tagGay MaleRivers to Follow Ch. 04

Rivers to Follow Ch. 04

byeightleon©

Another chapter with our boys. I have so much in store; I hope y'all are half as excited as I am. Just gotta find the time to write!

Finally I've found a British friend kind enough to review my dialogue, so to those of you who have complaints, I say: Bugger off!



Not really though. I love you all.

Anyway.

Along you scroll.



- Leon xx

----------------------------------------------

"I wanna get a dog."

I looked up at Julian, breaking the focus I'd been dedicating to our ice cream. It was two in the morning, and we were sitting on the trunk of his car- excuse me, the boot of his car- outside of a 7-Eleven, eating out of a plastic tub of Blue Bunny. Julian had roused me from my sleep in a panic because he had a midnight craving for ice cream and I had none in my freezer. I, like a normal person, suggested that we go get some when it was not the middle of the night, but my suggestion was not well-received, so there we were, freezing our nuts off in the dead of winter, eating a frozen dessert.

When I met his eyes, he started laughing, and I realized that I had ice cream dripping down my chin. I crossed my eyes trying to look at it, making him laugh even harder. Seeing him so full of joy at something so stupid, I couldn't even be embarrassed.

"Matty, that looks kind of... dirty," he giggled. I rolled my eyes and licked my thumb to wipe it off, but before I could, his tongue was doing the job for me.

"Wha- keep your tongue to yourself!" I sputtered, wiping my face frantically. He did that laughing roar that he does and gave me a quick peck on the lips.

"Now, you don't mean that, love," he said coyly, and I blushed as he returned to his spoon. He'd taken to calling me that- "love"- and I knew that it was just another term of endearment, but I was seriously starting to wonder if I could say it with the same ease. It had only been two months since we first met, a couple weeks since we officially started dating, and I was already fighting the urge to ask him to spend Thanksgiving with me. I bit my tongue and took another scoop.

"I didn't even know you liked animals."

"Who doesn't like dogs?"

I shrugged and raised my hand. He frowned and sucked on his spoon thoughtfully.

"Will you still come with me to the shelter? To pick one out?"

I wrinkled my nose. "So not only are you getting a dog, but you're also not even getting a puppy?" He scowled at me.

"Why would I buy a already-safe dog when I could rescue one for free?"

I sighed.

"You're coming," he said sniffily, and I just pulled his arm around me. It was really fucking cold.

******

Saturday morning, Julian leapt out of bed at 8 o'clock sharp and dragged me to a diner to get breakfast before the main event. The shelter didn't even open until 10:30, but, after a seemingly endless week of links to pictures of dogs on Pinterest (who has a Pinterest?!), I would've done anything to get this show on the road.

I hadn't been completely honest with Julian about this whole dog business. I mean, I hadn't lied. But I'd failed to mention that years ago I had been attacked by a pack of rabid beasts (or two stray dogs, whatever). It was when I was living on the street so I couldn't really do a whole lot about the two bites that got nasty infections. Eventually I found a free clinic that would treat minors and got some antibiotics. I'd been deathly afraid of dogs ever since.

But he and I were pretty solid so far. So I freak out at the shelter. What's a little panic attack between lovers?

I know, I know, I'm being goofy. Honestly, I was just in such a good goddamn mood. Phoebe and I used to be inseparable, and I was happy for her and Tali, but I missed having that confidante, that person who knew your thoughts before you did and made you laugh until you cried and smile until your teeth hurt. The sex was fucking awesome, too. The only obstacle was convincing myself that I deserved all of it.

Anyway, we were sitting in the diner that morning, me flipping through the sticky plastic menu and Julian trying to decided which song to spend his quarter on, when a short, burly man sauntered through the door. I almost laughed at his gait; it was so overly-nonchalant that it looked uncomfortable. Other than the walk, however, he was very handsome: dark skin, deep brown eyes, and a Fresh-Prince-esque flat top that matured his round face well. The hostess was escorting another group to their table, so he paused and surveyed the diner, his thumbs hooked through the belt loops of his jeans. At that, I did snicker a little bit, and his gaze snapped toward me. I quickly looked back to my menu.

"Lili?"

Julian's head whipped around, and suddenly he was LEAPING over the back of the booth to tackle the man into a hug. I watched in awe.

"No kidding!" he yelled, and literally, literally, everyone in the restaurant turned at the raucous. I shrank into my seat, but Julian and his friend apparently had no qualms continuing on at the same volume. "Eddy Crawford! What the hell are you doing here?"

The man clapped Julian on the shoulder. Julian's arm was still around him. Hmmph.

"I'm at in school, same as you! If you ever answered your bloody Facebook messages, you'd know that!"

"Oh, sod off, mate, you could've emailed!"

I watched the exchange in awe. It was like watching a weird, alternate-universe Julian- I mean, I knew he was British, obviously, but, damn was he British.

"Your mum told me how much you loved Cleveland, how good your schooling was going, told me I should check out the program. I thought she'd have rung you."

Julian laughed and shook his head. "I'm sure she meant to, but you know her. Always yelling, up in arms about something."

His friend didn't respond, and I could feel him looking at me. I squinted at my phone and concentrated on my very important, very fake text message.

"Oh, this is Matty!"

I looked up. Julian was beaming at me, and Eddy was giving me a little smirk. Better than a frown, I mused. I smiled and gave a small wave. Julian threw an arm around him.

"Matty, this is Eddy Crawford, the sorriest bastard in all of Ilkeston!"

I raised an eyebrow and looked at Julian blankly. Eddy guffawed.

"He doesn't even know where you're from?! Christ, Julian, you've really made some meaningful friendships here." My face grew hot.

"I know where he's from," I snapped. Eddy and Julian stared at me with mirrored surprise at my venomous tone. "I just... forgot," I added quietly. Was Julian not going to save me? He knew that I knew his hometown. And was he not going to correct Eddy on the word "friendships"?

Eddy cleared his throat. "Right. Well. Lili, I'll ring you then?"

And what the fuck was with this "Lili" business?

"Why don't you join us? We haven't ordered yet. Right, Matt?" Julian shot me a hideously fake smile. Eddy cleared his throat again, and I just sat there awkwardly.

"Right then," Eddy responded finally, and when he turned his back, I returned Julian's shit-eating grin. Julian's face twisted into a glare.

... "Friendships." Pah.

Eddy slid into the booth opposite me and Julian sat beside him. They began to chat excitedly, laughing at the super-sized American dishes and other subjects to which I could not relate. I pushed my food around my plate and sipped the watery coffee I'd been served. I was blatantly watching them, as they didn't seem to register my presence anyway, and made sure to torture myself over every spare touch, every sly smile.

"What's Lili mean?"

The question seemed to spill forward from my mouth without any decision on my part. Why did I do that? Fuck. That was weird. I was being weird. Julian was looking at me weird.

Eddy snickered. "He doesn't even know-"

"Why would he know my childhood nickname, Ed?" Julian interrupted him, and in a sharp tone at that.

Then Julian reached across the table and took my hand. His eyes sparkled at me, and I forgot that Eddy was there. I forgot that Eddy existed, I forgot that the diner existed, I forgot that in an hour I was going to be surrounded by bloodthirsty hounds. I just knew the sight of Julian's smile and the feeling of his hand on mine.

"Oh, shit!" Eddy exclaimed.

I jerked my hand away and braced for impact. Then, instead of feeling a fist, I was hearing laughter, and I opened one eye to see Eddy squeezing the life out of Julian.

"You found yourself a nice thing, eh? Well, shit, no wonder you didn't like me touching up on your man," Eddy laughed, turning his attention to me. He reached across the table, and I flinched. He frowned. "I was just going to give you a pat, mate. No worries."

"Sorry. That's not... the reaction I'm used to. With boyfriends."

He grinned and nudged Julian with his shoulder. "You hear that? Boyfriends."

I gave in and laughed, and Julian finally began to breathe again, and Eddy had never stopped laughing in the first place.

"I think he was aware that we were dating before this point. And for the record, I didn't mind you 'touching up on my man,'" I said matter-of-factly. "I was just miffed at this one for presenting me as his 'mate.'" Julian blushed and looked at his lap.

"Well, that's one word for it," he muttered, and I turned scarlet as Eddy howled with laughter.

******

"Bye, Eddy. It was good to meet you." I reached out to shake Eddy's hand but he threw an arm around me and held me in what I think was intended to be a friendly headlock.

"Make sure your boy calls me, yeah?"

I wrenched myself from his grip so I could look to Julian, who was at the counter paying the bill. He was tapping his feet to the beat of the song he'd finally landed on: "Jailhouse Rock." Shockingly, he had not encountered a lot of 1950s American music in his life thus far, so he automatically had it narrowed down to Johnny Cash and Elvis. I laughed at the sight of him bobbing his head and mouthing along to the lyrics. He turned his head and, instead of blushing, as I certainly would have, he gave me a wink and began playing air guitar. I laughed harder and he just grinned before turning back to the counter to retrieve the change. I returned my attention to Eddy, who had the happiest smirk on his face.

"I was going to tell you to be good to him, but I can see now that you're already in deep."

I rolled my eyes but kept my mouth shut. There really wasn't any point in denying it.

Julian appeared at my side and wrapped an arm around my waist.

"Ready, love?"

I gave gooey smile and Eddy shot me a wink.

******

I stretched my legs out in the passenger side as Julian closed his door.

"So, wanna talk about how weird that was?"

I blanched at the question as it fell from his lips. I appreciated that he asked questions that my cowardly ass would leave festering, working their way into my bloodstream like toxins until I pushed people away out of sheer survival. But I wasn't used to it.

He studied me for a moment, his hands tracing the stippled leather of the steering wheel. "I'm not looking for jealousy, Matty. I'm too old for that."

That I did not appreciate. "Fuck off, Julian, you know that's not what that was about."

He looked immensely guilty, and my anger wilted. He of all people did not deserve my bitchiness.

"I'm sorry. I know it's not personal. There's people I wouldn't tell either."

He frowned immediately.

"I just didn't think to mention it, Matty. Why would I try to hide you?" he asked quietly. I couldn't tell if he was angry or hurt or both. "Why would you want to hide me?" The edge in his voice told me it was both.

"I wouldn't, I don't, Julian, but there's a lot of shitty people out there, and I'm not really looking to get hate-crimed again," I said with a weak smile. He reached out and touched my cheek.

"Again?" His voice was small. I shrugged, and he paused before giving a short nod. I stretched myself over the gear shift to kiss him.

"I was a little jealous," I admitted. "Not in a 'don't-touch-what's-mine' kinda way. I just realized how right he was about us not knowing each other." Julian shot me a look.

"You did know I was from Ilkeston, dummy. You know that I'm from Ilkeston but I hated it there. You know that I hate vanilla ice cream and I love Amy Winehouse and French is my first language. You know that I'm a bartender who secretly sucks at mixing drinks-"

"Well, to be fair, anyone who's been to your bar knows that."

He slapped my arm and then continued. "And I know that you're from a small town in Ohio and that you hated it there. I know that you're a volunteer CPA during tax season, and you-"

"Okay, Julian, alright," I laughed, and I gave him a peck on the cheek. "You're very sweet, you know."

He smiled and nestled his hand into my hair. "If you wanted to know about my life, Chris, all you had to was ask."

Yeah, that "Christopher Sly" joke was still alive and kicking. Sometimes I called him 'Truchio, but it didn't bother him as much as it did me, so there was really no point.

"But you know that means I get to know more about yours," he added. I leaned away from his hand, and he rolled his eyes. I frowned.

"It's not... I mean... Juli, I want you to know everything, but I- I'm not proud of everything, I guess. I don't want you to see me differently."

Wow, that was pretty damn honest for me. Woohoo.

'Truchio still didn't like it.

He grabbed the hair at the back of my neck and pulled me into a hard kiss. I reached over and touched his chest, suddenly desperate for contact, but he drew away and pressed his forehead to mine.

"No offense, babe, but if you're a shitty person, I think I deserve to know."

I snorted and shoved him away from me. He squeezed my sides and I yelped in surprised laughter. I grabbed his hair and pulled hard and he gasped in pain.

"You!" he growled, pulling me into his arms. I squealed as he picked me up and dropped me on his lap. My ass was pressed against the steering wheel and my head against the roof of the car.

"Sorry! Jeez! Don't have to manhandle me!" I panted.

He pulled my legs tighter around him.

"That was a dirty move, Matthew David Vogt," he murmured. He pressed a kiss to my shoulder and slid his hands up the back of my shirt, tracing my skin as his kisses fell on my neck.

"Julian..."

"You just look so fucking sexy today, in your t-shirt and your granny slippers..."

I groaned and tried to push off of him, but he just laughed and held me close.

"You really are the sexiest thing on two legs, Matt," he said, and I gave him a quick peck. His lips were soft and full and just slightly wet. He kneaded my ass in his strong hands and I swallowed a moan.

"You're gonna get me all riled up, Juli," I said, pushing him away.

"That doesn't sound like a problem to me."

"C'mon, we should go," I replied, trying again to return to my seat. This time he acquiesced, albeit begrudgingly.

"We have time," he muttered, grumpily starting the ignition.

"Well, you'd have to take me home so that I could douche," I said flatly, and he burst into a coughing fit. I grinned and patted his knee as he regained his breath, and then he leaned over to kiss me.

"Nuh-uh, mate, we gotta get going."

He crossed his arms and huffed. What a cutie.

Ugh. It had been nagging at me all day. Doing the right thing sucked.

"In the spirit of, uh, all this," I started, but I didn't really know how to get where I was going. Julian turned the ignition back off and bent awkwardly so that he could face me.

"What's up, babe?"

I sighed. I had to tell him, right? He'd be so pissed if I freaked out at some fucking Chihuahua after this whole whiny lecture about knowing his past.

I took a deep breath and began rolling up the long, loose sleeve of my big t-shirt.

Even if I didn't have to tell him, he deserved to know.

"I'm actually super afraid of dogs. I was attacked when I was 16." I pulled back my sleeve and turned to show him the two bites mark that had never faded. The scars were thick and raised with dark splotches from the infections. I turned back to try and gauge his reaction, but he just looked dazed. "I didn't say anything because you were so excited, and I wanted to share it with you. But it was because of me, Juli. I know you're gonna want to feel responsible for this, but you didn't pressure me or scare me out of telling you. I was afraid because of me. Not you. Never you."

And that was all I had to give to him. I prayed that he didn't need more. We sat in heavy silence. When he finally spoke, he was terribly quiet.

"Do you wanna go home?"

I shook my head, but he didn't move.

"Do you want me to drive?" I asked, and he paused before nodding slowly. I was afraid to touch him, so I just opened my door, and he followed suit.

We met at the middle, in front of the hood. I stopped, and he stopped, and after a second's hesitation I reached out and hooked my pinky around his. He intertwined the rest of our fingers and rested his head on my shoulder. I cradled it with my other hand.

"You're an arse," he mumbled.

"I know," I responded, because I did.

"I like you so much."

I could see, hear, and feel my heart flip-flop in my chest. "I like you too, Juli."

He took a moment to scowl at me before grumbling and trudging to the passenger's side. I smiled. I really did like him a lot.

******

"I'm glad y'all are looking for an older dog. There's not enough people willing to take 'em."

The shelter employee, Aisha, waved us into a hallway lined with dogs. The conditions were surprisingly nice- individual cages, chew toys, padded beds. I tried not to let my breathing change enough for Julian to notice, but he pulled me closer all the same.

"Okay, so based on your form and your personality, I've got a few dogs I wanna show you."

We stopped in front of a cage near the front of the hall. The plate read "Ruby" and inside was a big black Rottweiler. She wagged her tail and trotted over to us.

"Matty, look at her," Julian cooed, squatting down to reach through the bars. The dog sniffed and licked his hand, and he turned to me with eyes full of awe. My heart thumped; Julian was so goddamn adorable, even when he was next to that hulking beast.


"Ain't she sweet?" Aisha said dreamily. "Ruby got picked up as a stray, but you can see that she's probably had a previous owner. See that mark on her ear?" Aisha took Ruby's ear in her hand gently and thumbed over a little crescent-shaped scar. "That's a cigarette burn. Pretty common on our fur babies."

Julian's eyes widened, and he looked absolutely fucking heartbroken, and I had to force back a smile at his sweet reaction. I squatted beside him, laying an arm around his shoulders.

"Juli, she's fine, look," I said. He turned his attention back to Ruby, who was staring at him, her big pink tongue flopped out of her mouth. I calmly, rationally, casually registered that she was fucking enormous. She looked at him, and then at me, and suddenly she lunged forward and began slobbering all over my face.

"Holy shit!" I screamed, kicking myself away. Aisha jumped and Julian grabbed me.

"Matty, babe, you're okay," he said firmly, sitting on the floor and pulling me between his legs. "You're okay." I relaxed into his arms as my heartbeat slowed. "We can go," he whispered, but I shook my head vehemently.

"No, I'm alright. She's a good dog. She's a good dog."

Julian failed to suppress a chuckle, and I followed his eyeline. Ruby was thrilled, wagging her tail and pawing at the bars.

"Good dog," I repeated slowly, and she pawed again and whined. I crawled over to her and held up a hand. She pressed her wet nose against it and made a happy little noise. "That's disgusting," I muttered, standing and wiping my hand on my pants. Aisha seemed offended but Julian just laughed.

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