I hung up with Seb and Quint just as JJ was coming through the door from the Spectrum meeting. He climbed onto his rack with a long, drawn-out moan. “My life has gotten way too interesting since I met you,” he said. “Myrick wanted to go after Platypus the moment you left. I almost had to physically block him while I convinced him to give the kid some space. I didn’t see exactly what happened between you three, but it seemed like it wasn’t good.”
Linking my hands together on top of my head, I considered that. Five minutes earlier, I would’ve agreed. Now, with Seb’s reassurance Platt was at least a little open to the idea of polyamory, I’d revised my opinion. “I think it was a step in the right direction,” I said.
JJ looked down at me dubiously. “I don’t know, man. Also, isn’t Myrick still with Cameron? Or did they break up?”
“C’mon, does Myrick seem like the type to cheat?” I asked.
His eyes narrowed a fraction more. I kept my face bland and innocent, though, and after a moment, he shrugged. “No, guess not.”
My phone buzzed with a text. I turned back to my desk and picked it up.
What do we do now? Myrick had written.
Patience, grasshopper, I sent.
Don’t get cute with me.
Too late, I typed. Look, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Give me the night to come up with a new strategy.
There was a longer pause before his Fine appeared. I pictured the sulky look he probably had, and smiled.
That done, I pulled up the outline of an essay on my computer and stared at it without really seeing it for the next hour. New plans were slowly forming in the back of my head.
Platt wanted this relationship. He could try denying that all he wanted, but I’d seen it, and so had Seb, and I trusted my boy’s judgement. The trick was getting him to admit he wanted it. Giving him a reason to push through the fear. Spectrum had been too much, too public, yet the principle felt sound. Let him see what he’s missing, I thought. That was the key.
The ding of Quint’s phase-three report email interrupted my musings. I quickly jotted down a note so I wouldn’t forget where I’d left off, then opened it.
It went rather like you warned me it would, with the exception being that Seb also directed some of his annoyance towards Theo. Nothing terrible, however, he was rather rude. I thought that might please you. Theo found it amusing. As for me, it felt very intense. I’m glad this phase lasts only a few days. Then we’ll be with you, and you can administer the Lantus in my place.
I will write in more detail about what happened (and how Seb is doing in the aftermath) tomorrow, when I have a better understanding of the latter, as well as more time to give it justice. I hope whatever was bothering you with Bradley has resolved itself, or will soon.
All my best,
I smiled. He was always so formal in writing. Rapidly, I wrote back, I’m thrilled that he was rude to Theo, and I’m glad Theo isn’t mad at him. Sorry it was hard on you. You did it for his own good, remember, and I think you’ll see soon just how effective it is. Let me know if you need anything else tonight. –Zain
Then I returned to my plotting. Contingency plans were a bigger part of it this time. I tried to think through all the ways Platt might react and have at least an idea of what to do for each. The first step, though, never changed. I sent another text to Myrick—a much longer one, explaining what I needed and why—just before lights-out.
I’ll do what I can, Myrick responded. You really think this’ll work?
Yes, I said. Let me know as soon as you have an answer.
He sent back a thumbs-up emoji.
On my way to the head after, I heard footsteps hurrying behind me and a voice whispering, “Hey, Dad!”
I glanced over my shoulder to see Nak. Slowing, I let him catch up while I scanned beyond him for any sign of Platt among the mids lingering in the passageway. None. “Everything alright?” I asked.
“Yeah, with me,” he said. “Platt, though… I’m trying to talk to him about stuff, and he’s ignoring me.”
I frowned. “About what stuff?”
“You know,” he said, leaning closer. “About pizza and Chinese food?”
Chinese buffets would never be the same to me after this.
“I have no idea what you mean,” I said.
“C’mon, Dad, I’m not stupid,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I’ve seen them together, and I say good for Myrick, getting back in the saddle after Cameron left.”
Alarmed, I asked, “You haven’t actually been saying that, have you?”
He made a disgusted face. “No! Didn’t I just tell you I’m not dumb? I wouldn’t tell anyone! And it was pretty obvious from what happened tonight that Platt isn’t real comfortable with it yet. I was only talking to him about me, when I was in that stage. Didn’t even let on I knew, I swear.”
Maybe he tried not to, but Platt wasn’t stupid, either. He had to suspect his secret was out to one more person. How was that going to change my plans? Would it make him more resistant?
“Listen, don’t push it,” I said. “I appreciate you trying to help, but the last thing we need is him getting defensive, alright? Let the subject drop until he brings it up again.” Assuming that ever happens.
“Okay,” Nak said. He took a step away from me, but then seemed to change his mind in the middle of it and came forwards again with his arms outstretched. Before I quite knew what was happening, he was hugging me. He let go a second later. “Just wanted to tell you I wish I’d had someone like you around when I was working through this stuff,” he said. “Platt’s lucky.”
“Thanks,” I said, touched. He was a good kid, Nak. I didn’t give him enough credit for his sensitivity sometimes. As he turned to go again, I remembered part of my plan. “Hey, Nak.”
He stopped and looked back.
“I’m having a Labor Day barbecue with my fiancé and some friends outside town. Wanna come?”
Grinning, he said, “If your fiancé will be there, count me in.”
“I will also be there,” I said. “Watching you. Every second.” And I would be. At least, whenever he was near Seb. I wouldn’t miss those interactions for the world.
He widened his eyes. “What? No harm in looking!”
I shook my head. “Mm-hm. I’ll email you the address and time later. Ask Diaz if he’ll come too, okay?”
“Sure, Dad,” he said. “See ya.” With a wave, he walked off in the direction of his and Platt’s room. I stayed where I was a moment longer, hoping to see blond hair coming around the corner, but the kid didn’t appear.
Patience, grasshopper, I reminded myself as I continued on to the head. Give him time to chill awhile.
I’d planned for nearly a full twenty-four hours of chilling before I tracked him down and started demolishing walls. It came as a shock, therefore, to return to my room during a free period the next afternoon and find him standing outside the door waiting for me. My feet faltered.
“Hi,” he said softly, looking up through his eyelashes.
I crossed the last yard to him and took out my keys to unlock the door. “Hey! I’m so glad to see you. About last night…” I pushed the door open and gestured for him to go ahead of me. He sidled through. Following, I closed the door behind us and continued, “I wanted to apologize. In case you hadn’t guessed, I told Myrick you’d be there.” Then I held my breath, waiting for the explosion.
It didn’t come. He’d wandered over to the window and stood looking out on the Yard with his hands tucked into his pockets.
Cautiously, I sat on the edge of my desk. “It was wrong of me not to warn you, at least, that he might show up. Just going to that meeting was a big step for you, and I was trying to push you into taking another one. I messed up. I’m sorry.”
In profile, I watched his throat move with his swallow. “Thanks,” he said, still not looking at me. “I’m sorry, too. I was thinking some pretty terrible stuff about you, until Seb reminded me this morning that you aren’t like that.” His eyes darted sideways a moment, light glinting off their blueness. “He said even when you hide things from him, he always knows it’s because you think that’s best, not because you’re trying to trick him for fun.”
“True,” I said. “So… you believe us now, about Cameron?”
His skin went a slightly darker shade of pink as his mouth opened and closed again. Finally, he said, “I don’t believe you’re trying to trick me. I don’t know what I think about Myrick. Or Cameron. Seb said… He sent me a website, but I don’t know. The whole idea is… I don’t know.”
I nodded, figuring I could decode that later, with Seb’s help. This was something I definitely was able work with. “Listen, kid, I’m going to stop making plans behind your back. You need to be able to trust me. I don’t want to damage that. That’s why I’m gonna tell you something now, okay?”
He spun to face me, shaking his head. “No, don’t.”
Blinking, I asked, “Don’t?”
“I– I don’t want to know,” he said. “I trust you. I don’t trust myself. If… if you don’t tell me your plans, I can’t sabotage them.”
“I really think you should–”
“No!” He clapped his hands over his ears.
Starting to grin, I asked, “Are you gonna say ‘La la la, I’m not listening’?”
He scowled without dropping his arms. “Shut up.”
It would make it easier if I didn’t have to convince him…. And the only reason I’d been about to tell was to avoid another case of him feeling ambushed. If he knew something was coming, it couldn’t be an ambush, I reasoned.
Sliding off the desk, I took his wrists in my hands and pulled until he uncovered his ears. “You’re sure?” I asked.
He met my gaze dead-on and nodded.
“Alright.” I squeezed each wrist. “Can we hug it out now?”
He nodded again, so I stepped closer, letting go of his arms as I did, and he returned my embrace fiercely. I beamed.
Several seconds later, he said, “I have to study for PoliSci,” into my chest.
“So do I,” I said. “Wanna do it together?”
“Okay. Let me go get my notes.”
I released him.
A few seconds after he left, my phone rang. The screen showed a conference call incoming—from Maeve and Seb.
“News on the house?” I asked as soon as I picked up.
“Yes,” said Maeve. “I wanted to wait until I had you both on the line, but Sebby’s probably already guessed from my tone that it’s good news. Our offer was accepted!”
“YES!” I said, pumping my fist in the air, while Seb asked, “Wait, seriously?”
“For super serious, as Keegan would say,” Maeve replied. She was laughing. “Now I need to hang up so I can call the inspector and appraiser we found before their office hours end. We’re going to try to get everything arranged for this weekend, when you’ll be there, Sebby, and then if it all goes well, we can move into closing!”
“Merci, Maman,” Seb said. His voice was so thick, I had trouble understanding some of the French that followed, though I caught the words for Dad and money.
“Oh, de rien, sweetheart,” his mother said. “We love you both. We’re so happy to be able to help this way, and we can’t wait to come see what you do with the place. I have to go now, d’accord?”
“Okay,” Seb said. “Love you.”
“Love you, and you too, Zainadu. Salut!”
“Bye, Maeve,” I said, and then, after the beep of her call disconnecting, “Babe, you alright?”
“Yeah,” he said, with a small sniffle. “It was just the relief of almost being done. Z, we’re getting the house!”
“I know!” Could this day get any better? I was so excited, I started to bounce around my room.
Naturally, Platt returned right then. He stopped just outside the doorway and stared at me like I was doing the macarena.
“Platypus!” I said, hopping over to him and grabbing his hand to drag him in. “Seb and I heard back on the house!”
“Oh,” he said.
In my ear, Seb asked, “Wait, Bradley’s there? He’s talking to you?”
“Of course! We’re good buddies, aren’t we kid?” I asked, beaming at Platt, who rolled his eyes and pulled free of my grip so I wasn’t shaking his whole arm with my jumping.
“Sure. Tell Seb I said congratulations.”
“He says he could never stay mad at me, I’m too adorable, and I give the best hugs,” I said.
“Yeah right,” said Seb. “Did he mention my email?”
I stopped bouncing and turned away from Platt, panting a little. “Yeah. I’ll Skype you later about it, okay? You guys should be back from dinner at Zeggy and Ike’s by seven-thirty-ish, right?”
“Yes,” he said. “Hang on, how’d you know we were going there? It was only an hour ago that Quint texted me about it.”
“You think he doesn’t keep me informed, too?” I asked. “Especially these days?”
Like I’d hoped, he didn’t press harder, probably not wanting to risk me elaborating on ‘these days’ with Platt in earshot. After a second of silence, I said, “So I’ll call you then. Have fun. Love you, habibi.”
“Je t’aime,” he replied. “Tell Bradley I said bye.”
I hung up and told Platt, “He says he’s glad we’re still friends because he knows you appreciate my magnificent sense of humor just as much as he does, but it doesn’t surprise him, given that I am irresistible.”
“Bullshit,” Platt said, dropping his notes on my desk. “Can we study now?”
Grinning, I took my textbook out and sat down on the windowsill.
On the way to evening meal formation, Myrick appeared beside me from nowhere. “The operation is a go,” he said from the side of his mouth while looking straight ahead as if he didn’t see me.
“It’s not an operation,” I said, trying to hide my happiness at the news. I didn’t want to draw attention to us by looking like a complete loon.
“Plan. Whatever. It’s in action.”
“Awesome. I’ve got almost everything set up on my end.”
“What if it doesn’t work?” he asked.
“Then we do plan B,” I said. “Or plan C, I suppose, in this case. But I have a good feeling about this one. Maybe it’s just because I feel like I’m floating on air right now since Seb and I are a step closer to buying the house, but I do.”
His eyes flicked over. “You are? Good. I’m happy for you,” he said, though he sounded as if he were thinking about something else.
“Thanks?” I said, frowning at him.
“How do you know Platt’s safeword?”
Ohhhhh. I should’ve realized that’d be bothering him. “Relax,” I said. “I don’t play with anyone other than Seb.”
“I taught the kid about safety, after that incident in January, and we’ve used it as a codeword for when he wants to leave a situation before. Completely platonic,” I explained. No way was I going to mention that the situation was a party at a BDSM club. Let Platypus explain that to his new Dom when he was ready.
Some of the tension drained out of Myrick’s shoulders. “Oh. Okay.”
By then, we were in the formation area, full of other mids, and had to go to stand with our separate companies. I waved bye to him as I peeled off to the right, whistling Fixer Upper under my breath. Everything was starting to come together.
Nerves made me hide behind Quint as he rang Zeggy and Ike’s doorbell. On the walk over, when it was much too late for me to claim I wasn’t feeling well and ask to stay home, he’d told me the reason for this dinner. It shed a lot of light on why Zain seemed to know about it before me.
Pounding footsteps came from inside the house, and then the door opened and Theo stood there, grinning, with Lyra hanging off his waist and Griffin just visible behind them, romping with Jagger. My heart pounded harder at the sight of him. There was another reason for my nerves. I had to tell him, still, about the house.
Quint said, “Angel! I didn’t expect you to beat us here. How was your recording session?”
“Excellent,” said Theo, shuffling back with some difficulty, due to Lyra, so we could come in. “I got a lot done.” While Quint and the twins greeted each other, Theo’s eyes landed on my face and then Quint’s briefcase, which held my laptop. Sympathetically, he patted my shoulder. “C’mon, Zeg’s made a whole pan of vegetable lasagna for you.”
“She didn’t have to go to the trouble,” I said. “I can eat side dishes.”
“I don’t think it was that much trouble,” he said.
“I helped!” Lyra added. “I put all the noodles in.”
“There, see, you gave Lyra something to do,” said Theo.
Next to him, Quint was watching me closely. I decided not to continue protesting.
Zeggy came out from the kitchen and beckoned us to follow her, and from there we were swept into the chaos of her getting both lasagnas out of the oven while directing the twins to set the table and carrying on separate conversations with Theo and Quint at the same time, and Ike trying to navigate between them all to pour us drinks without tripping over Jagger. I decided the safest spot to do my glucose test was the bathroom.
After I returned and hung my bag off the back of a chair, Ike brought me a glass of water. “You alright?” he asked as he set it down.
I looked up in surprise and nodded. I couldn’t remember him ever speaking directly to me.
“Presentations are tough,” he said. “They do get easier with practice, though.”
Oh, gods, they already knew about it, too. There really was no way to back out without looking like a total wimp. I reached for the glass and took a sip with a shaking hand so I didn’t have to answer right away, and by the time I set it back down, he’d slipped off to the refrigerator again.
No one else mentioned it while we ate, but my feeling of reprieve only lasted until Quint, across from me, said, “Seb has some good news to share.”
I froze, my eyes darting from him over to Theo on his right. “Um.”
“About the house,” he prompted, as if I didn’t know.
“Yeah,” I said, cutting a bite of lasagna with my fork. “Um, our offer was accepted. We should be moving into closing soon.”
“What does that mean?” Griffin asked.
“It means he’s buying a house,” Zeggy explained. “Congratulations, Seb. You’ll be living with Zain now, right? That’s exciting.”
“Only on weekends,” I said, still not looking at Theo. “But I’ll be moving down there next year.”
Wide-eyed, Lyra piped up beside me, “You get to live with Zain?”
Her mother and father—and Theo, I thought, maybe—laughed a little. I nodded.
She turned that over for a moment, then asked, “You don’t get to live with Bradley too, do you?”
I shook my head as more laughter rolled over the table.
“Good,” she said, and went back to eating.
Hesitantly, I smiled across the table at Theo. He returned it, but it was closed-lipped and wavering. An awkward silence spread from between us to the other adults.
After a moment, Zeggy broke it. “Theo, remember when you moved out of here to live with Quint? I was so scared about how little I’d see you after that. Now sometimes I feel like I can’t get rid of you!”
“Yeah,” Theo said, softly. “The difference is, I only moved a few blocks away, not a few states.”
My gut twisted. I never should’ve moved in with them in the first place. We were fine before, weren’t we? At a comfortable, friendly distance, and things weren’t so messy.
“Don’t get me wrong, Seb. I’m happy for you. I am.” He sounded half-convinced at best. Sighing, he added, “I’m just really gonna miss you.”
“As will I,” Quint said. “However, it’s not for months yet, and we will make a point to see each other often, angel.”
“I know, but it won’t be the same,” said Theo.
Zeggy said, “No, it won’t, but you’ll have memories to look back on and new stuff happening in your lives to share with each other, and when you see each other again, you’ll pick up right where you left off. So you’ll be happy. Or do you mope around wishing you still lived with me?”
Theo looked sideways at his husband and smirked a little. “Sometimes, when he’s being unreasonable.”
“I am never unreasonable,” said Quint.
“When he’s being too reasonable,” Theo corrected, rolling his eyes towards me. “Which he is all the time. Right, Seb?”
I remembered Quint’s quiet explanation earlier, as we walked down the street, of the plan for the after dinner show and why it would help. Most of it had to have come from Zain, but Zain almost never laid it all out like that, slowly forming each knot of the web around me with airtight logic. He just waited until I stepped into the trap and then sprang it in the blink of an eye. That was much easier to take. “Yes,” I said. “All the time.”
With a real grin, Theo said, “Guess I can’t blame you, then, for wanting to move. Do you think we’ll be able to see the house this weekend?”
“You can come along to the inspection, if you want,” I said, smiling back with relief. “It’ll probably be kind of boring, though.”
“We wouldn’t miss it,” said Quint, putting his hand on Theo’s arm.
Theo dropped his fork and covered Quint’s hand with his own while Griffin asked, “What inspection?” and Ike started explaining it to him.
Zeggy shooed me out of the kitchen when I tried to help load the dishwasher. The rest had already gone to the living room. Joining them, I found Ike kneeling in front of the entertainment center with a bundle of cords in his hand.
“We’re going to hook up your laptop to the TV,” Theo said as I came in. “Where is it?”
“Quint’s briefcase,” I said, and started to turn back, but Quint brushed past me.
“I’ll get it, mon chaton. Wait here, please.”
“Are we going to watch a movie?” Lyra asked from the couch.
Theo sat down next to her. “No, monkey. Seb is going to rehearse a presentation for us that he has to give at school, like how when I rehearse my songs for you guys, alright?”
Except a song would actually entertain them. I couldn’t imagine two nine-year-olds sitting through a history lecture. Or me giving it without passing out. I wondered if Bradley felt this way before Spectrum. Already, I was dizzy. I retreated backwards to the staircase so I could grab the railing to steady myself. The room wasn’t really spinning, was it? Of course not. Get a grip! Merde!
But my feet went backwards again, bumping into the bottom tread so I had to step onto it or trip, and from there my nerve broke and the siren call of higher ground overtook. I was up two flights before I knew it.
The fourth floor was all Zeggy and Ike’s master suite, I remembered just as the sole of one shoe came to rest on the first step of that flight. The other stayed glued to the landing. I couldn’t invade their privacy! I shouldn’t even be this far! We never went above the second floor, where the twins had their bedrooms and playroom.
From below, measured footfalls climbed upwards. I didn’t need to see to know it was Quint. I wanted to turn and run down to him almost as much as I wanted to hide. Instead, I closed my eyes and waited. More and more chills danced over my skin the closer he got, until I could feel him right behind me. Still, when his hand landed on my shoulder, I jumped like it had been a swat.
“Come with me, please,” he said, quietly.
He didn’t lead me back downstairs as I’d expected, but through one of the oak-panelled doors lining the hallway. This… was not going to be good.
“We’re in a guest bedroom,” he said as he shut and locked the door behind us. “No one will hear us here.” Then he pushed me towards an armchair.
“They’ll see if I’ve been crying!” I said.
Gently, he said, “You’re already crying, mon chaton.”
I blinked, and tears fell, proving his words. I couldn’t give up, though. He couldn’t spank me here. Not now.
He sat down, and the next second I was flipped over his knee, the low arm of the chair digging into my stomach, stealing my voice and taking my breath away just as much as his hand landing on the lowest curves of my cheeks.
Again and again and again. It was no brief series of reminder swats. He kept going while I squirmed and drummed my toes against the area rug and prayed that no one was coming upstairs, and then he moved down to my thighs and I forgot about the other people in the house and just wept.
When he let me up, I was surprised to remember my pants hadn’t been lowered. It certainly felt like they had.
He stood, too, and held me until I let out a last, quaking sob and said, “Merci.”
“You’re welcome.” A kiss fell on my forehead. “There’s a bathroom at the end of the hall. Let’s wipe your face before we go downstairs.”
No amount of wiping could hide my red-rimmed eyes, but no one commented on them in the living room. Not even the kids. They were settled onto the chairs and couch like they had all night to wait. Ike showed me how to make the slides of my PowerPoint advance with a remote and then handed it to me. “It’s, uh, a little rough,” I said as he sat down, leaving me alone in front of them all with only the heat of my rear end to anchor me in place. My stomach was crawling up my throat, but at least the room was still.
“That’s why it’s called a rehearsal,” Theo said. “We don’t mind.”
“It’s only us, Seb,” Zeggy added. “Take your own pace, okay?”
Ike gave an encouraging smile and the twins, squished in on either side of him in the armchair, both thumbs-upped and giggled. Quint simply nodded at me.
Breathe, I thought, and started to stumble my way through the first slide. It was like speaking underwater. My voice sounded muffled to my own ears. I could only hope I was making sense. My audience didn’t look confused, at least. Except for Jagger, cutely cocking his head by Theo’s feet.
At the last slide, Quint said, “Excellent, mon chaton. You did very well. Would you like to try it once more, while we’re here?”
No was on the tip of my tongue. But when would I get another chance to practice? We’d be in Annapolis soon, and my class was the day after we returned. I glanced around at the others. “Do– do you mind?”
“Uh-uh!” said Lyra, quickly followed by the rest.
“Okay,” I said, steeling myself. “One more time.” And I started again.
Walking down the front steps of the townhouse after, Quint squeezed me to his side. “I’m very proud of you, mon chaton.”
I ducked my head as warmth spread through me.
“Yeah, you were great,” Theo said, following a step behind. Once we reached the sidewalk, he moved to my other side, with Jagger on his leash between us. “I think you’ll get an A on this presentation.”
“It was helpful,” I said with a small shrug, “but it was still just people I know watching.” Suddenly, I realized how ungrateful I sounded, so I quickly added, “Not that I don’t appreciate you guys going through all the trouble to arrange it.”
“It wasn’t any trouble,” Quint said. “As for the audience, I don’t think that will make as big a difference as you believe. However, I’ll mention your concern to Zain.”
“Oh, don’t!” I said. “He’ll have you make me do it in a park or something horrible next.”
Theo started to laugh. “I could set it to music and teach Jagger a trick routine! You’d definitely get an A then.”
An image of Jagger popped into my head, dancing on his hind legs at the front of my classroom while I sang about the Industrial Revolution. I giggled.
Halfway home, an email from Bradley made my phone buzz. A reply to the one I’d told him he didn’t need to respond to. Trepidation filled me, pushing out some of my triumphant good mood. I opened it as I walked.
You were right. I should’ve trusted Mohyeldin more. That other stuff you talked about, though, is different. I’m not going to say it never crossed my mind, but how would that work in the real world? It’s just too weird. I can’t do it. I’m not mad at you, but if Mohyeldin asks about it again, tell him that.
The rest of the good mood went with a sigh. Why couldn’t I find the right thing to say to him? I had to give it one more try.
I know it’s outside the mainstream, but it does happen in the real world. More than you’d think. Did you read the website I sent?
His reply this time came immediately and read simply, Didn’t feel like it.
My gut twisted. Now he was angry. Merde. I decided to back off.
Okay. What are you doing tonight?
Part of me hoped he’d be playing pool with Myrick, though I knew that was a very long shot.
I have a lot of homework. What about you?
As I started to type, Quint’s hand tightened its grip on my shoulder, stopping me in my tracks. I looked up and realized we were at a crosswalk. And Theo and Jagger were behind us again, waiting well back from the curb. Calmly, Quint said, “Put that away until we reach home, please. You were about to stroll into traffic.”
“But it’s Bradley,” I said. “I don’t want him to think I’m ignoring him.”
He slowly pivoted to give me a full-on Look. “You don’t want me to think you’re ignoring me either, young man.”
It wasn’t like I’d actually walked into the street, was it? Making a face, I shoved the phone into my bag. His palm left my shoulder and patted the seat of my jeans just firmly enough to remind me that I was still tender. Flushing, I dropped my gaze. “Désolé, monsieur.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Now, stay next to me, please.”
I did, all the way to the building and upstairs. As Theo unclipped Jagger’s leash and took his shoes off, I turned to the Top. “I’m really sorry.”
“You’ve been forgiven,” he said, smiling and ruffling my hair. “Go Skype with Zain.”
Zain almost always called me rather than the other way around, so I wouldn’t catch him at a bad time. While I waited for him, I wrote back to Bradley about dinner, and how Lyra responded to the news of my move.
I’m pretty sure you’re now her favorite. You should tell Zain that. His reaction will be priceless.
After we ate, they all kindly let me rehearse my presentation for them. Not that it was my idea. Zain and Quint have been making me rehearse it constantly, but this was the biggest audience they made me do it in front of. Before it was just Quint and Theo watching.
Quint didn’t say until we were on the way over there that I’d be doing it tonight—Zain’s idea, not his. This is what I meant when I told you Zain is a sneaky bastard but he does it for my own good. I needed to be pushed into it without much warning. Once I got started, it was easier. I even did it a second time, and it really helped, I think.
His reply came only a minute later.
Yeah, I get how that could work better than knowing it’s coming for ages. I’m glad it helped.
By the way, congratulations on the house. I’m looking forward to you being down here. What you said about how you feel about me as a friend: Same. (And now I know I’m hanging around Mohyeldin too much and his mushiness is rubbing off on me.)
I’m headed to the library to do my homework. Good night.
A smile grew over my face. It was the first time he’d said something like that. I must truly be forgiven for talking about his interest in polyamory.
When Zain appeared on my screen, he narrowed his eyes a moment. “You don’t look like you want to kill me. That’s a good sign.”
I scoffed. “I’m a pacifist. I would never look like I wanted to kill you.”
“Suuuuree,” he said, nodding. Then he grinned. “How’d it go, babe? Quint said ‘good,’ but I want to hear your side, too.”
My cheeks heated. If they’d already talked, he had to know about the spanking. I still couldn’t believe Quint did that there. Pulling my foot up into my chair, I mumbled, “Alright, but, um, Quint must’ve mentioned… what happened before.”
“Yeah, did it help?” As if he was asking me whether a t-shirt fit or not.
I hugged my knee tighter and hid half my face behind it. “I don’t want to say ‘yes.’ I know what you’ll do with that.”
“Which means ‘yes,’” he said. “I already knew it would. The spanking and the practice.You feel like you’re more prepared for your class now, right?”
Aware that it was tantamount to giving him free reign to continue the ambush tactics, I nodded.
“Good.” His head tilted. “Now put your leg down.”
I did immediately, with a thump of my heel hitting the carpet, but he continued to look at me like that until I squirmed in my seat from the warning tingles it set off across my still-warm butt. “What?”
He smirked and stopped angling his chin at me, thank the gods. “Just making sure. I haven’t been able to get my hands on you in forever. I can’t wait for this weekend.”
My stomach swooped like a bird. For the first time, I wondered what he might have planned for me in Annapolis. Then I decided I’d rather not think about it.
Zain went on, blithe. “Did you get that email from your mom about the inspection appointment?”
“Yeah,” I said, latching onto the change of topic, “and I invited Quint and Theo along. I hope that’s alright. Theo was sad about me moving again.”
“Of course that’s alright.” The brown of his eyes went soft like toffee. “Poor little squirt. Maybe once he’s been to the place, he’ll feel better. We should point out the room where he’ll stay when they’re visiting and really talk up all the time we’ll spend together, alright?”
I nodded. Then, from his side of the connection, there was a knocking sound. I glanced at the clock with a frown as Zain got up to answer the door. It was much too early for JJ to be back from gospel choir, and he wouldn’t knock anyway. Bradley had said he was going to the library. Who could it be?
Then Zain came back with a dark-haired, serious-gazed mid. I’d only met him very briefly a handful of times before, yet I recognized him immediately. Zain pointed to his chair, and Myrick sat in it, with a nod to me. Meanwhile, Zain grabbed JJ’s chair, dragged it over next to his own, and settled down backwards with both arms up on top of the backrest.
“Babe,” he said. “We need your opinion on some things.”