Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week. I used this prompt: “If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up”
At Full Speed, #17
They ate their meal without talking most of the time. To Jake’s surprise, the atmosphere wasn’t strained in the least, and he had no desire to rack his mind to come up with a topic. Usually the men he’d been with expected him to entertain them—in any way possible. Though, come to think of it, there hadn’t been a lot of situations like this.
Bruce’s fork clinked on his empty plate, causing Jake to jump. “Sorry, Jake. What did you dream about?”
“Dream?” Jake echoed in confusion.
Bruce’s lips tipped upward at the corners, easing Jake’s anxiety. “You looked like you were dreaming with your eyes open.”
Jake pointed from Bruce to himself, and his throat constricted before he replied, “If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”
Bruce’s expression softened even more. He reached out and covered Jake’s smaller hand with his own. Jake stared at their connection, fear coiling deep in his gut. What the hell was he doing? Why did he pour out his heart to Bruce? Sure, Bruce seemed to be the real thing, but what if Jake’s neediness sent him running? What if—
“Jake.” Bruce squeezed his hand. “Look at me.”
Reluctantly, Jake lifted his gaze. “Yes?”
“It’s fine, okay? I will not harm you.”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking about.”
Bruce slid his fingers between Jake’s and gave his hand another gentle squeeze. “Can you tell me what you were thinking about? You looked spooked.”
Jake opened his mouth but closed it again. No. He could not show even more vulnerability than he’d already done. Everyone had their limit, and he sure as hell had reached his. Shaking his head, he slipped free from Bruce’s hand. His chair swayed precariously when he shoved backward in a hurry. He grabbed the dishes and hurried toward his small kitchen, needing that little space between them. After dropping the dishes into the dishwasher, he held onto the edge of the counter, clutching so hard his knuckles turned white.
Bruce’s voice startled him into a frightened yelp. “Do you want me to go?”
Jake whirled around. Bruce leaned against his fridge, looking handsome and concerned, but not in the least annoyed or mad. For years, he’d craved another man to act… normal… the way Bruce did, and now that Bruce did act exactly that way, his mind refused to accept this behavior as normal. Why wouldn’t Bruce yell or slap him around? He knew what to do in that case. He had no idea how to react to Bruce’s gentleness.
“Do I scare you, Jake?”
Jake swallowed. There had been a slight growl to Bruce’s voice, a hint of anger, he was sure about that. He knew all about the subtle changes in another man’s voice. His breathing sped up as he tried to force his tongue into cooperation. Maybe he could still rescue the situation?
Bruce took a step backward, then another. Jake drew his eyebrows together, not understanding Bruce’s actions. Shouldn’t he rush toward Jake and start with the shouting?
“I know you don’t want to talk about what happened to you, and maybe that’s for the best. If I ever find out who did this to you, who trained you to fear life so much, I’ll flip. I’ll hurt this guy the same way he hurt you.”
Jake surprised himself by laughing out loud. Bruce hurting someone else the same way Jake had been hurt? No way. Bruce wasn’t cut out for such kind of cruelty and abuse. Jake’s eyes widened as he realized his own thoughts. Abuse. He’d been the victim of abuse. His reactions and interpretations of reality were all skewed because of his experiences.
“Why are you laughing?” Bruce asked. His voice still held that tinge of a grow,l but Jake wasn’t afraid anymore. That growl wasn’t for him—it was for the men who’d abused him.
“You’d never be capable of doing the things they did to me. Never. Unless you secretly enjoy breaking other people’s bones, or forcing them to have sex against their will,” Jake blurted. He drew in a deep breath afterward. His shoulders loosened, as if he’d released a heavy burden.
When he opened his eyes, Bruce’s lower lip wobbled, and his throat worked convulsively. “Jake…”
“I’m broken, Bruce. I jump at noises. I’m frightened all the time. I see bad intentions everywhere. Kind words or gentleness? I always wait for the second shoe to drop. Do you really want to put up with me and… my memories? We barely know each other, and yet…” Jake couldn’t finish his sentence. And yet a small insistent voice, the very same voice that had kept him going despite everything, whispered hopeful words into his ears. He wanted Bruce, wanted his help, craved his protection.
“You’re not broken, Jake. Your spirit might be weakened, but you’re not broken. Please, let me stay with you and help you.”
It was now or never. He had to come to a decision. Should he draw back into a life of darkness and terror, where he at least knew what to expect? Or should he opt to take a chance? Just once more, the small voice inside him whispered, just one more time, Jake.
The voice sounded strangely like Bruce’s. Jake nodded and crossed the distance between them. Bruce pulled him against his chest, fenced him in. It was just the two of them, and at least for a while, no one could hurt Jake.