Halo
Chapter 8

    Silence has a language all its own, and it speaks for itself when nothing else does. So it did now as it settled between Rowen and Sage as they made their way back to Sendai in the dark. Rowen sat like a statue in his seat, hands folded in his lap. He stared down at the ring he now wore, a token of everlasting devotion, a symbol of undying love. It didn’t feel any different; it was just a piece of metal. He felt as if he had already worn one for a very long time — it didn’t even look strange to him. This was all so natural and made so much sense and was so simple . . . and yet Rowen’s mind was cluttered with thousands of thoughts, making the simplicity hard to believe.

    What would his father think? His father didn’t even know that he had quit college and moved in with Sage. As soon as Rowen had moved out to go to college he hadn’t been in touch with his parents, who were divorced and hard to keep track of. His mother was a journalist and always on the move and his father was either lecturing at assemblies or pursuing his own studies in the fields of physics and astronomy. But he had always emphasized the importance of a good education to his son, and would probably be furious if he found out that Rowen had left college. The fact that he had no idea about Rowen and Sage’s relationship would inevitably have a bad enough outcome, but when Rowen would have to tell him he forfeited college to pursue his unnatural love for another male to whom he was now engaged . . . it was too horrible. Rowen didn’t want to think about it.

    Sage glanced over at Rowen, his fiancé, and said softly, “Got a lot on your mind?” It was more of a statement than a question, and Rowen shifted in his seat.

    “My folks know nothin’,” he uttered. “They don’t even know I quit college. They still think I’m in Toyama.”

    Sage sighed heavily. “At least you’ve only got two people to tell. I have to tell five.”

    “What’ll the guys think about this?” Rowen asked fearfully.

    “I’m sure they’ll survive,” Sage answered. “If they can pull through knowing that you and I are living together and involved, then they can cope with this. Looking at it in a different sense, for once, I really couldn’t care less what they think about us.”

    Rowen didn’t have anything to reply, so he remained quiet. Sage blinked rapidly and clenched the wheel, keeping his eyes straight ahead. “If you’re having second thoughts, tell me-”

    “No,” Rowen snapped, his temper flaring suddenly. “Neva. How could ya think that about me?”

    Sage said in a wilted, tired voice, “I have to include everything, Rowen. Anything could happen now.”

    There was a long pause.

    “We need the othas.”

    “I know.”

    Another pause, then Rowen turned to look at Sage. “It’s past midnight, Sage. We should stop somewhere.”

    “Where, like a motel or something?”

    “Think of the consequences if ya don’t,” Rowen replied. “Ya have a credit card, right? We could crash at a motel an’ leave first thing in the mornin’. It’s a lot betta than crashin’ for real.”

    Sage thought a moment before nodding in agreement. “Alright. We’ll stop.”

    Silence loomed upon them as they both realized just exactly what they would be doing. Rowen blushed and pretended to be looking out the window while Sage tapped the wheel with his palm. Both knew what to say, but neither wanted to say it. Finally Sage worked up the gall and said, sweating bullets, “So . . . should we register for a couples suite or a singles suite?”

    It had been a hard day at college and with night settled in a few hours before, now could be commenced the dreadful thoughts of the weekend and work that brought forth mental and emotional anguish. And until that check arrived in the mail from Kento’s very gracious and sympathetic parents, asses were still on the hook at the Ronin Hut.

    Cye, taxed as far as physically possible, suffering from lack of sleep from his hangover the night before and grouchy as a bad-tempered hermit crab, collapsed on the couch (the whole couch) and moaned. Kento, slumped across from him in the worn recliner, was too tired to rap his fingers on the arms but mentally he was doing it. Not even a simple joke could escape his fatigued lips and his dull, glassy eyes gazed straight ahead like a doll’s. Cye, watching him, fancied that if he put up the foot rest and leaned Kento back his eyes would close like a doll’s, too.

    Ryo walked into the den, dragging socked-feet across the carpet and looking for all the world like a corpse walking upright. At least he had a little more energy than Cye and Kento; he was still on his feet.

    He sludged his way over to the couch and gazed down at Cye, who was lying on his stomach. Ryo was almost tempted to ask why someone had left a cadaver on the sofa, but Cye’s feeble little breaths told him that the stiff was still alive. A carefree whim seized Ryo and he let himself drop smack down onto Cye’s back. Several loud pops of bones sounded and Ryo muttered, “ What was that?”

    “Don’ worry,” Cye growled, face half buried on the cushions that were tainted with the odor of old cat piss. “That wos just one ‘a me slats puncturing a lung, but at least me back feels betteh now.”

    “I hope so, ‘cause I’m not moving.”

    Kento blinked and asked calmly, “Who should die first in this situation?”

    “Not me,” sounded a British voice. “I cook and clean and cook and pick up everybody’s messes . . . you’d oll be buried in your own bloody cess piles if it weren’t for me.”

    “Ryo should go,” Kento affirmed.

    “No, Ryo shouldn’t go,” Ryo snapped.

    “Oh, what? Like your big coaching side-job is contributing jack shit to our income-”

    “Really?” Ryo snarled. “I don’t see you drivin’ the gravy train! We’d all be living in a burned-out, trailer-park ghetto if it weren’t for Cye’s-”

    “Please shut up an’ leave me out of this.”

    No one spoke for a while. The clock hanging on the wall ticked the seconds away loudly, and seemed to grow louder as the silence pressed on.

    “That money should be here any time now,” Kento assured.

    Cye mumbled, “It’s nearly midnight. Unless the postman is a somnambulist it ain’t there.”

    “The point I’m trying to make,” the husky lad said emphatically. “Is that we should be out celebrating or something.”

    “We should be out drinking,” the Brit said crossly.

    “I swear to God you’re alcoholic, Cye,” Ryo muttered. “It’s AA for you, my friend.”

    “Are we gonna celebrate or what?” Kento prodded.

    “Or whot.”

    “Look at us, dude,” Ryo snapped. “We’re completely trashed. We’ve fought the Dynasty and come out better than this. It’s a damned wonder we’re still conscious.” Ryo stopped and shifted his weight upon Cye’s back with a worried expression on his face. “Cye, what is this lump I’m sitting on? I don’t feel any bones.”

    “Oh, you mean me hernia.”

    “Are you serious, I’m sitting on your hernia?”

    Cye laughed for the first time in days. “No, mate. I’m just playing around.”

    And then suddenly, the doorbell rang. Everyone froze. Kento’s eyes gleamed. “Think it’s an axe murderer?” he asked incredulously.

    “It could be some psycho with a chainsaw,” Ryo breathed.

    “It could be Boy George with Avon,” Kento said with horror in his tone.

    Cye put in, “It could be the postman with the money.”

    The doorbell rang again and they were suddenly tripping all over each other in their haste to get to the door. Ryo and Kento got stuck trying to go through den door at the same time but were knocked free when Cye mowed over them. It was every man for himself, clawing, scratching, plowing over one another like three runaway trains trying to take up the same track.

    Finally, they arrived at the door in a mad tangle and threw it open wide. A tall, lanky man in his late forties was standing in the dark with a suitcase in tote and a backpack slung over his shoulder. He was dressed casually and even though it was very chilly out, he wore his sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Had they been seeing this man for the first time, Ryo, Cye and Kento would have known from the sleeves and just by looking at the eyes that it was Rowen’s father.

    Warren Hashiba grinned broadly at the three young men and spouted, “Greetings, boys! Have some work to get done at the Toyama Observatory and I was wondering if I could room with you for a few days. How’s Rowen?”

    All three Ronin jaws hit the floor and Ryo spoke for them all when he uttered, “Oh shit.”

    The motel was small — made for travelers who intended to stay no more than a night or two. It was like most motels, cheap, with a neon sign out front with half of the bulbs dead, a flickering “vacancy” sign and a beckoning advertisement for “Color TV!” in full Technicolor glory. The room was old, too. The kind with peeling wallpaper and tiles on the bathroom floor in the faded decor style of the 70s, patched up furniture and damp bed sheets. Everything was damp and moist, yet so cold. And the television, that big, boxy wreck of a television with bent rabbit ears and large knobs, was only able to tune into three stations and all of them were blurry.

    Rowen sat on the damp covers of the single bed in the room and flipped through the channels absently, more interested in what Sage was saying on the phone to his parents; he had decided to call to let them know he wouldn’t be back until the morning. It didn’t sound like it was going over too well with Mama Datier. Sage sounded really stressed.

    “Look, mother, I didn’t plan on this. We got stuck in traffic on the way to and back from . . . I know, I know. Circumstances beyond my control are to blame. Wouldn’t you rather we stopped instead of going on?   . . . okay, then. I’m glad.” There was a pause, and Sage glanced at the small pad of paper on the table next to the bed. “Uhh . . . Motel 6. Yes. Yes, I already have. I know, mother. I’m not a child . . . we’ll be back first thing in the morning. Yes, I did. We’ll be fine. Alright, I know. Okay, mother. Oyasumi.”

    And he put the yellowing phone back on the cradle and sat down next to Rowen on the mattress, sighing heavily and — for once — brushing the blond hair cascading down his forehead away, exposing both eyes momentarily. Rowen forgot the television and watched him silently, noticing the little things about Sage’s features: the pale shadows cast under his eyes by his thick, long eyelashes, the golden shimmer of his eyebrows that Rowen had the urge to brush his lips against, the glow of those lavender-colored eyes and how they caught the light. Even the thin blond stubble on his jaw line and the way he flexed the muscles of his throat whenever he swallowed, the way his chest rose and fell gently with his shoulders, silent as clouds.

    “You’re gorgeous,” Rowen murmured, a smile crawling onto his lips.

    Sage turned to gaze at him, his hair in messy disarray and falling perpetually over his right eye, and he smiled. He leaned over slightly and fingered a lock of Rowen’s azure tendrils fondly and Rowen’s smile broadened. Sage didn’t need to speak; his actions spoke clearly enough.

    He leaned over slightly to plant a small kiss on Rowen’s forehead and there was a sudden squeal of mattress springs, breaking them from their fantasy world of each other and bringing them back to harsh reality. The transition of travelling from one to the other so quickly was almost devastating, and Sage drew away shyly and stared at the stained carpet without another word.

    They both were thinking the same thing at the same time, made uncomfortable and yet anxious with the thought. They were finally alone without a family member in sight, no one to ever find out what would happen behind the door to room 108, if anything were to happen. The memory of the lonely nights of the past two months came flowing back to them, but both were too afraid to say anything. The situation was delicate, glass. The slightest move or wrong word could shatter everything right now. But the overbearing, suffering silence was also likely to shatter it for it pressed very heavily then.

    Sage gulped and clasped his hands together in his lap, keeping his eyes on the floor. “Are you nervous?” he asked softly.

    Rowen nodded. “Yeah.”

    “Me, too.”

    The television screen flashed static on and off, volume at zero. Neither person moved.

    “We don’t have to,” Sage said, sounding as if he were trying to talk himself out of a bad idea. “There’s no written law that says we have to . . . have to sleep together.”

    Rowen turned his head to look at Sage, and Sage slowly, as if afraid to meet his gaze, did the same. Staring into each other’s eyes, Rowen whispered, “But when are we evah gonna get a chance like this again?”

    Sage processed the words slowly, pressing his lips together and forming a thin line. “You’re saying we should take the opportunity?”

    “No.” Rowen reached out and placed his hand on top of Sage’s. “I’m saying . . . take me.”

    The blond’s eyes shimmered fearfully. “But . . . but I don’t know how.”

    “Me, neitha. We’ll learn togetha.” Rowen squeezed Sage’s hand, and suddenly nothing else in the world mattered to either of them except each other. Sage leaned over and pulled Rowen close to him in a tight embrace, feeling the heartbeat of his love against his own chest. He breathed in Rowen’s scent and felt his mind flutter weakly, unwilling to resist any longer. He had to show him . . . had to show Rowen that he was the only thing in his world, the very center of his universe. His purpose, his sake, his excuse . . . his reason to be alive at all.

    Sage pulled away slightly, just enough to let himself fall in love with those beautiful blue eyes for the thousandth time, and brushed Rowen’s soft cheek with his thumb. The way they looked at each other spoke of helpless and hopeless devotion, as never-ending as a spiral, as vast and deep as the reaches of the heavens, and as passionate and burning as the flames of a raging fire. That fire, which was now burning within their hearts.

    Sage pressed against Rowen and kissed him like he had always wanted to but was forever too afraid. Now there was no one to catch them, no one to destroy what they had tried so hard to create and so hard to build. There was no one, no one save for them.

    He pushed Rowen backwards gently, laying him down on the damp covers of the musty-smelling bed. All thought was subconscious now; the only thing cognizant were emotions. Rowen once, vaguely, became aware of the tingle of the small golden ring on his finger, as if it were coming to life. Then the thought flitted from his mind as Sage encompassed his entire world and became one with Rowen’s.

    “So, he’s on vacation you say?” Warren Hashiba said gruffly, stirring the tea Cye had been kind enough to make for everyone. Ryo, Kento, Cye and Rowen’s father were seated in the den. The three Ronins had had a brief huddle and hatched an impromptu — if not blatantly dishonest — scheme to give in excuse for Rowen’s absence. The vacation had popped up instantly, but still had a few flaws.

    “Um, yeah,” Ryo was attempting to sound casual. “It’s, ah, more like a field trip. The uh . . . astrology club decided to go . . . to go . . .”

    “To the countryside for a few weeks to observe the stars without the haze of city smog and lights,” Cye jumped in. That seemed to satisfy Mr. Hashiba, and he nodded firmly.

    “Ah, I see. That’s my boy, the over-achiever!”

    The three warriors mentally moaned in despair and Kento massaged his temples as if he were suffering a massive migraine. This was one big ass whopper they were telling but alas, friends stick up for each other, even if it means lying to their parents to save their skins.

    Ryo cleared his throat. “So, um. How long will you be staying?”

    “Oh, just a few days. Maybe a week. The folks at the observatory wanted me to come down and take a look at the physics assistants’ labs this week and perhaps do a few lectures. I was also hoping to see Ro on his birthday. You know, to remind him I hadn’t forgotten that I had a son!” He laughed, then became serious. “I sure hope I didn’t come at a bad time.”

    Ryo, Cye and Kento looked at each other. “Uhh, not exactly,” Cye’s words dragged out slowly. “But . . . we ‘ave to charge you, I’m afraid.”

    Mr. Hashiba raised an eyebrow curiously. “Whatever for?”

    “Because our asses are broker than the ten commandments,” Kento said monotonously.

    Mr. Hashiba looked surprised. “Really? Well, why didn’t you say so? I’d be more than happy to lend you some money.”

    Kento stared at Ryo and Cye through half-closed eyes. “Now he tells us.” And he laughed madly before passing out in the easy chair.

    October 11, 6:46 AM

    Rowen murmured sleepily and rolled over onto his back. Very dimly he registered the empty spot beside him, and, being as early as it was, took a few seconds for the unreasonable panic to reach his brain. Memories of the night before came rushing back to him and he felt a lump rise into his throat. He jumped upright with a pounding heart, head whipping around to see any sign of his misplaced lover. It seemed Rowen’s fears of his departure were all too true, then a blond head poked its way out of the bathroom door, toothbrush hanging out of the mouth and eyes wide with alarm.

    “What’s wrong?” Sage said around the foam. “I thought I heard a shout.”

    Rowen sighed in relief but didn’t remember shouting out in panic. He said sheepishly, “Um, it was nothin’. Bad dream.”

    Sage nodded and ducked back into the bathroom. Rowen cursed his foolish fears and grabbed the covers, tucking them up over his face and flopping back down into bed. He curled up on his side and wished it weren’t so cold in the room. A few moments later he heard Sage return from the bathroom and felt the mattress sag heavily as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

    A wandering hand pulled the covers off Rowen’s face. “Wake up, Little Boy Blue,” Sage grinned teasingly down at Rowen, who couldn’t help but smile.

    “Nuh uh,” came the groggy reply. “S’too cold out there.”

    “If you would put some clothes on it wouldn’t be so cold.” Sage toyed with Rowen’s sleep-tossed hair, combing it neatly with his fingers.

    “Clothes’re cold, too.”

    “Well, there isn’t a dryer that I can just pop them into-”

    “Microwave.”

    “What?” Sage asked.

    “Microwave,” Rowen repeated. “Just throw ‘em in on half powah for about forty five seconds an’ they’ll be toasty wa-”

    “Rowen, I’m not microwaving your clothes at seven o’clock in the morning, now get out of bed.”

    The blue-haired young man laughed out loud and pulled the covers over his head.

    “Don’t make me come in there and get you, Rowen Hashiba,” Sage said with mock impatience. Rowen’s face suddenly appeared and he said seriously, “Am I gonna take your name?”

    Lavender eyes blinked in surprise at the suddenness of the question, and he replied, “I . . . don’t know.”

    “Ya know what I was thinkin’? I was thinkin’ we could go it fifty-fifty.”

    “What, like Hashidate?”

    “I was thinkin’ Dashiba,” Rowen giggled.

    Sage smiled. “Anything goes, as long as we’re together.” He leaned down and planted a kiss on Rowen’s forehead, Sage’s long golden hair falling over his shoulder and tickling Rowen’s face; he chuckled, ticklish.

    “Now get dressed,” Sage said as he pulled away. “We’re going to Toyama.”

    Rowen sat bolt upright. “We are? Oh, man. Your folks’re gonna kill us.”

    The blond shrugged. “They’ve waited this long, they can wait longer. Besides, I think we both know how much the others need to know about this.”

    Rowen nodded slowly. “Yeah. And advice comes easier when we’re with them. Maybe they can help us.”

    Sage murmured, “I sure hope so.”

    Toyama, 9:55 AM

    Kento, Cye and Ryo sat at the table staring at Rowen’s father with lifeless eyes as he downed his fourth mug of coffee and flipped the page in the newspaper he was reading. The three young men looked like death warmed over and they weren’t exactly far from it.

    Unlike his son who was notoriously prone to sleep in, Warren Hashiba was up at the crack of daylight and shaking them out of bed, even Cye, who thought himself an early riser. No wonder Rowen left home so soon. And, as was his custom, Mr. Hashiba liked to either whistle until everyone’s brains had turned to scrambled eggs or sing opera. This morning he opted for the opera, and Warren wasn’t exactly Pavarotti; the others thought Rowen was tone deaf . . . they didn’t know how bad his father was. It sounded like a drunken moose with bad vibrato, and they weren’t exactly warm and happy with the idea of this suicide-inducing singing sticking around for another six days.

    Cye stirred his hot tea and stared at his reflection in the reddish brown liquid. “Mate, you look like hell,” he said to his reflection. Warren glanced up from his paper with an eyebrow arched.

    Ryo whispered, “It’s alright. He always does this. Y’know-” He drew circles in the air beside his head. “-the lights are on but nobody’s home.”

    Mr. Hashiba nodded slowly, pretending to understand and not caring enough to pry. No wonder his son was away; he’d jump at the opportunity to cease being among the mad as well. Cye suddenly perked from his mope, shot straight up in his chair with an awful look on his face that quite frightened Ryo and Kento.

    “Should I ask?” Warren said slowly.

    Cye’s eyes got wider and he drew in a breath, appearing to be staring into thin air. “One . . . no, two. Oh, sweet bleedin’ Jesus-!”

    As soon as the words escaped his lips there was a knock at the door. Cye bolted out of his seat, flipping the chair over backwards and leaving a blazing trail of smoke en route to the front door. Ryo and Kento looked at each other, then jumped up and followed Cye.

    Mr. Hashiba looked about the table, stunned at the rate at which it had been vacated, then glanced at the swinging door from the kitchen to the living room.

    “They’ve lost their marbles,” he stated. A few moments later he stood up and followed the path of destruction to the front door.

    Rowen and Sage felt odd knocking on the door to their own house, but they decided it was the polite thing to do since most of the guys probably weren’t awake. Rowen knocked and Sage glanced around the driveway.

    “Wonder who’s car that is?” he murmured, noticing the extra vehicle parked off to the side. Rowen wasn’t listening.

    The next thing they knew, Cye had flung the door open wide and looked liked a mad escapee from a mental institution, eyes wild, hair sticking up raggedly, panting like he was about to hyperventilate.

    “My God, Cye,” Rowen gaped. “Are you alr-”

    “GET OUT OF ‘ERE! RUN! RUN! GO!” He waved his arms about, looking like a broken windmill in a monsoon as Ryo and Kento appeared behind him. Their surprise was evident and they started to babble.

    “Shit! What’re you guys doing here?!”

    “Rowen! Sage! You’ve got to get out-”

    “Get in the car!”

    “Drive away as fast as you-”

    “ Don’t bloody stand there like a-”

    “Rowen, your dad-”

    Ryo, Kento and Cye were pushed out of the way as Mr. Hashiba came into full view. The blood drained from Sage’s face and Rowen looked as if he were about to faint from shock. Warren looked no better off.

    “D-dad?” Rowen stammered, wishing that the earth would open up and swallow him alive.

    “Son?” his father asked incredulously. “What are you doing back so . . .” He trailed off when he saw Sage, looking as if he had just died and was still standing. “Oh, hello, Sage.”

    Silence.

    “Sage?”

    The blond took a breath. “I think we all need to sit down.”

    “What for?” Rowen’s father inquired.

    “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

    All six persons were seated in the den, silent as a graveyard. Rowen and Sage sat together on the couch for two while Rowen’s father sat across from them in the only nice upholstered chair. Cye sat in the recliner in the corner while Ryo and Kento sat on opposite ends of the sofa.

    No one spoke for a while. Rowen was expecting all sorts of questions: where have you been, how is school, why were you gone . . . but he dreaded the answers he would have to give even more. He wanted so badly to hold Sage’s hand now, to make him feel safe, to comfort him. But he was too paralyzed to move, and too speechless to speak. Whatever question his father was planning on dropping, Rowen was prepared to take the hit like a nuclear bomb.

    “How have you been, Ro?” Warren asked, amity concealing his concern. Why were the boys so quiet? Why did he have the feeling he was about to receive some terrible news?

    “Been fine, pops. Just fine.”

    His father nodded. “Alright, out with it.”

    Sage glanced up in mortal fear. Rowen stammered, “Wh-what do ya mean?”

    “You’ve got a galactic-sized chip on your shoulder. Just make it painless and say it.”

    Rowen hesitated, fear and uncertainty running rampant in his mind. “Will you still love me if I tell ya?” he asked in a small, trembling voice.

    Warren looked shocked. “Of course, Rowen. Don’t be so childish. You’re my son. There’s nothing you can say to ever change that.”

    “Okay then.” Rowen took a breath. “I’m gay.”

    Heart pounding. Head reeling. Hold me, Sage.

    Mr. Hashiba blinked dumbly. “No you’re not.”

    He didn’t believe me.

    Rowen felt his heart ache. “Yes, dad, I am.”

    His father leaned back into the chair, tapping his fingers on the arms, brow furrowed in concentration. Rowen would have recognized if his father were angry by now. Right now he looked more confused than anything. Ryo, Cye and Kento watched without speaking.

    “I don’t, I don’t understand,” Warren muttered. “You’re not a flaming, prancing . . . you’re not a queer. You’re . . . everybody loves you.”

    “Do you?”

    “Yes,” his father snapped.

    “ hen believe me when I say that I’m gay.”

    “So-” he motioned to the others. “-do they all know?”

    “Yes.”

    Rowen’s father rubbed his forehead, an odd expression on his face. “Is that it? That was what . . .?”

    “No. There’s more.” This is what Rowen dreaded most of all. “Last year I confessed my love for anotha guy. But he had ta move away and I was left here alone. We wrote ta each other and a year later we met again. He wanted ta take me back with him. I loved him, my life was worthless without him, so I . . .” Gulp. “. . .so I quit college and went ta Sendai with him. I just came here ta visit.”

    “You quit college, Rowen?”

    “I had to-!”

    “You quit college to, to go and fuck with some queer in Sendai?” Mr. Hashiba was now officially pissed and stood up, probably intending to leave the room in disgust. Sage closed his eyes and prayed for it to end quickly. Rowen sprang off the couch, doggedly defending himself and his lover.

    “Listen, I love that queer in Sendai!” Rowen cried.

    “How can you love him? You’re both men. It’s sick and unnatural-”

    “Who says love follows rules?” Rowen screamed, and his father looked surprised. Tears were forming in his son’s eyes. “Love’s not like science, dad! Laws don’t apply! Even theories can’t begin t’ explain it! I’ve known the person I loved for years, and guess what. We’re engaged now.”

    “You are what.”

    “Engaged.” Rowen held up his hand where gleamed the golden ring. Ryo, Cye and Kento were stunned speechless.

    “The hell you are!” Warren roared, leaning into Rowen’s face. “You know, Rowen, you are my only son. My only child. And when you throw away your career and your life-”

    “He’s the reason I’m alive at all-”

    “-just because you think you love another man, and on top of it all, getting your friends to lie for you to cover your tracks, lying to me-”

    “I didn’t lie to you!”

    “You didn’t tell me! That’s as bad as lying itself! Rowen, you don’t know how disappointed I am in you.”

    There was a brief pause. Then Rowen raised his head and tears spilled down his cheeks. His face was something the others had not seen since fighting Talpa; wild, uncontrollable anguish.

    “You’ve always been disappointed in me. I was neva good enough to be ya son. Ya wanted too much, and I pushed myself to fit the perfect image ya had of me. But it wasn’t enough. Ya neva once said nice try, son. You did your best. No, it was always, work harda. You can do betta than that. The best I did was neva good enough for ya. I always did what you wanted me to do. And ya know what I say? Fuck it, dad and fuck you, too.”

    Warren stood, unmoving. Then he calmly raised his hand and slapped his son hard across the face. Drops of blood landed on the carpeting and Rowen put a hand over his stinging nose. His father’s eyes filled with tears and he grabbed his son into his arms, embracing him tightly. Cye glanced over to see Sage rising to his lover’s defense and sprang up just in time to put himself between Rowen’s father and the advancing blond.

    Rowen looked up at Sage, being restrained by Cye, and raised a blood-streaked hand. “No. Don’t. S’my problem. Let me fix it, Sage.”

    Mr. Hashiba put a hand on the back of his son’s head, buried in the azure-colored locks and murmured, “You’re such a goddamn smart aleck. Just like your mother.”

    “Just like you,” Rowen replied.

    Warren smiled and pulled away, taking his son’s face in his hands. “I didn’t mean it, Rowen, but your self-righteous attitude sure pisses me off sometimes.”

    Rowen laughed.

    “I’m still mad at you,” his father added darkly, then suddenly noticed Sage champing at the bit with a worried look on his face. Cye looked as if he were holding the reins on a wild horse and Warren let go of his son.

    “Let me guess. It’s him, right? The Datier kid.”

    “Yes, dad.”

    Mr. Hashiba blinked. “Well, I can see him being gay and all. Can I ask you a few questions, ‘son’?” He addressed Sage and Cye moved aside, though still keeping a firm grip on the blond in case he should go mad.

    “Yes, sir,” Sage responded flatly, still eyeing the older man. He had hit his Rowen. No one hit his Rowen.

    “You live in Sendai, right? With your parents?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Do they know about this?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Well, either you tell them or I will, is that understood?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Rowen sat down between Ryo and Kento, who handed him tissues to clean up the small bloody mess on his face. Rowen was quite peeved when Ryo spit on a tissue and began wiping off the blood like a mother does to her child.

    Mr. Hashiba continued the interrogation: “Do you have a job?”

    “I teach kendo,” Sage replied. “In fact, I’ve been teaching Rowen.”

    “Ah. And do you teach astronomy?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Hm. And what do you two plan to do now that your big secret is out?”

    “Uhh . . . I don’t know.”

    “Really? Well, that’s great. Tell me, Mr. Datier, have you and my son engaged in sexual intercourse?”

    Cye’s jaw dropped and Ryo, Kento and Rowen blushed simultaneously.

    Sage stiffened his upper lip and stated firmly, “Yes, sir.”

    Kento put his face in his hands. “Jeez Louise.”

    “My, you don’t waste any time, do you?” Warren muttered.

    Sage scowled. “Well, considering we could have done it any time within the past five years but waited until last night to do it, I think we have paced ourselves nicely.”

    “Great. My son’s a self-righteous smartass and you’re a cocky jackass. No wonder you two fell in love; you’re made for each other.”

    Rowen chuckled softly at his father, who sighed and sat back down in his chair. Cye pulled Sage down onto the couch but still kept a hold on him. You never know, Sage might decide to up and kill Mr. Hashiba and then they would have to figure out where to put the body since they didn’t have a basement. The older man sighed again heavily.

    “Well, I suppose there isn’t any arguing now. It’s not like you’re young enough for your father to still be telling you what to do.” He glanced at his son apologetically. “So. I guess it’s official now. You two are out of the closet . . . except for you.” He pointed to Sage. “You go back to Sendai and you tell your parents you’re marrying my son or else I’ll be the guy at your wedding holding a shotgun to your back-”

    “Dad,” Rowen said warningly.

    “I’m making a joke. Damn, you’re just like your mother.”

    “Thank God for that,” Rowen huffed and his father glared at him. “I’m making a joke!”

    Kento got up with a grunt and began walking toward the kitchen. “I fucking hate these family reunions. Anybody wanna beer?”

    And everyone said in unison, “I do.”