Now That You're Here - The College Years
Dane took a deep breath before he walked through the door. He’d been up all night, mourning the loss of his relationship and considered skipping class so that he didn’t have to look in his ex-lover’s eyes for two hours, but finally decided against it. He knew he couldn’t start skipping class just because their relationship ended. School was too important. He needed to graduate so he could find a good job and support his daughter without his parents’ help. Once he was sure he was mentally prepared, he walked in the room and stopped mid-stride when he came face to face with Michael.
It was obvious from his professor’s appearance that he was taking the break-up hard. His normally professional attire had been replaced with a pair of loose fitting jeans and a semi-wrinkled t-shirt. His hair was slightly messed up, as if he had just rolled out of bed, and his eyes…his eyes were eerily empty with dark circles under them telling anyone who looked that sleep had not been easy. Dane felt the guilt deep down inside. He shook his head slightly, breaking the moment between them and then found a seat in the back of the room. He should’ve stayed home.
Aside from a brief moment when Dane wanted to kill one of his fellow classmates for asking Michael if he was okay, drawing obvious attention to his horrible appearance, the class went by pretty smoothly. Not that Dane retained anything that was being said. He couldn’t; not when he was so distracted by Michael. He’d have to borrow notes from one of his classmates so he knew what had been discussed. When class was dismissed, Dane grabbed his things and headed towards the door. He had almost made his getaway, but froze when he heard Michael calling out to him.
“Mr. Sommers, can I see you for a moment?”
He thought about pretending he didn’t hear and getting out as fast as he could, but he didn’t want to appear suspicious to everyone still inside the classroom. To them, Dane was just another student and Michael was just another professor. He stayed in the background while several of the students stopped to talk to Michael about their upcoming project. Once everyone left and it was just the two of them, Dane stepped forward tentatively.
“What is it, Michael?”
“You didn’t answer my calls last night,” Michael began.
“I know,” Dane sighed. “There’s nothing more to say.”
“That’s bullshit!” Michael exclaimed and then quickly looked around, taking in their surroundings. He walked over and closed the door, giving them a little more privacy. “Baby, there’s plenty to say. We have to talk about this. We have to fix this.”
“There’s nothing to fix. We’re done.”
“Just like that? You say we’re done and we’re done? My feelings don’t matter?”
“Of course your feelings matter,” Dane said softly, fighting his desire to take Michael into his arms. The older man seemed so sad. “But we can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep doing this. Michael, I’m eighteen years old. I should be dating someone my own age and going out having fun. Instead I spend all my time hoping that I’ll get an hour of your time a few nights a week. Do you know that I added up all the time we’ve been spending together lately and aside from while we’re in class, we only see each other an average of two hours a week? There are 168 hours in a week and I only get you for two of them. It’s not enough.”
“Please, Dane, I love you so much.”
“God, Michael, I love you, too. Can’t you see how hard this is for me? You’re not the only one who’s upset. I haven’t been to sleep yet. I haven’t eaten since we had lunch yesterday. This is killing me.”
Michael took the few steps needed to bring them face to face and grabbed Dane by the upper arms. “Then don’t do it. Don’t leave me. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”
“Michael,” Dane pleaded as he pulled away from the man’s grip. “I’m sorry, but I have to go.” He was almost to the door when Michael’s words stopped him in his tracks.
“I’ll leave her.”
Dane turned around in astonishment. “What did you say?”
Michael visibly swallowed. “I’ll leave Maddie.”
“No, I’m serious Dane. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, even before last night. Trying to stay married to her when I love you has been agony. If leaving her is what it takes to keep you, then I’ll do it.”
Dane looked around the empty room nervously. “We…uh…we probably shouldn’t be talking about this here.”
“Then meet me tonight. I told Maddie that I have a faculty meeting tonight so she’s not expecting me home until late. My last class lets out at five. We can grab dinner and then talk. Please, Dane. Please give me a chance to fix this.”
Dane felt the first bit of hope since he’d decided to end things more than 24 hours earlier. Maybe there was a way they could be together. “Okay, call me when you get done.”
“Thank you,” Michael said softly, his eyes tearing up. “I promise, we will work this out.”
Dane just nodded his head and then turned to leave. He had a lot to think about before five and he still had a couple more classes to get through. He just hoped he wasn’t setting himself up for even more heartbreak.
Matt was walking across campus heading towards his second class of the day when he saw David hanging out with a few of his friends. Matt didn‘t recognize any of them and considered just walking by, but was surprised when he realized that he didn’t want to. After spending the long weekend together, sleeping alone the night before had felt lonely to him. As weird as it was, he had missed David in the few short hours since they’d said goodbye. He didn’t want to walk by because he wanted to see the older man. He wanted to be on the receiving end of one of his smiles. Refusing to analyze what that meant after only a few days, Matt changed direction and found himself caught up in David’s gaze.
“Hey,” Matt said softly.
“Hey yourself,” David replied with a huge smile. “Guys, this is Matt. Matt, this is Spence and Trevor. We were just making plans to go to Erin’s tonight and shoot some pool. It’s a little dive bar over on North Mesa. You wanna go with? I could pick you up since you’re not really familiar with the area yet.”
“Um…sure,” Matt replied, trying not to be disappointed. He had been hoping that the two of them could spend a little time alone. Maybe grab take out and hang out at David’s place. “Sounds like fun.”
David noticed the disappointment on Matt’s face but didn’t comment on it. Not when Spence and Trevor were standing right there. “Okay guys, we’ll meet you there at eight. Matt, walk to my car with me. I have that book you wanted to borrow.”
Matt looked at David in confusion but didn’t say anything as Spence and Trevor said their goodbyes and walked away.
“Come on, let’s walk this way. You have a few minutes before your next class, right?”
“Yeah, I have time. The book I wanted to borrow?”
“I just said that to get them to leave. I’m assuming that you’re not ready to be out here on campus either, right? I just wanted to get you alone for a few minutes.”
“Oh…duh,” Matt replied, suddenly feeling foolish. “Thanks. No, I’m not ready to be out on campus.”
“That’s what I thought. So, how was your night last night? Mine was miserable. I share a bed with you for three nights and now I’m suddenly unable to sleep alone,” David shook his head. “It’s crazy.”
Matt blushed. “I know, I felt the same way.”
“Good, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one.” David smiled. “God, I want to kiss you right now.”
“Then why did you make plans to go out with your friends tonight when we could have spent some time alone instead?” Matt blurted out. As soon as he realized what he said, he started stammering. “I mean…I’m sure you want to…um… hang out with your friends…I just…”
“Relax Matt,” David chuckled. “I know what you meant. Truthfully, I wasn’t exactly sure how you were going to feel about things now that we’re back in Texas. I wasn’t going to refuse to go out with my friends and then find out that you don’t want to see me. Then I’d be forced to sit home alone being sad all by myself.”
“I know, I’m sorry. That’s my fault. I know I keep sending you mixed signals. It’s not surprising that you would be worried about me pulling away again, but I’m not. All I could think about last night was how much I enjoyed being in your arms. All I could think about this morning was seeing you again.”
“Now that’s what every guy wants to hear,” David replied huskily. “So, we’ll go shoot some pool for awhile and then head back to my place. How does that sound?”
Matt smiled shyly. “That sounds perfect.”
“Cool. Do you have an early class tomorrow?”
“No, on Tuesdays and Thursdays my first class isn’t until twelve.”
“Good, so maybe you can just crash at my place?” David suggested.
Once again Matt blushed. He wished he could stop that. “Yeah, I think I can do that.”
David sighed in relief. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath waiting for Matt’s answer. It was only ten in the morning. He’d have another twelve hours before he could take Matt in his arms again. "Alright well, I have to go to the Dean's office. My father’s company is creating a program for the school and I need to discuss the details with him. Call me later?"
“I will. See ya.” Matt watched his friend? Boyfriend? He wasn’t sure what David was to him at the moment, but he watched him walk away with a smile. He couldn’t wait until they could go back to David’s house and finally be alone again.
Jason took another lap around the house, making it the fifth time he circled the place. It didn’t matter. He still felt like he was going to crawl out of his skin. Since his release from the hospital, he hadn’t left the safety and comfort of Chris and Zander’s house except for the night they all went to Matt’s, which really didn’t count. It wasn’t until the night before when he realized that it was more than just circumstances that kept him inside. He didn’t want to be out in public. Bad things happened to people when they were out in public.
Yeah, he knew his thinking was screwed up. He grew up with a psychologist for a mother and planned on becoming one himself. He knew it was just the trauma from the attack making him so fearful. It didn’t matter. Fear was fear, and he had it in excess. It was beginning to make him rethink his future plans. How was he supposed to help other people work out their problems when he couldn’t even work out his own? As he rounded the house again, getting ready to start lap six, he noticed a car coming down the road. In moments, Zander was parked in the driveway and climbing out of his car.
“Hey Jas, what’s going on?”
“Um…nothing really. I just…I thought I’d take a walk and get some air…but I…have you noticed…I don’t know if I…” Jason stammered, unable to put his thoughts into coherent sentences.
Zander smiled. “Yes, I’ve noticed that you haven’t wanted to go out anywhere. It’s natural for you to be a little afraid of going out in public right now. Chris spoke with his therapist and she said that it was okay for a few weeks but that the longer it took you to get back out there, the harder it was going to be. We figured we’d give you another week or so and then strongly encourage you to come out with us.”
“Well, it sounded better than force,” Zan laughed. “Seriously, Jas, it’s natural that you’d be afraid to go back out there again. As sad as it is to say this, the world is a scary place. But if everyone hid away when something bad happened to them, the world would be overrun with agoraphobics and I’d have to close up the store and focus all my energy on my online delivery service. Take a few more days and then we’ll go out somewhere. Maybe start small, like that little deli down the road from my shop. You always loved that place.”
“Yeah, they make the best subs,” Jason smiled.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be alright. You’ve got a lot of people around you that love you and will make sure that you get your life back, okay?”
“Yeah, thanks, Zan.”
Zan pulled Jason close and gave him a quick hug. “So where is everybody?”
“Chris is down in the basement writing and Steve took Sophia to the store. She needed some supplies for a project she has to do for school.”
“I feel so bad that Steve gets stuck watching Sophia on his days off from the store. He should be out having fun; or at least relaxing at home with a good book.”
“It’s cool. Chris stopped writing and got her off the bus, but Steve offered to keep an eye on her for him. I think he’s still trying to keep busy so that he doesn’t think about the mess he’s in right now. I mean, we never really got too close so he doesn’t confide his deepest, darkest secrets, but he’s mentioned feeling a little lost. I think keeping busy helps, you know?”
“Yeah, I guess. I just don’t want him to feel obligated. We didn’t invite him to stay here so that he can be at our beck and call when we need something,” Zan replied.
“He knows that,” Jason assured him. “Look, you guys are so awesome…to all of us. We’d all gladly do anything you needed us to do without even giving it a second thought. And not out of obligation, out of love.”
Zander chuckled softly as he pulled Jason in for another hug. “The feeling is very mutual. Now let’s go inside before you have me crying in the driveway. Unless you want to keep walking?”
“No, I’m good. Walking around the house isn’t helping me be less fearful of the outside world. This neighborhood isn’t what I consider scary,” Jason laughed. “Maybe we can go get those subs on your next day off?”
“Say the word and I’ll be off. If you want to do this, I’m in.”
“How about…um…Wednesday? That’ll give me a day to work up the nerve,” Jason suggested, only half teasing about having to work up the courage to go out.
“It’s a date. I’ll pick you up around noon. Now let’s get inside. I’m starving and if Chris has been writing all day, I’m assuming that I’m in charge of dinner.”
“Actually I made dinner…or well, I made most of dinner. I called my mother and got her recipe for her homemade sauce. It’s been simmering in the Crockpot all day. We just have to cook up some pasta and make some garlic bread. Steve already threw together a salad.”
“You guys are awesome. I’m starving and I’m so not in the mood to cook,” Zan laughed.
“It’s no big deal. I’ve got a lot of time on my hands these days. Come on, I’ll go finish cooking and you can go relax for a bit before dinner.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Dinner was pleasant. Jason did his best to keep up with the conversation, but his mind kept drifting back to the research he’d done earlier in the day. There was a support group for victims of violent crimes across town and Jason couldn’t stop thinking about it. He really didn’t want to talk to a bunch of strangers about what happened, but as great as it was having Zander to talk to, he was beginning to wonder if talking to people who have been through the nightmare themselves would be better for him. Being afraid to leave the house was really starting to make him nervous. His mother treated a shut-in when he was younger. The poor woman never left her house, ended up losing most of her friends, and died a lonely woman. Jason didn’t want to become that. He was pulled from his thoughts when he heard Chris call his name.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I was asking if you wanted to watch a movie tonight,” Chris repeated. “Are you okay?”
“Um…yeah. I was just thinking.”
Zander jumped in. “You want to talk about it?”
“I can take Sophia upstairs and give you guys some privacy if you’d like,” Steve offered.
“No, that’s okay. It’s not a big deal. I just…these’s a support group at the LGBT center in town. It’s for victims of violent crimes. I was thinking that maybe I should…you know…check it out. I mean…well, first I’ll have to force myself to leave the house but then maybe…I don’t know. It might help.”
Zander smiled. “I think that sounds like a great idea. When are the meetings? I’ll make sure that I’m off and able to take you.”
“They’re actually on Thursday nights and I know that Sophia has her dance classes then. I’ll find a way to get myself there. It’s not a big deal,” Jason replied.
“No, we’ll figure something out. Maybe we can…”
“I can take him,” Steve jumped in. “I don’t work Thursdays normally.”
Steve’s offer surprised Jason. “Are you sure? I really can find my own way.”
“No, it’s cool. I need to get out of the house more. I’ll take you to the meeting and then maybe we can grab a slice of pizza afterwards,” Steve suggested. “If you’re up to it, of course.”
“Um…sure. That would be great,” Jason answered. “But it might take a couple of weeks before I’m up for that pizza. I’m still freaking out about my lunch date with Zan on Wednesday.”
“Jas, if you’re not ready, we don’t have to go on Wednesday. I told you, I’m up for it whenever you’re ready.”
“I know, but I have to do this. If I don’t push myself, my fears are just going to get worse. But after lunch on Wednesday and then the meeting on Thursday…”
“Hey, just like with Zan, I’m up for whatever you are. When the meeting is over, it’s your call. If you’re not up to grabbing a slice, we can grab a whole pie and come back here to eat and just hang out,” Steve assured him.
“Thanks…all of you. I don’t know what I’d do if I was stuck back in Pittsburgh and didn’t have so many people around offering to help. I’d probably still be too afraid to even try going anywhere. Seriously.”
“Jason, why are you afraid to go anywhere?” Sophia asked, drawing the attention of everyone in the room to her presence.
Zan looked over at Chris before addressing his sister. “Remember when Jason first came to stay here and he had all those boo boos? Well, he’s a little nervous about going out and getting hurt again.”
Chris nodded his head in support. “Yeah, it’s like when you fell off your bike a few weeks ago and then you were afraid to get back on because you didn’t want to fall off again. But eventually you put on your brave face and tried again. Well, Jason’s going to put on his brave face and go out again. Do you understand?”
“Yeah,” Sophia said softly before turning to Jason. “Don’t be afraid, Jason. You’ll be okay.”
Jason felt his eyes start tearing and laughed anxiously as he tried not to cry. “I know I will, Sophia. I’m gonna put on my brave face just like you did.”
Steve could see that Jason was becoming emotional and figured he needed a few minutes away from Sophia’s prying eyes. “Hey Chris, why don’t you and Zan take Sophia upstairs and get her ready for her shower? Jason and I will clean up down here.”
“Are you sure?” Zan asked, looking closely at Jason.
“Yeah, it’s okay. Steve and I can handle this,” Jason told him, wiping quickly at his eyes.
Chris stood up and chuckled. “You don’t have to tell me twice. I hate doing dishes. Come on Babe; let’s get our little pumpkin in the shower.”
“Do I have to take a shower right now?” Sophia whined. “I wanted to play for a little while.”
“You can play after your shower, sweetheart. Let’s go get the shower out of the way first,” Zan said as he got up and took Sophia’s hand. He turned back to Jason. “You alright?”
“Never better,” Jason replied, and it was almost true. He would be better if he hadn’t been attacked, but he couldn’t do anything to change history. The attack had happened, but having so many awesome people around was helping him get through his ordeal. That’s what mattered at the moment.
As soon as Chris, Zander and Sophia were gone, Jason turned to Steve. “Thank you for that. I don’t want Sophia seeing me upset, but I still can’t seem to stop crying over the stupidest things. And thanks for offering to take me to those meetings. I really just…”
“Hey,” Steve said, interrupting Jason before he could finish. “It’s really no big deal. I know we didn’t really spend a lot of time together during all your visits here. You were too busy with Zac, but we’re friends, right? You’re as much a part of our group as I am. Our group…we stick together, you know? I’m here for you, no matter what you need. Even if you just need someone to talk to sometimes.”
“Thanks…and the same can be said for you. I know you’ve got a lot going on in your head right now. If you ever want to talk, just say the word. I wouldn’t be opposed to getting out of my own head for awhile and I know what your dad did to you sucks.”
“Yeah, it does. Maybe I was naïve, but I always thought that my parents had my back no matter what, you know? I can’t believe I’m being disowned for dropping out of college. I didn’t even say that I’d never go. I just don’t feel that Princeton was right for me. It’s not like I’m a thief or a drug addict or something like that.”
“Well, maybe your father just needs time. I’m sure he’ll come around,” Jason offered, trying to sound optimistic when he really wasn’t feeling it.
“I’m not holding my breath. And truthfully, I’m not sure I want him to come around. I don’t know how I’ll forgive him for turning his back on me like this, you know?” Steve sighed. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happen.”
“Hey, we really need to start looking on the bright side of things.” Jason took a moment as if he was thinking deeply. “At least we have our health, right?”
Steve laughed. “There is that.”
“I guess we should get this mess cleaned up, huh?”
“Probably. I promised Sophia that we would watch iCarly with her,” Steve said sheepishly.
“Seriously? iCarly? Didn’t that show like…go off the air or something?”
“Yeah, but it’s on Netflix. You know, when Sophia was with her mom, they couldn’t afford a TV. Then the Morgan’s wouldn’t let her watch anything but educational shows. She deserves to enjoy a regular kid show or two.”
“Oh that’s low, Steve. That’s really low. Playing on my sympathies because you know my heart breaks for that little girl,” Jason replied, trying to keep a straight face. “Fine, I’ll watch iCarly with you guys, but I’m telling you right now, you’re going to owe me for this.”
“Yeah, yeah, Meyers. Send me a bill,” Steve teased. “Now let’s get moving. You clear the table and I’ll scrape and load the dishwasher. Deal?”
Jason smiled to himself as he began clearing the table. He somehow had a feeling that his friendship with Steve had reached a new level and he couldn’t be happier.
Dane was pacing the parking lot, watching nervously as the clock ticked closer towards 5:30. He didn’t know why he had butterflies in his stomach. They’d been dating for almost two months. There was no reason for his palms to be sweating and his hands to be shaking, but they were. It’s not like things between him and Michael could get any worse. They were already broken up. Worst case scenario, they would still be broken up. But maybe…just maybe…Dane couldn’t even think about it. It hadn’t even been 24 hours since he officially ended things. He couldn’t think about the possibility of them getting back together until they sat down and talked. He couldn’t let his mind wander to being with Michael again unless he was sure it was going to happen.
Just then Michael’s car turned into the lot, pulling Dane from his thoughts. He waited until the car was parked and the door was opening before making his way over. As soon as he got close enough to Michael, he forced a small smile.
“Hey,” he addressed Michael softly.
“Hey baby,” Michael returned with a smile. “Were you waiting long?”
“Not really. I was gonna go in and get a table, but I wasn’t sure if…well, this probably isn’t the best place to talk about things, you know?”
“I know. I reached for the phone about twenty times today to call our motel and reserve a room for us, but I didn’t want you thinking that this was about sex. Not when it’s so much more than that,” Michael told him.
“Well then…um…maybe we can grab some take-out and go to the river. I doubt it’ll be crowded this time of day,” Dane suggested.
“Um…yeah…it’s where my friends and I hang out when there’s nothing to do. We’ve been doing it since junior high.”
“Oh…okay…whatever you want to do is fine with me. Let’s go inside and order. I can’t wait to get you alone so we can talk this out,” Michael replied. “I meant what I said before, we’re going to find a way to work this out and be together. The alternative isn’t an option.”
Dane just nodded and turned towards the restaurant. He didn’t want to begin their conversation before they got to the river. The conversation was too important to have in a restaurant parking lot.
By the time they made it to the river, Dane was a full blown nervous wreck. Being around Michael and not knowing what their future held was driving him insane. They quickly settled down on one of the picnic tables and began eating, neither one of them beginning the conversation that they needed to have. Dane was actually more than halfway through his burger before Michael addressed him.
“I love you, Dane. I don’t know when it happened. I think it might have started that first day of school when you walked into my class and smiled at me. All I know is that I can’t stop thinking about you. It broke my heart when you walked away from me last night. I haven’t been able to take a deep breath since.”
“I know, me either. And I’m sorry I did it, but we can’t keep going on like we have been. It’s not fair to any of us.”
“I know. I was up all night thinking about it and I realized that as hard as it will be to leave Maddie, it’ll be worth it if I can be with you,” Michael said, his voice husky with emotion.
“Michael, you can’t leave Maddie for me. You have to do it for yourself. It has to be something that you really want to do, otherwise it’s just going to cause stress in our relationship,” Dane replied. “Look, we don’t know what’s going to happen between us. I can’t carry around the burden of knowing that you left your wife for me. It’s too much.”
“I know…but it’s hard to separate the two. Aside from one brief encounter with a guy back in high school, I’ve spent my entire life with a woman. You’re the first guy to make me want more; to make me want to follow my true feelings instead of my head. Before you, I was content to be married and live my life the way everyone thinks I should. I can’t be content anymore. I realize now that I deserve to be who I was born to be. Having you by my side while I make the biggest change of my life is just a bonus…a huge bonus.”
“Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you’re ready? I thought you were worried about Maddie and the girls?” Dane asked cautiously.
“I am, but it’s not the 1950’s. Maddie’s going to have to accept who I am and work with me to make the transition as easy as possible for the girls. I spoke to my lawyer last night. He’s a friend of mine. I asked in the hypothetical sense and he assured me that a loving father would not lose his children over his sexuality.”
“Wow, you really put a lot of thought into this,” Dane said incredulously.
“I told you, I’ve been thinking about it for awhile but hearing you say that it was over last night made my decision final. I’m going to do this…with or without you. I just really, really hope it’s with you.”
Dane stared at Michael for a moment, taking in the sincerity and love reflected back at him before pulling him into a deep kiss. Michael had just said everything that Dane had been hoping for, and he couldn’t hold back as he showed his lover how happy he was.
The kissed deepened as both men lost themselves in each other, their dinner completely forgotten. After the misery of the last 20 hours, they needed the contact. Eventually though, Michael pulled away. There was more that he needed to say.
“Listen; there are a couple of things we need to talk about.”
“Like what?” Dane asked curiously.
“Well first of all, I’m going to need some time to do this. I’m sorry if that upsets you but I’m not going to go home right now and tell Maddie. It’s four weeks until Christmas and I don’t want to ruin that for the girls. It’ll be devastating for them if I move out right before the holidays. They deserve to have a good holiday before I turn their world upside down.”
Dane thought about it and as much as he wanted Michael all to himself immediately, he had a point. He didn’t want to think about the girls spending the Christmas missing their daddy. “I’m not upset. I think that’s a good idea. I don’t want the girls unhappy on Christmas.”
Michael breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. I don’t want you thinking that I’m trying to drag my feet on this. I’m just really worried about my girls.”
“Michael, this is your thing. You have to handle it however you think is best. I’m here to support you in anything you need, but ultimately you need to do what’s best for everyone involved.”
“I know, I just want you to be happy, too.”
Dane kissed Michael softly and then smiled at him. “I thought I was going to lose you. Now I know I’m not. I am happy.”
Michael smiled at him. “God, it almost scares me how much I love you. Okay, so the second thing is my financial situation. I…uh…I’m not sure how this is all going to work out. I mean, I’m going to have to rent an apartment or something, plus pay child support. God knows if Maddie’s going to try for alimony, too. Money is probably going to be very tight. I’m not going to be able to pay for…”
“Stop right there,” Dane insisted. “Don’t worry about it. As long as we’re together, I’ll be happy with whatever we do. Even if all we can do is eat peanut butter sandwiches and sit in your apartment staring at blank walls. I love you, remember? What we do doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me, though,” Michael said softly. “I like being able to take you places. It was fun going to all those out of the way restaurants.”
“It was, and it’s not like we’ll never be able to go out again, but let’s face it. We spent most of our time at out of the way restaurants because we didn’t have a choice. Now we will. I’d much rather curl up on the couch with you in front of a movie and make out like a couple of teenagers.”
“You are a teenager,” Michael pointed out.
“Exactly,” Dane laughed. “Look, don’t worry about any of that right now. Let’s just get through the next month and see what happens, alright?”
“Okay, but will you promise me something?”
“Anything you want.”
“Promise that we can have a sleep over on the first night in my apartment? I’ve been dying to be able to hold you all night and wake up with you in the morning,” Michael said, his voice slightly husky.
“You don’t even have to ask,” Dane assured him, his thoughts going to the future and how wonderful it would feel once they were able to have a normal relationship. They’d still have to be careful in public. Michael was still a professor at the school. But at least they’d be able to lock themselves away in Michael’s apartment and shut out the world. It was going to be all Dane thought about for the next four weeks. He couldn’t care less about Christmas presents. His real present was going to be finally getting some real time alone with his boyfriend.
Matt was lying in David’s bed with his head on his lover’s chest, trying to get his breathing back under control when he heard his phone begin to ring. For a split second he considered not answering, but then decided he’d better, just in case. He knew he grandmother was being transferred to the rehab that morning and was worried about the transition. Sure enough, it was his mother calling.
“Hey Mom, how’d everything go?”
“Good, I guess. Your grandmother wasn’t happy when she realized that she wasn’t going home. She’s not speaking to your father right now,” his mother laughed. “But she’s safe and sound and only a few miles away from here.”
“Good. I’ve got a lot of studying to do, but maybe I’ll drive up this weekend and see her,” Matt said, but then he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. David was shaking his head no. “If I can get away, that is. But I’ll have to let you know. Listen. Mom, I’m glad Nana’s okay, but I really have to go. Can I call you tomorrow?”
“Sure, honey. I took a few days off to make sure Nana got settled in alright so I’ll be around. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” As soon as he disconnected the phone he turned to David. “What was that all about?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to ask you…but then I decided to just do it. I figured if you said no, that it would be no big deal and I wouldn’t take it personally, but that if you said yes, then…”
“David,” Matt said, effectively ending the rambling. “What were you going to ask me?”
“Oh…uh…do you want to go to my nieces’ birthday party with me? You don’t have to…I mean, of course you don’t have to. I just meant that I won’t be upset if you don’t want to. I know it’s really early in our relationship…that is if we even have a relationship…wow, I really didn’t think this thing through, did I? You know what? Never mind. I was right to not ask you in the first place. It’s way too soon.”
Matt couldn't help but laugh. “David, relax. I know I’m still all over the place right now, but you don’t ever have to be afraid to ask me something. Trust me; I won’t feel bad saying no if it makes me uncomfortable. Um…you want me to go to Florida with you?”
“Yeah, but I realize it’s too soon. My family can be tough for me to take sometimes and they’re my family. I don’t want to put you in an awkward position. I never should’ve asked. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, so now you don’t want me to go?”
“No…no…of course I want you to go with me. I just don’t want you to…”
“David, do you think you can give me a minute to actually consider the invitation before you decide to withdraw it?”
“God, I’m sorry. I don’t even know what’s wrong with me. I’m never this scattered,” David sighed in frustration. “Let’s try this again. Matt, would you like to go to Florida with me this weekend? My family is large, loud, and very overbearing sometimes, but they’re good people who mean well and I’m pretty sure you’ll have a good time.” Matt was quiet for a moment, making David more nervous. “I won’t be upset if you say no, I promise.”
“What about the paparazzi? Are there going to be photographers everywhere like in New York?”
“No, not for this. This is a family thing. The paparazzi don’t usually get involved in children’s birthday parties…unless it’s like royalty or something. This will be just family and close family friends,” David assured him.
“Will your family know that I…that we…that…um…”
“Truthfully? I could tell them that we’re just friends, but there’s no way that they’d believe it. Not only have I never brought anyone to a family gathering before, but my family knows me pretty well, my mother especially. She’ll take one look at us and know immediately.”
“Oh…um…how come you’ve never brought anyone to a family gathering?”
“Because no one ever mattered to me enough to want to bring them,” David replied honestly.
“Oh…okay. So then the thing about our relationship…I mean, whether we even have one…I guess that maybe we do? I was thinking about it earlier. When we were on campus and I was watching you walk away, I starting thinking about us and…well…I was wondering about what we are, you know? I mean, when you introduce me to your family, are you going to introduce me as your boyfriend?” Matt asked nervously.
“I’d like to,” David replied.
“I’d…uh…I’d like that, too,” Matt admitted.
“Does that mean you want to come with me?”
“Yeah, I think I’d like to go. Although, it’s going to be pretty weird for me. I’ve really only ever been gay when I’m with you,” Matt said and then laughed at the look David gave him. “Oh shut up, you know what I mean. Other than Justin, you’re the only one who knows about me. Walking into a party where I don’t really know anyone but they all know I’m gay…it’s just going to be weird.”
Matt thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. I’ve got to start somewhere, right? Having a boyfriend means coming out of the closet eventually. Might as well start practicing now before it’s time to tell my family.”
“You know there’s no rush, right? You took the first step and were honest with yourself. Telling your family has to be done at your own pace, when you’re ready.”
“I know. I just hate lying to them, you know? They’ll never really know me until they know this. And besides, they already met you. Now I want them to know how important you are to me. I want everyone to know.”
“Wow, you’ve come a long way from the guy who came to my house the day before Thanksgiving to tell me that he wasn’t gay.”
“Who was I kidding…I went to your house that day because regardless of what I kept trying to tell myself, I wanted to see you. I’m just finally being honest now. Of course I might not be as brave tomorrow…but I’m not going back to hiding who I am from myself. That would just be stupid. Besides, I can’t keep rolling around naked with you if I insist on being straight, and I kind of like rolling around naked with you.”
“I like it, too,” David said as he pulled Matt back into his arms where they once again began rolling around naked together.
Two hours later, Matt was in David’s arms just beginning to drift off when David spoke up.
“I had a thought.”
“Oh yeah? About what?” Matt asked sleepily.
That made Matt sit up and look at his boyfriend. “You were thinking about my Nana? What were you thinking?”
“Well, I know that you want to go see her and that going away with me would prevent that, so I have a way you can do both.”
“Alright, I’m listening.”
“How about if we rent a car on Friday and drive up to Sierra Vista? We can see your grandmother that night and then head to the airport in the morning. I can have the jet pick us up anywhere and if we have a rental, we can just return it to the airport there. Then we don’t have to worry about it and we can fly back here on Sunday. How does that sound?”
“Rent a car?”
“Well, we could drive one of ours, but then we’d have to fly back to Arizona and drive the five hours back here. It’s easier with a rental.”
“Yeah, but rentals cost…um…money,” Matt said as reality sank in. “I guess that doesn’t really matter to you, huh”
“Well, the cost of a rental car doesn’t mean anything to me, no. But if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then we can forget I even suggested it. I have to be honest with you, though. When it comes to money, I do tend to just throw it around without thinking. I don’t want to upset you, but it’s just what I know. Like the pony incident. I made a few phone calls today and a pony will be delivered to my brother’s house around three on Saturday. It cost a fortune, but I got it done. Their riding clothes were picked out this afternoon through a catalog and I paid an extra hundred dollars to have them gift wrapped and delivered to me by Wednesday. It never occurs to me to even think about how much money something costs.”
“Wow…I can’t even imagine what that’s like. My parents aren’t poor, but they aren’t rich, either. They bought my brother and I our trucks used when we got our driver’s licenses, and they had a little money set aside for college, but most of our tuition is being paid by student loans that they’re trying to pay on now so that we don’t graduate with these huge bills hanging over our heads. I’ve never been able to just have anything I wanted.”
“Well, you can now. I’m not planning on throwing money at you, but you know that if you ever need or want anything, I’d be happy to buy it for you.”
“I would never ask you for money,” Matt insisted.
“I know, but you could if you needed to. Trust me when I say that I have more money than I know what to do with and I’d love to share it with you.”
“I know you would, and knowing that makes me feel good, but I’m just happy to be with you. I don’t need anything else.”
“Me too,” David said. “I somehow get the feeling that we’re going to have to sit down and actually talk about this one day, but definitely not today. So…what do you want to do about Friday? Will you let me rent a car for us? I know how important your grandmother is to you. I’d like to be able to help you see her since I’m the one dragging you away for the weekend.”
Matt laughed. “I don’t think flying me to Florida could actually be considered dragging me away, but fine. You can rent a car for us. I really do want to see her now that she’s settled into the rehab.”
“Cool, I’ll make the arrangements tomorrow. I’ll also call my family and let them know that I’m bringing someone with me and that if they aren’t on their best behavior, I won’t be home for another visit until 2014.”
“Be nice,” Matt laughed.
“Alright, maybe 2013…but it definitely won’t be until it’s half over,” David said, only halfway kidding. He planned on threatening his mother with anything he could to keep her on her best behavior. The last thing he needed was the Jackson clan scaring Matt away. Not when he fought so hard to get him. He pulled Matt into his arms again. “Okay, now let’s try to get some sleep. It’s already way past my bedtime.”
“Are you complaining?”
“Hell no. I’d take time with you over sleep anyday.”
“Aww…such a romantic.”
“You have no idea.”
Matt didn’t doubt that he had no idea what he was in for where David was concerned, but he didn’t care. He looked forward to finding out.
Jason stayed in his seat in the back and watched while everyone in the room got up and began talking to each other. It was Thursday night and he’d just sat through his first support group meeting. He didn’t feel comfortable joining in the circle they’d made and discussing his reason for being there. He planned on participating one day, but for the first meeting he just wanted to be an observer and hear what everyone had to say. He figured that would be what made him feel the most comfortable, but he had been wrong. Nothing about the meeting made him feel comfortable. Sitting in the room listening to a bunch of strangers talk about the horrible violence they’d experienced made him feel even more anxious than when he was hiding out at home. No one mentioned rape, but the stories were just as horrifying. A dark haired woman explained about how she had been attacked by her partner’s mistress and left for dead in a parking lot. A blond talked about how she had been robbed at gun point at an ATM. A black man had described what it had felt like to be beaten up for having different color skin, and of course there was the fairly young guy who talked about how he was attacked by a group of kids at his high school and beaten up for being gay.
The stories were all so heartbreaking, making Jason sit back in horror over how unfair life was. There were several times he felt tears falling without even realizing that he’d been crying. Logically he knew that the group would be good for him, but he didn’t know how he was going to sit through meeting after meeting and just take in everyone’s tragedy. He was so wrapped up in his own head that he didn’t notice anyone approaching him until the leader of the group was standing right in front of him.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Um…okay, I guess,” Jason replied nervously. “I’m sorry…is it okay that I was here? I didn’t know if I had to sign up or anything. The website didn’t really say. It just said that everyone was welcome.”
“Everyone is very welcome. My name is Aiden.”
“Jason,” he replied, accepting the handshake. “Your meeting was pretty…intense.”
“Yeah, they usually are,” Aiden said. “Unless we have some accomplishments to share. Then we usually try to keep the mood a little lighter. Obviously you didn’t feel comfortable enough to sit with us, and that’s fine. I was just wondering…I mean, I’m assuming that you’re not here because you’re just looking for something to do on a Thursday night.”
“Um…no. I was…attacked…a few weeks ago. Now I’m feeling a little…I don’t know…”
“Angry? Scared? Alone?” Aiden suggested.
“Yeah, I guess. I have amazing friends who have been there for me since it happened, but as great as they’ve been…”
“They haven’t been through it so they can’t really understand,” Aiden finished for him. “That’s why we have groups like this. Because you’re right, as great as it can be to have friends and family by your side, talking to people who know exactly what you’re feeling because they’ve been there makes it so much better.”
“Have you…were you ever…”
“A victim?” Aiden asked knowingly. “Yes, I was. I was beaten and raped and left for dead almost eight years ago now.”
“Oh…uh…wow. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry or anything. It’s none of my business.”
“It’s okay. It took me a very long time to be able to say that without either crying, throwing up or both. Now I’m more than willing to share my story with anyone who needs to hear it. It gets easier as time goes by. You never forget, but you learn to live with what happened and move on. I promise.”
Just then Jason’s phone rang, breaking the mood. “Excuse me,” Jason said as he answered the call. “Hey Steve…I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Aiden waited until Jason ended his call. “One of those friends you were talking about?”
“Um…yeah. He dropped me off and drove around to kill time while I was here. I don’t want to keep him waiting too long.”
“No problem. Do you have any questions before you go? Anything that I can help you with?”
“Not really…I mean, my mother is a psychologist and I’m studying to be one, too. I know how it all works…it’s just hard sometimes, you know? To follow your own instincts when all you can focus on is the fear and pain.”
“You’re right. That’s why psychologists go see psychologists when they need someone to talk to and doctors go see doctors when they’re sick. We can’t be objective when it comes to our own pain or illness,” Aiden told him. “Will I see you again next week?”
“Um…yeah. I’ll be here.” Jason seemed to be hesitating, but he wasn’t sure why.
Aiden noticed his hesitation and reached into his pocket. “Here, take my card. I’m just a phone call away if you need anything. Even if it’s just to talk. Use it if you need to.”
Jason took the card and smiled, feeling a little bit stronger by just having it in his hand. “Thank you. Um…I should go. I’ll uh…see you next week.”
“I’ll be here,” Aiden assured him. “But I meant what I said; call me if you need to talk. I offer my services to everyone at the beginning. It’s no big deal. Sometimes once a week just isn’t enough at the start. I’m here to help.”
“Thanks. I’ll call if I need to.”
And then he was gone and Aiden was left watching him go. He didn’t hear anyone approaching and jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Who was that?”
“His name is Jason. It was his first time here. Poor thing is only a couple weeks in.”
“He’s cute,” Grayson pointed out.
“Is he? I hadn’t noticed,” Aiden lied.
“And you gave him your card.”
“But you never do that. You said that as much as you’d like to, you can’t be at everyone’s beck and call or you’d never have a moment’s peace.”
“You told Jason that you give your number to everybody.”
“Christ, Gray, did you listen to the entire conversation?” Aiden barked at his friend.
“No, just enough to know that you’re moving into dangerous territory.”
“No I’m not. It’ll be fine. He can’t be much older than I was when I was attacked. I know what he’s going through and I just want to help the kid, that’s all.”
Grayson sighed. “Alright, I’ll mind my own business for now. Just be careful, okay? I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“No one’s getting hurt. Now can you do me a favor and help me put the chairs away? I’ve got a lot of homework to do and with the semester almost over, I can’t afford to fall behind.”
“You got it, boss.”
Aiden chuckled as his friend walked away. He hated when Grayson teased him and called him boss. Granted, technically he was Gray’s boss, but he didn’t like thinking about it that way. Gray was a friend, his best friend, and he appreciated his concern. He just didn’t want to be told he was making a mistake when it came to the dark haired young man that just walked out the door. Not when said young man was the first person to stir any real interest in Aiden since the attack. No, for the moment he just wanted to think about how he could help yet another tortured soul. He’d hide his feelings away for as long as possible and worry about them later. Jason’s well being was all that mattered.
End of part 12
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