Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Welcome to the Weekend


Title: Welcome to the Weekend
Authors: Rolf and Ranger 


"Are you really planning to work ALL day?" Joe asked, watching Chris stuff books into his bag. "Take some water-"

"There's the cafeteria right next to the library-"

"Take it anyway. It's a LONG day, Chris."

"Matthew's going too, I told you. We've both got work to do."

If Matthew was there then at least 30% of the day would be spent in chattering, which made overwork a little less likely. Chris could be obsessive enough that Joe worried a little about him burying himself in books too long without distraction. He pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and put it into the neck of Chris's rucksack.

"If you do get fed up then phone me, I'll pick you up at lunchtime."

"I'll be fine." Chris stopped in front of him, mutely demanding a kiss. "I'll be home around six-ish."

"Ok, make sure you eat."

"I WILL." Chris snatched another kiss and moved as he heard the hoot of Matthew's horn in the street. Joe followed him, standing at the door to watch Chris climb in the passenger seat of Matthew's truck. He returned Matthew's wave, watched them round the corner and settled his mind to the chores of the day.

"All set to go?" Matthew asked.

"YES."

"Joe believe you?"

Chris snorted.  "He DID say I could call at lunch for him to pick me up if I got too fed up."

Matthew looked sideways at Chris and then burst out laughing. "Did you say you'd be a hundred miles away?"

"Yeah, right, dickhead.  And he let me walk right out the door."

Matthew laughed again.  "Did you get any supplies or do we need to stop and fill up?"

"I'll need to stop.  I have one bottle of water, which won't last me very long."

"All right.  Since we don't have a cooler, we'll just wait until we're closer. Why don't you work on cleaning out my bag and we'll use that for food and drinks."

Chris tossed his bag in the back and pulled out Matthew's, emptying it of its contents.  "So, who do you think's gonna win?"

"Tony Stewart looked good in practice.  Jimmie Johnson did too.  But I'm going to pull for Michael Waltrip."

"Michael?  Come on, you've got to be kidding me!  He's good in 
Florida , but that's about it."

"He can win anywhere!"

"Put your money where your mouth is?" Chris taunted.

"YES.  I'll bet you $10 that he'll win."

"Great!  I need that new Chesney CD."

"Stopped buying the Spice Girls?" Matthew retorted. Chris Looked at him.

"Stopped when you stopped with Britney."

Matthew stared hard at Chris. "You want to walk to the Nascar track?"

Chris grinned and sat back. They'd been planning this trip for two weeks, ever since Matthew heard the drivers' list for the day. The official tickets were long sold, but Matthew, who was a serious Nascar addict almost to the same extent as his hockey addiction, knew if you stood around the right places by the track, the touts were selling tickets there if you were prepared to pay over the odds.

And those odds, Rolf would have rejected without hesitation. The only way to see the race was to quietly slip away for the day, and what Rolf didn't know, wouldn't hurt him. No actual lying was involved, they were doing nothing wrong, and Chris loved the racing as much as Matthew did. And was just as happy to quietly leave Joe under the impression they were studying.

They stopped at a garage a few miles out from the track, just as it was starting to get seriously hot, and Chris came back with several bottles of coke, bags of chips and several more bars of chocolate which, left with the coke, would hopefully not melt too soon.

Matthew got back on the road and ended up in the usual traffic jam surrounding such events.

"How hard is it to park for godsakes?" he steamed.

"I've never figured that out myself."

"We'll NEVER get a seat if we sit here!"

Chris looked around, trying to figure out if there were any parking spots any closer.  They'd already passed the track and were headed into the far reaches of the back parking areas.

"Up ahead on the right, I just saw a truck go off road.  Think you can handle that?"

"I'm game if you are," Matthew said.  "I just want to park this thing, I don't care where."

They were in line for another five minutes before they'd moved up close enough to turn right.  Matthew took one look and swung a hard right, anxious to get moving again.

"Wait!  That may be too steep!" Chris said, getting a good look at where Matthew was headed.

"Too late now!" Matthew said wickedly, heading straight down the hill. Chris grabbed onto the handle above the door, and onto his seat on the left side, trying not to scream.  Matthew bounced his way down the hill and around a few trees, following the bent grass in front of him.  They hit a deep ravine, Matthew nearly hitting his head on the ceiling.

"Isn't this great fun?" he asked, motoring along in a small valley.

"How far are we going?" Chris asked, swallowing hard to keep the contents of his stomach down.

"I have no clue," Matthew said cheerfully. "Until we see the other truck?"

"There," Chris said thankfully, seeing a small group of trucks parked on the brow of a small hill to their left. Matthew pulled the wheel over and the truck climbed slowly up the slope.

"I would NOT like to be you when Rolf sees the suspension and how badly it's buggered," Chris muttered as Matthew parked next to the nearest truck. Matthew snorted derisively.

"The truck's MEANT to do this. Rolf's off-roaded with me before now."

"WITH you?"

"Well...." Matthew looked at him and grinned, "He's stood and muttered while I did it."

"Where's the track?" Chris slid out of the truck and peered, pushing his hair back off his forehead. It was getting seriously hot, the sun was streaming down and there was no shade anywhere in sight in the impromptu carpark. Matthew peered too, shading his eyes.

"There."

"That's MILES!" Chris exploded.

"It's not half as far as we parked out last time when Rolf drove!" Matthew objected. "You know how far out the parking lots are from the track, this is less than them."

"In your dreams."

"Do you want to dream or do you want to race?" Matthew snapped, picking up his bag. Chris slammed the truck door and headed with him over the rough open ground towards the track in the distance.

It took fifteen minutes of hard walking before they reached the gates. By which time both boys were hot, sweaty, out of breath and gasping for the coke which they were draining fast.

"Come on, we need to find the scalpers," Matthew said, heading a bit to the right.  Chris followed.

"Where and how much?" Matthew asked the first guy they came to.

"Fourth turn, $100 each.  It's a steal."

"Let me see," Matthew said, pulling the ticket closer.  "Fifth row, forget it," he said, walking off.

"You'll regret it."

"Doubt it, asshole," Matthew said to Chris, under his breath.

"What if that's the only one?" Chris asked.

"It won't be.  There, another one.  Where, and how much?"

"Backstretch, $50 each."

"How far up?"

"20th row."

"Let me see," Matthew said.

"You want 'em or not?"

"I guess not!" Matthew said, stalking off.

"What was wrong with that?" Chris asked.

"If he won't show us the tickets, then he's hiding something, and I'm not about to be taken."

Matthew wandered a bit farther, finding another guy selling tickets.  When it was verified that they were in the third turn, and $50 each, Matthew jumped on it.  Once Chris paid his money, they headed back towards the gate. Chris shook his head, peering at the ticket.

"If Joe ever finds out I paid $50 for a race track ticket..."

"It could have been WAY worse," Matthew said simply, showing his ticket. "People'll pay a hundred or more for these in the next couple of hours. C'mon, up here."

"It's 
HOT here," Chris said, yanking at his collar. "Someone had better be selling ice."

"They'll be selling candy floss," Matthew said cheerfully, fighting his way through the crowd. "
 AND no one'll drown us in sun cream."

"I KNEW I was forgetting something!  I don't want to be drowned, but I could use a little to keep from getting burned."

"Come on, wuss, you won't fry up and fritter away, like they WANT you to believe," Matthew said, finding their row.  "Excuse me, sorry, thanks, excuse me..."  He found his seat and sat down, Chris right behind him.

"Scoot over, hmmm?" Chris asked as he looked at his tiny spot on the bench.

"I can't.  Much.  Sit down," Matthew said, scooting just a bit closer to the person on his left.

Chris sat down, uncomfortable.  "Can't you -"

"Just wait for the anthem," Matthew whispered.

"Ah," Chris said, smiling.

A short ten minutes later, it was time to stand for the invocation and singing of the anthem.  Just as the anthem ended, Chris and Matthew sat back down, giving themselves a bit more room.  They remained seated for the first few laps, hoping that everyone would sit soon.  Finally they did, and the race was a bit more comfortable. Chris spent the race itself as excited as Matthew as the cars shot around the track in front of them, but once they reached a pause during a yellow flag, he began to be aware of just how hot he was, and that his arms and neck were beginning to feel tight in a way that told him he was beginning to burn. He scooped Matthew's bag up from under the bench and found the last bottle of coke, which was now warm rather than chilled and resting on chocolate which had long since turned into goo. Opening the bottle, Chris splashed the coke over his forearms, neck and forehead, welcoming the cool as the liquid evaporated. Matthew looked over and laughed, wincing.

"That's revolting!"

"You're burning, yourself; your nose is getting to Rudolph point," Chris said irritably, passing him the bottle. Matthew held up his hands.

"No thanks. Rather be burned than sticky."

"Shurrup." Chris folded his arms and tried to move himself into the half-inch of shade cast by the bench in front. The coke felt still tighter as it dried on his skin. A few minutes later Chris jumped at a buzz close to his ear and Matthew leaped out of his seat as he saw the wasp land on Chris's forearm.

"SHIT, Chris get RID of that!"

Chris's yelp of panic was still louder than Matthew's and since his immediate instinct was to fling his arm up in an attempt to throw the wasp off, his next cry was of pain as the wasp stung him. And stung him again in response to further wild wavings of his arm. Finally, with the help of a middle-aged lady behind them who took pity on him, Chris saw the wasp disappear into a wad of tissues where it was scrunched into oblivion, and he was left, with tear-filled eyes and an arm that was hurting worse every minute as the wasp venom began to spread. Matthew put an arm around his shoulders, seeing the whiteness of his face and the rapidly swelling lump on his arm, but Chris immediately shrugged it off, edging away. "Don't, it's ok. I'm going to find a bathroom, run it under the tap."

"Want me to come?" Matthew offered, backing off. Chris shook his head and began to edge his way down the stands as best he could, struggling to keep his face straight. He was extremely close to bursting into tears and he had no intention of doing it in public or under the scrutiny of anyone other than Joe.

Matthew watched him go, torn between wanting to help, and knowing that Chris pushed him away to try to maintain his dignity.  He was going to wait only about ten minutes, then decided he had no idea where Chris had gone and he should wait at the seats.  He started to become nervous when Chris still hadn't made an appearance fifteen minutes later.  Finally, having lost all interest in the race, he grabbed his bag and headed down the stairs, knowing he couldn't pass Chris there without seeing him.  Then he scouted around, looking for the nearest bathroom.  Finally finding one, he pushed past the guys standing in line, and found Chris, still rinsing his arm in the sink.

"Are you okay?" he asked, coming up behind him.

"Yeah.  It just hurts, but less when it's under water."

"Last time I got stung, Rolf made me keep ice on it.  I'll come back here when I've found some."

"Thanks," Chris said, going back to the sink.

"Look at the fag over there," Matthew heard whispered.  He had all intentions of turning around and confronting the guy, then decided Chris needed ice worse than Matthew needed a sore fist.

Chris hunched his shoulders, hating the whisper and turned the tap off, following Matthew into the sunlight. Matthew gave him an anxious look but didn't try to stop him.

"You don't have to take any notice of that prat."

"I don't want a fight," Chris said brusquely, still cradling the arm. It clearly hurt like hell. Matthew tried to touch him but Chris only shrugged him off, tone getting steadily more aggressive.

"
DON 'T. It's a hundred miles back to the truck anyway, lets just go."

"It's hardly even lunchtime yet!" Matthew protested, but Chris was already walking. Muttering to himself, Matthew had no option but to follow. Next time he considered getting tickets for anything, he'd be turning to Michael or Todd- anything but Chris's mutters and scowls and sulks and dramas.

There was no ice anywhere in sight on their way out of the track. The one drink stand they passed just shrugged when asked and showed their empty freezers. It was early afternoon and without any shade in the stands, everyone was overheating. Out of drinks and directly under the hot, 
midday sun, Matthew and Chris toiled back over the heavy ground towards the truck, tired, fractious and in Chris's case, hurting. The wasp venom stung hotly, his entire arm was sharply painful in a way that made it increasingly difficult to deal with calmly. Determined not to give way to it in front of Matthew, or in front of the general public especially after the whispered comment in the bathroom, Chris kept his head down, teeth gritted and barely answered Matthew's one or two attempts at conversation.

By the time they reached the truck, it was in a hard silence, and Matthew turned the truck towards the road with his own mood disintegrating.

"OW, goddamnit!  Can't you drive any smoother?" Chris snarled, trying to hold himself in place with only one hand.

"Could the kindly hill God PLEASE flatten this out?" Matthew asked the windshield.  "Sorry, no one seems to be listening," he finished, heading back for the ravine.

Chris hung on, determined not to give in to the pain.

"Hang on, I can't hit this too slow or I'll risk getting stuck," Matthew said as they approached the ravine.  He really didn't want Chris's arm to hurt any more, but there was little he could to do avoid it for the time being.  He went down the short hill and buried his right front bumper into the hillside, before popping up the other side.  Once through that, they bumped back over the ground and headed for the hill up to the road.  Chris and Matthew both looked at the hill in front of them, wondering if they could make it back up.  It didn't look nearly THIS steep from the top.

Matthew decided there wasn't any other choice and stepped on the gas.  The truck bumped up the first half of the hill without a problem, but as they neared the three-quarters mark, the tires started to slip.  Matthew somehow managed to straighten the truck up to keep it from rolling over and threw the truck into a lower gear, the tires finally catching and the truck easing over the top of the hill, back onto the gravel roadbed.  He hadn't realised that he had stopped breathing until he needed a DEEP breath at the top. Chris, rattled, hurting and at the end of his tether, gave him a poisonous look.

"Of all the STUPID places to park-"

"YOU were happy to try there rather than walking," Matthew snarled back, bumping over the last part of the grass to the road with his own patience seriously frazzled. There had been a few seconds there when he'd seriously been afraid the truck would roll.

"That was when I thought you could drive," Chris snapped. Matthew gave him a furious glance, temper slipping it's leash.

"You don't like my driving? Fine." He stamped on the brake, jerking the truck to a halt. "So get out and walk."

"Fine." Chris slid over and yanked the door open, dropping awkwardly down to the tarmac, grabbing his bookbag at the last second. "Sod off, Mocoso."

"Whatever." Matthew waited until the door slammed, steaming, stood on the accelerator and took off up the hill.


He'd gone less than half a mile when his temper began to cool, and anxiety and rather embarrassed regret began to kick in. They were over 100 miles from home, this was no good place for anyone to be abandoned. And Chris, while infuriating at the best of times, was still Chris. Matthew drew to a halt at the side of the road, pride and temper battling it out. He had a nasty feeling anyway that if he went back, Chris would flatly refuse to get into the truck. But he also wasn't about to leave him. He turned the truck around and headed slowly back, looking for a slim, fair-haired figure trudging by the side of the road.

*********************************

He was almost back at the track when he realised he'd passed the point at which he'd ejected Chris. Heart starting to thump unpleasantly, Matthew turned the truck around again and drove that section of road twice more without finding any sign of Chris. By the time he was sure, his heart was really pounding and his throat and stomach were tight. Chris SURELY wouldn't have hitchhiked?  He drove back down, stopping at one restaurant, looking inside for Chris.

*************

Chris slammed the door and watched in fury as Matthew drove away, leaving skid marks on the pavement.  "Son of a BITCH!" Chris shouted, starting immediately to walk down the street.  He headed straight for the first building he could find, a gas station.  He went into the bathroom and locked the door behind him, finally giving into the overwhelming urge to cry after kicking the door once.  He settled down quickly, not wanting to be 'caught' crying.  Taking a long few minutes at the sink, he washed his face and rinsed off his arm, which was starting to swell again and was still aching horribly.  He headed back out of the bathroom and stayed out of sight of the street, wanting nothing to do with Matthew right now.  He purchased a fountain drink and slid into the single booth the gas station had, savoring the cold drink as he was SO hot, somewhat burned, and very thirsty.  Once his thirst was quenched, he looked at his bookbag, and remembered he had his phone. It was turned off: neither he nor Matthew had wanted to risk Rolf or Joe ringing them at the track, but it was charged and Michael's number was keyed into the memory. Temper gradually cooling and being replaced by a nagging worry about getting home, Chris turned the phone on and dialled. Michael answered within a few rings, sounding distracted.

"
 Kearney , what?"

"Mike, it's Chris."

"Hey! Look I'm elbow deep inside a bastard of an Apple Mac, can I-"

"
 DON 'T hang up!" Chris said urgently. From the sounds of things, Mike had sat up and put the computer down.

"What's up?"

"I'm stranded, just outside the Nascar race track, Joe has NO clue where I am and I'm dead if I'm not home by 
six PM ." Chris said flatly, putting the whole situation into a nutshell. "Please- PLEASE come out here and pick me up? Please?"

"How the HELL did you get stranded there?" Michael demanded. Chris sighed, irritated.

"Look, I'll explain later. Just PLEASE come get me?"

"I'm in the middle of a job; I can't just walk out on it. Look, I'll be over there as soon as I can- maybe by 
four PM ?"

"Thanks Mike, you have NO idea how much I appreciate it."

"I'm looking forward to hearing the whole story. I'll be up there when I can." Mike put the phone down and returned his attention to the computer, wondering what on earth had drawn Chris so far out of town. Chris, somewhat relieved, turned his phone off again and settled into the booth, prepared for a long wait.

**********************************************

Matthew drove the road twice more, agitation beginning to turn to outright fear. He should NEVER have gone out of Chris's sight. Chris in a temper was likely to do anything. Part of Matthew was angry enough to consider briefly just driving home and leaving Chris to fend for himself- although even that part of him saw a future of a frantic Joe and an angry Rolf descending on him later that evening. The rest of him knew Chris was probably stranded in a strange neighbourhood, hurt and angry and probably upset, with no means of getting home. And he couldn't just leave Chris to it.

Rolf was going to be very unhappy about all this, but Matthew knew without a doubt he would be very good at finding solutions to the immediate problems. And right now, panicky and increasingly upset, he was about the only person Matthew wanted to talk to. He parked the truck on the side of the road, pulled out his cell phone and dialled, trying to breathe calmly.

"Hello?"

Matthew swallowed hard on a dry throat. 
"Hi?"

"Hi, Sport!  
How's the study going?  You and Chris ARE still working together, aren't you?" Rolf asked suspiciously.

Just then a truck barrelled by, the horn blaring.

"I didn't know your library had a drive-thru," Rolf said, laughing.

Matthew would have laughed, except for having to tell Rolf where he was. "I....I'm not at the library," he mumbled.

"And tell me something I don't know," Rolf replied.  "Where are you?"

"The side of the road."

Rolf was getting the sinking feeling that this wasn't a call about a flat tire.

"Spit it out, one go."

Matthew shifted uncomfortably in his seat before speaking. "We,ChrisandI, wenttotheNascarraceinsteadofgoingtothe -"

"All right, didn't mean it quite that way.  Slow down, and tell me where you are."

"Route 240, outside of 
Taylorsville ."

"What are you doing up there?"

"Chris and I went to the Nascar race?"

"Is there something wrong with your truck?"

"No?"

The sentences ending in question marks were a sure sign to Rolf that he was getting closer to what the problem was, and that it wasn't a good situation. His sinking feeling was growing larger, until he fell in when he realized the only thing so far he hadn't asked about was Chris.

"Is Chris with you?"

"That's....that's my problem?" Matthew said quietly.

"That IS a problem.  Where is he?" Rolf asked a little more sternly.

"I don't know?"

"You don't KNOW?" Rolf thundered into the phone.  "How 'don't you know' where your friend is?!"

Matthew's eyes stung.  "We....we argued and Chris wanted out.  Now I can't find him," Matthew said, very near tears.

Rolf heard the appeal in his voice and took a deep breath, quietening his own.

"Where did he go?"

"I don't know, he got out of the truck on the highway and stormed off and I drove off and when I came back he'd gone..." Matthew's voice cracked.

"All right, just think. Where did you last see him?"

"About half a mile out of 
Taylorsville . I've driven up and down the road- what if he's hitched a lift?"

"He won't, I'm sure," Rolf said firmly. "He's probably gone into 
Taylorsville and phoned Joe. Where are you exactly?"

Matthew looked around, trying to find a landmark. "By the turning to the 146."

"Okay. Stay put, I'll phone Joe and see what he's heard and I'll call you back. It's all right, Chris won't be far away, we'll get this sorted."

Matthew mumbled something approximating agreement and broke the connection, with an increasing desire to break into tears and a definite sense of relief. He was not looking forward to explaining this, but at least Rolf would sort it out.

Rolf, shaking his head, dialled Joe and Chris's home. The phone was picked up within a few rings with the cheerful tone that meant Joe was home, he'd finished working for the day and did not intend to shuffle another piece of paper until the morning.

"Hello, Joseph Robertson."

"It's Rolf, I've got a question for you," Rolf said wryly. From Joe's laugh, he wasn't yet taking this too seriously.

"That sounds ominous."

"Do you know where your brat is?"

"Yes-" Joe's tone changed abruptly. "Why? He WAS in the library with Matthew-"

"He and Matthew went to the Nascar race." Rolf waited a moment for that to sink in before he handed on the second piece of news. "And they seem to have had a disagreement. Matthew just phoned me, they fell out, Chris got out of the truck and walked off, and now Matthew can't find him. I'm guessing he'll be in a garage or cafe looking for a lift home."

"He hasn't phoned me," Joe said grimly. "I'd imagine he'd probably go to Todd or Mike first- I know his phone's off, I tried it about quarter of an hour ago."

"Want to try Mike and I'll try Todd?" Rolf offered. "I'll call you back."

"Thanks," Joe said, hanging up and dialing Mike first.  Getting no answer at home, he tried his cell phone.

"Hello?" Mike said slowly, seeing that it was Joe who was calling.

"Hi, Michael.  You doing all right?"

"Yeah.  You?"

"All right.  One question for you though."

Mike rolled his eyes, knowing what was next.

"Have you heard from Chris today?"

"....No?"

"Where is he, Mike?"

Michael sighed.  "He said off route 240, at the Texaco station there in 
Taylorsville ."

"Thanks, Mike.  I'll pick him up."

"Tell him I said hi?"

"I will.  Bye."  Joseph hung up, waiting on Rolf's call.  It came two minutes later.

"No answer at the house and no cell phone on," Rolf reported.

"That's ok.  He called Mike.  Want a ride?" Joe asked.

Rolf considered that a moment, then realized Joe could probably use the company, and Matthew, after having sat in the sun all day and arguing with Chris, probably wasn't in the best frame of mind to handle the drive home. "Sure, I'll be ready."

As soon as Joe hung up, Rolf called Matthew back.

"Hey, sweetheart.  Chris is fine, and Joe is on the way up to get him.  I'm going to ride along.  Why don't you drive another mile or so south, there's the Sheraton hotel on the right?  Park there and wait for me."

"But what about Chris?" Matthew said, breathing a little easier.

"He's at a gas station.  You just pull down to the hotel and wait for me there.  You don't need to worry about anything else."

The "but me" hung in the air, unsaid.

"Yes, sir," Matthew said, hanging up.  He breathed a long sigh of relief before pulling back onto the road and heading south.

*****************************************

Chris worked his way slowly through three large cold drinks at the garage table, watching for Mike. Drinking was about all he wanted to do. His arm was easing to a steady, painful throbbing and his head ached. He could cheerfully have put his head down on his arms and fallen asleep. He had an eye on the time too. Hopefully Mike would make it in time for them to get home by six- in time to evade the worst of Joe's questioning. With luck he'd never find out about today. Chris made his way back to the counter, bought another drink and a pack of Tylenol, and continued with his wait.


Matthew, just as hot, just as tired, and aware from the soreness of his arms and face that he'd probably been out in the sun a little too long, made his own wait in the carpark of the hotel. It was too hot to sit in the truck. He settled on the grass under the trees where he could watch the road and waited, not looking forward to the discussion ahead but happy that Rolf was on his way.

It was nearly four when he saw Joe's car approaching the hotel carpark, and got up to meet it. The car halted near him and Rolf got out, saying something to Joe who nodded and waved to Matthew. Matthew managed a brief wave back and Joe pulled away.

Rolf took a good, long look at Matthew.  "Are you all right?"

Matthew nodded.

"Did someone forget sunscreen?"

Rolf would have seen pink cheeks if it hadn't been for the fact that they were already red.

"Yeah."

"Let's go into the hotel and see if we can't find some aloe, and a drink?"

Matthew gave a small smile and put his hand in Rolf's outstretched one, happy to be getting tended to.  Rolf went to the front desk, and they steered him to a small coffee/convenience storefront just off the hotel lobby.  He found a small bottle of aloe vera and paid an exorbitant price for it, but knew it would help Matthew's burns.  Rolf headed for the restroom and after rinsing Matthew's arms and face with a cold paper towel, Rolf expertly applied the lotion, much to Matthew's relief.

"Feeling better?"

"Much," Matthew said gratefully.

"Then let’s find a table for drinks and dinner.  Joe should be here shortly with Chris."

"They're having dinner with us?" Matthew asked, somewhat uncomfortably.

"Joe and I are starving, not having thought we'd be spending this evening in 
Taylorsville ," Rolf said pointedly. "If you had other plans, it might have been a good idea to share them?"

Under the sunburn, Matthew flushed a darker pink.

"Chris won't come- he was being an ass and we had a row-"

"He will come because I'm sure Joe will insist. Just like I will." Rolf put a hand on Matthew's shoulder, steering him into the dining room. "And while we wait for them, you can explain to me what this argument was about."

**************************************

The garage was about two miles further on down the road. Joe pulled into the carpark, locked the car and headed across the tarmac, somewhat apprehensive as to the state he'd find Chris in. Chris, post-fight, especially having had nothing to do but sit and brood, was usually prickly, angry, upset and rapidly sinking in self-recrimination. It was a never a mood in which he was easy to handle and Joe was well aware they had dinner and a long drive to get through yet before they reached the seclusion of home. The small figure hunched over a milkshake at one of the back tables transmuted his anxiety to instant and heartfelt sympathy- the fair head was down, everything about the figure spoke total depression. Thinking, as he'd been thinking since Rolf called, of Chris alone, miserable and stranded, Joe quickened his pace and slid into the seat on the opposite side of the table. Chris's eyes lifted quickly and for a moment he looked stunned. Then just as quickly his eyes filled with tears. Joe leaned over the table to get an arm around his neck,
pulled his head down and hugged him.

"What are you doing here, hmm?" he said softly into Chris's hair. "Come on, come and talk to me in the car."

Chris moved without hesitation. Joe took his hand and led him through the tables and across the carpark, unlocking the car and waiting for him to climb into the passenger seat before he pulled Chris back into his arms. Chris curled up against him and for the first time that day, let himself cry properly and hard. It hadn't been a concept he'd had until he met Joe: fiercely proud, Chris would rather have died than been caught crying by almost anyone else and had grown up hating how easily tears came to him, but Joe never thought any the less of him or found it at all strange. Joe waited, smoothing his hair, making no attempt to stop him and quietly using the time to check him over. He had a good case of sunburn. His arms were red, the back of his neck under Joe's hand was hot and angry, and he was beginning to shiver as his body reacted. And his left forearm was badly swollen. Joe turned it slightly, frowning. The fingers were swelling in reaction to the wasp venom, red and puffy. Chris turned his head against his chest, following his gaze. He was beginning to calm, his voice was more or less audible.

"I got stung by a wasp."

"How many times?" Joe said half joking, half shocked. "When?"

"This morning. Twice."

"Oh, sweetheart." Joe kissed his forehead, tightening his arms. "Very painful. Did you take anything?"

"Tylenol," Chris admitted, reassured by Joe's quiet "Good" in response. "My head was aching."

Probably also courtesy of the venom. Joe stroked the head in question, quickly checking his temperature. Hard to tell under the sunburn, but Chris didn't feel that hot.

"Does it still hurt?"

"A little." Chris looked at the arm in question, wincing at the swelling. "Mostly it just feels weird now."

"It's just a lot of water in the tissues, it'll be fine by the morning. What are you doing here?"

"We- I wanted to see the Nascar race." Chris mumbled.

"With Matthew," Joe added, sparing him the trouble of prevarication. Chris looked up at him, shocked.

"He called you!"

"No, Rolf did. Matthew called him, very upset because he couldn't find you."

"Serve him right, he threw me out of the truck." Chris tried to subside back against Joe's chest but Joe held him gently off.

"Why?"

"We had a fight," Chris said awkwardly. "He was kind of offroading...."

*************************************

".......offROADING?" Rolf said in disbelief. Matthew looked down at his hands, hoping no one else in the restaurant was listening in to this.

"There was nowhere to park- you know what it's like there!"

"You're lucky you didn't get stuck or roll over!"

"I was careful." Matthew said, glad Chris hadn't arrived yet to contradict that.

"That's not what the parking officials would like to see, is it?"

"They couldn't park a fly in a parking spot if given half a day!  I didn't want to spend all that time following all these idiots when I had a perfectly good truck and I was able to follow someone else."

"Keep your voice down, please," Rolf said.  "And that isn't the point, is it?"

Matthew shifted uncomfortably.  "No, I don't guess so."

"You know so.  Now how about you telling me why you ended up here after telling me you'd be at the library?"

*****************

Chris tried hard to duck from under Joe's gaze.

"We were just talking on the way and it seemed like a fun idea... just different, you know?"

"Christopher......" Joe said in the soft but oh-so-meaningful way. Chris swallowed and winced.

"We did!"

"Is that what Matthew'll say? That it was a sudden impulse that hit on the way to the library, and you two just took off- with the right money and everything else?"

Yeah, well he will if he has any sense! Chris thought irritably.

"You ASKED if I had money with me this morning."

"I meant enough for lunch!" Joe said calmly. "How much did you pay for those tickets?"

Chris shrugged, eyes on his hands, fiddling with the knee of his jeans. "Not sure. Matthew sorted it out."

"Touts?"

Another, smaller shrug. Joe tapped on the dashboard, voice crispening.

"I think I just asked a question?"

Chris got his head up and his hands down fast. Joe didn't often start growling, but the implication was that he shouldn't need to and that Chris knew perfectly well what he was doing that was unacceptable. And Joe had high standards which Chris knew very well.

"Yes sir, we bought them from touts."

"How much?"

Chris sighed and surrendered, knowing it would come to the same thing in the end.

"Fifty dollars."

"Cash?"

"Yes sir."

Joe said nothing, merely looked at him. Chris drew another deep breath.

"We did plan it, we just thought it would be fun, and you and Rolf won't buy tickets at the door!"

"If you mean we won't cooperate with the con artists operating there, then yes, you're quite right," Joe agreed.

Chris threw himself back against the seat, folding his arms. "There's nothing WRONG with going to the race track!"

"No," Joe said simply. "Do you want to tell me what you DID do wrong?"

Chris stared straight ahead of him, face rigid.

"All right." Joe turned the ignition key, starting the car. "We can discuss that when we get home tonight."

Silence.

Chris lasted about thirty-five seconds before he snapped and gave Joe a half-defiant, half-piteous look.

"You're mad at me now."

"Yes," Joe said calmly. "I don't like being lied to."

"I didn't TELL you any lies!"

"Christopher, you said you were going to the library! How is that not lying?"

Chris looked again at his hands, angry and near to tears. Joe turned the engine off again and waited.

"I'm SORRY," Chris said eventually, sarcastically. "I'm SORRY I vanished out of your sight for more than two hours and I'm SORRY I didn't tell you where I was going because I knew you'd freak and-"

"Chris, THINK," Joe said firmly.

Chris gave him a flat, furious glare, "- I'm sorry I paid to do something I WANTED to do because you never let me do ANYTHING I WANT TO!"

This time the silence was filled with Chris's rapid breathing. And then by his wail as he hurled himself against Joe.

"I didn't mean it! I DIDN'T mean it!"

Joe held him in silence, rubbing his back slowly and deeply.

"I'm sorry!" Chris said eventually in a very different tone. "I am, I'm sorry."

"It's all right. We'll talk about it later." Joe kissed him and let him go. "Rolf and Matthew are waiting at the hotel; we'll have dinner there and see what we can do about your poor arm."

"I'm NOT eating dinner with THAT pr-"

Chris caught Joe's eye and subsided.

********************

"They'll be here any moment, and if you're anything short of gentlemanly, we can start our discussion in the restroom.  Clear?" Rolf asked pointedly.

"Yes, sir," Matthew nearly snarled, still hot and tired.  He was saved any more immediate grief when he saw Joe heading towards them, Chris trailing miserably behind.

"Ouch, Chris, you look a little sore.  Try this," Rolf said, handing over the aloe vera to him.

"Good idea.  Restroom?" Joe asked.

"Down the hall and to the left.  Tea?  Water?"

"Two waters, please," Joe said, walking back out with Chris.

Rolf signaled the waitress and placed two more drink orders and said they'd be ready to order soon.  Five minutes later, Chris and Joe returned to the table, Chris between Joe and Rolf.  He was trying hard not to look at Matthew, who was trying equally hard to avoid Chris.

"Thanks Rolf, that helped," Joe said, when Chris didn't say anything.

"No problem.  The special is pot roast, the catch mahi mahi."

"What sounds good to you?"

"I'm thinking the catch sounds good.  What about you Matthew?" Rolf asked, turning his attention to his partner.

Matthew's appetite couldn't have been much less if he'd finished a three course meal half an hour ago, but he knew answering nothing would go over like a lead balloon.

"Chicken fingers, I suppose."

"If you ever find a chicken that 
HAS fingers, be sure to point him out to me," Chris said sarcastically.

Joe didn't glance up from his menu but everyone clearly heard if not saw the swat. Chris flushed scarlet and he dropped his head, eyes visibly growing blurry. Matthew cringed for him, fully understanding how he felt.

"Can you eat the salad with that?" Rolf asked Matthew, as though nothing had happened. "How about we split one?"

Matthew nodded, accepting what he knew was a graceful way out. A waiter approached them and Rolf folded the menu, glancing at Joe.

"Catch for you? Two catches, one chicken fingers, one salad- Joe?"

"I'll have a salad too please. And the vegetable soup and toast."

The waiter took the menus and vanished towards the kitchen. Joe poured water into a glass and put it in front of Chris, then slipped a hand under the table and into Chris's lap, taking his hand and holding it.

"What happened to your arm, Chris?" Rolf asked calmly, splitting the rest of the fruit juice between his and Matthew's glasses. "That looks very sore."

"A wasp sting," Chris said more or less audibly.

"Two actually," Joe said with sympathy. "On top of the sunburn. And Matthew looks just as sore."

Matthew muttered something in negation and gulped fruit juice.

"So," Rolf said, ignoring the awkwardness on all sides, "What exactly was this argument about?"

Both Chris and Matthew looked ready to slide under the table.

"Chris?" Joe said with equal lack of tact. "You said it started after the off-roading."

"He said my driving sucked," Matthew muttered.

"And it did," Chris muttered just as savagely.

"Hey," Rolf admonished sternly before things could get out of hand.  "Do we disrespect each other like this?"

The looks he got were nothing short of mutinous, but they came with a quiet ‘no, sir’ from both parties.

"Why do you think Matthew's driving could have been better?" Rolf asked Chris.

"My driving -"

"I asked Chris the question.  I'll ask you in a moment," Rolf said quietly to Matthew.

Matthew sat back and crossed his arms, his lip out in his most classic pout.

Chris tried to get comfortable, but was unable to beneath Rolf's unwavering gaze.  His usual instincts kicked in, and he realized he didn't want to say anything to get Matthew in any more trouble than he already was.

"’Cause my arm hurt and I was upset I got stung," he muttered eventually. "That was why we left."

"So what was wrong with Matthew's driving?" Joe inquired. Chris shook his head, still redder-faced.

"Nothing."

"I got snappy because I didn't want to leave and because -" Matthew broke off, not wanting to go into the truck nearly overturning.

"I was snappy too," Chris interjected. Matthew shot him a quick look of thanks. "And Matthew got fed up with it and told me to shut up or take a walk, and I got out."

"And I was mad enough to drive away for a few minutes," Matthew mumbled. "When I got back Chris was gone."

Rolf and Joe exchanged glances. The argument had mostly been about being hot, tired, and Chris being in too much pain to be civil. Neither one of the two looked very resilient now.

"That doesn't seem much grounds for abandoning Chris 100 miles from home," Rolf commented, looking at Matthew.

Matthew looked down.  His fit of temper had taken over, and it wasn't until a couple miles down the road that he was able to think again, and realized that he needed to go back and try to get Chris to come with him.  He was spared the need to answer as dinner was served at that point.

Eating was a quiet affair. Both Chris and Matthew were more tired and embarrassed now than angry: once the facts were laid out in cold daylight in front of their partners, the row seemed silly and insignificant, to the point where neither were really sure what the argument had been about in the first place. They both picked at dinner, Matthew eating the bare minimum to satisfy Rolf, and Chris barely eating at all. It still seemed interminable. Both were deeply grateful when they were finally released from the table and could head towards the carpark, knowing the end of the day was finally in sight. Rolf and Joe didn't say much, just a civil goodbye before they separated, Rolf taking the keys to Matthew's truck and getting into the driver's seat and Matthew climbing into the passenger seat, more than ready to put his head back and doze. Joe gave them a wave, watching the truck pull out, then gave Chris an experienced look. In urgent need of a cool shower, a LOT of burn cream and antihistamine, a couple more Tylenol and several pints of water, and a very early night. He put the stereo on softly as they got into the car, tuning to the classics station he usually listened to while driving, and started on the hour and a half drive home.

                           
Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

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