Authors: Ranger & Rolf
Couples: Joe/Chris, Matthew/Rolf
Warnings: Never, ever, EVER tell your brat to be good for 48 hours!
"Want to explain this to me?" Rolf asked sternly, holding out the satellite bill.
Matthew dropped his eyes to the bill, and squirmed uncomfortably under the razor sharp, ice cold glare Rolf was currently nailing him with.
"You were away.......and there was nothing to do in the evenings-"
"How much does a pay per view cost Matthew?"
"And twelve movies. You're the accountant; what does that come to?"
Matthew flushed. "Thirty six dollars...."
"We have STACKS of videos and DVDs, MARC has enough to start a library and probably could have lent you most if not all of these, if you'd been watching them at reasonable hours instead of the middle of the night. And how much did this hockey game event cost?"
Matthew flushed even darker. "It was part of the commonwealth games coverage-"
"Thirty dollars." Matthew admitted. Rolf handed him the bill.
"Sixty six dollars in THREE DAYS. That's probably more than we spend on pay per view in three months!"
Matthew wanted to correct Rolf and say, probably SIX months, but he didn't think that would help his case any.
"I'm sorry," he tried, putting the bill on the table.
"Do you think that saying you're sorry changes the fact that you spent $66 of our money that didn't need spending?"
Matthew continued to squirm, hating the discussion.
"I have half a mind to cancel your weekend hockey plans, because that's a LOT of entertainment money right there," Rolf said sternly.
"Nooooooooooo!" Matthew said indignantly. "Don't do that, it's opening night! Please!"
Rolf looked long and hard at Matthew, watching him slowly sink back in the chair and adopt his injured puppy look.
"We can pay the bill, that's not the issue. It's just money that we didn't need to spend, all done because you were bored and too lazy to call Marc ahead of time for a movie. You will NOT order another thing on that satellite without checking with me first, is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," came the muffled reply.
"Look at me."
Matthew slowly raised up his eyes to meet Rolf's, finding them only slightly less chilly.
"If you want to go to the hockey game this weekend, then you'd better be on your BEST behaviour. I mean it."
Matthew almost let the smile come to the surface, but held it back. "Yes, sir."
"Forty eight hours of absolute perfection." Rolf went on sternly. "Otherwise you'll be having a VERY early night on Saturday and I'll be going to the game alone. Clear?"
Crystal. Relieved beyond measure, Matthew managed a second, incredibly sincere, "Yes sir."
48 hours was hardly any time at all. How hard could THAT be?
"Chris." Joe sat down on the edge of the bed, firmly pulling the quilt back. "Up. That's the last time I'm going to ask."
"There's nothing we have to do." Chris said without moving. On his stomach, arms wrapped around his pillow, his voice was muffled. Joe got hold of the pillow and pulled, relentlessly, until Chris relinquished it.
"There's plenty I want you to do. Get up, shower and dress for a start. Then we need to straighten the house out and you have homework to do. We were away two weeks, you have plenty of catching up to do, plus the paper due on Monday."
"The paper sucks." Chris said tonelessly. "School sucks."
He didn't have to add 'Life sucks'; Joe could hear it. They'd spent almost two weeks away, moving from the motel where they'd met up after Chris's initial run away, to the rivers and woodland another hundred miles further on. A quiet little village and a hotel where no one bothered them and where they'd spent the time walking, being close, talking. They'd had a very hard few days at first, but beyond that Chris had calmed, had seemed to turn to him and to be ready and prepared for the far harder struggle of returning home and to normality. And now, five days later, it was already clear he wasn't doing too well. Very sympathetic, Joe ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it back from his eyes, but pulled him upright.
"Why?" Chris said angrily. Joe put him on his feet and swatted him gently towards the bathroom.
"Because I asked you to. And because it's impossible to make the bed with you in it."
Chris moved, slowly and very unwillingly.
At the moment he didn't want to do anything. It had taken persuasion, encouragement and outright threats to get him to school on Monday morning: in the end Joe had forced him, hating the misery in his face but knowing the only way through this was to keep Chris within his familiar routine. He already felt lost and ungrounded: without their routine and his daily round of commitments and responsibilities, he'd rapidly lose all stability of any sort. Matthew, Michael, Marc, Todd, all of them had filled the answermachine with messages while they were away, and Eric had said that Michael and Matthew had been waiting for Chris on Monday when he arrived at school: a protective phalanx that Chris had shaken off in minutes, shying away from them as he did from everyone else. The one phonecall his mother had made had elicited an outburst of fury so intense she hadn't called again, and Joe, who had spent the rest of the night trying to calm him down enough to sleep and knew the bitter grief under the anger, hadn't encouraged her to try, disabling the answermachine and answering all calls to the house himself.
Chris didn't notice. Left to his own devices, Joe was fairly sure he would do what he'd done at other times when in Chris's volatile world, a holocaust occured. Stay in bed, or curl up on the sofa, block out the world and hide somewhere inside himself. And this was, in holocaust terms, pretty much Armageddon.
Joe made the bed, listening to the shower run, then found clean towels and went into the bathroom, ready and prepared to hassle- gently and firmly- until his lover washed, dressed and shaved. Details were calming and they were things Chris habitually missed. Made to focus on the little details, the things that to him always seemed too small to be important, such as WHAT he ate, HOW the house was cleaned, WHEN he did homework- he would as he always did, gradually gain a sense of order and structure, he would calm and the loom of the big and the truly uncontrollable issues, if they couldn't be solved, would at least be shunted away.
"I'll be about an hour." Rolf said, shouldering into a jacket. "I don't know which store'll have the right size blades, but once I've got them we can start the mowing."
Matthew pulled a face. Rolf paused to fix him with a Look.
"SAINTLY. Remember? You've got a list of chores, I want to see a sizeable dent in it by the time I get back."
"Yes, sir," Matthew said quietly, waiting until he was SURE Rolf's car had left the driveway. Once that happened, he clicked his heels together and saluted. "Sir, yes, SIR!" Then he headed directly for the computer to see who might be connected. After checking his email, he turned on his
instant messenger. He found Chris and Michael online, and both said hi at the same time.
TiggerMC: Hey!!! How is ya?
Circa25: Hating life. And you?
TiggerMC: About the same. Why you?
Circa25: Fucking paper due on Monday and Joe is driving me insane about it. I was just asking Mike about it, and he thought you did one that might work a few semesters ago. Something about Chrysler?
TiggerMC: Did one for managment, why?
Circa25: I need some help, what the hell do you think?
Michaloeb: Say HI why don't you?
TiggerMC: I only have two hands, give me a minute!
Michaloeb: I have! How are you?
TiggerMC: Alright. Got a nice list of chores to do for his majesty before he returns with mower blades.
Michaloeb: Sounds like someone might be mowing later.....
TiggerMC: Yeah, and I have to be the little perfect angel. Growl.
Michaloeb: Perfect? You? I thought Rolf only gave you attainable goals?
TiggerMC: REAL funny asshole. Drats.
TiggerMC: Chris just signed off. Didn't get to finish my conversation with him.
Michaloeb: Joe is being pretty strict with him. Did he ask you about his paper?
TiggerMC: Yeah. Not sure what he wanted.
Michaloeb: To copy, probably. I didn't have anything that would work. Why are you having to be an angel?
TiggerMC: Cos I kind of watched a few too many pay per views while he was away last weekend. He got the bill yesterday.
TiggerMC: So its be angelic or bye bye to the game on Saturday.
Michaeloeb: You're kidding! It's the opening game of the season!
TiggerMC: TELL me about it!
Michaeloeb: So get offline and get through that chore list! Don't you WANT to see the game?
Michaeloeb: LOL MOVE idiot. It won't be half the fun anyway if you're not there. Go on, go do it. With a happy smile. And halo straight.
TiggerMC: Pllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllt :p :p :p :p
Michaeloeb: GO ON. Sheesh, anyone would think you hated hockey ;)
TiggerMC: Nah, just housework. Ok ok I'm gone. See ya ;)
Matthew disconnected with a sigh, but somewhat more cheerful. The game WOULD be good. Michael and Eric had tickets, Marc was swapping shifts to make it to the arena in time for the start of the game, Todd had bought season tickets and made Stephen swear on his life that he'd escape from the bar for all the home games- it would be a great evening. The only people who weren't definitely going to be there, were Joe and Chris.
Matthew moved a cat off the kitchen floor and started to scrub it, mind on Chris. He'd been surprised- and very happy- to see Chris online. Joe had phoned a few times while they'd been away, each time to talk to Rolf although the few times Matthew had made it to the phone first, Joe had sounded cheerful enough and promised that Chris was fine, just tired and feeling very down. And since Rolf had taken the phone into the study each time, Matthew had no further clue what was going on. None of the brats knew what had happened the night that Chris and Joe went away and curiosity was driving them crazy.
Matthew, who had been home when Rolf went over to Joe's in response to a phone call, had been told Chris had gone missing. Rolf had phoned again at nine to say that he would be home very late and had returned well after midnight, saying nothing more than Chris had been found and everything was okay. He refused to be any more forthcoming than that no matter what methods of interrogation Matthew tried on him. Michael, who had been told something very similar by Eric, reported that Eric hadn't arrived home until morning, having spent the night in a motel somewhere up north. And that Joe and Chris had decided to go on and take an impromptu vacation. Which they all agreed was odd, although they could understand Joe and Chris both wanting some time out of town and alone together. And that had been the end of all information.
Todd reported that Chris had phoned him briefly when he and Joe got home, that he sounded very quiet and Joe had called him off the phone within a few minutes. He hadn't wanted to talk at all about where he and Joe had been and why. And Matthew suspected that Rolf had seen Joe once or twice since they got home, but he'd been told- categorically by Rolf, as the others had been told by their partners- not to ask Chris questions if he DID see him, and not to call without permission. Which as yet hadn't been given. Matthew had tried asking Rolf if Joe and Chris intended to come to the hockey, but had only got the answer that it was their decision and they'd have to wait and see.
Waiting and seeing was not one of Matthew's talents.
Cleaning on the other hand, while by no means a favoured activity, was something he could be extremely thorough at once he settled to it. The downstairs was gleaming by the time the phone rang and Matthew looked up from polishing the bannister with a glare towards it for the interruption. The ungraciousness carried over into his voice despite his best efforts when he picked up the phone.
"What bit your ass?"
Matthew's face lit up. "Chris! Sorry, I was working. How are you? WHERE are you?"
"At home. And fine."
Matthew sat down at the foot of the stairs, hearing what Todd had heard in Chris's voice. He sounded tired. And very quiet.
"We missed you."
Chris didn't answer for a moment, then changed the subject. "What are you doing?"
"Cleaning." Matthew said derisively. "But since the hockey opening is only two days away, I'm not about to do anything to annoy the wolf. Are you going to the game?"
"I don't know." Chris said without interest. "Probably not, Joe's pretty much playing house arrest at the moment."
Matthew hesitated, dying to ask why, but there was a certain delicacy attached to hearing a certain tone amongst the brats. The tone that meant YES I'm in trouble and NO I don't want to talk about it. He wondered again if Chris was in trouble with Joe for running away. And if so, why he'd run away in the first place.
"What's with this paper?" he said, grabbing for the subject Chris himself had introduced on IM.
"It's one of the major ones where you have to write about a company, what they make, how they're organized for tax purposes, how the management is run, market share, I mean, everything but what toilet paper the CEO uses. You remember that paper?"
"Yeah, that one sucked."
"With all the problems here, I'm having to do this on my own. I need some help."
"Sure. Whatever I can do."
"Can you give me your paper?"
Matthew hesitated a moment.
"I'd do the same for you, you know that," Chris said when the silence grew a bit longer.
"I don't know. It's ... It's cheating."
"No one would know. It's just this ONE time."
"Look, I really want to help....but -"
"But you could care less about your friend. I understand." The phone went dead.
"Damnit!" Matthew yelled angrily, slamming the phone down on the stair next to him. Chris was an expert in pushing his buttons: thirty seconds of conversation and he was fuming. And he couldn't, in all good conscience, leave that conversation there. Chris was clearly having a hell of a time and in those kind of times, Matthew knew from experience, it wasn't easy to think before you spoke. Trying to take a few deep breaths and quell his own temper, he picked up the phone again and redialled.
It took Chris a moment to answer, and when he did he sounded so quiet Matthew could barely hear him.
"It's me." Matthew said shortly. "Do you want to discuss this or do you want to yell at me?"
He heard Chris sigh. Then his voice again, still low and depressed.
"I CAN'T write the fucking thing. I really can't. I've got Joe all over me, WHEN are you going to study, WHY isn't the paper done yet, and I can't even read the bloody books. I just really need some help here."
"How about I give you my notes?" Matthew suggested, pity rapidly overtaking anger. "I'll help you do a plan too if you want, would that help?"
"Matt, I can't write it. I really, truly can't. You can give me the plan for each paragraph, I still won't be able to get it written." Chris took a quick breath and Matthew realised with a nasty shock that he was crying. "Please, just for this one time, give me the paper and let me copy it in, just so it's done and I don't fail the class. You know I wouldn't ask you for any other time or any other reason, it's due in on Monday- please. Your paper's a year old, no one's going to remember it, it isn't even the same professor."
That was very probably true.
Matthew thought it over, aching for the catch in Chris's breathing and becoming more convinced by the moment that something was horribly wrong that he wasn't being told about.
"You can't copy word for word." he said at last. "Change it where you can. Ok?"
"Ok, thanks." Chris's sigh of relief was audible and wrenching. "Thankyou, you're saving my life. Can I come and get it now?"
"Here. But he's nagging me to death about seeing you guys, he won't mind if I'm out for half an hour."
"Ok, Rolf's out so it's a good time. I'll go find it for you."
"Thanks Matt. I'll see you in a minute."
Chris hung up, taking another deep breath of relief. The paper had been hanging over him like an axe since he first went back to school. After three years of school, Joe had him trained in a way his mother had never attempted: he was more than used to Joe knowing his schedule, of sitting down nightly to do homework and of Joe checking through when he was done- and Joe had been gently but persistently firm all week about him sitting down and getting this paper done. As it represented 40% of the final grade for the class, skipping it wasn't an option. And yet the longer Chris sat with the books in front of him, the less they made sense and the more he wanted to hurl them off the table as a waste of time. Studying meant nothing. A diploma, someway off in the future meant nothing. David was still gone. He was still Chris Someone Or Other, and not the person he'd thought he was at all. What did anything matter next to that?
Except getting Joe convinced that the paper was done, before he drove them both insane.
Chris got up and went down to the kitchen, picking up his jacket. Joe was in the living room, screwdriver in hand, glaring at the contents of the video recorder.
"Who was that on the phone?"
"Matthew." Chris pulled his jacket on. "I'm going over there for a while, I won't be long."
"No later than five, you've got a way to go on that paper yet."
"I KNOW...." Chris said irritably. Joe caught his hand and drew him back, talking quietly but very firmly.
"Don't talk to me as though I'm being unreasonable or stupid. That paper needs to be done, you're not finding it easy, and you need to put in time on it now, before you reach last minute panic."
"I'm still taking notes." Chris said bitterly. "I'm TRYING."
"I know you are. And I know you'll do it. Five." He drew Chris down and kissed the scowling mouth gently. "I'm glad you're seeing Matthew. Talk to him about the hockey this weekend. I think you'd have fun if we went."
"Okay," Chris said, heading out the door. He had no intention of talking to Matthew about anything other than the paper. Getting into his car, he drove the short distance to Matthew's house and parked in the driveway. He knocked on the door and got no answer. He then poked the doorbell four times in quick succession.
Matthew was deep in a box, papers spread out around him. He was also doing battle with two cats who insisted on approving everything that came out of the boxes. When the doorbell chimed four times, the two cats scattered, one catching Matthew's thigh in her haste to vacate the room.
"Fuck!" he spat, dropping what he had in his hands to head downstairs, grabbing a tissue on the way to staunch the blood flow. "I'm COMING!" he yelled as someone pounded on the door. He was more than ready to throttle whoever it was when he opened the door.
"Didn't think you'd - what's wrong?" Chris asked, seeing some blood on Matthew's leg.
"Did you REALLY need to hit the doorbell?"
"I do when you don't answer when I knock! What happened to your leg?"
"Tiffany got me when the doorbell rang. I'm okay. Come on, I'm still looking for the paper," Matthew said, starting back upstairs.
Chris closed the door and followed. "You don't know what this means. I really appreciate it."
"De nada. Pleasure. It's good to see you back." Matthew sprawled on the floor once more in the pile of papers, digging through them. "How was the vacation?"
Chris shrugged, his face shuttering over. "Allright."
"Where did you go?"
"Some place Joe knew, up in the hills. It was ok." Chris took a seat on the floor, absently petting one of the cats who were cautiously returning now the papers once more needed supervision.
Aware of Rolf's instructions- which had been given with enough emphasis and clarity that Matthew felt bad about fluffing too much around them- Matthew didn't ask any more questions. Instead he ransacked through the papers until he found the one he wanted, and grunted as he found the grade on it.
"It was a B plus. Not fantastic, but a decent pass grade."
"That's great, thank you." Chris, for whom a C was reason enough for major celebration, took it with a cursory glance at the grade. Matthew's easy As were a mystery to him; he'd known Marc and Rolf be seriously displeased at a grade that would have thrilled Joe beyond measure had he taken it home.
Matthew stuffed the rest of the papers back in the box.
"Just change it a bit, ok?"
"It'll be fine, it's a different tutor and it was over a year ago. I just need to get through this class and get it over with before Joe starts talking about summer school."
"I'm getting the same from Marc. Extra credit classes." Matthew pulled an expressive face. "Want a drink?"
"No, I need to go." Chris stuffed the paper inside his jacket. Matthew touched his arm, aware of the tightness in his face.
"Come on. One coke and a game of pool? We haven't played in months."
Chris shook his head without hesitation, already heading downstairs.
"I need to go, Joe'll be waiting."
"It isn't even four yet."
"I told you he was all over me at the moment. He wants this paper done and I'm more or less under house arrest anyway. No chance of hockey this weekend."
"I'm sorry." Matthew said unhappily. Chris shrugged, opening the front door.
"It happens. Thanks Matt."
"Take care." Matthew called after him. Rolf pulled up on the drive just as Chris was turning onto the sidewalk, and wound the window down to talk to him briefly. Matthew, watching, saw Chris's face but not a flicker of a smile, and he headed quickly for his own car. Rolf got out and watched him drive away before he headed up the drive to where Matthew was waiting.
"What brought him here?"
"Asking about a paper he's got due in next term." Matthew changed the subject quickly, uneasy with it as he always was when wandering around the edge of a lie to Rolf. "He looks awful- he said Joe's pretty much got him grounded. He still wouldn't say why."
Rolf didn't say why either, just shut the door behind them and headed for the kitchen, looking appreciatively at the gleaming floor.
"The place never looks like this when I clean it."
"What DID happen when he disappeared that night?" Matthew asked, trying a full out question. Rolf only kissed his forehead as he passed, opening the fridge in search of lunch.
"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies. Who happened to your leg? Get the antiseptic, you can't walk around dripping."
"Tiffany, when Chris used the doorbell. I don't need antiseptic, it'll stop soon enough."
"Antiseptic and a band-aid, now please," Rolf said as he pulled out some meat and lettuce for a couple of sandwiches.
Matthew knew the tone and went into the bathroom, finding the requested items and patching up his leg. He snarled at the bandaid as it was going to pull his hair, but left it on and returned to the kitchen.
"Can't we have something better?" he asked, winding his arms around Rolf and lying against his back.
"It's too hot outside to eat a large meal. We've got mowing to do and I'd rather not be feeling ill the rest of the afternoon. You?"
"What difference does it make?" Matthew said sourly.
Rolf disengaged Matthew's arms and turned around. "Saintly, remember?" He dropped a kiss on his forehead. "Get us some tea, and the chips from the pantry."
"Allright," Matthew said, heading to the pantry.
"Did Chris say anything about this weekend's hockey?" Rolf called after him, sucking mayonaise off his fingers. Matthew reappeared, shutting the pantry door with his hip.
"Yes. Not coming. He said Joe wouldn't let him."
"Hi Rolf." Joe cast one more look through at the kitchen where Chris had his books spread across the table, and went into the lounge with the phone, shutting the door after him. "If you're asking about those tickets to the game on Saturday, I don't think Chris is going to go short of me dragging him."
"That's interesting, since he told Matthew you wouldn't let him go." Rolf said dryly. "He dropped by here for all of ten minutes."
"Getting him out to go out of the house is hard enough." Joe said grimly. "Maybe I should drag him out on Saturday."
"I'd guess he thought it was a quick way to get Matthew off his back without questions being asked. Want me to cancel the tickets?"
Joe hesitated, then sighed. "Yes please. If he's still hermitting next week I'll think about getting heavy, but I don't really want to push him if he doesn't want the company. At least he did see Matthew today. Something about his paper."
"How's that going?"
Joe gave an expressive moan. Rolf laughed.
"Been there, done that, got the t shirt."
"Matthew seems to have cheered him up about it though." Joe said, sobering. "He sat straight down and got on with it tonight without war being declared. Monday night I had to sit at the table with him and harass him through the whole hour."
"Has he spoken to his mom yet?" Rolf asked gently. Joe grunted, getting up and heading for the kitchen door, opening it enough to see Chris. Head bent, so absorbed in the notes he was reading that he didn't even look up. Joe smiled faintly and shut the door again.
"No. She hasn't tried calling again."
"ROOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLF!" Matthew bellowed from upstairs. It wasn't the I'm
bored, where are you? yell, nor the 'I've lost the .....'. It was the flat out 'HELP' yell and Rolf took the stairs several at a time, taking the phone with him.
"What's wrong?" Joseph asked on the phone.
Rolf rounded the corner to find Matthew in the closet with a box about to fall on the floor. He pushed it back into it's place, pulling Matthew from the closet and setting him on the end of the bed.
"Just Matthew trying to balance too much above his head," Rolf replied, snapping his fingers and pointing at the bed when Matthew tried to get up. Matthew flopped down again, lip out.
"I'll leave you to it then." Joe said, sounding amused. "Attic crisis?"
"Just the closet. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Rolf broke the connection and looked at Matthew. Who winced.
"I was ONLY trying to get the box back on the shelf."
"You nearly got the box on your head." Rolf pointed out. "What is it?"
"Just some school stuff I was looking through." Matthew hedged.
"A heavy box of books and papers, right above your head, lifted on your own." Rolf folded his arms. "IS that a good idea?"
Matthew looked down at his feet, shuffling them. "Maybe not?"
"There's a step ladder right over there, for that express purpose. USE it next time?"
"Yes, sir," Matthew mumbled.
Rolf went over and pulled Matthew up, lifting his chin up. "I rather like you in one piece," he said before kissing him.
Matthew kissed back passionately. "Will you show me how much you like me in one piece?" he asked, seductively.
Rolf kissed him back, feeling himself respond to his little imp. But he knew if he let Matthew talk him into some afternoon delight, the lawn wouldn't get mowed and it was much needed at the close of the mowing season. He bit playfully at Matthew's lip.
"I'll show you later. We have mowing to do."
"You're worse than a cold shower," Matthew groused easily.
Rolf smiled but pulled him towards the stairs. "Come on, anything good is worth waiting for, hmm? Mowing first, we'll get the garden straightened out and then we've got all evening."
Matthew trailed him, grimacing. Mowing was NOT his favourite thing.
"Drink?" Joe asked, pulling the fridge open. Chris looked up, startled, and pulled some of his notes together.
"How's it going?" Joe poured fruit juice into glasses, added ice and put one on the table in Chris's reach, putting his chilled hand on Chris's neck. Chris yelped and squirmed away from him.
"Is this the paper?"
"Yes- just getting it together." Chris shut the books before Joe got too interested and picked up his drink. "Can I stop now? Please?"
Joe glanced at the kitchen clock, not unsympathetic. "You can have a break, but you need to do another half hour. I don't want you struggling with this all weekend, you need some time off."
"I just ASKED for time off." Chris complained, getting up and stretching.
"QUALITY time off. As in all day. We COULD go to the hockey." Joe anticipated Chris's scowl and caught him by the back of his belt, tugging him over. "What's wrong with hockey?"
"Nothing." Chris wrapped both arms around Joe's neck and shut his eyes, cuddling up. "I just want to watch it on tv, on the sofa, with you, that's all. We can go to bed when we get tired and watch the rest up there- no noise, no cold, no one chattering."
"That's part of the fun, isn't it?" Joe said gently, running his hands up and down Chris's back. "You usually have fun with the others."
Chris didn't answer, snuggling closer. Joe didn't push it, just kicked out one of the kitchen chairs, sat down and drew Chris onto his lap, giving his full attention to holding him. He could understand Chris clinging to their seclusion and their security at the moment- Chris was still swinging unpredictably between withdrawn and clingy, but if it made him feel better to keep their free time just for them, Joe could understand. They remained close and quiet until Joe's leg started to fall asleep.
"Alright Sunshine, why don't you put in a little more time and we can wrap that up for the night?" Joe asked, sliding Chris unwillingly to his feet with a groan.
"What's wrong?" Chris asked. "Getting old?" The swat he got made him laugh and jump away.
"Respect your elders," Joe said sternly, trying not to laugh.
"Only if the old farts can catch me!" Chris said, running past Joe and cuffing him on the head, laughing.
Joe tried to get up but his leg wasn't going to cooperate. He sank back in the chair, willing his leg to wake up.
Matthew was pushing the lawnmower around the trees while Rolf was trimming around the fence and flower beds. He was trying to keep his temper in check, but he absolutely hated mowing. The grass was either too short to tell exactly where he'd been, or too tall for the mower to run smoothly through it. Either way it was annoying. When he bumped the third tree, Rolf straightened up and Looked. It was a loud Look; Matthew heard it clearly without Rolf actually saying a single word. Taking a deep breath, he turned the mower off and sat down beside it, running an arm over his forehead and huffing away loose pieces of grass.
"It's too HOT for this."
"It'll take another twenty minutes, that's all." Rolf resumed clipping. Matthew lay down in the grass, muttering. WHOSE twenty minutes?? Left to him, the whole garden would be concrete that looked after itself. Rolf gave him a moment, then looked over again.
"Come on sport. Up and get that finished, it won't take long."
In a previous life, he'd probably run a team of slaves building the pyramids or something. Matthew got up, briefly distracted by thoughts of Rolf in a loin cloth, then the mower started and his temper resumed its deterioration.
He finished up in the far back of the yard, grumbling heavily as he saw Rolf heading to the garage with the weed eater. It wasn't fair that Rolf's job was over and he was still working, even though he hated trimming far more than mowing. Trying to carry the equipment around, keep it level, and away from objects not needing to be trimmed, and watching out for the cord. He'd sliced through one extension cord and plants too numerous to count, until Rolf decided he could handle most of the trimming. As Matthew got closer to the side yard he still had to do, he saw the extension cord slithering across the lawn as Rolf rolled it up from the garage. Taking a quick look to make sure Rolf wasn't in view, Matthew sped up and ran over the end of the entension cord. The mower didn't protest loudly at all as the plug was sliced from the end of the cord. Matthew watched as the shredded cord slid slowly towards the garage, then took off for the side yard and waited for the yell.
It didn't come. Rolf however did.
Around the corner, with the chewed off plug in hand, stopping directly in front of Matthew. He dangled it there, holding it up in mute accusation like some Roman tragic hero. Matthew looked at the plug and made his eyes go as wide as possible.
"OH.....I-" his wondering how that could have happened didn't come to fruition. Rolf turned the mower off, took him away from it and swatted him towards the house. Not just one either, but two or three hard swats that vented a little of Rolf's more Roman instincts.
"Kitchen corner, right now young man. Move."
Matthew moved, hurriedly, rubbing himself. By the time he reached the kitchen corner, it was starting to seem like a less brilliant idea. By the time Rolf approached the kitchen door, Matthew was starting to wish he'd never thought of it. Rolf put the plug down on the kitchen table and leaned on it.
"Come here Matthew."
Matthew turned, slowly and unwillingly, and skulked across to him. Rolf surveyed him with resigned exasperation.
"What on earth possessed you to do that?"
"The mower just went over it," Matthew began, "Maybe I wasn't looking where I was going-"
"Matthew, if this was an accident, you would have told me about it straight away!" Rolf interrupted. "Don't even TRY that. WHY did you do that?"
Matthew fidgeted, flushing still redder. "I HATE mowing!"
"And this was a little gesture of temper to remind me of that, was it?"
Matthew's head couldn't get any lower. Rolf sighed.
"Have you ANY idea how long it takes to rewire that thing? Well you're going to find out, because you're going to do it tomorrow, AFTER your homework and before the tv goes on. I thought we had a deal this week?"
Matthew nodded his head slowly.
"The deal was you were going to behave, or you weren't going to the hockey match this weekend -"
Matthew looked up quickly, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "I'm sorry! PLEASE don't take away hockey, please!" he begged, his apology sincere.
"You know very well that temper tantrums are not something I tolerate, particularly when it could have caused serious injury to you. The mower could have thrown the plug at you, or worse, the cord could have become intangled in the mower blades and ripped them off."
"I'm sorry," Matthew said again.
"You need to think through things before you let your temper get the better of you. And to make it easy for you when faced with the decision, you need only decide between hanging onto your temper, or being paddled for letting it get out of control. Get the paddle."
Matthew sniffled and wiped his eyes, walking the few feet to where they kept the paddle. He brought it back to Rolf and handed it over, eyes down.
"Pants down, and bend over," Rolf said.
Matthew made quick work of his button and his shorts and underwear were soon at his ankles. He took one look at Rolf, hoping for absolution, but it didn't come. He bent over slowly.
Rolf pulled Matthew's shirt up, out of the way, and placed his hand on Matthew's back. Raising the paddle up, he brought it down with a resounding crack across the white flesh presented to him.
Matthew jumped, nearly standing up. He worked hard to swallow the involuntary yell that leapt up his throat, shutting his eyes tight for the next swat.
Rolf landed six hard swats before stopping to ask "Will there be any more fits of temper?"
Matthew swallowed several times before he could croak out "No, sir."
"Pants up and corner then," Rolf said.
Matthew quickly stood up, pulling his pants into place quickly, diving for the safety of the corner, rubbing at the fire on his seat. He worked hard for several minutes not to sob, the firey sting fading into throbbing that he could handle.
"I think you're done." Joe said, taking the last of the chops off the grill. "Want to eat outside?"
Chris came gladly to take his plate. Joe picked up his, glancing back at the piles of books and papers on the table.
"Leave your paper and the notes out; I'll check through after we clean up."
"It's ok, it's going allright now." Chris headed for a spot on the porch steps, not looking at him.
"I always look." Joe took a seat on the step above him. "Did Matthew help?"
"A lot. He had some good notes." Chris said with his mouth full.
They ate and left the washing up to enjoy the last of the sun in the garden, then Chris did his nightly clean up of the kitchen and Joe picked up the papers Chris had left out, taking them into the living room with him. Several pages of the notes were in Matthew's slanting scrawl, other pages in Chris's painstaking handwriting, but the opening two pages of the paper were undisputably good- Matthew's influence had clearly been very strong. In fact, reading through, Joe suspected his input had probably been a little more than usually he'd be happy with: Chris's research was always thorough and careful but the insights were not something he would have gained without someone directing his attention. Although, this once, Joe did nothing but think silent appreciation at Matthew for his kindness. Chris hesitated in the doorway and Joe glanced up, putting the papers on the table.
"Looks good. Matthew gave you a lot of help, didn't he?"
"I really needed it." Chris said uncomfortably. Joe saw the discomfort and held out a hand in sympathy, waiting until Chris came into reach.
"You CAN do it. You always have done before, there's nothing wrong in asking for help when things get hard. And Matthew can help you a lot more with this kind of stuff than I can."
Chris didn't answer. Just curled up with his head under Joe's chin and stayed there, still and quiet.
Matthew zipped into his management class just before the professor walked in and shut the door behind him. He sank down into his chair and opened his coke, then his bag of M&Ms, then his notebook. Without his caffeine and sugar, he'd be dead asleep within five minutes.
The professor laid down his stack of papers and surveyed the room, mentally taking attendance. After making a couple of checks, he pulled out his book.
"Today we're going to go over what your final project entails. Before that, we need to cover chapter seventeen, beginning on page 236. You should have covered this over the weekend."
Matthew turned to the correct page and tried to follow along. It was Friday afternoon, sitting was still not comfortable, and he was dying to get home and start the weekend. There remained only one evening and one morning to get through before the hockey match.
"That's it." The professor said finally, shutting his file. "Before you go- a few reminders I have to make to you as a graduating class. Your final project. I'll go over what it contains in a moment, but there are a few guidelines you MUST be aware of before you even begin." He leaned on his desk, looking over the class. "Firstly, the deadline. That is un negotiable, there is NO way around it, there will be NO accepted excuses. The project MUST be submitted by three pm on the 23rd of June, to me, and you must get a signed receipt from me that I've received it before the deadline. I will be in my office all that day to accept them as they come in. Second point. The University will NOT tolerate plagiarism in any way, shape or form, from any of its students at any time. Any student found infringing those regulations in any work that contributes to their degree will be stripped of that degree. This includes, claiming outside sources as your own, colluding with other students in the presentation of work without acknowledging them, giving work to other students to copy or reproduce as their own, or submitting another student's work as your own. And do not assume the professors here won't notice- we've read all the sources, you'd be amazed what we remember, it is not a risk worth taking. Thirdly-"
Matthew didn't even hear the third point. His heart started to thump. When the professor released them, he quickly grabbed his copy of the final project and headed out the door in mid panic, certain he was going to lose his degree when he was so close to finishing it, not to mention what would happen to Chris. He headed directly to the library, hoping to find Chris hard at work. After twenty minutes of frantic searching through every corner of the large building, he sat down, resting his head in his hands.
He could see Chris turning in the paper, and the two of them leaving the campus for summer break. They'd sell back their books, hit the road and plan on having a fun time. Then, about two days later, they'd both receive a phone call, asking them to come see the Dean. Both of them had been there before, and been told in no uncertain terms they weren't wanted back there, by the Dean or either of their respective partners. They'd show up, be ushered in, and the Dean would say, in no uncertain terms, you're finished here. Classes are finished. Degrees are finished. Their futures were finished. Matthew could continue working in his firm, but only be able to do all the peon work, the backbreaking piddly stuff that no one else wanted to do. Chris, well, he wouldn't even be able to get a job at a gas station! He peeled himself away from the nightmare with an effort, got up and headed for the hallway where he could use his phone. There was NO question about this; he had to get the paper back and get Chris to destroy any copies he'd made of it, immediately, for both their sakes, and put this down to temporary insanity.
Chris's cell phone was turned off. Swearing quietly, Matthew headed for the office and tried turning his charm full blast onto the secretary, who found Chris's timetable on the computer and identified the class he was in. Matthew thanked her, took his books and headed to the English classroom, taking a seat outside the door. Chris's English professor liked the sound of her own voice. The class had run a good ten minutes over time and Matthew was somewhat numbed from sitting on a cold floor when the door finally opened. He got to his feet and waited, spotting Chris at the back of the group, clearly uninspired by whatever the class had been about, judging by his expression. Matthew grabbed his arm, pulling him to one side and walking him towards the outside door, out of anyone else's earshot.
"I need a word with you."
"What? Don't pull me around!" Chris yanked his arm out of Matthew's. Matthew opened the outside door and waited, looking at him pleadingly enough that Chris grudgingly followed.
"That paper I gave you. My economics professor just gave us a lecture on the college rules to graduate, I didn't think about what they'd make of plagiarism." Matthew said as calmly as he could. "I'd lose my degree and so would you if you handed in a copied paper-"
"Matthew, it's a minor class paper, it's a different tutor and over a year since you handed that paper in- no one's going to know."
"That paper contributes part of my grades for the degree, if I give it to you I WILL lose my degree if it's found out." Matthew said sharply. "I'm not going to take that risk Chris, I've worked way too long and too hard for this."
"The paper's due in on Monday." Chris pointed out, glowering at him. "What do you expect me to do about that?"
"Ask for an extension." Matthew said briefly, "I'm sorry. But I need that paper back right now. I'll drive you home and-"
"Forget it." Chris shouldered his bag and headed down the corridor towards the front door. "If I ask for an extension Joe'll go nuts, I can't. I need the paper, you agreed, you're freaking now for no good reason, just chill Matthew. It'll be fine, it's not a big deal."
"CHRIS, it's my paper, I want it back!" Matthew snapped, following him outside. Chris waved across the carpark and Matthew saw Joe sitting in his car, clearly waiting. That precluded either fight or argument. Chris gave him another, slightly less aggressive look, but carried on walking.
"It'll be ok, I'll give it back to you on Monday."
There was nothing else to do but watch him cross the car park and climb into the car. Joe waved and the car turned towards the main road. Matthew stood for a long time, trying to think, then got into his own car. Frustrated, upset, scared, he sat for a while, staring at the dashboard and trying to think of any number of ideas- from heading for the mall and trying to find Marc, to heading for Joe and Chris's house and trying to take the paper while he was there. He'd very nearly decided on Marc, when he accepted what he already knew Marc would advise, put away his cellphone and turned the car engine over. He headed out of the main gates, hesitated only a second, and then turned towards town and Rolf's office.
He found a parking spot in the carpark and headed inside. Once up to Rolf's floor, he stepped off the elevator and into the large and spacious front office. He walked up to the desk, finding an unfamiliar face.
"Hi. I'm looking for Rolf."
"He's at lunch. Was he expecting you?"
"No, thanks," Matthew said, heading back to the elevator.
"May I tell him who you are?" the receptionist asked, standing up.
"It's okay," Matthew said, stepping onto the elevator before the receptionist could ask him another question. "Daggone it," Matthew said, slumping against the side of the elevator. "No doubt he's eating with a client and doesn't want to be disturbed."
Matthew looked at his watched and decided he should head on to work. He was already two hours later than normal, and he'd not even had lunch yet. Picking up McDeath's for lunch, he headed to the office. He turned his IM on as he unpacked his Big Mac. MArc not so much popped as pounced, even the bleep on the IM sounded severe.
MONSTERMUNCH: WHERE have you been? School finished two hours ago!
MONSTERMUNCH: That did NOT take two hours young man
TiggerMC: The drive thru does.
MONSTERMUNCH: NOT funny.
TiggerMC: A little bit funny?
MONSTERMUNCH: WHERE were you? Or do I need to talk to Rolf?
TiggerMC: I went to SEE Rolf. He was having lunch with a client so I missed him.
MONSTERMUNCH: What's wrong??
TiggerMC: Just a school thing I wanted to talk about.
MONSTERMUNCH: Yuh huh. This is ME remember?? What's up? And say the sky and your butt is toast.Matthew smiled in spite of himself. Then sighed and typed.
TiggerMC: I've got a BIIIIIIIIIIG problem. You know Chris was struggling with that paper?
TiggerMC: He came and got some notes from me from the essay I did last year, and he asked if I'd give him my essay
TiggerMC: To copy?Matthew typed it in and sat back, wincing. Marc's reply took a moment to come back, but when it did, Marc's shock was evident.
MONSTERMUNCH: WHY would you and he think THAT was a good idea?????!
TiggerMC: He was stuck on the paper, he couldn't do it.
MONSTERMUNCH: And THAT's a reason to help him cheat?? HE has to earn his grades the same way you did!Which was true. The phone rang and Matthew picked it up, not sorry to have someone less authoritative to talk to.
"Matthew here, can I help you?"
"Hey sport. Were you looking for me?"
Out of the frying pan into the fire. Matthew sat back, ignoring Marc who impatient of delay was elipsing across the screen.
"I thought so. The receptionist told me, five ten, huge green eyes, extremely cute......"
"Extremely cute WHAT?" Matthew demanded. Rolf laughed.
"Let's say I thought, yep I already date that guy. What brought you over here? You had classes until twelve didn't you? If I'd known you wanted to have lunch with me I'd have waited for you."
"No...no, I didn't have lunch plans. It was a spur of the moment thing."
"Well, I'm sorry I missed you then. I'm always up for a spur of the moment lunch with my favorite brat," Rolf said, leaning back in his chair.
"I'd better be your ONLY brat," Matthew replied.
"You can bank on that, sweetheart. Is there anything wrong?" Rolf asked after a pause.
Matthew sighed. He was looking at the screen, and Marc who was making death threats, in between posts telling his secretary to leave him alone and for the phone to quit ringing.
"I have a....problem.....and I needed your input on it," Matthew finally said.
"What kind of problem?" Rolf asked, instantly wanting to help.
"The kind of problem I'd rather not go into over the phone. Are you coming right home tonight?"
"Yes, I am. We don't need to talk before then?"
"No, it's okay. I'll just see you when I get home."
"Alright love. I'll see you in a couple of hours." Rolf hung up the phone and immediately called his secretary to reschedule a meeting he for 5pm for another day. He didn't want Matthew feeling badly for changing his schedule, but whatever it was that was bothering Matthew, it was far more important than a client meeting.
He wrapped up as early as he could and headed home, unable not to worry on what Matthew wanted to tell him. He'd seemed fine that morning- maybe it was something at work- hopefully NOT a speeding or parking ticket- trying not to think about it, Rolf fed the small army of cats who cornered him in the kitchen, and wandered into the garden. He heard Matthew's car pull onto the drive not long after five. That was wrong for a start, Matthew rarely came home on time, especially with a difficult discussion ahead- this was not looking good. Rolf got up and leaned in the kitchen doorway, waiting until Matthew came into the kitchen. Matthew gave him a half smile and a brief kiss, heading for the fridge. Rolf watched him pull a bottle of water out and bolt it, waiting. Matthew shut the fridge and ran the bottle over his forehead, then headed back towards the door.
"I'm going to take a shower-"
"Come talk to me."
Matthew gave him a semi trapped look. Rolf held a hand out to him and waited until slowly, Matthew came to him and took the outstretched hand, trailing him into the garden and to the top of the porch steps.
It was one of their favourite perches, above the flowers that lined the porch, shaded from the heat of the afternoon sun. Matthew took his seat, looking down at his hands. Rolf sat down beside him.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there at lunchtime."
"It's ok." Matthew said without looking up. "It was just an impulse."
Rolf waited. Then ran a hand gently down Matthew's back.
"What is it?"
Matthew took a deep breath and lifted his head, looking at the garden and not Rolf.
"I've got a problem. And I guess I did something stupid, I just didn't THINK about it being stupid until class today."
"Allright, slow down." Rolf interrupted, breaking with experience into a flow of self recrimination. "Start at the beginning, what happened?"
"Chris was having trouble with that paper, it was driving him mad and he sounded really upset about it. He came over to ask me for help and I offered to give him the notes- he asked to copy the essay, it's a year old, it's a different professor- I said ok. Then in class today the professor was talking about the regulations to graduate and any plagiarism at all, any, means losing the degree- it would be both me AND Chris. So I talked to Chris and he-" Matthew hesitated.
"Wouldn't give you the paper back." Rolf finished quietly. Matthew nodded, risking a quick look at him.
"He CAN'T copy it. I shouldn't have given it to him, but he was SO upset, I know he's having a hard time at the moment and I wanted to help!"
"I know. We'll sort this out." Rolf put an arm around Matthew's shoulders and pulled him close.
"I DID know about the plagiarism thing, I just didn't think about it until class today. He CAN'T turn that paper in, it just-"
"No, he mustn't." Rolf said matter of factly. "I'm going to talk to Joe and-"
"Rolf NO...." Matthew pleaded, panic deepening. Rolf shook his head.
"Definitely. It's no good Chris being angry with you, he shouldn't have asked you in the first place, any more than you should have given it to him. And we'll talk about that later, but the first thing we need to do is get your paper back and see to it that Chris's copy of it is destroyed. I'm going to call Joe now and we'll go over after dinner to get the paper."
Matthew nodded slowly, somewhere between still more anxious at the thought of Chris's reaction and relief that things were back in hand. Rolf, whatever else he might do, would stop this disaster progressing any further. Rolf got up, taking the forgotten bottle of water and draining it.
"Get yourself that shower and make a salad."
He picked up the phone as he walked through the kitchen and Matthew heard the study door shut.
He slowly climbed the stairs and headed into the bathroom, wondering what Joe was going to make of this. Chris had been through hell, and he knew it, and knew this wasn't going to help anything. If Chris had ONLY given Matthew the paper when he asked.
Rolf settled down in the chair, not looking forward to this phone call. He dialed the phone, hoping to catch Joe before they ate.
"Hello, Joseph Robertson."
"Hi, Joe, how are you?"
"Hey Rolf, just fine."
"I hope I didn't catch you in the middle of dinner," Rolf said, sitting back.
"Oh, no. I'm just now starting to get things out to make it with. Chris is still going strong on his paper and I didn't want to disturb him. What's up?"
"Well," Rolf said, sighing, "that's what I wanted to talk to you about anyway."
"What? Chris's paper?" Joe asked, lowering his voice so Chris wouldn't overhear.
"Yes. When he came over for the notes, he took more than that. He took Matthew's actual essay."
"WHAT?" Joe said in shock. "When did Matthew realise this? HOW did he get it?"
"No no, Matthew gave it to him. It was a mutual arrangement- Chris asked for the paper and Matthew in a misguided moment gave it to him. Now he's been reminded of the college rules on plagiarism and panicked. He did approach Chris earlier today and ask for the paper back and for Chris to destroy any copies of it, but I'm afraid Chris refused. Matthew then came to tell me, as for his AND Chris's sake the paper needs to be returned."
Joe didn't answer for a moment. Then sighed.
"I thought the paper had a lot of Matthew in it- I just thought Matthew had given him a lot of help, I didn't realise he was copying verbatim. I'm sorry Rolf."
"Matthew knew better than to have given him the paper." Rolf said grimly. "It was a mutual mistake."
"No, you mustn't blame Matthew too much." Joe said at once. "It's very hard to say no to Chris about anything right now, if I'd been a little less sympathetic I'd have chased up the Matthewisms I'd seen in the paper and stopped all this yesterday. Chris WILL return the paper and I'll see to it that he destroys all his notes and starts the entire paper again; he won't endanger Matthew's degree in any way shape or form, you have my word on that. I'm very sorry that he risked it in in the first place."
"As you said, Chris hasn't had the best time lately, and I can see how this happened with very little thinking on either part. Does Chris have enough time to get the paper written on his own?"
"I don't know," Joseph said wearily. "It's due on Monday, and it isn't a simple two pages of writing. There's actual facts that need to be written about. But it will have to be, in order for Chris to pass this class."
"I have a suggestion then," Rolf said.
"Matthew did, and does, want to help Chris. Chris needs and would appreciate the help. I think Matthew should give up tomorrow in order to help get Chris back on the right track."
"Right," Joe said with a small hint of a smile. "Chris would need help with the research, and outlining the paper. Then he can concentrate on simply writing it himself. That will basically be his own work."
"I agree. That time spent with Chris should be beneficial to both boys, and serve as punishment for not thinking, as well as losing the hockey match tomorrow night."
"He was already on thin ice, don't worry," Rolf said, laughing. Then he sobered. "How about we drive over after dinner, and we'll get the paper. That way, Chris will have some uninterrupted time tonight to get started on it, if he has time."
"Thanks, Rolf. That sounds like a good plan, though after our discussion, I'm not sure how much time will remain. See you later." Joe hung up the phone, concentrating on dinner.
Rolf took the phone back to the kitchen where Matthew, with very little interest or care, was throwing together a salad. His look towards Rolf was nervous and definitely unhappy. Rolf put the phone back and took a packet of chicken out of the fridge.
"It's allright. I spoke to Joe, we'll go over after dinner and collect your paper and then we'll discuss your part in this. You did the right thing in telling me, we're going to get this sorted out."
Chris still had his head down over his paper when Joe went into the kitchen, although he didn't miss the quick shuffle of papers as he opened the door. He pulled a chair out at the table, took the pen out of Chris's hand and moved all the papers out of Chris's reach, seeing his eyes widen.
"I just had a phonecall from Rolf."
He didn't need to say anything further. Chris went scarlet, from chin to hairline. Joe held out a hand and Chris silently reached over, sorting out a stapled wadge of typed sheets which he handed to Joe. Joe skimmed the first sheet, then sorted through Chris's notes until he found the paper in progress, comparing the two. Then he looked back at Chris.
"Allright. I'd like to hear your explanation for this Christopher."
Chris looked at the table, not answering. Joe laid the papers in a neat pile and leaned on the table, steepling his hands.
"Does that mean that you don't have one?"
"I couldn't write it." Chris muttered. Joe shook his head.
"Yes, you could. You just didn't really try. I'd like to hear your explanation please. As to why you chose to cheat yourself, and me, and the school- and everyone else who will turn in that paper and earn their degree honestly. And to endanger Matthew's degree because you didn't want to put in the work that was your responsibility."
Chris couldn't get any redder. Joe waited, not intending to give him an easy way out of this.
"I wasn't endangering Matthew's degree, he gave me the paper!" Chris spat, anger the first emotion he could handle.
"Whether Matthew gave you that paper or you stole it from him, copying it WILL endanger both his and YOUR degrees," Joe said sharply. "Do you not realize that they have computer programs designed to detect copies? That even if the paper is a year or two old, that it can still be found in the database?"
"They do not!" Chris said hotly.
"There's an article in the paper then that you need to read. But that is STILL beside the point. WHY did you think turning in Matthew's paper as your own would be a good idea?"
"I told you, I couldn't do it!"
"If that was really true Christopher, I would expect you to do the honest thing and fail the paper. AND retake the class since if you genuinely can't do the work you clearly need the repetition! I did NOT think you would consider that an acceptable reason to cheat!"
Joe paused, looking at Chris's face and wondering with some concern if Chris really understood why it was that plagiarism was wrong at all. If he didn't understand that then until he did, this discussion was not going to successfully move in any direction. Gentling his voice and tone, he phrased the question more simply, watching Chris's face.
"Why IS cheating wrong?"
Chris shrugged one shoulder, a scowl starting to take over his lips and eyes.
"I don't want to talk about it- you're going to go mad anyway, just get on with it, I don't care."
"Oh no." Joe sat back in his chair, pulled Chris out of his chair and over to his lap. Chris struggled, but Joe wrapped both arms around him, holding him where he was.
"We ARE going to talk about it and you DO care, you don't get out of it that easily young man. You care very much, about how much danger you put Matthew in AND about how unhappy I am with you because of this and you ARE going to work with me to fix this. You don't just get to shrug it off. Now I want to hear from you WHY cheating is wrong. Explain that to me."
Chris wrenched, twisting in his arms until Joe swatted him, once and hard. Then he stilled but his voice was bitter and angry enough to make it clear his defiance was merely diverting to another channel, not abating.
"YOU explain! The college is anal, MATTHEW's anal, it's only ONE paper and EVERYONE does it!"
"'Everyone' can do what they like." Joe pointed out.
Chris bucked against him, coming out with the one word he knew Joe loathed among all others.
"WHATEVER! Whatever whatever what FUCKING ever!"
Joe held him still, refusing to rise to the tone or the bait. He knew Chris in a rage: trying to placate him just led to the tide ebbing and rebuilding later. The only solution was to allow him to build to an explosion and make it a controlled detonation. And be ready to pick up the pieces afterwards.
"I'm still waiting for an answer." he said calmly.
"You'll be waiting FORFUCKINGEVER!" Chris spat back, pulling against Joe's arms. "GET OFF ME!"
"Not a chance." Joe said matter of factly, wrapping his arms more securely around him. Chris threw all his energy into fighting for a moment with all his strength and stamina, then Joe felt the fury boil up and overflow. Chris burst into tears and hunched away from him, the shouting dimming down to incoherent sounds through his sobs.
"Get OFF me- go away-"
"No, I don't think so." Joe said gently, not releasing his grip. "I'm still waiting for an answer."
Chris stayed where he was, hunched as far away as he could get and his voice sounded entirely different as the sobbing grew more intense, eerily younger and higher.
"I want David..... I want David...."
Joe shut his eyes and his throat tightened. Then he turned Chris around and pulled him into his chest, holding on until Chris curled up against him, sobbing hard. Joe held him and stroked his hair, pushing it back off his forehead with the ongoing swell of concern and sympathy. This underlay everything. It was only a few weeks, the grief was still raw, Chris's world was in pieces. Joe vividly remembered Chris trying to explain to him, several times, the feeling of having the world ripped out from under his feet, of nothing he'd believed in being true, of the whole world suddenly in a different place and in a different light, leaving him lost and feeling betrayed. Lied to. And he had no doubt that to Chris, right now nothing was more insignificant than a paper on economics.
But they'd talked about this several times, and Chris HAD to keep hold of his schoolwork- once that got out of control he would never catch up again and he'd very rapidly lose the rest of his sense of structure and security- his fragile self esteem- any motivation to get out of bed in the morning. He
HAD to hang onto that, even if it took brute force to make him until he was past the worst of this. Joe ached for him, but there was no alternative: he was going to have to see this through for Chris, even if Chris right now couldn't understand why.
He peeled Chris gently away when his sobbing began to quieten, running a gentle thumb over his eyes.
"I'm STILL waiting for that answer."
Chris's tears promptly redoubled but Joe shook his head, putting him on his feet and taking him to the sink. He soaked a teatowel under the tap and ran it over Chris's face and neck, then filled a glass with water and handed it to him, talking quietly but firmly.
"Tell me Chris. Why is cheating wrong?"
"Because it is." Chris said unsteadily. "It just is."
"No, you're going to have to try." Joe leaned against the sink and looked at him, waiting. Chris took a deep shuddering breath and surrendered. Joe never gave up, he would win eventually, surrender was quicker, easier and far less exhausting.
"Because it's - unfair?"
"Because it's getting unfair marks- competing against people who did the work and deserved the marks-"
Chris took another breath and a long, unsteady gulp at the water.
"It's cheap. I should have done the work, it's pretending I have and that I've passed the class myself."
He looked whiter than a sheet. Joe put an arm around his shoulders and pulled his head against his chest, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Good. That would make all the work you've done up to now, all the effort and struggle you've put in- count for nothing because your final degree wouldn't have been fairly earned. All your life you wouldn't think of it with any pride, you'd look back and think Matthew passed that class for you. There's also the sense in which you deceived and you lied to me Chris."
Chris didn't respond. Joe gently held him off, waiting until Chris gave him eye contact.
"You made me think you would do this paper fairly, and when we talked about how hard you were finding it and you promised me you'd try, you didn't keep your word and you let me think you had."
Chris was out of tears for the time being. "I didn't mean to lie to you that way. I wasn't wanting to cheat. Matthew just had the paper, and I took it, intending to change mine. He...he just used the right words. I'm sorry."
"This is a very serious offence, Chris. It's not just a simple case of cheating, or lying. Everything you've worked so hard for could have disappeared in an instant. And knowing you, you'd feel one hundred percent responsible for the same thing if Matthew would have been thrown out of school. I'm not going to let something like that happen to you if I can help it at all."
Chris nodded, unable to speak.
"I'm going to make it a simple decision for you in the future. You're going to avoid cheating to avoid a spanking from me. And if I have to spank for this in the future, the spanking you're about to get will pale into insignificance. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," Chris said, and meaning it.
"Go get my belt."
Those words sucked every bit of air and sound from the room. It seemed like an hour later that Chris was able to breathe in, and the sound of his bare foot coming off the floor was almost deafening. He walked upstairs and to their closet, finding it in the usual place. He swallowed hard, still unable to cry again, though he knew he'd be doing that as soon as the first lick landed. The soft leather had such a biting sting.
Joe was downstairs, his head spinning almost as much as Chris' was. This was such a serious offence that a spanking was inevitable, and if it weren't for current circumstances, Chris would have been given more than one, as well as having his world reduced to home and school for a long time. Joe needed to deliver a lesson, but it had to be done carefully.
Mention of the belt itself always drove home the message that Chris had made a royal mistake. It was saved for big lessons, and this one definitely fit the bill. Joe knew what it did to Chris, because he'd been there before. He remembered being sent to get the leather, being absolutely certain you'd never do whatever it was again, and wishing desperately that cows and other animals that were used to make leather never existed. He remembered having trouble finding a belt, tears making it nearly impossible. He knew the courage it took, and the growing up that was done between finding the belt, and making your way back to the person that requested it. His reverie was interrupted when Chris made it back to the kitchen, handing over the belt wordlessly. Joe wanted to do nothing more than hug his partner until the look of mute misery was gone, but that was not going to help.
"Pull your pants down please, and put your hands on the counter."
Chris did as he was requested, his shorts and underwear in a pile around his feet, his hands on the counter. He backed up a step when Joe pulled him, and felt chills up his back when Joe's hand pulled his shirt out of the way, holding it in the small of his back. He stood, his stomach in knots, waiting for the pronouncement or first lick.
"Twenty licks, Chris. You keep your hands on that counter, and you remember WHY cheating is bad. Understood?" Joe sometimes wondered how he got his voice to sound so stern when he was feeling less than able to be that way.
"Yes," Chris said, his voice starting to crack.
Joe doubled the belt up and brought it crashing down on Chris' bare bottom. Chris' head snapped up and he moaned as a bright red line of fire developed across the formerly white flesh. The second lick made Chris lift his right leg, trying to put out the fire with movement.
Chris continued to moan, his cries going up in volume with each lick, dancing around to lesson the flames. On the tenth lick, he could stand it no longer and stood up, hands going back to rub furiously. Joe gave him just a moment, before telling him to get back into position and stay there.
Chris pulled his hands away from his bottom with great effort and put them back on the counter. He sobbed once before the eleventh lick landed and he howled again.
His hands went back a couple more times, and he never stood quite still, but he made it through all twenty licks. The instant that the twentieth landed, he shot up, hands trying to rub out the incredible sting without making it hurt worse, which was hard. It took him a minute to get over the last, stinging swat, and when he could catch his breath, he dove into Joe's arms, his pants still around his ankles.
Joe held him for several minutes, letting the cries settle from the shocking, painful ones to the I'm so pitiful and I need a hug ones, before he reached down to pull Chris' clothes back into place, eliciting a few wiggles and moans.
The doorbell ringing just made Chris burrow closer. Joe held him with one arm and put the belt out of sight before he towed Chris with him to the front door, insisting when Chris hung back. Rolf had Matthew's hand and Matthew looked equally unhappy and unwilling. The look on his face when he saw Chris was still more unhappy. Joe let Chris go with a quiet, "Paper please. And ALL the notes. Come in Rolf."
Chris moved hurriedly. Rolf drew Matthew with him into the kitchen where they watched Chris gather up the entire pile of paper, with his and Matthew's writing all over it. He handed Matthew's typed paper to Joe and fumbled for several intensely uncomfortable minutes to separate his notes from Matthew's. Joe took Matthew's notes from him and handed the entire pile to Rolf, then took the remainder of the notes and tore them into several pieces, dropping them into the bin.
"Is that all of them?" he asked Matthew.
Matthew couldn't have known or cared what was there and what was missing no matter how hard he tried right now, but he glanced through the pile and nodded anyway, dying to get out from under Joe's eye and away from Chris's obvious misery, knowing well that Chris would be desperate for them to go.
"Coffee?" Joe asked Rolf.
Say no, say no, Matthew silently pleaded. He thanked God when Rolf shook his head.
"Not tonight thanks. Thankyou for straightening this out. I don't think I need to say that Matthew and I will see to it that he doesn't do anything quite so reckless again."
Matthew flushed and dropped his head, but felt Joe's hand brush his back, a brief touch of comfort echoed in his eyes when Matthew risked a glance upwards.
"I know you just wanted to help."
"That was not a good way to do it." Rolf said wryly. "Matthew?"
"I'm sorry." Matthew said awkwardly, trying to look between Joe and Chris. "I shouldn't have said yes."
Chris didn't answer, despite Joe's look at him. Joe grimaced at Rolf but sounded perfectly assertive.
Chris looked on the brink of running for cover. Joe took his hand, keeping hold of it, but Chris pulled away, dodged past Rolf and ran upstairs. They all heard the slam of the bedroom door.
"Sorry." Joe said apologetically.
"I can see he's still not himself." Rolf said with sympathy, "It's allright Joe."
"He owes you both an apology and you WILL be getting it," Joe glanced up the stairs, looking rueful. "Just probably not tonight."
"We'll see you tomorrow. Have a good night," Rolf said, heading out to the truck, Matthew in tow.
"What's happening tomorrow?" Matthew asked hesitantly as they got into a truck. Rolf gave him a stern look, pulling the keys out of his pocket.
"Not hockey for a start. I'll bring you back tomorrow morning and you'll spend your Saturday helping Chris put together the notes for this paper so he's got some hope of submitting it by Monday- as it IS partly your fault he doesn't have anything done."
"Rooooooolf....." Matthew said plaintively. "I don't know what to say to him, he wouldn't even talk to me!"
"He needs the company as much as anything else." Rolf put the truck into gear and pulled out into the traffic, refusing to be understanding about it. "And he's GOT to do the paper, he'll appreciate any help he can get by tomorrow morning. I've got no doubt Joe will be supervising anyway."
Great. A day of schoolwork, RIGHT under Joe's watchful eye, and not even his OWN schoolwork. And no hockey. Matthew sank into his seat, seriously depressed. Forty eight hours HARD work to behave sufficiently- it shouldn't have been that difficult! It was fate, as sure as something came up that he REALLY needed to be good for, it became impossible. This was NOT a problem a grown man ought to be wrestling with. Filled with the frustrations and exasperations of a rational, independent, perfectly capable adult, Matthew got out of the truck on their drive way, looked Rolf right in the eye- and deflated rapidly. Rolf nodded at the house.
They were met by a sea of cats and Matthew picked up the nearest one, but Rolf took it out of his hands.
"Upstairs, get yourself ready for bed."
"It's not even EIGHT yet!" Matthew protested. "I only-"
"What part of that didn't you understand?" Rolf inquired, waiting. Matthew sighed and headed upstairs. Slowly. He wasn't sure what awaited him.
He quickly brushed his teeth and washed his face, changing into his pajamas. He took a long look outside, hearing some kids playing down the street when he opened the window for a moment. Shutting the window, he turned to head over to the bed, finding Rolf just walking in the door.
Rolf took a seat on the bed. "Come here little one."
Matthew walked slowly over to Rolf, stopping in between his legs. Rolf took hold of his hands and looked up at him.
"I know you had a hard time saying no to Chris. I know you wanted to help him. But that does not change the fact that you know it was a very stupid thing to do. You put both Chris' and your future in jeopardy. I'm not saying class, I'm saying future. Getting thrown out of school would have left you very little choice on where you would go and finish up your degrees. Most colleges have students vying for admission, and knowing that you cheated to get ahead would leave most with no desire to accept you. No degree, no CPA certificate. Then what would you do?"
Matthew's tears overflowed as the stark reality of what could have happened hit him. He shook his head quickly, unable to answer.
"You haven't put in all this time to come away with nothing. Neither has Chris. But your desire to help, and Chris' desire to take a short cut could have made all that worthless. How would you be helping Chris by letting him risk you both? How is it helping him even letting him use your grades and your learning to gain his degree? He has to earn it himself with all the work and all the effort that involves, otherwise he HASN'T earned it- it isn't an earned reward, and it makes a mockery then of you and every other student who DID work for their qualification." Rolf said quietly. "And quite apart from that, you KNOW- cheating in any shape or form is wrong. It's always unacceptable. Isn't it?"
Matthew nodded, pulling himself together enough to find a voice.
"Now you told me you knew the rules on plagiarism."
"Yes-" Matthew admitted. "I knew it- I didn't think about when Chris asked, it didn't seem important until that professor talked about it-"
Matthew stopped, well aware he was sunk and beyond argument. Rolf tugged at his hand as his head went down.
"Then you need a clear reminder to keep those rules in mind and to stick by them. They're the rules the college set and you have to keep them while you're studying, they are not for you to bend or forget as you want. And as a CPA you'll be governed by another set of professional rules which you will have to adhere to with the same respect, for the same reason- that you're in a position of trust. I expect you to KEEP to those rules, and to be worthy of that trust, every day, no matter what the situation, no matter what happens. I expect that of you and I will NOT tolerate anything less from you. Is that clear Matthew?"
THAT went deep. Matthew swallowed hard, managing to keep eye contact and to get out a "Yes sir" with sincerity.
Rolf didn't waste any more time. He pulled Matthew down across his left leg and quickly yanked down the shorts to mid thigh. Matthew lost his footing and was balanced precariously across the thigh, resting on his elbows, head up trying to turn to see Rolf's face. He gave that up when the first swat landed, feeling Rolf's left hand curl tighter around his middle.
The assault continued with increasing force, Matthew very quick to agree he'd never look at a past assignment for anyone, much less hand anything over. But no matter what he said, Rolf didn't stop. Matthew decided it was because what he was thinking and wanting to say came out complete garbage when tried, due to the crying and yelling he was doing as the swats continued to rain down unabated.
Just when Matthew was certain there wasn't an inch of skin left on his bottom, Rolf's hand stopped falling. Matthew gulped on the air, sliding to his knees and very thankful to be out of that embarrassing, and highly uncomfortable position.
Rolf brushed the hair from Matthew's hot head, then helped him to stand a moment later, pulling his shorts into place.
"Go wash up, quickly."
Matthew went into the bathroom, rubbing at the flames, then turned the sink on and splashed his face before blowing his nose and wiping his face as dry as he could.
Rolf was still sitting on the edge of the bed when he came back, the bed was turned down and Rolf held out his arms. Matthew buried himself in them, wiping the last of the tears on Rolf's shoulder.
"I know. And I'm not upset with you, you did the right thing. You came and told me as soon as you realised, and we got this fixed before any harm was done. That was the best thing you could have done for you, and to protect Chris, no matter what he thinks at the moment. He's not in a position to make good judgements about anything much."
Matthew took a deep breath, calmed and comforted. And still curious.
"Rolf? What DID happen? This wasn't just David."
"That's for Chris to tell you, when and if he ever feels he wants to." Rolf said calmly. "I don't need to tell you not to bug him for it. But he needs a lot of patience and a lot of kindness, and he's going to need it for quite some time."
It was clear Rolf didn't intend to be any more specific. Matthew thought about that, still leaning against him, unable not to wonder. Rolf held him for a while, feeling the last of his hicoughs calm, then kissed the top of his head and tipped him gently onto the bed. "Settle down sweetheart. We'll be going over to Joe and Chris's early tomorrow, Chris has a LOT of work to make up."
"It's too earlyyyyyy......" Matthew said pathetically. Rolf Looked at him. It took only a moment before Matthew got under the covers.
"Better." Rolf commented, getting up. Matthew accepted the goodnight kiss without much attempt at good grace. Rolf took no notice. He left the door open as he went downstairs and Matthew knew perfectly well he'd be listening.
The kids were still playing outside.
Chris was face down on the bed when Joe opened their bedroom door. He didn't look around. Joe sat down beside him and turned him over, bringing a white, tearstained and angry face up to his.
"That was NOT an acceptable way to leave the room. OR to leave a conversation."
Chris had a serious try at rolling over again. Joe pulled him upright, keeping firm hold of his hand.
"I'm talking to you and you were quite rude enough downstairs without adding to it. Not to mention slamming the door. You owe Rolf and Matthew an apology and it WILL be made tomorrow morning when they come over."
Chris had a try at rolling over again, and Joe let him. Then he dropped a very firm and well placed swat across his bottom. THAT got Chris' attention in a hurry.
"Stand up please."
Chris quickly stood up, anxious to get out of the line of fire.
"Come here," Joe said in a very unpromising tone.
Chris swallowed his anger with effort, but knew his bottom couldn't take any more abuse. He walked around the bed to Joe, somewhere between defiant, angry and bitterly ashamed. Joe pushed his chin up, eyes just as uncompromising.
"You ARE going to get through this. I'd far rather have your cooperation, but I WILL push you forward with brute force if I have to."
Chris ducked his head into Joe's shoulder, the sobs starting again. Joe pulled him down into his lap and rocked him silently, giving strength by just being there. When Chris calmed down again, Joe pulled back the covers and got Chris settled.
"I'll be up in fifteen minutes with dinner, stay put."
Chris curled up under the covers and struggled with the last of his tears. Staying here, hidden, for the rest of his natural life, seemed like a very good idea. Except Joe was back almost instantly, carrying a tray, his voice heartlessly upbeat.
No. Not wanting to eat, not wanting to talk, not wanting to even think about the horrible mess today and this week and this month had been, Chris didn't move. Joe swatted him briskly. Through the covers it barely registered, but Chris jumped and twisted out of the way, giving his partner a look of heartfelt reproach. Joe took no notice. Just sat on the bed beside him, made him hold the bowl of soup he offered, and nagged cheerfully and persistently until Chris ate. He bullied still more heartlessly until he further ate the sandwiches and drank the milk he was presented with, oblivious to all threats of being sick. He further demanded Chris showered and got himself ready for bed while he dealt with the dishes, and within minutes Chris found himself with an audience in the bathroom, hustling him through his ablutions until he was back in bed, too hassled to do anything but curl up in Joe's arms, thankful of the respite. And feeling calmer. Marginally. There were still several issues on his mind and the worst of it came bubbling up now, mixed with panic.
"What am I going to do about this paper?"
"Write it." Joe said simply. "Yes, you can. You've got two days. Matthew's coming over tomorrow morning, early, he's going to spend the day helping you get together notes and a plan, and all you have to do on Sunday is get it written up."
"I haven't got time!" Chris said in horror, "I CAN'T write it like that!"
"Christopher stop. You CAN get it done and you're going to." Joe said, not unkindly but inflexibly. "You're going to have to. I'm sorry it's going to be a hard two days but that's down to your mistake, you're going to have to take the consequences. And if necessary, you hand in as much as you can get done and the notes, and hope that gets you a pass grade. And if not, then you'll take the class. They're all workable options."
"I don't WANT to retake the class!"
"You may have to." Joe said with absolute finality. "But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"Rolf'll be mad at me...." problem one catered for, problem two followed fast on it's trail. Chris struggled around to see Joe's face, eyes filling with panic yet again.
"I asked for that paper, Matthew could have lost his degree-"
"Yes. And you owe him- and Matthew- an apology." Joe said matter of factly.
"I can't...I can't face him," Chris tried again.
"You owe it to them. You owe it to yourself to face up to your mistakes. And just for the record? Rolf knows it was a momentary lack of judgement, same with Matthew. He doesn't hate you, and he's not mad at you. You can put that right out of your mind."
Chris gave up on that line of questioning. "Are YOU mad at me?" he asked tentatively.
"No, of course not. You made a mistake, and you're going to work on fixing it. We've taken care of that now. Speaking of now, I think it's time you tried to sleep," Joe said, sitting up.
"Staaaaaaaaaaay," Chris begged.
"Roll over, I'll rub your back for a few minutes," Joseph said, compromising.
Chris stretched out, happy to be on his stomach. Soon, Joe's hands were expertly relieving the tension, and tickling gently at the same time. Chris shivered, enjoying the touch. All too soon, Joe stood up.
"No sweetheart, you need to sleep. I'll see you in the morning." Joe leaned over to turn off the light and Chris heard him heading downstairs, leaving him alone, mostly comforted and physically sated enough to fall almost immediately asleep.
Joe's alarm went off at some appalling hour for a Saturday morning and for a moment Chris thought it was a mistake. Mumbling protest he buried himself further under Joe and waited, hearing the familiar thunk of Joe's hand on top of the clock. But instead of settling back to sleep, Joe pushed the covers back, finding Chris's hand and dragging him, unwillingly, to his feet.
Still mostly asleep, Chris found himself half way to the bathroom before he saw the clock.
"It's only six thirty!"
"And I'd guess Rolf and Matthew will be here at seven thirty, you've got a lot to do today." Joe said firmly, pushing him the rest of the way in and shutting the door.
He made breakfast while Chris stumbled into his clothes, unhappy, uncooperative and complaining until Joe left the bacon grilling where it was, turned his still sleepy lover around and swatted the seat of his shorts, smartly enough to get Chris's eyes fully open and watering as the remains of yesterday's belting was fully reawoken.
"YOU were the one who got yourself into this situation," Joe said sternly before Chris got his breath back. "I am NOT going to listen to any more grouching about it, OR put up with any time wasted on anything other than doing your absolute best to get this paper done as it should be. It has to be done and you ARE going to do it, even if that means I have to stand over you from now until Sunday evening."
And he would. Chris nodded unhappily and jumped at Joe's tone.
"I BEG your pardon?"
Chris amended the nod hastily, somewhat shocked. "Yes sir."
"Sit down. And I'll add too, Chris, if there is just ONE word or look from you that makes Matthew at ALL uncomfortable about being here, I'll send him home and you can work on your own."
Joe put a plate in front of him and sat down. Chris's first instinct was relief as he remembered that Matthew was staying- that would make the day a good deal less tedious- and then the relief was followed with more than a little uncertainty. It had been clear from Matthew's face yesterday evening- Chris was sure he wasn't the only one in trouble over this affair. And he'd refused to return the paper, which Rolf must have been made aware of. Joe watched Chris's face, seeing him go hot and cold as the implications sank in, but gave him no chance to debate it, just saying firmly, "Eat your breakfast."
Chris choked down what he could, extremely uncomfortable, tired, and really not looking forward to the rest of the day. He though going into an army boot camp had to be better than what he was going to face. As soon as he was finished, Joe had him help clean up the kitchen, then they went into the dining room and Joseph spread out clean paper, put the relevant books on the table, Chris' sheet of paper on what was expected in the paper, and settled Chris down. Half an hour later, the front doorbell rang.
Joseph went to get it. "Good morning. Come in," Joe said, opening the door, admitting a bleary eyed Matthew and Rolf.
"Good morning," Rolf said.
"Hi," Matthew managed quietly.
"Can I get you coffee, anything?" Joseph offered.
"Thanks, but I'll have to decline again. I've got a meeting at eight," Rolf said.
"Just a moment then," Joe said, moving towards the dining room.
Chris heard him coming, wanting to melt into the chair.
"Rolf needs to leave. You need to aplogise to him before he goes," Joseph said.
Chris stood up and moved slowly towards the living room where Matthew and Rolf were waiting, horribly aware of Rolf's eyes on him and wondering whether he'd do as his stomach was suggesting and bring this ghastly situation to an abrupt halt by throwing up.
Rolf had to be at least twenty feet tall.
Hands shaking, Chris made himself look up, all the way up and took a deep breath. Rolf returned the look impassively, neither questioning nor reproaching.
"I'm sorry I asked for the paper to copy. And not giving it back when Matthew asked." Chris swallowed as Rolf's eyes were still on him, still unreadable. "And I'm sorry I ran out yesterday in the middle of a conversation."
Knowing Matthew and the expectations he lived with, Chris had a fair idea of the dim view Rolf would take of that. But he just nodded, gravely polite.
"Thankyou Chris. I hope you two manage to make a good start on the paper today."
Chris flushed still darker and muttered an approximation of thanks, aware of Joe's eyes still on him. Matthew looked supremely uncomfortable and visibly winced as Chris turned to him.
"I'm sorry I pressured you into giving me the paper- he didn't want to." Chris added to Rolf, somewhat defiantly. "He only did it because I got upset and I kept on at him. It was my fault."
"Matthew knew better, no matter what the situation." Rolf said calmly. "But thankyou. Matthew, I'll pick you up when you're finished."
Matthew silently pleaded with Rolf to not leave him, but the pleas went unanswered. The door shut firmly.
"Into the dining room with you two," Joe said, herding them in front of him. "Matthew, can I get you anything to drink?"
"Coke?" Matthew tried.
"Too early. Juice or water."
"Nothing, thanks," Matthew said.
Chris took a seat, still flushed from the living room.
Joseph went around the table where he could face the two young men. "You both know why you're here, a passing moment of insanity on both your parts. Matthew, I know you want to help, and I'm sure Chris is grateful to have it. This is a pretty big project, but I think with the two of you working together, it can be done. I'm going to be in and out of here, and I expect to see great strides during the course of the day. If I see that work isn't getting done, Matthew you'll go home and Chris, you can finish the paper yourself. If I hear any arguments, I'll spank first and ask questions later - BOTH of you," Joseph said, keeping eye contact with each young man to bring home his point.
"Matthew, your job today is to help Chris draw up the outline of his paper. Help with the research, and if either of you need the computer, come find me and I'll get that set up for you. You are NOT, and I repeat, NOT to help him write anything. Your notes, if you take any, are to be facts only. If I find ANYTHING, overhear ANYTHING, even suspect ANYTHING, I will spank you both. Do I make myself....perfectly....clear?" Joe finished slowly, watching both young men.
"Yes, sir," Chris said. Matthew followed suit.
"You leave this table only with my permission. Get started," Joseph finished, walking from the room.
There was dead silence for a moment after he left, then Matthew rolled his eyes at Chris, grabbing up the nearest book.
"Sheesh, is he taking lessons?"
"If I pass one more test I become a black belt." Joe said from the kitchen. "And you don't want any demonstrations. Get on with it Matthew."
There was another moment's shocked silence, then Chris turned the paper with the essay directions towards Matthew and pointed out the key words. When Joe came in a few minutes later, they were both buried in books, scribbling fast.
They worked diligently and well for the next two hours, while the stack of notes grew and Matthew, with several nervous glances towards Joe, pointed out suggestions and themes to Chris. Joe, understanding his dilemma, kept an ear out and joined in, explaining and discussing with them but leaving Chris to make notes from the conversation unprompted. At ten o clock he sent them both for a jog around the block, leaving the notes where they were and standing in the doorway, watch in hand to wait for them. Not daring to take more than the five minutes allotted, and more than ready for the break, Chris and Matthew made the run without the breath to spare for talking and Joe took them straight back to the dining room, providing them with water and fruit and a brisk order to carry on.
By eleven thirty, both were fidgeting, the paper and the books were rapidly losing all grains of interest and both were long since squirming on the hard wooden chairs. Chris had one brief try at settling with his books on the floor but Joe sent him straight back to his seat in tones Chris didn't feel inclined to argue with. Matthew, bored to death with the figures he was extracting from the graphs in his book, heard Joe go upstairs and dropped his pencil with a sigh of relief, stretching his aching fingers.
"You're not kidding." Chris dropped his own pencil and got up, stretching and rubbing. "There aren't even cushions in here- there's no way I can do two days of this."
"Why do they make the texts so boring?" Matthew agreed. "It's like they TRY to write them to be as dull as possible."
"Maths IS boring."
"Not all maths." Matthew amended. "Just tax and economics."
Chris glanced up with a flash of a smile. "Want to see if we can get on the computer? A few research articles, a few rounds of free cell?"
Joe's footfall on the stairs made him sit down hurriedly and both boys lean over their texts, although neither was taking in much. A moment later, Matthew felt a nudge and glanced down to see the sheet of paper being slid towards him with a tic tac toe grid drawn on it. Matthew grinned, scribbled a cross and slid it back, returning to his book.
"Is this the tax version?"
"Absolutely." Chris cast a quick look at the door, inscribed a naught and slid it back. "Note the international symbolism."
Joe wandered through a moment later, picked up their water glasses and paused to look over their shoulders. Matthew quickly slipped the grid inside one of his books and handed it over to Chris, not looking up.
"Try page 15."
Chris accepted the book, still transcribing notes. Joe left the room and he stifled his giggles, taking the grid out of the book, adding to the game and sliding it back.
Matthew won the first game, then drew another grid on the same sheet of paper. They continued to pass it back and forth several times, the game becoming more intense as both grew more involved and more competitive, then Chris, seeing Joe come in the doorway, failed to get it out of sight in time and Joe leaned across the table to take it from his hand, face extremely grim.
Two minutes later, two fair heads were ducked over books, both boys writing industriously, and trying hard not to wriggle on tingling backsides.
They ate lunch in the garden under Joe's eagle eyed supervision for the twenty minutes they were allowed, then Joe sent them back to the dining room and this time took his own work with him, settling on the other side of the table.
With him there, stifling every attempt to move, talk, do anything other than work, Matthew and Chris gave up and focused as best they could on the task at hand. Tired, depressed and bored beyond imagining, Matthew looked up a little past three pm and shook out his cramped writing hand, shooting Joe a look of appeal.
"Can we have a break? Please?"
"In half an hour." Joe said without looking up. Matthew sighed and swiftly returned to work as Joe Looked at him. By half past three they had all the notes Chris would need to complete the paper, and Joe listened, a large and imposing presence across the table while Matthew helped Chris to put together an essay plan and identified the quotes and diagrams needed for each section.
They were almost finished at four pm when the doorbell rang. Joe got up to answer it and returned with Rolf, who looked with interest at the pile of paper covering the table.
"How is it going?"
"We got all the notes done." Matthew said, slumping back in his chair. "And the essay plan. AND the set up. And I got repetative strain injury."
"They were pretty good." Joe said, ignoring that. "Apart from the tic tac toe contest."
Rolf raised his eyebrows at Matthew, who flushed but saw the twinkle underneath the look.
"If you're done then, get your things together."
"Thanks." Chris said as Matthew got up. "I might actually get this in on time now."
"De nada." Matthew gave Chris a wink and followed Rolf into the hall where Joe gave him a quick hug and the compass and calculator he'd confiscated a few hours earlier as too tempting to be on the desk.
"Thankyou. You did a good job, I think he'll get it written without much problem now. Have a good evening."
Yeah right. Matthew trailed Rolf onto the drive. Rolf's usual ideas on evenings when he was grounded from something involved a distinct lack of tv and an early bedtime. He had no doubt it would be great fun.
"Allright," Joe said, collecting the books and notes into a pile on the dining room table and taking the pencil out of Chris's hand. "Leave it for today, you've got a lot done. Five or six hours tomorrow and you'll get it written up and ready to hand in. Pick a video and get it set up, I'll make some coffee."
That raised the first real smile he'd had from Chris in 24 hours.
Chris went into the living room and pulled out Shrek, a video that never failed to make him laugh at some point. He headed upstairs and got into his more comfortable pajamas, and when he came down Joe was already on the couch. Chris snuggled up on his side, leaning against Joe, and enjoyed the last of his day. He was relieved that the paper would be done, on his own, and on time, and with Matthew's help, he stood a very good chance of a passing grade. It was the first time he'd felt good about anything to do with school in several weeks.
Rolf headed towards home, then turned right halfway there.
Matthew couldn't help but be curious. "Where are we going?"
Rolf bit back a grin and LOOKED at Matthew, certain he'd be found out. He was surprised when Matthew subsided against the seat. Thank goodness the restaurant was only another mile down the road. He pulled into the parking lot, parking right next to Michael's car.
"Takeout?" Matthew ventured.
"Yes. I'm taking you out to eat. I thought you'd be hungry before the end of the game," Rolf said, a twinkle in his eye.
The car registered, Rolf's words registered, and the grin Matthew had threatened to split his face in two.