Chapter Fifty-five

The twins looked gleefully at one another and grinned.

“How do we look?” Wes asked.

Wayne surveyed Wes critically. They didn’t need a mirror. 

“It’s good. I like the style. Thad did a good job,” Wayne said. They had quickly gone back to their tent and changed into identical clothing after the haircut.

“You think we will get away with it?” Wes asked, his eyes dancing excitedly. They hadn’t played any tricks for ages but now that their lives were falling into place again, they were up to their natural mischievous ways.

Wayne gave his twin a little nudge. “Well, you can find out right now. There’s your man over there. You didn’t tell him, did you?”

“No, of course not!” Wes scoffed. “Wave him over.”

Nathan walked up to them as Wayne waved a hand at him. His eyes widened as he came up to the pair. They looked so amazingly alike and Nathan suddenly realized he was having a hard time telling them apart, but he didn’t want to let on.

”I wondered where you two disappeared to right after breakfast.” The older man grinned at the two almost indistinguishable men in front of him. “I like what you’ve done with your hair, guys. Bet it’s a lot cooler when it’s that short.”

“Oh,” Wayne replied. “I wanted to surprise you. Do you like this style, Nathan?” The twins had played this game often enough for Wayne to easily assume Wes’ teasing tone and flirtatious manner of talking.

“Yes, I do. You do realize it makes the two of you more identical than ever,” Nathan said with a sly smile. ‘I’ve got to give them credit,’ he thought. ‘They are very good at mimicking each other.’

“I’m going to surprise Samuel as well,” Wes said, putting on a smug air very much like his twin sometimes did.

“You do that, Minx!” Nathan’s chuckle rang in the air as he walked away leaving two open-mouthed young men standing in his wake. Nathan knew his man.

Deciding to adopt a different strategy this time, Wes alone sidled up to Samuel who was chopping wood. Wes sat down and waited for Samuel to notice the new look.

Samuel smiled as he felt the other man’s eyes on him. “What’ve you been up to? I haven’t seen you since breakfast.” He went on swinging his axe.

“Oh, I was a bit busy. What do you think?”

Samuel straightened and put up a hand to wipe his brow. “About what? Oh, you got your hair cut. Hmm, a bit short for my taste, but you look good.”

“How good?” Wes teased, casting a quick glance at Wayne who was hiding behind a tree out of Samuel’s sight.

“Good enough to eat!” Samuel said, throwing down the axe and coming to sit beside Wes.

“Really?” Wes asked, delighted.

“Oh yes!” Samuel’s eyes sparkled appreciatively as he ran them over the young man. “So did your twin cut his hair as well?”

Wes faltered a moment before he answered. “He sure did.”

“I hope he looks as good as you do then!”

Wes raised his brows meaningfully. “You’re not trying to make me jealous, are you?”

“Oh no!” Samuel smiled affectionately at Wes. “And I’m genuinely hoping he won’t be either!”

Samuel’s deep laugh rumbled in his chest when Wes look dumbfounded. He ruffled the short crop of dark hair and continued with a wink. “Tell him I can’t wait to see his new look, okay? Now I gotta get back to work and finish off this pile of wood. In the meantime, I think you and your brother are expected to help with the laundry.”

As Wes trudged towards Wayne grumbling under his breath, Samuel looked across the campsite and gave a thumbs-up sign. A grinning Nathan returned the salute.

Dallas looked up at Troy. “I can’t believe I have to go to school while I’m confined,” he complained, “and every day at that, instead of only one afternoon a week.” His eyes were red due to him not having slept well the last three nights. Besides, he really missed Kevin. He hadn’t slept alone since he and Kevin had begun their relationship. It wasn’t the sex he missed. It was the security of having someone who was always at his back when it felt like the rest of the world was against him.

Bending his head over the math Troy at given him, he worked quickly and tossed it back to his teacher. Troy then handed him a book, The Swiss Family Robinson. Dallas, who had never seen the book before, began to read. He briefly glanced up and grunted when Troy left. He’d become so absorbed he hardly acknowledged the changing of the guard and ignored the noon meal that had been prepared for him.

He wasn’t too pleased when he realized Nathan was back again and handing him another shirt in need of buttons. “If I ever meet the guy who invented these things…..” Dallas grumbled threats under his breath.

Nathan smiled patiently. “You’re doing a good job, Dallas,” he encouraged. “And I really appreciate your help.”

“You say that as if I had a choice in the matter,” Dallas griped. He swore as he pricked his finger, sticking the injured appendage in his mouth and sucking at the blood. He was relieved when he turned widened eyes at his afternoon jailer and realized the man wasn’t put out by his swearing.

“My Wes would have reacted the same way,” Nathan explained with a soft chuckle as he thought of his minx and how happy the young man had been to be relieved of his mending duties for two weeks. “This is only your third day, Dallas, and you’ve picked up the fine art of button-sewing rather quickly.”

“Haven’t you got something better to do than torment me?” Dallas asked, his voice showing his frustration. “I think you leave here and remove these bloody buttons every evening. There is no way we go through this many in one day. I’m only doing this because Kevin ....” Dallas’ voice trailed off and he turned his head away so Nathan could not see his face. “Will you just leave me the fuck alone,” he finally choked out.

Hendrik leaned against the tree for support as he wiped the sweat from his forehead and the residue bile from his mouth onto his shirt sleeve. He waited for the strength to return to his legs before pushing himself off the tree and heading back to work.

Something was definitely wrong. This was the second time he had been sick since breakfast. The pain in his lower right side had kept him awake most the night and still he was determined not to go to the infirmary. Maybe it was because he had lied to Mitchell when the big man had asked him what was wrong. Or maybe it was because he was hoping it would clear up on its’ own without medical intervention. Or maybe it was because he was just a coward.

By the time he got back to the building site after having thrown up his lunch, he was feeling a little better. He re-tied the small pouch of nails to his belt and picked up his hammer before meeting up with Mitchell on the back side of the lodge.

“Where have you been?” Mitchell enquired, squinting as he scrutinized his working companion’s ashen face. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“I was answering the call of nature,” Hendrik replied, bending the truth somewhat. “And I’ve already told you I’m fine. Now let’s get back to work; the lodge isn’t going to build itself.”

Mitchell knew something was wrong but didn’t feel he was in a position to do anything about it; other than keeping a close eye on the younger man and hoping he would eventually ‘fess up.

Hendrik’s condition worsened as the day progressed. In an attempt to ignore the discomfort he was dealing with, he was unaware of moaning out loud whenever a wave of pain overtook him. He suddenly clutched at his stomach and doubled over. It was then that Mitchell finally decided he wasn’t going to let it go on any longer. He hauled Hendrik up and looked him straight in the eye.

“Okay, mister, that does it!” Mitchell gave the younger man a bit of a shake to show he meant business. “You look like hell and you’ve groaned a good number of times throughout the afternoon. Something is definitely wrong and I want to know what it is, so start talking.”

Hendrik gazed into the handsome dark face glaring down at him and realized he had better come clean. “I don’t know what’s wrong, Mitchell. Honest. I have this horrid pain tearing at my gut and I’ve puked up my last two meals. Good thing I look bad though. I’d hate to look good while feeling this crappy.”

“And it never crossed your mind to go see Lakota or Yancey?” Mitchell crossly questioned. “Pardon me? Speak clearer please,” he insisted at the garbled words that escaped the other man’s lips.

“I’m scared,” Hendrik mumbled as he slowly sank to the ground. “I don’t want no one cuttin’ into me and diggin’ though my innards.”

Mitchell sighed out his frustration and gathered as much patience as he felt capable of. “Hendrik, we have one of the world’s leading surgeons to care for us. Our nurse is second to none. There is nothing to be afraid of. Besides, why would you think anyone was going to cut into you? Now are you going to let me help you to the infirmary or should I fetch Aiden to help me carry your sorry ass back to camp?”

“I’d rather just you take me,” was the belligerent rejoinder. “But you gotta promise to stay with me, okay?”

“All right; it’s a deal.” Mitchell gently assisted Hendrik to his feet and after wrapping his beefy arm around the ailing man’s waist, slowly started steering him toward the main compound where medical help would be available.

Mitchell silently laughed to himself when he remembered the put-upon expression on the younger man’s face. ‘Yep, the boy actually pouted,’ he thought.

Yancey was alone in the infirmary when Mitchell arrived with Hendrik. It only took one glance to realize they had a very ill man on their hands. The nurse didn’t waste time asking questions. He immediately got to work, insisting that their patient lie down on the examining table.

With Mitchell’s help, he soon had Hendrik stripped of his clothing and settled. Pouring fresh water into a bowl and picking up a clean cloth, he began washing the grime and sweat from the sick man’s face.

“Mitchell,” he spoke softly to get the big man’s attention. “Lakota is in the mess tent. Will you kindly fetch him for me?” Yancey did not want to worry the two men unnecessarily, but he strongly suspected Hendrik was going to require surgery. He began to proficiently take his patient’s vital signs, writing them down on a newly started chart.

He looked up with a serious expression on his face when the good doctor arrived a few minutes later.

Lakota smiled gently as he approached Hendrik. “I understand you’re not feeling too well this afternoon, Hendrik. Can you tell me about it?” He placed his hand on the young man’s glistening forehead, feeling the fevered skin.

“I’ve felt better,” Hendrik mumbled. Seeing the frown on Mitchell's face, he decided to provide more information. “Actually, I’ve felt a great deal better. The pain in my gut started sometime during the night. At first it kind of came and went but then since breakfast, it didn’t go away hardly at all. And I’ve not been able to keep any food down today.”

“Can you show me where the pain is the worst?” Lakota asked. When the young man placed his hand over his lower right abdomen, the doctor nodded and gave a knowing glance towards his nurse. “Okay, I’m going to press gently over your stomach and I want you to tell me what you feel.” The doctor softly palpated the area, stopping when Hendrik gasped in pain. “Hendrik, I need to do what is called a digital exam of your rectum to confirm what I suspect is the problem. I’m sorry it will be a bit uncomfortable, but we’ll get it done as quickly as possible.”

Believing he could not possibly feel any worse, Hendrik nodded. Then for some unexplainable reason, he reached out and grabbed Mitchell’s arm. “Stay with me,” he whispered and felt slightly calmer when the bigger man stepped closer and gently pushed back the hair sticking to his forehead.

“Okay, I need you to roll over onto your side and draw your upper leg up towards your chest,” Lakota instructed. Yancey held out a small pot of Vaseline which the doctor used to lubricate his index finger before he carefully slid it into his patient’s opening.

A moment later Hendrik let out a cry of pain when Lakota’s finger pressed against the enlarged mass which was indicative of appendicitis. Lakota quickly withdrew his finger. “I’m sorry, Hendrik. I know that was very unpleasant for you. You can roll back over now and I’ll explain what’s happening.” The doctor used a rag to wipe off his hand as he spoke. “Your appendix, which is a small part of your bowel that serves no useful purpose, has become infected. I need to remove it with an operation or it could burst open and infect your whole body. I know this sounds frightening, but I have done this operation many times and you will be just fine.” He gave the young man a reassuring smile.

Hendrik's eyes widened and he attempted to get up, only to be held down by Mitchell. He glared up at the black man and hissed through his teeth. “I told you they’d want to cut into me. Now let me get out of here.”

“You’re not going anywhere, my good man. You’re going to do exactly what the doctor tells you to do.” Mitchell bent down to whisper in the stricken man’s ear. “And when you’re well again, I’m going to have my way with you.”

Hendrik settled down, his mind whirling with the prospect of that promise being fulfilled.

“I promise you, Hendrik, you won’t feel a thing during the operation. You will be deeply asleep and when you wake again, it will be all over. There will be some pain after, but we will give you medication and you will feel much, much better than you do right now.” Lakota nodded towards Yancey. “I’m going to get washed up now.  Yancey will get you ready, okay?”

“If it is alright with you, I’d like to assist if I can,” Mitchell offered. Feeling Hendrik’s hand on his arm tighten, he added with a gentle smile, “if only to offer support.”

Yancey quickly prepared the operation site by shaving Hendrik’s abdomen and then washing it down with iodine. Next, he laid out the sterilized instruments the doctor would need to perform the surgery. “Your patient is ready, Doctor.”

Lakota finished scrubbing and then carefully measured a dosage of ether into a wide bent glass container which contained a sponge in one end to hold in the liquid and had a mouthpiece at the other end. “Hendrik, I am going to place this glass over your mouth and I want you to breathe slow, deep breaths through it. You will quickly fall into a deep sleep.”

“Okay, I can do that,” Hendrik murmured his compliance and watched as the glass was lowered over his face. It took a few moments to take affect and the last thing Hendrik remembered was Mitchell gazing down at him and tenderly massaging his shoulder.

Once he was sure his patient was adequately anaesthetized, Lakota looked to Mitchell. “It would probably be better if you waited outside while we do this. I’ll come for you once it is over.”

Mitchell nodded his understanding and with a final glance down at Hendrik, he quietly left the infirmary.

Lakota looked to his nurse. “Shall we begin? Scalpel, please.” Though appendectomies were not particularly difficult operations, the appendix itself could at times be difficult to isolate. But in this case, Hedrick’s was easy to find and excise.

Less than forty minutes later, Lakota was tying off the final stitch in his patient’s abdomen. He looked to Yancey with a smile. “Thank you, Yancey. I’d like you to know that I have never had a better assistant during surgery. You are a godsend to me here. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have to deal with all this without your aid.”

Yancey felt humbled by this man’s praise. “Thank you. It is a pleasure working with you.” He efficiently set about getting their sleeping patient ready to move to a bed in the other area of the infirmary while Lakota washed up. “I’m going to get Mitchell so he can help us lift Hendrik.”

“You can tell him that Hendrik will be fine. I have a suspicion that those two have finally realized what most of us could see for some time. They are quite in love.” Lakota grinned.

“High time, too.” Yancey was chuckling as he raised the flap on the tent and summoned Mitchell. Together, the three men soon had Hendrik tucked into a bed and Mitchell was left alone to wait for his friend to wake up.

A couple of hours passed before Hendrik woke and gave Mitchell a sleepy grin. “You meant what you said?” he asked in a slurred voice.

“I always mean what I say, sweetheart. I’ll prove it in a couple of weeks when you’re back to your old self.”

“Won’t be that long, cause ya can’t keep a good man down.” Hendrik’s eyes fluttered and he drifted off again.

Mitchell nodded thoughtfully. “And you’re now my good man.” He leaned down and dropped a light kiss on Hendrik’s forehead. “We have a lot to talk over and the sooner the better,” he murmured before getting up and returning to work at the lodge site.

That first Sunday of Dallas’ incarceration was proving to be one of the hardest days for Kevin. It was the one free day the group of exiled men had a week to rest and spend some private time with their partners. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be near the area where Dallas was confined, but he hoped to catch a glimpse of his lover while remaining hidden himself. He crouched down behind a clump of bushes and kept his eyes on the tent his partner was sitting in. Nearby, Preston was on guard-duty. He and his partner, Seth were playing cards.

Although Kevin had tried to keep an eye on his partner, he also realized it wasn’t feasible to watch over Dallas every minute of every day.  Like the rest of the men he had other responsibilities, as did Dallas for that matter.   

He wondered if Dallas’ would ever recognize the strain he was putting on the community as a result of the bad choices he had made. Men badly needed elsewhere were presently having to take on the added task of guarding him; some taking time from their own partners. In their own way each man was showing they valued the young man as part of their eclectic family regardless of his addiction and were standing by him.

At the meeting that morning, the council had informed every one of decisions made to assist in preventing this sort of misdeed being perpetrated in the future. The announcement left Kevin with mixed feelings. While concerned that he might have done more to keep Dallas out of trouble, he now also found some respite in knowing he would no longer being doing so on his own. They had all been apprised of the restrictions put on Dallas and each man was expected to assume the responsibility of reporting any occurrence of Dallas being near the infirmary in order the assist him in moments of temptation. Lakota and Yancey would also have to be more vigilant in securing their medical supplies. 

Kevin acknowledged that he’d never expected to fall in love, definitely not as hard and fast as he had. The sex was amazing and once Dallas had discovered the joy of bottoming, Kevin ended up giving a lot more than he received. He still had moments of doubt and often questioned if he was too tough on younger man. But Dallas claimed he wasn’t. As much as the younger man complained, he also admitted privately that he needed the strict boundaries Kevin had set up for him. He’d made a really bad start and with his larcenous background he needed someone to crack down on him hard.

‘One more Sunday; a week and a half to go,’ Kevin thought as he sighed, leaned back against a tree and closed his eyes. Satisfied that Dallas was at least safe, he slept.

Galen lay on his stomach, gazing out over the ocean. The sun sparkling on the ever rolling waves was hypnotic. The grass beneath him was warm and the breeze blowing off the water was refreshing. Thomas was in yet another meeting with the some of the council members who were trying to modify the schedule set up for the upcoming grain harvest that would be followed by the cutting and gathering of the straw. All would have to be done by hand as they totally lack the large farming equipment Thomas had owned before being exiled. The shortage of two able-bodied men made making plans somewhat difficult, and the need to rotate guards only added to the challenge.

The young man knew he wasn’t to be on the cliff without his mentor, but he felt the need to be alone with his thoughts. The past week had left him feeling confused. Usually so placid, Galen had found his emotions rising and falling at an alarming rate. The excitement he’d felt in planning time alone with his fiancé had changed so rapidly. He had been badly frightened by Thomas’ sudden illness during their camping trip. Dealing with the unknown had taken its’ toll, but not wanting to trouble anyone, Galen had kept silent. Besides, Thomas was better now. His bout with food-poisoning caused by eating bad clams had passed. His stay in the infirmary had lasted less than two days, during which time Galen had rarely left the older man’s side.

Almost immediately upon rising from his sick bed, Thomas had resumed his duties with a vengeance in an effort to get caught up. Among other things, there had been the problem involving missing drugs that needed to be dealt with. A lengthy council meeting had taken place before a resolution was reached and arrangements made to carry out the proposed sentencing. Thomas had accepted his share of guard duty for three evenings on each of the two weeks Dallas was incarcerated.

“That’s supposed to b-be our time together,” Galen shouted out his frustration for only a few sea gulls to hear as he threw a rock into the water below him. “M-maybe if I got into trouble too, he’d pay m-more attention to me.” He took a deep breath in order to calm down, and wished he had someone to talk to. Then thinking that talking to someone else would be disloyal to Thomas, he pushed the whole idea out of his mind.

Hearing his name being called, Galen pushed himself to his feet and walked over to the side of the cliff facing the beach. He waved to Spyke and Jordan. “I’ll b-be right down,” he hollered and began scrambling down the narrow path leading towards the sandy inlet. In his haste to join the other two men, he forgot to grab up his boots.

Down on the beach, he was surprised to find his friends adamantly discussing their latest school activity.

“Whatcha think of that story we’ve been reading in class lately?” Spyke waited for one of his friends to answer.

“I really like it,” Jordan enthusiastically responded.

“M-me to!” Galen concurred. “It w-would have been grand to live like that; exploring caves, floating down the M-mississippi.”

“Camping out on an island, pretendin’ you’d drowned and them comin’ back to surprise everyone,” Jordan added. “Except, I wouldn’t have wanted to worry my Ma like that.”

“Hey, what do you think about us building a raft? We could sail it on the ocean.”

“B-but Tom Sawyer had a river, Spyke,” Galen reminded his friend. “M-maybe we can b-build it in the lagoon. It w-would be safer than the ocean.”

“You can count me in,” Jordan volunteered. “Not right now though, ‘cause I have to get back to my kitchen chores before Walker comes lookin’ for me.”

“Yeah, Galen and me gotta go fold the fucking laundry. We’ll make more plans tonight after supper and our evening chores, okay?”

The young men headed back to camp, their head filling up with ideas for a new adventure.

“If it’s all right w-with you guys, I’d like to tell Raythe about it.”

Jordan and Spyke glanced at each other and nodded their heads. “But no one else; it will be our secret, right?”

“About time you two showed up,” Thad scolded when Jordan, Spyke and Galen finally put in an appearance. He handed over an armful of clothing to Spyke and Galen, and then gave the small bucket of clothespins to Jordan. “You two start folding those while Jordan gets the rest of the laundry off the lines.”

It was after that chore was finished and Thad was alone with his partner that he shared some news with him.

A short time later, Spyke ran back into the mess tent with Galen following on his heels. “You hear what happened to Hendrik, Jordan?”

Before Jordan could respond, Galen excitedly blurted out. “He had to have an operation.” Turning back to Spyke, he asked, “W-what’s it called again?”

Spyke looked back and forth between his two friends and shrugged. “I forget.”

“Thad called it an ap-pen-deck or something,” Jordan replied, sounding rather uncertain.

“No, I said appendectomy,” Thad clarified from where he was standing by the stove. “And he’s going to be fine. Now get the tables set, please. Supper is just about ready.”

“Where’s Walker?”

“I’m right here, Spyke,” came the answer from behind them. He was carrying a handful of freshly cut herbs from his garden. “I’d appreciate you helping us get it on the table while you, Galen, go and signal the men.”

Galen eyes lit up. He always looked forward to clanging on that heavy metal triangle hanging on the tree next to the big mess tent. Plus there’d be a new topic of conversation at supper tonight for which he was grateful; the one about the drug theft having already paled.  

At five o’clock, Thomas and Kevin picked up their meals along with Dallas’ and made their way down the path to the island’s make-shift jail. This was the one hour a day when Kevin was permitted to visit with his partner.

Thomas sat to one side in order to give the two men a bit of privacy. He would remain with Dallas until Quentin relieved him at seven. The men involved in the rotation found it falling neatly into place as the two men who took turns on night duty did not have partners.

Dallas fell into Kevin’s arms. “Missing you,” was all he said.

Kevin gently kissed his lover on top of the head. “Missing you too, sweetheart,” he said softly. He had heard that Dallas hadn’t been eating well. “We’re going to eat dinner and then I’ll hold you until I have to go.”

With Kevin’s patient coaxing Dallas choked down his meal and as promised spent the rest of the time being held by his partner. When Kevin left, Dallas curled up on his pallet and refused to talk to anyone else.

Meanwhile, Galen was sitting with Seth and wishing it was Thomas conversing with him. He’d seen little of his fiancé all day and try as he might, he was unable to quell his feelings of resentment. He scraped the remains of his half-eaten supper into the bucket set aside for feeding the pigs and quietly left the mess hall. It would be another couple of hours before the nightly fireside. Maybe Thomas would be free to seek him out by then.

It was while he was doing his evening chores, that Galen was reminded of his missing boots. He and Spyke were regaling Raythe with their plans to build a raft when the taller man suddenly looked down at Galen’s bare feet.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to go around without your boots, Galen; especially while feeding the livestock.”

“Where the hell did you leave them this time, Galen?” Spyke inquired with a smirk.

Galen thought back over the afternoon and finally remembered where he had left them. “I gotta go b-back to the cliff and get them b-before Thomas comes looking for m-me!” he declared and took off at a run.

After fetching the forgotten item, he climbed down from the cliff and strolled along the shore. His boots were hung around his neck and he was gathering pebbles to skip out across the water when he ran into Thomas. He looked around, wondering why the older man was down here.

“W-where are you going, Thomas? What are you doing here?”

“I’ve been looking for you. What have you been up to?”

“Not m-much; I’m just rock skipping.”

“Have you been down here since supper?”

Galen shook his head. “I did m-my chores first.”

“I see. Why didn’t you stay with your friends? I think I overheard Spyke and Raythe making plans to build a raft or something.”

“I came to get m-my b-boots.”

“And just where were your boots, Galen?” For some reason, Thomas was beginning to suspect not all was as innocent as it seemed.

“They w-were right where I f-forget them.”

Thomas rolled his eyes and held back a groan of exasperation. “I’m not playing twenty questions with you, Galen. Exactly where did you leave your boots? I expect an informative answer, young man.”

Galen suddenly resented being questioned and he pursed his lips for a moment before belligerently demanding, “W-why do you care? Haven’t you got something m-more important to do than w-worry about m-me?” With that, he turned on his heels and ran off down the beach. He was scrabbling over a huge fallen tree when Thomas caught up with him. He would have gotten away had one of his boots not snagged on a broken branch.

“Galen!” Thomas was shocked by Galen running from him.  He took hold of his fiancé’s arm and drew him back towards him and landed a swat on his backside. “Settle down,” he commanded. “Since when do you run off when you’re upset with me?”

Galen struggled to escape. This young man, who rarely got angry, suddenly felt irate. To date he had yet to throw a tantrum or show signs of even having much of a temper. As a rule, he contentedly waded through life, taking things in stride. What was different at this time? “Let me go!” he hollered.

Thomas wrapped Galen tightly in his arms and held him against his body. “No, I’m not going to let you go.” He moved over to the log still holding Galen firmly and sat down, pulling the younger man down on his lap. “We’re going to stay right here until you start talking. If needs be, we can stay here all evening.”

Breathing heavily, Galen worked hard on getting his rioting emotions under control. He was determined not to cry, as much as that was exactly what he felt like doing. This wasn't anyone’s fault. How could he explain how badly the aborted camping trip had disappointed him or how Thomas’ illness had been more frightening than he was able to deal with? The older man’s noticeable absence was taking its toll and causing Galen’s loneliness to be more pronounced than in the past, but how could Galen tell his mentor all that without sounding selfish and accusatory? 

“I try to do m-my fair share, Thomas. I do m-my chores and help out w-whenever I’m asked. I do m-my lessons and don’t act up in Troy’s classroom.” Galen paused to gather his thoughts. “But I never get to go anywhere cause you’re too b-busy and I’m not supposed to go off b-by m-myself.” He deeply exhaled in an attempt to rid himself of the last of his frustrations. “I’m just tired of spending so m-much time on m-my own,” he added in a small, troubled voice.

Thomas gently stroked the younger man’s back as he fought for the right reply. “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry you’ve been feeling this way. I know very well that you do more than your share of chores and are unfailingly helpful to all on the island. I know I’ve been busy lately and I realize now that I have not been giving you the time and attention you deserve. I do promise you right now that I will make a serious effort to change that. You and I are going to be married, and our relationship deserves my full attention. As far as not being able to go anywhere is concerned, where would you want to go by yourself?”

“I understand you have a lot of responsibilities as head of the council, b-but you’re gone b-before I get b-back from my m-morning chores. At n-noon you eat the m-meals delivered to the work site with the men b-building the lodge. And n-now you’ve taken on the duty of guarding Dallas for two hours every other evening and I have to eat w-without you. Aren’t there others on the council who can do some guard duty during supper time? Like m-maybe Larry? He’s an ex-marine, remember?” Now that this crucial conversation was underway, Galen felt the need to put everything on the table.

“I w-wanna be able to go to the w-work site too. I w-wanna be allowed to go off to the swimming hole w-with the other guys when we have a b-bit of free time. We’ve b-been here over four m-months now, Thomas. How come thing are safe for others b-but not for me?”

Thomas thought through Galen’s words. The back he had been stroking was beginning to relax as the young man unburdened himself. “I think you’ve made some very valid points and we need to address them. How does it sound if I will make a point of staying long enough in the mornings to make sure we have breakfast together every day?  It wouldn’t be practical for me to come back for the lunch hour, but I will cut back or change the time I spend on guard duty so we can eat our dinner together most evenings. It’s just another ten days and that job will be over, so it’s only temporary anyway. As far as you going to the work site, I think that will be fine with me if you come out when your own responsibilities are done. As long as you promise to stick to the path, maybe you could come and have lunch with me some days? Now for swimming, I think we can negotiate something but I still want to discuss details of that before I approve it, okay?”

Soft grey eyes gazed into gentle brown ones and the curly head nodded Galen’s acceptance of what was being offered. “I can accompany whoever brings the noon meal to the site. That should be safe enough.” He smiled happily at the changes he saw happening in the upcoming days.

Thomas drew Galen into a gentle kiss, pleased to see the young man he loved looking more his usual happy self. “We can work out any problems we have when we talk, my love. But keeping our feelings to ourselves only causes problems. I want you to promise to tell me when something is bothering you. Together we are much stronger than trying to stand alone.”

Galen continued to nod enthusiastically. “I p-promise, Thomas. You’re right; we are m-much stronger together.” He lovingly returned his fiancé’s kiss. “I love you, Thomas,” he murmured.

“I love you too, Galen; more than you can imagine,” Thomas replied. He looked down at the boots now lying on the ground beside his bare-footed friend. “Now I just have one more question. One I asked before but never got an answer to. Where were your boots that you had to come and retrieve them?”

Galen hung his head and heaved out a long drawn-out sigh. “On the cliff,” he admitted honestly. “I really n-needed a quiet p-place to think.” Glancing upward, he went on to plead his case. “But I was alone and that’s safer than being with a b-bunch of guys. You can’t horse around b-by yourself.”

Thomas pursed his lips. He was afraid this would be the answer and though he didn’t want to end this discussion with a punishment, he also knew letting this go would leave Galen feeling confused and insecure. 

“You have other options for quiet places. Our tent comes to mind. And whether you were with someone or not, isn’t the issue, is it? Though you may be right that you wouldn’t be ‘horsing around’ when you’re alone; being alone also means no one could help you if you ran into trouble. Besides alone or not isn’t the point. The point is you have been told not to climb up that cliff as it’s dangerous and I am going to spank you so you’ll remember that in the future.”

“But, Thomas....” was all Galen managed to wail before finding himself face-down with a bare bottom over the older man’s hard thighs. He reached behind to ward off the hand he knew would be landing any second.

Thomas took hold of Galen’s reaching hand and held it out of the way as he raised his own and brought it down smartly on the unprotected bottom. He set up a steady rhythm of spanks, quickly turning the flesh a deep crimson. He delivered a thorough spanking, steeling himself to continue despite the cries of sorrow coming from the young man over his lap. 

Once he was satisfied the lesson had been taught, he finished the punishment and pulled Galen back up to sooth him while being mindful of the sore backside. “I love you, Galen,” he whispered as he gently rocked and kissed the weeping young man.

Clinging tightly to his chastiser’s shirt, Galen sobbed out his pain while repeatedly apologizing for having disobeyed. He knew his mentor only spanked him because he loved him. He calmed until only intermittent hitches remained and he lay somewhat dazed within the circle of Thomas’ loving arms.

Galen would be much older before he realized that sometimes he needed attention so badly, he deliberately invited it in any form.

He unconsciously toyed with the buttons on Thomas’ shirt and quietly made a request for something that just this moment popped into his mind. “Thomas, will I be allowed to help Raythe, Spyke and Jordan b-build the raft? And can I p-play on it when it’s done?”

Thomas smiled indulgently towards his young love. He knew he had to let Galen have some fun with his friends, even if it made him nervous. “Yes, sweetheart, you may help them build it. As far as using the raft on the water goes, I’ll make you a deal. If you promise me that you will stay in the lagoon and use it only in calm weather then I think it will be fine with me.”

Wiping the tears from his cheeks, Galen stood and carefully pulled up his overalls. Grinning broadly, he took Thomas’ hand and began leading him back towards camp. “It’s getting dark. The b-bonfire will be starting soon. I can’t w-wait to tell Spyke and Raythe I can help out. Bet they w-won’t even b-believe me.”

“Hold on a minute, young fella. Aren’t you forgetting something?” Thomas looked pointedly at the boots lying on the sand.

“Oh yeah,” Galen giggled to cover his embarrassment. “Guess these have caused m-me enough trouble for one day.”

“Mid-week already,’ Quentin mused as he gazed up at the moon. It was after midnight and all was quiet, with the exception of a few nocturnal creatures that were out and about. Nearby crickets were singing and off in the distance an owl hooted.

He bolted upright when another sound invaded the peacefulness of the night. He recognized it as muffled crying. It was coming from the tent where he had assumed Dallas was peacefully sleeping.

Once he lifted the flap, the bright moon provided enough light to enable him to see Dallas lying face down on his cot with his face buried in his pillow. Quentin crouched down and gently rubbed the young man’s shoulder.

“Hey, it’s going to be alright, Dallas. Ease up now.”

Dallas was so overcome with a mixture of loneliness and a touch of self-pity he couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. Even the sound of Quentin’s voice couldn’t get him out of his mood. He was mortified that he couldn’t stop crying. Feeling so raw was an unusual emotion for him. Sometimes it was good, but at moments like this it was downright annoying.
Quentin tried once more to comfort the lad. He sat down crossed-legged and began to hum an old ditty he once heard long ago. He wasn’t sure what it was called and he wasn’t even sure if he had the tone right. But that was of no concern at the moment. His main thought was to calm Dallas enough to start a conversation. 
Just a few bars seemed to do the trick. The quiet sobs stopped and Dallas turned on his side to rest his head on his bent arm and look up at the older man.
What’s that tune?” he shyly asked, suddenly deciding that talking to Quentin would beat crying himself to sleep yet again.
“Not sure, but it’s been running in my head all day. You know how that is; no matter what you do to chase it away, it keeps coming back.”
“Yeah I do. I’ve done that.” Dallas glanced up and biting his lower lip, hesitantly asked, “Quentin, are you sleepy?”
“Not really. Why?”
“Can you keep me company until I fall asleep?”
“I guess I could do that. Maybe it will give us a chance to talk a little.”
“About what?” Dallas tensed slightly.
“Well, about your situation here. You’ve been confined for a week now, which is long enough for you to think about how your actions put you here” 
Quentin saw the young man was about to answer him, but he didn’t give him a change. He didn’t want to be interrupted. “You can have a real good life here, if you think about it. You have a great partner in Kevin, some very good friends and a chance to make something of yourself. Is what you did worth being confined like this and putting your relationship with him and the rest of the inhabitants in danger?”
The quartermaster shook his head when all he got for an answer was a grunt.
“Look, Dallas, you’ve been crying because you feel alone. You know that’s not true! Troy comes and spends each morning with you and Nathan every afternoon. Then there’s Kevin who thinks the world of you. He misses you terribly and he can’t wait for the evening meal so he can spend some precious time with you. Do you know what I’d give to have someone like that in my life? Despite everything you’ve done, he still loves you and can’t wait until you get out of here. As an old friend once told me, you are the master of your own destiny. So before you cry any more tears, just stop and think how much better your life could be if you would just try harder to follow the rules that have been set down for all of us.”
“Quentin, were you a preacher or something in your old life?”
The other man let out a small chuckle. “I guess you’re right. I am preaching at you a little, but I’m doing it because I can see the making of a fine man in you and it saddens me to see you waste it.”
Dallas remained silent for a moment and so did Quentin. He could see the young man mulling over his words as if he was coming to grips with the idea that someone could see potential in him and he was finding it a little shocking.

Finally Dallas looked up as a small smile turned up the corner of his mouth. “You know, Quentin, I think Kevin was trying to tell me the same thing tonight at supper. To tell you the truth, I have thought a lot about what I’ve done. Being restricted like this is no fun and it’s nothing I want to repeat. At first I blamed the council for putting me in here, but I really know the only person at fault is me. When my sentence is over, I promise I am going to do my best to change my life. I owe Kevin that much.”
Dallas, you have to change for yourself, not for Kevin. He can be the light at the end of the tunnel for you, but unless you change for yourself, you’ll just go back to your old habits.”
“Just now it’s so I don’t disappoint Kevin again, and that’s a huge step for me,” Dallas admitted. “To know I’ve got someone I care enough about to change for. Anyway, I kind of already made the decision to change for myself before being put here.” He waved his hand to indicate his surroundings, tilted his head to one side and looked at Quentin. “It sounds like you’re speaking from experience.
“Maybe I am, but that’s a story for another time. Look it’s getting late, why don’t you sleep on this conversation we just had and tomorrow night you can discuss it with Kevin if you like.”
“Will you still stay next to me tonight?”
“No problem. Let me get my bedroll.”
Daybreak came and with it the end of Quentin’s shift. As he was about to leave, Dallas called him over to let him know how much he appreciated the older man being there for him and promised he would have a very serious talk with his partner this very evening.

“You are halfway through your sentence and have only seven days left before you’re free again, Dallas. Keep your chin up. Everything is going to be fine,” Quentin encouraged, patting the younger man on the back. “Now here’s Troy with your breakfast. I’ll be back tomorrow night.”
As Dallas watched Quentin going down the path, he realized the wretchedness he felt just a few hours ago had been replaced with a sense of anticipation for the future and a fresh start to his new life.


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