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Over the River and Through the Woods

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Terry rocked back on his heels, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his long wool coat. The mid-December air was harsh against his face, but in limited doses it was a welcome reminder of the season, and it served to contrast nicely with the overall warmth he felt, wrapped in wool over most of his body and cashmere at his neck. The scarf was a gift from James, a simple rib, nothing flashy, and Terry had to concede that he had grown in taste since they first had met. It wasn't that James Leer was ever into the showy or ostentatious in terms of being bourgeois, but his own sense of style had been so unique as to be showy just for that reason alone.

The hat that helped to conserve his heat was also a gift from James, though less beloved. Terry hated hats. He contended that he looked good in none of them, to which James responded that maybe he simply needed a haircut. The silver-streaked auburn waves, which looked masculine, even dashing, in their natural state, took on a sort of odd school-girl quality when the ends were sticking out from below a hat. He'd tried stocking caps, newsboys, even, at James' insistence, a sort of roundish bowler, though that one hadn't even left the store. The one he had now was a beret, not worn in the French style but pulled down so that the rim made a gentle barrier around the ends of his hair. It too was wool, and he took a fanciful moment to mentally thank the sheep and goats who had sacrificed their modesty so that he could be warm in Boston in the middle of the winter.

Behind him and to the left the exit ramp for I-95 burst to the surface, and cars careened out on to Providence street or went straight down Commonwealth. The roar of the engines was almost like a white noise at this point, the scent of the exhaust barely even a consideration given that the air was so cold. The snow and slush at the sides of the roadway bore ample evidence that the cars had not all become clean burning, but the air was remarkably crisp. In front of him the bowed-out facade of South Station was constant flurry of motion, people coming and going through the revolving doors, their gilt frames flashing in the low light of the overcast day. The brick front combined with the golden tint of the door frames combined to make it look surprisingly seasonal, even without the wreaths hung over the foot high letters that named the building.

Terry sighed and refused himself the pleasure of consulting his watch. James would emerge from the front door when he got there, and not a moment sooner, no matter what Terry might think about when he should. He could have flown into Logan and taken a cab, of course, or even accepted Terry's offer to drive him to New York, but James had insisted that he wanted to take the train to and from his meeting with his publisher. Terry more than suspected that there was a part of James that was stuck in some kind of alternate reality, a place where flying was not relegated to the same lack of gentility as taking the bus, where trains where hotbeds of possible mystery and romance, despite the fact that the Amtrak had none of the cachet as the old Pullmans. A few years prior one of James' students at Emory had inadvertently introduced him to the concept of steampunk, and Terry had, for a few weeks, despaired of ever pulling James away from that ideal.

Terry found himself shaking his head fondly just as James emerged from the train station, ridiculous gigantic army duffel slung over one shoulder, his omnipresent green knapsack slung over the opposite arm. He smiled and waved when he recognized Terry standing across the street, and waited while the older man jogged across the slushy crosswalk to him.

"Have a good trip?" he asked, leaning forward to kiss James' cheek as he slipped the duffel off his shoulder, tsk-ing at James' protests.

"It was a successful one," James said, a sly smile quirking up the side of his mouth as they started walking. James didn't like to talk about money, thought it was gauche to admit how wildly successful his novels were, but Terry knew that he was proud of making his own way in the world, and more than simply making it, prospering. "Ted at Harcourt said to say hi to you, and when are you coming back to New York."

"Never," Terry said, grinning wildly, "as well you know." They walked towards the waterfront district. When they'd first moved to Boston, or fled, as James had put it, the waterfront was a practical desert, just one T station for the silver line, a few hotels hopefully waiting for improvement, and the Legal Seafood Test Kitchen. There had also been a plethora of empty warehouses, all of them being renovated into apartments and condos that had a lot of light and plenty of space, even if the neighborhood left something to be desired. James had dragged Terry on a practical tour of the gentrification of the south end, a gentrification that was more than obviously being driven, as was so often the case, by the influx of wealthy homosexual couples. Terry had coined the term gay-sex bathroom to describe the large tiled rooms that inevitably held either a steam shower, a garden tub, a jacuzzi (though those were just so passe), multiple shower heads, a waterfall shower, and stone-look seating areas around the entire thing which, more than not, held more than one of the up-scale bathroom elements. James had found the assessment vulgar, but Terry noticed that when the time came to actually choose a place to live James had campaigned for the condo with the most obvious sample of the gay-sex bathroom, with multiple seating areas within a steam enclosure that also featured a waterfall shower, as well as a garden tub tucked into one corner with a frosted glass window bowing out around one edge. Terry also noticed, with glee, that while James might object to such strident labeling of the room, he had never objected to using it for its obvious purpose. As they crossed the bridge over the Charles, Terry tried again to talk to James, who was, as was often the case after a trip of any length, apparently feeling restive and quiet.

"Want a bath when we get home?" he asked, noting that though he was practically yelling no one around them was likely to hear-- the river of humanity around them was notable for almost everyone having a pair of tiny speakers jammed into their ears.

"That'd be nice," James said, but the smile didn't even come close to reaching his eyes, and Terry thought about the last time James had slipped down into a depression, the previous winter, and how helpless he had felt to pull his younger lover out of it. He was a man of the world, knew that really, there was no pulling someone out of a depression, knew, too, that it was a real thing, not to be washed away with a single warm bath or a cup of tea or even an afternoon of really outstanding sex, the three things that had always, other than alcohol and pot, succeeded in raising Terry's spirits.

James slowed, then stopped, lowering his knapsack to the ground and leaning on the railing. The river of people flowed around him like he wasn't even there. Terry watched for only a second, then joined him, setting the small end of the duffel on the top of his foot, to keep it off the wet ground. "What are you thinking about?"

James sighed, a heavy sound, and leaned on the railing, watching the dirty water swirl beneath them. There were chunks of what could be ice, or more likely just slushy conglomerations of dirty snow pushed down from the street.

"We got an invite to Grady's and Sarah's, for Christmas," James said.

"Yeah, I saw that," Terry said, something hard in the duffel beginning to dig into his foot. "Curious, considering they're both fairly agnostic."

James shrugged expansively. "It's almost a totally secular holiday by now anyway."

"I'd buy your not caring act a lot easier if you didn't look like you were about to become a holiday statistic here," Terry groused.

James grinned at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling almost up to the brim of the plain brown stocking hat he wore. Leave it to James Leer to become cheered up by the mere mention of suicide.

"There's this weird state I get into when I'm travelling," James said, and Terry held back his desire to reply yeah, suicidally depressed.

"When the treees are flashing by, when the rails are clicking and the train is swaying, I get lulled into this sort of false sense of peace."

"How do you know it's false?" Terry asked.

"It evaporates almost as fast as it comes," James said, "leaves me feeling empty, and cold."

Feeling cold had been a particular fear of the younger James Leer-- Terry had almost mentally referred to him as the young James Leer, but if he were truthful James was still young, a few years shy of thirty.

"What makes it get better?" Terry asked. James was still young, but he was a devotee of the adage that the unexamined life was not worth living. If we were sharing all this with Terry, it was at least partially because he wanted help with the solution, or at least collaboration with whatever it was that he was sure would lift his spirits, for at least a little while. These events had included but were not limited to James listening to Wagner's Ring Cycle, lying nude on a nest of pillows and comforters in the middle of their living room, and, more typically, spur of the moment flights from whatever domicile they were in , to where ever James thought he might find peace. It went beyond what Terry had often thought of as the inevitable madness of writers. If he was being totally honest with himself it ventured pretty squarely into the territory where James might be happier and more productive if he sought some kind of professional help instead of being constantly aided and abetted by his lover to steer clear of that kind of thing, but then again Terry had never made a habit of being completely honest with himself.

"Plans," James said, "schemes."

"Want to let me in on the latest?" Terry asked.

"I think we should go," he said, "to Grady and Sarah's," he added, as if there could be some kind of confusion over where he meant, though, with James, it might well have been referring to a scheme or plan that he hadn't even yet had the chance to voice. "They're expecting us this evening."

Terry stared at him. "You already decided we were going?"

"I e-mailed him from my blackberry. Don't be mad, if we don't go he'll understand, he wasn't really expecting us to accept anyway."

That last was said so off-handedly, without a hint of malice, and Terry was saddened to realise that James was, simply, right. Once his best friend, Grady had become more and more of an acquaintance, someone from his past, over the last ten years, to the point where Terry could not have comfortably said if it had been within the last year or the one before when he had seen him. It wasn't merely the child, or Grady's new wife, nor his own relationship with James that had been the sticking point, but rather a combination of all of those, and more besides. There had been a flurry of moves, new jobs, other changes. Maybe it was all the changes that other people went through after leaving university, when they grew up, so to speak, and it had just taken him and Grady a lot longer to do what most people did when they were in their 20s.

"We're going," Terry said, hoisting the duffel, caught up, suddenly, in the madness that was always inherent in a spur of the moment trip.

"How are we getting there?"

James answered quickly. "We take the train as far north as Bangor, then we rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Mount Desert Island."

Terry looked at his watch. It was just past noon. "Jesus, James, that's pretty ambitious, don't you think, for us to get there sometime before the middle of the night?"

"Train leaves from North Station in half an hour," James said, "we get to Bangor at about six, and the rest of the drive takes about a couple of hours from there."

Terry looked around wildly. There were people rushing to and fro across the bridge, all of them intent on some trip or errand that would doubtlessly keep them in town, not crossing the frozen tundra up to Maine and driving even further into what Terry privately believed was truly the wilderness.

"What, how are we going to go get my clothes? That's cutting it close, James, getting home and then getting back down to North Station."

"We're not getting your clothes, we've got mine." The light that suffused James' face at that proclamation was so lovely that Terry could barely bear to laugh at him.

"I don't fit in anything of yours," he shouted.

"Then we'll buy new. We don't have time to go home, but you can use my shaving kit and everything, we'll only be gone a couple of days."

Terry thought longingly of the Xanax stuffed into the corner of his sock drawer, then looked down at James, who seemed to be wriggling in place like an excited puppy. It would be worth it, he decided, then realized that Grady would probably have a little something of his own, if it came to that. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a yellow taxi cab slowing to a stop at the intersection, the in-service light on.

"Hey," he yelled, his arm up. He hated hailing taxis, despite his years in both New York and now Boston, hated throwing himself on the mercy of someone how had something that he needed, but in this moment, as the cab driver turned a disdainful eye towards him, he didn't mind. He ran towards the waiting car, ignoring the honking of the cars behind as the light turned green, tossing in the duffel as James climbed in the other side.

"North Station," he said, leaning forward to speak through the small opening in the plastic barrier.

"South Station right there," the driver said, inclining his head back the way they'd come.

"North, NORTH station," Terry yelled, aware that maybe the hack was just trying to be helpful, maybe he was trying to let them know that they could surely catch the green line over to north station and save themselves the fare, but at the moment time was of the essence.

"You've got ID with you?" James asked as he settled back against the grimy seat.

Terry patted his pocket, the wallet right there where it always was. Unlike James it was his habit to bring it on every outing from the house, whether or not he planned on buying anything or having to identify himself.

The radio in the cab was blaring out the Boston Pops version of Angels We Have Heard on High, though Terry would have bet significant amounts of money, based on the cabbie's ID, that he had never himself celebrated Christmas and wasn't likely to begin any time soon. Still, as James had pointed out, secular holiday.

As he had on every trip through Boston since moving there five years ago Terry marvelled at how I-95 was attached to its various tributaries by roads that were practically two lane cow paths, buses going to and from Logan barely making the corners and teeming practically over the sides of the ramps as the cab jockeyed, uselessly, for position.

"Kind of exciting, isn't it?" James asked, practically snuggled into his corner of the cab. The collar of his coat was turned up, protecting him from the grime of the cab's seats, but even so Terry couldn't imagine being that laissez-faire about sitting in a cab.

"You could say that," Terry said, then offered up a smile when James' face seemed to fall. He'd been serious, the spur-of-the-moment trip an anodyne to his depression, and Terry found himself realizing that he'd better not forget it if he, if they, wanted this to work. "I always thought that Boston would be less exciting than New York."

"You know, it is," James said, looking out over the grey landscape towards the odd towers of the science museum. "Less pretentious, anyway."

"Which is why we moved, yes?" Terry stared out of his own window and thought about the move, about how it felt more like fleeing, at the time, considering the short shrift he was being given in just about every circle he moved in, and the tenacity with which other editors were courting James.

"So we say," James said, a hint of amusement coloring his tone, the kind that seemed that it would likely be the private kind of amusement, something that Terry could get to the heart of if he wanted but wouldn't usually bother.

The Amtrak counter was hidden in the depths of North Station, not terribly close to where the trains actually departed, and it was a mad dash to pay for tickets, prove that they really were James Leer and Terry Crabtree, and then get into the train itself. They had barely sat down in the nearly deserted car when the train lurched and they both huffed out a sudden laugh at their good fortune.

"Thought you'd be home by now, didn't you?" James asked, unbuttoning the collar of his coat.

"Naturally," Terry said mildly. They still had the huge duffel at their feet, fitting there nicely as they were in the business class section of the train, but it rather made the extra leg room pointless. He rested his feet on top of it as he watched James slip into sleep, the shoulders of his pea coat still standing up as his body slipped down. Terry took off his own coat and spread it out over the both of them like a blanket, resting his left hand on the warm curve of James' thigh.

His right hand fished his Blackberry out of his coat pocket, and he looked at the tiny display, trying to decide if there was anyone he was going to have to disappoint over the next few days. It was Friday afternoon, now, but James hadn't given any indication of when they might be returning home. He took his other hand back and scrolled through Monday's appointments, decided to simply send a mass e-mail that he would be out of town and he would meet with them at a later date. Let them fume and curse at him, the three appointments he did have on Monday were all first-time novelists who were, he grimly reflected, lucky to have him. His life in New York had been, pre-Wonder Boys Fiasco, a constant jam-pack of meetings and revisions, more work than he could handle. Then Grady had taken so long to deliver what turned out to be an un-publishable, nearly unreadable white while of a book, and things had crashed and burned pretty spectacularly, with only James' Love Parade to keep him afloat that whole year. Then there had been the slow rebuild of his business and his reputation, capped off by the disastrous film adaptation of James' first novel, an adaptation so lose that it was not allowed to be called The Love Parade. Instead, Walter Gaskell's malaprop found immortality as the film was known as The Lovely Parade. James had been inconsolate, despite the fact that he knew that true fans of the book, real readers, would know better than to think that he had been in any way connected to the film itself. He had sold the movie rights with the fairly traditional caveats that he have no input in the production, and Terry had to admit that James might not have been tempted to do so if they weren't in a tight spot.

James had spent the last few years being the unequivocal bread winner for the Crabtree-Leer household. Terry still had a job as an editor, was still in demand, but if anyone had asked, anyone who was a friend of his and not James', he might have told them that his real job was taking care of James Leer, shepherding him through his mood swings and dark places. That was what this train ride was about, after all, this entire mad adventure, and now that the initial thrill and release of the thing was over James appeared to be sleeping like a baby. Terry wondered how much, if at all, James had slept while he was in New York, and resolved to keep his eyes and ears open for any clue as to what, if anything, had sent James into this downward spiral while he was gone.

Terry settled in to his seat, feeling drowsy in the heat and gentle rocking of the train car as well. He knew very well that sometimes it was nothing, really, that James might take a trip into the dark spaces for no reason at all, but it seemed that this time there must have been a catalyst. Plenty of time to figure it out, though, and a long car ride in the dark where they wouldn't have to look at each other to speak. With that comforting thought he slipped into a drowse, their tickets tucked prominently under the headrest of the seat in front of them.

He woke slowly, the light inside the car the dim combination of twilight coming in through the windows and the light from the reading lights several seats in front of them. The tickets were tucked back into the headrest, punched, so he had slept through that, and he rolled his neck back and forth working out the kinks that came from sleeping sitting up with his head bent to one side.

He looked sideways at James, who was awake, too, and smiling at him.

"Good nap?" he asked.

Terry nodded.

"We just left Portland," James said, "you slept right through it."

"So it's another couple of hours?" Terry asked, trying to stretch his legs. The duffel was in the way, and his foot skidded across the top of it, his leg bumping into James'.

"About that, yeah." James hand moved under the spread coat that covered their laps and settled familiarly over Terry's crotch, his fingers pressing in until he found what he was looking for, Terry's cock, curled soft as a sleeping kitten over the side of his thigh, resting on his balls. It stirred slightly, as if waiting to see what James was going to do, what Terry had to say about things. Long gone were the days when a simple touch would get him hard, but it still felt damn nice, those long fingers resting there, just the right amount of pressure, practically thrumming with curiosity as to what to do next.

"Think we can?" James asked, reaching into his far pocket and pulling out a travel sized package of tissues. He slipped the hand with the tissues under the coat too, and Terry felt the change in the temperature then, the warm still air beneath the coat swirling with the cooler air from the cabin.

"I don't know," Terry began, all kinds of protests on his lips, they were too old for this nonsense, what if someone caught them, it might just make a mess, despite the tissues, but then James pushed his fingers against the zipper, gliding up the fly to the top button of Terry's trousers, and all his protests were lost as his cock filled, not slowly, no, but at a pace that might be called luxurious.

"Feels like you do know," James said, the warmth and happiness in his voice so apparent that Terry leaned towards him just out of relief.

James planted a single kiss on his lips, chaste, warm chapped lips against his, then looked away as his hand slipped into Terry's boxers, pushing the elastic out and down.

"Eyes front," he said, "no staring."

"Yeah," Terry husked out. James' hand had finally wrapped around his cock and it lengthened and filled as James' fingers pressed in. Then he slid his curled hand once up and down the length and Terry hissed, and smirked-- James had covered his hand in something slick before he'd even begun teasing, and it was warm, too, brought up to the temperature of their bodies under the coat.

"What?" Terry began, falling silent as James worked his fingers over the head, skimming his fingernails under the ridge there, just the right amount of sharp and hard.

"The curel you packed, for my hands," James said, sounding amused. He fell into an easy rhythm, the movement of his hand somewhat restricted by the close space, not wanting to move the coat with his hand. Terry pretended to doze, trying to modulate his breath every time that James changed things up, a tighter squeeze, his thumbnail tracing that ridge again, finger tips reaching down and back to skim just lightly over the furred surface of his balls.

A few seats ahead of them a man stood and began walking back towards the lavatory, holding onto the seat backs as he moved with the swaying of the car, and James stilled his hand then, just holding his thumb and forefinger in a tight vise around the base of Terry's cock, and the heat that built in his shaft from that simple touch nearly burned him, made him bite the inside of his lower lip to keep from whimpering. When the other traveller had passed James actually tightened his hand and worked that tight ring up to the tip of Terry's cock, stripping out a generous bead of precum that he worked back into the tight hot skin as he increased the speed of his hand.

"Think I can make you come before he comes back?" James asked, breath hot in his ear.

"Dunno," Terry gasped, fingers tightening on the arm rest.

"Yeah, you can," James whispered. "I can feel it, you're so hot and tense for it." His hand didn't falter as Terry shifted in the seat, slouching so the pressure on his lower back was lessened. The muscles there were tightening up, and as he moved to lie against the bottom of the seat the tightness went from being almost painful to pure, anticipatory pleasure, driving him closer. He felt James fumbling under the coat with the tissues, ready to catch his come, and the sight of the coat tossing about over James' moving hands, so obvious what they were doing, made his breath catch in his throat.

"Come on," James crooned to him, "clench your ass, pretend I've got my finger in there."

That did it, the sound of James' voice saying ass, the sense memory of one of those thin fingers pressing at his hole, the obedient clench of his anus around that phantom heat that had begun in his back and then flowed down to his balls and seemed to shoot out of his dick.

He was vaguely aware of James cupping the tip of his cock in a wad of tissues, even more distantly aware of the gasping, nearly grunting sound of his own breath. After he'd spent into the tissue, after it was too late, he realized, he tried to change that sound into a cough.

"It's ok," James said, "no one is close enough to hear you over the sound of the train."

Just after he'd murmured that reassurance there was a click from far behind them, the shutting of the pocket door on the lavatory, and their fellow traveller was walking back down the aisle, hanging on to seat backs once more. He murmured an apology as he grabbed on to Terry's headrest, didn't even look down to acknowledge the nod that Terry gave in response. Once the man was back in his own seat he risked a glance at James.

James, unsurprisingly, was nearly collapsed in giggles, either from the serendipity of their not being caught, the oblivion of the other passengers, or some other internal amusement Terry would never know. He simply leaned his head towards James and caught his mouth in a searing kiss, wrapping a hand around the back of his neck to hold him in place. Under the blanket both of James' hands were still awkwardly congregated at his cock, and as they kissed James tried to untangle their hands, slipping out the wad of tissues first, then gently tucking Terry back inside his boxers.

Terry released him, then pushed his own hands under the coat to do up his trousers.

"I'm going to hit the head," he said, "give me the tissues."

James stuffed the dry ball of tissues in his hand.

"Did you use the whole package?" Terry asked, laughing. "I'm not twenty anymore, James."

James just laughed and pressed a kiss to his cheek as he stood, shaky and off balance, trying to fit his feet in the small space left by the duffel.

In the tiny washroom he threw the wad of tissues away and washed his hands in water that felt like it had been ice just seconds ago. He looked at his face in the metal mirror over the sink, wondering if the gray cast to his skin was real or a product of the metal itself and the fluorescent lights. He jumped when his phone buzzed in his pocket, signaling a text message.

He took it out with fingers that felt clumsy and thick.

James said you 2 are coming up this evening. It was from Sarah.

We're on the train right now, about 90 mins outside of Bangor.

He stared at the lighted screen, wondering if there would be a response, what the delay was given that they were practically in the middle of nowhere, speeding on a track through the trees, encased in a metal can.

Be good to see you both. Call if you get lost. The phone buzzed again and he glanced down to see their address.

Will do he wrote, and slipped the phone back in his pocket.

When he got back to the seat James had slid the duffel over into the foot space of the empty seats across the aisle from them. He sat down and stretched out, grateful for the extra room.

"How did the meeting go?" he ventured when he sat down.

"They advanced me a hundred thousand for this book," James said, a tinge of pride in his voice.

"That's great," Terry said, "I don't think Q could have done better."

"There was a bit of a disagreement about one thing, though," James said, "the movie rights."

"Ah," Terry said, sending that they were edging towards the crux of the matter. "And?"

"I'll tell you about it later."

James settled down into the seat and took Terry's hand. Terry squeezed back. It wasn't that James was being coy or difficult when he said I'll tell you later. It was that for whatever reason he really felt too tired or that it was too difficult to speak about a certain thing at a certain time. like yelling one-two-three before jumping into a cold pool. Get interrupted in the count and it doesn't feel right to jump in at that moment. Whereas most other people could force a conversation out of the way, James Leer did not seem to possess the necessary social skill to make that happen, and after almost 10 years, Terry was accustomed to that. They rode in companionable silence the rest of the way to Bangor. Terry's phone stayed silent.

It was dark in Bangor, though it was only just after six. The train depot was off a main road, lower than the surface of the road, and the headlights of the passing cars had an otherworldly look as they flashed over the plastic siding of the enclosed walkway from the train platform to the dim interior of the station. There was one rental car counter open, and no one approaching it save for them, and one vehicle left that wasn't a pickup. As they walked to the parking lot James looked as though he wanted to play pass-the-parcel with the keys.

"I've just never driven anything so big before," James said as he hesitated outside the door of the Suburban. "Hand them over," Terry said, coming around the side of the truck and taking them from James.

"You know how to drive this thing?" he asked, sliding up on to the bench seat while Terry tried to figure out where the wipers and the lights were.

"Sure," he said, smiling over at James, "how difficult could it be?"

It was ungainly at best, but they weren't even to the highway before he realized that he did have the hang of it, the disorienting feeling of being up high mitigated by just how much he could see. The lighted strip of Bangor's main street was accented by the white Christmas lights wrapped around each and every light pole, the golden arches of the ubiquitous McDonalds shining out the middle of the street like a gaudy star.

"You hungry?" he asked James, almost ashamed, yet fascinated, that his stomach would respond to that symbol after all these years of healthy (or at least weight-conscious) eating.

James refused to order fries for himself, but didn't stint to steal from Terry's, a factor he had planned for when he'd ordered the largest size. They sat crammed in a booth in the back of the restaurant, too apprehensive about finding their way in the dark to eat on the road.

"How's your grilled chicken," Terry asked around a mouthful of meat and special sauce.

"Fine, thanks," James said, his lashes brushing against his cheeks as he quickly looked down, then up again, a motion that Terry had long ago learned meant he was amused but trying not to show it. "How's your pound of cow?"

"Terrific," Terry enthused, not stinting to show James another mouthful. "Never had better."

"Really?" James stole another fry, the longest one, Terry noted.

"Literally, I have never had a better fast food hamburger in Maine."

"Ever the consummate editor," James noted, finishing his sandwich. "I think that'll at least keep you from passing out from starvation on the way."

"Don't even think about sleeping," Terry said, gathering up their trash, "I plan on having toxic gas that will keep you awake for miles."

"Terrific."

Once on the road again they were only on the highway for a matter of a few miles. The gigantic, flood-lit sign depicting a white state of Maine on a field of green loomed overhead, arrows clearly noting that if they wanted to go to Bar Harbor they had to bear right, away from the main roads.

"I remember that," James said, looking up at the sign, "from the last time we came here."

"Well, I should hope so," Terry said, easing in to the exit ramp. The car that had been approaching had actually slowed down to let him in, and he once again found the politesse of drivers outside of the large cities to actually be disquieting. "It's not like you're going senile on me or something."

'Well, it was a long time ago," James said, "I might have forgotten a sign."

"You might have," Terry said, turning on the high-beams now that they were on a secondary coastal road, with no cars approaching them.

"There's another sign I remember," James said, "I wonder if it's still there." He leaned his head against the window, and Terry glanced over, noting how pale James looked in the reflection of the tempered glass. It was only an illusion, the dark outside and the green tinge of the light inside combining to make James' reflection look superbly insubstantial, but he was eerily reminded of the young fragile man he had taken to bed in Grady's house so many years ago. It mightn't have ended well, he thought, for the thousandth time, and he didn't know why, so far, it had. He wasn't the type of person that good things happened to, much less such undeserved goodness, but Terry had learned not to question those things too closely.

Terry abruptly remembered the sign that James was probably remembering, and snapped out of his reverie.

"I bet it is," he said, "I'll keep a lookout too."

When they got to a bend in the road that seemed familiar he nudged Jame's arm gently, waking him from his doze, and pointed out the passenger window. "Keep an eye out, I think it's coming up."

Sure enough as they made the corner there was a house fairly close to the road, a tall rock wall surrounding the front yard and every few feet a small American flag placed in the earth between the wall and the road. A series of white-washed plywood signs were leaned against the wall, illuminated from lights set in the yard, the writing on them at least a foot tall, yet so densely packed as to be impossible to read while driving past at even a slow speed.

"Did you catch it?" Terry asked, keeping his eyes on the road. There were cars behind them, otherwise he simply would have stopped to read.

"Something about the demo-rats ruining America," James said, "other than that, I didn't catch it."

They had first noticed the sign on their trip to Kayla's first birthday party, in October of 2001. The signs then had been full of vindictive regarding how soft the American government was being on terrorists, and the flags had been fresh and new then. They had clearly been changed many times since then.

"Do you think the signs started in 2001, or were they already there?" James asked. Terry shrugged. "When we first saw it I assumed it had just been put up, but since it's still going strong..."

"Seems like maybe they've had the installation there for a long time," James concluded.

"I doubt they'd refer to it as an installaaaahshun," Terry intoned, putting on a pretentious tone for that one word.

"Probably a public service." James leaned back in his seat and folded his legs up in the small space so he was curled up, a knee extending towards the gear shift but in no danger of actually hitting it. The way he was able to command his joints belied his true age, made Terry think again of the young man he'd taken to bed in Grady's house, the same young man who had cornered him in his room in the Chelesea Hotel and pressed a sharp knee to Terry's groin, telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he wouldn't be just another trick.

After the miles of dark road, uninterrupted even by streetlights, the garish neon of Ellsworth was startling. Then it was another half an hour on dark roads, only for this part of the drive it was often river or ocean on either side of the road instead of forest.

James glanced down at his watch. "It's almost eight. Kayla will be in bed by the time we get there."

"You think? She's eight."

"That reminds me. We never did send her a birthday present."

Terry shrugged. "Check the glove compartment for gum, I guess," he said, then glanced over to see James glaring at him. "What? We're not her real family. She hasn't even seen us since she was a baby."

"It's more for Sarah, I guess," James muttered, suddenly seeming to slip back down into the hurt he had started the day in. Despite being closer to childhood than Terry it wasn't the child he was thinking of, but the family as a whole, and Terry felt chagrined for not seeing it himself, sooner.

"Tomorrow's only Christmas Eve. We'll go find her something." James nodded. "Should probably get something for Grady and Sarah too."

James met his eyes in the mirror. "I'm sure they didn't get you anything," he said, the slight edge to his words reminding Terry that he wasn't exactly driving towards a well known situation here. He grinned. "Besides, what do you get for the couple who has read everything?"

"Booze," Terry said, authoritatively. "Or prescription medication."

"I'll leave that up to you. I already got something for the kid."

The roads approaching Mount Desert Island narrowed down to one route, then split again into branches that would all meet on the other side anyway.

"Which way?" Terry asked, idling at the stoplight while it turned from red to green to yellow and back to red again, James consulting the map with a furrowed brow.

"Left is a little shorter, but it goes through town."

"Left it is, then," Terry said, absentmindedly making a left turn on red, wincing as he realized what he was doing but too committed to the turn to stop then. They were half a mile away before he stopped checking the rear view for flashing lights.

As he got closer to their home the way seemed more familiar, despite the dark after they had passed through the town. Brightly lit storefronts and garlands passing over the street from one lamp post to the other quickly gave way to the unlit roads winding along the edge of the national park, some kind of paean to limiting light pollution, but the high beams on the Suburban finally felt like enough. Terry had finally gotten the feel for driving it when he saw the small sign that marked the edge of Sarah and Grady's long driveway, and skidded just a bit on the slick surface of the road.

James sat up straight but was silent until they were bumping over the rutted, uneven surface.

"In New York," he began, "they were already talking about optioning the book for a picture."

How like James, Terry thought, to call it a 'picture.'

"That's normal," Terry said, albeit a bit absently as he steered over the flat wooden bridge that crossed a small stream.

"I took the deal."

Terry let the words hang in the air between them while he pulled up to the front door of the house. It wasn't a proper parking job, but he figured that as a guest he was allowed.

"Oh?" He turned towards James, while James stared at the dash and quoted him an obscene amount of money.

"Wow."

"Yeah."

The one word had a thousand tons of weight behind it. Terry tried to catch James' eye in the reflection on the glass, and failed.

"This is what's got you so tied up in knots?"

"I thought, after the fits I had about Love Parade, you'd be pissed that I gave in."

"Doesn't sound like you gave in," Terry said, admiring, "it's a damned good deal."

"I mean, even if they fuck it up, I won't be like last time, I promise."

Terry held his tongue to keep from mentioning that James' quiet melancholy has been a lot like the beginnings of the doldrums of "that time," and the time after it, and the time after that, for that matter.

"I mean," James continued, "I know I get in these moods, and I can't always help it, but if it's just about the movie, this time, I swear, I won't take a fit over it."

"I believe you," Terry said, pressing a hand to James' shoulder, relieved to feel James lean into it. "Was it just about the money this time, then?"

James put his hand over Terry's, looked up at him. "I just want to make sure I'm taking care of you, care of us, as much as you do me."

Terry huffed out a quick laugh before he could stop himself. "James, I could have quit my job a long time ago, you know that."

"I don't mean that. I mean," he stopped and pulled Terry's hand off his shoulder, brought it to his mouth instead and pressed a dry but hot kiss to his palm. "I know what you do for me. I know how far you go out of your way." He kept holding Terry's hand cradled in his own, as if he was thinking of kissing him again. "I know what you did for me today."

"Well, you're buying me new clothes, moneybags," Terry said, but he tightened his fingers around James' hand, a tacit agreement.

"And you needed to come up here," James said, looking up to where a path of light had suddenly spilled across the snowy dooryard from the open front door. Beyond the door there was only the impression of the house as was seen around Sarah-- she was standing there, a mug dangling from her hand as she looked curiously out towards the truck. "It was time."

Terry nodded, opened the door a little to let the overhead light on, and waved to Sarah.

She waved back and stepped inside for a moment, then returned, zipping up a parka. The cold kept them from talking much, hurried greetings as they walked up to the house, nothing for Sarah to carry since they had, as James understated, travelled light. Once inside Sarah hurried off towards the kitchen to remove a whistling kettle from the stove, and floorboards creaked above, footsteps coming towards the stairs.

"It's a nice place," James noted mildly as he toed off his shoes, left them sitting smartly just at the edge of the mat, beside Sarah's duck-toed boots.

"The kind of place you want to wake up in on Christmas morning," Terry mused, turning to James to find him looking back with a pleased but surprised expression. "What, am I wrong?"

"No, you're right," James said, "just, I think Grady will be pleased to hear you think so." He took Terry's hand, turning the both of them slightly and walking towards the sound of Grady's footsteps, keeping pace as if they were setting off together on another adventure.