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Rule 47 by Van Dorn, Lynn (1)

1

Logan Is Desperate

"Really?" Craig asked him, one imperious eyebrow raised. His salt-and-pepper hair, as always, was buzzed short, and his face clean-shaven. Probably with that creepy-ass straight razor he always liked to use. Craig looked entirely unchanged from when Logan had last seen him, and that had been years ago. "What the fuck do you want from me now, Logan?"

Craig stood on his front porch, guarding the entrance to his home with his big, intimidating body, frowning at Logan. It was an attitude both were familiar with. Logan's heart began to pound, the rushing blood thundering in his ears. His hands were already sweaty with nerves.

If Logan could've shrugged at Craig, he would have, but his arms were occupied by holding two heavy boxes, and if he moved the wrong way, they'd tumble to the ground, spilling the contents of his sad existence all over the porch floor. Those boxes, and the suitcase beside him on the porch, contained the only items Logan still possessed. He'd pawned everything of worth he could bear to part with and used most of that pitiful sum on the Uber ride over. Logan had no car, no job, no home, a shit-ton of student loan debt he'd deferred for as long as he'd been able, and a lot of credit card debt he was barely paying the minimum amount on each month. After months of struggling, couch-surfing, and job searches that went nowhere, Logan had run out of options and was desperate.

Desperate enough to throw himself on the mercy of a man who had every right to hate him.

You know why you're here. You know why your heart feels like it could escape your chest. You know why you chose this place, this door, this man. Just admit it. You know.

Logan tried his best to drown out that smug, insidious inner voice. He was at the end of his rope, and asking his former stepfather for help was the only option left open to him. Logan had no choice but to hope Craig would put him up. Even for a few nights, but maybe, if he played his cards right…

Logan stomped down on the hope that threatened to rise inside him. He screwed up his courage and just spat it out. “Mom got remarried to this guy, and I can't go live there. If it was just her, maybe I could deal, but…”

“What?”

“Um, you know how Mom was?”

Craig's face took on a slightly amused cast. “In what way? Your mom was a lot of things.”

Logan swallowed nervously. “Yeah. Um. About…” Logan swallowed again. “You know I'm gay, right?” Jesus Christ Jesus Christ Jesus Christ.

“I had gotten that impression, yes,” was Craig's dry response.

“Right. Right. So Mom, she isn't exactly…”

“Logan, does your Mom know you're gay?”

He shrugged and nearly dropped his boxes. “I don't know. Maybe. We've never talked about it. I don't…I don't think there's room in her world for a gay son. And the guy she married is worse. They go to this church and I went once at spring break because I was home and it was Easter and the whole sermon was about saving the world from abominations. And I just sat there, you know, and knew it was about me. I was the abomination that preacher dude was yelling about. And afterward, Rick said how he was glad none of his kids were gay. Then he looked at me. So no. I can't go there. I can't.”

It might have been Logan's imagination, but he swore Craig's expression thawed a little more. “So you came to me? Kid, I'm not your dad.”

Logan shifted the boxes in his arms. “I know that, but I don't know who or where he is. And I graduated from college, and I've got all this debt and no job. I'm almost out of money and I can't go home. I can't. And I don't know what to do.” The last word came out in a pathetic whine and Logan felt twelve again, instead of twenty-two.

“Did it ever occur to you to make contingency plans, Logan? When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Logan didn't say a word in response, but he couldn't help but roll his eyes. His plan, such as it was, had been to get a job after college. He’d earned a communications degree, but the only work he'd found was unpaid interning. Living while working a job for no pay had eaten through his savings account. Then the internship had ended and another intern there had been offered the promised permanent position.

Logan needed a job—any job—and while he'd put out tons of applications, he still didn't have a paying job. He did have another internship offer, but that was, again, unpaid.

Logan knew he was fucked, pure and simple, and not in a good way. A sense of despair overwhelmed him. He could defend himself to Craig, tell him all the things he’d done and tried, but what was the point? Craig probably wouldn’t believe him and clearly didn’t care. Then afterward, Logan would still be standing in the cold night air on this porch, holding all his worldly goods in arms that were so tired it was a miracle they still worked.

“Yeah, ya got me, Craig. I screwed up again, obviously. Look, I can go, but I'll have to find someone to come get me, and my phone is dead.” Logan longed to put down the heavy boxes, as his arms had started to tremble, but Craig's expression did not encourage Logan to stay and make himself at home.

Craig pursed his handsome lips while he examined Logan from head to toe, reinforcing Logan's feelings of returning to childhood. It rankled, but there was an odd, aching familiarity to the feeling as well.

While Craig didn't appear to have aged since Logan last saw him, and seemed to still be clinging to his thirties, Logan knew he had to be pushing forty-five.

Mom had met Craig when he'd still been in the Army and had gotten him to marry her somehow, four kids and all. Logan had been twelve when Craig and his mother had gotten together, with twin sisters who were ten, and a brother who was nine, all of them from different fathers. Craig and Logan's mom had divorced six years ago when Logan had been in high school, just after Craig had retired from the Army.

Logan remembered that last fight and shoved it out of his head. He didn't want to think about that. Not now, and maybe not ever.

Instead, Logan focused back on Craig. He'd kept himself fit, with hard muscles and a flat stomach. He probably still did a hundred push-ups every morning, along with chin-ups, crunches, squats, and God knew what else.

It was unfair that a man so old could look so good. Logan had to stop himself from actively drooling.

You know why you came here, and those muscles were definitely part of it.

Logan remembered having to do the exercises with Craig, how his own muscles had trembled and burned. He'd fallen out of the habit, though, when Craig left. In college, Logan had stopped exercising altogether. Stopped eating, too, when he couldn't afford his meal plan. The past year had been especially rough, and instead of gaining the freshman fifteen, Logan joked that he'd lost the senior sixteen.

Even now, his arms quivered from the weight of the boxes he was holding, but he'd be damned before he'd put them down in front of Craig's judgy eyes.

“You're not worried about your virtue?”

The sardonic tone made Logan flinch, but he didn't drop all his worldly goods. Logan shook his head. “I never was,” he said. “You know that.”

Guilt and shame swamped him, reminding Logan of things he'd wanted to never remember. The things his mother had said. Had implied. Logan had tried to fix the situation, but it hadn't worked, and it hadn't mattered. Craig had left. Logan had gone to college, and it should have been a finished chapter in his life. But when things had completely gone to shit, it was Craig he'd decided to run to.

Some habits died hard, Logan supposed.

You know why you're here.

Craig snorted derisively. “Come on, kid. Get your shit and I'll show you the guest room. You can stay for a time, but not forever. We'll discuss it in the morning.”

Logan tried to not let his sheer relief show too obviously on his face. Despite his cryptic comments, Craig was letting Logan stay. That was all that mattered. “Thanks, man.”

"Sir. In my house, you will respect my rules. You know most of them already. I'll go over the new ones tomorrow after you've slept."

“Yes, sir.” Logan had meant to sneer it, but he was tired, and it felt like the adrenaline that had sustained him earlier was now presenting its bill, so the words sounded both breathy and relieved instead of jeering. The word felt in his mouth like slipping into a warm, worn sweater. Sir. Three small letters and a world of meaning.

“Good boy,” Craig said and Logan's heart did a swooping jerk within his chest. He tried to ignore the sensation. It was just a physiological response that Logan couldn't control.

Logan followed Craig into the small, neat, and blessedly warm house. They went down a hall and Craig stopped before a closed door. He opened it and ushered Logan inside. It was a simply furnished and decorated bedroom.

"You can put your boxes there if you want." Craig pointed toward an unadorned dresser.

“Yes, sir,” Logan repeated. It was strange how easy it was to pick up a habit he thought he'd cast aside forever when Craig had left. It should've felt wrong—itchy and too tight—but instead, it was natural, like something Logan hadn't known was lost had slotted itself back into place. It felt almost like nostalgia, and like something else, as well. Something dark and secret and scary, yet safe. Something he wanted very much, and something he’d be a fool to hope for.

It's just familiarity. That's all.

Logan walked over to the dresser and let go—of the boxes, and all his problems, and the pent-up fear that had sat coiled inside him after he'd been turned away by his last friend.

“The bathroom's across the hall. Don't leave it a fucking mess. Brush your goddamn teeth and take a shower, then get some sleep. I get up early, and I'm not cooking breakfast twice. I want you dressed and in the kitchen at oh-seven-hundred. You got it?”

“Yes, sir.” Logan remembered how strict Craig had been, but he'd forgotten how easy he could make things. Logan was tired of guessing what people wanted and getting it wrong. This was simple and uncomplicated. It was such a relief to let Craig resume control.

Adulting sucked. Logan was sick of it. There were worse things, he decided, than retreating, for a short time, back into childhood.

“Good,” Craig said. “You think you'll need another blanket or something?”

Logan glanced at the twin bed, with its clean bedding and fluffy pillow. “No. I'm fine.”

Craig nodded. “Oh-seven-hundred.” He turned to leave.

“Craig?”

Craig looked back, that eyebrow of his raised again and his dark eyes wary and aloof. “Yes?”

“Thank you, sir,” Logan said before he lost his nerve. “I really appreciate this.”

Craig froze, and color darkened his tanned skin, although Logan wasn't sure why. “We'll see,” he said, then left the room, closing the door behind him.

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