Ethan leaned back in his chair and studied him. Jamie's body was long and lean, muscled without being bulky. At present, Jamie looked several years older than his twenty-one years. The Killian black hair that had a tendency to curl when it got long was hanging in his eyes, which looked tired. There were also bags under those pretty peepers, which were a paler version of his brother's, a crystal-clear blue so light they appeared almost colorless at certain angles. His dark eyebrows and high cheekbones emphasized his good looks, and he had a strong chin, complete with a shallow cleft. A bit of stubble that hadn't been there this afternoon covered his cheeks, and though he was tan from being out in the sun, his complexion was otherwise fair. John's younger brother had grown up into a damned fine-looking man, and the fact that he was exhausted didn't diminish those looks any.
Ethan's gut clenched at his thoughts. Why had he never seen the kid as a man before? Never mind. This wasn't the time.
"Jamie, I won't lie to you. I don't think your being gay should be anybody's business but your own. Still, you know how damned ornery your daddy is. You should have known what he'd do if he found out."
Jamie started to argue, but Ethan held up his hand. "Let me finish. I think you should have stayed in the closet, figuratively speaking, but you damn sure don't deserve how you've been treated. Not just by your daddy, but by Carl and Jeff, too. Hell, it even pisses me off that John didn't stand up for you to your daddy right away." Ethan suddenly grinned and took another sip of his coffee. "But he'd probably be living here and working with us, too, if he did."
Jamie smiled, but it didn't reach those blue eyes. "Yeah. Hell, I was just surprised that John didn't take issue with me. I kind of expected Julia to be supportive, but I really thought John would be as mad as Daddy. I guess he probably feels like you ... that I should have kept it to myself."
Ethan nodded. "John's no bigot. Never has been."
Jamie seemed to mull that over a bit. He was quiet for several moments, then he whispered, "I couldn't ... I couldn't do it. Couldn't continue to pretend." Those baby blues looked like they were pleading with him to understand.
Ethan sighed. "I get that but, hell, you knew people here would never accept it, right? We live in the freakin' Bible belt, complete with bigots, racists and chauvinists. If you aren't a straight, white, Baptist male, you do your best to pretend you are and blend in."
Jamie stood up abruptly. "Putting your head in the sand don't make it right! How are people's attitudes ever going to change if they aren't forced to deal with it? I just don't get your and John's attitudes!" Fred ran from the laundry room to him, stared at him, then at Ethan, then back at Jamie, clearly trying to decide if there was a threat or not.
Jamie shook his head, but he sat down anyway. "You just don't get it! It's easy for you to criticize me. You won't ever have to worry about hiding who you love. Hell, you can even get married! I can't! At least not legally and not here."
Ethan dropped his head into his hands. Shit! He did not want to get into this. Some other time and another place would be more appropriate. He knew where the kid was coming from. He did. He just didn't agree. Didn't make the kid's opinions wrong necessarily, just ... not his. He looked up at Jamie.
"I see what you are saying, I do. Believe it or not, I even understand. But you ever heard of the path of least resistance? The question you need to think about is, do you really understand what you've done? We live in a little hick town. You will now be fighting this prejudice until the day you die ... or until you move away. Some people will accept you immediately, some will accept you in time, but the majority of people hereabouts never will. The attitudes aren't going to change overnight or even in the next few years. In fact, I doubt we'll live to see the day when gay men can walk hand in hand down Main Street without taking a whole heap of shit for it."
"They have to be made to accept it. You don't get it! You and John will never have to hide what you feel for your wives in public."
Had he ever been this young and idealistic? Damned if the kid didn't bring out his protective instincts. He wanted badly to keep him safe and shield him from the hatred he was going to face. And that, almost more than anything else about this whole situation, bothered the hell out of him. He'd never been stirred quite this way before.
Ethan finally held out his hand to Fred, who was still glancing back and forth between them uncertainly. "'S okay, girl. We aren't going to start slapping each other around. Go lie down." She did--after she went back to Jamie--settling down beside her master's chair. That was one smart dog.
He faced Jamie. "Drink your coffee, kid. We'll agree to disagree. I may not see eye to eye with your methods, but I'll stand behind you. You have my word on it. I'll be damned if I let you get your ass kicked or get run out of town. You have a place here and a job as long as you want it."
"Thanks, Ethan ... for everything."
They sat there drinking their coffee in silence. Ethan wanted to pull Jamie into his lap and comfort him, then felt like kicking himself for the impulse. But the image of Jamie in his lap wouldn't go away. His cock evidently liked the idea, too; he groaned and shifted a little in his seat. That was one of the worst ideas he, and his cock, had ever had. Not only was Jamie a good eleven years younger than him, not to mention his best friend's kid brother, but he had also outed himself.
He looked up into a set of curious blue eyes. "Huh?"
"You groaned. Did you pull something fighting? You probably aren't used to that kind of thing anymore at your age."
Great! He was getting a boner over the kid--who thought he was too old to be fighting. He sighed. "Nah, I'm good. Listen, I'm going to bed. You and Fred make yourselves at home. Mi casa es su casa and all that." He stood up and saw Jamie's gaze slide down his naked chest to his groin and widen. The kid got a dreamy look on his face and his tongue darted out to wet his lips. He blinked up at Ethan, then quickly looked away, blushing, then glanced back.
His interest did nothing to cool Ethan off. His cock jerked and his balls pulled up at the avid attention. He knew he was hard, but was it really that damned noticeable? His jeans weren't all that tight. Ethan looked down and, yes, it was that noticeable. He didn't know whether to blush along with Jamie or laugh. Instead, he got a sudden urge to pay the kid back for his comment about his age.
He grinned down at Jamie and said, "Don't start that! My willpower is pretty good, kid, but it ain't that good. That's all I need, for you to out me, too."
Jamie's eyes opened so wide, Ethan was afraid they were going to pop right out of their sockets. Then Jamie dropped his coffee cup on the table. He hastily jumped up to avoid spilling the hot beverage on himself, sending the chair clattering to the floor.
His gaze shot back to Ethan. The blush was gone, now he was pale as a ghost. He stared at Ethan as if he'd sprouted two heads.
Ethan barely held in a satisfied grin. He went and put his cup in the sink. As he walked out the kitchen door, he called over his shoulder, "Night, kid. Clean that up before you go to bed."