Thanks to my editor Naughty, she finished this at like two a.m. because I procrastinated and forgot about the deadline <3
Arlo scowled as he stepped into the house he once called home. The two words were almost always used interchangeably, but they were as different as night and day to Arlo. Jake stood behind him, in uniform. Arlo walked quickly to his room, and grabbed a suitcase. He quickly packed some clothes, and some personal items, before zipping up the red rolling suitcase, and returning to Jake in the living room. It was obvious Donovan hadn’t returned here since he beat Arlo for the last time. That was the promise Arlo had made himself when he had been checked out of the hospital. That was the last time.
“Are you ready?” Jake asked, his deep southern accent coming through. Arlo nodded quietly, and Jake led him gently out the door. Jake had kindly offered his couch to Arlo if he wanted it. Arlo wanted anything but to go back to that house. Jake had also promised to help him stay sober. Arlo still craved a drink like no other. But he knew from experience that it got better with time. Jake’s only rule was that if Arlo was going to stay with him, he had to see a therapist and go to an AA support group. He saw too many people give up in life because they could never get over the abuse they had suffered. He didn’t want to see that happen to Arlo. Arlo watched the buildings roll by as they drove in silence to Jake’s small house. He felt so much safer with Jake. More safe than he had ever felt with Donovan.
“I cleared out some drawers and closet space in my room. You can put your things in there. Just make yourself comfortable,” Jake said, shutting the door behind him. He watched as Arlo pulled the suitcase behind him with his one good arm. Donovan had broken the other one. Arlo’s eyes were rimmed with dark shadows from sleep deprivation, and the hangover that still lingered.
“Thank you,” Arlo replied, his voice rough and scratchy. Jake ordered pizza, and then helped Arlo unpack while they waited for the meal to be delivered. They had just finished when there was a knock on the door. Jake returned to the kitchen with two pizzas in hand. He gave them each a few pieces, before walking across the kitchen and pulling a bag of gummy worms out of the pantry. Arlo stared as he poured half the bag onto his pieces of pizza, and then offered him the bag. He gave a small smile and accepted the bag, sprinkling his own pizza with the other half.
Before he knew it, Arlo was laughing so hard tears fell down his face in large drops. Jake was pulled into the giggle fit with him, and soon they were both red from laughing. Jake held his sides, as the cramps from laughing too long began. Arlo stood up and tried to walk away, as if whatever was making him laugh so hard was hanging around that spot in a thick cloud. Finally, after several minutes, their laughing died down. Arlo stared at Jake, still smiling from their laughing fit, when suddenly the smile was wiped off his face and a worried look replaced it.
“Jake, I can’t have a relationship with you,” he said suddenly. Jake’s own smile faded away as he stared at Arlo.
“I wasn’t planning on it,” Jake said.
“Oh...” Arlo mumbled. He looked down at the plate with the pizza and gummy worms.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Jake said quickly. “I think you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of a boyfriend,” he said, honestly. “You can’t afford to be hurt again, you need to protect yourself,” Jake said. Arlo looked up at him and nodded.
“But that’s not a never... right?” he asked.
Jake nodded. “It’s not a never.”
Arlo sat quietly in Jake’s room on the bed. Jake often let him lie on the bed since it was more comfortable than the couch in the living room. Arlo had been given a few weeks off from work, and was taking the time to relax and settle back into a routine. He had made an appointment with a shrink, only a few days away. He had even gone to one AA meeting already. Jake had gone with him, to keep him company and support him. It was scary at first, going back to something he had hated so much only a few weeks ago. But once they got started, he felt himself relaxing and returning to normal. Jake had stood by him the whole time. Arlo felt the dull throb of love in his chest whenever he saw Jake, or thought about him too hard, but he knew that Jake was right. He needed to take care of himself.
So here he sat. Taking some ‘me time’ for himself and enjoying a book in the brightly lit room. The sun poured in from the large windows, making the room seem bright and cheery. Arlo didn’t just sit in here because the bed was comfortable. It smelled like Jake. The natural scent of the bigger man relaxed him and kept bad thoughts from his mind.
“Arlo?” Jake called out.
“In here,” he returned, dog earing the page for later. He smiled.
“Hey, did you get some rest?” Jake asked, already taking off his uniform.
“Yeah, a little. I feel better,” Arlo said. He knew Jake worried about him. He also knew that the southerner would wake up in the middle of the night just to check on him. He was always awake, but he pretended to be asleep so that he would relax. Jake’s eyes were starting to take on the dark rings that Arlo had. Jake kicked off his shoes and looked awkward as he took off his tie. Arlo scooted over, taking half the bed. Jake hesitated, before crawling into bed next to him. He sighed as his head hit the pillow, and Arlo could tell he was already drifting off. Before he could say anything, Jake was snoring. Arlo looked at the clock, it was only six. Jake would wake up in an hour or two and be hungry. Jake didn’t make him pay any rent, and he bought all the groceries. The least he could do was cook him dinner.
Arlo smiled as Jake stumbled out of his bedroom, sniffing the air like a hungry dog. His eyes were barely open, but he grunted when he saw Arlo placing the pan of baked Macaroni on the table.
“You didn’t have to do this,” he grunted.
“You fell asleep, and I’m sure it’s been awhile since you had a homecooked meal. Besides, I always liked to cook,” Arlo smiled, and set down two plates with forks and glasses of water.
“Well... thank you,” he grunted again, sleep finally starting to clear from his face.
“Sure,” Arlo smiled. They sat down, and began eating. “So, how was work? I didn’t get to ask you before you fell asleep,” Arlo chuckled.
“It was okay, busy. Sorry I feel asleep,” Jake said, returning to normal now that he was awake and eating.
“That’s alright, you haven’t been sleeping well,” Arlo said.
“Neither have you,” Jake raised an eyebrow. Arlo laughed dryly.
“You shouldn’t worry about me so much. You need your sleep, you work so much...” Arlo said. It felt weird, almost like he was back with Donovan. Except that Jake could never be like Donovan...
“I have every right to worry about you. You don’t sleep and when you do, you have nightmares,” Jake said, brow furrowed with worry.
“They’ll go away...” Arlo whispered. He had dealt with a few patients that had suffered from abuse. He never imagined himself like that. He wondered if he looked as lifeless as they always did.
“But until then, just let me worry. Since I can’t seem to do much else,” he mumbled the last part.
“You’ve done more than enough. You’ve given me a place to stay. Somewhere I can feel safe,” Arlo said. Jake slammed his fist on the table suddenly.
“I should have known!” he shouted out of nowhere. Arlo flinched. Jake dropped his head and sighed. He placed a large hand on Arlo’s small delicate ones. “I’m sorry....” he said, as Arlo relaxed. “I just feel so guilty. I’m a cop for Christ’s sake. I should have seen the signs! I see people like you every day and I know how to tell. I was just blind and stupid. I just didn’t want to believe that you could... that he would... that......” Jake finally gave up and sighed, putting his head in his hands. Arlo could tell he was fighting back tears. He put his other hand on top of Jakes.
“You did more than enough, Jake. This was happening long before you came along and there were a million opportunities where I could have gotten help. But I chose not to. I chose to believe that he could change when he couldn’t,” Arlo said. Jake inhaled deeply before sighing. He nodded. “Please don’t feel guilty,” Arlo said. Jake looked up and smiled at him, before returning to his food. He cleared his throat before speaking.
“I invited my mother to stay with us for a week or so. I worry about leaving you alone during the day,” Jake said.
“Your mother?” Arlo bit his lip. He had never met anyone’s mother before. At least not anyone he had dated.
“Yeah, she’s really sweet. You’ll love her,” Jake said. “It will be nice to have her around.” Jake smiled a little.
“Okay... thank you,” Arlo smiled. Jake grunted a ‘you’re welcome’ before shoving another bite of food into his mouth.
“Oh, aren’t you just the cutest thing!” The woman reminded Arlo of Paula Deen. Her gray hair fell in curls and waves around her face, making her seem larger than she was. She smelled of perfume and dish soap. Her wide smile was filled with perfect white teeth, and her resemblance of Jake was almost scary. She pulled Arlo into a big hug, shoving his cheek into her breast. The woman was easily half a foot taller than Arlo. He felt like a midget.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ma’am,” he said. Her southern accent was even thicker than Jake’s when she said.
“Nice to meet you? Nice to meet you? Darlin’ the pleasure is mine! Jacob has told me so much about you! You’re just the sweetest little puddin’ cup I’ve ever done seen!” she said, pulling him into the kitchen by his waist. “My goodness, Jacob. If you don’t hold on to this one, I’m going to take him home myself!” She smiled as she opened the fridge. Her smile was suddenly lost when she stood there for a moment. “Jacob Ivory Hudson, you call yourself a homegrown southern boy and you don’t have a drop of fresh squeezed lemonade in this house? Shame on you!” she wagged her finger. Jake blushed and tried to hide his head in his broad shoulders.
“Sorry, Mama,” he apologized. Arlo looked at him.
“Jacob Ivory?” he giggled a little.
“Shut up, Doc,” Jake poked out his bottom lip in a pout.
“You be nice to this sweet young boy,” the older woman frowned at her son.
“Yes, Mama,” Jake replied, his southern accent coming out.
“I swear boy...” she mumbled, shaking her head at her son before turning her attention to Arlo. “Jacob here told me you like to cook. I think we’re going to have fun together,” she smiled and winked.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Arlo nodded.
“Now drop that ‘Ma’am’ nonsense. You can call me Mama.” She smiled and kissed Arlo’s forehead, making him blush harder than he had ever blushed before.
Arlo woke up early in the morning to the sound of Mama singing. Her voice was slightly off key, and she missed some of the words, but it still made Arlo smile. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, which Jake had moved him into when he left for work, and stumbled out into the living room wearing only some sleeping pants. He rubbed his brown and blonde streaked hair as he stepped into the kitchen where Mama had put a plate of pancakes down for him. He smiled and sat down.
“Eat up, Hon. We got stuff to do today!” she said, in her loud southern drawl. Arlo did as he was told, and devoured the heavy stack of pancakes in a few minutes. “Well goodness, Puddin’ Cup. You don’t waste any time do ya’?” she chuckled, and wiped her wet hands on her apron. Arlo shook his head with a mouthful of pancake and a smile. “Well, good. We got lots to do and little time to do it,” she said, and took the apron off, hanging it from a chair. Arlo swallowed.
“Like what, Ma’am?” Arlo asked, and ducked his head with a blush when she glared. “Mama.” he mumbled. She nodded with a smile when he corrected himself.
“You’re in for a real treat today,” she winked.
Arlo cried as he stepped through the door, Mama not far behind him. He wiped the tears away as his laughing finally stopped. It had been so long since he had laughed this much. He loved staying here. They had spent half the day jumping from store to store loading up on God knows how many baking goods, and now they were ready for the real fun part. Mama sent him to go wash his hands as she slipped her apron back on. He returned shortly, ready to start the mayhem.
“Here you go, Honey Bunny. You can wear Jacobs old apron, from when he used to help me bake as a little boy,” she smiled.
“Jake used to bake?” Arlo couldn’t help the laugh that spewed forward.
“Oh, he sure did,” she smiled and handed him the plain apron covered in dinosaurs. It hardly covered anything but the first half of his chest, but he didn’t mind.
They began with a cake. It was just a simple yellow cake with chocolate frosting, homemade, but as soon as he began mixing the bowl of batter with a large wooden spoon, he felt his muscles relax and his mind empty of all the thoughts that had been constantly fighting through. He couldn’t help but sigh a little.
“Feeling better?” Mama asked, Arlo looked up, raising an eyebrow.
“Hm?” He turned back to the bowl at hand.
“Jacob hasn’t told me any details about why you’re staying here, but I do know that you went through something pretty rough, didn’t you Puddin’ Cup?” She asked, in her peaceful southern drawl. Without looking up, Arlo nodded. “Mmhmmm.” She nodded with him. “This world can be a cruel place, honey. But nothing can make it seem alright like baking can,” she winked, and handed him another bowl with the thick frosting in it. He continued to mix it while she poured in some more chocolate.
“Jake has been so nice, letting me stay here. I just feel like I’m a burden to him,” Arlo whispered.
“Believe me, honey, you’re anything but a burden. You’re not the only one who’s been through some rough times. Jacob is a sweetheart deep down, but the trick is getting deep enough to see it. He’s been hurt a few too many times,” she said, sadly.
“Hurt how?” Arlo asked.
“That’s not my story to tell, honey.” She looked over with a smile, before returning to the work at hand. “So what about your mother? Where’s she hidin’?” Mama drawled.
“She’s not really in the picture,” Arlo said sadly.
“What? Now who in the world would leave an adorable little snowflake like yourself all alone?” She put her flour covered hands on her hips.
“I don’t know. My dad always told me she left and never came back. No warning... no goodbye. I was six when she left,” Arlo said.
“Oh, Puddin’ Cup, I’m so sorry.” Mama patted his back, leaving a flour shaped hand print.
“It’s alright. I don’t really remember her all that well,” Arlo shrugged.
“What about your father?” Mama asked.
“He died a few years ago of cancer,” Arlo said. Mama frowned.
“You poor dear, well now you’ve got me. You hear that, Honey Bun?” she said.
“Yes, Mama.” Arlo smiled and tried to stop tears from falling when she hugged him to her chest again. He didn’t succeed. He tried to wipe away the tear before she saw it.
“Oh honey, you really have been hurt, haven’t ya?” she frowned. Arlo couldn’t stop it now, and let the tears fall. He sobbed and nodded as she held him. After a few minutes of crying and shushing, she pulled his head away from her tear stained dress. “You know what will ease the hurt? If only for a little while?” she asked. Arlo shook his head as he wiped away the tears. She smiled warmly, “cupcakes.”
Jake loved having his Mama around. The house was warm and felt alive and was filled with music when she was here. He tried to make it just as exciting when it was just him and Arlo but it never worked. It had been a long day at work and he was glad to return home. He could hear the music from halfway down the walkway. He rolled his eyes as he opened the door. The music doubled in volume as it flowed directly into his ears, the door no longer a barrier.
“What the-” Jake nearly swore in front of his mother when he stepped into the kitchen. Almost every surface was covered with some sort of mix, or flour, or batter, or frosting. Arlo stood in the middle of the kitchen with his mother, wearing his childhood apron. His hair was matted with some sort of dough, and there were smudges of frosting on his nose and cheek. The tiny apron he wore was covered with flour and he was holding a pastry bag in his hands, decorating cupcakes with Mama.
“Jake!” Arlo smiled and greeted him. “Hi, how was work?” He laughed, as a glob of frosting fell off the poor cupcake who had the unfortunate experience of crossing paths with ‘Arlo the baker’.
“It was good... do I want to know what you guys have done with my kitchen?” he laughed.
“We made lemonade.” Arlo took a sip of the bright liquid in the glass.
“And cookies!” Mama smiled as she pulled out a tray of sugar cookies in the shape of little men.
“I see,” Jake laughed.
“We already made the first batch, I kind of dedicated them to you.” Arlo moved so Jake could see the little sugar cookie men, decorated in blue frosting, with a yellow star on their chest, and a smudge of black here and there.
“What is it?” Jake laughed, Arlo pouted.
“They’re little policemen,” he looked down at his franken-cookie.
“I see...” Jake laughed. Arlo scowled and playfully squirted frosting at him. “Hey now!” Jake said, laughing as he dodged the sugar substance. He managed to avoid the rest of the sweets that Arlo threw, but didn’t see his mother coming with the bowl of apple pie filling. She poured the goo onto his head. He couldn’t help but laugh as the sweet mush dripped down his face. He stuck his tongue out and swallowed a glob of the sugary substance. “Is there anything you guys haven’t made?” Jake asked.
“Nope, just about everything,” Arlo confessed, looking around at the kitchen filled with three cakes, four sheets of cookies, two plates of crepes, four pies, two pitchers of lemonade, and God knows how many cupcakes.
“Oh... alright then,” Jake couldn’t help but look a little disappointed.
“Nonsense! There’s always more to bake!” his mother shouted, and cranked the oven up to 375 as Jake practically skipped into the kitchen.
Arlo was startled awake suddenly. He searched the dark living room frantically, and sighed when he saw that Donovan wasn’t here. He had been having these terrible nightmares ever since he had left the home he shared with Donovan. He only got a few hours of sleep a night, and the few he managed to grab were filled with terrible dreams. He heard a small sound and jumped, sitting up on the couch. Inside he knew it was nothing. That he was just being childish. He knew it was probably a branch scraping the window outside, or the house creaking like houses do. But outside, he was terrified.
Before he realized it, he was standing in Jake’s doorway. The bigger cop was sleeping on the floor, Mama taking the bed, and hadn’t even stirred when Arlo had awoken. He stared at him a moment longer, and glanced over his shoulder. He seriously considered asking to crawl in with him, but cursed at himself. What was he, four? He turned to go hide under the covers back on his couch, when Jake stirred.
“Huh? Whazzit? Arlo? Is everything alright?” he sat up suddenly, looking around.
“Oh... sorry. Yeah I’m okay. I’m sorry I woke you up,” Arlo apologized.
“No no, it’s fine. Are you okay? What’s wrong?” he asked, groggily.
“Nothing... I just got a little scared... I’m okay,” Arlo tried to crawl back to the couch, with his tail between his legs.
“Do you want to crawl in with me?” Jake asked, without hesitation. Arlo paused, his back to Jake. He bit his lip before turning around and nodding. Jake tossed back the blankets, and Arlo crawled in.
“Thank you...” he whispered.
“It’s fine. Maybe you’ll sleep better with somebody here,” he whispered. Arlo listened to Jake’s steady breathing as he began to fall back to sleep. He let his head rest against Jake’s back, listening to the loud throb of his heart. In no time, he was sound asleep. For the first time in weeks, he didn’t have a nightmare.