piers and Xavier first met and realized they had feelings for each other. About twelve years, in fact. I didn’t “meet” them until about three years after this. And it was obvious there’d been something between them that had broken. I didn’t know exactly what it was until I wrote this. Can’t wait to get to their full story and start to mend things for them.

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