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The Talon House

If By Chance


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If By Chance

Chapter Eleven

By Nick

"Hey sweetie, you want to go for a walk?" I asked, resting my hands on Gerald's shoulders and leaning down to plant a kiss on the top of his head. At the moment, he was facing away from me, seated at the table with his laptop open, steadfastly working away at an Excel worksheet. He brought his head back so that he was looking straight up at me, and with a sweet smile, he declined my offer.

"Sorry babe, I have a lot to do today," he said. "We can do lunch later if you want."

The weather outside was far from nice. In fact, while it wasn't exactly cold, it was far from comfortable. If anything, I'd say it was a blustery day. Thanksgiving was right around the corner, and the street seemed to be covered with leaves no matter how many times the city came out to sweep them up.

I was definitely bored with myself. I hadn't made much of an attempt to look for work, but was determined to keep a routine. One of those routines was a brisk morning walk through the neighborhood. I would have preferred a jog, but to be honest, my knees aren't what they used to be. Someday I'll probably have to have replacement surgery on both knees, but while I can still get by, I've resolved to take care of what I have and be as gentle as possible.

One of the stops I make each morning is at the Starbucks on the other side of the neighborhood. It's almost strategically placed at one of the main outlets of the neighborhood, in a perfect spot for morning commuters to stop in for a cup on the way to the office, or for busier folks to get their morning kick at the drive thru. I never sit down and sip my coffee inside, but over the weeks, I've become a regular and am known well enough in the shop for the Barista to know what I want as soon as she sees me.

Gerald, on the other hand, isn't much of a coffee drinker. He gets a Mocha Frappuccino if it's warm enough, and he's indulged in a hot venti Mocha on occasion. Or, if he walks with me in the morning, he might grab a muffin or some coffee cake at the counter. For the most part, though, he passes on most of my offers to bring him something back from Starbucks when I ask.

I could understand Gerald's eagerness to finish all of his work. With Thanksgiving only six days away, I knew he wanted to get everything out of the way so he could enjoy the week like everyone else. The two of us were enjoying the newfound flexibility in our schedules, but at the same time, there were times when it was good to have some alone time. We weren't fighting, but our personality clashes were becoming more and more apparent as the weeks went by. Like most people, we each had our own way of doing the simplest things, like loading the dishwasher or dusting the furniture, and we were stuck in our ways. We just had to adjust to each other's ways and find some common ground, but it was nothing serious.

I think what we were experiencing was a growing pain. There weren't bad words between us, but there was certainly a feeling of tension building that made it a good thing for me to take a morning walk. Now, don't get me wrong. I still wanted to be around Gerald as much as possible, and more often than not, he would seek me out as soon as his work was finished. But we both understood that we needed our space, and by not having to go to the office every day, that space was very limited.

I donned my long coat and wrapped my scarf around my neck, then I slid my mittens on and prepared to leave. I planted a goodbye kiss on Gerald's cheek before leaving for my walk, then I was out the door.

My walk was invigorating as always. Walking through the streets of my neighborhood reminds me of just how lucky I've been my whole life. All around me, houses were glowing with warmth and chimneys were billowing smoke into the air, creating an aromatic experience that practically screamed Winter and filled me with anticipation of the upcoming Christmas shopping season, which would start in exactly a week.

This was going to be the first Christmas that I had someone special to be with. Thoughts of waking up with my boyfriend on Christmas morning and quietly exchanging gifts with him were warming my heart, giving me pause and causing me to reflect once more on how lucky I was. For all of the trouble I'd experienced with the company and losing my job, I knew there was no way I'd trade it in for the precious moments I had with Gerald.

Taking Donald's advice about not having any contact with Alana Cary was a lot easier to take that I initially thought. Apparently, she was holding some sort of a grudge against me, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why. At some point, though, it got back to me that she was telling people we knew mutually from the company that she had no respect for me, and that I was a snake in the grass.

The only thing I could imagine was that she was working with the Justice Department before I was, which might have explained her initial visit to my house months before, but what did she want me to do? As far as I was concerned, I acted ethically, and she had her chance to diffuse the situation herself. And if I was such a backstabber, why in the world would she be a witness for the government? Was she a hostile witness? If so, why wasn't that fact stated out loud at the hearing? Personally, I think she got her feathers ruffled and didn't like how it felt.

She's always been a glory hog.

One of the best things that the Corporation ever did, as a directive from the Board of Directors, was to implement a Wellness Initiative. Each site had its own wellness committee, and it was staffed completely by volunteers. Our branch was allotted close to half a million dollars the first year to get things started, and we had great participation from all departments.

The committee set goals for the entire employee population, and then plotted a course and executed their plans. It was a rousing success, and the following year, the Board of Directors gave our site three times as much money to do our work, and once again, the committee members did a phenomenal job. Such a good job in fact, that several prominent members of the board came down to our branch to recognize the efforts of the committee.

Somehow, Alana wound up standing at the podium, citing each one of the committee's accomplishments and speaking about the struggle that she endured over the last two years getting the projects off the ground. The entire time she was speaking, the committee members were giving her death glares, and I think she deserved every one of them. She knew she was wrong, but she had to take as much of the credit as she could.

The worst part was when the General Manager of the entire corporation stood up and gave his speech, he called for a round of applause for Alana in particular for all of her hard work in organizing the accomplishments. I was pretty sure that she was going to be lynched in the parking lot after the speeches were finished, and while I'm a pretty sensible guy, I could see why.

That, of course, is just one instance of Alana and her grandstanding. There have been so many instances over the years that I could point to where she took credit where it wasn't due, but it's not worth rehashing. Still, it was rather shocking to me to hear from so many people that she was dragging my name through the mud. I never returned the favor, though. Instead, I always found the classiest way to respond, then I'd change the subject. It was easier than feeding into the conflict.

But that's probably because what we were doing meant different things to us. I was doing what I was doing solely on principle. I can't speak for Alana, but something tells me that she was doing it for the admiration of her peers and career advancement opportunities. I don't know what kind of an advantage she sought to realize in her career as a result of her testimony, but I'm sure she had some ulterior motive.

That doesn't mean she wasn't initially doing the right thing. Heck, who's to say? It's entirely possible that she saw what was happening and decided to come forward. But if that was the case, why wouldn't she have said something?

Another thought that went through my head, one that I couldn't shake, was that she knew what was going on all along but kept her mouth shut for the sake of her job. That she didn't expect me to make such an issue out of the original discrepancy I discovered. That the entire basis of her decision to cooperate with the Justice Department was based on self-preservation and nothing more.

It's kind of like the fight or flight instinct that's born into all of us. Hell, even animals have it. When faced with the potential of prison, Alana might have chosen flight over fight. Peter chose to fight, and I had a bad feeling for the prospect of his future. But perhaps Alana, like a rat who knew it was time abandon ship, chose to make her move.

When I made it back from my walk, I walked up the driveway to the garage, then I turned to face the street, taking a sip from my still steaming latté. The wind had died down right around the time I reached Starbucks, and a misty hue had settled over the trees that lined the road. It was refreshing, yet cozy at the same time to look out over the landscape and enjoy the scenic gifts that nature brought that day.

For no particular reason, I walked around the side of the house and came through the back yard. As I passed by the deck, I took note of the fact that the cord of firewood I purchased in September was nearly half gone, but with Thanksgiving almost upon us, I doubted I'd need another one. I bought too much firewood one year and regretted it later because not only did the wood start to rot, but by Summer, I had spiders all over the place. I'm not one to get squeamish about a lot of things, but spiders definitely creep me out. Especially black widows.

The view from my deck of the mid morning sky was breathtaking. I looked through the window at Gerald, who was still working steadfastly on his spreadsheets, and smiled when he looked up from his laptop and gave me a small wave. When he looked back down at his work, I found it hard to peel my eyes away from him. He looked so serious about his work, and it was obvious that he was concentrating on his thoughts as he entered numbers into his laptop.

Sometimes I wondered what he saw in me. I mean, he was a young, successful man and he could bag any guy he wanted. I was a thirty something Metro-Sexual gay guy who'd been with more guys collectively than he'd ever had the chance to meet. I was successful too, but there's a lot more to this life than having money or being attractive. There were times when I wondered if I wasn't robbing him of his youth, keeping him from getting out there and living his life the way I did when I was his age. Of course, just when those thoughts would start to run through my mind, he'd flash me a smile and I'd melt just enough to forget about my doubts.

I always had a feeling of completeness when I was around him. It was a wondrous, magical feeling that I couldn't describe even if I tried. I don't think I would ever try, though, because the private moments where I could watch and admire him from a few feet away are like precious treasures, each one special for its own reason.

I just hoped for the life of me that Gerald and I weren't on different wavelengths somewhere. I mean, I was ready to be with someone, to love someone and to keep him with me forever. Was it asking too much of him to want the same thing? To be honest, we'd never had that talk, but I'd been taking it for granted over the last couple of months that he wanted the same thing I did.

Bringing it up was so hard, too. Maybe it was best to have an unspoken agreement with him, one that we didn't have to discuss. We had a good thing going, and it seemed like the more I learned about him, the more I cared about him and loved him. I knew it was time to open up to my boyfriend and find out if we were on the same page, and deep down, I imagined that we were, but for some reason, the thought of finding out for sure was scaring the hell out of me.

"Your mom called," he told me as soon as I walked in, looking up from his laptop for a moment. "She said she tried your cell but she only got your voicemail."

"Did she say what she wanted?" I asked, and Gerald nodded.

"She wants to talk to you about Thanksgiving."

"Alright," I halfway groaned, knowing that my mom wasn't going to rest until I committed to going over there with Gerald for a plate of food. My mom's not exactly the best cook in the world, but she puts together a decent spread on Thanksgiving. I think she makes way too much food, personally, but it's one day out of the year, so I don't say anything.

I took the cordless into the living room so that my call wouldn't interrupt Gerald's work, and just as I suspected, she called to invite us over for Thanksgiving. I smiled when she emphasized that I was to bring Gerald along, too, as if I was going to even entertain the thought of leaving him behind.

"We'll be there ma," I said. "Should we bring anything?"

"Just bring yourselves," she said. "And anyone else you might want to have over for dinner. I already talked to Gerald and told him I wanted to see him on Thanksgiving. We don't see enough of you guys."

"Mom," I half wined and half chuckled, because I knew how easily Gerald was embarrassed and how easily my mom could embarrass someone. "I love you. We'll see you on Thanksgiving."

I brought the phone back to the table and laid it down as Gerald looked up at me expectantly, as if he were waiting for me to give him the details of the call.

"She wants us to come over for Thanksgiving," I told him with a grin, reaching out for his hand as I took the chair right next to him. "Is that okay with you?"

With that, he puckered his lips and leaned over, planting a kiss on my cheek and resting his head on my shoulder. "I'd love that, babe."

I felt him nuzzle the side of his head into my shoulder, so I used my forefinger to lift his chin just enough that I could look into his eyes before I planted a long kiss on his lips. I could tell that he was feeling needy at the moment, probably because he was so far away from his mom and dad around the holidays. I felt bad for him, especially because I knew that his relationship with them was so strained. Not so much with his mom, but definitely with his dad. Add to that the fact that he hadn't come out to them, and it was easy for me to see why he was feeling so bad.

"Are you almost finished with your work?" I asked, and he nodded into my shoulder.

"I need a break," he said quietly, his hand delicately running up and down my back.

An hour later, we were in my car, on the way to the mall. I know it sounds superficial, but sometimes when I'm feeling down, the best thing I can do for myself is to get a manicure and pedicure. I mean, sure, we get them every two weeks anyway, but sometimes it's good to be spontaneous. I think it cleanses the soul, and it's a great confidence booster when I'm at a low point.

After our manicures, I reminded Gerald that he promised to do lunch with me, and we found ourselves at a sushi bar, drinking beers and watching as our cook prepared our meat and vegetables on the grill in front of us. It was a great place for the two of us to go for dinner, but I couldn't help but notice that it was a much more pleasant place to visit at lunch time. There were no kids running wild and there were only about half as many folks in there for lunch.

By the time we were ready to leave, I found myself completely satisfied and ready to get up and go. I'd thrown back quite a few beers, so Gerald drove home. Almost as soon as we pulled into the driveway, a light rain started to fall. When we made it inside, the rainfall had increased and was now falling steadily but heavily. I took a seat on the love seat and watched with a smile as Gerald built a fire to keep us warm. My buzz was showing no signs of wearing off anytime soon, so I let him handle all of the particulars.

As soon as he had the fire lit, he added a medium sized piece of oak to the hearth and I found myself mesmerized by sheer intensity with which it burned. While I was watching the fire burn, Gerald set the mood with music, and before I knew it, we were dancing in the middle of the living room floor. The entire time we were dancing, he clung tightly to my body and I felt as if I had to whisper in his ear, reaffirming my feelings for him as we swayed to the music that carried itself from the speakers and into our ears.

"I love you, Gerald Ballard," I said in a low voice. "You're my whole world. I want to hold you, to give you everything and to make all of your dreams come true. I want to be with you until the day I die."

Gerald raised his head from my shoulder and, with a look of love and devotion, swore his love to me.

"I love you too, Dennis," he said. "And you do make my dreams come true. Just being with you and loving you and hearing you say it every day is the answer to my prayers."

With that, as if we were in a world far away from the one where everyone and everything else existed, my relationship with Gerald changed. All of my doubts and fears about our future seemed to wash away, and instead, they were replaced by a love I knew I could never replace.

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