A Storm Named Zach

by Flip McHooter

Chapter 8

"Isabella, Nacho, c'mon inside and have a seat in the great room. Make yourself comfortable, guys. Fi, can you see if they want something to drink while I get Zach? Coffee or a Pepsi or something? Shouldn't take me more than a minute or so to get him. Please excuse me."

I threaded through the house to my bedroom in search of the kid. The bathroom door was closed, and when I didn't hear anything, I gently knocked and asked, "Hey buddy. You okay in there?"

"Jeremy? Are those bonehead reporters gone?"

"Yeah, all gone. The cops came and sent them packing. C'mon out. Isabella and her grandson Nacho are here."

"Nacho's here? He's so cool. I haven't seen him in, like, forever," he said as he slowly opened the door and peeked out. Indy snuck through the tight opening and went zooming towards the great room. She never liked to be locked away from whatever excitement was happening.

"Yeah. Guess he drove her over here. Zach, you don't look so good. Please tell me you weren't crying again."

"Okay, I won't. Crud. I'm sorry. I'm just a little wuss, always running away. I'm so tired of all this bullshit. I thought I could get the reporters out on my own, and I tried. I really did. I was so pissed off. I wanted to break their arms, but it was too much for me. There were too many of them."

"Aw, buddy. Don't feel bad, I couldn't get rid of them either. So instead, I surprised them by springing open the door, and they landed on top of each other on the floor in a huge pile. It was totally epic. Then I blew my top and yelled at them to get the hell out. Fi's got it on her phone. I got three network microphones out of it, though. They went flying down the foyer when the reporters fell on the floor."

"You did that? I wish I had thought of doing that. That's freaking hilarious."

"Yeah. I did. Now we can make our own fake news. What should we report?" I asked.

"Um, how about this. We can report that Trump had an orgy with Nancy Pelosi, Mike Pence and that bonehead reporter I pushed in the pool. Word is the guys did the guys, and the women did the women. But let's leave out the watersports part because we'd sound too much like CNN."

"Buddy, that's just gross. Now you're the one being hilarious. No one's ever going to believe that one. Sorry. Good try, though."

"Jeremy, seriously. How are we going to get rid of those reporters once and for all? Why do they keep following me, hounding me for answers? I don't know anything. And how did they find us? I'm freaking out here. I'm just a kid. I'm not sure I can take much more of this."

"The only thing I can think of is they probably tracked my truck somehow. There aren't that many lightning blue Ford Raptor's around here. So Cal isn't really truck country. Maybe they have a mole in the DMV that they pay off for tips. Happens all the time. Everybody has a price."

"That sucks. Glad I have a fake license."

"Jump up on the counter," I said, as I grabbed a clean washcloth and ran it under some warm water. "I'm going to wash your face, okay? You're kind of a hot mess right now."

"I'm not a baby, I can do it."

"I know you're not a baby. You're a young man going through a bunch of shit that's out of your control. Just let me do it while I tell you what I'm thinking. Chill for a second and let me take care of you."

"Oh, all right. You're way too nice to me."

"I like taking care of you. So, you don't think you're nice?"

"I try, but nobody's ever treated me like you do. I…I like it. You make me feel like I count. Does that make sense?"

"Zach, you count so much more than you'll ever know. Please don't ever doubt yourself."

"Thanks, Jeremy. I'll try. You make me feel so good, and that helps. I appreciate it. Really, I do."

"One more thing, and then we'll drop this subject for now. Calling yourself a baby and a wuss is starting to piss me off. I've told you before you are none of those things, but it's time you start believing it. Shit, if Wolfie were here and heard you say those words, he'd kick your ass, and then make you do a hundred push-ups while you yell out 'I'm not a wuss'. And then he'd kick your ass again. Listen up: You. Are. Fierce. Got that?"


"Then say it."

"I'm fierce."

"Say it like you mean it."

"I am fierce."

"Good. Do it again, and believe it this time. Shout it out to the universe!"


"That's what I want to hear. You get a kiss for that."

"Thanks, Jeremy, for believing in me."

"No problem. Don't doubt me on this. You are fierce. I don't ever want to hear the words wuss, pussy, baby, or whatever out of your mouth again. Got it? I'm serious about this. You are so much better than you think you are, young warrior."

"You're right. I am fierce. And you are too."

"Takes one to know one. So, listen up. Trevor showed up with six or eight of his fellow cops and not so politely pushed the reporters to the street. They aren't allowed on our property again. If they show up, they can be arrested for trespassing. For added protection, once we're through talking with Isabella, I'm going to hire the security company we use at the arena to guard the house twenty-four seven. I know some of those guys, and they don't put up with shit from the press. I'm not sure what those reporters are after, but it must be something they think is super-juicy. Did you hear they caught your dad in Malta?"

"Yeah, I got wind of it. I got a notification on my phone. I'm glad they caught him, but he'll get out of it. That douche nozzle always does."

"We'll see. I'm not so sure about that this time. Malta has an extradition treaty with the U.S. so he'll be brought back to New York eventually. At least that's what I heard from one of the reporters. Once you're cleaned up, we'll see what Isabella knows. If she doesn't know anything, then we'll get Fiona's dad involved. We need to find out who this Eve Whitrock person is, and maybe he can use his resources to find out where she is and what's she's all about. I have a couple other ideas too, but we don't have time for that now. Just know, Zach, I'm here for you all the way. I'm not going away. Okay?"

"I know you are, and I totally appreciate it. I just want this to stop. I'm glad your family's not here, or they'd be sucked into this crazy drama too."

"Oh, believe me, I'm glad they're not here either, but for a completely different reason. The twins would have totally gone rogue on those reporters and punched some of them out, and my sister probably would have chased them down the driveway swinging a frying pan and cussing them out with all kinds of f-bombs. She swears more than Fiona does, if you can believe it. Don't underestimate what my family will do for you. I told you, you're family and family takes care of family."

"I don't know what I did to deserve this, but thank you again for taking care of me. I really mean it."

"Duly noted. Ready to meet your visitors?"

"I am." But before we left the bathroom, Zach jumped me and gave me a toe-curling, mind-blowing sloppy kiss. I could totally get used to that.

"What was that for?" I asked when we broke apart, breathless. "That was awesome!"

"Because you deserve it, and because I wanted to do it, and well, for a couple hundred million billion other reasons we don't have time to discuss now." Finally, he gave me a real smile. We both had to stick our hands in our pants to rearrange our throbbing business.

"Thanks for that. Buddy, that was the most epic one yet! Let's go meet your friends."

"Bella! Yay! You're here!"

"Mijo, it's so good to see you," the gray-haired woman said, wrapping the kid up tightly in her chubby arms, almost squeezing him to death. "Are you well?"

"Yeah, I am," he said, breaking off their hug. "Jeremy and Fiona have been taking great care of me. I don't know what I would have done without them. Hey, Nacho. Long time, no see. Wow. You're so much taller than I remember. And look at all those tats."

"Back atcha, hombrecito." That made Zach laugh like crazy, and he ran over and gave the guy a quick bro hug.

"Missed you, Nacho Libre." That made the two of them bust out laughing again.

Once they broke apart, Zach headed to the couch to sit between Isabella and me.

"Okay. So, we have two things to discuss today," I said. "First, Isabella –"

"Bella. Please."

"Okay, Bella. We've got a couple of things to talk about this afternoon. Your job with the Dumont's, and possibly working with us here. Also, we have a million questions about Zach's family. It's been crazy lately, and we need to pick your brain to find out why all the reporters are after Zach. I guess that's where we should start if that's okay with you."

"Fine by me. What do you want to know?"

Zach surprised me when he held up his palm. "Can I ask a question first?"

"Sure, buddy. Go for it."

"Bella, do you know who Eve Whitrock is?"

Her hand went straight to her mouth, eyes wide, and after a minute, she looked over to her grandson and said, "Nacho? Can you maybe take Fiona outside, por favor? This might get ugly, and Zach may not want everyone to hear it."

"Sure, Nana. Fiona, want to take your dog for a walk? Let's go see what the reporters are doing."

Fi looked delighted, and said, "I'll get Indy's leash. Starbucks isn't too far away if you want to head that way. Maybe they'll follow us. Jeremy? If you need me, call, okay? We'll be here stat."

I knew that look. She was smitten by the tall, dark and good-looking dude. "Sure. We'll call if we need you, or when we're done. Thanks, Fi."

After they left, Isabella turned to us and said, "May I ask? I know this is out of line, and not what I came here to discuss, and is really none of my business. But I am making it my business. Is there something going on between you two boys? It's, how do you say, very obvious. Like a rubber ducky floating in a day-old pot of frijoles."

Zach was caught off guard, and after giggling he started to ramble, "Do you remember when I was in soccer, and a couple of the guys would have pool parties sometimes? Well, that was over here. Jeremy is their uncle, even though he's only three years older. He'd hang out with me on the curb while we'd wait for Mother to pick me up. To make a long story short –"

"We've become close," I said, cutting him off. "It's not just that I want to take care of him, but we have a connection. I think we had a connection way back then too. I hope that's not a problem for you."

"It's not. It actually makes me very happy for my Zachy that he has a special friend. I have three gay grandsons – not Nacho, obviously, since he's about to hit on your friend – and two lesbian granddaughters – who would hit on your friend too. One great-grandson is, how do you say, not sure of his sex, maybe? There's a word for that, but I don't remember. Girl/boy, boy/girl. In between? He's trying to sort it all out. He has a penis but he says he wants breasts. It's very confusing to me, but it must be double confusing for him. And he's only five!"

"Wow," Zach said. "Poor kid. That's got to be so difficult."

"It is, but I love them all just how they are, no matter what. And if you two boys are happy and safe, and nurturing to each other, I'm all for it. Zachy needs some happiness in his life, and if you can provide it, you have my blessing. But know this, mister Jeremy. If you hurt Zach in any way, by cheating, hitting him, what have you, you have me to deal with. Got that? I pack a mean punch, and I won't hesitate to take you down. Down to the ground, mother fucker!"

After I stopped laughing at this granny version of Mr. T, I got up and sat in front of her on the coffee table, then grabbed her hands in mine. "I promise you right here, right now I will never do any of those things to Zach. He is the most amazing person I've ever met, and all I want for him is to be happy and be the best person he can be. I promise. You have my word."

"Okay. Bueno." Then she turned to Zach and asked, "Mijo, is that what you want?"

"Oh my gosh, Yes! More than anything in the whole world. Jeremy's so, so… Yes. I do. Without a doubt."

"Then bueno for both you boys. But no butt sex yet. It's too soon."

That made Zach and I bust-up, and I'm sure we both turned bright red.

"Don't laugh. It's true. I did research on homosexuality when I started thinking my oldest grandson was gay. That was many years ago. I even went to PFLAG meetings. What I'm getting at is you both need to be tested before you go too far. I'm sure nothing is wrong, but if you're man enough to have sex, you're man enough to take responsibility and be mature about it. Condoms break sometimes. I tell that to all my kids, even strangers I meet in the supermarket in the 'personal care' aisle. I'm that serious. Kids these days don't want to hear it, or they don't have the education or their parents are too embarrassed or too busy to talk with them. Or worse, they have sex when they're drunk or high on drugs and forget all about condoms. I don't care if people don't like me talking about it. I'll tell everybody that listens, and if they think I'm loco or pushy, too darn bad."

"I think that's great you do that. And I'm glad you brought that up, Bella, because this makes it easier for me to say. I've wanted to discuss this topic with Zach. For the record, I've been with only one person, and that ended three years ago. We used condoms every time. But when I broke it off with Trevor when he cheated on me, I got tested. And I still get tested every six months, just to be sure. And not just for HIV, but for all STD's. I promise you that we are taking this super slow. If this thing between us is going to last, then there's no hurry for that. You have my word," I said, moving back next to Zach and taking his hand in mine. He squeezed it hard and shot me his killer smile.

"Bueno. Okay, you asked about Eve. Why? Where did you hear that name?"

"We went through the house yesterday to get my clothes and anything else of value. You know it's in foreclosure, right?" Zach asked.

"Yes, I remember Mrs. D saying something about that just before she died."

"Well, while I was getting my stuff, Jeremy went through Dad's office looking for my passport and my birth certificate. He didn't find the passport, but he did find my birth certificate. It was taped to the inside of a drawer in his old desk. Why would it be there?"

"I don't know, mijo. Your father is a very strange and controlling man. He was full of many, many secrets."

"Anyway, the birth certificate said Eve was my birth mother and that I was born in New York. Is that true? Is she really my birth mother? And was I really born in New York City?"

"I'm afraid it is true. Working for your parents for so long I have overheard plenty of things. And, oh, the fights they'd have. That's when the juicy stuff would come out."

"I remember those fights. I'd go hide in my closet. But why is this Eve woman my mother? And why didn't they tell me?"

"Mijo, I don't have all the answers, but I'll tell you what I know. Your father was very promiscuous, even before you were born. Your mother put up with it because she loved her life in that big, fancy house, spending time with her uppity lady friends, the money and the notoriety of being a society woman and a producer's wife. She didn't care that he was away in New York most of the time. She absolutely hated the east coast, especially New York City. She also turned a blind eye to the shenanigans your father would pull with what she'd call his mistresses.

"Apparently, one got pregnant, this Eve Whitrock. She was an up and coming Broadway dancer and singer, but she had to stop dancing when she became pregnant. Because she wouldn't have an abortion, an arrangement was made. Mostly to keep the press out of it when you were born. Your father paid her a generous amount of money to keep quiet, plus a big apartment and the best doctors. Your parents decided to raise you here and call you their own. Which is silly, because your mother was far too old to have a baby. All her eggs were shriveled up by then.

"But everybody fell for it, because your father was a slick, fast talker, and your mother could lie her way out of anything. They were a perfect match, actually. It's a shame they never loved each other. It was basically a marriage of, how do you say, convenience."

"I don't understand. Why would they do that?"

"Times were different back then. Remember, your parents were married long, long, long before you were born. Maybe Eve was very young and didn't want to be saddled with a baby. I have no idea. I only met her once, when she brought you here when you were two weeks old. She seemed like a nice person and was very, very pretty. I saw the look in her eyes that she didn't want to give you up. But I suppose she wanted you to have a better life with these rich people than she could give you. And the fat check your father gave her probably helped too."

"That's so sad. Do you think she'd want to meet me? I'd like to meet her, but only if she wants to. That must have been a terrible thing for her to go through."

"I can't say. Like I said, I only met her once, and that was a long time ago. I seem to remember hearing that she didn't go back to Broadway, but stopped in Las Vegas to teach dance instead. Honestly, she could be anywhere. Maybe she's married with a different name now. How would you find her?"

"I don't know. Jeremy? You have any ideas?"

"We could start with asking Fi's dad and show him your birth certificate. Maybe hire a private investigator, or have you do that DNA test they advertise on TV? I'm just thinking out loud here. But anyway, she may not want to meet you after all this time. You should be prepared for that, because I don't want you to be disappointed."

"I guess. Well, let's think about it. Once we're through here, I'm going to Google her name and see if I can find anything on my own. How many dance studios can Vegas have?"

"No clue, but that's a great place to start, buddy."

"Bella, since you asked me a sensitive question, I have one of my own. Does my mother owe you money? I know she owes everyone else, but you're different. You stayed on 'til the end for me, and I want to make it right."

"Oh, mijo. Always such a sweet boy. To be truthful, I worked the last three weeks without pay. I knew time was up. I read some of those bank letters that were scattered around, and I even got served legal papers once when I went out to the mailbox. But I stayed to make sure you were going to be okay."

"Oh my gosh. Bella, don't move. I've got something for you. It'll take me just a second to go get it."

"Jeremy, you are a lucky, lucky man to find that boy. Promise me you will take good care of him and adore and cherish him every single day."

"I promise you I will. He's very special. Problem is he doesn't realize it, being beaten down by his parents. I'm going to help him get over that. I think you'll like this: I've given him free rein in the kitchen, and he's so happy when he cooks. And he's great at it, too. That must be your doing. I'm going to gently push him in that direction. In fact, while my family is in Spain for the next few weeks, I told him I'd pay him to cook. He practically freaked out he was so happy."

"Bueno! I think you were meant to find him. You both have gifts that complement each other. That's very rare."

"Thank you for saying that. It means a lot to me, and I'm sure to Zach, too."

"Okay, here." Zach was back in a flash and sat down next to Bella. He handed her a trademark blue Tiffany box and said, "I think this is worth whatever you didn't get paid, and probably a whole lot more. We'll call it…what did you call it Jeremy?"

"Severance pay. Great idea, buddy."

"I can't take this! It must be worth thousands," she said, pushing the sparkling ring back after she opened it. "That's too much. No, no, I can't."

"Oh yes, you can. Mother treated you like crap the last few months. Well, longer than that. Anyway, it doesn't matter what it's worth. You deserve it. I want you to have it."

"But what would I do with it? I can't wear it. I'd get robbed."

"If I were you, I'd sell it or pawn it," I said. "Take it to a fine jeweler first and get a certified appraisal. If they question you, tell them that Mrs. Dumont gave it to you on her deathbed. A little fib won't matter. If they need more information, Zach and I will back you up. No problem."

"I suppose I could do that. But mijo, why give me this? You need it more than I do. You have no job, no money. You don't even have your own place."

"I grabbed a couple of other pieces of jewelry, and Fiona went through Mother's clothes and shoes and picked out things we can sell to vintage shops. She says that would fetch a boatload of buck. Plus, I'm going to be cooking, and Jeremy is going to pay me. Isn't that great?"

"And Bella, he can stay here as long as he wants. I told him family is family and that's what we do around here. Someday, he'll pay it forward, but for now, he needs our support. End of story."

"Oh, my. I still say this is too much, but because you'd be hurt if I didn't take it, I will accept it. Thank you mijo, not only for this, but for thinking about me."

"Great," Zach said and gave the woman another hug. "I love you. Thank you for always being there for me. I don't know what I would have done without you being in my life."

"Okay, next order of business," I said. "This is getting way too mushy. Bella, would you consider working here for us? And before you say yes, you need to know what you're getting into. You might want to run out of here."

"Of course I would work here. How hard can it be? Plus, I get to see my Zachy."

I got up and pulled a small portrait of my family off the wall that was taken last Christmas. "I have no idea what you did for the Dumont's, but there are significantly more people here. That's my sister, who's basically the boss, her husband Henry and their twins, Randy and Ricky. Those two are a handful, trust me. You can tell them apart by the brown freckle under Randy's left eye. Don't let them pull a fast one on you, because they love to do that. They do that to their teachers all the time. One's an ace in math, and the other's great with history, so they take tests for each other. Plus, there's Zach and myself. And Indy, but she doesn't cause any trouble, other than following you around all day. Oh. Fiona's pretty much here all the time too, and so are a couple other of our friends when they're in town. Normally this house is busy with people coming and going all the time. That's a lot more than you were used to at Zach's."

"You're family looks very nice. Can't be any worse than working for Mrs. D. What would my duties be?"

"Basically, keeping the house clean. We have a central vacuum that makes it way easier. The other important thing is doing everybody's laundry. I've been telling my sister we need two washers and two dryers. The ones we have seem to be running all the time and the twins are constantly fighting over it. Fiona brings her laundry over here sometimes too, but that's not your responsibility. If you decide to work for us, I'll make sure we get new equipment. That'll make your job a bit quicker."

"I like that idea. Mrs. D's washer and dryer were so old, and took forever."

"You might change your mind when you see the twin's rooms. They're always a ginormous cesspool with dirty clothes scattered everywhere. Maybe you can whip those boys into shape. No one else seems to be able to do it. Anyway, now that the twins are about to turn eighteen, my sister wants a break. She's excited to do other things with the next part of her life."

"What about cooking? You have the most beautiful kitchen I've ever seen. That huge red stove is beautiful. What's that thing on the wall?"

"A salamander," Zach said. "It's like an instant broiler. I can't wait to finish off a steak in it. How cool is that?"

"Sad thing is, it's never been used."

"Um, okay. Not sure what that is or how to use it. Maybe Zach can show me. How many meals would I be making? And do I have to go to the market? I don't drive, just so you know."

"I don't think there would be a whole lot of cooking. We have our groceries delivered from a local grocer, and our meats come from a butcher here in town. But like I said, Zach is going to be helping out with most of that, at least for now. Maybe dinner once in a while."

"That's so cool! I can't wait to start making awesome meals for everybody. Now you can teach me more of your secret recipes, Bella. I want to learn how to make your tamales. Those are so killer!"

"Absolutely. And no one will yell at us for making a mess, right mijo?"

"Right! This is going to be so awesome. I can't wait."

"Bueno. I think I would like working here, Jeremy."

"That's great," I said. "Now comes the hard part. Zach, why don't you take my phone and go outside and call Fi. Tell her and Nacho to start heading home, okay?"

"Sure. This is the business part, right?"


"Okay, I'll take my time."

Once Zach was outside and started walking around the pool, I asked Bella what she was paid at the Dumont's. When she told me, I was beyond livid. No one could live on that.

"I suppose she paid you cash?"

"Yes. Is that wrong?"

"Absolutely. If they didn't pay payroll taxes, then it's against the law. Did they pay your health insurance premiums?"

"No. They never offered. I'm on Medi-Cal and have Section 8 housing."

"That's not good. What about vacation pay or sick time?"

"No. None of that."

"Let me get this straight. They basically paid you barely a thousand dollars a month, cash, and that's it? No benefits, no insurance, nothing else? A Christmas bonus?"

"No, but I got meals when I cooked."

"Man, that really pisses me off. If I ever get a second alone with Zach's dad, I'm going to rearrange his face. But none of that's going to happen here, I'll tell you that right now. I need to talk to my sister, but at a minimum, you're getting a significant boost in pay. You'll get vacation and sick leave, and we'll pay your healthcare premiums too. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but I'm pretty steamed right now. Why did you stay there? Couldn't you have found a better job?"

"Yes, I could have. But like I told you, I couldn't leave Zach. Plus, my sons and grandkids help me out."

"It's still wrong, what they did, but I'm going to make it right. It's a wonder Zach turned out so well being raised by those rats. I can't thank you enough for looking out for him."

"May I ask, how is it that you can make all these decisions? And pay for it? You're just a young man yourself."

"My parents were killed when I was six, and I moved in with my sister, her husband, and the twins. The boys were three at the time and I was instantly turned into a big brother. I had to grow up fast, I guess. My parents were wealthy but very frugal. Thankfully, they had the foresight to plan ahead, and they set up trusts for both my sister and myself. In fact, I own half of this house along with my sister. I'm very fortunate that I don't have to really worry about money."

"I'm so sorry to hear about your parents. But how is it that you sound like a businessman? Did you go to college?"

"I still do, but I took a break last semester. People say I'm a forty-year-old in a twenty-one-year old's body. I'm also the manager of vendor sales at the arena downtown. I have staff, and all the issues that go with that, so I know about compensation and employment. Which reminds me. This is always a super-awkward question, but you're legal to work here, right?"

"Of course. I was born in Hollywood."

"Great. The reason I ask is that my brother-in-law thinks he wants to run for the city council. I think he's nuts, but he wants to do it."

"I don't care much for politicians. They just want to tax you to death and tell you how to live. Like we're all dummies. Do you have any other questions for me?"

"No. I want you to work here, absolutely. I just need to run it past my sister, so everybody's in agreement, or in case I missed something. But don't worry, it won't be a problem since I've already spoken to her about you. And I need to put together a benefits package for you as well. And like I said, you'll be making way more than you were making at the Dumont's. You'll get regular raises, too. I promise. My sister and I have already discussed that. When do you think you'd like to start?"

"Oh, Jeremy, I can't believe this! This is like my luckiest day. You are far too kind. Thank you so much. But if it's not any trouble, I'd like to take a week or two off. I haven't had a break in a very long time, and I'd like to spend some time with my family. Is that okay?"

"Of course it is. Take whatever time you need. It's just Zach and myself for the next few weeks, and we're not making a huge mess. So no problem. Is it all right if I take a photocopy of your I.D. and get your Social Security number, your address and phone number? That way when you start, I'll have all the paperwork ready for you. It's going to take me a while to put this all together. It's not normally what I do at work when I hire somebody. I just send them to personnel to take care of it."

"Of course," she said, digging into her purse. "Here you go."

"Hey guys, is it okay to come back in? Fiona and Nacho are on their way back."

"Sure, buddy. Congratulate Bella. She's going to start working here in a week or two."

"Yay! That's so awesome! Thanks for saying yes, Bella."

"Well, I had too. We still get to be together, and Jeremy made me an offer I couldn't refuse. How could I say no to that?"

As I headed back to my little office to make the copies, I heard Zach whisper to Bella, "He's so great. You're going to love it here, I just know it. Life is so much better now. For both of us."

After everybody left, Fiona telling Zach and me how sweet Nacho was and that they were going on a dinner date, I went around the house to make sure everything was locked up tight.

I sat down on the couch to take a breather, and to think about something that had popped into my mind when we were talking with Bella. Zach must have seen me sitting there staring into space because he asked me, "What's wrong, Jeremy? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, buddy, I'm better than okay. Just a lot to do all of a sudden."

"Can I help you take your mind off it?"

"Sure. Come over here and sit next to me."

He surprised me when he practically flew across the room and landed in my lap, startling Indy who was starting to nap next to me. Zach wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed me like he was trying to suck out my liver. When we broke apart, utterly breathless, I asked him what that was for.

"I wanted to take your mind off everything. And that was my way of telling you thanks for what you're doing for Bella. Not only is she going to be making a decent salary, I know she'll be so much happier. And that makes me happy. And because I'm happy, I want you to be happy too. Get it? Happy! Happy, happy, happy."

"You're too much, you know that? Well, thank you for that awesome kiss. You're a great kisser."

"Wanna do it again?"

"I'm never going to veto that motion. I swear."

We kissed like that for a while, and when he started grinding his cute little ass into my crotch, I knew a little playtime was in order.

"My butt can feel your boner," Zach laughed, straightening up his glasses.

"Yeah, my boner feels your butt too, and he likes it. But you know the rules, no butt sex." That made us both laugh. "That doesn't mean we can't do something else. Get ready. I'm going to stand up, and when I do, you need to hold on tight. Wrap your legs around my waist. I'm going to take you for a different kind of ride."

"Oh my gosh, I can't wait!"

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