Jamie sat back on Ryan’s couch. It felt good to enjoy his brother’s home, since the old one hadn’t been much of anything at all. He hated to think of himself as a snob but the couch had looked and felt like it had been scavenged from the town dump. Ryan hadn’t been shy about telling him that he liked it that way, too.
Once the baby was on the way, though, everything changed. Ryan was a lot more willing to accept family money since he was supporting a husband and kid. He was also willing to take a house from the selection of homes in Roscoe Industries’ vast inventory.
A few renovations later and the pair had settled in a nice, respectable bungalow that dated back to the 1920s. It had taken Jamie’s crew a little while to get the work done but Jamie wasn’t going to spare any expense on his Ryan and Anthony’s house. Everything had been finished in time for baby Marissa’s arrival. That was what mattered.
Marissa, now two months old and at that “cute but smelly luggage” stage, gave a mighty yawn. She stretched and snuggled into Anthony’s arms, lifted her little chin imperiously, and went to sleep. Jamie reached for the remote to turn the volume down but Ryan snorted.
“Don’t bother,” he said in a normal tone of voice. “When she zonks out like this, she won’t wake up for anything but her own internal clock. Trust me here. It shocked the hell out of us too, but she doesn’t care about noise.”
“I’ll go put her to bed,” Anthony offered. He rose to his feet in a fluid, graceful motion and headed toward the stairs.
Ryan got up as well. “I’ll be right back,” he said and followed his husband up the stairs. He hovered protectively right behind Anthony, like someone or something was going to jump out at them right there in their house.
Jamie sighed as he watched them go. It was nice to see them happy together. Anthony deserved to be with someone who brought him as much comfort and joy as Ryan did. Likewise, after everything Ryan had suffered in life, he truly deserved the world. Anthony doted on him, did everything he could to make him happy, and Ryan devoted himself to their little family here at home.
It was almost nauseating.. Jamie could admit, to himself and the walls, that he was a little bit jealous. He’d never say a word to anyone else, though. The green-eyed monster was his own personal demon and he didn’t need to share it.
The happy couple came back downstairs a few minutes later, hand in hand like two middle-school kids in love. “You guys are too cute for words,” Jamie teased, pretending to gag. “Want me to get you something to drink, since your hands are full and everything?”
“Sure.” Ryan picked Anthony up in his arms and settled back down on the couch with his husband in his lap. “Thanks.”
Anthony laughed and blushed but he didn’t move. His pants, which had gotten loose on him now that the baby weight was gone, sagged a little. Jamie couldn’t miss the little spot of ink that peeked out from Anthony’s waistband.
“Is that a tattoo?” he gasped, squinting. He couldn’t quite make out the design, picked out in pure black ink on Anthony’s pale flesh. He guessed it was something private, and looked away.
Anthony ducked his head and blushed again. Ryan looked as proud as he had the first time he held baby Marissa. “You bet your ass it’s a tattoo,” he smirked..
Then he softened, looking into Anthony’s eyes. “We figured we — I — had already learned the hard way about marriage and how it can be manipulated. We got married, you were there, but we wanted something with a little more meaning for us after everything that had happened with Peter.
“We decided tattoos would be better than rings, for us.” He ran his hand possessively over Anthony’s hip.
Jamie felt a pang. He hadn’t been able to have that closeness with anyone in a long time--three years. It would be fantastic if he could but some things were just too far out of reach. Getting to that point would require a level of confidence that was just beyond him now. He would have to trust that person in ways he couldn’t imagine.
He must have given something away by the look on his face because Ryan tilted his head to the side. “You given some thought to settling down at all, little bro?”
Jamie covered his sigh by scoffing. “Are you kidding me? It would be a disservice to the fine, young men of Culver County. ”
Anthony chuckled. He’d known Jamie too long. “Yeah, okay, ace. Whatever you say.” He tensed, an instant before the doorbell rang. “I’ll be right back.” He jumped up.
Jamie leaned over to his brother. “Does he have some kind of weird sixth sense now? Is it all that time he spent in Florida growing up? Did it give him superpowers?”
“I think he just hears people at the door. I don’t know. I don’t ask. It makes him feel good to play the host.
“He’s never lived on his own before, you know? It was always his mom’s place.” Ryan smiled indulgently. “His mom lives here too — she’s helping us with Marissa — but it’s different. He’s happy, I’m happy, it’s all good.”
Anthony returned, with Jamie’s cousin Phil in tow. “Look who I found!” He beamed. “ Phil, what can I get you?”
Phil held up the case of beer he’d brought with him. “Can’t watch baseball without beer, man.”
Ryan stood up and took the case from him. “I’ll put these in the chill chest. Anthony seems to think we’re supposed to be keeping food in there but you know, whatever.” He gave an easy grin, the kind that was coming more and more easily to him these days, and followed Anthony into the kitchen.
Phil watched them go. He waited until they were long gone then reached into the inside pocket of his blazer. “I got you a top up,” he said in a quiet voice. He passed Jamie a small, brown paper bag under cover of the couch.
Jamie took it without looking down. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it.”
“No problem.” Phil didn’t say anything more about it and Jamie tucked the bag into his own jacket pocket.
If Ryan or Anthony came in, they’d suspect a drug deal. Hell, neither of them would be likely to care if it were. They weren’t judgmental, so long as everything was strictly recreational.
Jamie just didn’t need Ryan getting involved with this. Big brothers could be so … big-brother-ish.
The couple took longer than strictly necessary to get back to the living room. “Does it really take that long to put beer in the fridge?” Phil muttered.
Phil was a doctor over at Culvertown General. He worked in the E, and he was great at his job. Plus, he could get medicine on the down low. Unfortunately, it meant that Phil hadn’t had to experience much of the Anthony/Ryan phenomenon.
Seriously, University of Nevada should get some scientists in here. There had to be some kind of new pheromones involved in the chemistry between those two.
Most people took a step back from one another, once they had a kid. It was just the logistics of it all — kids made it hard to squeeze in time for romance between fatigue and curious little eyes watching. Ryan and Anthony still couldn’t keep their hands off of each other.
“My guess is that they’re enjoying a little grown-up time,” Jamie suggested. “Let’s not fight it.”
“Ah.” Phil blushed. “Well, then.” He squirmed a little, which Jamie figured was fair enough. No one wanted to think about family in that context. Even Jamie didn’t want to think of his brother in that kind of situation. “When Liam gets here, he’ll probably just barge right in.”
“With scorecards,” Jamie agreed. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Phil shuddered. Then he grabbed the remote and found the right TV channel for the game.
Liam showed up a few minutes later. Anthony and Ryan reappeared exactly then, probably because they too knew that Liam wouldn’t be subtle about barging in on them, and they all settled in around the TV for the game.
Jamie relaxed as best he could, but he’d been skimping on his medication to make it last. It was hard for him to settle in against the back of the couch, and that made the whole game uncomfortable. He found it difficult to focus on baseball, too, when he was confronted with the whole scene of Anthony and Ryan living in so much domestic bliss.
Jamie was only 25 and, in theory, he had plenty of time to find someone. After all, when Ryan had been 25 he’d been in jail, and look at him now. Still, the circumstances were different.
Ryan had something to fight against, something to offer. Jamie was just Jamie.
Oh, well. His life was actually pretty good, apart from being alone. He was paid well. He had an amazing home.
He had a loving family, and his best friend in the world had just become part of it. He couldn’t complain about anything at all. He’d be happier with a lover, but he wouldn’t trade his life for anyone else’s.
* * *
The next morning found him in his office at work, as most days did. The property development division of Roscoe Industries had an office on the side of a hill overlooking the rest of Culvertown. It had been Jamie’s design, actually, a project he’d done in his sophomore year for his Green Architecture class.
The shadow from the hill kept the place cool but the open floor plan allowed for plenty of natural light. He was relatively proud of it.
He’d be prouder if he were still designing instead of playing at being an executive but things hadn’t worked out that way.
He reminded himself that he was very lucky. He was so young and in an EVP position. He was getting paid a fortune to do what he did. He had more responsibility at work than anyone else from his graduating class, damn it.
It was duller than dirt but plenty of people would kill to have it.
Someone knocked on his door. He beckoned toward the window without looking but he knew by the sound of the newcomer’s feet on the tile floor who’d intruded on his musings.
“Hey, Amanda,” he said, without looking up from his monitor. “What’s up?”
Amanda took a seat across from him. Her technical title was “Assistant to the Executive Vice President.” It was a ridiculous thing to give someone with fifteen years of experience and a degree in engineering but Amanda was not a Roscoe. She didn’t get special privileges like a member of the family would..
She didn’t seem to have the inequity on her mind as she leaned forward and put a file folder on his desk. “Hey, Jamie. How’s your morning going?”
“It’s a morning.” He shrugged and ignored the pulling sensation in his back. “How about yours?”
She grimaced. “The usual, I guess. Listen, we’ve gotten instructions from On High.”
Jamie rolled his eyes. On High could only mean one of two people: Jamie’s mother, Marianna, or his father, Lincoln. Marianna had taken half a step back since the truth had come out about Ryan’s incarceration, so Jamie was going to take a wild guess and say Lincoln had sent the instructions.
But Amanda knew that Jamie didn’t like to be reminded of his parents’ involvement in his career, so she said On High like it could somehow add a layer of insulation. It didn’t help but they both pretended.
“They want a property assessed for potential sale,” she continued, drumming her perfectly manicured fingernails on the folder. “We bought the place from the previous owner maybe seven years ago and had plans to develop the land. Surveyors took a look at the property and found some problems, so that project was abandoned. The Powers That Be have decided to re-evaluate their options. They’ve never been big fans of wasted potential.”
“No, no they haven’t.” Jamie glanced toward the window. It wasn’t for him to say what counted as “wasted potential,” either. Both Lincoln and Marianna considered Ryan’s burgeoning garage “wasted potential” but it had been profitable after less than a year in business. That wasn’t anything to sneeze at and Jamie knew it.
“What were the problems?” He licked his lips and looked out the window again. It was a beautiful day outside, sunny and clear.
“I’m not a hundred percent sure. It’s remote and up in the mountains. Maybe the difficulty of accessing the site was part of the issue? They want someone to go out there and assess the property and figure out if it’s something we can resell or repurpose. There’s a small house on the site but it’s been vacant for years.”
Jamie sighed. “The thing is, Amanda, I buy the properties. I develop the properties. I don’t sell them. I’m not really qualified to make an assessment of their resale value.” He massaged his temples.
Amanda smiled again. “It’s not exactly rocket science. Look at the place through a buyer’s eyes — which, let’s face it, you are most of the time. See if you can figure out who might have an interest and I’ll take care of all of the paperwork. My car won’t handle the mountain roads.”
Jamie shrugged. He wouldn’t mind getting out of the office on a day like today. Maybe he could stop obsessing about architecture if he got a little bit of fresh air. “Yeah, I guess I can take that on. No harm in getting out and about a little bit, right?”
She beamed at him. “Thanks, Jamie.”
Jamie collected his things and got ready to head out. He didn’t have any meetings he cared about and getting out of the office might be just the thing to clear his head.
He headed into the executive bathroom on his way out the door. The bag Phil had given him yesterday hung heavy in his pocket. He checked the room to make sure he was completely alone and then he locked the door. The thought of an executive washroom was stupid, anyway. Let the execs go and wash up with the regular Joes.
There were, however, advantages to having a private restroom. He carefully took off his shirts and reached for the bag Phil had given him yesterday. The label was printed out in block-print, generic letters: SILVER SULFADIAZINE.
He scooped a glob of the stuff out onto his finger. Sighing, he turned around and craned his neck so he could see the burn in the mirror.
It would be better if he could get someone else to put the medicine onto him but he wouldn’t want anyone to see him like this. He couldn’t let anyone see him like this. Anthony had been bad enough, back when it first happened.
Someone new, someone else, would be too much. No one would do it.
He smeared as much of the cream as he could onto the burn before he shrugged his way back into the shirt. He’d had three years to get used to it. He hated the way he sounded to himself when he got all maudlin about it.
Yes, it still hurt. Yes, he was still lonely. He still had a good life and plenty of other people had it worse. He gritted his teeth and resolved to control his thoughts better in the future.