“You can’t be serious!” Chris exclaimed loudly, his gait faltering midway through the crosswalk.
Drew hissed under his breath, grabbing his partner’s arm and tugging him firmly out of the way of waiting traffic. On the sidewalk, Chris halted and pulled his arm free. He turned to face his boyfriend whose ears had begun to redden.
“Five thousand dollars?” He asked for the second time, incredulous emphasis laid on the second word.
The conversation had begun at the end of the last block with Drew’s quiet confession of, “I have a little problem.”
“This isn’t a ‘little’ problem, darling,” Chris’ voice was rising and Drew glanced anxiously down the street at a group of pedestrians who seemed to be, as yet, unaware of the drama unfolding ahead of them. Drew reached again for Chris’ elbow. Chris allowed himself to be led two steps out of the entrance to the crosswalk, then stubbornly planted his feet again. “Twenty bucks is a little problem… A hundred bucks, maybe… But when you start talking in thousands… That no longer constitutes a LITTLE PROBLEM!”
Drew cringed and cast a miserable look back at the group of people who were now only half a block from them. They had slowed their pace and were exchanging uncomfortable glances with one another. Drew turned his attention back to Chris who, arms crossed over his chest, had fallen momentarily silent.
“I…” Drew faltered. He could think of nothing to say that he could guarantee wouldn’t elicit an even louder and more embarrassing response from his partner. Rolling his eyes toward the pedestrians he willed them to hurry past them and across the street before he was forced to continue what had, until now, been a mostly one-sided conversation.
“You what?” Chris’ voice was softer now, but his expression was granite, his arms were still firmly crossed over his chest. He wasn’t tapping his foot, but he may as well have been. They were the same height, but to Drew’s eyes Chris had suddenly gained two inches on him.
“I’m sorry.” Drew tensed as he spoke the words, anticipating an explosion, but it didn’t come. Although, when he dared to raise his eyes to Chris’ face, he flinched at the emptiness of his partner’s eyes. Empty wasn’t good. Empty was the eye of the storm.
“What are you apologizing to me for?” Chris asked, his tone was as expressionless as his eyes. “You didn’t do anything to me.”
He’d recovered quickly from the shock, Drew thought, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and studying the stream of cars moving through the intersection. He ran a litany of replies through his head, discarding one after the other. He worked his mouth silently, as if preparing to speak, trying to buy himself time.
Chris allowed him an uncomfortable amount of time, studying him in stony silence for nearly a minute before asking, still quietly, “So what are you going to do?”
Drew took a shuddering breath. His ready answer of ‘I don’t know’ would almost certainly unleash the storm. He swallowed it and studied the grass between their feet. “If…” It was hard to say the words. “If I don’t pay it by Monday I’ll be disenrolled from my classes.”
Chris’ only reaction to the information was a slow blink. After another moment he said again, “So what are you going to do?”
Drew swallowed and kicked at the sod with the toe of his shoe. No longer able to look at his partner’s face, he picked at an invisible speck on his T-shirt and said, “I’ll get the money back from my loans, but they won’t come in for four to six weeks.”
Chris allowed the silence to lengthen between them again before he said, “I still haven’t heard an answer to my question.”
“I don’t know,” Drew said mournfully, and too quickly. The pat answer was out of his mouth before he thought to stop it and he glanced up nervously. Chris’ eyes were an unusually dark shade of blue-grey. At times, like now, Drew felt that he literally *could* see the storm clouds gathering in those unusual eyes. “I can put it on a credit card,” he blurted out before the clouds could fully gather.
Chris’ eyebrows inched up. “You don’t have any credit on your credit cards, darling.”
The topic raised, Drew hesitated, hoping that Chris would make the next logical step. He tried to look both pathetic and endearing as he saw Chris’ expression shift and knew that Chris knew where the conversation was going next.
Instead of speaking, however, Chris cocked his head to one side and sighed, letting the tension out of his shoulders, but leaving his arms crossed. He fixed Drew with a contemplative look. Drew recognized the posture and knew he’d lost. Chris knew what Drew had to do and wasn’t going to spare him the humiliation of asking for it.
Drew could feel the heat burning across his face and his breathing had become shallow. “Could you…put it on one of your cards?” Unable to look at Chris’ face, the silence between them seemed to become a vacuum, diminishing the sounds of the birds and cars passing on the street. “I can pay it back as soon as I get my loans, they said it would probably only be a month once they get the application…” The last word trickled down to a horrified pause and defensive instinct snapped Drew’s attention back to Chris’ face.
“What?” His tone had risen again. The storm clouds had fully formed and lightning was sheeting through them. Drew had trouble taking a breath. “You haven’t done the APPLICATION?”
Drew’s lungs were so tight that his voice trembled slightly. “They won’t let you do the application until you do the loan counseling.” He cringed, but when there was no response to the second admission, he risked looking upward again.
Chris’ face was a mask of disbelief. For a moment more he stared silently at his partner, then shifted his gaze to the bus stop bench a few steps to his right. As the seconds passed, Drew watched with profound misgivings, a sneaking suspicion rising in the back of his mind, that in his intense study of the bench, Chris was considering demanding Drew’s belt and bending him over it.
Finally Chris sighed, his gaze still fixed on the bench. “There’ll be interest.”
Drew, certain that he wasn’t being let off the hook but cautiously hopeful that the words meant that at least this phase of the torture was approaching an end, said quickly, “I’ll pay it, I’ll pay double, if I get the money fast enough I could maybe even pay it off before they charge you…”
Chris’ gaze swiveled back toward Drew. He uncrossed his arms and slid his hands into his pockets. He tilted his head again and a smiled faintly. The smile turned Drew’s belly to ice and his knees to water.
“That’s not the kind of interest I’m talking about.”
Drew shuddered. He knew it was his turn, he knew his part, but he couldn’t quite make himself say his line. He tried to swallow but his mouth was dry. Finally he rasped out, “What kind of interest are you…talking about?”
The terrifying smile widened. “Your ass is mine for an hour…”
“An hour?” Drew echoed, uncertain. Such light punishment wasn’t like his partner, whose capacity for love, kindness and fierce loyalty was rivaled only by his capacity for finding vicious and creative ways to make his lover suffer. Drew had never loved anyone more.
Chris shook his head, “I wasn’t finished. You ass is mine for one hour *every day* until you get your loans back.”
The flush that Drew had begun the conversation wearing was now thoroughly replaced by a chill. A hail of icy pinpricks trickled down his back as his mind slowly absorbed the implications of those two extra words. Shit.
“So…” Chris’ voice drew his partners gaze and attention. “What are you going to do?”
Chris held the door open and Drew stepped through then stopped at the top of the steps that led past the library and onto the sidewalk that ringed the quad. Chris let the glass and steel door to the administration building swing closed and stopped at Drew’s side.
“It was good of them to let you do your loan counseling right there in the office.”
“Uh huh,” Drew stared at the large oak tree that spread its branches over the outdoor patio of the campus café.
“And to let you do your applications on the spot.”
Chris’ good humor that had returned as they walked over to make an impromptu visit to campus and the financial aid office, was now growing strained, Drew could hear a faint edge of irritation come into his voice as he spoke again.
“And *really* generous of them to defer your tuition payment until your loans clear…”
“Yes,” Drew said solemnly, edging out of the way as another student passed them on the sidewalk and went into the building they’d just left.
The note of annoyance stronger, Chris crossed his arms. “What?”
Drew sighed and felt his face begin to burn. He studied the peeling sole at the toe of his shoe. He could feel Chris’ impatience like a tangible force tugging at his breath. “I…”
Chris waited. Raised his eyebrows. “You what?”
Drew sucked in a deep breath. “I just… You were willing to… You were willing to loan me all that money.”
Chris frowned, “Of course I was.”
“Well, I mean… Five thousand dollars!”
Chris waited this time until the silence finally drove Drew to look at him. “What did you think? I was going to let you drown?”
Chris sounded slightly offended and Drew opened his mouth quickly to dispel a misunderstanding. “No, I don’t mean… I mean… I knew you would… ” Chris raised an eyebrow and Drew hissed softly, growing annoyed with himself now, too. “I just thought maybe…since you were willing to do it…I thought maybe you’d still like that hour?”
The smile that bloomed on Chris’ face chased the last traces of clouds from his eyes. “Per day?” he asked.
Drew shot him a dark look. “No,” he said firmly. “ONE day.”
Chris narrowed his eyes and looked off across the quad as if considering the offer and Drew found himself fighting to keep a smile off of his own face.
Chris looked back at his partner. “I accept.” He grinned and hooked his elbow into Drew’s steering him down the steps. “Shall we go now? The walk will give us so much time to plan…”
“Us?” Drew asked, casting his boyfriend a dubious look and planting his feet. “Since when do *I* get a say.”
The brilliant smile Chris cast him almost melted the knot of very real fear in his belly.
“Since about thirty seconds ago, I’d say.” Chris tugged his arm and Drew grudgingly began to walk.
In minutes they were across the tiny campus and stepped through a gap in the far fence. The gap opened onto a running path that followed the wide creek that, three miles upstream, ran past their house. Drew stalled again. Suddenly alone together under the arching branches of ancient trees, he couldn’t move forward. He’d never understood this part of himself, how much he could want what he knew awaited him, and yet how deeply and truly it terrified him.
He expected Chris to haul him forward, but instead he stopped when Drew did. For a moment he said nothing, and together they listened to the gentle chattering of birds over the gurgle and splash of water over smooth rocks.
Drew knew that admitting it was as exciting to Chris as it was to him. He shuddered and nodded.
Chris released his arm and turned to stand in front of him. Drew quickly dropped his eyes, but Chris’ fingers gently captured his chin and raised it, forcing his gaze up. His belly tight, expecting to see exhilarating, terrifying cruelty in Chris’ eyes, Drew looked at him, and felt the tension melt from his body.
Chris’ expression was so tender and gentle it made Drew hurt deep inside. Chris brushed a chaste kiss on Drew’s lips.
“I love you, baby.” The words were spoken so softly they were barely a breath above the sound of the creek.
“I love you,” Drew whispered back. He found Chris’ hand and wound their fingers together. He took a deep breath, nodded, and gave Chris a rueful smile. “Okay,” he said softly. “Home.”