Chris was packing his suitcase, the plane would leave the next morning. An agitated feeling shifting to anger swirled inside him. They had asked him earlier to visit the police station, well asking was the nice way to put it, if he hadn’t gone, they would have collected him. Chris had seen it best to obey. He had been there earlier that day and they had made him wait, which had angered him even more.
Finally, he had been asked to the interrogation room where a bored, middle-aged, male officer had told him that they had gotten a notification from the officers in Finland, stating that he had broken the restraining order given to him. It was not okay, did he understand? The man asked and Chris felt like laughing. This was his first warning, and if he continued the harassing, he might get a fine, and even end up behind bars for some time. Chris had sworn he would quit, and he had been sent back home with the instruction to make better use of his time.
He would show them better use! The whole visit had been utterly useless and only increased his fury which at that time was more focused on Joni’s new fiancé. If that Russian asshole thought that he could threaten him, then he would be sorely mistaken!
He would make Joni choose him instead and make him realize to whom he belonged. The voice of reason was beginning to fade, the reason that tried to wake him with fading effort. The reason was losing the fight to the bitter hate that spread like fire within him.
He went through the clothing that he planned to take with him, did he have enough underwear? He wasn’t sure what kind of washing opportunities there would be for clothing, which was why he had also bought some spare clothing for Joni.
How long would they stay at that cabin? How would it work out? Would Aki just be in the way? These questions were the ones that woke him at times. Did he understand just what he was about to do? All of it could go horribly wrong.
It was 7.40 pm, tomorrow at the same hour he would already be in Russia. Chris was startled when he heard the doorbell, he wasn’t expecting anyone. For a moment he wondered if he should just leave it unanswered. The doorbell rang again.
Slowly he walked to the door and looked through the peek hole; it was Ryan. He sighed and pondered for another moment before deciding to open it.
”I decided to try my luck,” the younger man smiled. ”You haven’t left yet.”
”I leave in the morning,” Chris said.
”So, you still have time to have a beer and perhaps a small dinner with me?” Ryan asked. ”My treat.” He grinned and lifted the grocery bag in his hand.
Chris thought about it for a moment before stepping aside and allowing him in. ”I bought a couple of subs… I don’t know if you’re hungry or not, but…” Ryan shrugged and walked to the kitchen glancing at him from over his shoulder. ”I bought one for you as well.” He winked. ”Roast beef and chicken breast. I’m starving. Have you eaten?”
” No… not yet,” Chris said, feeling somewhat perplexed when following Ryan into the kitchen.
”Have you packed yet?” Ryan smiled, unpacking his shopping onto the table.
”Hm… almost,” Chris muttered. ”I should go to bed early.” He added somewhat tightly. Had he already said too much to Ryan?
”Don’t worry, I promise to leave early,” Ryan assured, smiling at him. ”Were the plates here?” He asked and turned to the cupboards.
” Just sit down, please,” Ryan asked, and Chris obeyed without a word. He watched the younger man who took plates and glasses for them. He placed the sandwiches on the plates, half of each for both. Ryan then opened the beer bottles and poured the content into the glasses before sitting across from him. ”Bon appetit!” He said cheerfully. ”A word of warning, I asked for the chicken with the spicy sauce.” He grinned. Chris took the roast beef one first and eyed Ryan who took a healthy bite of his own.
”Gods I love these subs; I could live on these alone…” Ryan sighed with contentment.
”They are alright…” Chris admitted and made Ryan grin.
”So what’s your favorite fast food place then?” He asked.
”I don’t really go for fast food… These are probably the best there is, I guess.”
” Come now, you’re honestly telling me that a good, greasy burger doesn’t tickle your fancy every once in a while? Look, I give you a challenge, one day I’ll take you to the Burger King and order the most obscene fatty hamburger there is with French fries of course, AND a pint of coke!” Ryan nodded. ”And I dare you to eat it all!” He chuckled. ” When you come back from that trip of yours.” He added then smiling.
”Hmh…” Chris took a bite of his sandwich, not knowing what to say. A soft voice in his mind tried to whisper; it could be nice. but he ignored it, he probably wouldn’t come back, at least not alone.
”You seem tired.”
” A rough week,” Chris replied.
”I could rub your shoulders if you like?” Ryan offered. ”We could watch some tv or?”
”I have to go to bed early…” Chris repeated although the offer of a massage sounded appealing.
” I promise to leave as soon as you want me to. I won’t be offended when you tell me to go.” Ryan smiled. ”So, how about that massage?” He grinned.
” Alright, let’s watch something,” Chris sighed. He felt conflicted, about Ryan, about everything. They moved into the living room, Chris opened the tv and settled in front of the couch so that Ryan could rub his shoulders from the couch. He browsed through the channels. ”Sport?” He asked.
”Whatever you like,” Ryan answered. ”Do you have some lotion?”
”I’ll go and get it,” Chris replied, got up, and walked to his bed. Ryan looked at him and hoped to get an opportunity to look through Chris’ drawer in hopes to find the picture of his ex so that he could look on the internet if he found any matches and thus find out who Joni was. Chris got back and handed the lotion to him before taking his shirt off and sitting back down in front of him.
They watched a basketball match, it didn’t interest Ryan, but it didn’t matter. He was interested in Chris; it was rare for him to feel similar interest and still… He was bothered by what Chris was hiding, especially that obsession with his ex, and the bitterness that oozed out of him. That online conversation with Aki… Ryan was worried but wasn’t sure if he was right to be worried and how to proceed.
”You still haven’t told me where you’re traveling?” Ryan started carefully after massaging Chris for a while and sensing that he had relaxed. His question however seemed to tense him back up. ” Or how long are you gone?” Ryan continued boldly. ” So that I know when to take you out for that hamburger I talked about.”
”I’m gone for two weeks,” Chris replied tightly. It was a lie; he just didn’t want Ryan to ask more questions.
”Are you going to see that friend of yours, Aki?” Ryan asked. Chris snorted, got up abruptly, and put his shirt back on.
”No.” He grumbled. ” I’m going to travel through Europe…Satisfied?”
” I didn’t mean to upset you…” Ryan said with a surprised tone. ”I was just curious.” He said and looked at him. ” I would like to get to know you better. Would it be so bad? I feel…um… I don’t know, I guess I have a crush on you.”
Chris felt surprised, he didn’t know what to think. It was almost 9 pm. He hadn’t expected Ryan’s confession. He looked at the younger man who sat on the couch and offered… Friendship? Something deeper? But Chris couldn’t believe that he really meant it.
”You don’t even know me,” Chris snorted, and Ryan smiled.
”Not properly, but I’d like to learn.” He said and got up approaching Chris. ”If I could… If you only let me, try…” He placed his hand on Chris’s neck. Chris breathed tensely. Ryan didn’t mean it if he heard about his time in prison if he learned why he had been sentenced there… Ryan wouldn’t listen to his side of the story, he would pity Joni and turn his back on him like all the others, Ryan would walk away.
Chris took a step back and frowned. ”I’m just tired now… We’ll talk about this another time.” He said and Ryan looked at him.
”You want me to leave then?” He asked and Chris nodded, avoiding his gaze. Ryan sighed, feeling rejected. He couldn’t stop Chris from leaving and he wasn’t sure what he was up to. He could only hope that it wasn’t anything stupid. ”Can I call you someday?”
Chris shrugged, he just wanted out of the situation because it confused him too much. ”If you want.” He finally said, not really knowing why. Ryan smiled, walking closed and planting a kiss on his cheek.
”See you, have a nice trip.” He said, walking to the hall and putting his coat on. Chris didn’t know what to say, so he just stared at the other. Ryan gave him one last glance before leaving the apartment. Chris felt peculiar loneliness after he had left.
He tried to get rid of his doubt, took a beer from the fridge, and drank. Went through his luggage one last time, then looked at Joni’s pictures and he felt the familiar longing returning, the familiar bitterness and it was easy to grasp. The feeling was twisted yet strangely comforting and familiar. It wasn’t as new and frightening as what he might have started to feel for Ryan.
Joni hadn’t really slept; his thoughts were running wild and the idea that he really should get proper sleep didn’t exactly help. He had dozed off on the couch for some time, the tablet on his lap and when he had opened his eyes it had been half-past seven in the morning, the last time he had checked it had been 6.10 am. Little over an hour of sleep didn’t help. His body ached, his muscles felt heavy, and he wasn’t sure how he’d survive the photoshoot that he should be attending at 10. am
The pictures hadn’t been published yet, but Joni thought that it was only a matter of time. Kasper had only been a start. His mood had shifted from one edge to the other during the night and it had brought him to tears, part fear, part bitterness. He had wondered how the publishing of the pictures would affect his life and his work, how it would affect his relationship with Misha?
Most people wouldn’t pay attention, not really, but the rude comments would without a doubt follow. Hurtful comments that would upset him and what if those idiots would appear at his workplace? People who thought they were funny or superior or something.
The next moment he had felt rage, cursed silently and hacked his pillow with his fist because it was the only thing he could beat without making too much noise that would wake Misha. Then he tried to find the courage that he would survive and not let Chris or Aki overcome him. He thought that perhaps publishing those pictures was the worst that Chris planned to do with Aki and next to everything else it was the lesser evil.
He had started to think of other options, options that had crossed his mind before but now it felt like a good time to consider further. He wouldn’t want to stay in Helsinki if the pictures were published, whether it made him a coward or not. He wanted to start from a clean slate with Misha.
Sighing Joni got up, Misha’s reaction to the pictures frightened him. He needed coffee to face the day.
Misha started to wake up, he automatically searched for the warmth of his partner next to him but couldn’t find it. Drowsily he opened his eyes, looked around, and heard the coffee boiling in the kitchen.
Joni must have had another sleepless night, he pondered and got up. He got dressed before going to the kitchen. Joni sat in front of the kitchen table, his back towards the door, leaning toward the table.
” Good morning,” Misha said. ” Another sleepless night?” He asked. Joni sighed and straightened up on his chair. On the table, Misha saw Joni’s tablet with its screen closed.
”Yeah…” Joni said with an exhausted tone. Misha placed his hand on his shoulder and Joni turned to look at him, looking just as exhausted as he sounded.
”Has something happened?” He asked.
”Kasper had received some of those pictures that Chris took. They were emailed to him. Those copies that he promised that he had given to me! I should have known better not to trust that asshole…” Joni snorted. ”I haven’t found them anywhere else online yet, but it worries me.”
Misha cursed and leaned closer to hug him. ”What on earth are they playing at?” Misha wondered. ”There must be something that we can do?”
”If Chris decides to publish them somewhere online there’s really nothing to stop him.” Joni sighed. ”There they are then… One place could be closed but someone always has time to copy them and then they appear somewhere else, that’s how it goes, right?” He was silent for a while and then felt the anger simmering inside him when he thought about the matter. ”Damn Chris!” Joni cursed with frustration. ”I’m so angry, why did I have to get involved with that bastard!”
Misha rubbed Joni’s shoulders for a while. He knew Joni was right concerning the pictures and it was something they couldn’t control. He shared the rage that Joni felt towards Chris, he almost felt like asking; yeah, why did you? But it was not something to say out loud, he wouldn’t win any boyfriend points with that question. There must have been something good in the start to wake Joni’s feelings and make the decision to move in with him…
”I’ll get you some coffee,” Misha said and turned to the coffee maker. Joni observed him quietly. ”Have you eaten yet?” Misha asked while taking two cups from the cupboard, pouring the coffee in.
Joni wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt like laughing and he did. Misha turned, raising a questioning brow before placing the cup in front of him. ”What is it?” He asked.
”I don’t know, I guess I’m just so tired that I find humor in something where there’s really none,” Joni responded by taking the cup between his hands and bringing it gratefully to his lips. ”In two hours, I have a photo shoot and I feel everything else than photogenic…” He sighed and took another sip before adding. ”Well, it will give the makeup artist some challenge for a change.”
Misha gave his partner a tender look after sitting opposite him. ”You look good as always, but I admit I’m also quite tired.”
”To put it kindly,” Joni grinned and took a moment’s pause. ”I thought you might get more upset.” He admitted. ”About this thing with the photos I mean… There could be my nude pictures all over the internet soon.”
”So, I get to fight more with the competition soon.” Misha smiled crookedly and took a hold of Joni’s hand that lay on the table. ”If they are published, then we’ll handle it. I have a gorgeous, sexy boyfriend… sorry, a fiancé and… I admit that the thought that others could soon see all of you, does vex me, but… When you told me the first time, I had an opportunity to digest the idea that this might happen one day.”
Misha wondered if he had angered Chris by calling him, and if had pushed Chris so far that he had then decided to show back at him by publishing those pictures? Did that thought make any sense? But why Kasper? Misha hadn’t dared to tell Joni that he had called Chris. He felt ashamed of that rash decision and the fact that he might have added gas to a burning flame.
”Thank you, it helped. I guess I was worried about your reaction as well.” Joni gave him a small smile.
”Would you like something to eat?” Misha asked.
” No need, I’ll make a smoothie soon,” Joni said. ”I’m actually relieved that we’re leaving tomorrow. I think it’s good to get away from here.” He wiped his face with his hand and thought for a moment. ”I think that they may try to blackmail me with those pictures. If Aki wants money or something and that’s why he sent them to Kasper first.”
”If they start to blackmail you, then we’ll go straight to the police, you won’t pay even one penny to them. Otherwise, there won’t be an end to it.” Joni nodded silently, sipping his coffee.
”I also thought that I’d quit modeling completely. Even now I feel mostly anxious about the shoot and I used to enjoy those shoots.” Joni rose and filled his coffee cup. ”They offered me a chance to go to London from the agency. I said I would consider it, but I don’t think I will take that opportunity. I didn’t talk about it before because I felt quite certain that I’d refuse. I have thought about it from a different angle though, I’d like to go to England.” He turned to face Misha. ”And this is not just a sudden whim or a random idea, it’s something I’ve thought about before and then I googled when I couldn’t fall asleep and… I’d like to apply to study physiotherapy in London.” He said, observing Misha’s expression. ”Would this be something that you’d be willing to consider?”
”You want to move to London?” Misha wondered.
”Yes, at least for a while. I don’t feel comfortable here, not with this whole situation…” Joni leaned against the counter and brought the cup to his lips. ”If they publish those pictures… Well, I know most people wouldn’t really pay attention, but it doesn’t take many people to be cruel with their comments, and I don’t think I’m ready to handle it. Right now, it feels too much to take. When I thought about London I felt excited, I didn’t think this issue would rise there, I would just be one small face in the crowd of many.” Joni looked at Misha with a puppy dog expression before chuckling. ”Imagine! I want to be lost in the crowd! I bet you would have never expected me to say so four years ago.” Misha grinned softly.
”No, I wouldn’t have expected it”, Misha admitted and Joni smiled.
” We talked about going abroad somewhere. Would you consider moving with me for a longer period?”
”When are the entrance exams then?”
”June, but I thought I’d try and find work from there before. I know I could do modeling, but something else if I’m lucky. Or I could go to one of those private schools, personal trainer or something like that.”
”What about me?”
”You’re good at your job. You speak fluent English, your native tongue is Russian, I bet you could get work. Russian skill is a plus, I would think.” Joni walked closer and set his coffee mug on the table before sitting on his lap.
”Please, think about it, at least a day or two? It would mean a lot to me, just dreaming about it eases my stress level.” Misha wrapped his arm around Joni’s waste and looked into his deep brown eyes seeing how much Joni wished he’d say yes.
”Poor Ivo will go mental when he hears we think about leaving and your dad, well, let’s not even go to that.” Misha sighed and Joni’s expression brightened.
”You’re willing to consider?” He asked with almost childlike enthusiasm and Misha nodded.
”If this is important to you.” Even though the idea of moving didn’t really excite him, at the same time, if it would make Joni cheer up, he’d be willing to consider it and make necessary arrangements. He had already thought about it when Joni had spoken about traveling in New York, guessing that it would be brought up again. Then it had just come too out of the blue for him. He could at least try and find out if there could be work for him in London? Perhaps it would be possible to leave the door open in his current job if he wanted to return? The company had branch offices elsewhere, including in England.
”It is, you made my day better, thank you!” Joni planted a kiss on his lips and another on his cheek. Then he got up and walked to the fridge. ”I’m going to get through this, whether Chris publishes those pictures or not. He wants to break me, well, I decide that he’s not going to succeed, bring it on, I will handle it!” He declared and started taking out ingredients to prepare his smoothie. Misha smiled with relief, walked behind Joni, kissed his neck and slapped his bottom gently.
”That’s the right spirit!” He grinned.
The following night Joni slept better. The pictures hadn’t been published, but still he felt a growing, unpleasant anticipation that it would happen soon. He had already packed the previous evening, but now wanted to make sure if he had everything that he needed with him and if he had something useless to leave behind. Packing lightly wasn’t his strongest trait by any means.
He would need his winter running shoes, headlamp, running clothes, comfortable clothing, and something neat when they would go out to celebrate Misha’s 26th Birthday. Sense told him that he wouldn’t need more than just one pair of nicer clothing, but he simply couldn’t help himself and packed two just in case. At least he managed to stop himself from taking a third option! Finally, Joni was rather proud of himself that he managed to fill everything in just one luggage. In fact, he was so proud that he showed the result to Misha who had to admit, with some amusement, that Joni had indeed made progress.
Ivo was coming to pick them up with Jami. Ivo’s car had more space, and it made more sense to travel with it.
”I don’t want to go over that picture thing with Ivo and Jami.” Joni said when they were getting dressed in the hall after Ivo had called. ”I was hoping to be able to get some rest in the car.”
”Let’s try and forget this whole matter the best we can, so that we can enjoy our holiday.” Misha said, though he knew that it would be impossible to forget the matter fully. ”We can think about how to handle this when we get back.”
” I promise to try and forget it.” Joni smiled softly. He however knew that it would push its way into his thoughts regardless. Most likely he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from checking if the pictures had been published and then if they had… would he even want to return?
It was late night when Chris arrived at the airport in Saint Petersburg, where Aki was waiting for him. He felt nervousness and anticipation swirling in his stomach. Aki smiled when he saw him. It would happen soon. He still had the option to turn back, but soon it would be too late.
Chris focused on the idea of seeing Joni. The thoughts of being able to touch him, thoughts of being close to him. He focused on his anger and disappointment and to his twisted feelings of love finding the determination to move forward.
Aki assured that everything was taken care of, now all they had to do was to wait for the right moment to reveal itself. They would stay at a motel until the right time, near to the place where Misha’s grandmother lived.
When they got to the motel room, Aki handed him a small handgun. ”Keep this with you, the opportunity might emerge suddenly.” Aki said and smiled at him. ”You know how to use it?”
Chris looked at the gun in his hand seriously and nodded. Joni wouldn’t go with them willingly, he had of course known it, still, holding the gun in his hand made it much more real. He swallowed, felt another twist of nerves in his stomach. Soon it really would be too late to turn back.
Edited April 6th 2022