Rusty finished the monthly supply order and had just called it in when Rebekah's voice floated up the stairs.
“Homeless dude's back, he wants to talk to you.” Rusty walked over to the stairwell and called back, “His name is Brian, not 'Homeless Dude'. Tell him I'll be down in a minute.” Rusty saved the Quick Books file he was working on and headed down the stairs.
He crossed the hall and went in to the Brown Bear's storage room off the kitchen. Brian stood there, now dressed in considerably cleaner clothes, holding the neatly folded overalls. “I'm ready. What would you like me to do?”
The food and clean clothes had transformed Brian into a much more presentable and healthier looking man. He still needed feeding up but he looked in much better condition now than he had been this morning on the step. He’d made an effort to comb his hair and beard into some semblance of order even if he still looked a bit shaggy. His clothes, though worn, were no longer offensive to the nostrils; even the odorous jacket looked much more presentable and more importantly smelled clean.
“OK, follow me.” While they headed down the stairs to the cellar, Rusty told Brian what was needed. “You'll need to move some crates to give yourself some work space; there’s a hand truck over there in the corner for that. There are a bunch of shelves and brackets. They need to be assembled and then put up on the wall. My partner Norman has a box of tools down here somewhere.” Rusty rummaged through a pile of drop cloths and wood planking and found what he was looking for. “Here they are. There’re a couple of outlets over there and the shelves need to be mounted on this wall here. I've marked the locations for the shelves with chalk. Run them across the entire width of the wall. Once the shelves are anchored, we can decide where all the rest of this will go. Most of its stock for the coffee shop and I want it up off the floor. Eventually, we're going to put cabinets under the shelves, with a counter top. There's a drill and drill bits over here, somewhere.” Rusty stopped and looked at Brian. “Think you can handle it?”
“Cake and pie,” Brian said looking around.
“Piece of cake, easy as pie.” Brian answered with a shy smile. “My dad used to say that, 'cake and pie'.” Brian's smile died as quickly as if a switch had been flipped and he turned to the wall, examining the wooden uprights that would hold the shelves. “I'll give you a call when the shelves are up. It shouldn't take more than a few hours.” Brian shrugged out of his parka, laying it on one of the crates and set to work.
Rusty watched for a few minutes. He had noticed the sudden change in Brian's face from an almost fond look to a closed rigid blankness. He waited to see if Brian would add any comment but he seemed intent on his work and Rusty didn't feel he should intrude. 'Something's going on there,' he thought to himself as he climbed the stairs.
Once Rusty was up the stairs, Brian began moving the crates over to one side of the cellar. It felt good to use his muscles again for work instead of just walking. Once he had sufficient space cleared to work comfortably, he looked more closely at the wood uprights. They looked old but solid. He grabbed one and tried to pull on it. It didn't budge even a fraction. Further inspection showed that additional U brackets had been placed around them, anchored to the cement wall with thick lag bolts. Nodding with satisfaction, Brian set to work. The box of tools Rusty had pointed out contained everything he needed and within three hours, all the brackets were assembled and the shelving ready. He headed back up the stairs and poked his head into the store room.
“Rusty?” he called out.
“He's upstairs.” Rebekah answered, walking into the kitchen. “I'll call him for you, uh...”
Brian smiled and said, “I'm Brian.”
“Oh, yeah... right. I’m Rebekah, though ONLY the boss and my parents get to call me Bekah. Call me Becky and I’ll eat your liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone.” She smiled.
“I thought that was fava beans and a nice Chianti?” Brian asked.
“Not in the book, it wasn't.” Bekah winked, “Oh and sorry about the 'homeless dude' earlier but...”
“It's OK.” Brian stood there, not sure if he should go back downstairs or wait for Rusty to come down.
Rebekah went into the hall and hollered up the stairwell, “Boss, Brian needs to talk to you.” In short order, Rusty came downstairs and saw Brian standing in the doorway to the store room.
“I've got the shelves ready to put up but I have an idea. If you come down I can show you and you can decide.”
Rusty nodded and followed Brian down the stairs to the cellar. Things actually looked considerably neater than they had in a long time, he noted with approval. Brian was gesturing to the wall where the shelving brackets were mounted.
“If I notch the shelves, they'll sit flush against the wall. You won't have anything sliding down behind. And you said you were going to put cabinets and a counter top along here, under the shelves. I got to thinking; it would be handy to have some light there, under the shelves shining down on the counter. It would be easier to put the wiring in for that now, before the shelves or cabinets go in. If you like, I can do that now and raise this outlet here so it won't be behind the cabinets.” He paused. “I can do electrical.” He looked at Rusty.
Rusty looked at the wall and saw the sense of what Brian was proposing. He nodded. “That's a good idea. That's excellent, actually... well done!” Brian’s smile returned and there was a touch of pride in it. He felt good to be of use and to offer helpful suggestions. “Listen, I'll fix lunch and then we can head down to the hardware store. I have to make a deposit at the bank, anyway. Soup and sandwich be OK for you?”
“Sure would. Thank you!” Something in Brian's voice convinced Rusty that two meals in a row was a luxury that he had not been accustomed to lately. Rusty headed back upstairs to the shop's kitchen. He ladled out two bowls of the tomato bisque he had made yesterday, along with thick slabs of the whole wheat bread he had baked the day before. He reheated the soup in the micro while he toasted the bread and assembled the sandwiches with thin sliced garlic and rosemary roast beef, horseradish, mayo, sweet Walla Walla onion and a couple of thick slabs medium cheddar.
He stuck his head out into the front of the shop and saw that Donovan had been able to come in and that he and Rebekah were easily handling the lunch crowd, Rebekah's friendly voice chattering to all and sundry. Mornings and late afternoons and evenings were still the busy times. Not that many stopped in at lunch. “Thanks for coming in early, Donovan,” he said, returning to the ping of the microwave. Donovan nodded and turned back to his customer. Then, lunches in hand, Rusty headed back downstairs.
As they ate the lunch, Rusty made small talk with Brian. “How long you been out on your own, like this?” he said, gesturing towards the jacket and duffel, now stacked neatly in the corner.
“Little over five months.” Brian replied between bites.
“Where do you sleep?”
“Here and there; shelters, mostly, they're safer. The Salvation Army ones are the best, they're always clean and the food's good. You have to listen to prayers but that's OK. Smaller towns don't usually have shelters. Then it's an underpass or maybe a park… or a doorway.”
“Like this morning.”
There was a longer silence then and Rusty finally broke it with the question that had been on his mind. “Umm... how did you get to be homeless, if you don't mind my asking?”
Brian's face closed up and he looked at his plate. The silence grew cold. 'Uh oh. Wrong question,' Rusty thought to himself. Out loud, he said, “Sorry, Brian. I didn't mean to pry.”
Brian looked back up and snapped, “I just don't want to talk about it, OK?” Rusty nodded. “OK,” Brian said in a softer tone.
Rusty got up and reached for Brian's now empty plate. “Well, make a list of the things you'll need for the lights. I'll be ready to leave in about an hour.”
“You... you mean you still want me to do the work?” Brian looked questioningly at Rusty.
“Of course, why not?”
“Well, I thought... maybe... I...” Unsure, Brian looked up at Rusty, standing on the stairs. “Thanks. Lunch was really good. I'll be ready.”
Rusty headed up the stairs, feeling bad that he’d stepped on Brian’s sore spot, and crossed the hall to Moose's office. Eunice, the receptionist, was at her desk and Rusty could hear two patients chatting in the waiting room. “Is he with a patient?” Rusty asked.
“No, Mr. Z, he isn't, just finished. I was about to call the next one in. You can go back if you want.”
“Thanks Eunice.” Rusty liked the elderly receptionist. She had a calm, friendly air about her and the patients, some of whom were nervous about physical therapy or unsure of insurance claims, appreciated her friendly competence. Moose had hired her after she had been let go from her previous job for being 'too old'. She hadn't had the money to hire a lawyer for an age discrimination suit. Moose had been lucky to get her, Rusty thought to himself. He walked back to the treatment area and found Moose racking hand weights.
“Hey, lover, I'm headed down to the bank to make a deposit. Do you need anything from town?” He walked over to Moose and was scooped into a massive bear hug. He sighed deeply. “Mmmmmmm.”
“Nah, I don't... oh, wait. The printer called. The treatment forms for insurance claims are done, could you pick them up for me?” He kissed his bear and gave him a second squeeze.
“Sure, no problem, oh and I have a guy working in the cellar, putting up those shelves. He seems to be doing good work and is going to put some lights in for us as well down there. I'm taking him with me to pick up some stuff at the hardware store.”
“I heard when I went over for coffee ‘bout an hour ago. You picking up strays now? That doesn't sound like you.” Moose said with a worried look.
“No, it's not like that. I'll explain later when we get back. I want to get to the bank before it closes. You can meet him then.” Moose looked skeptical. “You'll like him, I think.”
“Maybe,” Moose said as he kissed Rusty on the forehead. “off you go, you'll miss the bank.”
Meanwhile, Brian had gone right back to work, driving home the last of the screws and mentally kicking himself for snapping at Rusty. 'This guy's been real nice to me and I had to go and be rude. Serve me right if he'd told me to get out.' He bore down especially hard on the last of the screws, nearly stripping it with the power driver. He tidied up, unplugged the drill and put the tools back in the tool box. He made out the list of the things he would need for the lighting. By the time he was done, Rusty came back down the stairs.
“Yep, got the list, let me know what you want done here,” he said, pointing to the wall. “ I thought I'd wire the lights into the wall switch but also with a switch of their own. That way, they could go on when you flip the switch by the stairs for the overhead but you could turn them off separately if you wanted to. Is that OK with you?”
“Sounds good. Let's go, I need to hit the bank before it closes.” Rusty trotted back up the stairs and Brian followed. They got into Rusty's SUV and headed downtown. They rode in silence for a bit, with Brian looking around at the town as they drove along.
“This is bigger than I thought.” he said, to fill the space left while he tried to get the courage to apologize to Rusty for his earlier sharp response.
“Yeah, it's grown a lot in the past couple of years. We've got cable TV and the internet and everything now,” Rusty said with a smile, “just like downtown. Traffic has picked up since they put the signs up on the main highway, we're now officially a 'business loop', so we get more traffic through town for gas and food and such. You can't really see the town from the highway.” Rusty was gesturing as he drove, pointing out things, keeping the conversation light and easy. There was a pause as Rusty turned in to a parking lot. “Here's the hardware store. Why don't I let you go in and pick up the stuff you need. I'll make the deposit at the bank and pick up Norman's forms at the printer and meet you back here in, say, thirty, forty minutes? I'll come inside and then we can check out. Sound good?”
Brian nodded and got out. Before he shut the door, he looked at Rusty. There was a pause and then he said, “Thanks for trusting me. You won't be sorry.” He closed the door and headed into the store. He kicked himself for not saying what he really needed to.
Rusty took care of the deposit and chatted briefly with the teller, picked up the forms at the printer, then headed back to the hardware store. He parked close to the exit and went inside, still half expecting not to see Brian but he was waiting with a push cart close to one of the check-out registers. He waved when he saw Rusty.
“You got everything you'll need? I hate doing handyman chores, Norman is much better at it and I always have to make at least two trips to the hardware store... I ALWAYS forget something.”
“I think so. I don't need much, but tell me if you like the lights. I got slim line ones, plain white, so you won't really notice them and you could paint them if you want, to match any color for the cabinets and counter. It's not too much, is it? Money, I mean.”
Rusty looked at the boxes and nodded approval. “They look fine, and no, it isn't too much.” He paid when the clerk had rung everything up and he and Brian carried the items to the car. “Just dump that in the back.” They climbed into the SUV and headed back to the Brown Bear.
“Umm,” Brian started to say something then stopped.
“What?” Rusty carefully asked. Brian had been touchy earlier and Rusty wasn't sure he was over it yet.
Brian had been thinking all the time he was in the hardware store. Rusty's earlier question had been a natural one, almost inevitable; and Brian had reacted in the same negative way he always had when it had come up before. But it bothered him anyway. 'He seems like a nice guy. I should apologize. And if he doesn't like gays, he'd probably just ask me to go, not beat me. Wait, he mentioned a partner... but that could be a business partner, though. I don't want to keep making up stories. Maybe I should tell him and just get it over with.' Brian took a deep breath.
“I'm sorry about earlier, I didn't mean to be rude to you.” He paused, gulped and then plowed on. “I was kicked out. From home, I mean. You asked how I got to be living on the streets. I was home from college and told my folks I was gay. My dad, he kicked me out, said he wouldn’t have a sodomite living under his roof and wouldn’t support one either.” He looked sideways to Rusty, to see how he was taking his confession. Rusty's eyes were on the road but he was nodding. “They even kept the keys to my car. Well it was theirs, really, I guess. It was supposed to be a loan until I graduated. I didn't have any money, they were paying my tuition and since it was summer, my roommates had split and the rent was due. I tried to get a job but all the summer jobs were taken by then. I got some day work here and there and stayed with a buddy for a couple of weeks. I tried to apply for financial aid or a scholarship so I could continue school, but if you don't have an address and your parents won't co-sign or even forward mail for you... Anyway, things just got worse. One guy who hired me tried to rape me when he found out I was gay and I sort of hurt him defending myself. He called the police and lied to them, said I had attacked him first. The police didn't totally believe him but they didn't seem to believe me, either. I left town then, figured it was safer than hanging around. I’ve been drifting since.”
Rusty drove in silence while Brian talked, his grip on the wheel tightened and his knuckles turned white. For some reason, such stories touched a chord deep in Rusty, something that caused a primal, unfocused anger. He’d always been an underdog in school and in his youth, picked on and bullied. He keenly felt injustice directed towards young people, even now. He knew from more recent experience that such unfocused rage brought his bear out, ready to fight; something Brian could not be allowed to see.
Forcing himself to remain calm, he pulled over on a side street and stopped. He turned to the young man and said, “I'm sorry, truly I am, more sorry than you might believe. It's horrible to be rejected, particularly by your family, but sadly, it's not all that unusual. It happens to a lot of gay kids. Forty percent of the young homeless are gay, because their families kicked them out. Have you tried to contact them? Tried to work something out? Maybe, after they've had time to think about...”
Brian cut him off. “They hate me. Mom said I was unnatural. Dad said I was going to burn in hell and he was glad because there would be one less of my kind in the world. They said I’d made my choice and I’d betrayed them and God. I was an abomination.”
Rusty took a deep breath to calm himself. “Sometimes, parents say things they later regret, in the heat of the moment...”
Brian shook his head and looked out the side window. He mumbled, “They changed the locks on the house, in case I still had a key.” He looked down into his lap, “I don’t exist to them anymore. I asked my dad if he cared if his son died on the street. He said I wasn’t his son anymore so, no, he didn’t care. He made me feel so ashamed, so guilty… that I had done something wrong, that I was something wrong.” Brian turned his head to look back out the window, shoulders tense.
“Oh… I’m so sorry, Brian.” Rusty said this in the calmest, most sympathetic tone he could muster, but what he wanted to do was scream. Not at Brian... he wanted to scream at the injustice, the cruelty, the callousness. He was feeling the bear within awaken and he had to stop that, he knew. He continued, “If it helps, you didn’t do anything wrong or evil and anyone that thinks otherwise is without compassion and they probably have always been. It is they, not you, who should be made to feel ashamed and they who are guilty. I don't know your parents, but what they did was wrong.” Rusty trembled slightly, forcing down the rage building within him. He considered putting his hand on Brian's thigh, patting him to give some measure of reassurance, but held back.
“It’s OK, you didn’t do anything. I’m over it, got the scars to prove it. I cried myself out months ago, I suppose,” he said. That controlled tone of voice had returned and Rusty somehow knew it was because Brian had, for the time being, reached the limit of what he would talk about in relation to his past.
Brian screwed a smile on his face and looked into Rusty’s eyes, “That’s the past, no sense in living there, is there? Doesn’t do anyone any good; live in the moment, right?” Brian said, taking a breath and wiping an eye with his sleeve.
Rusty started the car back up and a few minutes later, pulled into the alley behind the Brown Bear. After unloading the bits and pieces and carting them downstairs, Brian got back to work and Rusty headed out front. The afternoon lull was almost over. People off work early and heading home would soon be drifting in for the after-work caffeine fix. Donovan was wiping down the last of the tables and Rebekah was restocking milk. “Everything OK, Bekah?” he asked.
“Fine, Boss. You OK? You look… disturbed,” Rebekah said.
“I’m…” Rusty breathed and then sighed, “I’m OK.” He smiled, but Rebekah could tell Rusty was still chewing on something. “There’s just a lot that’s wrong with the world and sometimes it gets to me.” Rusty said.
“Tell me about it!” she said, “I guess all you can do is fix what you can in your little corner of it. Cheer up, Boss! Sun's shining and you’ve done good your good deed today.”
Rusty smiled, genuinely. “I’ve said it before, what would I do without you, Bekah?”
“Trip over your shoes and fall flat on your face, I suppose.” She smiled sweetly.
“I suppose.” Rusty sighed. “So, how are we doing?”
“We're all caught up. Oh and three customers said they really liked the new muffins, the cranberry ones. I had one of the lemon ones, they're good too. Hey, by the way Boss, where did you find that kid? The one in the cellar, your good deed?” Rebekah had done the asking but both she and Donovan were looking at him.
“On the front door step.”
Donovan snorted and Rebekah looked askance.
“No, really! On the front step, this morning. He didn't look like your typical homeless tramp and it turns out he's pretty good at house repairs and the like. His folks kicked him out; he's been sleeping in shelters, and some less comfortable places.”
“So you took him in? I hope you got the cash locked up and the door to upstairs locked. You don't know what he might do. There are nut cases out there, you know.” Donovan was obviously not impressed.
“It's not like that. This guy's nice, a good worker. He insisted on working off the breakfast I gave him.”
“Some of these guys'd stick you and run off with the money, even after you'd been nice to them. Seriously, it's a crazy world out there.” Donovan slung the wet cloth over his shoulder and walked to the kitchen.
“Good deed or no, it still couldn’t hurt to be cautious.” Rebekah said.
Rusty scratched the back of his head and changed the subject. “Who's coming in to close with Donovan?”
“Jackie is this week and before you ask, yes, I'll be here for Jazz and Java on Friday. I'm going to put some more posters up when I leave. The library said I could put one up there and Ronson's Drugs said OK, too, and a couple of other places. You need me to ask Donovan to come in early tomorrow?” Rebekah was finished with the milk and getting ready to leave. Rusty was again reminded of a small, red-haired whirlwind.
“No, Zach should be back tomorrow,” Rusty said, hoping it was true. He really didn't like getting up early. Now, waking and fucking early was entirely different. Rusty smiled at that thought as the first of the late afternoon customers walked in.
- - - - - - - -
“Who's next, Eunice?” Moose said, sticking his head inside the receptionist's office. The view through the large opening above the counter showed an empty waiting room.
“Mrs. Nelson called and canceled, so you're done for the day, Mr. Masterson.”
“Really? Cool! Say, why don't you take the rest of the day off, too, Eunice? Give yourself a treat.” Moose smiled at the elderly woman who kept his accounts in order, his appointments straight and the insurance companies that paid his patient's bills happy.
“I really should get to those treatment forms that your young man dropped off.” It always amused both Moose and Rusty that Eunice insisted in calling Rusty 'your young man', even though both of them were middle aged, with Rusty actually the elder by a year.
“They can wait until tomorrow. Go! It's a nice day out. Go, work in your garden.”
“Well...” Eunice allowed herself to be convinced. “I did want to turn the flower beds. Thank you, I will,” she said, now determined. “I'll come in a bit early tomorrow and work on those,” she said, gesturing to the box of forms. She tidied her desk and took her coat from the hook. “Have a good afternoon, Mr. Masterson. I will see you tomorrow... and thank you!” Reaching for her purse, she walked out through the waiting room, flipped the Open sign to Closed and shut the door behind her.
Moose followed and locked the front door, turned off the lights in the waiting room and the treatment area and closed the hall door behind him. The sound of a dropped wrench from below reminded him of Rusty's stray. 'I should go down and introduce myself to him, I guess,' he thought, 'see what he's like.' Moose went down the stairs, automatically ducking his head so as not to hit the top of the door frame into the cellar.
Moose was impressed; the crates had been moved, now neatly lined up along the back and side, leaving an open area in the middle. The brackets and shelves were up and it looked like the young man was putting the finishing touches on some lights under the bottom row of shelving. Wires stuck out of surface-mount channeling along the base of the wall closest to the stairs and a new switch had been mounted close to the shelves. Moose cleared his throat.
Brian started and turned to the sound of Moose's voice.
“I didn't mean to scare ya., the big man smiled warmly. “I'm Moose, Rusty's partner. He told me you were doing some work for us down here and I thought I'd introduce myself.” He stuck out his large paw of a hand. As he caught the scent of the guy, he felt a faint stir in his balls.
Brian was wearing a worn Sex Pistols t-shirt, sweat circles under his arms. He brushed his hands against his pant legs and shook hands with Moose. “I'm Brian.”
'Good strong grip,' Moose thought to himself. “Hey, this all looks really good! Rusty'll be glad to have the storage space finally done down here. We did a ton of work upstairs but somehow, we never got around to finishing this.” Moose looked around again, nodding approval. Looking back at Brian, the tingle was still there, increasing if anything; and Moose was getting a bit of a chubby. “So, you a Sex Pistols fan?” he said, looking at and pointing to the shirt.
“Well, no, I got it in a bundle of cast offs that were handed out at one of the shelters I stayed at. Don’t even really know who they are,” Brian said.
“Ah, well…” Moose, never good at small talk, felt a little awkward and there was an uncomfortable silence, the tingle still persistent.
“I want you to know I really appreciate what Rusty has done for me, uh, Moose. It's good to be able to do some work, instead of taking handouts. I guess he's told you about how he found me this morning.”
“Yeah, a little. I know it's rough, finding work now, especially if you don't already know someone. You from around here?” Moose was looking the young man up and down without giving away his appreciation. 'Nice looking guy but man, he needs some meat on his bones. He looks half starved.' He waited for Brian's response.
“Nah, I'm from Edmonds originally.”
“Washington?” Moose asked.
The young man nodded. “I've been working my way south, looking for work the last few months.”
“You're kinda young to be out on the streets, ain'tcha?” Moose's tone was friendly but he wanted some solid information from this stray his mate had taken in. The young man's beard was full, a little long, and not at all sparse; but he still looked like he wasn't that long out of high school. Around here, most of the homeless were considerably older.
“I was home from college when my folks kicked me out.” Brian took a deep breath, braced for the inevitable next question. He decided he would beat Moose to the punch. “They kicked me out when I told them I was gay. They made it clear I was dead to them and didn't want me back, so I left.” He stood, not at all sure how this big, masculine man would take that. Moose sat down on the corner of one of the crates.
Moose scratched at his beard and sensing the younger man’s nervousness, decided to put his mind at ease. “Well, now, small world isn't it? You can relax; I introduced myself as Rusty's 'partner' for a reason. We've been together for 12 years. As lovers. As mates.” Moose grinned. “Whooo-ah! You should see the look on your face. What did you think 'partner' meant?”
Brian looked chagrined. “I... I thought maybe... business partners? I'm sort of new to all this. You mean you guys are married and all?”
“Yeah, I wish. No, not legally married, that's not possible... yet; but you know that's being challenged, so maybe soon. But we are committed to each other and as far as we're concerned, we're as good as married. But we are registered domestic partners. This is actually one of the better states to be gay in, legal-wise.”
Brian seemed to relax a bit then. He gestured to the lights and the new switch. “I'm nearly done here; I just need to connect the wires to the wall switch there. Can you show me where the breakers are for here, so I can kill the power? Will that be OK? I don't want to knock out the whole building.”
“Or yourself,” Moose said, laughing and relaxing some himself. This guy certainly appeared to be harmless enough. “Sure, up the stairs, they're in a closet, follow me.” Moose and Brian went up the stairs and Moose showed him where the breaker panel was. “It's marked 'Cellar', see?” Moose said, pointing to the right breaker. “I'm pretty sure it only kills the cellar, nothing else. I'm sure they'll yelp if anything dies in the coffee shop.” He turned to Brian. “Where will you go when you're finished here?”
Brian looked down at the floor for a moment then raised his head. “Um, I guess I’ll go to the shelter probably, if they have room tonight. Otherwise, if there's a park close...”
Moose shook his head. He'd been impressed with the young man's straightforward answering of his questions and his need to work instead of accepting charity. He found himself liking the kid and of course, there was that tingle that was tickling now in Moose's brain, telling him that this kid was OK.
“No, I don’t think so. I don't know what Rusty's already said to you and I'll talk to him about this, but I'm sure we can find a place for you to sleep tonight. The shelter here is small and with it still being cold at night, I'll bet they have a crowd already. Don't worry, we'll work something out.”
Brian's eyes had a bit of a shine to them when he looked Moose in the face and extended his hand. “Thanks. I'm... I... I don't know what to say except thanks. I hate most of the shelters. You can't really sleep in them, you have to keep half awake all the time so as no one steals your stuff. I've been lucky so far, no lice or fleas, but sometimes I'd rather just sleep on the floor than on some of those cots. And most of them don't have showers you can use. Rusty gave me money to get my clothes washed and let me shower for as long as I wanted. Do you know how long it had been since I could do that?”
Somehow, that simple statement made a huge impression on Moose. He realized that there were a great many things he took for granted in his daily life that would be out-of-reach luxuries to Brian.
“You finish up down here. I'll go talk to Rusty. Don't worry, we'll work something out.” He reached past Brian and flipped the breaker, then handed him a battery powered lantern from the shelf above. “Here, you'll need some light down there, to connect your wiring.” He squeezed Brian's shoulder and turned and headed for the Brown Bear.
Donovan looked up from the counter. “Oh, hi, Moose! If you're looking for the boss, he went upstairs about a half hour ago. Let me check, though.” Donovan didn't move but instead turned his head to holler, “Jack-eee, is the boss back there or upstairs?” A disembodied voice hollered back from the kitchen, “I dunno... he's not here.” Donovan turned back to Moose, who obviously had heard the entire exchange and said anyway, “He's not here, so he must still be upstairs.”
“Thanks.” Moose shook his head and smiled. Donovan was a nice enough kid but unless you were talking about the latest tech-house DJ, he was sometimes almost willfully clueless. He left and climbed the stairs. Nearing the door that led to their home, Moose heard Rusty muttering, “Oh, PRINT, you stupid machine! Just ONCE, do what I want you to!”
“Problems?” he said, circling his arms around his lover's shoulders and kissing him on the head.
“Stupid 'updated' printer driver, nothing but trouble.” Rusty poked at the printer's paper tray.
Moose couldn't resist. “Is it plugged in?” Rusty gave him a sour look and sighed, “Yes, it's plugged in. I checked that first... doofus.” He purposely echoed Moose’s epithet, from earlier. He smacked the printer. Suddenly, it wheezed into life, spitting out the monthly wage and expense report. “Maybe it's time for a new printer.”
“Well, it's a business expense, we can write it off. Want me to ask Rebekah what's available that's good?” Moose rubbed Rusty's shoulders, loosening the tight muscles he found there.
“Yeah, that would be...ummmm, a little higher...good. Ahhhhh.... keep doing that and I'm liable to cum.” Rusty reached up and stroked Moose's furry muscular forearms and the thick, blunt fingers that were digging into his shoulders and neck.
Moose stopped. “Nuh-uh. I got other plans for that bear seed of yours.” He gave a final squeeze.
“And your point would be?”
Rusty pushed back the chair and rose. “That I love you, you big sexy lug. Now what do you want for supper?” The two bears padded towards the kitchen.
The second story space, spanning the entire building, had been turned into their home. The original support beams had been heavier than usual, as this had been built to be the original retail store's warehouse space. The original store had been a general one, selling everything from grain to iron goods and the stock was stored upstairs, heavy as well as light, with a unique cage elevator centered along the back wall transporting the goods downstairs as needed. The elevator was long gone but the heavy timber beams and bracing meant that Rusty and Moose had few constraints on how they used the space. They knocked out several false walls that had divided the area and had ended up with a large open space for the kitchen and living areas, with a large, efficient layout for the kitchen. Rusty was the cook in the family, so it reflected his choices and tastes.
“We could feed a small army out of here,” Moose had said as the work on the upstairs had approached the finish line.
“Well, you saw how bears eat when we were at Boris' place. When we have company, we'll need the space for cooking. I hope the pantry is big enough,” Rusty had said, counting shelves for the third time.
The living room featured an assortment of sturdy couches and arm chairs along with a freestanding wood stove. One wall had space for two computers and a large screen TV. The floor and walls were well insulated, so the wood stove was mostly for atmosphere rather than actual heating. The insulation served a second purpose in that it quite effectively muffled any noise either bear might make, in bed or out.
The remaining space had been divided into two more or less equal areas. One was Moose and Rusty's bedroom and bath, comfortably fitted with a custom-sized bed. The bathroom had an oversize walk-in shower with a tile bench and multiple jet spray heads. The other room was for guests, fitted with two king size beds and a similar bathroom. Between the bathrooms was a wood paneled steam room, accessible from both baths. “I'd like to have a hot tub, but a bear-sized one is kind of impractical up here. This works.” Moose had said as he'd put the finishing touches on the bedroom plans. Rusty had wisely given Moose free rein in the bedroom area. 'That way,' he'd thought, 'he can't complain about my kitchen!'
While Moose shredded ingredients for a salad and mixed the dressing, Rusty assembled the casserole for the oven. Moose had always had a big appetite but Rusty now reveled in no longer having to watch what he ate. Not for the first time, Rusty thought to himself that being were certainly had its advantages, even with the unique problems it presented. He had long since gotten over his resentment at Moose's having changed him without his knowledge. Of course, Moose hadn't had any idea that he himself was changing, morphing inexorably into a werebear, when he'd filled his lover's ass with an especially large amount of cum one night over six years ago. That mating had left Rusty bruised and somewhat scared, Moose remorseful, and the both of them headed towards unknown new lives.
Moose finished the dressing. “I’m going downstairs to tell Brian to knock off for the evening. If you're OK with it, I'll let him know he can stay the night. We’ve got that unfurnished room in the back he can use and there's the bath and shower down there. Damn, if he hasn’t earned his daily bread today.”
“More than.” Rusty replied.
Moose turned to go downstairs but Rusty stopped him, “Love, I’ve been thinking. What if… what if we help Brian out a little more?”
“Whatcha have in mind?”
“He needs an address… he needs to get on his feet. That’s hard enough when you have family but his disowned him.” Rusty’s face darkened with the memory of what Brian had told him, “We both know what it’s like being gay in a straight world.”
“I know, I was sorta thinkin’ the same thing.” Moose sighed, “He really does seem like a nice kid. We’ll talk about it over dinner. But we need to let him know we’re not asking him to be our love slave or house boy or any of that.”
“He told me he was almost raped once, so he's bound to be skittish… We'll need to make sure he knows he's safe here.” Rusty continued, more to himself than to Moose. “He’ll have an address, a place to sleep, he can go apply for work and eventually get back into college if he wants.”
Moose caught Rusty in a bear hug. “And here it's usually me who's the softie. I believe you've had this worked out in your mind all day haven't you, you lil’ devil?” He smiled at Rusty. “I love you.”
“Now, what makes your think that, Norman? Now get downstairs and tell Brian dinner will be ready soon.” Rusty chided but smiled back at him.
Moose clomped down the stairs in a hurry singing, “We are fam-i-ly…” in a somewhat off-key falsetto.
“I heard that!” Rusty called down after his lumbering love.