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Subject: The Brotherhood Chapter 13 – Gay/College/Fantasy Thank you for taking the time to check out my story! The Brotherhood is a story I first posted on Nifty way back between 2001-2013. In preparation for the sequel, The Brotherhood: Awakening, which some have been waiting for since 2013 (sorry), I’m uploading a revised version of TBH for a better reading experience. It’s the same story, but some new material exists to flesh out some characters/scenes. I’d love to devote more time to The Brotherhood Awakening and other projects. If you’d like to support me on that journey, please visit my Patreon for the first chapter of The Brotherhood Awakening, the rest of TBH, exclusive short stories – The Stranger, and a private Discord server. I would love to hear from you guys. Especially if you’re an old reader of mine, let’s reconnect! Also, please help support Nifty and their fantastic work to give the LGBT+ community a voice and place to express themselves. patreon/thewriter_x [email protected] Twitter: fty/ The Brotherhood Chapter XIII By X I took a deep breath. I knew I had to say something because the tape recorder was still going. No matter how hard or long I looked at it, it wouldn’t suddenly shut off. It wanted my story. It wasn’t a big deal. It was to me, of course, but I don’t think anyone else could truly appreciate where I was coming from. It’s much easier to relate to what Ant went through than my fucked-up past. “Jacob…” “How would you feel if you woke up one day and didn’t know who you were or where you came from?” Ant gave me a blank stare. He moved his lips as if to say something, but nothing came out. Maybe he thought it was a riddle or trick question with a correct answer. Perhaps he didn’t know what to say. Either way, the question took him by surprise. I laughed softly. “Don’t worry, Ant; it was rhetorical. It’s funny….” I trailed off. “Uh…what’s funny?” Ant questioned, confused as all hell. “I’ve told this story dozens of times while growing up. Each time I’ve stumbled over the beginning. It’s no different now. I feel like I’m twelve again, and the barrage of psychologists I suffered as a child are all sitting inside that tape recorder, asking about feelings I still can’t explain.” The word “psychologists” threw Ant off. The look on his face made it as clear as day. I don’t think he expected to hear that come out of my mouth; most people don’t. I rubbed my eyes – not because they held tears or sleep – I was stalling. I looked at the recorder and sighed. “I…I don’t remember my childhood.” It was as good of a beginning as any. “Okay.” Ant offered. “That’s not a big deal. Hell, I barely remember mine either. On a good day, I only recall bits and pieces. I’d say that’s normal.” “You don’t understand, Ant. I don’t remember anything, not my parents, siblings, cousins, or friends. Not a single thing.” I paused for a moment, the horror of my reality creeping up on me like a stalker in the night. “I don’t even remember my name.” My throat tightened, and I swallowed hard. The emotions were flooding back. I pressed my fingers against my eyes again. This time it was to stop the tears. “Huh?” Ant was lost, not that I blame him. As I said, I’ve never been good at telling this story. It’s hard to start at the beginning when you don’t remember it. “What are you talking about? Your name is Jacob.” “Is it?” My laugh was sharp and sarcastic. “My name could be Billy Bob, and I wouldn’t know. The first ten years or so of my life are a complete blank. It’s all a fucking mystery. My life didn’t start until nine years ago. I was born into the body of a ten-year-old. Embarrassing as it is, I honestly thought that’s the way it worked. I was just a kid who didn’t know any better, with no memories…no memories at all.” I paused for a moment, expecting some response from Ant. He gave nothing – except his undivided attention. “I don’t know what forced my eyes open that night nine years ago. Was it the rain pounding my body, the roar of the thunder, the lightning ripping thru the sky?” I thought about it for a moment, leaving Ant hanging on my every word. “It was probably the screams. “Yeah, it was the screams. Oh my god, the screams…I can still hear them as clearly as you can hear me now. They moved around me like the wind.” “They?” I shrugged. “That’s what I’ve grown to call them – ‘They.’ The faceless, shapeless figures I felt around me. I don’t know who was there, but I know I wasn’t alone. Someone was barking orders and yelling, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I remember hearing doors opening and slamming shut…and sliding, like the side door of a van. The rear tires spun like crazy, kicking up a shit load of dirt and rocks. It’s the last thing I remember before I blacked out. “I have no idea how long I was out, but when I woke up, the smell of exhaust was still in the air. I was weak and exhausted but forced myself onto my hands and knees. My arms trembled under the weight of my body. Rain was coming down in sheets, traveling the length of my frame like a small stream. I was sure I would collapse under the raindrops’ weight. It took a few minutes, but I managed to get my wobbly legs under enough control to stand up. I was an infant taking his first steps for all intents and purposes.” “The weight of my form was alien to me. I honestly didn’t know how to balance myself. I stepped backward…no, I stumbled…into a large oak tree. That’s when I realized I was in the woods. It was dark, and I was alone. ‘They’ were gone.” The old images of that night came back to me like a picture book in my mind, every page- flipping faster than the last, every image more terrifying than the one before. “I remember struggling to breathe.” Suddenly, I was ten again. Without warning, it happened again – a switch flipped inside me, and I was that boy. That terrified little boy. I launched myself into the corner by the door, rocking mindlessly with my arms around my legs and my head buried between my knees. My heart pounded. I was so scared. “No, no, please, no,” I begged no one. “Sorry. I’m so sorry. Please…” Ant was at my side instantly, draping his arm over me like a blanket. “Jacob, you’re fine.” He cradled me in his arms like a concerned lover and pressed his lips to my ear. “You’re fine. Listen to me. Jacob, you’re here with me now. Those woods are long gone.” I shook my head and refused to look up. I swear I could feel the rain pelting my skin. “No,” I mumbled. “If they knew I was sorry, they’d come for me…they’d love me again.” Ant wasn’t having it. He positioned himself before me, shook my shoulders, and then forced my head up. “Jacob, snap out of it! You’re not that boy anymore, so let him go!” I felt my body tremble, and suddenly the woods were gone. I was sitting back in the room with Ant, disorientated. My nightmares quickly faded back into the recess of my mind. “What the fuck….” Ant smiled, wiping a tear that clung to my cheek. “Welcome back, buddy.” “What the fuck happened?” “I don’t know, man. You went all Sybil on my ass for a minute. Granted, you’re more attractive than Sybil, but still…” “Oh man, I’m sorry. I can’t believe that happened again. It’s been so long since….” “Hey, don’t worry about it; it’s cool,” he assured me as he leaned back and propped himself up with his hands. We stared at each other for a while, not a single word uttered between us. I wonder what could be running thru his mind. Was his stare one of pity? Did he see me as a little boy trapped in a man’s body? I’d never had a flashback like that with a ‘friend’ in the room. I was so embarrassed. “Maybe you should stop Jacob,” Ant finally said. “We can talk to one of the brothers. We’ll just let them know that this is not something you can talk about now. If nothing else, I bet Q will understand. He is your Big and all.” His concern was genuinely touching, and I’ll be honest, I wanted to take him up on his offer. I also wanted to be part of The Brotherhood and would suck it up and continue for that honor. “Thanks, but I think that’s the point of this whole thing. They want us to bond over the trauma in our lives. It’d be pointless otherwise, don’t you think?” “I guess,” he conceded. “I just don’t….” I gestured for him to drop it and assured him I’d be okay with a simple look. I did, however, take a moment to collect my thoughts. No, that’s not true. I used the moment to gather my courage. “I don’t know how long I wandered around in those woods, stumbling from one tree to the next with only the random lightning flashes guiding me through the dark. Of course, I had no fucking clue where I was going. It didn’t help that my senses were on the fritz. My vision was blurry, and I recall having moments of pure blindness. It lasted only seconds at a time, but to a kid, every second spent in a black void is an eternity. My hearing was fucked as well. Every sound was muffled, like trying to hear something with your hands cupped over your ears. “Eventually, I came across a clearing with a faint light in the shadow. The rain was as relentless as ever; the wind cut thru me like a knife. I was standing in the backyard of a cabin, hidden still by the trees and brush. It didn’t occur to me that this was my chance to get help. I just stood there fighting against the force of the wind. “The back door opened suddenly, and a large man ran out into the yard holding his jacket over his head. A pile of wood was stacked high against the cabin, and I saw the man trying to figure out how to carry the wood while still holding the jacket over his head. He gave up rather quickly and just gathered the wood in his arms. There must have been a patch of mud or something because he slipped to one knee. A single piece of timber fell from his arm and rolled down towards me. He said something I couldn’t make out, probably cursing, then gathered himself up and went after the stray log. “The man was less than 2 feet away and eye level when he bent to pick up the log, yet he never noticed me. He was returning to the cabin when a series of lightning bolts lit up the forest – turning night into day – and his life upside down. “There I stood. This little, very naked boy was standing arm’s length away from him.” “‘Jesus Christ!’ he yelled, falling back on his butt. Once important enough to brave the heavy storm, the logs now lay forgotten, scattered around him. He freaked out. ‘What in the world?’ Our eyes locked on each other, and for a moment, he was just as speechless as I was. “‘Angela!’ he called out. ‘Angela, get out here quick!’ “My mom came rushing out of the cabin like it was on fire.” Ant drew his brows together in confusion. “Wait…your mom?” I smiled. “Well, she wasn’t my mom at the time. That part came later.” Ant returned the smile and nodded with understanding. “So, she ran out of the cabin like a bat of hell and over to my dad in the pouring rain in nothing but a long t-shirt. ‘Pat, what happened? What are you doing on the ground? Are you hurt? Are you okay? Patrick, say something!’ “All my dad could do was point into the darkness. It was like a scene out of the movie. Just as she looked in my direction, lightning flashed, and my pale form lit up like a glow stick. “‘Holy Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!’ She yelled, falling back next to my father with her hand over her mouth. ‘It’s a boy.’ “‘Yes, I kind of noticed that.’ “‘And he’s naked,’ my mom added. “‘Yeah, I noticed that too.’ “My mom just slapped him on the arm. ‘Well, don’t just sit there like a dummy; give me your jacket!’ She didn’t give him a choice or a chance to respond. She was on her feet in seconds, ripping the jacket off without thinking about his well-being or need to stay dry. She wrapped the jacket around me and pulled it shut over my chest. ‘Hey, there, little guy. What are you doing out here in the rain all by yourself?'” “Wait,” Ant interrupted, “you don’t remember anything from the first ten years of your life, yet you remember every detail of this?” “Strange, but I remember every detail of my first night. I remember the sights, the distorted sounds, the cold, and the fear. I remember each mud puddle, the rock that cut my foot, and the salamander that crossed the path in front of me. Believe it or not, I even remember the individual lightning strikes and every expression of the adults around me. I also remember that their words made no sense to me. I heard the voices – sort of – but their meaning was completely foreign. I guess I was still out of it. You know, shock and all. So those details – the words – come from my parents and the countless stories I’ve heard about the night I came into their lives.” I don’t know if Ant believed me, but if he was skeptical, he didn’t show it. “Anyway, my mom asked if I wanted to go inside with her and get out of the rain. I didn’t give her an answer one way or another, which opened the door for her to take charge. She extended her hand slowly and waited until I returned the gesture. The warmth of her hand traveled thru me like a live wire. Then, with my father still lying beside us on the ground, she led me inside the cabin. ” ‘I’m Angela, and the guy with the Flobee-looking haircut is my husband Pat,” she pointed to my father, who now stood dripping wet in the doorway. “Can you tell me your name, sweetie?’ She was a blur to me, coming into focus for moments at a time as she dried me off with a towel. I could see her lips moving, but her words remained unfocused. ‘Okay. Can you tell me where you’re from or where your parents are?’ She spoke gently but with a worried smile. ‘Pat, bring me my kit and call Sheriff McGuyer.’ My mom was…well, is…a brain surgeon. Even as a young kid unable to understand her words, I could tell she was used to taking control. The role of the caretaker was a comfortable fit for her. She spent forever giving me an examination. It was as thorough as a simple ‘kit’ would allow. And while she gently poked and prodded, I watched my father dial 911. “Because of the storm, it took the cops and ambulance almost an hour to reach the cabin. In the meantime, they did everything they could to make me feel comfortable. My dad gave me one of his shirts, and my mom wrapped a clean towel around my waist. They spent the entire time talking to me and trying to get me to say something. My mom even tried bribing me with cookies. “I swear, the woman was evil!” I laughed, remembering the look on her face as I devoured the Oreos. “In the end, I won. I didn’t say anything and still got the cookies. Score!” Ant was now laughing with me. “You dork!” “According to them, it took thirty or forty minutes to get me to come out of my shell and become even the tiniest bit playful. I have to be honest; while I vividly remember the people and surroundings of that night, my own emotions and reactions are a bit vague. I remember getting better as far as my sight and hearing. My mom was kneeling in front of me, playing some game, when I was suddenly able to understand her.” I paused for a moment, relishing the memory. “I’ll never forget her smile when I suddenly put my hand on her face and said ‘pretty.’ Years later, when other mothers would brag about their child’s first words being ‘mama’ or ‘dada,’ my mom would smile and brag about this moment. “Now that I think about it, I can remember feeling relaxed. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I didn’t feel alone. Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long. The room went from just the three of us to more than ten in a blink of an eye. They were everywhere. Paramedics and cops swarmed around the cabin like a bunch of bees whose hive was whacked with a stick. Sure, I understand why it was like that now, but at the time, it just seemed like a bunch of commotion for one little naked kid in the woods. “I instantly locked up. Too much was going on, and many people were coming at me at once. I was terrified again, and my mom picked up on it. The cops and rescue team were making a bad situation worse for all their good intentions. Again, my mom took control. She pointed to the man with a star on his chest and a guy holding a bag similar to her ‘kit.’ “‘You two stay,’ she ordered, ‘everyone else needs to leave.’ “No one dared to argue with her. And as they filed out, one by one, into the rain, I took her hand, knowing she’d keep me safe. “The sheriff was pretty cool. He tried to get me to open up by being funny and cracking dumb jokes. Looking back now, I know he was working. He got me to smile once to his credit, but that was it. I never said a word about ending up in the woods with no clothes. His tricky questions got him nowhere. “Eventually, they realized I didn’t know the answers or wasn’t ready to talk. So they gave up and moved to step 2, the hospital. I refused to go with the paramedic, so my mom and dad drove me, with Sheriff MacGuyer acting as our police escort – sirens and everything. That was pretty cool.” I felt the smile of a ten-year-old boy take over my face. “The hospital staff treated me great. They walked around quickly, talked in hushed voices, and often used the word ‘trauma.’ But they looked me in the eye and smiled whenever they approached me. And my mom…who was still just ‘Angela’ at the time…never left my side. As long as her warm hand was still holding mine, I was ok with them running their tests and bandaging my cuts.” I stopped and looked at the tape recorder. That last statement wasn’t exactly true. There was one test – one memory – I rarely mentioned to anyone. For a moment, I contemplated keeping it that way. Who would know possibly know? The Brotherhood, that’s who’d know. “Okay, so the rape kit was a bit…invasive.” I spat it out quickly and moved on. “As the hours passed, I became more and more relaxed. Irene, the social worker from child protective services, showed up. She was a short, plump, black woman with lots of jewelry and a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. I liked her the minute she hugged my mom. Plus, it helped that she was very protective of me from the get-go. This was going to happen her way and on erdemli escort my terms. That was final. It was fun to watch. I think that’s why it was so easy for me to open up to her. “‘What’s your name, sugar?’ she asked me. “‘I…I don’t remember….’ I stumbled, afraid they would be mad at me or think I was lying. “My mom’s eyes filled with tears. She says the look in my eyes and the smallness of my voice broke everyone’s heart. They could tell immediately that I wasn’t kidding or holding back. I had no idea who I was, and that was very real. Irene asked me about my parents, siblings, age, home…everything except the events that led up to that night. It was all blank to me. All I could describe were the sights, sounds, and smells of waking up in the woods. “This is the short version of what happened. There were tons of questions.” “I bet,” Ant interjected. “But it was pointless. I couldn’t remember shit. They kept me in the hospital for a few days under the guise of ‘observation.’ My parents stayed with me the entire time. Irene and Sheriff McGuyer came by every day as well. They became permanent fixtures in my life. To this day, I call them my aunt and uncle.” I took a deep breath. Was I rambling? “Anyway…ultimately, all my test results and scans came back normal. There was no overt evidence of rape or physical abuse. As far as my memory goes, everyone believed that something so traumatic happened to me that my brain just shut everything out. As far as the woods go, they had a team of detectives and other local authorities search every inch of that place. They didn’t find much. The only clue they had was a set of muddy tire tracks and a bunch of footprints, but none of that led to anything solid. Years later, I discovered they found a grave.” Ant gasped, “A grave?” “Yeah. The working theory is whoever put me in that van planned to kill me and bury the body. Something spooked them – preventing them from finishing the job – so they pretty much left me for dead.” I stopped, zoning out completely, and whispered, “I should’ve died out there.” “Luckily for us, you didn’t,” Ant smiled and placed his hand on my knee for reassurance. “So what happened after all that?” “My face was plastered on every newspaper, milk carton, plastic bag, and telephone pole across the state. You couldn’t turn on a news channel without seeing my face every ten minutes; first, locally, then the story went national. You were too young to remember, but ask your parents about a boy with no memory, and I bet it rings a bell. “In the meantime, my parents pulled some strings so I could stay with them until my relatives claimed me. Everyone was sure there was a family out there worried sick about me. Days turned into weeks, and not a single soul came forward. Sure, there was the occasional nut case who tried to claim me as their son. Some even provided fake birth certificates and I.D. There was this one lady who got real close. She had pictures of me as a young child. I remember everyone being relieved. Finally, I would be going home to my family. But something about the lady didn’t sit right with my mom, and I obviously couldn’t confirm or deny that lady was my mom. “A whole bunch of shit happened, but it came down to the point where I was about to be released into this lady’s custody. Just as my mom was about to hand me over, she remembered where she’d seen this lady before. Her son had died two years earlier in a hit-and-run accident. My mom was the specialist called in to operate on the kid, but there was nothing she could do. That kid and I looked very much alike, so when this lady saw me on the news, she truly believed I was her son. She wasn’t a bad person. She simply couldn’t let go of her son.” “Wow…that’s crazy!” “Yep,” I nodded. “All the crazy bullshit aside, no one ever came forward. No parents, aunts, cousins, siblings…no one.” The empathy was as clear as day in Ant’s eyes. “You have no idea what that does to a ten-year-old kid. You feel so unloved, so unwanted. You wonder how bad you could be to make your family not want you anymore. You have no one to blame but yourself.” “Jacob, what happened to you wasn’t your fault,” Ant offered. “I know that now, Ant. I do, but try telling that to a scared ten-year-old.” I fell silent again, and I think Ant sensed I was going to that ‘bad place’ again…trapping myself in my memories. So he continued to ask questions to keep me focused and my mind moving forward. “You were adopted by the people who found you, huh?” he asked. “Uh…yeah,” I responded in a daze, rubbing my eyes to clear my head. “After being with them for a few months, they came to my room one night while I was playing video games. My mom motioned for me to sit by her on the bed. I was terrified. I always figured it was only a matter of time before they sent me on my way. They’d say it was so I’d have a better chance of finding a new family, but I knew they probably just wanted their life back. “My mom started talking, and I couldn’t even look up at her. I was ready to begin balling but didn’t want them to feel bad or guilty for letting me go. I was the one abandoned. It was my issue, not there’s. “‘Jacob,’ my mom said softly, lifting my head by my chin. ‘We’ve been talking for the last few nights…actually, for the last few weeks, really….’ I couldn’t hold back the tears. “‘Hey sweetie, don’t cry. It’s okay.’ She pulled me into an embrace. ‘We just want your permission to make you a permanent part of our family.’ “It seriously took a minute for it to click. ‘What?’ “My mom smiled and brushed my tears away. ‘We’d love to adopt you as our son. In our hearts, you are already part of our family. We just want to make it official.’ “I jumped into their arms so suddenly I sent us all tumbling to the floor. We laughed our asses off. I was on cloud nine. It was the happiest day of my life. To have a family again meant more to me than anything else. They made me so happy. “They tucked me in that night, and as they left and wished me a goodnight, I said to them for the first time, ‘Night, mom…dad….’ “With the help of my aunt Irene, the adoption process was quick and painless. And the day it became official, the adoption was never mentioned again. I was their son, plain and simple. Suddenly I had grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles who treated me as one of their own and treated me like their flesh and blood. I was blessed. “That’s not to say growing up didn’t have its bumps here and there. I went thru a string of shrinks, all in a quest to restore my lost memories. Nothing worked, not even hypnosis. Eventually, my parents decided if I was ever to have a normal life, all the tests, questions, and probing had to stop. I, for one, was very relieved. “Eventually, people forgot who I was, the milk carton pictures were gone, and I was able to settle into my life. I went to school, made friends, played sports, got in trouble, and got grounded like all my other friends.” I nodded with a smile. “Life was good. Life was normal.” “Did your friends growing up know that…” “Nobody knows,” I interjected before Ant could finish. “Not even my best friends growing up. As far as everyone knew, I was just another normal kid from the block, you know?” “What about Alex?” he inquired. “Nope,” I shook my head. “She doesn’t know either.” I knew his next question before he even asked it. “I know what you’re going to ask. Why don’t I tell people?” Ant nodded and snickered. “Quite frankly, because people are stupid,” I laughed. “The minute they hear news like this, they change. You become vulnerable in their eyes, and they start handling you with kid gloves. They think you’ll break like some fucking ceramic doll or some bullshit. I don’t want people’s pity. I’ve made a good life for myself and accomplished much – even without a past. I sure don’t want anyone taking that away from me.” There was a moment of silence between us, and I think Ant was expecting more. “That’s all I got,” I shrugged. “That’s my lame ass story.” “Far from lame, my friend! Can I ask you something?” “Sure.” “Do you still wonder if your real parents are out there somewhere? Would you meet them if you could?” “You know, for a while, I did. Growing up, I used to have this fantasy that I was the lost son of a King and Queen from some distant land. I know it’s clich� and stupid.” Ant laughed, but not in a mean way. “Hell, I know my parents, and even I’ve had that fantasy!” “When I was younger, I’d wake up every day hoping my real parents would show up to claim me. When you’re ten or eleven, you can’t help yourself. But as I got older, I knew that was just a fantasy I had to let go of. Honestly, if they exist, I’d like to meet them. If only to gain insight into my life before I woke up that night in the woods. ” “That makes sense,” Ant nodded; his stare was unyielding as if digging for some hidden secret. The longer he looked, the more uncomfortable I felt. I had already told him there wasn’t any more to my story, so I didn’t understand what more he wanted from me. “What?” I finally asked. “Why do you keep staring at me like that?” “I’m sorry, Jacob. I just think….” “Oh god, here we go,” I cut him off before he could finish. “The kid gloves go on, and you start acting all stupid. Suddenly I’m ‘poor Jacob,’ right?” “Not at all!” He insisted as he slapped my leg. “I’m staring at you because I think you’re one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.” “What are you talking about?” Now I was confused as all hell. “Jacob, I can’t even begin to imagine what you went through or how hard it had to be growing up.” He shrugged. “But here you are, look at how well you’re doing for yourself. You come from a great family, became a high school sports hero, graduated at the top of your class, got into one of the best colleges in the country, and got your shoulder tapped to pledge The Brotherhood. Not to mention the smoking hot girlfriend who came with you.” Ant shrugged again. “I think most people would not have excelled the way you did.” I smiled. It was the best compliment anyone could have given me. “Yeah, I guess.” That was me being humble. “Oh, shut up!” Ant laughed and punched my leg. He wasn’t buying my modest routine. “You know damn well….” Without warning, the door opened, and a Brother peeked his head inside. “Times up,” he said. “Grab your stuff and line up in the hall.” Just like that, he was gone again, leaving the door ajar. Ant and I looked at each other nervously. He didn’t have to say anything; I was pretty sure he was thinking the same thing. We just bared our souls to each other. What could come next? The options were frightening. We got our things and headed out. Stepping into the hall was like walking into a church after confessional. We all looked guilty and a little more haggard for the experience. Eye contact was avoided like the plague, except for good old CJ, who walked around with the same carefree expression he always had. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder what dark secret had spilled from his lips. “Let’s go,” the Brother ordered and headed downstairs. We followed behind him like good little ducklings. The Brother led us down to the pit, where a bunch of chairs sat in a circle highlighted by a spotlight overhead. I couldn’t see anything else in the room. Beyond the ring of light, there was unsettling darkness. It didn’t make a lick of difference, though. We knew who was watching us from the dark; we’d played this game before. We took our seats inside the light ring and waited for further instructions. The Brother who led us to the pit stepped into the center of our little circle. He stood stoic for a few minutes, and I felt the air in the circle thicken with anticipation. Then, he began to turn slowly so he could make eye contact with each of us. “Welcome to one of the most important trials of your pledging career,” he stated firmly. “This trial measures your ability to be truthful with yourselves and The Brotherhood. You hold in your hands a book of questions and answers. The content of which sums up your life up to this point. All your hopes, dreams, fears, deepest desires, and wildest fantasies will be available to all. Only when you bare your soul before each other will you be welcomed into The Brotherhood. “With that in mind, I will ask the following question only once.” He paused. For dramatic effect, I guess. “If anyone feels they were less than truthful with your answers, speak up now? Now we realize you guys don’t have perfect memories or the ability for total recall, so we don’t expect all your answers to be entirely accurate. I’m talking about knowingly lying to hide something you’d rather keep buried. If you’ve done this, speak up now.” He spun around again slowly, looking at each of us, waiting for someone’s hand to go up. Hell, I was waiting for some dumbass to raise his hand too. I figured someone was going to fuck this up. I was honestly surprised to see no hands in the air. “Okay then,” he said, “but know that if anyone knowingly lied, even on the simplest of questions, you will all be dismissed tonight. ” I believe everyone was stunned to hear that little tidbit. I mumbled the word “fuck” under my breath, and I think a few others mumbled something just as colorful. Seriously, that was fucked up! All our work could be undone by one lying sack of shit. If that happened, someone would have to stop me from killing the bastard, and I’m sure others felt the same way. “Don’t look so surprised,” the Brother continued. “You guys are down to the wire. No more fucking around. It’s do or die! What’s it going to be, ladies?” With a shitty grin, the brother backed away into the darkness but continued to talk. “Hand your book over to your pledge mate, for he will read off your answers.” Okay, that was vague. My pledge mate? Really? They were all my fucking pledge mates! Was he talking about Arsen or Anthony? I wasn’t the only one confused. Around the circle, eyes jumped from the books to roommates to confessional buddies, but no one made a move. “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” the Brother shouted, and it was clear he either slapped his hands or his forehead. I could hear him walking around the perimeter of the light, staying shrouded in the dark. “Your cuff-mate…your roommate…your girlfriend…whatever the fuck you want to call him!” Yeah, because we’re supposed to be able to read his mind. Idiot! The Brother continued as we exchanged books. “A page will be called out randomly. You will use your ears to hear the number and your fingers to turn the pages until you get to the one we called out. Then you will each take a turn using that thing below your nose and above your chin to read off the question and answer. Is that clear, or do I need to draw you guys a diagram or perhaps act it out with hand puppets?” Maybe we were just off our game that night because no one thought to answer him. “Am I just standing here for my amusement?” “No, Sir!” we shouted. “Then fucking answer a Brother when he asks you a question! Do you understand?” “Yes, Sir! “Now, were my directions clear enough, or do you need hand puppets?” “Yes, sir!” “Yes, to fucking what?” he yelled. “Yes, the directions were clear? Or yes, I need to break out the hand puppets?” Either he was fucking with us, or he was a complete idiot. I sure as hell couldn’t tell. “Your directions were clear, Sir!” “Doubt it,” he barked, and silence took over the room. We sat there, books in hand, waiting to hear the first-page number called out. We waited and waited and waited. There was no way to tell how long we sat in silence, but it was a fucking long time. It felt like hours passed, but it could’ve been only fifteen minutes. It’s incredible how dead silence fucks with your sense of time. Suddenly, the tapping of Jason’s foot pierced the silence. He didn’t even realize he was doing it, but the sound filled the room like drums. The group turned in unison to face him. He’d lost his fucking mind! He didn’t quite get what was going on until he followed our eyes to his foot. His foot froze, and he turned red. I couldn’t understand how the brothers could sit in silence for so long. It’s not like they were talking amongst themselves and simply ignoring us. Nothing was coming from the dark. We couldn’t even hear them breathe. “Page 42,” a voice called out. Instant relief washed over our faces. No one said it, but I’m pretty sure we all thought it was about damn time! The sound of flipping pages filled the room for the next few seconds. Then that sweet look of relief turned to confusion and doubt. They called out the page but failed to mention who would go first. Again, we were all lost as to what to do. We just looked at each hoping someone had the answer. Arsen had the answer. He fucking jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow – his loving way of hinting I should volunteer. “I guess I can go first,” I said, throwing him the dirtiest look possible for putting me on the spot like that. “Okay, let’s see. The question is, “as a little boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?'” I smiled at his answer before I read it out loud. “His answer was a fighter pilot because he wanted to use big missiles to blow stuff up.” Everyone got a good chuckle out of that one. CJ jumped in next, followed by Xavier. That’s pretty much how it went. Everyone just kind of jumped in whenever a page was called out. I have to say we started having fun with it. We laughed, joked, and poked fun at some of the answers. It was all good fun, and no one took the teasing seriously. I think there came the point when we forgot the brothers were even there. Their sole presence was only noticed via the series of page numbers they called out. There were times when we were laughing hysterically at some of the more embarrassing questions. Nobody cared because, evidentially, we all had a time in the spotlight. If it weren’t one question, it would be the next. We were all victims! The brothers never scolded or told us to take it seriously or calm down. tarsus escort To be honest, I was a bit surprised. Thinking back on it now, maybe that was the whole point? They allowed us just to be stupid and get comfortable around one another. It was cool. Now I’m not going to bother covering every single question or answer. That would take way too much time, and I don’t have that kind of patience or recall. But I will say that the Trial of Honestly was my favorite out of all the trials we’d been through thus far. Surprised? Yeah, I was too, but it makes perfect sense. This trial gave me a unique insight into the lives and minds of my fellow pledges that I don’t believe I would’ve experienced otherwise. We were fallible. We were human. It wasn’t all hugs and puppies, though. The book stuff was the easy part. It never crossed our minds that the most challenging part of the whole trial was yet to come. We heard a Brother’s voice pierce the darkness again, and before he could even finish, we were flipping thru the pages, eager to see what question would be next. The problem was that he didn’t call out a page number. “Who will volunteer to be the first to play their recording?” the voice inquired. The room fell silent. As I said, we’d completely forgotten about our recordings. We looked at each other curiously and in fear. I’ll be honest; I wanted to hear their recordings but didn’t want to share my own. I couldn’t help but look at them and wonder what their deep dark secret was. Yet, at the same time, I would’ve been more than happy to throw my recorder in a blazing fire. “Someone can volunteer, or I will pick who goes first,” a different voice came from the dark. My ears instantly perked up, for it was Q; his voice and tone were unmistakable. It wasn’t that he sounded angry or annoyed. It was just…Q. I felt like the spotlight was beaming on me. My Big called for a volunteer, so did that mean I needed to step up to the plate? I’m not saying he was calling me out specifically. The last thing I wanted to do was be the first guy to air his dirty laundry. I just felt I needed to do something because it was Q. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. I kept fidgeting with the play button, pressing it down but not really. I felt hot as if the temperature in the room shot up about a thousand degrees. Somebody had to make a move. Heaven help us if we made Q repeat himself! “Fuck it,” I thought and held my recorder in front of me so everyone could hear it. “Bunch of lame asses!” CJ snickered. “I’ll do it. I ain’t got nothing to hide!” His player started going just as I pushed my play button halfway in. “Thank the lord,” I whispered to myself. I was off the hook…for now. CJ’s story. My god, CJ’s story! You can’t even write that kind of adventure. Knowing him the way I do, I expected it to be something crazy, and off the wall, CJ didn’t fail to deliver. I won’t recount every detail because it would take too damn long. I’ll just touch on some of the finer points of his story. I’ll probably do that with everyone’s story; just touch on the more interesting ones I heard that night. Let’s face it; everyone has drama. Some stories are just more worthy of repeating than others. Anyway, back to CJ. You couldn’t tell by looking at him, but the boy comes from money. That’s not unique. Many of the guys – Brothers and Pledges alike – share that story. His parents, however, used it as a control mechanism. They wanted their son to play the part of “preppy, privileged rich boy” like all the other boys at his parent’s country club. If you haven’t noticed, CJ isn’t sweater-wearing, comb-over hair, preppy rich boy material, and he let his parents know it. Their different life views became a constant source of contention. So, during the middle of his junior year in high school, he left home. His parents let him go. Not because they didn’t love him, but because they figured it would be a good, hard lesson, and he’d come running back home when he got a taste of the real world. He never went back. CJ lived in his closest friends’ basements and garages, studying hard and playing harder. You usually can’t be good at both. You can’t party hard and maintain good grades simultaneously, but like many things, CJ was the exception to the rule. He managed to have fun and graduate second in his class. Again, you might not pick it up by looking at him, but the boy is a freaking genius. He earned several scholarships, but only enough to pay for about half of what it cost to attend KU. This is where things got interesting. He wasn’t about to go back to his parents for the money. Instead, he rounded up four of his closest buddies and convinced them he had a sure-fire way to make a ton of cash. His idea? Making amateur gay porn. Yes, you read correctly. Gay porn! Imagine the incredible charm CJ had going for him to convince four straight guys to do gay porn! They got together in one of their basements and shot a porno with only the natural lighting in the room and a small camcorder. They kept their identities secret by wearing masks. CJ wore a Spiderman mask; another wore Batman, and so on. When it was all said and done, they uploaded the movie to a pay site CJ created. Word of the video spread thru the internet like a fucking virus, and within a few days, it gained notoriety as the number one visited gay porn site on the net. It was raw, it was real, and it was an instant hit. The story of five straight guys doing this movie to pay for college, along with the amateur nature of the film, was a big turn-on for gays and closet cases out in cyberland. There was no mistaking that CJ and his friends were authentic; it wasn’t an act like so many other amateur sites you find on the net, gay or straight. It was a monster hit, and the dough rolled in at twenty bucks a subscription. But that’s not all. Because it was so huge, they decided to make it into a trilogy. Yes, a fucking trilogy. They filmed two other movies within a month and started advertising teaser clips on their website. Before they had the chance to debut the videos, a big-name porn company asked to buy the rights to their movies. Of course, they sold it for a shit load of money. The films were released in the states and Europe. Part 2 became the number one selling gay porn in history or some crazy shit like that. According to CJ, he’s still getting royalties off it. The best part? To this day, the five stars of the series remain anonymous. The porn company made parts four, five, and six. They just used different guys with the same masks. CJ and his friends still get a cut of all those movies as well, for the company continued to use their premise and, more importantly, the original movie’s title. CJ had enough money to attend KU five times over. His recording stopped, but our mouths remained open. It was just too unbelievable to be true. “Are you fucking serious?” Troy challenged. CJ laughed. “Yeah, dude, because today of all days is the day I would pick to make this kind of shit up.” Troy’s cheek turned bright red, for he had a good point. “No, I believe you. I’m just saying…Hell, I don’t know what I’m saying.” “Damn!” Sam offered. “Yeah, what he said,” Troy agreed. “You had sex with four of your friends? Four of your guy friends? And you did it on camera for the whole world to see?” Mike was in disbelief. “Yeah,” CJ shrugged as if he asked whether he preferred Coke over Pepsi. “Not a big deal, dudes. It got me some crazy cash I’ve used to buy more than just my college tuition.” He laughed again at all of us. “Ya’ll need to stop looking at me like that and look at yourselves. Try living outside the box and the social morays! I guarantee you’ll have more fun.” Suddenly the world started spinning in the other direction. I was fucking stunned. Not over the porn thing. It wasn’t that big of a stretch coming from CJ. However, that last little sound bite was the smartest thing I’d ever heard from CJ. Everyone started throwing questions at him, all of which he gladly answered. There was no shame in his game. Like I’ve always said, he’s way too much of a free spirit to give a fuck what people think. “Next!” A brother shouted from the dark. CJ’s fifteen minutes of fame were over. It was time for someone else to dance in the spotlight. CJ got the ball rolling, and it just kept spinning! Justin played his recording without hesitation, followed closely by Sam. Suddenly everyone wanted to share their story, anxious to hear what their pledge mates would say. It helped that no one judged CJ. Sure, the guys were shocked, but no one looked at him differently. Again, looking back on it, I think that was the point – the lesson a pledge must learn. Some were not-so-interesting stories, and others force you to pause. Take Steve, for example. His first year in high school was a nightmare. He was taunted so badly for being different that he tried to kill himself. Luckily, his younger brother found him and the empty bottle of pills before it was too late. He’s in a better place now, emotionally, I mean. He no longer has those thoughts and is content with who he is and how his life turned out. I was relieved to hear him say that. I’d file Mike’s story under the header of ‘bizarre.’ He woke up naked after a night of partying with a girl he’d just met. Surprise, surprise! Guess what he got one month later? If you guessed a phone call from the girl saying she was pregnant, I’d have to give you a cookie for a job well done. As expected, Mike went into full freak-out mode. It was not the kind of news he could share with his parents. They were old money with the mentality that only a well-bred girl would be allowed into their circle. A Latino girl from the more colorful side of town did not hold the proper pedigree. He told her she had to get rid of the baby. He even offered her ten grand to do it. Bastard! She refused, going on about God, the life growing inside her, and all that jazz. A couple of weeks later, she contacted Mike with a change of heart. She agreed to do it, but he’d have to give her fifty large for the “emotional distress” of aborting her unborn child. Money is what Mike knows; that is his language. Throw money at a problem, and it disappears. Unfortunately, he only had the ten he offered initially. The girl would not compromise. It was fifty now or a lifetime of child support. She’d let him decide. For Mike, it was a no-brainer. The genius hocked the contents of his mother’s jewelry box. It worked to pay off the girl but left a house full of missing jewelry. His mom went nuts and accused her staff of stealing the items. After a brief investigation by two ‘family friendly’ cops, a maid and their long-time Butler spent eight months in jail. I’m sure the family’s influence had nothing to do with convicting two innocent people. Wait, it gets better! No, it does. Later Mike found out there never was a baby. It was a scam the girl cooked up with her boyfriend. They played Mike, knowing he’d do anything to get off the hook. And it only cost him fifty grand and the ruined lives of three innocent people. What…a …piece….of…work! To his credit, four months later, he admitted his crime to his parents. His confession brought no punishment or absolution. Mike went on with his life, his mother recovered most of her jewelry, and the ‘help’ remained in jail. The trial was over. There was no sense in dragging the family name thru the mud. Those poor people had to finish their sentences and have a criminal record for the rest of their lives because some rich boy couldn’t take responsibility for his actions. No one said a word when his recorder clicked off. What do you say to that? Good job for not having the guts to do the right thing? I couldn’t even look at him. Arsen played his recording next. He had a rough childhood, poor guy. The classic loving father turned into a mean drunk after dark. Arsen and his mom endured many beatings, followed by a morning of sober apologies. It got so bad that Arsen ran out of excuses to tell the school when he’d show up with a fresh bruise on his face or marks on his back. Then again, his father sat on the city council, so no one wanted to investigate. One night it was awful, the worst yet. His father’s anger was out of control, and he’d had enough of Arsen’s crying and pleas for him to stop hurting his mommy. Arsen’s mom tried to stop him, but it was no use; the belt tore through Arsen’s flesh like a hot knife through butter. No amount of begging could stop the attack, but the gun from the dresser did. She shot him. One bullet to the back of the head and the years of torment were over. There were cops, lawyers, and hearings. His life got crazy, but the pain had stopped. In the end, they dropped the charges against his mom. There was no denying the evidence of abuse they endured over the years. The most interesting part of Arsen’s recording was the ending. “In a blink of an eye, I lost my dad. Not once did I cry for him or miss him. But that night taught me that a birth parent would do anything to protect their child, and it’s a sad world when those roles are reversed. To this day, no one knows that it was me who pulled the trigger.” We were speechless. “You’re up,” Arsen smiled, looking at Ant and me, wanting to move on from his story as quickly as possible. We were the last to play our recordings. “Uh…yeah,” Ant mumbled, shaking his head to clear the haze of Arsen’s story. Then he clicked play. The group was as moved by his story as I was. The fact that he pretty much came out to the whole room didn’t faze anyone. They were all just sad for him. His story was so innocent and authentic that you couldn’t help but get caught up emotionally. It was heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time. I knew the story, so I could sit back and watch everyone’s reaction. It was nice to see everyone be so supportive of him…true brotherhood at its finest. My tale invoked a horde of questions. Questions I’d answered more times than I can remember. I was expecting it, so I donned a fake smile and answered as honestly as possible. “Dude, that’s fucking weird….” “Says the guy who made a porno!” Ant laughed. “Yeah, dude, but I remember being there. He wouldn’t remember any of it.” I rolled my eyes and laughed along with Ant. “I doubt I was making gay porn before I was ten.” “Dude, I’m just saying that if you had, you wouldn’t remember it, and that’s intense.” I gave up. Second in his class? For fucks sake… The lights came on suddenly, and someone was clapping behind me. “Congratulations,” the brother smiled. It was one of the twins. “You’ve all passed this trial with flying colors. It’s not easy to bare your souls as you guys did tonight. For that, we commend you. It shows tremendous courage and trust in each other. That said, dinner will be served in the dining room in ten minutes. Don’t be late.” He just left us there in an empty room. The brothers had vanished. We never even heard them go. It was over just like that. Were we better off because of it? I think most of the guys would say that we were. I got to know my pledge mates on a level I didn’t think possible, and I was grateful for that. We got to know each other better than anyone outside our circle ever would. It fused a bond – and gave us the trust we needed. That speaks volumes about how far our journey with The Brotherhood had taken us. “How the hell did they….” Xavier started to say. “There must be some secret door they use to get in and out of here,” Paul interjected, pointing at the back wall. He shook his head and smirked. “I stopped questioning their methods long ago. I suggest you do the same unless you enjoy going nuts trying to figure them out. If we’re lucky enough to become Brothers, their secrets will be our secrets. That’s how I see it.” Paul got up on the tips of his toes and stretched every muscle in his body. As contagious as a yawn, we all followed suit. It felt so good to stretch. If it hadn’t been for hunger pangs, I would have curled up on the floor and taken a nap. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starved and don’t plan to be late.” I took off for the stairs, not caring if anyone followed or not. I knew where I needed to be. I did stop before CJ to look at him as I placed my hand on his shoulder. “My God, man,” I snickered, thinking back to his story. “What, dude?” “Nothing,” I answered with a coy smile, “I just love that you’re you.” I winked and took off for the stairs. “Dude, I’m worried you won’t remember who I am one day,” he shouted, sounding earnest. “Oh, shut up!” I yelled back. The dining room looked terrific, the table setting formal. A stack of plates sat before each chair. The top was a small gold plate edged in crystals, beneath which sat a larger platter of cut ruby glass. Finally, both plates were perfectly nestled into a square dish adorned with gold leaf scrolls. A series of flatware flanked the plates on either side. They appeared to be made of solid gold and held a single ruby-colored gem on each handle. There were more forks, knives, and spoons than I knew what to do with! Top it off with a string of crystal stemware and a single platinum mug; you could call it a table setting fit for kings. While impressive, the true masterpiece was the table itself. Over thirty feet long and five feet wide, it commanded the space entirely. I would have believed it if someone had told me the room had been built around the table. It was dark, almost black, made entirely from a single piece of wood. Overall, it was rough in appearance but smooth to the touch. As I moved closer, I could see that the top of the table was a large carving – almost like an ancient relief or archaic freeze. Easily over a foot thick, the carving seemed to tell a story. It was highly stylized, but it appeared to be figures entwined in battle and glorified in celebration. A single sheet of think glass protected it all and provided the flat surface of a tabletop. High back chairs, carved similarly, stood like sentries along the akdeniz escort table’s edge. A massive 8-foot-wide crystal chandelier highlighted the entire showpiece. In the form of a giant teardrop, the center crystal dropped low and aligned perfectly with a matching but much smaller crystal centerpiece pointing upward. We each took the chair designed with the little cards with our names. I had a glass of Cherry Coke waiting for me. If I had to guess, I’d say each glass held the respective pledge’s favorite drink. We were like giddy little school boys, not knowing what to expect. No one said a word. As usual, we were never quite sure if speaking was allowed. Several baskets of freshly baked bread were scattered down the center of the table. My stomach flipped and growled. I felt my face flush quickly, hoping no one had heard it. Arsen sat across for me, watching as I stared at the bread. I looked up at him and shrugged, my way of silently asking if it was okay to dig in. He shrugged, which was of no fucking help, and I let him know by fiercely rolling my eyes. He, in turn, let me know – thru his expressions – that I was nuts. We started laughing, and everyone looked at us like we were crazy. I was like fuck it, and reached for a piece of bread. Of course, as luck would have it, the doors flew open, and our Bigs marched in with plates in hand. It was too late to pull my hand back, so I pretended to be admiring the centerpiece instead. I’m not sure if anyone bought it, but Arsen smirked and mouthed the word “smooth” at me. He knew I was giving him the finger under the table. “Dinner is served,” the Brothers said in unison. Then as if on cue, they moved as one and placed a single bowl in front of each of us. The spaghetti Q set before me looked terrific. The aroma of the fresh oregano, crushed peppers, stewed tomatoes, and garlic was overwhelming. The real kicker was the pile of fire-grilled sausages sliced neatly on top. It was enough to make me cream my pants! It was just the way I love it. “Enjoy,” he smiled. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I went to town on the dish, savoring each bite. All you could hear for the first few minutes was the clanking of silverware and glasses. “What are you guys doing?” Eric finally asked. We didn’t know how to answer that. What the fuck did he mean? “Why is everyone so quiet? Why aren’t you talking?” “Um, I guess we didn’t know we were allowed to, Sir,” Arsen offered. Shaun just laughed. “Well, it’s nice to see that you’re all programmed so well, but this dinner is for you. The rest of this night is for you. We left our titles at the door. So please feel free to enjoy yourself in any way you like. You guys have earned it.” “Sweet!” CJ beamed. I immediately turned to Q. “Did you make this yourself?” I whispered as if asking some big ass secret. “I did,” he smiled. “Do you like it?” “Do I like it? Are you kidding me? Do you not see me devouring it?” “It’s a little hard to miss, I must admit.” “Did you make the sauce? I bet you did because it’s too good to be from the store.” He nodded, and the same smile slowly appeared on his lips. “With my two bare hands,” he said. “I added some of my special seasonings to give it a little kick, and there you have it.” “Oh man…” was all I could say before stuffing another spoonful of spaghetti into my mouth. It’s always nice to see Q relaxed. He had his hands clasped and pressed against his lips as he watched me eat. “What?” “I’m just curious to see how long you can go without air,” he laughed. “My god Jacob we do feed you three times a day. I know that for a fact.” “You know the saying; it’s not the quantity; it’s the quality. And this is perfect! How’s yours?” “Good, thanks.” I looked at his plate for the first time. It held slices of green apples and a few strawberries, nothing else. I figured he wasn’t all that hungry. I didn’t see it as a big deal until I noticed the rest of the brothers were all eating the same thing – green apples and strawberries. It was odd, but I chalked it up to some fast for Dylan’s upcoming ceremony. Unlike before, the room was now a buzz with small, segmented conversations. However, there were times when a fascinating topic would pull everyone at the table into the discussion. Those are always fun, I guess. “So Jacob, let me ask you the same thing I just asked Arsen,” Shaun said as he took a drink of his water. He held the glass to his lip for a moment as if reconsidering the question. “Sure,” I said. “What do you think of The Brotherhood and your experiences up to this point?” It was one of the first questions that made the room stop. Suddenly, all eyes were on me as if I was one of the last two contestants on American Idol. Don’t even get me started on that show. But I digress… “Well, the food is always amazing, especially when it’s free. That’s a total bonus!” The whole table got a chuckle out of that. “No, really, it’s been quite the ride so far. Win or lose, the experience alone was well worth the ride. I think every pledge would agree. Don’t get me wrong, I want to win, but regardless of the outcome, I wouldn’t give up the experience.” He raised his glass to toast me. “Now that’s what we like to hear,” his smile was genuine and warm. “And The Brotherhood itself? Is it what you expected?” “Oh, for sure. I mean, you guys are the real deal.” “And by that, you mean?” Q jumped in with a question of his own; his eyes exquisitely captured the soft light from the chandelier. I was careful not to stare into them for fear of falling so deep I’d lose myself. “You hear things….” “What things?” he pressed, his left brow arched slightly. I was starting to wonder if he was just fucking with me. “Well, you go thru the motions of applying to all these schools during your senior year in high school, and of course, the talk eventually turns to fraternities and pledging. And that inevitably leads to talk of The Brotherhood. You guys have built such a mystique around The Brotherhood. Everyone wants a piece of it. Rumors run wild, and everyone claims to know the inside scoop, but no one does. Not until they are sitting where I’m sitting now. It’s an honor and privilege to be part of it. Win, lose or draw; nobody will ever take that away from me. Nobody…” “Interesting,” Shaun said with a nod. “What happens if you don’t make it? Do you try for another fraternity?” “There is no other fraternity!” I was a bit firm yet respectful nonetheless. “You don’t experience something like The Brotherhood and then downgrade to something else. You don’t turn in your brand new Mercedes for a 95 Escort. It just doesn’t happen.” I made Shaun laugh with that. “This is where I want to be.” The conversation went in another direction entirely after that. One of the guys asked CJ about his porn days, and it was all downhill from there – in a good way, mind you. I looked at Q and couldn’t help but blush, for I knew he was proud of how I handled the questions. He never said anything, but I could tell how he looked at me. He has eyes like no other, and the world stopped whenever I gazed into them. To be honest, I found it frightening that this one man could have that kind of an effect on me with a look – a simple glance. I wanted his lips on mine. I wanted to feel his touch, his warmth, and his embrace’s love. I craved him. It was infuriating. I couldn’t have him the way I wanted. I had to sit there and pretend I was just his ‘Little.’ It wasn’t fair. Then again, life isn’t always fair, now is it? You roll with the hand fate deals you, and as luck would have it, we were in a position where discretion took priority. I got that. Q leaned into my ear. “What’s wrong?” His melodic tone made me quiver with desire. I leaned in to ensure it was humanly impossible to hear my words or read my lips. “I miss you,” was all I said. Q pulled away with a knowing look in his eyes. He said nothing, for how could he respond in such a setting? Just knowing he understood was all the acknowledgment I needed. The topics of conversation around the table were all over the spectrum. People talked about war, heath, sex, politics, and every other subject imaginable. It was nice because everyone truly appeared to be having a good time. As the meal wound down, a few brothers came in and cleared the dishes, but the lively conversations kept us at the table. “So, what’s your take on religion?” One of the pledges threw the question out to no one Brother in particular. I thought it was Nick, but I was caught up in my conversation with Q and Eric to be sure. It was one of those questions that drew everyone into the discussion. “Why are you very religious?” Eric directed his question at Jason. So it wasn’t Nick after all. “Very much so,” he replied proudly, beaming as if the lights of heaven were shining down on him. “I believe in the good Lord above and his teachings. He is the reason we are all here.” “You mean here as in around this table?” Eric mocked. “Of course not! Here on earth. We’re here for no other reason than the grace of God.” Eric took a drink of water and kind of curled his lips. “Interesting,” he nodded. “And how do you know this exactly?” Jason shrugged. “Go to church or pick up the bible. It’s all right there in black and white. I mean, millions of people can’t be wrong.” Shaun laughed and raised his glass at Q for whatever reason. “Well, you can’t argue with that logic, now, can you?” Q looked disinterested. He sank back in his chair; suddenly, a dark shadow appeared over his face. Shaun turned his attention to the rest of the pledges. “How do you guys feel about it?” Everyone said they had a fundamental belief in God, except for Steve and Paul. Of all things, who would have thought they had that in common? Some were religious, others not so much. I believe in God – or at least I want to – I just don’t follow any religion. “Religion,” Seth smirked and shook his head as if the whole idea was laughable to him, “is simply a method of control. You sit here with your ideals and unwavering faith in your God and religion, but where does it come from?” “No one is controlling me,” Jason answered matter-of-factly. “It’s what I believe. It’s how I was raised.” “My point exactly,” Seth countered. Hell, even I saw him walk into that one. “Your beliefs are not your own. It’s what you were spoon-fed as a child. Just as I’m sure, your parents were spoon- fed before you. That is control, the most dangerous kind, for, at its core, it strips you of your right to question.” “Believe what you will,” Shaun continued, “for there is nothing wrong with that. Just be careful not to sit in judgment of the next guy because you know your God and your religion are the current ones. The reality of it is you don’t know that. None of you do. Millions of people can’t be wrong, you say? Go back hundreds of years when everyone knew the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it. Or the days when they knew the earth was flat.” Nick cleared his throat and jumped into the discussion. “So would I be correct in assuming your position on the matter is the same as The Brotherhood’s?” “And what position is that?” Eric inquired with the same playful smirk. “Atheism.” He laughed. “I never said that.” “So you do believe in God?” Jason asked. Q mumbled something under his breath as he rested his face on his left hand. He looked annoyed beyond description. He was the only one too. The other Brothers were engaged in the conversation, dropping their two cents here and there. I half expected him to stand up and change the subject. I couldn’t guess why it struck a deep chord with him. “You speak as if there is only one god, your Christian God. Why? Can there not be room for other gods besides your own? Is your god the only one worthy of worship?” Jason didn’t know what to say to that. He became flustered and stumbled over his words. Eric reached over and rubbed the back of his neck, laughing. “Don’t sweat it, Jason. I’m just giving you a hard time.” Jason looked so relieved. “Oh, good. I thought this would be my last meal in this house.” Everyone laughed at him. “No, you’re fine,” Seth assured him. “You’re free to believe what you will, and it will have no effect one way or the other if you get into The Brotherhood.” “Well then, if I may ask without digging myself a deeper grave. What is the general belief among the Brothers?” Oh, for fuck sake, let it go already. I didn’t say those words, but I so wanted to! “Our beliefs are a bit…unique,” Seth’s cryptic answer only forced Jason to ask more questions. “So there’s one common belief among all of you?” Seth nodded, and both Eric and Shaun agreed. “So would you go as far as saying it was like a religion?” Jason smirked as if he had them this time! “I would never go that far,” Seth raised his glass in honor of that fact. “No offense, but unlike your beliefs, ours is based on history and facts. I’ve seen….” Q tapping his fork on his glass, and Seth cut off his word mid-sentence. “Oh right…forgive me.” You could see the realization in Seth’s eyes. He was about to give out privileged information. “In time, Jason…all in due time.” “So, do you have a different opinion on God, Q?” What made Jason think this was the time to ask Q such a question? You could be standing across the lawn and still tell that Q was royally annoyed with the subject. Why, oh why, did he want to go there? The room fell silent. The pledges were quiet in reverence to Q. The Brothers sat back in their chairs with an “oh shit” look. It didn’t take a genius to sense that the shit was about to hit the fan, and everyone was going to get splattered. “God? What is a God?” Q demanded. “What purpose does he…it…serve?” His eyes shifted from Jason to everyone along that side of the table. The rant was aimed at the group, not Jason alone. “You sit here, engaged in your discussions of creation, hope, and purpose. Of a grand scheme and millions of people who can’t be wrong. You talk of writings and salvation and credit a higher power. You feed into it, and the sad part is, you don’t even know what ‘it’ is! It’s not mindless control in the form of religion. It’s not the supposed infallibility of one belief over another. It’s not church versus state, the Koran versus the Bible, or the right to prayer in school! “It’s the insane power you’re giving beings you know nothing about. It’s the egos you’re feeding and don’t even know it. It’s the laughter as they mock your simplicity and greedily accept your praise. Praise for events for which they played no part. Don’t you understand? Just because it’s a higher being doesn’t automatically make it deserving of this much attention. Has it never crossed your mind that perhaps it is not them who has the real power? Maybe they gain all their energy from you. From control you’ve given them over your daily lives – even when you’re fighting that they don’t exist! Bad press is more powerful than no press at all. “I’ve never experienced a….” Q stopped and looked at the pledges in the room. “Trust me. They are not worth it.” It fell from his lips like a mandate. The room itself seemed frozen. No one dared to move or speak for fear of getting their head ripped off by Q. That was the first time I’d seen fear in a Brother’s eyes. I think we all just got spanked hardcore. “So…where’s the dessert?” I just threw it out there to break the tension in the room. I figured I was his Little and his boyfriend, so if he lashed out, he might show a little more restraint with me as opposed to someone else. “Good call,” one of the twins said as he stood. “We didn’t make any dessert, but I’m pretty sure I can find something sweet and unhealthy for you guys to eat.” Q sat back in his chair without saying a word. “Just give me a few minutes, and I’ll be right back. I hope everyone here likes chocolate because that’s….” The Twin broke off for no apparent reason. He froze for a few seconds, then slowly turned to face the other Brothers. Shaun sat up slowly, as did Seth and Steel. “Could it be…” Eric whispered as he placed his hands on the table. Even Q slowly sat forward. I looked from Brother to Brother, then to Q. What the fuck was going on? It was like they suddenly had the sixth sense and saw dead people everywhere. The pledges were freaking out because it was clear to anyone that the Brothers were panicked…or disoriented…about something. The doors crashed open, and Jacob ran into the room. “He’s awakened!” he yelled. “The Prince is awake!” The room was still for a good ten seconds…then boom! The Brothers shot up from their seats. Chairs flew in every direction as they rushed from the room, oblivious to the pledges around them. They cleared out in three seconds…maybe less. We didn’t know what to do, so we followed cautiously. The house was going nuts! Brothers ran out of their rooms; doors crashed open, and furniture sat overturned. It was fucking crazy! We stood at the top of the stairs and watched as the Brothers poured out of the front door. It was like a mass exodus. For a minute, I thought the house was on fire, but it wasn’t that. Something bigger was going on. Something much, much bigger… Q was by the door and looked up at me. I think it clicked that we were still in the house. He grabbed Dylan, and I heard him tell him to watch us until they returned. Q looked at me one last time before running out of the house. Within minutes, the house was emptied of Brothers, save Dylan. After about a minute of just standing there, CJ finally spoke. “Dude…Prince is alive?” “Oh lord,” I rolled my eyes and placed my hand on his shoulder. “What it must be like to live in that head of yours….” _________________________________ Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear from you ([email protected]). Please visit my Patreon eon/thewriter_x) if you’d like to support my work and get the first couple of chapters to the sequel The Brotherhood Awakening, the rest of TBH, exclusive short stories – The Stranger, and a Discord server. You can also follow me on Twitter for updates: @thewriterx_x The Brotherhood is copyrighted material and the sole intellectual property of TheWriter_X. You may not post, distribute, claim, or receive profit from any portion of my work without my expressed permission. Failure to comply will result in legal action against the offender(s).

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