“Oww! What was that for?” Micah demanded as he turned to face his attacker, slamming the fridge door in the process. He had the grace to blush when he saw the look on his Top’s face. He shuffled from one foot to the other as he rubbed at the sting Jeremiah’s large hand had left on his backside.
“For catching you in the act of doing something you’ve been told numerous times to stop doing. Last warning, Micah, stay out of that ice box.”
“It’s a refrigerator, Jeremiah. Nobody’s used an ice box for decades,” Micah informed his partner as he followed the older man through the kitchen on his way to the stairs. He paused momentarily to see what party preparations were on the go since TJ’s return from town. The fingers gripping his ear provided the incentive to accompany Jeremiah up to their temporary room in the attic.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Micah griped as soon as he was released and able to throw himself down on the makeshift bed.
“It works to get your attention and keeps you focused, my dear.” Jeremiah stretched out beside his Brat and reached for him.
“But I like to see what’s going on.”
“You are too nosey for your own good, Brat; always have been. One would think by now, either you’d have learned to leave some things well enough alone or I’d have given up trying to keep you in line.”
“You wouldn’t really give up on me, would you, Jeremiah?” Micah twisted his head to gaze up at the other man.
“I guess if I haven’t done so in almost a hundred and twenty years, the likelihood of me doing so now are relatively slim.” Jeremiah smiled down at his love and dropped a kiss on his forehead.
“You had to leave me once, but that was eons ago and wasn’t your fault.”
“I didn’t totally desert you, love. I merely existed in another nearby cosmos.”
“In my loneliest moment I’d sense your presence. It just wasn’t enough to keep me going on without you physically by my side,” Micah murmured, sadly recalling a by-gone time when he felt empty and forsaken.
“Which is why you didn’t take care of yourself; stubbornly allowing your health to deteriorate until you had followed me to the grave.”
“But you forgave me,” Micah reminded his lover, “and welcomed me with opened arms.”
“Yes, and I’ve never let go again.”
“I truly believe we made the right choice when we decided to stay in the home we built together, Jer. I can go into the eternities sharing it with others. Okay, I admit some are easier to reside with than others and these two guys sure liven up the old homestead. Don’t you agree?”
“The thing that lightens up the most, due to our enforced living arrangements, is your backside. Your infernal tormenting and interfering, along with those modern contraptions you insist on playing with,” the older man grumbled. Tightening an arm around his companion, he drew Micah closer as if pinning him down would keep him quiet. “We’re going to nap now and I don’t want to hear one word of disagreement from you.” His voice was stern but his facial expression was kind.
“You know, Jer, I’m so glad we moved back into the house with Glen and TJ,” Micah murmured, nestling against the bigger man, “even if we weren’t invited.”
“It isn’t like we had a lot of choice, once they tore down the old summer house we were occupying up until a couple of weeks ago. And to think, we had just finished decorating it the way we wanted. Not that I blame them, I guess. It was just an old run-down shed in their eyes and very much in the way. Oh well, such is life I guess…..or in our case, death.”
Micah chuckled sleepily. “I’m just looking forward to this long awaited housewarming party.” He yawned and shifted enough to put his head on Jeremiah’s shoulder. “I don’t even mind giving up our bedroom and moving to this dusty garret for the weekend.” With that, he drifted off to sleep.
Jeremiah shook his head and stared upward. “I hope someone up there is around to help me maintain my sanity over the next few days,” he muttered to himself.
Micah jolted upright and wondered what had disturbed his imposed siesta. Then he heard the noise again. He watched to see if it had wakened Jeremiah, but the man merely grunted and rolled over only to fall back into a deeper sleep.
Crawling off the pallet, Micah made his way over to the small window and looked out at the driveway below. It had been car doors slamming that had interrupted his nap. Not that he minded; he hadn’t wanted to rest in the first place.
Creeping as quietly as possible down the attic staircase and the second flight of stairs to the main floor, he tip-toed along the lower hallway. He arrived just in time to see what appeared to be a reunion of sorts. Six men were gathered in the front porch. They were vigorously shaking hands, exchanging hugs and slapping backs.
Micah wondered how they could even hear what each other was saying in the ensuing din. It amounted to all out pandemonium and he wished he could be a part of it. Every so often, he found himself missing this kind of camaraderie. It probably explained his propensity for trying to get involved in their cohabiters’ lives.
He flattened himself against the wall to allow the group to move into the kitchen where beer and snack foods were readily available. He experienced a stab of jealousy as he watched them laughing and talking, apparently making up for the length of time since last being together.
“This is only the beginning, if I understand what TJ has been babbling about for the past month,” he muttered to himself. “There’ll be more folks arriving tomorrow and regardless of what Jeremiah says, I’m not going to miss a moment of it.” His smile was cunning as he rubbed his hands together. His mind went into overdrive as he plotted how much fun was to be had making mischief. He briefly pondered whether or not he should show himself to anyone. So far only TJ had seen him. It would be quite the accomplishment if he could appear to some of the guests. Ultimately more so, if he could frighten them.
He jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “For shit sake, Jeremiah, are you trying to scare me to death?” he irritably demanded, then hung his head at the hurt expression on his lover’s face.
“I merely sensed your absence, love, and came searching for you.” Jeremiah took in the celebrating group of men and gazed back at Micah, studying his deflated demeanour. His boy wanted desperately to share in such merriment, but was unable to. Although they had each other, life as a ghost undeniably had its’ shortcomings. Being an observer would never be enough for Micah and in moments like this, Jeremiah’s heart ached for him.
“You may continue to observe, Micah, provided you avoid causing havoc. Do you understand me?” Even though the older man deliberately chose to give his partner an opportunity to enjoy the festivities from the sidelines, his tone indicated there’d be no allowances made for disobeying his instructions.
“I’ll be good, Jeremiah!” Micah solemnly promised. His intentions were honourable. Unfortunately his very nature to leap without weighing up the consequences, more often than not lead to tribulation.
Jeremiah knew this, but still…..hope does spring eternal, doesn’t it?
Under Jeremiah’s watchful eye, Micah spent the hour or more staying fairly close to the three younger men; the ones he assumed were most like him.
He tagged along when TJ showed Riley and Darby to their respective rooms and gave them a detailed tour of the homestead. Jeremiah had disappeared shortly before the tour started, so only Micah stood behind the three friends as they stared up at the portraits over the fireplace and two of them first learned of his and Jeremiah’s existence. He chuckled over Darby and Riley’s so very obvious scepticism, vowing once again to show them.
Micah was aware of TJ treading on thin ice because he had overheard Glen laying down the law in regards to sharing his belief in ghosts to his friends. He smiled and pretended to tip his hat as he murmured, “Keep it up, mate. Get them worked up for me.”
He sat down in the large armchair and listened as intently as Riley and Darby to the tale of how this house came into being and of the men who built it. He was impressed by all the historical research TJ had done, but disappointed when the narration was interrupted by the older men putting in an appearance. TJ hadn’t had the chance to expound on some of the stunts Micah had pulled on him.
‘Oh well, there was always tomorrow, right?’ Micah gleefully thought, getting up to locate Jeremiah while three other young men somewhat reluctantly trailed after their partners.
Jeremiah sat back in the large leather chair with his feet on the desk, daydreaming. He had deemed this room his sanctuary shortly after his and Micah’s return to the house. It was so inviting with its’ rich brown shades, the smell of leather, and numerous reminders of his past life strategically placed about the room.
During their absence, Glen had resurrected the articles Jeremiah had kept from his schooner days. He’d brought them down from the attic and painstakingly restored them to their original beauty, for which Jeremiah would be eternally grateful. His sextant sat on a small table in the center of the room; the brass ship’s bell with lanyard hung on the wall near the door along with a matching barometer; a brass lantern rested on one of the shelves next to a brass chart magnifier; his telescope and its’ stand stood by the window. Gracing a large space above the bookcase facing the desk was an ancient seafaring map, its’ surface worn and edges torn in places.
The house had been quiet until about half an hour ago when Glen, TJ and their guests has come down for their morning meal. Jeremiah had left Micah soundly sleeping but knew his partner would be getting up shortly. Jeremiah himself had risen early as was his habit and had walked the stiffness out of his injured leg prior to settling in his favourite place to await his partner’s arrival.
It was at least another hour before he heard a soft tap on the door. Micah never spent time in this room alone and never entered without permission. It was not a directive Jeremiah had given him, but rather a boundary Micah had set up on his own; one that Jeremiah certainly appreciated.
Micah quietly entered and shut the door behind him. He walked over and sat down on Jeremiah’s lap, cuddling against the bigger man’s broad chest.
“Hmm, you smell of fresh air,” Jeremiah softly commented, rubbing his cheek into the wind-blown hair.
“I was at the dock watching the houseguests leaving in the boat.”
“Why didn’t you accompany them, my love?”
“I only like going out on the water when you’re with me,” Micah murmured.
“So we have the house to ourselves for a short time?”
“No. Glen and TJ are upstairs in their room having a discussion. TJ’s in trouble for talking out of turn.”
That bit of information enlightened Jeremiah as to his Brat’s sombre manner. Micah hoped he and TJ would soon develop a friendship and as much trouble as he had caused for TJ in the past, he now empathized with a man he considered a fellow-Brat. “They’ll take care of it, Micah, just as you and I take care of things. All will end well.”
Micah pushed himself up and wandered restlessly about the room, stroking his finger-tips lightly across the surfaces of several brass articles. He eventually made his way to the large bow window, where he curled up on the wide padded seat built into its’ recess.
“This has become my favourite room,” he mused, glancing around. Jeremiah immediately saw the statement for what it was; a diversion to hide his anxiety. “It reminds me so much of your Captain’s quarters on that last ship you commanded. Of course, the window in your cabin was smaller than this one and looked out to sea. The bench was similar to this one though and was adequate for me to sleep on during those nights I failed to stay awake long enough to make it to my own room.”
“Which, if I remember correctly, was more often than not,” Jeremiah grunted, his smile softening his words.
“The best times were spent there in the evenings, watching you work at your desk by the light of a lantern going over your charts and mapping out the next day’s course.”
“You always preferred turbulent seas over calmer ones,” Jeremiah reminded him.
“That’s because I liked the rocking of the ship. It helped me sleep.” Micah grinned unrepentantly as he recalled the number of times his Captain had kindly covered him with the extra quilt from his own bed. “But once I turned eighteen, I didn’t need to be rocked because I was finally sharing your bed. God, I thought I’d never get there.” His grin widened as Jeremiah’s rich laughter filled the room.
The ex-captain got to his feet and stretched. “Come walk with me, my beloved, and we will continue this grand trip down memory lane outside in the sunshine. You will, in all likelihood, be spending much of the afternoon inside prying into the goings-on of TJ and his friends.” He held out his hand; then tightly gripped the smaller one placed eagerly in it.
Micah stood off to the side, licking his lips as one delicate party snack after another was placed on the trays lined up across the counter. He was kept busy with his attempts to sneak treats without being caught. This meant simultaneously keeping an eagle eye on the food and on the guys engaged in preparing the delicacies.
He snatched one up and popped it into his mouth, crowing inwardly at having finally succeeded. He lucked out several more times before becoming fully aware of the dialogue taking place and the resulting mirth.
Stopping to listen, he was appalled to discover he was the topic of conversation and the source of three men’s amusement. He was about to show himself and scare them, but thought better of it. “Getting even will come later and be all the sweeter,” he mumbled to himself as he ran from the kitchen to seek refuge in Jeremiah’s arms. His emotions were running rampant; anger, humiliation, pain all vied for top place and all quickly became more than he could handle on his own.
Jeremiah was catnapping, the book he’d been reading lying open beside him. It was Micah’s footsteps on the attic stairs that startled him from his slumber. He sat up just in time to catch the body hurling itself towards him.
Micah was finding it hard to breathe as he fought back the tears. He hated this aspect of himself; this unwanted urge to cry when emotions threatened to overwhelm him. It was unmanly in his eyes, although never in Jeremiah’s.
Aside from a grunt when Micah landed on top of him, Jeremiah refrained from making a sound as he set about soothing his partner. He knew Micah would tell all when he was ready, so the older man waited patiently.
“TJ and I will never be friends!” Micah wailed moments later. “He and his friends were laughing at me!”
“Why would you think that, little one?” Jeremiah’s heart ached for the wretchedness he heard in his beloved’s voice.
“They were talking about some of the things I’ve done and seemed to find my antics, as TJ calls them, absurdly comical.”
Jeremiah drew in a deep breath to compose himself. He knew someone had to instil some logic into the discussion, and that it had to be him. “Calm down, love. Stop and think a minute. Did you actually hear the words ‘absurd’ and ‘comical’ used by either TJ or his friends?”
Micah lifted his head and bent it to one side as he contemplated the question. “Well, maybe not exactly; but they were still laughing at me,” he insisted.
“If you were listening to a tale about someone doing something you found funny, you’d laugh too, right?” Getting a hesitant nod and seeing a puckered brow, Jeremiah continued. “But you would not be ridiculing the person, merely finding amusement with their deeds and possibly the effects of said deeds.”
“I guess that’s true. I just didn’t like it being directed at me,” Micah honestly admitted. He blinked back the unshed tears and gave Jeremiah a watery smile. “Maybe they’ll drink enough tonight to do something that will give me reason to laugh. I can always hope.”
“As long as hoping is all you do, my boy.” Jeremiah dropped a light kiss on his partner’s pouty lips and drew back a little to lick his own lips. “Been pinching treats again, haven’t you, Micah?”
“Just a couple of tiny bites, Jer. I volunteered my services as official taster to make sure only the best is served at the party.” He smirked when the older man rolled his eyes. “Seriously though, some of them tasted a little off.”
“From what I just sampled, some require cooking; especially the ones made with bacon.” Jeremiah chuckled at the grimace of revulsion that crossed the other man’s face. “I think Glen has returned. Are you going back downstairs to satisfy your curiosity as to what is going to happen next? You’re too wound up to nap.”
“I’d rather put my excess energy to better use.” Micah wiggled his eyebrows as he hinted to what he had in mind by reaching for Jeremiah’s belt buckle. “After all, we have a couple of hours until the festivities get underway.”
“You insatiable man,” Jeremiah muttered, pushing his lover down on the bed and straddling him. They leisurely undressed each other; kissing, licking and nibbling at the areas they knew sexually excited them. Then they made love for the second time that day.
The party was well underway when Jeremiah and Micah strolled down the stairs hand-in-hand. That is Jeremiah leisurely descended while keeping a firm grip on the hand of the man next to him, who was excitedly attempting to skip ahead.
Jeremiah contented himself by calmly watching from the sidelines and keeping an eye on his partner.
Not so with Micah. He wanted to take part but didn’t quite know how without disrupting the festivities by alarming the guests; something Jeremiah had forbade him to do.
So he quietly mingled, eavesdropping on conversations that interested him and trying to grasp the punch-line of jokes being told, the majority of which escaped him.
Part way through the evening, Jeremiah informed his partner he was going to the study to read and should Micah want to join him at any time, he was more than welcome to do so. A final warning to behave or else, and the older man left the younger one to find his own amusement.
Much later, Micah would have difficulty explaining why he’d done what he had. It seemed like the longer he’d hung around at the fringes of the groups, the stronger his feeling of exclusion became. It was hearing Darby and Riley laughing at something TJ had said that sent him over the edge.
The hurt and anger he’d felt earlier resurfaced and he impulsively set into motion plans of getting even for imagined affronts.
Circling the crowd, he patiently took advantage of each time Darby put his glass down to take part in one of the games going on, to top up his drink. Darby’s growing inattentiveness made it almost ridiculously easy. With Riley it proved a little more challenging. Micah had to keep replacing partially empty beer bottles with full ones.
It was his turn to laugh as he watched them getting sillier with each addition serving of alcohol. Unfortunately, his delight in getting his revenge was short lived. Darby simply found a comfortable spot to chill out once he found himself getting too light-headed and unsteady on his feet. Riley became confrontational and his interaction with others had to be curtailed by his husband.
Micah sat near a dazed Darby and glared at him. “You’re a bit of a spoil-sport, mate. Not too good at imbibing, are you? On board the clipper, the crew would have teased you mercilessly.” Micah carried on his tirade until he saw Rowan. He got up and followed the couple into the house, passing Jayson and Riley who were engaged in a private tête-à-tête. Riley appeared none too happy about whatever was being said.
Guilt hit Micah with a vengeance when he realized just how far he’d pushed Darby past his drinking limit. He heard his nemesis throwing up and contritely trailed after Rowan assisting the ailing man upstairs.
Desperately wanting to make amends, Micah consciously chose to disobey his partner. He entered a room that was off limits. Although he and Jeremiah deemed it their bedroom, this weekend it belonged to these two guests of Glen and TJ. Above all else, they were entitled to their privacy. This breach of etiquette alone would be considered reprehensible by Jeremiah. The act of revealing himself after being forbidden to do so only increased the gravity of his wrongdoing.
“I’m so sorry, Darby. What I did was appalling and I beg your forgiveness,” Micah entreated from where he was sitting on the end of the bed. His self-reproach eased slightly when Darby appeared not to be holding a grudge.
Next, Micah moved across the hall to the other guest room only to be accosted by a badly spooked Riley. He beat a hasty retreat and went back downstairs to contemplate all he’d done since Jeremiah had left the party.
Sitting on the bottom step and leaning against the banister, had he been seen by anyone they would have felt sorry for the disconsolate individual. He wanted nothing more than to curl up on Jeremiah’s lap and bare his soul. It was the thought of having to bare his backside afterward that caused him to falter. Still, he couldn’t cope with his guilty conscience much longer.
Jeremiah glanced up from his book at the knock on the door. “Come in!” he called, slipping his feet off the desk and straightening in his seat. He frowned when he saw with sadness, the expression of crushing remorse on his Brat’s face.
He pushed back the chair and opened his arms, closing them only when Micah was safely enclosed within their protective circle. Then he waited in silence until his lover was ready to unburden himself. Only Jeremiah fully comprehended the weight of that burden. For Micah to seek him out knowing there’d be retribution, made the older man’s heart swell with pride.
Slowly, the entire list of offenses was made known. Although not looking forward to the next part of this discussion, Micah couldn’t help but heave a long sigh of relief to have this portion over with.
“I see no need for me to spell out just how inexcusable your behaviour has been this evening, Micah. You appear to have a clear vision of how disgracefully you’ve acted in order to avenge an assumed insult. However, I most certainly want to commend you on apologizing to those for whom you caused trouble and for bravely owning up to all you’ve done. Unfortunately, we are now left with the matter of your punishment. I do not think a hand-spanking is sufficient, judging the magnitude of your disobediences.”
Micah hung his head in shame, trying hard not to think of just how much worse things might have turned out. He could barely nod his agreement. Jeremiah rarely used anything other than his hand so it brought home to Micah just how earnest the older man was taking this entire dilemma Micah had instigated.
At Jeremiah’s insistent nudging, Micah reluctantly got to his feet and obeyed the order to hand his belt over to his chastiser and lower his pants.
He was promptly bent over the end of the desk and his shirt tail lifted off the intended target. He was comforted by the weight of Jeremiah’s large hand resting warmly on his back. He gritted his teeth to hold back the cries of pain as eight burning strokes of the belt landed on his backside. There had been no warm-up, no warning of how many, how hard or how fast the blows would be delivered.
Although the initial onslaught was quickly over, Micah knew beyond a doubt his throbbing bum would be sore and tender for at least a day or two. Admitting to himself that he’d honestly earned every lick, Micah righted himself and propelled into Jeremiah’s arms. Absolution was unconditional and it provided him with an overpowering sense of liberation.
Several minutes passed with the chastiser being replaced by the comforter, as Jeremiah rocked his suitably punished Brat and whispered a soothing mantra into his hair.
“Jer?” came the muffled sound from the region of Jeremiah’s chest. “When things get back to normal and all the guests are gone, may I please be allowed to make my presence known to TJ? I would really like to be friends with him.”
“This is their home and ours, my love. It is important we establish a sustainable relationship sooner or later; preferably sooner. You will be permitted to materialize only for Glen and/or TJ, never for anyone else. I want your word on that. Break it again and the privilege will be revoked for a very long time, if not forever. Do you accept that statute?”
“Yes,” Micah answered fervently, looking solemnly into Jeremiah’s eyes. “And I hereby promise to always adhere to it.” He wound his arms around the older man’s neck and lovingly kissed him. “Do you think there will come a time when you and Glen will meet?”
Jeremiah chuckled and then returned the kiss. “Anything is possible, my precious one,” he softly avowed.