Title: A Better Difference
Jonah looked out across the room full of people. He thought of how far he and Samuel had come. Where they'd come from, Halloween wasn't celebrated, yet here they were immersed in a room full of adults wearing costumes and pulling pranks on each other. Jonah felt he'd laughed more in this one night than a full year in his native country.
Back in Texas, when Jonah and Samuel attended any kind of party, they stayed close to each other-but not too close. Jonah was always on guard so that they wouldn't give some clue that they were lovers when they were together. But he'd also worry that if they weren't together, Samuel might let something slip. It was a vicious cycle that had no solution. Until that fateful night when Samuel had brought home a forbidden pamphlet telling of the freedom in the United States. That night had put the wheels in motion that changed their lives forever.
Jonah didn't see Samuel amongst all the witches, goblins, and sexy costumes, but he didn't worry. They'd both made friends and it made Jonah's heart feel light that his lover didn't have to hide who he was. They could enjoy enjoy drinks and friends together as well as separately.
"We'll have to move things around, but if Samuel can do it, we'll give him more room to showcase his paintings," Andy said, bringing Jonah back to the conversation.
"I don't make decisions like that for Samuel," Jonah told the owner of the gallery that showed Samuel's art. "You'll have to discuss that with him. But first we'll have to find him."
Andy chuckled. "He's off with Sean pulling a prank. Sean spent the day making caramel apples and onions. His skills in the kitchen knows no bounds."
"Caramel apples sounds good, but I can't imagine anyone liking caramel onions! To each their own, I guess."
A small thread of warning trickled down Jonah's back when Andy laughed and said, "The onions are to be given to those that Sean thinks deserves them. They are NOT a treat."
Just as Andy finished talking, Jonah saw Samuel and Sean come rushing in, pushing their way to them. Sean's face was red and he was bouncing and laughing. Samuel, Jonah noticed, although red in the face, wasn't as joyful as Sean.
"You should have seen the old bag's face!" Sean said as he came bounding up to Andy.
Jonah felt dread deep in his gut. This hadn't been a prank on a friend, this appeared to be on an unsuspecting person. In a clipped voice, he asked, "Who? Who did you give it to?"
"Mrs. Smithson," Samuel said quietly, his head bowed.
"I thought you were just playing tricks on our friends here at the party!" Andy exclaimed. "Sean, what on earth were you two thinking? Everyone here knows how our Halloween parties are! They EXPECT tricks and pranks!"
The look of shame on Samuel's face combined with the dread that was in his stomach, Jonah stated, "I think this will be our cue to go home. Come on, Samuel."
Among the goodbyes and well cautions to watch for goblin's on this Halloween night, Jonah grabbed Samuel's neck and bid farewell to the partiers.
Jonah walked Samuel up the street, his hand still clasped firmly on the back of his boy's neck. Anyone passing by wouldn't be able to tell that Samuel was in disgrace, they'd just see one man with his hand affectionately on another's neck. But the pressure that Jonah was exerting on Samuel's neck let him know that all was not well.
As they came to the gallery with their loft upstairs, Jonah kept his hand on Samuel, unlocking the door with one hand.
"Go on up, Samuel," Jonah said softly. "I'm going to make sure everything is locked up down here."
Jonah's body tensed as Samuel stood staring at him. He didn't want his boy to say anything, not until he had a chance to figure out how to handle this misbehavior. Jonah let out a thankful sigh, when Samuel silently turned and went up the stairs.
This was the first real issue they'd had since moving to the small Ozark town. They'd been so busy trying to get their life on track since escaping the ultra conservative country they'd grown up in. They'd been busy trying to figure out this new, different culture. Jonah hadn't thought to think of boundaries that might need to be put in place for Samuel as well as for himself. He hated that failure. He had to make sure that any punishment he and Samuel decided on was not a product of that failure. Punishment needed to be specific to the action that Samuel had taken, not because Jonah felt a failure within himself.
Jonah walked to the back door, checked that the lock was secure, and then tried to show an air of confidence before going up to Samuel. Jonah and Samuel both had learned that if Jonah was angry or unsure of himself, that the discipline in their lives would not be effective.
Once, Jonah was as sure of himself as he could be, he walked up the stairs to his boy. Their loft was a large open room with a bed tucked on one side, a kitchenette with a stove, refrigerator and table on the other side and a living area in the middle. As Jonah walked into the room, only one lamp had been turned on and it illuminated Samuel perfectly.
Samuel stood bare chested, his shirt lay discarded over a plump easy chair. Jonah watched as Samuel tried to undo his belt with shaking hands. The grimace on Samuel's face told Jonah that punishment tonight would not need to be harsh. His boy was already punishing himself.
"Samuel," Jonah called out softly, yet with an obey me tone. When his boy looked at him, Jonah continued, "What are you doing?"
"You'll need this." Samuel's voice and hands shook as he handed Jonah his belt.
Jonah took the offered item and laid it on top of Samuel's shirt. "Why?" He asked.
"It was stupid. Just a stupid prank," Samuel started slowly. But as his nervous got the better of him, his explanation tumbled out faster and faster. "She's a bitch. She has all those signs quoting the bible, how homosexuals are going to hell, the ten commandments and adultery. She's a hater and she-"
"Stop." Jonah needed Samuel to stop rambling so he could process all that he was saying. "Has Mrs. Smithson ever said anything to you?"
Hanging his head down, Samuel murmured, "no, she's not said anything to me. But those signs!"
"Come here," Jonah beckoned. When Samuel was in arm's reach, Jonah wrapped his arms around him, sat down, pulling Samuel onto his lap. "There's freedom of speech here. She's allowed her opinion. Even if we don't agree with it, she's allowed to express it."
"But it's hateful," Samuel whispered.
"Yes. And hurtful too," Jonah agreed. "But giving her a caramel covered onion was hateful and hurtful too. You've never been a mean person. I know we'll both change as we grow, but I don't want you to ever become a bully."
Jonah's heart broke when Samuel's eyes met his. The deep hazel eyes were so full of sorrow, that Jonah knew he was truly regretful of his actions.
"God! I'm not a bully, Jonah." Samuel's voice was full of shame and desperation.
"I know you're not. And I'd like you to stay the sweet boy you are," Jonah said and then kissed Samuel's mouth tenderly. "I think a reminder that you are answerable for your actions would help, don't you?"
Jonah watched as tears filled Samuel's eyes. Then watched baffled as Samuel stood up, grabbed his belt and handed it to Jonah. Again, Jonah took the belt that was offered and set it aside.
"Samuel, why do you keep giving me your belt?" Jonah knew the reason, but he wanted Samuel to remember their agreement.
"Jonah, I know you said you'd never use the belt on me again. That it was an object of our past lives, but this is big. You need to make it hurt. Really hurt."
Jonah sat quietly for just a moment. He needed to say the right thing, or all they had accomplished would be for naught. Finally, Jonah said quietly, "Samuel, you already hurt. I don't want you to hurt more. I love you and love shouldn't be hurtful. That's our past. We are living our future. We just need to find better boundaries for both of us."
Jonah stopped talking and waited. He wanted the words that he'd spoken to sink in. Sink in to both of them.
"I...I need, um, punishment. Discipline. Um, atonement," Samuel tried so hard to say what he wanted.
"Ok. I get that. And I need to know I'm doing everything I can to keep you safe and happy," Jonah said.
"If not the belt, than what?"
Jonah stood and walked to his boy. He gathered him into his arms and hugged him tight. "I think my hand will be enough. My hand and your own regret. Don't you?"
Jonah held Samuel a little tighter when he felt his boy nodded against his shoulder. After a few minutes of holding him, Jonah said, "come on, let's get this done. You'll feel better."
He pulled his boy to the bed and sat down. Jonah helped Samuel out of his jeans, and across his lap. He made sure Samuel's torso and head was supported on the bed, legs hanging down, and his butt centered on Jonah's lap.
The spanking that followed was not the brutal slaps of the belt that Samuel had experienced from Jonah in the past. Jonah's stomach wasn't clenched in fear that manifested in anger. This was a brisk, no nonsense spanking that would be felt for a few hours, but Samuel's guilt ended with the last swat.
After the spanking, Jonah helped Samuel up and then cuddled with him on the bed. That was another thing, Jonah had denied both of them. He'd soon discovered the contentment of reconnecting after a punishment.
As Samuel grew heavier in his arms, Jonah said, "I think it'd be nice if you went and apologized to Mrs. Smithson tomorrow. She is our neighbor and we're going to be here awhile."
"Will you come with me?" Samuel asked timidly.
Kissing Samuel hard on his head, Jonah said, "Of course. Samuel, the boundaries that we are making here are for me as well as you. Yes?"
Jonah's breath caught as Samuel pushed himself up and looked into his eyes.
"I like that. Its a different way of thinking, isn't it?"
Jonah chuckled and said, "yeah it is. You know I heard a saying the other day. A customer said, different is different, not better or worse. We are different here, but I do think it's better."
As they laid there on the bed, cuddling and reconnecting, Jonah knew that they still had a lot to learn in their new town and about themselves, but he felt a hope that he'd never felt before.
The windows on the loft faced east giving the sun free reign to wake everyone up with its first light. Jonah groaned and rolled over, seeking darkness under a pillow. The pillow provided darkness but it also kept the scent of his breath from escaping. Jonah ran his tongue over his teeth, filling the grit left from the party last night. Neither Jonah or Samuel had brushed their teeth, they'd fallen asleep wrapped in each other's arms reconnecting.
That thought brought Jonah to full wakefulness. He propped himself up on his elbows, and saw his lover sitting at their small kitchen table.
"You're up early," Jonah said as he threw back the covers. "Are you still sore?"
"No, you've given me much wor-" Samuel stopped mid word.
They'd talked many times about how and why punishment had been so harsh in the past. Jonah knew now that he'd too often been too harsh on his boy. But he'd been in protective mode knowing that if his and Samuel's relationship had ever become known, they'd be thrown in jail. Jonah wouldn't have been able to protect his boy if that had happened.
"Its ok, Samuel. We've talked about this," Jonah assured Samuel.
"I know you feel bad. I don't want to keep bringing it up," Samuel said. "Besides, that's kind of why I'm up early. I feel bad about what happened last night. I really do want to apologize. I want it over and done with."
Jonah went into the small bathroom that was the only enclosed room of the loft. He left the door open and as he brushed his teeth, he called out, "Over and forgotten? Let's go get breakfast first, give Mrs. Smithson time to wake up."
"Not forgotten, but, maybe, just...I don't know, closure?" Samuel said.
Spitting out the toothpaste and rinsing his mouth out, Jonah thought on what Samuel had said. He knew his boy wouldn't forget last night, Samuel was in equal parts a very serious young man and a man who often let his inner child out to play. Jonah understood Samuel's need for closure.
After relieving himself, Jonah walked out and took the few steps to wrap his arms around Samuel.
"Let's go down to Pierre's and have a couple of his beignets." Jonah dropped a kiss on Samuel's head. "It'll sweeten the words so you can charm Mrs. Smithson into loving you just like you did me all those years ago."
Samuel pulled back and looked up at Jonah. The smile he gave had Jonah falling in love with his boy all over again.
"You think so? Well, I'll just have to remind her that I'm taken. Taken by the most handsome, not to mention the tallest, man around. She'll just have to find someone else."
Laughing, Jonah dragged Samuel back to the bed. They'd go after Jonah made love to his sweet boy. Beignets and apologies could wait.