After breakfast, Justin and I walked along the shops. We ended up in the clothing store he liked, where we’d gotten some things that first Saturday we’d worked together at the electronics shop. We went there together now and then, and had gotten to know Cadence and her girlfriend. That day, they were organizing some racks to make room for some new stock.
“Hello, birthday boy!” Cadence called cheerfully as the little bell on the door rang and we stepped in.
Justin gave her a shy wave.
“I’m glad you came in,” she added. “I have something for you!”
I walked with Justin over to the counter where Cadence had posted herself. Her girlfriend disappeared into the back office, then came out with a square that was about a couple inches thick and wrapped in black paper covered in ‘Happy Birthday’ in various colors. She grinned as she joined us and offered up the gift.
“This is from both of us,” she announced.
Cadence’s girlfriend had a personality so warm and soft that she seemed like an unlikely choice. She had pale blond hair that she kept in a long, thick braid, which always had at least one ribbon in it. Her eyes were happy and green, and she wore wide, round glasses. She was almost always in a long dress or skirt and casual shoes, sometimes even sandals. It was quite a contrast to Cadence, who usually looked ready to go to a rock concert or a gothic event, and they proved true the old adage that opposites attract.
Rainbow– who’d been named in that era when parents loved to choose unique and perhaps eccentric names for their children– helped Cadence run the store. She was great with the business side of things, and took care of a lot of the paperwork and practical things. They’d been together years and showed no signs of splitting up. Actually, as Cadence put it, the only splitting they wanted to do was in relation to leaving Cody.
Justin accepted the gift nervously and looked between them both. “You really didn’t have to get me anything,” he told them. “I’ve only kno–”
“Oh, none of that!” Cadence interrupted. She gave him a side-hug and grinned at him. “You and Blackthorne are super cool, and I want my awesome new buddy to have the best eighteenth birthday possible.”
“O-okay,” he replied, still very timid.
“Go ahead and open it,” Rainbow urged. “We want to see it on–“
“Don’t tell him so much yet,” Cadence said. “Okay, Justin, time to rip paper!”
He chuckled a little, then tore the wrapping off of the box to reveal something similar to a hinged jewelry box– not for a ring, but rather for a necklace. When he opened the velvety, scarlet box, that’s just what he found on the black satin inside. The chain was a length of chain-mail cord, and it had two pendants: one was a simple crescent moon, and the other had beads of fire opal and a stylized pewter bat.
“Woah…” Justin breathed as he took it out and looked it over. “This is so cool!”
I held the box for him as he lifted the necklace out to admire it. He was all smiles as he thanked them and they encouraged him to put it on.
“What do you think?” he asked me after I helped him with the clasp and he turned around to show me.
“It suits you,” I told him.
He looked to the girls again. “This is so awesome– usually I only ever get jewelry from my boyfriend, and that’s if I have one at the time, and even then it’s not for sure.”
“We had to get it,” Cadence explained. “Rainbow is pretty much obsessed with your pet name being the sweetest she’s ever heard.”
“It’s his goth name,” Rainbow corrected, “and it’s Little Moon himself who’s the sweetest.”
Justin actually allowed the girls to call him that, showing how friendly they’d already become.
“Oh, by the way,” Cadence said after a bit of conversation, “when do I get to have you come in and fold shirts and stuff?”
“Umm…” Justin blushed a little. The job application he’d gotten from her was still at my place, safe in a desk drawer. He hadn’t filled it out beyond his name and birthday yet, but she’d never forgotten about it. “Soon, maybe? I have to ask my doctor…”
“Okay,” she replied. “I promise to only give you easy tasks, all right? And no long shifts.”
Justin nodded. He did still want to try working, but succumbing to all that stress and malnutrition had left him very cautious. I felt that he was ready for what Cadence was offering, which was easy and gentle. I wouldn’t have suggested he work in fast food or any national retail chain, but her shop was just right for getting him started with working.
We chatted for a while longer, sharing our plans for the day, and Justin eventually disappeared to do a little shopping. The girls had been invited to the small party being held at Justin’s Aunt’s house, but they’d declined as they had other obligations. When Justin came back with a T-shirt with the cover for “The Crow” on it and black dress pants, Cadence rang him up with a special birthday discount. As usual, I tried to pay for what he wanted, but he insisted on using the money his grandmother had sent to him in a card, and only let me pay for part of it.
After we left the shop, we stopped at a grocery store to get a few things that would make a good picnic lunch and headed out to the tree on the hill. I laid out our picnic blanket, and we sat together, enjoying the quiet and the fact that it was just the two of us.
“I talked to my mom about school,” he told me after a while. The topic had come up only in the past week, when his treatments became more spaced out.
“That’s good to hear. What did she say?”
“Well… The school doesn’t care that I was sick. I still can’t graduate if I don’t get the work done and earn those last few credits. I can graduate late– like if I do it over the summer– but…”
“But you don’t want to go back there?” I asked. “I don’t think I’d let you go back.”
“Yeah, no way,” he agreed. “I don’t even want a diploma with Cody High School’s name on it.”
“What does your mom think about that?”
“She gets it,” he said, which was a great relief to me. “She said even if I get my central line out and I don’t need any more treatment, she doesn’t think it’s safe for me to go there. Plus, if I can’t be there in person, why should I do all their stupid work? She hopes I at least get a GED, but since I’m eighteen now, she’s not going to argue with me about school.”
“That’s wonderful to hear,” I told him.
It was a huge relief, really. Ms. Anderson had wanted Justin to work hard and graduate from high school, and she used to say that it doesn’t matter which high school he finishes at, as long as he finishes. Thankfully, her son being in the hospital had opened her eyes to how bad that place had been for him.
“I’m going to withdraw myself from there on Monday,” Justin added. “I won’t let them mark me as incomplete or anything else.”
“I’m glad you made a decision, Little Moon. Would you want to go back to Portland and finish there?”
He turned around and gave me a worried look. “Not unless you’re going there…”
I shook my head.
“Then, I… I’ll..”
“What’s wrong, Little Moon?” I asked when he hesitated.
He looked away, as though ashamed at what he’d been thinking. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed…”
“Tell me what’s on your mind,” I urged in a gentle voice. I wrapped my arms around him to reassure him.
He sighed. “I kind of… I dunno. I guess I was thinking I could sign up somewhere in California… But maybe I can find an online school or just take the GED test…”
The despondence in his voice made my heart feel heavy.
“My dear prince,” I breathed, hold him tighter, “I’m so sorry I didn’t make it clear before. You’re more than welcome to come with me to Sacramento.”
“Really?” he mumbled uncertainly.
“Yes! Yes, Little Moon, I would love for you to go everywhere with me. I’d take you even if we hadn’t fallen in love. You don’t belong here, and I never want anything bad to happen to you ever again.”
Justin looked up at me with glistening eyes. “You want to take me away from here?”
I nodded. “I– I never want to be apart from you. You’re my dearest prince, and I–”
Justin had me on my back in a nano-second. He knelt over me, kissing me ferociously, like his life depended on it. His taste filled my mouth as he melded himself to me, and I sighed contentedly and gave to him in kind. His hands caressed my arms and shoulders, then feathered through my hair.
“Blackthorne,” he gasped after a while. “I love you. I can’t even explain how much I’m in love with you.”
“I think I have some idea of it, beloved prince,” I murmured back. “You’re just as precious to me.”
He smiled and kissed my cheeks, then down my neck, where he nibbled lightly. The unexpected bite made me moan and arch my back, and he grinned at me.
“You like that?”
“It’s an erogenous zone for most people,” I told him, “but yes, I really did enjoy that.”
His grin widened.
“What are you thinking of?” He definitely looked like he had something in mind.
He blushed and looked away. “I probably shouldn’t.”
“You want to leave a mark, don’t you?” I chuckled. “I can’t really show up anywhere with bite marks on my neck, but…”
He peeked out from where he’d hidden his face. I loosened the top button of my shirt.
“You can explore and play in other places, if you want to.”
Justin eyed my fingers, licking his lips, then moved my hands away from the next button I was toying with. He kissed and nibbled down the other side of my neck, then pushed my collar aside to lay more kisses on my skin.
“You’re so affectionate today,” I murmured.
He grinned at me. “Yeah… I just…. I really love you, Blackthorne.”
“That sounds so wonderful, coming from your lips.” I took his hand and kissed his fingers. “I’m already enjoying being loved by you.”
Justin sat up, straddling my waist, and brushed his hair out of his eyes as he looked me over. I could have gotten up at any time; he was so light that I could have lifted him off of me our pulled him to the side without any effort. Still, I was intent on being gentle with him, which left me as pinned down by him as he would have been by me straddling him. My hair fanned out around me as I laid there, and I relaxed and enjoyed the sweet spring air as he looked down at me.
“You look like you’re thinking a great many things,” I noted after a while.
His cheeks pinked and he looked out past the hill. “Maybe…”
“Can you share some of those thoughts with me?” I asked. I started massaging his legs, which I knew he enjoyed a great deal. He was so little, and he loved all of his body being touched and caressed.
“Umm… I want to undo all of your buttons…”
“All of them?”
His blush deepened and he barely managed to nod.
“And then what will you do? I know you’re not this shy about just looking at me, considering how many showers we’ve had together.”
“Blackthorne…” he squeaked.
“I can help you,” I suggested, but when I started reaching for the next button, he rushed in to loosen it himself, then hurriedly loosened the rest of the buttons on my shirt. The fabric fell to each side, revealing the muscles of my chest and belly. “Oh, not my pants?”
“I–” Justin was even more red.
“It’s okay, Little Moon. You don’t have to. But now what do you plan to do?”
That was when he leaned back down to kiss me again. They were urgent, breathless kisses; kisses that came with his hands moving over my chest and shoulders, up my neck and through my hair. His fingernails grazed my neck, and he responded to my moans by kissing where he’d just scratched– not enough to leave a mark, but enough that it heated my blood and made me want more. Eventually, he got my arms out of my sleeves and tossed my shirt aside.
“You’re really handsome, Blackthorne,” Justin told me. “You always have been.”
“Don’t say that like you aren’t beautiful, too,” I replied, caressing his cheeks. “You have a beautiful heart to go with it, my sweet prince. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
“I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a friend like you,” he said. “You always take care of me… and I want to take care of you, too.”
“Only if that’s what you truly want,” I insisted. “You don’t owe me anything; I just want you to be safe and happy.”
“I am,” he whispered.
“Then that’s perfect.”