Her words make me wonder just how much my mother knows about what has been going on between us – both between only Bella and me, and the two of us with Jazz. We've never really talked about it after the disastrous gala last summer, but I know that Bella and Esme have been spending a lot of time together, and without a doubt talking about us, too.

"So you think it's jealousy that makes her assume the martyr role? Because obviously, it's all our fault, and she's the one suffering the most."

"Now you're just being dense," she accuses me with a hint of laughter in her voice, but when she goes on, she's completely serious again. "If things were so simple you would have solved them months ago. And while I think I know her well, my view of her is biased, too. I won't even defend what she did and how she seems to approach things, but I still think that on some level, she simply feels left out. You should talk to her about that if you want to save your friendship, which I think you should, old and close friends are a rare commodity sometimes."

For a moment I just stare at her, wondering if she has gone off the deep end after all.

"How could I possibly talk to her right now? She wouldn't listen, and I'm not sure I even want to talk to her as it is!"

"Not now, but eventually. When the storm has blown over, you're not high up in the clouds about just how wonderful your own life is, she's had time to reassemble herself, and you can meet on neutral middle ground. You're not in kindergarten anymore, just because Jazz or Bella might not want to deal with her again, that doesn't mean you have to cut yourself off from her. It's only a matter of wanting to work things out."

The more immature side of me wants to stick out my tongue and deny that I will ever want this to happen, but I'm sensible enough to just answer with a long spell of silence. While I don't think she's right now, I know that my mother has a unique ability to see right through other people's bullshit, something I greatly envy her, and I'm not going to protest her point now and set myself up for ridiculing later if she's right. There's something else that has been eating on me for much, much longer than the issue with Alice, and as she has more or less prodded the anthill already, I might as well go all the way.

"Does he hate me for who I am? When you said you were proud of the man I had become, it sounded like you were skipping over a 'contrary to what others might believe'."

A while it seems like she won't answer my question, probably as not to underline my conviction, but when she does, her voice sounds a little hollow with defeat.

"Edward, I won't lie to you, your father has problems with several of the decisions you have made in your life, and it pains me to see the two most important people for me so at odds with each other. But that doesn't mean he's right, or even has a point."

"That's not why I was asking. I just -" I have to stop there to keep my voice from skipping an octave with the sudden tightness in my chest, and it takes me a bit to breathe through it. "It's just that it's hard enough sometimes to live with the consequences of said choices without having my own father show his disapproval every moment possible."

"I know," she admits, then offers me another of those gentle smiles. "You know that I love your father, and we're a good match on so many fronts that I tend to ignore where our opinions diverge. If I didn't respect him for the person he is, he wouldn't be your father nor would I have stayed with him for all those years. His only fault, or at least the greatest, is that he goes through life seeing only black and white, while you and I, we're strong believers in the shades of gray philosophy."

As much as I want to agree with her – and I even do, just not in the conclusion she seems to offer – I have to speak up.

"I can see where he's disappointed in me throwing my budding career in Plastic Surgery into the wind on a whim, and because of the backlash my private issues have caused me at the time, but I'm more than happy that I did, because I think I'm much better suited to work in the ER and Intensive Care. I can also see why he thinks that my bisexuality is something he doesn't approve of, seeing as it's nothing he can put in a neat box that everyone will respect, but -"

"It's not that," she interrupts me, uncharacteristic enough for her that she stops my whining short.

"What then? Does he really have that much of a problem with the fact that I like to tie up my girlfriend and spank her?"

"If that was all you did I'm sure he would keep on ignoring it."

Her words don't really make sense to me, and when she sees that, she explains with a weary sigh.

"Your father is, for whatever unfathomable reason, blaming himself that somewhere, somehow he must have done something incredibly wrong for his son to have developed what he thinks is a pathological mental disorder."

"He what?"

"Before you jump to any conclusions, please let me explain."

"How can I jump to any conclusions when my own father thinks that I'm some sick -"

"Edward, I said let me explain!" she bites out, and her tone alone would have been enough to shut me up. We stare at each other for a few seconds, until I speak first.

"Sadomasochism is not a disease."

"Of course it isn't, but tell that to a man who thinks his medical degree comes with the guarantee that he knows it all?" she huffs, then turns her tone to a gentler cadence. "And before you bite my head off, too, he's not blaming you for it, but himself."

"That makes even less sense."

She gives a noncommittal grunt at that.

"I guess you'd have to be your father for that, but maybe I can explain what I think is going on in this usually very bright head of his. Unlike the two of you I haven't had to have my share of psychology classes, but I'm sure that my layman terms will let me explain, too. He's blaming himself because he thinks that something must have occurred in your childhood to lead to this, and he was never there for you to see nor save you from whatever happened. So now he's eaten up with guilt, but as he can barely manage to talk about the whole issue with me, I don't see how it's something the two of you could ever discuss, should you want to try."

"Not really." I've spent enough time thinking myself that I'm a sick weirdo, I don't need to relive that in a handful of uncomfortable conversations with my own father.

"Be that as it may, you know that your father doesn't want to deal with imperfection, and as you are a constant reminder to him of how he himself failed you, it's not that much of a stretch to guess why he keeps acting the way he does. And I don't mean this as an excuse, but as an explanation."

I still can't wrap my head around this, but when I open my mouth to say something, she forestalls me with a tsking noise.

"Don't tell me how screwed up that view is, I know. But your father has been difficult ever since you were born, and we've had more fights about what is best for you than I can count. For instance he saw it as a personal insult when I spoke up against letting you skip grades in Junior High already, and I still think that it was the right decision to let you have a real childhood instead of sending you to college with fifteen. I don't doubt that you could have managed the intellectual challenge well enough, but there's so much more to growing up than zooming through your scholarly pursuits.

Every time you didn't ace an exam he was ranting that I was holding you back, that I was falsely raising you to be mediocre at best when you could be nothing less than brilliant. And don't tell me you weren't aware of all that, you must have heard us arguing on more than one occasion. I still insist that it was the right choice to let you have a life, and make your own decisions in time, while he will never stop blaming himself for whatever might happen. I don't know why he thinks he is such a failure as a father, but he does, and I don't think either of us has the power to change his mind."

Even though her words pacify me somewhat, they still leave me aching inside. If course she is right, I've known for a long time that my parents disagree on virtually everything concerning me, and there was a time when I was convinced that was my fault, too. Still, as sound as her explanation is, it doesn't answer the central question.

"If he thinks it's his fault, why does he behave like I'm constantly letting him down?"

"Because he's a man stuck in midlife crisis ever since you left the house to live on campus, and as he seems to be too decent to bend his secretary over her office table to shake himself out of it I expect him to be stuck there until the merry laughter of a horde of grandchildren will let him assume the role of the wise, good-natured grandfather." She grins at the vision she herself must find equally ridiculous as I do, before she goes on. "Even though you probably don't want to see it, you and your father are so alike sometimes that I think a psychologist rather than geneticist would be the one to ascertain your relationship the fastest, if ever needed. The main difference I see is that somehow I managed to influence you enough to listen to reason through diligently nagging at you whenever I got enough time and opportunity. And before you protest, ask yourself what Bella would say on you blaming yourself for things entirely outside of your control or responsibility."

Like always she finds exactly the right thing to say to shut me up, and when I remain silent she pulls out the bread for the ducks and breaks off a piece for me.

"Here, have a cookie. I promise, when you finish eating it, you'll be feeling right as rain."

For a moment I just stare at her, then start laughing as I accept the bread, throwing bits of it at the rapidly returning ducks.

"Can a day get any weirder when your own mother is quoting 'Matrix'?"

"Don't look at me like that, young man, I'm a cool mom, I'm allowed to watch films like that and pretend I'm not laughing my ass off at how scandalized my son is that I could actually like them. Or does your own expectation of people accepting you as you are only go as far as yourself?

And on second thought, don't answer that."

We both feed the ducks in silence, me lost in my own thoughts, her obviously satisfied that she caused that reaction in me. Too soon my time is up, and I accompany her back to her car, then even indulge her when she claims she feels the strong need to drop me off at the hospital like she used to, back when I was a little boy and wanted to see my father.

When I finally make it inside the ER I'm still amazed how once again she has managed to make everything right with the sheer force of her will, or at least push me into the right direction so that I can find my own way there. I am well aware of the fact that the road before me will be rocky and hard – it was bad enough at times to manage uniting Bella's and my life into one unit of compromise, I'm sure that adding Jazz to that will end more than once in utter chaos – but the conviction that in the end it will be worth all the hassle and that we will manage is once again strong in me.

Chapter 30

As is usual for any type of family related holiday, we get lots of weird cases in the ER during my shift, and every time I get a chance to lie down I can barely catch a few minutes of sleep before the nurses wake me up again.After the Thanksgiving dinner we had, I'm somewhat glad to see that other people don't really stick to the saccharine version of it that TV always portrays, either. I'm also not unhappy to leave Bella to comfort Jazz when all I would have been able to do is sit around and be unhelpful in my frustrated silence anyway.When I finally get to dump my scrubs for street clothes again, it's close to noon. While I'm physically and emotionally drained, I'm looking forward to getting home again – and not just because I get to sleep in an actual bed for a couple of hours straight. Back in our condo I find Bella and Jazz reading their books in companionable silence on the couch, neither of them even looking up as I enter.I stop inside the door of the living room and look at them for a few seconds, waiting to be acknowledged. When all I get is an absentminded wave from Bella, my conviction that they both need to be taught a lesson is bolstered.Not that it takes much to reach that conclusion, horny as I am already, but it's not my fault that they are unwittingly playing into my hands like that.Clearing my throat noisily, I cross my arms over my chest as I approach the couch, until I'm leaning upside down over Bella. This finally makes her put down her book so she can smile up at me. She obviously recognizes the hard look on my face as she doesn't even ask how work has been, but waits almost meekly for me to say something. I don't keep her waiting for much longer."That's really no way to greet someone. Playroom, ten minutes, the usual."Even though I'm frowning down at her, I get a brilliant smile in return, before she gets up with a not quite so meek, "Yes, Master!"I follow her with my eyes as she skips up the stairs, already losing her clothes along the way like some kind of kinky-superhero-wannabe about to switch identities. Once she is out of earshot I turn to Jazz, who by now has abandoned his book and is looking at me with barely contained excitement."You up for your first lesson?""Of course!" he replies, then narrows his eyes a little. "But just to make things clear for the dumb newbie, just when do you start the whole roleplaying part of it?""Between you and me, it starts when you enter the playroom. We need to talk about a few things beforehand anyway, and I need your honest and blunt answers for that.""Okay, great, ask away."Grinning at him for a moment, I turn to the fridge, finding a microwave dish with mac 'n' cheese inside that I heat up while I start to explain."Of course we could do a basic demonstration scene, but I don't think it's too much for me to assume you know the difference between a flogger and a cane, so a first-hand experience sounds more fun."The microwave pings and I get the more or less warmed up container out, too hungry to really care. Jazz has joined me in the kitchen in the meanwhile, still excited but sobering up a little already."So what's in store for me?""Do you really want to know? I have no problem explaining it all step by step to you now, but it's not going to be that complicated, and not knowing what's coming next might be the more rewarding experience.""Sure, your call. I trust you with that."I acknowledge that with a nod."Good. My main point with what I have in mind is to see how you react to certain stimuli, and to simply show you how much of a rush it can be when it's not just stop and go like it was with what we did over there at the window."I allow myself a small smile when his grin gets a little heated, but he doesn't say anything, just nods."I know you said before that you're not into pain, but I still think we should put that to the test, if for no other reason than to have you experience how a flogger or cane feels when they are used on you. Don't worry, I'll take it slow, and everything you don't want to take I'm sure Bella will be more than happy to receive."He looks a bit quizzical at that but finally nods."Sounds reasonable.""Cuffs are okay, too?""Sure.""You know our safeword? Still the same as before.""Red means stop."I nod, then finish my meal and chase it all down with half a glass of water."Then go upstairs, undress and join Bella in the playroom. When I come in, I want to find you both kneeling ready for me, waiting to please me."He swallows thickly at my words, then hurries upstairs to do my bidding, leaving me alone in the kitchen. I check my phone and then shut it off, and read my emails to give them a little more time. When I head into the bathroom they're both already gone, and I quickly take care of business and don my leather pants.When I step into the playroom at last, I find them both waiting for me –same position, but the difference couldn't be more obvious. While Bella kneels there with her usual serene elegance, all quiet and calm with her body relaxed except for the muscles required to keep her in an upright kneeling position, Jazz can barely hold still for a second or two. I'm sure that by now his thighs are killing him, as is his back, unaccustomed as he is to staying that way for long periods of time.As I walk between them to the other side of the room, I pretend not to spare them a glance, but of course that's just part of the game. I still notice how Bella's breathing visibly picks up with her increased excitement, and if I'm not mistaken, Jazz's already semi-erect cock gets harder still. I've missed playing with a male sub. While it's fun to tease a girl about how wet she's gotten from a good spanking, having the much more obvious evidence of an erection in plain sight can be quite arousing. And distracting, I chide myself, forcing my attention to more important things.As I explained to Jazz before, I plan to stick to the basics, without adding any really advanced elements. For one thing, I'm too tired to come up with something more elaborate, and I also need to know how much he's really into it, too, before I step up the pace. And sometimes the simplest things are the most effective anyway.Forgoing the ropes completely for the thick padded leather cuffs, I take four pairs from the storage cabinet, dropping two in front of each of my two willing playthings. Bella doesn't move a muscle, but Jazz nearly breaks position before he catches on to her lack of reaction, straightening himself with his hands still laced behind his head."You know, if I were a mean bastard, that would already be enough to warrant a quick reminder not to go against my orders," I inform him, grinning. He's now staring straight ahead at my crotch. "Oh, wait, I think I am."He hesitates, sealing his fate, but then opens his mouth to answer me, nevertheless."I'm sorry, Sir, but it's hard to hold this position."And he is apparently happy to give me a good reason, too."Do you think that's news to me?""I guess not. Sir."Now I don't even try to hide my smirk as I lean closer to him."Do you think I care?""No, Sir," he replies much faster, grinning in spite of himself."Damn right I don't. Now pick up the cuffs and crawl over to Bella on your hands and knees, then help each other buckle them onto your wrists and ankles."There's a definite advantage to having two subs at hand, and while they are busy following my orders, I walk over to my toys and select a flogger and cane, both on the lighter end of the spectrum. Leaving them lying on the padded bench, I pick up a spreader bar, then lower the cable for suspension purposes and attach it to the snap hook in the middle of the bar."Come here," I tell them, then connect their wrists cuffs to the ends of the bar, ending with them standing very close, face to face. Their obvious height difference is something I have to overcome, but I don't think Bella will mind some extra strain on herself all that much.