Cole knocked on the open door of Pritchard's office. "Am I early?" he asked when the other man looked up from his work.

"No, not at all. Come in," the Match Coordinator said with a smile. "Have a seat. How are you doing?" 


"I'm fine, thanks. It's good to be back." 


"Good, good. So, are you ready to meet some new Brats at the Sunday Social?" He fussed with a pair of files on his desk. "We have a Fostered Orphan coming in this weekend that I think you might like. I have another VT in mind for him as well, but I'd like for you to meet him and see what you think."


"Actually, I've already made my choice and I'd like to approach him about it. What do I need to do?" 


"I have the forms right here," Pritchard asked. "If you're sure this is what you want to do."


"Yes," Cole replied confidently, thinking of his dream. "I'm sure."


Pritchard motioned to the chair in front of his desk. "Then have a seat. I'll get the forms and we'll fill them out and talk about what happens next. I'm glad to hear that your emails were so successful," he continued as he opened the drawer and started leafing through file folders. "I have to tell you, I'm surprised you made a decision this fast. Most Tops take much longer."


The other Top nodded. "I know. I'm a little surprised, too. It was a difficult decision, but I'm sure it's the right one."

"And you don't want to take more time, talk to some more Orphans, think about it some more?"


Cole smiled and shook his head. "No. I've been waiting long enough for this, I feel confident that this is the right decision."


"Then let's get you started on the next step," Pritchard replied. "Ah, here we are." He pulled out a sheaf of papers and placed them in front of him. "How much do you know about how this works?"


"Not a lot," Cole admitted. "Just the overview that we had in class. I know that when I make the request, you send it to a committee for review and then if they agree, it's passed on to the Brat. Is that correct?"


"Yes, it is. Then if the Brat agrees, you'll begin a courtship that lasts approximately 6 months, depending on the couple. During the first 3 months you'll spend time getting to know each other better, and you'll be taking relationship classes, both separately and together. During the second 3 months, you'll be working closely with his TT to learn his individual needs, and first observing, then gradually taking over, his discipline. Now," he picked up his pen, "I'll just fill out this form to make everything official. Then, as long as the match is within the TI guidelines, I usually speak to the TT and make sure the Brat is amenable. There's no point in doing all of the paperwork and sending it to committee if we know the Brat isn't interested. I don't think you'll have that problem, though. I know that Travis--"


"Carlos," Cole interrupted.


"I beg your pardon?"


"Carlos, not Travis."


"Are you sure you've thought this through, Cole?" Pritchard asked in concern. "As I said earlier, it's customary for the Tops to take more time and meet more Brats before they make such a serious decision. And while Travis is imminently suitable for you, Carlos is... Well, frankly, I'm not sure Carlos is ready for such a big step yet."


"He is available for matching, isn't he?" Cole asked.


"Well, yes, but--"


"Then I want to match with him," the Top said firmly.




Cole walked up the path toward the dining hall, dreading the upcoming lunch with Travis. Pritchard had offered to have Logan give Travis the news, but the Top felt that was the coward's way out. Travis deserved to hear it face-to-face.


"Hey, Cole!" Travis called cheerfully from his seat on the porch railing of the dining hall. He jumped down and came down the path to greet the VT. "Welcome back. Did you have a good trip?"


"Hi, Travis. The trip was long, but good. How are you doing?"


"I'm good. I liked your emails."


Cole took a deep breath. "Travis," he said uncomfortably, "I have something to tell you. And to be fair, I think I should do it before we sit down to eat."


The Brat looked at him for a minute and then said gently, "It's OK Cole. Don't worry about it. You've decided that we're not that good a match, right?"


"It's not that I don't like you. I think you're a great guy. You're smart, you're funny, you're easy to talk to...


"Thanks," Travis said with a slight laugh. "Can I put that on my resume?"




"It's OK, Cole," the Brat reassured him. "It's fine; I like you, I like you a lot, but that doesn't mean we're destined to be a match. And it's not like you betrayed me, or anything. I knew you were talking to other Brats, you knew I'm talking to other Tops. It's just the way it worked out."


"I'm glad you understand," Cole said, unsure if he should feel relieved that the conversation was going so well or hurt that Travis didn't seem bothered by his choice.


"I think we could have made it work," the Brat said honestly. "We would have been good together, but not..." he paused, then tried again. "I don't know if I believe in true love or sparks or all that romantic stuff but I know that I'm not quite ready yet to totally discount it yet. And I like you, but I think we're too much alike. No fireworks," he laughed.


Cole nodded. "Yeah, that crossed my mind, too."


"So," the Brat said, motioning with his head toward the dining hall, "you want to go get some lunch? I'm still interested in food if you are. I'm hungry."


"That would be great and I'll tell you more about that case."


When they were through eating, Travis picked up his tray and prepared to leave. "It was good talking to you again, Cole," he said. "And I'm sure I'll see you around. Carlos is a lucky man."


Cole looked up in surprise. "I guess it's hard to keep secrets here."


He shrugged. "I knew you were talking to him, too. And when you said you had chosen someone, I assumed it was Carlos. He's nice. I'll offer my congrats next time I see him."


"I really appreciate it, Travis," Cole replied, then added, "And thanks for understanding."


"It's OK," he said with a small smile. "I won't say that it doesn't hurt a bit. But I know how this works. After all, I've told a couple of VT's that I'm not interested, too. It's not a competition or a beauty pageant. It's not about finding out who's best. It's about finding out who you're best with."


"That's a good attitude," Cole praised him.


"Brat Orientation lecture #21," Travis said with a laugh. "I have to go or I'm going to be late. Take care, Cole. I'm glad you found your match." He weaved his way through the tables, pausing to chat briefly with one or two other men, then stepped outside. After adjusting the straps of his book bag, he slung it back over his shoulder with a sigh and started down the path back to the cottages.




"Hey, what was that sigh for?"


Travis glanced over his shoulder, then paused to let the other man catch up to him. "Hey," he said with a welcoming smile. "Nothing really."


The other man looked at him. "Nope, not buying it, babe. Spill."


Travis shrugged. "Nothing important, really. Cole told me that he's chosen Carlos."


"I'm sorry. I know you liked him."


He shrugged again. "I don't know. Liked but not *liked*. I told Cole that it would have been good, but not great. I want..."


"What do you want, babe?" he asked gently when the Brat didn't continue.


"I told Cole I'm not sure I believe in one true love or anything like that, and that's true. I don't know if there's such a thing as a soulmate. But I want... something. Something more than 'maximum compatibility' or being good friends. I want... great. Does that make any sense at all?"


"Yes, it does," the other man replied. "And you'll get it, babe. I know it'll happen for you, probably sooner then you think." He glanced out at the ocean just visible in the distance. "The surf looks good today. Want to go down to the beach during your free time?"


"Sure. That would be great," Travis said with a smile.




Cole leaned against the railing of the bridge, watching the water ripple by beneath him. A wave of contentment washed over him. Carlos had accepted his offer and the committee had signed off on it. They had warned him that because of the rapid decision and his inability to spend a lot of time on TI, it might take them longer than the average 6 months, but it still looked like Carlos would be home in time for Christmas. He was musing about that, picturing Christmas with Carlos, when he heard footsteps on the rough planking behind him.


"Hi, Cole," Carlos said, leaning on the rail next to him.


"Hi, Carlos. Are you supposed to be here? Not that I'm not glad to see you, but isn't the bridge off-limits for you?"


"Sort of. We aren't supposed to go across the bridge to the resort area, but nobody said we can't stand on it," he replied, grinning mischievously. "And I saw you and I wanted to talk to you for a minute. If that's ok," he added shyly.


"Sure. Why don't we go sit down over there?" He pointed to a bench on the right side of the bridge.


Carlos grinned at the Top's not-so-subtle attempt to get him off the bridge, but obediently followed him over and sat down. "So it's official," he said seriously. "I-- I wanted to tell you--" he paused awkwardly.


"What's wrong, Carlos?" Cole asked in concern. "Are you having second thoughts? Do you feel like things are happening too fast, or like you're being pressured? Because, if so--"


"No, that's not it at all!" Carlos told him sincerely. "I want this. A lot. I just wanted to say that I know I'm probably not the best Brat in the world for you. I'm not real solemn or serious or dedicated and I don't know anything about medical stuff so I won't be able to talk to you about your work or anything like that. But I'll do my best to be what you want and need."


"You're what I want and need just the way you are," Cole assured him, brushing his thumb across the Brat's cheek.


Carlos' hand came up to cover his and, as he leaned closer, the Brat closed his eyes in anticipation.


"Hey, CARLOS!"


The End