The Art of Negotiation

Co-written by: Teri and LJ

Kyler sat quietly moving his uneaten supper from one side of his plate to the other; aware of his partners carrying on a conversation, but too distracted by his own thoughts to concentrate on what they were saying.

‘How the hell did I let this happen,’ he silently admonished himself. ‘Okay, so I got a little behind around the time of Bruce’s wedding, but I got an extension. God, to think I forgot the new date my final assignment was due….now it's too late. This is such a bummer. What are Hugh and Patrick going to say; what are they going to think of me? Shit, they won’t be anymore disappointed than I am; or will they?’

He glanced up at the other two men sitting at the table, then immediately dropped his eyes back to the mess on his plate. He curled his lip at the sight. ‘Doesn’t look much worse than the mess I’ve made of my course. Hmm, maybe Hugh and Patrick don’t have to find out……..yeah, like that’s going to happen,’ he sighed dismally. His remorse over his lack of organizational skills was beginning to overwhelm him.

Patrick chewed his salad slowly between carrying on a conversation with Hugh and watching Kyler. The young man was way too quiet and he obviously had something serious on his mind. Patrick managed to catch Hugh’s eye and nodded his head slightly at their silent partner.

Hugh took a sip from his water glass and bent a direct eye at Kyler. “What’s wrong with your appetite, Kyler? You’ve hardly touched your dinner. Patrick’s cooking that bad?”

Patrick grinned and threw a mock scowl at Hugh. “I don’t see you having any problem with it though.” He indicated Hugh’s empty plate.

Seeing no response from Kyler beyond a weak smile, Hugh pushed his plate away and said in quite a different voice. “What is wrong, honey?”

Finding it almost impossible to fess-up, Kyler opted for shrugging it off. “Not much,” he mumbled in an off-handed manner. “I’m just kinda pissed off at myself, but it will work out.”

‘At least I hope it will,’ he thought, mentally crossing his fingers. He shovelled a forkful of food into his mouth and barely managed to choke it down; trying in vain to appear normal and distract his partners. The ruse failed and he squirmed uncomfortably under their probing gazes.

Patrick reached over and tousled Kyler’s hair affectionately. “You know, it’ll be easiest if you just come right out and tell us what’s bothering you. It can’t be that bad.”

“And if it is; then all the more reason to spit it out before we find out, hmm?” Hugh arched an eyebrow. “Haven’t we had this conversation about honesty before?”

Kyler frowned. ‘Might have known one of them would pull that one on me,’ he griped to himself. Frustrated and realizing he was walking on thin ice, he pushed his plate away, placed folded arms on the table and rested his head on them.

“IfailedmyIntroductiontoBusinessLawand havetotakeitover,” he quickly mumbled. He thought saying it really fast would be easier, kind of like pulling off a Band-Aid. Faster usually resulted in less of a sting, even if getting your nerve up was just as hard.

It took a moment for both Hugh and Patrick to make out what Kyler said. First of all, his voice had dropped so that both men had to lean forward to catch the words. Second, he had said it real quick, with no thought of punctuating his sentence.

“Would you mind repeating what you just said, love?” Hugh said, though there was nothing loving in his voice. In fact, he sounded pretty grim. “And this time make it slow and understandable. Please.”

Ugh. The ‘please’ was said very gently but it was also clearly a warning, meaning ‘Do not trifle with me’. Patrick knew that tone well and he tensed, wishing he'd had the presence of mind to have warned Kyler about it earlier.

Patrick cleared his throat softly, hoping to diffuse the situation somewhat. “It’s okay, Kyler. We won’t bite, promise.”

Kyler lifted his head and looked at each of his partners in turn. He was cluing in on unspoken messages, but was unable to determine exactly what they were. He wisely decided to obey Hugh’s directive, confident in Patrick’s promise.

He took a deep breath and spoke slower this time. “I failed my Introduction to Business Law and now I have to repeat the entire course. It starts the first of the month and I have until the end of the week to register for it. I don’t know what happened exactly. I guess I just lost track of time and blew my schedule all to hell. At least, I don’t have to fork out the cash for books so I guess that’s a bit of a savings.”

He sat with his head bowed and nervously chewed on his lower lip, contemplating the possible repercussions to his announcement. He didn’t hold out much hope in his last statement granting him any latitude where the older men’s displeasure in his behaviour was concerned.

Patrick’s forehead creased into a frown, his eyes questioning. “Oh Kyler, I’m sorry to hear that! When did you find out?” He immediately reached out and pulled Kyler forward, so that he could plant a soothing kiss on Kyler’s head. After releasing the younger man, Patrick shook his head and continued in a much firmer voice. “Both Hugh and I have been checking with you on the progress of your course and every time you tell us it’s going fine. This is a surprise, to say the least!”

Kyler sat back in his chair, momentarily soothed by Patrick loving manner. He glanced first at one partner and then the other as he thought about how best to explain the predicament he found himself in. He knew he had not been entirely up-front with them and shuddered at the thought of having to spill it all now. These men were so important to him and their impression of him was equally important; he didn’t want to appear a failure in their eyes.

“I sort of suspected it a couple of days ago, but only had it confirmed this morning. Ya see; it was like this. When I started to get a little behind I requested an extension and everything was fine.” He tried not to squirm in his seat as the two older men listened intently. “Then I somehow missed the deadline…..not by much though, but they still wouldn’t accept my final assignment and gave me an incomplete.”

He gazed wide-eyed back and forth between the two men silently staring at him. “Hey, it’s not that bad. I mean, I can just take the course over again. This one won’t even count…at least not that much,” he insisted in his own defence, punctuating his statements with adamant hand gestures. “It won’t hold me back as I can make it up during the summer and be on track come the fall semester. It’s no big deal….really.”

He was rambling and wished one of them would say something before he dug himself in deeper.

Hugh’s eyes narrowed as Kyler’s words tripped over themselves. He dealt enough with hormone-raging youngsters to know when one was bluffing and their excitable young lover was definitely bluffing…and doing a rather bad job of it.

“You sort of suspected it only couple of days ago?” he asked in a quiet voice which somehow filled the kitchen. “Are you telling us you had no idea you were falling behind in your studies earlier? And explain to us, if you will please, what you mean by requesting an extension.”

Hugh had a naturally forbidding countenance, with eyes that could look right through you, the kind that made you squirm. And right now his countenance was exceptionally stern.

Kyler blanched a little. He wasn’t too thrilled with his older partner putting him on the spot like this. It was not a position he dealt well with. Going on the offensive, he straightened in his chair, glared back at Hugh and answered in a slightly raised voice.

“Look, I noticed I was losing ground so I asked for more time and got it. Like I said, it was not a big deal.” He wilted somewhat under Hugh’s stern gaze, losing a bit of the belligerence in his tone as he added, “Then things just kinda got real busy and I blew it…but I’m fixing it as best I can. There’s no need to get bent out of shape over it.”

Hugh’s frown deepened and Patrick fidgeted in his seat.

“Sweetie, calm down,” said Patrick, with a wary eye on Hugh. “We’re just concerned. We want to help.”

Hugh looked over at Patrick, and sensing his tension, he made himself calm down a little. He knew he could be rather foreboding when he was annoyed. Patrick had told him just how foreboding many times before. In fact, Patrick had had a few words with him in private about not scaring off their young partner this early in their relationship.

Controlling his facial features, Hugh managed a slight smile. “Kyler, all we want is for you to tell us the truth so that we can help you. I promise I won’t bite your head off if you come clean and I’m sorry if I sounded annoyed just now. I just do not appreciate being lied to and I got the feeling you were not being very honest about the whole thing. Now if I am wrong, tell me and I will apologize.” Hugh paused. “But I’m not wrong, am I? You did know you were falling behind way before now, didn’t you?”

Hugh and Patrick looked expectantly at Kyler – two Tops and one Brat. What chance did he have?

Kyler slowly shook his head; partly in denial of Hugh’ words and partly in frustration at his own inability to get his point across. “I didn’t lie to you…….well, not an out and out lie. I just held back a bit of information. I had asked for the extension before I even moved in here and things were going good,” Kyler emphasized this point, “or so I thought. I believe I had another week to get the final assignment in. I was working on it; in fact I thought I had finished it a few days ahead of time. But when I turned it in on Monday I was told it was due last Friday, not this coming Friday. Until I checked online this morning, I had hoped it would still be accepted……only it wasn’t.” This last was said in a small quiet voice as Kyler hung his head to prevent his partners seeing the tears in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, “for not telling you a couple of days ago when you asked if I had turned it in.” They had asked Monday evening and he had answered yes, which was true. Now he realized he should also have told them that it was likely to be rejected.

Patrick avoided Hugh’s eyes and tried to keep his own face straight. Kyler sounded so young and pathetic he wanted to just hold him and comfort him. Hugh, he knew, was made of much sterner stuff.

“Kyler, darling, in this household, withholding information is considered lying.” Patrick said. “And we don’t allow that. We don’t hide things from one another, Hugh and I. And we expect you to do the same.”

Hugh nodded. “While we are on the subject, let us go over again the few ground rules we discussed earlier.” He saw Kyler’s wary expression but ignored it. “Honesty, common courtesy and respect. Do you remember these three things we talked about?”

“Yes, I remember. I didn’t mean to break any rules. I just figured I could fix things on my own. And I did fix them…everything is going to be all right now.” Kyler sat back in his chair feeling definitely uncomfortable and maybe just a bit outnumbered. “I already said I was sorry for not telling you sooner. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”

Not understanding why such a big deal was being made of it all, he started getting his back up in preparation for arguing his defense if need be.

“All right then,” Hugh replied smoothly, “we’ll take your word for it this time. But next time, there will be more serious consequences if you neglect to tell us the truth, whether intentional or otherwise. And just so we are all clear on this subject, lying constitutes hiding the truth, leaving out pertinent information, evading the point and misleading the facts. All of that, Kyler. Are we clear?”

Kyler stared at Hugh a little wide-eyed and agreeably nodded his head. “Clear, as in crystal.” Kyler was suddenly struck with an unpromising thought. ‘Dang, I guess that squashes any chance of covering my tracks in the future.’

“We still have one more item to address,” Patrick said, with a touch of steel in his usually easy-going voice. “And that is how you are going to catch up. I think you need some help here, Kyler. I am thinking it would be a good idea for you to spend a couple of hours every evening right here in the kitchen, studying.”

“I agree,” Hugh said before Kyler could react to that suggestion. “A structured study schedule which you can draw up yourself. But I’d like to take a look at it first please. Monday to Friday, two hours each evening after dinner. Can you do that, sweetheart?”

After giving the recommendation a few moments thought, Kyler asked, “Isn’t that a bit much for one course…one I’ve already taken? What about every second night when I’m working at the mine? It will make it kinda tricky on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday one week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday the next.”

Sitting up straighter and facing the issue head on, Kyler offered his own suggestions. “Okay, how does this sound? Two hours on the evenings I don’t have to work, so I put in four hours studying one week and six the next. I think that’s plenty for just one course. Besides, it’s almost summer and I don’t want to be stuck indoors.” Kyler frowned and looked warily at his two partners. “And just what will you guys be doing while I’m stuck in here?”

Patrick and Hugh grinned in spite of themselves.

“Fair question,” Patrick spoke first. “We will be around in the house while you work. We won’t be partying outside somewhere, if that is what you are asking. If you stay home, so do we; unless of course there is some official function one of us has to attend and cannot get out of. Right, Hugh? “

“Right, Patrick.” Hugh leaned over to brush the hair back on Kyler’s forehead. “I had also forgotten about your mine duty, so what you have suggested is good. Two hours for the evenings you don’t work during the week. That’s fine and we’ll see how you go on. I don’t think we want to schedule school work on the weekends, unless it’s absolutely necessary. But that will depend on you, babe”

“I’ll pass it this time, Hugh, just wait and see. I just have to get into UBCO before the week is over, ‘cause I can’t register on-line….gotta do it in person. Maybe first thing in the morning will be best,” Kyler softly mused as he took a bite of his now cold supper. Happy in the belief that the bothersome issue had been taken care of, he found his appetite returning.

He smiled at his two lovers, his adoration for them shining out from behind his glasses. He still felt a thrill whenever he thought of living here with them and knowing he would be doing so far into the future. Belonging to these two men completed his world and his heart swelled with the knowledge that they also belonged to him. He trusted them implicitly and would willingly follow them anywhere.

However, soon the question would arise on whether or not he was equally willing to comply with the boundaries they would set up to keep him not only safe, healthy and happy but also to assist him in developing into the type of man he was striving to become.

Because in the not too distant future, a chance discovery by Kyler would change the landscape of their relationship forever.

The End

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