Now That You're Here - The College Years
Dane and Steve had just dropped the last load of boxes from the moving truck when Steve’s phone rang. He glanced at the screen and groaned before answering.
“Hey James, what’s going on?”
Dane plopped down on the couch and watched as Steve began pacing back and forth.
“Did you try rebooting? The little button on the bottom of the base? All you have to do is…you know what? Never mind, I’ll be there in ten minutes. Just apologize to everyone for the wait and offer a 5% discount for those who wait for the system to be back up.”
Dane waited until Steve ended the call. “Problem?”
Steve sighed in frustration. “James is a really nice guy, but he’s definitely not the brightest bulb in the box.”
“I noticed that the first hour I worked with him. Do you want me to go down there? You’ve got so much to do around here.”
“Thanks, but I’ll go. The system has been acting up for a while now. I’m going to call our IT guy and see if he has any idea what’s happening. Why don’t you hang out here and wait for me? I’ll bring back pizza as a thank you for helping us move today. It’s the least I can do.”
“I can’t,” Dane replied. “I’m waiting for Michael to call. We have plans tonight.”
“Oh, okay. Rain check then. I really do appreciate all your help. Brian and Justin are at that end of the semester party at school and won’t be back until tomorrow. I know they would’ve skipped it if I asked them, but I didn’t want to do that,” Steve explained. “And with Chris and Zan at a Christmas party and Jason and Zac watching Sophia, I really didn’t have many options.”
“Hey, it’s cool. I’m glad I could help. You know, Steve, we used to be really close. I miss that.”
“Me too,” Steve admitted. “With everything going on in my head these days, I’ve been pretty out of it. We’ll have to hang out more now that I’m getting settled.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Dane said.
“Alright, who’s going to help me unpack the kitchen?” Eric asked as he entered the room.
“Sorry, Bro, but it’s going to have to wait until I get back. There’s a problem down at the store and I have to run down there. I’m gonna bring pizza back, though. You still like Mushrooms on yours?”
“You know it,” Eric replied before turning to Dane. “I guess it’s up to you, buddy.”
“I actually have plans tonight, but I can hang out and help for a few. I’m just waiting on a phone call.”
“Awesome. Go ahead, little brother. Do what you’ve gotta do and get back here with my dinner. I’m starving. Dane, let’s go tackle my kitchen.”
Dane laughed as he watched Eric walk away. “I guess I’m going to the kitchen.”
Steve laughed, too. “You could have said no, you know.”
“I know, but I might as well hang out here until Michael calls.”
“Alright. Thanks again. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Okay, talk to you tomorrow.”
Once Steve was gone, Dane made his way into the kitchen. “Okay, I’m all yours until my call comes in. What do you want me to do?”
“Actually, just keeping me company while I unpack will help. A chef’s most precious room in the house is the kitchen. It takes tender loving care to set it up right,” Eric laughed as he grabbed a box and began unpacking.
“Now that I’m in culinary school, I couldn’t agree with you more,” Dane replied.
“No shit, really? Steve didn’t mention it, although we haven’t really had a lot of contact lately. How do you like it? And what possessed you to go to culinary school? I thought you wanted to be a lawyer like your old man.”
“Dude, that was when I was like ten. I’ve changed my mind a hundred times since then,” Dane chuckled. “Actually, I decided to be a chef when my daughter was born and I realized that I had to grow up and be responsible. If you’re good, being a chef pays really well and doesn’t require at least four years of sitting in front of a blackboard. Of course, I didn’t know how to cook then. Now that I’m learning, I really enjoy it.”
“Good for you,” Eric said as he began unpacking his boxes. “I love it and you’re right. If you’re lucky, the money is there. I’m going to be making a boatload as soon as the restaurant opens. Of course, not everyone gets as lucky as I did. Do you remember my buddy Robert, from high school?”
Dane thought about it for a minute. “I think so. Isn’t he the one that lived in the mansion up on the hill? We hung out there with you once when your parents were out of town and you were watching Steve. We were about ten or eleven at the time. I remember because his house was so cool.”
“Yeah, that’s him. His parents were rich because they owned a chain of restaurants throughout the US. After graduating from college, Robert’s father took him under his wing in one of the restaurants and taught him everything he needed to know. Once his father was sure he was ready, he gave him the money to open up his own place. Robert called me up immediately and asked me to run his kitchen. It took me two whole seconds to accept his offer. I’m twenty-four years old. To run my own kitchen at my age? I’m in heaven. The fact that Robert wanted to come back here was just icing on the cake.”
“That’s awesome,” Dane exclaimed. “I’d give anything to have an opportunity like that. I’m just finishing up my first semester. I’m a long way from my two year degree and it’s killing me. I’ve been working part time at the bookstore, but that’s going to end after the Christmas season is over. I hate not being able to support my daughter properly, you know? All the jobs around here pay shit wages. How am I supposed to be a good dad if I have to rely on my parents to pay my child support?”
“Well what’s your schedule like? Can you fit a job in?”
“The right job. My classes are Monday through Friday, but I’m done by four. The problem is that in this little town, most businesses close up by nine. The most I can work is five hours a day. I’m willing to work some weekends, but I can’t work every one. Otherwise I’ll never see Julia. It’s so frustrating,” Dane shook his head. “I’m sure something will come up eventually. I don’t mean to be complaining. Julia is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure she has everything she needs, even if it means begging my parents for money.”
Eric smiled. “Kids are great, aren’t they? I dated someone with a kid. Gracie was probably the best part of the relationship. I still see her a couple times a month and talk to her on the phone once a week. I don’t know what’s going to happen now that I’m living here again, but we’ll figure something out. Anyway, why don’t you come work for me?”
“Come work at the restaurant. We’re going to be open until eleven which means clean-up until midnight. That should give you plenty of hours. We’re shooting for a January 21st opening. It’s Robert’s birthday and he wants to make it memorable or some shit. That gives us five weeks to get everything ready. You could start as soon as you’re done at the bookstore. Help with the set up. By the time we open, you’ll know what you need to know to get by.”
“Seriously? What, like a dishwasher or something? You know what? Who cares? I’ll scrub toilets if I have to!” Dane exclaimed. “Are you sure you want to do this? I have zero experience in…well, anything that has to do with restaurants. All I’m qualified to do is stock bookshelves and ring a register.”
“Of course I’m sure. Dude, you and me, we go way back. A friend is giving me an opportunity and I’m giving you one. And I’m not planning on having you scrub toilets, either,” Eric laughed. “You can be what we call Pantry/Prep Cook. You’ll be in charge of keeping the pantry in order and prepping the food. Slicing, dicing, that type of thing. Think you can handle it? How are you with holding a knife?”
“Not great,” Dane admitted. “But I’ve been doing more cooking at home to practice, and I’m a really fast learner. I’ll practice night and day until I can do it right, I promise.”
Eric laughed. “Relax, I believe you. Look, we’ve got another week or so until I really have to get in there and get to work. How about if you and I take a day or two and work on your skills. Your classes are over now, right?”
“Yep, until the middle of January. Just tell me when, and I’ll be ready.”
“Awesome, I’ll have you slicing and dicing in no time,” Eric smiled.
Before Dane could reply, his phone rang. He smiled and excused himself to go take the call. “Hey, are you ready?”
“Baby, please don’t be mad,” Michael began.
“Are you kidding me?” Dane snapped. “Tonight was supposed to be our Christmas, remember? That’s what you promised when you said you’d have no trouble getting away.”
“I know and I’m so sorry. Maddie sprung a dinner party on me. I had no idea we were going to be having ten people over for dinner tonight. She hasn’t been feeling good. I assumed she’d just want to put the girls to bed and go to bed herself.”
“You know, Michael, I’m really getting sick of this,” Dane sighed.
“I know, but it’s almost over, remember? Pretty soon I’ll be out of here and then I’ll never have to cancel on you again,” Michael promised.
“Is it almost over? Or is Maddie
going to spring something else on you and you won’t be able to get away?” Dane
threw out sarcastically. “Look, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.” He
disconnected the call without telling the older man he loved him. It might have
been childish, but he didn’t care. He was really getting tired of coming in
“Is everything alright?” Eric asked from behind, causing Dane to jump out of his skin.
“Shit, you scared me.”
“Sorry. Is everything okay? You didn’t sound happy on the phone.”
“Yeah, everything’s fine. My plans got cancelled though, so I guess I can stick around and help you out after all.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Eric asked.
“Are you sure? I’m a very good listener,” Eric prodded.
“Yeah, I’m good,” Dane assured him. “Now let’s get back to unpacking the kitchen.”
Eric could tell by the look on Dane’s face that the subject was closed. “Alright, but if you ever need someone to listen, I’m here. Okay?”
“Yeah, thanks, Eric.”
“That’s what friends are for. Now let’s get to work. With any luck, Steve will be back soon with the pizza. I’m starving.”
“You really wore her out. She was asleep the minute her head hit the pillow,” Jason said as he rejoined Zac in the living room. “Thanks for hanging with me while I watched Sophia. She has a lot of energy for just one person to handle.”
“I can’t do this anymore,” Zac blurted out.
“Can’t do what anymore?”
“This…us. I’m sorry, Jas, I love you. I really do. I just can’t do this dance with you anymore. I’ve tried being patient, but this push and pull thing you do is more than I can take. I hate feeling unwanted every time I come over or feeling like I’m bothering you every time I call. It hurts too much.”
“I’m sorry” Jason said softly.
“You’re sorry? That’s all you have to say?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know. I guess I was hoping that you would fight for us. Ask me to be more patient. Say something that would at least make me think that you don’t want us to break up,” Zac replied.
“I can’t. I wish I could say what you want me to say, but I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to you,” Jason told him. “I love you, Z. I really, really do, but you deserve so much better than I can give you right now. I’m not the same person I was when we met. I was changed during the attack and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to who I was.”
“I don’t care if you don’t go back to the person you were. I love all the parts of you,” Zac replied.
“Look, I’ve been thinking about this for weeks now. I think it’s best if we break up. You should be at school having fun, not rushing back here every weekend to check up on your broken boyfriend.”
“I’m sorry, Zac. You can let yourself out.” Jason didn’t wait for a reply. He just got up and went down to his bedroom, fighting back the tears that were threatening to fall. Once he was alone, he threw himself down on his bed and gave in to the sadness. He had been trying to decide how to end things with Zac for the last few days. As much as he loved his boyfriend, he refused to drag him down. Zac really did deserve so much better. Now they were both free. Zac could move on and he was…well, he was free to try and find a way to live with what happened the best way that he could.
Zac sat stunned as he watched Jason walk away. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. When he’d decided to talk to Jason about their relationship, he never imagined that it would end with them breaking up. The conversation was supposed to make things better. He got up and left the house without really knowing where he was going. Brian and Justin were still at school, probably still at the end of semester party that he ditched to spend time with Jason. He could call Steve, but he would probably still be busy with the move; Dane as well. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, Zac waited until he pulled away from the curb before scrolling through his list of contacts, finding the one person he knew he could count on to help him forget his troubles. Nicky answered on the second ring.
“As I live and breathe. Could it be the great Zachary, actually gracing me with a phone call? What have I done to deserve the honor?”
“Oh fuck you, Nicky. It hasn’t been that long,” Zac replied with a chuckle.
“Dude, I haven’t heard from you since before your graduation. Back when you and lover boy were having trouble. Let me guess, trouble in paradise once again?” Nicky asked knowingly.
“There is no lover boy. Not anymore. So what’s been going on? I’m back in town on winter break and I’m bored out of my mind,” Zac said.
“Well then, why don’t you head on over?” Nicky suggested. “I’ve got exactly what you need to cure your boredom.”
“I’ll be there in ten.”
Zac put down his phone and headed in the direction of Nicky’s place. He had a brief moment of doubt, but squashed it quickly. He needed something to get his mind off of Jason and their broken relationship. Nicky was always good at making him forget whatever was going wrong in his life.
Ten minutes later, he knocked on Nicky’s door. It only took a moment for the door to be yanked open. “Dude, it’s about time you got here. Go grab a beer from the fridge and meet me on the couch. I’ve got something special for the two of us. I’ve been saving it for a rainy day.”
Zac went to the kitchen and grabbed a beer before joining Nicky on the couch. He took a long swig of his drink while watching his friend carefully cutting lines on a piece of broken mirror. It had been quite a while since he played around with the kinds of things Nicky did, but after being dumped by the love of his life, he deserved a little bit of fun. He put down his beer as Nicky handed him a small straw.
“Guest of honor goes first.”
Zac carefully snorted two lines off the mirror like a pro, enjoying the rush he got from doing something that he knew Jason wouldn’t approve of. He passed the straw back to Nicky and grabbed his beer before leaning back on the couch and closing his eyes. Nicky was right. There was no doubt that he had some high quality stuff, and Zac was thankful. He was ready to forget everything but Nicky and the evening before them.
“What did I tell you, buddy? I paid a fortune for the stuff, but it was so worth it. We should be flying high in no time.”
“That’s just what I need right about now, Nicky.”
“What else do you need, Zachary?” Nicky asked as he reached out and began stroking Zac’s thigh.
Zac didn’t think twice before answering. “I need whatever you’re offering.”
Nicky didn’t waste any time. He took Zac’s mouth in a heated kiss as he fumbled with the button of his jeans. It wasn’t often that Zac crossed the tracks to the dark side. Nicky wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to have the best ass in all of Arizona. Not when it was sitting on his couch, ready for anything. He broke the kiss and moved his mouth to Zac’s ear, nibbling softly before whispering. “Just sit back and relax, Zachary. I’ll make you feel so good.”
Zac hummed in response. He knew Nicky would follow through with his promise and that’s exactly what he’d come looking for. Jason could sit in the house in fear for the rest of his life, for all Zac cared. Nicky would take care of him. He always did.
Matt was just getting ready to walk out the door when his cell phone rang. Assuming it was David wondering where he was, he answered without looking at the screen.
“I’m walking out the door right now.”
“Oh really? And where are you headed? Home by any chance?”
“Mom,” Matt laughed. “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else. I’m running late. What’s up? Is everything alright?”
“Does something have to be wrong for me to call my son?”
“Of course not. It’s just that I talked to you yesterday and I’m going to be home tomorrow. I didn’t expect to hear from you tonight.”
“I know, honey. I’m just teasing you. I’m actually calling to see what time you think you’ll be home tomorrow. We have the family coming down early and your brother’s plane doesn’t land until two. I was hoping that you could pick him up from the airport.”
“Um…two o’clock. Yeah, I think I can do that. I just have to be out of here by nine.”
“Is that okay? It’s going to be crazy here, but I can try rearranging things if it’s a problem for you.”
“No, it’s fine,” Matt assured her. “I’ll leave here and go right to the airport.”
“Thank you so much, honey. You’re a lifesaver. Now I’d better go. I’ve got so much to do before I can even think of going to bed tonight. I love you, honey. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Love you, too,” Matt said to dead air. His mother had already hung up. He sighed and at down on his bed before calling David.
“Hey, you’re supposed to be here already. Where are you?” David asked when he answered the phone.
“I’m sorry. I’m gonna be another hour or so,” Matt told him.
“Why? What’s going on?”
“My mother just called and asked me if I could pick my brother up at the airport at two o’clock tomorrow, which means I have to be on the road no later than nine, and I’m still not done packing. It’s the end of the semester and I’m moving out, remember? I thought I’d have time to pack up tomorrow, but not if I have to be on the road so early.”
“Why didn’t you just tell her that?”
“Because she’s already freaking out. We’re having our family Christmas tomorrow and she has a million things to do. I don’t mind going. I just have to stay here and pack before heading over. It’s no big deal.”
“Okay, this might be a stupid question, but why are you having Christmas tomorrow? Christmas is Tuesday.”
“It’s not a stupid question,” Matt laughed. “Ever since Mark and I stopped believing in Santa Claus, we’ve been celebrating a couple days before Christmas so that my dad, grandfather and uncles could work the holiday and let the guys with young children have off. Cops work 365 days a year. They don’t close for the holidays.”
“That’s a really nice thing to do,” David replied.
“Yeah…um…why does it sound like you’re in the car?”
“Because as soon as you said you still needed to pack I got in my car to head over and help. The sooner you get done, the sooner we can begin our Christmas together. Who knows how long it’ll be before we see each other again? I don’t want to waste any time.”
“Awww, you’re so sweet. I guess I’ll see you in a few.”
“See you in a few.”
It didn’t take long for the two of them to pack up Matt’s dorm room and load everything into the truck. As soon as they were finished, they made their way over to David’s house. Matt pulled the present he had for David out from one of his bags and then followed his boyfriend inside. It didn’t take too long for David to set up the food and wine that he had bought for their little holiday celebration and then they were sitting on the living room floor with a picnic around them and the Christmas tree lighting up the room.
“You didn’t have to go to all this trouble. I would’ve been content with ordering a pizza,” Matt said as he took the glass of wine David was handing him.
“Hey, pizza is not holiday food. That’s reserved for football games and all night cram sessions. Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize to me. I’d much rather dine on wine, cheese and crackers, and fruit,” Matt told him. “I just didn’t expect this. You’re going to spoil me.”
“That’s my plan,” David replied. “Speaking of spoiling you, I got you a little something for Christmas. But before you open it, I just want to say that it wasn’t easy deciding what to get you because my first instinct is to go really, really big and I kind of had a feeling that you wouldn’t like that. This is actually something that’s more for me than you.”
Matt looked closely at David as he took the envelope from his outstretched hand. He was almost afraid to open it. David was right, he wouldn’t like a big gift just because his boyfriend was rich. That wasn’t the kind of person he was. It was bad enough he didn’t know what to buy David, because really, what did anyone buy for a man who had everything? He just hoped that the gift he finally decided on was going to be good enough.
“Are you just going to stare at it, or are you actually going to open it?”
“Oh sorry,” Matt laughed as he pulled himself from his thoughts and opened the envelope. There were tickets inside. Three of them. For The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in NYC. For January 5th. “Ummm…”
“Now before you say anything,” David began. “I didn’t pay full price for them. My father is really good friends with the director. And I’ll have the jet pick you up so there’s no airfare. And we’ll stay at my place in the city so there’s no rooming expenses, so actually it’s a very cheap gift. I just don’t want to wait until school starts again to see you and since I’m leaving for New York on Monday and you’re heading back to Arizona in the morning. I guess I just like the thought of knowing I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
“Okay…and three tickets?”
“Well, I know you said that you were thinking about coming out to everyone during the winter break…well, at least to some of your friends. I thought that maybe if you wanted to, you could start slowly by telling Brian. I don’t know…maybe that’s a stupid idea. I just know how close you and Justin are and I thought it would be cool if you could bring him with you. You don’t have to. You could come alone. It’s no big deal.”
“That’s really…sweet,” Matt finally replied. He leaned over and kissed David softly. “Thank you so much.”
David sighed in relief. “Thank God you don’t hate it. I was back and forth on what to get you, but I figured you really couldn’t object to a trip that doesn’t really cost anything but a few bucks for tickets to a show. You can fly out whenever you guys want, as long as you’re there by noon on Saturday so we can make it to the show, and then leave whenever you want. I just need the tentative dates so I can let the pilot know. He’s on call 24/7, but I like giving him a heads up.”
“Of course. I’ll talk to Justin when I see him on Monday and let you know. Seriously, thank you so much for this. I know we’re still talking about going to New York during spring break, but this is going to be amazing. I’ve been dying to go there since I was a little boy and saw Miracle on 34th Street for the first time. I can’t wait!”
“Good. I’m so happy that I could give this to you.”
“Of course now I feel really ridiculous giving you what I got you. It’s nowhere near as amazing as what you gave me,” Matt admitted. “Then again, I guess I should get used to that. What can I ever possibly give you? You have everything you could possibly want, I’m sure. And what you might not have, I probably couldn’t afford anyway.”
“Hey, stop that,” David said as he took Matt’s hand and brought it to his lips, kissing it softly. “I don’t care what you give me. Don’t you see? I do have everything I could possibly want, because I have you. As long as I have that, life is good.”
Matt looked deeply into David’s eyes. “You do have that.”
“Then that’s all I need.”
Breaking the spell, Matt pulled back and reached for the gift. “Well, you’re getting this, too. Go ahead and open it.”
David regrettably let go of Matt’s hand and took the present. He wasted no time in opening it and smiled as he opened the cover. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Yep, it’s an early edition of Chris’s new book. I asked him to pull some strings to get it for me. He signed it, too.”
“To my biggest fan. Come back and visit again soon. Christopher Kinney.”
“I know it’s kind of a cop-out as far as gifts go. It didn’t cost me a thing. I just didn’t know what else to get you and I know you’ve been dying to get your hands on a copy of the book.”
“Babe, this is perfect!” David exclaimed. “Look, I know I can be difficult to shop for. As far as material things go, you’re right. I have everything I need. It’s been a long time since I’ve been really excited about a gift, but this…this is awesome. I can’t wait to start reading it. Thank you.”
Matt blushed at the praise. “You’re welcome.”
“Now come on and eat something. You’re going to need your strength for later.”
“Oh I am, am I?”
“Oh yeah…you are.”
Their evening together was perfect and as Matt fell asleep in David’s arms, he couldn’t help but wish he didn’t have to go back to Arizona. It was the first time since he was a kid that he wasn’t excited for the Christmas holiday. He’d rather stay locked away in David’s house in Texas and just be himself. Why was that too much to ask for?
When nine in the morning finally rolled around, Matt felt horrible. David had walked him to his truck and they were getting ready to say goodbye for almost two weeks. It was going to be harder than he thought. “For the record, I don’t want to go.”
“For the record, I don’t want you to go,” David replied softly. “But our families are expecting us, so we don’t have a choice. But I’ll be seeing you in less than two weeks.”
“I know, it just sucks. I can’t believe how different things are now than they were a month ago.”
“You mean back when you came by my house to tell me that you weren’t gay and to leave you alone?” David replied with a knowing smile.
“Thank God you didn’t listen to me,” Matt chuckled. “I don’t know what I was talking about. I’m so gay.”
“Luckily for me.” David leaned in and kissed Matt, pouring every feeling he had for the younger man into his actions. It was killing him to hold back his true feelings, but he wasn’t sure Matt was ready to hear what he had to say just yet. After what felt like barely any time at all, David pulled back and smiled. “You’d better get going. I’m sure your brother is going to be anxious to get home after his trip.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll call you tonight after everyone finally leaves.”
“I’ll be waiting. Have a safe trip.”
Matt climbed into his truck and drove away, watching David watch him in his rear view mirror. He didn’t realize how hard it would be to leave him and that thought scared the crap out of him. They had only been together for a month. Was it possible to fall in love in such a short time? He wasn’t even sure what love felt like, but between the butterflies in his stomach at the thought of seeing him to the amazing feeling that the slightest touch inspired, Matt was beginning to think he was falling head over heels. He just wasn’t too sure how he felt about it.
Justin sighed with relief as soon as Brian pulled into the driveway and turned the jeep off. As much as he loved the apartment, he was happy to be home for the next four weeks. He had missed his family more than he thought he would when they left for school back in late August.
“Hey, are you okay?” Brian asked, pulling him from his thoughts.
“Yeah, I’m good. Great, actually. I’m really happy to be home,” Justin replied.
“Yeah, me too,” Brian admitted. “What the hell are we going to do if we move to New York like we talked about when we hate being three hours away for four months?”
“I have no idea. Does this make us pathetic?” Justin laughed.
“No, I think it just means that we have an amazing family and great friends,” Brian offered. “Come on. Let’s go in.”
After a somewhat emotional greeting with Chris, Zan, and Sophia that proved they weren’t the only ones happy that they were home, Justin looked around for Jason.
“He’s in his room,” Zander said when he noticed what Justin was doing. “He and Zac broke up last night and he hasn’t been out of his room since. Maybe you can talk to him.”
“They broke up? Why didn’t he call me?”
“I don’t know. He’s really upset, though,” Zan told him.
“What about Zac?” Brian asked, suddenly worried for his friend. “Were you guys here when it happened? Was Zac alright?”
“We weren’t home. It happened while we were at the Baker’s Christmas party last night. I only know what happened because I ran into Jason in the hallway last night and he was so upset that I was able to get him to tell me what happened. I don’t know the details, though.”
Brian turned to Justin. “You go find out what you can from Jason. I’m going to call Zac.”
Justin nodded and headed down to Jason’s room. He knocked softly and then walked inside when he heard a faint response. “Hey, are you alright?”
Jason was curled up on the bed, his face damp with tears. “Not really, but I will be.”
“Jas, what happened?”
“I ended it, Jus. I had to. I couldn’t keep putting him through all my bullshit. He said it himself, that he couldn’t stand the hot and cold routine. And I get that, but the hot and cold routine is all I have right now, so I let him go. He’s so amazing. He deserves to be with someone who can give him what he wants; not someone who cringes at every touch. It’s better this way. Trust me.”
“But what about you? Jas, you’re a mess. What about what you deserve? What happened is not your fault. You shouldn’t have to give up the guy you love because of what some asshole did to you.”
“You’re right, I shouldn’t. But if there’s one thing I learned through all of this, it’s that life isn’t fair. I’ll be alright. We both will be, in time. For now though, it’s nice to have my best friend back. Come here.” Jason got up and grabbed Justin, hugging him tight. “I’ve really missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too,” Justin replied hugging his friend back equally as hard.
Brian pulled out his phone and went outside, looking for a little privacy. He was worried about his friend. He knew how much Zac loved Jason and when Zac had a broken heart…well, he didn’t usually make the best choices. He placed the call and waited almost five rings before Zac answered.
“Hey, Zac, what’s going on?”
“Um…nothing…I just…um…I was sleeping,” Zac replied, his voice gravelly.
“Where are you?” Brian knew from the sound of Zac’s voice and the fact that he was still sleeping at almost noon that Zac was in trouble.
“Damn it, Zac, where are you?”
“You’re with Nicky.” It wasn’t a question.
“Zac, you need to leave there right now. He’s no good for you.”
“Fuck off, Brian. You don’t know anything.”
“I know that you’re upset, and I know that every time you get upset, you run right into Nicky’s arms. It’s got to stop, Zac. You have to stop running to him every time something doesn’t go your way.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You have Justin. What would you do if Justin dumped you? Huh? You think you’d handle it okay? That you’d just shrug it off and move on? Cause that’s bullshit! You have no idea what it was like for me to sit there while Jason told me that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. You have no idea how it feels to have the love of your life turn you away, so don’t you dare tell me how to act. Now I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you…when I talk to you.”
Brian forced himself not to throw his phone when the line went dead. Not after what happened the last time he threw his phone. But it wasn’t easy. Not when he knew that one of his best friends was going to be spiraling out of control. Nicky Shaffer was a couple of years ahead of them in high school and definitely a bad ass. He smoked, drank, and messed around with more drugs than Brian even knew existed. He got kicked out of school in his senior year and everyone at school was thankful to be rid of him. Zac had gotten mixed up with him soon after his departure from school when he was feeling down over a break up and for a couple of weeks, Brian was really worried about him. Back then though, Zac came to his senses. They had reconnected back when Zac and Jason were having their problems in the spring, but Zac didn’t let things get out of hand because deep down inside, he had hope that he and Jason would work things out.
This time was different, though. With Jason breaking things off, Zac had to be feeling horrible at the moment, and Nicky had always been his cure. Brian had to figure out a way to save his friend before he got in too deep. He just wasn’t sure how to do it. He needed to come up with a plan, and he was going to have to enlist the help of his friends.
Zac ended the call and turned off his phone before snuggling back down underneath the covers. Moments later, strong arms wrapped themselves around him, and a breathy voice whispered in his ear.
“Everything okay, sweetheart?”
“Yeah, everything is fine.” Zac turned around in the strong arms until he was looking Nicky in the eyes. “But I should probably think about getting home. I need a shower and a cup of black coffee. It’s been awhile since I woke up with a hangover.”
“No need to leave, baby. I’ve got coffee here and I’ll be more than willing to wash your back in the shower.”
“Come on, Zachary, stay and play for a little while longer,” Nicky pleaded as he reached down and grabbed Zac’s cock, quickly bringing it to full hardness. “I’ve got enough coke to keep us entertained for days and I’m horny as hell. I thought you liked my blow jobs.”
“Oh believe me, I do,” Zac said with a smile as he thrust into Nicky’s fist. “I guess I can stay a little while longer.”
“Baby, I’m going make sure you never want to leave,” Nicky purred right before he slid down and swallowed Zac to the root. Nothing else was said between them and all thoughts of Jason and Brian were wiped from Zac’s mind as he gave himself over to Nicky and his talented mouth.
Trent leaned back on the seat and shut his eyes. After traveling for well over 24 hours, he was exhausted and anxious to get home. Except for a quick two day trip for Thanksgiving, he had been gone for six months and he was happy to be back in Arizona. Unfortunately he wasn’t so sure of his reception now that he was back. No one knew of the changes that took place while he was gone. No one knew what happened to him on his trip to find himself. No one knew that he had found so much more.
Trent opened his eyes at the soft voice beside him. “Why are you scared?”
“Because what if something happens to you?”
“What do you mean? Nothing’s going to happen to me,” Trent replied.
“That’s what my mom used to say when she first got sick, and then she left me. And now you’re all I have. What if something happens to you? I don’t want to go back to that place again. Jones was creepy.”
“Okay first of all, I’m not going anywhere. Your mom was very sick and I’m as healthy as can be. Second of all, I’m not all you have. I have a very big family and I’m sure they are going to love you almost as much as I do. You’re not alone anymore, Kaleb. I promise,” Trent assured him.
“Are you sure they’re going to like me? Do they know I’m coming?”
“Not exactly,” Trent admitted. “But trust me, it’s all going to be okay. Now just relax, lean your head back and close your eyes. It’s going to be about an hour before we reach the house and it’s been a long trip. A short nap is probably a good idea for both of us.”
“Okay, T,” Kaleb said as he shut his eyes and began drifting immediately.
Trent watched with a smile on his face. The poor kid hadn’t had it easy in the last six months. At ten years old, he had watched his mother slowly slip away from AIDS and then he was forced to live in an orphanage while Trent did everything that had to be done to arrange an adoption. It wasn’t easy considering the circumstances, but Maxwell was able to pull enough strings to make it work. He wasn’t sure how he pulled it off, he was sure that some of his tactics weren’t necessarily on the up and up, but he wasn’t about to ask any questions. Kaleb was his. That was all that mattered. Of course at nineteen years old, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with a ten year old son, but he’d figure it out. And he was sure that his family would be there to help him…once they got over their anger of not being told of his plans.
Trent must have dozed off, because the next thing he knew, the cab driver was calling to him and the car was sitting outside of his childhood home. He reached out and gently shook Kaleb awake.
“Come on, sleepyhead, time to wake up. We’re here,” he said softy.
Kaleb opened his eyes and smiled. “We’re finally home?”
“We’re finally home. Come and help me grab the bags out of the trunk and then we’ll go meet the family.”
The two of them got out of the cab and went to the trunk. The cab driver had the bags on the curb by the time they got there. Trent reached into his pocket and pulled out enough money for the fare and a nice tip and then said goodbye to the driver. Once that was done, he helped Kaleb grab his small bag, a shopping trip was definitely in order, and then grabbed his own before heading up the walkway. Before they were even halfway there, the door opened and both his parents came flying out of the house, their excitement evident on their faces.
“Oh, honey, you’re finally home for good,” his mother gushed before stopping dead in her tracks. His father stopped too, suddenly noticing that Trent wasn’t alone.
“Hey, Mom, Dad. Come here, I’d like you to meet somebody,” Trent began, hoping that his parents would pull themselves together while Kaleb was there. “This is Kaleb.”
His father seemed to gather himself first. “Hello, Kaleb, it’s nice to meet you. You can call me Dan.”
Kaleb extended his hand and smiled shyly. “Hello, Dan. It’s nice to meet you, too.”
“Um…Kaleb….I’m Martha. Welcome.” Martha looked at Trent again with a mixture of confusion, but then sighed in relief as she took her son in her arms. “Trent, it’s good to have you home.”
“Thanks, Mom, it’s good to be home. Why don’t we go inside and then we can talk for a while? I’d like to show Kaleb my room and maybe he can watch TV while we throw something together for lunch. I’m starving, and I’m sure he is, too.”
“Yep, I’m starving,” Kaleb confirmed with a giggle.
“That sounds like a good idea. You go on up and get…Kaleb settled and then meet us in the kitchen.”
Trent took the opportunity to get away and, taking Kaleb by the hand, headed in the house. Once they were upstairs, Kaleb turned to Trent. “I don’t think they were happy to see me.”
“It’s not you. They were just surprised. Remember, I’ve been gone a long time and when I left, I was alone. Now I’m not. I just have to explain things to them. It’ll be fine, I promise. Will you stay up here and watch TV while I go down and talk to them? Is that okay?”
“Yeah, that’s okay. I like TV,” Kaleb replied as he climbed up on the bed. “Can I ask you a question before you go?”
“How come you’re black and your parents are white?” Kaleb asked innocently.
“Because I’m adopted. My birth mother and father couldn’t take care of me so my parents took me in and raised me,” Trent explained.
“Well, kind of. Your mother took care of you for a long time, until she couldn’t any longer. My birth mother never took care of me. I’ve been a part of this family since I was born.”
“So, what about your brother and sister? Are they adopted, too?”
“No, Dan and Martha had them just like your mom had you. I was what they call a special delivery. Martha worked in the hospital where I was born. She said she fell in love with me the moment she laid eyes on me and that as soon as she found out that my birth mother couldn’t keep me, she knew that she had to.”
“That’s true,” Martha said from the doorway. “He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen and I knew I had to bring him home with me. It’s still the best decision I ever made.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Trent replied. “What are you doing up here? I thought I was going to meet you downstairs in the kitchen.”
“You were, but now that some of the initial shock has worn off, I wanted to come up and see if Kaleb needed anything. I brought a bottle of water and a couple of cookies to hold him over until lunch is ready.”
“Cookie! I love cookies!” Kaleb exclaimed as he scrambled off the bed and over to Martha. “My mom only let me have cookies on special occasions and at the orphanage, we weren’t allowed to have cookies.”
“Well then, I’m glad we had some left in the pantry,” Martha smiled at the little boy, her heart clenching at the word orphanage. “I’ll have to put them on my shopping list.”
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll be down in a few minutes,” Trent said.
Trent waited until his mother was gone and then looked at Kaleb, who was happily munching on his cookies. “Alright, if you need anything, just come downstairs, okay? Otherwise I’ll come get you when lunch is ready.”
Trent went downstairs and found his parents in the kitchen. His mother was making sandwiches and his father was throwing a salad together. They both stopped what they were doing when Trent walked in.
“Have a seat, son. I believe there’s something you’d like to tell us,” Dan said with an odd expression on his face. “Like how you somehow came home from Europe with a little boy in tow?”
“I guess I should have at least warned you before just showing up with Kaleb, huh?”
“Alright, listen, I’m only going to give you the condensed version right now. I don’t feel right leaving Kaleb alone upstairs for long. When I got to London back in June, I immediately met up with Maxwell, a guy who runs this organization that goes into places like Somalia to help the underprivileged. He was looking for volunteers to go with him, so I went. The first people I met were Kaleb and his mother Zenaida. They were so great, never complaining about the lack of food and shelter they had, and trust me, they had every reason to complain. They were living in a small hut with barely any protection from the weather. The nearest clean drinking water was more than a mile away. I stayed in their village and got pretty close to them in those first few weeks. Then one day Zenaida got really sick. Maxwell arranged to have her and Kaleb taken to the nearest fully functioning hospital. That was when were learned that Zenaida had AIDS. She took the news really hard. She didn’t care about herself. She was worried about what would happen to Kaleb.”
“How awful,” Martha gasped.
“Yeah, it was. It broke my heart. I had spent so much time with them and Zenaida was such an amazing woman. The things she lived through…it was horrible. I don’t even know how she managed to be so sweet, given the life she lived, but she was. She was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. And Kaleb…he’s an amazing kid. He’s funny and smart and caring. That’s why, when Zenaida started getting sicker and it was apparent she wasn’t going to get better, I offered to take Kaleb back here with me. She was so sick and slowly slipping away, and all she could think about was what was going to happen to her son. The orphanages there are horrible. They’re overcrowded and outdated. It’s definitely not a place you’d want your child going to, that’s for sure. When I promised her that I would take care of Kaleb for her, she wept with joy. Imagine, a dying woman experiencing joy. After that, she was just filled with peace. It was wonderful to see. Zenaida passed away a few days after Thanksgiving and it killed me when they placed Kaleb in an orphanage, but Maxwell needed time to arrange things. It’s not easy to adopt a child from out of the country, especially when you’re only nineteen. I’m sure that Maxwell did some things I don’t want to know about, but he assured me that I wouldn’t have any trouble.”
“So it was your idea to bring Kaleb here?” Martha asked, trying to understand.
“Yes, and one I’ll never regret, either. Mom, Dad…he needs me. I know you think I’m too young, and that I haven’t thought this all through, but I’m telling you, this is right. He belongs with me. He belongs here with us. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you first, but I didn’t want you to try and stop me. He’s a great kid and I know that if you give him a chance, you will love him almost as much as I do.”
“Come here,” Martha said as she pulled her son into her arms. “I’m so proud of you.”
Trent pulled back and looked at his mother. “You are?”
“Of course I am. There are very few nineteen year old boys that would put the needs of a dying woman and her child before his own. We’re happy to welcome Kaleb into our family.”
“Although,” his father interrupted. “We are a little upset that you didn’t tell us what was going on. Hell, you were here a month ago and never said a word about any of this. We’re your parents, Trent. You have to talk to us about things like this. We might have been able to help in some way. I know you’ve always felt a little different being adopted when your brother and sister aren’t, but you are one of us. No matter what. If you have a problem, then it’s our problem, too. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
“Good, now go get your son…wow, that sounded weird,” Dan chuckled. “Go get your son so we can have lunch. The poor kid is probably starving.”
Martha waited until Trent was gone before turning to her husband. “We really did a good job with him.”
“Yes we did. I just hope he knows what he got himself into. Raising a ten year old when he’s barely an adult himself isn’t going to be easy.”
“No, it’s not. But he’s got us, not to mention his brother and sister. He and Kaleb will be just fine.”
End of part 16
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