Hey all-- thank you for the kind responses to last night's post. There is some true kindness in the world, and I am grateful.
And now, a little bit of Jai and George-- for you :-)
* * *
The Nature of Secrets
Jai didn't like to talk about his former boss. When you were a child and over six-foot tall and you had a reputation for defending the small and the weak on your block, you got picked by the local mob boss as muscle.
You got taken to a foreign country, whether you wanted to be or not, and put in charge of the boss's family, whether you liked them or not.
Jai had liked the younger ones--they delighted every time he smiled. Nobody was afraid of him, because he would scowl and wink and play.
But then his boss would say, "Don't speak to him. He's a boy-fucker. Just let him stand there and look scary." And the children would stop smiling.
Jai had grown accustomed to this as his life before he'd started working for Ace. But Ace and Sonny were lovers, and it didn't scare them that Jai was gay or wanted Sonny so very badly, and he'd begun to relax a little. The thing he had, in the mountains, with George, his kind and delicate nurse, made him happy--but he kept it close.
His old boss would use it against him.
Jai had seen the boss kill a girl once, because one of his men liked her enough to be late to a meeting. It was better that George stay secret. Not that he thought Ace would do that--but if Jai could, he'd keep Ace and Sonny and Alba secret too.
Secrets were comfortable.
When Burton brought Ernie to Ace in October, Jai understood. Ernie was a secret--nobody should know. Secrets had become to mean more than just facts to Jai. They became people you wanted to protect.
But even Ernie, who was kind to Alba and Sonny could be an uncomfortable secret.
"Burton needs to come see that boy," Ace muttered fitfully while doing the bills behind the counter one night. Alba had gone home because she had school in the morning, and Sonny was making dinner. As had bought him an Insta-Pot and he'd become enamored of baked beans. Jai could only be happy George didn't have to share his tiny apartment on those nights--but he was a little sad he didn't tell George these things, because the thought made him chuckle all day.
His gas also terrified Duke, the tiny Chihuahua that Ace and Sonny spoiled like a princess, and watching the creature run around their little house yapping after Jai's unfortunate gastric emission had made everybody laugh for a solid half-hour.
George was always smiling, or trying to smile. Even when he'd felt like death he had made little jokes. Jai thought that maybe his George had a sense of humor, even about gas.
He sure hoped so.
Jai pulled his attention back to Ace and his statement. "He is afraid of being owned," he said thickly. "Ernie would be... dangerous, I think. To Burton's peace of mind."
Ace rolled his eyes. "That's everybody. That's me and Sonny--you think I've had a decent night's sleep since I saw him, that first day in the military? I can assure you, I have not."
Jai grunted. "Sonny is much maintenance. I imagine some lovers would let you sleep better." George wasn't high maintenance--but then, Jai wouldn't mind making him so.
Ace eyeballed him and Jai shifted as he sat. "You have somebody," he said, and Jai crossed his arms, feeling naked.
"That is none of your business," he muttered, before his promise to George rebounded to his head like a boomerang.
Ace just looked at him, eyebrows raised. "You are my friend and we take care of you. It should be my business," he said, no bullshit.
Physically Jai was much bigger. He'd killed men Ace's size with very little trouble. Jai was also very aware that he could no more hurt Ace than he could hurt the ridiculous, loud, irritating, dear little carpet flea that liked to place delicate little paws on Jai's chest while it licked Jai's chin.
There were some things a man--a real man--should never do.
He looked down at Ace and looked away. "He has asked," he said with dignity. "He has asked if you could know about him. Should something happen to me, you would tell him."
Ace grimaced. "Should we tell the--"
Jai shook his head. "No," he said, forbidding in his stomach. "Just... my former employer, he still sends men around."
Ace's jaw clenched. Jai had said very little--but the other muscle guys who had visited every so often to make sure Jai was "satisfactory" help for Ace pissed him off. More than once they'd offered to "protect" Ace's garage themselves, so Ace could "let Jai go." Ace was not a stupid man--he knew "let Jai go" was code for "have Jai killed." Ace had looked a cold blooded killer in the eye and said that if Jai was ever "let go", Ace would call up the man's boss and tell him that the killer had made a direct threat on the boss's life.
And Jai had told the man that in order to get to Ace, he'd have to come through Jai.
The men had left in a hurry after that, probably assuming that Ace and Jai were lovers, but as they disappeared, Ace said, "And we can only thank God Sonny was not here to see that," And Jai knew they were on the same page.
Sonny was their secret together.
And now George would be.
"Yeah," Ace said now. "I hear you. You don't want every dumb motherfucker on the planet knowing your business. Alba keeps my finances government issue clean--but I don't want those assholes pawing through my spreadsheets. Sonny can fix a car better than anyone either of us have ever seen--I don't want anybody looking for his fucking certificate. You and Ernie and Burton, you get invited into our house because we want you there. Anybody else comes in, they get a kick in the balls--"
"Or a knife in the ear," Jai said mercilessly.
"Or that," Ace agreed. He didn't flinch or qualify that statement, which is why Jai loved him in the same way he'd once loved his father, before he'd been taken from home.
Ace gave Jai his phone. "Put his number in," he said. "You can watch me text him once and then any contact after that, I'll run by you. Is that fair?"
Jai's throat felt thick and words were hard after that. "Da. Thank you."
He watched then as Ace punched in Hi--I'm Jai's friend--
"And employer," Jai interjected.
And employer, Ace Atchison. He wanted you to have my number in case we needed to reach you.
"There," Ace said, showing Jai the sent text. "That good enough for--" The phone buzzed as he held it up, and Jai could read the next text.
Tell him thank you for me. I'm pleased to meet you. I'd love to know where you live so I could visit. Jai knows my hospital and my parents' names and my cat's name and I know really nothing about him. Tell him hi for me--George
Ace stared at the message for a moment and then looked back up at Jai, who was shifting uncomfortably.
"That?" he asked. "That's your guy?"
"He is..." Jai swallowed. "Personable."
"Jai," Ace said seriously, "you have to tell him who we are."
Jai crossed his arms. "I have tried," he muttered. "I told him what I used to do, and I told him... I tried. I am a bad person--"
Ace held up his hand. "No, you are a good person. But just spilling all of that information about himself--about you. That's dangerous."
Jai pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't know how," he said at last.
Ace nodded. "Understood. Here. Let me try." George, it's nice to meet you. You sound nice. Jai is a good man but he's very private. The things he tells you are his and yours alone. We'll meet when he's ready, I'm sure. "How's that?" he asked, showing Jai the text.
"You said 'nice' twice," Jai told him.
"Do I look like a fuckin' poet here?" Ace asked, his voice pitching because, Jai understood, this was not really his wheelhouse.
"No," Jai agreed. "That is fine."
"I won't talk about you without your permission," Ace said, pressing Send.
Ace let out a breath. "Now we need to go inside and eat. And be sure to tell your guy that by not having the two of you eat here at the same time when Sonny's making beans, you might have just saved his life."
Jai chuckled. "I had planned to."
"Good. Then he'll fit in just fine."
* * *
Jai saw George about a week before Christmas. Camping was damned cold, so Jai had rented a hotel room in Grapevine. It wasn't a great hotel, but then, they weren't really there for the amenities.
Their customary greeting lasted for about two hours this time--made longer, Jai suspected, by the king sized bed. When they both fell back into the sheets, panting and sweating, Jai wondered for the umpteenth time what it was about George that made sex so... so much bigger than having his cock stroked. He didn't know, but he was curious enough to lie on his side and trace the delicate lines of George's jaw as they both caught their breath.
"Your boss texted me," George panted, closing his eyes and tilting his head toward Jai's touch.
"Da. I saw."
George narrowed his eyes grimly. "He's just as bad as you at giving out personal information."
Jai darted his head in and licked the sweat from George's temple. Like the rest of George, it was delicious. "We are private people," he conceded.
George looked at him unhappily. "When do I get let into your secret little club?" he asked, the plaintive note in his voice almost killing Jai.
Jai kissed his mouth, savoring. "You do not understand about secrets," he said, "because you have never needed to keep them."
"True," George admitted. "But why--"
Jai stroked his neck with the back of his hand. God, exquisite. "Because Ace and I have kept secrets," he said. "To protect people. We have killed to protect people. And you are now one of those people, you understand? Sonny is one, and Ernie is now one--"
Jai grimaced. "He is another secret--but not one that should trouble you. But you see? Our place in the world is to protect secrets. Nobody can come into our house and rip apart our lives, because we have kept the important people safe."
George sighed. "Im important?"
Jai closed his eyes. "More so everyday."
"I brought you a present, you know."
Jai smiled. He did. It was a large jacket, all weather, so they could go hiking even when it was cold. "I do. I brought you one too." He'd brought George a Leatherman tool--useful when camping, but also for self-defense.
"I know. But do you know what I really want for Christmas?"
"A story--just one story, of your choosing, about your everyday life."
Which was how Jai came to tell George the story about how Sonny fed them all beans and Jai broke wind so badly it scared the dog.
George laughed until he couldn't breathe, and Jai smiled shyly. They ordered takeout, and as they were eating, he told George about how Ernie took the dog out for a walk and how Sonny tried really hard not to get jealous, but Ace was ecstatic, because it meant he and Sonny could have private time together without the dog watching them from his crate.
And then he told about how Alba snuck the dog treats she wasn't supposed to, and how the rest of them made sure the dog ate very very well because otherwise she'd make him fat.
When their weekend was over, he was embarrassed. "I'm sorry," he confessed humbly. "You asked for something real. I have been talking all weekend about an eight pound Chihuahua."
George's smile was bittersweet--but it was also accepting. "I wanted to know who you were," he said. "And I know you're a man who protects your friends, and protects your lover, and finds joy in small things, and can be content with people in his life who care for him. I'll be honest, Jai--it's more than I've known about any Herb, Steve, or Gary I've ever dated."
"Good." Jai held him, hugged him to his chest, for a long time. "Someday," he promised under his breath. "Someday, I will not live in such fear that you'll be taken from me. Someday, you can see my tiny life, my tiny garage, and I won't worry quite so much that you won't think I'm worthy."
George didn't say anything, but he hugged Jai just as tight.
After Jai let him walk away, both of them going to their cars and taking off back toward LA, he realized his sweater--bright green, a present from Sonny the year before, because every man nearly seven feet tall wanted to wear Christmas green--was wet from tears.
As he started his car, his pocket buzzed, and he checked his phone.
You're the most worthy man I've ever met. I'm proud to be your secret.
His throat tightened, and he touched the face of it lightly.
Da. You are the most precious secret I've ever kept.
Merry Christmas, Jai.
Merry Christmas, George. There will be more to come.