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Long, Lonely Howl
by Lyn Gala

Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Although Casey Keller loves his life as a YMCA counselor, making a difference in the lives of inner-city kids, his personal life is a mess. He loves Adam, his live-in boyfriend, but he can't deal with him. He misses Nathan, an old lover and current friend, but there's a distance between them Casey can't overcome. He's starting to fear that he's the one constantly ruining any chance he has for happiness. But life is about to change: a trip to the California mountains to escape the pressures of city life will introduce him to a world he never knew existed, where creatures out of mythology and fiction roam and men run in packs.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: April 2011

eBookeBook

14 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [221 KB]
Words: 51961
Reading time: 148-207 min.


1

"Casey!" Al and Raymond came running at him. The two teenagers were usually way too worried about looking cool, so Casey was shocked when both hit him so hard that all three of them crashed into the gym wall. The noise in the gym dropped as the other kids stopped to watch. "Look! Look!" Al was waving something so wildly all Casey could see was that it was an envelope. "Look!"

Casey laughed and gave the boys a hug before he pushed at them. At twenty-six, he wasn't old, but his body was getting to the point where it reminded him on a regular basis that he wasn't a kid anymore. Getting body-checked into a cinderblock wall just didn't hold the appeal that it had ten years ago, and tomorrow he would feel his back. Casey grabbed at the paper. "I can't see it if you're waving it like a flag!"

"It's a scholarship!" Raymond said. "I got one, too. The congressman from the student congress weekend recommended us for scholarships."

"He... what?" Casey's mouth fell open. Immediately, the buzz returned as that news filtered through the groups scattered across the YMCA's gym floor. Two of their own had gotten scholarships. Casey wondered how far this ripple would travel, but that was the thing about working with kids... you never did know how much you influenced them or if you influenced them at all.

Both boys had busted their ass on their projects, but Casey never expected someone outside the program to notice it. Hell, he'd been surprised that the congressman had even shown up to watch the kids take over the state capital and debate. Most of the time, the adults spent more time complaining that the kids had moved their damn stapler than they did thinking about making a difference in the lives of the youth. Casey's delegation seemed to get more dirty looks than most of the groups, probably because they were poor kids who moved stiffly in poorly fitting business jackets from Goodwill.

"Give me that." Casey grabbed the envelope, reading as the two boys laughed and gave each other high fives.

"See? See? I told you. Man, he thinks we're hot shit," Al did a dance that would have looked ridiculous on anyone over the age of eighteen. Because he was a kid, he just looked like an overgrown and excited puppy. Casey smiled.

"This is for half your state tuition. This is...." Casey stopped. Put together with grants, this could mean the difference between college and a life of scrambling to make ends meet on minimum wage. This made all the blood, sweat, and hysterics of putting the damn program together worth it. This was why he worked at YMCA with their shit pay and their long hours. "This is awesome!" Casey gave Raymond and then Al high fives.

"They have a ceremony next week. You're coming, right?" Raymond looked at Casey with all this guarded hope that Casey wanted to find the boy's father and beat the shit out of the man. The kids he worked with couldn't even trust an adult to show up on a night as important as this was going to be.

"You know I will be. After all, I have to be there to say 'I told you so' over and over again," Casey teased. "I told you that hard work pays off. I told you that you had a brain between your ears." Casey bumped shoulders with Raymond.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Al rolled his eyes. "So, are you going to bring your new lady to meet us?" Al wiggled his eyebrows.

"Abby?" Surprise made Casey's voice go high, but he was just grateful that he hadn't forgotten what name he'd given the boys.

"I want to see what my home boy can catch. I mean, you aren't as handsome as me or anything, but you're not bad for an old guy. I want to see what this Abby is really like."

Casey's brain went on hiatus as panic set in. "Abby" was really Adam, a twenty-two year old man who studied at some fancy art school and who had a bad habit of parading his "gayness" in a way that sometimes made Casey cringe. He was creative and cute and exciting, and so very, very not safe to have around the boys under any circumstances. Oh, Adam would never do anything intentionally inappropriate... probably, but Adam was inadvertently inappropriate more often than not. The man seemed to pretty much say anything he thought without editing.

"Yeah," Raymond added. "I want to meet this lady of yours."

"The way you keep her away from here, I'm starting to wonder if she isn't ugly." Al gave Casey a wink, but this was one area that Casey really did not want the boys to tease him about.

Adam wasn't ugly... not at all. Hell, most of the gay men in Adam's art school pretty much hated Casey because he'd landed one of the most alive, vibrant men on campus. When Casey went to the campus parties, he knew how they looked at him.

Casey was handsome, but he was handsome in a kind of guy-next-door way. If someone described him to police, they'd say he was average height, average weight, brown hair, and brown eyes. He worked out every day, and he had a body that he didn't mind showing off at the beach in summer, but he wasn't ever going to be a muscled hunk. In his younger days, he'd been the bottom boy with the big brown eyes, but he was old enough that he couldn't play the twink anymore. He wasn't the most masculine man in history, but he had to keep up a certain appearance for his job. Overall, he wasn't sure where he fit, and the guys at Adam's school would look at him and wonder why the hell Adam had picked him. Sometimes Casey wondered that too. Maybe that was why he worked so hard to make things work, even when he felt like their lives were two gears that moved in different directions, always pulling and straining to break free of one another.

"Hey, do not go talking about other people's partners that way. That is going to get you in big trouble," Casey warned, pointing his finger at Al. When all else failed, distract and distort.

Al held his hands up in surrender. "No offense to your lady friend." He backed up a step, but then he stopped, his expression taking on a careful indifference. "I'm just starting to wonder if she isn't avoiding us vatos, is all."

Casey hated that the kids even had to think that. "I would never date a woman that shallow. If she doesn't like you, she doesn't need me," Casey said firmly. He loved these kids, and he lived for these moments when he could see that his work made a difference. He stayed up nights when chaperoning groups. He took kids up to the mountains where the forest ranger taught them about survival. He helped them with their homework and gave them the "stay on the straight and narrow" speech that a lot of these kids didn't get from their parents.

However, if he brought Adam to one of these events, that would change. Al and Raymond wouldn't tackle him when they were excited. Kevin wouldn't show up right before closing and make some excuse to just sit and talk. Jose sure as hell wouldn't go on the overnight trips up to the mountains. All these boys would wonder what the hell Casey wanted, and these kids had been knocked around by the world often enough that they probably wouldn't believe the truth.

Casey wanted to help.

He'd had some hard knocks in life. Oh, it wasn't like he'd been beaten on a daily basis, but his father had drunk a little too much and his mother had slept around a lot too much. Sometimes Casey had felt like he was on the edge of exploding. Back then, there'd been a handful of people who had kept him out of trouble. Helping these boys made Casey feel good about himself. However parents--even parents who voted for gay marriage--were a little less open-minded when a gay man came near little Johnny or Jimmy or Jose.

They wouldn't care if Casey busted his ass to give their kids hope; they'd look at Casey and assume that if he liked men, that had to mean he liked boys. If they found out that Nathan, the ranger who donated his time to teach the boys how to fish was an ex-one-night-stand, they'd all end up on the six o'clock news. Wrenching his thoughts away from the fear that threatened to drown him, Casey focused on the boys and their good news.

"I'll ask her. I just don't think Abby will be able to make it. She works hard, guys. Unlike some lucky stiffs, she doesn't have college scholarships to pay the bills." Casey held out the envelope, and Al took it back, holding it reverently. "I'm so proud of you two. You earned that."

"I can't believe it." Al held the envelope like a woman, reverently running his fingertips over the jagged, torn edges where he'd ripped it open. "We're going to be college boys, Raymond. We'll get all those college girls, too."

Raymond smiled. "They won't know what hit them."

Casey slapped Al on the shoulder. "Well, if you two want to be college students, you have to graduate high school. Is your government class still giving you fits?"

"Nah," Raymond answered for them both. "The teacher finally explained it so it made sense. Sometimes teachers... they make shit more complicated than they have to, you know?"

"I know," Casey agreed. "School was never my favorite thing. I just did it well enough that I could get a job afterwards. But you two--you need to be ready for college."

Al punched his friend in the arm. "Yeah, vato, we have to impress all those rich kids who have their heads up their asses." Al started backing away. "But first, we have to go tell Philly. He owes us two sodas for this!" Turning, Al started running across the gym toward the door to the main admin building. The director would give them more than a couple of sodas for this one. With the publicity from this, Philly could beg, borrow, and browbeat thousands of dollars in donations out of the community.

Casey watched them go. He was supervising the gym, so he wasn't going to get to see Philly's face when he found out, but Casey smiled as he imagined it. Some of the kids were playing two-on-two ball on the far end, but on the end closest to Casey, the game had stopped. One of the younger boys was dribbling the ball, but little groups of two and three boys were standing around talking. Walking over to his chair, Casey sat and waited for one of them to come over and start asking questions. He'd learned a long time ago that trying to chase kids down didn't work, but if one of them gave him an opening, he'd love to tell them all about college and opportunities and ways to escape poverty.

He groaned as his back touched the chair. Oh yeah, he would hurt tomorrow. But right now, he waited for one of the boys to wander over and ask if it was true... whether Al and Raymond had just gotten a big push toward a life outside the ghetto. Today was definitely a good day.

* * * *

2

Casey sat in the car and stared at the lights in the apartment window. A shadow passed across the blinds and Casey's hands tightened on the steering wheel. Adam was still up. If Casey mentioned the awards ceremony, Adam would want to go. For weeks, he'd pushed Casey to include him more at work. The only truly vicious fight they'd had yet had come when Adam threatened to drop by the YMCA for a visit. The thought of both the fight and the threat turned Casey's stomach into hard knots.

Then Adam had "compromised" by asking to go on the overnight trip. Casey wasn't sure what horrified him more--the idea of sharing a tent with Adam when there were kids not more than six feet away or the likely scene that would happen if Adam found out that Casey had once bottomed for the handsome forest ranger who donated his time. The sheer level of gay drama would probably land them all in jail and send half the kids to therapy, but Casey couldn't seem to get Adam to understand that his personal and professional lives simply couldn't intersect.

Right now, in this instant, Casey hated Adam. He hated the fact that he couldn't come home after a long day and have some peace in his own home. He hated the looks and the lectures. Most of all, he hated who he became around Adam. He hated the way he snapped and felt guilty and then avoided any part of their relationship that didn't involve a lot of messy, sweaty sex. And he really hated that it kept getting worse.

Part of him wanted to start the car and head for the mountains. Even if his relationship with Nathan was annoyingly platonic--at least after that one lust-stained night--Nathan didn't make demands that Casey couldn't meet. Casey could drive up there, and Nathan would put out a cup of coffee and turn the television off, and they'd just sit in a silence. Eventually Nathan would announce he needed help chopping up some tree that had fallen across a path in the state park where he worked, and Casey would spend the rest of the day sweating and swinging an ax. Right now, Casey wanted to take that drive, but it wouldn't be fair to Adam. Even if he wasn't sleeping with Nathan, Casey knew that Adam would not appreciate being ignored.

Casey leaned back in his seat and put his hands over his face. Was he wrong? Was Adam right that he should come out of the closet? Casey stared at the lighted window, bracing himself for the drama.

If he and Adam could just live on an island without the pressure of real life, he knew they'd be happy. He still remembered when they met. Adam had been putting three huge paintings into the gay coffeehouse where Casey would go to unwind, and the two had started talking. When Adam talked about his work, he lit up from inside. It was the sexiest thing in the world, and Casey had fallen so hard that he would have said anything to earn Adam's love.

Casey was pretty sure that he was Adam's rebound relationship after Adam's last boyfriend had walked out without warning and ended up married to a girl. There was betrayal, and then there was watching your boyfriend turn straight after sharing your bed. The problem was that Adam was pretty well rebounded now, and Casey really didn't know where that left them, except that it left Adam still hating the way Casey chose to live his life.

Casey sighed. He wasn't going to miss watching his kids accept their scholarships, but he wasn't going to run around behind Adam's back.

Casey stepped out of his car into the cool night air. The light over this part of the apartment complex parking had gone out creating dark shadows that hid the peeling paint and the long cracks that ran behind the bushes where the gardener watered too much and chucks of foundation concrete regularly crumbled to dust. It was funny. Other men created alibis so that they could have affairs. Maybe he could find some story to cover a few hours so he could watch the boys get their scholarships. Or maybe he should grow a fucking backbone and tell Adam to mind his own fucking business.

Casey pushed his key in the lock, and the door swung inward before he could turn the lock.

"Casey! Geez I thought you'd be home sooner." Adam stood in the hall, his hair backlit by the living room light so that it looked like a halo. Adam looked angelic under even normal circumstances with his blond hair bleached nearly white and round face, but right now, he looked even sweeter.

"Work ran late," Casey said apologetically.

"Again." Adam continued to stand in the hall, blocking Casey from coming into the apartment.

"Yes, again. I work with kids. They don't care about time clocks."

"They aren't the only ones." Adam muttered the last part just loud enough to make sure Casey could hear it.

"Can we not do this tonight?" Casey pushed his way past and headed for the living room. Shit, he felt tired. Some days he felt like a vampire who fed off the boys' energy. At work, he never felt this bone-deep weariness, but by the time he came home, he felt so drained that he could barely stay awake long enough to make polite conversation.

For a couple of seconds, he got blessed silence, but tension still filled the air. "Oh, I'm sorry. You're tired. I should wait for a day when you're not tired. You let me know when that day comes. Hopefully some time before I'm on Social Security."

"Nice," Casey said sarcastically.

"About as nice as having a boyfriend who doesn't come home for dinner."

"At least I bother to come home at all."

Adam froze with his eyes wide with betrayal. They stared at each other, but no matter how much Casey wanted to take those words back--no matter how much he wanted to rip them out of the air--he was trapped inside his own silence. Adam's expression turned hard. "Go on, then. Go on and tell me how I can't keep a boyfriend. Be a total and complete ass."

Casey clenched his teeth and didn't answer.

"What a shit." Adam threw up a hand and walked back toward the bedroom. The crashing from the bedroom was new. Usually Adam got quiet or he painted something with a lot of red. Tonight he'd changed tactics. Casey turned on the television and refused to go look. If Adam wanted to break things, Casey couldn't exactly blame him. Casey really valued very few possessions. His grandfather's WWII medal, his mother's cross, and his graduation ring, along with most of his photos, were in a safe deposit box where Adam couldn't touch them. Nothing else really mattered all that much to Casey. He sat down in the recliner, intentionally putting his back to the hall that led to the one small bedroom.

The newscaster described a shooting not far from Casey's YMCA without showing a moment of emotion. The reporter at the scene talked in front of an intersection where cars sped past without knowing or caring about the man in critical condition at the local hospital. Life as usual in LA.

A thump behind him made Casey twist around in surprise. Adam stood in the dark hallway, a box at his feet. "You know what? I'm done."

"Done?" Casey blinked, trying to process that. Yeah, he'd expected the big breakup sooner rather than later, but not tonight. He wasn't prepared for it tonight.

"Done. It means I don't want to put up with your neuroses and your issues and your shit any more. Done. Do you get that?" Adam crossed his arms and took a deep and ragged breath.

Shit. This hurt more than Casey had expected. He stood up and looked at the small box of possessions Adam had gathered. It didn't include the City of Fire painting from over the bed or the sculpture of Michelangelo's David that Adam had made for class. That sat on the kitchen counter with a small checkered apron on like it was getting ready to cook. Adam had laughed as he tied the cloth on, saying that any man built like David would want to keep his cock hidden.

Casey nodded. If Adam wanted to leave, Casey wasn't going to stop him. "Go for it," Casey said with a shrug.

Adam took a step back as his hand reached for the doorknob. "Do you even care if I walk out this door?"

"Honestly?" Casey looked at Adam, at the hope and the anger and the hurt all obvious in his face. "Yes, I care a lot. I just don't care enough to keep fighting to keep you."

They stared at each other, and Casey could feel the world shifting. Change pressed in. He hated change because in his life, very few changes ever turned out well. Once he got his life to a point where it didn't suck, he worked hard to not change, but Adam had laughed his way into Casey's life. Now he was taking himself back out of it.

"You never did care all that much. Never. You care more about that damn job of yours." Adam stepped forward with his hands clenched at his side, which was funny because Adam was the last man to ever fight. The very last. Clearly Casey was talented at bringing out the worst in people, but it was time to take himself out of Adam's life. He had always been the sort to pull the Band-Aid off fast. If something bad was coming, it was better to stand up and deal with it head-on.

"You're jealous of my job? Seriously, consider therapy for that." It was true enough. He'd been thinking exactly that for weeks now, but he hadn't intended to say it... not until the moment it came out.

"Don't do that. Don't turn this into my problem." Stepping forward, Adam poked Casey in the chest with a finger. "You're the one who won't even take me to a fucking staff party. You're the one who stinks of mothballs from your fucking closet."

"My work--"

He held up a hand to stop Casey and backed away. "Don't. Just don't. I've wasted enough of my life hearing about your job. You know, you can do whatever the fuck you want. I'm done."

"Adam--" Casey cringed away from the hatred and the hope he could see gathering in Adam's eyes. Adam wanted him to make the fight go away, and God help him, Casey wanted to. He stopped with the words frozen in his throat. The hope in Adam's face slowly died.

"No. No, I am done."

"I don't want...." Casey stopped again. He didn't want to live in a world that made him choose. He didn't want to be the bitter man he turned into around Adam. He didn't know how to change either of those things.

Adam stopped and looked at Casey. Casey knew that if he had the right words, the right promises, that he could keep Adam from walking out the door. He could take him back to the bedroom and make him forget the fight and the frustration. Casey's relationships might always turn to shit in the end, but he'd never had a partner that complained about him in bed. And then next week Casey would go to the scholarship ceremony and it would all blow up again. Casey didn't say anything. The hope faded from Adam, leaving only the anger and the hurt. "You know what? Fuck yourself. Just go fuck yourself."

When Adam took a deep breath, Casey figured that one word would push the man into either crying or screaming. Those were two things Casey would rather avoid. Casey spoke before Adam could. "I'm going to get a hotel for the night," he offered. Adam didn't say anything. "That's not all your stuff, and you'll worry about your art if you leave it here. You need time to get someone to help you move the bigger canvases, so I'll be back tomorrow night." Casey waited for some sort of sign. Instead, Adam looked even more like he was about to cry. Casey started for the door, and Adam stumbled back as if afraid of even a casual touch. Casey's stomach soured and bands tightened around his heart.

Opening the door, Casey stood on the threshold and looked out into the night. "I'm sorry, Adam," he said softly, and then he stepped out and closed the door behind him.


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