Chapter 3: A Southern Belle With A Tucker Twist

Hopefully by now you're starting to see the patterns of insanity that ensue within the House of Hearts. If you are, then congratulations on your observation skills! It's only the third chapter and you're totally getting it!

So let's see, we've glanced at the odd couple-like-but-not-really relationship of the fairy tale-minded girl named Kitty and her guardian gargoyle named Alex, AKA Bunny. We took a peek at the explosive courtship between the raging Nelly, who they all refer to as Ember, and her cold and uncaring girlfriend Kim, also called Ice. The only couple left to look in on would be Tucker and Ferdinand, who have, up until this point, made important and helpful appearances in the story thus far. Well then, let's get started, shall we?

I mentioned before only briefly about how Ferdinand was sort of a mystery to the roommates. That still reigns true, even for you readers, so I believe now is a good time to start fully introducing Ferdinand's counterpart, Tucker. As you know, Tucker and Ferdinand moved into the House of Hearts together, already a couple, and already set in their sexually fantasized ways. What you probably don't know, however, is who Tucker is when he's not at home with his lover. But we'll get to that. For now, let's take a few pages to do a flashback on Tucker's life as the only child of a widower.

Tucker Scott came from a long line of farmers and soldiers on both sides of his family. Since his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents moved to America during the colonization, that's how it's been: If you were a Scott, you either farmed or fought. This particularly obligatory part of Tucker's family history made his life incredibly difficult, even as a child. See, Tucker was your typical gay kid. He knew by the time he was seven years old that he was far different from other boys his age. While other boys wanted to play with tractors and toy guns, Tucker had more fun playing dress-up with their little sisters. When the other boys talked about joining the wrestling club in school or working on restoring old cars, Tucker secretly daydreamed about the types of clothes he could make with his mother's old sewing machine that his father kept in the attic. And while all the teenage boys drooled and fantasized about all the teenage girls, Tucker drooled and fantasized about the boys… who fantasized about girls. Yes, Tucker knew he was different, but he was also smart enough to know that different wasn't always a good thing. Especially not in his case. From the moment he could hold a gardening hoe, his overbearing father, Jack Scott, threw him into the fields to work. Their entire father-son relationship was based on splitting the work around the farm and essentially forcing Tucker to be a strong, independent young man as soon as possible. His father had always planned to be the type of man who would raise his sons to be capable, masculine men and who would protect his daughters from any boy who would dare come near them on his watch. Of course, that plan also included all of the loving, emotional parts to be conducted by his wife, Lorraine. She was his ideal woman: a kind soul, a sharp mind, and a hard worker. Jack swore he would never love a woman like he loved Lorraine, and he held true to his oath long after she died… on the day Tucker was born. I suppose it's safe to say Jack blamed his son for Lorraine's death, but he didn't let that stop him from raising a good, hardworking son. It's also safe to say that Tucker gained his incredible loyalty to his partners later on in life from watching his father stay loyal to the same woman well after she passed away.

On the rare occasions where Jack would say more than a few words to his son, he would usually talk nonstop about his time in the military. Those conversations were usually followed up by a long, repetitive walk down memory lane, where Jack would show Tucker all of his old army memorabilia. And, while Tucker wanted nothing more than to comment on how that dull forest green was absolutely not his father's color, he kept his mouth shut, smiled like a good son, and took notes on the life that he was almost positive he would have to live. You see, as long as he could remember, Tucker understood that his father would never really love him. Not like the father's on TV did, or the fathers of the other kids at school. He knew it was because his birth was the reason for his mother's death, and he knew that no one, not even Jack's own son, could ever replace Lorraine. That was all the more reason for Tucker to swallow down his powerful urge to be more feminine, stand tall and broad, and act like the son his father wanted. The strong son, who would join the military right after graduating high school. The manly son, who would drink beer with his buddies and work on cars. The hardworking son, who would tend the whole farm by himself. And, especially, the straight son, who would marry a girl, take over the farm, and make a happy little family. Every single tiny piece of Tucker's personality was hand-crafted to please and impress his father, partly because it's who his father expected him to be, and partly because, as he grew older, Tucker experienced a profound guilt for taking such a deep love away from Jack. Even as a small child he knew had done something that was unforgivable.

So, as he grew older, he became more and more adept at keeping his true nature a secret. It only took getting his butt whooped by his father for him to learn that doing things like playing with dolls, wearing girls clothes, sewing, and talking about cute boys was not okay and, in fact, made him a 'fag'. By the time he was in high school, not a single 'gay-dar' could pick up on Tucker's sexual preference. From what everyone else could tell, Tucker was as straight as it gets. He flirted with all the girls while sneaking glances at the guys, he talked about wanting to work on the military jets while secretly wishing he could move to Paris, and, at the peak of his straight façade, he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him when he came back from boot camp. As far as Tucker was concerned, though, none of this was a façade. These were all his real-life aspirations because he knew living the life he really wanted was unnatural and strange.

His whole life played out like he built it to be, where not a single person questioned his true identity. At times he thought perhaps he could take his military training he was planning to go through to a whole new level and become some sort of undercover agent. Of course he also entertained the possibility of running away from it all and becoming a Hollywood actor, but that would make his father upset, and Tucker would more than likely be accused of being a fag, followed by immediate disownment. The one compromising thing he did, though, was lie about where those few extra hours really went after school. To his friends and female fiancé, he was working at a part time job in the next town over. To his father, he was meeting with his recruitment officer and preparing for when he would join the military. Tucker told these little lies three times a week, keeping everyone satisfied and off of his tail while what he actually did was spend that time in an international gay chatroom.

At first he started going to this chatroom out of curiosity. While he was looking up Google search results on other guys who led double lives like he did, an ad popped up for a free online chatroom for gay men that promised total anonymity. It wasn't that Tucker wanted to pursue the gay lifestyle. He didn't even want a romantic connection with a man. He was engaged, after all. What drew him to it was that, just once, he wanted to know what it was like to indulge on letting his true thoughts out.

That 'just once' turned into 'just once more', and 'just once more' turned into 'once in a while', and 'once in a while' turned into 'once a week', and so on and so forth until his entire thought process evolved into 'as long as no one catches me, it's fine'. The chat room became Tucker's guilty pleasure, where he talked to other like-minded individuals all over the world about how much he really, really loved his mother's old sewing machine, and how the cute boy on the football team sometimes smiles at him differently than he smiles at everyone else, and about his absolute adoration for dressing up. The more time he spent talking to those men online, the more he realized exactly how unhappy he was living the life his father expected of him. Each time he received an invitation to meet up and 'have some fun', Tucker felt a rush of temptation mixed with a noxious pang of guilt, knowing that being with a man would feel natural, but being what his father wanted him to be was the right thing to do. So, for over a year Tucker went to the library, took a computer way in the back corner, and talked to these men who lived the life he so desperately desired. 'Just talkin' to 'em is enough,' Tucker thought to himself. 'I can live like I want through 'em an' I can be happy 'bout it.'

As time went on and his usual chatting buddies either became honest friends or frustrated men in the friend-zone, Tucker was slowly starting to be overcome with depression. His time in high school was ending, and soon he'd have to actually start meeting with a recruitment officer like he'd been lying about for so long. Once he joined the military, he would have almost no chance at all to talk to the people he really enjoyed spending time with. Tucker had created meaningful, beautiful relationships with these men who understood his true self, yet he was forced to go back to the life that he had no interest in and would give him nothing but a feeling that he didn't totally destroy his father's life. It was painful and heartbreaking, but it was the right thing to do, and he knew it. With this knowledge in mind, slowly Tucker started backing away from his life on the internet so he could get used to being the person everyone thought he was again. That is, until he received a private message from a man he'd never spoken to before.

It was nearly 7 o'clock at night when he got it, the time when he usually started packing up and heading home. At first Tucker thought nothing of it and told himself he would just be kind and respond once or twice before explaining that he had to leave. That, however, wasn't the case. The man he spoke to didn't outwardly provide his name, as was the chatroom's code of honor. When he typed, he typed as though his English wasn't completely learned, and it broke here and there to make some silly sounding sentences. But still, it was like every word this mystery man spoke was full of worldly knowledge and unconditional joyfulness. He never had a negative thing to say, and whatever Tucker talked about, this man could talk about and encourage like they had been the best of friends since childhood. He spoke of his joy of dressing up, his intense interest in food, his carefree view on life, and how someday he wanted to live with someone he could love and appreciate with all of his being in a place where they could be totally themselves. As you might be able to guess, all of this didn't transpire with just one or two polite replies. The library security had to forcefully drag Tucker from his computer and kick him out at closing time that night.

Over the next few days, talking to Internet Mystery Man became something close to an obsession for Tucker. He thought about the man all day long, and dreamt about him all night. It only took three nights of talking to the guy before Tucker started blowing everyone off with stupid excuses just to get to the library. The more they talked, the more Tucker wanted from him. A week in, they exchanged names, and Tucker found out his mystery man was called Ferdinand. The next day he discovered Ferdinand was 26 years old, almost 10 years older than Tucker was. Two days after that, he found out Ferdinand lived in Madrid, Spain. Another few days passed and they began sharing pictures, though all of Ferdinand's were sort of hard to see, as he wasn't very good with a camera. By the third week of talking to Ferdinand, Tucker was head over heels in love. The day he confessed his feelings to Ferdinand, and Ferdinand returned them, was the happiest day of Tucker's life. But still, he didn't have the confidence to so openly betray his father. Not yet, anyway.

The two continued talking for three months as often as they could. Unfortunately, because his father was old-fashioned and because Tucker was dirt poor, all they could do was talk in the chatroom. There was no computer in Tucker's house, no webcam at the library, and no cellphone he could afford. It was almost too much to bare, only speaking for a few hours each day and only doing it online, but like everything else in his life, Tucker was determined to make do with what he had.

Ferdinand, however, wasn't. One week before graduation, Ferdinand sent Tucker a message saying, "I have a graduation gift for you, my love."

To which Tucker replied, "Anything you get me I'm gonna love! But I wish I could have you :("

Ferdinand's last response that night was a picture of a plane ticket to the airport in the city two towns over from where Tucker lived, and a receipt for a hotel room only one town away. "Then I will grant your wish," is what he said.

That was the defining moment in Tucker's life where he decided to be happy for himself, being himself, and not being someone his father wanted for his father's happiness. There was nothing in this world worth giving up the love he felt for Ferdinand. Not even his father's approval. That's why, the night before Ferdinand's plane arrived, Tucker decided to fully come out to his dad.

That didn't go well.

Tucker thought the best way to fully explain to his hard-headed dad who he really was inside was to show who he really was outside. That meant sewing and putting on a cowgirl costume, pulling his shoulders back, swaying his hips, and smiling a bright, shining smile. He felt so unbelievably happy being in his own house, acting the way he felt inside, but it wasn't enough to silence the dread and anxiety welling in his chest. The totally exposed and totally himself boy, Tucker, went and sat patiently in the dining room, waiting for his father to come home.

"What the fuck is this, boy?" Jack, Tucker's father, grumbled as he lumbered in and took in the sight of his son.

"Somethin' you ain't gonna like, Pa. But I'mma tell ya anyway," Tucker responded. He stood up, his stomach raging with nausea but his heart pounding with pride as he said, "Dad, I'm gay. I'm gay, an' I love a man. I love sewin', I love wearin' clothes like this, I love talkin' to other gay men, an' I love you, Pa."

Jack's head swirled with the shock of it, his body losing strength as he stumbled over to the sink. His son? Of all people, it had to be his son that was gay. Tucker, the boy he raised to be a man among men, was a fruit. It was too much for Jack to handle. His shock and hatred and disappointment welled up in his stomach, and he vomited everything he had into the sink.

Once everything was out of his system, he stood up and wiped his face on his shirt, glaring menacingly at Tucker. "My son ain't no faggot wimp," he growled.

Tucker clenched his fists hard, swallowed back is own vomit and tears, gritted his teeth and said as kindly as he could, "Well, apparently he is, Pa."

"Don't you dare call me Pa. No son a'mine's a fuckin' fag, y'hear me? Now you march upstairs an' put on some clothes fit for a man, an' then we can pretend this ain't never happened."

"No," Tucker replied shortly.

"What was that?" his father growled.

"No!" he shouted with tears in his eyes. "No, Pa! I'm done pretendin'! I'm done tryin' to be the son you wanted! This is me! This is who I am! You love an' accept me like this, or you don' love or accept me at all. That's how it is."

Jack glowered at Tucker with utter disgust and said through clenched teeth, "I tol' you once, boy. Ain't no son of mine a damn homo. I ain't never gonna accept or love a homo, no matter who ya are. You can get outta my house if you gonna act like a faggot."

The sound of Tucker's heart breaking was the sound of his final wall of defense crumbling to dust. His tears spilled over as his hopes of being accepted by his father, even if it meant his father not loving him at all, came crashing down. He knew there was no going back from this. He knew better than anyone that he couldn't possibly back down and turn around now. Tucker was who he was, and he felt that he at least deserved a little respect for trying so hard to be who he wasn't for so long. But Jack had said the one thing Tucker never wanted to hear: that he hated gays so much that Jack would kick out his own son for being one.

"Fine then," Tucker said with hate dripping in his tone as the tears dripped from his face. "I'm leavin'. You won' have'ta see me no more. But just remember, Pa, that you lost your only son today."

"I don' need a faggot for a son," Jack replied sternly. "Now git out b'fore I shoot ya down myself."

It took all of Tucker's strength not to sock his father in the face. After all he went through to try to be something he wasn't, after all the courage he mustered to show his father who he was, and after the stab to the heart with a searing, jagged blade, Jack still acted with such hatred. The only thing Tucker could think to do was to storm off in all of his rage, pack everything he could—including his mother's sewing machine—change into warmer clothes, and scream as hard as he could into his pillow to calm down enough to go back downstairs. With a heavy heart and a tear stained face, Tucker took one last look over everything in the house; his room, the pictures of family on the wall, the portrait of his mother (which he stole without a thought), and all of the little things that reminded him of his time growing up in this house. He was about to leave it all behind, just because his father didn't like what he did.

Tucker trudged down the stairs with his duffle bag and his sewing machine in hand and stopped once more before the archway that connected the living room and the kitchen, where he found his father drinking whiskey straight from the bottle at the table. With the hatred and total disgust for the man he once tried so hard to be perfect for, Tucker said with a sneer, "Oh yeah, an' one more thing, Pa. My boyfriend's comin' in tomorrow mornin'. I was hopin' you could'a met 'im, but seein' as how ya—"

"Leave," Jack interrupted, not looking up once at his son. "Leave before I make ya. An' don' ever come 'ere with that man, or I'll kill ya both."

The tears threatened poor Tucker's eyes once again, but he bit his lip hard and hung his head low. "Goodbye, Pa," he said quietly. "I love you."

That was the last time Tucker ever saw his father.

He left that night only with the regret that he didn't get this over with sooner. The man he wanted so much to make happy couldn't care less about Tucker's happiness, and it replaced Tucker's respect for his father with hatred and contempt. He felt cheated and wronged, and more than a little betrayed. Who wouldn't? It all happened so suddenly, so quickly, and now Tucker had nothing to go back to. All he had was looking forward to finally meeting his beloved Ferdinand at long last, and that in itself was almost enough to quiet his raging heart.

Tucker made a pit stop at his now-former fiancé's house, leaving her a tear-stained, scribbled and nearly illegible letter written on the back of a fast food bag explaining that he would no longer marry her, and probably won't ever see her again, before he drove two cities over where Ferdinand would be arriving. With no money and nothing but the clothes on his back and his very few possessions, Tucker's only option was to sleep in his truck. Well, he tried to sleep. He was too sad and too excited all at once. In his head, the only things that could hold any precedence were either the heartbreak he felt, the anxiety of not knowing what to do next, and the warm comfort of knowing that in just a few hours, the love of his life would be landing and waiting for him at the terminal.

When the plane arrived, Tucker nearly wet himself with excitement. Then, once the passengers slowly started unboarding the plane, Tucker started crying once again. He clenched his hoodie sleeves over his palms and held his hands up to his quivering mouth, the excitement almost too much to handle.

Then, it happened. The man Tucker had given up everything for stepped through that boarding hallway, his fingers sliding through his hair as he anxiously scanned the crowd for the guy he flew over five thousand miles to see. Ferdinand looked about a billion times more stunning than Tucker could even dream of. So much so that he literally had the wind knocked out of him with shock. Ferdinand's hair was thick and black, curling loosely at the ends with one piece hanging and bouncing in his face. His eyes were a deep, dark brown that had Tucker drowning in them the moment their eyes met. Ferdinand's skin was a dark tan, like he spent a great deal of time basking in the sun, but it was also smooth and almost totally free of unwanted hair. He couldn't pinpoint exactly where it came from, but Ferdinand gave off an aura of regality, like he should have been escorted by a private band of hired body guards, or like he should have an entourage there to fix his hair and polish his crown. Maybe it was in the way he held himself with such pride and confidence, or maybe it was that faint, mysterious air around him, Tucker couldn't tell. It was the smile, though, that really took Tucker's breath away. Ferdinand smiled just the way Tucker always imagined him to smile, with a constant grin brimming with joy. It was the exact thing Tucker needed to see in that moment, the thing that made everything he'd experienced worthwhile.

Without a thought to spare, Tucker sprinted to Ferdinand, jumping clear over a row of seats and springing onto the man he loved so dearly for the first time. He clung to Ferdinand and wailed into his papaya-smelling hair, crying, "I'm so glad you're here, suga!"

Of course the two were making a scene, as they were both men and in the middle of a crowded airport area full of people who were more than a little uncomfortable with homosexual relationships, but that didn't stop them. Ferdinand dropped his carry-on luggage and wrapped his arms under Tucker's thighs, holding the crying boy up and burying his face into his neck.

"Sí, mí corazon. It makes me so happy to finally see you," Ferdinand replied, his thick Spanish accent sending chills down Tucker's spine.

Ferdinand and Tucker embraced lovingly for a good 10 minutes before people started complaining. It wasn't until security started to approach them that the two decided to separate and run as quickly as they could to the hotel room, where they spent the first night of their lives as boyfriend and boyfriend. For those of you wondering, no. There was absolutely no sleeping or eating involved for the first two days of their stay. It was only after they finally broke off from each other that they could talk like rational, adult human beings about their future. Tucker expressed everything he felt so openly and honestly with his lover, from little things like showing Ferdinand his mother's sewing machine to the absolute euphoria he felt just being together. It was the first time in his life where he could speak so fluently, without thought, without reproach, knowing that no matter what he said, it would be accepted fully and completely by this Spanish prince of a man. Then, the time came when Tucker told him all about what happened with his father and how, once Ferdinand left, he would have nowhere to go.

"I do not see a problem here," Ferdinand answered honestly, stroking Tucker's soft reddish hair as the boy rested his head on Ferdinand's chest.

Tucker lifted himself up just a bit so he could take a look at his lover, a questioning expression on his face. "But… I ain't got a place to go! I ain't got money or family or even friends to go back to. All I got is you, and you gotta go back to Spain sometime."

"Ah, but that is where you are mistaken, mí amor," Ferdinand said with a mischievous smile. "I never bought a ticket to go home to Spain. I am just as abandoned as you are, lost and with nothing but the company of my lover."

It took a few moments for Tucker to fully process what Ferdinand said. That meant going through the stages of recognition that Ferdinand wasn't leaving, excitement at the possibilities that had just opened up, and absolute horror over a future that might end in total homelessness.

"Oh… oh my God. Oh my God! Suga, are you serious?" Tucker nearly shouted as he sprung up from his comfortable laying position.

"Sí! There was simply no point in buying a plane ticket to Spain when my new home is sitting next to me in this very room."

"But—but then… what're we gonna do? How are we gonna live? We can't stay in this hotel room forever, Ferdinand! We gotta leave sometime, then what then? Are we gonna live in my truck? Are we gonna be bums?!"

"No, my precious one, nothing like that," Ferdinand said casually. Slowly he sat up, a joyful grin still on his face, and leaned over the edge of the bed so he could rustle through his expensive looking leather bag. Out of it he pulled a manila envelope that looked as though it were about to burst with its contents, and handed it to Tucker. "I am no expert in the ways of American trade, but I believe this will be enough to accommodate us for a while, no?"

Tucker's eyes slowly traveled from Ferdinand's face, down his arm and to the package he held out. Slowly Tucker reached for it, pinched the metal tabs holding the envelope shut, opened it up, and peeked inside. Instantly he dropped the package, both of his hands flying up to his agape mouth as the shock washed over him.

"Fer—Ferdinand… that's… that's…"

"I believe it is close to ten thousand American dollars in cash, is it not?"

"Wh—where did ya get this, suga? This… this is a lot a' money," Tucker said with a shaky breath.

"I do not travel unless I am well prepared, my love."

"Well prepared?" Tucker cried, raising his widened eyes to meet Ferdinand's. "Well prepared for what? What were you thinkin' when ya made this trip?"

Ferdinand's smile faded ever-so-slightly, a hurt expression lurking behind his still-grinning lips. "I never had any intention of leaving you, mí corazon. You are my heart of hearts. I would go anywhere and do anything to be with you."

This… was not something Tucker thought about. He loved Ferdinand before they ever met, that was for certain. He loved Ferdinand so much that he came out to his homophobic father and left behind everything he had to live a life surrounded in the glow of his love. But in the back of his head, even as he was first considering the possibilities in the very beginning of their courtship online, Tucker knew that they came from two different worlds. He knew that a long life together, just like the one Ferdinand always described, was far from what their future reality could actually be. He was from Spain, for Pete's sake! And all they had was a connection that was transmitted through two computer screens. To even meet each other was some sort of miracle, but it never crossed his mind that from the moment they saw each other, they'd be able to stay together. So when Ferdinand talked like this, Tucker's mind had to work a thousand times harder to process it all. A future he thought would never really exist was sitting in front of him, waiting to be unraveled. He wasn't a stupid kid, by any means, and he knew that every day hundreds of people get murdered or kidnapped in situations just like this one. But there was something… something so unbearably sincere, so heart-wrenchingly honest in Ferdinand's words that made Tucker's reason fly out the door. I trust 'im, Tucker thought. I trust 'im completely.

"Then let's go somewhere new," Tucker said after a long, uncomfortable moment of silence. "Let's start a new life togetha'! Let's go somewhere fresh! Somewhere where we can be us, jus' you an' me."

Ferdinand's face lit up like the night sky on Fourth of July as he said, "Truly? You want to start a life together with me?"

Tucker stood up, letting the sheets he had covering his lower half cascade onto the bed as though he had totally forgotten their existence. In one easy step, Tucker threw his leg over Ferdinand's lap and plopped himself down, wrapping his arms around his lover's neck. With a deep, unwavering gaze, Tucker looked Ferdinand straight in the eye and said, "Absolutely. Let's always, always be togetha, puddin'."

Ferdinand smiled a bright, almost overwhelmingly charming smile, and buried his head in Tucker's shoulder. "I will take you anywhere, mí amor. Tell me where, and we will make a new life."

Tucker slid his fingers into Ferdinand's hair, tilting his head up so he could stare whole-heartedly into the man's dark, honest eyes, and said, "I wanna live by the ocean."

"Sí, my love. We will make our home by the ocean."

And voila! The very next day, Tucker and Ferdinand checked out of their hotel room, packed up the truck, and drove almost 24 hours straight until the beautiful blue ocean popped into their horizon. They weren't sure which city it was, nor were they entirely certain this was a good place to be, but the two knew, without a doubt, that this is where they would make their start. Soon enough they met Kim, the owner of the House of Hearts, and the three of them together started the lifestyle that I'm showing you in this book. Don't worry, though. I'll explain in great detail how Tucker, Ferdinand and Kim all came to meet and get to know each other in another chapter. For now, let's see what's happening in the current state of affairs of the house.

On this particular night, Tucker was driving home from work, covered in plaster and freshly-spilled beer all over his white t-shirt. Tucker hated everything about beer—the taste, the smell, the bad decisions that came with it—but that didn't stop his coworkers from cracking them open every night after a job was finished and splashing them around everywhere. "To a job well-done!" they'd cheer as they smashed the cans of foul-smelling alcohol against each other, and every time Tucker would try to courteously keep his distance. He preferred martini's made with exotic ingredients that only Ferdinand could create. Not… beer.

Well, I suppose I should explain a little more about Tucker's job. Whereas the other housemates have jobs that support their personalities—Alex being a security guard, because his face wills care the piss out of any thieving teenager, and Kitty being a ballet dancer, because she can't function in any other position, and Nelly being a nurse, because her favorite character from a book by her favorite author was a nurse, and because she showed compassion sometimes—Tucker's job was completely opposite of his flamboyant personality. See, since Tucker was rather young and had no real education other than a high school diploma, all he could really do for work was things he picked up from working on the farm. That meant things revolving around agriculture, general household repairs, car mechanics, and any other 'manly' jobs you can think of. So, in order to pay their portion of the rent, Tucker took a job as a handyman, working for a company that dispatched people like him for all sorts of things. He would do odd jobs all the way from insect extermination to working city construction as an independent contractor, meaning sometimes his jobs would only be a few hours, and sometimes his jobs would last for months at a time.

Today, though, Tucker's odd job was fixing the tile flooring in an older woman's house. She hired three young men to do it, and given Tucker's amount of skill, it only took him a grand total of six hours to retile her whole house. The last three hours of his job were spent outside a liquor store, where his coworkers had bought themselves a twelve-pack of some cheap, distasteful beer and sat in the back of poor Tucker's truck, laughing and drinking and making fools of themselves. He had no choice but to stick around with them, partly because he was their ride home, and partly because, well… Tucker felt like it was partly his job to be 'one of the boys'. But that's a long and complicated story that I'm sure we'll get around to at some point.

Anyway! Back to the tale at hand! Tired and weary and disgusted with the stench that was emanating from him, Tucker parked the truck on the street in front of the house and trudged up to the doorstep. As he reached for the handle he heard the familiar crash of something fragile being thrown across the house, knowing without a doubt that Nelly and Kim were at it again. Nel really shouldn't be comin' home on 'er lunch break, he thought as he sighed and shook his head, unlocking the door as he did. Before he could twist the knob, the door yanked open and out flew Ferdinand, wearing their Love Slave fetish apron, with a ladle in one hand and a half of a fresh coconut in the other.

"Bienvenido a casa, mi amor!" Ferdinand shouted as he wrapped Tucker into a tight, desperate hug. "Ay, I have missed you dearly."

Tucker went to lovingly embrace his Spanish prince, but in a flash Ferdinand had yanked himself away and glared questioningly at the boy, his nose twitching and his lip curling slightly. "Tucker, what is that awful smell?"

Tucker sighed deeply again, his little moment of happiness being crushed by work mishaps once more, and replied, "The guys got a lil' rowdy tonight with their drinkin'. This's about a beer an' a half right here."

He pulled out his t-shirt just for emphasis. Ferdinand frowned heavily at the stain, then, with whatever fingers he could free from the cooking supplies he was holding, he reached for Tucker's face to tenderly caress it.

"My poor Tucker works far too hard to come home with such a… disgruntled face. Come! Come inside! Let your lover soothe the wounds of the day with my kuku paka!"

Tucker had no idea what that was—just like everyone else in the house (it's Kenyan curry, by the way)—but there was nothing Ferdinand could make that Tucker wouldn't eat. The man had a gift, and nothing on this planet would keep Tucker from eating it.

The boy bounced up on his toes and gave Ferdinand a light peck on the lips, careful not to stain their favorite apron with the smell of cheap alcohol, and happily skipped inside with his lover following closely on his heels.

"Welcome home, Tucky!" Kitty shouted from her place at the dining table. "I missed you!"

Tucker smiled vibrantly and replied, "I missed ya too, Miss Kitty. And what's this? No hot new stud accompanyin' you to a fancy dinner tonight?"

"Nope!" the fairy-headed girl chided. "Ferdy's making a potion of enchantment! I couldn't leave!"

Tucker lived in the House of Hearts long enough to know what Kitty meant. There were no potions or enchantments. Ferdinand's food just smelled too good, and she couldn't pass it up, so she cancelled her date. This was good for the housemates, since they all rooted for Alex, but bad for her dates, since they weren't even worth a free meal to her.

"Curl up in a ditch and die, you old hag!" Nelly screeched as she swung the door to her bedroom open.

"A ditch would be more welcoming than you," Tucker heard Kim reply calmly.

"Ugh! I can't fucking stand you!" Nelly growled, slamming the door with a harsh thrust. "And I'm not buying you a new lamp either you heartless twat!"

Nelly stormed down the hallway, fists clenched and teeth gritted, mumbling profanities under her heated breath as she made her way to the kitchen. Ferdinand sighed and shrugged, then leaned over to Tucker and whispered, "Ember and Ice have been at it since Nelly came home on her break. I think they started over a phone conversation."

"Stop whispering about me!" Nelly seethed. "When's dinner ready? I'm going to pack it up and go back to work before I jam a knife into her neck."

"Sí, sí," Ferdinand said with a smile. "Just a pinch of coconut and it will be ready."

Nelly sat down hard at the table next to Alex, who had been silently enduring the entire thing, and crossed her arms defiantly. "Fine, whatever. I'll wait."

Ferdinand clapped his hands together… sort of… and scampered off to the giant pot on the stove where it was plainly obvious the smell of heaven was emanating from. Tucker ran his fingers through his hair—a habit he picked up from the Spanish cooking god—and let out a deep breath of relief. It was good to be home. It felt nice to come back to a house filled with love and the warmth of a good, never-before-tasted meal waiting for him. Tucker felt stressed at work, for many reasons, but home… home was the best place in the world.

As his body relaxed and his demeanor adjusted to the comforting atmosphere, Tucker pulled off his shirt and trotted to the laundry room where he tossed it into the basket that held the dirty laundry of him and Ferdinand. With everyone getting ready to eat, it was the perfect time to steal the communal shower for a quick wash, just so he could get the smell of beer off and replace it with the familiar scent of hibiscus and jasmine. He washed as quickly as he could, the smell of the curry being so intensely delicious that it was seeping through the bathroom door, and hopped out of the shower with the intentions of just going to eat in nothing but a towel. He could do that in the House of Hearts.

With his hair half-heartedly dried off and the towel wrapped around his waist, Tucker was ready to join the rest of the brood to dig into what sounded like the best thing since sliced bread. He heard the moans and cries of ecstasy from his housemates coming from the kitchen as they glorified and devoured their meal, and Tucker couldn't wait to be a part of it.

Just as he was fixing his wet, reddish hair in the foggy mirror, out from the steam appeared an affectionate set of hands, gingerly wrapping themselves around his chest and stomach.

"Suga," Tucker giggled, gently trying to pull Ferdinand's hands away. "We need to eat the food ya ma—"

"Hush, mí corazon," Ferdinand whispered into the crook of Tucker's neck. "The food can wait. It will still be there, no?"

"Mm," the boy answered, melting into Ferdinand's embrace. "It don't sound like it. But I can make do."

Tucker twisted around in Ferdinand's arms, lifting his chin so the tall, exotic man could close the space between their lips with a fiery, passionate kiss. A moan escaped Tucker's mouth as Ferdinand let his tongue glide along his lover's lower lip, making Tucker shiver in response. He turned his whole body around so he could press it hard against Ferdinand, his hands working to unbutton the man's shirt, begging him for more.


"No fucking in the bathroom during dinner. I'm not so kind as to save you two a bowl of food from the ravenous beasts in the kitchen. Get dressed and join us," Kim demanded loudly through the bathroom door.

Tucker let go of Ferdinand's shirt, a wide, amused smile creeping onto both of their faces. "We've been caught," he chuckled.

"Ay, so it seems, my love," Ferdinand replied. He bent down and gave Tucker one last, longing kiss on the lips before be pulled away and said, "We will continue after we make a claim on our dinner."

"I'm holdin' ya to that, puddin'," Tucker said playfully, pressing a finger to Ferdinand's lips.

Ferdinand took Tucker's hand into both of his, planting a loving kiss on his knuckles, and gently tugged Tucker along out of the bathroom. "Come, then, mi amor. Let us eat! And after, I will have my dessert."

Together, with Tucker in nothing but a towel and Ferdinand half-dressed and looking a little more than ruffled, the two love birds skipped hand-in-hand to the dining room, where they were just as openly welcomed as they were berated for looking like they did more than just make out. They sat together, sharing a large bowl of Ferdinand's amazing kuku paka, listening to their housemates talk, laugh, and bicker. Kitty spoke nonstop about the pixie children she taught to dance at work. Alex sat quietly beside her, pushing her hair behind her ear so it wouldn't get in her food and attentively wiping away the curry she didn't realize fell on her chin. Nelly and Kim sat together as well, staying quiet for the most part but throwing under-the-belt jabs at each other as they ate. As for Tucker and Ferdinand, well, what they looked like to others was a happy couple eating together. What they were doing where eyes couldn't see was, well, a little too explicit for me to describe.

To Tucker, this is what it meant to live in the House of Hearts. This was his home, where his heart was, and where he built a new life from scratch with his adoring partner, Ferdinand. From time to time he would feel the sadness and pain he felt when his father disowned him, but nothing could quite eclipse the happiness he felt being where he was, with the people he had in his life, and the knowledge that, while he was in this place with these people, he was completely, 100% himself. And Tucker couldn't imagine life any other way.