Technical Difficulties Episode 14byLucyH©
Previously in Technical Difficulties:
Ryan and Zach have been friends and harboured secret crushes on each other for years. Recently, Zach was turned into a vampire for reasons that remain unclear. He went to Ryan for help. Ryan invited Zach to stay with him indefinitely. Meanwhile, Zach's parents, who he lived with until he became a vampire, have reported him as a missing person and begun a serious search for their son.
Earlier in the night, Zach bit Ryan and the truth about their feelings came out: not only are they crazy about each other, but they have highly compatible sadomasochistic desires. They've spent most of the time since then making out and giving each other hand jobs in the basement. It's an hour before dawn. A few minutes ago, Ryan ignored a phone call. Now they're in bed, talking about Zach's fantasies and getting ready for round 2, when a car pulls into Ryan's driveway.
Zach listened for the sound of the car door opening, or the car pulling away again, but he didn't hear either one. If only he had magic vampire mind control powers to make people go away.
"Sorry, this is weirding me out. I've got to look and see who it is." Ryan got up and crossed the room to pull back the heavy curtains and peek out at the driveway.
"Who is it?" Zach didn't really care except in so far as it affected the odds of finishing what they started.
"I don't know. They're just sitting there in the dark. At least it doesn't look like Trisha's car. It's not your parents, either."
"Okay. Can you come back to bed?"
"Yeah, but I think it'll be better if I find out what this is about and get rid of them so I'm not distracted by wondering who is lurking in my driveway. I bet I can do it in five minutes or less." He scrambled into some clothes and wiped his hand off on the side of his pants to get rid of most of the baby oil. "Sorry about this. Don't go anywhere."
Zach rolled onto his side to watch Ryan dress. "Where would I go?"
"I don't know. Under the covers? Just a sec. I'm really sorry." And he was off down the hall toward the front door.
Zach did get up and peek out between the curtains to see what was going on. The car's driver's side door opened, and Ryan spoke with someone female. They both sounded worried, but they were too quiet for Zach to be able to tell what they were worried about. He couldn't see who was in the car, either, nor did he recognize the woman's soft voice.
After a while, Zach sat on the bed and listened, hoping to hear the car drive away. He watched the alarm clock as ten minutes went by, and dawn crept closer. "Get back in here, dammit," he muttered. The car door closed, opened, and closed again, and the voices moved toward the front door.
Zach got up and closed the bedroom door, then lay back down on the bed, right where Ryan left him.
A few seconds later, Ryan and the mysterious woman came inside, and Ryan slipped back into the bedroom. He shut the door gently behind him and sighed. "My stepmother and my little brother are here. The sperm donor went psycho, and she came here because I once told her I'd help her out if she needed a place to go. I'm going to babysit while she goes to the hospital and gets some stitches."
"Oh. That's... bad. I should get dressed, shouldn't I?" Zach tried not to sound sulky, because obviously Ryan's stepmother's problems were more serious than his temporary sexual frustration, but he wasn't sure he quite succeeded. The way Ryan tried to help everyone was a big reason that Zach loved him, but why did it have to be now?
"Yeah, I guess. Let me see if I can find my black jeans. They're kind of long." Ryan rummaged through a dresser drawer. "I don't like the timing either. But what am I supposed to do? Tell her to go away?"
"Of course not. Oh well. The day is just a blink to me. One second it's dawn, and the next, it's sundown. So if things are settled by the time I wake up..." He forced a smile.
"Neat." Ryan found the jeans and shut the drawer with his hip. "Here, these should fit. You might want to get the blood off your cheek, too. I'm going to try to get my brother settled in the living room." He stepped closer to hand the jeans to Zach. In a softer voice, he added, "We can go at it like depraved little bunnies soon. Promise. There's nothing I'd rather be doing."
"I know." Zach really did feel secure about that fact, thanks to telepathy. "Same here."
Ryan ran his fingers through Zach's hair and gave it a little tug before he darted out of the room.
The hair tug made Zach go squishy inside. He stifled the sound that tried to come out of his throat, and took a few seconds to regain his composure after Ryan left.
When he the moment passed, he raided Ryan's dresser for underwear and a shirt. Putting on Ryan's clothes gave him a cozy, connected feeling, and he understood why girls liked borrowing their boyfriend's jackets and shirts so much. He cleaned his face with tissues and spit, using the shiny surface of the little bedroom television for a mirror.
Zach found Ryan in the living room, arranging sofa pillows in a sort of nest that he'd created by pushing the two matching armchairs together face to face, and draping them with blankets. By the door, an overweight, black-haired woman, not much older than Zach, crouched and talked to a little boy who looked a lot more like her than like Ryan. Even at 5 or 6, the boy was pudgy. He cast a worried glance back at Ryan, with dark eyes that matched his black hair.
The woman caught Zach's eye and smiled at him, though her expression contained no real joy.
He waved. "Hi. I'm Zach."
The woman lifted her child up onto her hip as she stood up. At first glance, she didn't appear hurt. "Hello. I'm Jamila. This is Jerry." Her soft voice turned simple conversation into a lullaby. Jerry buried his face in his mother's coat. Jamila turned her head to the side to speak to him. "Jerry, this is Brother Ryan's friend Zach. He's staying here too."
Zach murmured a polite "Nice to meet you."
"Mommy, I want to go with you." Jerry complained.
"I know honey, but I need to go by myself. Look, you're going to have a special bed made of chairs. Let's see if it's comfy."
Ryan took his bedraggled old sock monkey, Booger, down from the mantelpiece and set it in the nest. "Oh, I know it's comfy. I used to sleep in these chairs myself sometimes, until I got too big."
Jamila stooped over to get Jerry settled in the nest, and Zach got a look at the alarming amount of caked blood on the back of her head. As she moved, she also favored her right arm.
While Jamila fussed over her son and promised a dozen times that she'd come back as soon as she could, Ryan flipped through television channels until he hit on something mildly educational with singing puppets. "Bongo's Treehouse. How's this?"
Jerry got quiet and stared at the screen. Jamila took the opportunity to slip out without a fuss.
Ryan caught Zach by the wrist and towed him over to sit on the couch. "He doesn't get to watch much T.V., so hopefully he'll stay hypnotized," he whispered in Zach's ear.
Zach snuggled in close and draped his arm around Ryan's shoulders. "But you're not sure enough about that to go back to bed and finish what we started?" he asked under his breath.
"Right." Ryan yawned. "And actually, now that the adrenaline is wearing off, I feel like I'm about to crash. It's past my bedtime."
Bongo's Treehouse gave way to something with cartoon animals that Zach mostly tuned out. Ryan dozed a little bit, with his head on Zach's shoulder. Even though Zach would rather they were going at it like depraved bunnies, he enjoyed feeling Ryan leaning carelessly against him. A couple hours ago, Ryan had been at the opposite end of the couch. This was a big improvement.
When the sky outside the window started to brighten, Zach excused himself and went back to Ryan's bedroom, where the heavy curtains were hung for the express purpose of keeping sunshine out, and letting Ryan sleep until noon.
Ryan followed him, yawning. "Where do you want to sleep?"
"Where do you want me to sleep? It doesn't matter to me. I just thought it was a bad idea to pass out in the living room."
"I want you in bed with me, if you think it'll be dark enough in here." Ryan adjusted the edges of the curtains.
"You won't find it too creepy when I'm all inanimate?"
"Nah, so is everything else in the bed. I don't see the big deal."
"Well, then, just put the covers over my head if you're going to open the door to the hall, and I should be fine." Zach sat down on the side of the bed that he was pretty sure Trisha used to sleep on. Her romance novels had always been on the night table on that side. He took satisfaction in claiming the spot.
"Oh! I know just the thing." Ryan hunted around on the top shelf of the closet and came up with a grey ski mask. He tossed it to Zach.
Zach pulled it on over his head, and climbed into bed fully clothed. "Thanks. I feel silly, though." The mask covered everything but the tip of his nose and his eyes.
"You look a bit silly too, but safety first." Ryan crawled under the covers to cuddle him and kissed the side of his head. "You can be my oversized sock monkey."
Zach smiled under the mask. "Thanks. I'd love to be your sock monkey." There was something appealing about that idea of Ryan treating him like his old favourite stuffed animal. Kids loved their stuffed animals and cuddled them for comfort at night, but also subjected them to random abuse when it seemed like fun. He and Ryan had certainly put Booger through a lot when they were about ten, and his cousin used to bang her teddy bear's eyes on the kitchen floor because she liked the sound it made.
The dawn caught him in the middle of that thought.
Ryan didn't notice the exact moment when Zach passed out - just realized that he hadn't spoken or moved in a couple of minutes. He got out of bed and pulled the blanket up over Zach's head.
It struck him how helpless Zach was, and how much he must trust Ryan to share a bed with him. Quick on the heels of that thought, another followed: there were some potentially fun ways to take advantage of this situation. Perhaps Zach would wake up tied in a compromising position some night soon.
The pitter-patter of little feet in the hallway snapped Ryan out of it. He went to the door, opening it just as Jerry was about to knock.
"Brother Ryan, I'm hungry," the boy complained.
"Me too. Do you like cereal?" Ryan slipped out into the hall and shut the bedroom door.
"I've got Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes."
Jerry looked at Ryan with a blank expression.
"You've never had them?"
Jerry shook his head no.
"They're loaded with sugar. You'll love them." He herded Jerry toward the kitchen. "But let's be quiet so we don't bother my friend. He's sleeping."
"Why? It's getting light out." Jerry trotted down the hall to the kitchen.
"We stayed up all night. I haven't even gone to bed yet." Ryan flicked the light on and pulled a chair out for Jerry at the kitchen table.
Jerry climbed onto the chair. "Why?"
"He was a long way from home without a car. I went and got him. Then we stayed up late talking." Ryan set a couple of bowls out on the counter.
The awkward why questions grated on Ryan's nerves. "The devil told me to," he snapped.
Jerry looked at Ryan with big, alarmed eyes.
Ryan felt instantly guilty. "I'm kidding. It's a long complicated story, with no devil in it." He poured some Froot Loops into one of the bowls and set them in front of Jerry, hoping cereal would distract him. "Try these."
Jerry ate a couple of Froot Loops and grinned. "This isn't cereal. It's candy!"
"Is it? Well then, would you like some more candy with milk on it?"
"Nobody puts milk on candy."
"I do." Ryan demonstrated this by pouring milk on his cereal.
"Yeah, that's what people tell me." Ryan topped off Jerry's bowl and sat down to eat his cereal.
For a few minutes, Jerry inhaled Froot Loops and didn't talk, but as soon as the cereal ran out, the why questions started again. "Why don't you live with us in our village?" Jerry asked.
"Grown-ups don't usually live with their parents. Not in this country, anyway." Ryan decided on another strategy. Maybe if Jerry was busy answering questions, he'd stop asking them. Besides, he was morbidly curious about his sperm donor's cult. "What's your village like?"
"It has a lot of regular houses, and a green school that I'm going to go to next year, and a church, and some storehouses."
"Storehouses? What are those for?"
"Keeping things that people might need if there is an emergency."
"What kind of things?" Ryan had a bad feeling about this.
Jerry opened his mouth, then closed it. He thought for a few seconds before he said, "Just emergency supplies."
"What kind of emergency are people worried about?"
"If the government comes."
"Why would that be an emergency?"
Jerry narrowed his eyes. "Are you retarded or something?"
Ryan couldn't get a straight answer out of Jerry about the hypothetical emergency, and spent most of the rest of the day on the couch, drifting in and out of sleep while Jerry watched cartoons. Jamila called to check in around noon, saying that she had something else she needed to do and would be back soon. She wasn't back until dinner time, though, so Ryan never did get to crawl back into bed with Zach.
The day flashed by. One instant, Zach lay on his back, and the next instant, he'd been rolled on his side, with no sensation of movement. Ryan had been there what felt like a moment ago, but Zach couldn't tell now whether he was alone or not, because there was a blanket on his head. "You there?" he asked. There was no reply. He emerged from under the covers, and found the room dark with the door closed. Some kind of argument was going on in another room.
Zach found the lamp by the glow of the alarm clock, turned it on, and peeled the ski mask off. He'd started to smooth down his unruly hair using the television for a mirror again, when he realized that some of the arguing voices belonged to his parents. He had no idea what to say to them, but he thought it would be wrong to leave Ryan to handle the situation alone. Zach hurried into the fray.
Ryan had inserted himself between Zach's parents and the hallway to the bedroom. "He really needs sleep. I'm not waking him up."
Dad caught sight of Zach first, over Ryan's shoulder. "Zachary William Hudson, what in the world is going on here?"
"Uh, I'm not sure." Zach stammered. He hadn't yet decided what to tell his parents about what happened to him, but it appeared that he was going to have to figure it out in a hurry.
Ryan relaxed his stance when he heard Zach's voice, and stepped aside.
Mom rushed past Ryan and hugged Zach. He put an arm around her automatically and patted her on the back. Seeing his parents so upset twisted his insides in knots, and he wished he had something to say that would make it all better.
"Thank the Lord you're safe," Mom said, "What were you thinking, just disappearing on us like that without a word about where you were going?"
Zach stalled, trying desperately to have an intelligent thought about what to say to his parents to explain himself. "I didn't say anything?"
"I told you, he doesn't remember anything before last night," Ryan said with exasperation.
Dad snorted and frowned. "Hogwash. You don't just forget an entire week."
"Uh, not normally, no." Zach looked at Ryan for help, but Ryan just gave a tiny shrug and looked pained. "I'm sorry. I understand why you're upset. This is bizarre," was the only response Zach could think of.
Mom stepped back and held Zach at arm's length. "You worried us half to death."
"I'm sorry." Zach's mind remained blank, and he couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Why didn't you call us last night?"
"It was two in the morning. I figured Ryan would be up."
Mom pursed her lips. "We were up, worrying about you."
"I'm sorry. I should have thought of that."
"We had to hear from Jamila that you'd turned up. Not from you. Not from Ryan. We heard it from a stranger. A very nice, considerate stranger, I might add." Mom shot a look over at Jamila and Jerry, who were at the kitchen table eating and staying out of it.
"I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry." Zach didn't have to ask how Mom heard it from Jamila. Her job was helping domestic violence victims to find resources. Sometimes, this city could seem more like a small town.
Dad jerked his thumb back at the door. "Come on. Let's talk about this at home and leave these folks to their dinner."
"Um..." Zach felt like a deer in headlights. There was still no good solution to this dilemma, just bad solutions and worse solutions.
Jamila stood up from the table. "Actually, Jerry and I are going to take a little after dinner walk before it gets too dark," she announced.
"You don't need to do that on our account," Mom said, "C'mon Zach. We'll get something to eat on the way home."
"I'd like to stay here, actually."
"What?" Mom dropped her arms to her sides and stared at him in shock.
Jamila shepherded Jerry over to the door and stuffed him into a coat.
"We decided I'm going to live here," Zach said.
"What in the world...? I thought you were happy living with us." Mom sounded hurt.
"I was, but we all knew I wasn't going to live there forever. I had to grow up sometime." Zach patted mom on the arm.
Dad exhaled noisily and crossed his arms. "Pfft. You call blowing off your first real job and disappearing for a week acting like a grownup?"
"I swear to you I have no memory of what happened," Zach insisted, "I know it's not a normal way to behave, and I can't imagine doing it without a reason. I just don't know what possible reason there could have been."
Mom shook her head. "And we're not sure we believe you. What happened to staying at home until your student loan is paid off?"
"Um..." Zach made a snap decision to alienate his parents by coming out of the closet. It would give them a natural reason to see less of him, at least for now. He waited a couple seconds for Jamila and Jerry to leave so that he and Ryan wouldn't be outnumbered by religious fundamentalists. "Well, I'm gay." Technically that wasn't true, but it seemed like the simplest way to present things. "And um... Ryan and I decided to give it a try together." He indicated Ryan with a tiny jerk of his head and clenched his teeth, bracing for the inevitable unpleasantness.
Mom laughed nervously. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "You are not gay. Don't be ridiculous. You've had a couple of girlfriends, and you moped half the summer after you broke up with Melissa. I can believe you're confused, but I know you're not gay."
"Come on home and let's talk about this," Dad said in an ominous tone.
"I wasn't moping about Melissa, and I told you, I'm staying here. I know it seems sudden to you, but it's been ten years of agonizing for me."
The pitch and volume of Mom's voice rose steadily. "So instead of getting counselling like a responsible adult, you decided to abandon your job and have a nervous breakdown for a week, and shack up with your new boyfriend, getting him to lie to us about where you were while we worried ourselves sick about you. Is that it?"
"No. The strange circumstances just made for a weird conversation. I really lost a huge chunk of time, and as far as I know, Ryan hasn't lied."
Ryan moved to stand beside Zach, and gave his hand a quick squeeze.
Mom's attention snapped to Ryan. "All these years of taking you into our home, and this is how you pay us back? Turning our own son against us and sucking him into your lifestyle?"