Theo was at the table eating a bowl of cereal when I came out the morning after that disastrous first day of classes. He smiled and said, “Hey. Sorry about yesterday.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I let slip that you didn’t get enough sleep.”
“Nah, I really needed that early bedtime.” Ruefully, he added, “Although that didn’t stop me from throwing a tantrum about it after you left. Wound up sleeping on my stomach.”
I tried to look like this was news to me as I went into the kitchen to get yogurt. So Quint was right, he hadn’t heard me open the door in the middle of his spanking. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I feel a lot better now. Zeg got my site back up and the recording studio comped me a new timeslot today.”
“That’s good.” I brought the yogurt and my test kit to the table and sat down opposite him. Opening it, I went through the motions on autopilot—and then had to start over because I didn’t get enough blood on the test strip the first time.
“You seem distracted,” Theo said, watching me prick a second finger. “Are you alright?”
If he noticed it, Quint and Zain would, too. “Yes,” I said. Truthfully. I wasn’t really the one with the crisis anymore. I bit my lip. My promise only covered not telling Zain, didn’t it? “Do you remember Bradley, who stayed with us that one day over spring break?”
Theo smiled. “The kid who didn’t appreciate my pink shirt, sure.”
“He, um… he needs help with something, and I’m not sure I’m the best person, because I’ve never been through it myself, but I’m the only one he’s reaching out to.”
“What sort of something?
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. Guilt struck, along with fear that I’d already said too much. Even if Bradley didn’t specifically ask me not to tell anyone, only Zain, I knew he’d be angry if he discovered I talked about it to Theo. “Never mind. I’ll work it out.”
“Okaaaay,” said Theo, slowly. “Just don’t let Quint see you being this distracted, ‘cause he’ll insist on answers.”
“I know.” That was why I planned to let him think it was about the presentation. It was only half a lie.
No wonder my test result showed a number way above target.
The oatmeal-brain feeling of hyperglycemia lasted all through my classes, even with taking walks around the neighborhood as much as possible between them. At dinner, I had to give myself another correction bolus along with the units to cover my food, all under Quint’s observant eye.
Zain Skyped later than usual, because he had to wait for JJ and Bradley both to leave after their movie. He told me how what he called ‘The Great Meeting’ went, and then said, “Which confirms it’s about Myrick, and Platt’s feelings for him, doesn’t it? No, you don’t have to answer, I can see that’s true.”
“Well, stop it!” I said, pulling my blanket up to cover the lower half of my face. “I’m not telling you anything!”
“You are telling me so much just lying there,” he replied with a grin. “Don’t worry, I won’t tattle. I’m going to back off of Platt again, let him calm down. I can work with Myrick in the meantime. And trust me, that dude needs work. He’s got all the charm of a brick. Great guy, don’t get me wrong, but I have no idea how he managed to land a steady girlfriend like Cameron. Oh, hey, there’s a notion. You think Cameron would be able to help? I’ve still got her number in my phone from when she took Platt to the hospital that one time.”
I didn’t know. It might make it worse, kick up a lot of dust on things better left undisturbed.
But was that really true? Or was I just siding with all the scared, hidden parts of Bradley because they matched my own? Except they didn’t. If they had, I’d be able to give him better advice than what I’d managed. The idea of them matched, though, and the way both of us drew Zain in. It amazes me how his sunshine seems attracted to the darkest places.
What if that inescapable brightness really was what Bradley needed? Shouldn’t I drop some kind of hint, for his own good? Keep pushing, don’t let up now. But then what if I broke everything between them? Zain was the expert here, not me. The questions kept going in circles in my mind like a leaf caught in an eddy. About to be sucked down below the surface.
I held the blanket over my nose and hoped my eyes didn’t give away too much. Zain had zoned out for a few moments, apparently turning over the idea of contacting Cameron. When he refocused on me, he frowned.
“How are you feeling, habibi? We don’t have to talk about this if you’d rather not, you know. I haven’t even asked about your second day of classes.”
“It was fine.”
He snorted. “Pull the blanket down and try that again without the F-word.”
I did pull the blanket down, but only so I could make a better face at him. “You don’t care if I say ‘fine.’”
“No, but you should practice for Quint. Here, let’s roleplay—the not-fun kind.” Straightening in his chair, he adjusted imaginary glasses and deepened his voice slightly to ask, “How did you fare in your education today, mon chaton?”
“Shut up!” I turned the volume on my laptop down a few bars and tried not to laugh. “He doesn’t talk like that.”
His impression of Quint’s raised eyebrow, though, was dead-on. “I beg your pardon?”
I lost the fight against the giggles. “Cut it out or I’ll tell him you’re making fun of him.”
“I am not,” said Zain, indignantly. He dropped the posture with a little shake of his shoulders and head. “Just trying it on for size. I don’t think it fits me.”
He smiled, all warm brown eyes and entirely himself again. “How was your day, though? You look tired.”
“Only a little,” I defended. I didn’t even have dark circles. I’d checked.
“Any of your other classes assign presentations so far?”
My eyes widened. That thought hadn’t occurred to me. “No. Do you think they will?”
“If they do, we’ll deal with it. How’s your BG been?”
“I was on target when I tested right before you called,” I said.
Zain tilted his chin. My butt clenched. Yes, that fit him much better than the raised eyebrow. Lazily, he drawled, “Before then?”
“…Somewhat high,” I said. “Not high enough to need to check my ketones.”
I flushed. Zain is always getting on me about taking painkillers when a headache starts instead of ignoring it and hoping it goes away on its own, which was just what I had been doing.
“That means yes,” he said, smiling in a way that was no less alarming than the head-tilt. “Alright, go tell Quint you’re hitting the sack.”
“Wh– I have homework!”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s your first week. You cannot possibly have anything that’s due tomorrow, brat. Should I just text him myself?”
“No,” I said, quickly. If I told him, I could create an impression it was my idea.
“Alright, but you better hurry, because I’m gonna text to ask him if you’re asleep in about half an hour,” he said.
I shoved the blankets down while making another face at him. “I’m going.”
“Awesome! Study period started a few minutes ago. Love you, brat.”
“Hate you,” I shot back, but he pouted dramatically until I added, “and je t’aime.” Then he blew me a kiss and the call ended.
Sighing, I shut the laptop and went out into the living room. I stopped a few feet behind the couch. Quint was sitting there reading. Theo’s toes hung slightly over the other arm, telling me he was lying in his favorite position, using Quint’s thigh for a pillow.
I cleared my throat, and the Top looked over his shoulder. “Hello, mon chaton. How are you feeling?”
“I have a headache,” I said, to give myself an excuse. “I thought I’d go to bed early, if that’s okay?”
Theo’s voice rose up, laced with exasperation. “No, it’s not okay. You can’t volunteer for early bedtimes! For God’s sake, man, are you a Brat or aren’t you?”
“You,” Quint said, quirking an eyebrow downward, “might learn something by following Seb’s example.”
“Or he might learn something by following mine,” Theo suggested, mischievous.
Quint shook his head and looked back at me. “Of course it’s okay, mon chaton. Have you taken a painkiller yet?”
“Non, monsieur,” I said, dropping my gaze for a moment.
“I’ll bring you in one, then,” said Quint. “Go start getting ready.”
I returned to my room and did my Lantus first, because it was time for it. Soft conversation drifted in from the living room as I did, too quiet for me to make out the words, although I could tell Quint was doing most of the talking. It dropped off when I went across the hall to use the bathroom and brush my teeth. Then back to my room.
But this time, it wasn’t empty. Quint was sitting on the edge of my mattress with a small glass of water in his hand. I stopped in the doorway. Something about his warm expression caught me by the stomach and gave it a sharp jerk.
“Come in and shut the door,” he said.
I wanted to ask why I needed to shut it, but I had a feeling I already knew. Hesitantly, I obeyed. Quint held out a pill along with the water glass. I was forced to step within arm’s reach of him to take them.
“You aren’t in trouble, mon chaton.”
“I know,” I said. That didn’t mean my suspicions were untrue.
He confirmed them once I’d downed the pill by taking the glass out of my hand and leaning over to put it on the nightstand, drawing my attention to a wet washcloth neatly folded there. I gulped and started to unbutton my fly.
The swat shocked me. Both because he’s far more likely to simply tell me to let go than Zain is, and from the force of it, which drove me up on my toes for an instant. My hands flew back to rub the sting, clearing the way for him to undo my jeans.
As he did, he said, “This is to help you relax. You’re not to worry about doing anything other than what’s asked of you by Zain and myself. Understand?”
He paused with his fingers hooked into my waistband, ready to bare me, and gave me a mild look.
“Oui, monsieur,” I corrected.
“Thank you. Keep that in mind.” Then he stripped my pants and underwear both to my ankles. “Step out, please.”
I did, untangling one foot at a time, so I was naked from the waist down. Strangely, I didn’t feel embarrassed about that at all. My attention was entirely on what was about to happen to my butt.
The step forward out of my clothes brought me right between his knees. He took me by the arm and gently tugged me over the left one until my torso rested on the bed. I felt his right leg hook behind mine, and I grabbed my duvet cover in two handfuls, staring down at the colorful pattern inches from my nose.
In the next second, I reared up on my elbows with a gasp of pain and surprise. That was definitely not his palm. Yet it wasn’t as bad as my hairbrush. The sting stayed on the surface, without the underlying thud. I twisted to look back and saw his and Theo’s paddle raised for the second strike. He must’ve hid it by sitting on it. Which was such a Zain thing to do that I had to wonder how detailed that game plan had been.
His free hand pressed firmly between my shoulderblades. Perhaps he thought I was trying to get up? I couldn’t tell him I wasn’t, of course, so I just lowered myself to the bed again. Only then did he give the second swat, but he went on from there in true Zain-style, making the pain of one blur into the next and next so it simply built upon itself into an endless, jagged peak with no valleys.
The air felt thinner the higher we climbed. I realized suddenly that was because I was holding my breath. I let it out, and a sob came with it. Involuntarily, my feet tried to kick up and protect my bottom, but his leg blocked me and his arm wrapped tighter around my hips, keeping me firmly in place no matter how much my body fought to get free. Every single swat landed right on my sit-spots. I bit the duvet and knew it was doing very little to muffle my crying.
Then he stopped. We’d finally reached the summit. Even with my eyes squeezed shut, I felt like I could see for miles from up here.
I descended slower than the sharp, rapid climb. When I finally could hear his words of comfort over my fading sobs, he said, “That’s good. Stand up, mon chaton.”
My legs shook a bit, yet they supported me with help from his hands on my sides. He waited until I was steady, then chucked me under the chin with his knuckle. “Feeling better?” he asked.
“Good. Bring me whatever you’d like to sleep in, please.”
Bring him? I didn’t like the sound of that, but pointing out that I could dress myself seemed unwise at the moment. I retrieved my softest pair of yoga pants and a loose t-shirt from the wardrobe. He took them from me, set the t-shirt on the bed, and held the pants open down near my knees. I balanced myself on his broad shoulders and stepped into them, feeling uncomfortably cared-for, especially when he very gently pulled them up and tied the drawstring. Then he reached for the hem of my shirt, and I did, too.
I flushed, but didn’t let go. Amazing how this felt so much more intimate than the pants.
He studied me a moment and sighed. His hands left my hem to stroke down my arms. “It’s alright,” he said, soothingly. When he reached my wrists, he applied soft pressure. “I’ve seen you shirtless before. C’mon.”
You weren’t undressing and dressing me like a toddler then, I thought.
“Do you need another spanking?”
“No!” My hands fell to my sides.
“I didn’t think so,” he said, and then, “Arms up, please.”
Grimacing, I lifted them so my fingertips were above my head, and he swept my shirt up and off in the blink of an eye. I didn’t have time to cover my scars before he was pulling the new shirt onto me. I cooperated much better with that. When he let go, I gave the hem an unnecessary extra tug downward.
He picked up the washcloth from the nightstand. Tenderly, he wiped off my face, leaving blessed coolness on my flushed cheeks, and then draped it over the back of my neck before standing to hug me. I returned the embrace, whispering, “Merci.”
“You’re very welcome, mon chaton. Ready for bed now?”
I nodded against his shoulder. Shifting me into one arm, he pulled the duvet back so I could climb in under it. Once I did—settling on my stomach—he removed the washcloth and tucked me in. I expected him to go then. But he brought my desk chair over to the bedside and sat down. “I’ll stay until you fall asleep,” he explained, reaching out to rub my back through the covers. “Close your eyes, please.”
I obeyed. That’s the last clear memory I have of the night, though I’m also fairly certain I recall him kissing my forehead later on.
The next day was better. My glucose stayed mostly on target, and Bradley’s response to my latest email made it seem my advice might be helping him. In our nightly Skype call, Zain even said he was acting more calm.
“I’m glad,” I said.
“You look calmer, too,” he added, smirking at me. “Anything change?”
“Like you don’t know.” I rolled my eyes. “Really, Z, a spanking? That was your big, secret game plan? You don’t think I could’ve guessed it?”
“Oh, that was just the first play,” he said, lightly. And then refused to answer any other questions about it. I gave up eventually.
Later, Theo and I were playing cards during no-screen time when Quint set his book down on the end table and said, “Time for bed, you two. Clear that up and go get ready, please.”
Theo gave him the oddest look. Apprehension? Not quite. It was gone too fast for me to identify. Gathering up the cards, he told me, “Go on. I’ll put these away.”
I glanced at Quint, who smiled reassuringly, so I went to brush my teeth.
He gave me the same reassuring smile when I stepped into my bedroom a few minutes later and found him sitting on the edge of the mattress.
My mouth opened and closed like a fish. “But,” I finally managed, “I–I’m fine! I mean, not ‘fine,’ not like that, but good. Better. I don’t feel so stressed today, I mean.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Shut the door and come over here, please.”
I shut the door on autopilot, then stood there with my back against it, as if that would protect my behind. “So we’re going to do this for no reason?”
“No, mon chaton,” he said. “We’re going to do it for the same reason as the first time: To help you relax.”
“I am relaxed,” I said, agitated.
“To help you stay relaxed,” he clarified. “Would you like to talk to Zain about it first?”
Trying to wrap my mind around it, I repeated, “To… to help me stay relaxed.”
He simply nodded.
I was almost afraid to ask, “For how long?”
“You can ask Zain if you’d like,” Quint said. A corner of his lips turned up. “However, he told me to say, ‘the spankings will continue until morale improves.’”
I huffed. “I hate him.”
“He said he knows.”
Scowling a little at his clear amusement, I demanded, “Not being as stressed out doesn’t meet the requirement of morale improving?”
“No, I’m afraid neither of us believe you are there yet,” he said calmly. Then his voice firmed. “Seb, I’m going to give you until the count of three to be standing over here.”
My heart skipped a beat.
I was in front of him an instant later.
“Thank you,” he said, catching my waistband right above my fly before I could start undoing it. “Would you like to call Zain and confirm we’re on the same page?”
I shook my head. “I trust you.” And I wanted to get it done.
He obliged that unspoken wish. Within seconds, I was again naked below my shirt and tipped over his leg with the first two swats of the paddle burning my skin. The choice of implement made sense now. Less chance of lingering soreness twenty-four hours later. My gratefulness for that was short-lived, though, in the face of the appalling sting it ignited. He went just as fast and just as hard as the first time. I’d sobbed just as much when he finished.
Cooperating with being dressed after didn’t get easier, either.
“Are you alright?” Theo asked over breakfast. “Quint and Zain both explained this to me and why they’re doing it—I think they were worried I’d interfere—and I sort of understand how it might be helpful, but I would not want to trade places with you.”
“Yeah, I’m alright,” I said, flushing. “Did they, um, mention anything else they might be doing?”
His eyes widened in a mix of wonder and horror. “What more could there be?”
“I don’t know. Zain likes to keep me on my toes.”
“This is all they talked to me about, but I can ask Quint for you if you want?”
I bit my lip. The idea was tempting. I’d texted Zain the moment I woke up, calling him a salaud, and he’d replied with ‘?’.
Laying his plans to waste would only hurt me in the long run, though. “No,” I said, regretful. “Not sure I want to know, actually.”
“I don’t blame you.”
That night, I took my pants and underwear off in the bathroom after I brushed my teeth. Then, with a glance down the hallway in either direction to make sure Theo wasn’t in eyesight, I darted across to my room and immediately shut the door.
Quint’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead as I came to stand in front of him. “What, exactly, do you think you are doing?”
Ice slid gently down my spine. Merde. “I… I got ready for bed?”
The look he gave me made me want to melt into the floorboards with shame. An instant later, I was relieved from seeing it, because he spun me around and planted a hot handprint across the middle of my bare rear end. I yelped.
“Go stand in that corner, please,” he said, pointing to the one behind my door. “We will start when I am ready, as I believe I am still the one in charge here, young man.”
I went with a shiver that had nothing to do with my half-nude state.
An eternity later, after I’d had plenty of time to wish with all my heart that I was wearing pants—or underwear, at the very least—and feel thoroughly contrite, he called me to him. My head hung as I obeyed. Lifting my chin up with two fingers, he said, “Look at me, please.”
It took a few tries, but I did it, and found his blue irises were still slightly cooler than normal.
“Are we going to have any more of this, Sébastien Leon?”
“Good.” He nodded behind me, towards the corner. “That was your punishment for this time. If you throw such a tantrum again, I’ll be adding to your spanking instead. Understood?”
My face flamed. Did I really expect him not to see that for what it was? “Oui, monsieur.”
“Thank you. Now we’ll begin.”
The spanking, after that, seemed almost anticlimactic. Yet I cried so hard it shook the bedframe into the wall, and when he let me up, I clung to him for several minutes before going to get my pajamas so he could dress me.
I fell asleep with the warmth of his palm on my spine, and the warmth of the paddle glowing further down, both equally comforting.
Bzzzzzz-zzz-zzzzzzz! Bzzzzzz-zzz-zzzzzzz! Bzzzzzz-zzz-zzzzzzz!
Jolting awake, I snatched my phone off the nightstand before it vibrated onto the floor. Confusion and alarm made my heart pound. It was such a loud, incessant buzz, that for a moment I thought it must be a government alert. But when I could focus my eyes on the glaringly-bright screen, I saw an email from Bradley. He’d marked it urgent, somehow.
It happened again. Fuck. Are you awake?
I hit reply.
Yes, I’m here. It’s okay. Was it the same as last time?
He answered me within seconds.
Exactly the same, and it’s not fucking okay. I don’t want this.
Oh mes dieux, why couldn’t I come up with the right thing to say, the way Zain always did? I had no idea how to calm the panic I could feel from him through the phone. Trying to clear some of the fog of sleep that still hung around me, I rolled over and sat up. Faint tenderness in my rear reminded me why I’d been on my stomach, but it wasn’t so bad now. If I didn’t think about standing in the corner.
Or perhaps I should be thinking about that. My thumbs hesitated over the letters while I chewed my bottom lip and forced the ideas into words. Slowly, I began to type them out.
I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it that way. I meant it’s not in your control. That’s scary, I know, especially when it’s coming from inside. It makes you cling and fight for every bit of control you have, piling it up like stones to throw and keep people away so they don’t take more from you. Only you could give them to someone with more skill, who could use them to help you build a shelter to keep safe instead. A shelter with a door, not a prison. Am I making sense?
I read it over and answered my own question, No, you’re writing gibberish. Merde. He was waiting for a response, though. I couldn’t take the time to rewrite it, could I? I deleted the last sentence, one letter at a time.
On the A, my door swung gently open.
“You had better be texting Zain, young man.”
I looked up. Quint had his arms crossed over his chest. Blinking nervously, I whispered, “No, it’s Bradley, and I wouldn’t be except he’s having a crisis and he needs me. I’m sorry.”
The dim light wasn’t enough to make out his face clearly, but the sternness had faded from his hushed voice as he asked, “The boy who went to the 9/11 Museum with us?”
“Is he hurt or in danger?”
I shook my head. He stood there a moment longer, then uncrossed his arms and stepped to one side of the doorway. “Come into the living room where we can talk, please.”
Not moving, I glanced down at the phone and back at him. Bradley was still waiting for my reply.
“Yes, you can bring that,” said Quint. He held out his hand and beckoned me forward. “Come.”
I hit send on the email before sliding off my bed. Imperfect as my words were, it was better than keeping him hanging.
Quint took hold of my shoulder when I passed in front of him. He followed me to the living room and steered me towards the couch, saying, “Have a seat, please.”
Did that mean I wasn’t in trouble? I obeyed, but he didn’t sit beside me. Twisting around, I saw him headed for the sideboard where they kept the paddle. I gulped. But he left the drawer closed. Instead, he took his phone from the charging station. Merde.
“Please don’t tell Zain!”
He stopped. The blinds were open out here. A headlight of a passing car fell over him, and I saw him frown.
“I made Bradley a promise,” I explained. “Zain knows he’s emailing me, but not what it’s about.”
Raising an eyebrow, he asked, “Does he know Bradley is emailing you in the middle of the night?”
“This is the first time that’s happened.”
I thought I heard a sigh as he came over, switched on the lamp, and sat down. I turned sideways to face him, crossing my legs. Both of us held our phones in our laps. “This promise,” Quint said, “does it extend to keeping the nature of the crisis a secret from others, as well?”
“But you would like to respect Bradley’s privacy. I understand that, however–”
My phone buzzed. I jumped and looked down, then back to him. Torn.
After just a moment, he nodded. “Go ahead.”
I opened the email.
I don’t want to build a damn shelter. I want it to stop.
The tears shocked me. They fell before I could so much as blink, and with them came a hard lump in my throat that shredded my voice when I said, “I’m really not good at this.” I wiped my cheek with my free hand, silently admonishing, Get a grip! “I think I’m making it worse.”
Quint held his arms open. “Come here, mon chaton.”
“No, I’ll be alright in a sec,” I sniffled.
“That was not a suggestion.”
Heat went from my red face right to my still-tender bottom. I moved fast, unfolding my legs so I could put them over his lap and be up against his side in the pool of warm lamplight.
“Thank you,” he said while enclosing me in his arms. “As I was saying, I understand your wish to respect his privacy, and I commend it. However, I would like to help. Suppose I guessed what the crisis is about? Do you think your conscience would allow you to discuss it with me then?”
My conscience was as desperate as the rest of me for advice. I dripped more tears onto my shirt and nodded.
Quint spoke softly and carefully, like he was choosing each word. “The morning after Bradley arrived, I saw the stamp on his hand from the nightclub the three of you went to together. It was an unusual image, which led me to suspect one of two things about the nature of the nightclub and why he would need moral support to go there.”
I hoped against hope that he wasn’t noticing my tension, or my breath coming shorter. I’d scrubbed that stamp off my skin the second I woke up, not wanting him or Theo to get even a glimpse of the bent-over figure with their pants around their ankles. Oh mes dieux, if he knows we went to a BDSM club, I will actually literally die, I thought. It’d be worse than if my parents found out.
“Is Bradley realizing he’s gay?”
Sagging with relief, I said, “Um, he… not quite, but, he’s, um…”
I nodded as another wave of relief washed over me. Now I truly had someone to talk to about this. The pressure lifting made me feel light as a drifting feather. “I’ve never wished I was straight,” I said. “And I know that makes me incredibly lucky, but it also means I don’t know how to help him accept it. Did you ever not want to be gay?”
Quint smiled for a moment, with very little humor. “The AIDS crisis began right around the time I started puberty,” he said, “so yes. There was a lot of fear in those days, both inside and outside the community.”
Stupid of me not to realize that, given his age. Did he have friends who died back then? I didn’t want to stir up bad memories. He looked calm, though. Hesitantly, I asked, “What helped?”
“Knowing I wasn’t alone. I’ve mentioned my crew coach to you, haven’t I?” he asked. I nodded, and he went on, “He was the first person I came out to, and I chose very well. He brought me to a community group for young LGBT adults. Having a place I felt safe to talk about my feelings helped. As did researching AIDS myself, rather than listening to the rumors. I read every medical article on it I could find. That’s what first sparked my interest in being a doctor.” He paused and shifted me closer. “Ultimately, though, it was realizing that my attraction to men was not the problem. The problem was the fear of being ostracized or dying young. Once I addressed those, I was at ease. What does Bradley fear?”
I looked down at the phone in my lap. “I’m not sure.”
“Perhaps you should ask him what his worst-case scenario would be, the way Zain does with you.”
Good idea—if I had any of Zain’s ability to make every single problem seem easier to untangle. But the pictures I painted in my head were my ugliest works. I flipped the phone screen-down. “What if I can’t fix it?”
“Then both of you need to ask for help,” he said, as if it were that simple.
The phone vibrated again. My hand recoiled from it like it had turned into poison oak. I didn’t want to see what else Bradley had written.
Quint’s thumb brushed my cheek. “Why are you crying again, mon chaton? If Bradley is doing something to upset you–”
“No, I upset him,” I said, thickly. “I told you I’m not good at this.”
He studied me a moment, then reached for his own phone on the arm of the couch.
“Wait!” I snatched up my phone, unlocked it, and made myself read the email before he could alert Zain.
It said, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a jerk. Please keep talking to me.
There was no sign-off, not even his initial.
“Seb?” Quint asked.
“He apologized for… before,” I said. “He still wants my help.” I typed out, No, I’m sorry, that was a dumb metaphor, and then bit my lip. What else could I say?
Quint interrupted my thoughts. “Whatever Zain knows about this, mon chaton, I don’t believe he realizes just how much it’s contributing to your stress, or he would have warned me. I’m afraid I have no choice but to tell him that, and I’m not going to delay any longer.”
“But I promised–!”
“That you wouldn’t tell him what the crisis is about,” he said. “Neither will I. Keeping how it’s affecting you a secret is not an option.”
I watched, helpless, as he tapped his phone’s screen and brought it to his ear.