December 19th, 2007
Two Spirits

The oppressive feeling of having his life completely out of control pressed in on Trey Masters like a heavy fog. Could it be any worse?

His stomach clenched. His skin chilled and the rush of his pulse said yes, yes, hell yeah it could be a lot worse, a whole lot worse.

He could be ostracized for a crime he didn’t commit.

He could be in prison with a thousand inmates looking for a chance to jump and shank him.

He could be in some unmarked grave.

So yeah, it could be a hell of a lot worse. And that only scratched the surface of real horror, the things that had already happened to kids he didn’t know—and what could have happened to his students or the kids he coached.

He shivered, goose bumps rising along his arms. He rested his forehead against the cold passenger-side window of the blue-and-white police cruiser.

No regrets. Even now, he didn’t have any regrets.

He’d done what he needed to do. He was an elementary schoolteacher, for god’s sake. But even if he hadn’t been, what kind of a man would say no to the Feds when they showed up and asked for help bringing down a powerful family making and distributing child pornography?

Even if he’d known beforehand that Patricia Veron made a deadly, vengeful enemy, he would have kept sleeping with her and pretending everything was okay. The kids she and her family had already hurt deserved justice.

But that wasn’t the only reason he’d have kept sleeping with her. If the Feds hadn’t stepped in…

Bile rose in his throat at the possibility that he might eventually have asked her to marry him. He wanted to believe the answer was no. But…

Until this had gone down, he’d been desperately clinging to the illusion of heterosexuality.

Fisting his right hand, he struck his thigh once, twice, as if that could drive out the urge to run and keep running from the truth.

Pretending, yeah, he was good at that. Pretending and denial had been a part of his life since he was twelve and got an erection thinking about his best friend, Aaron.

He’d been convinced he was going straight to hell. He’d become certain when the fantasies became more detailed and erotic as he grew older.

Fag. Queer. Pervert. The names were knives with the power to eviscerate.

He’d seen what happened when other kids got labeled. He’d done everything in his power to avoid it. In high school he’d become a track star, a debate team captain, the boy who never lacked for a date or a girl willing to hook-up.

In college it was more of the same. He’d continued to run track though he’d traded the debate team for the school paper. There’d been fewer girls, but the ones he did go out with, he’d fucked, wanting to convince himself he was straight.

If only…

Old feelings of self-loathing threatened to return. He ruthlessly stomped them down.

Even if he hadn’t already been steeped in years of denying his core self before Patricia, he wouldn’t have acknowledged his sexuality. Not in his devoutly religious mother’s house growing up or after, when she started exhibiting signs of the disease that would come to define both of their lives.

On the outside, he’d been the successful son his mother had wanted. But on the inside, he’d had to work harder and harder to suppress the truth of what he really was. Gay.

He grimaced. What a word. Gay. There was nothing about being homosexual that made him even remotely happy, much less lighthearted and carefree. Then again, when had he allowed himself to act on a same-sex attraction? Never.

Maybe it was time to stop pretending. Maybe when this was over and it was safe to involve someone else in his life…


He was still a teacher. How could he ask a man he’d come to care about to pretend to the outside world that they were nothing but friends?

So that left him where? Going the rest of his life without gay sex when the thirteen years since getting an erection for Aaron had only gotten harder and harder?

Maybe when this was over he’d take a trip somewhere and…what…hit a gay bar, check out the personals? Yeah, right.

His virgin ass was so obvious it glowed. He’d attract every predator in town.

A flash of lightning was followed by a sharp crack of thunder. They passed a sign welcoming them to Hohoq.

The round-faced cop in the driver’s seat grunted and said, “They might as well have sent you to Alaska. Christ, who picked this place?”

Trey didn’t have an answer as he looked at what was supposed to be his refuge but seemed more like a dreary prison. He counted five buildings, all of them old, and prayed the rest of the town was being hidden by the mist pressing in on the cruiser.

The hope of there being a bookstore was instantly extinguished. They were hard enough to find in a big city. But maybe there’d be a library.

He’d probably end up grateful for a TV that picked up more than one or two channels.

The police car slowed to a halt in front of an old-fashioned sign swinging on heavy chains. Sheriff.

“Grab your stuff,” the cop said, cutting the engine and placing a hand on the door handle. “As soon as I make the official handoff, I’m out of here.”

“Sure thing. I know you’re in a hurry.”

“Bet your ass I am. My wife’ll kill me if I’m not back and on the plane with her to Vegas.”

Trey rubbed at the ache centered in his heart. He wanted what the cop had, a nice heterosexual lifestyle that included a wife.

He wanted it, but it wasn’t going to happen unless he was willing to spend the rest of his life living a lie. Or until he stopped letting what others think define how he lived—and was willing to risk how that might impact him as a teacher.

Don’t ask, don’t tell didn’t apply solely to the military. It applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers.

Yeah there were legal protections, in some places, but discrimination didn’t have to be overt to be a reality. And social media meant it was nearly impossible to keep private and professional lives separated, not when even elementary kids had cell phones with cameras and posted on Tumblr!

Snagging the single duffle bag he’d had time to pack in his mad rush to get out of the house and into an informal protective custody arrangement, he opened the cruiser’s door. A blast of wet, icy wind hit him and it was enough to center him in the here and now. Survival. Until Patricia Veron stopped being a threat, he didn’t need to deal with being gay.

He ducked his head and plowed through frigid air in the cop’s wake. They made it into the office. A Native American man with a thick, black braid and a sheriff’s star pushed off from the heavy pine desk he was leaning on. He dropped what he’d been reading onto the desk’s surface and met them in the middle of the small room.

Dark, penetrating eyes studied him. “You Trey?”

He nodded. The cop who’d brought him to Hohoq said, “He’s all yours. No sign of Patricia Veron, but that doesn’t mean she won’t surface for some payback.”

“So expect trouble?” the sheriff asked as another Native American man, also with his black hair braided, stepped into the room, letting in a blast of cold air, but all Trey felt was an explosion of heat.

He stiffened, cock-first. His heart beat like it was tapping out Morse code and the message was touch me, suck me, fuck me.

He inhaled, caught a woodsy masculine scent and had his skin shrink-wrap, trapping the heat and intensifying the wild-pounding effect of his heart banging away with its message.

Trey buried his hands in his jacket pockets and was grateful it was long enough to cover a boner that’d scream fag.

Ducking his head was the only defense available to hide the blush blitzing into his face, and the panic in his eyes that’d be easy to read for men whose daily lives involved dealing with criminals.

I’ll be out of here in a few minutes. Just zone out like someone who is still a little shell shocked.

Impossible. Not when he was hyper aware of the man wearing jeans, cowboy boots, light blue denim shirt, and who was an arm’s length away and standing next to the sheriff, not when his cock was hammering out its own message, that it was tired of being denied what it really wanted, another man’s attention.

Not happening, he told it. Not in this tiny town and not with a sheriff’s deputy.

Tenino was having a hard time paying attention to the conversation between the city cop and Tekoa. His gaydar was pinging and his dick was at attention and ready to serve in the line of duty.

It was the last thing he’d expected when he stepped into the office. He’d been dreading hauling a stranger out to his cabin, but now…

Blond hair, blue eyes, a neat ponytail he could already see himself freeing so that hair could spread out across the sheets on his bed. He could hardly wait for introductions.

Ever since his cousins Ukiah and Tekoa had found their mates, he’d been hoping his mate was in the offing. Hell, he’d been hoping that before coming back to Hohoq, not that there were good odds on finding a mate in the truest sense, a man who could join him in flight when the storm called and the Thunderbird spirit rose. For that to happen he’d have to find one among The People, which didn’t seem likely since not many of them were bisexual, or like him, one hundred percent gay.

It was a downer when he thought too hard about not having that ultimate spiritual connection, so mainly he didn’t think about it. He lived. He had sex when he could get it, which was far easier during the tourist season, not that he wasn’t ready to be done with casual, but… Use it or lose it and his dick liked a workout.

It said the blond who seemed to be trying his best to ignore him would be an excellent workout partner. Not that he could see as much as he’d like to with the heavy black jacket hiding what he’d bet was a mighty fine boner.

Shy? With hands crammed into the pockets and the collar up, the guy had turned his jacket into a turtle’s shell.

He’d never found shy attractive in men though it could be kind of cute in women. But he could make an exception for the blond.

Besides, the blond was going to find it hard to stay shy at the cabin. The place was small. They’d be bumping into each other every time they turned around.

Tenino grinned. Bumping and grinding wasn’t going to be a hardship.

He tried to remember exactly what Tekoa had told him about his soon-to-be guest. It hadn’t been much. Friend of a friend asking a favor. The possibility of danger so Tekoa didn’t want the stranger at his cabin, because of Jessica, or at the lodge his brother Ukiah owned because of Marisa.

That’s all he remembered about the situation. Good enough. If he needed more information, it’d come. The grin widened. Hopefully he’d come.

Tekoa made the introductions. Trey. It fit. He liked it. And imagining himself lying on top of Trey, saying it as he thrust into heaven was enough to have his foreskin retracting in preparation for the main event.

Forget the foreplay his dick said. It’d been out of action for too long, or at least action that didn’t involve Mr. Hand.

His eyes met Trey’s. His gaydar pinged harder and Trey’s quick look-away only put him more in the mood for a sexual takedown.

Tenino swallowed a laugh. Shy was going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

He turned to shake hands with the city cop. The cop’s face was flushed and his expression said it wasn’t because the office was too hot.

Tough shit. I’m gay. Deal with it.

“You going to be okay here?” the cop asked Trey. “If you’re not good with this, you can ride back with me.”

“I’m good,” Trey said, his stomach in a spin cycle that was pulling his skin tighter and tighter while his heart pounded like a classroom of kids banging on their desks in revolt.

Through an open doorway two old-fashioned cells were visible, the kind with floor to ceiling bars. Both had a pair of cots with folded white sheets and a light green blanket at the foot of the mattress.

Home sweet home? As long as he wasn’t locked in, he could deal with it…as long as Tenino didn’t spend much time in the office. Or maybe one of the nearby buildings was a hotel and Tekoa intended to put him up there.

The cop didn’t waste any time leaving. Tenino said, “The cabin’s remote, might as well grab something to eat in town. You hungry?”

“Cabin?” Thank you god it didn’t come out as panicked as he felt.

Tenino’s smile was pure sin, purely unconscious sin but that didn’t deaden the impact though Trey doubted a Kevlar vest would stop the heart shot that was then deflected to his cock.

“Can’t put you somewhere it’ll be easy for the bad guys to find you. So are you up for some dinner?”

I’m up for more, more, more his cock said. A nod was all he could manage.

How was he going to survive this? Should he volunteer to stay in a cell?

“What about you?” Tenino asked Tekoa. “You eating in town or waiting ‘til you get to your place?”

“I don’t think food will be on the menu by the time I get back home.”

“Torture me, why don’t you?”

Tekoa laughed and placed his hand on Tenino’s shoulder. “Your turn’s coming.”

“I’m not counting on it.”

“I never thought I’d find what I needed either. But look what dropped into my lap. Look what happened with Ukiah. Your turn’s coming.”

Tekoa’s gaze flicked from Tenino to him, then back to Tenino and Trey’s heart stuttered. Then stuttered harder with the possibility they’d figured out he had a hard-on for Tenino.

No way. Absolutely no way was Tenino gay and the sheriff suggesting… What he can’t possibly be suggesting. These guys are law-and-order types and this is a small town.

Sweat trickled down Trey’s sides the way it had when he’d stepped into the classroom that first day as a newly minted teacher. He needed to get his attraction to Tenino under control.

Their eyes met and guilty heat rushed up his neck. Please god, let the floor open and swallow me, now.

It didn’t.

“Ready?” Tenino asked, his voice like a fist curling around Trey’s cock and stroking from base to tip.

With one last glance at the jail cells, he said, “Ready,” and grabbed the duffle then followed Tekoa and Tenino out.

A white Jeep Rubicon was parked in front of the office. Red, yellow, and blue stripes curved over the sheriff’s department logo on the front doors and swept to the tail lights like a wing. Tenino opened the back door. “You can toss your gear in here.”

Trey threw the duffle in and they kept going. The restaurant was next door. It was a small mom-and-pop place with a juke box, black-and-white tile flooring and the cooking area behind a counter lined with barstools with bright red vinyl seats.

They claimed a window table, with him electing to keep his jacket and drape it over his lap instead of hanging it on a hook near the door. Outside, black clouds promised a downpour and competed with nightfall for which would darken the town first.

A flash of lightning streaked across the sky. A second later there was a boom of thunder and the mist condensed, giving the town a mystical appearance.

He’d been wrong about Hohoq when he’d seen it from the cruiser’s passenger seat. It wasn’t a dreary prison at all but a great place to gather Native American myths and rural folktales.

“So what do you do when you’re not hiding from dangerous ex-girlfriends?” Tenino asked, drawing Trey from cool, misty comfort into scorching discomfort.

He picked up the menu and used it as an excuse not to study the man across from him—and be studied in turn. He’d die if Tenino picked up on the fact that he was about to have a houseguest who was crushing on him.

“I teach. Elementary school.”

“You’re lucky the Feds approached you and asked for your help instead of hauling you in as a suspect.”

Trey shivered. His stomach clenched hard and fast and with enough force that he swallowed against the bile rising in his throat. “Yeah, I am lucky. Damn lucky.”

He still broke out in a cold sweat several times a day over that fact. All it took was suspicion to ruin a reputation and a career and turn life into a living hell.

The first thing he’d done after the Feds laid out their evidence and asked for his help was to call his principal and arrange a meeting. They’d agreed on a plan of action, so the school wouldn’t be hurt and neither would he when the story broke about the Verons.

The Feds had done as promised. They’d told the media that he was never a suspect and had been instrumental in helping them build their case and shut down a child pornography operation.

He put the menu on the table, his appetite gone. Their waitress arrived, wearing jeans and a denim shirt.

Like Tenino and Tekoa, she was Native American. Mid-twenties maybe with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and three silver loops in her left eyebrow.

She set three glasses of water on the table, took Tenino and Tekoa’s orders, then looked at him and lifted the brow sporting the rings. He shook his head. “Nothing for me.”

Tenino laughed. “Get him what Tekoa and I are having. Otherwise he’s going to regret not eating once I get him to my place.”

The waitress’s dark eyes turned speculative and heat shot up Trey’s neck.

Tenino said, “Briar—”

“I’m going, I’m going. Spoilsport.” She grinned and collected the menus, shot another speculative look his way then left, leaving him with a heart pounding hard enough to sound like kids thundering toward the school exits after the last bell had rung.

Maybe his read in the sheriff’s office hadn’t been off. Maybe…

Trey swallowed, but his mouth was so dry that nothing went down. He dared a glance at Tenino and fought the urge to grip his cock through his jeans at the heated, bold look that said I know you’re gay and when we get to the cabin, we’re going to fuck.

Trey glanced away first, his skin too tight, too hot, his heart beating too hard, too fast. He was imagining things. This couldn’t really be happening.

Yeah, when they’d driven into town he’d been thinking maybe, maybe when this was all behind him, after the Feds caught Patricia, he’d go somewhere, finally let himself be gay, at least in some anonymous place in the future.

The mist settled more heavily outside and the wind created the illusion of movement, turning swirling grayness into a dark, birdlike shadow that disappeared on a flash of lightning.

Thunder pealed. The shadowy bird reappeared, wings spreading further, as if a great bird drew closer along with the storm.

An odd sensation struck, like feathery talons reaching, sinking in, surrounding his heart and taking its measure. He rubbed his chest, silently laughed at his own flight of fancy.

It hit him then, “Isn’t Hohoq one of the names for the Thunderbird?”

“It is,” Tekoa said. “How’d you come to know that?”

“I collect stories, mostly stuff that deals with supernatural beings and occurrences because those appeal to kids more.” His gaze skipped from the mist to Tekoa sitting on the other side of Tenino. “The promise of a story is a great incentive for good behavior.”

“Makes sense. Myths and legends were ways to teach, entertain and bind people together. What do you know about the Thunderbird?”

“I don’t remember any specific stories. I do remember that there are a variety of beliefs. Some cultures view them as protectors. In others they’re the Creator’s messengers. And in at least one tradition they live as men but take the form of a thunderbird when necessary. But pretty much across the board, thunder is the result of their wingbeats and lightning shoots from their eyes.”

“You know a fair amount.” Tekoa glanced at Tenino and smiled. “What do you think?”

Trey didn’t follow Tekoa’s attention to Tenino, but the way his heart and cock sprung into hyperactive awareness said Tenino was looking at him. And Tenino’s soft laugh had him fighting not to turn his face toward the source of that sound.

“If and when,” Tenino said, amusement in his voice. “I’ll be happy to say you were right.”

Tekoa’s smile widened. “Those words will be music to my ears. And a song I’m used to hearing.”

Tenino snorted. “You wish when it comes to that last part.”

The waitress returned with their food, three identical plates with a hamburger to the side and a huge pile of fries. She set them down. “Anything else?”

“We’re good,” Tekoa said, pooling ketchup on his plate then handing the bottle to Tenino.

Tenino squeezed some ketchup out and offered Trey the bottle. “So what’s your take on the situation? Is there likely to be trouble?”

Trey took the bottle, the pooled ketchup making him think of blood, though it didn’t keep him from squirting some on his plate. Hell, it reminded him of the situation he was in and that went a long way toward distracting him from the question he kept spinning back to, Is Tenino gay?

“If Patricia finds out where I am, then yes, she’ll come after me. The Feds think she might have killed before, more than once, to keep her family’s secret safe. She’ll feel responsible for bringing them down and she’ll want to punish me for betraying her. Her sister committed suicide when the story broke.”

Trey picked up his burger, hated that his hands shook slightly. Patricia had nothing to lose. If she found him, it would end only one way—with one of them dead.

He lowered the burger, appetite gone again.

Tenino reached across the table and stole a fry despite having a plate full of them. “Eat up. Weather’s getting worse. We need to get out of here.”

He ate, trying not to think about the flutter in his gut every time Tenino helped himself to a fry.

Repeat after me, he thought. I’m a grown man, not a sixteen-year-old with a crush.

I’m a grown man, not a sixteen-year-old with a crush.

I’m a grown man, not a sixteen-year-old with a crush.

His disadvantage came in having spent so much time avoiding situations that would put him around men he found attractive. And in not having been free, before now, to make a different choice when it came to his sexuality.

Dull pain created deep furrows in his heart, wide grooves that would too easily fill with guilt. He turned his face toward the window. A red pickup truck with a camper shell on the back pulled to an angled stop in front of the diner.

He caught a glimpse of a beautiful blonde woman before she was pulled forward by the driver and the truck windows fogged.

That’s what he wanted. What the cop had, what this couple had. He ached, longing for it, and ached knowing it wasn’t going to happen for him. He wasn’t hetero.

The driver got out. He was blond and beautiful like the woman.

He walked around the truck and opened the passenger door. The woman slid from the bench seat, light catching on the diamond in her engagement ring and turning it into a rainbow’s promise.

The man pulled her against him, reclaimed her mouth and Trey expected steam to start rising. Tekoa pushed away from the table. Tenino said, “Now that Clay and Jess are back, I guess we shouldn’t expect to see you unless there’s an emergency.”

What? Trey pulled his attention from the couple, only to follow Tekoa back to them.

The woman smiled at Tekoa. She left her blond lover’s arms, slid into Tekoa’s and their kiss was every bit as hot as the one he’d interrupted.

She clung to him, softened, seemed to melt against Tekoa and Trey couldn’t look away. Finally the sheriff lifted his head. He said something to the blond and the blond laughed then leaned in and touched his mouth to Tekoa’s in a kiss that sent a lightning bolt straight into Trey.

He hadn’t been wrong in the office. He hadn’t misread what Tekoa meant when he’d told Tenino, Your turn’s coming.

He hadn’t misread the speculation in their waitress’s eyes. He hadn’t misread Tenino’s heated look that said I know you’re gay and when we get to the cabin, we’re going to fuck.

But that didn’t mean he knew what he was going to do about it. Whether he was going to keep pretending, keep denying to everyone but himself that he was gay.