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Chapter Ten – Good Man, Bad Boy
“Why do I have to take him with me?” Ruslan protested.
Douglas looked at him, frowning. “Nigel has come a long way to spend some time with us.”
“You mean with me.” Ruslan pointed at himself. “Seriously, papa, the guy is such a bore. And I have some stuff to do later.”
“With Johnny? No one says that you can’t do as you please. But I thought you would love to show off our ring to a potential business partner. Seeing how you are already so invested in this.”
“I can tell you’re thinking of something.” Ruslan began pacing the room, while the old man was seated behind his desk. “Of how to make me break up with Johnny.”
Douglas shrugged. “Of course I am. I made no secret of the fact that I don’t condone this relationship.”
“I don’t understand you.” Ruslan sat on the small sofa by the window, which had always been his favorite spot, from the time he was still living under the old man’s roof.
He liked his papa’s studio. He had always found it a peaceful place. It was easy to recall how he had often laid on that same spot, with a book in his arms, while listening to Douglas’s even scribbling. In an age where everyone was using computers, the old man was still adamant against technology taking over every aspect of his life. So he was still sending correspondence written by hand, and he seemed to have a lot of it, too.
Ruslan would have liked to have the same reassuring feeling now, for his papa to tell him that it was all right to feel the way he felt about Johnny. But Douglas seemed to have something against Johnny, and Ruslan needed a different approach to change his mind.
“So many times, I got involved with guys, and you didn’t care about them. Why Johnny?” He pouted and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You mean men with an unsavory reputation?” Douglas looked at him over the rim of his glasses. “You never took one home. You never spent more time than what you deemed enough for a fleeting tryst with any of them. I have my reasons to be worried, Russy, as I told you.”
“It’s like you know something about this guy that I don’t.” Ruslan opened his arms wide, as if in supplication for his plea to be heard. “Wait.” His eyes squared on Douglas. “You do. You know something about Johnny. About his past. Or about his family. What is it that makes you so worried? So he’s a fighter. I get it. He’s not a businessman like Nigel is. And he’s poor. But I don’t see how any of these could make you so worried. Johnny is actually a good man.”
“It wasn’t because he was a good man that he got those terrible scars on his back,” the old man interrupted him.
Ruslan stared at his papa, wide-eyed. So Douglas knew about how Johnny had gotten hurt. Admittedly, he was curious. But Johnny had chosen not to tell him, and he wouldn’t pry. When that happened, it would be because Johnny trusted him, and not before.
“Aren’t you going to ask me about details?” Douglas pushed his glasses back on the bridge of his nose.
“No. Johnny will tell me about that when he’s ready,” Ruslan said stubbornly.
“So you want to believe him. Has it not crossed your mind that he might choose to lie?” his papa inquired.
“Johnny’s not like that,” Ruslan said quickly.
“Ah, you’re so fierce and determined to take his side.” Douglas pursed his lips. “Have you known this man for how long, Russy? A few weeks at best? And you want to believe him over your parent who wants nothing but what’s best for you.”
Ruslan looked away, feeling a little chastised. “I know he’s a good guy,” he mumbled while still averting his eyes. “Are you trying to tell me he’s not?” He looked back at his papa with a tinge of fear.
Douglas’s eyes became warm when they met his. “Johnny Bryne is doing his best, Russy. But that’s not always enough. I am honest with you here. And I will not tell you anything about him that you don’t want to hear from me. I want to save you the pain that might come your way. For you, I want the best. I want to see you with someone who deserves you. Someone who can make you happy. Who will take care of you.”
“Someone like Nigel Davenport?” Ruslan glared now. “I can tell you, papa. The guy would be all down for some horizontal mambo, but I doubt he’s ready to take some vows and have you walk me down some aisle like you might be imagining it. It’s not like I’m some girl whose hand you can offer in marriage. You know that’s not how things work for gay guys. At least, not for gay guys like me,” he added.
“Like you? And what is that supposed to mean, Russy?” Douglas linked his fingers and sat his chin on top of them, elbows against the desk.
“Johnny is not the only one with a dark past. I have one of my own. Do you think goody-two-shoes Nigel would be as enthralled with me if he knew where I come from?”
Douglas’s eyes shadowed. “I am in the position to be able to wipe your past, Russy. I did that. No one would be able to prove anything, should some gossip resurface.”
Ruslan shook his head. “I love you, papa, for all that you did for me. But you forget Ankara bayan escort that there are still people who know the truth. And I know the truth. It will never disappear from up here.” Ruslan pointed at his temple.
“I know that,” Douglas reproached him. “You still refuse to receive help. It would do you good. It would set you free.”
“No.” Ruslan shook his head. “I won’t have a stranger digging around my brain.”
“This is not how therapy works. You have misconceptions about it,” Douglas said.
“Maybe I’m wrong, but I still don’t want to go.” He eased back into the sofa. “Let’s say that I won’t ever talk about it. What about the others?”
“The others?” The old man continued to look at him with scrutinizing eyes.
“Yeah, like, you know.” Ruslan shifted in his place like he could not sit comfortably. “Those people at that place. The bad people,” he whispered and closed his eyes.
“Ah, they won’t talk,” Douglas said matter-of-factly.
Ruslan’s eyes snapped open. Something was off in how casually his papa was dismissing that possibility. “Why?”
Douglas shrugged. “It is a simple fact.”
“Did something happen to those people? Papa, are you a gangster? Did you make them … disappear?” he whispered.
“What a ludicrous idea, Russy.” Douglas smiled. “I am definitely not a gangster.”
“But how you said that those guys wouldn’t talk … I don’t know. You give me the willies, sometimes.” Ruslan squeezed his arms with his hands like he was suddenly cold.
“I am sure that is not the case. And you’re just goofing around now. You know that behaving like a child will not work on me forever.”
Ruslan rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m bound to get too old for that, at one point.”
“You will always be my dear child,” Douglas said with affection.
“And you just said that me behaving like that won’t work forever,” Ruslan replied.
“Just because I will know all your tricks by then,” Douglas added quickly.
“All right, I will take Nigel with me to see the match. But my time is my own, okay?” Ruslan said.
“I would like that you don’t behave terribly familiar with Johnny in front of Nigel.”
“Why? Ah, damn, papa, you really think this guy will put some ring on my finger. Seriously, you’re so old-fashioned.”
“Of course I am old-fashioned. I am old, so it’s natural for me to be this way.” Douglas laughed. “Yes, I do believe that Nigel could have serious intentions. And why are you so much against marriage? You know it is possible.”
“C’mon, papa,” Ruslan complained, “not even country girls marry at twenty-four in this day and age. Do you expect gay guys who have all the reasons in the world not to get hitched to fit into some marriage bliss stereotype? You know that’s not working for most heterosexual couples. Plus, I have never had a serious relationship in my life. Jumping to get married would be a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?”
“Just give Nigel a chance. The young man is smitten with you, as I expected.”
“He wants the same thing as anyone else. And that’s fine. It’s not like I want something else, either. But I’m not interested in that particular thing with him.”
“Ah, and that’s because you do have a relationship right now.” Douglas shook his head but smiled.
“It’s not like that,” Ruslan protested, but he could feel his cheeks getting a bit warm.
“Your misplaced affection will be a cause for pain, Russy,” his papa said softly.
“Seriously, I’m not that into Johnny. I mean, he’s better than anyone else I’ve been with -“
“Russy, you can’t judge people only by their prowess in bedroom affairs.”
“Ugh, papa, I told you. Johnny is a good guy. Why are you and Yanis so sure he would hurt me, somehow? He’s the gentlest partner I’ve ever been with. I have nothing to worry about, and you don’t have either.”
“I see that Yanis is more responsible these days than you are.”
“Well, he’s getting married. I suppose he feels a bit more responsible than usual,” Ruslan said with a small smile.
He had wanted to tell his papa the news about Yanis’s engagement for a while, but he hadn’t known how to bring it up.
“That means he is growing up.” Douglas nodded in agreement. “Is he still hanging out with that gang of his?”
“They’re just friends,” Ruslan said, somewhat defensively.
“Friends who get together to break some people’s bones, or squeeze money from certain shady business ventures.”
“It’s a living.” Ruslan shrugged. “I took advantage of Yanis’s skills on more than one occasion, as you know.”
“You just found a way to give your friend some money without him protesting against it because he doesn’t take charity, as I recall.” Douglas smiled. “I still remember how troublesome he was while he stayed with us. He was so certain I was going to ask for something in return that he could not be convinced to stay and get an education and do something better with his life.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Ruslan mumbled.
He still felt ashamed for all that Yanis had said to the Escort bayan Ankara old man back then.
“You don’t worry about it. I was glad to have found the way to help him even though he pretended he wanted none from me.”
“How did you help him?” Ruslan asked, leaning forward, all eyes and ears.
“Well, I knew that his proud self would not allow me to give him money, so I had Martin offer him the help he needed. He accepted it as he saw Martin as someone a little more close to him regarding social status. Also, Martin informed me that Yanis paid his debt in full. I hope you won’t tell him that I was behind the help he got that time. I am not particularly fond of the fact that he used the money for his little startup gang.”
“I won’t say a word,” Ruslan promised. “How come you didn’t tell me all these?”
“You didn’t ask,” Douglas replied. “I know you still feel ashamed for Yanis’s tantrums. Truth be told, there was quite a lively atmosphere in this house during those weeks. Poor Martin, I’m afraid, took the brunt of everything.”
As if he knew he was part of the conversation, Martin entered the room pushing a small tea cart, after a short knock on the door. Even when he knew he wasn’t bothering the master of the house, Martin still knocked. Ruslan greeted him, receiving a short nod and a warm look in return. The butler was efficient in his moves as he served the master of the house. After that, he pushed the tray closer to the sofa.
“Two as always, Ruslan?” Martin asked, his strong hands hovering over the sugar bowl, armed with silver tongs.
Ruslan smiled. “You know me.”
It had taken him weeks to stop Martin from calling him ‘young master’, as the butler had seemed bent on doing. Eventually, when Ruslan had pointed out that Martin wasn’t calling Douglas Kent master, either, the butler had eventually backed down. He had noticed how, when only the three of them were present, Martin was calling his employer by his first name.
Ruslan wished he could understand how come people like his papa and Martin could be. They were so dignified, so kind, so well mannered, and Ruslan had seen plenty of the upper class to know that these two men who cared about him so much and whom he cared about just the same, were of a different breed from anyone else. Douglas Kent’s family was a nightmare. Two spinster sisters with too much taste for gossip, and a nephew from a brother who hadn’t survived past his forty-eight birthday, together with his wife, were the only family. And all of them were interested in nothing but how to get their hands on his wealth. Ruslan was, of course, a thorn in their side.
“Are you still working out, Martin? How come you’re so fit?” He teased the butler while Martin carefully fixed his tea by pouring some milk.
“I am still an enthusiast practitioner of the old art of boxing, time permitting, as you well know, Ruslan,” came the prompt reply.
Ruslan knew it well, indeed. More than once he had seen it with his own eyes. The truth was that Martin had a certain grace in his precise moves, but he was a stout man, and anyone could guess that beneath that butler livery a strong body was present, ready to do more than just serve tea.
Martin imposed respect, Ruslan thought.
“Are you and papa still training together?” he asked.
His parent had rarely been generous with information on how he spent his free time. Ruslan had come to think Douglas Kent was a secretive person as a general rule. Martin and his papa were like peas in a pod. Whenever they were together, they always made Ruslan feel like he was the center of the universe, though. That was his family. And he wanted his family to accept the guy he liked. So he decided on a different strategy.
“You know, Martin, I don’t know if papa told you, but I have, sort of, found someone.”
That earned him an amused snort from Douglas. Martin straightened up.
“Congratulations,” the butler said politely, but his lips twitched in a small smile.
Ruslan pouted. “Papa doesn’t like him. And he’s a great fighter, you know? A beast in the ring. I wish you would come to see him. I bet you’ll like him.”
“Are you trying to win Martin over, Russy?” Douglas laughed wholeheartedly.
“Of course I am. At least someone under this roof should be on my side,” Ruslan replied. “Martin, please come sit next to me. I’m sure papa is not such a slave driver that he can’t live with you taking a break for a few minutes.”
There was a small exchange between the butler and the owner of the house that wasn’t lost on Ruslan. It was like the parents were trying to communicate without words about what to do about their troublesome son.
Martin sat on the sofa and, with slow, measured gestures, fixed himself a cup of tea, as well. It was not some liberty he was taking. They were often taking their tea together in that house. Except for the times where there were visitors, the atmosphere in the house was quite relaxed. Well, Martin still wore his livery, and he did so from dawn till dusk, and he took care of everything Bayan escort Ankara regarding household chores, but, all in all, they were a pretty eccentric family if Ruslan took the time to think things over.
With an exaggerated sigh, he rested the back of his head on Martin’s shoulder but remained turned toward Douglas, to gauge his reactions.
“Papa is prejudiced because Johnny doesn’t have money,” he started.
Martin eased into the sofa and moved one arm to caress Ruslan’s hair.
“I am sure Douglas has strong reasons to believe that this man is not the right one for you,” the butler said, his voice kind and thoughtful.
“Not in this case,” Ruslan replied. “Johnny is a good guy. And he treats me right.”
“How long have you two been together?” Martin questioned.
Ruslan was pretty sure Martin was up to speed with everything, but he pretended so that he could indulge the young master.
“Several weeks. But, come on, in this day and age, that’s forever,” Ruslan said.
“Who are his parents?” Martin continued.
“Does it matter?” Ruslan turned to look at the butler.
“Yes. If your father is to welcome this young man into the family, it will serve to know a little about his.”
“Hey, it’s not like we’re getting married!” Ruslan exclaimed.
The amused look in Martin’s eyes and the way he looked over Ruslan at his employer, told him he was being played.
“I thought it wasn’t even a relationship,” his papa finally intervened. “So, seeing that it’s not a relationship, why does it matter if I agree with him or not? Strong headed as you are, you’ll do as you like, won’t you, Russy?”
“Yes, but -” he started.
He was about to say it out loud how much it mattered for the old man to approve of Johnny. But he had to save face, given the circumstances.
“If Johnny is the good man you say he is, he will prove his worth,” Martin said with conviction. “But I must say, Ruslan. I thought that wasn’t your type.”
“My type?” Ruslan asked, knowing what Martin wanted to say, but still needing the confirmation.
“I believe the term would be … a bad boy?” Martin said with a small smile.
Ruslan snickered. “Ah, he is a bad boy. But a good man.”
“Quite a walking contradiction, this Johnny, if I may say,” Martin added.
Ruslan snickered and turned again to rub his head against Martin’s shoulder.
“Don’t mind your father, then, Ruslan,” Martin said. “Prove that your lover is worthy of you.”
“He’s not my lover,” Ruslan protested and blushed.
“Oh, he’s not? Then why are we having this conversation about him?” Martin wondered.
“Because … ugh, you two are so annoying.” Ruslan pretended to pout.
“We only want the best for you, Russy,” Douglas said. “Both Martin and I. Seeing that you are not even decided about what Johnny is to you, how can you expect us to believe you are serious about him? And to treat him with the required consideration?”
Ruslan fell silent. He knew the old man was right. But it wasn’t like him to commit; after all, he and Johnny were only having a bit of fun and nothing else.
Johnny was breathing heavily, back into his corner. It was the fifth round, and both he and his opponent were starting to feel the seconds stretching with each minute in the ring. A feeling of frustration was beginning to rear its head.
Yeah. He was pissed. And a bit distracted. Looking up, at Ruslan, at the start of each bout he fought in the ring, had been a lucky charm so far. But this time, when he had looked, he had noticed someone was there, with Ruslan, and it wasn’t his old man. When everyone had stood up to look at the men climbing into the ring, Ruslan and his companion included, Johnny had seen it.
The pretty man wasn’t alone. Some young dude was there, too, and he was apparently taking liberties, by holding Ruslan by the shoulders. That green-eyed monster was starting to gnaw at his insides, again.
How could he be so stupid to lose this head like that? It was a good thing that his honed instincts were keeping him bouncing back, round after round. The last one, he had sliced his opponent’s brow pretty severely, and, after a short consultation with the local physician, and the guy’s trainer, the man was going back into the cage for another one.
Not that he would have liked to win by technical KO. He was fair to his opponents, as much as his training on the wrong side of the tracks allowed, but sometimes, shit went down like that.
He could see that the other was squinting, apparently no longer seeing right with one eye that was only growing bigger, to the size of a hard-boiled egg. Johnny put his fists up, and hunched his head into his shoulders, decided not to let the other get his revenge. Fights weren’t only about who was the fastest, or who had the meanest and heaviest punch. They were about who could keep his head in the cage the longest, who resisted the temptation to celebrate too soon.
Fights were about survival not only of the fittest but also of the most desperate. And Johnny knew plenty about that. And he could read in the other man’s face hints of that desperation. There was just something in being sent to the floor by another man, and not standing up before the count was done. Many never really got up after something like that.
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