Ryan bowed his head under the hot water and let the hard spray massage his neck and shoulders. For the third time in twenty-four hours, he washed himself in Luke's bathroom. He leaned against the cool tiles and shook his head. Even with the curtain pulled firmly across, his nose still flared at the tainting reminder of disinfectant—a measure of how much trouble the two of them were probably going to be in after the previous night’s tequila fiasco. He'd slept okay, though his head pounded and his mouth felt awful. As soon as he could, he would go home, take enough Tylenol to numb an elephant, and use a toothbrush.
On the counter near the sink, he’d seen his wallet, watch and keys, though all his clothing had disappeared. Being washed, most likely. He guessed he’d need to borrow from Luke, who’d still been sleeping when, bursting for a piss, Ryan had got up for a shower.
He wished he could just wash it all away, but like the taste of the tequila, he remembered everything—right down to that look of astonishment on Lucy’s face when she’d seen him in the shower. She was almost the very last person he wanted to see him naked!
His eyes dropped down to his smooth looking groin, and his hand drifted to where he was beginning to feel the light stubble of re-growth. She'd got the full fucking monty! He closed his eyes, leaned more heavily against the tiles and thumped the wall softly. He felt stupid. Stupid, and horrendously embarrassed by his behavior and by his current appearance. What she was going to think of him now was anyone's guess. He couldn’t imagine ever looking her in the eye again, though there was nothing he could really do about that besides grin and bear it.
Bare it? Shit, he'd definitely done that!
With a cloth, he rubbed his face and tried to get some perspective. He grimaced. He didn't expect to be flavor of the week for a while, but it would probably blow over with time.
So what now?
Home to get his school things and try to get on with the day as best he could, probably. What else was there other than an awkward breakfast and probably a serious raking over the coals for both him and Luke for being stupid assholes!
Skip that. He’d take his medicine, but not breakfast. Probably best just to get on his bike as soon as possible.
He turned off the hot tap completely; the cold spray became brutally refreshing and he swallowed a few mouthfuls of cold water, then took in some more, drinking a bit, and spitting out the rest to try to get rid of the crap taste.
Time to get out and face the music…
After drying off, he wrapped the towel protectively-tight around himself. Taking his wallet, keys and watch, he returned to the bedroom to find Luke already awake. The knowing glances they exchanged were awkward.
"Hi," Ryan muttered. "The shower's yours."
He wondered if Luke remembered it all too, and Ryan flushed at the memory of how he’d behaved when he’d dropped his pants. From the way his friend struggled to look him in the eye, he guessed he did.
SHIT! What had he been thinking?
“Morning!" Luke made an attempt to sound upbeat, though his expression was guarded. "Did you sleep okay?” With it came the prospect that Luke was hoping to chalk up the previous evening to the booze, but Ryan remained cautious.
"Fine thanks," he muttered. Hopefully by the end of the day they could laugh about it, but now he just wanted to get some clothes on.
As though reading his mind, Luke pointed to the mixed pile of clothes that had been left on the bed. “It's just some of the stuff I was throwing out," Luke said. "Take whatever you need, or something from the wardrobe if you prefer."
Quickly, Luke moved past Ryan into the bathroom and closed the door. Ryan rubbed his eyes, discomforted by the klutzy exchange.
FUCK…what a mess! Still, it could have been worse!
Ryan found enough items from the pile of cast-offs that he and Luke had made the previous evening and dressed. They weren’t great, but would make do until he got home. He found his sneakers and was just tying them off when the bedroom door opened. He looked up and tensed. Geoff was there and looked furious.
Quickly, and driven by habit, Ryan stood to attention, though hung his head once he'd caught the anger, and worse, the disappointment in Geoff's eyes. It looked like the music wasn't going to wait until breakfast!
Geoff's tone was tight when he said, “I thought better of you, Ryan.” He didn’t bandy words, and his tone was biting, though he seemed to be restraining himself.
Ryan stared at the floor. “Sorry, sir…” He thought better of himself, too. What a fucking mess!
“Stealing and getting drunk in my house?”
Stealing? He flushed and his gut twisted. That bottle certainly hadn't fallen off the back of a truck, but he'd never stolen in his life!
Still downcast, he murmured, “I’m really sorry.” In the background, he could hear the shower running. Any chance that Luke might come out soon was slim. “We didn’t mean to—”
“Didn’t mean to what, Ryan?” Geoff interrupted, and Ryan flinched as the tone of his voice sharpened.
"I'll replace the bottle."
Geoff''s demeanor hardened further. "It's nothing to do with the bottle, son, and you know it!"
Uncomfortably, Ryan knew Geoff was right. They'd been fucking assholes! He didn’t know what to say that could make the slightest difference, so said nothing and continued to stare at the floor.
"Really?" Geoff was caustic. "That’s all you have to say?"
But there was nothing Ryan could say. The previous night, he'd been totally pissed. End of.
Normally so relaxed and easygoing, Geoff’s voice remained seething, and it didn't seem like he was in any mood. Ryan had never seen him quite like this before, and he found it unnerving. For the first time in that home, he felt a coldness settle on him that was nothing to do with the shower.
Geoff wasn't finished.
"You want to know what this is about?" Geoff's anger boiled over into the space between them. “This is what it's about. If you’re going to come to this house, you will respect us, Ryan. Behavior like this is just not on. Are we clear about that?”
As Geoff turned to leave, Ryan staggered, lights flashing in his head as if he’d been struck. Geoff wheeled around. “And if you can’t manage that, then—"
He never finished his sentence, and perhaps he thought better of it, though Ryan was under no illusions what he was about to say. But none of it mattered. As Geoff stormed out having said his bit, Ryan reeled in shock.
Thwack! You WILL RESPECT ME, son. ARE WE CLEAR!
Left alone, he became unsteady and had to sit at the palpable memory of his father beating his backside until he cried. Nauseous, he bit his lip, but couldn't stop from trembling; the beatings were a memory that reared up to punish him. He leaned over and hugged himself, trying to get a grip and back away from the sickening reality of it—a reality that had now followed him to the one place he'd always considered safe.
He heard the shower stop and knew he had to get out of there. He couldn't face Luke. Not like this.
He couldn't face anyone.
Quickly he slipped on his watch and stuffed his wallet and keys into his pocket. The landing was empty and he stole quietly down the stairs. There were voices in the kitchen and the sounds of hushed disagreement. He didn't wait to listen. Instead, he made it to the front door unseen, and was relieved to find it unlocked. Slipping out, he closed it quietly behind himself.
His bike rested where he'd left it at the side of the garage the previous afternoon. Before anyone could stop or accuse him further, he mounted and pushed away down the road. At the intersection that led towards his home, he turned the other direction, though with no idea where he was going.
Anywhere, as long as it was where nobody would find him.
* * *
As Luke showered, his ears pricked up as he heard voices drifting through the bathroom door. He couldn't tell what was being said, but guessed it was probably his mum making sure they were awake and moving. He shook his head, which again harbored an unpleasantly subtle throb. Other than that, he felt surprisingly upbeat.
What a completely bizarre mixture: a total bloody mess alongside the most incredible discovery of a tube of lube. All in all, a fucking awesome night to remember if ever there was one!
And Ryan's bizarre behavior?
Well, they'd both acted like stupid assholes, so hopefully most of it could be brushed under the carpet—especially the whole boner incident. He'd hoped that Ry had been too pissed to remember much about any of it, but seeing the look on his friend's face earlier, it didn't seem like it.
Mentally, he shrugged. What to do? They'd both been pretty tanked. Best to just forget it.
He squirted some liquid soap into his hand, remembering the last time he'd soaped somebody down in that shower. Thank God he hadn't done something stupid in the middle of that, though he still wouldn’t have missed it for the world! He smirked to himself and studied his own recovering member, intrigued by the thought that drifted in from left field.
It looked so cool on Ry, maybe he should try going smooth himself, sometime?
Not now, for sure, but maybe during the summer once they were on the break and after his dick had properly healed, of course. Just to see what it was like. Nobody needed to know and he’d have plenty of time to grow back what he shaved off before the new term.
He smiled to himself. It was just an idea, and with an awesome new toy to play with now, he was full of them! That 'idea' teased him to the point where he got himself uncomfortably tight again and the shower played havoc against his tender parts. Ignoring it all for the moment, he turned to face away from the spray. The hot water really helped, so he took his time flushing the vole and its nest out from under his tongue. Using a washcloth, he rubbed his neck and dug the grime out of his ears.
Of course Ryan wasn’t the worst of it, he realized. There was still his mum and dad to face. He'd rarely seen his dad in such a foul temper as he'd been the previous night.
There was probably going to be hell to pay!
He scrubbed his face, washed his hair, and took his time. Ry was out in the bedroom, but he would have to wait. Luke just needed time to think.
At least he still had the clothes he bought at Justins, he mused, though he suspected that his mum would probably tell him to take them back. Either way, he wasn't going to let them get away with believing he'd stolen the money!
He tried to think it all through, probably to make a plan. They'd have to take Ryan back to his place on the way to school, so he could change into school clothes. There was no point in him biking it—he could pick that up later. Then, on top of everything else, they'd have to face whatever school had in store for them. He guessed Landon would be back, and the probability that Landon would be missing some teeth was bound to cause some problems.
After a few more minutes, Luke rinsed his hair free of soap. The fresh hot water helped, and he began to feel more hopeful. There had to be a way of sorting this out, didn't there? And maybe in the fresh light of day, his mum and dad might be more willing to chalk it all up to experience?
He certainly wouldn't be touching booze again anytime soon!
Puking wasn't the only impact, either. The truth was, they'd both acted a bit weird at the store, and he cringed mentally at the memory of how he'd described to Ry what colors of boxers he’d quite like!
Shit...how gay was that!?
And had he really been that stupid to end up rolling on the floor to show off the borrowed Turtles that had been grabbing his bits? Still, whatever goony things they'd both done, he still had to get dressed, and with Ry in his room and probably watching. And when it came to underwear, Luke guessed he'd just have to pick the top pair from the new ones in his drawer, because there was no way he could take a few minutes to chose a pair like it was some fashion show!
He’d have to save that for another time.
Stepping out of the shower, he toweled himself dry and began to consider how he was going to deal with getting dressed—which he just needed to do as quickly and as uneventfully as he could. And, in the process, try to appear as straight as possible!
He pushed at a dick that seemed resolutely determined to stay upright, knowing how difficult it was all going to be. He might just have to make some excuse and bring his clothes back into the bathroom to dress. Finally, he wrapped the bulky towel around himself in a way that hid the evidence, and opened the door back into his room.
The first thing that surprised him was finding his mum in there. In her arms, she carried the pile of cast off clothing that he and Ryan had made. Her eyes narrowed and he felt uncomfortable for all kinds of reasons.
"I was going to take these to Simon," Lucy said, her tone short and clipped as she studied the clothing in her arms. "But you'll have to return all the things you bought. Use these for now, and if you feel you need anything specific, then we can look at it."
Shit. There it was. Maybe she saw it as part of his punishment?
For the moment, he parked those concerns and his eyes flicked around the room, surprised a second time. "Where's Ryan?" he asked. It seemed such an obvious question, and he wondered why she hadn't brought it up already.
"I thought he was in there?" Her eyes glanced past him to the open bathroom door.
Luke frowned. What the hell was she talking about? Was she suggesting that he and Ryan were in the shower...together?
A little hotly, he replied, "That was me!"
"Yes, I can see that now!" She studied him as if he was a bit simple. "I thought you'd popped across to use the one in our room. I heard the water running in there."
Just then, another voice joined their exchange. "Where's Ryan?"
They both turned to see Simon, also wrapped in a towel and with wet, washed hair, peering round the door that led to the landing. Their mum frowned. "He's not in the shower in our room?"
"No, that was just me!' Simon appeared unexpectedly uncomfortable, and his ears turned slightly pink. "These two were hogging ours!"
"He must be downstairs, then," Lucy said. Her logic seemed sound to Luke. "He's probably in the lounge."
She seemed to consider the matter sorted. "Dad wants to speak to you both, so I think you'd better come down."
"Mum?" Simon said.
"Yes, sweetheart?" Lucy paused as she opened the cupboard to stack Luke's cast-offs back on the shelves.
“I think you should know—” Simon stepped further into the room “—about the new clothes. I think Ryan paid for them. I asked him last night, and he wouldn't lie. Luke didn’t take any money from you.”
Lucy glanced at Luke and then back to Simon. She appeared troubled. Still angry about it, Luke stood his ground and waited until she finally said, "Okay, well I'm sorry for doubting you, but—"
But? Why did there have to be a but?
"—I'm sure you understand that we'll still need to take it all of it back."
Luke was frustrated, but also relieved with her apology. It had weighed on him. At the same time, he didn't react to her verdict as he didn't want to make the conflict worse. And maybe, considering all the cash Ry had spent under the influence, she was right. Deciding to let it go, he changed subjects.
"Why is Dad so mad? I know we were stupid, but I've never seen him like that before."
There was a further flicker of disquiet in her face as she glanced towards the door that led downstairs.
"Don't be too hard on him," she said. "His older brother was a terrible drinker, even by your age. He just doesn't want to see it here."
Then her demeanor hardened. “And I completely agree with him.”
Luke grimaced. He'd never really got on with his uncle, and it made sense. They hardly ever saw him even when they'd lived in the UK, and when they had, Luke had found it uncomfortable being around him.
"But that's not my fault," he still complained. "Can't you get Dad to lay off a bit...at least with Ryan?"
She didn't seem willing to make such promises. "Maybe you should just come down. I'll put these away later."
She left a pile of clothing on his bed and then left for the stairs, closing his door behind her. Simon took the short cut through to his room.
Alone again, Luke discarded his towel. With Ryan downstairs, he had one less thing to worry about. But as his dick had long since deflated, that didn’t matter anymore, either. He reached for his underwear drawer and decided that none of those were going back, whatever she said—even if he had to wear them all in two days straight! He glanced towards the hangers in his closet feeling a little pissed that it would all be going back to Justins, then pulled on the lively green pair.
His gaze drifted across to the pile of old clothes, noting the marked difference between the pairs of black and grey underwear, and what was now adorning his backside. He would have easily spent a few more enjoyable moments appreciating his great taste, when he looked past the pile and noticed it.
Or, to be more exact, realized what he couldn't see.
He recalled everything quite clearly from the previous night. The store shopping, unpacking the bags and putting away the clothes, Ryan throwing up and being put to bed on the mattress on the floor, him having a shower and getting into bed himself. He remembered getting freaked out about jerking with an unhooded wanger, and finally finding the tube of lube his mum had bought, using it in delight to end up blowing his load all over the place. Nowhere in that schedule did putting that tube back into its box and away in the drawer figure!
There was absolutely no doubt. He’d fallen asleep and completely forgotten the blue colored tube parked on his bedside cabinet.
Except now it wasn’t there.
OH MY GOD! She’d found it and put it away for him!
He turned a bright red at the thought. What the hell would she be thinking he’d been doing?
To confirm, he wrenched open the top drawer and there it was—the tube returned to its box with that note stuck back on the side. He groaned as that weird look she'd given him when he came out of the shower took on a whole different meaning!
Oh shit! Could things possibly get any worse?
What was she going to say? She wouldn't even have to say anything! He knew what would be going through her head. 'You actually masturbated on your bed...while Ryan was there?'
Nervously making his way down the stairs to find Ryan, he prepared himself for the worst.
Yet the worst was worse than he thought.
His mum's voice filtered from the kitchen. She sounded surprised. Confused, even. "Are you sure he's not out the back?"
"No, he's not," came Geoff's voice. He sounded distracted. "If he's not in the lounge, then he's probably upstairs."
"I was just up there, Hon." She sounded confused. "Did you check the garage?"
"Why the hell would he be in the garage?" A flash of something charged Geoff’s voice. Guilt? "Did you check Simon's room? Maybe he's hiding in there?"
Luke hurried into the kitchen, and Geoff didn't waste any time laying into him. He glared. "You cannot begin to grasp how disappointed I am in you Luke!"
Luke ignored the tirade, and blurted, "Where's Ryan?"
"When I last saw him, he was up in your room."
"You were in my room?" Was that the voices he'd heard? "You saw Ryan?"
"Yes I saw him!" Geoff returned. He shook his head angrily. "I'm as disappointed in him as I am in you...and I told him so! Now get him down here! I want to speak to both of you!"
Lucy frowned. "But Hon, where is he?"
Such a simple question, but it cut through the turmoil. Only no one had an answer. Hearing the sound in the hall, they all spun around to watch the door expectantly, but it was Simon who came through.
"Where's Ryan?" Simon asked, looking around the kitchen. "Is he alright? I heard you looking for him"
Before anyone could reply, he added, “He’s not anywhere upstairs...I checked.”
Luke hurried to the front door. Wrenching it open he walked out and glanced towards the garage. In the hall the others waited and he called back. “His bike’s gone!”
"Oh, Hon, what did you say to the boy?"
Geoff flared. "You know how I feel! Stealing from us, getting drunk and then vomiting all over the floor? Not in this house. I won't have it! And if he's going to act like that, then he's not welcome here anymore! And if—"
"You threw Ryan out of our house?" Simon sounded shocked.
"Don't be ridiculous, I did not throw him out, but—"
"Oh Geoff! What have you done?" Lucy groaned. Even she looked alarmed now.
Ignoring them all, Luke ran out of the back door and into the yard for another fruitless search of the outside, front and back. But Ryan's bike was gone, and Ry with it. Luke was tempted to run after him through the subdivision, but knew it would be hopeless.
"He's gone!" he muttered, back inside again.
"Then he'll have gone home," Geoff grunted.
Luke gave his dad a withering glare. "Maybe, but I doubt it." His dad tried to reply, but Luke interrupted. "Not when his father likes to—" He forced himself to stop, even though he was angry.
Geoff looked confused. "I don't underst—"
It was Simon who interrupted him this time.
"Dad...something really bad happened to him at school this week." It went quiet as every eye turned on Simon. "Bullying stuff. It might have happened to me, too, but Ryan stopped them. It was horrible...and...and he got hurt. Now he might even be thrown out of school because of me!"
Luke knew what Simon meant, but he doubted his parents had the slightest clue as they stared at their youngest in growing horror.
"He punched a guy's lights out who was having a go at Simon, alright," Luke said. "And yesterday, he was so screwed up about something else that—" He paused, wondering how much to say.
"It was about something at home," he finally said. "I sat out on the deck with him yesterday before you got back and watched him cry! I know we shouldn't have taken the bottle, but I was only trying to help cheer him up. You didn't have to go and throw him out!"
"I did not—" Geoff sounded tense, though less sure now.
"Luke—" Lucy tried to step into line of fire between Luke and his dad as the tension brimmed.
"You have to believe me!" Luke didn't know what else to do or say, except. "Dad, the other night when you came up to my room to talk. You told me to shout if I needed help."
He didn't need to spell it out further, and his dad's eyes widened and he recoiled as though he'd been slapped.
Geoff hesitated only a few brief moments before he reached into the pocket of his jacket, which was hung over the back of a chair, and, gesturing to Luke, said, "Come on, we’ll take the van.”
Backing quickly out of the drive, the two of them drove the route over to the Alexis house in an uncomfortable silence. Luke knew that, whether they spotted Ryan or not, it was far from over. He put it to one side, and searched the road ahead. At every corner, he hoped to see a lone cyclist, but there were few people on that road at that time, and certainly no bikes. He actually wasn't even sure what he'd say when they caught up with Ry.
They made it all the way to a point where they could see the drive to Ryan’s house, and Geoff stopped the van.
Luke reached for the handle. “I should go and check if he’s there."
“Luke..wait a minute," Geoff said, reaching for his arm. "That may not be the best thing.”
“Because I don’t think he could have got back here in the time he’s had. And then what? If he’s not in there, you’re going to have to explain to his parents exactly why we’re looking for him.”
Luke was frustrated, but nodded. His dad was right. It could get worse real fast.
Geoff turned the van in the road, and they retraced their journey, pulling down several side roads on the way to look for Ryan.
It was then that Luke remembered his cell phone.
Pulling it out, he quickly found the only contact he had in it. He punched it and listened as it started ringing, and he waited in hope, only for it to drop into voicemail. Again, he hadn't thought through what to do or say, so disconnected without speaking. Moments later he tried again, getting Ryan’s voicemail once more. This time he left a simple message.
Luke closed his eyes and retreated from the questions he knew were coming. What could he say when the honest answers were far too complicated. He deflected. "I hope Mum told you that I didn't take any money."
His dad looked alarmed. "Money? What money?" He pulled onto the drive. "She didn't say anything about any money!"
"The stuff that Ryan paid for...you'll have to ask her..." Luke made to get out of the van.
“Luke…” His dad’s voice was low, but it’s tone was enough to stay Luke's hand on the handle.
“What?” Luke replied, though didn’t turn to face his dad. In the midst of the frantic searching, he’d forgotten how much trouble he was in.
“I still mean to get to the bottom of this, though so far, I think I’ve just been making it worse.” Behind him, Luke heard Geoff sigh. “For that...I’m sorry.”
Glancing through the window towards the front door, Luke could see Simon looking outside. His heart sank as, from Si’s face, it was clear there'd been no news at the house, either. He checked his watch and knew they were out of time. The only thing now was to wait for school and hope Ryan turned up. He turned back to face his dad.
“You know I can’t tell you anything about Ryan that he wouldn’t tell you himself.”
If we can find him, that is.
Even now, he regretted saying that he’d watched Ryan break down crying. “It wouldn’t be right.”
Geoff nodded. “I understand.” A wry look crossed his face and his eyes narrowed. “You’re still grounded, you know.”
Luke pulled a face. “I guessed.”