Waiting was boring! With his older brother out late and his younger brother snoring, Zack should be in bed—like their mother thought he was. But no, he sat up instead, waiting for a chance to spend time with Dusty, if and when he came home.
Zack clicked on the TV and scrolled through the titles. The title flashed: The Secretary. What was this? Why was the woman bent over a desk reading a letter? Weird!
Parts of his brain exploded when a man smacked her butt. Zack had never been spanked. But…
A part of him wanted to be the woman. Not to be a woman, but to be bent over. What would a hand slapping his butt feel like? To have someone do that… to him. Not because he was bad or anything… and didn’t want his mom to be the one doing the smacking ‘cause that would be way gross!
Feelings he couldn’t identify slipped through him. He squirmed closer to the TV.
This movie was as good as the Western he’d watched where people got tied up nice and tight and were at someone else’s mercy. It made him want—
Dusty closed the front door quietly.
Zack tried to shut off the TV but only succeeded in raising the volume. The butt smacks echoed off the living room walls.
No! Turn off!
“Why are you still awake?” Dusty came in and stopped dead.
Pushing all the buttons on the remote, Zack hoped to make the TV disappear. Argh! Why wasn’t the stupid thing working? “I was waiting for you.”
“Zack—What are you watching?” Dusty grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.
“Um…” What could Zack say?
“Zack, you’re only eight years—”
“I’m almost nine!” Somehow that should matter.
“I know.” Dusty scooped Zack off the floor and sat him on the sofa. Zack’s older brother paced a few times in front of him then finally kneeled down next to Zack. “See, it’s just… Well, that movie is very adult and you probably shouldn’t be watching it.”
Pouting, Zack looked at the floor. He liked watching the movie. It was better than the stupid cartoons Jordon always wanted to watch. It was—
“When you get older you can watch things like that. But right now you’re too young to understand.”
Zack wanted to disagree but there was no winning when his older brother had on his serious expression. Time to change the subject. “Dusty, are we still going bike riding tomorrow?”
Dusty sagged against the back of the sofa, exhaling, and grinned at Zack. “Of course, and we’ll stop for ice cream.”
“Good. I’m going to have salted peanut butter. I like going there with you.” Especially since they could leave their whiny little brother home because he couldn’t ride his bike in the street yet. “We can bring back Jordon’s favorite ice cream for him, right?”
“Of course, we’ll get a candy cotton to go. Okay, you, it’s time for bed.” Dusty stood and pulled him to his feet.
Zack trailed after his older brother. He tiptoed past his younger brother’s bed and crawled into his own.
Dusty tucked him in, checked on Jordon, and whispered another “Good night” before he shut the bedroom door.
Zack lay in bed and thought about the movie for a long time.
Were there other movies like The Secretary? Were there books? Did adults really do that?
If so, he couldn’t wait to be an adult!
His older brother sat on the bed staring down at Zack’s new laptop, shaking his head. “Um, Zack?”
Zack snatched the computer off Dusty’s lap. “What are you doing with my computer?”
Dusty shrugged. “I just wanted— why are you on those sites? You’re only fifteen.”
Why did that matter? “What are you snooping now?”
Fuckety Fuck Fuck!
How had he forgotten to erase his browser history? The computer had become his silent ally in finding out about this part of himself he’d tried to ignore, wanted to bury, needed to forget… but couldn’t.
“Zack, you know I’d never spy on you. My phone’s dead and I wanted to go online to find out your school’s schedule. Angel set a show up for the band, and I wanted to see if it was during your Easter break.” Dusty frowned. “How did you get around the parental controls?”
A quick search on Google showed Zack the path around the child protections Dusty installed, and the same search engine led him to the places he urgently needed to explore. He had to know as much as he could about BDSM. That’s what it was called.
Not stupid, Zack was aware the rest of the world didn’t approve. BDSM wasn’t something most people admitted they liked out loud. He could only catch glimpses of the practice that excited every part of him. Usually BDSM was shown as forbidden and abnormal. But there were whole communities of people online who didn’t think BDSM was bad but a way of life.
Why hadn’t he cleared the browser history?
Zack groaned. “Are you going to take away my computer?”
“Of course not.” His big brother cleared his throat. “But do you want to talk about this? I—”
“No!” Hells to the no. Time to shove the ropes and crops under the rug. This wasn’t the conversation he wanted to have right now… or ever! “I was just searching the Internet. You know, I followed a few links and whatever… it led me here and there. It’s nothing.”
Dusty glanced at the computer. “But—”
Did his brother notice the sites were all gay BDSM sites? Please make him not have checked Zack’s favorite places. Or the unnamed file on his computer!
“Dust, seriously. No issue.” Zack swallowed hard on that misdirection.
It was a true statement. BDSM was much more than an issue. It was who Zack was. He didn’t know much but it was his truth. However, he couldn’t expect Dusty to understand.
“Well, if you ever want to talk… or anything, I’m here to answer questions or… well, I’m here.” Dusty’s face shaded red.
“Thanks, Dust.” Zack shut his computer. He didn’t need anyone to answer questions. He’d lurked on some of the forums for months and talked to people online who lived the lifestyle. Most understood what he was going through. He couldn’t wait until he was old enough to go to one of the clubs.
His mother’s scream pierced his sleep. Zack grabbed his baseball bat as he tripped out the door.
“Did you see this?” She waved the latest edition of her favorite trashy tabloid at him.
“Um?” His eyes adjusted to the light. His mother was alone in the room. Okay, no one to kill.
His mother shrieked, “Look at what your brother did.”
What had Jordon—
“They published a picture of Dusty with some boy in a dress!”
Dusty? Usually Jordan was the one in trouble.
Jordon stumbled into the living room rubbing his eyes and wearing a T-shirt with Rainbow Warrior scrolled across the chest and neon purple sweats. “Why is Dusty wearing a dress?”
“No! No! Look!” She threw the tabloid at them, and Jordon snatched it.
Their mother grabbed the gossip rag back. “No, not you! Don’t look at this! Get dressed, we’re going to your brother’s to put a stop to this.”
Scowling, Jordon left the living room to bang around his bedroom.
Her reaction to his oldest brother kissing a gender fluid person pushed Zack deeper into the shadows. She’d never tolerate his interest in guys let alone BDSM.
If his own mother couldn’t accept him, how could anyone?
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Zack’s mom slammed her fist into Dusty’s door like she was trying to force her way into the Pearly Gates after St. Peter turned her away.
“Coming,” Zack’s oldest brother Dusty called through the door.
His younger brother Jordon whispered, “That’s what he said.”
“Not the time!” Shit! Dusty had a show last night. They were probably waking him out of bed.
Dusty opened the door and leaned against the doorframe. He yawned and squinted at the three of them.
Damn, Dust looked exhausted, but that didn’t stop their mother. She barged into Dusty’s apartment, waving a paper. “What is the meaning of this?”
Did she think this was a quiz show?
Without missing a beat, Dusty said, “Let’s see, hmmm. To read? A puppy paper-training device? To wrap presents in? To use as funky wallpaper?”
Those were definitely not the right answers.
Their mother shouted louder and Zack stopped hearing her. Maybe his brain short-circuited. He hung back with Jordon.
Dusty greeted them with a smile and a “Hey.”
Zack shrugged with a frown and moved forward into Dusty’s living room.
Jordon gestured to their ranting mother and made the finger swirling to his temple in a coo-coo sign.
Was Jordon trying to make her head explode? Zack knocked Jordon’s hand down before she vented her anger at him.
After a glare, Jordon exhaled in a huff and breezed over to Dusty’s kitchen. “I’ll make you some coffee. Looks like you’ll need it.”
God! Zack hated when Mom yelled. They’d all tried so hard to please her since their father left, but certain things were bound to set her off. Zack held his stomach. He didn’t want to toss up his breakfast.
Dusty squeezed his shoulder, giving him a little bit of “it’ll be all right”. Though this time he doubted that was possible.
“Ma. Mom! Calm down. Stop screaming and tell me what the problem is.” Dusty kept his voice in the calm range of loud. Otherwise she’d never have heard him.
“This!” She slammed the paper down on his dining room table and pointed at the picture. “That! That’s what’s wrong! How could you?”
The caption read: “Local drummer hooks up with a pretty boy.”
Dusty ran a finger over the picture and down the print.
She read, “As pretty as Dusty’s new boy toy is, is he a boy? We can’t be sure. Though
girls mourn the loss of the last single band member of The Dark Angels, who’s crossed over to the other side of the fence. Does this mean The Dark Angels are a completely gay band?”
Zack didn’t have a clue how The Dark Angel’s label would spin this development. But since the other band members were hooked up, Dusty had to know the media would zone in on him.
Their mom smacked her hand down on the incriminating evidence. “This! This was in the grocery store checkout line! Can you imagine what people will think of me?”
The horrified, completely put out expression almost made Zack laugh. How could she be so blind that she didn’t know her own sons?
“My son, kissing a boy... disgusting! And he’s in a dress!”
“It’s a kilt,” Dusty muttered, like identifying the fashion correctly mattered.
Zack took another look at the picture. Jordon would probably like the ripped fishnets underneath the guy’s kilt.
“Are you crazy? Why are you kissing a tranny whore?”
Oh, fuck no! She didn’t just say that.
Dusty froze and his voice dropped low. “You may never, never use that word in my presence or in front of my brothers again. Ever!”
She took a step back and folded her arms. Dammit, the way her hands were on her hips and her eyes were flashing with anger, she appeared far from done. She was silent, and that was appreciated but she was just regrouping.
Jordon hurried back with a “what did I miss?” look on his face. When no one filled him in, he handed Dusty the mug of coffee. “I couldn’t figure out how to use your machine so I just used a coffee bag.”
Dusty muttered, “Thank you.”
Jordon peeked over her shoulder to see the paper. “Oh, is this what you wouldn’t let me see? Why?”
No one answered him.
Oblivious, Jordon whistled. “I love a punky kilt, and the ripped fishnets are hot. I definitely have the legs—”
“Don’t look at that!” their mother exclaimed, as if he’d catch gay from viewing a same sex kiss. Zack had news for his mom…
Jordon ignored her, and exclaimed happily, “Oh, I want one of those. He’s so pretty, Dusty.”
His mother put her hand to her heart. “Shut your mouth, Jordon! Don’t say such a thing even as a joke!”
Jordon ignored her. “Is he your boyfriend? If Dusty gets to have one why can’t I?”
Dear Lord of the Rainbow, his fearless little brother baited her. Didn’t he understand the consequences? Time to exit!
Zack grabbed Jordon by the waist. He mouthed, “Sorry” and lugged his flailing little brother across the room.
Their mother’s outrage went six levels higher. “You hear that? You see what you’ve done? You’re not gay, Jordon! Neither is your brother!”
Her face was an ugly mask of rage and the anger scared Zack. What would she do if she knew about him? “He’s just teasing, Mom. You know Jordy’s a joker.”
“No, I...” Jordon didn’t get to finish the rest of his sentence because Zack put a hand over his mouth and yanked him out of the apartment.
A small scuffle ended with Zack yelling, “Don’t bite me, Jordon!”
The slamming of the apartment door didn’t shut out his mother asking Dusty, “How could you do this to me?”
Zack whispered, “Jordy, you can’t tell her. Ever!”
If people still struggled with same sex couples, how could anyone be okay with the twisted shit Zack wanted to do with a guy?
Zack’s little brother collapsed onto the couch and whined for the umpteenth time, “Zack, I miss Dusty.”
It had only been a few days since their mother forbid Zack and Jordon to see Dusty, but there was no way they weren’t going to visit their older brother! Their mother’s homophobic rampage wouldn’t drive a wedge between them. “Come on.”
“Where to?” Jordon was off the couch and stuffing his feet into sneakers.
Zack tilted his head and gave him a big-eyed stare hoping to communicate his plan.
Jordon mouthed “ohhhhh” and then called out to the kitchen, “Ma, Zack and I are going out to get something to eat.”
“Okay, good. I’ll be back from choir practice by nine.” She continued ironing her white blouse. “Drive safe and wear your seatbelts.”
Zack drove through a drive thru and grabbed dinner so the excuse wasn’t a lie. They wolfed down burgers and fries on the way over to Dusty’s apartment.
Jordon stopped slurping his soda to point out, “His car’s not here.”
“We’ll wait.” He collected the trash and tossed it in the dumpster.
Jordon tossed his empty cup. “Let’s stand over there so we don’t miss him.”
“Doubt that would happen, but sure.” Zack followed his little brother and leaned against the building.
“I wish I had my phone,” Jordon voiced his very thought.
“He’s here.” Zack pointed to Dusty pulling into his parking spot.
The kid’s face lit up and he took off at a run. As soon as Dusty stepped out of the car, Jordon launched himself and hugged their oldest brother tight.
Zack couldn’t help but to smile. He’d missed Dusty too. “Geez, Jordon.”
Dusty chuckled and set Jordon back onto his feet. He glanced at the man standing next to him. “Justin, these are my brothers. This is Zack, and you know Jordon.”
“Hey.” Justin and Zack shook hands.
Zack could see the appeal in Dusty’s choice of boyfriend. Justin was handsome in a pretty way. Now if only Justin had an older dominant brother, who knew how to use a crop, Zack would be set!
Justin turned toward Jordon and said, “Nice to see you again.”
Jordon wiped his eyes and gave Justin the once over. He elbowed Zack. “See! I was right. Justin is the guy from the police station. I knew it was you from the picture in the gossip magazine, even though most of your face was hidden by Dusty’s big head. Are you a cop or something?”
Justin shook his head. “Nope. I just help them out when they ask.”
Jordon grinned big and gushed, “I loved your kilt in the picture. Those fishnets were snaztastic. I need a pair...” Jordon leaned forward to give Justin a quick awkward hug and because the kid didn’t seem to know when to stop talking, he asked, “Are you Dusty’s boyfriend now?”
Justin glanced over at Dusty for guidance. Oh, hell!
Dusty opened his mouth to reply, but missed his chance to speak.
The silence lasted too long and Jordon filled it. “Yeah, well, I’m impressed. Dusty, you’ve got great taste in guys.”
Zack tried not to laugh. So much for Dusty’s official coming out. Jordon simply accepted it and moved on.
Jordon held up his hand to be high fived but Zack ignored the imp. Why couldn’t his little brother get this wasn’t about Dusty’s taste in guys, but the fact he’d chosen a guy?
Zack ambled over, and let Dusty pull him in for a brotherly hug. “Yes, Justin is my boyfriend.” Dusty released Zack, and kissed Justin’s painted fingertips. “You guys okay with that?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t we be?” Zack spoke for both of them, because Jordon kept circle dancing while singing, “It’s raining men. Hallelujah!”
“Before Jordon breaks out into Cher, tell me, is it bad at home? Does Mom know you’re here?” Dusty couldn’t help but make all questions sound like an interrogation.
Jordon’s dance stopped mid-down pour. He stared at Dusty with an expression that deemed him insane. “Do we look stupid? Of course, Loony Toons doesn’t know.”
Zack elbowed him. “Hey, don’t talk about her like that.”
“After what she said, she’s dead to me.” Jordon’s voice took on a seriousness Zack had never heard before.
Zack could no longer meet Dusty’s eyes. Damn, he needed to spin this in a more positive way. “Hey, it’s okay—”
“No! It’s not okay! She’s our mother. Parents aren’t supposed to turn their backs on their kids.” Jordon’s eyes welled up, and he sniffed signaling he was about three seconds away from tears.
Fuck! Zack wanted to say something but no pearls of wisdom came. He reached out, and squeezed Jordon’s shoulder.
Justin cleared his throat, and said, “Sometimes, people take time to adjust.”
Jordon shook his head, and sniffed. “She’s not going to change, and I can’t expect her to. If people can’t accept who you are, they don’t get a say in your life. I can’t be responsible for her faulty values.”
Was this Jordon?
Justin said, “That’s very mature of you.”
The compliment seemed to change Jordon’s channel. He spared Justin a quick smile then said, “Oh, yeah, Dust, my third therapist is really good.”
Dusty’s eyes widened. “You’re on number three? But you’ve only had three appointments.”
“Yeah, but you said I could change if I wanted to, and I did.” Jordon shrugged. “The first one didn’t like me. Hard to believe, I know.”
Zack snorted. “No, not really.”
Jordon growled. “Shut up, Zack. And the second one’s office smelled funny like old soup, and feet.” Drawing a quick breath, Jordon plowed on. “But this one is great. I can tell. This therapist had interesting art on the walls.”
“Um, well, art’s not the best way to judge a therapist.” Dusty pointed out the obvious.
Jordon waved him off. “Yes, it is. Art preference identifies who someone is as a person, and what he or she values. Stupid hotel art tells me the person is lazy, but wants to look like they know something about paintings. Unique, interesting pieces suggests the person took the time to find something that called to them.”
“Art doesn’t talk.” Zack tapped Jordon in the back of the head.
“Hey!” Jordon scrunched his face. “Not my fault you’re just too dopey to speak the language.”
Dusty grabbed onto Jordon preventing his retaliation whap. “Enough. I think it’s terrific, as long as you’re comfortable with him.”
“It’s a her, and she’s very nice.” Jordon glared at Zack.
“As long as you’re willing to work with her, I think that’s great,” Justin said.
Dusty nodded. “Absolutely. Jordon, I’m glad you’ve found someone you’re comfortable with. You had a good session?”
Jordon’s voice cracked. “Yeah, we talked about accepting who I am, and how I can only control my opinion, and no one else’s.”
Well, fuck! That said it all. It wasn’t that Zack didn’t accept who he was… he did. But since he couldn’t manage anyone else’s reaction to his desires, he’d simply avoided giving them the chance to judge him. It wasn’t their business. Plus if he were silent, people would move past him like they always did without ever really seeing him or his twisted needs. No, according to the forums he’d lurked on, his needs weren’t twisted— just not average!
Justin’s voice brought Zack out of his head, and back to the conversation. “Sounds like you’ve found a therapist who fits your personality.” Damn, Justin was good with Jordon.
“Yeah, I did.” Jordon nodded and changed gears. “Zack and me, we’re still going to hang out with you. I don’t care. If mom doesn’t like it, she can go—”
“Hey,” Zack interrupted the kid’s rant.
Jordon threw his hands out in front of him. “I know, I can’t control her or her feelings, but I can hate them. I have the right to hate prejudice, ignorance, and stupidity. It doesn’t matter if she’s related to me. Wrong is wrong.”
Time for an intervention and hopefully prevent a meltdown. Zack said, “You’re right. No one’s saying you’re wrong. Orientation or identity isn’t something anyone else should weigh in on.”
“It’s not something that can be controlled either.” Jordon stared at each other them and practically dared someone to disagree with him.
Justin chimed in, “Correct. We are who we are, and have a right to be who we are. We can share that information if, and when we chose.”
The quiet seemed to cause tension to mount again.
Zack shoulder-bumped Jordon, and said to Dusty, “We should go, but we’ll see you soon.” He turned to Justin and said, “It’s good to meet you.”
Justin smiled. “You too.”
Zack cracked a grin and teased, “Don’t take any of his shit.”
Jordon knocked Zack out of the way. “Dusty’s too smart to give you any shit. I can tell he really likes you. So, are you two going to get married?”
“Um…” Justin blushed a deep red.
Zack saved Justin from finding words. “Jordy, you want hot chocolate?”
Wow, talk about brotherly sacrifice! The kid would bounce off the walls with a chocolate high for the rest of the night.
Dusty mouthed, “Thank you.”
“Oh my God! Of course! Let’s go. Do you guys want to come?” Jordon appeared to plot out the most direct path back to their car.
Dusty waved him off. “Nah, you guys go. Call me from a landline if you need me. I’ll see you soon.”
Zack was dragged to the car by a determined little brother who had on chocolate goggles.
“I’m happy for Dusty,” Jordon said.
“Me too.” Dusty was finally living his life and that made Zack happy. He deserved it. But a piece of Zack wondered when he would get to start living his.
Stopping to get his younger brother a hot chocolate had been a mistake. Jordon hadn’t stopped yammering for the last thirty minutes. Zack had given up trying to follow the train of Jordy’s crazy as it zoomed from one station to another.
The image of his older brother standing next to his hot boyfriend waving good-bye was embedded in Zack’s brain. He’d never be Dusty. His older brother had it together: he was out, had a boyfriend who seemed really nice and was living the rock and roll dream as a drummer. Everything seemed to fall into place for him.
Zack wasn’t jealous. He was glad for Dust but it must be incredible to just… well be! No hiding, no pretending, and just be yourself.
When Jordon took a breath Zack jumped into the fray. “So um, Jordy you know we can’t tell mom we met Dusty’s boyfriend.”
“I know. But ah, I want one of those! God, Zack. Dusty’s boyfriend was pretty!”
There was no avoiding this conversation. “I know Jordy, and I think that’s fine. But please keep your sparkle and rainbow lust under wraps.”
“What! No! Why?”
Zack hated himself but begged, “Just until after high school. Please, mom would—”
“I don’t care. What about my feelings and what I want?” Jordon huffed and glared out the car window.
What about me? Zack slammed that self-indulgence question back to the recesses of his mind as soon as it attempted to seek an answer. No way could he contemplate his needs. He focused on Jordon. “It’s just two more years. Then you’re out of her house and at college.”
“Yeah, easy for you to say since you graduate in June!” Jordon pointed out.
Ha! Jordon had no idea how Zack could never be himself… gay was only part of what he needed to hide.
“I want to see Dusty! He’d understand.” His younger brother’s demand had a note of challenge in it.
As if anyone understood about living in the shadows better than Zack.
“Jordy, we just saw him.” Zack kept his voice even and calm, hoping to contain his little brother’s angst. Their mother had her church group right on the other side of their closed bedroom door, sitting in a prayer circle.
“I just want to be myself. Is that asking too much?” Jordy paced between the beds.
No! Fuck it really wasn’t! Zack begged, “Jordon, you got to keep this to yourself… just until you graduate.”
“Why should I?”
Zack glanced at their closed bedroom door and whispered, “Because our mother is a brainwashed church-a-holic.”
Jordon folded his arms over his chest and stomped his foot. “I’m not staying in the closet and you can’t make me.”
Zack sighed and hated that Jordy was right. Jordon shouldn’t have to wait but—“Please not yet.”
“I have to be me. I’m tired of hiding.” Gone was the brat, replaced by a level of maturity Zack had never seen in his brother. Jordon seemed far older than sixteen.
Zack should have stopped the kid from leaving the room, but the amount of respect he had for his little brother paralyzed him.
His younger brother marched loud and proud while Zack hid and buried everything he was.
Zack didn’t know what Jordon had said in front of their mom’s holier-than-thou brigade because as usual he’d didn’t come out of the shadows. Only the screams of their mother’s denial reached him and the quick exodus of the church group slamming the front door on the way out.
His mother barged into their bedroom. “Did you know?”
“Um…” What could he say? “How could anyone not know” wasn’t helpful when speaking to someone with their head pushed so deep into the sand they had a view of China.
She waved him off in favor of glaring at Jordon. “Never mind. Dusty’s responsible! He can deal with your little brother. I’m done. I’m not having Sodom and Gomorrah in my house!”
Why did she think it was Dusty’s fault? Maybe she didn’t get orientation isn’t a choice. How had she ignored all the hints Jordon had dropped? Did she really not read any of his T-shirts? Everything the kid wore proclaimed he had been kissed by the rainbow.
This was insane. Zack had to reason with her. “Ma, he’s just a kid!”
“Oh, he’s no innocent,” she growled. She yanked Jordon’s purple duffel bag with the flower-embroidered handles out of the closet and started shoving Jordy’s clothing into it.
Jordon stood in the doorway, a single tear leaked from his eye but he wore a small smile. “At least, I don’t have to hide anymore.”
“You can’t stay here! No son of mine can be gay therefore you’re no son of mine! Out!” Their mother shrieked at Zack’s younger brother.
Zack grabbed Jordon into a tight hug. He clutched his little brother close wanting desperately to protect him. He should do something! He was an adult. He should—
Their mother yanked a clinging Jordon from his arms. Reaching for him, Zack’s fingers caught only air.
Fuck! He needed to stop this! But he couldn’t move, couldn’t think, could barely breathe…
His mother ranted, “If your brother Dusty wants to live a Godless life… well, he can just take you!”
At the door, Jordon turned and gave Zack a sniffy grin. “Catch you on the other side of the rainbow, bro.”
Their mother snarled, “Don’t talk about rainbows Jordon. The rainbow leads straight to hell!”
Jordon wiped his eyes. “I always thought the rainbow led to treasure.”
She growled and slammed the door so hard the family picture they had taken last Christmas crashed to the floor. Broken pieces of frame and glass scattered.
Zack stared at the closed door and then down at the sliced photo. Jagged edges of the glass ripped through the picture.
Why couldn’t he have stopped her? Rage at his inaction filled him. He stumbled to their bedroom.
He sat on his bed staring across the room at his youngest brother’s bed. Their closet door stood open and Jordy’s side of their shared spaced was empty.
Jordon was gone.
No more closet for him, he was living his life out loud. And Zack had done nothing.
Zack’s ears still rang from his mother’s tirade as she dragged his little brother from their house. She had bellowed, “No son of mine can be gay, therefore you’re no son of mine! Out!”
Jordon’s tears, look of hurt, and disbelief kicked Zack right in the heart. His little brother would be okay. She had taken him to Dusty. Their oldest brother would take care of him; he’d been doing it for years.
It wasn’t a big deal. Jordon would live with Dusty and Zack could still spend time him. All he had to do was hold his breath for few weeks until graduation. Then he could get a job, an apartment, and eventually not have to hide.
He could deal with that. Right?
Though sometimes living in the shadows exhausted Zack. Especially right now being invisible seemed wrong. It wasn’t fair Jordon was thrown out and Zack was allowed to stay.
He grabbed the box from the back of his closet he hid behind old sports equipment. Making piles of his books and magazines he stared at them. Ha! Maybe he could wear a button that read I heart BDSM. Or he could wear a T-shirt with Paddles Aren’t Just For Canoes scrolled across the front. Or maybe he could just—
The front door slammed shut. His mother was back. Her footsteps stopped. Did she see the family picture that had fallen off the wall lying shattered on the floor? Their family was now in shreds because of her broken beliefs?
Shit! He should put away all the evidence she’d use to convict him but he didn’t want to. He wanted to be surrounded by what she would consider his sin. Granted, a part of him he still considered everything he wanted shameful.
She stomped into the bedroom ranting, “We’re going to remove any gay your brother left behind!” Stopping midstep, she asked, “What’s all this?”
For a second he wanted to hide, lie, and do what he had to do so she wouldn’t know. The safety of the shadows called to him. The weight of the vintage BDSM magazines rested on his lap and his Tom of Finland art books in a stack at his feet screamed out what he craved: Bondage, discipline and hot men.
There was still an escape hatch. He could say these were Jordon’s— “I was packing my books.”
“What do you mean yours? Don’t protect your perverted little brother! Thank you for gathering all his dirty smut. Take them to the shredder and destroy them!”
“No.” He stood and stared at her. Resigned to his fate, he admitted, “These are mine.”
“You’ll get rid of them or you’ll leave my house,” she hissed with tears in her eyes.
“Okay, fine by me.” Zack hadn’t expected a different outcome. He grabbed three pairs of jeans and scooped up all the T-shirts he could jam into his knapsack. He grabbed a duffel bag and stuffed his books in it.
She rushed over to his bed and grabbed a magazine. “You’re even sicker than both of your brothers…. Where did I go wrong? How could you want to tie someone up and beat them? What kind of sinful sickness do you have?”
That was the question that bounced around his head for as long as he’d had these cravings. He had no words to give her.
“You’re twisted and disgusting! How can you look at these pictures of men doing this to each other?”
How could he not? It was the beautiful simplicity he sought. He yearned for those clearly defined boundaries that would set him free. To suffer for his Master—
His face heated. He didn’t want to be ashamed of what he needed but he found no words to defend himself as he added his magazines to the bag.
She smacked him with the magazine and screamed, “Get out! Get out! You filthy disgusting pig!”
He snatched the mag from her hand, grabbed his duffel bag, backpack, and car keys and left the house he had grown up in.
Zack drove through the streets of his neighborhood. The familiar houses no longer welcomed him. He wiped at his eyes.
He’d tried. He really did! But it was exhausting.
It was stupid to have expected anything else. The moment his mother saw his stash of gay BDSM magazines, and she kicked him out.
He should just keep driving. Get on the turnpike and not look back. His older brother Dusty had given him an emergency credit card. He could go somewhere no one knew him and then maybe he’d have the freedom to explore who he was and what he wanted to be.
Dreams of disappearing vanished, as Zack’s car seemed to have a mind of its own. He pulled into his brother’s apartment complex’s parking and sat in his car.
A chirp indicated he’d gotten a text. He read the message from his little brother, Coming Out Party for ME! Come over the rainbow with me!
Zack got out of the car, responding to his youngest brother Jordon as he did. He rubbed his eyes and rang the doorbell.
His brother’s new boyfriend, Justin answered the door with a smile that dropped fast. He stepped into the hallway and called out, “Dusty!”
Dusty rushed over and grabbed Zack’s shoulders. “You okay?”
Was he? He shrugged. “Yeah.”
His older brother’s stare intensified.
Zack could flee. He should get into his car and just go. “No, I’m not.”
Without another word Dusty pulled Zack into his arms and wrapped him in a hug. Dusty quietly asked, “What happened?”
“I’ll let you two talk.” Justin started to go back into the apartment.
No, if Justin was in Dusty’s life he deserved to know. “Stay,” Zack requested.
They both waited for him to speak.
“Mom continued her rampage when she got home. She wanted to searched our bedroom to see… to see if there was anything that was gay, and then….”
Dusty exhaled hard.
A lie was on Zack’s tongue, but he let his version of the truth out. “She found my magazines and told me to get out.”
Dusty tried to piece it together. “Mom found magazines and threw you out for it?”
Zack wished his hair were longer as he admitted, “Mine. They were mine.”
“Yours... oh.” Dusty kept his expression to stay neutral.
Poor Dusty! Two brothers were coming out tonight but Zack needed everything out in the open. If Dusty couldn’t accept him then— “They aren’t what you think.”
Dusty squeezed his shoulder for a moment. “Hey, I don’t think anything.”
Zack blinked his burning eyes. “She said I was sicker than both of you put together.”
“Don’t listen to her!” Justin snapped.
Zack shook his head with conviction. “No, she’s right. I am a sick fuck.”
“You are not a sick fuck. You’re my brother and I love you. No matter what.” Dusty had always made sure Zack knew he was always loved unconditionally.
Dusty didn’t understand. He couldn’t. Zack wasn’t just gay. Some part of Zack demanded he uncover all his secrets and throw them at Dusty’s feet. “Even if this is what I like looking at?”
Zack pulled out his most hardcore BDSM fantasy magazine depicting his secret and handed what his mother called “filth” to Dusty. He waited for rejection.
There! Now let’s see if he still loves me!
“You’re my brother and I love you.” Dusty won the true brother award. “It’s okay. No judgment. Just remember sane, safe, and consensual.”
Zack bit back a sob at Dusty’s impromptu BDSM lesson and hugged him tight. He pulled Justin into the hug.
When the hug ended, Dusty played the practical big brother. “Okay. How many weeks until graduation?”
“About three and a half.” Zack scrunched his face.
“You’re eighteen. Move in with us. I’m going to work on paperwork to become Jordy’s legal guardian tomorrow. I want both of you to come on tour with me until it’s time for college.”
This again! Zack groaned. “I told you I’m not going to college. I want to be a roadie for the band.”
Dusty grimaced. “Fine. You can work as a roadie, but college is important.”
Wait—there was more than just the three brothers involved. “Justin, you can’t want us here. You guys haven’t been together that long,” Zack pointed out.
Dusty glanced over at Justin.
“Zack, I love your brother. That includes both you and Jordon by extension. Anything you need that I can help with, I’m here.”
Dusty shrugged. “Justin hasn’t even agreed to go with me on tour yet. So you’ll have to help me work on him.”
“Hey, brain giant! You can work as my personal roadie.” Dusty ruffled Zack’s hair as he bestowed the great honor upon him.
“Oh, right!” Zack teased. “And worry about mistreating your golden sticks?”
Dusty laughed. “Proper storage of my sticks is important. Come on, agree already. Traveling with The Dark Angels. Isn’t that like a high school boy’s dream?”
Ah, yes. Zack rolled his eyes. “Full of yourself much?”
“Just the reality, my dear brother, of having tens of thousands of adoring fans shouting their love. It’ll be a blast and you know it.”
Zack sighed, as if worn down by Dusty’s persuasion but he was thrilled. “Yeah, but I want to be a real roadie not just your lackey.”
“Not a problem.” Dusty pulled him in for one last, quick hug.
“What about the other stuff?” Zack asked, tapping his coat where the magazine was stashed.
“What? Are you asking for your very own dungeon?” Dusty must have decided to keep it light. “If so, I have to get off my ass and get a bigger place. Look, seriously. If you need to talk, I’m here. If I don’t know how to help you, I’ll find out.”
Justin said, “Keep it sane and safe. Okay?”
Zack nodded. “And consensual. I know. Got it.”
Dusty put a hand out to stop Zack from entering his apartment. “Oh, warning. This has turned into Jordy’s coming out party.”
“His coming out party? I thought his text was a joke.” Zack asked, “Was he ever in the closet to actually come out?”
Dusty’s laugh barked out. He opened the door to Jordon holding court. Their little brother may have been through hell tonight, but the kid was soaking up the attention the band gave him.
Zack allowed himself out of the shadows enough to take some acceptance for himself.
Zack crashed onto his hotel bed. Damn, it was good to lay flat! Working as a roadie was good but exhausting.
Though he wished his boss could be convinced Zack didn’t want special treatment just because his brother was the drummer. Whatever! Tomorrow he was assigned to be the sound check runner. If the band needed anything it was his job to play fetch and he was happy to do so.
His roommate had gone out drinking with the crew. Having no desire to watch the crew get shitfaced as he sipped soda, he opted for a night in.
He grabbed his laptop off the nightstand. Zack let his fingers lead him back to a familiar site. Scrolled across the top of the page was Entwined... where BDSM dreams become reality.
Entwined was a network of swanky BDSM clubs across the USA. From what he’d read they seemed to be a tight knit community that focused on education and play. The club in Albany had a cool French dungeon theme. They didn’t serve alcohol so the age requirement was eighteen.
He wanted to join immediately and make his BDSM dreams reality. Damn! It would be incredible to be with real people instead of names in the cyber void. To actually be a part of a scene…
Ah, but the price tag was hefty for the initial membership fee. He’d done some calculations and he’d be able to afford it at the end of the year.
For now Zack would focus on work and then he’d join Entwined and make his BDSM dreams his reality.