So I finished the SCB (Shitty Craft Book) which I have been working on for two weeks. It’s twelve a.m., and I don’t want to start my next novel until tomorrow. (ETA–I didn’t finish this last night, so now it’s 11:30 on Halloween night, and I wanted to give you guys a treat!)
And yesterday was sort of boring, but today was sort of busy.
So where does that leave me?
Or Ficlet, really.
This one is sort of a fan favorite that I don’t really want to give a full novel to–but who, I think, deserves some screen time. (Mostly because Parker and Jason whine a lot, and I love them.)
So, in Hiding the Moon, we find out a teeny bit more about Jai’s personal life. Jai is Ace Atchison’s employee, and he’s well over six-feet tall, has a shaved head, a goatee, and a really disturbing smile. While he’s rooting through his crappy Toyota for a stud finder so he can spot landmines, he reveals that he’s seeing somebody– but, “He’s married, and I do not like him.”
Jai is lying.
On all counts.
But then, he really doesn’t know what to do with George.
* * *
Jai actually loved camping.
Originally he’d just found the gear at a rummage sale, and given that he’d only lived in his tiny apartment for a few months at the time, and Ace and Sonny weren’t really paying him on the same scale as his former employer, the mob boss, he thought a plan B for a place to live would be a good idea.
Then he had it, and Ace and Sonny started giving him days off, and he didn’t know what to do.
He enjoyed going to their place for movies sometimes, but not too much. Too small, too much emotion, too much… Sonny.
He half-hated himself for his badly hidden torch for Sonny. Ace knew–Jai could tell. Every now and then, Jai would think about petting Sonny’s yellow hair, just to feel it, but he would catch Ace regarding him, eyebrows raised in that handsome country-boy face, and Jai’s cheeks would burn.
Ace knew, but he trusted Jai.
Jai, who had once fucked his way through an entire male brothel and left the boys panting and exhausted and done, had been forced to just stand there, next to someone who made him protective as a bear over a cub, and watch him be in love with another man.
At least Ace was worthy.
If Jai had any doubts, they’d been erased after Ace had killed the guy who’d attacked Sonny at their last race.
Jai would have killed him no problem–but for Ace, with his damned sense of chivalry and fair play to commit that kind of murder, well, that was true love right there.
So it was hard for Jai to go over to their place and watch movies. Finally, he decided fuck it! He had the camping gear. If nothing else he could sleep somewhere the walls weren’t closing in.
He had a choice–mountains or ocean–and he picked mountains.
He was fairly competent and not a moron. He bought broken in boots, wore worn jeans, a sweatshirt he didn’t mind getting dirty, and some fleece, and reserved a campsite by Lake Tehachapi.
He grabbed an ice chest, some beers, some hot dogs, and even remembered some sticks, as well as some tinned soup and the little camp stove and pot set that had come with his tent, bag, and the big egg crate meant to cushion his big body from the rocks.
Oh my God.
It was almost a science.
He even remembered a fishing pole.
HIs grandfather had taught him fishing, back in the Ukraine when he’d been a boy, before the gang, the recruitment, and the plane ticket to America that he’d spent twenty years working off before his boss decided he’d be better off with Ace and Sonny.
He was pretty sure his boss had been a murderer, and definitely a motherfucker, but Jai couldn’t be mad at him.
Ace and Sonny’s was not a bad place for someone like Jai.
He no longer had to break people’s legs, but he didn’t feel comfortable looking for a legitimate job with anybody else.
And look at him– camping!
He was actually quite content.
He set up camp under the trees, enjoying the coolness of the mountains, and made himself a sandwich as soon as he arrived. Then he set off toward the lake, pole over his shoulder, tackle box in one hand, camp stool under his arm.
He didn’t expect to catch anything, really, but he remembered that fishing had been relaxing, and nobody ever accused you of sitting and staring into space.
It was like fishing was a get-out-of-relaxing-free card.
So there he was, worm wriggling somewhere in the muddy waters of the lake, enjoying the sound of other campers bouncing off the surface, when the bushes rustled behind him.
And a water buffalo stampeded out.
Not really a water buffalo–a big young man, in his late twenties maybe, wearing jeans and a T-shirt and tennis shoes.
His face was almost green, and he staggered to the water and fell to his knees, retching a weak fluid into the lake.
He was so close Jai just had to lean over a little from his camp stool to rub the poor man’s back.
He waited until the vomiting was done, and then reeled in his hook.
Worm was gone. Pity. With that mess in the lake, it wasn’t like any fish were going to swim near for a good couple of days.
“You are okay?” Jai asked, mildly curious.
“No,” the poor man groaned, collapsing on his stomach, thankfully a few feet to the right of the mess. “I’m not okay. God.”
“Did you drink too much?”
“No! I was fine. Set up my site, feeling good. Then suddenly.” He groaned and rolled to his side, holding his hands around his stomach. “Not,” he finished, after it became clear he didn’t have the strength to throw up again.
Jai was left in a quandary.
The man–blond hair, pale face, tall and rangy–looked as though normally he could care for himself.
But not now.
Now he was lying in the dampness of the weeds at the edge of the lake, shivering, and not really wearing enough clothes even if they hadn’t been wet.
A year ago, and he would have gotten up and walked away.
But not now.
Not after being with Ace and Sonny for the past months. Not after Alba thought of him as a hero. And Sonny thought of him as a friend. And Ace trusted him.
He stood and folded up his little camp stool, slinging it over his back with the strap, then grabbed the towel he’d brought just in case he’d gotten wet. He wrapped the towel around the man–tall, yes, but Jai was nearly six-eight–and then lifted him in his arms. He gave a thought for the fishing rod and the box and decided to come back for them.
“Your tent or mine,” he asked brutally.
The young man–and his face looked really young this close–squinted at him. “I’m in the bed of my truck,” he mumbled.
“This is not warm enough,” Jai decided. “I have a four-man tent. And blankets. Come.”
It’s not like he had any choice. He was weak as a kitten. He didn’t even struggle as Jai carted him the distance back to his campsite.
He did mumble, “Hey, what’re you–“
“There is vomit on your clothes, and mud,” Jai muttered as he stripped the jeans off and the tennis shoes with them. He left the underwear but took off the T-shirt with the soiled sweatshirt, and threw the outer clothes outside the tent, all the better to rinse them off in the lake. “Will you throw up again?”
To his credit, the man thought about it. “No. Stomach cramps gone. I’d already lost most of it in my campground. I just wanted to… God. Rinse off.”
“Mm.” Jai sat the man down on a bare spot on the tent floor, at the apron. “Stay there. I’ll be back.”
He had no warm water, which was a pity. He did have a pot full of cold water set up on the camp stove for heating, both for hot chocolate and to use in the tub to wash dishes. He turned the heat on, grabbed a water bottle and a cloth and went back to the tent.
The man was sitting where Jai had left him, legs sprawled in front of him, shoulders slumped dejectedly, shivering in the cool of the shade and mountain air.
Poor man. “Here.” Jai dumped some water on the cloth and handed it to him. “Wash what needs to be washed.” He handed the man the water bottle. “Rinse and spit if you need to. I will be building a fire.”
He nodded, and smiled weakly. Jai noted that he had a sort of narrow face, with a chin in a point, and cheekbones that weren’t wide enough to make him fox-faced like Sonny. Still, it was a pleasant face–or would be if it wasn’t waxy and pale.
“Thank you,” the man rasped.
“Your campsite? The one with the truck?”
“Mm… the keys are in the vehicle? Do not worry–I shall simply move it here. Otherwise, you have nothing else to wear.”
That weak nod, and Jai felt a surge of gratitude that he had been the one to pick this stranger up and put him in his tent. Otherwise, the poor man was a ripe target for thieves and murderers and mob enforcers without Jai’s developing sense of conscience.
A half-an-hour later, he had found the campsite and repacked the man’s gear in the bed of his battered, poorly maintained F-150 before moving it behind his own Toyota. Then he’d started building the fire in the pit, carefully, using wood that was seasoned but not too sappy. He’d brought some of his own–a bag of kindling and some logs from the local camp store–and it took very little time before the warmth from the fire pit infused the little camp space with some merriness and light.
And blessed warmth.
Jai walked to the tent and stood at the zipped up door, uncharacteristically tentative.
“Little puking man, are you still in there?”
“Mm.. Yes. Come in.”
Jai had set up his bedroll by unrolling the queen-sized egg crate and then putting two full-sized bags zipped together, on top of it. They were made especially for someone tall, like he was, and he figured that way, he would have all the room he needed.
His little man was huddled inside the sleeping bags, on the edge, shivering.
“You are still cold?”
“Do not hurt yourself. I have some fleece blankets here.” He pulled them out from under the foot of the sleeping bag. “I’m going to put these in with you, yes?”
The man made a little mewling sound when Jai unzipped his side of the sleeping bag, and it was no wonder. He was burning up. Jai wrapped him in the fleece quickly and then zipped up the bag again, squatting and holding his hand to the man’s forehead.
“I have some medicine for this. You can keep it down, yes?”
The man nodded, still shivering.
“You’d better. Your gear is very much better quality than mine. You throw up in my bag, I shall sleep in yours.”
To his surprise the poor guy smiled. “You’re funny. I feel like shit and you’re funny. It’s like a gift. What’s your name.”
“Jai. Like ‘Hello, my name is Jai.'”
Another smile. “George. Like my parents couldn’t think of a better name, so they called me George.”
Jai wrinkled his nose. “George sounds like someone who never gets laid. That is a pity.”
George let out a dry rasp of a laugh. “It is indeed.” He closed his eyes then and sank into his own misery, and Jai went to fetch him some ibuprofen from his car.
Jai made himself dinner using a soup packet and warm water. He’d been planning on hot dogs, but after cleaning up after George he found the whole idea unpleasant.
He ate his soup, cleaned up, and sat on his chair for a while, contemplated the stars and the embers, and feeling surprisingly at peace.
Until the nuisance in the tent had to have a say.
“It’s sort of unnerving, you sitting out there all quiet. Can you… I don’t know. Put on some songs or something? Or talk to me?”
Jai grunted. He had no boombox and he did not feel like talking.
But the poor man in the tent–George–was sad and miserable, and Jai was starting to feel obliged.
“Your truck?” he asked.
“It’s awful. Who maintains it for you?”
“I change my own oil–“
Jai grunted. “I work for a garage. T hey would make that vehicle run so much better. You are no good with cars. What are you good with?”
“Patients,” George said promptly. “I’m a nurse.”
Jai felt a moment’s disappointment. “That is too bad. You are entirely too nice a person to be my friend. Why did you pick that profession?”
“Cause I was a shitty human being as an adolescent, and once I survived and saw how shitty I was, I thought I sort of needed to pay it back.”
Jai grunted, immeasurably cheered. “Did you drink? Do drugs? Steal cars?”
“No. I was just really bitchy to my family–wow, you have a low bar.”
Jai slumped in his camp chair again. “My family would understand those other things. Being bitch to them would get you killed.”
He looked up at the sky, so vast and enormous. It was like all that darkness divided him and his appealing lost puppy George.
Lost puppy George could have a family or a girl friend for all Jai knew.
“George, do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, Jai. I’m gay.”
Jai’s eyes traveled to the embers banking in the fire pit. So much closer. So much warmer. So much promise.
“That is good.”
“Why?” George sounded tired, as though the conversation had wiped him out.
“Because you are pretty, and I like yellow hair, and you are not so good I cannot touch you. But later. When you are not sick and sad.”
“You are scared now?”
“Sure. Watch me run.”
Jai chuckled. “After you can walk. Goodnight, George. I’ll be in shortly. Do not panic. I will sleep in shorts and a T-shirt so I don’t terrify you. We will stay warm together.”
George’s soft snort could be heard through the fabric walls of the tent. “You’re not that scary,” he mumbled, but Jai only smiled.
When George saw him in the daylight, naked, he’d be scared.
But maybe he’d also be excited.
And maybe Jai would find out.