Dare stepped into the bathroom with the sack of gifts to hide from JC and Brandon. He was getting quite a stash back there. That's where he hid the boys' presents. Ryan's were hidden over at his neighbor Jackie's house. He thought of the book he'd had made for Ryan. He had no doubt that Ryan would love it, but he'd sure felt awkward doing it.
While getting coffee from the lounge at his office, where he was a counselor for children, he'd overheard a conversation that got him thinking. His secretary, Jana, knew of a photographer who specialized in doing books for couples: romantic scenes, sexy scenes, portraits, etc. for people in love. The word was, anything goes. This photographer wasn't shy about shooting whatever people wanted to do. At first, Dare had thought there was no way he'd do anything like that. He kept thinking about Ryan and how much Ryan seemed to like his body, especially his stomach. Go figure.
Finally, he'd contacted the photographer and they did a session, as a secret gift for Ryan. The book had photo after photo of Dare's stomach. He had to admit that, despite his qualms, it was a very artistic book. There were pictures of Dare in a dress shirt, tails out, unbuttoned. The lady had done several poses in each shirt in different kinds of lighting. She'd torn a T-shirt's sleeves out and cut the bottom half off to make a cropped top. She'd sprayed him with sex sweat, she called it, making it look like he'd been running or working out, or ... whatever.
There were plenty without a shirt at all, just side shots of his abs, or different poses. She was a magician with light and shadow. A couple of times, she'd gotten him to think of Ryan and she swore those were the ones that Ryan would love. Something in the eyes, she said. Could be. He'd even had one taken shirtless, holding a jar of gourmet chocolate sauce, lid off, finger dripping over it.
Delightedly, she'd taken two as he blushed warmly. In both dress pants and jeans, she'd had him unsnap and unzip, and took shots with him going commando. He knew Ryan would be smoothing his hand over the one in opened jeans with the shiny stuff on his stomach and a few beads of it running down into the V of his pants, which were nearly open to the point of indecency. Yeah, his gift for Ryan was going to be a hit.
Despite the fact that he felt silly the whole time, he couldn't wait for Ryan to look at it. She even left several pages blank in the back and told Dare to bring Ryan in and she'd do some couple shots for them. He liked her a lot and had asked if she would do a shoot with himself, Ryan and JC at the park in the spring. She'd readily agreed.
Humming as he put two more gifts into his super secret storage place, Dare jumped when he heard the front door slam downstairs. Ryan home with JC ... already? He hurriedly put towels in front of the top shelf in their bathroom closet and hurried to meet his men.
There they were, taking off heavy coats and ... arguing? What was wrong with that picture? Dare hurried down the stairs.
"Hey, guys, what's up? You're home early ... and not happy. Ryan?" He left the question open, looking back and forth from Ryan to JC.
JC didn't let Ryan answer before barreling into Dare's arms and hugging his neck hard when Dare automatically caught him up.
"Dad doesn't believe me, but I saw him, Dare. I did. I'm not lyin'." JC's face was stuck tight into Dare's neck and he was shaking in righteous indignation.
"JC, I'm just telling you that you must have seen someone who looked like Mitch. There's no way you saw him; he's in jail. He has a lot more time to be in there before he gets out. I'm not saying you're lying. I know you don't ever lie. I just think you must have made a mistake, honey." JC jerked away from the hand Ryan tried to put on his shoulder. Ryan's face showed his hurt and bewilderment.
"Not a mistake. It was the mean man. He was watchin' me at the fence when we was outside playing. I told the teacher like I oughta. She believed me." JC was clearly hurt that his dad didn't think he was sure about what he saw.
Dare looked at Ryan over JC's back and saw the frustration there. Hearing Mitch's name sent a shiver through Dare. He thought that story was long since over. Maybe JC was more traumatized than they'd thought at the time.
Months ago, both JC and his best friend, Brandon, had seemed to handle the violent dealings with Brandon's mother's ex with ease. It was probably too good to be true that the boys would be able to forget Mitch scaring all of them to death. It may have ended well, for everyone except Jackie's ex, but they were probably being too optimistic in thinking there wouldn't be any more repercussions.
Knowing this needed to be dealt with right now, Dare said, "Let's go to the big couch, all of us, and talk this out. No anger, JC. Ryan believes you saw something that scared you. Will you tell us all about it? But first, you have to do the telling after you give your daddy a hug. Okay, little man?"
It was a testament to Dare and Ryan's parenting that JC gave it a moment's thought before turning and reaching for Ryan. The love on Ryan's face when he took JC into his arms was clear and heartwarming. Ryan squeezed JC till he squeaked.
"Da-ad, yer breakin' me."
"Sorry, baby. I just can't stand it when we're not getting along. Now, let's sit down like Dare says, and you tell us both exactly what you saw."