It had been hot and sunny for most of the day. I was sitting on the couch knees up and back against the armrest writing. The French windows were open and the sun and breeze swept lazily through the room. There was no direct sunlight on me and for a second there I paused to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the peace in that moment.

As the hours wore on the sunlight turn pale as clouds started to cover the sky. The breeze turned into a wind. Gentle at first yet growing in persistency.

A storm was coming...

I padded across the floor on my bare feet. Standing on the porch I watch the sky. A storm was coming... and fast.

I had seen to everything this morning already. My horse hadn't been well so she'd been inside today and the chickens I'll have to close up soon. Though I am extremely fond of foxes I'm not about to give them a free meal.

The barn was secure and there's no other livestock present at the moment. I can only hope my garden survives unscathed. The greenhouse does need an overhaul, so lets see if it is still standing tomorrow. Thank goodness the cherries have already been picked cause this would have ruined the whole harvest.

My house is old yet solid. Build when things were constructed to last and having kept up maintenance it's still in great condition. I sit out on the porch watching the rain and the wind. The night passed rather uneventful all things considered. I'd shut off the power just in case and set up in the living room with candles reading. I mostly make a nest downstairs during weather like this. A childhood habit I imagine.

The next morning the damage of the storm is visible all over the grounds. I make my rounds creating a mental checklist of what needs to be done. Luckily most of my produce wasn't destroyed or damaged which meant I wasn't going to go hungry anytime soon. I guess the greenhouse was in a much more need of repair than I had initially thought. Broken glass everywhere. That is going to take money and time to restore. I'll have to do some digging to see if I have enough saved up.

Sighing I continue my rounds, nearing the barn a dark heap of fur catches my eye. A stray dog is sniffing the grass and digging for something, god only knows what dogs obsess about. As I near it senses my presence looks up and dashes off. Except it doesn't run away  across the grounds or even through the orchard as you'd expect but it disappears into the barn of all places.

How strange.

If it'd have come to the house I'd have fed him or even let him in during the storm. No need for any animal to be out in that. It found the barn though so it must be all right if not hungry. How did it get in? I'm sure the barn had been locked up last night. Perhaps the storm loosened something...

I make my way to the barn noting Helder hasn't complained about the dogs' presence as of yet. She's a tolerant horse so probably just chose not to take notice of it last night. I reach the barn door and before my hand even touches the handle I hear a voice. It's a human voice. Someone is in my barn.

I sidle to the side window and peer inside. The stray is running around a young man hunched by Helder's haystack. He's quickly rolling up a sleeping map and stuffing it in his backpack.

"Get your pack Mack we need to go before someone comes in. It won't be long before the owners here."

Little did he know the owner was already here.

The dog returns with a small pack in this mouth and the young man quickly fastens it around its rump. The dog has his own pack; I have to say it's cute. I don't really see much of the young man from where I am standing. I do see him ruff up the hay disguising his stay. Passing Helder's box he reaches into his pocket and magically produces a sugar cube. He rubs her nose and pates her neck before giving her the treat.

The young man retrieves his big backpack and makes to leave the barn. Mack must have again sensed my presence and doesn't move an inch when the young man calls for him. The dog just stares at the door in high alert.

I guess this is my cue to make an appearance.

I unlock the door and enter the barn to an alert stare from Mack and the alarmed eyes of the young man.

"I'm just passing through I honestly didn't intend to stay in the barn without permission but the storm had flooded my tent last night." His tone is apologetic yet his shoulders are squared in a stance of defiance. I hold up my hands without speaking and he quickly clamps up.

"It's ok I don't mind. You could have come to the house last night too I wouldn't have turned you away." I say and earn a skeptical brow arch for my trouble.

It takes me about a second to size him up and reach a decision.

I turn back to the door and hold it open. "Come on." I gesture.

"Don't worry I was going to leave right away." He growls stomping over to the door Mack in tow. I ignore this and point towards the house once he's reached me.

"The door's open, coffee's on the stove, feel free to use the bathroom and take a bath or shower if you want."

Behind his eyes I see the idea of a bath spark a light in him but suspicion quickly clouds it. "I need to tend to the horse and the chickens first then I'll cook us some breakfast if you're up to it."

"I'm just passing through I don't have anything to trade for it." He very pointedly stresses the anything. I can only guess at what's been asked for trade before...

"See it as me repaying a kindness."

"What kindness?" His brow furrows in confusion.

"Helder doesn't get many visitors and even less treats." It's a weak explanation but if it gets him in a warm bath and a hot meal in him I can live with making a fool of myself for an hour or two. "I won't bother you. I'm just offering you a meal"

He seems to accept this and finally makes his way to the house with Mack loyally at his heels. Guiding Helder out of her box I'm surprised to see she's been brushed down during the night. I tap her legs and inspect her hoofs one by one, all of which have been cleaned.

After releasing her into her paddock, checking her water and feeding the chickens I return to the house. I see he chucked his shoes before entering leaving them on the porch. They look worn but cared for. The clothes he'd been wearing had the same look to them, worn but tended to.

I start to set up a big breakfast and notice I'm a lot hungrier than I usual am in the mornings. I also notice how very calm I am. There is a stranger bathing in my bathroom and here I am whistling over scrambled eggs. Thinking back on his clothes I set the scrambled eggs aside.

I find Mack sitting on guard at the bathroom door. He lets me knock on the door without moving. I hear a splash and a startled; "Yes I'll be out in sec."

I roll my eyes. "Take all the time you need. I just wanted to know if you need anything?"

"No. I'm fine." Comes the curt responds. "... Thank you." His voice bounced around the bathrooms tiled walls.

"Alright then I have a question."

His response is slow and cautious. "What is it?"

"May I wash your clothes?"

... "Excuse me?" is his belated reply.

"May I wash your clothes?" I asked again patiently.

"My clothes are fine. They aren't dirty. I'm fine."

"Yes I saw that but the storm flooded your tent you said so I bet even if you hung them out in the barn last night the damp hasn't gotten out of them yet. If you let me wash and dry them they'll keep longer."

I reach down and scratch Mack's head, such a nice friendly dog, while I wait for my argument to be mulled over by the young man in my bath. I keep saying young man but I bet we don't differ too much in age. His early twenties to my late twenties, so I'm guessing his 24-25 years to my 29. Its only a guess though, who knows how long he has been 'passing through', life on the road can make you age faster than time and biology combined.

"I'll put them on a short program so they'll be dry and ready for when you want to leave." I add.

This indeed sways him into my favour and agrees. "I have my pack in here"

Well of course you do, "May I come in and get it?"

"No wait, I locked the door I'll give them to you."

Of course he locked the door, it would have been unwise for him to leave it unlocked while in such a venerable position at a strangers house. I hear the slosh of water in the tub and footsteps around the bathroom. He's walking around naked but I try not to dwell on that, feeling intrusive by the thought alone. The door is unlocked and opened just enough for him to pass me a bundle of clothes. I was right they are still damp. The door closes just as quickly and click goes the lock.

"What about the ones you were wearing today?" I ask not seeing the green hoody he wore before.

"Then I'd have nothing to wear." His voice louder now standing just behind the wooden door. A smart move yet again. Don't find yourself in a situation where the option of clothing isn't an option anymore.

"You can wear a few things of mine while they wash. I'll come back and exchange them for yours how about that?"

"...Ok" he finally accepts and I quickly retrieve some track bottoms and a shirt from my room.

I knock softly once again and the door is immediately opened this time his hands flash out to receive my trade first. I hand them over and get not only his clothes but also his face at the crack of door in return. For the first time I can fully see his face. Raven black hair and light hazel eyes, he has sharp yet strong features and a very tense jaw.

"Thanks." He mumbles before closing the door and locking it.

"No problem."

-o-

It's almost an hour later when he emerges in the kitchen. His clothes are washed but far from dry at this point. He isn't very comfortable in my outfit although we hardly differ in size my shirt is a tad tight on him and I bet flannel isn't his usual choice either.

He quietly slips into a chair at the kitchen table as I place a large plate toppling with food in front of him. I don't know what came over me but I had suddenly remembered some sausages in the freezer and ended up making a full English as they say. Mack's sniffing at the left over sausages I'd put down for him while the young man at first looks confused by the big plate of food but doesn't argue and just starts eating. I poor us some coffee and follow suit.

"How old is Mack?" I ask deciding to start conversation with a safe topic.

"I don't know. He's only been with me these last few years." He replies keeping his eyes down and eating. I do note that he swallowed his food before answering and eats with his mouth closed, a big plus on any account.

"He hasn't always been your dog?" I ask

The young man laughs quite unexpectedly and looks up smiling. "I think he believes me to be his human more than him my dog. Truth is I don't know where he came from. One day I woke up and there he was."

"Been with you since huh?"

"Every step couldn't shake him even if I wanted to."

"It's good to have companionship I bet he's quite the protector too."

"That he is, I don't know why he chose me to protect but I can't lie and say it hasn't been useful in the past."

Probably not so past too I imagine.

I finish my plate and realize I know the dogs name but have no clue about the young mans. I reach out my hand "I'm Cornelius in case you're wondering. Cornelius Melch."

He looks at my hand before taking it. "Scott Corcoran or Scotty" he shrugs.

"What do you prefer Scott or Scotty?"

"It doesn't matter much." He shrugs again.

"But what do you prefer?" I ask again more slowly this time so he hears every word.

"I like Scotty." His voice soft as he admits this and returns his attention to his half finished plate. He isn't wolfing down his food like the dog did but taking his time to chew and taste everything.

"Alright then. I like Cornelius. Someone tried to call me Corry once and I almost decked the poor sod." I laugh at the memory and realized which day I'm referring to. The day I came to live here.

"Scotty I'll be out back at the greenhouse if you need me. Take your time, eat and drink anything you like. The laundry room is two doors down the hall."

"I'll leave as soon as they're dry."

"You're free to leave anytime Scotty, this is no prison and I'm not keeping a timetable or charging by the hour." I smile catching him fight a grin. I exit via the mudroom slipping into a pair of garden boots and grabbing rubber gloves on way out. I need to get that glass cleared away and assess what really needs to be repaired I just hope my bank balance can take it


-Scotty-

Cornelius walks across the grounds towards the very long greenhouse. I can't believe he's left me alone in his house. Mack's at my feet sleeping he needs to rest; we haven't had too much rest of late. He's also been somewhat sluggish recently, I reach down and stroke him neck. The vet I took him to one year and 300 kilometers ago said he couldn't quite tell his age. None of the vets could, three or four years old they always guessed maybe even five.

I finish my food, wash and rinse my plate and cup. Hearing the dryer announce its program has ended I find the laundry room. I take a second to press my face into the warm fabric. The detergent Cornelius used has my clothes smelling fresh and... comforting. I like that, it's a good memory to associate with this smell, the bath, the food and a seemingly kind person that didn't call the police when he found me in the barn.

Mack hasn't followed me which means he needs rest more than I thought or he feels I'll be safe here, maybe both. I know I'm prolonging my departure by meticulously inspecting every inch of clothing. Taking the time to sew a few holes I find.

It's finally come to a point where I can't put off leaving any longer. It's almost noon and we need to cover as much ground as we can before I have to find a place to set up camp. I leave our pack on the porch and wander in search for Cornelius. He's been nice to us so I don't want to be rude and just leave without a word.

Walking up to the greenhouse I see the damage the storm managed to create. Mack trails behind, stopping to sit and wait well before I reach the greenhouse.

"Cornelius!" I shout out hearing the crunch of glass under my shoes. Damn, it really is everywhere. Cornelius appears from around the back a large cardboard box in one hand and a piece of glass in the other. The sight of him makes me want to smile, standing there in his torn work jeans, green wellies and a red checked flannel shirt rolled up at the sleeves. All of this together with the black rubber gloves is a comical look to me, although I don't quite understand why. We don't differ too much in size; he's slimmer than I am. His muscles stringy, while mine are the bulk up type. Brown hair, dark almost black eyes and a golden brown stubble on his chin.

"Don't let Mack come closer there is glass all over the place." He yells out immediately.

"He won't come closer. He wouldn't even let me near this place last night while we were seeking shelter."

"Danger radar has he?" Cornelius laughs.

"Yeah I guess he does." It's an uncanny sense actually. I've been perplexed by it many times.

"You leaving then?"

"Yeah we should get going we have a lot of ground to cover till we set up camp." Cornelius places the box on the ground and walks over to me.

"May I ask where you're heading to?"

Very polite this one isn't he? "Down south, hoping to find some steady work there."

"What kind of work?"

"I'm a farm hand most of the time. Well that is what I am best at, although any work is welcome."

"Lots of experience with farming?"

"Born and raised on one. Like I said it is what I am best at." I answer clipping my words; I'm not particularly interested in continuing this line of questioning.

Cornelius looks passed me frowning, "What's wrong with Mack?"

I turn to follow his gaze and see Mack slowly walking back to the big house and slump down on the porch. He's never been that far away from me before.

I don't answer but walk back to Mack quickly. He's sleeping and even though he responds it is again a little sluggish. This isn't good. He could just be having an off day, just like human's animals have them too.

Cornelius crouched down beside me, "Has he had all his shots?"

"Of course he has." I snap back maybe a little too harshly I do take care of my dog. He sees a vet more than I do a doctor. I dig into my pack and retrieve Mack's papers. I try to note down every time he gets a check up.

Last visit was: Apirl... "In A-April"

I have the vet write down which shots he gets and all the shots have ticked boxes next to them. I close my eyes a second to make the letters stop hurting my eyes. Mack doesn't ever behave like this but we're not going to pass a town for a few days still and I'd have to see if we could afford a vet right now. Just thinking about the calculations is making my head hurt.

"Tell you what Scotty. My veterinarian is coming by this afternoon to check up on Helder. What if you wait around till she gets here and she can take a look at Mack too."

Helder? So that is what the horse's name is. I'd tried to read the sign on her box last night but it was late and I was tired so couldn't get all the letters to stop swimming around.

"I don't think-"

"She won't charge extra for the dog and she's honestly coming here anyway. It's almost noon now and our appointment is at two."

I guess I could wait a few hours... I look down at Mack again and his puppy eyes tug at me. Damnit...

"Come on it will be nice for me to have company for lunch. See it as doing me and Mack a favour."

I nod giving in, this isn't for me its for Mack. "I'll help you clear the glass away."

"You don't have to work for your food here."

I pack Mack's papers away and stand up squaring my shoulders. "I am going to help you clear that glass away." He may say I don't have to, but that doesn't mean I don't need to. Cornelius is about to protest but one look from me has him silenced.


-Cornelius-

Scotty Corcoran is a bit of a stubborn man. That probably being quite the understatement. I fetch Scotty some gloves and we work on clearing away as much glass as we can find. My greenhouse is very long and wide, so there is on hell of a lot of work to be done. I make him stop for a spot of lunch but he hardly eats a bite and without much ado gets right back to work.

Jessica my vet arrives 15 minutes late, which isn't surprising, as animals don't always follow the same timetable as humans do. I introduce her to Scotty and her eyes light up but Scotty just nods returning to work knowing Jessica will be tending to Helder first.


As she gives Helder a complete overhaul plus taking some blood for tests I get bombarded with questions about "the handsome man" I have working at the greenhouse. I tell her he's just passing through and helping me out after the storm. She's right though he is quite handsome in his way. That standoffish air he has about him definitely  adds to it.

When it's Mack's turn Scotty is by his side in a flash and shows Jessica the dog's papers. She looks them over and takes her time to prod and check every inch of the dog. Mack seems to be enjoying the attention and lifting his leg to show his tummy letting her have her way with him. I listen to Jessica's attempt to chat Scotty up; who can blame her? Scotty either completely ignore this or oblivious to her attempt being solely focused on Mack. It is a testament to his character in my eyes.

Suddenly Jessica's face grows dim as she's feeling around Mack's stomach. She stops talking it seems she's found something worrying to her. Scotty and Jessica talk a while on the porch by themselves. I don't near their private conversation but watch as Scotty turns pale and shakes his head. Jessica is imploring something but Scotty seems to be in a little bit of a daze. He sits down on one of the porch chairs and stares at his hands. Jessica keeps talking to him but she isn't getting much of a response. Finally she leaves him be and joins me by her truck.

"What's wrong?" I ask, though I feel like I shouldn't pry Scotty's demeanor has me worried. Strange how quickly you can grow fond a person you've only just met. I imagine this is how Franklin felt all those years ago.

"Tell me what's Scott's actual situation?"

"I don't know much Jessica, I told you what he told me he's passing through. Is Mack ill?"

She gives me a sad look and nods. "I need you to bring that dog to the practice tomorrow Cornelius. I don't care how just think of a way." Is all she says before climbing into her truck and driving off. Normally she stays for a chat and a coffee but today isn't a good day for that it seems.

I slowly make my way over to Scotty still sitting on the porch staring at his feet.

"What happened? What's wrong with Mack?" I ask quietly taking pulling up a chair next to him. His cheeks have a glistening streak or two but no tears.

"The vet found a lump." He croaks.

"Is it serious?" Is my dumb follow up question. He shrugs but we both know his actual feelings on the matter.

"They need to take a sample and check if it's cancerous or not."

"A biopsy." I nod.

"Yeah but..." But you can't afford it, can you... "I don't know what to do Cornelius." He says shaking his head, he hasn't looked up from his feet once yet but saying my name the way he does tell me a lot more than any other words could. He's torn. "I can't just leave him and I can't do anything without work and there isn't any work near here. I can't take him along with me like this, I mean I've carried him before but that cause of a sprained leg, which isn't the same at all..." he rattles on surprising me with the speed of his words.

It takes me about a second to eye him up and reach a decision. I run through multiple calculations, possible scenarios and payment schedules. Jessica is very good with that sort of thing.

"That storm last night really did a number on my greenhouse didn't it?" I say sighing. I guess Scotty takes this as a cue to shut up or that I'm dismissing him cause he instantly closes his mouth and sets his jaw to Tense. He doesn't reply and I see him clamp up completely. "I'll need to hire some people to..."

"I can do it."

I glance sideways and Scotty's sitting straight up facing me. His light hazels fixed in determination. "I can repair the greenhouse, I've done that sort of work before. I can do it."

"I can't actually pay you much of anything Scotty." I lie not, I estimated that the repairs were going to deplete just about everything I have.

"All I need is the materials. I can tell you which are the better ones to buy and it will probably cut costs and the work will be better, last longer. If you can arrange so Mack can get his biopsy, all I need is a place to sleep and some food. I don't take up much space, I can sleep in the barn and I don't eat like a racehorse."

"On one condition." I say and my words alone have Scotty tense and leaning away from me a fraction of an inch. It isn't very visible but I can feel it anyway.

"What?"

"Mack goes to Jessica's tomorrow while we buy the materials and whatever the outcome is you're staying until the greenhouse is finished." I say, that way if Mack's lump is malevolent we can deal with it when we get to there.

Scotty nods and spits in his hand holding it out for me. I do the same and we shake sealing the deal. Seconds later he's off the porch and at the greenhouse resuming our work. I watch him a while sitting beside Mack stroking his fur.

"You are a lucky dog do you know that?" I smile as he lifts his leg for me to scratch his belly.

Walking though the living room on my way to ready the spare bedroom, my old room I pass Franklin's portrait picture on the way. I halt smiling down at the picture frame, "You'll never guess what my day's been like Franklin. If I didn't know any better I'd think you're playing some cosmic joke on me." I shake my head laughing.


-Scotty-

The day is wearing on and I go get Cornelius, he needs to take some notes about the materials and measurements. I've written down the measurements as best I could, I even checked them twice and that always take me awhile.

"You can just write them down and give me a list." Cornelius says following me to the greenhouse.

"My writing is terrible you'll never be able to read it, safer to just take notes." It's true enough my writing isn't very good. He just shrugs as I direct him to sit, write and listen as I point several issues I've come across this afternoon.

"So there is more work than I thought huh?" He sighs cupping his chin in the palm of his hand elbow resting on his knee.

"Don't worry Cornelius I can do all of this, trust me I good at this kind of thing." I reassure him, our old farm had a greenhouse just like this one. I know exactly what I'm doing.

He grins at me nodding. I turn my back to his grin cause grins like that always make me uncomfortable. After we're done he tells me to wash up, dinner's in the oven and should be about ready now. I watch him walk back to the big house and ... I look.


-Cornelius-

After a very satisfying dinner with at least a little conversation I notice Scotty grab his pack and slip on his shoes, he keeps shucking them on the porch before entering house.

"Where are you going?" I ask as I place the kettle on the stove boil. He turns grabbing Mack's pack and points to the barn. "You didn't honestly think I was going to make you sleep in the barn did you?" I laugh to which he simply squares his shoulders with a very pointed look which says 'I'm not going to sleep in any bed unless its alone or I'm sleeping in that barn come do or die.'

"I made up the spare bedroom for you." I was tempted to say the door has a clock on it but I wasn't going to risk insulting him and have him sleep in the barn as a matter of principle. I could see him being capable of doing just that.

I lead him to my old room and smile at the reverse feeling of déja vu. The room was spacious and the bed a delight to sleep in. I sigh remembering my first night in this bed 15 years ago. "There is only one bathroom in the house so I hope you don't mind sharing, I take my shower at 6 am so anytime before or after that you have it all to yourself."

He nods surveying the room; it's only simply decorated for I moved all my personal possessions to the master bedroom I occupy now. It does seem to pass muster as he places his and Mack's pack near the dresser. I leave him to it.

I take my time to bed Helder and brush her down while the sky darkens as the day sets into evening. I talk soothingly to Helder as I work. In the blink of an eye Scotty's was standing by the box door watching us.

"She's one beautiful horse she is." He comments without moving away or any nearer.

I rub her flank affectionately. "That she is. She'll be 17 this December, been here almost as long a I have."

"You didn't grow up here?" he frowns

I shake my head. "No, I came to live here when I was 14. Never left basically. She came with the inheritance. Although it wasn't stipulated that I had to keep her, I could never part with this horse." She'd been Franklins; I wouldn't have been able to get rid of Franklin's horse even if offered an obscene amount of money for her. She belongs here just like I do.

After this he makes very idle chitchat not saying much of anything. When I'm done with Helder we walk back to the house.

"What does Helder mean?" he asks as we near the porch.

"It's Dutch for bright." Franklin used to call her the light of his life. "How did Mack get his name?"

"It's short for Magnus, my dads name." He never looks me in the eye when confessing something personal I've noticed.

"Magnus Corcoran. That's a good name."

"He was a good man." Scotty smiles as he shucks his shoes; I do the same, I don't normally remove my shoes when I enter the house. Already I'm taking on his habits, I chuckle at this realization, which leads Scotty to cock an eyebrow at me.

I just shrug and settle myself on the couch with a writing pad on my lap. Scotty momentarily dawdles around the room before excusing himself. I'll have to make it clear he's welcome to sit in the living room in the evenings if he wants to.

I'll just give him his space tonight.


­-Scotty-

I wake sluggishly and feel Mack's weight on the bed with me. I can't remember ever sleeping in a more comfortable bed than this one. I stretch out and burry my head in the fluffy down-pillow. It has the same smell as my clothes had coming out of the dryer, that nice scent of freshness and comfort.

I turn and pull Mack close to me. He doesn't wake he's so relaxed here that he doesn't feel the need to be on guard all the time. This is the first place where that's ever happened. I cuddle the snoring loaf feeling his fur against my skin and rise of this chest as he breathes softly. I almost doze off again myself until I notice the time. The clock on the wall is one with hands and ... It's... around seven o'clock...

I unlock the bedroom door and hear Cornelius in the kitchen. I quietly slip into the bathroom with my kit leaving Mack asleep on the bed. There is a large bathtub and a shower stall in the bathroom. The glass panels of the shower are still wet from Cornelius's use earlier. I swipe my hand cross one of the panels creating a ribbon through the beads of water still hanging on. A man was in this shower an hour ago...

After I wash myself and clean up I enter the kitchen welcomed by the delicious scent of fresh coffee and Cornelius's smile. It's a kind smile in tune with what I've seen of his character so far. He's made us a big breakfast again. During it we arrange to drive to town for the materials and to bring Mack to that vet's place.

I pass the morning working on the greenhouse. It's my job and it's what I'm here for. I see Cornelius straighten his vegetable patch out. I say patch... it's more like six large patches next to each other. This wasn't your average little garden hobby. The sun is really hard today and I've never seen a larger gardeners hat than the one Cornelius has on his head. For someone working outside a lot he has very pale skin and doesn't seem to like the sun too much. I on the other hand have suntan skin from a lifetime of working outdoors.

Sun never bothered me much.

At noon he insists I stop for lunch and I eat what I can to please him though I wasn't very hungry. Afterwards we leave for town. It's an hour's drive and we pass the times mostly in silence. Cornelius is the chatty type and usually I'm not opposed to conversation but my mind isn't in the right place right now...

I don't want to lose Mack.

I never asked for him but now I can't imagine being as alone as I was before him again. He's been a lifeboat. I can't lose Mack. Not now. I promised him we'd find someplace to settle down soon. Wandering from place to place was never my intention in life. Sometimes you just have to play the hand you've been dealt.


-Cornelius-

"I can do the biopsy later today. He'll have to go under full anesthesia though I can't do this one with local sedation." Jessica informs us white lab coat and clipboard handy.

Scotty has his arms crossed and jaw set to Tense while he listens. I can only wonder what other settings his jaw has, if any.

"I'll keep him overnight. " Jessica says while writing something medical note on her chart.

"No."

I know I shouldn't really have been surprised by Scotty's reaction but I am. Jessica and I both stare at him and he turns his gaze to me.

"No." he says again shaking his head. "I'm not letting him be kept here overnight. The biopsy is one thing but an all-nighter is an entirely different story."

Jessica protests vehemently. She can't understand why Scotty would be so defiant on this simple matter. The thing is, this isn't a simple matter. Not for Scotty and not for Mack. He doesn't give Jessica a second glance but keeps his eyes focused on me

"Ok, can we pick him up after the surgery? We'll take him home and care for him there." I try.

Jessica isn't pleased but begrudgingly concedes seeing Scotty isn't going to budge anytime soon. That and the fact he's kept his gaze solely on me not sparing her a further glance the entire time.

"Fine, pick him up as six. I won't have the results immediately though they need to be send to the lab."

On our way to the buy the greenhouse materials Scotty is again quiet in the car.

"I'm sorry." He says after awhile.

"Don't be Scotty. I can understand where you're coming from."

"I don't mean to be pigheaded." He lies. I say lies cause he knew exactly what he was doing when he made his stance at Jessica's. The point his trying to make is he doesn't mean to be a bully. That I know.

I'm fairly certain that if we couldn't take Mack home with us tonight I wouldn't have had his company for breakfast tomorrow morning and Jessica's would have had a shock coming into work.

"Animals have an uncanny tendency to make us do some strange thing don't you think?" I smile shifting gears as we travel along the road.

"You have no idea." He chuckles, a first for him since we met. "I've turned down jobs cause they wouldn't let him stay with me. It didn't matter if the pay was good if I had to leave him behind I couldn't go. He's saved me a few times you know from sticky situations. Even when I hadn't been aware of it at the time. There is one night in particular I'll never forget. I can't fully remember where we were, we'd been traveling for weeks by then. The wind that day had been relentless and I thought we'd struck lucky to find a dry riverbed under a deserted bridge out of the wind. He chased me from under that bridge, growled and barked until I pitched our tent in the tree line above it." Scotty laughs shaking his head at the memory and stares out through the passenger window. "I cursed that dog that night. The wind was so hard it almost blew our tent away with us still inside." He snort drifting along memory lane falling silent...

"Then what happened?" I prompt him.

He blinks back to reality and turns to me smiling. "We had to cross that same bridge come morning only to find that the dry riverbed had become a gushing river overnight. In the next town over I heard there had been a flash flood and if we'd been under that bridge when the water came... we'd just have been just some forgotten newspaper headlines about a dead stray found with his equally lifeless human."

"I wasn't wrong about the danger radar then was I?" I smile as he grins at me. His face lights up when he smiles, his whole demeanor changes and I can see vestiges of an all-together different Scotty hiding in there.

"Mighty dog to the rescue!" he giggles whistling an impromptu superhero jingle. Scotty just cracked a joke! He has a sense of humor. I wonder what else I lurking in there just waiting to come out...


-Scotty-

Mack insisted his new spot to sleep is in front of the fireplace in the living room. Even though there was no fire lit it being the middle of summer. I had placed him on our bed in the spare room we're using when we came back but during dinner he slowly patted into the living room, sunk down on the rug and refused to budge.

Damn dog

After the kitchen clean up Cornelius settled into his couch with a notebook. Feet up and his back against the armrest. It pose looks cozy as he leans against the back of the couch. He started some music that I didn't recognize yet found I liked the sound of. I didn't really know what to do so I walked around the room a little. Inspecting or being noisy, which ever sounds better...

"No TV?" I ask noticing for the first time the lack thereof in the room.

"No, don't really watch much TV. When the fancy takes me I just download a film on the computer and watch that."

"What do you do in the evenings?"

"Read, write just a little bit of everything and anything really." He gestures to the filled bookcases lining the back wall. "You read?" he asks.

I shake my head. "No." I leave it at that and continue my tour of the room. The room bathed in warm and cozy colours with wooden furniture and thick carpet on the tile floor. I linger in front of the mantle piece by a picture frame of an elderly man.

"Who's this?" I ask. The second I do I regret it but the question is out there now and I can't take it back.

Cornelius stops writing and smiles affectingly as he stares at the picture resting his head against the couch. "Uncle Franklin."

"He's the one you inherited this place from?"

He nods and keeps staring at the picture. "Elysian Acres." My face a field of confusion. "That is what he named the place. Elysian Acres, after -"

"The elysian fields, Greek afterlife." I fill in nodding. Nice name fits this place somehow.

"Yes exactly." He grins happy with my knowledge of ancient mythology.

I turn away from the mantelpiece and sit down in the armchair facing Cornelius. "I listen." I blurt out

It's his turn to cock an eyebrow at me as he stops moving his pen and I regret disturbing him again... stupid mouth, stupid man. "You listen?" he asks frowning.

"I-I don't read but I listen." I clarify digging into my trouser pocket showing him a small mp3 player I keep. "I love literature and absorbing new information.. so I listen to books ."

"Audiobooks?"

"Yes, my dad started me on them when I was young. Dad was a big reader and I'm not ... " I trail. Cornelius swings his feet of the couch sitting straighter. "Things don't always make sense to me on paper but listening gives me a whole different perfective."

Cornelius smiles brightly and asks me a ton questions about the books I've listened too. Nowadays my selection is very varied cause I don't always get to pick and chose what I have access too. He shows me his many audiobooks and podcasts on his hard drive filling my mp3 player with a whole new selection. He doesn't realize it but he's just given me the equivalent of a treasure trove...

I could just about kiss this man.


­-Cornelius-

Scotty and Mack have been here for almost a week now. Our days flow in a surprisingly easy routine. He wakes at seven, we eat together at 7.30 work around the grounds till noon when I force his to eat lunch. I don't know how he stays the weight he is with the small amount of food he eats but he seems to be doing fine. Very fine in fact.

In the evening we have dinner and he cleans the kitchen afterwards, I've told him there is no need. I only get a pointed look and squared shoulders in reply. While he cleans the kitchen I sit with him at the kitchen table and we talk while he's busy. Scotties really opened up these passed few days. Ever since the audiobook revelation conversation between us has been easy.

Scott Corcoran is far from unintelligent.

He's sharp and retains an amazing amount of knowledge in that hard head of his. Scotty is one of those 'did you know'- kind of people. While eating spareribs one night he said "Did you know that 8% of people have an extra rib?" which had lead to an absorbing conversation about how western medieval doctors believed men bore one rib less than women cause Eve had been fashioned from one of Adam's ribs. It had been taught and passed on for hundreds of years. It was something not to be disagreed with even though the evidence told them otherwise.

Or once while feeding the chickens. "Did you know the longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds?" Naturally we had to test this and traumatized my hens by throwing them up in the air and laughing until our sides hurt.

I prompted a midnight margarita sitting last night on the porch. It was a nice night and fairly warm still. Mack lay at his feet and Scotty sat completely relaxed gently swirling the cocktail in his glass as he stared up at the sky.

We had been quiet for a while. Even these silences were comfortable with Scotty.

"Did you know... " he started and I couldn't help but chuckle I turned I my chair and he just smiled at me. A smile I hadn't seen before. Like that of 5 year old knowing he's being cheeky but doing it anyway. "...each time you see a full moon you see the same side?"

"I didn't know that actually though it makes sense." I laugh. This little tidbit of information didn't launch him into full-blown conversation like it usual does. He just stared up at moon, pale moonlight casting a silver glow across the grounds.

Elysian fields... that is exactly what it feels like right now.

"Cornelius?"

"Hm?"

"I know we don't know each other very well but could I ask you something that's in all likelihood a faux pas?"

I turn to him again puzzled what could he possibly ask that would be so wrong?

"Scotty you can ask me anything. We share a bathroom I don't think there are many secrets left to keep after that." I grin trying to light his apprehension.

"Oh you'd be surprised... " he mutters under his breathe. "Uncle Franklin was he really your uncle?"

Not many people have ever asked me that. No one ever questioned a young boy moving in with his uncle at Elysian Acres. We kept to ourselves mostly and other people did the same.

"Let me ask you something first. How did you get into the barn the night of the storm?"

My question confuses him but he answers anyway. "I - I crawled in through loft window. I'm a good climber." He concedes casting his eyes down in that fashion I've come to expect when he reveals something personal.

"I'm a terrible climber, I pried a lose panel aside the night I took shelter in the barn." I tell him sipping my margarita.

"I... don't understand."

I took my time to organize my thoughts as we sat there on the porch bathed in moonlight with the sounds of the nightlife for ambiance. "My dad died when I was young and my mother well... she wasn't nice and neither were any of her boyfriends."

Scotty remained quiet as he listened to my small tale of woe. "One day after a particularly nasty fight that didn't end in a verbal onslaught alone I left."

"You were a runaway?"

"Yup. I remember running from the house that day. I ran for hours and hours and didn't stop once. I ran until I was so lost I had no idea where I was or how long I had been running. I do remember the liberating sense of joy I felt that day. All I did was run, no thoughts, no path, no direction." I smile to myself reliving that memory as I often have over the years. "Of course that first cold night was a cruel reminder of what I'd actually just done. A week or so I drifted I think. It's funny I can't remember how I managed get food. Strange how some details can remain so vivid and others just fly away like dust..."

I turn my head to Scotty again to find him looking back at me. His body shifted inclining towards me offering his full attention.

"It had rained all day and I was tired and soaked to the bone. All I wanted was a place to sleep that was dry. Finding the barn had been a stroke of luck. I had seen light on at the house but knew better than to venture anywhere near the place. Franklin found me the next morning. Took one look at me and order me into the house. He was a big man for his age if he told you to do something bygone you did it." I laugh loudly at the sense of fear I had that day.

"You stayed?"

"I did. He fed me, clothed me even made me finish high school. Treated me like a son and I never left.

"You loved him didn't you?"

"Of course I did. He was the kindest man I ever met. Passed away in this sleep 7 years ago."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. He was loved." I set my now empty glass on the side table to my right. Scotty sitting on my left I turn once again towards him to his eyes still focused on me. He doesn't look away; he doesn't shift his gaze to the ground or square his shoulders. His eyes are building up to tell me something and then... they don't.


-Scotty-

"Scotty!" Cornelius's voice echoes across to the greenhouse. I drop my tools and wipe my hands walking up to the house.

"What? It isn't noon yet." He insists on feeding my all the time. I swear I've put on weight in the one week I've been here. You just can't say no to this man. I've tried he just puts the plate in front of me and sits down to eat. Next day the same thing, plate in front of me and sits down to eat. He doesn't tell me to eat; he doesn't urge me or forces me to do anything.

So... I eat.

"Phone." He says and there is only one person that could be.


-Cornelius-

The phone slams down and I hear feet stomp away. He hadn't taken off his shoes in his haste this time. I let him be. I don't know what Jessica said but this reaction is telling all on its own.

I don't see him for lunch and don't call for him either.

In the afternoon I walk around the grounds. He isn't in the greenhouse, Mack's still sleeping on my porch but Helder isn't in her paddock. In the barn I check to see her saddle gone and her box empty. He's asked to ride her before today but today is the first time he's actually done so.

I eat dinner alone that night.


-Scotty-

Helder's been brushed down and I close the barn behind me. I'm reluctant to go into the big house. I disappeared this afternoon without a word and it would be Cornelius's right to be pissed at me.

I dawdle on the porch untying my shoes slowly. Swallowing hard I step through the door into the living room. I see Mack on his rug in front of the fireplace; Cornelius is on his couch sitting in his usual position reading today not writing. Soft music and soft light fill the room.

Mack's ears pick up but he settles quickly back down and nods off within seconds. Cornelius lowers his book and slowly stands up walking over to me. I try to say something anything really but sorry seems to be ...

All Cornelius does is hug me.

I haven't been hugged in years. I freeze at first to the alienness of the sensation.

All he does is hug me.

-o-

Seven years ago dad died during a fire on our farm. Someone being foolish with a sigarette near a haystack. With his death the farm came to me. Barely 18 and already in charge of everything, for about a week after which I learned I didn't own the farm but the bank did. I was vacated out of my own home.

Dilligards our neighbour farm hired me as a hand. The position came with lodgings as these so often do and it was a good life for about two years. Then Dilligards went bankrupt and again I was vacated. However much as I searched I could find no work in the area. The savings I had didn't last anywhere near long enough.

Hearing of opportunity down south I've been making my way there every since. I've been lucky to find temporary positions along the way. Yet that is what they always were temporary. Some due to necessity, some to practicality and some cause they didn't like the word no.

When you eat and sleep at the place you work the interest you get isn't always the kind you want. Farmer's daughters with long lashes and wispy hips growled to their fathers when I ignored their advances. I was the hired help and my dick was apparently a part of the bargain. Some farmers thought so too.

You don't get anything from me if it isn't giving willingly. In all honesty I had been tempted once or twice to give in, knowing that if I refused for too long I'd be kicked out anyway. Tempted but never succumbed.Those were hard decisions as winter neared.  

Once in a blue moon there would be a mutual attraction with another worker. Those are memories I keep and treasure. Then Mack came along and his 'danger radar' kept me safe in more ways than one.

It was Mack that had led me to Cornelius's barn that night of the storm and it's Mack that need my help now. Only I have no idea how I am going to manage it.


-Cornelius-

We're sitting at the kitchen table two steaming cups of tea in front of us, as he tells me his story life story in clipped headlines. It doesn't matter how abridged this version is, confessing this much alone is proof of how much he has opened that door for me.

No... not for me.

For Mack.

"We need to go somewhere I can get steady work and the surgery done for Mack."

"The gre-"

"Won't cover the costs of the surgery." Scotty cuts me off before I can even speak.

"I know." I nod although the repairs have cost me only a fraction of the price it would normally have been. "We had a deal you weren't leaving until it's finished."

"I know." He growls gripping his cup so hard his knuckles whiten and his jaw sets to Tense instantly. His guard is as high as it ever was. If only he'd let me finish first.

"There is no rush. You can work on it in the weekends."

He actually looks up this time but only to frown at me. "What are you talking about?"

I leave the table to walk over to the phone and the grab the message I'd written down for him earlier.

"You got a second phone call today." I pass him the message.

Scotty frowns as he reads the note. "Who is this?"

"Piet's has a farm near here and he's looking for help. Jessica was tending to a pregnant cow there this morning and mentioned you. It's only part time and he can't give you room and board." I tell him leaning against the counter giving him space.

Scotty's frown remains as he stares at the piece of paper in his hands.

After a while of our silence he finally looks up.

"Can we make another deal?"

"What do you have in mind?" Though I'm pretty sure I know his plan already. It had been my plan when Piet phoned and I gave Scotty a glowing report. Scotty is the kind of man I believe who needs to make the offer himself. Though I could be wrong... I don't think I am.

"I'll continue to work on the greenhouse on the days I'm not at the farm. If you'll let me stay here with Mack till he gets better."

I pretend to think it over but of course he sees me already smiling.

"After Mack's cured I'll move on again."

Of course he will.

-o-

Mack got his surgery and Scotty started working at Piet's farm three days later. While he's at the farm I tend the grounds and delve into my own work. Need to eat however much I grow myself; property task is no joke either.

At first I drove Scotty to and from work but after about a week of this he found an old bike in Piet's shed. He fixed it up and rode to work himself from then on. This I've come to learn isn't out of character for Scotty at all. He needs to be independent even if it is just in gesture.

As I lay her in my bed watching the breeze play with the curtains I wonder why. Why does he think of himself as a burden? Why would he think I see him that way? He's alluded to this a few times during our conversations.

He doesn't like to feel as if he needs anyone, even when injured. One morning at breakfast I saw him cringe reaching for the salt.

"Is your shoulder bothering you?" I had asked.

"No, I'm fine." He murmurs keeping his eyes on his plate. I swear this man!

"Of course you are." I stand up and while refilling his coffee squeeze his shoulder hard. Scotty howls slumping his shoulder in pain.

"For crying out loud Cornelius!" he glares at me even pissed off his eyes shine. I ignore him to fetch a medical ointment if have for sore muscles.

"Come on let me see it." I gesture for to lift his shirt.

"I said I'm fine!" He snaps trying to square his shoulders at me but a flash of pain on his face ruins the effect.

"Will you just shut up and let me help you!"

His scowls at me his jaw dialed to Tense but keeps his comments to himself.

"Good now take your shirt off and face forward." I order. Reluctantly he does what he's told and managed to wiggle out of the shirt. He flinches when I touch his shoulder but doesn't protest. I feel a very tense muscle straining his shoulder. He must have pulled it at Piet's yesterday.

While I apply the ointment working into his shoulder I feel him slowly relax under my hands. I massage the area thoroughly earning a grown of appreciation from my patient. After a while I step back.

"How does that feel?" I ask, he slowly rotates he shoulder no cringe this time.

"Better." He admits quietly. Satisfied with this I wash my hands and resume eating my breakfast. "Thanks." Scotty mumbles giving me a quick glance as he picks up his own fork.

Smiling but shaking my head at the memory I turn away from the playful breeze, feeling the sheets move with me. I have a king-size and although I love the space I wake up staring at an empty pillow every morning.

What would it be like if the pillow wasn't empty?

How would it be like to sleep with someone in the same bed? Listen to them breath, feel their weight dip the mattress, the heat of their body next to you even though you aren't touching...

How would it be to wake up to someone's already open eyes smiling at you? Kissing you good morning and snugging in for the first snuggle of the day. Feel their body against yours in a restful relaxed state.

That closeness.

I had a 'friend' for a while a few years back. It never was anything serious he never stayed and only ever wanted one thing. It didn't last; in retrospect it should never have started. Loneliness creeps up on you when you least expect it.

What it would be like if the pillow wasn't empty?


- Scotty -

There is an exhilaratingly free feeling in riding a bicycle. Using the strength of your legs to move faster than you could ever run or walk. A simple freedom I've missed, sometimes you have no idea how much you miss something until you experience it again.

Another one of those things is, having a friend. One that can actually hold a conversation and doesn't just lick your face cause he's happy you're stroking his fur.

Not that I would mind that. Not at all, quite the opposite in fact.

Coming home to someone is another thing I missed. Sharing your day over dinner, getting to know a person well enough to be able to joke around and tease them like you would any friend.

Mack is always happy to see me but Cornelius's eyes light up when I walk into the room...

-o-

"What do you actually do for work?" It's late and Mack's on my lap stretched out from head to toe. Trust me he isn't a small dog but he is convinced he's a lapdog. It was chilly today and I lit a fire for us; the room is a glow in soft firelight and clear piano music dances around us.

"I'm a book doctor." Cornelius grins putting down his pad. I've seen him type away at computer for hours on end and mark think bundles of papers but never actually knew what he did.

"A what?"

"A developmental editor. I help authors with their books, edit them make suggestions and so. I don't do too many books a year but I can't pay utility bills with courgette's however tasty they are." He chuckles.

"You any good?" I tease him.

He give me a wicked grin, the one I've become really fond lately. "I get requested a lot, so I mustn't be too bad."

"How did you get into that line of work?" Reading for a living... urg.

"Franklin." Cornelius replies with that soft gentle smile he keeps especially for Franklin. He doesn't really offer much more by way of explanation and we settle into our silence again.

"Cornelius?"

"Hm?"

"Can I ask you one of those questions that's probably way to personal?"

He laughs loudly startling Mack in my lap. "I told you before Scotty I don't have any particular secrets to keep."

"You and Franklin... were you close?" I stroke Mack's fur to calm him down and soon he's fast asleep.

"Yes we were close." He answers matter-of-factly.

"No, I mean were you Close." I weigh the word down trying to convey my thoughts.

Cornelius's brow rises in surprise. "Oh." He says. "No. Not the way I think you're implying. I can't lie and say I didn't have a crush on him in my teens but that had more to do with how kind he was to me and the feelings I had were never sexual in nature. I'm not really attracted to older men." He swings his legs of the couch and quickly walks out of the room leaving me with a gut-wrenching feeling behind.

I've just insulted and pissed off my best friend. I've just accused him of having a sexual relationship with a guy 60 years his senior. I don't think I've ever felt as stupid as I do now and I've felt very stupid in my live.  Dante should have added a tenth circle of hell to include High school. I can't imagine a worse form of torture.

I'm sitting here kicking myself until Cornelius returns with a picture frame in his hand. Taking a seat next to me he shows me the photo.

It takes me a second to recognize one the two viral young men in the photograph is uncle Franklin. The other man I don't recognize

"That's Bernard." Cornelius says quietly. "They were childhood friends, growing into lovers as they goy older. He died at 33 boating accident. Franklin never had another lover."

"Never?" Really? "Why?"

"You could see it in his eyes whenever he'd talk about Bernard. Clearly see he was still in love with him. He didn't just love him, Franklin had always been in love with him and he always will."

We sat there in the couch together feeling the weight of the photograph in my hands. A lifetime of love in a single picture.


- Cornelius -

I can't tell you when it happened. There wasn't a 'I'm gay, you're gay so lets be gay together' moment. It didn't suddenly start it grew.

It grew from a single hug.

We were both sitting in the couch on an evening, I had settled in my accustomed position and Scotty had taken the opposite corner of the same couch. Normally he sat in the armchair to listen to his mp3 player but not that night. At one point I unconsciously stretched my legs bumping against him. He simply lifted his arms and without thinking about it I placed my feet on his lap. It was as naturally a movement as any other. I only fully realized it myself some time later when I felt his hand gently knead on of my feet.

He sat eyes closed laughing at a seemingly funny story he was listening to. I don't know what I thought at that point. It just felt like nothing that evening seemed out of place.

A week or so later the same thing happened. Instead of my feet is his lap however it was his head in mine. I'd settled to read and propped my feet up on the coffee table instead of next to me on the couch. Scotty sat at the opposite end of the couch again and seeing his feet folded under him I lifted my arms so he could lay them on my lap. He stretched out on the couch and placed his head there instead. I wasn't startled or surprised again if felt very natural for him to do so.

After a while I noticed tears running down his cheeks. I shift my book out of the way and ran my fingers through his thick dark hair.

"What's wrong?"

He opened his eyes, which were shining intensely from the moist of his tears.

"Heartbreaking part." Is all he said closing his eyes once more snuggling just that little bit closer to me. I had some music playing that seemed to intensify the moment, John Cage In a landscape. The simple yet complex piano music so emotional in its way filled my own eyes with tears as I let the music take me away. I sat there that evening doing nothing more than stroke his hair and watch him.

Still it continued to grow.

A few weeks or so later Scotty came home from Piet's while I was still preparing dinner. I had called out a greeting but remained busy with the work at hand. Within seconds I felt two arms slide around my waist and I relaxed into the embrace he gave me a small squeeze before stealing one of the carrots I'd been chopping. He scampered away laughing as I tried to swat him with a dishtowel.

The next morning as he left for Piet's I saw he'd forgotten his lunch on the counter and ran to the door to catch up to him. Stuffing it into his pack we leaned in simultaneously for a quick see-you-later peck on the lips. He smiled before jumping onto his bike and disappearing into the morning light.

I remember standing there in the doorway watching him cycle away. Feeling the kiss on my lips. The scent of his body wash lingering in a cloud wrapped around my head.

Coconut.


- Scotty -

It's late September and the weather has been changing slowly. Autumn is coming and the wind knows it. Helder is having herself a little run in her paddock. There is something very wild about seeing a horse run, all those muscles and natural force in one animal's body. I'm leaning against the wooden fencing watching her stride.

Cornelius commented Jessica didn't find anything wrong with her blood but Helder still wasn't 100% herself. I have a suspicion about this but need to get to town to be sure. We're stopping at market today anyway I'll find a pharmacy on the way home. These passed two weeks I've been helping him with the conservation of his produce. Most of it is for home consumption and the surplus he sells at local farms market. The jellies and jams he makes are delicious I'm surprised they don't fly off the small stand he has. It's different working with Cornelius in his kitchen than when I'm working at Piet's. We chat most times or listen to a podcast if in the mood. The podcasts are fun to listen to together, I've haven't had anyone to share this with since Dad. Laughing at the same jokes and discussing some new fact or history tidbit we've just learned.

"Aren't you cold? It's freezing today." Cornelius's voice rings out as he's walking to me. It was chilly today in comparison to yesterday.

"The cold doesn't bother me much." I grin as he shivers halting next to. I wrap my arm around his shoulder and pull him to me. He leans his cheek against my hand keeping his eyes on Helder galloping around.

"Your hands are always warm." He comments.


- Cornelius -

"PREGNANT!"

"Positive." Scotty hands me the simple home pregnancy test.

I stumble into a chair by the table. Pregnant? How on earth did Helder get pregnant! She'd never been with a stallion before.

"I've been around horses all my life Cornelius I know the signs."

I grab the phone and dial Jessica quickly, I'm not angry but I'm so surprised I don't know how to react.

"Helder is PREGNANT!" I shout down the receiver the second I hear Jessica's voice.

"That's ridiculous. Helder's never been with a stallion." She immediate responds.

"I have a positive pregnancy test here that says otherwise. Didn't the blood work show anything? I mean how the hell could this happen?"

"No the blood work..." She trails of... "Oh no." I finally hear.

"What oh no?" I grind my teeth. I see Scotty's bemused expression at my reaction but ignore him for now. "What OH NO Jessica!"

"It wouldn't have showed up on the test if Helder had conceived just a few weeks before I took the blood. Cornelius... remember a stallion at Piet's broke free a few months ago?"

"... Are you telling an escaped stallion impregnated my aging horse! She's 17 Jessica! 17!"

"It isn't unheard of for a mare to still carry a foal at that age though it isn't advised. Listen I'll come down tomorrow and check her out. We'll do an extra blood test just to be sure."

I mumble my consent and slam the phone down. I'm not angry with Jessica or even angry at all. I'm shocked.

-o-

It turned out to be true. Helder was expecting a foal. In seven months time I was going to have two horses to take are of. How the hell am I going to manage that?

For a full week I lay in the couch against Scotties chest every evening worrying. Worrying about everything that could go wrong. She isn't a young filly anymore. What if there were complications? What if she didn't survive?

"It will be alright Cornelius. We'll figure it out." Is all Scotty said and somehow those words did sooth me some.

One night when it had taken me hours to fall into a light restless sleep after running through all and every scenario of Helder in labor in my mind, the sound of my bedroom door opening stirred me. The sheets rustled and the bed dipped as a body slipped under the covers beside me. Two warm hands gently pulled me close, the warm skin, the slips on my forehead and the scent of coconut drew me into a deep relaxed sleep within seconds.

I woke up staring at a bare back instead of an empty pillow. Scotty lay on his stomach fast asleep. The sheets had slipped down to our waists and I trailed the length of his long spine with my fingers. Feeling the skin move under my caress and the heat it radiated. I traced the outline of an elongated scare on this lower back.

"From the fire." He muttered waking. I trace its outline once more and bend down to kiss it. Scotty turned over catching my face in his hand pulling me up.

A real kiss.

Not hello, goodbye, good morning or goodnight pecks on the lips. His almost naked body next pressed against mine. Feeling the hair on his chest, the shape of his torso and the dip of his spine as I wrap my arm around him.

The touching of lips. The taste of tongue. That soft and increasing pressure of mouths moving in sync with each other. Even the intake of breathes between movements. Feeling our noses rub together and his hands holding my head just beneath my jaw as my own try to pull his body closer even though there is no closer to go.

He releases my lips and looks at me. In those light hazel eyes I see the reflection of my own. We grin simultaneously and lean in again.

I don't sleep alone anymore. The pillow is never empty when I wake up.

Yet sleep for now is all we do.


-Scotty-

"I'm right aren't I?" The vets handling Helder's belly with the ultrasound. I hear Cornelius's car return shifting the dirt on the driveway. He had to meet a client today about one of their books he'd been working on. Mack runs out of the barn and a few minutes later he returns with Cornelius in tow.

My eyes linger on him as he walks over. There is something very handsome about a man with a great posture. It's in the walk and how the body flows with each stride, even muffled up as he is against the chilly November air. Reaching Helders box he leans in for his habitual peck. The vet doesn't see our kiss being absorbed in her work but if she did, she can think what she likes.

"What's all this?" Cornelius asks seeing all the vets equipment spread out in Helders box.

"Checking a hunch." The vet mutters. I phoned her earlier today with my suspicions and she drove down right away.

"What's wrong?" Cornelius is immediately on edge. I feel his body tense next to me.

The vet sighs loudly, "Two heartbeats."

"Two hear... TWINS!" Cornelius yells startling us all. "Nononono not twins. I know about horses and having twins. It's dangerous. She could die, she's already not a young mare anymore and on top of that TWINS." I feel him tremble he isn't angry he's scared. This is Franklin's horse. If something happened to her he'd never forgive himself.

'It's too late now; it's too big to squeeze and she's too far to abort them naturally. We're going to have to monitor her very closely." Cornelius looks at me biting his lip anxiously. "Don't worry about the cost Cornelius. I'll be here throughout." The vet says and for the first time I look at her. We all know the situation we're in for here and she isn't taking it lightly.

Good.

She packs up and I escort her out to her car with all her equipment. Once her car is loaded I reach out my hand. "Thanks Jessica." Surprised she takes my hand and nods before driving away.

The first week of Cornelius's panic he researches anything and everything he can about horses caring twins. Every night he crawls into bed late, curls up with his head on my chest and falls asleep without a word.

The second week he's pouring over his account books. I know he's worrying about the cost and how he'll manage. Seeing him with all those books on the table I want to help but I'm hopeless with numbers they dance around as much as letters do. He wants to keep the foals if he can. I think he couldn't bear to part with anything of Franklins even now.

I look out towards the greenhouse. I finished it months ago. We haven't spoken about it again and I'm not about the raise the matter either. I watch him scribbled down notes and check columns of what I do not know. Don't worry Pip. We'll figure something out.


- Cornelius -

I skip around the kitchen making pancakes. Not our usual breakfast but today isn't just any usual day. I've taken care of the chickens and checked up on Helder. Mack joined me for those morning duties and has slumped back to sleep on his rug. Setting the table and placing the pancakes in the oven to keep warm I tiptoe my way to the bedroom.


Scotty is still asleep; I strip down to my shorts lift the sheets and crawl in beside him. He groans waking as I straddle his hips. His warm hands immediately on my waist and he hasn't even opened his eyes yet.


"Happy Birthday." I kiss him and he returns it, more vigorously as the grogginess of sleep leaves him. I sit back up to see his bright smile and open eyes.

"How did you know?"

"I have my ways." Plus Piet phoned me earlier this week to tell me about it. Scotty had to give him his details for the job months ago. Piet's a good man, he'd always been Franklin's friend and he's always been mine.

Scotty turns to catch the time. "We should see to ..."

"I took care of everything already, there is no rush this morning."

Forgetting about the clock he grins and pulls me in for another kiss; hands sliding up and down my sides counting ribs.

"You smell like pancakes Pip." He mutters moving to my neck and kissing along my shoulder. Pip he's been calling me this more and more lately. I don't know where he got it from but I love it. My own personal pet name.

"Guess what's for breakfast..." I breathe enjoying his attention.

He pulls back and looks me in the eye. His hands never leave me.

"I... I haven't celebrated my birthday in years." He all but whispers, I reach up stroked his cheek with my thumb.

"There is no reason this time not to." I actually want to celebrate many more like this.

He stares at me for the longest time before leaning up claiming me in a kiss that tingles my spine and leaves me breathless. Panting for air our eyes lock his hand sliding down my back slowly edging under the waistband of my shorts.

It's time.

Very slowly I lean down, kiss his lips with the slightest touch causing my own skin to breakout in Goosebumps. Both his hands press our chests together molding them. On hand keeps my lower back down the other's up between my shoulder blades as he kisses me biting my lips. For a second nothing else exists than his strong arms completely enveloping me, holding me still yet moving me along in a slow rolling grind. I break the kiss to gasp a moan.

Scotty doesn't like breaking contact for the hand between my shoulder blades slides up to the base of my skull pushing my lips to his again in a more urgent heart racing battle of tongues. I straighten my legs as the lower hand slips under my shorts kneading my cheeks before pushing the fabric down over my hips. We break the kiss again to banish the shorts from both our bodies.

In a heartbeat I'm straddling him my lips to his, his hands cradling my head as mine weave through and grab his hair. I feel his breath hitch as I slowly rotate my hips in his. It's amazing what that extra bit of nudity does to you. We've been sleeping next to each other for along time now, more often than not I fall asleep with my head on his chest molded against him with his arms around me. We've never been completely naked before. Not like this, not groin to groin. Even though the barrier had been nothing but a piece of cotton, the absence thereof now is... astounding.

Warmth is passed from one to the other with every single inch of skin. Feeling the most intimate of places near your own only sends a thrill through you igniting the desire already there. Flaming it and transforming it into a necessity.

Scotty's hands know what they are doing and mine know what they want. He latches onto my right nipple while guiding a hand down. Further down than he's even been with me. I feel him first massage around my bud with his finger before very gently touching it. I was trembling already but this makes my back arch and my lungs breath out a groan.

It's been years.


-Scotty-

It's been years.

It's been years since I touched a man so intimately. It's been years since I've had this much desire to do so. Feeling Cornelius's reactions, hearing them and breathing them in tune to my own. The feel of his weight on top of me, his hands squeezing my pecks as I probe downstairs. Everything he does makes me desire him even more.

I probe with one hand and the other wraps around his shaft. It's hard and leaking and appetizing as hell. The second I touch it he breathes my name, eyes closed lips parted and glistening.

"Scotty..." His breathless voice sends an involuntary ripple through me. I reach under the bed for the lube kept there and use now slippery fingers to probe him in slow even circles. I squeeze his shaft as I press inside slowly and he arches back again presenting me with his defined chest and perky nipples.

Slowly I use my slippery finger to open him up. Small and slow motions gently increasing in speed. I add a second finger and he groans an almost growl. Reaching back he takes hold of my balls, when I squeeze his shaft again he tugs at them. My answering growl is almost as deep as his.

Oh Pip...

Three fingers...

I buck up against him and he rids me in a slow steady maddening grind.

Four fingers...

The roll of his hips changes in speed, there is urgency there, a readiness.

I want to throw him on his back and have him beneath my while I enter but Pip's in charge of this. He lubes me up and I distract myself from the exquisite feel of his fingers by leaning up and biting his left nipple... it's been winking at me for eternity.

He guides my to his bud and pauses. We both want this, we both hold our breaths in anticipation, both ready in more ways than mere words could relay. He presses down and when the tip pops through we both moan. His hand pushes me down as he vanishes my shaft deep inside him.

Deep... warm... enclosed and tight... oh Pip....

Then we start to move in earnest. He rides me with precision and purpose; I buck up with the same sentiment. The second I hit that certain spot deep inside he melts down against my chest.

His face is close to mine, his lips on my throat and hand under my head. His skin is hot, his breath ragged just like mine. This closeness is warm and encapsulating. As I continue to slide in and out my hands holding down his lower back our chest rub against each other. I try to catch his lips as they bite my shoulder. That's a weakness of mine and if he doesn't quite it I'll come any second.

I don't want to come yet.

Not before Cornelius.

My thrusting becomes more urgent and I roll him over and tremble as he pinches my nipples this time. Damn this man is pushing all my buttons. He chuckles at my far from quiet moan and I open my eyes to see a big smile on Cornelius's face. I answer his smile delving into it with a deep thrust that leaves him panting in my mouth.

Lifting his ankles he locks them behind my back and again I'm almost overcome by the closeness of the moment. The small cocoon of breath and sweat we share.

I alternate the speed of my thrusts, slow long entries and withdrawal with fast slapping of skin. While I slowly slide in him I brushes his nub every time until he was trembling and spasming around me.

"Oh shit babe I'm ..." Babe... he's never called me that before. I haven't been with anyone or anywhere long enough to have pet name of any kind.

Say it again.

"Oh babe..." he breathes and I turn loose and run wild. I hammer hard and fast and steady and it's growing and rising and heating up and... and...

I hear him wail out as I continue my onslaught, I hear him call my name. I hear him curse and beg for more. He wants it harder... faster... deeper...

As deep as I can go. Oh Pip!

He tenses, he's about a to erupt. His fingers dig into my back and in the rising tide I'm surfing I feel those welts reach down deep inside. I'm right there. It's rising and rising and I feel him tighten and groan and I'm right there. Right behind. Filling him with year's worth of juice as he splatters his own between us. I ride the waves of my orgasm and then almost collapse on top of him.

Instead I gently ease down, his arms encircle me instantly. His chest shaking as he chuckles. Looking up seeing his smile with that look of complete satisfaction and I can't help but echo his giggles.

I snuggle deep into his arms and neck. "Oh Pip." I sigh. "I think we need to shower but I'm not sure I can stand right now."

His hand strokes my back in slow soothing motion. "There's no rush" he whispers.

Suddenly Mack jumping on the bed awakes us and it's three hours later.

Our breakfast has just become brunch.

-Cornelius-

Does that man ever feel the cold? I wonder finding Scotty shirtless in the kitchen cooking breakfast. It's December, late December I might add and until the morning stove has been lit the house is freezing.

Not for Scotty though, of course I secretly love this. More for me to look at and touch... I poor the coffee as he sets the food on the table and as I move to sit down I notice the marks I made on his back on his birthday and ... the marks I've made since...

Quickly retrieving the antiseptic cream from the bathroom I feel him shudder as I apply it on the welts.

"I'm sorry. I try not to hurt you." I mutter

He simply catches my hand and pulls me onto his lap so I'm straddling him. "Pip, it doesn't bother me."

"It doesn't hurt?" I question wrapping my arms around his neck.

"I didn't say that." He smiles hazel eyes shining. "Lets just say I look forward to making my own marks on you soon."

What a devilish grin...

We spend Christmas Eve inside by the fire playing chess. He never lets me win and I'm too competitive to give up trying. Christmas morning small gifts are exchanged but more than the bought gifts, the gift of companionship and closeness we share is what is cherished most.

The New Year was spent in heartache and anguish. Spending several nights camped out in the barn with Helder cause she hadn't been doing very well. Horse aren't designed to carry twins if only we'd known earlier...

The heartache came when Jessica arrived for check up on Helder and noticed Mack. She order us to bring him in the next day and found more lumps after examination. Yes more than just one.

It had spread. Spread to the inoperable and there wasn't anything that could be done. Chemo was an option but Mack's chances were so slim Scotty didn't want to make him go through all that.

It happened in front of the fireplace in mid februari.

Mack had deteriorated rapidly and Scotty had taken up holding him as they sat on Mack rug together. Then one night holding Scotty in my arms as he stroked his closest friends head softly.

Mack stopped breathing.

-Scotty-

It snowed that day.I buried him under the walnut tree between the porch and the vegetable garden. You can see all of Elysian Acres from here.

Pip stayed inside giving me my goodbye.

I'd promised Mack we'd settle soon. I never imagined this would be the place he'd make me settle at. I can't decide if this mean I kept my promise or he chose for me. It had crossed my mind at times that when we broke into that barn more than half a year ago it hadn't been a coincidence.

A small part me wondered if that's why Mack showed his symptoms here. As if he approved of this place and knew I'd be ok here. That it could be a place where we could live and be happy. A place were ... I'd find someone to hold dear. 

Maybe the thought of Mack guiding me here was a little too much but deep down... deep down I do believe that. I need to.

-Cornelius-

Winter thaws and spring unfolds in every part of Elysian Acres. I love to see how the land comes alive again. The scent of the cherry blossoms in the air and the sight of the orchard in bloom is one to never forget.

My time was spent getting the grounds in order for the coming summer. The soil needed tilling and the planting done. Scotty helps with everything on his free days and more often than not kidnaps me hauling me off to the haystack to disappear for an hour.

He loves to be taken in the barn.

Is there anything sexier than a man manhandling you cause he wants to be manhandled? Not in my book.

Quickly June came along and Helders due date approached. We slept in the barn almost every night that last week cellphone handy. It started in the middle of the night and if I never experience a night like that one every again I'll be happy.

I couldn't do much but stand by and let Scotty and Jessica tend to Helder. I don't know how but she did manage to give birth to two living foals. Two colts to be precise one dun coloured the other as black as night.

The smaller of the two the black coloured one was very weak. It couldn't stand and needed to be hand nursed for the first full week until it could suckle on its own. Scotty took time of work and devoted every waking hour to that colt. Making it walk around developing its muscles while the other one sprang up almost the moment it had been born.

We were expecting this we knew one of the two would need our full devotion for some time and Scotty stepped up without question.

It had been a hot day so far. Scotty is in the paddock working with the colts he may not feel the heat as much as he claims but thirst is everyone downfall. With a cool bottle of water I make my way to the paddock. He's a natural with horses it's a sight to see to be honest.

He formed an instant bond with the little black colt he named Magnus. The spry dun coloured colt that is turning out to be a cheeky little shit I named Chiron.

Scotty sees me approaching and jogs over to the wooden fence climbing on to it.

"You're a life saver." He exclaims guzzling down more than half the contents of the water bottle in one go. The droplets falling on his bare chest glisten in the sun. He bends down and kisses me as a thank you. I feel the coolness of the water still lingering on his lips. Then he quickly jumps down again and jogs back to what he was doing.

Smiling I lean against the fence resting my chin on my folder arms and watch Scotty educate the colts. Noting Jessica's coming appointments in the calendar last month I'd been surprised. Surprised to realize that fateful night of the storm had been more than a year ago now. I can't fully explain it but I ended up being very affectionate that night. Not that Scotty was complaining quite the opposite in fact. It's exhilarating the know he's here and here to stay.

You see... There isn't always a lighting bolt. There isn't always the touch that tells you you've found the love of your life. There isn't always immediate attraction of affection.

Though intense feelings can take root deep into the heart of things where they grow and blossom never to be weeded out again.

Sometimes loves comes softly.





All and any feedback is welcomed, comment and/or email me.

I'm also looking for more proofreaders if you're interested get in touch.

This is a piece of fiction. My piece of fiction which may not be borrowed, altered, taken or copied without my explicit permission. These stories are registered under my name.

A. Sonky




 

Sonky

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