**If you’re reading this the week it posts, the first book in the series, Gays of Our Lives, is currently ninety-nine cents, so go pick it up!**
What’re you still doing here? Did you read QLV? DID YOU? I don’t care how much you love Hugh Reynolds, don’t read this story.
Did you hear me say SPOILERS?
…Did you? Spoilers. Stop now! Unless you’ve read One Life to Lose (and the other three QLV books, really, but at the very least OLTL and The Queer and the Restless).
Well, all right then. But you’ve been warned.
“A Friendly Intervention” is told from the perspective of Cameron Rheingold, who also tells the story in One Life to Lose (Queers of La Vista #4). It takes place a couple of weeks after the end of that book, and a couple of weeks after Ring in the True in SMU. (With my thanks to General Wendy, for catching my timeline foul.)
The wind whipped whitecaps all over the Bay, but when I talked to Hugh he said he wanted to meet somewhere that wasn’t the theater, and the waterfront seemed like the best place.
I pulled my top coat in closer and stood at the entry to the pier, staring out. The day was stark and vivd, the clarity of the air almost aggressive, as if the weather was daring the fog to roll in. I was contemplating the different shades of blue on display in the sky when I heard Hugh’s voice.
We shook hands. I expected a hug, and braced for one, but he didn’t pull me closer. He looked at me, carefully, his gaze every bit as aggressive as the sunlight.
“You don’t have to assess me. I’m fine.”
Despite the fact that I’d rehearsed the line, and delivered it perfectly, Hugh raised an eyebrow.
“I am.” I hadn’t rehearsed a follow-up. It didn’t sound nearly as confident.
“Let’s take a walk.”
I sighed. My phone chimed and I pulled it out, murmuring, “Excuse me.”
Keith: Is he there? You all right?
Keith: I hate this, btw. You should never be out of my sight. At least not right now. 🙁
“One of your young men, I take it? Judging solely by the way you’re smiling.”
“I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”
Cameron: He’s here. We’re taking a walk.
Keith: Okay. All right. You should come to the center after.
“How much time do you have?” I asked. “I’d like you to see the Queer Youth Project. That’s Josh and Keith’s drop-in center.”
He smiled. “That sounds excellent.”
I texted Keith to expect us in a little while and gave in to the inevitable, turning fully back to Hugh and meeting his eyes. “Ask your questions.”
“What, no polite chit chat first?”
I started walking. He fell in beside me.
What did we look like? Two businessmen out for a lunchtime walk? Well dressed men, walking farther out over the water while the wind did its best to push us in different directions. Hugh was shorter than me—a fact it had taken me an embarrassing amount of time to realize, smitten as I’d been with him as a teenager in mid-growth-spurt. But we kept pace with one another, all the way to the end of the pier where a lone fisher sat with his line in the water. He couldn’t have actually expected to catch anything with the Bay in so much turmoil, but catching fish wasn’t the only reason to go fishing.
I leaned on the railing and looked across the water. After a second, Hugh did the same.
“I learned how to make small talk recently,” I offered.
He glanced over. “Really? Seems like a good skill for your line of work.”
“It’s been helpful.”
“I can only imagine.”
We stood there awhile longer, until finally I gave up. “Well? Aren’t you going to shoot a series of psychological evaluation questions at me like you did last time?”
“Last time you were attacked and almost killed in your apartment?”
I trained my gaze on San Quentin in the distance. “I wasn’t almost killed. He barely touched me.”
“But you thought you were going to die. It counts.”
Since that wasn’t a question, I didn’t answer it.
“I didn’t come anywhere near that close to dying, but I had terrible flashbacks for a long time. There are still things that remind me of that night.” He was staring down instead of out, at the roiling gray-green water.
“You were attacked?”
“No. I did it entirely to myself.” He offered a rueful smile before looking away again. “I had a boyfriend. I was eighteen. He was older, which I found incredibly attractive. I honestly don’t know why it all made so much sense to me at the time, but I…was not as careful as I might have been. I think I was so shocked that he was interested in me that I was willing to do things I would not have otherwise done in order to be with him.”
To me Hugh had always epitomized the kind of man who did not suffer from insecurities. It was hard for me to imagine him young and uncertain.
“I allowed him to tie me to a utility hook in a thoroughly unsanitary club in South San Francisco one night.”
My jaw might have dropped open.
“The kind of club where they didn’t check IDs, of course. The kind of club where a man crying out for help was considered ‘local color’.” He glanced over. “I didn’t think I was going to die. He beat me, but he’d played at that before and I’d consented. Whether the sex was consensual is a bit more of a gray area.”
“Hugh…” I didn’t know what to say. What could anyone possibly say?
“I learned a lot that night. About him, about myself. About shame and fear and arousal. About the mercy of rough-handed strangers who do not accept an invitation to do whatever they want to the bruised, weeping boy tied to the wall.”
“Did you—I mean—you didn’t have a safeword?”
“At the time I was under the misapprehension that a safeword indicated lack of trust.”
I thought about Josh and Keith, who trusted one another absolutely, and still played with safewords. “I…can’t imagine that.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Slightly late, I realized I’d revealed a bit more than I intended to. I blushed.
He didn’t pursue that line of conversation. “I didn’t think I was going to die, but I believed, absolutely, that they were going to rape me, and beat me. I imagined trying to explain it to my mother. While he was fucking me I was thinking, How will I ever explain this to Mom? She will be so disappointed. But a stranger cut the ropes and led me out of there. And waited with me on the corner until my best friend could pick me up. A close call with something that could have been so much worse.”
“Sounds like it was bad enough.” When he didn’t speak, I looked over again.
He was watching me. As if waiting for something. “Say that again.”
“What you just said.”
I clenched my jaw. “It sounds bad enough. What happened to you.”
“What about what happened to you? And Keith, and Josh? Was that bad enough?”
“I’m really fine. We didn’t die. The guy was arrested. And we—rearranged my apartment. To make it feel different. Did some other stuff, too, which helped.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Hugh. I’m fine.”
He nodded. “I will accept that, if you want me to.”
“But you don’t believe me.”
“I look forward to meeting Keith and Josh.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Precisely what I said. Shall we head back?”
“Don’t—whatever you’re thinking. Don’t do whatever you’re thinking.”
“Cameron, you’re not afraid to introduce me to your friends, are you? I’m so kind and unassuming.” He started to walk, calling over his shoulder, “Coming?”
I grumbled under my breath as I caught up to him. We didn’t speak on the way back to the parking lot.
* * *
Hugh very much enjoyed QYP. Josh and Keith took him on a tour that began as the standard, casual walk-through, and by the end was a much deeper conversation about needs and resources.
I hung back with Merin.
“That guy your big brother or something?”
“More like…the older neighbor I always wanted to be like.”
“Huh. You gonna, like, go over there and talk to them?”
I sighed. “I’ll go if you do.”
Keith looked over and caught my eye. A second later he had his phone out.
Keith: I like him. Why do you look nervous?
Keith: Man crush?
I rolled my eyes across the room at him.
Keith: C’mon. You want me to act like I’m not fantasizing about sucking you off tonight? I could pretend.
“I’m going in,” I muttered. “Keith’s going to start acting out if I stay over here much longer.”
Merin snorted. “Watch your back.”
I passed a few teenagers doing homework at a table, who’d nodded hellos to Merin when they walked in. The far back corner held a young woman reading a heavy-looking book. Otherwise the center was empty. Hugh, Josh, and Keith were sitting in the comfy nook that Keith liked to call the den.
Josh was telling a story it took me a minute to track. When I did, I blushed.
“But we didn’t completely fuck it up, because now we get to see Cam all the time. Right, Keith?”
“Yep. Seriously, though, that first night was scary as hell.”
All three of them looked at me as I sat down beside Keith, who leaned over to kiss my cheek. “We were just telling Hugh how we seduced you.”
I didn’t meet anyone’s eye. “How could that even come up in conversation?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess…he asked. So we answered.”
He asked. I shot Hugh a distinctly unimpressed look, which he didn’t return.
He ignored me completely and addressed them. “And you’re both recovering from the attack?”
Keith leaned into me. “Josh is okay. I have a lot of nightmares. And sometimes daymares.”
“I don’t have their memories,” Josh added. “I spent the whole thing passed out.”
“That certainly changes things.” I knew that look on Hugh’s face. Curious, intrigued, invested. “Survivor’s guilt can be twisty in a situation like this.”
Josh re-crossed his legs in the opposite direction, not saying anything for a long moment. Then he nodded. “Yeah, I hear that. Because I can’t stop thinking about how I should have saved them, how I should have been stronger, willed myself awake. Which is messed up because they didn’t need me to save them, but still. It’s in my head.”
“He would have killed you,” I murmured, putting my arm around Keith’s shoulders. “He considered you a threat.”
Keith curled in. “It was so fucking scary. God. Like, I know we’re sitting here in the center, but we’re talking about it, and part of my head is…I can see it all happening again.”
“Allow me to distract you,” Hugh said. “Cameron thinks he’s fine. Do you agree?”
“Totally unfair. You can’t ask me to turn against Cam.”
“I would never.” The total conviction in Hugh’s voice pulled my attention. He looked at me for a long moment, maybe to make sure I understood he meant it, before turning back to Keith.
“Ha.” Keith tugged on my hand until he was practically in my lap, or as close to it as we could get in the center. “Did he tell you that he spent a week freaking the fuck out and not talking to us?”
I closed my eyes.
“He did not tell me that.”
“Uh huh.” Lips pressed to my fingers. “Yeah. But don’t worry. Now we don’t let him out of our sight. He’s in good hands.”
“I can see that.”
“Cam.” Josh’s voice.
I looked over, biting the inside of my lip.
My chest went tight and I couldn’t look away.
“Me too,” Keith said, kissing my fingers again.
It was no more than they’d said before, but it left me raw, aching, to hear it out loud, in daylight, in public.
“Are you fine?” Josh asked.
No. Yes. Only when the two of you are with me. I steadied my voice. “I will be.”
He smiled. “Yeah, you will. So Hugh, I’m definitely looking forward to you signing up for our volunteer program. Do you know anyone else who’d like to come down and help out?”
“Oh, most definitely. I’ll have to bring my husband and our boyfriend down at some point. To say nothing of the rest of my family.”
I blinked blankly. “Your husband—and boyfriend? What?”
Keith squeezed my hand. “Far out!”
But Josh, eyes sharp, leaned forward. “How does it work? Do you live together? Are you exclusive? And what we were talking about before—does that apply with your boyfriend, too?”
Hugh leaned forward as well. “Truman and I are married, and live together. Will lives with his girlfriend. We are mostly exclusive to one another, with a few exceptions.”
“Like the girlfriend?”
“And others.” Hugh grinned. “We played with him first, before we did anything else. Sex didn’t surprise me, but love between the three of us certainly did.”
“Oh man,” Josh whispered. “That is fucking cool.”
“It really is.”
They smiled at each other, Hugh and Josh. Men from distinctly different parts of my life who now shared this moment.
Keith cleared his throat. “I can’t decide if this, uh, alliance is going to work out well for us or not, Cam.”
“We’ll have to have you over to Cam’s place,” Josh said. “And your husband and boyfriend.”
“That sounds delightful. In any case, I should head home. It was excellent to get to know you both.”
Hands were shaken all around. I shuffled out from the den and caught Hugh’s eye. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
The wind was icy cold, and I hadn’t put my top coat on since I wouldn’t be outside long. Still, Hugh didn’t open his car door right away. “I am…very pleased that you have found companionship, Cameron. Your parents would have loved to see you with them.”
I swallowed. “I know. I’ve thought about it. Do you ever…do you ever just wish you could have a day? Or even an hour? With your mom?”
“A dinner,” he said. “I wish she could come with us to dinner, that she could see how happy they make me. So she could talk to them.” He reached out, gripping my forearm. “Thank you for introducing us.”
“Thanks for driving out here.”
“Of course. I should do it more often.”
Now he pulled me in for a hug, but I didn’t brace. I hugged him back.
“Take care of yourself,” he said.
I waited until he drove away, then walked back inside. They were in the kitchen making sandwiches. I started rolling up my sleeves. “How can I help?”
Keith grinned. “By just being here, and amazing.”
“I meant with lunch.”
Josh’s arm slid around my waist. “So did he.”