Forgiveness Not Permission
It got dark early in December—the sun had set by the time I finished showering and changing my clothes, evening fast approaching. I shrugged into my suit jacket on the way downstairs, each stair tread complaining, creaking underfoot almost as loudly as the door at the bottom of the last flight did when I put my shoulder to it.
Neither creaks were as loud as my phone ringing. It filled the studio downstairs with echoes, the vast space empty apart from an easel. Tonight, the wall of glass that always drew me closer reflected street-art, and me, suited and booted, my hair a damp disaster.
No point dressing to impress if I forget to comb my hair, is there? Looks like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.
I dug my phone out of my pocket and shoved back hair that I was tempted to grow out so I could tie it in one of those half-ponies Sol favoured—ones he’d tie without looking while half-asleep every morning. Strands of his hair would always escape. I’d twine them through my fingers and tug the way Sol liked without ever telling me directly.
But that was my Trebecks in a nutshell. Quiet about what they needed instead of believing anyone wanted to hear them.
And what had all of that quietness taught me?
These days I listened so much harder to them.
The phone rang one last time before I picked up. “Cam?” I answered, still caught up in smiling about all that silky, straight hair that I’d pull for as long as his uncle let me. “You okay, mate?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
The voice in my ear was deep enough to mistake for a man’s, but learning to listen harder meant I heard a thread of worry. Cam spoke again before I could ask him what was up.
“You leaving now, Jace?”
“Soon.” Something swooping past the window caught my eye. I closed in on the glass dividing this old building from what made Glynn Harber special. The valley lay in darkness right now, but I saw it as I had the first time here with Sol, bright like his expression once he believed I was here for him long term—a moment I’d draw forever if…
“Jace? You there?”
“Yeah.” I turned my back on the valley. “Just going to get Sol now. I’ll see you there, okay?”
And there was more of that Trebeck silence. The kind that meant Cameron was having an internal conversation. I could almost hear it, so I answered as if he’d spoken. “He’s going to love it, I promise.”
“Ugh,” Cameron grunted. “He’s going to ground me, you mean.” He followed that with another grumble. “Did you remember to bring the present?”
That gruffness prompted a grin I saw in the glass as I doubled back to grab the artwork from the easel. “If he grounds you he’ll have to ground me as well.” I wedged the phone between my ear and shoulder and headed for the door outside.
“Don’t worry. We’ve got this,” I said as the scent of pine and fresh frost chased away the damp of the building behind me. “I’m on my way downhill now, so I might lose signal for a minute, but—”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to stay on the phone. I only called to say give me half an hour, so he can’t stop me before I get finished.”
The call cut out before I could tease him about stealing my tactic of asking for forgiveness rather than permission. I jogged through the phone signal dead spot and the school’s lights appeared below me. The car park was strangely empty when I got there, most of the staff cars gone, everyone heading home to their families for Christmas break, along with Glynn Harber’s boarding students.
The whole place is empty.
That was almost true. Only two rooms were lit that I noticed on the way around the school building. A lone light spilt from Luke’s study above the car park, along with a too-dim glow of what passed for light in Sol’s classroom.
How the hell does he work in that?
But he did. I passed evidence all the way along a hallway filled with a winter-themed display. Wild seas raged on my left, dwarfing a lighthouse I’d helped him paint along with a gang of four-year-old artists, and moors drifted in snow under a star-filled sky on my right. The full moon hanging over it was a new addition. I almost stopped to admire the detail of each crater, but the light from Sol’s classroom door drew me.
Hell, it wasn’t just the light that pulled me like that full moon might tug on the tide.
And there he was, leafing through a portfolio of one of his student’s coursework, oblivious that I watched him, those wide eyes locked on what he studied.
I soaked up what I saw then, hoarding this glimpse of Sol doing what he did best, planning how to support each student’s progress. Because that was what he excelled at—what I’d never master in the same way. Every single child did better with him to quietly guide them. To praise them. To show them that art could be about a journey not only a destination.
The dim light only made the planes of Sol’s face starker. Would make his eyes inky and shadowed, if he looked up. Could have stopped my heart, because if there was a more beautiful man on the planet I wouldn’t believe it.
The urge to draw him slammed me square in the chest. Thumped me as if Dominic Dymond wielded his hammer. It struck the same blow now as the first time I saw Sol again and knew I wouldn’t ever get to draw my version of perfection.
But that was the thing about love—what it laid bare it also cushioned.
Yes, I’d never get to capture all of that gorgeous focus with a pencil, but I got to lock it into my heart each time I woke up beside him.
“Hey.” I sounded as gruff as his nephew, but the emotion that clogged my throat was reflected in the gaze that met mine—my Trebecks might keep a lot to themselves but they’re both shit at hiding love when they feel it.
Sol straightened in his seat, something in his neck cracking like a gunshot in the silence. “Hey, yourself.” A frown warred with a smile. “You’re dressed up. Got a hot Friday-night date? You got your eye on someone you want to impress?”
“Maybe. It’s not every day I get invited to a Christmas party at the Haven. Might find someone to pull, if I get lucky. Snatch a kiss or two under the mistletoe while no one’s looking.”
“You leave Mitch alone. He’s coupled up and happy.” Sol stood, grasping the lapel of my jacket and tugging until we were chest to chest. His eyes sparkled. Twinkled. Danced with silent laughter that I lived for. “Maybe I’ll be the one to find a new boyfriend for the evening.”
“No way. I’m not sharing. Not after it took me years to snare you.” I grabbed him, drawing him close and kissing where he’d pulled his tie loose to unbutton the neck of his shirt. The faint tastes of salt and Sol there were my favourites. I could get lost in nuzzling. In kissing my way up his throat. In claiming his mouth so I was all that he could think of, but the truth was that I did share Sol. Always would. So I pulled back and held out the artwork I’d brought with me.
“Cameron reminded me to bring this. You got something to wrap it with before I get carried away and unwrap you where anyone can see us?”
“Yeah.” Sol led the way to his supply cupboard. “Bring it in here.” He found a sheet of paper, grabbing marker pens to add holly leaves and berries before turning it over so I could set the painting on it. Cameron featured on the canvas, of course, nothing grudging about the expression Sol had laboured over for so many evenings lately. There was sweetness in the smile he’d rendered. Hope in his eyes too, Cameron cradling a toy doll that his mother valued.
Once again, my throat thickened. “Good idea for him to pose with her doll.”
“Mary will like it,” Sol said, smoothing the paper so his nephew’s face was hidden, but nothing on his own face was at that moment. Now, more of the hope he’d captured laced it. Hope that made it impossible for me not to kiss him. To pull him into my arms as if he needed support when both of us knew he was the stronger of us—must have been to keep what was left of his family afloat on his own for so long.
Our mouths met and I drowned in the kind of kiss I’d dreamed of no matter where in the world I’d lived, letting the slick, electric touch of his tongue swamp me with feelings that made grasping the back of his thighs and hefting him up onto the counter necessary. Vital. Needed.
I crowded between his legs to kiss him the way I’d wanted to here so often, but there had always been a classful of children to consider in the daytime, or boarding students roaming the hallways in the evenings and weekends, Glynn Harber never truly empty, until now. I made the most of Christmas break starting by tugging at his shirt to get my hands on bare skin, latching my teeth onto an earlobe first in the way that always got him hard fast.
I bit and Sol jerked as if I’d shocked him, the room filling with a deep groan that went straight to my cock along with the less welcome sound of Luke’s voice from the doorway behind me.
“What the hell is it about these cupboards?”
I broke off to see Luke retreating in a hurry but turned back at another sound I’d learned to love here more than any other.
Sol laughed and I joined him.
Sol still chuckled when Glynn Harber’s doors closed behind us and he set off in the direction of the footpath through the woods to the Haven.
I shook my car keys. “I’ll drive.”
“Why?” He cast a glance over his shoulder. “It’s only a ten-minute walk.”
I clicked the key fob, my car’s hazard warning lights flashing in the darkness. “I’ll drive,” I repeated, “because we need to go somewhere else first."
"To bail out Cameron.”
This time, he stopped, turning slowly, and in the faint pathway lighting, I saw the kid I’d first met, wide eyed and wary. “What do you mean bail him out?” That was chased by his jaw squaring. “Please don’t tell me he’s—”
“How about I show you?”
It didn’t take long to get to our first stop of the evening. I pulled up outside the Co-op in the village, Sol’s exhale of relief audible over the engine before I turned it off. “At least there isn't a panda car here this time.” He unfastened his seatbelt before saying, “Shit. I haven’t got any cash. Let's hope they take Apple Pay.”
“What do you need that for?”
Sol swung a gaze my way that combined the same love and exasperation I’d seen so often. “To pay for whatever he doesn’t have cash for either? Because I don’t believe for a minute that he’d shoplift, but calling you to pay for his fix of Monster? Yeah, I could believe that.” His eyes narrowed. “Or I would if you didn’t look guilty.”
“Me?” I got out, waiting until he joined me. “I’ve got nothing to be guilty about.” I drew him away from the shop’s entrance, guiding him down the same alley where we’d once snuck together, hoping no one would see us. “It’s not me who’s round the back of the Co-op right now with a bag full of spray paints.”
“Shit.” He stopped so fast that my chest collided with his back, tense under the arm I wrapped around it. “No. He can’t. If he gets caught—”
“It’s okay,” I murmured, holding him against me.
“How, Jace? How can it be okay?” Then he paused. "Wait. You know what he's up to?"
“Yeah," I admitted. "I helped him ask for permission so he won’t get in trouble." Now I begged forgiveness. "Sorry. Maybe I should have said that first.”
Somehow, Sol managed to turn in my arms. "Maybe?"
"Didn't want to spoil his surprise for you." The first of many more I hoped I'd get to witness.
Sol's kiss was fierce and fleeting before he backed away out of the alley. I wished the clouds would part then so I could see him clearly, but the short, sharp breath he blew out spoke volumes, Sol steeling himself as I’d heard him do so often.
Then the moon did put in an appearance, lighting a face I’d loved for half a lifetime. Would love forever, if I was lucky.
“Cameron,” Sol said. “What the…”
“It’s your art,” Cameron told him, standing back from what he and I had spent the afternoon uncovering, cutting back years of ivy. “What’s left of it anyway. It’s a bit patchy. Needed a touch up.” He clicked on a lamp, wide, wary eyes mirroring his uncle’s. “I've done what I can. Help me with these craters?”
He offered a can and Sol took it.
Cameron looked at me next. “Got your tag?”
“Our tag,” I reminded him, pulling a roll of acetate speckled with gold and silver from my pocket.
“Our tag,” Sol agreed, smiling, then knelt beside his nephew, and finished what we’d started.
I hope you enjoyed a glimpse from Jace's point of view.
Luke's story can be found here.
Con Riley © 2021
This exclusive bonus short may not be distributed or added to databases such as GoodReads.