By Hedeia

“Brush,” Avery commanded, holding out a toothbrush.

I winced hard and pressed my lips together.

“Now,” he amended.

I cast him a very doubtful look. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for oral hygiene, but I was fairly certain the substance coating this particular toothbrush contained neither baking soda nor peroxide.  Not to mention fluoride.  I needed fluoride!  A man’s only got ONE set of teeth! 

Well, I suppose technically he has two, but only ONE to last for ALL of adulthood and I had lots more years before adulthood was over!

(Ask Avery on a bad day and he might say my adulthood hadn’t even STARTED yet, but that’s another story.)

“Avery,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster—which, considering that my lover was currently leaning casually against the kitchen sink holding out a toothbrush covered in Ivory Liquid—was understandably not much.  “That stuff could NOT be good for my teeth.”

“It’s not going to do you any harm,” he assured me.  “After all it’s 99.44% pure.”

Hateful, hateful man.

“But Avery!” I have no trouble disgracing myself by pleading. “I barely even cursed at him!”

He raised an eyebrow.

“And he cut me OFF!”

He just stood there, calm and implacably and utterly aggravating.

Desperately I tried another tack.

“Communicating with other drivers is a SAFETY issue, Avery!”  The man loves safety issues.  He had to understand.

“Conrad, communication with other drivers does not require the extension of that particular digit, does it?”

“It was a reflex!” I protested.  “He didn’t even see it!”

“And what about your language?” He inquired politely.  “Do you think it was necessary to suggest that the other driver enjoys intimate relations with barnyard animals – not to mention with his own mother?”

Arg.  Avery’s never been a fan of that particular kind of communication.

“Come on, Con,” he said, still holding out that repulsive instrument.  The soap coated the bristles and was starting to drip – no, to OOZE – down the sides like some hideous drooling beast.

He wanted me to put that in my MOUTH?

Well, I wasn’t going to go down without protest!  A TOOTHBRUSH, for crying out loud!  Surely he would see my point.  There was no need for the toothbrush.

“Avery…NOT the toothbrush,” I said as masterfully as I could.

“Would you prefer the hairbrush?” he asked meaningfully.

Hm.  I got the sense that he intended to use not the bristles but the back side of the hairbrush.

On the back side of me.

“Uh, the toothbrush will do,” I said quickly.

He held it closer.

(Time is running out, tick tock, tick tock)

Clarice never had to put up with THIS!  Psychotic mass murderers perhaps, but soap covered toothbrushes?

“You’re worse than Hannibal Lecter,” I informed him.

He just held the brush out.  “Conrad…” 

His voice wasn’t any louder, but there was no indication in it either that he might change his mind.

My mouth felt very dry.  “I want some water.”

“Brush, Con.”

“Even criminals get water!”

“One,” he said ominously.  “Two…”

Arg.  If memory served me correctly, my Avery has some sort of mental block about numbers higher than “three.” Try to make him count higher and you’ll find yourself facing a rug while he pounds out his displeasure with the concept of “four” on your poor defenseless bottom.

Needless to say I’ve learned this the hard way.

Hastily I grabbed the toothbrush and stuffed it into my mouth before I could change my mind.


There are no words for how repulsive that tastes.  AND it burns.  99.44% pure my…butt.  That isn’t soap, it’s probably hydrochloric acid!  If my whole head disappeared, it would be all Avery’s fault.

(Mary had a little lamb/But now she has no more/For what she thought was H20/ was H2SO4)

“Brush,” he said firmly.

Thank you for the reminder!  What did he think I was doing?

“That involves moving the toothbrush,” he pointed out helpfully.

Very nobly I refrained from killing him.

“I hate you,” I informed him around the toothbrush, but since my mouth was filled with Ivory bubbles, it came out more like “Ah way joo.”

“Finish brushing and you can hate me all you like darling,” he said infuriatingly.

“Mmmrph glurg,” I snapped, foaming like a rabid raccoon.

He swatted me sharply. “That’s enough young man, cursing is what got you into this mess,” he said immediately.  “Now brush or I do it for you.”

THAT was enough to get me moving.  Grimacing and foaming most unattractively (I assumed), I brushed my teeth, and, at his oh-so-gentle prompting, my tongue too.

Finally after several millennia he took the toothbrush away and filled a glass of water at the sink.  I snatched it gratefully.  “Fank oo,” I said as politely as I could around a mouthful of sudsy water, spat violently into the sink and repeated the process until I’d drained the cup.

I lunged for the faucet but he pulled me away from the sink before I could get a refill.  I stared longingly at the tap.  All that beautiful cool filtered water and I couldn’t have any.  I’d never really appreciated our plumbing, had I?  A complex universe of piping running beneath the streets of Boston for no other purpose than to bring clean fresh water into our homes and I WASN’T GETTING ANY.

I really had to write my city councilman about this.

As Avery steered me into the corner I vowed to write a detailed complaint.  No doubt my councilman would be very interested in how I was being willfully and maliciously denied the rights of a good citizen!  I was no felon!  All I had done was a little constructive communicating in order to help someone become a better driver!

No one appreciates me.

I sniffed, feeling sorry for myself.

A few tears leaked out.

I sneaked a glance around my shoulder.  Avery was standing at the sink, washing up the unsanitary remains of my foamy adventure.  “Turn around, Con,” he said without looking.

How does he do that?

“Eyes in the back of my head,” he reminded me.  “Turn around or you’re going to eat dinner in that corner.”

Miserably I worked my still-soapy tongue around in my mouth.  Dinner sounded distinctly unappealing.  I rested my head against the wall and listened to him straightening up, clanking pots, starting to cook.

It had to have been several hours before he startled me out of feeling sorry for myself with a pat on the rear.

“Feeling more civil?” he asked.

I nodded enthusiastically.

“What AREN’T you going to do again?” he asked, was it suspiciously?

Be honest with LOUSY ROTTEN DRIVERS who probably got their licenses at the Deep South School of Rural Unpaved Dirt Road Driving.


“Curse at other drivers!” I said quickly.  “Not even if they deserve it,” I couldn’t help but mutter.

He swatted me firmly, then pulled me into a hug.  “Next time I have to wash your mouth out you’re going to feel it at both ends,” he warned me, punctuating the edict with another swat, presumably a preview.

I took the hint.

“You won’t have to,” I assured him, although really I’m CERTAIN that all those free-will philosopher types would have agreed that Avery didn’t really HAVE to wash my mouth out.

He’s very close to perfect, my Avery, I’m well aware of that.  Gorgeous, smart, sweet as a cherry most of the time, but sometimes I can’t help wishing he’d just cut loose and curse someone out once in a while.

It’s fun!

It’s stress-relieving!

Gratefully I grabbed at the glass of water he offered.

Blech.  Fun and stress-relieving maybe, but it tasted pretty disgusting.

I dipped an artichoke leaf in vinaigrette, then dragged it around my plate, leaving an interesting slimy trail as if a snail had visited the dinner table.

“Con.  Stop playing with it and eat it.”

I looked up, hurt.  What was the point of cooking finger food if not to play with it?

“It tastes vile,” I said instead.

“You love artichokes.”

“It tastes like soap.”

“Whose fault is that?” he inquired.

“YOURS,” I informed him darkly.


“I like the word f-…I mean the F-word.  I don’t have a problem with it.  You’re the one waving the soap around!”

Avery cleared his throat.  “I’m sorry you’re feeling so persecuted darling.  However, enjoyable though you might find that word, it’s universally offensive and inappropriate.  And you do NOT go around provoking other drivers.  Road rage doesn’t become you and it’s dangerous.”

“It wasn’t road rage.  I was just expressing an opinion!”

“You will express your opinions like a well-educated adult, not an eight-year-old who’s just learned his first dirty words on the playground.”

“Who says it has to be dirty? It’s just colorful!”

“Conrad.  Enough.  Eat your dinner, please.”

“But Avery…”


“You’re being TOTALLY unfair.  And narrow-minded,” I said dangerously.

“Excuse me?”

“You don’t even KNOW if it’s a bad word!  You just accept the opinion of the masses! You’re a…a…a curse lemming!”

Avery coughed slightly.  “A curse lemming.”

I looked at him sadly.  My poor Avery.  He didn’t even realize how ridiculous his behavior was.

“Well, darling, I certainly didn’t mean to appear narrow-minded.  Nor did I intend to give you the impression I’m not interested in etymology.”

I nodded, accepting the well-earned apology.

“On the contrary, I’d love to know.  And since it’s your area of interest, you can do the research.  Say…3000 words or so?  On the history of certain,” he coughed again, “Anglo-Saxon terminology.”


“By Friday please.  I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.”

“But Avery!”

“What is it, Con?”


I could try “I don’t want to!” or “I won’t do it!” but both of those tended to elicit responses of the rug-facing variety.

“That’s not my field of study!” I protested finally.

“Branch out darling,” he said heartlessly.  “You don’t want to seem narrow-minded, do you?”


I should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize for NOT stabbing him with my butter knife.

* * *

Really he was taking this much too far.

A research paper?


I mean, he didn’t even want to HEAR this word.

And I was supposed to STUDY it?

Now the CONCEPT I had no problem studying.

In fact one of my favorite activities involved studying that concept with Avery, in great detail.  It was a hobby of ours, you might say.

But the word itself.  Now what exactly was I supposed to do?

I could look on the internet.

I tried that, but…

Have YOU ever tried looking up that particular word on the internet?

I’ll give you a hint: the majority of sites you find have very little to do with Old English, Anglo-Saxon culture, or etymology.

Many of them do seem to focus on some of the activities I’d accused that other driver of, however.  I sat transfixed in front of the computer screen Wednesday night, thoroughly engrossed by the sheer number of websites dedicated to the private romantic lives of sheep.


It wasn’t like assigning an essay per se was so strange.  He’s done it before and I’ve written them before, which is how I knew that NOT writing the essay would result in far less pleasant circumstances than just biting the bullet and writing it.

I had, in the past, covered such a variety of topics as:

“Sanitation and the Modern City: the Importance of Timely Trash-Taking-Out”

“Loading Zones and Fire Lanes: A History of Downtown Boston’s Parking Ordinances”

And most recently, in fact, I’d written a long and extremely footnoted piece on what exactly constitutes harassment, legally, as well as the nature of oral contracts in the state of Massachusetts.  That had meant far too many evenings holed up in the University law library trying to make sense of references consisting entirely of digits and looking much like binary code (See: Fenton v. McCarl, 5436.789.2345.233.2 or something equally incomprehensible. Well, you get the idea).  Needless to say I’d learned far more than I ever wanted to know on the subject, and the essay plus the other half of my punishment for that particular crime had assured I wouldn’t be throwing the word “harass” around out of context anymore.

But THIS particular topic, on the other hand…

I indulged in a brief moment of fantasy.  Me, the conscientious graduate student, tortoise-shell glasses perched intellectually on my nose, approaching the librarian at one of the massive academic libraries.

“Perhaps you could help me?” I would say sweetly.  “I’m interested in the history and usage and cultural significance of a certain word.”

“Which word is that?” the librarian would ask guilelessly.

“You may have heard of it,” I would say casually. “It’s of Anglo-Saxon origin, and quite common really…the word f—”

A hand dropped on my shoulder and I jumped a mile. “Con, what are you doing?”

“Avery! You’re going to kill me sneaking up on me like that,” I told him breathlessly.

He kissed the top of my head.  “Sorry.  You looked lost in thought there…finding interesting research?”

I twisted around to look up at him.  “If you consider bestiality interesting.”

“Well.  It’s not a lifestyle choice I would make…”

I gestured at the screen.  “There is NO research available, Avery.  I think you’re just going to have to assign me another essay.  How about something historical this time?” I asked hopefully.

He took the mouse out of my hand and flicked the search screen closed.  “Goodness knows the only information available is on the internet,” he said, just enough trace of sarcasm in his voice for me to get his point.

But I certainly didn’t want to do more than the minimum amount of research and he knew it.  The internet was ideal: for instance, it was located right in our cozy, nicely-furnished den.  The library, on the other hand, was located on a sprawling campus crowded with students and professors and other semi-human life forms, and was noticeably NOT located in our house.

So you can see why I preferred the internet.

“Avery…” my tone was dangerously close to whining.

“Three thousand words Conrad,” he said heartlessly.  “Good sourcing.  Minimal typos.  Cheer up, you have a couple more days.”

I thrust back the office chair so I could flop forward and bury my face in my arms on the keyboard.  “You’re meeaaaaan,” I moaned.

He hoisted me back up.  “That is NOT good for the computer,” he said.

Oh, the COMPUTER’S welfare he cares about.

But mine? No.

Of course not.

After all, I’m just Con.

Expendable, bendable Con.

Eat soap Con. Stand in the corner Con.  Write a freakin’ TOME Con.

Unfair, mean, and NOT fair. Not not not.

He chucked my chin irritatingly.  “What are those eyes darting about for?”

“Nothing,” I sulked.

He kissed my forehead.  “Go take a shower. It’s getting late.”

I pulled away.  “I’m NEVER going to find any information.  This is a horrible assignment.”

“It’ll look better in the morning,” he said, his tone a bit less sympathetic than his words.  He lifted me to feet and swatted me toward the stairs.  “Shower.”

It STILL wasn’t fair!

Hand on the banister, I turned back to wail at him. “Avery!”

He started toward me.

“I’m going, I’m going!”


I bolted.

No use arguing with him when he was going to be THIS disagreeable.

* * *

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and by Friday morning I was a desperate man.  I was running VERY low on ideas for this paper, and it seemed only one source remained.  He wasn’t a source Avery would necessarily approve of, but he was also a guy who KNEW this particular word.

Inside out.

“It stands for WHAT?” I asked in disbelief.

Stryker repeated himself. 

“It’s an ACRONYM?”  No one ever told ME that.  Stryker just had the best collection of random knowledge.  And like I said, he also really liked this particular word.  Avery had never been overly fond of Stryker.  I wondered if those facts were related?  “Who told you that?” I demanded.

“I actually learned it in high school,” Stryker admitted.  “Overzealous World Civ teacher.”

Huh.  It seemed his classes had been MUCH more interesting than mine.

“I have an appointment with Robertson at two,” I told him.  “You know, the really old guy…the Old English professor.”

“Old Old English professor?”

“That’s him.  Wonder if he’ll agree with your theory?”

Stryker grinned at me, crooked bicuspid and all. “I wonder if he’ll actually SAY the word,” he smirked.

Oh, that was a good point.  Robertson was at LEAST 90 years old.  What if I caused him a heart attack or something?

“Good luck!” Stryker called after me.

I was going to need it.  My paper was due tonight.

* * *

“…and some scholars seem to think it’s an old wives’ tale and others agree with it but frankly, I think it’s the best explanation we have and it explains a lot,” I finished my presentation with a flourish, holding out the neatly stapled paper.

Avery, good audience member that he was, was sitting polite and attentive in front of me, as he had been since I’d begun lecturing.  He was SO good, my Avery.

He took the paper from me, flipped through the pages.  I had helpfully included a word count at the bottom of the last page and, as I had all the other times he’d assigned me essays to write, calculated it exactly.  Three thousand, not including title or heading. 

Never say Conrad isn’t a thorough man.

“Thank you darling.”  He set the paper aside.

“Aren’t you going to read it?”

“Of course I am,” he said.  “But I thought you might want to finish the presentation first.”

I narrowed my eyes, confused.  “Huh?  I finished it.”

“No, I mean…well, perhaps you wanted to give me an example?”

“An example?”  He was losing me.

Avery shifted in his seat.  Did he look…uncomfortable?

MY Avery?

“I just thought…you know, my students always enjoy research topics better when their presentations are…uh…interactive.  Skits and such.”


Slowly light dawned.

“Avery Foster,” I said, shocked.  “Are you asking me for…a…demonstration?!”

He colored slightly.  “Only if you want to, of course.”

“Well.” I took a step closer.  “If it would help you better understand my essay…I suppose it’s only polite…WOULD it help you better understand my research?”

“It’s very likely, yes,” he said.

I took another step closer, lightly fingered the button at his collar.  “And might it…improve my grade?” I asked slyly.

“Oh, most definitely,” he said.

I pounced.

A minute or two later I rose for air.  “But Avery,” I protested.  “I didn’t get the consent of the king!”


“I can’t fornicate under consent of the king if I don’t have his consent!” I cried.

“Oh, that is a problem,” Avery said, frowning.  Then his face cleared and he grabbed me again.  “If you can’t fornicate under the king I suppose you’ll just have to fornicate under me,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sound all right?”

More than all right.

“Well,” I said with dignity.  “If it will improve my grade…”

The sentence was cut off when his lips covered mine again; he shifted us both until his body covered mine on the sofa, hands roaming most excitingly.  I groaned obligingly.  He’s got so MANY talents, my Avery!

My grades are very important to me.  So I submitted most conscientiously to this particular extra credit assignment.

“A-plus,” he told me much later.

I just smiled with sleepy satisfaction.

Tell THAT to the king!

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