Late that Sunday morning, Luke was in a fairly predictable 'discussion' with his mum about how 'dressed up' the occasion of lunch with Ryan and his grandparents warranted. In his opinion, she was way too fussy with the idea that Ry's grandfather was a brigadier! Luke had finally given in to donning a pair of light summer pants and a collared shirt, then returned to the deck with another drink to wait out the half an hour with a book before they would leave. It was then that Simon put a spanner in the works.
Simon came slouching out of the kitchen, the usual sulk on his face. "I'm not going sailing," he said, though he neither looked or sounded disappointed.
Luke bristled as he looked up from his book. Not going sailing? What the hell was he playing at now?
Their mum looked surprised, too, and checked her watch. "Why ever not? The Walkers are expecting you. They should be picking you up in a few minutes. Come on—you've still got time to get ready."
"Like I said..." Simon seemed ready for some resistance. "I don’t want to go. I already called them to cancel."
"You called them?" She looked confused and then disappointed.
It had almost seemed too good to be true, thought Luke. They'd all believed that getting back on the water was a big improvement for Simon, marking a better start to the new school year.
Too good to be true...yeah that was about right! Still, he kept his mouth shut, waiting to see how it played out.
"Why didn't you tell me?” Lucy muttered. “And why don't you want to go? I thought you were looking forward to it?"
Simon shrugged, and Luke had the distinct impression that his prat of a brother never intended going at all! He wouldn’t even put it past Si these days to suspect he hadn't actually arranged anything with the Walkers in the first place!
‘What’s up?” Stepping up from the garden, Geoff raised an eyebrow as he joined the standoff.
“He’s not going sailing, it seems!” Luke glared at his brother.
“You’re not going?” Geoff’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, for heavens sake! Why not?"
“I don’t feel like it, that’s all,” Simon muttered.
Again, Lucy checked her watch. She seemed to come to a decision and reached for the phone that was on the coffee table. "Well, you'll just have to come with us then. I'm sure it'll be fine, though we better just give Ryan a quick call."
"Why?" Simon demanded.
She studied his clothing and ignored the question. “You’ll need to change.”
"I don't want to go."
"Oh, for goodness sake, you can't stay here by yourself!"
Luke glowered. For God's sake, why not! He certainly didn't want his brother spoiling things at Ryan's in this kind mood!
"Mum, I'm fifteen," Simon barked. "I'm hardly going to starve!"
He had a determined look in his eye, but then dialed his tone back a bit as her hackles began to rise. "It’s just that I don't feel that well today, that's all. I was just going to rest up a bit out here and read a book. I've still got some schoolwork to finish, too."
Luke wasn't convinced. Yeah—right! With the number of hours Simon had spent on that excuse, he was covered through ‘til Christmas! He shrugged. It wasn't his problem.
"If he wants to stay here, Hon, that's fine," said their dad. It sounded like he'd also come to the end of pussyfooting around his youngest. "He can easily call us if he needs anything."
Their dad turned his back on Simon in such a way that you got the sense he was way past ready to let Simon just get on with it. He checked his watch. "When do we have to leave?"
"Well, we should really go now…and you need to change!" said Lucy, though she didn’t seem as comfortable with the idea of dumping her youngest. She gave Simon a tight stare as though checking he would be able to survive alone, then shrugged. "We also need to stop by the store and pick up some flowers."
Flowers? Luke rolled his eyes.
"I'll drive," he said. He already had his keys in his hand. "Then if you two want a glass of wine, or something else, you can."
"Something else?" His dad immediately picked up Luke’s rather cheeky leading tone. Geoff waited as Lucy flapped at him, adding for her sake, “Yes I’m going to get changed now.”
"Well, it’s just that Ry's grandad makes these mint juleps..." Luke grinned and headed to the door before they could ask any more questions.
He was in a hurry to leave, but even after his dad was ready, it still took a while to get all three of them out the door, as their mum fussed around getting bits out of the fridge for Simon for lunch. Luke ground his teeth, but otherwise kept quiet.
But, thirty minutes later—and after what felt like an endless search for flowers—he pulled his car up onto the drive of the Alexis place, parking alongside Ryan's truck and a Hertz rental car. So let Simon stay home and be pigheaded, he decided as the three of them got out of his Volvo. He'd had his fill of it, too. Why would anyone want to be around someone who was such a pain in the ass anyway? Putting his brother’s ill temper behind him, he led the way to the front door.
As he tapped politely, he could see his parents' eyes wandering around the imposing stonework entrance. He'd never really thought about it before, but he realized that this was probably going to be the first time his mum and dad had ever been inside Ryan's house. They'd dropped Ryan off on the drive more times than he could count, but that was as close as they'd ever got. He didn't blame them. After that awful, embarrassing night when Ry's parents had come to their place, the invitation had never been reciprocated. He doubted they would have gone, even if it had!
He glanced at his watch and smirked. They had been invited for one o'clock and his mum's impeccable sense of timing—even with the flowers detour—had got them there a mere seventeen seconds late!
He fidgeted in the uncomfortably formal shirt, waiting as two elderly people came to answer the door. As it opened, seeing them standing there together, he smiled. There was something about the brigadier and his wife. On the one hand, they were both warm and cuddly, like friendly teddy bears, but at the same time, they held themselves with a graceful dignity. Formal and fun, both at the same time!
“Brigadier and Mrs. Buford?” Geoff greeted them respectfully, stepping up and stretching out his hand across the threshold. "Geoff Summers. Thank you so much for inviting us over.”
Luke smirked; even his dad sounded a little awed!
“It's our pleasure.” Andrew Buford's sharp blue eyes flickered with lively intensity behind bushy, silver-white eyebrows. You could so easily imagine him ramrod straight astride a coal-black steed in a previous world, charging into battle with the Union forces!
Alice Buford stood beside him, tall and graceful. Her distinguished silvery-grey hair was bound into a neat bun, and she beamed with obvious pleasure as she scanned the three of them. With her deep, dark eyes and high cheek bones, she reminded Luke yet again that you only had to look at her once to see where Ryan got most of his features.
Those eyes twinkled with fun.
“Hello!” added Alice Buford. “And do call me Alice...and this is my husband, Andrew.”
Smoothly, she made it so easy. She also reached for the proffered hand. "Luke we know, of course, and you must be Lucy. It’s so lovely to meet you at last!”
She drew back from the door to welcome them, and clasped Lucy's hand softly as Luke’s mum stepped through behind his dad.
Luke smirked as he followed. As they exchanged pleasantries, he bet his mum was struggling not to say ‘Yes Ma’am’ and offer a curtsey! He couldn't really blame her; the Bufords were a class couple. They didn't even have to speak and you still got the impression that the couple had stories to tell that would make your mouth drop!
Andrew Buford didn't leave them standing, and held out a guiding hand. “Please, come on through.”
They followed the Bufords into what was, to Luke, a familiar imposing hallway, with its grand piano and ornate decor. He'd got used to it over the years, but for what was just an entrance hall, the space was enormous. Light flooded down on them from the high, arching, grey-smoked windows, and he knew his mum would be thinking, ‘who the hell keeps a grand piano in the hall?’ He knew he did the first time he saw it!
“A pity we won't be seeing Simon today. I understand he's gone sailing," Alice said as they stepped out past the piano and through the smaller second atrium of a house that felt subtly different to Luke. How the presence of this fab old couple brought new life to the place!
Lucy shook her head. "I’m afraid not, Alice. He’s not feeling so well today. He was going to go sailing, but pulled out.” Maybe she could have fudged it, but Alice Buford wasn't someone you would think to tell little white lies to! “He underwent some minor surgery recently and is taking it easy today,” she added.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Alice frowned. There was nothing false about her tone. “I hope he gets well soon.”
“I’m sure he will.” Lucy studied the flowers in her hand, briefly lost in thought, then held them out for Alice.
"Are these for us?" Alice seemed genuinely delighted.
While his mum had been fussing at the store, all Luke could think was, 'They're loaded...what are they going to want with some poxy flowers?' All at once, he realized it had been exactly the right thing to do.
How did mums know these things?
They passed out of the atrium, skirted the kitchen and went outside onto the back patio. Alice took the flowers into the kitchen.
Outside, Luke spotted Ryan lounging at a wide table under one off the huge parasols that dotted the gleaming, natural granite slabs. With relief, he saw that he was wearing a full shirt too. It looked new, and the sleeves were rolled up. It went without saying that, if that shirt hadn't come from Justins at the mall, then it was from somewhere else just as good. With the shirt, Ryan sported formal slacks. Now Luke was glad he hadn't won the wardrobe argument that morning!
Even so, he studied the pool, begrudging the inability to just go throw himself into the beckoning waters on such a glorious sunny afternoon. The pumps we're on and the sounds of splashing and gurgling was heavenly!
As they approached, Ryan stood, and Luke smirked to see that, formal attire or not, Ry still didn't have anything on his feet. His face, however, was an absolute grin of delight as he said with ceremonial relish, "Mr. and Mrs. Summers. Welcome to our home!"
"Hey!” Luke pulled a face. “What about me?"
"You?" Ryan looked and sounded unrepentant. "We can hardly get rid of you, can we!" His eyes flashed in teasing humor, setting the mood for a relaxed gathering. He became the perfect host and drew out a comfortable seat and beckoned to Luke's mum.
"Lucy…can I get you something to drink?" He indicated two big jugs on the table, both filled with iced drinks. Next to them, an ice bucket with two uncorked bottles. "There's either fresh lemonade or iced tea, white wine, or rosé. Or I can get you something else if you prefer?"
"A glass of rosé would be lovely, Ryan, thank you," said Lucy, settling into a chair. "Luke's driving today."
Ryan's tone became sympathetic. "I'm very sorry to hear that."
"Hey! I heard that!"
Ignoring Luke, Ryan added, "And for you Geoff? Are you risking the chauffeur, too?" Ryan proffered the bottle.
Geoff started laughing as he took a seat. "I think I might—though the white for me, Ryan."
Luke laughed with them as Ryan poured. Despite the joke being on him, he had to hand it to Ryan—he was superb at this kind of thing.
"Oh!" Geoff's eyes opened wider as he took a sip. "This is delicious!"
Ryan looked pleased. "Papa knows a thing or two about wine."
"Not the batch of grapes you were treading yesterday afternoon then?" smirked Luke.
Quick as a flash, Ryan came back with, "Nope. Afraid that didn't work out. I mixed the remains in with the iced tea instead. He lifted the jug. "Can I pour you one?"
"Behave, young man!" Alice chuckled as she arrived on the patio to join them. An amused glint flashed between her and her grandson.
"Yes, Gramma." Ryan held her with a grin. Luke had seen them banter before and could tell how a strong that bond was.
As she slipped into a chair next to her husband, Geoff took another sip and said. "Would you by any chance be open to negotiating an exchange? Ryan for our son, I mean?"
"Anytime!" Ryan was the first to laugh.
Luke poured himself an iced tea, shaking his head at their antics.
"What a beautiful house, Ryan!" said Lucy.
Luke kept his face straight as she peered around her once they were all settled. He could read her easily enough, though he suspected that, if they had done a swap for Ryan that also included keeping that house, she might have been tempted. He couldn't blame her—he'd been taken in by the Alexis mansion when he first started coming here, too.
When Luke had first begun coming around, Ryan had been unexpectedly hesitant in revealing how they came to be in such a swanky place, as Luke had figured army captains didn’t get paid that much. Eventually Ry caved in and said most of it came from his grandparents. His grandfather was army, too, but they seemed to come from what Ry at the time had called ‘Old Virginia money’. That same foundation was what seemed to pay for his schooling, too.
Glancing around the property, he again was aware it was a stunning place—at least on the surface. In many ways, it was like a show house and powerfully impressive at first glance. In spite of that, he felt that the only room that really had any heart and life to it was Ryan's.
"Thank you, Lucy." Ryan beamed, but seemed to hesitate. "I only wish it hadn't taken so long to be able to have you over." The pause that followed wasn't long enough to become uncomfortable, but Luke didn't doubt that everyone around that table knew what was unsaid.
Ryan grinned again, and the momentary tension dissolved away. "So, these are my grandparents as you know. Papa and Gramma, I'm delighted to introduce you to Geoff and Lucy Summers." He was clearly thoroughly enjoying himself.
It was a sneaky teasing afterthought that he added, "Oh…and Luke too! Sorry Simon couldn't make it—I hear he's sailing?"
"Actually, that got called off," said Luke quickly. "He's not feeling so good today. I'll tell you about it later."
Relaxing with drinks under the expansive cover of the parasols, there seemed no rush to start eating. A light breeze blew pleasantly across the patio as the five of them chatted easily, and every so often, Alice would go check on the cooking. Time passed easily, though Luke was more than ready to eat when she declared the food was ready.
He had to hand it to the old lady...she knew how to cook! Simon had no idea what he was missing. Every little detail had been attended to, from the quality and positioning of the table décor, to the clever mix of flavors and delivery of the three courses. She had even managed to take the simple flowers his mum had brought and build them into a dazzling centerpiece!
At the same time, the sumptuous meal was fun and relaxed, with Ryan's grandparents being the source of no end of stories and reminiscences of times gone by. They were just as hilarious as they had been when he'd eaten out with them at Chops. He’d been confidant that his mum and dad would get on really well with them, and he’d been right.
After the meal finished, they retired out onto the patio once more—or Luke would have if Ryan hadn't waylaid him.
"Come on," Ryan said. "It's far too nice out there. Let's go in the pool."
Luke pulled a face. What he wouldn't do to get in there too. He shook his head and said, "I didn't bring anything."
However, Ryan was already bounding up the stairs. He turned back and grinned. "So? Either skinny-dip or borrow some of mine. Your choice!" He laughed and disappeared up onto the landing. Luke chased after him, trying to imagine his mum's expression if he skipped across the patio, buck-naked!
By the time he got to Ryan’s room, his friend was already stripping off, and Luke quickly caught up. Across from him, the dark purple shirt joined the formal black trousers on the bed. It was no different from when they'd been twelve-year-old kids, dragging off clothes without a care in the world and heading for the showerheads at school or at home hunting for swim shorts.
On this occasion, he couldn’t help but enjoy the color and fit of the boxers Ryan had underneath. They were purple, too, and a brand he’d never heard of. It looked like Ry had been shopping…again! He seemed to have shed most of his old black ones, at least as far as Luke could tell. The new look of brighter, yet still strong colors was a welcome change in his opinion.
"So, what's up with Simon?" asked Ryan. He slipped out of his boxers. He was apparently quite comfortable being completely in the buff with Luke. He crossed the room and opened the doors to his balcony to let in some fresh air before getting into his swimming shorts.
With interest and some appreciation, Luke took in the muscular frame that had paused at the balcony door, grinning to himself that Ryan seemed at ease enough to throw modesty out the window. Just as long as it wasn’t too far out of the window! Going out onto the balcony and waving his winky down at them probably wouldn’t be the best plan!
Ryan’s sense of ease was a good thing, Luke decided. It looked like the tennis camp had done him the world of good—and not just with his ball play! Ryan seemed refreshed as he turned to look back into the center of the room.
"Simon?" Luke replied to the previous question. "That's a long story."
He could hear the sounds of gurgling water through the open window and was eager to get out there. "Let's save it for the pool."
In the meantime, in bemusement, he studied the naked form that shone in the sunlight, as he stepped out of his own pants. Ry really was incredibly brown. Luke had thought he himself had caught some sun the last few weeks, but his skin was pale compared to Ry's rich tones.
"Have you seen yourself? I thought it was meant to be a tennis camp you were at, not a tanning salon!"
Ryan stopped and studied himself, peering over his shoulders and down at his sinewy legs. "I did brown a bit, didn't I."
"And the rest!" Luke was more than happy to appreciate the view, too. To hell with size and the crap that bigger was better. At that moment, a beautifully shaped, perfectly crafted middle stump hung comfortabley and unaware of its admirer.
Ryan had also trimmed again, Luke could see.
His friend had appeared to be happy to let them grow out over the summer. Maybe it had been for the tennis camp? Thinking about it, he would probably do the same if it had been him spending several days in locker rooms with people he didn't know. Better to play it safe.
He glanced at his own bush, deciding it was high time to trim too. He sniggered at the sudden recollection. "You know I got burnt?"
Ryan completed his 360 and looked up curiously. "As in sunburn?"
In good humor, Luke grimaced. "That day we were at Todd's place, before you went away. I sat too long in the sun and burned my dick!"
"You did what?" Ryan's eyes widened and his face creased into laughter. "Holy crap—how did that happen?"
"I think it was those new jammers! Someone forgot to make them with UV protection!" Luke peeled down his boxers and showed him. It surprised him that he found it easy to do so. He'd changed, he knew.
Getting cut and joining the 'norm' was part of it, but maybe they'd both subtly changed as a result of 'Scraped' and everything that had led up to that. He stepped out of his boxers—there was nothing that Ryan hadn't seen that he had to hide, and in its own way it was just another sign that everything was back on track.
"Just here." Still giggling he lifted up his dick and pointed to the head. "It peeled like crazy at first. I had to put sunburn cream on it for days!"
He'd become a lot less preoccupied over his own dick the last few months. It certainly didn't seem to consume him in the same way it had a year ago. Only he really knew how many months he'd spent ridiculously obsessing over why he wanted to be circumcised—to the point where it had kind of taken over. Now that it was done and dusted, he found he didn't really think about it so much, particularly now the terrible sensitivity had stopped making him bite his bottom lip!
"Goofball!" Ryan shook with laughter as he came closer. "You only just got it clipped—what else did you think was going to happen? Todd was right, you should have put a sock on it!"
Ryan placed a bare arm adjacent to Luke’s groin in comparison. "Could be worse though. Imagine turning up at school with it this color!"
Luke sniggered. It didn't particularly worry him what they might say, even if it was obvious. While he still appreciated the look of a well-shaped wanger, he no longer felt the need to keep endlessly comparing his own to other guys’ tackle.
Elliott Carter had thrown a curveball, but in a good way, he felt, and he'd come to realize there was more to a guy than what was inside his boxers, however sexy those were. Elliott wasn't gay, and neither was Ryan. He liked them nonetheless, and connected well with both. Friends like Ry—and even Elliott he hoped in time—were solid and dependable, and would be there for him until the right guy came along.
"Yeah, well I'm not going to be doing that again in a hurry!" he said at last.
"Bet you’re not!" Ryan appeared to study Luke's groin for a few moments, before turning away and opening the door to his walk-in closet.
Luke watched the familiar backside disappear and, for the first time, actually considered coming out to Ryan. The truth was, he was fairly sure Ry would understand. He certainly wouldn’t beat him up or throw him out—they’d known each other too long for that, and they had gone through too much together. No, Ryan would take it seriously, and it might not even change their friendship.
He’d have lots of questions, of course, but that was okay. In fact, Luke could do with those. In time maybe he’d even be able to tell Ry about Elliott.
Maybe. He looked down on himself and smirked. On the other hand, confessing to your best friend that you were gay while you were both standing stark naked in said friend's bedroom was probably not the wisest of settings for coming out of the closet!
"So how is it?" Ryan’s voice filtered from his closet. "Still glad you had it done?"
Luke smiled to himself. He couldn't imagine feeling comfortable having this kind of conversation with many other guys. “Sure...apart from burning it, it's been great. I hardly notice it anymore."
Of course that depended on your practical definition of 'notice!'
Ryan came out with two pairs of swim shorts and held up both. "For you. Black or black?"
"So I'm sensing a theme with you today. When have I ever looked good in black? Haven't you got anything else? What about the pair you were wearing at Todd's?"
"Oh my God—when did you get so fussy?" Ryan rolled his eyes, then went back into the closet. A muffled voice drifted back. “Crap, it’s such a mess in here—I really need a clear out! They must be here somewhere..."
Eventually he reappeared with two pairs in his hand: one black, and this time something else a bit more colorful. "It's all I can find."
"That’s more like it." Luke took the brighter pair and stepped into them to cover up. Ryan did the same. Tying off the strings, Luke added, "Here's something I bet you didn't know.”
"I met a kid the other week that was having his put back."
"Having what put back?" Ryan momentarily disappeared into his bathroom and came back with a couple of towels. “His clothes?”
"No…his foreskin! Amongst other things." Luke grinned as that stopped Ryan in his tracks.
"Holy shit!" Ryan’s eyes grew wide. "Can you even do that?"
"You know, that's exactly what I said!" Towel in hand, Luke headed to the door. "Come on, I'll tell you about that, and about Simon, when we're in the pool."