We spent the week after graduation in San Diego just learning how to be a normal couple. In a place where we didn't have to hide everything, it was amazing. We drove up in Los Angeles and went to clubs and did things like danced together, held hands in the street and didn't worry about who saw us because we were just another couple in the crowd. Our nights were spent in each other's arms, dreaming of a future we both knew deep in our hearts we couldn't hope to have when we went back, but it was out lottery fantasy, our pipe dreams that even included kids and a house with the white picket fence, the whole nine yards.

To my surprise, Ed had started to aspire to gain rank with the department, something I had never figured he would want.

"Think of it Jas, if I were to gain a command position, I could begin to change attitudes about people like us. I don't believe for a minute that we are the only gay guys in that department; you know that LT. is light in the boots; he's just hiding and denying. If I were to become sheriff even, I could make changes and we wouldn't have to hide anymore. I'm so tired of hiding the fact I love you."

"Ed, that city is not the place for us; it's full of old people, conservative religious people, and military people. If you come out, all you are going to do is bring down a lot of grief on yourself and the department. I'm telling you, just be quiet and let the cards fall where they may. If we tell anybody we are gay, we are as good as telling the department we are done working there. They will find some reason to get rid of us, or worse, someone could get hurt. I've seen what happens when some people find out they have been working with and friendly with a gay man and it makes them question things about themselves, backup can come slower or not at all or worse, bullets can get confused in a firefight."

"I think you are under-estimating the people in the department, I think we would be fine Jasper, we are both popular officers and we have friends."

"Ed, those friends think we are straight men, they don't know and if they did, they would be just like Black and his cronies."

"Don't you think people will start to wonder why we are still living together after we get back? I mean, we will both be making decent money, and we could afford separate apartments."

"Yeah, we could, but you are a slob and everyone knows you need a keeper Ed, they know I am your keeper and you have to have someone around to make sure you don't try to live on pizza and beer. No one suspects me of being gay because I was a Marine, and everyone knows that shit don't fly with the Corp, the only way they would really figure anything out would be if you let anything slip."

"Jasper, I'm just so damn tired of having to live a lie and as a secret, aren't you? It's not fair! Half the guys in the class have gone through two or more girls since the Academy started, and we even had that guy cheat on his wife and get divorced! We have been with each other the whole time, faithful, with no straying."

"But, Ed…who is to say that if we were in a more diverse community that might not be a problem? I mean, it's hard to know when there isn't anything else around to consider as a viable choice."

He looked shocked and hurt and I immediately regretted my words, but he needed to understand that what he was proposing doing could ruin us both. As it was, people might suspect he was gay, but they had no solid proof, and since they didn't, they just thought he was weird and a bit immature, but if he said those words and outed himself, then we were both going to face the wrath of the community at large and the department, and I, for one, was not ready to lose everything I had worked so hard to gain, no matter how much I loved him. I just wanted him to understand that we needed to wait until the time was right for us to leave and go where we actually fit in and belonged.

"You would want someone else, Jasper? You don't love me?"

"Ed, that's not what I said at all! Of course I care about you, but what I am trying to get you to understand is that now is not the time to go charging in like you are the great gay savior and moral voice of reason for that community. We haven't been there that long; we haven't been a part of that department that long. We are rookies so no matter how valuable you might be for your computer knowledge and brains, you are still the low dog in the pack, and I am the even lower dog. We can't shake things up for a while."

"I guess you are right, but Jas, I am going to try to move up as fast as I can. I want change for us and for the next guys who come along. This is not right, this half-life of always having to hide who and what we are to each other. What if one of us gets hurt or something, we won't have any say over anything!"

'Ed, we can fix that. Everyone knows that neither of us has any decent next of kin, so we will just appoint each other. It will be okay. They know we are best buddies, we just have to play it straight as best we can and enjoy our vacations away from it all where we can be ourselves."

"Wont people begin to wonder why we don't date women?"

"Ed, we will both be busy with work for quite a while, and then, we can just make sure we are seen out in the bars from time to time with some of the local badge-bunnies, make it look convincing every now and then and no one will be the wiser that when you go home at night instead of laying it to some bar skank, you are actually the one getting pounded through the mattress."

"Oh I know that no one would suspect that, little man."

I had made him smile again, gotten him distracted away from the thoughts of the secret we would be hiding once we got back home, if only I could keep others from noticing anything for the next 5 years then we would be home free to escape to a better place, with experience, training and hopefully rank behind our names to ease our path to freedom and a better life.

"Jesus! Jasper! What the hell happened?"

He came racing into the room as the nurse was cleaning up the last of the suturing materials, and I gave him a warning look, trying to make him aware that we were not alone, since my FTO was in the bathroom washing his hands.

"It's nothing Ed, some lil scrote had a knife and managed to sneak a shot in on my when a couple of his buddies came around the corner and surprised me."

"You took on three guys?" His face drained of color as he sank into the chair beside the bed.

"Yeah, he damn sure did, had them crying and begging for their mommas too in short order before I could even get out of the damn car." My FTO had finally emerged from the bathroom and was looking at Ed with a funny expression on his face.

"No need to call Lucy or anything Ed, I'm okay. Don't even need a tetanus shot like the last time."

Lucy was our made up girlfriend/code word that we used when one of us needed to let the other know what we were in danger of being suspected. My FTO was a suspicious old coot and I knew he wasn't too fond of Ed as it was, considering he wasn't a former Marine and he worked in Admin, and was seen as , "One of them" on a good day, so I needed to get that hound off the scent.

"Oh, well that's good Jasper, she was ready to go down to the department and kick asses last time you got hurt! I don't think she stopped griping for a week!"

"Well, I'm not hurt too bad; I only got 17 stitches and some antibiotics, so it's not that big of a deal."

"Regardless Whitlock, department orders are that you are taking the next 48 hours off to rest and recuperate. Get your report done at home, ill finish up the booking paperwork for you this time, and you can just owe me when you get back."

"Thanks Sgt., I appreciate that quite a bit."

"Hey Cullen, you give your buddy a ride home, I was supposed to be off shift 2 hours ago before he went all John Wayne on the local scum bags."

"Not a problem Sgt. Have a good evening." Edwards's voice was calm but his eyes betrayed the fact he was very upset with me. I knew that while he was being calm in front of the Sgt., I was in for an earful if not more once we got home.

It took another hour to get released while the nurse took her time teasing us both about stitches in places we didn't want to think about as well as telling us about people who had come in with things stuck in inappropriate places, she carried on with her stories, all while efficiently filling out all the paperwork, bandaging up the stitches and giving me information on wound care that she thought I would need. When she left the room for a moment Ed looked at me with his eyes large and a freaked out expression on his face, "Jas, I think she suspects something."

"What makes you say that, besides the stories she has been telling us?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe the fact she mixed this in your paperwork." He quickly flashed me a paper that caused me to about fall off the narrow gurney, titled, "Gay and Lesbian Support".

'What do you want to do about it Jas?"

"Nothing Ed, we do and say nothing."

The nurse walked back into the room and had me sign a few more pieces of paper that wrapped up the business. Then she said, "I'll be right back with a shirt for you to wear home, yours is in a bag due to all the blood, and you will have to meet me by security so I can get your gear released, so don't go anywhere boys."

A few minutes later she came back carrying a scrub top and her purse. "Come on boys, let go get your gear and blow this pop stand for the night."

Not knowing what else to do, we followed her to security and after I got my gun and gear, out the front door and into the strangest conversation I have ever had with a woman.

"I know you are probably a little sore and tired, but we need to go have a drink and a long talk about a few things, so we can either go to Dennys or we can go to my place, what do you prefer?" She stood there, looking us up and down appraisingly like we were hunks of meat in front of her as she cocked one hip and smoked a cigarette like it was the best crack she had ever found.

"I'm starving, so I guess Dennys will work for me, is that okay with you, Ed?"

Ed was staring at her like she was going to eat us both, but he shrugged and said, "Okay, I guess if the lady wants Dennys, then we will go to Dennys. Meet you there?"

We followed behind her, though it wasn't easy considering she drove like a bat out of hell and seemed to disregard every single traffic law known to man and beast, before whipping into the mostly deserted parking lot.

"Don't look at me like that! I'm hungry and I need caffeine. I've seen how you cops drive when you are off duty, so don't even go there, it's the ass crack of the night and no one is on the streets anyway."

"Ma'am" I started to say.

"Rose, my name is Rose, not "Ma'am, Nurse, Hey you", or "lady", It's Rose, and Rose is hungry, lets got order some food." She stomped off towards the restaurant with Ed and I trailing along nervously behind her as she ordered a booth at the back of the restaurant where we would have some privacy, and after ordering from the tired looking waitress, she looked at us and said, "So, you two do realize you are not fooling anyone, right? How long have you been together? I would say less than a year by the way you act around each other, and you must be new to even knowing you are gay, aren't you John Wayne?"

Edwards spitting of soda across the table after she called me John Wayne, did nothing to distract her attention off of us. She leaned across the table towards me and said, "Look, I am not an enemy. I had a brother who was gay and who tried to hide it in this damn town. Notice I said, HAD a brother? Yeah, he's dead, this town ate him alive. What in the hell are you two doing in this hell hole? It's like the last place a gay couple needs to try to set up house, especially as cops!"

"It wasn't like we planned for this to happen. You are right, I didn't really know what I was, in fact, until I met this corrupter of the innocent, I hadn't even tried to figure it all out. I just wanted to get my badge, get a job and try to re-build my life as best I could with all my injuries that I have and the local department offered me that option. Ed was slumming with friends and we ended up just kinda getting together after I kicked his ass."

"Hey! You mean after you grabbed my junk!"

"You kept calling me gay!"

"Jas, I think we both know by now I was right. Either I was right or you have been doing a damn good imitation of it for the past 11 months."

"So I was right on all counts? Damn! I'm good, but guys, all joking aside, that guy who is your FTO? He is very bad news. He's one of the most anti-gay, racist and intolerant assholes in the department and if he suspects you two, you will be in danger. Who is Lucy? Is she your beard? Has he met her? If not, he needs to and soon."

"There is no Lucy; it's just a code we use with each other to kinda give a heads up that someone might suspect and that we should begin talking about girlfriends."

"Smart, but not good enough. You guys need at least one for real woman to act as a beard for you before you are figured out. Congrats Stretch, you just became my new boyfriend, John Wayne? You and Lucy are going to have a bad break up over your injury and you are going to mope for a while so I can see if I can find a friend who will work to cover for you."

"I don't know how I feel about this!" Edward was looking at her with a weird grin as I protested, I knew he was down with it, but I had a bad feeling about the entire situation, it was letting another person in on our secret and she would hold our very lives and our futures in her hands, someplace I wasn't sure was secure worried about our best interests.