Absolute Horizons

Act 3

They arrive at the house just before sunset.  

John’s spent the last couple of miles asking if Matt was okay with this, and Matt had answered in the affirmative every time until, when John asked again to make sure, Matt had yelled at him: “It’s not all about you, asshole! Yes, you’ve got to be here because I haven’t seen my mom in forever, okay!” 

John had shut up after that. But now they’re here, and it’s time to do something before the neighbors call the cops on their suspicious loitering. 

“Looks nice.” John’s observing the greenery because he’s a concrete jungle kind of guy and wouldn’t know what to do with a tree if it hit him in the face. (Hit back, probably.) “Very homey.” 

Matt doesn’t answer. He’s busy doing an impression of a mannequin, staring straight ahead. 

John whistles, waiting for Matt to surface from the murky depths of his own thoughts. 

This is stupid. 

John opens the door and steps out. Man, he’s forgotten how fresh air makes his nose go funny. He sneezes a little, then glances back at Matt. 

“You want me to ding dong ditch?” John says. “Hey, what’s the problem?” 

“How about the part where I haven’t seen her in forever, or have you forgotten?” Matt says. “I can’t just – I mean, she knows I’m coming, I called her and all, but you don’t just…” 

“You’re doing the right thing,” John says. “C’mon.” 

Matt swallows. “Ugh.” 

John waits while Matt takes his time getting out of the car. Matt debates whether to bring his cane, but decides against it and starts walking up the pathway to the front door. John follows a couple of steps behind, with Matt glancing back every now and then to make sure he’s there, not that John has anywhere else to be right now. 

The door opens at the second knock. 

“Matt, honey!” Matt’s mom is right there, grabbing Matt in an impressive hug and shaking gently. “You made it! I thought you’d forgotten the way, that was silly of me, you never get lost, do you, Matt?” 

“Hi, mom,” Matt says, and it’s in a tone John has never heard before. It’s quieter, almost shy. “This is, uh—” 

“John! How do you do, I’m Matt’s mom, it’s so nice of you to bring him all the way out here, I hope the traffic wasn’t bad! Oh my manners, I’m Elaine, do come in, oh wait, you can actually park your car up here, it’s better, then bring your bags in, you must be so tired from the drive…” 

So that’s where Matt gets his mouth from.  

Elaine Farrell is a small woman, dark brown hair, animated eyes and a smile that’s almost as bright as Matt’s. She waves at John to move the car, which he does while she and Matt watch from the porch. John watches them right back, observing how Elaine’s doing most of the talking while Matt’s mouth only opens occasionally. 

She’s still doing most of the talking when she gives John a tour of the house and shows him how to open the convertible couch. Matt’s following them around like a yo-yo while Elaine goes on about her cross-stitch projects and how it took her forever to decide on new curtains when she had the dining room re-wallpapered.  

“And over there’s the bedrooms, Matt’s staying in his old room, I’ve made it all nice for you, honey,” Elaine says. 

“Thanks,” Matt says, and he’s heading that way with his bags, leaving John inexplicably alone with his mom. 

“I’m so glad he’s got a good friend like you,” Elaine says, sighing. “Poor Matt, such a lonely boy, only, haha, he’s not a boy anymore, what am I saying. I do forget, you know how quickly they grow. How did you two meet do you mind my asking, John?” 

“His apartment caught fire,” John says. 

“Oh, so you’re a fireman?” Elaine asks. 

“Detective, actually,” John says. 

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Elaine says. There’s nothing wry or suspicious in her tone, just an open genuineness that’s positively alarming to a New Yorker. “Oh no wonder, you’ve been a good influence on Matt, I’m sure you know what a good young man he is.” 

“Yeah, he’s a real gem,” John says. “Saved my life a couple of times, just to make up for it.” 

“Now you’re just teasing,” Elaine says. “Oh oh, where are my manners, my house is a little small, one bathroom small, but it’s a nice bathroom, so you’ll have to put your bags in Matt’s room, right that way, I hope you don’t mind.” 

“No, no,” John says. “I don’t mind.” 

“I’ll just get dinner ready,” Elaine says, and she disappears in a flurry of beige and plaid. 

John gets to Matt’s room, knocking on the door to get a grunt of an acknowledgement before he steps inside. 

The bedroom is a biohazard of clutter, furniture and knickknacks piled in tight like Elaine’s stocking up for an apocalypse but got her priorities wrong. Some of the stuff is in a recognizable flavor a la Matt, while the man himself is sitting on top of a checked comforter on the lone bed in the middle of the room. Matt looks smaller in this place, somehow tucked in on himself.  

“So this used to be your room?” John asks, looking around.  

“Yeah,” Matt says. “I shared it with Joseph until he left. It was good when he left, I had more room for my stuff. My, um, my PC used to be over there, my shelves over there, and I swear to god I’ve never seen that dresser before in my life.” 

John can’t quite see it. This is a nice enough home for a widowed mom and her two boys to grow up in, with plenty of room to run around outside even if there isn’t inside. John used to dream of having a place like this when he was with Holly, but he only wanted it in an abstract sort of way ‘cause he knew it’d drive him crazy to not have his security blanket of metal and concrete. He did wonder, though, if having a place like this would’ve made it easier. 

Then there’s Matt, who’s got his arms around his torso, his entire body an exclamation mark to the unspoken I want to get out of here

Something’s going on with him that John doesn’t know about; some internal baggage that’s making him run circles in his own head. A part of John wants to declare that this is stupid for the sake of stupidity, but Matt isn’t John – he doesn’t know how far life can go in its determination to fuck you over, and as far as having perspectives goes, John wants Matt to stay where he is for as long as possible. 

“Come on, show me around,” John says. 

“Didn’t she just give you the grand tour?” Matt says. 

“There’s outside,” John says. “You can show me where you got that scar on your ankle.” 

Matt looks out the window. It’s still bright out where the sunset hasn’t finished its rounds.  

“Okay, sure,” Matt says, getting to his feet, and the little smile on his lips feels like a reward. 

+ + + 

John doesn’t know how he feels about this. 

He’s having dinner with Matt and Matt’s mom, and a part of him is waiting for Jerry Springer to show up in the middle of dessert. 

“Aunt Lily’s joining us tomorrow for dinner,” Elaine says to Matt. Then she turns to John and says, “We call her Aunt Lily but she’s not actually related but she is family. Matt’s known her since he was little, isn’t that right, Matt?” 

“Since I was little,” Matt says. “Aunt Lily lives just a ways down. Her mashed potatoes are something to sing about.” 

Matt’s thankfully talking more, easing baby steps into the conversation. John doesn’t mind that he’s ended up being the fulcrum of the conversation, with Matt and Elaine bouncing topics from either side as the conversation swings.  

Elaine’s a nice enough person, and John’s listened to enough of her conversation to know that the wide-eyed off-kilter thing isn’t an act. She fires on more cylinders than Matt, making him look positively subdued. But unlike Matt, who talks while his brain’s on overdrive thinking things that John can’t imagine, Elaine seems to be pouring all her energy solely into the conversation. 

“There was that time, remember Matt? You were working on that fancy project of yours and the whole street lost power?” Elaine says, laughing. “That was quite the – oh, Mark and Rosanna made such a ruckus about that, but then I said, oh come on, Matt’s only eleven years old he couldn’t have possibly done that.” 

“I’d believe it,” John says. “Matt does like causing scenes.” 

“What, no, I don’t!” Matt says. “Topic change! Mom, did you get the furniture upholstered?” 

“Oh, yes, honey, you noticed!” Elaine says. 

That’s when John’s cell rings.  

The tone is unmistakable (the theme from Airwolf that Matt uploaded weeks ago; John couldn’t figure out how to undo it) and it travels clearly from the living room, where the phone is tucked into his jacket.  

John apologizes quickly and goes off to fetch his phone, fully expecting someone from the precinct demanding some form or another he forgot to file. It’s not. 

He picks up and says, “Hey, Luce.” 

Hi, daddy,” Lucy says. 

Uh-oh, she’s brought out the Big D. “You’re a day early. To what do I owe the honor?” 

There’s been an incident.”  

“What is it?” John says quickly. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” 

Oh, no, it’s nothing like that, it’s… Things aren’t going so well here with Brian,” Lucy says. “You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t really bad… Could you pick me up?” 

Hah, John never liked Brian, mister suspicious eyes, and he knows what he’s talking about. But John refrains from voicing those thoughts because there’s a whole other issue at hand. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’m in Bay County.” 

There’s a pause. “What the hell are you doing in Bay County?” 

“Seeing the sights,” John says. “I’ll be heading back to the city tomorrow, I can drop by then.” 

Geez, no, that’d be too late,” Lucy says. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out. Thanks anyway.” 

“Sure,” John says.  

She hangs up, and John tucks the phone back in his jacket. He makes it halfway to the dining table before it rings again, forcing him to backtrack. 


“Yes, Lucy,” John says. 

Are you there with Matt?” 

It’s really not an option to lie to his baby girl. “Matt’s here, yes.” 

Oh.” The syllable betrays absolutely nothing.  

It’s an unfortunate truth that John can read Lucy even less than he can Holly, despite how everyone and their grandmother insists that Lucy is so his daughter. John doesn’t see it – Lucy’s strength and stubbornness are equal parts his and Holly’s, her temper is Holly’s, her intelligence is Holly’s… Perhaps the only thing that’s truly John’s is her inability to open her mouth without cussing. 

So John has even less of an idea of how to act around her now. It was easier when she looked up to him and was easily distracted by the promise of robot ponies, but then she grew up and became fond of reminding him how he gets it wrong all the time. This tentative truce they’ve had since July could go up in smoke at any moment, and John really doesn’t want it to be Matt that makes that happen. 

Okay, I’ll call you tomorrow,” Lucy says. She hangs up again. 

John returns to the dinner table feeling a little less into it than earlier. 

Elaine pauses whatever thread she’s on now. “Not anything bad, I hope?” 

“No, it’s just my daughter saying hello,” John says.  

“Oh, you have a daughter,” Elaine says. There’s a barely detectable drop in her voice, but then she’s talking again and the moment is gone. “Did I tell you I’ve taken up pottery? They had a workshop at the center a couple of months ago, it was quite exciting, I have to tell you…” 

John leans back in his chair and tries to pay attention. Across the table, Matt’s watching him. Their eyes meet briefly, but that passes, too. 

+ + + 

It takes John a couple of seconds to remember where he is when he wakes up. 

Right. He’s on the living room couch of Elaine Farrell’s house; that’s why the blanket smells funny and the springs are noisy when he moves. He clears his throat and adjusts his head on the pillow.  

That’s the moment his vision adjusts to the darkness and he sees a pair of eyes in front of him. 

“Jesus Christ!” John says, jerking backward. He lowers his voice. “What the hell, Matt?” 

“I couldn’t sleep,” Matt whispers. He’s kneeling on the floor, a night-time sight of messy hair and stubble. “What did Lucy call about?” 

“Nothing important,” John says. “Asking for a lift from her boyfriend’s place, told her I couldn’t make it.” 

“Oh,” Matt says. “Okay.” 

John rubs his eyes, waiting to see if there’s anything else. “Did you wake me for a bedtime story or something?” 

“I feel really bad,” Matt says, not sounding apologetic at all. “I can’t sleep knowing you’re out here. It must be uncomfortable.” 

“I’ve slept on worse,” John says.  

“I mean, really uncomfortable.” Matt gives John a look. 

“No,” John says quickly. “You set the ground rules. We’re gonna stick by ‘em.” 

“Since when do you care about rules?” Matt says. 

“I’m staying here,” John says firmly. He hunkers down, pulling the blanket close over his shoulders. 

“Okay, okay,” Matt concedes. “It’s just… I’m really, really horny right now.” 

John gives him a look that he hopes translates the ‘what the fuck’ he can’t bring himself to say out loud in this house. He knows Matt likes sex. Hell, John likes sex, who doesn’t, but there’s something deeply abnormal about Matt’s drive. He never seems to not want it, and that’s wrong because John knows that he wasn’t like that when he was Matt’s age.  

“You might have a glandular problem,” John says. 

“That could be it,” Matt says, nodding quickly like he already knows that John’s leaning towards giving in. “See, I was just lying in bed, trying to go to sleep and suddenly I started thinking about how you’re just outside, and that got me thinking about this afternoon, and it all just cascaded from there so now I’ve got a hard-on that needs immediate attention.” 

“You really need to channel all this energy into something positive,” John says, and he can’t believe that he’s having this conversation. 

“Orgasms are positive,” Matt says. “Helps clear up the arteries, avoid heart attacks.” 

“Well, if you put it that way…” John says. 

“I’m very smart,” Matt says.  

John doubts that, especially if Matt’s serious about this. But John gets up as quietly as he can and follows Matt to his temporary bedroom. As they pass the short hallway, John eyes the door to Elaine’s room, which would only be at a safe distance if it were in another state.

John can do another quickie, but that’s not what this is about.  

Matt shuts the door behind them, and John realizes that there’s music playing. Matt’s laptop is open precariously on something that might be a stool, and there’s a stream of New Age shit coming out from its tiny speakers.  

“She knows I like to sleep with music on,” Matt says by way of explanation. 

“You do?” John says, surprised. “But you’ve never…” 

“You’re better than music, duh,” Matt says, and his hands are reaching out. 

Matt’s smiling into the kiss, ain’t that a peach. John doubts he’ll come tonight – there are some lines even he won’t cross – but this isn’t about John. This about Matt being a ball of nerves, and this is something John can do for him. 

“What do you want?” John asks. 

Matt pulls away, eyes close enough to be bright in the darkness. “You take requests now?” 

John shrugs. “Hey, I’m easy.” 

Matt gets to the bed and strips, tossing his shirt and shorts to the floor while John watches. They’re watching each other, really, and that seems to be enough to work Matt up while John stands aside, an innocent bystander. Matt’s wasn’t kidding about that hard-on, and he gingerly sits down on the edge of the bed, parting his knees and gesturing to the space between. 

John’s hyperaware of every noise they’re making, gauging how much of it will be masked by Matt’s laptop, how much will leak through drywall, and overlaying all of that with the silence beyond. Someone has to be. In a way, that makes it easier when John sinks to his knees between Matt’s open thighs, because right now he doesn’t get to be selfish. 

John meets Matt’s gaze, and parts his lips in suggestion. 

Matt’s breath hitches. John knows if it had been anywhere but here, he would have groaned. Matt swallows, visibly trying to keep it together as reaches out and trails his fingers along John’s lower lip. The fingers dip in briefly to stroke his tongue, then go under John’s chin to urge him close enough to get a knee over his shoulder. 

Matt aims his erection towards John’s mouth, and the head brushes the line travelled by his fingers earlier. John forces himself to stay still, watchful. Matt is hypnotized, like he can’t believe what he’s doing – and that’d make the two of them because John can’t believe he’s kneeling down on fuzzy carpeting while another man trails pre-come over his lips. 

John isn’t even doing anything, but Matt’s already breathing heavily, his dick hardening further as he teases himself against John’s chin. Surely John’s stubble has to be making it uncomfortable, but who is John to rain on Matt’s parade. 

Then, finally, Matt’s pushing the head into John’s mouth, and it’s silken between his lips. John fixes the angle as he takes the weight on to his tongue. Soon enough Matt’s thrusting gently, rubbing himself within the confines of John’s mouth. 

Matt leans forward and whispers, “Suck, please?”  

He could’ve made it an order, but it isn’t. It’s a pretty little request, all tied up in a bow, and how can John refuse?  

John sucks, and Matt’s whole body shudders like it didn’t know that was coming. John gets his hands on Matt’s knees, holding them in place while his mouth takes the insistent slide of heat as Matt’s hips move. 

John recognizes the signs, and they tell him that it won’t be long now. Matt’s going to thrust a little more, and then… 

And then… 

“Sorry, sorry,” Matt says, hand tapping John’s shoulder. “I can’t quite… Shit.” 

John pulls away, working his jaw as he sits on his haunches. Matt is leaning back on his arms, eyes to the ceiling and cock jutting up, unchanged. 

“Just relax.” Despite Matt’s conscious enthusiasm, it’s obvious that his subconscious has issues about doing this here, so John says, “Close your eyes.” 

Matt does. John leans forward and kisses the insides of Matt’s thighs. He goes slow, mouthing skin and running his tongue along Matt’s balls in a deliberate tease.  

John ignores Matt’s dick for as long as possible. He puts his mouth everywhere, kissing everything he can reach and breathing warm air where the skin is all stretched tight. Matt’s eyes are still shut but now his brow is scrunched with it, and John grabs Matt’s shirt from the floor and throws it upwards – Matt takes the hint and bites on it.  

Matt’s got to be aching for it now but still John pauses. The first touch is a fingertip to the head, and that makes Matt jerk – with surprise, sensitivity or desperation, John can’t quite tell. John keeps his finger there, slight pressure and little movements back and forth until he brings a thumb to join the proceedings, exploring the head and tugging gently. From up north John can hear little whimpering noises and the rustle of the sheets where Matt’s digging his fists in. 

John knows he could make this last much longer, getting Matt’s whole body to beg for it, but that can wait for another time. He takes a moment to stretch his jaw, and then his mouth is sliding back down, sucking as hard as he can. 

That does it. Matt’s wound so tight his body jerks up, the shirt in his mouth barely enough to muffle the sudden groan he makes. John just keeps going, hoping that they’re still quiet enough and there isn’t going to be an irate woman screaming her head off about how her son is getting the blowjob of his life by a middle-aged dickwad who should know better. 

Shaky fingers are touching the side of John’s face, warning him that he’s gonna blow, captain.  

John holds on. His hands are firm on Matt’s thighs as he writhes and jerks, an ankle knocking repeatedly at John’s back like he’s trying to hit the brakes. 

By god it’s uncomfortable, and John worries that he’s going to get come up his nose, wouldn’t that be hilarious (not). But hey, it’s a goddamned good ego boost to know that he can do this, even if Matt’s regular sexytime soundtrack has been put on mute. 

Matt’s legs relax eventually, and John puts them down as he pulls his mouth off Matt’s softening cock. Luckily there’s some old newspaper on the floor that John can crumple and spit into. That mess goes into the trashcan, and then John stands up to survey the damage. 

Huh. Matt’s passed out.  

John removes the shirt from Matt’s mouth, and he immediately starts snoring. John shakes his head as he moves Matt up the mattress, settling his head on the pillow and pulling the comforter over the rest of him.  

John permits himself a few seconds to watch Matt sleep, and then goes off to brush his teeth a second time.  

Any interest he might’ve had in jerking off is extinguished by a glance at Elaine’s door. 

+ + + 

The second time John wakes up in Elaine Farrell’s house, it’s just starting to get light and no one’s staring at him from anywhere in the living room. 

John’s usually up at this time of the day regardless of when he slept the night before, but he’s not in the mood for a mild morning workout. He feels a little off, like he sometimes does the day after he’s done something nuts and survived. But there are no guns, bombs or crazy mercenaries involved, just Matt’s dark eyes and soft requests and – Jesus – John going along with it. 

John shakes his head and makes himself focus on the immediate: brushing his teeth, freshening up, sneaking in to Matt’s room to get a change of clothes (he’s still out and doesn’t stir when John enters) and making himself presentable for the day. He brought a tie just in case, but it’s probably overkill to wear it in the morning. 

Elaine makes an appearance just as John is tucking the convertible couch back into its regular place. She’s tiptoeing, and is startled to see him up and about. 

“Oh my, you’re up early,” she says. “I haven’t even started on breakfast yet.” 

“No rush.” John says, holding back the automatic ma’am that has the chance to offend since he’s not exactly sure how old Elaine is.  

Elaine looks at him, and there’s something different from last night. She says, her voice soft maybe because it’s still early and she doesn’t want to wake Matt up, “I’m just so happy that Matt has someone. He was such a… Excuse me, I’m being silly again. I just can’t help worrying, that’s what I do.” 

“Believe me, I understand,” John says. “But Matt’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders. You did a great job, Ms Farrell.” 

Elaine swallows and looks away. “That’s really nice of you to say. I’ll go, um, get some pancakes on.” She disappears into the kitchen. 

There are magazines in the living room, but unless John wants to take up knitting, he’s staying clear away from those. He briefly considers going outside, but it’s fucking cold and the only thing that could make that a good idea would be a cigarette, but John’s emergency stash is back in Brooklyn, leaving him back at square one. He eventually ends up reading a week-old local newspaper he finds in an otherwise empty newspaper rack.  

The sound of someone yawning makes him look up. Matt’s padding barefoot to the common bathroom, eyes heavy-lidded and hair even more messed up than it was some hours earlier. 

John chuckles to himself though there’s no joke to be seen. Maybe his funny bone is broken. 

Just then, the sound of a motorbike distracts him. It doesn’t appear out of nowhere, but John is suddenly aware that it’s there, closer than the occasional engine-based roar that’s part of regular background noise. He sits up and pulls the curtain aside to look out the window. 

Next to John’s car is a motorbike, and as he watches, the rider kills the engine and dismounts. John sits up further, watching the way the rider removes his helmet and eyes John’s car suspiciously.  

The eyes and set to the chin are similar, and John knows that this is Joseph Farrell, Matt’s baby brother. 

The front door opens. Joseph’s immediately looking at John. “Who on earth are you?” 

“Honey!” It’s Elaine to the rescue, taking him into another one of her killer hugs. “You made it, oh I’m so relieved, I heard that bike of yours a mile away, I was so worried something happened to you.” 

“I did tell you I’d be arriving today, right, mom?” Joseph says, kissing his mother on the cheek. “Who’s the…?” 

“Oh, that’s Matt’s friend, John,” Elaine says. “He’s joining us for dinner, isn’t that nice?” 

“What?” Joseph says. 

Then Matt’s there as well, still wearing his sleeping clothes but significantly more awake. “Joseph.” 

“Oh,” Joseph says, visibly surprised. “Huh.” 

John knows this, too. He’s had enough awkward family reunions to deserve the damn medal. 

“So, Elaine,” John says brightly, because he has no problem bringing dialogue to life-and-death situations. “I heard you got some pancakes for us?” 

“Oh, right right,” Elaine says quickly. “Come on, boys.” 

They survive breakfast, mostly because Matt and Joseph are quiet on opposite sides of the table, leaving Elaine and John to take up the slack. Elaine’s chatter has a different slant to it, but John can’t be sure if she’s talking a lot because her boys or quiet, or if her boys are quiet because she’s talking a lot. Matt and Joseph only answer when prompted directly; otherwise Elaine’s repeating most of the latest news of last night to Joseph, while Matt retains a haughtily disinterested expression that has absolutely no place on his face. 

As soon as breakfast is over, Matt escapes to his room and Joseph flees outside. 

+ + + 

“I can’t believe she didn’t tell me he was coming!” Matt says. 

John’s sitting on the bed in Matt’s temporary room, and Matt is pacing back and forth.  

“She did it on purpose!” Matt says. “I know she did!” 

John’s never seen Matt angry before. He’s seen Matt frustrated, confused, irritated and disappointed, but this is all that and extra. It’s really not a good look for him.  

Matt couldn’t be frightening if he tried, but he is a passionate man, and suddenly John knows that he doesn’t ever want Matt to look at him that way. 

“Your mom did she what she thought was right,” John says. “And it is Thanksgiving—” 

“Bullshit,” Matt snaps. “You’re the last person who gets to lecture me.” 


But John can’t blame him, because he knows how tempers run high during family gatherings, and heaven knows John’s said some really stupid shit that he’d regretted for years after. So John just shrugs. 

“I’m going to…” Matt grabs his laptop and drags it on to the bed with him. “Call me when dinner’s ready.” 

John retreats all the way out of the room. 

At least Elaine’s friend Lily has arrived and is keeping her company in the kitchen. Lily seems to be cut from the same cloth so it’s easy to see why they’re friends, and it’s a small victory that their kitchen chatter is light and jovial. When John walks past, both women report their progress in near identical chirpy voices. 

“Looking forward to it, ladies,” he says. 

John ends up watching tv in the living room. It isn’t long before Joseph joins him, dropping into one of the free chairs. 

“Is Matt still sulking?” Joseph asks. 

John wouldn’t call it sulking, exactly, but he says, “Yep.” 

Joseph sighs. 

They watch tv in silence for a while, John’s mind drifting until Joseph suddenly laughs at something, and John realizes that Joseph’s laugh is nothing like Matt’s. Matt’s voice is unusually deep – a contrast to his shape and one of the first things John noticed about him – but it goes higher when he’s excited. Joseph’s voice is lighter than Matt’s, and it turns the other way round, going deeper when he laughs. 

“Did you really sell off Matt’s stuff for lunch money?” John asks. 

“He still remembers that?” Joseph says, surprised. “I was eight. What does anyone know when they’re eight?” 

John thinks about Jack, at eight years old, rolling his eyes and showing his dad how the fandangled new computers worked. “Quite a lot, I’d say.” 

That breaks it a little, and they start talking in small circles. It’s only a little bit better than the junk that’s on tv, but hey. 

“Are you a… a computer guy, like Matt?” Joseph asks. 

Hah. No, I’m a cop.” 

“You’re kidding me,” Joseph says, and he leans forward, interested. He looks John over, trying to figure out where the pieces fit. “To be perfectly frank, you’re nothing like any of Matt’s friends I’ve met.” 

“I get that a lot,” John shrugs easily. “I’m guessing you’re not a computer guy like him, either.” 

“I’m a mechanic,” Joseph says. “Got a small business of my own. It isn’t much, but it’s mine, and it did pay for the bike.” 

That leads to John and Joseph going outside to admire said bike. It’s obviously Joseph’s baby, a shiny black Ducati that feels like a fucking Terminator between John’s legs when he sits on it.  

“Am I right?” Joseph says, grinning as John revs the engine. 

It purrs. John touches it with a sense of reverence, suddenly understanding why guys his age go for this kind of shit.  

“How’d a guy like you end up friends with Matt, anyway?” Joseph asks.  

“Long story,” John says. 

“Oh.” Joseph’s obviously reluctant to press further, unsure of his welcome. “Matt doesn’t hate me, does he?” 

“I don’t know, he’s barely mentioned you,” John says.  

He honestly doesn’t think Matt hates Joseph, not really. Matt’s capable of strong emotions, but this doesn’t seem like the sort of thing he’d do. Couple that with the fact that John’s got a pretty accurate asshole radar and Joseph’s not giving off those vibes – he seems like a decent guy. 

Joseph’s taller than Matt, broader around the shoulders and utterly clean-shaven. John wonders what it might’ve been like for them growing up – specifically, he wonders what it was like for Matt to grow up with a younger brother so different from himself. John got along with his sister well enough (until she married that schmo from Texas) so when they grew up, they never envied or stepped into each other’s space.  

Man, there’s so much John still doesn’t know about Matt. 

“Shouldn’t you be with family?” Joseph asks. He tilts his head a little, and it’s the only movement that’s anything like Matt’s. 

John doesn’t get to answer, because just then the front door opens and Matt’s standing in the doorway. 

“Hey,” John says to him. “You got to try this.” 

“An Italian gas guzzler? No, thanks,” Matt says. 

“Geez, Matt, chill, it’s not like I’m trying to steal your boyfriend,” Joseph says. 

That appears to be the wrong thing to say, because Matt’s marching forward and boy, does he look pissed. John dismounts the bike and tries to surreptitiously tiptoe out of the line of fire. 

“Joseph, you’re the one who left, so you have no frickin’ right to act so damn high and mighty about it!” Matt says. “You left, okay?” 

“We’re not starting this,” Joseph says. “It’s not my fault you have issues—” 

No!” Matt snaps, his voice going shrill. “You don’t get to sit there and act like I’m the villain. I did everything for you!” 

“I didn’t want it!” Joseph yells back. “I’m not like you, Matt!” 

“Yes, I know! But that doesn’t mean a damn thing, I’m your brother!” Matt says. “I was trying, goddammit, I was trying real hard and you just kept messing up everything I did. Do you have any idea what you did to mom when you left?” 

John really wants to get into the house now. 

“You left, too!” Joseph shouts. “All the way to New Jersey! Have you even seen mom since you packed up and went? Is this your first time back, Matthew?” 

“Fuck you,” Matt says. 

“Boys!” It’s Elaine, rushing out of the house with only her apron as protection against the cold. “Boys, please don’t, dinner’s going to be ruined and—” 

“Is this his first time back?” Joseph asks his mother. 

“Yeah, mom, tell little Joe what happened after he left,” Matt says. 

“Has he even called before this?” Joseph says. 

Hey!” John shouts in his crowd-control voice. “It’s cold, it’s Thanksgiving, and your mother really doesn’t need this right now! Can we just call it in and make it through the day without shouting at each other? Matt?” 

Matt grinds his jaw. “Fine.” 

“Joseph?” John says. 

“Sure, whatever,” Joseph says. 

“Get inside,” John orders. Then he softens his voice and says, “Elaine, I’m sure your dinner will be wonderful.” 

“Kay,” Elaine says quietly, following her sons into the house. 

It’s stilted and even more awkward inside. Elaine turns the tv volume way up before she heads back to the kitchen. This leaves Matt and Joseph circling each other, but John’s got his stonewall face on and has had three decades of practice to make it as menacing as possible.  

John knows that Matt is so going to make him pay for this later, but that’s later. 

Lily, when she appears, looks clueless. “Did I miss something?” 

“We’re just really excited to try your famous mashed potatoes,” John says. 

“Oh my,” Lily says, quickly returning to the kitchen. 

It takes way too long for the table to get set, the food readied and the five guests sitting down at their respective places. 

“Um,” Elaine says. “Shall I say grace?” 

This is exactly the moment that a sudden roar of a motorbike engine cuts through everything. 

Joseph jumps to his feet, eyes wide with alarm. “My bike!” 

Then John remembers that in the commotion, they’d left it running. To be more to the point, John left it running with the keys in the ignition. 

Joseph’s running, John’s running (grabbing his jacket from the back of a chair as he does), and everyone else is running behind them. As soon as they get out the door, they find that Joseph’s motorcycle is roaring down the road, a car’s tailing it way too closely, and loud, obnoxious voices are whooping in the air. 

“Wha—” Joseph gasps. 

John gets his keys from the jacket, and he makes short work of getting in his car and starting it up. The tires screech when he backs out on to the road, and then he’s off. 

A car chase isn’t exactly what he had in mind when he decided to join Matt’s Thanksgiving getaway, but no one can say John isn’t flexible. It’s not even like it’s hard to drive here – there’s no traffic to speak of and barely any pedestrians to worry about. John’s got a mental map of the roads in his head, and with a little clever navigation he’s right up to the troublemakers, honking repeatedly.  

Stupidly, the car in front starts swerving in an attempt to block him. There are two individuals inside, so plus the one on the bike, that’s three punks who are missing Thanksgiving dinner. 

John gets the window down and yells: “NYPD! Pull over! Pull over!” 

Damn, he’d hoped that would work.  

John backs up a little and then hits the gas, swerving around the car and up to the bike. He flashes his badge and shouts, “Pull over!” 

The guy on the bike looks surprised but defiant. Then he flips John the bird. 

“Fine,” John mutters. He accelerates again just to get far enough ahead, and then yanks the handbrake. His car swerves, tires screaming in protest and shuddering to a halt.

The bike and car, of course, are still heading right for him. They’ll swerve around (if John’s lucky and the idiots want to live), but this is just to slow them down a little while John jumps right out of the car and runs to a wheelbarrow that’s set at the corner of a nice, trimmed garden.  

John grabs a shovel, kicks off the blade, turns around, and throws. 

The bike goes down with a painful clatter, the rider rolling head over heels across the asphalt. John winces, but it’s more for the bike than its former occupant. 

The other car screeches to a halt, followed by the heavy clicks of doors opening and feet spilling out on to the street.  

“Is that any way to treat your elders?” John says, measuring them up as he walks. “What part of pull over did you not understand?” 

“You okay, man?” the taller one says to his fallen comrade. 

The rider gets to his feet. The angry face he’s making is cut by the way he wobbles when he approaches John. “What the fuck! What the fuck!” 

This is the easy part: there are no moving vehicles and none of the three youngsters are packing. Sure, one of them tries the stupid thing of making a swing for John, but that’s easily avoided and John uses a relatively gentle knee to leave the guy a gasping ball on the ground. The remaining two apparently take that as an invitation to close in on John. 

John doesn’t like to think about how easy this is.  

It isn’t an automatic thing, though muscle memory does play a small part in  this. If anything, John has to hold his normal response back
because these aren’t the type of dangerous fuckheads John crosses paths with regularly on his beat; these are just boys being stupid, and John knows that stupid boys can’t tell the difference between a regular cranky old guy and a cranky old guy that can kick their ass three ways from Sunday.  

Their expressions are always the same when John puts them down: embarrassment and disbelief.  

Yeah, deal

“Come on,” John says. The sole conscious kid is struggling against John’s bicep in a chokehold. “You’re just making it harder on yourself.” 

The kid makes a sound, squealing like a girl who’s not Lucy, and then finally stops struggling. John sighs with relief and gets to his feet, dragging the boy up with him. 

A car pulls up nearby and stops. John looks up and sees Matt, Elaine and Joseph stepping out from the vehicle, where Lily’s in the driver’s seat. Elaine’s yelling at someone on a cellphone, Joseph’s rushing to his bike and Matt’s just standing there, looking at John. 

“I’ve called the police,” Elaine says, closing her cell. “You boys are in so much trouble.” 

One of them tries to make a break for it, but then Matt’s running, grabbing something that looks like an oversized washer from the sidewalk and throwing it hard enough to hit the guy in the shins. He crumples to the ground, and Matt pumps his fist. 

John tightens his fingers in the collar of the kid he’s still holding on to, shaking him a little. 

“I got it,” the kid mutters. “Fucking hell.” 

“Language!” Elaine and Lily say in unison. 

John glances at Joseph, who’s still kneeling next to his bike. “You okay?” 

The look Joseph gives him is familiar. “Matt, your friend’s crazy.” 

“Pfft,” Matt says. “That’s nothing.”

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