Now That You're Here - The College Years
Justin was just finishing up his packing when Brian walked through the door. “Come on. We gotta get on the road.”
“Relax, Blondie,” Brian chuckled. “We’ll be out of here in an hour. Why are you so excited? Aren’t you going to miss having our own place even a little?”
“Of course I am, but I’m so excited to be able to spend three months at home with everybody. I really hate being so far away.”
“I know you do,” Brian replied as he walked over and kissed Justin on the forehead. “I’m looking forward to being home for a while, too. I’m just not as crazy as you.”
“Oh shut up.” Justin laughed as he gave Brian a shove. “I’m going to go throw my bag in the jeep. Everything else is yours. Now hurry up.”
“I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying.”
Justin winked at Brian before grabbing his bag and making his way outside. He tossed the bag in the back seat of the jeep and then closed the door before leaning against the side with a sigh. He really couldn’t wait to get home. Life had been really good for their friends and family in the last four months and he couldn’t wait to just be with them and have fun. Jason was getting better every day. Going out rarely bothered him anymore and he had decided to go back to campus in the fall. He’d even made a trip up to ASU to take a walk around the grounds and see what his reaction was. He was a little anxious, but he managed to make it through the entire campus without a full blown panic attack. That was progress. His love life was still up in the air, though. Zac and Aiden were still patiently waiting for Jason to decide if he was ready to start a relationship, and if he was, who he wanted to start one with, but Jason insisted that he wasn’t ready for anything yet. A part of Justin wondered if his friend just didn’t want to have to make a decision. Hell, Justin couldn’t even offer any advice. After the shock of Jason and Aiden’s growing feelings had worn off, Justin had to admit that Aiden wasn’t a bad guy and Jason would be lucky to have him. Then again, Zac was a great guy and one of the gang, not to mention head over heels in love with Jason. Justin wanted to see him happy, too. He was glad he wasn’t in his friend’s predicament.
Matt’s life seemed to be going great, too. His relationship with David was stronger than ever, and ever since Mark came around and got past the shock of finding out his brother was gay, Matt was walking on cloud nine. Matt’s relationship with David was eventually shared with the rest of the gang, and aside from the utter shock, everybody was happy that Matt had found happiness. Matt’s family still didn’t know he was gay. Matt was thinking about talking to them over summer break, but Justin kind of hoped that he didn’t. He loved seeing his friend so happy after all the anguish he experienced the year before. He just wanted to keep that happiness going for a little while longer. Regardless of when Matt decided to come clean, at least he had a huge group of people on his side so if things went badly, he’d have more than enough support to help him through it.
Trent and Kaleb were settling in nicely. Justin had been a little concerned when they first learned about Kaleb. What Trent had done was a wonderful thing, but taking on a ten year old is a huge responsibility. Luckily, Trent was handling it like a pro. Kaleb quickly made friends and adjusted to school and Trent enrolled in ASU’s online program. He would never be able to live on campus and take classes like most students with a son at home, but he was ready to go to school and work on securing his future.
Steve was also doing well. Exceptionally well. The addition to the bookstore was a huge success and business was booming. With Zander working full time at the center, the responsibility of the store fell entirely on Steve and he thrived on it. Between that success and the success of his relationship with Charlie, Steve was happier that Justin had ever seen. He was thankful for that. After the way his parents disowned him, claiming that he’d never make something of himself, Steve deserved all the success he was receiving.
And then there was Dane. Dane was finally doing well. Everyone was really worried about him after the whole Michael incident. Falling in love with his married professor wasn’t exactly a great idea and with his history of depression and suicide, the gang was afraid that the break up would send their friend back into darkness. Thankfully Eric, Steve’s brother, was there to save the day. Being given an opportunity to work in the restaurant and make money to help support his daughter gave Dane something to focus on besides his failed relationship, and the last time Justin had seen Dane, he was happy with his life. So happy that he didn’t even mind his single status. He had told Brian that he was content to be on his own for a while and spend all his time and energy on school, work, and his amazing daughter who had recently turned one.
Yeah, life was good all the way around and Justin couldn’t wait to get back to everyone. Before he knew it, Brian was approaching him.
“What are you doing? You’ve been out here for over thirty minutes,” Brian said as he opened the jeep and tossed his bag inside.
“Really? Wow, I guess I was just lost in thought. Is that everything?”
“Yep, everything is all turned off and locked up. We’re out of here,” Brian said as he climbed in behind the wheel and started the engine. He waited until Justin had fastened his seatbelt before pulling out of the parking spot. “So what were you thinking about?”
“Huh? Oh…just how good everything is going at home. How good things are for everyone. It’s nice to see everyone happy at the same time.”
“Yeah, it is. I think this is going to be an awesome summer.”
“I really don’t want to go,” Matt whined. He was standing in David’s driveway, getting ready to head home for the summer. David was leaving later that morning for Florida.
“Believe me, I don’t want you to go. I’d much rather keep you here with me for the next three months, but we both have family obligations, remember?” David pointed out. “Besides, I’ll be in Arizona in a couple of weeks. You just have to be patient.”
“I know, but I don’t want to wait a couple of weeks.” Matt knew he sounded like a spoiled child, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t want to be apart from David for two days, let alone two weeks. “Promise you’ll miss me like crazy?”
“I already do,” David assured him. “Now kiss me goodbye and get out of here. I was so busy helping you pack that I didn’t get my own done. Eddie’s going to be pissed if I’m late.”
“He’s going to be pissed if you keep calling him that,” Matt laughed before pulling David to him for one last kiss.
David put everything he had into the kiss trying to devour Matt right there in the driveway. He was just as upset as Matt was about their impending separation, maybe even more so. He was just trying to hide his feelings so that Matt didn’t get any more upset. What Matt didn’t know was that David found an apartment that was sitting vacant not too far from Matt’s house. For an obscene amount of money, David was able to get the landlord to agree to a three month lease. He took possession on June first, which was why David had agreed to go back to Florida for two weeks. By the time he said goodbye to his parents, his new place would be ready for occupancy.
Matt finally pulled back and ended the kiss, knowing that if he didn’t leave soon, he’d never be able to walk away. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Drive carefully and text me when you get home so I know that you made it safely.”
“I will, and make sure you tell Edward to fly carefully. He’s going to be carrying precious cargo.” He climbed into his truck with such a heavy heart and started the engine.
“I will, babe. Love you, see you soon.”
Matt nodded and looked at David one last time before pulling out of the driveway and driving away.
David sighed as he watched Matt drive away. It was going to be a long two weeks. After the truck was out of sight, David went into the house to start packing. He really did need to get going if he wanted to make his flight time. He was halfway through his packing when his phone rang. He smiled when he saw Dylan’s name on the screen.
“Hey, bro, what’s going on?”
“I’m pissed at you,” Dylan said.
“Uh oh, what did I do now?” David laughed.
“First, you refused to walk at graduation and let us all come out to celebrate…”
“…and then I find out, through Mom no less, that you’re only going to be in Florida for two weeks? What the hell?” Dylan continued without missing a beat.
“Don’t tell me to relax. What the hell is going on with you?”
“Look, Dyl, I’m sorry everyone is so upset that I didn’t walk at graduation, but I just don’t think it’s a big deal.”
“Not a big deal? You graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree and a 4.0 GPA and it’s not a big deal? Are you insane? We should’ve been there in the audience, cheering you on while you rocked the cap and gown. Since when are you shy?”
David sighed. He never told anyone why he wasn’t walking at graduation, but obviously Dylan needed an explanation. “Look, Dyl, if I tell you why I bailed on graduation, do you promise to keep your big mouth shut and not tell anyone? I don’t want anything getting back to Matt, and I still haven’t talked to Mom and Dad yet.”
“Of course, although I don’t know why it’s a secret in the first place. Now what the hell is going on with you?”
“Truthfully? I was afraid to walk at graduation. I’ve spent four years at this school and in all that time, I managed to keep my celebrity low key. I’ve never had to deal with a single reporter. I was afraid that if word got out I was graduating, the place would be swarming with paparazzi and I didn’t want to suddenly have all eyes on me.”
“But what difference would it make? You’re out of there now. Who cares who knows who you are?”
“Well, I’m not quite out of here. I kind of…accepted a position on campus. As of September, I’m going to be a teaching assistant in the computer science department.”
“Wait…what? What are you talking about? Aren’t you supposed to be starting at Jackson Tech?”
“I will be, just not for a while.”
“But why? Why would you want to be some flunky teaching assistant?”
“Dyl…Matt still has three more years of school in El Paso,” David pointed out. When he got nothing but silence in return, he started to get nervous. “Dyl?”
“And you don’t want to leave him,” Dylan said softly.
“I can’t leave him. Hell, I just said goodbye to him for two weeks and I’m dying here. I know it sounds corny, but I love him so much that I don’t ever want to be apart from him. Giving up walking at graduation and putting off Jackson Tech for a few years is hardly a sacrifice. And could you imagine what would happen if everyone on campus figured out who I was? Matt and I would never be able to be seen together in public. One reporter, one story and it could ruin Matt’s whole life.”
“I get that, Davey, but what about Matt? What is he giving up for you?”
“Eventually? His family. Look, Matt had every intention of living in the closet and doing exactly what was expected of him until he met me…until I forced him to admit he was attracted to me and we started spending time together. He’s going to lose his family over this. His father is never going to accept him. After speaking to his friends and meeting the man a few times, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to end badly for Matt. Giving up a few minor things in my life is nothing compared to the sacrifice he’s going to make.”
“But, Davey, it’s not your fault that Matt is gay, and it’s certainly not your fault that his father is a homophobic asshole. You shouldn’t have to give up so much to be with him. That’s not love,” Dylan pointed out.
“Don’t you see? I didn’t give up anything. I don’t care about graduation. I don’t care about walking across a stage in a cap and gown and being handed a piece of paper. That doesn’t matter to me. It never did. And putting off working at Jackson Tech for a few years isn’t going to hurt anyone. It’s not like Dad’s ready to retire and needs someone right away. At least I’m willing and eager to go into the family business. No one else is this family was willing to give up what they wanted to make Dad happy!”
“But you want to follow in Dad’s footsteps, don’t you?” Now it was Dylan’s turn to get nervous over the silence. “Davey, you do want to follow in Dad’s footsteps, don’t you?”
David sighed. “Does it matter? I’m the only one left. You all went out and chose careers you wanted, and that’s great. I’m glad you are all doing exactly what you want to do. Now I’m the one who will take over Jackson Tech. It’s already arranged. All I’m doing is taking a few more years to do what I want before all the responsibility of the company is placed on my shoulders. Is that too much to ask for?”
“You don’t want it!” Dylan gasped.
“Dyl, it’s not really a…”
“All this time…all the planning…and you don’t want to do it.”
“Dyl, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing it, and I’m fine with it. Life isn’t always about what we want, but about what we have to do. Someone has to take over when Dad retires. It might as well be me. Computers come easy to me. It’s all good.”
“Seriously, it’s okay. Besides, I have Matt in my life. As long as I have him, I’m happy. Which is why I’m going to stay in El Paso for another three years, why I refused to make a spectacle at graduation, and why I’m only staying in Florida for two weeks and then I’m heading to Arizona for the summer. Just remember, you promised not to say anything to anyone.”
“You promised, Dyl.”
“Does Danny know how you feel about working for Jackson Tech?”
“No one knows…except for you.”
“Damn it, Davey!”
“Look, Dyl, I really have to get going or I’ll never make it to the airport. I’ll see you later, alright? I’ll call you when I land and maybe we can meet up or something.”
“Aren’t you coming here?”
“No, not tonight. Darren asked me to stay with them for a couple of days. Apparently they’re feeling slighted because I always stay with either Mom and Dad or you. I definitely want to come by tomorrow and see the girls, though. I have something for them.”
“Of course you do. Look, Davey, I really want to talk more about this.”
“There’s no point, Dylan. I have spent the last four years preparing to take over Jackson Tech. I made the decision to do it and I worked very hard to get to where I am. I wouldn’t change my plans now anyway. It’s not like I hate the idea of taking over the company. It’s just not what my first choice would’ve been.”
“What would your first choice have been?” Dylan had to ask.
“Social work, probably,” David replied thoughtfully.
“Because you’re always trying to help people. I’m so sorry, Davey. I never meant to leave you to be the one making the sacrifices. None of us should have. You just seemed to want it.”
“It’s okay, Dyl. Really. And I do want it…kind of. I like seeing Dad happy and knowing that I’m going to be joining him soon makes him happy. He gave up a lot to give us the kind of life we’ve had. Hell, Dylan, thanks to him none of us ever has to worry about money…ever. Helping him to carry on the family name and celebrity is an honor. Besides, the more money Jackson Tech makes, the more people we can help, so I’m still helping people. Just in a different way. Now I’m hanging up so I can finish packing. I will talk to you later, alright? Just keep what we talked about to yourself. I don’t want anyone else knowing that Jackson Tech is my second choice, and I sure as hell don’t want Matt knowing why I ditched graduation, okay? My life is good and I’m happy. Really, really happy. That’s all that matters.”
As soon as David was alone with his thoughts, he regretted telling Dylan about his feelings on joining the family business. He had always managed to keep his feelings to himself, never wanting his father to find out that out of six kids, none of them wanted the responsibility of carrying on his legacy. He just hoped Dylan kept his word and his mouth shut. And he hoped that when he finally sat his father down and told him that he needed a few more years for himself, the older man didn’t pick up on his hesitation the way Dylan had. And while he was at it, he hoped Matt didn’t mind having him stay in Arizona for the summer…or in El Paso for the next three years. One day he was going to have to learn to let people in on his plans before he made them.
Jason was sitting on his bed, lost in thought. He was so screwed and he didn’t know what to do about it. He really thought that spending time with both Zac and Aiden would help him decide who he really wanted to be with while helping to build their friendships. He had been wrong. Now here he was, innocently leading the two of them on without wanting anyone to get hurt. He was beginning to think that the only way to get himself out of the mess he was in was to deny his feelings for both of them and allow them to move on. Maybe that was the best way to handle the situation. He needed to figure out something soon, before they all ended up hurting. A knock at the door pulled him from his thoughts.
Zac walked in the door with a smile on his face. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Hey, Z, what’re you doing here?”
“I was in the neighborhood,” Zac chuckled.
“That’s because you live in the neighborhood, you ass. Now what are you really doing here?”
“Um, we need to talk,” Zac said.
“Uh oh, that doesn’t sound good. Sit.”
“Thanks. I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to Ohio for the summer.”
Jason stared at him in shock. “Ohio? What’s in Ohio?”
“I have an aunt and uncle who live there. I think it might be best for me to get out of Arizona for a while.”
Zac took a deep breath before answering. “Look, J, I’m bowing out. If you decide you want to be with me, give me a call and if I’m still interested, we can start over, but I think it’s best if I just walk away.”
“It’s cool. I still want us to be friends. I think I just need a little time, you know? I’m sorry, J. I wish I could be stronger. I wish I had what it takes to hold on a little while longer, but I don’t. I want you to have a great summer, though. Use this time to really get to know Aiden and decide if he’s what you want. If he is, I’ll gracefully accept it. All that I really want is for you to be happy.”
Jason’s heart was breaking as he listened to Zac and he knew without a doubt that he couldn’t let him go. He was still so confused when it came to his feelings for both guys, but he didn’t even want to think about Zac going to Ohio. Not even for a few months. Deciding that actions spoke louder than words, Jason grabbed Zac by the back of the neck and pulled him closer, covering his mouth in a heated kiss.
Zac was shocked when he felt himself being pulled into a kiss, but he wasn’t about to argue. Not when Jason was the one doing the kissing. In the last four months there have been quite a few kisses passed between them, but none of them compared to the assault that he was currently experiencing. He had a brief thought about pulling away, but he couldn’t seem to make his body follow his thoughts. Instead, he deepened the kiss, giving everything he had over to the guy he loved. If it was meant to be a last kiss, he was going to make sure that it had a lasting effect.
For the first time in a long time, Jason was kissing someone without feeling the slightest bit of fear. Usually his mind was always gearing itself up to run away, but not this time. When Zac deepened the kiss, Jason groaned and felt himself harden at the contact. That was also something new for him. He hadn’t really felt any kind of sexual excitement since before the attack. Did having it the first time with Zac mean something? Was his mind trying to tell him, through his body, that he couldn’t let Zac leave? A deep, resonating sound coming from Zac pulled Jason from his thoughts and caused him to jump into action. Without a second thought to what he was doing, Jason reached for the button on Zac’s jeans and yanked it open. Within moments, his hand was gripping Zac’s leaking cock. It felt good. It felt really good.
Zac was lost in a sea of desire when suddenly rational thought found its way through his lust filled brain and caused him to pull away from Jason. “Hey…what’re you doing?”
“Really? Has it been that long? I thought I was making you feel good. Am I doing it wrong?” Jason teased as he once again reached for Zac. “Come here.”
“J, seriously…” Zac jumped up off the bed and fixed his jeans, adjusting himself as he went. “What’s going on here?”
Jason tried not to be hurt by the brush off. “I’m not sure, but for the first time since last November, I actually felt something other than fear. I was just going with what felt right. I thought you would’ve enjoyed it.”
“I did…it was amazing, but, J,…we’re not together, remember? I’m leaving tomorrow for Ohio for the next three months.”
“Tomorrow? You’ve already made your plans? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“Because I was afraid you’d try to talk me out of it, and I think it’s for the best,” Zac admitted.
“Z, don’t you see? If there’s even the slightest chance that I can talk you out of it, then you really shouldn’t be going in the first place.”
“But I have to.”
“J, can’t you just let it go? Let’s say goodbye and we’ll see what happens at the end of the summer, alright?”
“I can’t do this anymore, alright?!” Zac exclaimed. “I’m sorry, J. I tried to be patient, but this whole situation is killing me. I love you so fucking much and I hate that he gets half your time and attention. I hate that I’m not your first choice. And I sure as hell don’t want to spend my summer hanging out with everyone trying to pretend that I’m not dying inside. I really do want you to be happy, but I won’t sit back and watch you be happy with him. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“Z, I’m so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. I was just so messed up.”
“I know that and I’m not blaming you. I just need to get away from it all.”
Jason felt his panic building. “Please, Z, don’t leave me. I’m sorry for being such an insensitive jerk, but I need you here.”
“Please don’t do that.”
“Don’t go. I’ll tell Aiden we’re through. I’ll tell him I want to be with you, I promise. I just need to know that you’re not leaving me.”
“You can’t do that. I know you love him.’
“I do love him, but I love you more. I don’t think I even realized that until the moment you said you were leaving. I love you, Zac. I want to be with you.”
Zac felt his tears begin to fall as Jason told him everything he’d been waiting to hear. “Are you sure? I don’t want you saying that unless you really mean it.”
“I do mean it. Oh my God,” Jason groaned as he finally felt his confusion clear. Aiden was an amazing guy, and very special to Jason, but Zac was who he wanted. Zac was the one he truly loved. “I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. God, Z, don’t leave. Stay here with me and let’s get back what that scumbag took from us on that horrible night.”
“Yes,” Zac said as he grabbed Jason and kissed him deeply. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too.” Jason showered kisses all over Zac’s face as they cried together. “Z, I want you so bad. I want to touch you and taste you…I need you.”
Zac pulled back and looked Jason in the eyes. “Are you sure? There’s absolutely no rush. I’d wait forever as long as we’re together.”
“I’m sure. I mean, I’m not ready for…you know, but I want to get back to what we had so we can move forward. Please, tell me you want me too.”
“Are you kidding?” Zac laughed nervously. “I’ve never stopped wanting you. I just don’t want you to do anything you’re not ready for.”
“I’m ready to swallow your cock,” Jason whispered in Zac’s ear before nibbling on his ear lobe. “How does that sound to you?”
“It sounds like a dream, but if I’m sleeping, I don’t want to be woken up. Ouch!”
“I figured the best way to prove that what we’re about to do is real is to pinch you. Now how about if you and I get naked? We have a lot of catching up to do.”
Zac didn’t have to be told twice, and although Jason did tense up a time or two when Zac touched him, their coming together was wonderful beyond words. Jason had no doubt afterwards, when they were lying in each other’s arms, that he had made the right decision. Now all he had to do was find a way to let Aiden down gently. He owed the man so much and he really did love him, just not enough to give up what he and Zac were meant to be.
Chris walked out of the doctor’s office feeling as if his whole world was about to come crashing down. He had been telling himself that he was fine. That the small lump he had found in one of his testicles was just some kind of fatty tissue. That there was no way it could be anything serious. In fact, he had been so sure that everything was fine that he hadn’t even bothered to tell Zan about it. Instead, he just made an appointment with his doctor to get the reassurance he needed. Unfortunately his doctor didn’t think it was nothing serious. He ran a full blood work up and arranged for an ultrasound to be done the following day. Chris’ head was spinning as he thought about it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, but decided against calling Zan. He wasn’t ready to tell the man he loved that he might be sick. Then again, telling Brian and Justin wasn’t going to be any easier. They were already on their way home for the summer and were looking forward to having fun with their friends for the next three months. He wasn’t ready to burst their bubble. There was really only one person he could call.
A half hour later, Chris was sitting at the bar nursing a beer when Ed walked in. The older man spotted him right away and made his way over, taking the barstool closest to the door.
“This better be important, Kinney. I’ve got a stack of paperwork on my desk that’s threatening to reach the ceiling and I need to get back to it.”
Chris took another drink of his beer as he gathered the courage to say out loud what had been running through his head since leaving the doctor’s office. “I think I might have testicular cancer.”
“Come again?” Ed asked.
“I was just at the doctor. He drew some blood today and scheduled an ultrasound for tomorrow morning.”
“Aw hell, Chris. I’m sorry. What did the doctor say? Is he worried?”
“Worried enough that he wanted me to get checked out right away,” Chris replied.
“Well, that don’t mean anything. Cancer is tricky and spreads fast. He’s probably just being cautious. What’s Zander thinking of all this? He’s usually the reasonable one.”
“He doesn’t know. I haven’t told him yet.”
“Because I don’t want to worry him. I kind of thought that a quick trip to the doctor’s would tell me that I was overreacting. I was counting on him to tell me I had nothing to worry about. So much for that,” Chris sighed and took another sip of beer. “What the fuck am I going to do?”
“The first thing you need to do is go home and tell your partner. He has a right to know and you look like you could use some support right now, and I don’t mean the kind I can give you, although you know you have that,” Ed assured him. “Then you need to try not to panic while you wait to find out what’s going on. It could be nothing.”
“I don’t want to do this, Ed. The last couple of years have been pretty shitty, with one thing after another and now…life has finally been good for everyone, you know? I don’t want to put Zan through this. He deserves to be happy for a while.”
“Okay, first of all, you might not be putting him through anything. This could all be nothing. Second, if it turns out to be the worst, Zander will be by your side and you will get through it together. Testicular cancer, especially caught early, is very curable. A buddy of mine had it about ten years ago. He came through the whole mess with flying colors. Just go home and talk to Zan, alright? I’ll take the corruption story you’re working on and give it to Jones. Just email him what you have so far.”
“Yeah, okay. Thanks, Ed. I appreciate you coming out and meeting me. I just needed to talk and I didn’t want to call Zan.”
“You need to talk to him, Chris.”
“I know. I will. I think I’ll just wait until after we get the results, though. No sense in upsetting him for nothing, you know?”
Chris ignored Ed as he got up and pulled some cash out of his pocket. He dropped enough to cover his beer and a generous tip and then looked at Ed. “Tell Jones to watch his email. I’ll send my notes later today. Thanks again. I’ll keep you posted.”
Chris rushed out to his car and took off before Ed could catch up with him. He appreciated the old man’s advice, but he really didn’t want to talk to Zan before he had all the facts. He made it back to the house shortly after noon and found Jason and Zac curled up together on the couch watching a movie. They paused it when Chris walked in.
“Hey, what are you guys up to?”
“We were just watching a movie. Zac showed up a couple of hours ago and we decided to hang out here. I thought you were going to be working at the paper today. You want us to get out of your way?” Jason asked.
“No, that’s okay. You’re not in my way. I just decided to come home so I’m here when Brian and Justin get here. Jas, can I talk to you in the kitchen for a minute?”
“Um…sure,” Jason replied tentatively. He stood up and looked down at Zac. “I’ll be right back.”
As soon as they were in the kitchen, Chris turned to Jason. “You guys look awfully cozy.”
“Yeah…we are. I’ve made up my mind. It’s Zac that I want. It’s always been Zac. I was just confused for a while, but I’m not anymore.”
“Good, I’m glad. As much as I like Aiden, Zac has been part of the family for quite a while. I like seeing you both happy,” Chris told him. “Have you told Aiden yet?”
“No, not yet…but I will. He and I were supposed to catch a movie tomorrow. He knew I wanted to be here when Justin got home today. I’ll tell him then.”
“Okay, just make sure you tell him. Don’t leave him hanging, thinking he’s got a chance if he doesn’t.”
“I know, I won’t,” Jason promised. “Now, are you sure we’re not going to be in the way? We can go down to my room if you want. Or even over to Zac’s house.”
“No, that’s okay. You guys are fine right where you are.”
“Okay,” Jason said and then looked more closely at Chris. “Are you alright? You don’t look so good.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little tired. I had trouble sleeping last night. I think I’m going to go lay down for a while before the boys get home.”
“Alright…let me know if you need anything.”
“I will, but I’m good. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Chris shut himself up in the bedroom and laid down, but sleep wouldn’t come. Not when he had so much on his mind. If it turned out that he had cancer, how was he going to tell everybody? He knew the statistics. He’d spent most of the previous night looking up everything he could find on testicular cancer. He knew that it had the best survival rate, but that didn’t keep a person from being scared when facing the possibility of the disease. He didn’t have time to get sick. The summer was coming. Brian and Justin were on their way home. Sophia would be out of school in another month and he had promised to teach her how to swim over the summer. How could he do that if he had cancer? He barely noticed the tears as they fell down onto his pillow. He had to be strong if he didn’t want anyone knowing something was wrong, but he allowed himself to give in to his fears while he was alone in the bedroom. He figured that if he shed his tears now, he’d have enough time to put on his brave face before everyone started arriving and his house was filled with friends and family. He only had a little time before he knew for sure what his future held. He wanted to make the best of it while he had the chance.
“I am so happy Robert insisted that we close on Tuesdays. Six days a week is bad enough. I don’t think I’d survive seven,” Eric said as he locked the door behind Evan. He and Dane were the only ones left to finish the cleanup. “Thanks for staying to help.”
“It’s not a problem. Now that school is out for the summer, I can stay as late as you need me to. But, Eric, I really think you need to slow down a bit. Now that you have Billy here, it wouldn’t kill you to take a day or two off. That’s the point of having a sous chef.”
“I know, but I hate giving up control,” Eric laughed.
“I know you do, but you can’t keep going the way you have been. I’m not saying that you have to take off all the time. Just take a day here and there. Go spend more than a few hours with Gracie. I know you really miss her.”
“Yeah, I do,” Eric sighed. Ever since his trip to see her in January, all Eric had managed was a few hours here and there every other Tuesday. He’d leave early in the morning, get there by noon, spend the afternoon with her and then drive back home, wasting most of the day on the ten hours of travel time. He hated it. “I don’t know. Maybe taking a day or two wouldn’t kill me.”
“That’s the spirit,” Dane smiled. “Now what’s left to be done?”
They spent the next half hour finishing up what needed to be done and were out the door by midnight. As they walked to their cars, Dane started to chuckle. “I really wish I was twenty-one.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, by the time we get out of work at night it’s so late, and I’m not ready to go home. I’m wound up with nowhere to go.”
Eric laughed. “I know what you mean, but being over twenty-one doesn’t help when most of your friends are home in bed because they have those pesky 9-5 jobs. You wanna come to the condo? Steve is spending the night at Charlie’s so I was just going to pop in a movie or something.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel like you have to entertain me. I’m cool to go home and amuse myself.”
“Hey, it’s no big deal. I’m really just going to pop in a movie, maybe toss back a beer or two. I’m not going to Flagstaff tomorrow so I can sleep in. I could use the company,” Eric insisted.
“Alright, if you’re sure I’m not going to be a pest.”
“Oh shut up, you’re not a pest. Now let’s get out of here. I don’t want to look at this place again until Wednesday.”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll meet you at the condo.”
By midnight, both Eric and Dane were sitting in front of the TV with a movie playing in the background, but neither one of them were watching it. Instead they were deep in conversation, talking about their plans for the future and about where they would like to be in ten years. Dane was on his second beer and Eric was on his third. A couple of shots of Jack had them both feeling really good.
“So, you’re saying that if Arizona legalizes gay marriage, you still wouldn’t get married?” Eric asked, his voice slurring slightly.
“I’m not saying that I wouldn’t. I’m just saying that I don’t have to get married. I agree that gay people should be allowed to marry because we should have the same rights as straight people. I just don’t know if I want to get married. I kind of like the idea of being with someone because you want to be, not because you have a piece of paper saying that you have to be. You know?”
“I guess. I don’t know. I guess I just feel like everyone should be married at some point.”
“That’s because you’re straight. You were raised to believe that you’d grow up, meet the right girl and get married. I grew up figuring that I’d never be able to get married so I’m okay with not doing it.”
Eric thought about that for a moment. “I see your point. Want another shot?”
Dane watched Eric get up and head towards the kitchen and got up to follow him. He knew he didn’t need another shot. He was already feeling a pretty good buzz, but he was starting to worry about Eric. He was well on his way to being drunk. “Are you sure you need another?”
“Probably not, but what the hell?”
Eric poured himself another shot and downed it immediately. When he went to pour another one, Dane reached out his hand and stopped him. “Hey, too much more and you’ll be passed out and I’ll be sitting here all by myself.”
Eric looked down at the hand on his and then looked up into Dane’s face. Without thinking about what he was doing, Eric gently shoved Dane up against the refrigerator and took his mouth in a heated kiss.
Dane saw something unreadable in Eric’s eyes right before he felt a warm mouth on his. Shock alone had him opening up and accepting the tongue that was trying to find its way inside. In a matter of seconds, Dane felt a hand rubbing his hardening cock through his pants and moaned at the touch. A little voice inside his head told him that he needed to put a stop to what was happening, but he couldn’t seem to do what the voice was telling him. Not when he thought about who it was that was kissing him so roughly. He’d had a crush on his friend’s brother ever since he was twelve years old and knew what it meant to be gay, but he had never told anyone about his feelings and pushed them to the back of his mind. What was the point when Eric was straight? But was Eric straight?…if he was straight…why was he…Dane knew he had to put a stop to what was happening and gently pushed Eric away.
Eric felt Dane’s hands on his chest right before he was pushed away. He could see the effect he had on the younger man and didn’t want to be stopped. Not when he wanted Dane as badly as he did. He reached for him again, but Dane ducked out of the way.
“Um…Eric...what’s going on?” Dane asked as he panted, trying to catch his breath. “That…um, what’s going on? You’re not…I mean…why…we can’t…”
Eric understood Dane’s confusion, but at that moment he didn’t want to talk about what was happening between them. He didn’t want to talk at all. “Look Dane, I’m not up for conversation right now. I want you. If you feel the same way, say the word. My bedroom is right down the hall. If you don’t want me, then say so and we’ll go back into the living room and see if we can figure out what’s happening in the movie. The choice is yours,” Eric said before smiling. “But I really hope you want me, too.”
Dane’s heart skipped a beat hearing Eric confess to wanting him. There was no way he was going to be able to pass up the opportunity to be with his childhood crush, but he felt like he needed some kind of answers. “But what about…?”
“Dane, we’ll talk tomorrow. I promise.” Eric reached out his hand. “Come with me?”
Dane hesitated for only a moment before talking Eric’s hand, allowing himself to be lead into the bedroom. His questions could wait.
By two in the morning, both Eric and Dane were sated and lying in Eric’s bed. Dane had a million questions, but he didn’t know where to begin.
“You’re thinking too much,” Eric said softly.
“That tends to happen to a guy who ends up in bed with his friend’s straight brother,” Dane replied. “How…when…what…?”
“Dane, relax. I promise we’ll talk, but I need to sleep for a little while. I’d like for you to stay here with me, but I’ll understand if it’s too weird and you want to go crash on the couch.”
“Um…what about Steve?”
“Steve has to be at the store early tomorrow so he’ll go right from Charlie’s house. It’s just the two of us here,” Eric assured him as he pulled Dane into his arms and kissed him softly. “Wanna stay with me?”
Dane didn’t have to be asked twice. “Yeah, I do…but we are talking about this tomorrow…well, later today.”
Dane snuggled down in Eric’s arms and they were both asleep in minutes. Unfortunately, they weren’t asleep for long. It was just after five when Eric’s phone went off, startling them both out of sleep. Eric saw Betty’s name on the screen and grabbed the phone. He knew that whatever the news was, it was going to be bad.
“Betty, what’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry to call you so early…I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“It’s fine, Betty. Tell me what happened?”
“Oh God,” Eric groaned, feeling the loss deep down inside.
“I knew it was going to happen…the drugs…they were slowly killing him and I knew it. I tried to talk to him. I begged him to get help, but he wouldn’t do it. He told me he was fine. He promised me that he was okay. Oh Eric, what am I going to do without my boy?”
Eric’s heart was breaking at the sound of a mother’s anguish. “I don’t know, Betty. I don’t know. Where are you? Where’s Gracie?”
“I’m at the hospital…I guess I’m just getting ready to go home. She’s home in bed. My neighbor is watching her. The poor little girl has no idea that her Papa is gone. How am I going to tell her? How am I going to explain that he’s not coming back?”
“It’ll be okay, Betty. We’ll find a way to tell her. Now listen to me, I want you to go home and lay down for a while, alright? Just try and rest right now. I’m going to jump in the shower and then get on the road. I’ll be there as soon as I can, alright?”
“Oh, sweetheart, you don’t have to come right now. You must be exhausted. I never should’ve called you so early. Go back to bed and call me when you wake up.”
“Betty, I’m fine. I’ll be on the road in thirty minutes. Just go rest and I’ll see you soon.” Eric disconnected the call, not giving Betty a chance to argue. A hand on his shoulder caused him to jump. He had forgotten that he wasn’t alone.
“Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not. I’ve got to get in the shower. I have to get to…to…oh God.”
Dane took Eric in his arms and held him as he cried. He didn’t know what was happening, but whatever it was, Eric needed him. That much was obvious. “Shhh…it’s going to be okay. Whatever it is, I’ll be right here with you, okay?”
Eric nodded his head as he struggled to pull back his emotions. He needed to pull himself together. He was going to have to be strong for Betty and Gracie. They needed him. Eric pulled back and dried his eyes with the back of his hands. “Sorry about that. I’m okay now. Listen, I’m sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep and you can let yourself out when you wake up. Just make sure to lock the door behind you.”
“Eric, have you lost your mind? I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not letting you go anywhere alone. Not while you’re this upset. Let’s jump in the shower and get out of here. You can tell me what’s going on when you’re ready.”
“Dane, you don’t have to…”
“I know I don’t have to, but I want to. Now let’s get moving. I’m sure you want to get on the road.”
“Hey, you’ve been a great friend and shoulder to cry on for me. I’m just returning the favor.”
Eric reached out and ran his hand alongside Dane’s face before getting up and heading into the bathroom, leaving Dane even more confused than he was before they had fallen asleep. He didn’t know what was happening, but it looked like he was going to have to wait to find out.
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