149 pages / 64500 words
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He made promises to give support and respect...
He chose a group of men to be brothers, and created bonds as strong as blood ties...
What happens when the oaths he swore as a teenager are resurrected a decade later?
Lee Sutton is working his way through his PhD at a new college, his old life left behind years ago. He's become independent, solitary and driven toward impending success. When he finds that one of his closest neighbors is a member of the same secret society Lee once belonged to, Lee's life is thrown into disarray at exactly the wrong moment, and he has to face new choices, weighted against the past.
Dr. Joey Reed is a successful chemist, an outgoing and enthusiastically cheerful man who proceeds to worm his way into Lee's life, believing them to be long lost brothers, dear to each other simply because they chose to be, years before they met.
Is it possible that vows made as a freshman can guide the life of a doctoral candidate toward happiness? Lee and Joey are only beginning to find out when the past is brought to the fore, taking them back to the college and home they'd once shared with a family they'd chosen.
With everything back where it was supposed to be, Lee put the flashlight and wrench in his tool box and stood up once more. He'd deal with the lump of disgusting hair and soap residue to make sure nothing else was lost in there, then see if he could sneak out before Joey Reed came back to make an unnecessary apology. There was still a paper waiting for Lee's attention, and if he finished up by midnight or so he might even have time for a beer before he fell asleep. Weekend fun had taken on a whole new meaning as a PhD candidate than it had had when he was doing his undergraduate work. Long gone were the days of all night parties and putting off the homework until Sunday afternoon.
Lee left the glob in the bucket and ran a few inches of water in with it, then shook things around a little to loosen the mess. When it started to come apart he put more water in and started poking it, trying not to be too grossed out. Sure enough, there was a solid bit there. "Damn it." Muttering to himself Lee put even more water in the bucket and poked at the mess until the object came free. "Gotcha."
He'd have to take the bucket with him to get rid of the mess properly, but he was sure that Dr. Reed wouldn't mind, given the circumstances. He'd just leave the cleaned out bucket on the back step in the morning. Setting the bucket aside, Lee took what turned out to be a pin of some kind and rinsed it off in the sink, just as he'd done with Bernie's earring. It wasn't until he was wiping it dry on the hand towel that he actually looked at it.
Lee wasn't sure how long he stood there, staring, before Dr. Reed came back.
"Lee? Lee, are you okay? What's wrong?" Dr. Reed stood close to him, one hand on Lee's arm, like he thought perhaps Lee was going to fall over.
Lee shook his head minutely, his gaze so fixed on the unexpected pin that he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to look away. He had never thought, not even once, that he'd see a pin like that again; not in a new city, at a new school, a new home. The chills from the shock were turning liquid smooth under Dr. Reed's hand. "I'm fine," Lee heard himself say. "Just fine."
Dr. Reed clearly didn't believe him and was saying exactly that, but Lee was looking at the pin, turning it around in his fingers. The gold had been warmed by the water he'd washed it in, pleasant to hold. It was a triangular lapel pin, elegant and small, its matte face etched on the three sides with a spear, an arrow and a javelin. That was all. It was the mark of TCF, a secret society.
It was the one way that Lee could know a brother.
Lee could picture his own pin, across the yard in his cottage, in the small jewelry box in the top drawer of his dresser. His was between his father's wedding band and his grandfather's pocket watch.
Holding the pin out to Dr. Reed on the flat of his palm and still looking only at it, Lee whispered, "Achilles and Patrocles, Alexander and Hephaestion. Heroes in life, legends in death."
A heavy near-silence took over the ringing in his ears, but Lee could feel every thump and whoosh of his heartbeat.
Dr. Reed didn't move away from him but he managed, somehow, to close the bathroom door. The already muted sounds of the house party vanished and they were insulated from the world, encapsulated in a bathroom, of all places. Never before had a meeting of TCF had less glamorous surroundings. "What did you say?"
With great effort Lee made himself look up and meet Dr. Reed's equally stunned expression. He'd had a moment of doubt when Dr. Reed didn't immediately reply -- what if the pin had been lost by the last owner of the condo? -- but the look in Dr. Reed's eyes was truth. "You heard me." They were both whispering, but in Lee's case it was a matter of physical necessity; his throat felt raw, like he'd been yelling or crying for hours.
Dr. Reed's fingers shook as he took the pin from Lee's palm. His mouth opened and closed, then opened again as he looked at the face of it, his eyes distant. "Bones mixed," he said softly. "One soul in two bodies. The Brotherhood of Leuce."
Lee nodded and they finished together, "Beloved, inspired, cherished and protected. The Chosen Family."
Sometimes love is complicated.
Copyright 2016 Chris Owen