The Shadow of a Soul

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Chapter 10: A Gift for Rigel

While I suppose that waking up with Enoch at my side was a relatively new sensation, somehow I couldn't imagine waking up any other way. Not that I'd want to.

I don't really have a word for the feeling. Possession? Inclusion? Belonging?

All of the above, I guess.

It just feels like there's been something missing from my life for a very long time and I never knew what it was. There was an undefinable sadness or emptiness that I carried with me, but since I'd never had it filled, I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

Now that Enoch is here... well, almost here. As here as he can be, anyway. Whatever. As hokey as it sounds, he completes me.

"Did you sleep well?" Enoch asked in his adorable 'proper' accent. The sound of it was enough to make me fall in love with him all over again.

"Yeah. I slept great. How are you, this morning?" I asked from a cocoon of warmth and security.

"Very well, although I will admit that I am a bit concerned about the news your mother imparted last evening." Enoch said honestly.

"I should probably be rooting for her to get the job, just because she's my mom and I want her to be happy. But I really, seriously, want them to call her back and tell her that they hired someone else."

"Yes. I believe that would make our lives much easier." Enoch said with a lazy, loving smile at me.

"Well, she might be a grumpy bitch for a few days, that won't be easy. But she'll eventually get over it." I said simply.

"I am bothered when you use that term in reference to your mother. It seems disrespectful and she is your closest family." Enoch said quietly.

I thought about it for a moment then said, "Yeah. That's probably wrong of me. I'll try not to say that."

"Please, do not think that I am telling you how you should behave. I simply wanted to voice my discomfort, so that you will know what I am feeling." Enoch said frankly.

"I understand, E. And you're right. It's disrespectful and wrong for me to talk about my mom like that. She hasn't done anything to deserve it. She's just trying to get a job and get us on our feet again." I said honestly.

Enoch smiled at my words, then moved in to give me a full, deep kiss.

{How did I ever get through a day of my life without this?} I thought to myself in wonder at the exquisite sensation.

* * * * *

The kiss went on for... I don't know. However long it was, it wasn't long enough. But since I've been cursed with certain biological needs, I eventually had to get out of my nice warm incredibly comfy bed and go out into the cold cruel world.

Mom was up.

Actually 'up' doesn't adequately describe what I witnessed when I walked into the kitchen.

'Hummingbird on crack' was a little closer to the mark.

She was flitting around, humming to herself, putting together a fairly complicated breakfast menu.

Although it's nice to see her happy, if this keeps up, I might talk to her about getting her meds adjusted. I really don't know if she's taking anything, but it's worth looking into.

"Good morning! How did you sleep?" Mom asked me delightedly.

"Okay." I said cautiously.

"Breakfast will be ready in just a minute. I made blueberry pancakes, bacon and eggs." She said happily.

"It smells great." I said honestly, then thought to ask, "Why are you cooking breakfast for us?"

"I like to cook when I'm happy!" She announced joyfully.

"So, does this mean that you've been clinically depressed since before I was born?" I asked cautiously.

She laughed at the question, then moved away from the stove long enough to give me a quick, joyful hug.


That's all I'm saying.

* * * * *

Once Mom finally sat down at the table to eat with me, I cautiously asked, "Do you think we're going to move to New Mexico?"

"I don't know about that. There's still too many things that can go wrong for me to make any plans. But while I was in Santa Fe, I did pick up a few magazines and newspapers, to get a feel for what's available to rent and the price range that we'd be looking at... you know, if things were to go that way." Mom said happily.

Yeah. That figures.

The one time Mom get's all happy and house-wifey, and I lose my appetite.

The best that I could do was nibble, after that.

A sense of dread had firm hold of me and I couldn't enjoy what I'm sure was an absolutely wonderful meal.

I sat like that for a few minutes, poking and prodding my food as my mind whirled.

Finally, when I couldn't stand it anymore, I quietly said, "I really like it here. I don't want to leave."

"I'm glad you like Texas. I was afraid that you were going to be miserable. But if you'll give it a chance, maybe you'll like New Mexico, too." She said cheerfully.

"It won't be the same. I've found a place where I feel like I belong and where I want to stay. I don't want to give that up." I said seriously.

Mom seemed to think it over, or maybe she was just pausing for dramatic effect. Either way, she finally looked me in the eyes and said, in no uncertain terms, "If I get the job, we're moving."

* * * * *

I stuffed the rest of the breakfast down my face. I'm sure it probably tasted good. I really couldn't tell you.

As soon as I was done, I went back to the perceived safety and serenity of my bedroom.

I didn't even bother with thinking about it. As soon as I was in the door, I climbed into the bed and closed my eyes.

Enoch could tell that I was upset and listened carefully when I told him what my mom had said.

Although he didn't say as much, I could tell that he was as disappointed as I was in the turn of events.

It took me some time to work up to it, but I finally said, "I guess since we were able to take you to the graveyard and drive all over the place yesterday, that there isn't any reason that you couldn't go to New Mexico with us."

"Every time I leave this room, I face the prospect of finding myself somewhere that I will not be able to return from." Enoch said quietly.

Even though the statement seemed on the surface to be somewhat obvious, I could sense the emotions that boiled underneath it. What he hadn't said was that the only reason he had been able to leave the room was because I was there with him, encouraging him, every step of the way.

"Beyond that, the doorway is here. If I leave, I may never have the opportunity to return to the world of the living." Enoch said urgently.

I nodded that I understood what he was saying but had no rebuttal for that.

"Please, do not force me to make that choice." Enoch begged me.

Although it's possible that the words could be taken as an ultimatum, I got the feeling that he didn't mean it that way.

He was simply asking me... begging me... not to put him in the position where he would have to choose.

As much as I would have liked to have promised him that I wouldn't, I already knew that it was a promise that I couldn't keep.

Too many things were outside of my control.

"Perhaps we should look at the rift to see if it has enlarged." Enoch suggested quietly.

I immediately turned toward the mirror.

"Not here. This is a dream, based on my perception." Enoch cautioned.

It took me a moment, but I finally realized what he was saying and forced myself to leave the safety and security of our shared dream.

* * * * *

Once I was fully awake, I walked across the room to examine the mirror, standing in the corner.

The flaw in the glass was there.

It might have been my wishful thinking that made it seem larger than it was the day before.

"It is possible that it will open enough that I can pass through before your mother has decided that you need to leave." Enoch said quietly.

It was barely more than a sliver.

Hoping that it would open in time wouldn't be any more productive than wishing that my mom didn't get the job.

Either or both could conceivably happen, but there was nothing I could do to make either outcome more likely.

In the end, we went back to the bed and returned to our dream place where we could hold each other.

* * * * *

I was jolted out of our dream when Mom called to tell me that lunch was ready.

After a quick kiss and cuddle, I went downstairs and did what I had to do.

I'm sure that Mom could tell that I was depressed. I mean, I wasn't trying to hide it. But she didn't interrogate me about it. I guess we both knew why I was in that mood and neither one of us had anything to add to what had already been said.

As soon as I was done eating, I returned to my room and went immediately back to my bed. There was nowhere else that I wanted to be and there was nothing more that I wanted to be doing.

* * * * *

"Mark! You've got company!" Mom screeched from downstairs.

Since time passes differently inside the dream, I wasn't sure how much time had passed in the real world.

When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to find that it was still daylight. Of course, being in Texas in the summertime, it was light until almost nine at night, so that didn't really tell me much.

"Let me go see what's up. I'll be back as soon as I can." I told Enoch as I stood.

"Do you want for me to go with you?" Enoch asked cautiously.

"No. I'll find an excuse to come back up here and get you if it's something you can be involved in." I said reassuringly.

Enoch nodded, and seemed to be relieved that he wouldn't have to leave the safety and security of his 'familiar' surroundings.

After making sure that I was presentable, I gave Enoch a quick kiss before leaving the room.

* * * * *

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I noticed that Joe Bob Jr, Jim Bob, Beau and a young man that I didn't know were standing there, waiting for me.

"What's up?" I asked casually.

"While I was working today, I got to thinking about things and... Mark, this is Greg. He works with me." Joe Bob said uncomfortably.

"Hi." I said to the stranger.

"Hi, Mark." The man said timidly.

Two words was all it took. My gaydar buried the needle.

"I brought my army men. Can I go play?" Beau asked hopefully as he held up his gallon zip-lock bag as evidence.

I smiled at the question and said, "Sure. You can go on up to my room, if you want."

Beau didn't wait for his brother's permission or approval. He was off like a shot, up the stairs.

"Jim Bob, why don't you take Greg outside and show him around the place? I need to talk to Mark for a minute." Joe Bob asked his younger brother seriously.

"Yeah." Jim Bob said stoically, then turned to Greg and said, "Come on."

* * * * *

Once we were alone, Joe Bob led us into the living room before saying, "A while back, a few months ago, Greg... I don't know if I should tell you. It seems wrong."

"He's gay, I can tell. So, what did he do? Hit on you or something like that?" I asked simply.

"Yeah. I told him 'no'. But ever since then, I don't know, I get the feeling like he's still hoping that I'll change my mind and I thought that maybe you might be able to... do something. I really like him but now I'm always afraid that I'll say or do the wrong thing and get his hopes up." Joe Bob said in anguish.

"I can talk to him. I can't really promise more than that." I said honestly.

"He's kinda quiet and standoffish. I don't know if he has any other friends at all." Joe Bob said seriously.

"You can't just choose to be friends with someone because of that. It's like emotional blackmail and it's nothing to base a friendship on." I said as I looked him in the eyes.

"Yeah. But it's not like that. He really is my friend and I want for him to keep on being my friend... if we can just get past this one thing. That's why I brought him over here." Joe Bob said frankly.

"I got it, Joe Bob. Just work it out so that we can have a few minutes to talk and I'll see what I can do." I assured him.

"Thanks, Mark. I know it's a weird thing to ask of you. And I won't ask again. I promise. I just don't want to lose him as a friend." Joe Bob quietly explained.

"I understand. And whatever happens is going to be up to him. I really don't have any control over that. But I'll do as much as I can."

"Thanks." Joe Bob said before leaving the room.

For just a moment, I wished that Enoch were there with me, but I knew that he was upstairs playing with Beau. After the serious morning we'd had, it was probably just what he needed to lift his spirits.

* * * * *

"Why don't you go ahead and sit down in here. I'll go get us something to drink." Joe Bob said from the doorway as he ushered Greg into the living room.

"Alright." Greg said cautiously as he walked in and did as he had been instructed.

"So, you work with Joe Bob, right?" I asked curiously.

"Yeah." Greg said hesitantly.

Great. Where do I go from here? How do I talk to someone about something so personal?

"Joe Bob found out that I was gay a couple days ago." I said simply. As opening lines go, it wasn't one of my best, but at least it might nudge the conversation in the right direction.

"Is that why Joe Bob asked me out here?" Greg asked anxiously.

"Yeah. I guess that he thought that I could talk to you about some stuff, you know, one 'gay' to another." I said as I tried to sound as casual and nonthreatening as possible.

"Why couldn't he just talk to me about it, himself?" Greg asked cautiously.

"Because he doesn't want to take the chance of hurting you, I guess." I answered honestly.

"Oh. Does this mean that he asked you to tell me that he doesn't want to be my friend anymore?" Greg asked quietly.

"Just the opposite, actually." I said frankly.

"Huh?" Greg asked in confusion.

"He wants to keep being your friend, he's just afraid that he might say something or do something to get your hopes up and end up hurting you." I said seriously.

"It's never going to happen, is it?" Greg asked dejectedly.

"If you mean Joe Bob with his pants around his ankles and you on your knees... no. Probably not. He's as straight as any straight guy I've ever met. But if you can just let go of that expectation, he want's to continue to be your friend and spend time with you." I said cautiously.

"Are you sure?" Greg asked uncertainly.

"That's why he brought you out here. If he didn't care about your feelings or didn't want to continue to be your friend, he wouldn't have gone to the trouble. He would've just told you off or stopped talking to you or something." I said frankly.

"But he's so sweet and nice and... beautiful." Greg said in a conflicted tone.

"Yeah. No straight guy should ever be that cute." I said wearily.

Greg nodded his agreement.

"But there's worse things than having a really close, good friend who's adorable." I said with an encouraging smile.

"Yeah. I guess." Greg reluctantly admitted.

"Who knows? Maybe another guy will show up and fall under his spell and you can be there to tell him the facts." I said slowly.

"Are you saying that I should go after his castoffs?" Greg asked reluctantly.

"I was thinking more of looking at Joe Bob as 'bait'." I said with a smile.

"'USDA Prime' bait." Greg said with a grin.

"Is sweet tea alright with y'all?" Joe Bob asked as he walked into the living room.

"Yeah. Great." I said gratefully as I accepted a glass from him.

After a moment, Greg looked up at Joe Bob and quietly said, "Sounds good."

* * * * *

We sat in awkward silence for a moment, when I noticed Jim Bob standing in the doorway. He didn't look like he wanted to join in. It seemed more like he was waiting for something to happen.

I took a long drink of my sweet tea, then turned to Jim Bob and said, "The only thing I've seen around here is the graveyard. Would you like to give me the grand tour?"

"Yeah. Sure." Jim Bob said with surprise.

"If you guys will excuse us, I'm going to explore my new home." I said as I stood and walked to the door.

Before leaving, I turned with a grin and said, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Greg laughed at the comment as Joe Bob's eyes went wide.

* * * * *

"How are you doing, Jim Bob?" I asked as we stepped outside into the blazing, searing, hellfire heat.

"I've been thinking." Jim Bob said seriously.

"I bet." I said casually as we slowly walked.

"I'm not supposed to be able to read or speak well or even think." Jim Bob said distantly.

"Why not?" I asked curiously.

"Because of my family. Everyone looks down on us and sees a bunch of redneck hicks." Jim Bob said quietly.

"Yeah. When people find out that I'm gay they think that I want to wear dresses or be a girl or something. If it's someone whose opinion that I worry about, I'll explain it. But most of the time it's easier to just let them think what they want to think." I said frankly.

"The kids at school will sometimes tease me and snicker about my family being poor or living in a trailer. Sometimes they'll accuse us of putting on an act, pretending like we're stereotype Texans." Jim Bob continued thoughtfully.

I realized that in that moment what Jim Bob needed was someone to listen to him. So I simply nodded my acknowledgement of what he was saying.

"My problem is that half the time I feel like I'm not like the rest of my family. The rest of the time I feel like maybe Ma and Pa are ashamed of me and think I'm acting like something I'm not. The real trouble is, I don't know what I am." Jim Bob said distantly.

"Your parents aren't ashamed of you. I bet that they're as proud of you as they can be." I said reassuringly.

"I know that they're proud of Joe Bob and his job. They're talking about it all the time." Jim Bob said as he stopped and looked me in the eyes.

"If I were going to guess, I'd say that even though they're probably proud of you, too, they may not know exactly how to relate to you. You're interested in things that they don't know about or don't understand. Because of that, they can't really express their pride as easily with you as they can with Joe Bob." I said thoughtfully.

"Maybe." Jim Bob said slowly, then continued, "I guess it'd be like me going to a rodeo. Even though I could see that they did something really difficult and amazing, I wouldn't know what they accomplished because I've never done anything even close to that before."

"Yeah. I think that's it, exactly." I said with a smile.

"Thanks, Mark. It's nice to have someone that I can talk to about this stuff. Even if you didn't have any answers, it'd just be nice to know that there's someone who'll listen." Jim Bob said distantly.

"It's nice for me, too. Back home, no one ever really talked to me about anything important. Everyone around me was going through the same things that I was. We all had the same questions and had already come up with the same answers. So there wasn't any reason to talk much about it except to bitch and whine to each other. Being here, in a different place, I guess I have a unique perspective." I said consideringly.

"Well, I'm glad you're here." Jim Bob said with a smile.

"So am I."

* * * * *

After the walk around the outside of the house, I actually didn't know any more about the property than when we had left. But the conversation with Jim Bob was nice and I felt good about it.

As soon as we were back inside, I went upstairs to check on Beau and Enoch.

When I walked into my bedroom, I couldn't help but smile at the sight of the two of them, sitting on opposite ends of my bed with the blankets rumpled to make hills and valleys for their soldiers.

"How are you guys doing?" I asked as I stopped just inside the door.

"I can see Enoch, now! This is awesome!" Beau said happily.

"How was your visit with your cousins?" Enoch asked curiously.

"What did he say? I still can't hear him." Beau asked quickly.

"Enoch just asked me how my visit was going." I said with a smile at Beau, then turned to Enoch and answered, "Everything's fine. We had a good talk."

"Boys! Dinner's ready!" Mom called from downstairs.

"Come on, Beau. You don't want to miss dinner, do you?" I asked with a smile.

"Can I come back up and play after dinner?" Beau asked hopefully.

"That's really up to Joe Bob, but I don't have a problem with it." I said frankly.

It was obvious that Beau was reluctant, but he finally got up from the bed and joined me at the door.

"We'll be back up as soon as we can. I love you, E." I said quietly.

"I love you as well, Mark." Enoch said warmly as he looked me in the eyes.

* * * * *

"We didn't come over here for you to feed us. I just stopped by to talk to Mark after I got off work." I heard Joe Bob explaining as Beau and I walked into the kitchen.

"Listen. You're family and we don't get a lot of company over here. I already made the food. You don't want it to go to waste, do you?" Mom asked firmly.

"No, Ma'am." Joe Bob reluctantly admitted.

"Good. Then sit down." Mom said happily.

Joe Bob then turned to look at me before saying, "Here, all this time, I thought it was just my ma who did that."

I laughed sympathetically as I took my seat.

* * * * *

The food was good.

The dinner conversation... not so much.

It was uncomfortable, to say the least.

Even though I know that my mom would be cool about it, it wasn't my place to 'out' Jim Bob or Greg, so that subject was off the table.

Enoch was another subject that couldn't be discussed.

What that left was general chit-chat that no one was comfortable with. Everyone was walking on eggshells, afraid to say much of anything because it might unwittingly divulge someone's secret.

We all carried on, dutifully doing our best to make it not seem as awkward and uncomfortable as we all knew it was.

Thanks to the time I've spent with Enoch in the dream world, I'm familiar with the concept of time moving differently in different circumstances.

That dinner took FOREVER.

* * * * *

We survived.

Everyone ate their fill and we were all more than ready to move on to whatever was next.

"Can I go back upstairs and play?" Beau asked hopefully.

"We gotta get home. Ma and Pa need us there to watch the young'uns so they can go out." Joe Bob said frankly.

"Yeah. I forgot." Beau said dejectedly.

"Don't worry, Beau. You'll still be able to come over some other time." I said with a smile at him.

"Yeah." Beau agreed half-heartedly, then turned to Joe Bob and said, "I need to go upstairs and get my army men."

"Go on, then. We still need to drive Greg back over to his car, too." Joe Bob said seriously.

Beau didn't argue, but wasn't moving at his top speed as he went up the stairs.

We stood around in the grand entry hall, looking at each other in silence.

Finally, Greg turned to me and quietly said, "Thanks for what you said, Mark."

"I hope it helped." I said sincerely.

Greg glanced at Joe Bob, then said, "Yeah. It did. We're good."

I smiled at the announcement, then looked at Jim Bob with question.

He smiled his response.

"Just remember to stop by anytime, even if it's just to hang out and talk." I said slowly.

Before much else could be said, Beau hurried down the stairs with his zip-lock bag in hand.

"All of you, make sure you come back as soon as you can." I said seriously.

"Yeah! Don't worry. I'll keep on asking!" Beau assured me.

I smiled at him, having no doubt that he would.

* * * * *

Once everyone was gone, I made my way back upstairs and was happy when I had my bedroom door securely closed behind me.

"How are you doing, E?" I asked as I automatically started taking off my shoes.

"I had a good visit with Beau. Even though he can't hear what I am saying, he talks enough for both of us." Enoch said warmly.

"I'm glad to hear that." I said with a smile.

"What was your visit about? I got the feeling that you would rather not talk about it with Beau in the room." Enoch asked with concern.

"Oh, it wasn't anything terrible. I just didn't want to discuss anyone else's personal business in front of him." I said honestly.

"Good. I was afraid that it was more bad news." Enoch said frankly.

"It does seem to be the day for it but, no. It wasn't anything bad. In fact, it was kind of nice. Joe Bob and Jim Bob both came to me, asking for my help with different things. I've never really had that before. I kinda like it." I said thoughtfully.

"You are a very level headed person. I can understand why someone would come to you with their troubles." Enoch said warmly.

"But who do I go to with my troubles?" I asked in a leading tone.

"Me?" Enoch asked cautiously.

"Yeah." I confirmed, then announced, "I'm going to go ahead and shower now and get ready for bed."

"If you just had dinner, isn't it still early?" Enoch asked cautiously.

"Yeah. It's still light out. But I've had enough of the waking world for one day. I think I'd like to spend the rest of the night with you." I said honestly.

"I believe that I would like that, very much." Enoch responded with a smile.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

I really enjoyed this new chapter.

Mark and Enoch seem to be getting closer and closer.

It also seems that even with all Mark's own issues with his mother and all, he is still ready to help someone else improve their own situations.

I'm ready for more.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher