I waited for JC outside his group therapy session, leaning on the wall, acknowledging everyone else with smiles until finally, JC strolled out of the session, looking the most relaxed I’d seen him in ages. 

“Adrian!” he elbow bumped me because he didn’t have any hands free. He was weighed down with a green pot and a clear bag full of paints and brushes, plus what looked like two more pots. “We’re doing this!” he added and then headed out through the kitchen to the small courtyard garden, shaded by a wide awning on the back of the center. 

I tried not to get too excited that this was the very first time he’d ever chosen to head outside without me either encouraging or, indeed, blackmailing him. He placed everything on a metal table that was snug to the wall, and I cast a glance around the space. I’d already done my due diligence out here, knew that the back of the property was fenced, and it was hemmed in by thick vegetation that was the start of the mountain tree line. Plus, of course, the team had made sure that there was surveillance out the back that was unobtrusively keeping an eye on things.

That had been a heated debate with Daniel. He was less than happy that there was surveillance of any kind, which ended up with us agreeing that the level of security was what any place might have. Also, that it would be pointed outwards and not toward the guests that lived at the center. 

I owed Daniel a shit ton of gratitude for the things he’d let me do to keep JC safe. 

“So, I did this,” JC interrupted my surveillance as he sat on the bench then swung his legs over, white knuckling the grip he needed to keep himself upright. 

I didn’t reach for him to help him.

I wanted to.

But I didn’t. 

“You mean the pot?” The question wasn’t needed, given JC’s hands were covered in various shades of green, but me asking meant that JC got to tell me about the pot, which extended to talking about some of the more minor things that had happened in the session. He never crossed boundaries, never told me specifics, but I could see this had been a good one for him.

“And then we just couldn’t stop laughing,” he smiled so hard I wanted to grab him and kiss him or grab him and cry. I wasn’t sure which came first. “I’m gonna see if it works again.” He carefully took out the two pots and then upended the rest of the contents from the bag. A selection of paints fell out, plus brushes and rags, and then he tapped the table. “Shit, I forgot water.”

I made to stand, “I can get it.”

“Nope.” He swung his legs out again, and then using the table as support, he settled himself and then went inside, returning after a few moments with two mugs of water. There was no sign of the tremors in his hand, and even though water sploshed over the sides, it was more to do with the fact that he’d overfilled the mugs than anything else. He put them down and then clambered on the bench, and again, I itched to help him. 

I shouldn’t do that. JC needs to know that he’s okay—he doesn’t need me fussing. As kids, he was the one who led me on so many adventures, from riding horses to exploring, to skinny dipping, to borrowing his grandmother’s car aged twelve and driving around the estate. I followed him so easily because that’s what you do when the other person is your entire life, but I missed his strong independence, and I needed to step back and let him rediscover that. 

“So, you take the pot, right?” he prompted, and I snapped back to attention and made a show of moving the pot in front of me. 

“And?”

“Paint,” He smiled at me and then chose the first color for himself, a blue the same color as his eyes. I deliberately chose another color altogether because thinking about his eyes just made me all melty inside. 

Idiot.

We sat in comfortable silence, and I painted a ring of orange at the top of the pot, only stymied when I realized the pot had a significant chunk out of the rim. It was a semi-circle plus a web of tiny cracks that traveled on the surface to the base.

“This one is so broken,” I pointed out.

“It’s supposed to be, and the paint won’t cover the cracks,” he announced, and I glanced up at him.

“Huh?”

“It’s what Toby said—that all this bright stuff doesn’t hide the imperfections, but it… makes them better… I can’t think of the word.”

“Enhances?”

“Yeah, that. It makes the cracks and the holes look like a bigger, brighter picture of normal, which is me. Right?”

I think I understood the lesson that Toby had slipped into the session—sneaky gardener guy. 

“Yeah.”

“And you,” he added softly. 

I frowned at him. Me? I wasn’t cracked anywhere. I wasn’t hurting. There was nothing I needed to brighten with orange paint. “In what way?” I asked, and for a moment, he was quiet, and I noticed his hand shaking and the way he placed his other hand over it.

“I mean with your hearing.”

“I don’t even notice that,” I reassured him. I do find myself compensating for hearing loss in my ear, but although it was enough to have me discharged, it wasn’t enough to impact my life in any awful way. 

“I see you sometimes all scowly when you have to ask people to repeat themselves.” 

I felt defensive but then realized I was acting stupid. Pretending I was okay was doing JC a disservice. “Sometimes it takes me by surprise,” I admitted, and he picked up his paintbrush again. 

“Plus, you have me hanging around, dragging you down with all my shit, so that’s another crack,” he said, concentrating hard on the pot and not looking at me at all. Well, that went from zero to sixty in a millisecond.

“The fuck, JC?” I said, and he glanced up at me, his eyes shining with emotion.

“I know it isn’t easy having to be there for me with all my…” he waved his brush at his head, and a fine splatter of blue hit his temple. “I’m doing okay here; I can make things work for myself if you need to go. What I’m saying is that it’s cool if you want to get on with your life.”

“Don’t you dare say that.” I snapped with so much emotion that he winced. 

“I didn’t mean to upset you—”

“There’s one thing you have to get through your thick skull Jason Charles Baker. I will never leave your side, so if that’s a problem to you, then tough, because you’ll have to deal with it.”

His mouth opened in shock, and then he closed it, and he dimpled a smile.

“I love it when you get all badass,” he murmured, returning his gaze to the pot. 

“And I love you,” I said, with all the emotion forced out from my heart. 

“We’re not doing that—I can’t yet, not with my head, and the…” he tapped his temple with the brush. This time, the blue was a splodge and not just a splatter. “Shit,” he took a rag from the pile of supplies and wiped at the color, and I could see he was tense and that the easy emotions he’d left the session with had slipped a little. I needed to fix this. 

“It’s okay, pass me the orange.”

“This isn’t fair on you?” He said bleakly. “What if I never—”

 “Jeez, JC, stop talking, and for all that’s holy, stop hogging the orange.”

I held out a hand for the color I needed, and he passed it to me after a moment. He seemed a little edgy, then he visibly relaxed, but I assumed it was because I cut the complex subject dead, and he knew we wouldn’t talk about it today. 

But ignore it or not, the words I gave him matched the love in my heart. 

And one day, when he lets himself believe, everything will work out.

I know it.


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HAVE YOU READ?

Kyle

Kyle

Two men destroyed by the past learn to live—and love—again.

Kyle Braden has nowhere else to go. With no money and no prospects, he turns to the only man who promises him help. Jack Campbell-Hayes wants to show Kyle that he can be more than he ever thought.

Kyle begins to see how far he’s come from being the scarred man who shut everyone out, when the first person through the doors of Legacy Ranch is Jason; a young man with nightmares that follow him when he's awake.

Lost in the system and with three years on the streets marking every inch of his body, Jason Smith is scared. His life is an evil mess of hate and despair, and even the offer of a fresh start and a clean bed isn’t enough for him to feel safe. Until Kyle comes into his life and shows him that it's okay not to be in control.

For these broken men, Legacy Ranch offers more than a place to live and work.

It offers hope.

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