Warning and Author's Notes:
Please read this warning before you go any further. This story contains bad language, violence, and non-graphic m/m sex, not all of it consensual. If any of these things disturb you, get out now.
Still with me?
For those who finish this part and wonder "Where did that character come from in this fandom": "Secrets" began as a joke in a series of emails between The Amazing Miss Becky and me. I took the concept and turned it into a short story, which I wrote before the movie debuted and we realized its ending varied from the book's. At some point, it mutated on into what you're reading now. I wrote this never intending to share it with anyone but Miss Becky. However, after seeing the sort of SW stories that seem to be in the majority, she and I agreed the fandom needed something just a little bit different…
The characters in this story do not belong to me. I'm only borrowing them. Apologies for not always playing nicely with my toys.
This story is for my friend and beta reader, one of the very best authors around today, Miss Becky. I love you, girl!
by Melody Wilde
Okay. Now I really and truly am starting to think it's time I move away from the friendly folks of the friendly community of friendly friendly Tashmore Lake. Way past time.
Mort Rainey removed his wire-rimmed glasses and tiredly rubbed the bridge of his nose. Three years. Three fucking years of this shit, and I've put up with it...why? Inertia? Stupidity? Blind optimism? I keep thinking things are going to get better eventually. But I swear to God, they've gotten worse ever since Dave Newsome died last year.
When, against his better judgement but hoping if he tried to do the right thing he'd win some points with the townsfolk, he'd gone to offer his condolences to Dave's widow, she'd slammed the door in his face. Just like a lot of the other folks here, acting like I was responsible for his death. Which was absolutely absurd. The sheriff had suffered a major heart attack in front of half the town during the Christmas parade, where he'd been acting as Grand Marshall. He'd fallen backwards out of the convertible, directly into the path of a tractor pulling the float behind him. Mort had been in the Bahamas at the time, trying to enjoy his first vacation in years. And failing miserably, but at least I missed the funeral. Stupid as I am, I might even have tried to go to it, and wouldn't that have been a scene.
For the past three years, Mort had been trying to understand why the kindly old man, who had been as close to a friend as he'd ever had, had suddenly branded him a murderer. Had turned the whole town against him. Had made his life a living hell whenever he broke The Rules and went in to the local store for something he'd forgotten to buy during his weekly shopping trip over to New London. When he'd tried to talk to Dave, ask him to explain what was wrong, the most he'd ever gotten was a stern, "You and I both know what you did, so let it go unless you're ready to confess."
Maybe the needlepoint finally turned his brain to mush. It was bad enough that he thought I'd killed Amy and Ted, but to tell the whole fucking town...Jesus Christ! What was he thinking?
Far from being dead, his wife Amy and her charming paramour had taken off on an extended trip of their own to the Bahamas—or somewhere—without bothering to tell anyone where they were going or to leave a forwarding address. They hadn't even sent him a postcard to say, "Having a wonderful time; glad you're not here." Obviously, they'd finally gotten tired of his continued refusal to sign the final divorce papers. He wouldn't have minded their departure from his life if it hadn't left him stuck with all the questions, paperwork, and insurance claims on the house he and Amy had shared for ten years. The house John Shooter had burned to the ground, trying to burn Mort's life.
They left me with a lot of other questions too, like I knew or gave a shit about where they went. So I pissed them off. So what. I think I was entitled to give them a little grief, after what they did to me. And they got their revenge, leaving me the prime suspect in a murder that never happened.
I wonder if Ted planned it this way. Probably. I bet it was his idea to take off, after his man Shooter got out of control. Run before Shooter decided to take it too far and kill me. I bet that son of a bitch Milner is sitting next to my wife on a beach somewhere drinking a Pina Colada and laughing his ass off at all the trouble he left behind.
Asshole. No great loss that he's gone. But Amy...I still miss Amy sometimes. I wish…
Nope. No good wishing. He replaced his glasses, then pulled the seatbelt across his chest and buckled it. Doritos. Just because I didn't want to drive thirty miles to pick up one fucking bag of Doritos and dared to come here to get them. You'd think I had leprosy, the way they acted. Why the shit am I still here? Why didn't I sell out a long time ago and get the hell out of Dodge?
"Because," a little voice whispered in the back of his head. "You know you can't ever sell the cabin."
No? Why not?
"It meant so much to you. And to Amy. Think how happy you were there."
Ah there's the key word. "Were." Past tense. Long past.
"It's not like you need the money. The royalties from those last two books are going to keep you in butter and salt for your corn for a long, long time. And if Sony does decide to buy the film rights—"
Yeah, and when that happens—if that happens—maybe then I'll sell and move to Hollywood and find myself a sweet young starlet or two to help me forget about Amy and what she did to me. I know one thing. I'm not going to start this shit of talking to myself and answering again. That's crazy.
The Taylor sisters were standing on the sidewalk a few cars away, glaring at him. Oops. Looks like I've stayed too long at the fair again, and the Wicked Witches of the East and West are about to get out their broomsticks. He gave them a toothy smile and waved, waiting until they'd turned away with matching looks of disgust before he started the ignition and put the car into gear.
And me thinking I'm going to go to Hollywood—or anywhere—and find True Love is crazy too. I couldn't even get interested in those little bikini bunnies that circled me like sharks at the beach. They didn't want to get to know me better...except in the Biblical sense. They just wanted to be able to tell their friends that they'd fucked famous author Morton Rainey. I don't think I trust women anymore. I don't think I trust anybody anymore. Except maybe Herb. I'll trust him as long as that money keeps rolling in.
Maybe I'll call him when I get home. See what he thinks about me renting the place out for a while. Maybe he knows somebody who'd take care of it and keep the residents from coming out to dig up my yard.
That made him pause. Why should I be worried about somebody coming to dig up my yard? Nobody even comes near the place.
Mort, ol' boy, you've spent too much time alone. I'll definitely give Herb a call.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to hear this, Mort. I've been worried about you, out there all by yourself. I mean, it's been good for your writing obviously..."
Obviously. That best-seller that Sony's interested in, for example. That's going to make you a bundle.
"But I've been hoping you'd get out of there and come back to civilization."
Meaning "get back on the autograph and talk show circuit to push those books instead of hiding out like the recluse you've become." Yeah, like that's going to happen again, no matter where I live. Been there, done that, hated dealing with the fans. Most of the fans.
"The only problem I see is the time of year. October's not a very good month to start trying to rent out lakefront property, especially up here. Have you thought about going ahead and putting it up for sale instead? I know a couple of folks that might be interested in buying, to have it for next spring. I could probably get you a good price."
Mort smiled with clenched teeth at the phone and counted to ten so his voice would be calm and reasonable when he spoke. "Sorry, Herb. Not interested right now, but I'll think about it, okay."
Neither of them mentioned Amy, or the time Mort had spent there with her, or any lingering happy memories he might have had, but she hovered in the background of Herb's simple words, like a ghost, and he didn't press the issue further.
The conversation drifted to the mundane details of the transaction—how much Mort wanted to charge, where the ads should run ("Out of town papers. Very out of town—nowhere near here" Let them wonder when they discover I'm gone), what he'd be taking and what he'd be leaving for the tenants to use. He hadn't really considered any of these things. I guess it's pretty obvious that this is a spur of the minute decision on my part. Maybe I'm not ready. Or maybe he's right—with winter coming, nobody's going to want a cabin on the lake, so I won't have to worry about it.
They ended the conversation with a discussion of the progress of Mort's latest book. By the time he hung up and went to grab his Doritos and a Mountain Dew and head back to his laptop, he'd almost forgotten the original purpose of the call.
It was just over a month later—a month in which he'd almost forgotten the conversation with Herb—when the sound of a car door slamming roused him from a rare afternoon nap. He heard the quick, strong, footsteps coming across his porch, then a rapping against the screen.
Shit. Who the fuck... Still not fully awake, he grabbed his glasses and stumbled toward the door, then froze, his heart lurching with a terrible sense of déjà vu.
It started like this before. When John Shooter turned up out of nowhere, banging on my door, standing there and accusing me of... No. No, that was a long time ago. Years. He's gone, gave up and went back to his shithole Mississippi town. It's over between him and me—whatever it was that he thought was wrong has been settled. It's not Shooter. It can't be Shooter.
He still had to take several deep breaths before he could force himself to move forward again. A figure was leaning against the glass of the door, peering in through the curtains. No hat. See? I told you it wasn't him. He pulled open the door.
"Can I help you?"
"Mr. Rainey? Yes, I see you are Mr. Rainey."
The man standing on his porch was nothing at all like John Shooter—not tall, thin, and dour. This man was shorter, only slightly taller than Mort, and muscular, with curly black hair and intense brown eyes. Most importantly, he was smiling. Mort couldn't remember Shooter ever smiling, but this man had a wide, friendly grin on his face.
"Yes. That's me."
"I am Miguel Bain." His voice was low-pitched, pleasant, with a distinct Spanish accent. He held out a hand, which Mort took. His handshake was firm, but not overpowering. "I am here to talk to you about renting your house."
Renting the…oh yeah. I did say…but I didn't think…
"Mr. Creekmore said it would be all right. He said he would call to let you know that I was coming…"
"Fuck!" He'd unplugged the phone two nights before, after a rash of midnight hang-up calls, undoubtedly from the local youngsters. But Bain doesn't need to know that, so let's just say… "Sorry. I take the phone off the hook when I'm working, so I missed his call."
"It is no problem. I am sorry to have shown up unannounced. I will come back later."
"No, no. My fault. Come in." Mort stepped back and waved.
"If you are sure…then thank you." Bain nodded and moved inside, his eyes sweeping around the room, appraising.
Mort headed toward the couch, scooping up the pillows and blankets and shoving them off to one side. "Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Mountain Dew?"
Bain shook his head and settled on one end of the couch. "No, thank you."
Okay, polite conversation time. "Did you have any trouble finding the place?" Mort took the other end of the couch.
"No. It was easy. I stopped at the post office in Tashmore Lake and asked for directions."
"Oh." Fucking shit, I bet she gave him an earful or two. I'm surprised he came on out here anyway, instead of getting back in his car and driving back to wherever he came from as fast as he could. "The…um…the woman who works there…"
"She does not seem to be very fond of you," Bain commented.
He couldn't help it. He burst into laughter. Now there's an understatement if I ever heard one. "She...we..."
Bain's eyebrow went up, then down, and he tilted his head slightly to one side. "It happens." His mouth twitched. "Sometimes things do not work out as we wish."
Oh great--now he probably thinks she and I were lovers and... And do I care? The woman used to hit on me every time I went within ten feet of her, even when Amy was with me. And then she started subscribing to The Gospel of St. Newsome and wouldn't even look in my direction. Let's change the subject.
"So what did Herb tell you about the cabin?"
"He told me a little of its history..."
That Amy and I bought it almost fifteen years ago, and then an earful about the joys of our D-I-V-O-R-C-E, no doubt.
"And that you have been living here and writing since your other house was lost to you..."
Lost twice—first when I moved out and left it for Amy, and second when Ted's boy Shooter burned it down.
"And that you are wanting to move away for a time. Perhaps you will live in New York City, to be near your friend?"
My friend? Who? Herb?
"Herb's not my friend—he's my agent."
Bain's voice was gentle. "Cannot a man be both?"
I don't have an answer for that and I don't want to go into my shortcomings in the friendship department, so let's change the subject again.
"Did he explain everything—how much I want, the conditions of the lease, when I want it back, all that?"
"He did, and I have no problem with any of your requests."
"Okay. Good enough. Are you still interested?"
"Very much so. I am looking for a quiet place to make my home for a time. This seems to be perfect for my needs."
"Great. Then let me show you around."
They chatted as Mort gave a tour of the house. Bain was surprisingly easy to talk to, friendly and open in an easy, natural way that Mort envied. Bain volunteered the information that he worked with contracts, and had made excellent money doing so, but that he had decided to take some time off to rest and regain his health after an unfortunate accident. Since Bain seemed to be in perfect condition, Mort wondered what sort of injury the man had sustained, but he refrained from asking.
Let him volunteer it if he wants you to know. You start asking him personal questions and it opens the door for him to ask you personal questions, and we don't want that, do we? No. We don't.
"I guess you want to see the outside too."
Bain headed straight for the lake. "I love this. The water. The view. The remoteness of this place. This is a sanctuary of peace and solitude." He turned his head to smile over his shoulder at Mort. "I do not understand how you can bear to leave this, but I am glad I will have a chance to stay here."
Mort didn't know how to respond to that, so he kept his mouth shut, leaning against a tree and wishing he had a cigarette, while Bain explored the shoreline.
The sun was just below the horizon when they returned to the house. Bain stopped to knock the dirt off his shoes before entering, then looked around once more and rubbed his hands together. "I would very much like to rent this house, Mr. Rainey."
"Fine. We can arrange that."
"How soon can I move in?"
Woah. Maybe we can't arrange that after all.
He shifted, taking his own glance around the cabin. "I don't… I didn't think Herb would find anybody so fast." Especially somebody so eager to move in. Shit. "I'll need some time to pack my stuff up and…" And what? I haven't given the first thought to what I need to do to move out of here and hand it over to somebody else. Brilliant.
"I understand. This is no problem. And there is still the matter of the rental agreement and the payment to be settled. Forgive my eagerness." Another of those warm smiles. "There is a motel over by the highway. I can stay there until—"
Too quick, too sharp, too loud. Way to go, Mort. Christ.
"Sorry. I…the motel…bad memories," he mumbled, knowing how lame it sounded.
He knew Bain was staring at him, but he couldn't meet the other man's eyes, afraid Bain would see the reflection of long-ago pain. Then Bain smiled and spread his hands.
"I understand bad memories. I am sorry to have caused you to have one."
Okay, if not the motel, then where is he going to stay until I get my shit together and get out of here? The question hung in the air between them. I could let him stay here. No, bad idea…but why not? I don't know him, but you can bet your ass Herb would've checked him out seven ways from Sunday before he sent him out here.
"You can stay here if you'd like to."
"I do not wish to be a bother…"
"No bother. You'll have to sleep on the couch, but I can guarantee it's comfortable. And there's the half-bath you can use."
"If you are sure…"
"In that case, I accept your generous offer with many thanks."
"Okay, then." Mort gestured. "If you want to bring your things in, I'll see about cooking something."
"We could go into town. My treat."
Wouldn't that be an experience? Welcome to Tashmore Lake, Mr. Bain. Guilt by association and you'll spend the next year a pariah like me. I wouldn't wish that on anybody.
Mort sighed. "I don't exactly get along with the folks in town. Trust me. You're better off taking a chance with my cooking."
"As you wish." Bain gave a half salute and went out to his car.
They talked of general, inconsequential things as Mort fried hamburgers. After the meal, they moved back to the couch, where Mort began to explain the things Bain would need to know to live in this house and this community—where the best places were to shop; how to start the generator if the electricity went off; how to get in touch with the fire department/police/a doctor. Bain listened carefully, his dark, intelligent eyes never leaving Mort's face, asking an occasional question, but mostly listening.
I can't remember the last time I talked this much to anybody. It feels…good.
The demonstration of the satellite dish controls turned up a movie that they both loved, so they settled back to enjoy. And this feels good too. It's nice to have somebody to watch this with. Somebody who understands it. Amy never did. She never laughed in the right places like…I am not going to think about Amy tonight. I'm enjoying myself too much. I just wish we had some popcorn.
The movie had gone off and he was beginning to yawn when he realized he hadn't called Herb to tell him the house was definitely off the market. With a murmured apology to Bain, he fumbled with the jack, plugged in the phone, and punched in the number.
"I will leave you so that you will have privacy to…" Bain nodded toward the phone.
After the fourth ring, Herb's answering machine cut in. Mort rolled his eyes at his own stupidity. Eight-thirty and a Friday night? Of course he's gone—everybody in the office is gone by now.
He leaned against the back of the couch and waited for the beep. "Hey, Herb, it's Mort. I'm just calling to let you know that everything's fine with the guy you sent out. He wants to rent, so I guess we'll see you Monday to take care of the legal stuff." The second beep cut him off.
He had no sooner replaced the handset on the cradle than the phone rang. He snatched it back up.
Heavy breathing. Giggles. Background whispers.
Oh shit. Them again. "Listen you little fuckers…"
He let his voice trail away. What good is this doing? Just reinforcing what they think about me and giving them exactly what they want. Let it go. I'll be out of here in a few days and they can bother somebody else.
He didn't bother to hang up, just reached down and disconnected the jack from the wall again.
"Children today have no manners."
He looked around, startled. Bain was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, arms folded, shaking his head.
"Yeah. Well…neither do the parents."
"Something should be done about that." Bain came back into the room, his scowl deepening. "They should be taught a lesson. Have you called the sheriff?"
"It wouldn't do any good." The words were out before he thought, and he gave himself a mental shake. "It doesn't matter. They go through these phases where they call for a while, and then when I don't answer they get over it."
"So the officials are not aware of this problem."
Okay, let's see…how can I explain this. "I don't exactly get along with the local police either."
"Ah. This is part of the whole…townsfolk thing."
"Yeah. You could say that." And you'd be right on the money if you said that. Jesus, can't we change the subject before we get into some deeply dangerous territory here? "I don't think they'll bother you after I'm gone. And they won't be calling any more tonight." He gestured toward the vacant wall jack. "I'm going to bed. I'll throw down some clean sheets and another pillow for you. Is there anything else you want?"
Bain smiled. It was a different smile from any Mort had seen on his face before.
"As a matter of fact…there is."