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Monday, September 30, 2013

Spidey Sam: Chapter 30

Todd was spending his first night in his new place. He was just about to turn in for the night when their was a knock at his door. He thought to himself, "who could that be?"  It wasn't really late, only nine thirty, but Todd  had just spent the last two days moving into his new place with help from Jack and Sam and he was tired and looking to turn in early, not to entertain. Todd walked over to the door and answered it.

"Shorty, what are you doing here?  Is Hope ok?"

"Hope, is fine, Dad, she is with Mom and the boys tonight.  I just thought I would stop by after being out with some friends.  Is it a bad time, Dad?  The place looks great."

"No, Shorty, you know I always have time for you and Hope.  Yeah, the boys and I worked really hard on the place the last two days.  I'm sorry Shorty come on in."  Starr walked into the house and took a sit on the couch in the livingroom.

"What about Mom, Dad?"

"What about your mom, Starr?"

"Did she help you and the boys get things together?"

"No, Starr your mother sat this one out, but than again you already knew that.  You have been talking to your mother."

"It's just that Mom was kind of hurt that you didn't ask her to help."

"Starr, my back and my feet ache, I'm bone tired and so are your brothers, your mom should be happy I didn't ask her to help."

"Dad, really, how much help was Sam?  You could have used an extra hand."

"Your little brother was very helpful."

"Dad, seriously what is going between you and Mom?"

"Why don't you tell me what she told you so, I can accurately defend myself."

"Dad, there is nothing to get defensive about.  I was just curious."

"What if I told you it was none of your business, Starr, what goes on between your mom and I."

"I would say that never stopped me from asking before."

"Very, true.  Your mother and I are just friends Starr, and I want to keep it that way.  I'm not so sure your mother does, though."

"What do you mean, Dad?"

"Starr, that means that your mother has told me that she wants to be more than friends with me."

"You mean Mom came right out and told you that she wanted more from you than just being friends?"

"Yes, Starr, that is what I'm telling you."

"Starr, I want to be the smart one for a change.  I want to be the one who does what is right for you guys for a change, you and your brothers.  I don't want to do what is right for my libido."

"So, you still want Mom?"

"Starr, your mother is a beautiful woman.  Any man spending more than five minutes with her would want her."

"So, I take that as a yes, you still want Mom?"

"Starr, your mother and I are not good for each and we wouldn't be good for you or your brothers."

"Well, that never stopped you and Mom before."

"Well, what can I tell you Starr, I'm older and wiser now and I want to be a good father to you and Jack, and a good Uncle to Sam and a good grandfather to Hope.  I don't think I can do that if I'm with your mother."

"You know, you and Mom could be good again."

"I know Starr, for a little while anyway, besides there is that whole Tomas thing to and I'm not sure I can really forgive her for that and not just what he did to me but, what he did to Sam.  I don't ever want to see any of you kids hurt like that.  I know what it feels like to be hurt, that and it feels lousy, Starr."

"Dad, Tomas is gone and Sam is fine."

"Well, I'm not Starr, I really still very angry at your mother and if we were to get back together that anger would destroy us, Starr and the mistrust.  I don't want that for you guys, I don't want that for me, Starr."

"So, you and Mom are just going to be friends?"

"Yes, I'm going to try and the best friend that I can to your mother, in this situation."

"So, you and Mom are over forever?"

"Starr, your mother and I will never really be over.  We share too many things.  I just want peace between the two of and right now this is the only way that I know how to get that.  I'm not trying to hurt your mother.  If I was I would get back with her."

"Dad, have you told Mom that you aren't trying to hurt her?"

"Yes, Starr of course I have, I have had this conversation with your mother more than once.  I don't know why she is having such hard time with this."

"Dad, she is having hard time with this because she still loves you - because she is still in love with you.  I think you are, too, but you are afraid."

"You damn right I'm afraid, Starr!  Your mother was going to marry the man that had me locked up in Irene's torture chamber for eight years.  I just don't know what to do with that, how to react to that!  I know he was just doing his job, is that what you are going to say, like everyone else says.  You have no idea what him just doing his job cost me and your mother, the woman that claimed to love me for so many years.  She was going to marry him!  I just don't know what to do with that Starr, I don't know how to process that."

"I think the first place for you to start, Dad, is to maybe talk to Mom about the way that you feel, tell her how much it hurt you to see her with Tomas."

"I shouldn't have to talk to her about it.  She should already know that it would hurt me to see her with Tomas.  I could deal with your mom not wanting me and moving on, but with Tomas?  I lost eight years of my life because of him and she was going to marry him and let him have a hand raising my son and my nephew.  I'm just not sure I could or would want to be with a woman like that.  Yes, I love your mother but I'm in love with her anymore Starr, I just don't think that I am."

"Dad, I think you should be having this conversation with Mom and not me, Mom needs to know how you feel.  I think you should also talk to someone about what happen to you while you were gone."

"I hate shrinks, Shorty."

"I know you do, Dad, but you might just need one right now."

"You sound like Marty, now."

"You should listen to her."

"Marty, wanted to be my shrink, or maybe not my shrink, but she did want me to talk to her."

"Well maybe you should Dad."

"I can't go complaining to Marty about my problems after what I did to her."

"Marty, forgave you for that a long time ago, I think you should work on forgiving yourself for it now.  If you don't to talk to Marty and not to Mom, then someone Dad, I think it would be good for you."

"I think it would be stupid and a waste of time and it won't change anything that happened to me."

"I have to go, Dad, but please promise me you will at least think about talking to someone."

"I don't know Starr, I will try that is all I can promise you."

"I can live with that.  Bye Dad, I love you."

"I love you, too, Shorty."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hope from the Ocean: 23

Dear Dr. Martino,

I had another dream, or maybe it was a remembering.  I don't know.  It is still very hard for me to tell which is which.  I feel confused.  And I need your help.

The dream was about Todd.  He was a beautiful little toddler then, and at three he was already walking and running and jumping, but not talking much.  He always had long hair, and I am not even sure Peter had it cut after I was gone, because it was long when he was a man.  I know because I saw pictures of him.  

When Todd was little, I let his hair grow and it used to curl on the edges.  He was a beautiful child.  He always cared about animals and plants.  He did not like how Peter treated the animals that were around the house, or his pets and he was very frightened of Peter, all the time, and used to shake when his loud voice would echo through the house.

As a small child, Todd had nightmares all the time.  He would often come into our room at night and crawl in the bed to be near me.  At the time in this dream, he was no more than three.  I remember him coming in, or I dreamed of him doing this, and he stood by the bed and said, "Momma.  Bad things."

I opened my eyes, and he was standing there, and his hair was shining in the moonlight.  He said, "Momma.  Bad things," again, but this time, he touched his head to let me know he was dreaming.  So I petted him, and smoothed his hair, and he came toward me and hopped up onto the bed and curled up next to me. 

But the next thing that happened, Peter woke up, and he said terrible things.  And he took his foot and kicked me out of the bed.  I hit the floor hard.  It hurt and knocked my breath from me.  Then I heard Todd, "No, Daddy," and saw Peter kick my little boy with a force that sent him almost across the room.  He tumbled to the floor, and knocked his head against the furniture.  He cried, but he cried silently.  He feared making noise, because he knew Peter would beat him.  I had to wait, in the dark.  If I went to Todd while Peter was awake, he'd beat us both.  He would say something, something like "Let him learn to be a man and stop coddling him," whenever I would want to comfort him.  

After a while of sitting in the dark, waiting for Peter to fall asleep, I began to sicken from the soft catches in Todd's breath as he tried to cry quietly.  With my back throbbing from hitting the floor, I remember crawling to him, in the dark, and bringing him into my arms, and rocking him.  He already had a lump on his head where it hit the bedpost, and he was crying softly and gasping.  And he was only three, but he looked up to me and he just said, "Why, Momma?  Momma, don't cry."

The next day, in the dream (or in my memory), I made Peter his favorite dinner and dressed Todd up in his football jersey and pants and took photos of him.  Peter was pleased.  I stayed.  And this repeated in different ways with different stories, but always the same.  "Why, Momma?"

Now I know I was wrong.  I caused everything that was bad in my boy's life.  He grew up to be angry, hateful and cruel instead of tender, loving and sweet, as he was as a young child.  After Peter hurt him, he was not the same.  I knew this.  And this is my fault.  So tell me, Doctor, how can I make this up?  How can I help him now?  I don't deserve this family.  I don't deserve to be well.  I don't deserve my son, or his beautiful wife and children.  What do I deserve?

Ray put the letter down, and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers.  Removing his reading glasses, he sat back in his chair, so that it creaked a bit, and closed his eyes.  He wanted to ask Todd, directly, if this were a true story, so that he could clarify for Bea whether or not it was a dream, but at the same time, did he want to bring up these memories for him?  He toyed with the idea of calling him, while rereading it, from start to finish.  He made side notes in a few sections, things to ask Bea, and then picked up the phone.

"Todd, Ray."

"Hey, how's it going?  Is my mother all right?"

"She's working hard, Todd.  Questioning herself mostly."

"In what way?"

"Her decisions, her choices.  Mostly regarding you."

"Sounds like what I do every day.  Blair left me."

"What?  No way."

"She did.  But it's not rational.  Right now, I'm trusting Dorian to work it out.  You must know how that feels for me."

"Hmf, sounds like things are changing a bit."

"Dorian suddenly decided I am right for Blair.  Don't ask, but it's like she decided I was, and Blair decided I'm not."

"I'm sure it's not that."

"No, it's not that.  It's her, Ray.  I've thought about bringing her to see you.  Would you, see the both of us, if I got her to come with me?"

"Of course, you know I would, Todd."

"She's got some terror going on, about this baby."

"Ah, fearful of losing another child."

"Yeah.  I knew you'd see it for what it is.  I just needed the reminder."

"Todd, you know you're welcome to come in any time, with or without Blair."

"Thanks.  But you called for a reason.  What's up with Momma?"

"She . . . is confused between reality and dreams, or thinks she is."

"Okay.  How can I help?"

"I . . . would like to ask you something.  Do you remember having nightmares as a child?"

"Yeah.  Constantly."

"Okay.  What happened when you had bad dreams?"

"I used to go to my mother, when I was really small.  I don't remember a lot of it, Ray, but I've also not tried to remember.  Peter used to razz me about it, when I was a teenager.  He used to bring up the things I did to humiliate me into being 'a man' I guess."

"What's your earliest memory?  I mean, how old were you, the youngest you were that you can remember?"

"I don't know, five or six maybe?"

"Okay.  Todd, I have to ask you something, and I hope you are not too upset by it.  I just feel it would help in your mother's treatment."

"Sure, shoot."

"Do you recall being beaten by Peter when you were younger than five, say, when you were three, or younger?"

He stopped.  He closed his eyes, but couldn't recall anything but blackness.  "I don't know."

"Do you remember being kicked out of your parents' bed when you were little?"

The other end of the line went silent.  Todd swallowed, and ran his fingers through his hair.  He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and then opened them.  "Yeah.  I think I do.  He kicked her first, she got hurt.  I got a knot on my head.  I remember that, yeah.  It's real.  She wasn't dreaming or hallucinating, if that's what you're asking."

"Todd, I feel your mother is coming close to a breakthrough of major proportions.  But I have to say, it will get worse before it gets better."

"You don't have to tell me about that.  I am living proof."

"I thought you might say that."

"Whatever helps her, Ray."

"All right, Todd.  And just call and make that appointment, for you and Blair, anytime, all right?"

"Yeah, Ray," he said, and hung up.  Blair.  I need you, Babe.  Shit, I need you.

He picked up the phone, and dialed.  She answered, "What, Todd?"

"Blair, please, I . . . just want to talk, please?"

***

Jack finished his plate and looked to Lynnette, who was clearing the dishes.  "This was great.  I appreciate the snack."

"Some people would call that a whole meal," Jenna said, smiling.

He got up and brought his dish to the sink.  "Thanks.  It was really good."

Jenna said, "Well, wanna see the new painting I am working on?"

"Sure," he said, and they went into her room, where she had her easel set up.  "Wow," he said, "Is that a castle?"

"Yes.  It's Courtown Demesne.  I've seen all kinds of photos of the inside, the outside.  It's gorgeous."

"Well, this is a beautiful painting.  I didn't know that you did landscapes much."

"Well, I'm commissioned for this one."

"It's really good.  I'm sure whoever ordered it will like it."

"Me, too," she said, smiling.  "Now, help me pick something to wear for the opening."

"I'm not that good at that."

"Well," she said, going to her closet.  "There's this."

"Uh, I don't know, too regular."

"Well, I could wear the dress I wore for the art show?" 

"You could, or we could go shopping for a new dress."

"Well, I don't think Lynnie is going to have the money for that."

"No, but I have a credit card."

"Oh, Jack, I couldn't."

"Yes, you could.  Please?  I want to."

"I don't feel right about it."

"When you sell your first painting, you can pay me back."

"Deal," she said, extending her hand.

"Deal," he said, taking her hand and pulling her toward him for a quick kiss.

***

"Why, what's wrong, Todd?"  She said, and knowing him as she did, she could sense the pain in his voice.  "If this is about my leaving . . ."

"No, it's not.  It's . . . I just got a call from Ray.  Momma's therapy is going pretty well, and she's uncovering things.  He . . . wanted to ask me . . ."

"Todd, are you all right?"

"I'm . . . okay, I just wanted to talk to you, hear your voice.  He asked me about an incident, if I remembered.  I was three. . ."

Blair felt a large lump in her throat.  I need to go home, now.  He needs me, I can hear it.  "Oh, God," she said.  "I'm sorry."

"It's okay.  I'm better now, hearing you.  You know how your voice is to me and what it does."

She felt the tears stinging her eyes.  If I give in . . .  "Yes, I know," she whispered.

He longed for her so much, and it had only been an hour or two without her.  "I just . . . needed to hear it.  That's all.  Everything okay over there?"

"Yeah, the boys can stay there.  You've got Tina, it will be all right."

"Blair?"

"Yeah?"

"Why did you leave me today?"

"I don't want to talk about it.  Let's just say, I know what you're doing, and I can't stay there, Todd."

"I'm not doing anything, Babe.  Can't we talk about it?"

"Todd, I have to go," she said, masking her tears, "I will  . . . call you later.  To check on you."

"I'm all right, I have the boys and Mixie.  I just . . . miss you, Babe."

"Good-bye, Todd.  I'll call you later."  She hung up, and sank to the couch, burying her face in her hands.  

Dorian walked into the living room at La Boulaie.  "Blair, want to talk about it?"

She shook her head "no" and continued to sob.

"If you're unhappy without him, maybe . . ."

"That's just it.  I'm devastated without him, and that's what I'll be if he goes to Ireland, Dorian.  Don't you see?"

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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R.E.M. Part 6

The summer was over before Todd could blink.

In spite of his best plans, he had spent the long, hot months doing actual school work. Something about Kevin’s house encouraged it, or perhaps it was something about Kevin’s mother. Todd had been living there for a week or so when she told him that he was her guest and wouldn’t he please call her “Viki.” He slipped into the informality with unexpected ease. He had always known how to pass himself off as someone who belonged in the echelons of the rich and connected, but he had always known that he was a fraud.

Viki made him feel like the genuine article.

It was weird.

Three weeks into the summer term, a computer appeared on the desk in “his” bedroom. (The room was five times the size as his assigned dorm room on campus, which more than made up for it coming with a creepy portrait of Kevin’s grandfather.) He had mentioned in passing that Professor West was one of the few instructors who was absolutely anal about everything being submitted on disk instead of on paper, but he hadn’t expected anyone to do anything about it.

“That computer runs on the same platform as L.U., so there shouldn’t be any problems,” Viki told him casually when he stumbled over his thanks. “I’m surprised you don’t already have your own.”

“My dad’s not the most forward-thinking guy,” said Todd. “And I never asked for one.” The choice between a computer and a car, or a computer and beer money, was no choice at all. “There’s a computer lab at school and computers in KAD, and most of the professors don’t care if you turn stuff in written by hand.” He decided not to mention that he didn’t usually turn in assignments, anyway, because that would have required actually doing them.

Viki nodded. “There’s always a temptation to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. I think that that’s a particular problem in the newspaper business. My father was a great innovator, and I’m often concerned that I don’t have his gifts in that regard.”

“If your father had any talents that you don’t-- and I really doubt that he did-- you make up for it by being this person who brings home a computer to make summer school easier for your son’s fraternity brother. If something like that occurs to you, the really important stuff would just have to.”

She smiled at him as if the compliment meant something. “Professor West and I have known each other for many years.” Of course they had. “He writes editorials for The Banner quite frequently, in fact.” Of course he did. “I’d be interested to see some of the assignments you’re writing for his class, if you’re comfortable sharing, that is.”

The thought of giving his work to Viki for approval was far more intimidating than the thought of giving it to a professor who saw thousands of student essays every year and sneered at them all.

And when Viki started telling him that he had a very real talent for writing, he wondered whether he had been the victim of an elaborate practical joke. He couldn’t remember that last time anyone had thought he was good at anything other than football or partying.

His visits to Rodi’s grew fewer and fewer, and so were Blair’s, so fixated was she on her Melador. At the end of the summer term, Todd went ten days in a row without seeing Blair or the inside of a bar.

His unintended ten-day streak ended abruptly when there was a tapping at his bedroom window. He looked hard at the portrait of Victor Lord, half-convinced it was responsible. There was something sinister about that man, even if his daughter and grandchildren were downright nice most of the time.

“Who’s there?” he asked, not too loud, because he didn’t want anyone to overhear and think he was crazy.

“Blair.”

“Blair?” he repeated, disbelieving. He shoved Viki’s tacky curtains aside. Sure enough, there was Blair on the narrow balcony that ran alongside his window. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He was going to have a new fantasy after this, yes he was. It was a failing on his part that it hadn’t occurred to him to imagine Blair-- or another hot chick, in his pre-Blair years-- climbing in his window.

“You gonna let me in?” she asked when he’d been staring at her longer than he’d intended.

He shook his head to clear out the dirty thoughts that had invaded. Not all of the dirty thoughts, of course. But enough dirty thoughts that he was able to function. Belatedly, he reached for Blair’s hand to help her inside. Instead of taking his hand, she thrust a six pack of Heineken at him and climbed through on her own.

“You could have come in through the front door, you know,” Todd told her as she plopped herself down on his bed.

Blair mock-gasped. “Dorian Cramer Lord’s niece be allowed into Victoria Lord Buchanan’s house? Never! They’d have to burn this place down if they knew I was here. They’re like the Hatfields and the McCoys.”

Todd laughed. He knew that there was some truth to that, although he didn’t know the details. 

“Viki likes you,” he defended. “She thinks you’re a lovely girl.”

“Did she say that before or after you started calling her Viki?”

“I know. Weird, Right?”

“She must like you a lot.”

“I like her.” It suddenly occurred to Todd that Blair was the only person he knew he could talk to about this. “It’s strange. I thought she would be this uptight, inbred, prissy, blue blooded pillar of society who was completely out of touch with reality.”

“Sounds about right,” said Blair, tongue firmly in cheek.

“But now I think she’s only mostly out of touch with reality.”

“I’ll tell Aunt Dorian. She’ll throw a party!”

“Don’t!”

“I thought you loved a good party,” said Blair, and Todd’s mind forcibly returned to the feeling of Blair’s legs on his neck, Blair’s hand in his, Blair’s lips near his cheek. They’d never come as close to sleeping together as they had that night, not that they’d been all that close at the Spring Fling either. But everyone from Blair’s aunt to Todd’s fraternity brothers was sure that they had.

“You know,” said Todd to Blair, “in KAD, there’s a rule. When a girl comes into a guy’s bedroom, if she sits on his chair, that means she’s there to talk. If she sits on his bed, that means she’s there to do other things.”

“This,” said Blair, her lips a whisper away from Todd’s, “is not KAD.”

“Not that I don’t appreciate the company, but why are you here?” She pointed at the beer. He snapped the tops off of two bottles, hardly leaving a mark on the nightstand at all, and handed one to her. “You came here to bring me beer?” he asked after taking a long swallow.

“Well, yeah,” said Blair. “I was afraid maybe you’d been banned from Rodi’s or something.”

“Did you miss me?” he teased.

“Yeah,” she said, and he couldn’t help smiling a little. “We’re friends, right?”

“Right,” he agreed. If that was all he could get, he would take it.

“Good. I thought maybe all this togetherness with the Buchanans changed your mind.” She stood up and inspected the portrait of Victor Lord more closely. “Or that they hypnotized you in your sleep with their creepy painting.”

Todd shuddered. It was a possibility. “I wasn’t sure whether Viki put me in here with that because she didn’t like me or because she did.”

“There’s no way she knows how scary it is. She must like you,” Blair decided.

“I think I’ll start throwing a towel over it before I go to sleep, just in case,” Todd decided.

“I’ve got a better idea,” Blair grinned mischievously and pulled a tube of bright pink lipstick from her purse. “He can’t do anything sinister wearing this shade. It’s a rule.” Todd watched, amused, as she scrubbed Victor Lord’s pale thin lips full and pink. Then he grabbed the lipstick from her and added a pair of matching pink earrings. Around the time they gave his hair a pink highlight, they started laughing so hard that they buried their faces in pillows so that no one would hear them.

When his sides ached so much that he had to stop laughing, Todd looked at the lipstick still clenched in his fist.

Melador.

“This is yours!” he exclaimed.

“One of my first samples,” Blair confirmed proudly. “That’s why I really wanted to see you. I wanted to show you. You listened to me talk about everything the night of the Spring Fling, and if you hadn’t been so nice I might not have been confident enough to go through with it.”

“You were going to go through with it,” Todd told her. He didn’t have any doubt. “You knew exactly what you needed to do.”

She looked soft and vulnerable, the way he felt when Viki complimented his writing. If there was ever a moment to kiss her, he thought this must be it. He leaned forward and she didn’t pull away.

There was a knock on the door. “Todd?” It was Jessica. Wasn’t she supposed to be in bed?

They jumped apart. Blair scurried into the closet. Todd was tempted to yank the portrait off the wall and throw it in after her, but he settled for turning out all of the lights except the one farthest from the painting. The deep shadow hid the alterations well enough. Removing the portrait altogether would have looked too suspicious.

He flung the door open. Jessica beamed brightly at him. “We had cupcakes at the last day of camp party!” she announced brightly. “Would you like one?”

“Sure,” he said, because he was deeply opposed to turning down food and because he couldn’t very well explain to her that cupcakes were one of the few foods that didn’t go very well with beer.

Jessica delicately extracted a carefully packaged cupcake from her bag and slipped past Todd to place it on his desk. She gasped, and Todd started to explain that it had only been a joke and he’d meant no disrespect to her grandfather and he would clean it off and couldn’t she be persuaded to not tell her parents or her brothers and he would take her and her friends to the mall every day for a week and wouldn’t that be fun?

“You’re not supposed to have beer in here,” Jessica said, scandalized. “I only got special permission to have cupcakes upstairs because it was the last day of camp.”

“You’re right. I’m really sorry. I’ll pour it out right now, okay?”

Regretfully, he dumped the last half bottle down the bathroom sink. It had been Blair’s, not his, but it was still a waste.

Jessica rolled her eyes. “I won’t tell,” she said, long-suffering like she’d had life too full of big brothers. “But don’t do it again.” She had a lot of her mother in her, and not much at all of her cowboy father.

“How about I take you and one of your friends to the mall tomorrow?”

She twinkled approvingly. “Okay. Goodnight, Todd.”

“Goodnight, Jessie.”

He closed the door behind her and almost shook with relief. Busted by a twelve-year-old girl. What had become of his life?

Blair slunk out of the closet, eyes sparkling harder than Jessica’s had. “The mall with Jessica and her friends. Sounds like a good time. Don’t let them buy anything that shows more than this.” She pulled the fabric of her stretchy top down to reveal most of her cleavage.

“Shut up,” he told her. “Do you have anything to clean that off?”

“Yeah, yeah.” She dug into her bag and withdrew a bottle of blue liquid and a packet of tissues. 
Together they restored Victor Lord to his rightful state, while Blair continued to make suggestions for what Todd should and shouldn’t do at the mall. “Have them tell the women at the makeup counters that they only wear Melador.”

“Melador isn’t for sale yet. You have, like, one sample.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s too early to start the buzz. And I have two samples.” She withdrew a  small bottle of what looked like moisturizer and squirted a dollop into her hand.

“Don’t put that on him,” Todd warned, still imagining how bad things might have been had it been Viki rather than Jessica who had knocked on his door.

“I’m not. I’m putting it on you.”

“I’m a football player!” he objected, but he didn’t move away. The thought of her fingertips caressing his skin was too enticing.

The moisturizer was soft and sweet. “You should make a line for men,” he told her. “Guys like to smell good too. But put it in plain boxes.”

“That’s a good idea.” She kissed his cheek where she’d just touched it. “You can come work at Melador if the football thing doesn’t work out.”

“You should come watch me play this season.” He’d seen what she was good at. It was only fair that she see what he was good at. Maybe if she heard a crowd of thousands chanting his name, she’d get rid of this idea that they were just friends and realize that since everyone thought they were sleeping together anyway, they might as well do it.

“Tell me when,” she said.

Todd had a plan.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Todd's Saga 9: Demons Revisited

        Todd walked into the Baton Rouge airport as Tony Lord and boarded the short flight from there to New Orleans.  Upon entering the New Orleans airport after landing, he went into the bathroom and emerged dressed in his tailormade silk suit and donned his sunglasses.  He headed for the exit where a Limo was waiting to pick up him up.  He spotted the driver holding up a card with his name and walked towards the vehicle.

“Mr. Butler?” the driver inquired.

Todd nodded and entered the car.

“Where to Sir?”

“Take me to the Buckner Mansion.”  He sat back in the vehicle and thought of the last time he had hired a Limo. He had just arrived back in Llanview and had decided to see Blair.  That was when he found out she had opened Shelter.  So much had happened since that night.  He still found it hard to believe his brother Victor was alive, but the organization had changed him.  Victor had meant business when he had attempted to kill him.  If he hadn’t disappeared Todd wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t have tried to kill him again.  The organization wanted him to do just that.

         Todd rubbed his forehead as the headache he had fought all day began to pound again.  Think of Blair, it helped earlier.  Focus.  He pulled the wallet from his pocket and took the ring out again. Just touching the cool metal recalled the moment when Blair slipped it on his finger. His hand clenched around it.  She helped you make it through those days in that compound.  Without her and the kids, they would have beaten you.  Don’t let them get you now. He looked out the window and noticed the car was entering the Garden District.  Soon he would see Blair.

         The Limo pulled into the driveway of the mansion, and he instructed the driver to go to the back entrance.  Blair came out onto the back veranda.  He was surprised.  The minute the car pulled away, she began running towards him and he braced himself as she flew into his arms.  It was one of the things he loved most about her.  She was never afraid to show her emotions, something he had long had trouble with.  She was also a very tactile creature, he remembered his surprise when she reached for his injured hand in the park after only their third meeting.  Other women would have shied from touching him because of his reputation, but not Blair.  He loved her touch and right then he loved the smell of her hair so close to his face.  “You’re early, I guessed you missed me.” he whispered into her ear, before kissing the nape of her neck when she loosened her hold on him.

          Blair laughed, and let go of his neck, slipping her arm through his and resting her head on his shoulder. “You know I did.  I thought this day would never get here.  I was beginning to get a little cranky at work and home.  I think Dorian was glad to see me leave this morning and I know Cutter was.”   They reached the back door and entered the home.  She quickly closed the door and turned back into his embrace. “You look mighty handsome, Mr. Butler.”  She put her hands on his shoulders and ran her fingers down his lapels.   I hope you got all your business finished for the weekend, because you’re all mine for the next couple of days.”

         Todd answered her, by closing the small gap between them and thoroughly kissing her. Blair’s lips melted beneath his and her arms wrapped around his neck going with the flow. They were both breathless when they finally stopped. Todd found himself unwilling to let her go.  The sun was beginning to drop in the sky, and the light played around the room.  It made her hair shine, almost glow as she stood facing him.  He stood in front, with one arm holding her securely around the waist as he used his free hand to move her hair away from her face.  His fingers caressed her cheek and slid down her neck, and he was fascinated as he felt her heartbeat beneath his fingertips.   All those years in and out of that damn chair, and he had only had his memories of her to sustain him, but now was different.  She was here, and real, and his.

         Blair had looked at Todd when he had stopped kissing her and relished his caress, but then she sensed a change in him as he held her.  He seemed a million miles away for just a moment.  She suddenly felt a small chill go down her back.  Something had happened.  “Todd, are you alright?  What’s the matter?”  It was like he didn’t hear her at first, then his gaze met her own.

        “Do you know you’re even more beautiful now, then you were when I met you?  I’ve got to admit, I was surprised you even talked to me after they sent me home from my job at the hospital because I was drunk.  But you did, and you even understood how I felt that night.” Her hand came up and covered his, where  it rested over her heart.  He looked down at it for a moment and then back up.  “You’ve never been afraid to touch me or spend time with me even when everyone in Llanview thought you were crazy to associate with me.  I think it was your little touches that got to me first.  They made me feel human.  I needed that... to feel human.  Too much in my recent past made me feel less than human.”

        Blair knew in that moment that something had scared Todd.  He only opened up to her when he was afraid of losing her.  She reached and touched his face softly. “You’re human, Todd, and vulnerable, even when you try to hide that part of yourself.  You don’t have to hide it from me.  I love you, if something’s bothering you, please tell me.”

        Todd gulped.  He realized he had said too much.  They were supposed to be happy, and he had let his nightmare intrude.  He forced himself to smile.  “There’s nothing, Blair.  We’re here to continue our honeymoon.  That’s not chinese food, I smell.   Don’t tell me you decided to cook this evening?” He teased her.

        Blair sighed, he had started to joke.  She now knew he did it when he was hurt or scared.  She was used to it but also frustrated.  They had been making such great progress, keeping things open and upfront. Whatever was bothering Todd, had just come between them.  She knew better than to push and went along with him for the time being and answered his query.  “Yes, I made dinner.”  Todd raised his eyebrows at that, and she pushed him away from her.   “Don’t give me that look, you know I can cook.  In fact, it’s your favorite.  I just wanted it to be us this evening.  I sent the hired cook home.”  She grabbed his hand and led him into the spacious kitchen.  The breakfast nook was decked out elegantly for a quiet intimate dinner.  “You open the sparkling grape juice for me and fix yourself a drink, while I finish up.”

        Todd walked to the refrigerator and retrieved the  grape juice.  He opened it and poured some into Blair’s wine glass, then poured himself about two fingers of Scotch from the decanter on the counter.  Leaning against the counter he watched curiously as Blair turned into a domestic goddess in front of him.  He loved just looking at her, and he noticed that she was starting to show just a little under the apron she had donned.  Anyone not knowing she was pregnant would think she had put on a little bit of weight.  He walked across the kitchen and moved behind her as she worked on their salad for the night. Setting her glass next to her on the counter, he couldn’t resist putting an arm around her and rubbing the area where his baby resided.  “Have you seen the doctor?  Is everything going along alright?”

      The moment his hand had touched her, Blair had paused and now she put her own hand on top of his. “The baby is doing fine.  The doctor just told me to try and keep my stress level down.  Being here with you helps that a lot.”  Todd smiled at her words and took the moment to kiss her neck.  Blair sighed and squeezed the hand on her belly, then lifted it off her.  She turned to face him.  “ I also need to eat regularly and that’s not going to happen if you keep distracting me.  Behave, and make yourself useful.  Would you light the candles at the  table?”

       Todd nodded. “Yes, Dear.” He gulped down the last of his drink and did as she asked then decided to further make himself useful by getting the main course out of the oven.  He was pleasantly surprised to see a roasted chicken sitting surrounded by potatoes and carrots in the pot.  Grabbing the proper gloves, he removed it and carried it to the table, setting it on the trivets Blair had placed there.  His mouth watered at the sight.

       Blair set the salad on the table, and they sat down.   She watched with amusement as Todd made a big show of carving the chicken and then they dug in.   When the dinner was over, he helped her clear the table, but he finally put his foot down when she was ready to wash the dishes.

        “You made dinner, now let the maid I hired clean things up.  We’ve wasted enough time with the normal everyday things.  Come with me.”  They made their way to the bedroom and Todd turned the lamps down low and led Blair to the bed.  He stood in front of her and opened his hands to hers. “I believe when I got here, you said I was to be yours all weekend.  Take me Blair, the weekend has started.”

****

        Hours later Blair was awakened by Todd suddenly grabbing her tightly and moaning. It was jarring when he spoke aloud.  He was obviously upset.  “I don’t know, I’ve told you I don’t have it.   Why are you doing this?”  Todd’s head began shaking back and forth, this was the first time she had ever seen Todd so disturbed.  She had heard of another time in his life when he had nightmares, but he had always seemed fine when he was with her.  She gently tried to wake him, but he was locked into the nightmare and whatever was happening began escalating.   He suddenly screamed and jerked violently, then went very still.  Blair was frantic.  “Todd, please wake up.  Oh God, what is it?” She sat up and watched helplessly as Todd’s body started shaking again and his arms dropped to his side stiffly.

         Todd was trapped in his nightmare, once again strapped to the chair.  The current raced through his body and he convulsed feeling consciousness leaving him .  He fought to regain control, he couldn’t lose himself again.  Even as his muscles spasmed from the current he began to say the only thing he could that would keep him sane.  “You... won’t... beat... me, I have a daughter,....her name is Starr,....Starr has a mother, her mother is Blair,....Blair is my wife.  I have a son, his name is Jack….I have a daughter, her name is Starr,...Starr…. has a mother, her mother is Blair.  Blair is my wife. ...Blair... is... my... wife…” his jaw was clenched and it was a struggle to say the words but he continued.

         Blair wanted to cry as she listened to his tortured words.  She was mesmerized by his actions as his hands appeared to be counting with each name he said.  His voice was ragged and she realized for the first time where Todd’s nightmare had trapped him. “Oh no you’re back with them aren’t you, Todd? You’re in Irene’s hands.”  She tried again to wake him.  “Todd, it’s me, Blair, your wife.  You’re safe now.   You need to wake up.”  He was still unresponsive to her.  She clutched at his shoulders trying to shake him awake but to no avail.  Think Blair, there has to be something that would bring him out of this.  Wait, the baby.  She took his hand.  “Todd, wake up. I think the baby just kicked me.  Don’t you want to feel it.  Here, put your hand here.”  She guided his hand to her belly and prayed for a miracle.  His chanting stopped, and his body stilled.  He shuddered and then slowly opened his eyes.

          Todd found it difficult to focus. For one brief minute he was still in the confines of the compound room and then it shifted around him and he found himself staring into anxious emerald eyes as he lay on the bed in New Orleans.  “Blair??? What???  OH God!” He closed his eyes as the last remnants of the night terrors sifted through his brain.  For over a year he had held off those memories.  Now they were plaguing him.   Blair must have wakened to his nightmare.  What had he done?  He was about to ask her that very question when he realized she had his hand and where she was holding it.  Suddenly he felt a little flutter under his fingertips and Blair gasped in surprise.

         Blair glanced down as she too felt the movement.  It wasn’t her imagination.  She smiled tremulously, and met his eyes. “I couldn’t wake you. Then I thought if you felt your child, you would come back to us.  It worked.  Todd, are you okay?”

         He gulped and moved his hand gently over the spot to see if his child would move again.  His hand shook a little bit, and he knew it was the after effects of the dream.  He nodded at Blair and tried to compose himself.  “I am now.  I’m sorry I scared you.  That’s the last thing I ever wanted to do.” He sat up in the bed and moved extra pillows behind him, giving himself time before having to explain what had just occurred.  Then he leaned back against them and pulled Blair into the crook of his arm.  He hesitated a moment. You’re stalling Manning. You tried to hide it before, now she’s caught up in the middle of it. Just talk to her. “I’m not sure why this is happening.  I know you were confused and upset with me earlier, but I thought what happened yesterday was just an isolated  nightmare because of my chat with Baker.  Now, I’m not so sure.”

        Blair leaned back against his shoulder, anxious to hear whatever Todd wanted to tell her. She couldn’t help smiling a little to herself when Todd’s free hand settled across her belly,and her hand intertwined with his.   Then his last words hit her.  She turned to look at him. “You didn’t tell me you talked with Baker.  Maybe all of this is because of him.  I knew I didn’t like you working with him.” She paused to search his face.  She was trying to gauge just how upset he was, and she saw the dark circles she had failed to notice when he arrived.  “Todd, you never told me what really occurred those eight years.  Why?”

       “I couldn’t.  It sounded lame to me when I said the word torture to Viki and Starr, and I know McBain was sceptical.  In the end, I think Starr believed me, but you have no idea how it hurt when all of you just took for granted that I escaped relatively unharmed.”  Todd stifled a bitter chuckle that tried to escape, and remarked sarcastically. “Shit, I was the picture of health, thanks to the care they gave me while I was catatonic. How could any of you believe what Irene and Baker really did to me?”  He fell silent, released her hand, and began to rub her belly slowly.

         Blair began to understand just how hard it must have been for him when he returned.  Instead of welcoming him home, he had been met with suspicion and disbelief.  When the truth came out, Victor received all the sympathy.   When Todd was arrested for Victor’s death, no one was surprised.  After all, it was Todd  you were talking about.  Even she had been convinced the Post Traumatic Stress was just a means to get out of jail, but now she knew differently.  What she just witness changed everything. Covering his hand with hers again, she said.  “I believe you, and I’m worried.  This isn’t good, Todd.  What happened tonight was more than a nightmare.  Baker might not be the cause, but even you said you had a nightmare before coming here, and that you had just talked to Baker.  Whatever he said or did must have triggered something.”

        “It was so real, Blair.  I can’t explain it, but it felt like I was there all over again.  All I’ve wanted to do since escaping my mother was put those eight years behind me.  Now it’s coming back to haunt me.  As for Baker, I just don’t know.  It could be him or maybe the damn compound.  Whatever has happened, I need to find a way to make it stop.  We’ve got too much at stake.  I won’t let Irene beat me.”  He enclosed her fully into his arms and hugged her, whispering another  “I won’t.” as he kissed the top of her head.


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Monday, September 23, 2013

Spidey Sam: Chapter 29

Todd pulled up in front of the old Penthouse building with Sam and Jack sitting in the back seat. "What are we doing here" Jack asked? "We use to live here with Victor before he bought the house that Tea now lives in."

"I bought a Penthouse apartment in this building."

"Is it the same one that we lived with him?"

"I never lived here with my Dad," Sam said.

"Sure you did, you just don't remember because you were really young when Victor bought the house."

"Jack, to answer your question, no, I didn't buy the same apartment, I bought a bigger one.  The biggest apartment that they had."

"You mean the one on the very top floor?"

"Yes, that is the one Jack."

"The place in huge and its so cool!"

"So does that mean that you guys want to see my new place?"

Jack and Sam bolted out of the car in excitement. They entered the building and without waiting for Todd boarded the elevator. When in the elevator Sam turned around to Jack said, "you don't even know what floor."

"Yes, I do, Sam, it's the top floor, like I said in the car." 

"Okay, then you don't know the apartment number." 

"I do so, its apartment 2006." 

"Well, you don't have the key that is for sure." 

"Ok, you got me on that one.  We are going to have to wait for Todd to get up here." Sam laughed at Jack as they stood outside of the door of Todd's new apartment. Todd came off the elevator and walked over to the boys standing outside his door.

"So, you do remember the place?"

"We lived here with Victor for a few years after you were gone.  I was eight when we moved." Todd opened the door to his new apartment and walked in with the boys.

"Wow! Uncle Todd this place is huge."

"I told you it was!" Jack said.

"Uncle Todd are you going to live here from now on?"

"Yes, Sam that is the plan for now."

"Will Jack and I be living here with you?"

"Yes, sometimes, that is if you want to."

"What about Mom and Starr?"

"Sam, there is plenty of room for Starr and Hope to spend as much time as they want here."

"What about Mom?"  Sam asked.

"Sam, your mom and I are just friends."

"Well, sometimes friends live together."

"Yes, Sam you are right sometimes friends live together but your mom and I aren't that kind of friends?"

"Todd, I'm going to check out the rest of the place while you explain to Sam what kind of friends you and Mom are."

"Jack, I think you should hear this too."

"Todd, I'm not a kid.  I know what kind of friends you and mom are.  You are the kind of friends that don't sleep together or live in the same house together." Jack was off to explore the rest of the apartment with that last comment without waiting for a response from Todd.

"Sam, let sit over here and have a little talk." Sam sat on the floor next to Todd.

"Sam, you know I love you and your brother and sister very much and Hope."

"Yes,  Uncle Todd you tell us that all the time."

"Well, its true I do love you all very much."

"We, know,  Uncle Todd.  Uncle Todd, do you love Mom, too?"

"Yes, Sam, I do love your mom but not that kind of love where people live together."

"What kind of love is that, Uncle Todd?  Do you love mom the way you love someone when you want to make a baby with them?"

"No, Sam I don't love your mom like that." 

"But you did Uncle Todd you did at one time because you made Jack and Starr with Mom."

"Yes, Sam but that was a long time ago."

"So, how do you love my mom now?  Is it like Jack said?"

"Well, your brother wasn't wrong but he left a few things out."

"What did he leave out Uncle Todd?"

"Your mother and I are the type of friends that want what is best for our kids.  We want to see you guys happy.  We want to do all that we can to make sure of that."

"So, you and mom aren't going to fight anymore about who gets to keep us and you aren't going to run away with Jack and me anymore?"

"Your mom and I have agreed that what is best for you and Jack is for us to share you guys.  So, you and Jack are going to be staying with me here at the penthouse sometime and with your mom at Dorian's sometimes.  You, would like that Sam, right?"

"I will have my own room here an everything?  I will be one of your kids?"

"Sam, you are my nephew that makes you my family, you are always welcome in home.  So, yes that means that you will have your own room."

"Do, I get the biggest room?"

"No, I get the biggest room, I'm the oldest!"  Jack said.

"Your, not the oldest Dummy, Starr is the oldest."

"I'm the oldest boy."

"So, that doesn't matter your still not the oldest."

"He has got you there, Jack.  I think I will let you guys fight it out among yourselves when Starr sees the place."

"So, when are you moving in, Todd?"

"This, weekend Jack.  It is the last weekend before school starts and Blair said, I could have you guys all weekend so that you can help me move in."

"Fun!"

"Yay! it will be fun!"

"Sam, you would think it would be fun to help Todd move all his junk into here."

"It not only my junk that we will be moving in here, its your and Sam's and your sister's too." "I'm going to take everyone shopping for new junk to put in there rooms."

"When, Todd?"

"As, soon as you stop complaining about having to move my junk in here."

"I'm done complaining can we go now?"

"Sounds, good to me, what about you Sam, do you think your brother is done complaining?"

"No, but if we wait for him, I will be fifty and you will be too old to help us, Uncle Todd."

Todd picked Sam up and carried him out of the apartment. "Well, I guess we better go then."

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R.E.M. Part 5

They all objected to the end-of-term dinner at Kevin’s mother’s house. Powell objected because he was still sulking and sullen and didn’t want to do anything other than go home to California. Zach objected because he firmly believed that any night not spent drinking was a waste. Todd objected on principle; he always objected to Kevin’s plans.

Kevin didn’t listen to any of them, and they all ended up in his cavernous ancestral home at 6:00 sharp. Todd presented the flowers to Mrs. Buchanan on the others’ behalves and they made small talk about what a good job they’d heard little Jessie had done in the seventh grade play.

“So, what are you boys planning to do this summer?” Mrs. Buchanan asked them over the soup.

“My flight to California leaves tomorrow,” said Powell.

“Todd and I are going to Fort Lauderdale,” said Zach.

Todd shook his head. “I meant to tell you. You have to count me out of that one.”

Zach’s head snapped up in surprise. “You were the mastermind behind the whole thing!”

“I know. I wish I could,” said Todd honestly. A beach party that never stopped was about as close a thing to heaven as Todd believed in. Now that he was saying out loud that he wasn’t going, he started to regret his decision. A touch of the old anger boiled up inside of him: It’s Marty’s fault I’m not going. That bitch.

“But you passed the test. Your parents can’t still be mad, can they? You said they were getting you a new car.”

“No, they aren’t mad.” The lie, as usual, tasted sour on his tongue. He’d known Zach for two years but had never mentioned that his mother was long dead. “But I’ve decided to stay in Llanview this summer.”

“And do what?” asked Kevin dubiously, as if Todd couldn’t possibly capable of doing anything other than partying and he’d find a better summer party almost anywhere else.

“Summer school,” Todd announced. He hadn’t planned this, but he should have. He wouldn’t have to listen to anyone’s real thought on the subject, not with Mrs. Buchanan and her gravitas in the room. Hell, he could continue selling himself to Mrs. Buchanan as a well-mannered, responsible young man. She had the kind of connections that could give him a cushy, worry-free job as soon as he graduated. Even better, she moved in the same circles as Blair. The more his path crossed with Mrs. Buchanan, the more his path would cross with Blair.

Powell, Zach, and Kevin’s mouths hung open in perfect fraternal unity.

“They would have expelled you otherwise?” Kevin asked at last.

Todd sat up a little straighter, the soul of contrition. “No, the dean gave me a choice. But I believe that I have responsibility to my family and my teammates and myself to take every advantage of my second chance. If spending a few months in summer school means my academic standing won’t come down to one test again, then that’s a sacrifice I felt I had a duty to make.”

Zach’s pretend manners were the equal of Todd’s pretend manners, but this was too much for him. He snorted sarcastically and had to pretend to cough as a cover.

Mrs. Buchanan gave Zach an icy glare. “That’s very mature of you, Todd,” she said.

“Thank you,” he answered, almost wishing he meant it.

“And since you’ll still be here for the rest of the week, you can help me make sure KAD house is in condition for inspection before they lock it up for the summer,” Kevin said smoothly. Todd swallowed his sneer. Kevin knew how to use his mother’s presence, too. There would be no saying no and no going back on his word. It was something like signing an agreement in front of a notary public.

“Be glad to,” said Todd.

“Where will you stay if they close up KAD house?” asked Powell, radiating anxiety.

“They aren’t making him sleep on the street or anything,” said Kevin.

“Although that might build character,” chimed in Zach.

“They leave the two big dorms right in the middle of campus open,” Todd explained.

Zach made a face. “The freshman slits? Sleeping on the street might be better.”

“It looks like a dungeon in there,” shuddered Powell. “All those concrete walls with hooks on them. If I were a freshman and I saw that place, I’d turn around and go home.”

Ordinarily, Todd would have told Powell that that wasn’t saying much because Powell was afraid of everything, up to and including pink bunny rabbits. This time he kept quiet because Mrs. Buchanan was there… and also because he didn’t disagree. Something about the place turned his stomach. “I’m not looking forward to it,” he admitted. “They should tear those dorms down, not keep them open for the summer.”

“They’ll never do that,” said Powell. “Some famous architect designed them. He was going for ‘modern collegiate gothic.’”

“If that means ‘claustrophobic and ugly,’ he got what he wanted.”

“Are you gonna be okay there?”

Todd barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “I almost ended up on academic probation. I’ll take my punishment like a man.”

“Yeah, Powell,” agreed Kevin. “He can think of it as extra training. He’ll be extra violent for the team next year if they keep him in a cage all summer.”

“Kevin, darling,” Mrs. Buchanan, injected, “will you help me get the main course?”

Kevin stood up and followed his mother.

“Think he’s in trouble?” asked Zach.

Todd grinned. “One way to find out.” He gave Kevin and his mother a few seconds’ head start and then followed them. He had only been to Llanfair once before, so it wouldn’t be hard to claim that he’d been looking for the bathroom if they caught him eavesdropping.

Todd hovered beside the closed kitchen door and almost immediately heard his own name.

“… Would you like to invite your friend Todd to stay here for the summer?”

“Todd?” repeated Kevin in a tone that indicated that he believed his mother had taken leave of her senses.

“Well, yes. He’s your friend, isn’t he? You certainly spend enough time together.”

“He’s my brother,” Kevin answered, like they all did, always, because that was the KAD way. Not for the first time, Todd wondered why Kevin had bothered to join a fraternity. He didn’t need the connections and he certainly didn’t need an ersatz family. He had a real one.

“He’s taking such responsibility for that little setback he had,” Mrs. Buchanan went on. “He might do better in his summer classes if he’s in a more comfortable, more supportive environment.” Unconsciously, Todd wrapped his arms around himself. Kevin didn’t know what he had. He really didn’t.

Kevin inhaled sharply. “The way Todd acts in front of you is not the way Todd acts at the frat house.”

“I should certainly hope not. Everyone behaves differently in different situations. Or is it something more serious? You don’t think he’d be a threat to Jessie or to--”

“No. Of course not.”

“Then what?”

“It’s more subtle than that.” There was a clinking of plates; apparently they really were preparing to serve the main course. They must have sent the cook or the maid or whoever she was out so they could discuss Todd in private. “You see how Powell’s been acting? Quiet, nervous, anxious?”

“He always was a sensitive child. I was surprised he was willing to come to school so far away from home.”

“It’s more than that. He idolizes Todd, and when Todd gets upset Powell picks up on it and it drives him crazy.”

“But Todd doesn’t seem upset. He appears to have made a genuinely mature decision.”

“Yeah. That’s not really like him,” said Kevin. Todd growled in the back of his throat.

“It’s hardly Todd’s fault that Powell is so susceptible to his moods.”

“I guess it’s not.”

“But if you aren’t comfortable inviting him to stay, we won’t. You don’t need a reason.”
Todd thought that that was going to be it, but then Kevin spoke again. “Why are you so interested in Todd?”

Mrs. Buchanan appeared to think about that. “I don’t know, really,” she mused at last. “He’s your friend, of course, and I like to get to know your friends. But I’m drawn to him in a way I absolutely cannot explain.”

“He’s magnetic. He’s got you and Powell fascinated with him.”

“And perhaps the pole of that particular magnet just happens to repel you instead.”

Kevin sighed heavily. “No. I just—I just hadn’t thought of inviting him to stay. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it will help if he feels like someone cares. I was there when his father called after he failed that exam. I couldn’t hear everything, but what I did hear was really bad. I can’t ever imagine talking to Duke that way, no matter how bad he messed up…”

Todd backed away slowly. If he listened any longer, he would end up storming into the kitchen and strangling Kevin. First Kevin had forced Todd to talk to his father, then he had listened in, and now he was sharing with his mommy and whoever else would listen. Kevin had probably already told Powell and Zach everything. Todd looked at them out of the corner of his eye when he returned to the table and tried to read their minds to see what they knew about Peter Manning.

“I thought either all three of you got lost or they caught you spying and buried you in the backyard,” said Zach conversationally.

“Nope.” Todd busied himself rearranging his napkin on his lap. Whether Mrs. Buchanan ended up asking him to stay or not, he didn’t want her to take one look at him and regret ever having thought about it. He had always been good at ingratiating himself to adults who didn’t know better. It was people his own age who saw through him even if they couldn’t always put the nature of his damage into words.

“So what were they talking about?” Zach prompted.

Todd gathered himself to tell the best kind of lie: the lie that was technically the truth. “They were talking about you, Powell,” he said.

“Me?”

“They’re worried because you seem so tense all the time. They’re hoping you just need a vacation.”

Zach and Powell seemed to accept that, and the rest of the dinner went smoothly. There was no mention of inviting Todd to stay, which was just as well; sharing a frat house with Kevin (not that Kevin usually spent the night) from September to May was quite enough.

Then, when Kevin drove them back to KAD, he said goodbye to Zach and Powell but announced that he wanted to talk to Todd. Todd’s heart pounded mutinously in his chest. Somewhere along the line, ingratiating himself to the movers and shakers had stopped being a game and become a test. And Todd did not have a good record with tests lately.

“My mom and I were talking,” said Kevin. Todd clenched his hand around the door handle. “We were thinking that since you’re staying for the summer term and KAD house is going to be closed, you might like to stay with us instead of in the dorm.”

“That’s really nice of you and your family, Kevin.”

“And?”

There was only one answer. “Yes. Thank you.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows. “You must really want to avoid Powell’s dungeon dorms. You know you can’t throw parties and get drunk and bring home women in my mother’s house.”

Todd smiled in Kevin’s face. “I’ll be too busy to throw parties, I’ll get drunk at Rodi’s, and I’m swearing off the entire female population of L.U.”

“Okay, then,” said Kevin, and he was gone.

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