Comforting Touch

by Wendell Locke

Hearth Keepers

Edited by Talo Segura


How do you define love? The attempt at love is probably the hardest single act any human being can endeavor. I believe in measured approaches. I believe in keeping to structure with realistic aims. Things like sexual pleasure can be targeted and may be enjoyed by both partners. I believe in open communication in order to maintain emotional connection. This aspect is part of what allows my demisexual attraction to flourish with Jason. Thus, I can rationalize our relationship as a measurable and experience-based connection, it's a very formulaic version of love, like the simple equation of one plus one equals two. Jason and I are happy together, we enjoy each other sexually, and we are completely open with one another. Yet, in this unusual situation at my mother's property, I feel like something is wrong between us. What is it that is missing?

I've been attracted to men sexually for years, I've rarely felt a lack of interest except when I have emotionally detached from ex-boyfriends. Jason hasn't done anything to make me unhappy, he hasn't said anything wrong, nor have I done or said anything to him to elicit any such emotions. Despite the serene setting with Jason snuggled naked in bed with me on top of soft satin sheets, I have to tell him what I'm feeling. It will not be nice for him to hear, but I don't feel anything for him anymore. Yet, it's the part of our relationship I must maintain, most of all.

"Jason, I feel empty right now. I don't feel anything for what we're doing or…you. I am so sorry. I don't know why I feel like this right now."

Jason's body tensed at my words. "Bingo, can you tell me what it means to be "empty"?"

I thought about this odd feeling. "It's an odd feeling inside, when I just have a lot of apathy for things I usually like. It has happened randomly before I met you, I lose interest in a guy I was hooking up with. I thought it was lingering stress from breaking up with Zack, but you're not Zack and we had hours of amazing sex yesterday."

Jason kissed my neck. "I love you Bingo. What you told me scares me, but we can't leave this alone. Tell me the first word that comes off the top of your head?"

I blurted out, "Fear"

Jason continued, "Next word?"


"Next word?"


Jason paused and his muscles loosened. "Alright, Bingo, what or who do the words "Fear", "Love", and "Home" represent to you?"

I considered his question. "Fear seems to be coming from everything around us. Love is directed towards you. Home is our home away from this grotesque nineteenth century gothic romantic fantasy cottage."

Jason nibbled at my earlobe, blowing a breath and sending a shiver down my spine, "Let's focus on the word Love and how you feel about it being directed towards me. Do you have any feelings now on that?"

I moaned softly. Jason has learned a lot about my body just as I had about his. "I feel good and want to…how did you do that?"

Even with my glasses off, I can see his amusement and hear the soft laughter, "Bingo, I'm your boyfriend and I am learning from Dr. Cassidy's sessions just as much as she's helping me deal with stuff. We both get hung up with strong emotions. It's part of who we are. She showed me this trick with using one-word responses to probe emotions and separate issues from non-issues. I am not your issue."

I smiled brightly, "I'm glad you're getting better at clearing up potential issues. I know I scared you with my pronouncement, but I also was scaring myself with what I was feeling."

Jason pulled me in for a hug. "Bingo, we promised each other to communicate openly. I want to add a new rule to our relationship, if you will agree."

Jason made me promise as a new rule to understand his needs and make sure he understands my needs. Jason thinks that if either of us felt like we can no longer satisfy each other's needs, we should both know. It was a logical corollary to my requests and Demisexual needs. A great weight lifted from me and my normal arousal around Jason returned.

With our naked bodies facing each other, I started grinding and frotting Jason enthusiastically to show him appreciation for the sexual epiphany. It was a huge relief to not be worried about Jason or that the empty feeling I had was derived from some unknown reason within my subconscious. Being demisexual has always given me a slight fear, I get worried my emotional connection with a guy could disappear as easily as it forms, once certain needs have been fulfilled. When I met Jason, he was homeless and unhappy. Now, he was my house guest and happy with his life. Though he still had a strong dependence on me, I knew one day he wouldn't have any need of me and would be successful on his own. Perhaps at that point, he would trade me in for someone his own age or younger. I would be hurt by that, but he knew I would accept his choice. My logical brain was ready for that and it was scientifically ready for the day Jason would reject me, but I was still happy for what we had right now. The non-logical part of me even hoped that what we had would continue despite Jason's future success.

Sometimes I wonder about gay couples in the modern age, when gay marriage has become a normal facet of our everyday lives. We may not be married yet and probably won't be for a while, but do gay guys ever consider what would happen if their partner rejects their acts of love or when they no longer share emotional connections? I spoke to Jason a few times about this kind of scenario. He initially was afraid of what I brought up, but I knew we had to be open about this possibility. Jason didn't want to believe in the realistic potential that love could fade between us, but I knew that was a false perception. Homosexual couples break up just as much as heterosexual couples; love is transitory for the majority of human beings. Romance novels will gloss over this with "always and forever" themes. Thinking logically, I've long since given up on that hope. Jason has not and has repeatedly told me he won't break up with me, if I still want him in my life. I wish I had his faith, but I do believe we have each other's best interests at heart.

After we both reached our climaxes about sixteen minutes apart, Jason asked me a new question, "Bingo, let's talk about your real issues, I don't want you unhappy. What is so wrong with the surroundings? I've noticed you don't like showing off with expensive objects or money. It's ironic, since you're an accountant."

I contemplated the question. "Truthfully, I don't hate wealth or expensive objects, but I never understood the need for status or excess. I've seen how this kind of lifestyle hurts people and hurts those around them. My step-siblings were born into this world and they are very messed up as you have heard. My sister was adopted into this world through my mother's machinations and you know firsthand how self-centered she is. I chose to not be part of it and so did my father until now. I don't need a large property, business connection, or a trust fund."

"Is that what's making you unhappy Bingo? Your mom and sister are forcing you and your father to play a part in whatever is being planned."

Breathing slowly, I answered, "No, it's not. I am used to crazy things in my life like this and my dad has always been my mother's man, with or without the divorce."

Jason slid his hand up and down my torso, then froze, "Bingo, you mentioned home among your words. Are you worried about Chris? He saved my life and I owe him big, but are you okay with not knowing what's happening with him."

I knew what Jason was asking. Was I worried about Chris, my elderly ex-Catholic priest tenant, because he had been sent to prison for molesting young boys? I allowed him to rent my home's second unit, because I wanted him to be under my oversight rather than out there. Part of it was due to internalized guilt for never revealing my own molestation when I was younger. Part was due to my innate sense of responsibility. He never brought anyone under the age of eighteen into the rented unit and the places he volunteers at know his background, so he has no contact with any kids or teens. I knew Chris was volunteering at homeless shelters until late into the night, but Christmas day, he spent most of his time at Church. That day and the Easter holidays were potential days, where he could merge into the faithful and possibly do something.

I nodded, realizing this was the reason. "Yes, I am worried about staying here overnight. No one knows about Chris, or what happened, his church friends have no idea. My father, mother, and sister, don't know either, what I found out years ago. Christmas is one of those days when there's no one else keeping an eye on his activity except me. I know he saved your life and I feel like I can let this go, but if we're wrong, how can I live with the potential issues?"

Jason wrapped me in his arms, somberly apologizing. "Sorry, I am the reason you have doubts. If you never met me, you wouldn't be roped into this weird Christmas trap or whatever. You wouldn't have doubts about Chris, either."

No, I would not let Jason slip into despair. He did not deserve any blame for my internal turmoil. That part at least, my subconscious had already passed judgement on, with the round of amazing grinding sex we just had. My earlier hesitation and emotional detachment were created by my insecurity, not by him, and he had already proved it. Jason had become a lot better at analyzing emotions and motivations over the last few weeks. Yet, he still had a long way to go in valuing himself far more than he did.

"Jason, this is all on me. You are the best thing to have ever happened to me and what we have is more than I could have ever asked for. The stuff about Chris is something I need to personally resolve, just like my weird family relationships," I grabbed my phone to check the time, "We need to shower and get dressed, it's 3:42 PM, my mom texted me earlier to be ready for Christmas hors d'oeuvres at 5:00 PM. We can ignore her earlier Christmas lunch at noon, but hors d'oeuvres are the lead in to Christmas dinner. We need to shower and get dressed in one of those button-down shirts and pant combos that Jade left in the closet."

In quick reaction to the hour remaining, we went through the motions of taking a joint shower to get rid of semen and sweat from our three-hour long sex and snuggling bout. Jason and I were probably still in the early stage of our relationship, based on what we had read on gay dating. This stage usually involved a lot of hot and heavy sex, but to be honest, I don't think either of us really cared that much about the orgasms as much as we did about the snuggling and skin contact. The articles don't mention sexual activities, so I guess it must be unique to each couple. I knew Jason liked using his mouth and tongue to taste, lick, and suck on different parts of my body. I enjoyed his oral techniques. In return, I used my own oral techniques on his body, plus using my fingers to play with areas of his body. Acts like massaging the inner thigh and foot don't seem like much in general, but I enjoyed knowing by touch where I could bring him the greatest pleasure. Jason told me he knew based on taste alone where my erogenous zones were. It's an achievement of sexual practice that we knew one another's body with that level of detail. This kind of sex between two guys may not be as common as blowjobs or anal penetration, but it is no less intimate and perhaps in our case far more personal. The final ejaculation from what we did was, for us, merely a result rather than an intentional outcome of sex.

We were clean and dressed by 4:08 PM. I wore a simple red, blue, and black checkered button-down shirt with a beige pants, while Jason wore a pink button-down shirt with brown pants. I wish we could match our outfits, but my sister had made sure the clothing she stocked did not match between the two of our wardrobes at the guest cottage.

There was about fifty minutes left, so I wanted to give Jason as many answers as I could.

"Jason, do you have any questions about my family?"

Jason tried to comb his messy brown hair, "I could use some more details on your step-siblings, I know your mother's side of the family is crazy weird, but how about the rest?"

I sighed, "Well, they're wealthy white Anglo-Saxon protestants, but they shouldn't be outwardly homophobic. Though, John was a bit conservative on black people and MAGA in private during his lifetime. Few people knew that about him, since a multi-millionaire business owner and land developer in a liberal region of the US has to keep those ideas in check with business needs. I don't know Alex or Karen too well. I know their father disliked them for being far too loose with their lifestyles and disapproved of their choices of lovers. Lauren, his ex-wife, from what I have heard wasn't a fan of my mother's marriage and holds racist sentiments, but since there are so many members of my mother's family in attendance, I doubt she'd do anything overt either. My guess is they'll accept me bringing a boyfriend to Christmas Dinner with at most restrained antipathy."

Jason snorted, "So, it's almost like Christmas Dinner with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Are Alex and Karen your age or mine? How about your cousins, who might be attending?"

I thought about the details as I tried to comb my hair. "I think they're in their late twenties, so closer to Jade's age than either of ours. My cousin Sean, the Rockstar, is in his thirties and his sister, Lai, is in the same twenties age group. My uncle and aunts' other children are in their forties, so they rarely speak to me, except professionally. There are no little kids or teenagers. If you are planning on hanging out with my step-siblings and younger cousins most of the night, it's probably a good idea. We can avoid the drama from my mother and Lauren as much as possible."

Jason abandoned his attempt to comb, then came over to help with my hair. "They won't be as hostile to me as I guess my family would have been if I brought you over for Christmas. I have no siblings of biological or marital variety, but do have a lot of older cousins. My oldest cousin, Peter, has a kid of his own, an inquisitive ten-year-old named Cody. Since we were the closest in age, we hung out and I helped him build robots from box sets last Christmas. He wears thick glasses like yours Ben, I think he's got some kind of retinal disease. I wonder how he's doing now? If he thinks I was being friendly to him for some awful reason he heard from my parents? Does hate me too?"

As Jason was combing my hair, I realized that I was being selfish again mulling over my own family drama, when I should have realized this Christmas was the first Christmas Jason would not be with his family. His parents have written him off, his family connection was gone, and I should have considered his needs. Am I an awful boyfriend?

"Jason, I didn't know. Do you think anyone from your family would be okay with a Christmas phone call or an email?"

Jason stopped to consider my idea. "Cody might if he doesn't hate me, I have his email address. Is it weird I want to connect with my ten-year-old cousin, though? His parents probably would delete the email if they saw it first or say I am soliciting him or something. A "Merry Christmas" from me isn't worth all the stupidity that it could bring up."

Fuck, I hated when Jason put himself down like that. "Jason, you should do it. There's nothing wrong with wishing a family member "Merry Christmas" if they want to hear it. Rapprochement can only be achieved between people when you have goodwill. I told you I can't fix your relationship with your parents, but maybe I can give you the courage to make peace with the family if you can."

Jason stopped combing my hair after my words. "I don't know Bingo, if I can do that. What would I say to him? He's only ten. His parents will probably delete it anyway. It's a futile effort and you know it."

I don't believe in futility; being more or less blind, I don't perceive the world that way. "Just make an attempt Jason, it won't hurt you and if he does read it, it may help give you something that you wanted, a family member's acknowledgement. I'll help you with the words if you want."

He began tapping an email on his smartphone, the one I had bought a few weeks ago. Jason spent the remaining quarter of an hour trying to find the right words to send to his young cousin. I helped him to find the balance between kind and informative words. He settled with a simple message, which he read aloud to me before sending it to the email address he remembered.

{Hey Cody,

It's Jason, your cousin. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and apologize for not getting you the new solar powered robotic set, like I promised last year. You probably have heard all about me and had an uncomfortable talk with your parents about why I won't be at Christmas dinner today. I don't know how to explain, except to say , I am not a bad person , and I am who I am.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and I promise I'll make it up to you if I can in the future, Jason}


I wanted to cry when I sent the message to Cody's email. I imagined my little cousin wouldn't ever read that message. I told Ben that Cody's parents would likely call the police on me, which Ben assured me would be foolish and idiotic. My message had nothing provocative and I was outside their jurisdiction. Ben let me suck his pinky finger for a few minutes to calm my nerves.

I knew Ben was dealing with his own family drama and he had a ton of other issues to think about beyond my desires. The situation with Chris was something that I knew wasn't made worse by my presence, but the fact was Chris had saved my life. I couldn't deny that Ben might consider such kindness in his assessment of the man, I had made his life more complicated by being part of it. If I hadn't known what Chris had done in the past, I would be eternally grateful to him for helping me out, both when I was homeless and when I was lost. Both times led me directly to Ben. Yet, I couldn't deny the reality of who he was. It went beyond violating sacred Christian oaths that he took to become a priest. He violated something very fundamental when he molested those boys. Ben, being a victim of another molester, took it upon his own conscience to do what he hadn't done years ago, he acted on his knowledge. He took Chris in as his rental tenant and became his keeper. With that kind of responsibility, Ben couldn't be lax. How do you frame that responsibility against a man who saved the life of your lover, twice?

Ben doesn't want me to blame myself because what he felt earlier wasn't connected to me in his mind. I understand his logic, since I really didn't do anything that led to us being here at his mother's Christmas dinner. However, by unravelling his reasons, I discovered my part in what had happened wasn't completely non-existent either. Ben loves me and won't lie to me about what he feels; conversely, I love him and will never lie to him about my own fears. I think those psychology classes next summer will be very helpful.

At 5:00 PM exactly, we entered the main house through a large wooden door. I thought it resembled something from a Dickens or Austen novel, based on the brass door knockers with a lion head-shape. It was fitting for the gothic style the house was designed to emulate. I was just glad we were not staying in this stuffy old house; mansion or no mansion, it would make the perfect setting for a murder mystery novel. I don't like knowing the first owner's body was never found, either.

Ben guided me to a large room toward the left side of the house, what he called the Solarium. There was a large window that allowed a sixty-degree view of the pond and surrounding woods, along with several beds of flowers and what appeared to be a small wooden shed, directly facing the window. Ben told me prior to entering that the shed housed his mother's hens and chicks. Despite it being dusk, I noticed a few brown feathers on the ground. Ben whispered that his mother probably gave them their last feeding only a few minutes ago.

I shifted my focus quickly to the audience in front of us. There were several groups of well-dressed middle-aged Asian men and women, presumably his mother's relatives. A handful of waiters and waitresses were walking among the guests with platters of cocktail shrimps, mini-croquettes, pigs in a blanket, crostini canape, and other hors d'oeuvres that I've seen frequently at some of my parent's events. There was a small open bar set up in the corner with an assortment of wines and beers. I noticed a man next to Jade, who bore a slight resemblance to Ben, with slightly more angular features and hardened expression. This was my first encounter with Ben's father, Tam, who noticed me entering with Ben. He scowled momentarily, but then shifted his expression back to his initial placid demeanor. Ben had told me to expect that from his father. While his father was not an outright homophobe, the former communist's views on decadent homosexual western practices wasn't exactly enlightened either. I guess placid apathy is far more tolerable to any form of hostility. Ben's other relatives looked sideways at me, mumbled, then most of them turned their backs.

The ones who did not turn their backs, including Ben's father and sister, represented an interesting cross-section. There was a group of people who I can best describe as being "mixed." I presume the two Asian members of the group were Ben's twenty-something cousins, the Rockstar, Sean, and the veteran, Lai. I thought Ben and Jade were very different, but these two appeared like mirror images. Sean had styled wavy black hair with a red streak, eyeliner, and had a piercing on his face, he wore a black dress shirt and black pants. Ben told me his style of music was geared towards punk rock, but he started out Emo initially. Lai, in contrast wore a button-down dress shirt like the male guests and kept his hair cut short. She had a very stern and dour look about her. I presume all this was a byproduct of her military training and deployment.

Next to them in the same group were two white males, one white female, and one African American female. I assumed these were Ben's step-siblings and their boyfriend and girlfriend respectively. Alex, I identified by inferring his body language with the African American female, who I assumed was his girlfriend. He seemed a bit skinny and pale with his gaze constantly shifting from one object or person to another. Karen wrapped her arm around her boyfriend, leaning against him in half embrace, but he did not appear to be paying her any attention. I know from the short conversation between Ben and Jade that Alex had a history with of drug abuse and his sister had a complicated relationship dynamic, which I could easily perceive from their body expressions.

Ben whispered in my ear, "Get ready to meet the family."

We approached the group of men and women, made introductions, and began simple conversations. It was actually nothing like I'd imagined. There were no stuffy conversations that wealthy people would have with one another, or insinuations and shade thrown about me being Ben's boyfriend. There was a good deal of deprecating humor between all of us and our circumstances. Ben and I described truthfully how we met to this group of misfits and oddities. Everyone laughed at the romantic of idea of finding a boyfriend like that. Sean shared stories about life on the road, playing covers of songs, and his band, Growing Pains , being the opening act for famous bands. Lai discussed how tough it is to get back into the civilian routine, when she's used to knowing exactly what, when, and where all aspects of life would occur. Alex talked about sorting out life and meeting Jacqueline at a support group. Karen didn't speak at all during our group discussion, but she was very attentive to all of our stories. Her boyfriend didn't seem that interested in our stories, but he didn't appear hostile either. It was a very enjoyable and easy conversation with people who had their own individual issues and held non-judgmental perspectives. Yes, I can see myself being friendly with these members of Ben's family and I can tell Ben was relaxing around them, too. The only one missing from our misfit group was Jade, who made a quick appearance then went about canvassing the crowd.

I noticed Jade was speaking to an Asian woman to the side, who I presumed was Jade and Ben's mother, Cecilia. She appeared oddly dressed for the occasion. Most of us wore either dress shirts or nice dresses for ladies, with jewelry, but she wore a simple cotton summer dress with flower petals and had absolutely no jewelry. There were several feathers in the back of her dress which contrasted poorly with her overall décor and the party ambience. If this were a summertime picnic or country barbeque, it would make sense, but being a Christmas dinner, it didn't fit. She held herself like a very boisterous hostess, laughing every ten seconds over everyone's conversations. There was no refinement to her style or posture. I've seen many wealthy widows through my parent's fundraising events; she definitely did not carry on like any I had ever encountered.

Jade spent a good amount of time with another woman, an elder white female, who I presumed was Lauren, Alex and Karen's mother. Where Cecilia was un-orthodox with her choices of clothing, Lauren dressed to the nines in a black blazer, white blouse, golden pendant with blue emerald, and sapphire earrings. This I could tell was a moment with a lot of status. She displayed herself like an heiress and portrayed her countenance without any semblance of frivolity. After conversing with Jade, she directed a well-dressed man to her side, with a pointed finger to us and another to the door leading outside to the Solarium room. At first, I had thought the man was her new husband or boyfriend, but his attention to her whims led me to change my opinion. I presumed he was a personal assistant as he tapped on his smartphone. The man went outside for what appeared to be several minutes and carried a large sack, which I guessed contained gifts. The sack was heavy and slumped to the ground, there were chicken feathers attached to it, so I presume he had passed by the chicken coop outside. She approached us with him in tow.

Lauren placed on a perfect smile. "Oh, it's so wonderful to see young people here enjoying Christmas again. I recall Alex received his first kiss in this room from his first girlfriend Sheryl at Christmas after a sneaking a few glasses of champagne. She and I were talking about it at the club, just the other day. Alex, you should join me at the club more often, like last week, you and Sheryl seemed to have had a lot to talk about."

Alex blushed and Jacqueline was shocked at Lauren's reference to her son's rendezvous with some girl. Based on her expression, I guessed Alex had never told her he had encountered or had a long conversation with the girl. Alex may have been formerly involved with Sheryl, I could only imagine what she was thinking and what Alex's pleading looking to her mother insinuated. Ben tightened his grip on my hand and I responded in kind this time. I've read enough of Ben's novels and seen enough shows to recognize a bitch when I see one. Jade wasn't wrong about Lauren being toxic to her own kids and I could only imagine what she had planned for people not related to her. Ben and I were completely open with one another and I knew for a fact neither of us willingly cheated, except in my case, under extreme circumstances.

She turned her attention to Ben. "Oh Ben, this really isn't your kind of event, if I am not mistaken. I've heard that you prefer reading, so I got you a nice book," she pulled out two wrapped gifts with Ben's and my name written on the wrapping. "For you Ben, I have Song of Achilles and I have A Little Life, for Jason here. I think you will find these gay fiction novels most touching."

Ben smiled politely, "Thank you Lauren, for the generous gifts."

"Oh, you are more than welcome. By the way, Jason, I am dreadfully sorry about your current condition. It must be awful to have been forced out by your parents like that. You must have had to sell your very soul in order to survive during those months without their support. I can only imagine what you have told Ben about those experiences and what you endured," Lauren smirked menacingly.

The blood in my face probably drained as a sickening feeling overcame me. I had been prepared for a lot of things, from snobbish remarks about me being homeless to insults about Ben for his visual impairment leading him to find me. I didn't expect this woman, who by any standard was nothing to Ben, would be so atrociously cruel. Based on her words, I've already gathered she knew I had prostituted myself for cash during those months to make money. She also insinuated that she knew about my experiences, so she probably had somehow gained access to my police statement that Dr. Cassidy had me submit. Ben and I had talked about those things, I shared them privately with him in full confidence, because he wouldn't judge me. He would embrace me and comfort me with his touch and his body, he would never use that knowledge to hurt me. I thought I was safe with him.

Now, the full picture of Ben's ugly family world appeared in front of me. It was uglier than I had imagined, real people are not this callous and cruel. I hadn't even met his mom yet, the woman who succeeded this one to be the matron of this house. However, this heartless bitch was already causing me to despair with just a few words and insinuations. A nervous breakdown was growing inside of me. Questions like: how will people look at me with all that knowledge public? How would I become a psychiatrist or finish college with this out there? Would Ben be forced to dump me due to the public shame? Was I really worthless?

Ben placed a quick kiss on my lips, letting his tongue touch mine, to get me out of my stupor. Then he turned and replied calmly. "Lauren, it seems you are very well informed about the conditions of everyone at this gathering. It must be nice to have so much free time on your hands to learn such minutia about people and their affairs. If only such care for detail could have been focused fifteen years ago on some of your own affairs."

Lauren paled slightly and I could see a small indication of anger in her face, but her normal controlled expression returned. "Indeed, but then I wouldn't have the pleasure of conversing with so many interesting people."

As Lauren continued her vindictive campaign of terror gift giving and snide comments, Ben took my hand and directed me to the nearest bathroom. It was a simple toilet and sink set up with no windows and only a small air vent, but was well insulated and far enough away from the solarium to give us privacy. Ben closed and locked the door as the weight of everything began to sink in. Fear had gripped me when Lauren began discussing my past; I didn't realize that others could, or would know about my stint at prostitution on the streets. My head was heavy, my vision was blurred, and I fell to the ground.

Ben came to the ground and cradled me. He placed his index finger into my mouth and I sucked as he spoke. "That damn bitch, I wanted to do more than throw shade at her for what she was doing to you. Baby, let's get the hell out of here. You don't deserve getting dissed like this."

Ben rarely calls me "Baby", he doesn't use endearments like that often except to emphasize a certain point of reference for himself. Ben has very strong protective instincts, paternalistic in his desire to protect the people he loves. He viewed me right now as someone he needed to protect and I couldn't argue with him. I wanted to leave and get as far away from here as possible.

However, before I could answer, a loud alarm sounded. We froze in place. I looked over at Ben asking him what this meant, but he appeared just as mystified as I was. We held our position silently, until Ben pulled his finger out of my mouth.

Ben kissed my forehead. "I think we have to go back out there to figure out what happened, we can tell my mother that we're leaving at the same time."

I nodded. "I'm so sorry for breaking down like this. I never thought anyone would know about me or what I did. I am sorry for embarrassing you in front of your family."

Ben helped me up, then wrapped me in his arms. "Do not ever consider what happened to you to be embarrassing or something wrong with you Jason. Lauren was a bitch for bringing that stuff up and I'll file a restraining order on her if she even considers using that against you in any way. That woman has some nerve to pull a stunt like that, since she was having an affair with her tennis instructor in this very house. She has no right to judge you or me for what kind of relationship we have. She shouldn't even be meddling with her own kids love lives either."

Tears streamed down my cheeks. "She knows everything Bingo, how can I be anything more than a whore to everyone out there. She's probably told everyone now."

Ben tightened his hug as if to prevent me from running off, which I was tempted to do. "Fuck everyone else who doesn't understand us. What happened to you wasn't your fault and I won't let anyone ever smear you for that. We can get through anything assholes like Lauren throw at us. If it comes down to all of them or you, I will choose you every chance I get."

My voice cracked in response. "How…How can you feel so confident? How can you throw all of this…your family away? I am not worth it, Bingo. I am worthless…"

Ben placed his index and middle fingers to my lips. "Baby, stop, I know you are still hurting from your own family. I get it. However, no one deserves to be made to feel worthless, like you do right now. I told you once, I need to be your best friend as well as your boyfriend sometimes. That means I have to be your advocate even when you don't feel like you deserve it. I can't solve all your problems, but I can at least be there for you. Now, let's get cleaned up and leave this fucking party. You and I can have a happier Christmas without all this bullshit."

Ben pulled a few strips of tissues to wipe away my tears, then washed my face as best he could with a hand towel. While I wanted to be away from this house and back home in our bed, I couldn't help feeling the warmth emanating from Ben's actions. It was an odd feeling, like the first time we hugged. Back then, I knew this man would do everything to keep me safe. Now, I wish I could return that feeling to him one day; let him know I would do everything to keep him safe. I've never had a friend like that, but I have seen people profess such friendships with one another throughout my life. I wondered how those relationships are formed. I wondered how people would so willingly stick their necks out for one another without concern for anything else. Ben had become my boyfriend after only opening his home and heart to me, but I never saw him as my best friend, until now. I don't know when our relationship evolved into this level. Truth is I wanted him to always be my advocate and best friend, along with the sex and love of being my boyfriend.

The gay stories I've read don't usually separate the two roles, nor do people distinguish what is required for one versus the other. Being a best friend should be very simple to most people and maybe according to those stories a prerequisite of being a boyfriend. Ben was different, his demisexual attraction placed the emotional connection ahead of developing friendship. He loves before he befriends. So, most lovers are casual friends in his world from what I've learned, because of this, his casual friends are never truly lovers, once they reach the point of friendship. Ben doesn't have very close friends like that, he keeps his emotions locked up too tightly to let any person in. Ben had told me he wanted to be my best friend a few days ago to help me get through what happened with Jade's party, but now I am realizing what it really meant.

I cleared my voice, "Bingo, I feel better now and I want you to know I love you for being my boyfriend and my best friend right now. I don't know how it happened, but I never had a friend like you. I want to be your best friend, too. I get it. I want to share your pain and your burdens. Like I am glad we can share any feeling we have at any moment, because I feel like something has changed between us."

Ben kissed me without uttering another word. We walked out of the bathroom and instantly heard a cacophony of angry voices in the Solarium. It turned out one of the oil paintings had gone missing, so Cecilia hit a panic button in the house. Several police cruisers had arrived outside to investigate all the guests. The painting in question was some coastal landscape from a twentieth century artist named Childe Hassam, the value would be around nine hundred thousand dollars according to what Cecilia told the police officers, who arrived on the scene. Ben and I gave our whereabouts and testimony separately about being in the bathroom. The officer raised an eyebrow at the mention of us being in the same bathroom together, which I quickly clarified that we were boyfriends, ending further questions. I know what people reading the report will probably conclude, but we were not the thieves.

The other guests gave their testimonies, stating their whereabouts and so did the catering staff. However, Cecilia demanded hysterically that all the rooms, buildings, and vehicles on the premises, be searched by the police officers. Several members of Ben's extended family were not happy to be accused of being thieves, including Lauren. However, they all acquiesced to being searched and Lauren grudgingly accepted to be the last to be searched by the police.

Lauren's Lexus was parked furthest away from the party guests, so there was a commotion among the guests as her vehicle was the last area not searched by the police after three hours of intensive searching throughout the grounds. There were some surprising finds: a stash of expired painkillers in a hidden compartment within Alex's old room, several sex toys and paraphernalia, and a licensed handgun belonging to one of Ben's aunts hidden in a luggage compartment. Lauren though appeared self-assured that the police would not find anything in her car. The area around the car was very isolated with only tire tracks and white snow. Truthfully, I didn't even consider her to be a suspect at all based on her refined manners and how she dressed. Initially, the police found nothing in her car and only the empty gift sack in her trunk, based on a visual inspection. Oddly enough, the sack appeared to be free of the chicken feathers, I guessed Lauren's man must have cleaned before leaving it in the trunk. Then they pulled up the plastic bottom of the trunk to reveal the missing oil painting.

Lauren stared daggers at Cecilia. "You bitch, how did you manage to put that in my car?"

The simple looking Cecilia appeared to spark with anger. "You stole the painting and are now caught. Officers, please note I want to file charges."

Lauren snapped staring at all of us. "You were all in on this from the start, you heard about Karen relinquishing her legal rights to the property and trust to me for cash. If you think framing me for robbery will hurt me, you chinks can go to hell."

Jade spoke up for everyone there. "We had no idea; we were all inside the house the entire time, with you. The cameras have us all inside the house, including Ben and Jason going into the bathroom without windows. The only person who came in and out was your boyfriend with the gift sack."

Lauren smiled. "All that proves is that Cedric may be a thief and not me directly. You honestly think I can't get away with reasonable doubt?"

The police took Lauren and her boyfriend, Cedric, away for potential robbery. Everyone went back inside the main house to finish a belated Christmas dinner at 8:30 PM. We all had to pass by the chicken coop and several people had chicken feathers stuck to their fancy shoes. That detail nagged at me, since anyone returning from the car or to the car around 5 PM would have had to pass the chicken coop and had to move carefully to avoid the feathers. Cedric coming in and out should have left at least a few chicken feathers at the spot where the car was parked as the sack had a bunch stuck to it.

As their mother was taken away by the police, both Alex and Karen left the dinner with their guests. By this point, Ben and I were hungry. The thought of heading home had left in the confusion of the police questioning and the search for the thief. The dinner itself was a nice holiday meal with Roast Chicken and Roast Ducks, the latter of which Cecilia hefted generous portions towards me. Ben mumbled that in Chinese "duck" is the slang word used for male prostitutes. Understanding that Cecilia may not be at all happy with my presence, but not wanting Ben to make a scene, I squeezed his hand and tried to enjoy the food. I would share my feelings with him later, outside the dining room. The large portions of roast duck may have been an indirect slight on me, but it was very delicious.

After dinner ended around midnight, we were given gifts from Cecilia. Bags of gift cards in hundred-dollar increments were given, along with outright cash in the form of red envelopes. I didn't receive a red envelope from Cecilia unlike Ben, Jade, and the other members of the family, but I was fine with it. After the gifts were exchanged, Cecilia took Ben aside to speak with him about some kind of tax write-off. Ben scowled and asked Jade to bring me back to the cottage. As Jade and I left, I noticed Ben's father, Tam, was conversing with one of Ben's aunt, who I identified as Sean and Lai's mother, the gambling addict. I couldn't understand their conversation, but knew it had to do with money and the value of the painting that was recovered. His father scowled at me again as we left the house.

After about a hundred paces from the house, Jade asked me pointedly. "Do you love Bingo?"

"I do love him as my boyfriend and best friend," I replied, without hesitation.

She stared at the sky. "Good, he doesn't let himself fall in love. He's a very emotional guy, but love is one emotion he keeps bottled up. Do you guys talk about each other and your feelings?"

I nodded, "We share everything with one another."

She stopped walking and stared at me. "Did he ever tell you he tried to commit suicide once?"

I stopped and froze. "No, but he told me other important things."

I tried my best to act nonchalant about the revelation that Ben had attempted suicide at least once in his life. Even though he never told me, the revelation didn't surprise me as much as it should have. I've had moments in my life especially after being homeless and my rape that I wanted to die, too. Ben's empathy towards me and understanding of that feeling of hopelessness isn't something people gain naturally; it had to have been gained by experience. Part of me always knew there was something, an experience like that in his past. Ben hadn't brought it up and I wasn't ready to approach the subject either with him either, due to my own self-worth issues. Ben grew up with a visual disability, a dysfunctional family, and a deep-seeded self-hatred that led him to promote bad ideas and hurt LGBT people. There's a lot there to lead towards a suicide attempt for anyone. Jade had pushed that conversation up for discussion.

Jade stared at me. "Do you want to know about his suicide attempt?"

I shook my head. "No, I will ask him myself and let him tell me his story and how he felt about it all. We don't hide anything from one another, we don't need to. Just because he didn't tell me directly, it does not mean he will not."

Jade was bewildered with my reply. "I don't get it, why aren't you worried about him, or you? Like, do you really think my mom is talking about tax write-offs, right now, with him? She knew what my brother almost did. She knows you're not the right guy for my brother, because of what you've done."

That stung me, I didn't expect that from her. "What gives you the right to say I am or I am not the right person for Bingo? He's my boyfriend and I love him."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Look at you Jace, you're living off my brother, your family has disowned you, and you can't even handle a few sharp words from Lauren about your past life on the streets. How do you think you can handle being my brother's boyfriend? You're a mess and my brother is a sweetheart, but he's a disabled gay accountant who needs someone stable in his life. You're not it and my mom can see that. She asked me to bring you around the side of the house through the pool entrance for a meeting in her study."

My jaw dropped at her explanation. "You and your mother are worse than Lauren, how dare you think you can dictate what me and Ben share with one another? Are you really so messed up in the head?"

Jade laughed, "Seriously the best comeback you have for me is that I am crazy for wanting the best for my brother. Look, I tested you earlier to see how deep your love was for my brother. I know you're not bi at all, so we got no chemistry there. However, given the right incentive and conditions, you would open your mouth and ass for any man. My brother doesn't need that from his boyfriend or potential husband."

I screamed at her. "You fucking set me up!"

Jade grimaced, "You accepted everything I offered you without hesitation. Everything in life has a price, every game has its rules. You didn't need to drive the Ashton Martin, drink so much at the club or party, and no one forced you to take so many hits from the bong or take those pills. I wanted to test you and you wanted to be tested, you failed. Now my mom and I both know how far your love for my brother can actually go. Face it Jason, if it weren't for the warm house or food, you would dump my brother for some sugar daddy with deep pockets and a bigger dick."

It was unbelievably evil what she was admitting. "Why…Why couldn't you leave me, leave us alone?"

She turned to face the main house. "I am not the devil as you said that night. I believe the best defense is ultimately a strong offense. No holding back and no limits should be considered for anyone. I love my brother and I know his blindness and emotional fragility better than most. If you were the right guy for my brother, you would have not been lured so easily. You did all of this to yourself Jace. You only have yourself to blame for the consequences."

I followed her into the opposite side entrance of the house through the plexiglass windowed pool area. This area was opposite the Solarium. The pool and the adjoining hot tub were both covered with black plastic surfaces. I noticed there were chicken feathers near the side of the house entrance. We moved briskly through the doorway and up a set of stairs in the back, which the police had visually surveyed initially within the house for the missing painting. Jade led me toward a large study filled with books and manuscripts of various age and sizes. Ben had a modest library collection of books, but this study was filled wall to wall with books. It truly could be considered a small library if any of these books were ever allowed to be loaned out for reading. At the back of the room was a large floor to ceiling window, where a computer and office desk was set up. Sitting in the leather chair behind the table was Cecilia, but she was no longer wearing her offseason summer country dress. She had changed into a white blazer, white dress shirt, and black blouse ensemble. Her demure and unsophisticated look presented downstairs for all her guests was replaced with something I've usually only seen in CEO's and politicians, a cunning air of ruthlessness. A similarly dressed woman, who I remembered was Ben's Chinese mob affiliated aunt stood to the side. There was no doubt they were sisters.

Cecilia noticed my entrance with Jade. "Please sit Jason, we should discuss your relationship with my son."

I sat on the offered chair facing the three women. "So, what is this? You want to offer me a million dollars or something to leave Ben. I can tell you right now, I won't leave Ben. I love him."

In all the romance movies that I've seen on the Hallmark channel with my parents over the years, or the gay stories I've read, this kind of sit-down usually ended with a person like me being offered fabulous riches. Then they admit their true feelings for the other lover. This should be a simple revelation and everybody moves on with their lives, Ben and I might show up a few scenes later married in an unrealistic setting with everyone in attendance despite all the crazy plots that happened before. Real life drama is not like fictional drama though; people are less predictable and far less easy to please than one admittance of love.

Ben's aunt pulled out her gun and pointed it at my head. Cecilia asked, "Do you love Ben?"

I repeated my words despite the gun literally pointed at my head. "Yes, I love Bingo. I love Ben."

She shot at a glass vase a few feet away from me, it shattered loudly to prove the point. Cecilia smiled, "I am glad, but you know you are not right for him and I think you can accept that fact without any cash incentive. I didn't make my fortune by writing big checks."

This went from a romantic plot device to a Tarantino movie really fast. This was Ben's mother, he was right she was a true sociopath, who was both manipulative and ruthless. Her twisted love for Ben was both admirable and disturbing. No wonder he never brought boyfriends to meet his family.

I screamed out. "What the fuck? I might not be the best guy for your son and I was weak, but I really love him. People can be weak about a lot of things and still be in love. I just want to be with Bingo and live with him. He wants the same things, too. We don't need your money or all of this crap."

Cecilia frowned, "You and him cannot be that close. After his suicide attempt, Jade and I kept a close eye on him, but he usually only played around with boys. Hookups mostly, I think you call them. His last real boyfriend Zack was very pliable and would have tended to all my son's needs. You are not as pliable and will not do everything for my son's best interest."

I snorted out my reply, "Yeah, if you want your son to have a submissive sex slave for a boyfriend, then I am not that man. Bingo wants more than that though. He wants an equal. He wants a partner. He wants someone who loves him sexually and who can be there for him just as he is there for them. He wants his boyfriend to be his best friend, something Zack could never be. I want to be his boyfriend, his best friend, and if everything goes right his husband. We're not perfect people and I know I made tons of mistakes."

Cecilia laughed, "You say you know what my son wants, but how can you without knowing details about him?"

I hope Ben forgives me, but this information is public knowledge if she really did dig deeper. "Did you know that Chris your son's tenant was a former Catholic priest, who went to prison for molestation? Did you know that Ben as a child was molested? Did you know that he took it upon himself to rent his home to Chris to act as his keeper? Ben lives with a lot of guilt and has a deep seeded desire to keep watch over someone like Chris, because he never went public with what happened to him. You think knowing about his suicide attempt makes you better than me, you think knowing his weakest moment is something to justify all of this? I know Ben better than any of you, because he never judged me and I never judged him for any actions. When he found me, I had given up on life too. I was homeless and abandoned. I was worthless to even the homeless to the point of being raped and mutilated. I have scars on my chest and legs that may never go away, but Ben loved me and understood my hopelessness, because he was there. I didn't need to know he tried to commit suicide, because he already showed me the most important lesson, he learned from it, how to come back from hopelessness. So, I don't care what you do right now to me."

Cecilia, Jade, and the gun toting relative froze, the gun was lowered. Cecilia stared at a book case. "Let him out of the panic room."

Moments later, a teary Ben ran up to me and hugged me tight. Ben repeated loudly, "I love you Jason, I love you Jason…" until it became a whimper.

Cecilia looked at Ben with concern, "We should talk, Bingo."


In some parallel universe, where my life was less overly dramatic and my family was about ten percent less crazy, maybe this could have been a normal Christmas dinner. The food would be just as delicious, my step-siblings would have stayed the entire night, and Jason wouldn't have had a gun pointed to his head for two minutes. However, this was my reality and I vowed to myself after this moment; I was not leaving Jason alone with any of my family members, except for a few cousins and my father. Dad might scowl and grumble at Jason, but I knew he was warming up to him. He even cracked a smile when Jason vehemently reiterated his love for me despite the obvious danger to his life.

My voice was hoarse from my iterations of love to Jason, but I was able to creak out in Chinese. "You all can go to hell, mom."

She, Dad, Jade, and Aunt Mi were shocked at my words. My mother replied in Chinese, "I had to know if he was right for you. Why didn't you tell me about the tenant or what happened to you as a child? We do not need such people in our midst and I have the power to right wrongs done to you even in the distant past."

I frowned disapprovingly at her and Aunt Mi, "I do not require anything from you and you should not harm him. He saved Jason's life as Jade most likely would have told you. I owe him a debt. As to what happened in the past, I do not wish to dwell on it, or want your help. Jason and I shall leave now."

My mother looked over at Jason and spoke in English, "Please, let me make amends to you. You need money for education if I am not mistaken. Jade tells me you were studying medicine; such things are not cheap."

Jason shook his head, "No thanks, I can handle this on my own."

I took Jason's hand and spoke in English, "We're leaving now, we'll grab the gift bags and some clothes from the cottage."

My father spoke in Chinese, "I will leave as well to return home with you two. I am tired of these foolish things."

The three of us left the house and went to the cottage to pack and grab the gift bags that my mother had graciously given to all of us, including Jason. Between both our bags, there should be at least two thousand worth of gift cards that will help give Jason some spending cash. I know Jason won't take cash from me, but my mother had given me a ten-thousand-dollar check in the red envelope. I could afford to give Jason a portion of that.

As we were packing some of the clothes into trash bags to bring home, Jason sighed.

"Your mother framed Lauren with your gun-toting aunt. I think Jade was in on it, too. She was talking to Lauren leading up to the attempted theft and was the first one to list all the evidence against her. They probably planned this in advance."

I didn't even think about the robbery attempt, but Jason was probably right. "Is there any evidence to prove they did it?"

Jason paused, "I noticed when Lauren's boyfriend came in with the sack, there were chicken feathers on the underside. When we went to Lauren's Lexus, I noticed there were no chicken feathers anywhere on the scene, which should have been impossible. If the theft occurred after 5 PM, when you told me your mom usually fed her chickens, anyone walking to and from the house would have had chicken feathers stuck to their shoes like we did coming back in."

I agreed with his deductive reasoning, "So the theft must have occurred before 5 PM and in the midst of the confusion with the missing painting, it was probably moved from whichever location it was located at to Lauren's vehicle. The lack of chicken feathers at her car meant whoever moved the painting had done so underneath the police's own noses. I am guessing that is why my mother wanted the entire premises and the cottage searched. My mother and her co-conspirators cleaned any trace of their activity. However, due to their meticulous cleanup effort, they overdid it and cleaned off evidence that should have been there under normal circumstances at Lauren's car, like the chicken feathers."

Jason smiled, "We could start up a private investigation service together."

"I do not want to have a Great Dane named Scooby, though," I laughed at the old cartoon reference, "Oddly, I think this is also a bad real estate related crime. Lauren through her manipulation of her daughter had won control of her interest in this property. If she could somehow manage to acquire Alex's interest as well, she would have a majority vote in the property and could theoretically sell all the artwork and historical items by overruling my mother."

Jason pondered, "How does framing Lauren for theft help your mom? Lauren already has control of Karen's interests, so it doesn't matter."

I realized at that moment what my mother was doing. "No, it does, John's will requires a majority vote of two out of the three trustees to sell property. However, if the trustee in question has attempted to directly or indirectly profit from the sale of property without notice from the other trustees, then the voting power of the trustee is re-allocated to the other two members, evenly. John added that clause to prevent either my mother or his children from independently liquidating the assets. So effectively, this would prevent Lauren, even if she were able to acquire Alex's interest, from making a majority decision. When 33.33% is split evenly between two people with 33.33% interest each, it becomes 50%. My mother wants to maintain her holdings, she's looking for the absolute advantage, rather than absolute victory like Lauren."

Jason grimaced, "Bingo, why does this sound so much like a soap opera? Your mom and Lauren both have money and power, so why did they have to act like that?"

I groaned, "Lauren comes from old money and plays games of subtlety. Look at her gifts to me, the book Song of Achilles is a tragedy based off the life of the trojan war heroes Achilles and Patroclus, they were boyfriends and died for each other. She wants me to fall apart after I lose you, like Achilles after Patroclus' death. As for her gift to you, the book A Little Life is probably the saddest modern gay novel written in the twenty-first century so far. The main character, Jude in the story, was repeatedly and graphically raped throughout his life. It's a novel full of false hopes that continuously leads to tragedy. The tragedies pile up until Jude commits suicide, at the end of the novel in the most bitter ending I've ever read. I couldn't read the entire novel through, because of how horribly unhappy the storyline was and had to skip all the way to the end in the hope of finding solace in a happy ending. There wasn't one. These books were specifically given to us to both attack our aspirations and perhaps even our will to live. My experience with people like Lauren is that there's an ugly narcissistic and vindictive streak."

Jason stopped packing and crept over to me. "Why didn't you tell me about your suicide attempt, Bingo?"

I froze, I knew he might ask that question. "You weren't ready to know that about me and I wanted to make sure your mind and heart were healed before I shared that part about myself. It happened when I was in high school and I had been bullied for being overweight and blind. One of the boys who bullied me was a boy I had a crush on as well. I was angry and sad about everything. My dad was always distant as you can tell with his emotions and my mom was going through another one of her divorces. Jade was no help as she was having the time of her life and reported to me that she had just tried her first line of coke. Everyone else had something in life to live for except for me,"

I paused thinking about the suicide attempt, "I was really close to revealing all of this to you last night, when we talked about why I stopped having conservative beliefs. Being a person who has been to the edge, then being the person who pushed another over the edge to self-destruction. I guess I've seen too much in the hearts of human beings and know how tenuous hope is to maintain. I didn't want to overwhelm you and push you further than you could go, Jason."

Jason kissed me, "I figured as much, when you told me that stuff last night. I didn't want to pry into your life. I knew I could ask you anything and you would tell me, but it wasn't something I needed to know at that moment. Now that I do know, I only want to love you even more and make sure neither of us ever gets close to that edge again."

I returned Jason's kiss, "When we first met, you asked me to "let you die", I think that was what got me to want to help you so badly. I've been guilt ridden for years over both my choices that led to what I almost did and what I did to others that led to them committing suicide. You hear and read great survivor stories about people who use their second chances to help other people avoid suicide, I took my second chance and pushed people towards it until I realized what I was doing. I'm not a good person Jason, sometimes I feel like I can easily be as bad as my mother or sister. I have very selfish instincts."

Jason reached for my right hand and licked my fingers. "You are nothing like them Bingo. You went through hard times and you made mistakes, like you told me last night. You didn't give up on yourself and you chose to try to do better for others going forward. I wanted to die in that alley after days of waiting for food, sleeping in dumpsters, and being haunted by the memories of what happened to me. I've messed up to. You gave me a second chance and I failed it too, but then you gave me another chance. I think after today, I will do better with this chance. Without you, I wouldn't be here right now. Your mom and sister think your suicide attempt defines what you need in your life, but I think you defined your life by being the hero for the experiences you gained since that attempt."

I acknowledged Jason. "I think that's what justified my mother's actions tonight. She never asked me about the suicide attempt or what prompted it. She found out about the bullying and made threats to all the guys involved, including making several death threats if she ever heard about them bullying me again. I think with tonight's demonstration my mother would likely carry out those threats. Jade tried to include me into her life a little more. I tried to open up to her too, she was the first person I came out to about being gay. She got me to try some of her partying ways, but I honestly am not one of those guys. They are crazy with their reactions and their games; I am so sorry for what they put you through."

Jason wrapped me in his arms. "They love you too Bingo. It might be warped love, but it is love. I don't like what they did, but I can't completely blame them either for testing me. I learned I can be a weak person and I know I can be better than that. Also, through all this stuff, I've learned I can really love you the way that you need me to. Without them, I don't know if we could have advanced to this level of our relationship so fast."

The Uber came to pick us up around 2 AM that night, Jason and I took the backseats and my father took the front. It was a quiet ride home. Chris' lights were on and he must have heard our commotion on the patio. He wished us all a belated Merry Christmas. My father scowled and headed up the stairs, while Jason and I returned his greetings.

Before we went to bed, I told Jason to check his emails, just to see if Cody had responded to him. I knew it was a longshot, but Christmas was a day for miracles, maybe there was just a little Christmas magic left at 3 AM in the morning. Jason opened his inbox and didn't see anything from Cody's email address. I suggested he look at the spam folder just in case his little cousin is smart enough to send a reply via a different email address. I was correct in my assessment of the kid's intelligence; to be honest, I did the same thing too at his age, to bypass my parents. Jason read the email aloud to me.

{Hey Jason,

Don't send any messages to that email, mom and dad will see it and delete it. I made this email using my own account. Like, I miss you and I know you're gay. I knew what that was even before my parents' talk. I kind of been looking it up for my own reasons. It must stink to be like dumped by your parents. Like, how are you handling things? Are you still going to college? Do you have a cool boyfriend or something?

Anyway, Merry Christmas Jason.

PS: You still owe me the solar powered robotics set and I am expecting a MacBook Air next Christmas, too!

-Love Cody}

After speaking it aloud, Jason stared at the email in amazement, "Wow, you were right, Bingo. It's really made my day."

I nodded, lying in bed, wrapping my arms around Jason's naked torso. "I think you found your family connection, with Cody at least."

Jason placed his phone on the nightstand, then twisted his body to face mine. "Bingo, I'm worried now for Cody, what if his folks find out I am talking to him? What if they find out he's questioning his sexuality? What if…"

I placed my fingers on his lips to complete his rant, "What if he's gay is your ultimate question? I don't know how to answer that one, Jason. We all deal with sexuality in our own way. As to the logistical aspects, it's tricky. He's in Indiana, so it's out of our jurisdiction. Luckily for most LGBT kids, you can't legally throw out a child under age of 18, like your parents could do that only because you're 22, without facing serious consequences. That kind of stuff happened a lot more in the past. In the US of modern times, if parents did that and someone reports it, they can be charged with child endangerment. His parents also can't abuse him physically or mentally without people actually noticing at school, unless they switch him to homeschooling. There's always loopholes to every rule like that. Cody sounds like a really smart kid based on what you've told me. You should tell him what his rights are and where he can find resources if he needs it. However, be very careful, you do not want to offer him anything that may be considered an invitation to run away. That's a thing gay fiction stories may do accidentally, but it gives false hopes to LGBT kids and puts kindhearted LGBT adults in hot water. If life becomes a living hell, he will make a decision on his own."

I removed my finger and Jason grinned. "You would make such a great dad if you ever wanted kids."

I laughed and hugged him. "Oh, I have a big kid right here, who needs me. I'll wait until he's all grown up and married to the man of his dreams before I consider any new kids."

Jason snuggled up to me, "Promise me that you will be a dad, when we are ready to make the final commitment. You have so much love to give."

I closed my eyes and whispered, "I promise once we're ready, we can start family planning."


A year has passed filled with joys and trials, hopes and fears. Ben and Jason continue to love one another, both sexually and emotionally. They share their lives without hesitation with one another and keep their communications completely open. Jason was able to find a part time job in the Spring working at a supermarket, which paid minimum wage, but it helped provide him with some needed financial flexibility. Ben continued his hectic lifestyle as an accounting manager, trying to manage the unmanageable. Jason did receive a partial scholarship for his degree and took out government loans for the remaining year, which Ben co-signed. Jason returned to school in the summer and caught up as much as he could having lost two semesters due to his homeless period.

Ben spent a good portion of his free time during the spring with his LGBT nonprofit charity as he usually did and brought Jason along to join him. The volunteers were very welcoming to Jason. Ben pushed to help everyone

Jason continues to see Dr. Cassidy every two weeks; he is making good progress in sorting out his self-worth issues. Sadly, both his sexual assault reports have gone unanswered and unnoticed, but it was something he had expected would occur. He is also learning a lot about psychology as a discipline. Dr. Cassidy had graciously helped recommend Jason for an internship in the upcoming spring at the medical center that she is aligned with. That should provide Jason with adequate experience and opportunity to explore the specialization within Psychiatry.

Jason began to converse with his cousin Cody and introduced Ben through their correspondence. While the method of communications maybe anachronistic, it was a safe way for Cody to ask questions and learn facts safely without bias or prejudices from experiences. Cody had begun feeling attractions towards boys, but neither Ben nor Jason advocated putting a label on it until Cody was ready. They offered their own inputs on the subject, primarily Ben with his extensive experience supplying anecdotes. Cody noted his parents did not react positively to Jason's sexuality and had removed all possible connection to him such as family photographs. Ben had arranged an anonymous birthday gift directed to Cody, the solar powered Robotic set, which Jason had previously not been able to obtain for him. Ben allowed Jason to pay for the gift, but argued that it would be best if he used his corporate accounts to transport it. Cody's parents assumed it was some well-meaning teacher, who gave the gift to their son. Cody thanked Jason and Ben profusely for the gesture, then promptly reminded them of the MacBook Air for Christmas. Jason shuddered at the cost and Ben nudged his boyfriend to let him go half on it.

Ben and Jason began a modest routine at home, Ben cooked and Jason cleaned as best he could, while Ben's father, Tam, did warm to his son's "special friend" as much as he could with his prejudices. Jason and Tam were able to be friendly and discuss basketball despite the language barriers, specifically the Indiana Pacers and Larry Bird's tenure on the Boston Celtics and Presidency of the Pacers. Ben chimed in from time to time, but Basketball statistics were never his interest, being far more aligned with American Football due to his fascination with military formations and history. Jason could relate to Ben's football interests and actually found it informative as Ben knew a fair bit about all the teams, including the background of the Indianapolis Colts, formerly Baltimore Colts. When playoffs happened in either sport, all three men would sit around rooting for their chosen sides. There was a friendly familial comradery and bickering. Jason recognized that he was being accepted into Ben's actual immediate family.

Jade stopped by occasionally throughout the year, Ben tried to limit her access to Jason as much as possible, since the events of the party and Christmas dinner. She offered to make it up to Jason several times, but Jason had grown far too wise to accept anything from Jade. Although, she wasn't a sociopath on the level of Ben's mother; her unique mentality of playing mind games, testing people for fidelity against impossible standards, and manipulative streak kept Jason on edge. Even accepting a Starbucks coffee from her became suspect, when Jason noticed one of the baristas was winking at him and then her. Some guys maybe attracted to this kind of gamekeeper mentality and need to win Jade as a prize, but Jason was not among those unhappy men.

Cecilia got her wish as Ben predicted. The police report and evidence did not prove that Lauren had attempted robbery, but did prove that she was potentially an accomplice to the theft of priceless artwork under her ex-husband's will. The voting rights that she bought from Karen were voided and redistributed to Cecilia and Alex, permanently ending her ambitions. Lauren would still continue to hover around, seeking an opening through her son Alex to maintain her claims. However, Ben and Jason had no further contact with her or Ben's step-siblings throughout that year. Cecilia tried to invite Ben and Jason over for Easter brunch and the Fourth of July barbeque, but they refused to attend anymore family gatherings. Cecilia through Jade offered several different times to pay for Jason's education, which he also refused.

Chris passed away of a heart attack during one of his night time rounding missions. There were very few mourners at his funeral, but Jason and Ben were there to bid farewell to the man they knew and not the monster the world remembered. There can never be amends made for what Chris did, but what had happened is now merely a faint memory, along with the body decaying in the earth. Life will move on with or without people, whether they did great good or great evil on the earth. All that truly remains are those impacted by them, which only last through their lifetimes. Then, their resulting actions echo across human history forevermore. Ben and Jason will remember this man for his kindness and mistakes, learn from them and grow for the good that can be made.

With all the changes and all that remained the same, Christmas had arrived again in Ben and Jason's lives. This year despite protests from Cecilia, neither participated in the Christmas dinner. Tam went with a bottle of wine that Ben had bought several months earlier. Thus, it left Ben and Jason to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day completely alone in the house, freeing Jason to his preferred state of undress beyond the confines of several rooms within the house. Unbeknownst to Jason, Ben had something special planned for their second Christmas together.


After Thanksgiving, the most common thought, I had as I brushed my fingers across Jason's scarred chest was, "We're still together". Jason was back on his feet and honestly, I knew he really didn't need me anymore. I've asked myself for months now, why am I still so attracted to him? Why is he still so attracted to me? Any lingering Florence nightingale syndrome, which Jason and I researched together to analyze as a possible rational explanation for our relationship, should have dissipated with his self-sufficiency. Instead, we're now joined at the hip. I still think he can find a nice hot twink, but despite my protest, he has remained completely faithful to me. He has opened up a lot more, made new friends, and had "coffee dates", but all of those relationships were platonic or professional. He doesn't share his emotions or trust with anyone except for me in an unlimited fashion and Dr. Cassidy on certain subjects. Sex was also strictly reserved for me. I honestly started seeing wedding bells in our future during Thanksgiving, which is why I decided to get Jason a little Christmas engagement present.

I am not so cheesy or romantically inclined as to give him a standard engagement ring. I've read the endings of many gay romances, where the leading male lover does a grand gesture and proposes marriage. Seriously, we're gay guys and I kind of think that's sort of a holdover from heterosexual romance. The idea of going down on one knee to propose just doesn't feel right for what Jason and I have. My friend Marcus, who is on the Board of the LGBT charity with me, is married to his partner Justin, but he never proposed to him. He told me that the act of proposing is a symbolic false power gesture between a dominant male giving up some of his power in order to woo the female into accepting a lifetime of subjugation through the ring, which binds the female to one mate. I am not so big on queer theory things as Marcus, but the thought of either me or Jason subjugating ourselves was a non-starter.

We'll probably have rings eventually, because we will adhere to certain social conventions, it's only rational. Neither of us want any other guys to get the idea that Jason or I were still on the market after we commit. The primal urge to mark your territory is still part of human mating bonds. However, the engagement token had to be something special and unique for both of us. Matching watches were the next possibility, but I turned it down, because if I am trying to avoid symbolic allusion of rings associated with binding, watches or bracelets are similar to handcuffs. After that came pendants, lockets, and necklaces. Again, the idea of wearing something over your neck is reminiscent of a collar for a pet or a slave. Seriously, the more I explored engagement token options, the more I realized that a lot of these trinkets could all be considered a form of bondage. I wonder if gay guys ever consider that kind detail in the midst of finding an engagement gift, or am I over-thinking it due to my unique demisexual need for bilateral equivalency. Is it really that hard to symbolize equality in an engagement gift?

I settled on a special order from an online sex shop, which I frequented to get specialty items for Jason and me. It felt weird to send them private pictures. Even though the pictures did not have our faces and I have sent such pictures in the past on Grindr without issue for random hookups, it felt very weird now. Jason knew I was sending those pictures to the sex shop, since I promised we would never hide anything from one another as long as we stayed in this relationship. We may not always be able to reveal everything about ourselves, but we don't keep secrets like this from one another. He didn't inquire why I needed to send the pictures, which I was grateful for. It allowed me to give him an actual surprise gift.

After our Chinese takeout dinner on Christmas Eve, I pulled out the two gift-wrapped boxes, one wrapped in green paper for Jason and the other in silver for me. I wanted to make this special for both of us, so I directed Jason to our bedroom. I lit several scented candles filling the room with scents of lavender and strawberries. The candles should last at least twelve hours. Jason's favorite lube was prepared on the dresser as well.

I cleared my throat to ask the most important question of my life. "Jason, are you ready to commit to me?"

Jason stared at me smiling. "Yes, Bingo, I've been waiting for you to accept that we can do this together. So, what's in the box?"

I smiled, "Why don't you open it? I promise you, it's not an engagement ring."

Jason laughed and began unwrapping. "Really, I thought you were going to get me an engagement cock ring with a diamond stud. I've seen those on that sex shop website."

I shook my head vehemently as I began unwrapping my box. "No, that would be a symbol of binding you to me. We will do that for social convention, but not to express our commitment to one another. Remember, I want us to be partners in everything. Lovers and best friends at the same time, we shouldn't have a power differential. I think you'll like what I got."

Jason opened the box revealing a perfect replica of my penis with my name engraved in the base. It has battery powered inflation and vibrator functions, too. "Oh wow! It looks so real. Bingo, why did you give me your dick, literally?"

I pulled out a replica of Jason's pristine manhood with similar functions. "I wanted to get us something that matches and would remind us of each other. I know these are sort of weird, but I think an engagement gift should be about a promise to always love the other person. Being gay guys, I think our dicks are probably the best part of our body that represents a promise to love one another. You can psychoanalyze the choice Jason, if you want. Honestly, it just felt more right for us than some stupid piece of jewelry with some awful connotations. Plus, on a utilitarian level, these things are functional and practical for our mutual pleasure."

Jason licked the latex replica with his tongue. "Not bad, it has all the right ridges and veins. I'll call it "Big Ben"."

I made a mock gasp of indignation, knowing what my fiancé meant. "Why "Big Ben", the replica should be perfectly proportioned?"

Jason licked circles around one of my nipples to placate my faux bad mood. "We both know that isn't true in the winter."

I gasped and pulled myself away from Jason, taking his replica penis with me. "I guess if you are so happy with "Big Ben", then I'll take "Little Jay" to my library. He'll appreciate winter growers more."

Jason dropped my replica penis and wrapped himself around me. "Not a chance, tonight is our night. "Big Ben" and "Little Jay" can have fun with us all day tomorrow for Christmas, but tonight, it's just you and me, Bingo."

I dropped his replica penis and returned the hug, "I wouldn't have it any other way Jason."

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