Now That You're Here - The College Years

Chapter 25


Eric stood on the porch and looked out at the night sky. It was Friday night and it had been a very long week. Between cleaning out Cooper’s apartment and trying to explain to Gracie why her papa wasn’t coming back, he wasn’t sure how he made it through. Now he only had one more hurdle to jump. In just under eight hours they were going to be putting Cooper’s body into the ground. He still couldn’t believe that Coop was gone. After worrying about the man for so long, the fact that his concerns came true was still hard to grasp. Had he tried hard enough to get Coop the help he needed? Should he have continued to stick by the troubled man instead of running away? Would his presence even have mattered? Probably not, but knowing that wasn’t helping to ease his guilt. The memory of the look on Gracie’s face as he told her that Papa was in heaven with her mother was still killing him two days later. Her tears, despite the fact that she didn’t truly understand what it meant to go to heaven, would haunt him for the rest of his life. He wasn’t sure how he was going to say goodbye to her the following day. After laying Coop to rest, he and Dane needed to get back to Sierra Vista. He felt terrible for pulling Dane away from his life for five days, although he wasn’t sure how he would’ve gotten through it all without him.

Other than a quick kiss or a simple touch, nothing had happened between them since their arrival in Flagstaff. It didn’t feel right for him to be developing what could become a relationship while they were laying Cooper to rest. And without words, Dane seemed to know that and managed to be there for Eric without crossing any invisible lines. He’d have to find a way to make it up to Dane once they were back home. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there looking up at the stars before he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. He was surprised when he turned around.

“Betty, what are you doing out here this time of night?”

“Probably the same thing as you. Thinking too much about tomorrow. I heard you come out here almost an hour ago. I wanted to give you your space, but I was starting to get worried.”

“An hour ago?” Eric asked. “I didn’t realize I was out here that long. I just needed some air.”

“Hey, you don’t have to explain. I just wanted to make sure you were alright, and also talk to you about something. But first, are you alright?”

Eric had to think about it for a moment. “Yeah, I think so. I’m just trying to decide if I made the right decision when I moved out last year, you know? Survivor’s guilt is a terrible thing. If I had stayed, do you think he’d still be here?”

“Truthfully? I don’t think so. Sweetheart, you had no choice but to leave. Please don’t go crazy blaming yourself. I don’t blame you. I loved my son dearly but he wasn’t a very nice person the last couple of years. What he did to you…all those times he hurt you. There was no excuse for that.”

“He didn’t hurt me that much. It only happened a few times,” Eric replied.

“Sweetheart, please stop trying to protect him. I know what was going on behind closed doors. He used to come to me in the early days when he was still capable of guilt. He hated that the drugs turned him into a monster, he just didn’t know how to stop. He loved you, though. You know that, right?”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Eric whispered as his eyes began to tear.

“I am,” Betty assured him. “He loved you so much and he hated hurting you like he was. The night he put you in the hospital, he came to me. He made me promise not to tell you, but he came to me in such a state. He was devastated by what he had done and he told me that he pushed you away so that you wouldn’t be hurt again. He said that you were too good for him and deserved so much better. It broke his heart to walk away from you, but he couldn’t let you stay. I’m sorry I never told you sooner. You probably had a right to know, but he made me promise. And truthfully, I was afraid if you knew, you wouldn’t leave him and move on…and I wanted that for you. As much as I love him, I love you too. I didn’t want to see you hurt anymore. His addiction was too strong and nothing any of us said could help. Cooper needed to make the decision to get well on his own and he didn’t. It’s no one’s fault. Not even his. But please, don’t ever doubt how much my son loved you. You were probably the reason he lived as long as he did.”

“Oh Betty,” Eric cried as he took the woman in his arms. “I loved him, too. I still do. I wish I could have done something to save him. I’m so sorry that he’s gone.”

“Me too.”

They stayed in an embrace for a few more moments before Betty pulled back. “Now, have a seat. There’s something I have to talk to you about.”

“Is everything alright?” Eric asked.

“Yes, everything is fine. Let’s sit down.”

They sat down on the porch swing and Betty took Eric’s hand. “Sweetheart, I need you to do something for me.”

“Of course, Betty. I’ll do anything you need. You know that. What is it?”

“I need you to take my Gracie and raise her right. I need you to teach her right from wrong and make sure she grows up to be an amazing woman. Do you think you can do that?”

Eric looked at Betty in confusion. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I want you to adopt my little girl officially and give her a wonderful life,” Betty said softly.

“But Betty…”

“I can’t do it, Eric. As much as it’ll kill me to be so far away from her, I just can’t do it. I’m an old woman. I can’t keep up with her. And she’s only four now. What happens when she starts school? There will be homework and dances and sports and clubs…so many things that she should get involved in and she can’t do that if she’s saddled with an old lady. It was different when she had a father around. Cooper wasn’t around as much as he should have been, but he was here in town if I needed him. I want that precious little girl to have an amazing life, and you can give it to her. Am I asking too much of you?”

Eric was shocked. “No…of course not. You know I love that little girl like she’s my own daughter. She is my daughter. I’m just worried about you. The bond you two have. Betty, you just lost your son. I don’t want to take her away from you, too. How about if I move back here? This way we’ll be right here with you.”

Betty scoffed at him. “Don’t be silly. Your life is in Sierra Vista. It always has been. You were just visiting when you were here. Take her with you and give her the life her Papa was too sick to give her. That I’m too sick to give her. That would be the best present you could give to both Cooper and me.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Eric said. “Except that I’ll do my very best to make sure that Gracie has everything she ever needs and that she doesn’t forget her Papa. He was an amazing man before the drugs completely took over. I’ll make sure she knows all about the good and not the bad.”

“Thank you, sweetheart. Now I was thinking that I’ll keep Gracie here with me until you can make arrangements at home. I’m sorry if this is going to throw your life into chaos. I feel like I’m just dropping this on you without any warning.”

“It’s fine, Betty. But yeah, why don’t you keep her for a little bit longer? You’ll still have Lisa to help you out and it will give me time to work some things out at home. I’m going to have to arrange child care for when I’m at work and…wow. I’m going to have to figure out the living situation. I never even gave something like this a thought. As happy as I am at the thought of having her with me, it wasn’t something I ever considered so I’m going to have to do some rearranging.”

“Take your time, sweetheart. She’ll be fine here for as long as you need. I know I need to let her go. It’s what’s best for her. I’m just not in a rush to do it.”

“Betty, would you ever consider moving to Sierra Vista? I know this is your home, but with Coop gone and Gracie with me, is there anything really keeping you here?” Eric asked.

Betty took a moment to answer. “I don’t know, sweetheart. Even the thought of moving makes me tired. And I don’t want to intrude on your life.”

“You’d never be an intrusion and I’d help you get packed up and settled in. I know it’s too soon right now, but think about it. Sierra Vista has quite a few retirement communities that would be good for you and then you could see Gracie whenever you wanted.”

“I’ll think about it,” Betty promised. “Now I think we should both be getting to bed. Tomorrow, or rather today, is going to be a long day. We need to get some rest.”

“I’m right behind you.”

They made their way inside and said goodnight before going their separate ways. Eric was exhausted, but he wasn’t sure how he was going to get any sleep with so many thoughts running through his head. Having Gracie with him meant so many changes, but he was going to be happy to make every one of them. He couldn’t wait to be a full time daddy again. As he climbed into bed, he felt Dane stir and then reach out for him. Eric happily went into his embrace.

“You were gone awhile. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just had some thinking to do. Go back to sleep. It’s still too early to get up,” Eric told him.

“Are you sure? I don’t mind listening if you need to talk.”

“No, I’m good for now,” Eric assured him before giving him a soft kiss. “We can talk on the long drive home.”

“Are you sure you’re ready to go home? It’s going to be a rough morning for you. I don’t mind if you want to stay another day or two. The restaurant is fine without you and Sandy has everything under control with Julia.”

“I think I’m ready to go. I did what I had to do here. Betty is as settled as she can be. We got Coop’s apartment cleaned out and all his stuff in storage for now. I’ll come back in a few months, after the shock has worn off and help Betty go through his belongings better. She can get rid of most of it then. It’s time for me to go home. Thank you again for being here with me. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this without you.”

“You would’ve found a way, but I’m glad I was here. I’ve really liked cuddling up with you every night. It’s going to be so strange tomorrow night when I’m in my bed all alone.”

Eric knew what he meant. He had enjoying having Dane in his arms for the last five nights. He wasn’t sure he was ready to let go just yet. A quick maneuver had Eric on his back with Dane lying on top of him. He looked up into Dane’s eyes, knowing the depths of their blue without needing the light on to see. He could feel the intensity of them staring back at him in the soft glow from the moon. “I promise you, once I get a few things worked out in my head, I’ll talk to Steve. Then we won’t have to hide and you can spend every night in my bed if you want to.”

“There’s no rush,” Dane said before leaning down and stealing a quick kiss. “You’ve been through a lot. I don’t expect you to jump out of the closet for me. It’s got to be something you’re ready for. Besides, I’m very good at sneaking around, remember?”

“Oh Dane, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about what I was asking of you.”

Dane leaned down for another kiss, this one a little deeper than the last. “Stop that. I was kidding. What I had with Michael isn’t the same thing as what you and I have…or might have, I should say. He was a lying cheat. You’re just a good guy who’s trying to come to terms with a new reality. It’s hardly the same thing and I have no problem giving you time to work it all out.”

Eric smiled and then pulled Dane down into another kiss. This one lasted longer than any kiss they had shared since the fateful call came in early Tuesday morning and led to another one and then another one. It took everything in Eric’s power to pull away, but he knew he had to. As hard as it was, he needed to keep his head together until he got back to Sierra Vista, and fucking Dane into the mattress in Cooper’s mother’s house wasn’t the way to do it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to let things get out of hand. I really need…”

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Dane told him. He dropped a quick kiss on Eric’s lips and them rolled off of him and settled back on his side of the bed. He completely understood Eric’s need to keep things cool between them, but unfortunately his throbbing cock wasn’t so understanding. He had been jerking off in the shower every day, trying to keep his libido under control. He wished he could take a shower at that moment. He really needed one. Instead, he encouraged Eric to turn over and then spooned up behind him, making sure to keep a safe distance between his cock and Eric’s ass. “Try and get some sleep. We’ll have our time when it’s right.”

Eric snuggled up in Dane’s arms and was surprised when he quickly started drifting off the sleep. His last coherent thought was about Dane and how he couldn’t wait to get the younger man in his bed again.



Aiden was pulled from a deep sleep by the feel of someone climbing out of bed. He opened his eyes and squinted at the sunlight shining through his partially opened blinds. It took him a moment to make out the figure that was on the other side of the room. “What are you doing?”

“I’m unsuccessfully trying to sneak away,” Derek laughed. “I’m not really up for another round of you forgetting our night together. Once was more than enough.”

Aiden blanched at his words. “I’m really sorry about that. I was in a really bad place back then. I remember everything that happened last night.”

“Are you sure? You were pretty drunk last night, too.”

“I was, but not quite as bad as last time and I do remember everything. In fact, I remember exactly how great it was and I was kind of hoping for a repeat this morning,” Aiden smiled.

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I know you’re not looking for a relationship. You made that perfectly clear last time. And I seem to have really bad judgment when it comes to you. I never should’ve come home with you last night and going another round isn’t going to help any.”

“What if I told you that things changed since the last time?” Aiden asked.

“Changed? You mean you’re looking for a relationship now?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m looking, but if one happened to fall into my lap…or my bed…I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it happening,” Aiden explained as he reached out his hand. “Now come back to bed. I’m not through with you yet.”

Derek wanted to refuse, but he knew he wouldn’t. Knew he couldn’t. Not with Aiden lying there with his hand out, offering him what Derek had so desperately wanted. Pushing his doubts aside, Derek took Aiden’s hand and climbed back in bed. They were instantly lost in one another and didn’t come up for air until well after noon when Aiden’s phone rang, bringing them both back to reality.

“It’s Gray, I’ve got to take this.”

“Go ahead. I’ve gotta piss anyway.”

As soon as Derek was gone, Aiden answered the phone. “Hey buddy, what’s up?”

“Not too much. I was just checking on you. When I left you at your apartment last night, you seemed kind of down. I’m sorry I cut the night short, but I just know how upset you’ve been ever since Jason ended things and I didn’t think getting drunk was the answer. You already landed in bed with a bartender thanks to your little friend. I didn’t want to see a repeat performance.”

Aiden smiled to himself. That was exactly what he had done and he didn’t regret it for a moment. His time with Jason reminded him how much he missed being in a relationship and Derek was a nice guy. He was also great in bed and since he knew about Aiden’s past, he was more than willing to do things the way Aiden wanted to. If he couldn’t have Jason, spending time with Derek wasn’t a bad thing. He wasn’t ready to tell that to his overprotective best friend, though. Instead he said, “I’m good, Gray. In fact, I just spent my morning working out and I’m getting ready to hop in the shower now. We don’t have that many Saturdays off. I want to run some errands while I have the time.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll talk to you later then. Wanna hang tonight? Maybe catch a movie?”

Before Aiden could answer, Derek appeared looking super-hot in nothing but a smile. “Um, I’ll let you know. I might have something to do tonight. I’ll call you.” He disconnected the call without giving Grayson a chance to respond.

“Any chance that something to do has anything to do with me?” Derek asked with a sly smile.

“That depends. Are you working tonight?”

“Actually, last night was my last shift for the week. I’m officially on vacation until a week from Monday. Well, it’s a stay-cation. I’m not going anywhere. Just taking some much needed time off. What did you have in mind? Hopefully more of this?” Derek asked, gesturing towards the bed.

“A lot more of this. Would you like to grab dinner first?”

“As in a date?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Sounds good to me.” Derek glanced over at the clock on the table. “But until then, I’d better get out of here. I have some shit to do today.”

“Yeah, me too. Want me to pick you up tonight? Make it official?” Aiden teased.

“That’s okay. I’ll just meet you here. What time?”


“Works for me.”

Aiden finally climbed out of bed. He secretly enjoyed the appreciative look on Derek’s face as his eyes roamed over his body. He grabbed his robe off the back on the bedroom door before going over to where Derek was getting dressed. As soon as the bartender was finished, Aiden pulled him into a deep kiss.

Derek enjoyed the kiss and wished he didn’t have to go, but he had some things he had to do. He pulled back before they could end up back in bed. “You keep doing that and I’ll never get out of here.”

“And that would be bad, why?”

“I’m sure there’s a reason, but when you’re standing there looking at me like that in nothing but a robe, it’s hard to remember anything,” Derek laughed as he backed away. “But I do know that there is a reason I have to go.”

“I know. I have things to do, too. I’ll see you at seven though, and we can pick up right where we left off…after dinner, of course.”

“I can’t wait.” Derek leaned over and gave Aiden one final kiss. “See you later tonight.”

Aiden watched him go with a smile on his face. The first real smile since the other night when Jason told him that he was going to revive his relationship with Zac. He had understood. The attack was the reason behind their break-up, not lack of love or affection. It only made sense that as Jason began to feel more like his old self, his desire for his former lover would return. It was one of the reasons Aiden never should have allowed himself to fall for the younger man. But he did, and he couldn’t rewrite history. All he could do was be happy for his friend and move on. Which was going to be a lot easier with Derek in his bed.

After a quick shower, Aiden had gotten dressed and was ready to head out the door when he got a text from Zander. He was a little surprised when Zan asked him to meet at the center. They were closed on the weekends unless there was an event going on. Aiden agreed with a quick reply and then grabbed his keys. In the months since Zander started working at the center, Aiden had grown very fond of the man. He was a nice guy who was very dedicated to helping others. If he needed help with something, there was no way Aiden would refuse him.

Twenty minutes later, after a quick stop for coffee, Aiden pulled into the center parking lot and saw Zander outside, leaning against his car. He parked in his usual spot, grabbed his coffee and then got out of the car. “Hey, sorry it took so long. I was in desperate need of coffee.”

“It’s fine. I’m sorry to bother you on your day off. I know you don’t get many Saturdays to yourself,” Zan said. “I just needed to talk to someone and it can’t be Chris or the boys right now.”

“It’s no problem,” Aiden assured him. “What’s going on?”

“Chris has cancer,” Zan blurted out.

“Shit. I’m sorry. Do you want to go talk inside?”

“No, I don’t think so. I think I need to be outside, you know? It already feels like I’m suffocating.”

“I understand. Now, tell me what happened.”

Zander spent the next few minutes telling Aiden everything that he had learned from Chris and about the little bit of research he managed to do earlier in the day before Chris woke up. Words like radiation and chemotherapy almost made him throw up. He didn’t even want to think about the possibility of Chris having to go through such things. Then he told the man about his selfish reaction to the news and how ashamed he was.

“Zan, don’t beat yourself up about it. What you had was a natural reaction to some very scary news. I imagine Chris would’ve reacted the same way if it had been you with the diagnosis. Now, I happen to know a little bit about testicular cancer. Both my father and my uncle had it. As scary as it is, there’s no reason to panic. The mortality rate is extremely low for that kind of cancer. Even my father, who lived with his lump in denial for over six months before going to the doctor, is happy and healthy these days. I have no doubt that Chris will be fine and I’m here as a shoulder to cry on when putting on a brave face gets to be too much for you. What else do you need from me?”

“I’m not sure. I know I won’t be in on Thursday. He has an appointment with an oncologist that morning. He already excluded me from the initial appointments. I don’t want to miss any more. Thursdays aren’t a real busy day for me, but I do have a few appointments that I’m going to try and reschedule. My only real concern is the group meeting I run over at the boy’s center in Bisbee. It overlaps with your group here.”

“It’s not a problem. Grayson usually just hangs here doing paperwork during my group. He can run it and I’ll head over to Bisbee. We can rearrange anything you need while you deal with this, alright? I’m serious, I’ll be here for you, whatever you need,” Aiden assured him as he hugged the man. “Everything is going to be okay.”

Zander took comfort in the hug. “Thanks, Aid. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. How are Brian and Justin taking the news?”

“Justin seems concerned but fine. Brian, on the other hand, is not taking it well at all. He took off right after we told them last night and was gone for hours. And this morning…he’s just really quiet and withdrawn. I figured I’d give him a little more time to absorb the news and then I’ll sit him down and talk to him. Jason was a trooper, though. He offered to jump in and help with anything we needed. He even decided to hold off getting a job until we know more in case we need help with Sophia.” Zan blanched at the pained look on Aiden’s face. “I’m sorry. Should I not mention Jason?”

“No, it’s alright. I’m glad he’ll be around to help you out,” Aiden told him. “How is he? I haven’t spoken to him since Tuesday night. Things good between him and Zac?”

“Do you really want to know?” Zan asked.

“Yeah, it’s okay. I’m not too surprised that he went back to Zac. He never made it a secret that he was still in love with him. If it wasn’t for the attack, they never would’ve broken up in the first place. It stings a little, but I just want him to be happy. Besides, I happen to have a date tonight so I’m working on moving on.”

“Good, I’m glad. And yes, things are good between him and Zac. It’s almost like it used to be. I’m so happy to see him finally putting the attack behind him.”

“Me too,” Aiden replied. “Now, you wanna go grab something to eat?”

“No, you go enjoy the rest of your day off. Thank you for meeting me. I just needed to talk to someone who’s not affected by this. I’ll be fine and I’ll keep you posted if anything else comes up.”

“I’m glad I was here to help. And I meant what I said, I’m here if you need a shoulder, man. We’re friends, right?”

“Yeah, we are. Thanks. I’ll see you on Monday.” Zander gave Aiden a hug goodbye and then got in the car. He was still really worried about the future, but talking to someone outside of their circle was nice. He didn’t have to worry about anyone’s feelings but his own. He waved a final goodbye to Aiden and then pulled out of the parking lot, heading for home. He finally felt as if he could put on his brave face, and that’s all he really needed to do.



Brian was sitting alongside Justin in the living room when Zander walked in. He had run out for what he called an errand earlier and Brian decided to wait until he got home before telling Chris about his phone call the night before. He hadn’t even told Justin about speaking to his mother. He needed some time to think about what she had said before he talked to anyone else about it. He still wasn’t sure what to do with the information, and he really hated dumping anything else on his brother while he was dealing with his diagnosis, but he knew he had to tell him about what he had done.

“Hey guys, what’re you watching?” Zander asked as he walked in the door.

“I’m watching Thor again, but I’m pretty sure Brian has been in his own head through the whole movie,” Justin said softly as he placed a hand on Brian’s leg.

“Babe, we’ve seen this movie a hundred times. I can recite it word for word. I don’t have to watch it to follow it,” Brian laughed. “Besides, you’re the one with a huge crush on Hemsworth.”

“Oh please, like you don’t think he’s hot as hell?” Justin threw back at him.

“Not as hot as my boyfriend,” Brian replied.

“Aww…you’re so sweet. A liar, but so sweet,” Justin laughed as he kissed Brian’s cheek.

“Hey, believe what you will, but I’d pick you over Hemsworth any day,” Brian insisted before turning to Zander. “Are you busy right now? I need to talk to Chris, and I kind of want you there when I do.”

“Oh no, what did you do? Am I going to have to keep him from killing you?” Zan asked, only half teasing.

“It’s a possibility,” Brian admitted. He really didn’t know how Chris was going to take the news.

“I’m guessing that Chris is still writing. I know he wanted to get as much done as he could in case he…well, before his surgery. I’ll go get him.”

Brian looked over at Justin. He knew the blond was staring at him. “What?”

“Do you want me to give you guys privacy?”

“Really Jus? After all this time?”

“Alright, I was just asking.”

Brian leaned over and kissed Justin deeply before pulling back. “I want you right here with me. Especially because Zan might need some help holding Chris back from killing me.”

“Jeez, Bri, what did you do?”

Brian looked down at his lap. “I spoke to my mother last night.”

“Oh shit,” Justin whispered.

“Okay, little brother, what’s up? Zan said you wanted to talk to me,” Chris said as he entered the room.

Brian took a deep breath while he waited for Chris and Zan to get settled on the couch. He felt Justin’s hand on his lower back and was comforted by it. He wasn’t sure how the conversation was going to go, but he decided to just jump right in. “I talked to Mom last night.”

“You what?” Chris barked.

“Chris, relax. Just listen to what he has to say,” Zan said as he looked at Brian incredulously.

“I’m sorry. I was just…so mixed up. You told us you were sick and I just got…scared. Chris, you’re the only family I have. It freaked me out a little.”

“Okay, before this goes any further,” Zan said, grabbing everyone’s attention. “I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. Chris is not the only family you have. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere…ever. I thought we established that when Chris and I took our break. Relationships aside, the four of us…we’re family. Nothing is going to change that.”

“I’m sorry, Zan. I didn’t mean to upset you. You know I love you like a brother.”

“I know, and if you felt the need to call your parents, that’s your decision. I just wanted to remind you that I’m here, too. I don’t ever want you thinking that will change.”

“That’s not your decision!” Chris yelled. “You had no right calling them. We talked about this, remember? After your accident when I told you I almost called them but then decided against it because our lives are none of their business. How could you do this?”

“But Chris…”

“I don’t want to hear it! I’m going to lay down.” Chris got up and stormed out of the living room, leaving three very concerned men in his wake.

“I guess I really fucked up, huh?” Brian finally said softly.

“Bri, you didn’t do anything wrong. Chris and I talked about the possibility of you wanting to talk to your parents right after you moved in and agreed that once you were eighteen, it was your decision as to whether or not you wanted to reach out to them,” Zander told him. “How did it go?”

“Um…okay, I guess. Dad…I mean Jack is gone. Mom said he drank himself to death. I don’t know. She seemed kind of…sorry. She apologized for not being stronger. For not protecting us, especially Chris, from him. She seemed really worried about Chris. She wants to come see us. I don’t know what to do. A part of me wants her to stay away, but a part of me…I don’t know. She’s still my mom.”

“If you really want to see her, then you should see her. Life is too short. I found out not that long ago that my mother is still the ice cold bitch she’s always been, but if she had been sorry…if she had shown an ounce of kindness, I might have kept in contact with her. I’ll never find out how my dad felt after so many years. I do believe that people can change. If your mom has, I think you owe it to yourself to make peace.”

“But I can’t…not if Chris isn’t okay with it. I would’ve been screwed if it wasn’t for the two of you. I would never go against his wishes about this,” Brian replied.

Zan stood up. “Let me go talk to him. He’s just in shock. It’s been a rough week for him. He’ll come around.”

“Good luck with that. I think I’m going to go lay down for a while. I didn’t sleep too good last night. Wanna come with me, blondie?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” Justin readily agreed.

“Go get some rest. Everyone is going to be here in a few hours for the barbeque, although now I’m sorry we didn’t cancel it.”

“I can call everyone if you want,” Justin offered.

Zan seemed to think about it for a minute. “No, you might as well let everyone come over. Maybe the distraction will do us all some good.”

“Alright, then we’ll see you in a little while.”

Justin took Brian’s hand and led him downstairs. Once they were alone, he hugged his boyfriend tight. “Don’t worry about Chris for now. Are you alright?”

“I guess so,” Brian shrugged. “Jus, it might have been an act, but she really sounded sorry. It was like…now that my dad is gone, she’s got a voice, you know? Maybe she was under his thumb as much as we were.”

“Is that what you want? Do you want your mother back?”

“Yeah, I guess. I mean, I wouldn’t suddenly move back home and be her little boy again. My home is here with Chris and Zan…and you, of course. But wouldn't it be nice to know I have a mother out there that loves me? Would it be wrong if I said yes?”

“Of course not. Babe, regardless of everything that’s happened, she’s your mother. If she really is sorry for the past, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving her a second chance,” Justin replied.

“But you don’t think she’s sorry?”

“No, I’m not saying that. I’m sure she’s sorry…I’m just worried about you. I don’t want to see you get hurt again. Now come on. Let’s lay down for a while. Everyone is going to be here around six and it’s already after two.”

Brian climbed on the bed and allowed Justin to take him in his arms. He needed the comfort. He knew Chris would get over being mad at him, he just didn’t like knowing he’d upset Chris so much. After all that his brother had done for him, the last thing he wanted to do was upset him. And as much as his mother claimed to be sorry, if Chris asked him to tell her to stay away, he knew he would. His mother could spew words of love as much as she wanted. Chris was the one who showed it and that mattered more to Brian than anything Joan Kinney could say.

Meanwhile, Zander went to the bedroom and found Chris pacing back and forth, mumbling to himself.

“Hey, are you alright?”

“What do you think?” Chris barked. “I can’t believe Brian did this. The last thing we need is that woman back in our lives.”

“Babe, you need to calm down and look at it from Brian’s point of view. He just learned that his brother, the one who seemed invincible to him, has cancer. I don’t think it’s odd that he thought about your parents. You thought about reaching out to them after the accident and Brian’s still technically a kid. It was an instinct. Making him feel bad for it isn’t going to help the situation.”

“I’m not trying to make him feel bad, but Zan…I can’t have them in my life. I can’t have him in my life.”

Zander hated the pain he heard in his partner’s voice. “You won’t have him in your life. He’s gone, Babe. Your father passed away.”


“Your mom told Brian that he drank himself to death. She didn’t elaborate. She did say that she was sorry she wasn’t stronger. That she didn’t protect you from him. Do you think it’s possible that maybe she was as afraid of him as you were? That maybe she didn’t stick up for you because she couldn’t?” At the look on Chris’s face, Zan continued, “I’m not saying that you have to forgive and forget. I just think that maybe you should listen to what she has to say. Or at least let your brother listen to her. When he moved in here, we agreed that when Brian was eighteen, he could reach out to them if he wanted to. Now he’s downstairs really upset because he thinks you’re mad at him. He was scared and did what felt right to him at the time. You need to cut him some slack and listen to what he wants to do. His life with Jack and Joan Kinney wasn’t nearly as hard as yours. If he wants to have a relationship with your mother, keeping him from that isn’t fair.”

“He’s a big boy. He can do what he wants,” Chris said softly.

“No he can’t. He would never do anything that he thinks you don’t approve of. If you went downstairs right now and told him to never speak to her again, he wouldn’t because he loves you and idolizes you that much. You’re the real adult here, Chris. You have to give him guidance on this.”

“Fine, I’ll talk to him. But not now. Right now I really want to fuck you into the mattress while I still have the ability to do so and then take a nap.”

“Chris, don’t say things like that. You’re going to be fucking me into the mattress for many, many years to come. And I appreciate the romantic notion, by the way. Where is Sophia?”

Chris smiled at Zan as he began stripping off his clothes. “She’s down the street at Kayla’s house having a play date. I just dropped her off right before you got home and she’s staying for dinner so we have hours to amuse ourselves.”

“Not too many. The gang’s going to start showing up in a few hours,” Zan pointed out as he started disrobing. “Think that’s enough time?”

“There’s never enough time with you, but I’ll find a way to make do.” Chris stalked over to where Zan was standing and grabbed him roughly, pulling him into a deep kiss. He would definitely find a way to make do with the time they had. If he learned nothing else in his time on earth, it was that life was too short to wait for what you wanted. He’d put all thoughts of his parents aside and worry about them another time. All he really needed was Zander to make him feel complete.



Matt was sitting alone in his room watching mindless TV. He had spent most of his time at home locked away from everyone and everything. He knew he was being childish, but ever since he said goodbye to David five days earlier, he really wasn’t up for much of anything. He was glad that his boyfriend was going to be flying in for a visit in another week, but it wasn’t going to be enough. He wasn’t sure how long David planned on staying in Arizona, but however long it was would never be enough when faced with the separation they had looming in their future. Matt still had three more years in El Paso and David just graduated and was getting ready to start working in the family business. They had offices in New York and Florida, but nothing even close to Texas. How was their relationship going to survive that kind of separation? A knock at the door pulled him from his thoughts.

“Come in,” he called out.

Mark walked in with a smile on his face. “Hey bro, what are you doing cooped up in here all by yourself? Moping?”

“I’m not moping,” Matt denied. “I’m just feeling a little sorry for myself.”

“Oh jeez, would you snap out of it? Loverboy will be here in a week. You’ll survive until then,” Mark teased.

“Would you keep your voice down? Besides, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not that I miss him now. I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to live without him for the next three years. Mark, he’s going to be living in New York, working at Jackson Tech. Even with a private plane, do you realize how far away that is?”

“Damn, you really have it bad, don’t you?”

“I love him, you tool. I’m completely and hopelessly, head over heels in love with him. I haven’t seen him in five days and I’m going crazy. I don’t know how I’m going to survive three years away from him.”

“Have you tried talking to him? Maybe you could transfer to another school.”

“Oh yeah, that would go over well with Mom and Dad. I’ll just tell them my boyfriend is going to be living in New York and I want to be with him. I’m sure they’ll completely understand. Look, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Is there something you wanted?”

“Yeah, to see my brother,” Mark replied sarcastically. “I’ve been home for two days and I haven’t seen you for more than twenty minutes the entire time. Let’s go do something. We can go for a hike and get some fresh air.”

“I’m not really up to it.”

“Come on, bro…please. I need to get out of here for a while. I promise not to keep you out too late.”

Matt wanted to refuse. It was bad enough he had to go to the Morgan/Kinney/Taylor house in a few hours for a barbeque. He’d much rather stay home alone and mope, as Mark put it, but he knew Justin would never allow that. He planned on hiding out in his room until it was time to go. But Mark was right. His brother had been home for two days and they hardly saw each other. After the scare he had when he had come out to Mark, he should be thankful that things returned to somewhat normal and spend time with him. “Alright, fine. We’ll go for a quick hike, but we can’t stay out too long. I have to be at Justin’s around six for a barbeque. You wanna come with me tonight? Everyone’s going to be there. It’s kind of like a welcome home for everyone who’s been away at school.”

“Yeah, sure. That sounds like fun.”

“Really? You never want to hang out with my friends,” Matt pointed out.

“I know, but things are different now. When we were younger, the age difference seemed to be much bigger than it is now. We’re all adults. There’s no reason we can’t hang with the same people.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Steve’s older brother Eric moved back home right before Christmas and he’s become part of the group. I guess age doesn’t matter once you become adults. Cool. Give me a few minutes to change into more appropriate hiking gear and then we’ll go.”

Matt watched his brother leave the room and then went in search of his hiking clothes. He still wanted to mope, but he was actually glad that Mark pushed him to go. He was happy to have his brother back in Arizona for a few months. Mark was originally set to graduate that spring, but the change in majors left him a few classes shy. Instead of trying to push himself too hard, he decided to take an extra semester and get his degree in December. Another reason his father had flipped out when Mark finally told him about the change.

They were in Mark’s truck twenty minutes later, heading towards their favorite hiking spot. A quick glance at the clock told Matt they had about two hours to hike if they wanted to get back and shower in time to head over to Justin’s, which was why he was surprised when Mark drove past the highway entrance and towards the center of town.

“Hey, where are we going?”

“We have to make a quick stop somewhere,” Mark told him.

“But we’ll never have time to hike if we waste any more time. I told Justin I would be there by six. I don’t want to be late.”

“Trust me, we’ll be there in time. I promise.”

Matt looked over at his brother in confusion, but Mark kept driving. They drove for about ten minutes before Mark pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn. Matt’s confusion doubled and he asked his brother why they were there. Mark didn’t answer. He just killed the engine and got out of the truck. Matt followed wordlessly, knowing that whatever Mark was hiding, he wasn’t going to share before he was ready.

They walked through the front door and through the lobby, taking the elevator up to the fourth floor. Matt followed Mark out the doors and down the hall. They stopped outside of room 412 and Mark knocked on the door before backing up a bit and leaving Matt utterly dumbfounded. But his confusion only lasted a few moments before the door opened and Matt came face to face with David.

“Hey, I know you,” David said with his mega-watt smile.

Matt was speechless…for about five seconds and then threw himself at his boyfriend. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re here.”

David hugged Matt tight. “Well, I heard that you were moping around missing me and I thought, hey, what’s the use of having money if I can’t use it to fly across the country to see the man I love? So here I am.”

Matt pulled back and looked at Mark. “You told him I was moping?”

“No, he told me you were moping. I passed the word on to Davey, who was moping just as much,” Daniel said, appearing behind David. “Dare I point out to the two of you that it’s only been five days since you saw each other?”

David and Matt both responded with a resounding no and then simultaneously began devouring each other in a heated kiss. Daniel and Mark gave them a moment before jumping in. “Alright guys, that’s enough for now. You’re making us single guys jealous,” Daniel teased.

“And nauseous,” Mark added. “Besides, I’d rather not stand out in the hallway all afternoon.”

David finally pulled away looking sheepish. “Sorry about that. In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m David. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

Mark laughed. “You, too.”

“Oh Mark, I’m sorry,” Matt said, his face turning bright red. “Does this…am I making you uncomfortable?” Matt was suddenly worried. He and Mark had talked through the issues with Matt being gay and Mark assured him that his only concern was for the family and what their future held, but knowing Matt was gay and seeing Matt be gay were two different things.

“Bro, it’s fine,” Mark assured him as they all walked into the hotel room and Mark closed the door behind him. “Go and kiss your boyfriend. Just don’t make me stand in the hallway and watch. I’ll hang with Daniel while you two…do whatever it is you two do.”

“Wait a minute,” Matt said as the last few minutes sank in. “You told Daniel I was moping? When did you tell him that? How did you tell him that? I know that Daniel showed up at NYU to talk to you, but that was months ago. You two kept in touch?”

“You never told him?” Daniel asked Mark.

“No, I guess not,” Mark laughed. “Matt, Daniel and I are friends. I spend almost as much time at his place as I do in my dorm. His digs are much nicer.”

Matt looked back and forth between the two of them and then looked at David. “Did you know about this?”

“Kind of. I mean, Danny mentioned that he was hanging out with Mark occasionally. I never questioned him on it, though, until he arrived in Florida yesterday and offered to come to Arizona with me. It’s not a problem, is it?”

“No, of course not,” Matt replied. “I just don’t know why I didn’t know that my brother and my boyfriend’s brother had become good friends.”

“We live in the city together. The day I showed up at NYU and talked to Mark, I told him that he could call me if he needed to talk. He called, we went out for drinks, and the next thing I know, we’re hanging out regularly. I guess it was just an oversight not really telling you guys. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize. It just threw me for a minute. I’m fine with it. I think it’s kind of cool, actually. And your friendship brought David here so I’m not about to complain.”

“Me neither,” David added. “Now, do you wanna sit down for a while? I know we have to be at Justin’s at six.”


“Yeah, I sent Justin a text earlier and let him know I had flown in. I was going to just let him know I was stealing you away, but you know Justin. Danny and I are expected to accompany you to the barbeque.”

“That sounds about right,” Matt laughed. “So, how long are you guys here for?”

“Probably only a day or two. I have to be back in Florida by Tuesday for a meeting with the board at Jackson Tech.”

“Is this going to change your travel plans for next weekend?”

“No, not really…but I do need to talk to you about that. Not now, though. We’ll talk later tonight after the barbeque. I’m assuming that you’re going to stay here tonight, right?”

“Are you kidding? There is nowhere else I’d rather be.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” David said as he kissed Matt deeply.

The four guys sat around the hotel room for the next couple of hours having a blast and telling stories that had their subjects either laughing along with everyone or blushing and throwing out explanations. It was a wonderful afternoon and Matt couldn’t be happier. He was still worried about what the next three years held, but being reminded that David could jump on a plane and be there whenever he wanted made it easier for Matt to take. At least it did while he was sitting alongside of David holding his hand. He didn’t know how he was going to feel once David was back in Florida, but he didn’t care at that moment. He’d worry about that after he dropped David and Daniel off at the airport.

End of part 25

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