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# 1 - # 4

1. Marcus

Final year was tougher than I expected.

Heh! Who was I kidding?

The truth was I hadn’t really given school much thought all summer so I didn’t really have much of an expectation. Stewart said that was one of my problems – not thinking ahead. What did he expect? I had come back from Willcott a new man. I was energized and excited about being officially a couple with Stewart. That gave me such a buzz! School and getting a degree was suddenly a poor second priority.

I was busy getting a new life.

It seemed unreal sometimes - one of those things you can’t seem to get a grab on - what I had gone through and where I had landed. OK, technically where I had landed was back at my old place and at college, which was ... not so spectacular, but I did want to finish my degree and make my parents proud. And Stewart of course; he had every expectation that I would get my degree this time and I could not imagine letting him down. I had always been an adequate student so I didn’t forsee much of a problem to get back into the swing of things. I had admittedly been slacking before summer, but I was dealing with it. A little self-discipline and I was confident I would sail through final year.

Technically too, I was now a member of the Fraternity, and that was cool. I had wanted it so much and then when I had given up hoping and had least expected it, it was thrown (literally) into my lap. I loved the way I had been accepted into the group, especially since I knew they were so guarded and secretive about its existence and their activities. It spoke volumes of the trust Stewart had placed in me to sponsor me for membership so soon and for Philip to second the motion. I found that out through Ben. Once I had Stewart and Philip’s support, he said, my application and position was secured. No one would dream of opposing them or doubting their judgement. Oh well ... being the boyfriend of one of the founding members certainly had its advantages.

There were other advantages as well. For instance, I felt a sense of security I had never felt before as life settled down. I knew Stewart would be there for me no matter what, and that was saying a lot about another person. How often do we get to be so sure of someone? But for some reason I was sure of Stewart. He was strict, but extremely loving and he wasn’t afraid to show it. He was always touching me and when we made love (which was often), he always told me he loved me. There was a heightened sense of possessiveness and protectiveness in his demeanour which I craved.

I was secretly thrilled during those times he became stern. I loved that in him. I was finding out more and more how much of a Brat I really was. I began to experiment. I mentally rubbed my hands together with secret glee when I knew I had pushed him enough. I would watch him with mixed feelings, part dread and part anticipation, as a certain light came into his eyes and I had to decide then which way I would go. It turned out to be quite a game. The line was not always clear or defined and if I made an error of judgement there was no hesitation on Stewart’s part to set me right and then there was hell to pay. I didn’t find that part of the game so nice, to be honest. It went quickly downhill once it got there. I mean, I have no desire to be pulled unceremoniously over his lap, nor did I like to have my pants yanked down like a small kid. When it got to that point I was usually sorry. The trouble was determining when that point was reached.

In the months after we came back from Willcott, I had learnt how to trust Stewart implicitly. He patiently explained things to me when I was confused. He set the rules which I had to obey. But those were things which were beyond my control and I accepted our relationship as it was. I belonged to Stewart, he was my Top and he called the shots.

2. Ben

I knew I shouldn’t have taken the extra week off at the end of summer. One vacation per year was what I had allocated for myself and I should have stuck to it. Instead I had talked myself into rewarding myself with another holiday! All because it was Philip who asked, and I couldn’t say no. Spending an extra week at Willcott with him had been just too tempting and now I was paying the price for my weakness.

It left me scrambling and that made me stressed, which then made me grumpy. I hated feeling stressed or grumpy. But the real underlying reason I was going through all this was guilt. I had never handled guilt well. All my life, I always blamed myself first if things didn’t go right. If my parents had a fight, I would wonder if it was because of me. If someone misinterpreted what I said, I felt guilty for not being clearer.

So when I found the work piling up and everyone had to take on more and work longer hours, I felt guilty that it was because I had taken an extra week of holidays.

“Don’t be silly and don’t beat yourself up,” Philip had said.

“It’s a good sign, your business is growing! You should be happy!”

I was slightly comforted and relieved. “Then you’re not mad I have to cancel dinner again? I mean, its not that I don’t want to ...”

Philip was incredible. He told me, “its ok, Ben. You don’t need to explain. I know you take your work seriously and I am glad you are being so responsible. But you honestly need to slow down, and find a way to make it work better.”

“I know,” I said miserably. I didn’t tell him that a large part of my problems was I couldn’t get him out of my head!

Philip made me promise I would get some rest before we hung up. I sat for a long moment after that, reluctant to move. My hand still rested on the telephone receiver as if that connected me still to Philip. I don’t recall ever being so smitten with anyone before.

We weren’t really a couple or anything, but I was hoping we were heading somewhere. I wanted more than ‘just friends’ but that was me and I had no idea how Philip felt. I had always been comfortable around Philip and he was my greatest friend, but lately my thoughts had varied somewhat. God knows when things had changed but I had begun to look at him with new eyes. I was remembering things about Philip like how good he smelt or how strong his arms were when he touched me and ... well, all kinds of things but most of all how he made me laugh. I missed him more and more when we were apart and I would have given anything to be able to spend more time with him but I couldn’t afford to play hooky and slack again. It was just downright irresponsible.

We had never even kissed. I wondered what it would be like, having Philip’s lips on mine. My mind wandered further and I imagined being in Philip’s arms, feeling his body next to mine, touching his bare skin. I could almost feel his hands on my ... I felt my face flush and looked guiltily around. Thank God I had my own little office and I had some measure of privacy because to my horror, I realized the bulge in my pants was pretty obvious. I shifted carefully, moved it around to ease the strain, and then sighed with relief as I felt the pressure deflate.

I better do something about this or I would get caught out one day!

3. Stewart

We arrived early at Curtis and George’s home – a beautiful old house built on several acres of land – for one of our periodic Fraternity get-togethers. Marcus had gaped at the grandeur of the place the first time he had visited, but he had got over his initial awe by now.

“They are so unpretentious!” he had declared under his breath to me, wide-eyed.

He was beginning to learn that Fraternity members were mostly decent, down-to-earth people no matter how rich or successful they were. That was what pulled us together, a sharing of values and common interests.

Since the weather was still holding up, the buffet was set up on the patio and we nibbled hor d'oeuvres and sampled George’s fine wine collection by the pool. I saw Philip and Ben approaching and paused to wave at them.

“Is something happening there?” I heard Marcus mumble. I smiled at him but chose not to answer. The truth was I was asking pretty much the same thing myself. So far Philip had not said a word to me.

“Hey,” I greeted them.

Ben was beaming and he immediately moved to Marcus’ side. That gave me a few private moments with Philip.

“What’s up with you man?” I asked casually.

Philip moved slightly away. I had a feeling he didn’t want the two brats to hear our conversation; so I obligingly turned with him till we were a short distance apart.

“I need a favour,” Philip said.


“Well,” Philip started, and then stopped to clear his throat.

“Spit it out,” I said, beginning to grin. “Can’t be that difficult.”

Philip laughed with me. “Okay, it’s about Ben.”

“Of course ...” I waited.

Philip glared. “We’ve been kind of ... seeing one another. Since we got back from Willcott. And I think its getting more serious.”

I felt a jolt of happiness shoot through me. Philip and I had been late in finding love. We had had our fair share of relationships, casual sex and casual partners; the kind we both knew were not anything that would last. Certainly not like how I felt when I first started with Marcus.

We weren’t old, but we weren’t ‘young’ either, and we had now and then wondered if we would ever settle down. We weren’t really concerned – I suppose we thought we could happily spend our lives as happy gay bachelors, but I couldn’t deny that I had felt whole when I had found Marcus. Now it seemed Philip had also found something more lasting. I could see it in his eyes.

“Can I tell you how happy I am – for you both?” I looked over at Ben and realized how good a match they were for one another. They were well matched I temperament, and had so many things in common.

“Well, its early days yet, but ... um, thanks!” Philip smiled as his eyes flicked over to Ben. “He’s still a bit shy about this; God, I don’t know if he’s even come out to his colleagues. At least he didn’t object when I told him I would fill you in.”

“So what favour do you need?”

“He’s been really stressed lately. At work mostly but it’s filtering over into our personal lives. Maybe part of it is due to us, adjusting to me and how we are developing. Worrying about being seen when we go out.” Philip shook his head. “You know Ben.”

I did. He was over-conscientious sometimes, a stickler for perfection. I had seen him anxious and worried over the smallest details. Unchecked, he could allow himself to be consumed by his sense of obligations until he became physically sick.

“What do you need?” I asked, still unclear what I could offer.

“I need to be away for a couple of weeks and I was hoping you would be able to keep an eye on Ben for me.”

“Of course,” I said immediately. “You needn’t ask, and I don’t consider that a favour.”

“I’ll be honest, he is not happy with me breathing down his neck about his time management. He thinks I am over zealous, and not being fair sometimes, and I fear he is not going to be too cooperative with you when I am not around.”

“I’ve handled Ben before,” I said surprised. “What makes you think there will be a problem?”

Philip shook his head. “No, I mean he is ok to have you oversee him, which you’ve done in the past, but he wants to manage at his own pace. He constantly worries about his business and I just thought it would be easier if he knew you were watching, putting the brakes on, and stuff like that.”

How love changes people, I thought bemusedly. Philip sounded like a mother hen.

“Listen Philip, its fine for me to keep an eye on him. In fact, if you think it’s better to have him stay with me, just say the word.”

“No need of that, at least for now,” Philip hastened to interject. “Let’s see how he fares on his own for a bit. I don’t want to burden you, nor for him to think I don’t trust him.”

I shrugged. “He is not new to our rules and boundaries, but I leave it to you. I will monitor his activities as you require but know you can have him come over any time you change your mind.”

Philip laid a hand on my arm and gripped it. “I know you take Brats in all the time, but you didn’t have Marcus with you before. It could get complicated ...”

I hadn’t thought of that, but I didn’t envisage any problems. “Don’t worry!” I reassured Philip. “It will be fine!”

4. Philip

Ben fidgeted as I strapped my suitcase down.

“I will call you,” I said. “The minute I land.”

“Okay.” He smiled and I wanted to laugh at his expression but at the same time it warmed my heart. It was a cross between an ‘I-will-miss-you’ frown and a ‘but-I-will-be-brave’ smile.
I held my arms open and he immediately slipped off the bed and came over. “I will miss you,” he said softly as his cheek came to rest on my shoulder. He was about two inches shorter than me.

“Why don’t you stay over tonight?” I murmured softly in his ear, even though we were the only ones in the house.

I could almost feel Ben blush. Things had progressed well over the last few weeks, casual dinners and movies had moved on to more serious dating stuff, like kissing and petting, and suddenly things had taken on a more intense tone lately. And yet the few times I had invited Ben to stay over he had been hesitant.

I slowly kissed Ben, starting from his half-closed eyes, slowly down his jaw and finally to his mouth. I could feel him tremble and his hands nervously flutter at my back before finally coming to settle somewhere on my waist. I pulled him tighter against my body, rubbing my crotch against his, feeling the heat rise between us.

Ben was moaning into my mouth as our tongues met. He was still a bit bashful sometimes about our intimacy, but he willingly let me invade his mouth, even sucking on my tongue.
“Oh God, Philip ...”

“You taste so good, babe,” I breathed hotly against his neck.

Ben stiffened as I moved my hands to his front and began to fondle him. “Relax,” I said softly, gently rubbing his cock which had hardened noticeably. “See how much you want me?” I took one of his hands and drew it to my own cock.

“See how much I want you too?”

Ben swallowed and nodded, his eyes slightly glazed.

I pushed him till the back of his knees came against the edge of the bed and then he had no choice but to fall backwards onto the bed. I climbed on top of him and covered his body with mine as I continued to plunder his mouth with my tongue. I loved doing that to him, mostly because he reacted so strongly to it. Like he couldn’t quite believe this was happening to him, and yet wanting it so much. I could almost sense this struggle where he needed to come to terms with himself before letting himself go thoroughly.

I managed to get his shirt buttons undone and I trailed kisses down his body till I could tease and nibble at his nipples.

“Ahhh ...” Ben moaned loudly, pushing one shoulder blade up in an effort to get more of his nipple into my mouth.

“Like this babe?”

“Whadya think?” he groaned.

I made love to him slowly, feeling the resistance fade away. His breathing changed from ragged to short gasps. By the time I was done with his nipples, they were hard little nubs sticking out of his chest and Ben was moving his head from side to side. I began to pull his belt loose and he didn’t utter a single word of protest when I drew his fly down.

This was not the first time I had given him oral sex but he was still nervous and uptight every time I began to make love to him. His sexual experiences were very limited so I was determined to take it slow with him. He loved it all right the first time I took his cock into my mouth and I knew he loved it when he came in my mouth although he had looked almost apologetic and horrified. But he had recovered fast enough and then had proceeded to reciprocate. His attempts were a bit clumsy but I didn’t mind and I guided him through, my heart almost exploding when I felt the cum build in my balls.

“I’m gonna shoot, Ben,” I had warned him, not sure if he would be able to take it.

He tried, but he gagged and was almost sick and had to run to the bathroom. Then he had actually shed tears as I held him and told him it was ok, that I didn’t mind and that it was a common thing for first timers. After that, I made it a point to always pull out before I came and I knew he was not totally happy about that but didn’t quite know what to do or how to make it better. I was finding out more and more the differences between having sex with experienced lovers and making love to a shy, inexperienced virgin.

Ben’s cock sprang free as I opened his pants and I deftly caught the swinging appendage with my lips. He was rather well-endowed and I had had frequent fantasies about it. I heard him hiss as I began to lick the engorged head, and then slowly slid it into my mouth. He was panting and then louder and finally yelled as he came down my throat. When I had licked him dry, he fell back onto the mattress, his body quivering and spent.

I grinned at him as I moved up to his mouth, and kissed him. He grimaced at once.

“You taste good!” I told him, my tongue once again teasing his lips.

He giggled. “What about you?” he asked as his hand began to slide down my thigh. “I gotta take care of you too ...”

I was more than willing. I lay back and let Ben undress me.

# 5 - # 8

5. Marcus

I enjoyed teasing Stewart, especially when we ran into one another in college. We were both in the faculty after all so the chances were high. I made it a point to call him Dr Spencer, and I would sometimes bat my eyelashes at him. He glared when he thought no one was looking. He was really quite cute! But it could get frustrating sometimes, like all relationships tended to be at one point or another, and ours was probably exacerbated by the secrecy bit, but since there was nothing we could do about it I preferred to make a joke out of it. Stewart warned me several times about going too far. I knew that too and I tried to be careful, but it was one of those games I played. I couldn’t explain to him why I did it. I felt driven, like living on the edge of danger and wanting to see how far I could push the limits. The adrenalin rush was addictive.

Ben and I were invited to Stewart’s place for tea that day and I hurried home after class to shower and change. I didn’t keep many of my things at Stewart’s place apart from the occasional t-shirt or shorts. No razor or toothbrush yet; I still brought those with me when I sneaked a weekend with him. Strange how much easier it was last year when we weren’t officially together! Stewart didn’t say much on this subject, which was a bit strange since he had an opinion on everything! Perhaps he was pre-occupied. He was still teaching at least fifteen hours a week, plus he was frequently at some meeting or other. Whether or not I brought my toothbrush to his house was probably something he was not going to be bothered about. I suspect he was keeping an eye on Ben too but he wouldn’t tell me. Ben was fidgety since Philip went out of town. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

The minute I got back to my place, I noticed a missed call on my mobile phone. It was from my mom. Damn! I stared at the phone. Do I call back or what? I decided I didn’t have time – I didn’t want to listen to her going on about my not having visited all summer (old story) and how long she hadn’t seen me, and how she missed me and was worrying about me ... no, I definitely didn’t have time for that. I headed for the shower instead, looking forward to dinner and the evening. Actually I wished I could stay full time with Stewart, that was so much more ‘home’ than my dull little flat.

Ben was already there when I arrived at Stewart’s, sitting at the kitchen counter and looking glum.

“What’s up?” I asked, giving him a nudge.

He shrugged. “I have tons of work to finish at the office ...”

“And you can take time off for a decent meal,” Stewart cut in. He was at the stove and I went over to kiss him.

“Hey babe,” he said softly, his hand coming to rest on my hip.

“Hey,” I replied. We hadn’t had sex for a few days and suddenly I was horny. Stewart’s kiss was sweet and I wished Ben wasn’t there.

With a sigh, I began to lay the table. “Haven’t you hired the extra staff yet?” I asked Ben, with more interest than normal. If his schedule was going to interfere with my sex life I had to know what he was doing to resolve the matter. He was half-way describing the problems he had finding the right candidate when my phone vibrated. I looked at it and quickly cut the call. Mom again!

It was not that I wanted to avoid my mother – she is a great mom and I loved her - but she could go on for hours and somehow in the process make me feel so guilty about everything. I just didn’t want to deal with her in front of Stewart and Ben too. I had told Stewart briefly about my family and of course Stewart had talked to my dad once last year before he sent me to Willcott, but that was it. I didn’t think I could tell Stewart what a stickler my dad was to old fashioned ideas and values and I had no idea what my dad would say (or do) if he ever found out that not only that was his son gay but also having a relationship with a man who had once taught him. I shuddered at the thought.

We were about to get dessert on the table when my phone vibrated again. This time Stewart raised his brows at me as I cancelled the call again.

“Who was that?” he asked politely.

“Um ... just ...” He had been rather outspoken about avoidance and I had a feeling ignoring calls from one’s parent would not sit well with him.

He waited and I squirmed uncomfortably especially with Ben sitting there looking at me too.

“It’s my – mom,” I finally said. “I’ll call her later.”
There was a moment of silence.

“Was the earlier call from her as well?” Stewart inquired.

“Y-yes ...” And I thought he had missed that. Should have known better.

Stewart placed the bread and butter pudding on the table and spoke to Ben. “Help yourself Ben.” He turned to me and jerked his head towards the doorway. “Marcus, a word in private please?”

I felt my face flame and was convinced I had turned a shade a purple. It would have been obvious even to the blind that he was hauling me out of the room for a talking-to. I walked woodenly ahead of him, feeling his hand on my back and soon found myself in Stewart’s study. He closed the door firmly and looked me in the eye.

“What’s going on?”

I stared at him. “Nothing.”

He shook his head. “This is not the first time I’ve seen you do this. First of all, you do not ignore calls, especially when it’s your mom.” What did I say? He was so predictable! “It’s incredibly rude and positively hurtful. What if it’s an emergency and she was trying to get in touch with you urgently?”

I bit back my protest. “I’m sure its not,” I said lamely.

“You don’t know that.”

I felt my mouth pout despite myself. “She calls me all the time ...” Seeing the look on Stewart’s face made me rush on. “You don’t know her Stewart. She never lets go once she gets your ear. I swear all she wants is to find out if I’d eaten dinner. I’ll call her later.” I said as coolly as I could, and made for the door.

“Oh no, you don’t” I heard Stewart say and a second later, felt a stinging smack land on my behind. I yelped and glared back at Stewart. “Come back here,” he said, pointing to the floor in front of him. “Make the call now.”

I groaned but obeyed. I had learnt quickly that it was better to do so. “Oh ... all right!” I growled.

Stewart leaned close to my ear and murmured “good boy!” as if I were a dog and had just learnt a new trick! Then he tousled my hair and patted my bum once again before he left the study.

Thinking fondly about the warm pudding and vanilla sauce which Ben was no doubt polishing off right now, I waited for mom to answer.

“Hi mom,” I said and looked at the clock on Stewart’s desk. Five minutes top, I gave myself.

“Marcus!” Mom’s voice gushed out from my phone, sounding excited and harassed at the same time.

“Is everything all right?” I asked, suddenly nervous.

“Where have you been? She scolded and I sighed with relieve. Mom in scolding mode meant everything was fine. “I’ve been calling since early afternoon. Is your battery flat or did you leave your phone behind somewhere again, Marcus?”

I rolled my eyes. “Mom, I can’t stay and chat. I am out with some friends, having dinner.”

“I know my dear,” she said, and I could hear the smugness in her voice.

“W-what do you mean?” I asked, my senses all of a sudden on alert.

“I know you are not home. I am standing right here outside your flat, and I have been ringing you forever!”

6. Ben

I wondered if it was normal for someone to miss another person continuously. When I was a small kid, I used to panic whenever I was away from my mom for any length of time. I was afraid she might not come back or I might be unable to find her. It was a silly, irrational fear and of course I grew out of that. Mom always came back.
Now, all of a sudden the silliness and irrationality of the same fear came back to taunt me. Here I was, at age thirty something, a fully grown man living alone and running my own business rather successfully, and I was as helpless and stupid as a three-year-old. What if Philip didn’t come back? I continuously asked myself. What if I lose him?

Thank God I could at least bury myself in my work – I’d always enjoyed that and I would have been fine except for the frequent checking up and interference from Stewart. He insisted on checking in on me every day, at odd hours. I didn’t need to see the writing on the wall; he was Topping me in Philip’s absence. That was the way of the Fraternity and we all looked out for one another. Stewart was the de facto Top for single Brats and I had been supervised by him countless times in the past so I was used to it. I had always felt protected and safe in the past, knowing there will always be someone I could turn to and who would look over me. No matter what. Only this time I wished Stewart would leave me the hell alone! It didn’t leave us a terribly healthy relationship.

I saw the martial light in Stewart’s eye and held myself back. I wouldn’t push Stewart too far. There were consequences I didn’t care to encounter. He might be caring and calming and a saviour sometimes but I had a healthy respect for his spanking and his swing could be devastating on a defenceless bottom.

Philip made it a point to call twice a day. I found myself looking forward to it - I enjoyed his late night calls the most. I loved the timbre of his voice as it flowed out of the phone receiver, sometimes husky with tiredness, sometimes teasing, sometimes low and sexy. I have to admit that Philip did great phone sex, and I would have my hand on my crotch, slowly stroking myself as I engaged with him. Surprisingly it was quite easy, much easier than when we were physically together. I am a late bloomer (if you haven’t guessed by now) and in many ways I was still shy and unsure. And afraid. But phone sex was great. I could take my time to think, or hide. I couldn’t be seen. Best of all there was no pressure.

Not that Philip pressured me into anything I didn’t want. I mean he had been gentle and patient and had taken his time to show me stuff. He was a really good teacher and I felt my face flush as I recalled all the things Philip had taught me and God, how I had enjoyed all of them. All I had to do to get hard was just think and remember. Which I did often ...

But there was one thing which was still hanging awkwardly over us – at least over me. We had never had proper sex. Um ... that would mean sex with penetration. That was proper – the real thing. I think. Philip hadn’t even broached the subject but I was as conscious of it as if there was a neon sign flashing between us every time we made love. I tensed every time we started something and I thought he would go there. But he did not. Perhaps he was waiting for me to offer? Or was it the Brat’s duty to make the first move, to let his Top know he was ready? I don’t know ... heck, how would I know such things.
I felt guilty for being so ignorant, so unprepared, and so afraid.

I had wanted to talk to Marcus about it; I was pretty sure he and Stewart were doing it, and regularly too. I had heard stories about Marcus of course, before he came to us. How wild he had been. What kind of life he led. A few of the Brats had passed some pretty juicy gossips via the Brat-vine about the group he had moved with, in particular Marcus’ relationship with one Christian Lowen. That was some character. Anyone who had ever heard of Lowen knew of his reputation even thoughtheyI had never met the man. There were the most bizarre rumours surrounding him, wild parties and outrageous orgies. Anyone who had been with Lowen wouldn’t be shy about sex!

I thought I might talk to Marcus that night when we met at Stewart’s place but his mom turning up unexpectedly threw my plans out the window.

7. Stewart

I wondered what Marcus’ mom was like. I was looking forward to meeting her and thought it was about time I brought my own folks into the picture. Once Marcus graduates, I planned to ask him officially to move in with me, and it would be the right thing to inform our respective families. My folks knew about my being gay and they were ok with it; in fact I think my mom would be more than relieved that I had finally found ‘someone special. Well, they have had time to adjust. I wasn’t too sure about Marcus’ family. He hadn’t told me a lot about them, except they lived out at some small town and they ran a general store there. There were three other kids, all younger than Marcus. I gathered they were simple country folks, who worked hard to put their oldest son through college. I am pretty sure they also looked forward to him getting married and starting a family ... didn’t all parents want that?

I had spoken to Marcus’ dad once – introducing myself as Marcus’ professor, as I was at that time - and he had sounded like any other normal dad. A bit gruff and stern but clearly concerned about his son’s progress in school, and it was obvious he very much had Marcus’ welfare at heart. He also sounded grateful for my helping Marcus out of a difficult situation and there was a note of respect in his voice, probably in deference to my position. But how he would react to the knowledge that the professor had now actually become his son’s lover was something which I tried not to think too hard about. Hell, if I were in his position, I too would probably have grave concerns about that professor’s morale and ethical conduct.

“So how’s everything going?” I called Marcus the day after his mom arrived.

“I won’t be coming over today,” he said, with a note of regret. “I have to spend some time with my mom.”

“Of course. What did your mom want? Was it anything urgent?” I asked trying to be tactful.

He sounded vague. “Um. She just ... she said she missed me coz I hadn’t been home for a while.

I smelt a euphemism for ‘I am here to see what you are up to and what the hell you are hiding from us?’ I feared the worst.

“Why don’t we plan to take her out to dinner tonight?” I suggested, hoping to be able to gauge the situation better if I could meet her.

I sensed his hesitation. “That might not be such a good idea.”

“Or you could bring her over to my place if you’d rather not go out?” And she may as well see where her son would be living once he got out of college. Not to mention meet the new person in his life.

“Better not ...” his voice trailed off.

I wasn’t going to let him off the hook. “Why?”

“Well, I haven’t really told her about ... us?”

“Ah.” Thought as much. “I see.”

“It’s not something you tell your folks over the phone,” he said, sounding very defensive.

“No,” I agreed. “Now might be a good time though?” I prodded gently. “Unless you are not planning to tell them?”


“No, you are not planning to tell them, or no you are?”

I thought I heard him hurl something. “I AM planning to tell them!” He didn’t sound convincing at all.

“Marcus sweetheart, you don’t have to say anything if you are not ready, or if you don’t want to.”

“It’s not that. I was kinda hoping to tell my mom and dad together, you know? Much easier to do it once and get it over with.” He made it sound like pulling teeth. “I’ve been planning to but you know I haven’t been home...” He took a deep breath before continuing. “Stewart, its not that I am ashamed of us or anything. I d-don’t want you to misunderstand. But my folks are not used to such things.”

“Marcus,” I said as soothingly as I could. “No one is rushing you to do this, honey.”

“I know, but I want to! You don’t know anything about me, where I come from, what my home is like, how I grew up. I want to be able to take you home with me and share those things with you. Is that stupid or corny or what?”

I was touched. “Hey, that is the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me.” And I meant it. “Definitely not stupid or corny. OK?”

“Yeah,” he said, calming down a little. “By the way, Mom’s under the impression I am still with Laura!” Marcus laughed mirthlessly.

I didn’t find that very funny.

“How long is your mom staying?”

“Probably just a day or two. She can’t stay away too long; Mike’s having exams and he won’t be able to help Dad out in the store.” I remembered Mike was Marcus’ younger brother, who was in high school.

“Well then, I’ll see you when I see you. No pressure.” I said that firmly. I didn’t want Marcus to fret any more than he was already doing. “And call me if you need anything – or change your mind.”

“Love you,” he whispered.

“Me too.”

8. Philip

I looked forward to our calls at night. I knew Ben would be expecting me; he never let the phone ring more than twice. More often than not, he picked up after the first ring. I smiled to myself. I wonder if he knew he was doing that. Not many people would be so artless; no one ever gave me the impression they were waiting by the phone for my call. But that was one of the reasons I found him so attractive. Ben rarely played such games; he made it so easy to love him.

“Hi,” I said, cradling the phone between my shoulder and ear as I took my watch off. “What you doing?”

“Hi!” I could ‘hear’ Ben’s grin all the way across the miles. “I am already in bed. Reading a magazine. Just waiting for you to call.”

I grinned. “Are you sure it’s a magazine you have and not your notebook?”

Ben laughed. “Swear to God, it’s a magazine. Stewart gave it to me.”

“Why? Have you been misbehaving?” I lowered my pants and stepped out of them.

“No – I am not in any trouble. I think. Did Stewart say something to you?” Ben sounded suspicious.

“Relax; Stewart says you’ve been an angel.” Stewart had a soft spot for Ben. For all the Brats actually. I sighed as I sank into the softness of my cold hotel bed.

“Tired?” Ben asked solicitously. “If you were here, I could give you a back rub.”

I groaned. “Don’t torture me, Ben. It’s been a long day and you don’t know how much I miss you and wish you were here.”

“Me too,” Ben sighed. “What are you doing?”

“I just got undressed.”

“Are you in bed too?”

“Hmm.” I shifted to get comfortable. “I am in bed now, and I’ve got a nice spot here for you too. You would fit right into my side and you could keep me warm.”

“I could,” Ben replied. “I could do a few other things as well.”

My eyebrows shot up. “Oh really? What did you have in mind?”

There was a muffled giggle. “Well ... the back rub ...”

“Forget the back rub,” I ordered. “What else?”

“Um ... I could do a ... front rub perhaps ...?” He sounded cheeky and surprisingly rather bolder than normal.

“Interesting ... and ...?” I invited, enjoying this new Ben.

“I could sit on your lap and kiss you – would that keep you warm?”

“Definitely warm!” I chuckled and closed my eyes. “Go on.”

Ben’s breathing deepened. “And ... if I moved very slowly ...”

“Oh Ben.” He was driving me mad.

“I so wanna touch you ... “His voice had dropped and I could hardly hear him.

“Tell me Ben ... what else do you want?” I wanted to hear him say it. I was getting so turned on by him.

I thought I heard a small gulp before he whispered, “How would you want me, Philip?”

Oh God! instant erection. Whatever had got into him? Well, whatever it was, I loved it. Ben seemed to be waiting for an answer and I paused. I was quite sure Ben was a virgin when we had first made love – still is as far as anal intercourse was concerned. He had been so shy and uncomfortable that we had done other things instead and so far I hadn’t brought up the subject. I didn’t want to push him but it would appear it was the other way round. My mind raced.

“I have been thinking ...” I said softly.

“About ...?”

“About how I want to make love to you. Deeply and completely. Do you want that too?”

There was an intake of breath, and then a very soft and shy ‘yes’.

My erection was begging for attention. “I know you have never done that, Ben. But it’s all right, we can take it slow.”

“I know,” he said. His breathing was getting harder.

“You will love it when you feel me inside you,” I whispered back, my hand moving steadily. I was close to coming.

“I do want you inside me, Philip.”

My heart pounded in my chest. His voice was strained and I heard his breath catch. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what he was doing.

“Let it go babe,” I said, moving closer to my own orgasm.

After a moment or two, I heard Ben’s gasps “ah ... ah ... oh God!” - mingled with mine.


# 9 - # 12

9. Marcus

I had a feeling Stewart was gonna kill me when he found out. That sent a shiver down my spine. Why I had not told him I was leaving I didn’t know, but I just couldn’t get into any more explanations. I had enough on my mind without trying to make Stewart understand too. He was always ‘so sensible and so right’ and sometimes I didn’t need reason and I didn’t want to hear all the right things. Some days I just want to be wrong, or at least not right.

Frankly, I was too apprehensive throughout the whole journey about what I was going to say to my dad to deal with anything else. He had summoned and I was on my way home.

We grew up in a traditional household, and my dad had old-fashioned ideas. He expected respect and obedience and he got it too, from all his three sons. Mike was 18, and Pete 12, and the thought of flouting his rules never so much as entered our minds. I mean, his word was law around the house and once he had made a decision, no one dared to oppose him. Not even mom. Don’t get me wrong – he was not unfair or mean in any way. He had our best interests at heart. I wouldn’t ever call him a tyrant; it would have been very unfair to do that, and no one would describe him as such. But he was just always ... very firm and rather set in his ways.

The only one who ever had a chance to work on him or change his mind was my sister Libby. She was 16, and the child in between Mike and Pete. Maybe it’s because she was the only girl amongst us boys. Or maybe she looked exactly like mom when she was young. Whatever the reason, it was obvious dad had a soft spot for her and we made sure she was our spokesman when we needed to wheedle him into something.

As we jostled along on our merry way, I felt my phone buzzed and I glanced quickly at it. I had put it on silent mode, not wanting to disturb the other passengers in the bus. The name that showed up was Ben. What did he want with me? He had called me at least three times. Could Stewart have asked him to help track me down? Didn’t seem possible – that wasn’t Stewart’s style at all. My boyfriend was the type who did his own tracking. Some comfort I thought wryly to myself.

I killed the call and it immediately buzzed again. Damn! I was going to be doing this the whole morning at the rate my phone was going.

As I had expected, this time it was Stewart. He had been calling every half hour and there were already two messages waiting. I didn’t dare open them – I knew I was so dead already, didn’t need the reminders. As the morning wore on, it became more and more impossible to come up with a plausible reason for what I had done and it certainly was getting harder to return his calls too. I didn’t know what I could say to make it OK. Running off like that was totally unacceptable. I knew that. I felt awful about taking off without a word to Stewart. He had to be worried and probably angry by now. I shouldn’t have disappeared without a word. This was just not done; no Top would tolerate such behaviour. If I had learnt nothing else in the last few months, I had at least learnt this.

I closed my eyes. God! I hated the thought of making Stewart angry – he didn’t deserve that. If fact, it took a lot to make Stewart angry. I could picture Stewart’s face when he was not pleased about something, the sternness and worst of all the disappointment in his eyes. I felt a wave of shame sweep over me. Well, what was done was done, no point crying over spilt milk. My only consolidation was that maybe after Dad had killed me, Stewart might take pity on what was left of my poor body and let me off the hook. After all, what else could he do?

I looked out the window as the bus went over a bump, jolting its passengers awake. These country roads had a way of doing that. Almost home. My throat tightened as the vague outline of the familiar little town came into view. I had grown up here; this was my home and will always be my home in one way or another. There were memories behind every tree and along every street. Childhood memories filled with warmth and laughter. People knew me here and everything that happened got whispered around. I shuddered at the thought. I wished I had never left. I wished I had lied to dad and made up some excuse. I wanted to kick myself for being so stupid and impulsive. I wished I had found the courage to talk to Stewart first.

I froze as the bus drew to a stop. Should I turn round and ride back? Was cowardice worse than foolishness? Too late – I could see Pete’s head bobbing up and down over at the general post office, craning his neck to look at the group of passengers alighting. I swear he had grown another two inches since I last saw him! He would tower over me soon. His eyes lit up as he saw me and he waved excitedly. Ah well ...

As I headed towards Pete, I knew one thing for sure. This was family and I had no right to ignore them. What had to be done had to be done. I wasn’t brought up to be a coward.

Just as Pete reached me, the damn phone buzzed again. Without looking at caller ID, I pressed firmly down on the red button to turn it off completely, and then slipped the phone securely back into my pocket as I caught Pete up in a bear hug.

10. Ben

I stared at the calendar on my desk, feeling frustrated. Philip was coming home in two days and I was building slowly to a panic. What have I done and what the hell was I thinking of? I had become ... unnatural. God, I had slipped into a totally new personality, and I dared admit to only myself it was one I rather enjoyed. My newfound persona was thrilling and intoxicating and I was getting bolder by the day (or more appropriately the night). It was like being Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I wondered if this was how schizophrenia started. I heard myself giggling and told myself sharply to shut up.

My palms got clammy as I imagined being with Philip again. His hands on me, caressing, undressing me.... Stop it! I said to myself. I needed a cold shower – again.

It was one thing to tease and flirt on the phone (ever heard of safety in distance?) and quite another when you were dealing face to face with reality. There was no frigging place to hide. I couldn’t decide if it was fear or excitement I felt. I was sure it was both. Philip had made promises (undeniably led on by my promptings and hints).... and I had been thinking a lot about those promises lately, which made the thought of our reunion rather ... um, daunting.

I had tried to reach Marcus all morning – damn it! Where was he when I needed him? I hadn’t been able to speak with him since that evening at Stewart’s when his mom suddenly appeared. I wondered what had been the outcome of that. He had left immediately after the call, looking rather upset. I gathered his family didn’t know about his relationship with Stewart, which in itself wasn’t surprising. My family didn’t know about Philip either. Not many men I knew went around telling their families and friends they were sleeping with another man. Just the thought made me break out in a cold sweat. I wondered if my office colleagues knew I was gay; I doubt it. It has been easy enough to explain the endless calls from Philip and Stewart because they were sort of like friends who had become clients.

Come to think of it, I should talk to Marcus about this as well – when IS the right time to tell your folks? Or never? Perhaps we could compare notes and see if we could learn off one another. I wondered how he was dealing with his family. If he felt the same way as I did, I am sure it can’t be easy for him. Stewart wouldn’t tell me much when I tried to probe, no surprises there. I mentioned it to Philip later that night, but he didn’t comment much either. The only thing he said was, “You’re being nosy. Stop right there - Stewart’s got him covered.”

I snorted silently. Much he knew about such things. Brats didn’t tell their Tops everything. Only things they wanted their Tops to know, or when they think they can’t get away with it so they might as well confess.

I had been with the Fraternity for years now and I had seen how protective the Tops can get – all of them. They probably can’t help it; like they have a hidden lever in their guts which engaged automatically. It was just a part of them, of how they were constructed. They don’t see it but we do. It makes them a bit bossy of course, and anal I suppose, all these Tops. I think sometimes that’s what stops the Brats from telling them stuff. I know I wouldn’t tell Philip or Stewart certain things because of how they might or would react. I wouldn’t keep things from them to be deceitful. I just don’t think they need to know everything and then get excited for no reason.

Then again, perhaps that’s what draws us Brats to them. The thing is you can’t pick and choose what you like about your Tops or how you want them to behave with you in a certain situation. It’s a whole package deal thing. For instance, I love the feeling of Philip watching over me, and of being able to relinquish responsibility to him when things got out of hand. I like the sense of security I feel and when things don’t go right, I want him to intervene and make it right for me. In fact, I expect it. But I want to be able to decide when I want it and when I don’t need it. I don’t want to be a Brat all the time. But I don’t think I will ever get to choose when I want to be a Brat and when I want to NOT be a Brat. That’s not how it works (unfortunately). A clever Brat learns that fast enough. A slower Brat – well, what can I say?

It comes with it a price.

Marcus was the newest of our members and quite a novice at that. He’d only just heard of DP a few months ago. One summer at Willcott couldn’t have prepared him enough but he was a quick learner and I felt compelled to look out for him. He’s decent and kind, and well-mannered, and I really like him. He wouldn’t put you in a difficult position like Dayton occasionally might. Marcus didn’t do things to intentionally get into trouble either, like Dayton. In fact, I could see Marcus try very hard to steer clear of trouble. I didn’t think Stewart had spanked him at all, apart from the occasional swats, which didn’t really mean a thing. Tops did that to reassert their positions, or just as a warning. Brats didn’t ever need to get beyond that if they played it smart and safe. Again, it depends on how bright a Brat you were.

11. Stewart

I gave up trying around noon. He wasn’t going to answer. Driving round to Marcus’ place yielded no results, except to confirm that he wasn’t home. I had never known Marcus to ignore my calls. I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel. But that’s not to say he wouldn’t. Hadn’t he done the exact thing with his mom?

I sat in the car for about five minutes before deciding I was behaving like a fool. If he didn’t want to take my calls it was obvious he was avoiding me so sitting in the car like some stalking PI wasn’t going to help my case.

When I got home, I decided to call Ben. The two of them had become good friends and Brats talked to Brats. It was a universal law – at least in the universe of The Fraternity – that if one Brat planned something unauthorized or unsanctioned, there would be at least one other Brat who knew about it. It was as if they had to leave a trail. We always told our fellow Tops to tactfully keep their distance when they saw two or more Brats’ heads together. The best way to find out was through the Top-vine. One never knew what a Brat might unwittingly tell you about another Brat and when their Tops compared notes the picture usually quickly fell into place. It was one of our best kept secrets.

I decided to use the direct approach. Ben was one of the most sensible Brats I have ever met. “Are you sure he didn’t mention to you what he was planning on doing today, or where he was going?”

Ben thought for a while and came up with nothing. I didn’t think he was hiding anything from me, which meant I was at another dead end.

“Shall I come over?” Ben asked. “Do you want me to help look around for him?”

“No,” I said quickly. I was concerned but not that concerned – yet! “Not the slightest need for you to do that.”

“Do you think something might have happened to him?”

I hesitated. I was already forming an idea in my head but preferred to keep it to myself. “Don’t you worry about it, Ben. Marcus will be fine.”

“Well, if you say so ...” He was obviously concerned.

We got interrupted as the front door bell rang. My hopes flared. I had given Marcus a key but perhaps he had forgotten it?

“Do I hear the bell?” Ben asked, his voice eager.

“Yeah – let me see if it’s ... “I hurried to the hallway. “Coming,” I called out as the bell rang again, followed by a series of impatient knocks.

I heard scuffle outside the door followed by a sharp tone and a distinct swat, and yanked it open to stare into Dayton’s face.

“Hi Stewart,” he greeted me, with a sulky look thrown back at Paul. “I’m here as instructed. But I want it be known that I am doing it UNDER PROTEST and it is totally against my wishes. I want to make it clear that I DO NOT NEED A BABYSITTER!”

Damn! I had forgotten all about this. I quickly spoke into the phone which was still at my ear. “Ben honey, its Dayton. He’s spending the weekend with me. I gotta go but I’ll call you later.”

I had agreed to take Dayton for the weekend as a continuation of a punishment. His punishment, I might add, but I thought it might just as well apply to me. Handling Dayton when he was in fighting mode was no walk in the park. He had been grounded by Paul for a whole month and going into his third week he was ready to tear his hair out and that of whoever was watching over him too. Paul didn’t want to risk leaving him alone at home for a whole weekend while he had to attend to some urgent family affairs out of town.

Paul rolled his eyes apologetically at me and I smiled at them both. “Hello Dayton. It’s good to see you again too.”

Paul reached out and took a stiff Dayton in his arms and gave him a quick kiss. “Be good,” he said with a warning tone in his voice, which Dayton skilfully ignored. “I’ll see you Sunday evening. And I expect Stewart to give me a pristine report, understand? I’ll call you in a couple of hours.”

Dayton swallowed and suddenly threw his arms around Paul and hugged him back tightly. “You be good too!” he retorted in a thick voice.

Paul laughed and patted his Brat’s butt. “I will. Smart ass.”

Paul was the perfect Top for Dayton, and we were all pleased when the two of them had hooked up together. Their personalities were so well matched that the result was simply awesome. For a time, Philip and I had despaired about ever finding a Top for Dayton. Every Top who had dealt with Dayton had found him too high maintenance. One weekend with Dayton and I was ready to check myself into a hospital to recuperate. We were both happy and relieved when Paul came along. He seemed to take it all within his stride. Perhaps he was used to dealing with an exceptionally large and demanding family which included some really difficult personalities. He had infinite patience and calm – two essential qualities when dealing with Dayton. Paul didn’t get fazed easily. We watched and observed from a distance and held our breaths. Dayton finally admitted he had met a Top who matched his mettle.

“Take your bag and go put it in the guest room upstairs,” I said to Dayton as he drew away from Paul. “You’ve been there before.”

Dayton looked at Paul from under his lashes, and murmured, “I hate it when you leave me like this. But I hate it the most when you don’t trust me.” Before Paul could respond, he brushed past me and ran up the stairs.

“I’m sorry Stewart,” Paul said, shaking his head. “We’ve been through it a few times already and I have explained why I need to go. He is just being difficult. I really do appreciate this last minute arrangement. There’s no way I can take him when he is in this shape. I have some sensitive family issues to iron out ... The stress from the family meetings alone would totally unsettle him and I can’t leave him by himself ...”

“Say no more, Paul,” I cut in. “I understand and it’s no trouble at all. I want you to go and stop worrying about Dayton. Any special rules I should know about?”

Paul paused. “Well, he’s of course grounded, so he’s confined to the house unless he goes out with you. Apart from that, I’ve given him back full privileges.” I sighed with relief and looked gratefully at Paul. “TV, phone, music, computer. He’s a lot of work Stewart, but you know that already.”

I patted Paul’s arm and laughed at his expression. “Yes I do, and it’ll be fine. I will call you if I need any other information, or ammunition.”

We both chuckled and I watched Paul walk off to his car.

12. Philip

I checked my watch and hurried into the airport. It was late Saturday night and I was lucky to get a flight at this hour. I had somehow managed to compress my schedule and I was leaving for home two days early. I couldn’t help smiling to myself every time I thought of that. Never mind I was dog tired and dishevelled, and would probably not get much sleep that night, but it beat spending another two days in some lonely city.

I had called Ben earlier and told him I wouldn’t be calling again that night. I hadn’t told him I was rushing to catch a flight home – I thought I would surprise him. I should be home by early Sunday morning, and I was planning on waking him up with a nice cup of coffee. And then perhaps we could go back to bed ... a whole day for us to do whatever we wanted.

That sounded like heaven.

# 13 - # 20

13. Marcus

I sat on my old bed in the semi-darkness and stared at the wooden figurine in my hand. It had been a gift from my dad years ago, at an age when I got excited at playing with cowboys and sheriffs and red Indians. He had given me one figurine every year to mark my birthday – they were particularly fine ones, hand crafted and meticulously painted - and I had spent many years zealously guarding them as I watched my little collection grow. I couldn’t remember when I had stopped playing with them but even when I had lost interest I had not thrown them away. It became a ritual that whenever I came home I would take out the box that held all those beautiful figurines to admire them.

How I wished life was as simple as before. I put the box carefully away, and fished my cellphone from my pocket. I had kept it off since I got off the bus. Gnawing my lower lip, I asked myself - to dial or not to dial? I felt alone and vulnerable and somewhat detached from the rest of my family who were still noisily chatting downstairs - those very people whom I had always thought I could depend on no matter what happened. Well, what the fuck happened? Home is where I could be my natural self and I would be accepted unconditionally, wasn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Suddenly I found I didn’t know if that was true any more. I was no longer myself in their midst even though no one had said a harsh word to me so far. Everything had been the same but I felt different – inside. I was no longer me, not even here in my old room where there were no questioning eyes and the memories of my past still clung to me.

I bowed my head in defeat, listening to the sounds of their voices rise and fall. A shout of laughter, familiar noises as they bantered and argued over something, and then more laughter. Normal family sounds which no longer included me. When had I become such a stranger?

Dinner had been good; mom hadn’t lost her touch and she had made all my favourites. I smiled my appreciation and tucked in, not wanting to disappoint her but honestly my appetite was lost. Mike and Libby and even twelve-year old Pete had demanded to be told everything, asking endless questions about college and what I was doing. I could understand their envy and enthusiasm; I was the lucky one who had ‘escaped’. I was living in a big city, all by myself and with all the freedom in the world. No chores, no time-table, no rules – or so they thought. When would be their turn to get a taste of this slice of heaven? Their eyes sparkled as I described college life and the malls and cinemas and parks. They didn’t get out that often.

I humoured them, navigating their questions with safe answers and there were a lot of teasing and jokes. I found myself choking a bit when they asked about last summer, where I’d gone to work, what I did, and said how much they’d miss me. Dad would have told the family that I got a summer job and couldn’t be home all summer. No one seemed to think that extraordinary. Stewart must have done a good number convincing my dad. I described Willcott a bit, making it sound like a summer retreat of sorts, with visiting guests. It was easy to tell them how much I had fallen in love with the place; I didn’t have to lie about that. And all the time I was feeling horribly homesick and contemplated of the irony of it all. There I was at home with my family and I was homesick for a place I had seen only one summer.

Mom just smiled, happy that her brood was home and complete, and piled my plate and then got up to serve dessert but I knew dad was watching me. He didn’t say much, ate his dinner in his quiet way but I knew he was listening and digesting the information. All the things I didn’t say. Or couldn’t say. I avoided his eyes as much as possible but I was careful not to make it too pointed. The last thing I needed was to get on his bad side. He had greeted me genially enough when I went to the store and he had given me a quick tight hug. I stayed there an hour or so, helping Mike out some in the storeroom and then dad had shooed me home to see mom. His tone had been gruff but affectionate too. That comforted me slightly. So far, I had managed not to be alone with him, which was not extremely difficult with so many siblings tripping over my feet. But I could tell he had plans for me.

Once the dishes had been washed and stacked away, I yawned and claiming tiredness announced that I would go to bed. I slipped away, before the situation could get awkward. I wondered if dad would stop me but he bade me good night together with the rest and I ran up the stairs, and sighed with relief.

And now, there was Stewart to think about. I had behaved horribly to him. My heart pounded slightly as I switched my phone on. My fingers began to press the familiar buttons, and without quite knowing what to say, I held the phone to my ear.

14. Ben

I was a bit piqued when Philip called and said he would have to cancel our evening call. Drat! Oh heck, I knew if he could help it he wouldn’t have cancelled, and I knew I had no right to feel that way but honestly I was SO not looking forward to spending a lonely Saturday evening all by myself.
I drummed my fingers on my laptop, for once reluctant to switch it on. I didn’t fancy staring at rows of numbers for hours before finally ordering in a pizza and eating it alone in the dark. How pathetic was I? I wanted to be doing something! Everyone I knew had something to do – Stewart was busy with Dayton, Paul was visiting family, Marcus was playing hide-and-seek, and Philip probably had tons of colleagues or clients to keep him occupied! I was suddenly quite horrified to realize that I didn’t really have that many friends. I didn’t go out much with the guys at the office and I don’t even know my neighbour next door. Jeez - I really should make an effort to increase my social circle. Apart from the Fraternity members, I didn’t really know anyone else socially.

I bit a nail as I pondered my situation. Finally I grabbed my car keys and left the house. It took me less than fifteen minutes to reach Stewart’s place. He had always been my salvation. I could always come to him or Philip. Still, I wasn’t too sure now that I had arrived if my idea was as good as I thought. I mean, I’ve been to Stewart’s place enough times to feel perfectly at home there and he always welcomed me no matter what time I showed up, but he had Dayton with him. I wasn’t sure how things were with the wildcat in the house – I had heard Dayton shouting when Stewart called me earlier. I didn’t want to be in the way if Stewart was having his hands full.

15. Stewart

I had just finished cleaning up after dinner when my phone rang. A quick glance and I saw it was Marcus. I flipped it open and almost barked ‘hello’.

He sounded weary and my heart softened. “Are you all right, Marcus? Where are you honey?”

“I’m sorry Stewart,” he whispered and I thought I heard a sniffle. His voice was undoubtedly husky. I let him ramble a few seconds; he kept repeating how sorry he was until I stopped him.

“Are you at home?” I asked and there was a long pause. “I mean with your folks?”


I let out a sigh of relief. Thank God! I softened my voice, hoping I sounded supportive and encouraging. “How did it go? Talked to your dad yet?” I knew how uptight he was about this whole thing and I wished I could help him but he had held me at arms length.

“No, we haven’t ... he hasn’t said anything so far. Probably tomorrow ... anyway I just wanted to say I’m sorry I left without telling you but ...”

“It’s ok Marcus.” Of course what he did was not ok, disappearing like that without a word to me or anyone for that matter, but the last thing I wanted was to distress him further. “I understand. We’ll talk about this when you get back.” I said soothingly.

He groaned. “And we all know what that means!”

I smiled to myself. “When are you planning on coming back?”

“Um ... I will probably catch the bus after lunch. C-can I come over tomorrow? It’s Sunday.” We had made it a norm to spend the whole Sunday together and I was pleased Marcus mentioned it. It showed he valued the consistency and stability of the structure we had set up.

“Of course,” I replied without hesitation.

“C-can I stay the night too? I know there are classes the next day. ... I’m not planning for us to go into college together ... I will get up early and go home first ... I’m just sorry I wasted our weekend ... I want to make it up ...”

“Marcus, listen, you can come over any time babe, and you can stay over tomorrow night as well. OK?” Even though that was NOT the norm, I was willing to make an exception. Marcus sounded decidedly edgy and down, and to be honest, I already missed him and the thought of being able to hold him as we slept was too tempting to resist.

I heard him sigh softly.

“Now stop worrying and I don’t want to hear you apologising any more ... um, hang on a second.” I looked up as Dayton and Ben trooped into the kitchen.

“Paul hasn’t called yet!” Dayton grumbled. “He said he would call after dinner – how long does that family take to eat a meal?”

Ben rolled his eyes at me. He saw me with the phone and asked eagerly. “Is that Marcus? Tell him I’ve been looking all over for him!”

“Why are you looking for him?” Dayton asked, full of curiosity. He came over to stand next to me and trying to speak into the phone. “Hi Marcus, where are you?”

I shook my head at Dayton and he looked at me. “Why is he not here? Are you two fighting?”

I frowned at Dayton but the damage was already done. “No, we are not fighting, and yes, I’m talking to Marcus,” I replied, “and I need you two to give us a minute, ok?” I waved my hand at the general direction of the living room and indicated for them to leave. I watched Ben hurriedly pull Dayton’s arm and they disappeared to the front of the house.

I turned my attention back to Marcus. “Hey, sorry about that ... “

“Who was that?”

“Dayton – and Ben ...“ As I had anticipated, I could already sense Marcus’ antagonism. Before I could explain further, Marcus erupted. “What’s he doing there?”

“Paul had a family emergency,” I said calmly. “He had to go out of town and Dayton is spending the night with me.” I wanted to kick myself. I realized too late how that sounded and quickly added, “Paul couldn’t take him and asked a favour. Ben’s here too. He dropped by; he’s been looking for you all day.”

The diversion didn’t work. There was a pregnant silence, and then Marcus growled. “Will he still be there tomorrow?”

“If you mean Dayton, then yes probably Marcus. I don’t expect Paul back so early. Look, it’s not a problem, honey.”

“Why can’t he go with Paul? Why can’t Paul take him if it’s only family? How come ...”

There was no way we could do this over the phone and especially amidst Marcus’ current state of mind. “Marcus, we are not discussing Dayton, all right?” I said firmly. “And Paul does not need to explain his plans to you or me. He asked for a favour and I gladly agreed. Dayton staying here is not an issue and you know it. So do not make Dayton the scapegoat. And let’s not make a fuss over something that has been explained to you. I don’t want to hear another word about it!”

I heard a movement and looked around but whoever it was had moved away. I hoped it was Ben going to the loo. I spent a few minutes trying to placate Marcus but he was obviously intent on being difficult. My guess was, stressed and upset as he already was, he was simply using this as an excuse to let off steam. He was fully aware of my role in The Fraternity and had never shown any signs of distrust or jealousy in the past when I had topped other Brats.

“Look Marcus, can I call you back?” I thought I heard whispers and the front door open. Suddenly my Top radar was going off.

“I’m going to bed!” he said, waspishly.

“Keep your phone on, Marcus. I will call you back in a few minutes.” I said rather sharply. The voices up front were getting louder.

There was a distinct grunt on the other end of the line and I repeated my request, as firmly as I could. Marcus hung up abruptly but my attention was already caught by the altercation in the hallway. Moving quickly I went towards the front of the house.

“Ben! Dayton!” I raised my voice, when I didn’t see either of them in the living room. Quickening my pace, I yanked the front door open, just in time to catch a glimpse of Ben’s white face as he turned back to look at me.

16. Philip

“What did you say?” The waiting lounge was noisy with a couple of kids screaming their lungs out and I wasn’t sure if I heard correctly.

“I said I have just lost two Brats, one of them yours.”

I kept silent for a while – not sure if Stewart was joking or serious. “Ben’s there with you?”

“Well, he was with me, but he no longer is.” Stewart quickly explained what had transpired.

“What? You say Marcus is gone too?” I asked, slightly bewildered. What the heck was happening - was it a full moon?

“I’ll fill you in on that later.” Stewart sighed. “I think Dayton must have overheard my conversation with Marcus, and took off. They took Ben’s car.”

“Well, I can’t imagine why Ben went along with that madcap, but if Ben is driving, he will probably just take a couple of turns and then head back,” I said comfortingly. “You know Ben; he wouldn’t take any stupid unnecessary risks.”

“Unfortunately, I believe Dayton is driving,” Stewart said dryly.

“I see ...” I bit my lip, thinking hard. Knowing Dayton, once he took an irrational idea into his head, that would more than likely set him off, especially if he was already upset over being left behind by Paul. What Ben had to do in all of this I didn’t know but I was sure as hell going to find out. “So what do you want me to do?” I glanced at my watch. I was three hours ahead which meant it was about nine for Stewart.

“I have called them both but neither one is answering. I thought you might have more luck with Ben.”

I raised my brows in surprise. “That does not sound like Ben – but yes, I will do that, Stewart. Actually I am at the airport now – I’m catching the red eye. I managed to get a ticket. I was planning on surprising Ben. Well, let me see if I can reach him. I will call you back if I can. It’s getting pretty close to boarding.”

As soon as we hung up, I pressed my speed dial for Ben. He picked up after four rings – a record for him. “Hi honey,” I said casually.

Ben sounded cautious. “Hey. I thought you weren’t going to call?”

“Yeah I know - and I hope this is a nice surprise? So what are you up to?” Tops are allowed to practise a little craftiness when their Brats are in trouble.

He hesitated, and then replied slowly. “Um, nothing much?”

“Where are you, Ben?” A direct question. I didn’t have that much time to play games. Ben had no guile and I waited to see what he would say.

“Oh. Ah. I am ... at home?” He sounded hopeful.

I shook my head and sighed. Ben made a horrible liar. I had never heard a less convincing lie.

17. Marcus

I couldn’t believe Stewart would let me hang up on him, and then not call back. I waited for ten minutes, and then fuming to myself went to get ready for bed. Before climbing into bed, I checked to make sure the phone was charging correctly but still no call came. Well!

I huffed loudly and pummelled my pillows savagely. Out on the landing, I could hear footfalls as the rest of my family began to come up to bed too. We didn’t keep late hours even on weekends as dad insisted we opened the store every day. The only difference being Sunday was we opened an hour later than usual and closed early if there weren’t many customers. The way he figured it, Sunday was the day most people had the time to go shopping and browse, and he wasn’t about to take away the convenience which he most definitely would if he closed on that day.

I easily identified each set of footsteps. The last was dad and for a sickening moment I feared he would come in to talk to me – like he used to do every time I was in disgrace and had been sent to my room – but thankfully he walked past my door and I heard his own closing. I breathed easier and slid down in bed, glaring at my phone and the clock on my side table.

I wondered what Stewart was doing and why he hadn’t called when he said he would. I’ve never known him to break his word. Well, at least he hadn’t sounded angry; in fact he had sounded normal. Caring, solicitous - and firm. However, his promise of a ‘talk’ didn’t sound promising at all. I hated that phrase. It made me terribly tense every time he sat me down for a discussion, and we’ve had a few of those. He could be so stern and I found it dreadfully hard to look him in the eye when he was displeased or annoyed about something I had done. Even though he had not spanked me since coming back from Willcott, I still recalled what it was like to be bare-assed over his lap. And the sting that had left me absolutely breathless. It was not an experience I wanted to repeat any time soon. I wondered if I had not earned it this time though. I mean – running off without permission, turning my phone off and not returning his calls, and then my attitude when we finally talked. I felt my stomach churn and changed my mind about turning off my phone again. I really didn’t need to be in any deeper.

I felt my eyelids start to droop as I lay in the darkness. It had been an emotionally draining day and I was tired. How long was I supposed to wait? He had said clearly TO WAIT. But he had definitely been distracted as hell, so perhaps he had forgotten? That thought no sooner entered my head and was discarded. No, Stewart would never forget a promise either. Frankly I hated the thought of Dayton spending the night with Stewart especially when I was not there. Come to think of it, I wasn’t too keen with Ben spending the night there either, and he and I were good friends. Of course I realized it was all part of what he did in our community and it was done with the best of intentions. But still ... tonight I wanted Stewart to be worrying about me, not some other Brat in his house.

What was Dayton up to now?

18. Ben

“We have to turn back!” I said urgently to Dayton.

“I am not going back where I am not wanted!” Dayton scoffed.

I fought an urge to swat him. “That’s just nonsense,” I argued. “Stewart would never say that, and if he did he didn’t mean it then. Or you have taken it out of context, which can happen SO EASILY! And for chrissake please slow down? I should never have given you my keys! I don’t want to add getting a speeding ticket and being hauled off to the police station to our already very long list of transgressions. I don’t think either of us is going to be sitting down comfortably for a long while, as it is!”

“Are you going to stop whining? Or do you want me to stop and let you off?” Dayton asked crossly. “Otherwise shut up! I need to think.”

“What is there to think?” I wanted to shake him; he could be so infuriating, and I was bitterly regretting everything – how on earth did I let him talk me into going with him. “Stewart is going to kill us when he finds us. And so will Philip when he comes back. And so will Paul!” I felt my haw drop in horror as I began to grasp the full implication of our actions. “I just LIED to Philip. Do you know I have NEVER done that?” I barely stopped myself from screaming out ‘and it’s all your fault’. Although it really was.

Dayton said with disgust, “Wimp! Why the fuck didn’t you just stick with your story and say you’re at home?”

“I couldn’t!” I protested hotly.

Dayton turned to look at me, his eyes wide. “And did you have to tell him everything?”

“He already knows I was with you at Stewart’s. I am sure Stewart called him already. What an idiot I am; I should have guessed it. And now I am in serious trouble for lying as well. Telling a lie is as good as a cardinal sin and I LIED! They tell you this the day you become a member and they don’t stop drumming it into your head. I should never have come with you!”

“So why did you?”

“Because ... well because you looked so upset and I was afraid you might do something stupid, and ... and because I was stupid enough to think you needed me!”

There was a long pause, and then in a much milder tone, Dayton said again, “You are such a wimp!”

I shut up, hurt. That was what I got for trying to help. I turned my face to look out the window and silently planned to sms Stewart the moment I had a chance. Dayton was a devil-child. I was convinced of that. I didn’t think I needed to rile him up further. I hung on to my seat, praying hard that he didn’t crash us. My best (and only) strategy was to quickly and quietly let Stewart know where we were once we stopped so he could come and get us.

Hopefully before Dayton got us killed.

19. Stewart

By the time I called back Marcus, he must have fallen asleep. He sounded disoriented and his voice was thick and slurry. This time it was I who apologized but he wasn’t too keen on hearing me out and in the end I just decided to let him go back to sleep.

“Call me before you board the bus tomorrow,” I said before I allowed him to hang up. “And keep your phone on young man.”

He grunted.

“Did you hear me, Marcus?”

“Yeah, yeah, OK. Can I go back to sleep now?”

“Would you like to re-phrase that, hmm?”

His voice dropped to a whine. “Sorry, but I’m tired. I was asleep already and you woke me!”

I sighed resignedly and said, “All right then. Good night sweetheart. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He hung up without another word and I fought a desire to call back. But I didn’t; I had a few other urgent matters to take care of. Damn - my night was far from over.

Philip was due back in the morning and I had asked him to come over to my place directly. We tacitly had agreed that Paul need not be notified at this stage. There was really nothing he could do except worry from a distance and I was pretty sure he had enough on his mind at the moment. Besides, I felt awful having lost his Brat and didn’t quite feel like having to explain to my fellow Top how I had been so remiss.

Thank God Philip had managed to speak with Ben and he had assured me Ben would let me know where to find them as soon as he was able. I guess I ought to be grateful for Ben. Apparently Ben told Philip he had tried to stop Dayton from leaving, and when he could not convince him, had himself gone along to keep Dayton out of trouble. Philip actually chuckled when he relayed that part of the tale to me. I was too exasperated to share in his mirth. With some luck I should have both Brats back with me by the time Philip arrived and he could handle his own Brat. I would have my hands full with Dayton, of that I was sure.

Luckily for my sanity, it wasn’t too long before my phone buzzed to indicate an sms from Ben, and I read the message quickly. Grabbing my keys, I texted in my reply to stay put and was out the front door. They had stopped at a bar about half an hour away and I found it after a few missed turns and a series of ribald curses I wouldn’t dream of uttering in front of a Brat. I made my way inside warily; it wasn’t a locality I was familiar with, and it was not the most respectable of neighbourhoods either. I spotted both Brats without difficulty. Thankfully no one seemed to pay them any attention as they sat at the bar, one brooding over a pint while the other looked anxiously around.

“Ready to go home, boys?” I asked as I came to stand directly behind them.

Ben, who had seen me approaching, jumped off his stool and nodded immediately. Dayton jerked his head up and his eyes widened as he registered my presence. He glared at Ben. “Shit. I should have guessed. Traitor.”

It was hard to see Dayton’s eyes clearly in the dim lighting but I suspected they were rather red, and I thought I detected a note of relief in his voice despite his words. “Come Dayton. Stop wasting time. We’re going home.”

Dayton didn’t move. Instead he said, “I want to go home, but to my own house, not yours.”

I shook my head firmly at him. “That is not your decision. Now come on, no more games. Ben, you drive yourself back – to my house! You are staying with me tonight as well. Dayton, you are coming with me.”

Ben snatched the car keys up from the bar counter before Dayton could. “Come on,” Ben urged.

When Dayton didn’t move, I leaned closer and spoke in his ear. “Do you want to create a scene here, Dayton?”

Ben’s eyes were large and beseeching. “Come one Dayton. Let’s go, please?”

Dayton’s face was mutinous but he slid off the high stool and at the same time reached for his beer. “At least let me finish this.”

I reached out and stopped him, grasping his arm. “That’s enough. No more Dayton. We are leaving now.”

He scowled and snatched his hand away. “It’s just a beer!” He snapped.

“And I am saying leave it. Now!” My voice was sharp enough to elicit instant obedience from him. He must have felt my hand move down to the seat of his jeans because he strategically turned to protect his bum. His eyes darted up to mine and for a long moment we stared at one another. I held his easily. Behind me, I could feel Ben shuffling his feet nervously.

Dayton’s lip was folded in a firm line, his eyes still smouldering. But I saw him swallow a couple of times before his lips quivered and then he dropped his eyes and with a flounce, quietly followed me out.

20. Philip

I figured I would go home first to take a shower and freshen up before I went over to Stewart’s. Ben, I knew, would have spent the night there. I had agreed with Stewart that he would keep Ben there till I came to fetch him home. I didn’t call them as it was barely dawn and in all probability they were all asleep. I could only imagine what kind of night Stewart must have had. Losing three Brats all in one day? I sniggered –some Top.

My flight had been delayed but otherwise was uneventful. Still, these red-eyes really took every ounce out of you. Rubbing my jaw and then my eyes, I hurried through the gates into the chilly morning air. I got a cab without any difficulty being that early, gave my address and sank back into the back seat. I still had an hour or so to decide how I would handle the situation. My mind played through the last telephone conversation with Ben as I sat in the cab. His panic was apparent when I had asked him again where he was – this time my tone had been much sterner. He had come clean without a fight.

Listening quietly, I let him finish and then I had coolly given Ben strict instructions to let Stewart know where they were. I could tell from his tone that he was already very remorseful and probably feeling sorry for himself for having landed in such an unenviable situation. I wasn’t really mad at Ben for lying, considering the circumstances. I’m not saying he had no other choice or he couldn’t have handled it any other way. He could have called out for Stewart, he could have been firmer, he need not have surrendered his keys to Dayton ... then again it was Dayton we are talking about and Ben probably never had a chance with him. In fact, I had told Stewart when I spoke with him again that he should thank Ben for having gone with Dayton. I didn’t expect Stewart to agree with me, and he hadn’t.

In this case, Ben was sticking up for a friend and trying to control a bad situation. But in trying to be helpful he broke a rule. Ben knew as well as I did and as well as every other Brat did - that lying was not tolerated within the Fraternity. Of course it still happened and more often than we would like to think, for a host of colourful reasons but no matter what, a lie was a lie and we had to deal with it.

The reality was everyone told little untruths all the time; sometimes it was the most practical thing to do; sometimes it was out of politeness, sometimes simply because we didn’t know what else to say. But we couldn’t allow such ambiguity within our ranks. The non negotiable no-lying rule was put in place to protect our Brats and to let our Tops do their jobs effectively. How they punished could be moderated depending on the circumstance; the rule would remain steadfast. Otherwise we would never hear the end of it given all those caveats.

We usually devoted a whole afternoon to all our new Brats, explaining in detail the ills and consequences of lying, which included all possibilities ranging from evading the truth to omitting vital information to memory loss and forgetting to mention details. There was absolutely no room for a Brat to manoeuvre around it. It was simply not accepted.

There was so much more that Ben could bring in for his defence, but that wouldn’t make a jot of difference. There was no way out of it no matter how he justified his actions or how sorry he already was.

Well, my boy was going to be even sorrier when I got my hands on him.

# 21 - # 24

21. Marcus

The knock on my door woke me and I opened one eye sleepily. It took me a few seconds to register where I was but the sight of my father entering my room sent off alarm bells immediately. It reminded me of past times when he had had occasion to come in for a ‘chat’.

“Wake up son. Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes.”

I blinked at him. He looked harmless enough, even had a small smile on his face. He was already neatly dressed and clean shaven, like he always looked in the morning for as long as I could remember. I could probably count on one hand the times he had not gone in to the store – a couple of times when he had to go away on some business and once to attend the funeral of some relative. He never stayed away when he was sick, preferring to take a short nap at the back of the store in between customers.

Dad also put a lot of emphasis on personal hygiene and appearance and I suppose some of that had rubbed off on us kids. We always made sure our hair was combed and our shirts tidily tucked in before we left the house. We were used to people pointing us out as examples to their own grubby kids and though that usually embarrassed the hell out of us, we always smirked when we were alone again.

“What time is it?” I looked around at the small bedside clock.

“Almost eight. Time to be up and about. Your mother is making your favourite breakfast so don’t dawdle. Anyway, I have to be at the store by nine, and I want us to have a chat before I leave.”

That went straight to my brain. I sat up, fully awake and deflated. “Um, yeah, I’ll be right down.”

22. Ben

I tossed about on the unfamiliar bed for hours before I finally fell asleep. The unmistakable sound of Dayton getting punished made me pull the pillow over my head. Stewart must have taken him into the study but I could still hear it, faint as it was. It was almost impossible to not know when someone got spanked in the house. The sound of wood on a bare bottom was like a crack. It sounded like a serious paddling to me and I wondered if that too would be my fate when Philip came home. I cringed.

I knew I was done with Stewart – thank God for that. The six swats in front of Dayton were hard to bear, but they were more of a warning to not repeat what I had done than actual chastisement. I didn’t think Stewart had been all that mad with me after all. But Philip....

My life as a Brat had been rather uneventful enough, right up to this point that is. I had always obeyed direct orders from the Tops, never openly defied any of them and I had never blatantly lied. I had also never ever run off from right under the nose of my supervising Top or refused to answer my phone. My transgressions so far had mostly been limited to a series of not sleeping or eating properly, neglecting to see a doctor when I was sick, perhaps a quiet tantrum or two when I was thwarted. Nothing major like this.

I shuddered as bits and pieces of memories kept slipping into my mind, helped not at all by the fact that Philip knew exactly what I had done. Fortunately he was only coming home in a couple of days and that might give him some time to cool off. Still, I was sure he would be asking a whole bunch of questions which, unfortunately for me, I wouldn’t have the answers. I had sometimes secretly envied those Brats who were constantly in trouble with their Tops, wishing I too dared to test their wills and see how far I could go. Didn’t all Brats want a taste of that? I often wondered how that would feel like but I never dared try it. There was so much more I wanted as a Brat – things I had never experienced before - but I had never crossed the line, not in this way.

Oh well ... perhaps it was time. Looks like I would soon find out what it felt like to mess up in a major way.

I could play the Dayton card but somehow I didn’t think I would. It was beneath me and it probably wouldn’t throw Philip off that easily. Philip was patient and generous and kind but he was no pushover and I had never known him to let a Brat off easy like that. Heck, I had never known him to let a Top off easy either; when he took a new Top under his wing, his training and guidance was as stringent as when he dealt with a Brat in trouble.

Taking comfort in the thought that I had at least a couple of days to think how to handle Philip, I turned my mind to a more pressing matter - Stewart. I had a great relationship with Stewart and I would go to any lengths to maintain my good standing with him and I thought with regret and dread I may have disappointed Stewart beyond redemption.

Stewart hadn’t said much when we arrived back at his house. He just put us both into our corners and told us curtly to ‘stand still and be quiet’. I think he left us there for about ten minutes. As I silently counted the seconds, I thought I heard Dayton sniffling, but when Stewart called to us to turn around, Dayton looked quite calm so I could have been mistaken.

It was terribly difficult to look Stewart in the eye so I kept mine on the carpet. I had no idea what Dayton was doing. I stole a glance at Stewart out of the corner of my eye and saw him lean against the back of the sofa as he regarded us and cross his arms. Oh God, that was such a defensive pose and it meant he was cross. He looked at us quietly for a long while and then he started. The lecture he gave us both was stinging, stern, severe and extremely painful. I felt like weeping long before he finished and even Dayton was subdued and didn’t make any retorts. Thank God for small miracles!

“Benjamin, tell me did you do wrong?” Stewart suddenly barked.

I jumped. Did he expect me to answer or was that a rhetoric question. Damn, he was looking straight at me so clearly he was expecting an answer.

“Um ... I ...”

“I am waiting, Benjamin.”

I felt my stomach churn. He sounded really annoyed. “Y-yes?”

“Yes?” An eyebrow rose.

“I mean - yes.” I quickly amended, making sure there was no doubt of the affirmative.

“Thank you. What did you do that was wrong then?”

“Um ... I left the house?” I paused and again Stewart raised one eyebrow. Damn! I quickly corrected myself. “I left the house without permission and I didn’t stop when you called out to me.” I dropped my gaze.

“Is that all?”

Geez, he was like a terrier.

“Well .... and then, when you called, I er ... did not answer? I ... I didn’t mean to ignore you.” I blurted out, hoping to appease him somewhat.

“I know,” he said rather gently, and I ventured a peek at him but his face was unreadable. Stewart straightened up, walked calmly over and turned me sideways. I closed my eyes as he swatted me. Six swift swats that had my eyes smarting with tears of shame rather than pain. I kept my head down fighting the urge to throw my hands back. I felt so awful, thinking Stewart must be so disappointed in me.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

To my surprise, Stewart put his arm around me and kissed my head. “I know,” he whispered back. “Go upstairs and get changed. I have put some clothes out for you. Get into bed and I want you to stay in your room. Is that clear?”

With a sigh of relief, I nodded my head. As I walked towards the stairs, I cast a quick glance at Dayton. He hadn’t moved or said a word. just standing still with his eyes staring fixedly at some object on the floor. I would have given him a nod of sympathy or a sign or something, but he was not looking at me.

“Go on Ben!” Stewart’s voice hurried me along. Thank God I was back to Ben.

23. Stewart

I checked both rooms before I went downstairs. Ben and Dayton were both soundly asleep, which was not surprising.

I went downstairs and called Paul. I hated to disturb him so early on a Sunday morning but I had no choice. In the midst of all the turmoil the previous night, I had decided that my best course of action was to personally go get Marcus instead of letting him take the bus home. From the way he sounded and the way our conversation ended the previous night he was obviously anxious and fretful. I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to become more agitated, and dig himself into a deeper hole. I suspected the much dreaded talk with his dad would still happen despite his attempts to avoid it and a few hours spent all by himself on a bus full of strangers after such an encounter would hardly be beneficial to his humour.

Philip was due at my place soon and I wanted to be ready to leave as soon as he got here - which meant I had to get Paul up-to-date on his Brat and what had transpired between us.

“...yelloh ...” Paul sounded zoned out.

“Hey, I’m sorry to call so early Paul,” I apologized.

“Stewart.” His voice was immediately alert though he sounded calm as usual. “All right, just tell me.”

I laughed. “I’m afraid I messed up this time. But everything is ok now; I just want to let you know what happened.” I briefly told him how Dayton had overheard my conversation with Marcus and how he had taken off, together with Ben.

He snorted. “Hmm. Not surprised.”

“Luckily Ben was with him.”


“I found them in some dodgy little bar. I have told him my opinion, but you may want to explain more clearly to your brat why he must not go to such places.”

Paul grunted. “You bet, I will do that. Though I suspect he knew well enough already but did it only to irritate you. So how did you deal with him?”

“I spanked him, Paul. Actually I paddled him. You might see some redness still tonight but the paddling settled him.”


“And he did half an hour in the corner before I sent him to bed. I am hopeful you will have an obedient and acquiescent Brat when you come back.”

“I should, especially when he remembers what I said before I left.”

I groaned. “Don’t tell me he needs more.”

“Oh, Dayton knows what to expect. I told him he would get a taste of the cane if he kicked up any trouble with you. That usually keeps him sober. I’m sorry he gave you the run around.”

I grimaced. I personally didn’t use the cane often but our cupboard at Willcott definitely does hold at least a couple of them and I have one hidden at the bottom of my cupboard. Every of our Top would know where he could borrow one if he didn’t already have it in his home. Naturally other members used other implements as well, but we made sure those were applied only when we knew the Brat could take it. Philip spent a lot of time on this part of his preparation with the Tops. Normally though, a paddle or a solid hairbrush more than did the job.

“Listen Paul,” I said. “Philip’s coming over in a while and I need to be somewhere once he gets here. I just wanted you to know in case you needed to get in touch with me. Dayton should be ok with Philip.”

“Of course he will be. I’m sorry to saddle my Brat with you when ...”

I cut him off. “Paul, this is me you are talking to? How’s the family? I hope things are working out on your end?”

“Oh yeah. I may have to come back again, but I am trying very hard to settle everything here once and for all to avoid that. My family drives me nuts. Anyway, I should be back this evening as planned so see you guys around – um, nineish, latest ten? Is that ok?”

“That’s fine, no hurry. I should be home by then too.”

24. Philip

Stewart was at the front door by the time I drove up. He smiled wryly at me as I walked in.

“All the brats accounted for?” I asked, my tone deliberately mocking.

“Shut up,” he replied, and tried to swat me.

“Hey, you don’t get to take your frustrations out on me; I’m not your Brat! So where are the two miscreants?”

“Both still in their rooms, hopefully asleep. By the way, Ben doesn’t know you changed your plans so he’s not expecting you.”

“Good, I want to surprise him.”

“Scare, more like,” Stewart replied with a wicked grin.

“So what have you done with him?” I asked.

Stewart was already gathering his car keys and sliding his wallet into his back pocket. “Six swats, then bed. He’s all yours. Be gentle, he looks devastated already.”

“Anything else I need to deal with?” I held the door open for Stewart.

“No, only what’s between you both. Have fun.” He smiled sweetly at me.

I made my way into the kitchen and got coffee going. Leaving the coffee maker to softly sputter, I went upstairs. The first door I opened showed a familiar outline. I closed the door softly and approached the bed.

Ben turned around and yawned as I stood next to the bed, smiling down at him. I watched his eyes focus and then widen and his mouth open silently in an ‘O’.

“Good morning Brat!” I greeted him, sitting down.

He gasped. “Philip?”

“Happy to see me?”

Ben’s face broke into a wide smile and he scrambled to sit up, and then he flung his arms around me. We spent a few minutes hugging and kissing. He was still warm from sleep and he looked absolutely adorable with his tousled hair and sleepy eyes. I held him tight and he returned my embrace enthusiastically. Our kisses slowed, became gentler but deeper as I tasted him. My lips moved over Ben’s eyes and face and then strayed down in tiny little nips to the base of his neck.

I pried him away, before things got too heated up between us. Having been apart for so many days, I was horny and hungry for him but there were things we had to deal with first. He pouted when I pulled away.

“Stop for a moment, honey.”

He looked unhappy but complied.

I nodded my approval. “Sit back and settle down, I have a few things I want to say to you first.”

Ben’s cheeks pinked and he bit his lip. “I’m sorry,” he immediately said.

“What are you sorry for?” I asked. I wanted to kiss him again because he looked so crestfallen and sweet but didn’t think the distraction was needed.

“You know what for!”

“Tell me anyway,” I said encouragingly.

“I was stupid, I couldn’t stop Dayton from leaving, instead I let him talk me into giving him my car keys. Then I disobeyed Stewart when he ordered me to stop,” he paused for breath, looking at me intently, “and I – lied to you when you asked me where I was. I know what I did; I’ve got it all worked out. I am in trouble with you, aren’t I? ”

I nodded. I hated the thought of having to punish him when he had been so upfront about the whole thing and at the same time sounding so remorseful and was so obviously repentant. But a rule was a rule and he had broken it.

I touched his thigh, stroking it gently. “You weren’t stupid, you were not responsible for Dayton and it was not your problem he ran off. No fault lies with you there. And both Stewart and I understand why you didn’t stop. In fact it was just as well you went with Dayton, otherwise we might not have found you guys so easily.”

Ben bent his head and looked at me from below his lashes. Obviously he knew there was a ‘but ‘.

“But - you did lie to me, blatantly. Despite the reasons why you did it, a lie is a lie. No two ways about that. I do appreciate your candour, and I am proud of you for being so honest. Nevertheless you have broken a major rule in our family. You know what that means.”

Ben swallowed hard.

I got up and walked to the dresser. Ben’s eyes watched me nervously as I picked up the flat-based wooden hairbrush. Trust Stewart to keep one in every room. Ben looked teary as I came back to sit on the bed. I leaned over and planted a quick kiss on his lips and then brushed a strand of hair away from his forehead before patting my lap.


Slowly Ben crawled over to me, and reluctantly draped himself over my knees. He gave a small whimper as I hooked the elastic waistband and drew the sleeping pants down. I picked up the paddle and raised it.

“Philip ...?” His voice quivered.

I lowered my hand again and rubbed his back with my free hand. “It’ll be over soon,” I said soothingly.

He nodded his head once, and then pulled the pillow to his chest, hugging it fiercely. “I’m sorry ...”

“I know. And this will make it better.”

The first swat landed, and I tightened my grip. Ben cried all the way through the paddling.

# 25 - # 28

25. Marcus

Mom handed me a plate filled with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and french toast with honey. I grinned happily at her. “Eat it all up,” she said. No problem with that – they were all my favourite foods although I didn’t usually have them all at once. I guess mom was over compensating. I kissed her on the cheek as a morning greeting and sat down at my place to eat.

Libby took her own plate and sat down next to me, poking me in the ribs. “How come we don’t get such treats unless you are home?” she complained.

“Bet you don’t get this living all alone, do ya?” Mike said. “Somehow I don’t quite see you making this kind of breakfast.”

He was right; I wouldn’t go to so much trouble. If I was alone, cereal and milk would have been my choice. But what I didn’t tell them was that Stewart made it a point to cook a hot breakfast for me on most weekends. He had somehow figured out what I liked and he made sure I had a few square meals each week. He threw in the occasional few things I didn’t like (like broccoli) but they tasted good when he made them. I had to admit that he spoils me and suddenly I was missing him and wishing he could be with me together so that I could show him off to my family. That would be so neat – and so unthinkable.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Mom’s voice jerked my head up. “You don’t like the eggs? Did you want something else?”

I realised guiltily I had been pushing my food around and quickly raised the fork to my mouth. “No mom,” I said around a mouthful of food. “This is great, just the way I like it. Thanks.”

“Well, there’s more if you want, so you don’t have to shovel it in, dear,” Mom said, shaking her head a little.

Libby giggled and winked at me. “Thinking of someone?” she teased under her breath.

I glared at her and went on eating. Mike and Pete were already done and were getting up from the table. Pete looked at dad expectantly, hardly able to hide his anticipation. “Dad,” he said, “you said I could go with Mike to do the deliveries this morning?”

“Homework all done?”

Pete nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Chores completed?”

“Yes!” He knew dad was teasing him.

“Well then, off you go.” Dad smiled at him. “Why don’t you and Mike go on ahead and start loading up the truck and I will be in later to mind the store while you go over to the Hanson ranch.”

Pete was animal crazy and he never missed a chance to deliver goods to the ranches around the area. The Hansons bred dogs for sale and Pete loved any chance he had of visiting. He gave a loud whoop, punching the air excitedly. “C’mon Mike!” he yelled and we all grimaced.

Libby started to clear the table and I brought my plate over to the sink. I felt suddenly awkward, like everyone had something to do, or somewhere to go and I didn’t quite know where my place was. “Need any help?” I asked Libby softly.

She looked at me in surprise. Perhaps I had never made the gesture voluntarily before but doing the dishes with Stewart had become a habit, in fact a chore that I had learnt to enjoy. Moreover I had done plenty of clearing up at Willcott. It felt natural to do it.

Before Libby could reply, dad said, “Leave the dishes to Libby, son. She can handle it.”
Libby scowled and rolled her eyes at me, my father sometimes had weird notions about the segregation of housework. Heavy work out in the yard should be done by the men in the house while the light indoor chores belonged to the weaker gender and he didn’t particularly like it when we exchanged.

“Come on out to the living room,” he continued. “I want to have a chat with you before I go.”

Libby cast me the familiar ‘are you in trouble’ look which we gave one another whenever dad scheduled a chat. I shrugged as nonchalantly as I could, then rubbing my palms on my pants, I quietly followed dad out, wishing for real I was doing the dishes instead. I sat down on the edge of the sofa and dad sat opposite me.

“How’s college?” he asked by way of opening.

“OK,” I replied carefully.

“Passing all your subjects? Your grades up to mark this time?”

I nodded and he continued smoothly. “I understand you were kinda struggling last year, weren’t you? Your professor, I can’t recall his name, called and said you were having ...” he paused and looked around, as trying to find the right word. “...problems?”

“Um, yeah ... but I’m caught up now, dad.” Which was the truth and I had Stewart to thank for that. He made sure I stayed focussed on my classes. He checked my assignments. After the initial rebellion, I had settled in and the rest had been easy.

“So what happened last year?”

I looked up at my father, thankful his voice was not harsh or angry, but not sympathetic or patient either. He wasn’t a very tolerant man and he expected blind obedience from his children. The thing was, there was no way I could tell him the half of it. I didn’t want to lie but he would probably get an apoplexy if he learned about my life with Christian. I decided a half-truth was the best compromise. “I got into some bad company,” I said in a low voice. I didn’t try to sugar-coat my words or hide my shame. It was always best to admit where I had gone wrong with dad. “I spent too much time ... I was having problems with Laura ... and I got distracted. My work suffered as a result I guess. I just couldn’t catch up, and that’s why my ... when Professor Spencer called you.”

I wasn’t sure if he would explode. I heard him sigh instead. “You are all straightened out now?”

“Yes, sir,” I said softly, trying to keep eye contact.

“You and Laura work things out?” He looked at me with curiosity.

“No – not really. We broke up.”

“I see.” He didn’t pursue the subject and I got the feeling he was not too comfortable discussing my personal relationship. He wouldn’t ask me point blank but probably try to worm it out of mom later on. Turning back to safer ground, he asked, “You gonna graduate this year?”

“Yes, it’s not a problem any more dad. I’ve made up my credits and I am well on the way to clearing this semester’s requirements.” That I could be enthusiastic about.

Dad nodded slowly. “And this Professor Spencer, he’s the one who got you the summer job?”

I felt my face burn and prayed I would stay cool. “Yeah ... he ... arranged it. It was some place in the country up north, a sort of summer resort, and I did the chores around the place. Chopping wood, trimming the hedges, washing dishes, the kinda thing.” I shrugged; it sounded right and it was the truth. “It was a good break; it gave me an opportunity to clear my head.”

“So it would appear,” he said rather dryly. His next question had my hearth thumping. “I think it’s about time you started being honest with me, son, and tell me what the hell is going on. If everything is as well as you say, why have you been avoiding us for the last few months?”

I stared at dad in shock. “W-what?”

He jerked his head at me. “You know what I am talking about. Not a single visit. Your mom was getting frantic and she wouldn’t rest until I let her go to see you.”

“I don’t know what you ....” I started and he cut me off.

“Rubbish!” he spat. “You can stop pretending Marcus because I know every time you tell me a lie. It won’t work.”

I looked down at the floor, afraid to let him see my eyes. Damn! I couldn’t lie to Stewart and obviously I couldn’t like to my dad as well. Damn!

“Don’t think I can’t see it; we are not fools! Look at you; you can’t even look me in the eye. What the hell is happening Marcus?” Dad’s voice had taken on a steely quality.

“Nothing’s happening!” I cried out, maybe too loudly. I saw dad raise his eyebrows and frown.

“I don’t want any trouble, I’ve told you boys plenty of times. You behave and stay clear of the law. I don’t know the half of what you get up to, all alone and by yourself. Don’t think ...” he continued lecturing and I tuned out. “... so why haven’t you called?”

I looked up, trying to decipher what he had asked. I hoped I was answering his question. “I was um ... busy – trying to catch up with stuff!”

Dad snorted. “We can pretend and you can deny it but there’s something you’re not telling me, and I want to know what it is!”

I had nothing to say to that.

“Well Marcus?”

“Please dad, I have nothing to tell you.” I pleaded.

Dad shook his head in disgust. I suppose I looked quite stupid and stubborn, refusing to understand or cooperate, depending on which way you looked at it. “I don’t know what the matter is with you lately, Marcus. I honestly don’t know what you are thinking or doing. It is hardly amusing and totally unacceptable. For God’s sake, pay attention to what I am saying! Look at you, you’re here with us, but it’s like you are some place else, or someone else.”

I wanted to jump up and run out of the room. Why was he saying all those things? I glared at my dad and retorted angrily. “That’s not true!”

“Watch your tone and keep your voice down,” he hissed. “Do you want to upset everyone in this house?” His eyes bored into mine.

I had been so pre-occupied with how I felt that I hadn’t given a thought to anyone else. All I had done was try to hide who I really was so they wouldn’t see me. Suddenly I felt awful. I was a selfish bastard and I didn’t deserve any of them.

Dad’s voice boomed over my head. “Are you in some kind of trouble Marcus?” He asked very sternly. I hated that tone.

“No!” I preferred not to think what his definition of trouble was.

“Are you telling me the truth, young man?”


“You better be. If you are in any kind of trouble, I want you to tell me right now.”

“Dad, I’m not in trouble or anything!”

He let out a little breath. I think he knew I would never blatantly lie to him. Thank God we had the sliver of truthfulness between us still. “Well, are you hiding anything from us then?”

I almost choked. “Jesus, dad ... there’s nothing going on ...”

Dad’s eyes never left my face and I flushed at his scrutiny. He shook his head, obviously unconvinced. “I am giving you one last chance, Marcus.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, dad,” I said desperately.

Dad was pointing a finger at me, daring me to defy him. “Don’t let me find out you have been hiding something from me, Marcus. I don’t like being lied to. And I don’t like not knowing what is happening.” He sounded totally frustrated with me.

And that was when I lost it.

“I said there is no fucking thing going on ...! OK, dad? Did you hear me? NOTHING’S FUCKING GOING ON!” I almost screeched and he flinched. That was the first time I had ever sworn in front of my dad.

We both froze. And then we were just staring at one another, both of us unmoving and defeated. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. There was so much more I had to say but could not say. I watched in silence as my dad shook his head again and got up, and then he walked out the front door, never once looking back.

26. Stewart

I arrived at the main street slightly after eleven. Even with my GPS, it had taken me more than my allotted two hours. I didn’t have Marcus’ exact address but since I had no intention to actually drive up to his front door, it was ok. I figured I would just wait for him at the bus station and pick him up from there. I had no way of knowing how it went that morning, and I didn’t want to call him and perhaps give him a chance to slip away in case things didn’t go well.

It was only a couple of streets in the main town so after cruising slowly through, I found the bus station without difficulty. I went in to look at the bus schedules. There was only one which Marcus could take that would head towards our direction and that one left at midday. I glanced at my watch again; it was 11.35am. I went out and found a cosy little place selling coffee and sandwiches. I bought a roast beef sandwich and a steaming cup of black coffee and settled down on a bench outside the shop.

Glancing around the town, I saw across the street a grocery store with the name Fischer & Sons. I watched it with interest, sure that was Marcus’ dad’s place. It wasn’t too busy but I managed to catch a glimpse of a middle-aged man moving around inside whenever he had to serve the customers. From that distance I couldn’t tell if there was a lot of resemblance between him and Marcus. He seemed friendly enough with his patrons but he was full of activity, hardly stopping at all even after they left. He was either very industrious or very agitated.

Well, if Mr Fischer was already at the store, then Marcus should be along pretty soon. In fact, I half wondered if Marcus might be in the store as well, helping out. I waited patiently but when he didn’t show by noon, I began to get fidgety myself. The bus rolled into sight and stopped to pick up two passengers, neither of them Marcus. I looked around, hoping to see him running up to the bus. When the bus finally took off at two minutes past noon, I began to get a little worried.

Slowly I walked back to my car, still hoping for a glimpse of Marcus. Probably running, looking flushed and cursing that he had missed the one and only one ride out. Disappointed, I reached my car and pulled the door open. While my eyes scanned the street, I fished my cell phone out and quickly dialled Marcus.

The phone rang for a long time before he answered.

“Hey sweetheart,” I said, relieved. “Where are you?” I asked.

27. Marcus

Half an hour out from town and I was regretting my hasty decision. I should have waited for the bus, I told myself crossly, instead of taking off on foot. But I didn’t want to wait around for the bus after my session with dad, especially when the bus stop was just right across from his shop. That’s what I got for being impulsive and not thinking things through. How I was supposed to get home I had no idea. I was stuck on the highway and all because I acted without thinking. It was what Stewart would say. I wish to God he was there. I so needed him.

As I trudged along, I couldn’t get the image of my dad’s face out of my mind. The way he had looked at me. So exacting, and then so hurt. Wretchedly, I thought to myself, he had never really considered me an adult, or treated me with respect as an individual. I was always just a silly kid and in his eyes I will always be. So how could I expect him to react reasonably if he ever found out I was gay and almost living with my professor. I shuddered as I imagined telling him – and him full of anger, and disappointment. And probably disgust.

My feet were starting to hurt and I thought I must have walked for hours. I glanced behind me at the stream of cars rushing by. So easy to just flag one down and get a ride instead of this slow prodding process. I hesitated, well aware what Stewart would say if he found me hitch-hiking. Yep – that made me think twice. On the other hand, at this rate I would never make it back home. Of course I could try to make it to the next gas station and there try to get a bus but the next one was probably another ten or twelve miles away. I didn’t want to walk that far.

In the end the decision was taken out of my hands. At least that was what happened from my point of view. A loud roar sounded behind me, close enough for me to turn back to look. It was a monster of a truck, one of those twelve-wheeler things. It was riding close to the side of the highway, going slow and I could see the driver looking at me. He raised his eyebrows as he passed me, and his head jerked in question, and I found myself establishing eye contact. The driver must be a seasoned one for that one moment of eye contact seemed to translate my thoughts to him and the truck slowed down and stopped a few yards in front. I hesitated, my throat suddenly dry.

He honked and I jumped, and then my feet somehow were moving forward and I came up to the side door.

“Hey, you wanna ride, kid?” He bellowed, looking impatient.


“Hop in, I can take you as far as Cross Landing. C’mon, I ain’t got all day!” He revved his engine to emphasize his point and I found myself swinging up into the passenger seat.

“Um ... thanks. Thanks for stopping.”

“That’s ok. I do it all the time. Where you headed?”

We got to talking, and I found that although he was gruff he was also rather friendly. He was very talkative and asked a lot of questions. I supposed that was due to his job. It must be lonely and boring driving miles by himself and having someone to talk to must be a better diversion than silence. We chatted easily, until I felt my phone vibrate.

A quick glance told me it was Stewart. My heart leaped, I hesitated to answer, wondering what to say. Jim, the truck driver, jutted his jaw at the cell phone and asked. “Who’s that?”

“Oh, a ... a friend. I’m sorry, I need to take this call.”

“Hello,” I said softly, feeling uncomfortable carrying on a conversation with Stewart with a stranger next to me.

“Hey,” he asked, “where are you?”

“Um ... I’m on my way home.” That sounded safe enough, and true too.

There was a little pause and then Stewart wanted to know how I was doing that when I hadn’t taken the bus. In my confusion, it didn’t strike me how he knew. “I ... um, am ... I got a ride actually. I should be at Cross Landing in about ...?” I looked across at Jim.

He shrugged. “An hour I guess, give or take.” He said.

I stared at Jim. I thought we were much nearer but I didn’t have time to debate it so I simply repeated it to Stewart. “I should be there in about an hour? I will take the bus back from there.”

If I had hoped Stewart would have just accepted what I said, I would have been disappointed. His next question had me struggling a bit. “What ride did you get?”

I quickly considered my options, and wisely came to a decision. “I hitched a ride on a truck on the highway?” I knew my voice sounded small and penitent and I risked a look at Jim. He was grinning and seemed to be enjoying himself. I cursed silently, and then suddenly my brain cleared. “How do you know I didn’t take the bus?”

“I drove up this morning. I was planning on waiting for you at the bus stop – “


He continued smoothly. “- which means I am now probably about half an hour behind you. Marcus,” and the way he called my name suddenly made my stomach lurch. “I want you to wait for me at Cross Landing. Text me exactly where you are when you get off and I will come get you.”

I bristled, not entirely sure why. Maybe it was because he made had to come get me, like I couldn’t be trusted to go home by myself. Or maybe it was Jim sniggering which made me feel all of six years old. “I can take the bus home myself Stewart,” I said calmly.

“Do as I say Marcus. No arguments.”

Well, that was that. I wouldn’t dream of disobeying Stewart when he used that tone.

“OK, I will see you in a bit.”

“That your boyfriend?” Jim asked the minute I hung up.

“Huh?” I felt my face flush. “What do you mean?”

“Aw ... c’mon. You know what I mean! Pretty boy like you. You don’t have to be shy ... we meet plenty of guys out here who are either gay or swing both ways. But I gotta admit few are as cute as you.”

I flushed and began to feel really uncomfortable.

“We’re actually ahead of time, we won’t need an hour to reach Cross Landing. What do you say we stop for a bite at the next rest stop?”

I felt Jim’s eyes run down my frame and I shivered. “No, no,” I stammered. “I am not hungry and I’d rather get to Cross Landing as soon as possible.”

“Don’t worry - I’ll make sure you get there in plenty of time to meet your boyfriend.”

I wasn’t sure he was teasing or what but I disliked his tone. “If you don’t mind, could we just drive on?”

I almost jumped out of my skin when Jim leaned over and patted me on my thigh. “Whatever you say.”

I shifted my leg and he removed his hand. “So which are you?” Jim asked. He saw my expression and continued. “Gay or bi?”

I shrank as far back into my seat as possible. This conversation was getting dangerously slimy. “Please ... could we not discuss this?”

“Sure, anything you say,” Jim said good-naturedly. He turned to me and smirked and then calmly reached over and once again touched my thigh, only this time a lot higher up. I drew in a sharp breath and slapped his hand away.

Jim threw me a dark look. “A bit high and mighty ain’t we? Don’t pretend to be such an innocent and don’t tell me you ain’t never done it with a stranger before. Hitch-hiking like this ... hell, you gotta be used to this.”

I couldn’t believe what he said. “Of course not!”

Jim snorted. “It’s just fun, where’s the harm? You might learn to like it ... It can be kinda exciting you know ...” he laughed at his own joke.

“No!” I breathed hard. “I’m sorry, I mean ... I have no interest ...”

Jim scowled suddenly. “What? You too fucking good for folks like me?”

“That’s not what I mean! Look, I’m sorry for bothering you but can you please let me off here?”

“I don’t know,” Jim said in a slow drawl, obviously playing with me. “How do you intend to repay me for my kindness?”

I looked around and licked my lips, realising my predicament, but I had to get out of the damn truck before something happened. “I will give you twenty bucks. That’s all I got.” I fished my wallet out and took out a twenty and stuffed it into the ash tray. “Here, take it!”

“You think that’s enough?” He snorted.

“It’s all I got! So please take it. My boyfriend is right behind us and he’s got a temper; he’s a really mean guy when he’s crossed.”

Jim didn’t look too impressed. “And I am scared and shivering.”

“You should be. He doesn’t want any trouble after just getting out of the slammer but I can guarantee you he won’t be happy if he finds you messed with his boyfriend.”

Jim paused. “What’s he in for?”

“I can’t say,” I said primly. “All I need is to call him and he and his pals will be upon us. You have no idea what they can do; even their parole officers won’t want to cross them, you know what I mean? Don’t mess with them. Please, I don’t want any trouble. Please.” My voice softened as I pleaded.

Jim looked uncertain for a moment; he glanced at the twenty and then at me, and then he stepped on the brakes. “Since you asked so nicely, well .... OK, get the hell off. Bloody hell, you’re a bloody tease! What a fucking waste of my time!”

Without a second thought or hesitation, I jumped off the minute the truck came to a stop.

28. Stewart

I drove as fast as I could, keeping a sharp look out for Marcus – he had sounded distraught but I didn’t want to ask until I had him with me. I couldn’t imagine what could have happened to make him get off the truck and I just prayed he wasn’t hurt or anything.

I didn’t realize I was gritting my teeth until I caught sight of a figure limping along on the side of the road. With a sigh a relief I honked once and he immediately turned back to search the line of cars. His eyes lighted up as he saw me slow down. I hit the indicator and gradually eased into the emergency lane.

Marcus jumped into my arms the minute I got out of the car. Ignoring the passing traffic, he buried his face in my chest as I held him tight. “Hey, I’ve got you, its ok,” I murmured soothingly, running my hands down his body to see if he was hurt or in pain. He seemed pretty ok so I put up one hand to his head and stroked his hair. “Come on honey, let’s get you home.”

It was getting cold with a strong sharp wind, but I guess that wasn’t the reason he was shivering as I led him to the car and gently pushed him in. His fingers were shaking so I buckled him in before I went to the driver’ side. He hadn’t spoken a word.

I smiled at him comfortingly before I started the car. “You ok?”

He nodded his head, swallowing hard. “Yeah. I am now.”

# 29 - # 35 and The Finale

29. Ben

I couldn’t believe how long that Sunday felt.

I spent the morning bitterly aware of how sore my backside was. A paddling was just awful. The crack of the wood on bare flesh was awful and the pain that had shot through me was so intense it was indescribable. I didn’t think Philip would spank that hard. I had no idea how I had breathed throughout the ordeal. It seemed I never had a chance to draw breath before the next swat landed.

Philip later told me my admission of guilt and ready apology had earned me some major sympathy points and as a result he had gone easy on me. Well!!! I couldn’t help snorting and rolling my eyes; if that was easy, I never wish to know what not easy meant.

I could only be thankful when Philip told me we would be going home. By home, I supposed he meant his home. Frankly I had no problem with that. We’d hardly had a moment to ourselves and I was pining for a quiet evening together. The nap in the afternoon (all three of us took one actually, me, Dayton and Philip) had refreshed me considerably. I only hoped it had had the same effect on Philip too. The pain in my butt had subsided significantly enough for me to start considering entertainment options for the evening.

I caught a glimpse of Marcus in the kitchen as we headed out. He and Stewart had just come back and from the sounds of it, Stewart was fixing him something to eat. I would have gone in to say hi but Philip unceremoniously pushed me along. “Go on,” he ordered.

“B-but I was going to ask Marcus ...”

“You can ask to him another time.” Philip’s hand was firm on my back and I found myself outside the house. “Give me your keys; I’ll drive.”

I handed him the keys, remembering that Philip had taken a cab over. “Should we – I mean, I didn’t bring any clothes and I haven’t changed since last night. Maybe I should go home first?” Despite the shower I had taken I was still uneasily aware that I didn’t smell all that fresh.

“You can borrow some of my stuff, honey. Seriously though, we should start thinking about leaving some of your things in my place to make it easier when we have last minute plans.” He looked over at me and grinned. I guess I was blushing. “What?” he asked. “You don’t think that’s a good idea?”

“Oh no,” I said a trifle nervously. It sounded like such a big step for us. I managed not to sound too pleased though. “I think that makes sense,” I replied solemnly.

Philip laughed and reached over and ruffled my hair; I loved it when he did that. “We’ll pick up some stuff later. I want to go straight home – and not waste time with any detours.” Our eyes met and his were dark and sexily inviting.

I swallowed. “OK,” I squeaked.

I loved Philip’s place. He has good taste (as far as I am concerned!) and had obviously put a lot of effort into making his home warm and cosy without overdoing the feminine touch. I feel at home every time I step into his house. A huge ornate fireplace that dominated the living area plus an expensive deep leather armchair and matching sofa set gave the room a decidedly masculine flavour, while a couple of well-chosen art pieces (he loves art) on the walls added a touch of class and ... I guess a sense of balance. A gorgeous Persian carpet covered the better part of the foyer once you stepped in; it softened the character of the living area and completed the tone of the house. The kitchen and back areas were mostly modern, and the colour scheme was lighter, jauntier.

Philip led me straight to the back and put the kettle on to make tea and I sat at the breakfast counter, watching him. He turned to smile at me and my heart melted. He has such beautiful eyes, which could sparkle with mirth or darken with desire. I wanted to drown in them. It was crazy, here was the man who had just paddled me a few hours ago and I was having lustful thoughts of him.

“Hungry?” Philip asked.

“Um, not really.” Actually I was, but not for food. But how the hell do I say that out loud and not look like some sex-starved, licentious idiot?

Philip walked over and leaned close. He tilted my head up and kissed me on the lips, gently and sweetly. “I am,” he said, as his tongue traced my lips. I felt my body quiver and desperately wanted more. “I am ... so hungry ... positively starving ... “

Well, that was pretty obvious and I was left in no doubt of his meaning. My heart swelled yet I still felt embarrassed to tell him how much I wanted him as well. The words just wouldn’t come out. Luckily Philip wasn’t expecting any; he began to cover my mouth with his. Only this time the gentleness was gone, replaced by hard kissing and a lot of tongue action. His tongue kept doing things to me while his hands were slowly undoing my shirt buttons.

By the time I was shirtless, I felt goose bumps on my arms – it was getting rather chilly and the heater hadn’t been on the whole day. His hands rubbed my arms for a bit, warming me, and then dropped to my belt and I gasped as our bodies rubbed together. I began to warm up rather quickly then and decided to cooperate by impatiently wriggling my hips to help get my pants off. Philip laughed. “Rather impatient, aren’t we?”

I flushed.

“Come on,” Philip said, taking my hand and pulling me up. “Let’s do this properly.”

I knew a moment’s panic but made no protest as we made our way upstairs. Philip was still fully clothed but I was clad only in my blue-striped boxers and brown socks and I was sure I looked stupid walking through his house like that but I didn’t have time (or the inclination) to debate that point as Philip led me firmly into his bedroom. Somehow our arms and legs were all over one another and we tumbled onto his bed. He rolled me over so that he was lying across my torso and pinning me down onto the soft mattress. I opened my mouth eagerly and invited his invading tongue in.

We kissed for a long time as our hands roamed and touched and stroked. By the time we drew apart for breath, we were both totally naked, even my socks were gone by then. Philip smiled down at me, kneeling in between my thighs while I admired his body.

We hadn’t spoken a word but we seemed to be communicating. I was so in-tuned to him that I subconsciously knew what he was going to do and where we were headed. Despite the butterflies in my stomach and my hastened heartbeat, I was prepared. He leaned over and retrieved something from the side table and I watched with bated breath as he pressed the tube in his hands. With all the skills of an experienced lover he slowly prepared me, so that I never felt rushed or afraid.

“Bring them up, babe,” he said in a low voice, indicating my legs. He helped me raise them and pressed them down further onto my chest. I later learnt that that was the easiest way for a first time. I could put my hands on his chest and thus feel a measure of control that way.

And then he was pressing gently down and I gasped a few times, immobilized by the sharp pain. I clenched my eyes shut – and I guess my butt too – involuntarily, but his voice was calm and soothing while his movements were incredibly slow and tender and totally non threatening. I heard myself groan as I felt Philip, all of him, filling me, encompassing me, satisfying some secret hidden chasm deep within me.

Gradually I let out a breath and managed to relax. I inhaled slowly as I adjusted to the discomfort, which thankfully was what it had become in place of the initial pain. Philip moved into a slow rhythm, short shallow thrusts which gradually lengthened into a smoother, deeper penetration. That felt weird for a while and somehow forbidden, but good at the same time and fiercely intense. And then suddenly I felt it. Damn! It was electrifying.

And then all coherent thoughts and lingering doubts flew from my mind as I experienced the most profound pleasurable sensation. It built up, wave by wave, with every thrust, till I was hardly aware of anything except this incredible all consuming pleasure. I never wanted it to stop.

30. Philip

Unravelling the mysteries of sex to Ben was everything I had imagined it to be. He had always been shy but also always a willing learner. I could tell he was nervous but he was so trusting that I felt exceptionally protective. Perhaps the long absence had helped in a way. We were both hungry for one another and that had been a helpful factor to get Ben ready.

I watched him sleep next to me, remembering how his eyes had flown wide open with incredulous wonder as we made love for the first time, and how he had eventually cried out his release. I wanted him again almost immediately but he was worn out and I knew he would be sore so I was content to let him sleep. We had time ahead of us; absolutely no need to rush.

I slid out from the warm bed and shrugged into a robe, pulling the covers up over Ben’s naked form. Softly I closed the door behind me and went downstairs. We hadn’t eaten since lunch and I was hungry, this time for food. I knew Ben would be ravenous too when he awoke so I started to pull a simple meal together.

The coffee had to be thrown out and I made a fresh lot. My mind clicked as my hands methodically put together a cheese and ham sandwich. I confidently added lettuce and tomatoes and onions because I knew exactly what kinds of food Ben liked and what he would and would not eat. We both indulged every now and then with something sinful like a huge steak and fried potato wedges but in general we liked to keep our diet simple and healthy. Well Ben could afford to eat a bit more as he tended to skip meals when he was busy but his fridge at home was usually decently stocked. Fruits and vegetables, milk and juice, and very little snack food in the pantry. Mine was more or less the same.

In fact I shared quite a lot of things in common with Ben. We’d known one another for so long, working together and as friends. Managing the finances for The Fraternity had of course thrown us together, and Ben had become a trusted member of our clan but more importantly a close personal friend as well. We had always got on well together.

I stopped for a moment to ponder. Well, we were certainly more than friends now. Perhaps it was time to consider a more permanent arrangement.

31. Marcus

At last we had the house to ourselves.

The last to go was Dayton and that because he had to wait for Paul to come fetch him. I didn’t get to talk to Dayton much, not that I wanted to. He stayed mostly in the study writing lines. Dayton was apparently in trouble too. I had too much on my mind, worrying about how the day would end to want to find out what happened.

Philip had spirited Ben away almost as soon as we arrived. I thought I caught a glimpse of Ben on his way out but I didn’t get to speak with him either. I wanted to at least tell him sorry for not returning his calls but under the circumstances, perhaps it was best we didn’t meet. I wouldn’t have known what to say if he had asked why.

I told Stewart what happened in the car. He listened pretty calmly, hardly interrupting as I spilled my guts about my dad summoning me home, my reluctant and trepidation in obeying the summons, and subsequent guilt for being such a prodigal son. He took my hand and squeezed it sympathetically when I told him about the fight that morning and how it had escalated into me delivering the final punch-line.

“What happened next?” Stewart asked softly when I paused too long.

I told him that I had gone up to get my things together and had left the house after kissing mom goodbye. She had of course heard our fight and was all sad and upset and I felt really terrible leaving like that but I had to get out of the house. I was too angry to stay still. And then I just walked. Literally just walked out of town, because I didn’t want to go into town or anywhere near the store and run the risk of seeing my dad.

“Go on,” Stewart prompted.

I wished I didn’t have to tell him the next part but I had no way out. He listened with his brow slightly puckered and a frown on his forehead. “You hitched a ride from a trucker?” he asked in a quiet voice which made me incredibly nervous.

“Well, actually I didn’t hitch a ride. He sort of offered me a ride.... you know?” I ended lamely.

“No, I don’t know. Tell me how that happened.”

Swallowing on a suddenly dry throat, I again recounted how Jim the trucker had honked at me and offered me a ride. “He slowed down the truck you see ...” I explained. “I didn’t flag him down or anything.”

He offered me a ride – how stupid did that sound? I didn’t flag him down ... Jesus! It made me sound like a three-year old. None of what I had said made it all right. I should have known better.

Stewart’s brows went up slightly. “And you just went with him?”

I was already seeing where this conversation was headed. “I was miles away from nowhere!” I didn’t think the conversation would have a pleasant ending but I tried anyway. “I was tired and miserable. I didn’t know what to do!” Perhaps pleading ignorance and a little sympathy might help. Or not.

“Really?” There was something in Stewart’s voice which made me glance over at him. His voice was unusually deep and low by now.

I realized too late the implication of my words. I could have kicked myself as I saw the disappointment in Stewart’s eyes. “Well,” I stammered suddenly. “I – I would have called you, only ... I mean I didn’t think ... I didn’t mean to worry you Stewart,” I said apologetically, in a small enough voice to translate the depth of my regret. “I really didn’t mean for this to happen.”

That was the first of many apologies that I delivered. Finally Stewart told me to stop and I was glad because my being sorry no longer seemed very important. I had so many mistakes it was impossible to erase them all by just saying ‘sorry’. Stewart was being so decent but I still felt terrible. After staring out the window for a while, I closed my eyes and promptly fell asleep. I only woke up when we reached home.

32. Stewart

Once Paul had taken Dayton away, I sent Marcus to get ready for bed while I locked up. I kissed him hard before he went up the stairs, as much to show how much I had missed him and was glad he was back with me as to reassure him that we would be OK. With our Brats they always knew when they were in trouble – the rules are always very clear. And usually once the realization had sunk in they tended to magnify the impending doom and indulge in self-recrimination. I could see these signals blaring from Marcus. It was time to put a stop to it.

I sat on the bed and waited for Marcus to finish in the bathroom, considering the ground we had to cover before we would call it a night. It seemed an awful lot had happened in the last thirty-six hours. I heard the bathroom door open and then a pair of arms came around my neck and hugged me tight. I leaned back against Marcus’ body, warmed from the shower, inhaling the smell of cinnamon and honey; it felt so good, the warmth and firmness of his skin felt so good, and it was with regret that I pulled away and made Marcus sit down next to me.

There was a missing part to the puzzle which I needed to complete the picture, and so I started by asking him why he didn’t make it to Cross Landing. I watched Marcus’ face, noting the nervous flutter of his thick lashes and the sudden tell-tale flush on his cheeks. I listened with a knot in my stomach as Marcus related the incident with obvious reluctance.

Oh God, I thought to myself, so many things could have gone wrong. I couldn’t believe the chance Marcus had taken, or how he had been able to pull off his bluff. This Jim guy was definitely not a stranger to picking up innocent young men, his intentions were obvious. What if ...

Unable to stop myself, I began with “My God! Do you know ...?”

But Marcus didn’t allow me to finish. He held up a hand, as if he knew very well what I was going to say. “Yes! I know I was lucky to get out of that truck. I know how I had put myself into a dangerous situation. He could have taken me anywhere. He could have overpowered me easily. I know! It was so stupid!”

Yeah – I guess he did know what I was going to say. That didn’t make it any easier though. I could still feel the cold jab of fear and my palms were still slightly clammy. Outwardly though, I nodded in agreement. “It was stupid,” I said with a snap. That was something I had to make sure Marcus never did again. Never mind he already knew how bad it could have turned out and was genuinely sorry for what he had put himself through. I wasn’t taking any chances that he might forget or repeat it. Sometimes second chances never came and I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to Marcus when I could have prevented it.

But first thing first.

“We’ll come back to this but first of all, let’s talk about why you ran off without a word,” I said.

He nodded miserably. “I am sorry.”

He had apologized so many times, I had lost count. But it was not enough and I waited, expecting more. After a moment he said, “My dad is a difficult man to understand. He has so many expectations that it’s just impossible sometimes. He never lets up, always expecting us to be perfect. You don’t understand ... he’s such a hard man to live with, or to live up to. He’s such an old stick - for one thing he would never understand our relationship. I never told you this but sometimes I feel like I hate him ...”

“I don’t think you do, Marcus. He’s your dad and no matter how difficult he is you don’t – or can’t – hate him for that. But let’s not discuss him for now. Now I want to talk about you running off. Without a word. I know you are sorry. I am glad you filled me in on your family affairs and I do appreciate what you went through. But that’s not what this conversation is about. It’s not about how sorry you are or how much you regret your actions.”

He looked at me steadily. He was always attentive and genuine in his intent to learn how to be a good Brat and I hadn’t had to punish him too much so far. But this was not something we could settle with a tap on the wrist.

“It’s about a prescribed mode of behaviour,” I continued. “And it’s about trust. Your trust in me, as your Top. We live within the confines of The Fraternity and you know the rule about disappearing without permission. It is expressly set in our code and it is forbidden. But forget The Fraternity for a moment. Even in any normal vanilla relationship, it would equally be considered behaviour that is improper and unacceptable. It’s discourteous, disrespectful and hurtful to the one who is left to wonder where his partner went off to without a word.”

Marcus’ cheeks were getting pink. He started to look away but I held his chin and turned his face back to face me.

“Look at me, Marcus. You don’t get to look away, you don’t get to avoid this. You don’t get to pretend it didn’t happen. I want you to listen carefully to me and know that I do not expect this to happen again. If and when you are faced with a problem of this magnitude, I expect to be told. We approach problems together, Marcus. Always. We will talk about it and we will work out a solution together.” I dropped my voice to a softer, gentler tone. “Your family is an integral part of you and your happiness, and therefore is important to me too. I don’t ever want you to be afraid of sharing your family problems with me. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes,” Marcus whispered.

“Good. You know what we need to do now. Go fetch the paddle please.”

33. Marcus

I gulped and walked with suddenly wooden legs to the drawer to retrieve the implement. I brought it back to Stewart and silently held it out. He took it without a word and placed it on the bed. He reached out for me and drew me closer. Then he slipped his fingers into my pyjama bottoms and drew them down till they reached my knees.

I knew a sudden insane desire to place my hands in front of me, to hide myself as if we hadn’t seen one another naked and more. The thing was I had been stripped plenty of times by Stewart but not usually for a spanking. I hadn’t really been in too much trouble till now; the memory of my first serious paddling up at Willcott – that had been for fighting with Andrew - had become a vague and distant memory. Oh I remembered well enough to know that it would be painful but I had forgotten exactly how painful it was till the first swat of the paddle fell on my upturned cheeks.

My yelp was both loud and spontaneous. Oh holy shit! I squirmed over Stewart’s lap, desperate to get off. Everything came rushing back to me – I suddenly remembered exactly how it had felt when I had been last paddled. How could I have forgotten? Each smack was worse than the one before and Stewart swinging the damned paddle down in a steady rhythm didn’t help at all. The swats landed too fast. I didn’t get enough time to draw breath before the next swat pushed all the air out of my lungs. Or were they too slow - I really couldn’t decide. Each swat took forever to land as I anticipated it with dread.

I jerked with each swat and all I managed to do as the pain exploded was to rasp out some choked sounds from my throat. “...ah gog .... no, ow ... OW!” Tears flowed from the first impact, totally with a will of their own, all the way from the first swat to the last. I gasped big mouthfuls of air when Stewart finally put the paddle down and I went limp over his thighs. I couldn’t stop crying; my butt was stinging so much I didn’t want to move.

I felt Stewart nudge me and I lifted my head, surprised I could do so much. “W-what?” I asked through my snot.

“Stand up Marcus. I want you in the corner, now please.”

What? He wanted me in the corner? Was he mad or totally heartless?

Somehow I had managed to lose my pyjama bottoms during the spanking and I looked around for them. I felt somewhat vulnerable without them, though what good they would have done me had I been allowed to keep them on was debatable. “Where ... where’s my pjamas?” I asked with a hiccup. “C-can I put them back on? It’s cold?”

Stewart handed them to me and waited while I stepped gingerly into them. Um, I realized too late perhaps it wasn’t the best idea in the world, under the circumstances. Even the soft fabric chafed my skin and I wondered if I should take them off after all. The decision was taken out of my hands. Stewart guided me firmly to one corner of the room, and left me there after planting a kiss on my neck. That helped.

I wasn’t left too long in the corner. Enough time for the sting to reach bearable limits and for me to calm down. The tears had dried too, leaving me with nothing more than a sniffling nose. I heard Stewart entering the room, his footsteps soft and muted on the thick carpet. Oh good, I so wanted to curl up in bed and go to sleep, preferably with Stewart’s protective arms around me. That was what I had looked forward to, coming back to this house to spend the night. To be held and cuddled. Not to get spanked or to spend time contemplating a blank wall.

“Marcus, come here.”

I heard the magic words and joyously turned around. And that was when I felt the floor sway and my knees almost gave way beneath me. Stewart held a cane in his hand.

“What’s that?” I cried, pointing incriminatingly at the horrid thing. “What’s that for?”

Stewart beckoned. “This is a reminder to you about the dangers of hitch-hiking. I want you to remember and to promise me you will never do that again.”

I nodded my head eagerly and responded at once. “I will remember, I promise.” I kept my position, not at all keen to come within caning distance. I would have promised anything at that moment.

Stewart beckoned again. And then he tapped the bed with the cane. “Here please. Put both hands on the bed.”

“But why? I already promised!” I cried plaintively. “I really won’t do it again. I won’t!”

Stewart shook his head at me. “I heard you Marcus. But I am still going to leave you a very strong reminder, one I hope you won’t so easily forget. So come here please and do as your are told. One stroke, that’s all. One stroke as a reminder. It’ll be over even before you realize it. But if it happens again, if you ever hitch another ride from a stranger again, you can bet it will be much more than one stroke.”

I blinked.

One stroke? Surely I could take one stroke. Mechanically I moved forward. Unfortunately it wasn’t that far across the room actually and two steps brought me close enough for Stewart to pull me forward and position me at the foot of the bed. I gasped as I looked at the cane up close, wondering what it would feel like. I stayed frozen to the spot.

“Come Marcus, let’s get this over with.” Stewart pushed me down gently, and I automatically put my hands out to support my weight. That post naturally put my already sore and tender butt up, on display like some mark for target practice. I don’t believe I had ever felt so vulnerable.

“Spread your legs a little wider, babe,” Stewart said, and I shifted obediently. By then my mind had kind of blanked out. I just followed instructions like a zombie.

I felt Stewart’s hand on my back, warm and steady. It calmed me, which was strange in itself. The hand that spanked cannot surely be the hand that calmed as well? But it can and did. The last few months with Stewart, as his boyfriend and his brat, spent within the boundaries of The Fraternity had opened up a brand new world and ingrained some very odd notions into me. I had come to understand that I could trust him implicitly which was the only way I could subject myself to his discipline.

“Stay still, ok?” he said softly.

I think I must have acknowledged him because he said “good” and then he stepped back. “Don’t move,” he said again, and then there was a loud swishing sound. The air swirled and all the oxygen seemed to get sucked out of the room (well, maybe that was my imagination) followed by a loud crack. I felt a swift powerful impact on my bottom – on both cheeks – and I lurched forward. There was nothing except blinding white space for a split second, my mind too shocked to register anything. And then something similar to a line of fire erupted on my butt.

I opened my mouth and wailed.

34. Stewart

It was more than a week before I could put into execution the plan I had formulated. I waited for a day when Marcus had a full schedule at college – a couple of back-to-back classes followed by a group study session afterwards. He told me he would be coming over but it won’t be till late that evening, which left me enough time to do what I had to do.

I told Philip my plan, just to bounce the idea off him. He listened sombrely and didn’t say anything for a while, thinking it through. “It’s a tough one,” he finally said. “I wish you luck, buddy.”

“Hmm.” I could use luck. It was like going into dark waters, not knowing if there were sharks in there. But I knew it had to be done regardless of what obstacles lay in the way. So with or without sharks, I would have to go in.

“Call me,” Philip said, and gave me a mock salute before he took his leave.

“I will,” I promised. I felt a small measure of comfort as I drove off. Philip hadn’t said it was a brilliant idea, but then he hadn’t said it sucked either. More importantly, he had understood why it had to be done and he hadn’t tried to talk me out of it. That meant a lot to me. It told me I was on the right track and that my instinct was right.

For the second time in the past ten days, I found myself back in the same small town, parked outside the general store, staring at the words Fischer & Sons. It was just past midday by the time I arrived and although the sun was out, there was a bitter wind blowing. I sat in my car, savouring the warmth from the heater and going over in my mind once again what I planned to do.

35. Marcus

I fell into Stewart’s arms the minute the door closed. I was tired and cold and hungry after a very long day and I needed to be there with him. I gave him a quick kiss, and disengaged from his embrace. My stomach growled.

“What’d you cook?” I asked, sniffing the air. Nothing? I smelt nothing, no nice aroma, no bubbling pot, no hot oven either!

“I thought we’d order take-out. I called for some Mexican food, is that ok?”

“Sure,” I said, ready and willing to eat almost anything. I glanced into the living room and it looked so warm and cosy. The main lights were off, with just the two lamps lighted. A thick throw was already placed on the sofa, which meant Stewart had plans to curl up there after dinner. I wondered if he would let me stay the night. He was still so careful about our situation.

We didn’t have to wait long before the doorbell rang and I went to collect our food. I handed over the money Stewart had given me (he was really good about things like that; he said I could pull my weight to pay for food and expenses when I graduated and got a proper job, but for now he insisted on taking care of the meals whenever we ate together). I took the packages into the kitchen and saw that Stewart had opened a bottle of wine and poured us each a glass. I looked at him in surprise – wine on a week-day? Were we celebrating anything?

I took a sip. “Um ... nice. What are we celebrating?” I hoped I had not forgotten an anniversary or.... no, Stewart’s birthday was no where near.

Stewart pulled out a chair and pushed me down into it. “I just feel like having some wine – nothing special.” He began to serve me from the paper cartons and I fell to with gusto. After several generous mouthfuls, my hunger was assuaged enough for me to notice Stewart looking at me. “What?” I mumbled, still chewing.

Stewart wiped his mouth and put down his burrito. He reached for his glass of wine and took a deliberate sip before turning to me. I started to get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hadn’t done anything wrong lately, none that I could think of. Anyway, it wasn’t that kind of look, and he certainly wouldn’t feel like having wine if I were in any kind of trouble. Still there was something in his eyes.

“Marcus,” he began.

Oh-uh, the way he called my name meant this was going to be a ‘discussion’. But honestly, I could not think of a single reason why we needed to have one. I had been very careful and exceptionally good after the last paddling and the memory of the caning was still terribly fresh in my mind. His next words left my jaw hanging.

“I met up with your dad today.”

I stared at Stewart blankly for a long minute. What did that mean? “WHAT?” I asked, not quite sure I heard right.

“I drove up this morning, and I went to your dad’s store. We met, and had a long talk.” Stewart reached over and took my suddenly limp hand. “It’s okay Marcus. Stop looking so worried.”

“You did what?” I exclaimed. Dad with Stewart? I just couldn’t picture them being together in the same town, much less in the same room. A cold chill ran up my arms and down my spine. “Why the f... heck did you do that?” I whined.

“I’m sorry for not telling you honey. The thing is I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I gave it a lot of thought before I did it, Marcus, just so you know it wasn’t an impulsive or frivolous decision. You were so unhappy and hurting, and in the end I thought it might be best. Also give me a chance to see what your dad was like, and vice versa. I really wasn’t sure if I could resolve anything and I have to admit I was afraid I might make it worse, but it was worth trying and it certainly beats not doing anything about it.”

“What happened?” I managed to ask weakly.

“What do you imagine happened, Marcus?” Stewart raised his eyebrows with a little laugh. “Did you think he threw me out of the store, or that we fought?” His tone was light and he was teasing me, which must mean the meeting hadn’t been the major disaster I had feared. No one had been killed. “We sat down like civilized mature men, and we talked.”

“Uh-huh.” I discovered there was a huge lump in my throat suddenly. I tried to get rid of it by clearing my throat. It didn’t really work. “So ... w-what did you talk about?”

“Mostly you.”

Now that didn’t sound good at all. It was my worst nightmare – my dad with my boyfriend, no make that my gay lover. Not at all what I would call a good combination or a pleasing reflection. I didn’t know if I wanted to know more or just crawl under the table and die.

I finally managed to clear the lump in my throat. Which made me suddenly loquacious. “Was he expecting you? Did you call first or did you just walk in and introduced yourself ... um, does he know who you are?”

“Of course he knew who I was!”

“Oh.” I chewed my lower lip. “Er, h-how did he know?”

Stewart was smiling at me as if he found me a bit silly. “I told him my name and he remembered me from last summer. And no, I didn’t call in advance. I kinda took him by surprise – you know, advantage of the surprise element ... actually, your dad has a pretty sharp mind and memory. I doubt if a lot escapes him.”

“You’re telling me,” I said in a hollow voice. I hesitated a moment before I asked. “So is he ... I mean is he still mad?”

“At you?”

Who else would I be referring to? I glared at Stewart and he shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t say he jumped for joy when he found out who I was.”

“You told him ...?” I could feel the blood drain from my face. What exactly Stewart had told him, I had no idea but I was sure it wasn’t something dad wanted to hear. And I still was no wiser to what had transpired between the two of them. The fact that Stewart had returned in relatively good spirits must be a positive sign but I couldn’t imagine how that could happen. Unless Stewart didn’t tell dad the truth about our relationship.

“He knows about ... our relationship?” It was anther one of those questions, where I wanted to know and didn’t want to know at the same time.

“I told him you were in my class last year, and about the trouble you had completing the semester. We talked some about your time at Willcott, how that helped you get straightened out. He seemed to appreciate that. I didn’t see any point in going into the details of your activities before Willcott, and he didn’t ask though I suspect he guessed there was more. Like I said, he is a savvy old gun and knows more of the ways of the world than he lets on.”

“Is that all ...?”

“No. I told him that over the past few months we had got to know one another quite well and that we have a lot in common. I said our friendship had gone beyond lecturer and student, that in fact I consider you a close personal friend.”

“Oh.” I stopped breathing.

Stewart gave a little sigh which I immediately took as a bad omen. “Frankly, I wasn’t sure how much he wanted to know or was prepared to know, and I didn’t think I had the right to decide for him. So I was playing it by ear. I was prepared to come clean and tell him our relationship if he wanted to know; if he had asked I would have been honest and told him. But I wanted him to have the choice, to decide.” Stewart paused and his fingers covered my hand. “He didn’t ask.”

I looked at Stewart, torn between relief and hurt. I felt my eyes sting. “I didn’t think he would,” I said as bravely as I could. I really didn’t.

“No.” His voice was low and sympathetic and kind and understanding.

I suddenly wanted to weep.

Stewart pulled at my arm. “It’s okay, babe. Come here.”

I got up from my chair and melted into his arms, settling on his lap as if I were a little boy who desperately needed comforting. I wrapped my arms around Stewart’s neck and buried my face in his shoulder, thankful of his strength and the solidness of his muscles. I needed to feel his warmth and the security of his shelter. At that moment I was a little boy, one that was feeling totally lost and abandoned. Not wanting to know and not acknowledging what I have in my life was as good as rejection and that hurt me more deeply than I cared to admit.

Stewart’s voice was a soft whisper in my ear. “The most important thing for you to know is that no matter what happens, your dad loves you and wants what’s best for you.”

“He has a funny way of showing it,” I said sourly, my voice coming out muffled.

“He does,” Stewart said firmly. “He just needs time. Do you want to know what he said when we parted?”

I lifted my head and peered at him. “What?”

Stewart’s eyes were warm and aglow with love. “He said ‘take care of my son’.”


Philip and Ben didn’t want a big celebration. A few close friends were invited over for dinner the day Ben officially moved in, which for The Fraternity meant a serious commitment. It had been a long time coming and Stewart hugged Philip in a tight clasp, totally happy for him.

“The next one will be yours,” Philip said, with a wink.

“Yes.” Stewart grinned. They would have to wait till Marcus had graduated before they could proceed but that was ok. The anticipation was good for them; they could look forward to it like a goal, something to be achieved. In the meantime, clandestine meetings on campus and stolen nights in Stewart’s house added fire to their relationship. Truth be told, it wasn’t only Brats who feel the thrill of the forbidden. Tops feel it too; they just didn’t show it so openly or allow it to land them in trouble. At least most of the time.

Stewart and Marcus were the last guests to leave. Ben, eager to continue his role of host in the house for the first time, offered to tackle the cleaning up and took Marcus with him into the kitchen. Stewart and Philip were more than glad to fall in with that suggestion so while the two younger men tackled the dishes their Tops went into the living room for a celebratory brandy.

“Looks like we may need to figure out Christmas this year,” Philip said casually, as he poured brandy into two glasses and handed one to his long-time friend.

Stewart swirled the brandy around, observing the golden liquid. “I guess you’re right.”

They had always spent Christmas together, and usually with one another’s families. It invariably turns out to be a huge gathering, with loads of food and drinks and presents and loud noises. Both families had long accepted their sons’ sexual preferences which made family gatherings really wonderful.

Philip’s voice was slightly thoughtful. “I am not sure if Ben will want to spend the holidays with his folks this year. From what I gather, they are quite ... straight-laced. Sober.” He made a face, discreetly.

Stewart didn’t answer for a moment. He waited till they were settled on the leather sofa and had sipped their brandy and enjoyed the heady aroma, before saying “You know, I couldn’t start to understand how it would feel to be rejected and ostracised by one’s own family.” Stewart said.

“Me neither.”

“Met them yet?” Stewart asked.

“Nope. Ben goes into panic-mode at the thought of introducing me to them. Any thoughts my friend?”

Stewart shook his head and grinned. “Tough one,” he echoed what Philip had said a few weeks ago and Philip rolled his eyes. “Frankly, I don’t know what’s going to happen with us either. I haven’t discussed it with Marcus yet but I doubt he will spend Christmas with his family.”

“Hmm. Still tense?”

“Well, amiable at least.” Stewart sighed a little. “I guess they are not quite sure what it is they are trying to deal with. Everyone’s dancing around us. The old man cannot not know the purpose of my visit – he’s a crafty one, that old man. He hasn’t acknowledged us or said a word and in a way that’s worse. That’s what unsettles Marcus the most, but we don’t have a choice. It’s not like you can force the knowledge down their throats, or rush these things.”

“True,” Philip agreed. “Which is why I believe we just have to do what’s right for us.”

Both men fell silent for a moment, and then Stewart asked. “So are you planning on bringing Ben home for Christmas this year?”

Philip grinned at the thought. “I am hoping to, and I know he will jump at it if he can get out of his own family commitments. He’s hinted to his mom he may not make it back ... well, we’ll see how it works out. He says he’s working on it although I am not sure with what success. What about you?”

“I want to,” Stewart replied at once, “bring Marcus back I mean. But I don’t want to get in between him and his family. He’s probably expected home …” he shrugged.

“You know what, Stewart? We should just take our brats home.”

“Just like that?” Stewart snapped his fingers, laughing a little at Philip’s impetuosity.

“Yes. Why not?” Philip’s chin jutted out firmly. “If their families don’t welcome us and ours do, isn’t it obvious where we all should be?”

That made a lot of sense to Stewart. “You’ve got a point, Philip. We should all go home. Great plan. And their family commitments?”

“Hell with that, we’re family too. You and Marcus, me and Ben.” Philip slapped his thigh. “Family is important especially during this period and this isn’t about us depriving someone of their child during Christmas. We should be where we are welcomed and wanted. Together!”

Stewart couldn’t argue with that logic. “Sounding better and better.”

“What does?” Marcus asked as he and Ben appeared.

“We were talking about Christmas,” Stewart answered.

Both Ben and Marcus said “oh” together, looking very surprised.

Philip pulled Ben down onto his lap. “I’ve decided – I am taking you back to my folks’ place for Christmas? We can spend a week there, right up to new year’s.”

Ben’s eyes grew large. “Really?”

Stewart got up to make room for Ben. He moved to the armchair and Marcus automatically went to sit at his feet, laying his head on Stewart’s lap. Stewart ran his fingers caressingly through Marcus’ hair and said, “We could do that too. It’s time you met my family. What do you think?”

Marcus looked over at Ben, and they both burst into laughter.

“That’s exactly what we had been discussing in the kitchen,” Ben said.

“Yeah.” Marcus nodded his head excitedly. “We figured since neither of us was ready to take you guys home for Christmas, and we certainly don’t want to spend the holidays without you ...”

Ben chimed in. “... we were hoping we could all go to your folks’ place together. We’d heard so much about your splendid family gatherings ...”

“And the wild parties, and the wine and food ...” Marcus added.

Stewart and Philip were grinning from ear to ear.

“We can promise you lots of relatives and a huge family gathering, but I am not so sure about wild parties,” Philip said and turned to Stewart. “What on earth have you been telling Marcus?”

Stewart laughed. “I have no idea!” He pulled Marcus up and kissed him fiercely on the lips. “Are you very sure it will be okay with your mom and dad?”

“Yes,” Marcus said without hesitation. “Well, no, I am not sure but I want to do this, and its time I told them what I want.”

“And you?” Philip asked Ben, one hand around Ben’s waist.

“Me too. Absolutely! I haven’t worked out yet how I will break the news to them, but I’ll think of something. I’m coming home with you Philip.”

“Good,” Philip said. He quickly corrected himself. “Actually, it’s great!”

Stewart raised his glass. “Couldn’t agree with you more!”