Today, July 30th, is Gareth’s birthday. I thought I celebrate with a Jack & Gareth story for all the Gareth fans and a thank you to all of you who keep me going when the man’s not cooperating and I contemplate throwing the towel.
Daniel and Nico struggle to find the perfect present for a man who rarely says what he likes. Its fortunate that Aidan is there to offer some suggestions.
Taking Care of It
“He doesn’t want a cooking lesson,” Nico declared with conviction. “He doesn’t need a cooking lesson. He can outcook most of those goons on TV with his arms tied behind his back. And blindfolded. And with his nose taped shut. And what he’d make would look and taste better than that stuff they made last night. What was that even? Dog’s bollocks in sun-dried tomato and chervil cream or—” He had to stop or he’d have passed out from lack of air. It gave Daniel a chance to get a sneer in.
“Collops, you imbecile.”
“Whatever. It looked disgusting. And Gareth doesn’t need cooking lessons.”
“I didn’t mean— I thought maybe for something he’d not done before, like making cheese or chocolate.”
The half embarrassed half angry flush looked good on Daniel, who was out for the first time since being laid low with a summer cold that had turned into bronchitis. Antibiotics had fixed the problem, but had left Daniel pale and a bit listless. Now the near-constant bickering was making a comeback and Jack had never been more glad about anything. Even if it got on his nerves.
They sat in pretty wrought-iron chairs around an equally pretty mosaic-inlaid table outside Rachel’s cafe, while Rachel dealt with the lengthy shopping list they’d brought with them. It was summery warm, the street was teeming with shoppers and tourists and the three colorful ice cream bowls Daniel and Nico had in front of them were a good advert for Rachel’s culinary skills. Jack had been busy choosing wine for the weekend while the two had picked out their treats, but he wasn’t in the least surprised when Rachel had set three bowls down next to Jack’s large coffee.
Apparently, Nico and Daniel hadn’t been able to decide between Madagascan Vanilla with roasted strawberries, cappuccino ice with chocolate fudge brownies, and dark chocolate ice cream with bacon sprinkles. Or that’s what Jack thought he’d heard. Ice cream had never really been on his radar, and even after being exposed to Gareth and Daniel’s cooking sprees as well as the things Rachel came up with in the deli, he was less than enthused about frozen desserts. Give him cinnamon-laced hot chocolate any day of the week.
“No bloodshed in public. We agreed, right?” Jack interrupted the growing altercation. The boys had come out shopping with him to discuss birthday presents for Gareth out of the man’s earshot, but judging by the hissed exchange, a decision was still a ways away.
“Can’t you take him away for the weekend? Do… slushy, romantic stuff?”
“Leave me out of your argument.” Jack kept his eyes on his tablet and the thriller he was reading. He had his own plans for Gareth’s birthday. Plans that included Michelin-starred food, a quarry, two tanks and blindfolds. He knew now that Gareth needed time out as much as he did himself, and that he kept that need under wraps as much as Jack ever had.
Gareth could tell when Jack was reaching the end of his rope and would move in to help. Jack wanted to be able to do the same for Gareth, so ever since their return from Sweden, he’d been watching carefully. Gareth’s birthday was as good a time as any to throw a few spanners into Gareth’s need to control everything around him.
“Still arguing over birthday presents?” Aidan stepped out of the shop with a coffee and settled down next to Jack. The lawyer had become a frequent sight in Richmond. So frequent, in fact, that Jack was convinced that Aidan had finally plucked up the courage to ask Alex out. Jack wasn’t suicidal enough to ask whether the two were dating. Not yet, at any rate. He simply gave Aidan a sardonic look and shrugged one shoulder.
“They haven’t killed each other yet, but they’re not making much progress, either,” Jack muttered.
“Gareth is really tricky,” Daniel explained their difficulties. “He likes to take care of people, but he doesn’t like it when anyone takes care of him. He doesn’t often say what he likes, either.”
Jack kept his head down. There went his delusion that the two had missed the arguments that tended to come up when Jack tried to take some of Gareth’s workload. It had gotten a lot better since Sweden, but they still got into it every few weeks. And very clearly, they hadn’t kept it as quiet as Jack had thought.
“Come up to the airfield. Make him jump out of a few planes.”
The two boys turned their heads as if their ears were on stalks. “He likes that?”
Aidan looked at them as if they’d grown horns. “What planet are you two on? Gareth loves skydiving. ‘S how we met. He’d be up at the airfield on a Sunday morning, jumping until he’d got the week out of his system. Then he’d go and cook lunch for his crew.”
“That sounds awesome.”
Of course Nico would find it awesome. Daniel… Daniel looked a little green at the thought of jumping out of a plane. And Jack didn’t like ruining expectations, but he had to say it. “Nico isn’t sixteen yet. No skydiving. Not even tandem jumps.”
“We don’t need to jump, do we? We can just come along and watch,” Daniel suggested.
“We could film it. From the helo.” Nico sounded gleeful.
“And then we could have a picnic. Or even barbecue!”
Jack stopped arguing. After watching some program about Texas a couple of months back, Daniel had been bitten by the barbecue bug. It was entertaining watching him and if there was a choice, Jack preferred charred meat to chocolate ice cream with bacon sprinkles.
“If you want to have a party at the airfield, you’ll need a lot of food,” Aidan cautioned.
Daniel didn’t even bat an eyelash. He’d spent too much time in the kitchen with Gareth, putting together enough food to feed a small army. “I’ll make a plan,” he said, quietly confident.
“And I’ll help,” Nico threw in after.
Which Jack didn’t believe for a moment.
xxX oOo Xxx
“Come on, guys. Get your backsides into gear or we’re getting locked in.” Despite the celebratory champagne and the row of beers he’d had in the last few hours, Gareth wasn’t slurring. He wasn’t annoyed, either. He was loose and happy and his grin was bright enough to double as a headlight as he helped Nico and Daniel pack the remains of their picnic barbecue into the back of the Range Rover.
Jack was already in the drivers’ seat, idly pulling stray bits of straw from his hair. Nico had upended him into a bale during their impromptu spar using a move he definitely hadn’t learned from Jack. Kid hadn’t stopped grinning all afternoon over that. And Jack would be itching until they got home and he took a shower.
He didn’t mind. Not when he got to see Gareth as happy as a clam.
The previous week had been hilarious.
When Nico had promised Daniel that he’d help, he hadn’t meant the cooking. He’d asked Aidan for names and phone numbers and had organised their day at the airfield with almost no help from Jack.
He’d also made sure that Gareth received a cryptic message every day. On Sunday morning, the note had been under his breakfast plate. The day after, he’d found one in his shoe as he was leaving for work. His briefcase, shirt pocket, and even the Triumph had been other hiding places and Gareth had looked a little more stunned every time another message turned up. He could read each one… with a bit of effort… but even put together the notes didn’t make any sense. Just hinted and tantalised and properly tormented Gareth’s need for control.
Jack was proud of Nico, but it wasn’t until this morning, when the whole story came together and Jack saw the delight in Gareth’s eyes, that he was sure they’d picked the right present. Conrad might have met Gareth skydiving, but Jack had never seen Gareth’s sheer joy when faced with a small aircraft and a row of parachutes.
It was a damned fine sight.
Jack hadn’t jumped out of anything airborne in years, but Gareth soon reminded him of rules and protocols. The first jump was about them finding their feet, so to speak. After that it was nothing but adrenaline-fuelled fun.
Nico filmed, Gareth showed off, and Aidan and Alex, who arrived with Daniel and all the food and drink for the picnic, joined in for two of the jumps.
He and Gareth had taken the sunset jump, the last jump of the day, by themselves. The kiss they’d shared in the open hatch moments before free-falling had been a mixture of crazy and sweet that had seared Jack to his toes.
After that there’d been cake and champagne, much backslapping and birthday wishes until they’d all settled around Daniel’s picnic barbecue. Jack knew only about half the people he was sharing food with, but it mattered little. Gareth mattered and he’d looked so content he practically glowed. Nico and Daniel mattered and the two boys beamed in pleasure and pride at the praise that rained down on them.
Gareth didn’t need expensive treats or trinkets to be happy. He needed people he could share a good time with. Their corner of the airfield rang with laughter and music, people talked and remembered and made plans and there was enough food to keep everyone content. It was Gareth’s scene to a T.
“Buckle up,” Jack reminded when the other three joined him and they set off towards home. It was late. Traffic was negligible and for a long time they drove in silence.
“I couldn’t have had a more perfect birthday,” Gareth said finally. “Thank you.”
There was no reply. When Jack checked his rearview mirror, he found Daniel and Nico passed out in the backseat.
“They’re done,” he chuckled and rubbed his left hand over Gareth’s thigh. “You need to tell ’em tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry, I will. There’ll be pancakes for breakfast and then maybe ice skating and a movie? Or we could go shopping for mopeds or something.” Gareth trapped Jack’s hand and laced their fingers together. “You look hot falling out of a plane. Gave me aaaaall sortsa ideas.”
His voice had dropped to an intimate growl that sent heat into Jack’s gut and shivers over his skin. Jack squeezed his fingers in warning. Daniel no longer woke up screaming every night, but he slept like a cat. And after a few too many Gareth got rather graphic describing after hours entertainment.
“Tell me later,” Jack said quietly, not letting go of Gareth’s hand.
He got a contented rumble in reply and a few moments later Gareth’s head went back against the headrest and his eyes closed. Jack pulled up his favourite soft jazz playlist and settled more comfortably into the driver’s seat. Seeing Gareth happy and relaxed helped tame the butterflies in his gut just a bit.
He’d come up with a spectacularly crazy treat for Gareth’s birthday. A Michelin-starred dinner at Bray, after spending the day racing tanks across a quarry. Blindfolded.
He couldn’t predict how Gareth would react when he saw the tank and the surface he was supposed to drive over without seeing where he was going, guided only by verbal instructions from someone he’d never met. As far as taking away Gareth’s control, this should do it. But Jack wasn’t letting him do it alone. He’d be driving the other tank equally handicapped.
At the time he’d organised the thing, it had been totally logical. Now he wasn’t so sure. Not of his reaction to the challenge and not of Gareth’s. He could only hope that he wouldn’t freak out and that Gareth would still be speaking to him a week from now.
Breathing helped. Watching Gareth and the boys sleep helped too. And after months of bitching, Jack finally found something positive to say about driving an automatic car. He could get them home without having to let go of Gareth’s hand.