Technical Difficulties Episode 12byLucyH©
Previously in Technical Difficulties:
Zach and Ryan have been best friends since they were kids. When they were twelve, Ryan used to tie Zach to a weight bench and torture him using random stuff he found in the garage. Zach liked it. Now they're all grown up, but they're still interested in playing that game, as well as a few others that are best played in bed.
The trouble is that they're scared to mention it to each other. Ryan thinks Zach is straight, and Zach is too shy to hit on Ryan. Pretending not to have the hots for each other is driving them both crazy. For the first time since high school, neither of them has another lover to distract him.
For someone waking up on a cold tile floor with no memory as to how he got there, Zach felt pretty good - no stiff muscles or hangover. He opened his eyes and found the biggest cockroach he'd ever seen staring him in the face. Zach scrambled to his feet, and the roach ran for cover behind a shower curtain.
The room was unfamiliar. A tiny bar of soap wrapped in paper that rested on the edge of the sink. Mold flourished around the base of the tub and toilet, and the wallpaper peeled at the corners. A note, written on "Valu-Rest Inn" stationery and taped to the mirror, read:
I turned u into a vampire to save ur life. U can drink animal blood, but human is better. Sun will hurt u. Don't kill anyone or be too obvius or the other vamps will flip out. TTYL, if I can.
What a bizarre, creepy prank. Who would even think of something like this? Students? Zach could imagine the kids he taught putting toilet paper in his yard, but this seemed too elaborate for a bunch of eighth graders. The narrow handwriting had an adult feel to it, too, but Zach couldn't figure out why he got that impression. Thinking about students made him wonder whether he'd missed work. If he lost his job because of this, someone would have to pay.
Zach left the bathroom to search the rest of the room for some indication of what was really going on. He found nothing - no luggage, no people, no more notes. Outside the window of the shabby motel room, dusk colors faded from the sky.
He opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Zach touched his pockets automatically to check for his keys and wallet, and then while he was at it, he inspected the contents of the wallet to make sure everything important was there. It was.
At the other end of the lot, a neon sign read "Offi e." He checked his room number, and then crossed the pavement, noticing for the first time that he really needed a change of clothes and a shower. It was going to be a little embarrassing to talk to the hotel clerk in that state.
A pimply kid looked up from his magazine as Zach walked in. He flipped it closed and stashed it under the counter before Zach could see what it was.
Zach tried to act casual. "Hey. I'm in room eighteen. I was wondering... can I see a copy of my bill and check out?"
The kid muttered a positive response and poked at the computer. "You know, you're paid up in advance for three more nights, right?"
"Um. No, I didn't know that. Who paid?"
"Uh, Zachary Hudson."
"Two days ago."
"Can you refund the extra days on my credit card?"
"No, sorry. For one thing, you've gotta be Zachary Hudson to get the refund. For another, I can't refund something to a credit card if it was paid in cash. And anyway, you can only cancel 48 hours in advance, which means I can only refund one night."
Zach had a bad feeling about this. If he or someone else had paid five nights in advance with cash, there must have been a reason, even if he didn't know what it was. He decided not to check out until he figured out what was going on. "Oh. Right. Never mind. Forget it."
The kid narrowed his eyes. "You okay, man? No offense, but you seem kinda... not okay."
Now that he thought about it, Zach did feel a bit light-headed and hungry. "Yeah. Fine. Do you know where I can get something to eat around here?"
The kid behind the counter didn't look entirely convinced. "Neptune Grill just the other side of the motel should still be open if you hurry."
Zach thanked the clerk and hurried to Neptune Grill. He didn't recognize the area of town. In fact, he wasn't even sure which town he was in. All he could tell about it was that it bordered on rural, and looked rundown, with a weedy trash-strewn lot between the motel and the restaurant.
Neptune Grill was still open. A waitress with dark circles under her eyes showed Zach to a booth and stuck a menu in his hand. "Take a look and decide what you want, sugar. I'll be right back." From her bored tone, Zach guessed that she called everybody sugar.
Nothing on the menu looked appealing. At first he thought he must just be put off by the smell of whatever seafood they were deep-frying, or disgusted by the film of grease on the menu. Then he nicked his tongue on a fang, and realized that the problem was much bigger.
Ryan usually wouldn't take personal calls at work, but the pool hall was so dead that he hadn't served a drink in fifteen minutes. He was in the middle of re-stocking the beer fridge when the call came. He pulled the vibrating cell phone out of his pocket and glanced to see who was calling. It was Zach's number. He covered one ear with his fingers and pressed the phone to the other. "Hey. Don't you ever check your e-mail?"
It wasn't Zach, though, it was his mom, and she talked so fast that Ryan couldn't hear her over Carlos Santana's guitar solo coming out of the jukebox. The woman needed to remember to breathe.
"I'm at work. Can you talk slow and loud like you think I'm a moron? Otherwise I can't hear you." He checked over his shoulder to make sure nobody was looking for a drink.
She talked to him like he was a moron. "Have you heard from Zach this week?"
"No. Is something wrong? I e-mailed him to ask if he wants a pair of free concert tickets that I can't use, and he hasn't answered."
"He's been missing for a few days. He hasn't been to work or called in. We're really worried."
Ryan's stomach twisted itself in a knot. Zach had just started his first real job as a math teacher. There was no way he'd blow off work without a good reason. Something bad must have happened. "Did you call the police?"
"This afternoon. They helped me find your number."
"Did you call his friend Rosemary?"
"No. We can't remember her last name."
"Bellefeuille." How could he forget the name of a girl he spent so much time being jealous of? He spelled the name for Zach's mom. "She lives with her brother, John. Phone might be in his name," he volunteered as an afterthought.
"Do you have any other ideas?"
"I wish I did."
Zach's mom said something else, but he couldn't hear her because a big excessively tattooed guy started smacking his hand against the bar and complaining about having to wait.
"I gotta go. I'll see if I can think of anything else," he said on his way over to deal with the customer, and ended the call since he couldn't hear anything anyway. Ryan fetched the tattooed guy's beer without comment. The guy didn't tip, and Ryan didn't care. He moved through the rest of his shift on autopilot, his mind busy trying to think where Zach could be. After a few fruitless phone calls to most of their mutual acquaintances, including Trisha, he ran out of ideas.
The second the numbers on the clock turned over to 2:00, Ryan finished cashing out and split. He couldn't stand having to be polite to one more customer, and pretending to care what they wanted to drink. He muttered profanities to the empty parking lot on his way to the car. Ryan plopped into the driver's seat, slammed the car door, and switched the CD out for a mix of loud, angry music. His phone rang. Caller I.D. said it was from a pay phone. He stopped inches short of hitting the play button on the stereo and answered the phone instead. "Hello?"
It was Zach. "Hey, I need to ask you a huge favor."
"Where are you? You'd better call your parents and tell them you're okay."
"I'm at gas station by highway ten and eighth line road. I'm stuck out here without a car, and I really need a ride and a place to stay for a day or two." He sounded worried.
"You do know you're an official missing person, right?"
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Can you get me?"
"Yeah. Okay, but what's going on?" Ryan pulled his car out into the empty street. "Your mom called me freaking out wondering where you are."
"I'll tell you when you come get me. Just please don't tell anyone I'm here, okay? Not yet."
"If you were anybody else..."
"Thank you. Thankyouthankyou. I'll watch for you."
"It's gonna take me at least half an hour to get there."
It ended up only taking twenty minutes.
Zach showered the cow smell off in Ryan's bathroom. The familiar surroundings made his predicament feel all the more surreal, but he was glad he'd called Ryan. When he'd run out of pre-paid motel stay, and realized he only had enough money in his account to pay for one more day, he'd realized he needed help. It had to be either Ryan or Rosemary, and Ryan won out because he lived nearby, was fairly nocturnal, and didn't have any roommates. Going home to his parents was out of the question; They weren't the sort of people who would shelter a vampire, keep a secret, and refrain from calling an exorcist.
Ryan had taken the news of Zach's vampirism surprisingly well. "Why wouldn't I believe you? You don't make stuff like this up," he'd said.
Zach dressed and checked out his reflection in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Ryan had given him a clean t-shirt and sweatpants that didn't smell like cows, for which he intended to be eternally grateful. It was a secret thrill to wear Ryan's clothes, even if the pants were an inch too short. His face was a shade paler than it used to be, but for a blonde geek, it didn't look particularly strange. Fortunately, his fangs retracted enough that they didn't make it hard to speak, and unless he grinned, they remained unobtrusive. Zach emerged from the bathroom feeling like an almost-civilized human being again.
They sat on the couch in the living room to talk. Zach explained what he knew about vampires, which wasn't much, then let Ryan check his wrist for a pulse and lean in close for a curious look at his fangs. When he retreated back to his end of the couch, Zach breathed a sigh of relief, not only because Ryan didn't look troubled by the fangs, but also because he smelled like white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, and it had been driving him crazy to have Ryan right next to him when he was so hungry. He couldn't eat cookies anymore, but smelling them still made his mouth water.
Ryan stroked the light brown stubble on his cheek and looked thoughtful. "You're going to need a safe place to stay while you figure out how to work this thing, aren't you? You only asked for a couple of days, but you aren't going to get it all figured out and find a permanent home that fast, especially since you're broke." He must have understood, without asking, that Zach couldn't go home to his parents.
"Well, um, yes, but I don't want to be a big mooch." Zach admitted.
"I know, but where else are you going to go? You have to stay here. I don't think you'll be much trouble anyway. I mean, what are you going to do, eat everything in the fridge? Wake me up bright and early by singing in the shower? Steal the silverware?" Ryan chuckled.
"I'd still try to earn my keep - cook, clean, prepare your tax return... whatever you need." Zach wanted to add sexual favors to that list, but he still couldn't get those words out.
"Cool. Never thought I'd have live-in help." Ryan twisted around to pick up his coffee to take a sip.
Zach thought about Ryan's tongue, warm from the coffee, running up the inside of his thigh.
"Would you fix the driveway?" Ryan asked, "I hate fixing driveways after that summer working for my uncle, and the landlord won't do anything about the pothole."
Zach tore himself away from a daydreaming about Ryan's coffee-heated tongue, and forced himself to think about damaged asphalt. "Yeah, no problem. I don't really get tired, and I don't have to breathe."
"Well then, we have a deal."
"You're a life saver."
"Nah, more like a Jolly Rancher." Ryan's tone of voice turned from glib to serious. "Speaking of which, are you hungry? I mean, I don't know how much you need, or... um..." His hand holding the coffee shook, and he set the cup back down.
"I'm a little hungry," Zach adnmitted. Trying to live off cow blood had made him feel like he'd been eating nothing but celery all week, and Ryan wasn't helping matters by smelling delicious. He didn't want to scare his friend too much by admitting that he was ravenous, though.
"You can bite me if you're not going to freak on me, or take chunks out, or drink more than about a pint. I'm curious to know what it's like." His fingers worried at the collar of his t-shirt.
"That would be great, thanks." The trouble was, he was afraid it would be really really great - not the blood per se, but having an excuse to put his mouth on Ryan and suck. He forced a casual tone of voice. "I don't know how much I need, but I promise I'll be polite if you decide to cut me off."
"You're sure you'll be able to stop?" Ryan nibbled his lip and tugged at a loose thread near his throat.
"I think so, but I never bit an actual person before." Zach thought that he could manage a chaste little wrist nip, while sitting so Ryan couldn't tell if he got too excited, but he had visions of going overboard and licking too much or moaning or something. Was it really a good idea, coming to Ryan for help? It seemed brilliant a few minutes ago, but now he doubted it.
Ryan got to his feet. "C'mon downstairs, then, so we can do this the paranoid way. If you've never bitten anyone, you don't know what will happen, and I want to be around to enjoy my new and improved driveway." He walked away without waiting for a response.
Zach followed him down the basement stairs. It was the first time he'd been down there since Ryan turned half of it into a rec. room, cheaply carpeted and separated from the utility and storage area by wall of white paneling. Ryan had put an old couch down there along with the T.V. and exercise equipment. Zach froze on the second to last stair when he saw the hulking homemade weight bench.
Ryan disappeared into the utility room and came out with a coil of white rope in his hand. He must have noticed Zach's bug-eyed expression, because he said, "C'mon. This is just to protect me in case you freak out unexpectedly. I won't hurt you."
Now that Zach's heart couldn't race, panic didn't have the same edge to it. He still couldn't talk, but at least he could worry coherently: If Ryan got him on that bench and put any part of his body in his mouth, he would find out how badly Zach wanted him. Lying on his back with his wrists and ankles tied to the bench, there would be no way to hide.
After a few more seconds of silence, Ryan's reassuring smile faded and he sighed, sounding annoyed. "Take it or leave it. I'm not letting you bite me if there's a chance you might do worse."
"Makes sense," Zach whispered. He couldn't quite agree to let Ryan tie him up, though.
Ryan rolled his eyes. "Is this about the game we used to play?"
Several more seconds of painful silence ticked by.
Ryan's fingers tightened on the coil of rope. "It is, isn't it? Look... I'm sorry I went kind of psycho on you. I really am. I don't know what's wrong with me sometimes. Right now, though, I'm just trying to do you a favour, okay?"
Zach knew he should just get it over with. He should ignore the fear, walk down those last two steps, put his arms around Ryan, and tell him everything. Instead, he stood there like a statue. Zach's statue impression was quite good, now that he was a vampire.
Ryan beckoned for Zach to follow him back to the utility room. It wasn't a frightening direction, so he followed. When he caught up, Ryan stood with his hand on the steel support pillar in the middle of the room. "Here," he said, "If you just put your hands around the pole and let me tie them together, that should be safe enough. You won't be grabbing me or going anywhere unless you can take the whole house with you."
Zach melted with relief and disappointment at the same time when he realized that Ryan had no intention of tying him to the weight bench. "Sure. Sorry, I don't know what I was thinking," he babbled as he put his arms around the pillar and clasped his hands on the other side.
Ryan pried his hands apart and turned him around, tying his hands behind his back instead. Zach cooperated, but wished that he could watch Ryan wind the rope around his wrists. He wanted to look for any sign that Ryan was lying about just doing him a favour.
Ryan finished the knot and stepped back. "There. Try to get away?"
Zach felt for the ends of the rope, but Ryan had secured them out of reach. He tugged on the restraint just hard enough to know that escaping wouldn't be easy. The rope was tight enough that he couldn't slide his hands out. "You got me."
"Great." Ryan peeled his "Bob's Booze and Billiards" t-shirt off and chucked it into the open washing machine. "Can't be leaving fang marks where they'll show at work. They already think I'm crazy," he explained.
Zach loved Ryan's shape. This guy was always in motion; he worked out to relieve stress, and he was usually stressed about something -- the dysfunctional family, Trisha, or his employer, who was usually teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. He was a little hairy, but it was fine fuzz that looked like it would feel really soft. His skin was fair, with a light dusting of freckles all over. Zach wanted to admire him, and brush his cheek and lips against Ryan's chest if only he'd move a little closer. Fear forced Zach to look away, though. He pretended to have an itchy ear, and rubbed it against his shoulder while he tried to distract himself by mentally reciting a Shakespearian monologue. Friends, Romans, countrymen...what am I supposed to do now? It didn't work too well.
Ryan stood right in front of Zach, and offered his shoulder to bite. So much for the chaste little wrist nip he'd been psyching up for.
"Maybe this isn't a good idea," Zach mumbled.
"It doesn't matter. I just realized this is a stupid idea, and I'm sorry I didn't figure that out sooner. I should go." Go where, he didn't know. It was two hours until dawn. He contorted his hands in an attempt to free himself.
Ryan stayed put. "No. This is as easy as it's ever going to get. I'm right here offering you blood. You don't have to trick me or wrestle with me or talk me into it. I'll cut myself if I have to. You can't hurt me too bad by accident. I mean, if you can't eat now, when are you ever going to do it?"
"It's not that. Please just let me go." Zach strained to reach the ends of the rope, but he couldn't. Shifting around made him bump his chin against Ryan's shoulder inadvertently. Ryan's skin was as soft as it looked, and because Zach didn't have body heat of his own, Ryan also felt really warm. He radiated heat and life, and Zach wanted to feel that all over him and bask in it. Did he feel cold and disgusting to Ryan? He couldn't decide whether he wanted to lean into that warm body or disappear.
"Friends don't let friends do really stupid shit. I'm not letting you go until you eat or give me a good reason why not." Ryan sounded serious about it, and he was still only inches away from Zach. Zach's heart should have been racing like a panicked Chihuahua, but it wasn't. "I really can't explain," he said, knowing that arguing was pointless. He was at a loss for words that weren't stupid or impossible to utter. Zach closed his eyes, as if he might teleport somewhere else by blocking the world out. At the same time, he wanted Ryan to put a hand against the back of his head and force his face against his shoulder.