Thank you H. for betaing and editing.  Without you Gavin would be holding Jack’s waste. ;)

Reading Between the Lines
   by Rusty

“Did you call Mom and Dad and let them know we weren’t coming over for Sunday dinner?”  Gavin poured juice in the glasses on the counter and stuck the container back in the fridge.

Jack sat the two platefuls of omelets on the table and sat on his stool.  “Yeah.  Patrick and Daniel aren’t going over today either, but they’ll still have a houseful.”

Gavin sat down on the stool across the counter from Jack.  He chewed on his lip a second. 

“Family stuff is usually excluded when I’m grounded.  Usually, anyway.  Family’s important. You’ve always said that.  Your Dad’s been sick and he looks forward to seeing us.”
"There’s a family dinner at the Ryans’ every Sunday and we don’t make every single one of the dinners anyway.”  Jack took a bite of his omelet.  “We’ll probably go next Sunday because it is important that we go.  But today, I think it’s important that you stay home.”

“Well, if dinner with the family is excluded, I don’t see why....” Gavin stopped when he noticed the look on Jack’s face. He DID like to complain, but he also knew when to quit. Usually.

“Family dinners are ‘excluded’ today just to make sure you’ve got the hang of being grounded.” Jack’s voice was firm, but he didn’t seem mad or anything.  “I think you may be having a little trouble understanding what the term ‘grounded’ means.

“I understand what it means.”  Gavin rolled his eyes. He DID understand it and being grounded for two weeks didn’t seem all THAT bad compared to what he had THOUGHT was going to happen.

What Gavin didn’t understand was why Jack HADN’T killed him last night.  How did you ask a question like that without sounding ungrateful?  He WAS glad to be alive and he didn’t want Jack having any second thoughts about the decision NOT to KILL him. 

Gavin changed the subject instead. “If you’re going to the store, maybe you could stop and exchange that paint.  I can start painting the spare bedroom.”

“I can do that.”  Jack smiled across the counter at Gavin.  “Gav, you do know that I’m really glad that you called me to come and get you yesterday, don’t you?  You should’ve had Adrian bring you home when you realized he’d ‘kidnapped’ you.   But you did do the right thing in calling me.  I want that to be clear.  I do want to make sure that you understand why you’re grounded though.”

Gavin rolled his eyes again.   “I understand, Jack!   I knew when Adrian asked if I wanted him to take me back home that I SHOULD have said yes then. I knew I was grounded, you know. I didn’t even think about having him take me home and THEN calling you.  That would’ve been the prudent thing to do.  I’m trying really hard to be prudent, Jack.  It’s part of my whole new image.”

Jack chuckled.  “Well, prudent would be nice.  But I like the old you just fine, so don’t go changing everything.  I just wanted to be sure that you understood why you were grounded.”

“To tell you the truth Jack, I thought you’d KILL me and then ground me... for the rest of my life or something! I think I got off pretty easy, considering everything. You seemed really upset at first and I didn’t figure you’d appreciate me going in search of a loan shark anyway.”

Gavin leaned his elbows on the counter. He didn’t figure that Jack would change his mind about killing him now, and he just HAD to know.

“How come you aren’t mad about THAT, Jack?”

“I wasn’t exactly happy about that, Gav.” Jack looked Gavin in the eye.  “That’s where being ‘prudent’ would’ve come in handy.  And you’re right: you should’ve had Adrian take you back home right away.  If you wouldn’t have called me, I would have grounded you AND paddled you and any number of those other ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ you’re always complaining about.   But you did call me as soon as you got there.  I am happy about that.”

Gavin wrinkled his nose.  “I’m happy I called too.  I KNOW you would’ve KILLED me if I hadn’t.”

“I know you like to exaggerate too.” Jack smiled as he shook his head.

“Exaggerate!  Exaggerate!  How do you figure that’s exaggerating?”  Gavin held his hands out.  “I KNOW you would’ve killed me!  You SHOULD have….I mean….I thought you were going to anyway.”

Jack heard that “should have” and cocked one brow.  “You’re right, Gav; you shouldn’t have gone in search of a loan shark. You should never have left with Adrian to begin with. But you DID call me when you got there and asked me for help, which was the right thing to do.  However…”

“ still…”

“However,” Jack pinned Gavin with a look, “ …don’t think just because you feel you got off easy this time it gives you a license just to forget when you are grounded.  Even though I think ‘KILLING’ you is a major exaggeration, you would be VERY sorry if you forgot it again.”

“I KNOW that.”  Gavin rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.  “I won’t forget.”

“I hope so.” Jack’s eyebrow rose at Gavin’s eye rolling.  “And don’t roll your eyes at me.  I know you, Gavin.  You think maybe I was a little too easy on you this time and I know you’re relieved about that.  But, whenever you feel like you’ve gotten away with something, it usually turns around and bites us both on the ass.  Give you an inch and…”

“I take a mile.”  Gavin huffed a little.  “I’m not THAT predictable!”

Jack took a bite of omelet.  “You can be.  Eat before your omelet gets cold.”

Gavin took one bite of omelet and talked around it.  “Finish telling me what you said to Conner when you gave him that paddle, Jack. What all did you say?”

Jack rested his chin in his hand.  “We talked about Adrian’s problems, the gambling to name one. Conner’s going to check into Gambler’s Anonymous for him.”

Gavin was bursting with questions that had NOTHING to do with Gambler’s Anonymous.  He wanted to hear ALL of the gory details. 

“Well, that’s good, but what about the paddle, Jack!  What did you say about THAT?”

Jack smiled a little wryly. “I just mentioned that Adrian could possibly benefit from a little discipline and how we might have handled similar situations in the past.”

Gavin made a face; he blushed a little.  “I have a feeling you were a little more blunt than that.  You didn’t give Conner any gory details, did you?”

“Not too gory.”  Jack shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t really need to.  I have a feeling that the thought of paddling Adrian’s backside may have crossed Conner’s mind before.”

“Well, I KNOW it’s crossed YOUR mind before.” Gavin rolled his eyes again, and then he leaned over the counter. His infamous National Inquirer reporter look spread across his face.  It was the face that screamed “inquiring minds want to know.” 

“What do you think happened?  Do you think Conner....paddled him?’

Jack knew that look.  Gavin loved gossip and hearing little details about other people’s problems. He was worse than the National Inquirer.  Gavin's mind went beyond inquiring. He was just plain nosey!

“I don’t know, Gav.  It’s really none of our business.  Whatever happens from here on out is between Conner and Adrian.  They’ll have to do what works for them.  Don’t be so... nosey.”

“I’m NOT nosey!”  Gavin stuck his nose in the air, extremely affronted by that accusation.   “I was just wondering is all!  Conner and Adrian could probably use a little advice from us, don’t you think?”

Jack shook his head.  “I think they’ll be just fine without any help from us.  If they want advice, I’m sure they’ll ask for it.” 

“I think Adrian will probably want to talk to someone.”  Gavin could just imagine Adrian’s reaction to that paddle. He would’ve LOVED to have been a fly on the wall.  “And you could be a big help to Conner.  You have more knowledge about this stuff than he does.”

Jack did laugh this time.  “Conner probably has more knowledge about ‘this stuff’ than I did in the beginning.  They’ll have to work it out between them. Just like we did.”

Gavin didn’t see how Conner could have as much knowledge about this stuff as Jack did.  God, that just wasn’t possible. Jack could teach classes on it. Write books about it!  He was the foremost leading expert on the subject! In the whole country.  Hell, probably the whole WORLD! 

“Well, I don’t see how it would hurt to call and check on them.  Adrian might be upset and…”

“No.”  Jack took bite of omelet and washed it down with his juice.

“Why?”  Gavin laid his fork on his plate.  “They might feel funny about asking for any advice.”

“I said no, Gav. You’re just being nosey.  I think what they need is some time…alone.”  Jack finished his omelet; picking up his plate, he headed for the sink. “We didn’t have any help in the beginning and things worked out just fine.”

“I am NOT nosey!  Besides, that’s different, Jack.  We didn’t know anyone who did…..this stuff way back then.”  Gavin didn’t know anyone even DID this stuff way back then.  He’d discovered much later, after searching the internet, that there were MILLIONS, possibly TRILLONS of people who did this stuff.  It was ALL over the place. 

Gavin heard Martha barking from the backyard and stood up from his stool.  He walked towards the kitchen door, shaking his head and mumbling under his breath about Jack’s total ineptness at giving advice in this situation.  Jack usually had NO problem at ALL in voicing his opinions or giving advice as far as Gavin could remember.

Jack closed the dishwasher and turned around to lean against the counter.  He crossed his arms over his chest and smiled as he listened to Gavin’s grumbling. 

“Gav, if we had known someone ‘way back then’, do you really think you would have wanted them to call you with advice?”

Gavin turned around and gave Jack a horrified look; a blush already stained his face. 

“Of course NOT!  That was between you and me; it wasn’t anyone else’s business, for crying out loud!”
“Exactly.”  Jack agreed. “I’m sure Adrian and Conner feel the same way.” 

Gavin thought about that a minute.  “Hmm…well…maybe you are right about that.”

Jack bit the inside of his cheek.  “I kind of thought you’d see it that way.”

Gavin shrugged and turned back towards the garage, muttering under his breath. “It’d still be kind of ...interesting … to know what happened though.”

“I told you.”

“Told me what?”


“I am NOT nosey!”

Jack laughed. “What would you call it then?”

Gavin opened the door and headed out to retrieve the impatient Martha. He called back before shutting the door.

“Inquisitive…maybe!  But NOT nosey!”


Gavin rolled the paint onto the wall, swaying his butt back and forth to the music and singing along….loudly…..with his favorite diva.

His favorite SECRET diva!


It was a good thing Jack wasn’t home or he’d tease Gavin to death. It wasn’t that he really liked country music or anything, but Faith was different.  Jack just didn’t seem to understand that. 

Gavin placed the paint roller in the pan and looked over at Martha.  “Hey girl. I’m gonna put in another CD, but you have to PROMISE you’ll NEVER tell anyone about this. Okay?”

Martha stopped chewing on her sockman and looked up at Gavin, tilting her head. She didn’t understand what he was talking about, she really never did, but she gave him a sweet puppy smile.  For some reason the little guy never failed to make her smile.

Gavin smiled back at Martha as he sat down in the middle of the floor by the CD player.  He replaced the Faith CD with his other SECRET favorite, turning the volume up to eardrum-bursting decibels.

“Johnny’s Daddy wuz ……”

“Hey, I’m home.”  Jack leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms over his chest. A big grin spread over his face.

Gavin nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of Jack’s voice.  He fumbled with the CD player, pushing several buttons before the music finally stopped.

“God Jack, you scared me to death.”  Gavin sent Jack a glare.  A red blush stained his face… so the glare didn’t come off as all that menacing.

“Sorry, babe.”  Jack chuckled, his chest rumbling.  “What are you listening to?”

“I was just changing CD’s.”

“Oh.”  Jack bit the inside of his cheek trying to keep the grin off his face.

“I WAS changing it!”  Gavin huffed as he pushed himself up from the floor. He changed the subject.  “Did you win your game?”

“No. 38-17.”  Jack squatted down to pet Martha who was dancing at his feet.

“You should’ve let me come to the game.  You would’ve probably won if I’d been there to cheer you on.”

“And being grounded means.....? 

“I know what it means.  It means being bored to death, that’s what.  Was Conner there?”  When Jack nodded his head, Gavin asked, “Was Adrian there too?”

“No, I think he had to work.” 

“You think?  Didn’t you ask Conner where he was, Jack?”  Gavin shook his head.  “You’re a Prosecutor, for crying out loud. You’re supposed to know how to ask questions!  Adrian hasn’t returned my calls all week and.....”

“And...I thought I told you not to bother them.”  Jack cocked a brow.

“That was Sunday, Jack! You didn’t say I couldn’t call....ever again.”  Gavin held his hands out. “And I wasn’t...bothering them.  I was just ....”

“Being nosey.”  Jack cocked his other brow.

“I’m NOT nosey.  Quit saying that.”  Gavin scowled at Jack.  “I just think it’s kind of odd that Conner is out and about and no one has seen Adrian at all.  What if Adrian freaked out about that paddle, Jack?  This kind of relationship isn’t for everyone.  Conner might not know how to go about this whole thing, you know. Sometimes this kind of thing can go to someone’s head.”

Jack didn’t like the sound of that last statement.  Left to his own imagination, Gavin could come up with all kinds of scenarios…. that usually led to disaster.  

“What could go to his head Gavin?”

Gavin shrugged his shoulders.  “Conner could be some kind of secret control freak and this kind of power could send him right over the edge, you know?   How do you know that Conner isn’t holding Adrian prisoner or something.  He could have Adrian locked in the attic or the basement. Conner might be trying to turn Adrian into his personal boy toy or something.  I’ve read about stuff like that on the internet.”

“Just what all have you been reading on the internet lately anyway?”  Jack raised both eyebrows.  “We’ve known Conner a lot longer than we’ve known Adrian, Gavin.  You know he would never lock Adrian anywhere!”

“Well, OKAY, so he wouldn’t actually lock him up....but...” 

“If I remember correctly, you were the one that said Adrian could benefit from this type of relationship.”  Jack gave Martha one last pat and stood up, leaning against the doorframe.

“I still think that ...but...”

“’ve been bored, and God help us all when that happens. Your vivid imagination kicks in full throttle and that, along with your….natural nosiness… are the two things that get you in the most trouble.”

“I’m NOT nosey.  Quit saying that.” Gavin put his hands on his hips

“You are nosey.  If I were you I’d concentrate on staying OUT of trouble right now instead of worrying about Adrian. You’re still grounded for another week.  I wouldn’t want you to forget that.  I’m telling you now, so you understand: don’t call them until they call you.  They need time.”

“I won’t call them again.”  Gavin held his hands up when Jack just LOOKED at him.  “I WON’T call them.  I’m just saying that it wouldn’t have hurt anything… if you had asked Conner a couple of questions this morning.  Good friends do that sort of thing.”
“Conner did say that he and Adrian were working things out.”  Jack didn’t add that according to Conner, Adrian wasn’t exactly happy about a few of the decisions that were made.  Jack didn’t think that was all that unusual at this point in the relationship, but information like that would be enough to have Gavin’s imagination reeling with all sorts of impossible scenarios.

Gavin’s face perked up a little.  “Did Conner mention if he ....used that paddle, Jack?”

“I didn’t ask.” Jack moved over to where Gavin was standing and planted a kiss on Gavin’s nose.  “Nosey.”

“I’m NOT nosey.”  Gavin kissed Jack’s lips.  “I still think you should’ve let me go to the game this morning.”

“And being grounded means....”  Jack shook his head.  He turned towards the doorway and headed out of the room towards the master bedroom.

“I know what grounded means. It means being bored to death, that’s what it means.”  Gavin whined as he followed Jack down the hall and into their bedroom.  He flopped face down on the bed and rested his chin on his hand.

“You couldn’t have been bored.” Jack pulled his t-shirt over his head. “You were painting and…..having a country music marathon, apparently.”

“I was NOT having a country music marathon. You know I don’t like country music.”  Gavin sniffed, pure snobbery in his voice.  “But you got to play basketball this morning and I had to stay here …alone!  How fair is that?”

“I’m not grounded, Gavin.”  Jack sat on the edge of the bed and casually swatted Gavin’s backside.

“Ow!  Hey!”  Gavin turned his head and glared again.  “What was that for?”

“You have paint all over you.  You’re going to get it on the comforter.”  Jack kicked his tennis shoes off and stood up again, pushing his nylon basketball shorts down over his hips.

Gavin sat on the edge of the bed watching Jack undress. And enjoying it.  “I know you aren’t grounded, but being grounded for two weeks is a long time, Jack.”

“I’m sure it feels that way.”  Jack knew it felt like that. In some ways it was much harder on Jack when Gavin was grounded than it was on Gavin. For the most part Jack stayed home with him unless it was a scheduled activity of some sort.  Jack didn’t mind that part of it.  But Gavin had a tendency to get whiny if he felt bored.  And antsy.  And he complained a bit.  Well, Gavin liked to complain, but he tended to complain a lot more when he was bored.

“What happened to being thankful that was ALL that happened?” 

Gavin’s eyes widened.  “I’m STILL thankful.  I’m just bored, Jack, and it’s causing me tremendous stress. I’ve been thinking about it and I came up with this really good idea.”

“Tell me your idea.”  Jack just couldn’t wait to hear this one.
“Well, you know how family dinners are excluded when I’m grounded....MOST of the time? And anything to do with business is always excluded?”  Gavin licked his lips as he watched Jack push his underwear down his hips.

“That’s right.” 

“Well, I think it would make things so much simpler if a person just had a whole...Exclusion Day when they were grounded.  Like …Saturdays!  Why can’t....Saturdays be excluded from being grounded?”  Gavin lifted his arms out, palms up, his eyes wide with excitement at this grand idea. “A man works all week; he should have some time to unwind and all.  It’s not healthy for a working man not to have a day to work off some of his stress.”

“An…. Exclusion Day?”  Jack stood in the middle of the room, totally naked, and nodded his head. 

“Yeah!”  Gavin nodded back at Jack, his eyes stopping to admire what was standing before him.  “There a Boss’s Day and a Secretaries’ Day. And what about Earth Day and Sweetest Day. SO many ....Days Jack!  I’ve decided that we need an Exclusion Day!”

Jack seemed to be thinking this over very seriously. And why NOT?  One thing Gavin knew how to do and do well, was present a marketing and ad campaign for new products and ideas.

Gavin shrugged his shoulders.  “I’m surprised Hallmark hasn’t thought of this before now.”

“Uh huh…well, have you ever heard of D-Day?”  Jack cocked an eyebrow.  “Or ….the massacre that happened on …Valentines’ Day?”

Gavin’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “Yeah?”

“Well, those are the days that you could compare it to.... if you ever decided to take an….Exclusion Day.”  Jack chuckled at Gavin’s expression. He turned around and headed for the shower.

“Very funny.”  Gavin grumbled from the bed.  Or tried to grumble.  It was hard to be in a bad mood when Jack was walking about completely naked.  He watched Jack’s retreating back and appreciated how the muscles in his back rippled as he moved, and those biceps and triceps and gluts……he licked his lips again.

Sex WAS the ultimate stress reliever.  He’d read about stuff like that and he and Jack had proved that theory…hundreds of times over the years. 

And even after hundreds of times….thousands of times even…. it was NEVER boring, that’s for sure. 

Gavin grinned, pushing himself off the bed, pulling his t-shirt over his head as he hurried towards the shower after Jack.

Gavin printed out the pages of the revised marketing plan.  The graphics and ad campaign were already filed and ready to go.  He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. His favorite part of owning his own business was meeting with potential new clients, but he still got a little nervous before the actual meeting took place.  Everything was ready for his 2:30 meeting, so he decided to take a little break.  Relax a little and clear his mind before he had to leave. He typed in a favorite address on the Internet.  He could always find distracting things there.

A few minutes later Missy peeked her head in Gavin’s office and smiled when she saw what he had up on his computer screen.  She softly stepped in the office and crept closer to his desk. 

“What are you doing?”  She asked, not able to keep the giggle out of her voice.

Gavin jumped hearing Missy’s voice and clicked his mouse several times, trying to make the M/M fantasy site blaring across his screen disappear.  He gave up on the mouse and pushed the off button on the computer.  Hard! 

“Research!”  Gavin sputtered; his face was already flushed. He was actually sweating.

“Uh huh…what kind of research?”  Missy’s face was one huge smile.

Gavin gave her glare. “Oh, never mind. You are such a pervert. Sneaking up on a guy like that.”

“ME! You’re the sicko!”  Missy laughed; she actually snorted.   “I’m not ...the one….that’s spending the afternoon…looking at naked men…doing the dirty!”

Gavin’s face turned scarlet. He sputtered some more.  “I was NOT!  I was looking up some stuff for my meeting and I clicked on that….by mistake!  Then I couldn’t get it off my screen.”

“Uh huh…well, I can certainly see how researching information for….One Stop Muffler and Repair would cause that to happen.”  Missy doubled over laughing, leaning on Gavin’s desk.  “What did you type in…Super Lube job?”

“You are SO not funny.”  Gavin couldn’t help but laugh.  “Stop laughing!”

“I can’t… help it!”  She snorted again.  “The look...on …your...face….”

“Don’t you have work to do…pervert?”  Gavin stuck his tongue out and leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head.  The best thing he and Jeff did when they opened up their business was hiring Missy. 

“I just came in to remind you that you have to leave for your meeting with Super Lube...I mean One Stop Muffler.”  Missy held her hands out, palms up in a Gavin-like gesture.  “After all that research you’ve been doing, it would be a shame if you missed your meeting. You may be scarred for life... all for nothing…if you don’t get this account!”

Gavin stuck out his tongue again.  “Your sneaking about IS going to scar me for life!”

“It’s my job to know what goes on in this office, Gav.”  Missy winked at Gavin and turned towards the door.  “It’s what you hired me for.”

“Well, you’re fired then.”  Gavin leaned forward in his chair.  “Did you pull those files for me?”

“You just fired me.”  Missy headed out the doorway. She peeked back around the doorway.  “Maybe after you get home tonight you can talk Jack into….doing more Super Lube research!”



Gavin decided to head home after his meeting instead of going back to the office.  It was already four o’clock, too late to start anything new.  He never liked getting his hopes up too much before knowing for sure if they’d gotten a job, but he was feeling pretty confident about the meeting.   He thought he needed some special music to celebrate. 

Since he was alone in his car Gavin figured it was safe. He lifted the console and took out the greatest hits CD.  He pushed the button to an old hit that he’d just recently discovered and played over and over...whenever no one was around.

He didn’t care what anyone said.  Faith Hill was NOT country.  Gavin was SURE that the music industry had just MADE that up so that people with normally MUCH better taste would be FOOLED in to buying country music.  Recording companies were always trying to brainwash people with lyrics and different kinds of music.  Why, stuff like that had been going on since The Beatles, so Gavin KNEW that this was true.  It was some kind of conspiracy or something! He’d read about stuff like that.

Faith Hill was NOT country.  She was a ......Goddess! 

And Faith’s husband was SO hot!  Great body. Wonderful shoulders.  Fantastic ass.  But Tim McGraw had the twangiest country music voice Gavin had EVER heard.   Being caught listening to him would be MUCH worse than being caught listening to Faith.  That guy was just plain country. There was NO other way to describe him!

“Johnny’s Daddy wuz takin’ hem feeshin’… he wuz ate yers owwllowld”..

Gavin twanged loudly along with Tim McGraw, Faith’s very HOT husband, and Gavin’s deepest most embarrassing SECRET!  And all of the evidence he needed that this was truly a HUGE and totally out of control conspiracy.

Gavin loved Tim almost as much as he loved Faith. 

He was driving along, twanging along…loudly…with Tim, when he realized he was on Adrian and Conner’s street. 

Adrian was currently working as a car salesman and sometimes when he had worked on Saturday he’d have an afternoon off during the week, usually on Wednesday.  But this was Thursday, so the chance of anyone being home this early was probably slim anyway.  

Slowing down in front of Adrian and Conner’s house, Gavin was surprised to see Adrian’s car in the driveway. He drove to the end of the street and turned around, slowing down in front of the house again. He pulled over to the curb two houses down. 

This wasn’t the smartest thing he could be doing; he KNEW that.  He only had three more days and then he’d be free to do what he wanted. If he screwed up now, he’d end up being grounded AGAIN, and that would be AFTER Jack killed him.   But Adrian STILL hadn’t called him and he DID think that was odd.

He sat there for a minute and looked at his car clock.  He had about an hour and half before he had to be home.  What would it hurt just to knock on the door?  He could just run in and talk to Adrian for one minute. ONE minute out of two weeks didn’t mean much really. The Exclusion Day idea hadn’t flown with Jack, but what would be wrong with an… Exclusion Minute? That wouldn’t hurt anything.

He’d even leave the car running.  That way it wouldn’t be like he had really even stopped anywhere. 

One minute! 

Gavin jumped out of the car and slammed the door shut.  He could still hear Tim McGraw’s voice blaring through the speakers as he ran up on the porch and knocked sharply. After a few seconds the door opened.

“Hey Gav.”  Adrian smiled as he opened the door.  He looked happy to see him.  “Come on in.  I’m sorry I didn’t return your calls, but …well, Conner and I’ve been talking. …we had a lot to talk over.  It’s really good to see you though.”

Gavin stepped into the foyer and smiled at Adrian. “Oh, I figured you guys had a lot to talk over.  I was a little worried though.  Are you okay?”

Adrain led the way to the family room and motioned for Gavin to sit down.  “I’m fine. We’re working things out.  Did you want something to drink?”

“No, I really can’t stay long.  I just thought I’d check on you, make sure you were okay.”  Gavin sat on the edge of the couch, his elbows rested on his knees.  “What….happened?”

Adrian blushed a little.  Gavin figured he knew what THAT was about. And maybe he was being a LITTLE nosey, but he really had been worried about Adrian too.

“What do you mean?”   Adrian’s face blushed some more. 

Gavin completely understood Adrian’s reluctance to talk about anything…too personal; he figured maybe he should start with something simple.   

“Well, did you figure out what to do about the money you owed on that bet?”

“Oh.”  Adrian shrugged his shoulders.  “Conner took care of that.  I’m going to pay him back though. I really am!”

“Yeah, I’m sure you will.”  Gavin thought Adrian looked sincere about paying the money back, but sometimes you couldn’t tell for sure about him. He could be a little sneaky sometimes.   “But I figure as long as you don’t get in over your head again, that would probably be payment enough for Conner.” 

“Well, I went to a couple of Gamblers Anonymous meetings.” Adrian’s expression didn’t look any too happy about that.  “I’m going back to school too.  You know I only need one more semester and I’ll have my degree.”

“That’s great.”  Gavin really did think that was great. He leaned back on the couch and got a little comfortable. He had time.

“Conner is okay with everything then?  He’s…helping you?”

Adrian blushed again, stumbling over his words. “Well, Conner….school and all that was really his idea, you know.  He has….ideas about how maybe I need help with making…decisions about things…right now.”

Gavin chewed on his lip, nodding his head.  “Yeah, sometimes a person could...use a little…help with stuff.”

At that statement Adrian’s face perked up.  He looked almost as nosey as Gavin.  “Does…Jack help you...with stuff?”

Gavin shrugged his shoulders.  If he wanted information, he guessed it would only be fair to give a little.    “Oh yeah.  Jack’s always been…very helpful with stuff.”

“I kind of figured that… after Conner…uh…showed me what Jack gave him.  Certain things you’ve said in the past made a heck of a lot more sense.” Adrian gave a half laugh, half grunt. 

“What things?”  Gavin didn’t think he’d ever mentioned anything to Adrian about this that he could remember.

“Why you always mumble about countries without airports…when you think you’ve pissed Jack off, for one thing.”  Adrian laughed at Gavin’s expression.  “I can understand that now.”

Gavin’s eyes went wide.  “I’m telling you, Adrian, a country without an airport wouldn’t be such a bad place to be sometimes.”

Adrian’s face turned serious, his brown eyes full of questions.  “Would you….really rather be in some other country?  Or any other place?  I mean…” 

Gavin figured if Conner HAD used that paddle, he probably wasn’t nearly as good at it as Jack was. Or Adrian would NEVER have had to ask. 

“Yeah, I wanna be in another country or ANY other place EVERY single time.  Are you crazy?”

Adrian’s face fell.  “Really?”

“Duh!”  Gavin rolled his eyes and held his hands out, palms up.  “Only someone who’s never been paddled by Jack Ryan would ask a question like that.  Of course I’d rather be somewhere else right that second!  Are you NUTS?”

“But yet… you still stay with…”

“There’s no place I’d rather be than with Jack, Adrian.”  Gavin shrugged; it was simple. “I love him and I trust him.  More than anyone or anything.”

“So, you go along with it…every time he decides to.... well, you know?”  Adrian blushed.  This was really hard talk about.  And he still wasn’t understanding; Gavin could tell by the look on his face.

“The decision is always mine.”  Gavin laughed, thinking about what Jack would say if he heard him actually repeating those words.   “It only happens when I don’t make the right decisions.”

“Jack decides what’s right though?”  Adrian didn’t think that was fair.  He was an adult.  He could make his own decisions.  Well, most of the time his decisions sucked, but they were his decisions.

Gavin smiled, leaning his head back on the couch.  “I usually know when I’ve made a wrong decision. Most of the time anyway.  Jack’s there when that happens.  And when I don’t know if I’m making the right decision. Well, Jack’s there then too. Jack is usually right about most things.  I trust him and depend on that.”

“That has to be hard sometimes.” Adrian swallowed hard. Trusting someone that much would be scary as hell.

“I’ve always thought so!  Can you imagine having to be right all of the time?  Man, I could NEVER do it.”  Gavin shook his head; that part always amazed him. 

Adrian blinked, a little confused.  “No. I meant hard for you. You know, to trust someone that much.”

Gavin lifted his head up and scrunched up his face.  “Trusting Jack is easy.
He knows me better than anyone on the face of the earth and he loves me anyway.  No matter what.  I’m the most important person in his life!”

“I just don’t know if I can do this without complaining or arguing or….” Adrian knew that would NEVER be possible.

Gavin laughed out loud.  “GOD, nobody complains more than I do.  And I argue all the time, too.”

“You do?  Conner MADE me go to that Gambler’s Anonymous meeting.”  Adrian’s eyes narrowed.  “He made me sign up for spring semester too.  He said he wasn’t going to argue about it. He’s turning into some kind of control freak.”

Gavin could just imagine that conversation. Okay, so maybe he HAD mentioned to Jack that there could be a possibility that Conner could have turned in to a control freak or something.  He never REALLY believed that. And this sure as heck didn’t sound to him like Conner was turning into a control freak, or that the power was going to his head at all.  This sounded to Gavin like a man who wanted the best for someone he loved. 

“Adrian…don’t you want to quit gambling?  Is finishing school something you’ve wanted to do?”

Adrian thought about that a second.  “Yes, I guess so.”

“Simple.”  Gavin shrugged is shoulders.  “I can’t say for sure what Conner’s thinking. But it sounds like he knows those things are what you want or need, Adrian.  He’s not really making you do something you don’t want to do.  He’s just making sure that you do what needs to be done in order for you to get what you want, is all.”

“It still seems like I’m giving up my freedom here.”

“I’ve never felt more.... free.”  Gavin shook his head. “I make my own decision about things...well, sometimes I don’t make the wisest decisions, but Jack is there when I cross those lines.”  Gavin shrugged his shoulder.  “There’s a certain freedom in that feeling. Knowing that someone is there to make sure you don’t cross those lines, you know what I mean?”

“Giving someone that much control over you is scary Gavin. I don’t know if I can do that.  I mean, letting someone think for you, make every decision, control every thought, every thing you do.” Adrian couldn’t even imagine it.
“No, you’ve got it all wrong, Adrian.”  Jack never tried to think FOR him.  The times that Jack got pissed were when Gavin didn’t think at ALL.  “Jack doesn’t control my every thought. He doesn’t WANT to do that.  He likes how my mind works, well…when it’s working properly.   He wants me to think for myself, make the right decisions, be successful in my work.  He wants what’s best for me…what’s best for us, together.  I trust him. It’s just SO simple!”

Gavin thought about that for a minute. He just didn’t know if you could put it in to words that made it sound as simple as it was. 

“I’m listening,” Adrian said, interrupting Gavin’s thoughts. He leaned back on the couch.  He wanted to understand; he really did.  He was tired of being scared.  He was tired of being unsure of things.

“Okay.”  Gavin chose his words carefully, trying to make it sound as simple as it was really.  “Jack would never make a decision that hurt…us, you know what I mean?  His first thought …in any decision he makes…is made with my best interest in mind ..or in the best interest of our relationship. He would NEVER make a decision that would ONLY benefit him.”

Adrian thought that sounded even more impossible. “That would be hard to do. Most people make decisions that only benefit least most of time.  You’d think a person would get tired of doing that.” 

“Jack makes it seem…so easy. He spends a lot of time reading between the lines, because I don’t always make things easy. He doesn’t seem to ever get tired of it though.”   Gavin’s voice softened; a sweet smile turned the corners of his mouth. “It’s the most … unselfish thing….I’ve ever experienced.” 

Adrian smiled at Gavin’s expression.  He had always envied Jack and Gavin’s relationship.  He had always wanted that same thing with Conner.  Of course, that was before he knew the whole of it though. 

“Do you trust Conner, Adrian?” 

Adrian thought about that a second.  “Yes, I trust him.”

“You see?” Gavin shrugged his shoulders.  “It’s that simple.”

Adrian and Gavin both looked up when they heard the front door open and Conner’s footsteps clipping fast across the hardwood floor. 

“Adrian, is Gavin...?!”  Conner stopped in the doorway to the living room.
“Gavin!  I thought that was your car!”

Gavin sat up on the edge of the couch.  “Hi Conner.  I just stopped by for second.  I was just leaving.”

“Well, you won’t be going anywhere for a while.”  Conner let out a breath. “Your car decided to visit the neighbors.  And since it now seems to be holding up their front porch....”

“What do you mean?”   Gavin scrunched his face up in confusion.  He pushed himself off the couch and followed Conner out the front door.

He stood on the porch and searched the street for his car. Conner took him by the shoulders and turned him around slowly to the right.

Several people were gathered in the street and in the yard of the house about four houses down.  They were all staring and pointing at the little red car that had apparently grown bored waiting for its driver to return and decided to visit the neighbors on its own.  It looked as though it had tried entering the house THROUGH the front porch, killing several bushes and fauna in the process.

And Tim McGraw’s voice was blaring through the speakers, giving the growing number of spectators standing about a free concert.  He was twanging on and on about how “Grown Men Don’t Cry”.  

Which was a LIE!  

Gavin WAS a grown man.  And he never felt more like crying. 


“Adrian, go call Jack.”  Conner pushed Gavin towards the stairs. “I’ll go with Gavin and wait for the police.”

Gavin groaned.  “Jack?”

“Yes, Jack.”  Conner pushed Gavin again. 

Gavin turned around and gave Adrian a sick look. 

Adrian knew what that look meant now.  “You want a ride to the airport, Gav?”

Gavin was folded up in the chair in the den listening to Jack talk with the insurance company.  His car had been towed to same repair shop that had fixed his car twice in the past year.  Gavin figured he’d already paid them enough money to put braces on every kid of every employee they had. 

There didn’t seem to be any damage to the structure of the house since the car hadn’t been going very fast, although the white lattice that framed the porch would have to be replaced.  The policeman had cited Gavin with “Leaving Car Unattended Without Precautions”.  The ticket itself would cost him about eighty dollars. 

Of course, this whole thing was probably going to cost him his LIFE, so eighty dollars didn’t seem all that bad. 

Gavin couldn’t even think up one single defense, not even a really far fetched one.  Jack had been entirely too easy on him lately.  He was an accident waiting to happen.

Jack hung up the phone and leaned his elbows on the desk.  He rubbed his hand over his face and looked up at Gavin curled up in a ball and cowering in the chair.

“Jack, this whole thing is partially your fault, you know?”  Gavin wrapped his arms around his knees and rested his chin on them.  “You should’ve KILLED me when I went to that bar with Adrian.  You’ve been entirely too easy on me lately so I think.....”

“Gavin.” Jack stopped Gavin’s tirade, his eyes narrowed. “I don’t think you have to worry that I’m going to be too easy on you this time.  Believe me!”

Gavin DID believe him.  He was SO dead!

“Do you have any idea what COULD have happened?”   Jack didn’t wait for an answer.  “The owners of the house, the Andersons, are being extremely understanding about this whole mess, especially when you consider the fact that they have three small children who were playing on that porch when you crashed into it and could have very well been playing in the yard.  They just seem very thankful that the mangled, squashed and tortured bushes were the only causalities and not one of their babies.”

“Oh God.”  Gavin groaned, hiding his face between his knees.  That part made him sick to his stomach. 

“Look at me, Gav.”  Jack waited until Gavin lifted his head.

Gavin lifted his head, tears shimmering in his eyes.  “Jack, I know that it was irresponsible to leave my car unattended while the motor was running.  And I know it was irresponsible to forget to pull the emergency brake.  I’m so sorry.”

“And how could all of that been prevented?”  Jack stood up and walked around the desk. 

Gavin curled up tighter in his chair; his voice sounded small.  “I shouldn’t have stopped at Adrian’s house....because I was...grounded.”

“Exactly.”  Jack sat on the edge of the desk in front of Gavin’s chair and crossed his arms.  “You seem to be having a great deal of trouble understanding what grounded means, Gav.  So for the next month we’re going to work on that.  You are not getting a rental car and you won’t be driving at all during that time.  I’ll take you to and from work. If you have a meeting, you should try to set it up at your office.  If that’s not possible we’ll work something out.  Do you understand?”

“Yes.”  Gavin DID understand.  What started out being just ONE weekend of being grounded had grown into TWO weeks and now a whole MONTH.  If he wasn’t careful he was going to spend the whole of 2002 not being able to leave his yard. 

“We’ll work out the details of that later.  I have to call the Andersons and let them know when the insurance adjuster will drop by tomorrow.”  Jack held out his hand to help Gavin up from his chair.   “Right now I want you to go down the basement and find a corner. I’ll be down in a minute.”

As soon as Gavin was on his feet he dove into Jack, wrapping his arms around his waist.

“I’m sooo sorry, Jack.” Gavin choked back a sob. He rubbed his nose in Jack’s chest.

Jack kissed the top of Gavin’s head and hugged him close.  “I know you are, babe.” 

Gavin’s eyes widened and he lifted his head up, chewing on his lip.  “Jack, you gave the paddle to Conner...remember?”

Jack rubbed Gavin’s back.  “Yes, I remember.”

“Ohhhh.”  Gavin groaned; his shoulders slumped.

Jack gave Gavin a gentle swat on the butt.  “Go on, I’ll be down in a minute.”

Gavin’s shoulders slumped some more and he turned slowly towards the door.  Jack should’ve NEVER given that paddle to Conner.  He KNEW there were MUCH worse things than that paddle, that’s for sure.

He had a feeling he was going to be reminded of that fact…very shortly.

Gavin was on his hands and knees painting the wall at the edge of the baseboards.  He was concentrating so hard on not getting any paint on the woodwork that he didn’t realize he was singing along with …The Dixie Chicks, who were playing through the speakers of the CD player.

Jack was painting the trim around the windows. He smothered a laugh as he listened to Gavin singing along with The Dixie Chicks.  When Jack had won the coin toss on who got to pick the music, Gavin had spent the next thirty minutes complaining about Jack’s choice.  Jack didn’t quite understand why Gavin couldn’t just admit he LIKED country music.

It was one of those Gavin mysteries that Jack was SURE that even Gavin didn’t understand.

But other than the singing, Jack thought Gavin was being unusually quiet this morning. He could tell that Gavin wanted to talk about something.  Jack decided to give him a few more minutes before he asked him what was on his mind.  He watched Gavin’s expression out of the corner of his eye.

Gavin felt bad about messing up.  His backside still stung and if he wasn’t careful he was going to end up grounded for the rest of his life. He was going to make SURE that the next month he was on his very best behavior. He wasn’t even going to complain at all, not even just to hear himself talk.  Being grounded was NOT fun for him OR Jack. 

He thought about what Adrian had said yesterday and wondered if there were ever times that Jack got tired of trying to figure him out. 

He sat back on his feet, shifting his butt so it wasn’t sitting on his heels.

And he was definitely going to be buying another paddle.  Just in case he ever did mess up again.  He’d NEVER thought he’d see the day when he actually missed that damned paddle.

“Jack, I’m really sorry about yesterday.” Gavin said softly. He turned his head and looked up at Jack from beneath his lashes.

“I know you are, babe.  We discussed all that yesterday.  Everything starts fresh today.” Jack smiled down at Gavin from over his shoulder.  

Gavin thought DISCUSS was a rather mild way to describe what had happened. 

“Well, I’m still not feeling so fresh today after THAT discussion, believe me!  I really don’t want to have a....discussion like that again.  I know I should NEVER have stopped at Adrian’s, Jack. I AM really sorry about that.  And leaving my car running with the keys in it wasn’t exactly the prudent thing to do.”

“Prudent would be nice. It would save you from a lot of trouble.”  Jack agreed, then added some more to the list of things Gavin could use some work on.  “And not letting that imagination of yours run wild could help some.  And not being so nosey would be in your best interest too.”

“I’m NOT nosey!”

“You are very nosey.”

“I am NOT!”  Gavin laughed.  “I didn’t even ask Adrian if Conner had used the paddle yet!  We talked about other things, but I didn’t ask about that.”  OKAY, so he kind of wished he HAD asked, but he wasn’t going to mention that just now.

Gavin wrinkled his nose.  “I don’t think you should have given that paddle to Conner anyway.  I’m ordering a new one off of the internet.  I found this place that sells the exact same one.”

“You’re going to order a paddle off of the internet yourself?”  Jack laughed.  “I have to say, that is surprising.”

“Believe me, Jack.  It’s NOT surprising at all!”  Gavin winced when he leaned his backside against his feet.  He shifted again. There were WORSE things than that paddle.  He’d always known that, but last night had convinced him of it all over again.  He missed that damned paddle.  A lot!

“ conversation with Adrian was good, Jack.  I really think I might have helped him some.”   Gavin dipped his brush in the paint and touched up a smudged spot on the baseboard.  “I can’t help but feel a little good about that part of it.”

“Was it worth it?”  Jack stuck his paintbrush in the water can and turned around, leaning a shoulder against the wall.

“Worth it?”  Gavin gave Jack a sick look.  He rubbed the seat of his pants with one paint-smudged hand.  “To tell you the truth, I think I would have felt even better about my conversation with Adrian...if I had waited three more days to do it.”

“Yeah, I can understand that, Gav.”  Jack nodded his head.  He didn’t see how Gavin could have come to any other conclusion. 

“Anyway, Adrian thought that this whole thing would be harder on me than on you.”  Gavin rubbed his hand across his cheek, adding a few paint smudges to his already paint-smudged face.

“I tried to explain it all to him though.  I told him that you had the harder job and how good you are about knowing the right thing to do.  And how you seem to be able to read between the lines when I get confusing.  Adrian thought maybe....a person could get tired of doing that...after a while?.”

Jack heard the question in that soft voice.  He smiled, shaking his head.  “It’s not really all that hard, Gav.  Most of the time I’d say that what’s between those lines is pretty obvious.  And I can’t imagine…ever getting tired of it.”

“Well, that’s good to know.”  Gavin smiled back at Jack, thinking how handsome he looked leaning against that wall. Jack was wearing one of his old Ohio State sweatshirts.  The one he wore to paint in.  Jack had been wearing one of those shirts the very first time Gavin had seen him.

Gavin had spotted Jack in the law library on campus, wearing that sweatshirt, and Gavin had spent days imagining what his name was.  After spotting him again a few times, Gavin had decided to call him “Jack”.  A fantasy had to have name as far as Gavin was concerned.  Gavin had fantasized about the guy in that sweatshirt.... long before he’d known that the guy’s name really was Jack.

It was SIGN. Gavin had been SURE of it.

“I’m finished painting.  The window looks great, Jack.  I told you painting the woodwork that color was a good idea.”

“You were right. I really like it.”  Jack pushed himself away from the wall and looked at the window. “We just have to paint the rest of the trim and then we’ll be done with this room.”

“Can’t we take a break?”  Gavin stuck his paintbrush in the water and stood up.  “I don’t feel much like painting anymore today.”

“What did you want to do?  Any ideas?”

Jack watched as Gavin stretched his arms above his head, his lean muscles rippling under his t-shirt.  Gavin had on his holey jeans, the ones that he usually wore to work around the house.  They were paint-splattered now and the once small rips and tears were now large gaping holes.  They were ready for the trash bin, but for some reason when Gavin wore them, the thought of him throwing those jeans away seemed like a sin.

Gavin had a few ideas about what they could do and he could tell by the look in Jack’s eyes that he did too.

“Well, we’d have to do something right here. I mean, I’m grounded, Jack.  I’m not going to be forgetting that anytime soon.”

“I hope not.”  Jack gave Gavin a half stern look.  “It’s good that you keep telling yourself that so you don’t forget.”

“Believe me! I won’t forget.”  Gavin wrapped his arms around Jack’s waist.  “So.... it’s not like we can go to the movies or dancing or anything.  I guess it would have to be something we could do at home.”

Jack’s eyes lit up with an idea.  “Gav, where’s that imagination you’re so famous for?  We can watch movies at home.  We can even dance… right here.”

Gavin laughed. “Not to the Dixie Chicks, we won’t.”

“You don’t like the Chicks?”


“I’ll put in another CD.”  Jack bent over and switched CDs.  He stood up and wrapped his big arms around Gavin’s shoulders, nuzzling his neck.

“We can dance now.” He whispered in Gavin’s ear. The music started playing from the speakers and then the wailing started.

“Johnny’s Daddy wuz takin’ hem feeshin’… he wuz ate yers owwllowld”…

Gavin groaned when he heard good old Tim start to wail. He tried pushing Jack away but didn’t have much luck.  He started laughing.

“Jack, THAT guy has the twangiest voice I’ve EVER heard!  He’s even MORE country that the Chicks!”

Jack smiled against Gavin’s neck.  His hands were doing things that didn’t have a thing to do with dancing.  In between neck nibbles he said, “He sure is country….there’s no other way to describe ….that guy.”

Gavin stopped trying to push Jack away. He was enjoying this dance far too much.  “Jack, are you… reading between those lines… again.”

“Like I said,’s not all that hard.”  Jack pulled Gavin closer and whispered in his ear again.  “And I won’t ever get tired of it.”

“I know.” Gavin wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck and started swaying to the music.  “But I still say I’m NOT nosey.”

Jack kissed Gavin’s nose.  “You are nosey.”

“I am NOT!”

“Are too.”