Founder, a novel by Jodi Payne
gay (m/m) drama/romance
Aubrey blinked. He hadn't expected the kid to answer the phone himself. "Uh, Kelly?"

"Hello? Aubrey? Hey," Kelly answered, almost stammering into the phone.

"Yeah. Hey." Aubrey cleared his throat.

"If you're drunk again, I don't want to know it."

"Okay." So Aubrey wouldn't tell him.

"Are you drunk again?"

"I thought you just said…?"

"Just answer the question." Kelly sounded worried and once again Aubrey felt like he shouldn't have called.

"Yeah. I'm sorry, kid, I am."

"Damn it, Aubrey, are you ever going to call me sober?"

"Probably not."

Kelly snorted into the phone. "Well, at least you're honest about that much." There was a long silence that Aubrey didn't try to fill. He rubbed his forehead and paced as far as the receiver would let him go, two steps away and two steps back. Kelly finally spoke up. "So uh, we were just laughing about you last night."


"Yeah. Haley was telling us a story about the night Little Blue got out of his stall."

Aubrey rolled his eyes. "Oh, damn, that was a long time ago. Ancient history."

"Did you really set the barn on fire?"

"Nope. Hep set the barn on fire. I'd already passed out by then."

Kelly laughed. "Oh, right! You were one dumb bastard back then."

Kelly was right; he had been a dumb bastard back then. He rolled right off of weekends pumping gas to full weeks mucking stalls. He knew nothing about horses then, not even how to ride one, and Little Blue knew an idiot when he saw one. He'd slipped his halter while Aubrey was bringing him in from turnout and Aubrey had been chasing the bastard around the barn before he ran head first into an open split stall door. Hep, the barn manager at the time, had thrown him into the stall to keep his sorry ass out of the way and then at some point while Hep took up the chase, either he or Little Blue had kicked some hay into his space heater and it went up in flames. Hep had it under control right away, but Aubrey had come around just in time to see smoke and the hay burning and he'd run from the barn screaming, "FIRE!" at the top of his lungs. The barn never actually caught, but Haley liked to tell the story that way.

"You still there, Aubrey?"

"Oh, yeah. Just remembering. Good times." Much better times. And it wasn't all that long ago really, so why couldn't he find that part of himself again?

"Wish they'd all been good," Kelly said more seriously.

"Hey, once a fuck-up, always a fuck up."

"That's not what I meant, Aubrey."

Didn't matter, Aubrey meant it. He changed the subject. "So, Thelma says you're not yourself."
Kelly was instantly defensive, snapping in a way that made Aubrey realize she was right. "Thelma is a nosy woman."

Aubrey could imagine Kelly kicking the dirt floor and squinting out over the dark pastures. "Okay. So… how are you, then?"

"Fine," Kelly answered tersely.

"Fine." Aubrey snapped back.

"Look, I miss you, okay? Fuck off."

Aubrey nodded. He heard Kelly loud and clear. "Yeah okay, I miss you, too. Or am I not allowed to say that because I'm drunk?"

"Aubrey," Kelly sighed. "Look, can I ask you something straight out?"

"Yeah," Aubrey answered, bracing himself.

"When are you coming back?"

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~ Jodi

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