This is a flash fiction prequel to Changes Coming Down (Dec 2019) and Changes Going On (coming spring 2020), my M/M/M mystery series.
Plans Change (Changes 0.5)
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Will Rice asked Casey, turning in his seat to look at his… boyfriend driving the truck. One of his boyfriends. And how weird was that for a man of thirty-five who’d never had anything more than a fast blow job and a faster goodbye? He still could barely wrap his mind around the three of them. Maybe their deep mutual closet was a good thing, It kept him from having to get that word past his lips out loud.
“Sure it is.” Casey drove with the casual ease of a man who’d spent countless hours behind the wheel of a sheriff’s cruiser. “Scott said his folks are out for the day. It’s our turn.”
“As his best friends.”
“Sure.” Casey flicked the turn signal and pulled into the driveway of a modest single-story house.
Will slouched down in his seat. “Maybe you should go in on your own.”
Casey whapped his chest with a light backhand. “Get out of the truck, cowboy, and help me welcome our wounded warrior home.”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
Scott opened the front door before they could ring the bell. Will could see the strain of the past few days on his face. His mahogany-brown eyes were a little glazed, the bags under them speaking of sleepless nights, and a pain-wrinkle creased his forehead. Not to mention the big brace on his knee, the crutches under his arms. But his smile was wide and warm. “Come on in, guys.”
They didn’t touch each other until everyone was inside with the door safely shut. Then Casey opened his arms and Scott just leaned into him. Will would’ve stood back, letting them have a moment, but Scott reached out a long arm, fisted the front of his jacket, and hauled him in for a kiss over Casey’s shoulder.
“Missed you guys so much,” Scott murmured.
“This sucks as a reason for you to be home.” Casey’s tone was matter-of-fact, but Will saw those wide, rough fingers clench on Scott’s shoulder.
“Doesn’t it, though?” Scott eased back and took better hold of his crutches. “Come on to my room. I’m supposed to keep this thing elevated.”
“You’re sure your folks won’t come home?” Will would rather have bitten his tongue, but the plaintive words got out before he realized.
“I’m sure.” Scott sounded more gentle than amused, but Will figured his face was red anyway.
Casey nudged Will. “Down the hall, first door on the left.”
“You’ve been here before?” Will let Scott lead the way.
“A couple times. I met Scott just after the last time he did this, and he wasn’t driving much.”
Scott eased onto the bed, lifting his leg carefully onto an extra pillow. “Yeah. Well this time I really fucked it.”
Casey shut the door and pulled up the desk chair, which left Will holding up a wall. Fine with him. These guys knew what to do. He was better at being a third wheel.
Casey said, “What’s the plan?”
“I totally blew the ACL. I’m down here for pre-op rehab, until the swelling goes down. In three months, the team’s decided to fly me out to California to some hot-shot surgeon who’s supposedly the king of reconstructive surgery. See if they can get it right this time.”
“That’s good, right?” Will asked. “That they think you’re worth the extra expense.” He’d have chipped in everything he owned to get Scott the very best, but it didn’t amount to more than a good horse and a well-worn saddle. He’d mostly kept his mouth shut during their recent phone calls.
“I guess.” Scott rubbed his eyes. “I thought I was done with this shit. It was ninety percent, hell, ninety-five percent there. I was skating so damned good, the line was coming together. And then I had to fall over someone’s fucking stick in fucking practice.”
“I heard you had a little help there.” Casey’s tone kept it low key.
“All right, so I got accidentally tripped. Tolzie was totally sorry— almost thought he was going to cry. But still, shit.”
Scott blew out a breath. “Anyway, on the plus side, you guys‘ll see a whole lot more of me for the next three months.”
Will would‘ve gladly lived with just a couple of days here and there and a lot of phone sex, however much that still weirded him out, to have Scott out there doing what he loved best.
He‘d flinched from the raw pain in Scott’s voice three days ago. Will and the hands had been out separating the first-calf heifers from the older cows when his phone rang. He’d paused to check it, surprised to see Scott’s name. Waving the others on ahead, he’d paused to answer.
Scott’s anguish had come clear and harsh across the miles. “I’ve fucked up my knee again. Gonna mean more surgery, more rehab. Oh hell, Will, what if I can’t come back from it this time?”
He’d asked, “Do you want us to come up there? I mean, Casey.” Winter might be a slower time on the ranch, but he still couldn’t imagine suddenly buying a ticket and flying up to Canada, although for Scotty…
“No, I’ll be home to rehab once they’re done with the MRIs and all. Just… talk to me.” And for a few precious minutes he’d talked, and listened, willing to be anything Scott needed. Wishing he could give up his good knees to see Scott flash across the ice like he was born to.
Casey said, “Are you going to stay with your folks the whole three months? Weren’t they selling the house?”
“Yeah. They’re talking about postponing their move to Florida. At least till after my surgery, when I go back up to rehab with the team trainers.” Scott sighed. “I probably should take them up on it. The whole reason I got to be here, not up in Toronto, for my presurgical is because I convinced the team to let me stay with my folks.”
Will said. “We’ll be glad to have you around, even if it means dodging your parents.”
“Shouldn’t be too bad once I can drive.” Scott gestured. “Will, get that bag for me and come sit on the bed. You’re too far away.”
He passed Scott a backpack from the desk, and perched on the edge of the bed, trying not to jostle Scott’s knee. “We can’t do anything in here. That door doesn’t even lock.”
Casey gave a choked laugh, but Scott patted Will’s knee. “I’m too sore for fun today anyway, though I wouldn’t mind another kiss.”
Despite his awareness of an unlocked door through which parents might appear at any minute, yelling and rejecting and disgusted, Will couldn’t resist that look in Scott’s eyes. Scott’s mouth met his, lips a little chapped but still full and warm and perfect. Casey rose from his chair to lean over them and join in, kissing Scott and then Will, his breath fanning Will’s throat.
Scott snagged Casey’s sleeve. “You sit too. It’s a big bed, ’cause I needed the length.”
“Your parents didn’t get it for you to have orgies on?” Casey eased down on Scott’s other side.
“Hah. Give Mom a week, and she’ll be telling me which nice girls from high school are still around and single.” Scott opened a zipper on the pack. “I got these for Christmas. For your tree.”
“What tree?” Casey asked.
“The one you’re going to put up in your house so Will and me can have a real holiday.”
“Oh, that one.” Casey shrugged. “You’ll get a tree here, and I bet the Slaters do Christmas up right? Do we really need another?”
“One in the bunkhouse and one in the big house,” Will confirmed. “But…” Somehow, neither one had ever been quite his. The bunkhouse was fun, and the one that Annmarie and Graham Slater decorated with bells and angels in their front room was lovely. The old couple always invited him in Christmas Eve, for music and cookies, under the sparkling lights, and had a gift for him Christmas Day. He hadn’t bothered in his own cramped trailer. No space, and who needed three Christmas trees. And yet… “Could be fun to do yours.”
“You hear that?” Scott asked Casey. “Our William says it might be fun. So—” He pulled out a bundle of bubble wrap. “—we’ll put these on it.”
Casey took the bundle, pulled a bit of tape and began unwrapping. The first ornament came free, a clay model of a black horse rearing, a bit chunky in the legs but well done.
“Looks a bit like Mephisto,” Will noted. “Acts like him too.”
Scott grinned. “There’s this artist on Etsy who makes them. I commissioned a bunch, when I thought I’d get back here for a fast two-day visit.”
Casey kept unwrapping. There was a young woman on horseback, with short dark hair and a tan Stetson like Nita’s. An Angus bull. An older guy with gray hair in a ponytail, on a swaybacked gray horse. Maybe not intentionally swaybacked. “Looks a bit like Graham,” he admitted. If he ever rode a nag like that. Still he reached out to touch the old man’s hat. Without Graham Slater in his life, he wouldn’t be here watching his boyfriends unveil holiday ornaments. God only knew where he would be. Dead, perhaps, or in jail. He shivered.
A heavy-built gray horse was next, and he reached out to take it. The horse had an amused look and a carrot in its mouth. “Misty?”
“You’re keeping her, right?” Scott said. “Even if I won’t be able to ride her for the next gazillion months?”
Will had been training the big filly up for Western Pleasure, planning to sell her, since she’d come out different from the nimble cowponies he was trying to breed. A throwback in there somewhere. But then he’d met Scott, and Scott had come out to the ranch and been interested, bonding with Misty over feeding her treats. Even if Will wasn’t ready to plan too far ahead, even if there was a good chance this thing they had going would eventually fall apart, in the meantime it didn’t hurt to keep one horse around who was up to someone Scott’s six-foot-three size. Graham had started leaving the horse management up to him. “Yeah, keeping her for you.”
“Thanks.” Scott took the package out of Casey’s hands to unearth the ornament at the center. “I was going to have her make this a tree-topper, but that felt a bit too obvious.” He handed the piece to Will.
It was a cowboy scene— three men sitting on a log by a campfire. One man had blond hair under his hat, a long, lean build, and a guitar on his knee. Leaning against his shoulder on his left was a stocky guy with dark hair, and on his right was a bigger guy with something around his neck. Will lifted the piece to look closer. That guy on the left had a sheriff’s star on his chest. The guy on the right was dressed like a cowboy too, but the odd thing around his neck was a pair of hockey skates, strung by the laces.
Scott said, “I added the skates, taken off an ornament from the mall. Had a hell of a time attaching them. My hands are too big for fiddly work. Didn’t want her to ask why a hockey guy, though.”
They were perhaps a bit large, painted black and brown with silver on the blades. Casey took the piece from Will’s fingers and chuckled. “Cut them off? So are those some player’s dead feet inside them?”
Scott bopped his thigh. “Making fun of my gooey sentiment?”
“Nah. I like it. It’s cute.”
Will took it back, turning it in his hands. Cute, yeah, maybe. Maybe something more. This wasn’t a set of three cowboy ornaments, each separate, mix and match. It was one piece. Three of them together, and it would take breaking the clay, slicing between shoulders, prying knee away from knee, to pull them apart.
It was just an ornament, a toy, a whimsy of Scott’s. Probably Scott hadn’t even given much thought to how it was made. But turning the thing in his hands, feeling the way it moved all of one piece, made a flicker of hope rise inside Will. Maybe we can stay together. Maybe they won’t send me off on my own one day. He lifted it by the hanging loop and the ornament spun in the air, catching little glints of light off the Sheriff’s star, the hockey skates, and silvery shapes marking the soundboard of the guitar. A pretty, bright thing.
“Get a tree and hang it up, Casey,” he said, a command almost, where he only gave suggestions. Casey raised an eyebrow at him. “We should do that, put up decorations, make a holiday together. Whatever we can.”
Scott put a hand under Will’s chin and held him, leaning in for a kiss. “Yeah. And next year, we’ll add more ornaments. And the year after that.”
Casey chuckled. “How big a tree are you planning for us to get?”
Scott turned and held him for a kiss too. “This year? We can start small. But we’re building something to last. In twenty years? You may need a bigger house.”
As Casey took the ornament and set it aside, as the conversation turned to kisses and touches, heated but gentle enough for their aching hockey player, even as Will listened with half an ear for a car in the drive and a click of the front door, he heard the words echoing in his head.
Planning for us. Building to last. Twenty years. Will Rice closed his eyes, and kissed his men back with everything he had. Something stirred in him that felt unfamiliar, thin and fragile as spun sugar, but sweet. He didn’t dare believe, but maybe he could let himself hope. Maybe Scott is right. Just maybe we can make this thing— this love— he let himself think the word he hadn’t said yet— make this love last a lifetime.