Love Means... No Shame
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by Andrew Grey
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica
Description: Geoff is in the city, living the gay life to the hilt, when his father's death convinces him to return to the family farm. Discovering a young Amish man asleep in his barn, Geoff learns that Eli is spending a year away from the community before accepting baptism into the church. Despite their mutual attraction, Geoff is determined not to become involved with him, but Eli has discovered that Geoff shares his feelings and begins to court him, neatly capturing first Geoff's attention and then his heart. Their budding relationship is threatened by closed-minded, gossipy relatives and the society at large, a whole new world to Eli, and he must decide whether to return to the community, his family, and the world and future he knows or to stay with Geoff and have faith in the power of love.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
132 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [272 KB]
Reading time: 174-243 min.
Andrew Grey's Love Means No Shame is a tear jerker. The characters grab you from the beginning and refuse to let go... This is one book that will make it to several keeper shelves to be read again and again. 5/5 Nymphs Critter Nymph @ Literary Nymphs
Geoff Laughton woke in a strange bed, light streaming through the windows, a huge, hot, sweaty body next to him. His head pounded and his ass hurt. "That was one hell of a night," he muttered to himself as he forced his legs to move. Sitting on the edge of the bed, head cradled in his hands, he tried to think where he was. Oh yeah, he'd gone out dancing last night with Lonnie and Juan.
He turned to the man lying prone on the bed. "God...." He remembered--well, at least parts of it. Tequila shooters followed by dancing with a tree. "That must be him." Like it usually did, the rest came back to him in a rush: dancing, him climbing his dance partner. Hell, he'd even stuck his hand down the guy's pants.
His head throbbed again, and he made himself get to his feet to stumble to the bathroom. He didn't bother to turn on the light, probably couldn't find it anyway, and managed to make it to the sink. Turning on the tap, he put his hands under the cool water and splashed his face, groaning with relief as the water tingled on his skin. "At least I'm alive." Turning off the water, he used the facilities and then walked a little more steadily back into the bedroom to find his bed partner awake and groaning.
"What day is it?" He was holding his head and moaning softly. "Fuck, I hate tequila." He looked up at Geoff, eyes as red as Geoff's had been when he'd seen them in the mirror.
"Sunday, thank God." Geoff started looking around for his clothes, finding his pants near the bed and pulling them on.
"Easy for you to say. I gotta go to work." The huge man looked at the clock. "Fuck... gotta be there in half an hour." He lifted himself to his feet and shuffled toward the bathroom, the door closing softly, very softly.
Geoff searched the room and managed to find the rest of his clothes. After dressing, he definitely didn't want to move too quickly. He shuffled in the general direction of the kitchen.
"There is a god." The coffee maker was plugged in and set. Geoff pressed the start button, and the machine took over and was soon filling the space with the heavenly smell of fresh brewed.
Geoff heard the shower start and then stop a few minutes later. Searching the cupboards, he found two cups. They appeared clean, unlike the rest of the apartment, and he waited until the coffee was finished before filling the cups and walking back to the bedroom.
The door was part way open and... ummm, Gary... yeah, that was his name, Gary... was getting dressed. Pushing open the door, Geoff quietly handed Gary a filled mug.
"Thanks, dude, I really need this." Gary sipped the drink and put the mug on the table. "I gotta be gone in about two minutes."
Geoff nodded, sipped his coffee--damn, that was good--and turned around, letting Gary finish getting ready. By the time Gary emerged from the bedroom, Geoff had finished his coffee and felt vaguely human again. "Thanks, Gary, I'll see you around."
"Yeah, dude... thanks."
Gary was still finishing his coffee as Geoff left the apartment and headed down the stairs to the front door of the seventies-era apartment building. Once outside, the air helped to clear his head, and he searched the parking lot for his car, finding it right across the way.
Fishing his keys out of his pocket and getting in, he started the car, pulling out of the space and heading toward home--well, what passed for home, anyway.
His old car managed to get him there, and he parked in his reserved spot and headed up the walk to his building. It was newer than the one he'd just left: eighties chic instead of seventies. He let himself in and went up the stairs to his apartment.
Inside, there wasn't much: a sofa, a chair, and a television on a stand. Geoff tossed his keys on the counter and looked longingly to the bathroom. He had to wash the smell of booze, sweat, and spunk off his body. Geoff headed straight to his bedroom, which was furnished in the same sparse manner as the rest of the apartment: just a bed and a dresser. Stripping off his clothes, he went into the bathroom. He made the mistake of turning on the light and looking in the mirror. "Fuck." His eyes were dark and his skin pasty. "The mirror never lies, does it?"
Geoff began cleaning up, brushing his teeth and shaving before starting the water and stepping beneath the spray. The shower felt good--cleansing, refreshing. He started to scrub, and he could almost feel the remnants of the last night washing down the drain.
The phone was ringing as he got out of the shower. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he raced to answer it.
"Geoff, it's Raine. How's the hangover?"
Geoff knew that Raine had purposely started talking loudly. "Bastard." He heard laughter on the other end of the phone. "Actually, it's not so bad... not as bad as it could be, anyway. How's yours?"
There was more laughter on the end of the line. "I don't get hangovers, remember?" It was one of life's cruel fates. Raine could drink like a fish and never seemed to feel anything the next morning. "You want to meet for coffee?"
"Sure, give me fifteen. I'll meet you around the corner." Geoff dried himself and dressed, putting on a sweatshirt against the spring chill in the air, and left the apartment, walking happily to the corner.
The coffee shop was packed, but he spied Raine's head of jet black, curly hair at one of the tables, and he headed that way.
"I didn't get anything. If I get up, I'll lose the table," Raine said.
"No problem, I'll get what you want. Large latte?"
Raine nodded and smiled his agreement, so Geoff got in line. It took a while, but he finally returned to the table with coffees and two large sticky buns. Sugar. He needed sugar.
"Thanks, Geoff." Raine took the offered cup, and Geoff sat down. "You look like hell." Raine sipped his coffee.
"Gee, thanks. Don't sugarcoat it."
Raine laughed. "Well, you do." The man was always blunt and to the point. If nothing else, you always knew where you stood with him, because he held nothing back. "You've been burning the candle at both ends for a while."
"I know." Geoff had been. Since he arrived six months earlier, fresh out of college with a degree in accounting and a libido on overdrive, he'd almost made a mission out of seeing how many men he could have, and it was wearing thin.
Raine continued sipping his coffee. "You need to take it easy, relax a little. You can't screw your way to happiness." There it was--one of Raine's witticisms. The man had one for all occasions.
"No, but you can have a lot of fun trying," the two said in unison. They laughed merrily, breaking Geoff out of his mood. Raine was good for his soul. No matter how bad things got, he could always count on Raine's easy manner and carefree humor to break him out of a funk.
"Seriously, Geoff, you're going overboard with the man buffet."
They finished their coffee and sticky buns. "Let's catch a movie and have some fun. I think you could use it," Raine commented.
Geoff checked his imaginary calendar. "Well, I've got such a busy day planned, cleaning the apartment, laundry; I don't know how I'll fit it in."
"Sarcasm is unbecoming." They both laughed and cleaned up their table before leaving the coffee shop.
Geoff and Raine spent the rest of the day together, going to a movie and doing a little shopping. Since they were both fairly broke, they looked more than shopped and then went back to Raine's apartment and spent the evening watching movies until Geoff headed home, where he fell into bed.
* * * *
Geoff had to be at his office by eight on Monday morning, and he was nearly late. Unlike most of the past few weeks, he'd slept well and hadn't spent Sunday night trolling for men. Arriving just in time, he quietly put his things away and booted up his PC, getting right to work. He'd gotten this job right out of college, working as a staff accountant for a chain of retail stores. He liked the work, and the people he worked with were nice, but most of them were older, and it was difficult to make friends. The one exception had been Raine. He'd met him the first day on the job, and they'd become fast friends. Unfortunately, he was the only real friend Geoff had made. Oh, there were acquaintances and people he went out with, but Raine was his only true friend, which made for a lonely life.
He was busy working on the accounts payable ledger, trying to find an imbalance, when heard a soft cough. "Geoff, Kenny would like to see you in his office."
Kenny was the head of accounting, and when he summoned, you hopped to it. He was a nice guy but demanded punctuality from all his people, and being late when he called was viewed as a sign of disrespect.
An hour later Geoff returned with more mysteries to solve. This was what he loved, really loved. Numbers sang to him, and he had a talent for digging in and finding mistakes and imbalances no matter how small. In a very short time, he'd developed a reputation as someone who could locate small errors before they became big ones.
The one thing he didn't like about his job was that it tended to be very solitary. He spent most of his days working with numbers and very little of his days working with people. He'd really like to do both.
At noon, Raine came to his cubicle, and the two of them had a quick lunch before heading to the company fitness center to work off some of the weekend's excesses. Once they'd changed, they each got on a treadmill and started walking. The room was empty except for them, which was normal.
"I'm thinking of looking for a new job," Raine mentioned.
"Why?" The thought sent chill through Geoff--what would he do without seeing Raine every day?
"I'm not going to go anywhere here. Kenny doesn't really like me, so nothing is gonna happen for me." Raine had been there a year longer than Geoff, but Geoff seemed to get better assignments and more recognition. Geoff didn't know what to say, so he kept walking, increasing the pace of his machine. Raine must have seen the worried look on Geoff's face. "Don't worry, we'll always be friends."
"I know... it's just that this place will be so dull without you."
"Not that Kenny will see it that way, but it probably will be." Modesty wasn't one of Raine's personality attributes. "You going out tonight?"
"No. I decided I'm going to cut back and find other things to do." He'd been drinking way too much lately, and his liver and budget could both use a break. "Maybe tomorrow night." One could stay inside just so much.
Raine started laughing. "You had me worried for a second." They both laughed companionably and finished their workouts.
The small locker room was empty when they got done. Geoff stripped off his sweaty clothes and headed for a quick shower. He'd just started the water when he felt a snap on his butt. "Jesus!" His ass stung where Raine had towel-snapped him. Geoff twisted his towel and snapped it in retaliation, but Raine ducked out of the way. They were both laughing as Geoff climbed in the shower and rinsed off, rubbing his sore cheeks.
Getting out of the shower, he dried off and got dressed. Raine was waiting, and together they walked back to their work area.
Geoff went right back to work, combing the ledger for the error he knew was there... somewhere. He could hear the room buzzing, soft voices talking animatedly, but paid no attention. Rumors flew through the place with the speed of a bullet, but he made a special effort to stay out of the rumor mill.
He'd just found the error and was logging into the system to correct it when he heard a soft knock on his cubicle wall. It was Angela, the director of accounts payable.
"Geoff, I want to introduce you to Garrett Foster, the new AP manager." Geoff stood up and greeted his new boss, extending his hand and looking into the man's eyes. Jesus Christ... he almost pulled his hand back but restrained himself, checking that he was keeping his expression even.
"Good to meet you, Garrett."
The tall blond flashed a brilliant smile, "Looking forward to working with you, Geoff." Taking Geoff's hand, he held it a little longer than he should have and then let go. Geoff had to stop himself from shivering. Then, with one of her bright, fake smiles, Angela led Garrett off to meet the rest of the team.
Geoff collapsed back into his chair, and a few minutes later Raine was standing in front of his desk. "Was that...?"
Geoff nodded slowly. "Mr. Vain himself, yup."
Raine started to chuckle and covered his mouth with his hand to keep from laughing out loud. "Your boss is Mr. Vain."
Geoff held his head in his hand. "Oh God, I knew this was going to catch up with me someday."
Raine leaned close. "Who knew it would be so soon?" Raine gave him his best sympathetic look. "Sorry, man." Then he was gone.
Geoff tried to concentrate but couldn't. His new boss, Garrett Foster, was a guy he'd gone home with about a month earlier. They'd had a reasonably good time, but Garrett--at the time, his name was Phillip--had been a rather selfish lover. His bedroom was covered with mirrors! He and Raine called him Mr. Vain because the song was so about him. The man never passed a mirror he didn't like. Geoff wasn't interested in seeing him again, and Garrett being his boss was an added complication Geoff didn't want.
At quitting time, Raine was at his desk right away, and Geoff packed up his things so they could leave as quickly as possible. "Wanna go for dinner?"
Geoff didn't really feel like going anywhere. "I'm just going to go home." You get what you put out.
"Then let's get a pizza delivered and veg out." Raine knew what Geoff needed, even if Geoff didn't.
"Okay." They made their way out of the building and back to Geoff's place, where they ordered a pizza. They'd just finished eating when the phone rang.
"Geoff, it's Len." The man sounded choked up, and Geoff stiffened. "It's about your dad."
His father had been fighting cancer for a while, but the last time Geoff had spoken to him, he'd said he was feeling really good. "Do you need me to come home?" Geoff asked.
"Yes." Len's voice broke. "Geoff, he passed away." He heard tears coming from the other end of the line, and he felt his own well up in his eyes as a huge lump swelled in his throat.
"I'll be there as soon as I can." Geoff hung up and turned to Raine, his lower lip quivering as he tried to maintain control of himself. "It's my dad. He passed away this afternoon." Raine pulled him to his chest and hugged him, letting Geoff cry on his shoulder.
Once the tears subsided, Raine spurred into action. "You need to get home. Are you gonna drive or fly?"
Geoff wiped his eyes on his sleeve, "I'd better drive. It'll be just as fast."
"Then we better get you packed. And don't worry about work; I'll talk to Kenny in the morning and tell him what happened. You can call him when you get a chance." By the time Raine left, Geoff was packed, and the car was loaded. All he needed to do was call Len back and start driving first thing in the morning.
* * * *
The farm didn't look any different when he crested the rise that gave him the first view of the house, silos, and barn. Well, in the Midwest it was a farm. If it were in the West it would be called a ranch. Stopping the car, he got out and surveyed the view. No, it didn't look any different. The cattle dotted the fields, and he could even see some of the horses in their corrals around the barn.
But it felt different. He knew his dad wouldn't be rushing out to greet him as he always did, pulling him into a bear hug. He also knew that the kitchen wouldn't smell like fresh-baked bread and the bathroom like his father's Old Spice aftershave. "Wow," he breathed to himself as he looked over his family home with a sense of deep sadness.
After taking a deep breath, he got back in the car and drove the remaining distance to the house, pulling between the square brick columns topped with lights and into the long driveway. Stopping the car, he turned off the engine. As soon as he opened the door, he was accosted by three dogs who ran from the porch as fast as their old legs would carry them.
"Hey, boys, how are you?" Geoff knelt down, giving out pats and scratches, getting wet dog kisses and wagged tails in return. It was all he could do not to break down into tears right there.
The screen door closed with a bang. "Your dad loved those mutts almost as much as you." Geoff stood back up as Len walked down the porch steps and hurried to the car. Then Geoff was drawn into a deep, familiar, and loving hug that broke down the last of his resistance, and the dam inside him burst. Huge tears rolled down his cheeks and soaked into Len's shirt as he sobbed against his shoulder.
When the flood subsided, they pulled apart, both wiping their eyes with their hands before walking together up the steps to the huge porch. "What happened, Len? He seemed to be doing so well when I was home the last time."
"Come on inside. I've got lunch on, and we'll talk." Len opened the screen door and ushered Geoff inside.
As usual, they walked right through the sun porch and the huge living room to the kitchen. Geoff sat at the table, the same one he'd sat at when he was a child. "That smells so good, Len."
"I made your favorite pancakes. They're not the same as your dad's, but they're pretty good." A stack was set in front of him, along with strong coffee, butter, real maple syrup, and everything else that made this a home. This was Geoff's favorite meal of all time.
He tried not to think too much and forced himself to eat. As soon as that first bite hit his mouth and the syrup slid down his throat, he relaxed a little--he was home. This tasted like home. The grief threatened to well up again, but he pushed it back. He hadn't realized he was hungry until he started to eat, and then his appetite came back with a vengeance. Len brought his own plate to the table, and they ate in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. "We have an appointment at the funeral home this afternoon at two."
Geoff continued eating. "Okay." Thankfully, that was all Len said while they ate, leaving them both alone with their thoughts. Once he'd finished the plate of pancakes, he felt better, a little stronger and a little more in control of his emotions, although the grief was still right below the surface.
Getting up from the table, he put his dishes in the sink and started running the water to wash them.
"I'll take care of those."
Geoff smiled and mimicked his dad. "House rule number one: if you cook, you don't do dishes." Len and Geoff both smiled slightly as the familiar words washed over them.
Len finished his food and brought the dishes to the sink. "I'm going to check that everything's okay outside, and then we need to talk. I won't be long." Then he was out the back door, and Geoff watched as he strode across the lawn on his way to the barns.
Len and his dad had been together as far back as Geoff could remember. Geoff's mother died when he was about six months and eighteen months later, his dad met Len, and that was that. They'd been together for twenty years. As a child, he'd always called him Len, but he was as much a father as his own had been. It was Len who had taught him to ride his first horse, and it was Len who'd tended his scraped knees. Geoff let out a long breath. "I was really blessed."
Pulling his attention back to the sink, he finished the dishes, setting them in the rack to dry. Len was still in the barns, so Geoff wandered through the familiar rooms of the house. The living room was comfortable, the walls covered with framed pictures. Geoff looked at the photograph of him as a child, riding his first pony with Len and his dad on either side of him, both looking so proud. Next to it was a picture of his dad and Len, so young and handsome, both of them smiling widely, their arms around each other's shoulders.
Len's voice brought Geoff back to the present. "That was shortly after we met."
Geoff took the photograph from the wall. "You can see the love even in the photograph." He'd never noticed it before, but it was there as plain as day.
Len took the photograph and traced the outline of Geoff's dad. "Cliff was special. I knew as soon as I saw him that I loved him." A tear rolled down the tanned cheek. "This picture was taken the day we first made love under a tree at the edge of the creek."
When Geoff was younger, the thought of his parents having sex had just been gross, but as he got older and helped his father breed animals, his attitude had changed. There were nights as a teenager when the windows were open that he could hear his dad and Len in their big bed. They'd always tried to be quiet, but he'd heard them nonetheless.
Len hung the picture back on the wall and sat down in his chair. "There are some things we need to talk about."
Geoff sat down in the chair next to him. "What happened?"
"The cancer kept progressing, and the treatments weren't helping, so he stopped them just after you left the last time." Len's voice was steady, and Geoff wondered how he could do it. "As the weeks went by, the disease progressed. As he got weaker, the pain got stronger; most days he could barely get out of bed. Then, two days ago, I woke to find him up, dressed, and downstairs in the kitchen baking bread." Len stopped talking, and Geoff waited for him to continue. "That was when I knew."
"Knew what?" But he got no response. "Len?"
"Your father and I talked about this when he was first diagnosed." Len seemed so detached.
"We spent the day together, sitting in these chairs, talking and reminiscing, just the two of us. He seemed like himself again, but I knew that this was his last effort, his Indian summer, if you will. That night we went to bed together, and when we woke up, he could barely raise his head." Len sniffled a little.
"I let him sleep, and later he managed to get out of bed and moved to the sofa in the upstairs sitting room. That was where I found him when I brought him his medication." Len's detached look remained, and Geoff knew something wasn't quite right.
"Len, what is it that my father didn't want me to know?" Len's head whipsawed to Geoff, and then he smiled weakly.
"Your dad didn't want me to tell you." That was his dad, always protecting him.
"What else happened?" Geoff knew Len wouldn't lie to him, but he would leave things out if he thought Geoff would be hurt by them.
Len straightened in his chair. "We talked about this when he was first diagnosed."
"Talked about what?" Geoff knew his dad pretty well, but he had no idea where Len was leading.
"Geoff, the pain at the end was severe. The medication only took the edge off." Tears were running down his cheeks. "Your father cried and begged for the pain to stop. So I helped him back to bed and left his pain medication on the table, and while I was making breakfast, he swallowed the entire bottle."
Geoff sat there stunned. "Why didn't he...?"
"He knew he wouldn't be able to do it if you were here. Can you ever forgive me?" Len broke down and sobbed into his hands.
"There's nothing to forgive." Geoff got up and knelt by Len's chair, hugging the man who'd helped raise him. "What would he have had--a few more weeks of pain and suffering? Why should you treat him with less humanity than we'd treat one of the horses?" Geoff was crying as well, but he knew he had to get this out. "What you did showed love, real love, and I don't know if I'd have had the strength to do what you did for him."
"You don't blame me?"
Geoff shook his head. "No, he died of cancer, pure and simple. If I need to blame anything, I'll blame that." Geoff handed Len a tissue.
Len wiped his eyes and blew his nose, "The death certificate will list the cause of death as cancer. Doc George said not to worry; he'd take care of it."
"I just wish I could have talked to him one more time." Geoff got up and sat back in the chair.
"During your last visit, he was still able to do things, to enjoy your company. That's how you should remember him, as happy and vibrant and loving as he was then. Not what he was at the end."
They both sat back, Geoff letting his mind digest what he'd just been told. Did he blame Len? No, he couldn't. What he'd done was truly humane. Yes, he missed his dad very much, and probably would for some time to come, but for now, they had to get through the next few days of funeral home visits, funerals, and the obligatory grief buffet that would fill the kitchen with green bean casseroles and God knows what else.
"Len, didn't you say we had an appointment at two?"
"Yeah." Len looked tired, really tired.
"Then we should go."
Len pushed himself to his feet, and they left the house, getting in Len's truck. Geoff drove while Len rode in silence.
They spent the better part of the next few hours picking out a casket and working through the details of the funeral. The funeral director was so helpful, guiding them through the process. "Do you have anything special you'd like for the service?"
"Yes. Cliff had specifically requested that Geoff give the eulogy at the funeral. He didn't want a minister to do it."
Geoff was floored. Would he be able to give his own father's eulogy?
"Is that what you want, young man?" The funeral director seemed surprised as well.
"Yes." The thought of a stranger or someone who barely knew his dad giving the eulogy at his funeral didn't seem right. "Yes... I'll do it."
Finally, all the arrangements were done, and they drove back to the house. Geoff was surprised to see a car parked by the house, but Len didn't seem to be. Inside, Geoff was pleased to see Aunt Mari, his dad's sister. She hugged him tight and then bustled around the house.
"Sit down, Mari, you're making me nervous," Geoff said.
She plopped herself on the sofa. "Are the arrangements done?"
"Yes. The visitation is tomorrow at six, and the funeral's on Thursday at four."
"Did Cliff have a will?"
Len nodded slowly. "Yes, so there're no issues there. We just need to make it through the next few days."
Geoff stood up, tired of sitting and moping. "Len, come on, let's go for a ride. I think we need to clear our heads." He turned to his aunt. "We'll be back later."
"I'll manage things here." She would, too. Aunt Mari was special. His dad had two other sisters, who were both primo bitches, and they'd show up eventually, but Mari could handle them just fine.
Geoff and Len walked together to the barn, seeing majestic heads peeking out from their stalls. Geoff got treats for each of them, patting noses and saying hello. The last stall was the hardest. That was where Kirkpatrick, his father's horse, was stabled. Geoff patted his nose and gave him a couple of carrots. "You want to go for a ride, boy?" Besides his dad, Geoff was the only other person he'd ever allowed on his back.
"I'll saddle him for you." Geoff turned around and saw one of the grooms standing at the door with Kirk's blanket, saddle, and tack.
"Joey," the young man supplied. He stepped forward after setting the blanket and saddle on the top of the stall and started brushing the horse. "He just loves to be brushed." Kirk really seemed to move into Joey's strokes. The groom's movements were practiced and efficient, and soon the horse was groomed, saddled, and ready for their ride.
After thanking the young man, Geoff led Kirk out into the yard as Len was leading his own horse out of the barn.
"Let's ride to the river," Len called, mounting his chestnut gelding. Geoff waved his agreement and mounted his father's jet-black stallion, and they took off around the barn and out across the pasture.
Geoff felt free and light as they rode. As a child, this was where he'd been happiest. In the safety of the pasture, he gave Kirk his head and let him run, the wind whipping his hair and shirt as the powerful animal shot across the pasture. Some of the sorrow from earlier in the day dissipated and his spirit began to soar along with Kirk's.
As they approached the far side of the meadow, he reined the horse in. Kirk began to slow to a canter and finally a walk. "You're such a good boy, you know that?" Geoff patted the horse's neck as he waited for Len.
"That felt good," Geoff said.
"I bet it did." Len was smiling a little as well. "He'd want us to be happy."
"I know; I'm just finding it hard right now."
"Come on. I have something to show you." Len led the way down the wooded trail that led to the river, winding beneath tall trees and around shrubs and brush. When they reached the water, he guided them down a small path for about fifty feet and then stopped, getting off his horse. "This is it."
Geoff looked around. The water was sending sparkles of light across the leaves. "Is this where you and dad--?"
"Yes. This is where he and I had a lot of firsts, and where he and I came to talk when we didn't want little ears to hear." Len looked around. "I can feel him; it's like he's here with me." He shook away his grief and looked at Geoff, a very serious expression on his face. "You have a decision you need to make. Your father put the land, farm, and all of the accounts in both his and your names about five years ago." Geoff started to say something, but Len stopped him. "They are yours now, and you have a decision to make. You could sell them--and they'd bring in a great deal of money--but then they'd be gone, along with your heritage. This land was your great-grandfather's, and now it's yours."
"Is that what you brought me here to tell me?"
"No. I brought you here to tell you that I can tell you're not happy. And don't think for a minute that we both didn't know you were sleeping with every man who came along."
Geoff became indignant. "How...?"
Len silenced him. "I know what that's like because I did it before I met your father. It's hollow, lonely, and deeply unsatisfying, particularly when compared with waking next to someone you love." Geoff's anger deflated as he heard the truth in what Len was saying. "I know you like your job, but does it compare to riding Kirk across the pasture like you just did?" Geoff had the feeling that Len was searching for something in his face. "Your father wanted you to carry on here; he just didn't expect it to be so soon. Neither of us did."
"I don't know what to say."
Len stepped forward, embracing him tightly. "You don't have to say anything now. You just have to decide what it is you really want."
"But I'm an accountant."
Len laughed, really laughed, for the first time since Geoff had arrived. "And this is primarily a business, and a very successful one, I might add." Geoff had never thought of it that way--to him it was just home. "Come on, we need to get back before the vultures start circling your aunt."
"Go on, I'll be along in a minute," Geoff said.
Len mounted and headed back down the trail, leaving Geoff alone with his thoughts. "Well, Kirk, what do you think?" The horse bobbed and shook his head. "Yeah, me too." Geoff remounted, and they walked back to the farm. As soon as they hit the pasture, Kirk took off again, and Geoff urged him on.
They were both breathing heavily when he led Kirk back to his stall. Geoff removed the saddle and brushed the horse down again, making sure he had water and oats before putting the tack away. Joey was in the tack room, cleaning up and making sure everything was in order. "How long have you worked here?" Geoff asked.
Joey turned around, startled. "Um... just a month or so. Len is teaching me how to ride in exchange for working in the barn."
"I'm Geoff." He extended his hand and the younger man took it, "It's good to meet you."
"I'm sorry about your dad. He was a real nice man."
"Thanks. Are you almost done here?"
"Yeah, I was just finishing up."
"Then why don't you come up to the house and have some dinner? I'm sure there's enough for an army."
"Thanks. I just need to finish here first. Len asked me to clean up the tack room."
Geoff remembered that same energy in himself when he was learning to ride and how his own world had revolved around Len.
"Okay, but don't be too long." Geoff walked back to the house, the peace and quiet sinking back into his soul. Too bad Dad had to die for me to realize how much this place means to me. Geoff again pushed the grief aside as he climbed the steps to the porch and went inside.
The house was in an uproar. His dad's other two sisters, Janelle and Victoria, had arrived, and they were buzzing through the house. Len was sitting in his chair, obviously tired and definitely overwhelmed. "Geoff!" His Aunt Vicki gave him a dainty hug and then bustled back into the kitchen.
His Aunt Janelle came down the stairs carrying a bag that was obviously quite full. "Geoff." She continued down the stairs, putting the bag by the door before giving him a hug. Len wasn't paying attention, and Geoff saw the look of grief on his face.
"What's in there?" Geoff pointed to the bag by the door.
Geoff sighed and walked to the door, picking up the bag and emptying the contents on the sofa. Just as he thought, it was his great-grandmother's quilt. His aunt and his dad had had a running fight over that for as long as he could remember.
He picked up the quilt and handed it to her. "Put it back."
Her eyes widened and then softened into tears. "Your father said that it was--"
Geoff started to smile and then laugh. "Quit the crocodile tears and put it back." He handed it back to her and watched as she marched up the stairs and came down a few minutes later empty-handed. "If you want something, ask, and I'll consider it." She actually opened her mouth to say something and then closed it again.
Without another word, Geoff went into the kitchen and found his Aunt Mari making dinner. "Thank you." He kissed her softly on the cheek.
"How many are there for dinner?" He could see the hope in her eyes.
Geoff smirked. "Four. Joey will be joining us when he's done in the tack room."
"What about them?" She motioned toward where her sisters were sitting in the living room. Geoff shook his head. He needed peace, and so did Len. They were enough to make him sell the farm and send him running back to Chicago with a look of glee on his face. His father had always tolerated his older sisters, but Geoff had never liked them.
Mari smiled and started setting the table, and Geoff went into the living room, his two aunts glaring at him and Len sitting miserable in his chair.
"Len, dinner will be ready in a few minutes." Without waiting for a response, he went to the closet and got his aunts' jackets. "Thank you for coming," He kissed each of them on the cheek. "We'll see you tomorrow." He helped them into their jackets, and they left quietly.
Len sat up and slapped his knee. "God damn it! I've been trying to figure out how to get those bitches to leave for twenty years." Len then settled back in his chair, looking a little more at ease. "You know you haven't heard the last of it."
"I know, but it felt good. She's always...." Geoff could never put his finger on it, but his Aunt Janelle had always seemed false. Oh, she said and did the right things, but there was something cold behind those eyes.
"I used to think she hated us for being gay, but now I'm not so sure. I think it may be that she couldn't stand the fact that Cliff and I found happiness together, 'cause Lord knows, she never could." Len shook his head. "Don't know why your Aunt Vicki puts up with her, but they've always been thick as thieves."
Janelle had never married, and Geoff thought it was because no one could stand her that long. But his Aunt Vicki was generally a sweet person, and as long as Janelle wasn't around, she was wonderful. However, the minute Janelle showed up, Vicki turned into a bitch. He couldn't help wondering how Uncle Dan and his two cousins, Jill and Christopher, could stand it.
Joey came in a few minutes later, breaking him out of thoughts about his family, thank God, and they washed up and got ready for dinner, talking about horses and everything else but Geoff's dad as they ate.
Len commented between bites, "So it sounds like you've decided." Geoff looked across the table, and he could swear on a stack of bibles that he saw Len smirk like he'd known it all the time.
"Yes." Geoff got up and carried his dishes to the sink. "I'm moving back here. This is home."