Carter ran up the stairs to the garage apartment. It had been a week since he and Mack had begun sharing the living space, and the two men had barely looked at each other since that Sunday afternoon when Mack had kissed his scars as they discussed how Carter had come to have them. Later that night when they’d retired to their separate rooms, it had been friendly goodnights—and then every night that whole week there had been no additional conversation. None. Nada.
On the work front, Carter was slowly getting to know Denny and Donnie Nash, and he enjoyed spending time with the boys, though he thought they had some peculiar habits. They only answered Carter when he asked them direct questions, but he believed they were shy, so he didn’t tease them. They were both blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys, and they looked so sad sometimes it nearly broke Carter’s heart. He was drawn to them in a way he’d never been drawn to many kids in the past… except for Paul who was his little buddy.
The Nash boys were good boys, even if they were quiet and reserved. Actually, as he thought about it, they both seemed to be afraid of their own shadows. Carter remembered hearing the older boy whisper to the younger one to behave when he got excited about finding a frog in one of the gardens, telling him, “Father Kozlow will call Grandma, and we’ll both get in trouble for acting up.” The younger boy nodded and gently moved the frog out of the way of where they were weeding, and he appeared to be on eggshells the rest of that day.
That incident had bothered Carter, but Mack hadn’t been talking to him at work or home. Carter damn well wasn’t about to ask that mean priest about anything.
Tuesday afternoon, little Donnie couldn’t sit down when he took a break from the sun. When Carter asked why, Denny, the older brother, explained Donnie had received a switching the night before because he’d had to use the bathroom twice on Monday while they were working on weeding the gardents around the church.
It had been hot as hell that Monday, and Carter had insisted the boys drink plenty of water that afternoon because he didn’t want either of them to suffer from dehydration and become ill. From what Denny told him, Donnie drank the water, but Denny poured most of his out, so he only had to use the bathroom once.
Denny then went on to explain how the boys were only allowed to piss once in the afternoon. Carter laughed because it had to be a joke—a very sick joke—but surely, the boy was exaggerating a bit. It was too fucking ludicrous to be the truth. Nobody was mean enough to do something like that to a little boy.
When Denny looked up at him with tears in his eyes, Carter stopped laughing. It made no fucking sense to him why anybody would care how many times a little boy pissed during the day. The implications of what the boy had shared had made Carter quite angry.
That evening when Carter told Mack what he’d learned that day, the priest shook his head and skipped dinner, going to his room and closing the door behind him. Carter noticed the light had stayed on all night, but Mack still had nothing to say to him the next day.
They hadn’t spoken again for the rest of the week, which had pissed off Carter more than anything. Carter could take yelling because he’d been exposed to plenty of it in team sports during high school, MMA training after he’d graduated, and then during his time in prison. Silence, however, unnerved him completely and kept him on edge, waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Carter’s parents had iced him out completely the day they’d been in the courtroom to see him plead guilty to putting Louie Parsons in the hospital and get sentenced to prison. Carter had fought the man on more than one occasion in the MMA ring, but when he’d caught that headcase beating the hell out of Bastian Davis? No, he wouldn’t let it happen, and he wasn’t about to allow those little boys to be treated harshly either.
Wednesday night, Opie and Mack had a meeting at the church, so Carter had dinner with Tasha and Paul. Carter wanted a heart-to-heart talk with Natasha Lyn Davis Riggs. She taught kindergarten and loved children. He had a point to make, and with his brother out of the house, it was time to make it.
“Tash, can I ask you a crazy question?” he’d asked his sister-in-law while he’d been tearing lettuce the way she’d shown him. He’d been helping with dinner by making a salad while the enchiladas had been baking in the oven.
The trio had planned to eat outside by the pool so Carter and Paul would be able to play in the water for a little while to allow Tasha study time in preparation of an upcoming final examination for an online class she was taking. She’d explained to Carter it was a requirement to maintain her teaching certification, so he’d quickly volunteered to entertain Paul to give her more time to study. Carter had been more than happy to help his family out.
“Rigger, your question can’t be any crazier than what I’ve heard from this guy all day. ‘Why do ducks swim instead of fly. Can’t they get away faster if they fly?’ ‘Where do the flowers go when it snows?’ ‘Can I order a baby brother from Amazon?’ I swear, I don’t know where he comes up with these things,” Tasha had joked, laughing with Carter as she’d related some of the conversations she’d had with her son that day.
“Wow, can you really order a baby from Amazon?” Carter had teased as she’d handed him a large tomato to be sliced for the salad.
“No, we’re not ordering babies from anywhere until Paul starts school himself. Anyway, what’s your question?” Tash had reminded.
Carter had put down the knife because he’d been so angry he was worried he might stab the nice countertop without realizing it. “How many times a day should a boy of thirteen pee?”
When Tasha had stared at him as if he’d lost his mind, his heart had sunk into his stomach. “Rigger, I think a boy pees as many times a day as he needs to pee, why? That’s the most random thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” she’d responded with a giggle in her voice. What he had told her next had certainly changed that tone.
“Denny and Donnie Nash are only allowed to pee three times a day. Once when they get up in the morning. Once in the afternoon, and once before they go to bed. To accomplish that impossible mission, Denny drinks two glasses of water a day, but little Donnie needs more. I believe he has a medical condition his grandparents aren’t looking into, and if he goes more than once in the afternoon, that crabby fuckin’ priest calls his grandmother, and she beats that boy when he gets home. Tell me, is that how you plan to raise Paul?” he’d asked as he’d stared at his sister-in-law, glad to see the horror on her face that Carter had hoped he’d observe.
“Carter Lee, you’re making that up,” Tasha had snapped at him.
“Natasha Lyn, I wish to fuck I was,” he’d responded, equally as upset as she’d become.
Tasha and Opie had been fighting since that discussion, and Opie had stopped talking to him as a result. It had been awfully quiet around the Riggs complex over the past few days, for sure, but somebody better take some shit seriously, or Carter was going to take it into his own hands. He’d been to jail once—he knew what to expect.
Carter stopped in the small kitchen of the apartment to turn on the coffee maker, seeing it was just before five in the morning. He’d been having a hard time sleeping lately, so he’d upped his fitness regimen. He ran five miles in the morning, worked outside at that church all day cleaning up the brush and the weeds, and then when he got home, he’d go for another run. He needed to find a place he could lift and maybe spar, and he definitely needed to find a job. That was his goal for after the holiday weekend.
Carter went to the bathroom door and opened it before he heard the shower. He glanced through the glass to see his roommate standing under the spray, and his breath hitched. Carter had tried to respect Mack’s profession since he was well aware the man was struggling with a lot of shit, but it damn well wasn’t easy.
He started to leave the room, but when he heard the song Mack was humming, it reminded Carter of the first night they’d danced at that shitty laundromat. He knew it had only been a week, but Carter also knew Seamus McCord owned his heart. He’d be damned if he knew what the fuck to do about it.
“Mack are you almost finished?” he asked quietly. The man turned to him and opened the shower door a bit.
“I just got in. I’ll be out in a… or we could save water with this horribly small hot-water tank,” Mack offered.
“Is that wise, Father McCord?” Carter asked dryly.
Mack actually chuckled. “With you, Carter, I find I have no wisdom at all. We’ve barely talked all week, and it’s my fault, so I’m sorry. Just get in. I won’t try anything, I promise.”
Both of them chuckled as Carter stripped off his sweaty clothes and tossed them into the shared laundry hamper. When he saw it was nearly full, Carter decided to plan a night for them—maybe to harken back to the night they’d met?
“I’m coming in. Close your eyes,” Carter joked as he opened the door and stepped inside, smelling a minty shampoo as Mack washed his hair.
“We need to get some things at the supercenter. I’ve got a little money left from when I worked in Brimlee. You care to go shopping and do laundry tomorrow evening after you’re finished with Mass?” Carter asked as he took the body wash and began cleaning himself after they traded places under the spray.
Carter was pretty sure it wasn’t kosher for a man to shower with a priest, but he didn’t understand what exactly was going on, so he didn’t know what the hell to say or how to act.
“My family is coming down this weekend to help with the church roof and the air conditioning. After the church is up to code and problem free, I’m done,” Mack informed in matter-of-fact fashion.
“Done with what? You haven’t talked to me all week, Mack. What the hell is going on,” Carter asked as he shampooed his own hair.
They traded places again, and after Carter had rinsed his hair, he felt gentle hands on his chest, swirling suds through the hair between his pecs. “I’m trying to sort some things out for myself, and I need to talk to my family this weekend. They’re not going to be happy when I’m done so I’m not going to talk to them until Tuesday morning after the inspector goes to the job site and approves the work. Are you required to stay here until your parole is over?” Mack asked.
“Well, after I finish my community service I’m sure I can transfer somewhere else for the rest of my parole, but hell, Opie and Tasha are here. Paul’s here. I already don’t have any other family who care about me, so I hate the idea of leaving them behind. They were there for me while I was in prison, and I love them. Why? Where are you going?” Carter asked.
Mack moved them around, so he was under the spray to rinse his body. “I’m not trying to go anywhere, but I’m just thinking about job opportunities down here. There aren’t many, as I’ve found.”
That wasn’t a lie. The only advertisement Carter had seen for a job was to work at the bowling alley on the weekend nights for the disco bowl parties. It paid eight-dollars-an-hour. That wasn’t necessarily going to make anyone a wealthy man, as standards went. “I understand that, but Mack, what about the church?” Carter asked as he opened the door and reached for a towel.
Mack turned off the water and chuckled. “Carter, if I was going to stay in the church, I seriously doubt I’d have invited you to my shower, even if it was chaste. I wanted it to be more, and that’s a problem for a man who promised to remain celibate for the rest of his life, wouldn’t you say? I don’t want to be celibate, and I don’t want to be celibate with you. The trouble is, I can’t break my vows yet. I just need a little time, okay? I have some things to work out. Will you wait?”
All Carter could do was give the man a nod. The words… The declaration of love Carter was dying to say was stuck in his throat, but he had the hope that someday those words would be spoken out loud and in front of other people—not in a shameful way but celebrating with friends and members of their family. He’d never imagined it for himself, but maybe?
After they both dressed, they ate toast and drank coffee before they went to the church and climbed the ladders to take off the remainder of the shingles that morning. They discussed having the Nash boys pick up the shingle debris from the ground that afternoon and deposit it in the large dumpster Mack had ordered which was set to be delivered within the hour. The McCord family was due arrive in town sometime during the day, and Carter knew Mack was trying to figure out what to say to them about the changes on his horizon. Carter was confident some things would be hard to discuss but still needed to be said, and he planned to support Mack as much as the man would allow.
Later that day after the Nash boys had arrived, Carter had noticed the mean old priest didn’t even speak to either of them, but he walked around the property and watched all of them as they worked to continue to clean up the gardens. He also knew Mack had been calling that Monsignor who put him in that shitty position in the first place. The man was supposedly in Italy for a meeting at the Vatican, or so Carter overheard Mack questioning Opie one evening when he was taking out the trash.
“When’s your friend due back from the Vatican? Doesn’t someone else do the work he leaves behind when he goes on vacation? Doesn’t he have someone to cover his job?” Carter asked as he peeled off three layers of shingles from the roof, tossing them over the side of the church roof after he was sure the boys were out of the way.
He saw Mack do the same before he looked over the side of the roof and then turned to him with a look of worry. “That’s the thing, Carter. He’s not exactly my friend, and if he’s in Italy, I’m afraid something’s gone wrong. See, the church protects its own, and there’s something strange about this whole assignment to me. That’s part of the reason I want my parents down here this weekend. I want them to witness what’s going on in person before I tell them I’m in love with an MMA fighter. I think they might actually be confused enough to skip over the part where I’m gay,” Mack offered quietly.
Carter stopped what he was doing and looked at the handsome priest who had his hair pulled back with a bandana. It was so fucking amazing to see the smile on his face, Carter just started laughing. “I can’t wait to see how that works out, babe. Oh, the part where you tell them you live with a convicted attempted murderer will be a real treat, won’t it?” Carter teased.
He was surprised when Mack stopped working and looked at him with a big smile. “No, that’s nothing compared to when I tell them I’m in love with that allegedly attempted murderer. You didn’t kill that fool. Where is he, by the way?” Mack asked as they tossed more shingles over the side of the roof into the dumpster.
When Carter saw that mean priest on the ground yelling at those two boys, he didn’t wait to get Mack’s attention, and he didn’t use the ladder to get down. He made it to the ground in record time and stepped between Father Crabby as he was berating those two little boys.
“What’s the problem, old man?” Carter asked, holding his temper as best he could. He wouldn’t strike a man of seventy-something, but he wouldn’t allow him to hit a boy of thirteen as he’d been about to do from what Carter could tell from his place on the roof of the church.
“You have no right to speak to me like that. You’re here by my good humor because your brother needed a place for you to do your community service. I can call it off as quickly as I allowed it and you go back to jail where you belong,” the man threatened.
Carter Lee Riggs believed himself to be a decent fellow. He’d talked a lot of smack during his life, and he could recognize the same when he heard it directed at him. He’d laughed a lot of it off when he was in prison, mostly because it came from a place of fear from most of the men he’d confronted. Carter had walked away from a lot of fights, allowing the other guy to bask in the glory of intimidating him, and while that hadn’t been what happened, it was okay with him to let someone else have a win.
Nine times out of ten, they’d find him somewhere around the prison later and thank him for not beating the life out of them during the confrontation. Carter knew he could take care of himself, and he knew he could kill anyone who tried to do him harm first, but the little guys… the ones who were weak and had nobody looking out for them? Those were the guys he allowed to get a leg up on him in the yard.
It made their lives easier, and Carter didn’t mind walking away because, every once in a while, a big guy thought he’d take advantage of Carter’s hesitance to fight and try to take him on. As long as it didn’t grow into a riot, Carter let the guy get a few blows before he mopped up the floor with him. It was really like a game, but it did help some who were less able to defend themselves. Carter had enough ego to go around, so it didn’t bother him at all.
As he stared at that mean priest standing in front of him, acting as if he had something on Carter which would cause him harm, he was really ready to take that man out behind the church and put an end to his miserable life. He already had a spot picked out to bury the body beneath the azalea bushes he planned to discuss with Mack and Opie when they had a minute.
Carter turned to see those two little boys, both scared to death of a bully wearing the clothes of a man who should be a symbol of love and understanding as a man of God. The complete terror on their faces broke his heart.
He took that old priest by the jacket and dragged him over to the flower bed they were planning to replant after the roof was finished. Without witnesses, Carter couldn’t hesitate to say exactly what he thought of the old man. After all, it would be his word against the angry priest when it came down to it if the authorities became involved. Of course, Carter would lose, but maybe the priest would back off of the Nash brothers for a time. If those in power believed that old bastard, well, Carter would do the rest of his time. He had a damn good reason to survive it, and just maybe he had another purpose to come home alive—in the shape of a soon-to-be former priest? He certainly hoped so.
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