Gabriel

an excerpt



Chapter One

Odessa Penn leaned back in her office chair and met Alex's gaze. Neither had said anything for a few minutes. Finally, Alex repeated the only line he could. "He's worked so hard on this book."

"And it's brilliant," she insisted, leaning forward, "but no one is going to believe it as a biography. I can't convince him it would do better as fiction."

"He won't do it. It's his story, and it's not a fantasy."

"I know that, and you know that, but...that's why I was hoping you would talk to him."

"It won't do any good."

"Alex, as an editor, you know how easy it would be just to change a few things." She stood.

"You agreed to publish it as a biography."

"I know. It's just that you guys need money for the house and..."

Alex watched her pace the office. His boss was an extremely beautiful woman. The white sleeveless dress she wore looked very elegant on her tall, slender frame, contrasting deliciously with her ebony skin.

That beauty had brought her to this country from Jamaica. Her parents had practically given her in marriage to a cruel and brutal man, never realizing that Odessa had brains to match her exotic good looks. A trophy wife, she did nothing but study and earn degrees, eventually divorcing her billionaire husband and asking for this publishing house in the settlement.

Over the last three years, he and his two men, Terrance and Gabriel, had come to love and admire her. She knew about Terrance's abilities, even believed in them, and she'd encouraged Terrance, every step of the way, in writing this book. Now, she seemed to be backtracking, wanting Terrance to turn it into something else.

"Odessa," Alex said as he glanced at her. "Stop pacing."

She came and perched on the side of the desk, bending down to swipe at something imaginary on her white sling-back sandals. "Okay." She smiled faintly at him.

Alex took her hand. "What is it really?"

She sighed. "Antoine told me that it may stir up things."

Alex squeezed her hand. "Go on."

"It's just that it's been so good with you and Terrance and Gabriel." She lit up when she mentioned their son's name. "Your men." She smiled. "Father and son, such good people, and Gabriel likes high school, and he has so many friends and..."

"Slow down." He released her hand. She seemed breathless.

"They make you so happy." Tears lit her brown eyes. "I don't want anything to change."

It was true. His men, as he liked to call them, made him extremely happy. He was so insanely happy it scared him sometimes. Part of the reason he was so content with his life was that Terrance seemed so much at peace with himself. The voices, when they came, were low and muffled, faraway and friendly. Terrance hadn't taken any anti-psychotics for two years now, and he was alert, and the sex--wow--was great.

Gabriel had adapted quickly to his new school. He had made friends and played basketball. He was a polite and considerate young man, and Alex really enjoyed spending time with him and his father. It was amazing, considering what Gabriel had been through.

Terrance had begun contracting his services online, doing research, and consulting a year ago. Finally, he'd finished the book. They'd even found a house in Brooklyn near Flatbush. It wasn't new and needed some work. Even though they could do a lot themselves, the supplies were expensive. They were counting on the royalties from the book to fund their projects.

"Alex," Odessa said, "I've lost you. I just said your lover thinks I'm being a bitch."

"You are a bitch," he teased, jumping up and kissing her cheek. "I think Antoine should tell Terrance what he knows. Terrance needs to be the one to decide."

"You're right. I was just trying to..."

Alex hugged her. "I know what you were trying to do. And I love you for it." He released her. "I should get back to work."

She cleared her throat. "Yes, you should." The phone rang. "And I need to answer the phone."

Alex raised a hand and walked out. He took the long corridor and went back into his small office. He sat staring at the computer screen for a second then picked up the framed photograph he kept on the desk. A young man smiled back at him. Billy Conway. Odessa had found a photo of the former junior editor in the files. She'd had it finished and framed for Alex.

Billy meant a lot to him. Although he'd never actually known the young man who'd occupied the chair he now sat in, Billy had given him the greatest of all gifts: Terrance. Billy had been severed, murdered by the same serial killer who'd kidnapped Alex's best friend, Wes Carmen, almost four years ago. My God, has it been that long?

Terrance had found Billy's killer, setting him free from that place called the severing. It was where people who died too soon went. They were stuck there until someone was made to answer for their murder. Billy's killer took Wes, and then took Alex. Alex couldn't remember ever being that afraid. Terrance had saved them all.

Terrance. He smiled as he thought of him. Terrance had found the son he didn't know he had, a son who had the gift himself, a gift they rarely spoke about.

"I just want to be normal," Gabriel had pleaded. And after years of being locked away, never knowing his father, wondering if his mother was dead or alive, he deserved to be a ‘normal' kid.

Alex's cell phone rang. He checked the time. He was still technically on his lunch hour; with all this stuff going on, he'd forgotten to eat. The caller ID said Wes Carmen. "Hey," Alex said into the phone.

"Hey yourself, hotshot. You aren't busy this weekend, are you?"

"Of course I am." He laughed. "We're painting. What can I do you for?"

"We have fittings."

"Fittings?" His jaw fell. Oh God, he'd forgotten. In fact, he'd hoped that Wes would forget this entire nightmare. "When?"

"Saturday at two, Purdue's Tailor... Oh Alex, you forgot, didn't you? You're not going to forget the ring on the big day, are you?" Wes laughed.

Wes had been dancing up a storm the night he'd been taken by the killer. He'd been doing it in a gay bar. After Wes recovered from his near death experience, he began to talk about women. It was bizarre because Wes had come out. Now, he'd gone back in.

Alex didn't really challenge Wes when he first went on a trip about women. He figured it was a result of being traumatized and eventually he'd be himself again. It hadn't happened. Whenever Alex tried to speak to him about how he'd suddenly become a heterosexual, he shut down. At one point he said to Alex, "Be respectful of my choices!"

Now, his best friend had met this woman, and not a nice woman...a real bitch, and they were getting married. Alex wasn't thrilled about being his best man. He knew deep down Wes was gay, and that marrying this woman would make him miserable.

Of course, Wes's family was thrilled. His mother even said right in front of Alex and Terrance one day that God had finally led her son in the right direction. Alex was glad Gabriel hadn't heard that. Alex knew he wouldn't have been as diplomatic.

"Alex?" Wes said again on the other end of the line.

"Yeah? Fittings, fine. I'll be there."

"Joan likes you, you know."

"No, Wes, Joan doesn't like me."

"You need to give her a chance. She's good for me. She says it's what the Lord wants."

There it was again! Joan's family was made up of born-again Christians. It seemed that Wes had really gotten into this church stuff as well. It had changed him.

"It's a coping mechanism," Terrance had told Alex when he brought it up. "He'll come around."

"You mean he's going to become an irreverent asshole again and fuck boys?" Alex had joked.

"Men, please." Terrance gave him a look then grinned. "And yes, that's exactly what I mean."

After some more reassurance from Alex that he'd be there, Wes hung up. Alex stared at the screen again. What had Antoine said? What did it have to do with the book? Work. Work. Concentrate. He stared at the words on the screen. Something always waits in the shadows. It's coming. It's waited long enough. Alex shook himself. He picked up the phone and dialed home. Three rings and Terrance picked up. "Hi, baby," he said. "What's up?"

"How did you know it was me?" he drawled. "I could be some sexy man trying to get you into bed and have my way with you." Alex smiled into the phone.

"You are some sexy man...and you're always trying to get me into bed and have your way with me."

Terrance laughed. "So, how's it going? It's after one, aren't you working?"

"I'm playing hooky."

"Aha!"

"Terrance?"

"Hmm?"

"I want you to publish your book the way you want to, okay?"

"I intend to."

"We need to talk."

"Talk."

"Not on the phone." He sighed. "Antoine Deluca told Odessa something...about the book...and--"

"Alex!" Terrance cut in sharply. "It's not the book that will bring it."

Alex felt like he couldn't breathe. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing, sweetie. Go back to work. We'll talk later."

"Terrance..." He trailed off as the phone went dead.

It's not the book that will bring it. It was as if Terrance knew something Alex didn't. It was as if he was expecting something. He picked up the phone and dialed Odessa's extension.

"Odessa Penn."

"Des, it's Alex. I have a big headache. Mind if I take the afternoon off?"

"Of course not, as long as you meet the deadline on the Christina Lion book."

"No problem."

"Feel better, sweetie," she said and hung up.

There was only one thing that could make him feel better now: Terrance.

* * *

Gabriel gave Colton a shy look from behind his gym locker. The guy was so damn sweet Gabriel felt as if he could melt into a big pile of slushy pudding whenever he was within three feet of him.

Gabriel could hear Colton talking to some of the others about the dunk shot Barry Smith made at practice. "Perfect how it rebounded, and he shot it halfway across the court. Wow. It hit the rim and..."

Gabriel closed his locker. The words were lost to him now. He was concentrating on those perfect abs, and the way his handsome face lit up as he talked. Colton was all about basketball. In fact, that seemed to be all he talked about, that and girls. Gabriel shrugged into his jacket and picked up his books. "Maybe we could shoot some hoops sometime?" Gabriel waited, his throat feeling dry.

"Got a basket at your place?" Colton asked.

"Ah...no." Gabriel shook his head. "I could meet you in the park. The one on the corner here. On Saturday or after school?"

"Sounds cool." Colton nodded. "You're a pretty good player." He came closer. They were about the same height, both around six feet. Colton was a little heavier, more muscled. He was a transfer this year and in Gabriel's class. The girls were hot for him, and Colton seemed to return the interest. Gabriel didn't know why he should torture himself.

"You okay, man?" Colton asked, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You're shaking."

Gabriel jumped away as if Colton had burned him. "Fine. We gotta go, late for math." He left the locker room quickly. He didn't wait for Colton. He practically ran down the hallway, catching hell from the principal.

"Slow down, Woodrow! Where's the fire?"

"Sorry, sir." He lowered his head and slipped into math class before the bell. After slouching down into his seat, Gabriel glanced around, smiling and nodding at a few of his classmates.

When Colton walked in, the girls started to whisper.

He flashed them a smile. "Hello, ladies," he said.

"Colt, you did a great shot at practice," Melissa Garford said, flinging back her blonde hair.

"Actually, it wasn't me," Colton said, glancing at Barry, who was sitting in the next row. "It was Barry."

Barry, who had bad skin and perpetual bad hair days, beamed. Colton reached over and slapped his palm.

Melissa ignored Barry. "You played well too, Gaby."

"Gee thanks, Mel," he mocked. He hated the name Gaby, probably as much as she hated being called Mel. Although she hid it well, Gabriel knew Melissa didn't like him much. Last year, she'd tried to kiss him at a school dance, and it had been all downhill since then. After the dance, she told everyone what had happened and accused him of being gay. Gabriel had never admitted or denied the accusation. No one asked him to confirm, and for some reason, it got laughed off. On the other hand, poor Owen, the quiet, studious guy with glasses, who sat at the back of the room and dreaded gym class, was teased relentlessly and called a ‘fag' when Gabriel had no idea if he was gay or not. The guy was actually sort of good looking, but he was such a nerd with the way he dressed and spoke. Gabriel wasn't sure what to make of him.

But he felt some compassion for Owen, even if Owen didn't seem to expect or even want Gabriel to stand up for him. Three times, Gabriel had stepped in and stopped some kids from getting rough with him. He'd urged Owen to go to the principal and offered to go with him, but Owen told him it wasn't necessary. He seemed really cool about it. Gabriel had tried to be friends with the guy, but Owen seemed to shy away from Gabriel each time he spoke to him. It was weird, because often, he'd catch Owen staring at him from a distance. He was just a strange dude.

Ms. Price walked in, and everyone settled down immediately. She was a no-nonsense woman in her late thirties, tall, with a nose like a hawk. She always wore knee-length, pleated skirts with black stockings and big clunky shoes. "Good afternoon, class. Open your books to problem one, lesson three, please."

Everyone shuffled through their workbooks to find the page. Ms. Price began to scribble numbers on the board. Good, now Gabriel could stare at the back of Colton's dark head undisturbed and daydream about kissing him. Their relationship had grown into an easygoing relationship over the last few months, although he couldn't say they were the best of friends. Colton was Mr. Popular and partied with everyone. But sometimes Colton would seek him out during lunch, and they'd sit outside on one of the benches and talk, mostly about sports. Colton never talked about girls to him, although he talked about them all the time with the other guys in the locker room. Gabriel suspected it was more hot air than anything. He wasn't even sure how Colton felt about the gay thing. He never told him about Terrance and Alex, or himself, for that matter. Colton didn't make any derogatory remarks to Owen like some of the other guys. He just ignored him. But still, Gabriel wasn't sure how he'd react if he invited him home to meet his dad and Alex.

Ms. Price was explaining the same math problem for the third time. Gabriel sighed, a little bored. He'd always been good in math. In fact, he was good in all his subjects, and he didn't study very much. That old woman, who'd looked after him in that place he'd been imprisoned in, had brought him books on everything. All he did back then was read. He would always remember the day she just stopped coming. Her name was Donna. She had a nice smile. He remembered calling her Mama when he was very young, and she'd reminded him that she wasn't his mother.

Gabriel realized someone was poking him now. He turned around, and Steve Freedman, Seamore High jock and all around troublemaker, shoved a note at him. Gabriel grabbed it before Ms. Price turned around, and opened it on his lap. They often passed notes in math class, probably to ease the boredom. Usually the note said something stupid and of course, this one was no exception. Ms. Price sucks raw eggs and her husband's pecker. Pass it on, dude!

Gabriel glanced back at Freedman, rolled his eyes and mouthed idiot boy. Freedman chuckled behind his hand and sank down in his chair. Gabriel folded the note and waited until the teacher turned back to the board. He held it across to Barry, anxious to get rid of it. Barry snatched it fast, almost dropping it, which caused a cacophony of laughter to come from some of the others.

Colton turned and looked at him quizzically.

Gabriel shrugged then grinned.

"What's going on?" Ms. Price demanded suddenly. Her clunky shoes plodded in-between the desks. Someone had thrown the note on Owen's desk. Owen was staring at it as if it was a bomb about to explode. Ms. Price's gaze zeroed right in on the crumpled paper. "What is that, Owen?" She pointed. "Give it here." She wiggled her fingers impatiently.

Owen didn't move. There was some stifled laughter. Gabriel heard someone in the back row say, "The queer wrote it, Teach."

Gabriel glanced at the smug looks on the faces of his classmates and suddenly sprang from his seat. He brushed past Ms. Price and grabbed the paper, squishing it in his palm. "It's mine!" he announced.

There was complete silence as the students all stared at him. Owen widened his eyes.

"Gabriel Woodrow," Ms. Price snapped. "Give me that paper this instant!"

Gabriel placed his fingers up into his palm and tore at it. "It's nothing, Miss, really. I... It's my solution to the math problem." He walked over to the garbage and tore it up into tiny pieces.

"It was the solution to this math problem?" She pointed at the board. There was anger in her voice.

"Yes." Gabriel nodded.

"Why did Owen have it?"

"He wanted the answer. He didn't understand. I was trying to help him. I should have let him figure it out himself. Sorry."

Ms. Price held out the chalk. "Solve it then. Show us how you did it."

Gabriel took the chalk. He sucked in some air and walked up to the board, trying to calculate the answer in his head on the way. There was no sound in the classroom, except for the chalk scraping across the blackboard as he wrote down the equation and the answer. He turned and looked at her. "Ah, it might be wrong."

"No. It's right," she said. "Sit down, Gabriel, and the next time you let Owen figure it out on his own."

"Yes, Miss." Gabriel went to sit down.

The teacher went back to the board and began to write. "Next problem," she called out.

Gabriel finally allowed himself to take a breath. He looked down at his book and noticed a folded sheet of paper sitting on the page. He opened the paper discreetly and read it. That was pretty cool what you just did. Way cool. You have a lot more balls than I have, Gabriel. Colt.

Gabriel folded the note, slipped it in between the pages of his book, and smiled. In fact, he couldn't stop smiling.