The next morning came far too soon. Donny just about broke Rocco’s clock when it rang out with an eight o’clock alarm. Of course, nearly breaking his favourite clock had him wide awake and checking the dragon was undamaged. It was, luckily, but it meant he was awake. Apparently that meant Rocco was woken up too, because he turned back to his pillow to find blue eyes smiling at him. And an unrepentant boyfriend claiming he’d set the alarm on purpose so that they could go job hunting.
Still, three hours later, he didn’t regret it. They were walking through the town centre, holding hands, and he had already handed out the fifteen copies of his CV that he had printed off. They walked into the print shop and straight into the back room to make more copies from their photo copier.
He only had experience as a waiter, an errand and paper boy and as accountant’s assistant. He had his basketball skills and his school qualifications, but it wasn’t much; he was hardly the best candidate for any of the jobs he was applying for. Luckily he had Rocco by his side, telling him not to underestimate himself. So he tried not to.
“Where would you like to go for lunch?” Donny signed to his boyfriend as they waited on his print outs. “There’s a café down the street, we could get some chips from the fish and chip shop and go sit on the beach or we could go to the burger place just past the church.” He offered him a few choices and waited to see what he preferred. It was his first time out in the big world and he wanted to let him explore as much of it as he wanted to.
“The beach.” Rocco signed back excitedly.
“Okay. The beach.” He laughed at the adorable look on his face, as if he’d just given him the world. “Dom says we’ve got some stuff to pick up at the book store as well, so we’ll do that on the way home.” He explained in sign.
Rocco nodded and surprised him by stepping closer, playing with a button on his shirt. “Will you show me your favourite place?” He asked, signing with one hand.
“In the village?”
“In the world.” He asked, with wide, hopeful eyes full of innocence.
“Okay.” Donny smiled, knocking his hand in agreement. “On the way home, will you show me where you grew up?” He asked.
Rocco nodded and slipped his arms over his shoulders like a real boyfriend would. It made him feel like a jittery schoolboy on his first date to see that look in his eyes; he could only describe it as seductive. It seemed to be his signature prelude to a kiss, so he tried his hardest not to smile when those soft lips kissed his.
Donny gladly met him halfway, cupping his face as he kissed him softly, brushing their lips together. Rocco kissed in such a sweet way; gentle but sure, teasing but genuine at the same time.
With Rocco being so stunningly beautiful, Donny decided to bring up something that he’d been thinking about all night. He wasn’t sure why it popped into his head, but it came to him just as he was falling asleep and entered his dreams. Considering how sheltered his boyfriend was, in terms of the outside world, he was beginning to think it was a genius idea.
“I was thinking about something you said yesterday,” he admitted, signing as he slipped one hand over Rocco’s tiny waist and into his back pocket. “If this happens quickly and I’m going to have trouble adapting, maybe we should get a dog?” He wondered, remotely aware of the fact that he could be rushing things a little. But when he thought about it, it seemed rational.
Dominic had asked him to move into the house, if he wasn’t going to go to college, so that he could be close to Rocco. It was also what he wanted, so why shouldn’t he think they were a permanent thing?
“We?” Rocco smiled as he signed with one hand.
“Yeah. A hearing dog, for both of us.” He answered honestly, with a smile of his own creeping onto his lips in hope. “I know a guy who trains them. They do things for you, tell you when someone’s trying to talk to you and they’re great company.” He explained, hoping to inspire him into thinking about it, if not outright agreeing. He didn’t want to admit that he was worried about him functioning alone in the world, or that the dog would make him feel more secure when he finally faced Jefferson again.
“I’ve never had a pet.” Rocco signed, giving him no indication of whether that was a good thing or not. He just tried to keep talking about it until he refused or agreed to consider it.
“Me neither. Dom had a dog growing up, when Beau was still alive.” He admitted, hoping that was a good thing. “But the dog was old when they adopted it and it died not long after Beau. I don’t think Latimer was ready to get another one. But I think he’d be okay if we wanted to get one now.” He signed to him, letting him know that no-one would refuse him. He would bring it up with Latimer later to make sure he was okay with the suggestion, but he was sure he would be.
“Okay.” Rocco nodded, a little less brightly than he’d expected. He looked almost unsure, but he had a feeling it wasn’t about the dog.
Donny brushed his cheek with his thumb.
“I’m worried about dad. What if he doesn’t want one? Or he thinks I don’t need him because I have one?” He asked, with an adorable frown and nervous fingers that wound into each other even after he’d finished signing.
“He won’t. He would never deny you or me a way to live safely in the wider world.” Donny promised him that much. “And I think we have to accept that neither of us are experienced enough in the world outside this village to cope without a dog to help us. And Latimer will understand that.” He signed calmly. “You will always need him. We all will. He’s been there for us, when no-one else was. He lost Beau, but he will never lose us. And maybe a dog will help him too?” He suggested, hopeful that he was right.
Latimer and Chandler had taken Beau’s death hard enough for everyone to see, but he also knew that Dominic hadn’t exactly taken it in his stride either. Maybe they all needed a dog to love and care for, to remind themselves that life went on?
“Maybe. Would it take a long time to get one?” He asked, his fingers brushing lightly over the back of his neck.
“Maybe a few weeks.” He signed back.
“Then we have time to make sure dad’s okay with it and take care of it.” He said, seeming quite happy with that reasoning.
“Plenty of time.” Donny agreed.
The machine stopped suddenly and Rocco pulled away from him with a knowing smile. One that said he knew he was about to be kissed until something stopped them.
Cursing the machine for being so quick to churn out fifty copies of his CV, he turned away from his boyfriend to collect them. He slipped them into the clear pocket he’d brought with him, to protect them from the morning rain, glad that it had dried up so they could have lunch at the beach like he’d promised.
Donny pulled out his wallet and the money to pay for his print outs. They walked into the main store together and Rocco hovered at his side, swaying and looking around as he paid. When he turned to leave, his boyfriend held out his hand with a happy smile. He took it and led him out of the store so they could go in search of more vacancies for the next hour. Then, they would get to enjoy a cosy lunch by the beach.
The rest of the morning went by pleasantly.
Donny got some positive responses to his CV, though they all claimed someone higher up had to look them over before he got an answer. The best part, by far, was that he got to sit on a bench, on the hill overlooking the beach, snuggled up with Rocco, sharing a fish supper. It was pretty perfect.
They talked about what kind of dog they would like if Latimer agreed to it and how they were going to divide up the chores of taking care of it. Rocco talked about what courses he would like to do if he did decide to go to college and Donny explained how online courses worked.
It was a happy, carefree few hours together that felt suspiciously like dating. He picked up a few leaflets and booklets from the internet café about online courses for Rocco to look at. He seemed quite excited about getting home and reading about all the classes on offer.
With their main task done, they made their way into the book store and Donny approached the desk to talk to the assistant.
“Hi, we’re here to pick up a purchase for Dominic Peabody.” He explained.
“Of course, if you’ll just bear with me.” She asked with a smile. Then she disappeared from behind the desk and escaped through the back room. When she reappeared a few minutes later she was carrying a massive cardboard box that looked more like a book delivery for the shop than an order.
“I’m sorry…are you sure this is right?” He asked in surprise.
“Yes.” The assistant gave him an unsure look and then turned to Rocco, who began tugging on his t-shirt.
Donny turned as the box was placed on the counter. “She says this box is all for you.” He explained in sign.
Rocco turned to the assistant with a disapproving frown and put his hand on top of the box, gesturing as if he was opening it. He was ready to translate when the assistant nodded and pulled out a box cutter knife from beneath the counter, to slice the tape and open the box. Then she pushed it towards Rocco with a smile. He opened it and looked inside.
Donny left him to make up his own mind about what he found, standing by his side, waiting for his reaction.
Suddenly Rocco began pulled out paperback versions of all the Classic novels that he could ever want. Everything from War and Peace to the kid’s classics like The Jungle Book. He pulled them all out, piling them up on the counter with a frown that deepened the further into the box he ventured. When he was done, he turned to him.
“Why? He bought me these for my e-reader and they were all free. Why pay good money for another copy?” He asked in sign.
“Maybe he just thought you’d prefer the paperback?” Donny shrugged, because he had no idea what Dominic’s plan was.
Rocco worried at his lower lip with his teeth before turning to the assistant. He tapped the box and then the register machine. But this time the assistant frowned and looked to him for an explanation.
“I’m sorry. I don’t quite know what he means.” She apologised.
“He wants to know how much the box comes to.” Donny explained, since he didn’t need Rocco to tell him what he wanted to know. He was not a happy bunny and he could only guess that he felt the way he did about wasting money on things he didn’t need.
Donny watched with an approving smile as the shop assistant reached under the counter and pulled out a book. She flicked through a few pages to the last entry and turned the book so that Rocco could see it.
She pointed to the entry with Dominic’s name, impressing him with how well she was treating Rocco, when most of the other shops had just ignored him or stared whenever he signed to him. This girl didn’t seem at all bothered, except when she didn’t understand him.
Rocco looked really confused as he leaned in close to read the page. Then he turned to him with a sigh and couldn’t meet his eyes.
“I can’t read numbers. I don’t know what that means.” He admitted, signing but unable to look at him.
Donny touched his chin and made him meet his gaze; he had nothing to be ashamed of. “That’s okay. I can teach you.” He promised, one handed.
Rocco shook his head and brushed his hand away, looking angry and ashamed.
He cupped his chin tight, so that he couldn’t pull away. “Don’t!” Donny signed, getting angry. “Don’t act as if you’re stupid. It’s not your fault that no-one ever taught you.” He told him, refusing to hear anything to the contrary. “I had to teach myself a lot of things. Just like how Latimer and Chandler didn’t know sign language because no-one bothered teaching them you don’t know numbers because no-one taught you.”
“I will teach you. It’s me or your dad or one of your brothers, but someone will teach you.” Donny signed to him, making sure to get his point across. Whether he knew numbers or not, it was in no way his fault.
Rocco looked away again and tapped the book. “What does it say?” He asked.
Donny gave up for now, intending to revisit the subject later with Dominic, Chandler and Latimer backing him up. “It’s expensive. Really expensive.” He admitted, giving the price a closer look. He wouldn’t lie to him, but he didn’t want to put him off either.
“Each book is ten dollars,” Donny explained, keeping calm and reassuring. “Which is about average for a paperback. An e-book is about three dollars or less, so you’re paying well over three times the price for a paperback. This box costs just over two-hundred-and-fifty dollars. That’s a lot of money for books.” He explained, trying to help him understand.
Rocco looked really unhappy as he looked at the contents of the box sprawled out before him. There were twenty-five paperbacks and a packet of fancy bookmarks. “Take them back.” He signed to him.
“Are you sure?” He asked, to check.
Rocco nodded and wasted no time putting everything back into the box.
Donny stopped him with a curious thought. “Wait,” he signed, gently turning his boyfriend around and pointed to a sign just ahead of them.
Rocco turned back, cocking his head at him as if he was thinking it over.
“It’s a donation box.” He explained. “You buy books, put them in the donation box and the shop give them to charity. Why don’t we ask them to wrap each book separately and then we take them down to the orphanage?” He suggested, hoping that would cheer him up.
Rocco looked at the box. “But it’s a lot of money.” He argued.
“Trust me, Latimer can spare it. He would be happy that you gave them away rather than just sent them back.” He admitted with a shrug.
Surely it was better to spend the money on people who needed it than wasting it by just leaving it in Latimer’s bank account accumulating dust?
Rocco chewed his lower lip and turned to face him fully. “Can we keep ten books and the bookmarks, but get the money back for the rest?” He asked in sign.
Donny turned to the assistant to enquire, vocalising his request. She looked unsure for a moment.
“I’ll have to call my manager and he’d have to call Mister Peabody to make sure you had the authority to get the money back.” She explained.
Donny nodded and turned to explain that to Rocco. He nodded his agreement as well. “That’s fine.” He told her.