Wilton Morris worried about his friend. Cole was undeniably a real stand-up reliable guy, but the way in which he’d lost his cool so readily and shouted at Parker had him worried. Wilton had been plenty popular at school, so he hadn’t banked much on needing new friends at college. His friendship with Cole had come a as a shock. They’d met on Cole’s seventeenth birthday, the first day of college, bumped into each other and got to chatting. Then Wilton had discovered they had anthropology together, and the friendship had blossomed. Now Cole was his go to guy for everything, even though he had nothing in common.
Wilton had suspected that Cole was gay from about week two when Cole had failed to check out any single girl that had ever walked past them as they lounged in the common room, flicking their eyes up and down his strong frame, swooshing their hair and hips to get his attention. Cole wasn’t mean to anybody, but it was really like girls didn’t exist on his radar. So Wilton didn’t go to him with girl trouble, and hadn’t minded.
But he worried. Cole had no free time, Cole had no apparent love interests, Cole’s hobbies relied on him being outdoors, and he could drink everyone else Wilton knew under the table, which was sort of scary. And now this. Cole must have been crushing on Jared Parker pretty bad to have such a strong reaction to the guy, and then he’d skipped out on college. It hadn’t taken Wilton long to find out why.
Shelby Parker, Jared’s sister, was in his Musical Performance and Structure class. They got on OK, chatted and stuff, but after lunch Shelby had walked in with a look that was meant to kill. Wilton practically felt the dagger digging into his back.
“You tell your stupid friend to leave my brother alone!”
“Huh?” Wilton had looked up from his (beautiful) guitar in utter confusion, and then he’d seen the acid in Shelby’s eyes, “Shel, can we back up a sec?”
“Your friend. The tall bastard.”
“That would be Cole,” Wilton had an awful idea where this was going, “He was the one with the rugby ball the other week.”
“Right,” Shelby put a hand on her hip, attitude and anger seeping off her, “Him. Cole. Well you tell him to lay off Jared alright?”
“I don’t get it,” Wilton plucked at the strings of his (fabulous) guitar, running his fingers over the frets distractedly, “What did he do now?”
“He fucking apologised.”
“What?” Wilton’s brows drew low, further confused.
“Your stupid fucking friend tried to apologise. He even did it in sign.”
“Shel, sorry, but why are you having a go at me about it?”
“Look,” Shelby sighed and flicked her hair out of her face, “You’re buddy is a well-meaning moron. I don’t want me brother getting close to him just to get brushed aside when your friend gets bored.” And with that she stalked off across the music room leaving Wilton feeling utterly confused. When Cole hadn’t been there to meet him after college, Wilton went looking for Shelby again.
The Parker siblings were sitting on the low brick wall that ran between the college grounds and the nature reservation talking with their hands. Shelby whispered low, mouthing words as her fingers flicked, tracing lines and shapes in the air that were too fast for Wilton to follow. It had stopped raining so hard, the air full of a fine mist that made Wilton glad he had left his (gorgeous) guitar inside in its case. When Shelby saw Wilton she stopped talking, tapped her brother’s shoulder and pointed.
Wilton smiled at Jared and gave a little wave, then felt stupid for that. He had no idea how to communicate with the deaf boy. For his part Jared gave Wilton a soft smile, his hand finding his sister’s elbow. Jared seemed to hide behind his sister’s stronger presence, and Wilton suddenly twigged that they must be twins, same age, same height, and so close. As an only child Wilton was touched with jealousy.
“What?” Shelby’s voice was hard, and her fingers when she moved were sharp and quick.
“What did you say to Cole?” Wilton wasn’t sure who he was directing his question at, and his gaze flicked between the twins as he spoke.
“Why do you care what I said to him?” Shelby spoke with venom, her hands flickered as she spoke. Wilton managed to catch the last sign. One hand rubbing down her chest, then out like a chubby pot-belly; then one finger pointing under the chin in a gesture that almost looked like shaving.
“What does that mean?” Wilton pointed to Shelby’s hands, “What does that symbol mean?”
“Farm-boy,” Shelby spoke as she repeated the symbol, “What?”
“Please, please tell me you didn’t say that to him.”
“That’s what Jake calls him.” Shelby shrugged, water off a duck’s back.
Wilton pressed his fist into his forehead.
“Shit!” He stomped and scuffed his trainers on the wet tarmac, “He hates being called that. I know he was a bit of a prat but he tried to apologise.” Wilton realised that Shelby was automatically translating him for her brother, “Jake hates Cole. He’s only gone and driven off in a mood.”
Jared tapped his twin and they had a fast heated flurry of words in the air.
“Fine, fine.” Shelby muttered, “Pretend I’m him!” She threw up her hands in exasperation and then Wilton entered into the weirdest conversation of his life.
‘Is he really upset?’
‘What did I ever do to him anyways?’
“He’s…Cole can be really intense.”
‘Can I have his number?’
Wilton had been deeply unsure about handing over Cole’s number to Jared, but Shelby had stepped aside, though she was obviously fuming as Wilton punched the digits into her brother’s phone. Now he lay in bed and fretted. Cole might be pissed. But what was Jared going to do? Phone him up and yell at him, not likely.
Wilton scrabbled for his phone in the sheets.
Wilton: Jared asked for your number. I gave it to him.
It was done. Wilton dropped the phone, wrapped himself in blankets and went to sleep.
The hard buzz of the phones vibration half-woke Cole and he stared blearily at the screen.
2 new messages:
He opened the one from Wilton, read it and blinked hard several times to clear the fog of sleep from his brain. Wilton had spoken to Jared. Jared had his number. Jared Parker had his number. Shivers of trepidation made his fingers shake as Cole tapped the screen of the phone to show the other message.
Unknown: apology accepted
Cole gulped as he read and re-read the two glowing words. His breath came quick and short, and his heart slammed against his ribs as he began to type.
Cole: i should never have shouted at you. can we talk?
Jared: you might find that hard we’re talking now
Jared: stop apologising. they tell me your name is cole. like fire?
Cole: yeah. like fire.
Jared: see you around, like fire.
Cole dropped the phone on his bed with a groan. He was sure he had sounded like an idiot to Jared. Hell, he didn’t ‘sound’ at all. And the knowledge that Jared had been awake, probably in bed, speaking to him, thinking of him, had him instantly hard. Cole ran his hands through his hair, flexing and arching his spine as arousal travelled over his body like a flash flood from groin to toes. His smooth abdomen was crusted and sticky with his earlier exertion. It would be unusual for him to go again so quickly, but not unheard of. Cole half rolled and scrabbled in his bedside cabinet for the lube he kept there.
Images came easily as Cole wrapped a hand around his cock, stroking the velvet soft skin over the head which already dripped in anticipation. His other hand flicked open the lid of the bottle and Cole’s breath hitched as he raised his arse from the sheets and snaked a hand underneath himself. Jared was in his bed, touching him, his lips kissing up Cole’s chest, teasing and nipping at his nipples. Cole’s fingers, wet and cold, circled the entrance to his hole, and he had the presence of mind to exhale as he invaded himself. Jared’s stubble grazing his neck, his hand curving under Cole’s body to touch the hot wetness of him which grabbed around the digits. Cole groaned into the emptiness of his room as he touched himself, pushing his fingers into the spot which caused violent shivers to run down his spine. He knew he wouldn’t last long when he was this wound up. Jared’s hand wrapped around his cock, his lips kissing up the side of Cole’s neck, licking and biting, and moaning his ear.
But Jared wouldn’t moan would he? Cole’s internal voice was enough to still his self-excitement with confusion. Cole blushed hotly to have to admit what he was doing to himself. Imagining a boy he had never spoken to, probably would never speak to, using both hands to bring himself off in the dark. Cole growled low at his inner voice. But Cole was teenage boy, and inner voices could be damned.
Cole woke late, for him, and had to wait for Caden to be finished with the bathroom. His middle brother was going through a rebellious phase, and even though his next job was to deal with the chickens and feed the ducks, he had swept his hair artfully over one eye. He sneered at Cole, dressed in pyjama trousers and an old t-shirt, and his older sibling wasted no time in clipping his brother round the ear before diving for the safety of the bathroom.
Cole was king at leaving in a hurry, and twenty minutes later he was washed, dried, dressed in work jeans, boots, hoodie and his leather three quarter coat, had eaten a flash breakfast of sausages and bacon snatched straight from the aga, shoved his school books in the ruck and was up at the stable to skip out and turn out the horses before leaving for the day. It had mercifully stopped raining, and Cole lead out the horses two by two into the paddocks that surrounded the stable yard. Dune whinnied and nickered at his human, left alone in the yard as Cole began to skip out the stables. Having completed it last night, they weren’t too bad and Cole filled 3 wheel barrows full, scraped back the beds, gave the livery horses new shavings and emptied the wheel barrows onto the muck-cart. His father would drive it down the far end of the farm where the compost was and nature would take care of the rest.
Cole fitted Dune with his Dually halter, looped the rope into a rein-like arrangement and leapt up bare-back onto the rugged up horse. Dune obediently turned out of his stall and clopped along to the field next to where Cole had parked the truck. He left Dune in the field, threw the halter in the truck and drove along the long drive out to the rest of the world. Dune trotted alongside the truck until he reached the end of the field and Cole sighed to hear his horse neigh after him, head thrown up to the wind. Cole passed the Hilux through the gates which gave Black Rock its name. Either side of the driveway stood an obelisk of stone, black as thunder and taller than the truck. Cole plugged a CD into the stereo, stepped on the gas and high tailed it out to college on roads fresh from rain but blissfully empty of other traffic.
All his music was ‘borrowed’ from Wilton, which meant that he got an interesting mix of new bands, classic rock, unsigned local kids and really random metal from Japan. Cole hummed along vaguely to the guitar on the track and wondered what music Jared liked.
He can’t hear it… Cole snarled at himself and his inner voice as the realisation spread through him that nice safe topics like music and bands were not available to him when he spoke to Jared. Jared probably didn’t go to concerts or gigs, what would be the point? Did he watch films? Cole didn’t watch TV, there was no time for it, and somehow he doubted that Jared drove quad bikes around muddy fields. What the hell was he going to talk to the boy about?
Cole pulled the truck up in his usual space, which was somehow always left empty for him and the great hulking shape of the Hilux. His phone buzzed against his leg and Cole pulled the device from his boot and stared at the message on the screen.
Jared: morning. coffee?
Cole got out of the truck as he hit the dial button, snatched his bag from the other side of the cab and shouldered the door shut before walking into the main college building. The phone rang, and rang, and rang. Finally it picked up, but before Cole could say anything the sharp tone of a dead line filled his ear. He shut off the phone’s screen angrily.
Well how exactly did you think you were going to talk to him on the phone? Cole slung his bag over his shoulder and strode into the main common room. Why this boy? Of all the pretty things about his age in town, why had his mind been snagged on this one. His father always said people who stuck out where like nails, they snagged on everything that went near them. But Jared didn’t stick out. Cole hadn’t ever remembered seeing him the whole of last year. And why whenever he thought about Jared Parker did he find himself both thankful and cursing the thick material of his jeans and his heart trying to jump out of his throat? Surely he couldn’t feel something that strong for a boy he’d barely met. He couldn’t be in l- No. Do not think that. His inner voice chided him and clamped down on the thought as he saw his target.
Jared at a round table with his sister and the deaf girl from the other day. There was a suspiciously empty seat next to Jared, and a paperboard cup of something hot that smelt like caffeine. Shelby Parker was signing something to her brother, obviously annoyed, her brow furrowed almost comically.
“Morning.” Cole stopped behind Jared and smiled, but the boy didn’t turn. The girl sitting opposite him said something with her hands and pointed over Jared’s shoulder and the brunette boy turned to look up at him. He didn’t smile.
“Christ you are thick farm-boy,” this was from Shelby, and Cole felt the muscles in his punching arm tighten automatically, ready to swing when he heard that nickname, “If you want to get a Deaf person’s attention you stand where you can see them or touch them on the arm,” she signed as she spoke, and Cole’s brain struggled to follow the symbols, “Have you learnt nothing this past week?”
“I was busy.”
Shelby stood, her slender frame tiny against Cole’s towering height. Her friend got up and signed something to Jared as she gathered her bags. When Shelby spoke, she didn’t move her hands, speaking just for him.
“You’d better get serious about this if you wanna get close to my brother. You hurt him and I’ll kill you.” She turned to her friend, speaking and signing simultaneously, “Come on Dina, let’s leave the boys to it.”
Cole watched her stalk away with a flick of her hair and then took the seat left for him by Jared. There was a tablet computer on the table beside him and he drank his own coffee as though it absorbed all his attention. Cole took a deep breath, running over the symbols he had rehearsed in the mirror.
“Hello,” a little wave from the head, and Cole felt stupid, “My name is C-O-L-E.” he counted off the symbols, making a C shape with his right hand, then touching his index finger to his third finger on his left hand, then the palm, then the other index finger. To his surprise, Jared grinned and sniggered, making an odd little sound that was half way between a cough and a snort.
His hands flashed in symbols that Cole barely had time to register. Jared shook his head, seeing his confusion, and his fingers flicked across the tablet on the table between them.
At least you spelt your name right.
Cole frowned and typed back.
What’s so funny?
You fingered spelled your name, Jared repeated the four symbols that Cole knew to make up his name, But we don’t call you that.
Cole frowned and shrugged,
“Huh?” apparently the expression was self-evident because Jared tapped quickly on the tablet.
We gave you a new sign nickname. Lots of people have them. Here. He touched Cole’s bare forearm and Cole felt his heart thud so hard he thought he might die from the experience. Jared began to fingerspell his name, but stopped halfway through and made a gesture that obviously meant no, cutting off the word, then he smiled. He made the C shape with one hand, and then that same hand became a bundle of flickering flames. He repeated the sign and then pointed at Cole.
Cole repeated the sign back, but pointed at himself and was pleased when Jared nodded and turned to the tablet.
C like fire?
So you’re not as dumb as my sister makes out then? Cole looked up from the words to find Jared smiling at him. He smiled back, feeling like his heart was going to burst any minute.
How do you say your name?
Jared moved the tablet away and faced Cole. He held out his hand like a book or a clip board and drew a J with the first two fingers of the other hand, then those two fingers separated and Jared drew two parallel but wiggly lines down his hand, like eyes reading across a page.
Cole copied him, and finished by pointing at Jared, who nodded enthusiastically. His open mouth made a grunting sound and Cole tried not to look surprised.
What does it mean?
Jared smiled back, and tapped out his answer, his fingers lightning fast on the screen.
The first symbol is a J, the other part means ‘reading’. I like books. What’s your favourite book?
Cole groaned aloud. He should’ve known.
I don’t really read.
What? Jared looked totally shocked, How can you not read?
Not a lot of free time in our house. Cole checked the time on his phone and dropped the device back in his boot. Jared tapped his arm and pointed. Then he made a sign. One finger tapping against his shoulder, his expression was questioning. Cole reached for the tablet.
Does that mean ‘why’?
Oh. All good cowboy’s keep their phone in their boot.
So you’re a cowboy now? Jared grinned.
Through and through. Here. Cole reached for his phone, flicked through his camera album for a minute and twisted the screen to face Jared. He had plenty of photos of Dune, but he had gotten his mum to take one a few weeks back just after they’d come back from a ride. Him and Dune, the big horse standing with his chest proud, his thick neck curved and handsome, face to face outside the stables. Jared handed the phone back and began to sign.
Stop. Cole waved his hands in the motion he’d interpreted as stop.
One hand rubbed against the chest.
Don’t apologise. If I can’t you’re not allowed either.
Jared formed a symbol which must have meant ‘OK’, but his expression was resigned.
Cole typed on the tablet.
Can we meet again soon? I want to know more about you.
Jared made the finger-shoulder symbol for ‘why’ again.
I don’t know.
Jared smiled, pointed at himself, then Cole and made a sign like two clawed hands moving out of sync over each other. He mouthed when he did it and Cole was fairly certain he made out ‘confused.’ He nodded.
This was going to be so much more work than he’d originally thought.
Jared Parker met his translator outside of his English literature classroom. Abi was a nice woman, and she signed with a certain amount of eloquence that Jared enjoyed. He waved as he approached, and then asked about Cole.
‘Did a tall boy come and see you about saying sorry?’
‘Yes. I think his name was C-O-L-E.’
Jared grinned and showed her the symbol that he and his sister had made for the lanky cowboy.
‘I thought he was apologising to Dina.’
‘Apparently not. Shall we go in before we’re late?’
The only thing Jared really disliked about English seminars was that it was impossible to read the text and watch his translation at the same time. Jared read fast, and he remembered everything he read. It had been a survival trait, a trick picked up early at school when he realised that if he fell behind his parents would separate him from his sister and send him to a special school for deaf children. More than anything, more even than books, Jared wanted to be with his sister.