Authors: Glenn Stormy
Now, maybe he could use it for something good.
Jonah held out his hand when Aldrin finished dressing. “Come on.”
When Aldrin took his hand, Jonah led him out into the great room and over to the front door. He bundled Aldrin up in a jacket and grabbed one for himself, pulling it on. Entwining his fingers with Aldrin’s again, Jonah picked up the bag he had packed with their burritos and hot chocolate and then headed for the door.
“Where are we going?’ Aldrin asked as they left the cabin. “It’s not even light out yet.”
It was, but just barely. The sky was lightening just enough that they wouldn’t need to use a flashlight to get around. That also meant they had just about ten minutes to get where they were going or the surprise would be ruined.
“We’ll be fine.” Jonah kept a firm hold of Aldrin as he led him through the woods and higher up on the mountain. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
When they reached the untouched meadow, Jonah pulled Aldrin to a stop. “Close your eyes.”
“Close your eyes,” Jonah repeated. “Please? For me?”
Aldrin frowned but closed his eyes.
Jonah stepped in front of him, taking both of Aldrin’s hands in his own. “Follow me, baby. One step at a time.”
“Jonah.” Uncertainty laced Aldrin’s voice.
“I won’t let you fall, baby.” Jonah took a step back, and then another and another, leading Aldrin through the meadow. The first time Aldrin tripped over a branch on the ground, Jonah changed his mind. He lifted Aldrin up in his arms and started walking. “Keep your eyes closed.”
Jonah carried Aldrin to the spot he had picked out and carefully set him on his feet. “Keep them closed, Aldrin.”
“How long do I need to keep my eyes closed?” Aldrin asked.
“Just until I get your surprise set up.” Jonah glanced over his shoulder. The sky was growing brighter. He had mere minutes to get set up and get Aldrin in position. Jonah quickly pulled the blanket out of the bag he had packed and spread it out on the ground. He set the bag off to the side. They could get that later.
Drawing Aldrin into his arms, he led him over to the blanket and then helped him sit. As quickly as he could because the show was about to start, Jonah sat down behind Aldrin. He scooted forward until his chest rested against Aldrin’s back and his legs rested on either side of the man.
Wrapping his arms around the man, Jonah watched the sky off in the distance. When the moment was right, he leaned in to whisper in his ear. “Okay, baby, open your eyes.”
Aldrin inhaled a mere second after he opened his eyes. “Jonah,” he whispered wistfully. “How—”
Jonah smiled as he rested his chin on Aldrin’s shoulder. He knew what had stunned the man. It was the same thing that had stunned Jonah the very first time he had seen it. When he was not even five years old, his mother had brought him to this meadow one early morning. They had sat there watching the sun rise over the mountaintops on the far side of the valley until it hung high in the sky.
Until Jonah had walked into the Cade Creek Diner and seen Aldrin, he hadn’t thought there was a more beautiful sight in the universe. Now, he could share both his favorite sights. Jonah felt as if all was right in his world as he held Aldrin in his arms and watched the morning sky slowly turn from cloudy gray to golden hues of fire.
“Thank you,” Aldrin whispered as he turned his head. He planted a small kiss on Jonah’s beard.
“I wanted to share this with you.” Jonah’s throat felt tight. His courage wavered until he looked down and saw the blue eyes staring back at him. “I thought, if you liked this spot, I’d build us a house here.”
Aldrin’s eyes rounded.
“I’d build you a porch with this view that went the entire length of the front of the house. We could come out and watch the sunrise anytime you wanted to.”
Aldrin’s eyes grew even wider. “You want to build me a house?”
“Us,” Jonah reiterated. “I want to build us a house.” He gulped as a sudden cold feeling knotted in his gut. “Unless you don’t want me to.”
Aldrin made a high pitched squealing noise as he turned in Jonah’s arms that Jonah hoped never to hear again, and yet he did. As ear splitting as it was, it was a happy sound. The arms that wrapped around his neck and the body plastered to his weren’t bad either.
“Is that a yes?” Jonah hedged.
Jonah laughed at the rapid succession of kisses planted over his face. And then he stilled, wondering how long it had been since he heard that sound come out of his mouth.
Aldrin must have felt his disquiet. He stopped kissing Jonah and leaned back to look at him. “What’s wrong?”
“I think I need to tell you about my family before we go any further. You may decide you don’t want to stay on top of this mountain with me.” And sitting in his favorite spot seemed like as good a place to spill his guts as any other.
“Okay,” Aldrin said hesitantly as he slowly sat back.
Jonah sighed as he picked Aldrin up and flipped him around. He kind of liked being able to do that. Besides, he wasn’t sure he could dredge up his worst nightmares with Aldrin’s sweet eyes staring up at him.
“I was raised in Cade Creek,” Jonah began because he wasn’t sure where else to begin. “Being the great-grandson of the founding father of the town wasn’t easy, especially since I was an only child.”
Aldrin glanced back at him. “You were an only child?”
Jonah nodded. “My father was an only child as well, as was his father, so I was it. My mother had a very difficult birth with me and the doctors told her not to have any more.” A wistful smile moved across his lips. “She doted on me. My father was a little more rigid, more concerned with the family name and legacy. It caused more than one argument between us as I was growing up.”
Jonah sighed as his memories began to intrude. His heart ached as he contemplated sharing things he had never shared with another living human being, not even his therapist.
“Jonah, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“No, I want you to know. It’s just…” Jonah swallowed hard. “It’s just hard.”
Aldrin grabbed one of Jonah’s hands, entwining their fingers together, and then he leaned back against Jonah. The silent gesture was not lost on Jonah. He knew Aldrin was showing his support while trying to give him time.
“I rebelled as a teenager,” Jonah started again. “The responsibility of being the great-grandson of Jonah Cade was a little more than I could handle. As an adult, my rebellion took the form of refusing to go into the family business. I signed up for the service the day after I graduated from high school. My father was furious.”
Jonah swallowed several times when a nasty taste rose up in his throat. “My father and I argued, screaming and yelling at each other to the sounds of my mother crying. I stormed out and spent the night before I shipped out with a friend in town. I thought my parents would be down at the bus station to see me off, but they never came.”
Jonah didn’t try to stop the tears that started trailing down his cheeks. There was no point. There were too many of them. “We didn’t talk for awhile after that.”
“How long?” Aldrin asked.
Aldrin’s soft gasp was accompanied by a squeeze on Jonah’s hand. “Oh, Jonah.”
Yeah, that had been monumentally stupid. “I was angry. My father was angry. We were both stubborn men.” Jonah let out a rueful snort. “Stupid men.”
“My best friend in the service got killed in a firefight. We had come up from boot camp together and joined the same recon team. I was devastated when he died. In the middle of the night, I called home. I wanted to talk to my mother. I wanted—” Jonah squeezed his eyes closed when a sob welled up in his throat. “I wanted her to tell me everything would be all right.”
“What happened?” Aldrin asked when Jonah didn’t say any more.
“My father answered the phone. It had been the middle of the night after all. He sounded tired, as if the weight of the world was crushing him down. Before we could start arguing again, I lost it. I started bawling, telling my father everything that had happened.”
Jonah opened his eyes as he tightened his arms around Aldrin, needing more contact than he had ever needed. “He told me to come home, even if it was just to visit. He told me that this was my home and I was always welcome here.” Tears blinded Jonah’s eyes and choked his voice. “He told me that he loved me and that he was proud of me.”
“Tell me the rest of it, Jonah,” Aldrin said when Jonah went silent.
“We made arrangements for me to come home for Christmas. The holidays were just another couple of weeks away and I already had two weeks off on leave. We decided not to say anything to my mother or grandfather. We were going to surprise them.”
“Right before I was supposed to ship home, word came down the pipeline that some soldiers had been taken hostage by the Taliban. A rescue mission was set up, but the intel was faulty. My unit walked right into a trap.” Jonah’s free hand curled into a fist. The other one was entwined with Aldrin’s and he would never hurt Aldrin. “They knew we were coming and they were waiting for us.”
“Is that where you got the scars on your back?”
Jonah nodded. He had wondered if Aldrin had seen them. He never said anything so Jonah hadn’t either. He didn’t particularly like remembering how he got them, but this one time he would remember…for Aldrin.
“They held us for five days before another rescue mission was launched.” Jonah still hadn’t fully come to terms with everything he had witnessed or that had been done to him. The beatings he could have handled. He could have even handled the burned skin and broken bones.
The screams of those he couldn’t save would haunt him for the rest of his life.
“No one in my unit survived except me. After I was rescued, I was flown to a military hospital in Germany. I was in a coma for five days. During that time, the military contacted my parents and told them I had been injured.”
Jonah clamped down on his lip to contain his sob. He drew in several deep breaths through his nose before he was calm enough to speak again. “My parents and grandfather raced down the mountain to get to the airport so they could fly to me. They never made it. The car slipped in the snow and went off the side of the road. None of them survived.”
Jonah could feel Aldrin’s tears dripping on his skin, but there was nothing he could do about them. His mind slipped into the memories of waking up to discover that not only had his entire unit been wiped out, but his entire family had been wiped out as well. In the span of one week, he had lost everyone and everything.
His therapist said that was where his PTSD came from. Not only had he survived something horrific in the military, he had lost everyone he cared about back home at the same time. It made making connections with people almost impossible. It was one of the reasons he was so paranoid about going into town. He couldn’t stand to make a friend and then lose them too.
He was terrified of losing Aldrin.
Jonah didn’t realize he was sobbing until he stopped. Somehow, his position with Aldrin had gotten switched around and he was the one now being cradled to Aldrin’s chest. The man was murmuring softly to him in between kisses pressed to his head.
“I’m sorry, Jonah, so, so sorry.”
“I never got to talk to my mother again or say good-bye.” That might be the hardest thing of all. Jonah had adored his mother. The five years they were apart had almost killed him. He had just been too stubborn to see what he was doing to himself, and to her.
He would never forgive himself.
“I see a therapist for my PTSD,” Jonah said when he could finally talk again. “I know I have issues with intimacy, I have the emotional capacity of a slug, and I’m paranoid. The mere thought of going into town to be around people makes me want to puke.” Jonah glanced up at Aldrin, his gaze hesitant. “But please don’t give up on me. I promise I’ll try to—”
The rest of Jonah’s words were muffled under Aldrin’s lips as the man leaned in and kissed him. Jonah welcomed the kiss, the connection to the one man he had trusted to share his pain with. He wrapped his hand around the back of Aldrin’s head and held him there as he explored the man’s mouth.
When Aldrin finally lifted his head to stare down at Jonah, his eyes were wet with tears. “I would love to share the mountaintop with you.”
* * * *
“Yeah?” There was so much need in that question, so much desperate desire, that Aldrin knew Jonah was truly scared he would be rejected.
He cupped the side of Jonah’s face and smiled. “Yeah.” He could think of nothing he would like more.
Aldrin shivered at the sudden burst of morning air that blew through the meadow.
Jonah frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Jonah smiled at Aldrin. “Then let me warm you up.” He rolled and partially covered Aldrin’s body. He began trailing kisses across Aldrin’s collarbone. Aldrin’s body melted against Jonah’s, and his world was filled with him. Passion pounded the blood through his heart, chest, and head.