The man who; with a single lie tore his life apart. What the fuck is he doing here? His eyes slid past him as he continued his introduction. “I’ve been asked to come here and train you on how to deal with hydrazine and APU fires. If you look out the window you will see the latest fighter jet in the Air Force’s inventory, the F-16. The F-16 has an auxiliary power unit or APU, which runs on hydrazine. Hydrazine is a…” For the first hour he talked about the F-16’s auxiliary power unit, its hydrazine fuel source and how to combat fires and contain hydrazine spills. He covered safety procedures, using the hazardous materials protective suits and the various pieces of cleanup and containment equipment before leading them through a demonstration then practical, hands-on demonstrations in a special cordoned-off section of the tarmac. Tensions mounted when it came Jerry’s turn but despite Aaron’s desire to dump the toxic hydrazine down his throat, he was the consummate professional.
After the training was over a very angry Aaron gathered up everything, tidied up the classroom and left. A second shock awaited him when he reached his car. Jerry was there waiting for him. “What the fuck do you want?” Aaron snarled at him.
“I just wanted to talk to you, to explain things. You look great, Aaron.”
Over the years he had wondered what he would say to him if their paths would ever cross again. He had wanted to know why Jerry had lied to his father about him coming onto him. Now all he wanted to do was get away from him. He was never the type to resort to violence, but now it took everything he had not to turn him into road kill. “Save it. Why do you think I could possibly be interested in anything you have to say? Because of your fucking lie my family disowned me. My fucking parents swore out an order of protection against me. I wasn’t allowed within two hundred feet of my brother and sister. I couldn’t even attend my own god damned fucking HIGH SCHOOL graduation! My only choice was to enlist and get the hell out of Tucson. And you know what was worse? Every single letter I wrote home was returned unopened! Everyone changed their phone numbers. Because of you, you fucking asshole, I no longer have a home or a family. I’m alone, completely alone with no friends or family. Thanks a lot.” He pushed past Jerry roughly and started to get into his car but Jerry stopped him.
“Okay, I’ve listened to what you had to say now you have to listen to what I have to say.” Jerry ordered.
Aaron looked at him with disdain. “You’re an E-4. I’m an E-5. I don’t have to do shit.” He opened his car door. Only his quick reflexes prevented him from getting hurt when Jerry slammed the door shut.
“I didn’t tell my father that. He found a gay porn magazine in my room and blamed you for corrupting me. I’m gay, Aaron, and I’ve been in love with you since ninth grade. My father thinks you seduced me and turned me gay. I convinced him that you had somehow left it there without me knowing about it and that I didn’t know you were gay until you told me the night of the party and I haven’t had anything to do with you since. He still was unsure so I did the only thing I could do to convince him. I went and got Melissa pregnant then we got married. That finally convinced him that I was straight.”
“A very touching story,” The sarcasm in his voice was so thick it could be cut with a knife.
“My marriage is a matter of public record. You can look it up for yourself, newspaper; city clerk’s office, whatever.”
“So where’re your wife and child now?” He asked, slightly less sarcastically. If he wanted to, it would be a simple matter to verify Jerry’s story so he believed him, at least that part.
“Melissa miscarried. After that, she wouldn’t have anything more to do with me, so we divorced four months later.”
Karma; what goes around comes around. “So what do you want from me?”
“A chance to rebuild the friendship we once shared, maybe more.”
Aaron looked at him with deep hurt in his eyes. “There’s not a chance in hell that’s ever gonna happen.” He said coldly as he got into his car and started the engine. “Oh and don’t worry, Petty Officer Martinson. I signed your certificate of completion. You’re now certified.” He peeled out of the parking lot and headed home. Later that night he decided, unwisely, to drown his sorrows. While out barhopping he came across a gay nightclub, Nighttown Waikiki. They say that the truth shall set you free. Well, now I know the truth and it hasn’t set me free, so fuck it. What the hell have I got to lose?” He went in and proceeded to get himself quietly drunk. While it was a gay club, Nighttown Waikiki always enjoyed a slightly mixed crowd. Aaron ended up sitting at a table telling his life story to a regular named Cameron.
“I’m so, so sorry for what you went through. You lose your family then your lover then you run into that dickwad. God I wish I knew how to help you get through this.” Her compassion undid him completely and he just bawled on her shoulder before passing out. Okay, I can’t leave him here, and I can’t call his base. If they find him in a gay club it will be the end of his military career. Okay, I’ll take him home with me. She got one of the bouncers to help her get him into her car then drove home and called her fiancé to come out and help get him into the house and onto the couch.
“Picked up another stray, Cameron?” he asked amused, helping to pull the passed out Aaron out of her car. “Damn he’s big.” He exclaimed, straining to drag the six-foot-five-inch, two-hundred and twenty-five pound unconscious man into the house. “Nighttown Waikiki?”
“Yeah, Mitch, and this poor guy’s a doozy. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in my magic bag of social worker tricks that will help him.” She started tearing up.
Mitch pulled her into his arms. Her deep compassion towards others was one of the things he loved about her. He was secure enough in their relationship that he felt no jealousy towards Aaron, especially since she found him in a gay bar. “Want to talk about it?” he whispered gently in her ear.
“He’s just been through so much pain and loss, then it all came back and hit him smack in the face again.”
“How’d that happen?”
“He ran into the person who started everything today. God I want to help him so bad. He’s so lost and vulnerable right now.” She looked down at the peacefully sleeping Aaron. All of the tension and pain that had shown in his face earlier was completely erased.
“If I know you, honey, you’ll find a way. What’s his name?”
“Obviously he’s military.” He continued when she didn’t say a word. “Oh, come on, Cameron. You know damned well I’m not going to say anything to anybody. How many gay service people, men and women, have you helped over the years and I’ve kept quiet about each and every one of them?”
“I know, baby, but you know I can’t say anything more than I already have.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know; if he wants me to know, blah, blah, blah.”
A low moan was heard from the couch. Cameron walked over to see Aaron holding one hand over his eyes. “Mitch…” she turned to say something to him but he was already returning with some aspirin and a glass of water. “Thank you Mitch.” She turned to Aaron. “Aaron; it’s me, Cameron. You passed out at the club so I brought you home to my house. Here’s some aspirin. Take this and drink this water.” He took the pill and a couple of sips of water. “No, drink it all.” He did. “Do you have to work tomorrow?” He shook his head, an action he immediately regretted. “Good you’re sleeping here tonight. Do you think you can make it to the guest room?” Aaron nodded slowly. “This is my fiancé Mitch. He’ll help you get settled. Your car is still at the club where it will be safe. They have security at night when the club is closed to watch the parking lot. I’ll drive you over in the morning or whenever you feel up to go get it. Do you have to be anywhere tomorrow?”
He shook his head carefully. He knew in the back of his mind that there was something he had to do tomorrow, but couldn’t remember what it was. It would come back to him eventually. “I’m sorry to be so much trouble.” He whispered as he was helped to his feet and, leaning heavily on Mitch allowed himself to be guided to the bedroom. Cameron had already turned down the covers, so Mitch removed his shoes and helped him get under the covers. As Mitch started to leave Aaron grabbed his arm. “Please, wait a minute. I want you to know that there is absolutely nothing between Cameron and me. We just met tonight at a bar and started talking. Next thing I knew I woke up on your couch.”
Mitch gripped Aaron’s hand and bent down to look directly into his eyes. “There’s nothing to worry about. I believe you. She does this from time to time, helping people out who just simply need a shoulder to cry on or a friendly ear to listen. Now get some sleep and we’ll see you in the morning.” Mitch released his hand and comforted, Aaron settled back and was out like a light. He went into his bedroom, stripped and climbed into bed. “You’re right, honey. He’s a mess. He just tried to reassure me that there was nothing going on between the two of you and he was practically in tears. There’s just something about this guy that makes you want to reach out to him. I’ve never felt anything towards anyone you’ve ever brought home before. It’s always been ‘well, she’s brought home another stray’, which is one of the things I love about you, your compassion towards others. This guy though, you said his name was Aaron?” She nodded. “Somehow Aaron makes you want to care about him, makes you want to be his friend. I don’t know what it is about him.”
“I’d better not wake up and find you having sex with him! I’ll divorce your ass, and we’re not even married yet!” she warned facetiously.
“Aw, come on now. I’ve heard Latinos are hung like horses and I’ve always wanted to be fucked by a guy with a big dick. Not to mention men in uniform are extremely hot!” he teased back.
“Okay, okay, I give. I surrender.” Cameron replied laughing.
“When will you ever learn?” Mitch asked, kissing her passionately. They made love quietly so as not to disturb Aaron in the next room.
The next morning Aaron woke up, confused. He had no clue where he was. He was obviously not in his room in the NCO barracks on base. It was also obvious that he wasn’t in a hotel room so that left only one other possibility. He spent the night with someone. Who did I sleep with? He wondered. He grew even more confused when he threw back the covers and noticed that he was fully dressed, minus his shoes. Reaching back, he discovered his wallet was still in his back pocket. He pulled it out and looked through it. Everything was still there, his military ID, his credit card, ATM card, driver’s license and cash. As he looked at the amount of cash in his wallet he realized that some of it was missing then everything that happened the day before came rushing back to him. What the fuck am I going to do now? Jerry’s on the island. There’s no place I can go to hang out now and not run the risk of running into him. About the only place I can go is Candle Crafts since I got into candle making through Clark and I know that’s something he’s not into. I sure as hell can’t go to Nighttown Waikiki. If he sees me go in there he’ll out me for sure out of spite. He might just do that anyway, since he now knows I’m at Hickham. What a mess. How do I get myself into these situations? As he pondered his situation his bladder decided to announce that it was full and demanded to be emptied. “Okay, okay I get the message.” He told it as he climbed out of bed, taking the time to make it carefully. Not knowing what the rule was regarding wearing shoes in the house was, he carried them to the door and opened it carefully.
“Good morning, Aaron. Sleep well?” Cameron asked brightly. “Come get some breakfast.” Noticing the shoes in his hand she added “you can leave those by the door or put them on. Either way it’s all good.”
“Hey, buddy, how’d you sleep?” Mitch asked, stepping out of the bathroom wearing a pair of tight jeans, no shirt and drying his chestnut colored hair.
Without him realizing it, Aaron’s eyes drifted down the furry, slightly padded frame to linger momentarily on the full crotch before dropping completely to the floor to hide the embarrassment of him checking him out. “I slept well, thanks for asking. Would you mind if I used your bathroom?”
“No. Go right ahead.” Mitch said, stepping aside. As he passed Mitch, he whispered in his ear. “Don’t worry about checking me out, Aaron. I get it all the time and I’m not the least bit offended.”
Aaron turned a very bright shade of red as he muttered an apology, stepping quickly into the bathroom and closing the door. After finishing his business he washed his hands and face. Aaron, you’re a god damned fucking asshole. These people were kind enough to give you a place to stay so you didn’t have to drive back to base and possibly get arrested for drunk driving or worse, and how do you replay them? You check out the guy. A straight guy engaged to the girl who listened to you bitch and moan about Jerry, then brought you home and took care of you. You need to get your shit together, asshole. He mentally beat himself up for a few minutes before joining the others. “I owe the both of you a huge debt of gratitude for last night. First for listening to me bitch, moan and complain about my situation, then letting me crash here instead of trying to drive back to base drunk. Last night I got really shitfaced, which is something I’ve never done before. I’m not much of a drinker, although I do enjoy a beer or two after a really stressful day.”
“No apologies are necessary. Now, what can we do to help protect you from this asshole?” Cameron asked.
“Who is this asshole and what kind of trouble is he trying to cause?” Mitch quickly jumped on the ‘Protect-Aaron-At-All-Costs’ bandwagon. Without any further prompting Aaron told Mitch about his past with Jerry, how he was now on the island; and his fear of being outted by him. “No way in hell we’re going to allow that to happen. We’ll do whatever it takes to protect you. That’s a promise.” Mitch said emphatically.
Aaron was immediately humbled by this. They don’t really know me and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep that fuckwad from outing me. They talked for a while longer then he suddenly remembered what it was that he had to do: tonight was the first night he was going to be working at Candle Crafts as a floating advisor in the studio. Glancing at his watch he said “I really appreciate the breakfast, the company and letting me crash here last night, but I should be getting back to base. I have to shower and shave and stuff and tonight I start a part time job. I would really appreciate it if you could tell me how to get back to the club so I can pick up my car.”
“I can do you one better.” Mitch responded. “I’ll drive you over there.”
“I don’t want to put you out any more than I already have.”
“You haven’t put us out, Aaron. We like you and want to be your friends.” Cameron quickly responded. “I’ve always wanted to be a real fag hag.” Aaron and Mitch both smiled at her statement.
“You’re not putting me out, buddy. Nighttown Waikiki is only a few blocks away. Besides I have to pass right by there so it’s absolutely no problem dropping you off.” What is it about this guy that makes you want to be around him and do things for him? Mitch was totally straight and there was no sexual attraction towards Aaron whatsoever. His earlier feelings of anger towards Jerry surprised him. As Aaron told them his story he wanted to find Jerry and beat the shit out of him. There was no sexual tension between him and Aaron, or any tension for that matter. It was like long-lost brothers reunited. He decided to go talk to one of the counselors at the community action center where he worked as an office manager. “Whenever you’re ready Aaron, and there’s no rush, I’ll drop you off.”
“Thanks. I really appreciate it. I should get going as soon as possible as I have a lot of stuff to do before work tonight.”
“What is it that you do, besides being an Air Force Firefighter?” Cameron queried.
“I teach classes in candle making over at Candle Crafts a couple of times a month, and once a week I float around the studio helping customers with their candles and answer questions, stuff like that.”
“Cool. I might stop in sometime. I’ve seen the place several times and thought it was just a huge store.”
“There is a store there where you can buy candles, but you can also buy the stuff and make them yourself right on the premises.”
“Sounds like fun. I’ll definitely have to check it out.”
“You might be able to if you can stop picking up men in gay bars.” Mitch teased her.
“Hey, you’re the one who said you always wanted to get fucked by a guy with a big dick, especially one in uniform. I’m just bringing you a selection of men to choose from. Did you not say that Latinos are reputed to be, I believe the phrase you used was ‘hung like a horse’?” she teased back.
Aaron blushed furiously and suddenly began to feel a little uncomfortable, wondering if that was the real reason why Cameron brought him home and introduced him to Mitch.
She noticed his tension and put her hand on her arm. “Relax, Aaron. We tease each other like this all the time. It’s harmless fun, that’s all. We didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”
He swallowed. “That’s okay. I really should be going now, though, if you’d be so kind, Mitch, I’ll take you up on your offer.” He replied nervously, suddenly not sure if he wanted to be alone with him. He felt no attraction to Mitch and his philosophy had always been one of ‘if they’re in a relationship, they’re off limits’. Within fifteen minutes Aaron was in his car heading back to base. His first stop was the barracks to get showered, shaved and clean clothes on, then he headed to the firehouse to let the Chief know how everything went and to see about scheduling a follow-up visit in two weeks in case anyone had any questions. The Chief agreed. After taking a nap and eating an early dinner, Aaron arrived at Candle Crafts a half-hour before he was scheduled.
“Aaron, you’re early.” Grace greeted him happily.
“I hope it’s not an inconvenience for you. I just wanted to have some time to take care of any paperwork you might need me to fill out or sign and check out the classroom and perhaps get a head start on setting it up.”
“Everything is all set paperwork wise. I just need to show you how to punch in and out through the computer then we’ll go back to the classroom. Step around the counter and I’ll show you how it’s done. Do you still have the paper with your employee ID number and password?”
“Okay, let’s do it.” Grace showed him how to punch in.
“Okay, now you do it.”
“Ah, Grace, I’m not scheduled to be here for another half-hour.”
“You’re here early to start setting up your classroom, are you not?”
“That sounds like a job-related activity to me. You are required to be on the clock for such things.”
“But I didn’t get permission first.”
“Permission granted. Now clock in.”
“But…” he began.
“Who’s the boss here?” she interrupted.
“Uh, you are, of course.”
“Then, as your employer I’m instructing you to punch in. I have things I need to show you in the classroom.”
“Yes ma’am.” He replied meekly and did as he was told.
“Good boy. Now let’s go back to the classroom.” She led him back to the classroom, then handed him a ring of keys. “These are yours. This one is to the classroom. This one is to your private office. You and I are the only ones with keys to the classroom and your office, other than the cleaning crew. This one disables and resets the back door alarm. I show you how that works later, although I’m sure you can figure out that one for yourself. Oh, and by the way, to unlock the door to the break room, press two and four at the same time, then press three.”
“What are these other two keys for?”
“What other two keys?” she asked innocently.
He held them up, “These two.”
Feigning comprehension she replied, “Oh, those two. Aaron, sit down a minute. There’s something I need to explain about the organizational structure here.”
“As you know, I am the owner. Everyone else here are cashiers with the exception of Tonya and Donna, who are the night and weekend managers. As far as authority goes, the three of you are on the same level. The three of you answer only to me. I’ve spoken with them about it and neither of them have any problems with that.” She took the key ring from him. “That being said, this key is to the retail shop and stockroom, and this key is to the office and front door.” She handed the keys back to him.
“Uh, are you sure you want me to have keys to the store, front door and the office?”
“If I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have given them to you. Here’s the code to the alarm system.” She handed him a piece of paper. “I’ll show you how to work it later. Now, go check out your classroom.”
Aaron did as he was told and when he looked in, he was taken aback. The fully-equipped classroom was a miniaturized version of the studio. He could not believe what he was seeing. In addition to all of the tables and equipment, the walls were adorned with posters on candle making. His eyes fell upon the one thing he never expected to see. The picture that was taken of him in the lobby with his ‘signature’ candle had been blow up to poster size, framed and had an engraved plaque that read “Aaron Suarez, Certified Instructor”.
He slowly turned to Grace after staring at the picture for a few minutes. “Uh, Grace? I’m not a certified instructor.”
“You are now.”
“How is that possible?”
“From what I’ve been told by the staff and the customers, and from what I’ve observed first hand, your knowledge far surpasses mine.”
“Wait a minute. You’re the lady about a month ago that was having problems getting the wax to set because you were overheating it.”
“Yes, that was me. Overheating wax is a common problem, but one very hard to pinpoint when it comes to wax not setting due to other more obvious causes.”
“You had planned this all along.”
“I had wanted to have someone do the things you will be doing, but until you came along it has been difficult to find the right person. You were the only one to take the initiative to help out other customers at your own expense. That’s what brought you to my attention. Did you seriously not notice the adjustments to the space utilization fees?”
“No. I usually get so caught up in what I’m doing that I don’t keep track of the time.”
“After the first time you helped a customer, I told the girls to deduct a half-hour from your utilization time for each customer you’ve helped.”
“That was totally unnecessary, but definitely appreciated.”
“It was necessary, Aaron. You’re making a dream of mine come true. The services you are going to be offering will make a great deal of difference to our customers. I’ll be able to finally offer them that which many of them have been asking for. Now, getting back to your certification, I’m a certified master instructor and can certify others, so it was a simply matter to fill out credentialing paperwork. Notice on that wall that there is a blank spot?” She pointed to the appropriate place.
“Now that you mention it; yes.”
“Perhaps you would like to hang this there.” She disappeared through a door then came back a minute later with a frame in her hands which she handed to him. As he took it from her his mouth dropped open. It was a signed certificate of achievement testifying that he was a certified master candle making instructor. With watery eyes he walked over to the blank spot on the wall and proudly hung the framed certificate. If only Clark could see this. I owe it all to him. He said to himself, being careful not to get too worked up emotionally which could be awkward. “Now let me show you your office.” She led him through a door into a small office. Inside the office was a desk, a couple of chairs, a credenza and several cabinets. There was a computer on the desk and a color laser printer on the credenza, as well as a shelving unit full of different colored paper. “The computer is set up so that you can make up flyers for anything you wish. Check out what’s in the cabinets.” As he went through the cabinets, he found all of the supplies he had asked for, in bulk. He had no clue how to begin to thank her.
“I can’t even begin to figure out how to thank you for all of this.”
“You can thank me by doing what you do best, and what you’ve been doing here all along. Oh and there’s one more thing. Before you leave Lori is going to show you how to enter store supplies from the retail store into the computer. Anything over fifty dollars requires my approval. The computer will automatically generate a list with a barcode. Bring it to me and I’ll approve it. Otherwise, once the tags are scanned, put them in the box that Lori will show you. You shouldn’t need any supplies for the first couple of months, but if you do, just go ahead and get them. Okay. I’m going to leave you to start getting things organized and get out onto the floor. Nervous?”
“A little bit, yeah.”
“Just be yourself and do what comes naturally for you. You’ll be wonderful.” She encouraged him as she left.
Aaron glanced at the clock and puttered around a little before heading out on the floor. He went to the head of the studio and called for everyone’s attention. “Hi, everyone, I’d just like to take a moment of your time to introduce myself. I’m Aaron and I’m the candle making instructor here at Candle Crafts. If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thank you.” As he spoke he scanned the room, trying to make brief eye contact with all of the customers. His eyes locked onto those of a handsome, native Hawaiian man.
Little did he know that his life was about to be turned upside down and inside out again.
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