Now That You're Here - The College Years
Zan jumped up from his seat the moment the surgeon walked into the room. He forced his heart to keep beating as he approached the man in scrubs. It had been hours since he had kissed his partner goodbye and he was hanging on to his patience by a thread.
“Dr. Conners, how is he?”
“He’s doing okay. The surgery went well. As I expected, some of the lymph nodes were affected, so I removed them as well. He’s going to have a longer recovery time, but he’ll be alright. Due to the nature of the surgery, he’s going to have to spend a few nights here so we can monitor him. He’s in post-op right now, but I’ll have them let you know as soon as he’s moved and you can see him once they get him settled upstairs. I spoke with him briefly, but he was still pretty out of it from the anesthesia, so I wouldn’t count on him remembering anything I said. I’ll stop in and see you both once he’s settled, and talk about what happens next.”
“Okay…um…thank you so much,” Zan replied nervously. He had known as soon as his wait time passed the two hour mark that the lymph nodes were affected. The doctor had warned him of that. Yet the warning hadn’t made it any easier for him to accept while he sat in the room for almost five hours, trying to reassure Brian and Justin that everything was fine when he wasn’t so sure of it himself. Luckily, they had just left to go find something to eat, giving Zan a few moments alone.
“Relax, Mr. Morgan. I know that it’s scary, but this type of cancer is very common and I’m a very good surgeon. Mr. Kinney is going to be just fine.”
Zan felt a tear roll down his face and wiped it away quickly. He chuckled humorlessly. “Yeah, I know. He promised me that he would be fine and I plan on holding him to it.”
“You do that,” Dr. Conners laughed. “Now I better get going. I have rounds to make. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
The moment the doctor was gone more tears fell, leaving Zan a blubbering mess. He was thankful that he was the only one in the waiting room as he struggled to reign in his emotions. He grabbed a handful of tissues and started taking deep breaths. Unfortunately the boys took that moment to return.
“I’m not eating that food,” Brian bitched. “I think we’re going to…Zan, what’s wrong? Did something happen? Is it Chris…?”
Zan shook his head quickly. “No, no…everything’s fine. I’m sorry,” Zan assured him. “He’s out of surgery and he’s fine. I guess my emotions got the better of me.”
“Thank God,” Brian sighed as he took Zander in his arms. “You had me scared for a minute there.”
“Zan, why don’t you sit down and take a few deep breaths and then tell us what the doctor said,” Justin suggested. He was trying to get his own emotions under control. Seeing Zan crying had scared him, too. His brain had immediately gone to a bad place.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. I think I need to sit for a minute.” Once Zan and the boys were settled, he told them what he knew. “Chris is in post-op. The doctor had to remove some lymph nodes, which is what took so long, but he’s fine. He’s going to have to spend a few days in the hospital while he recovers, but pretty soon he’ll be as good as new.”
“They removed lymph nodes? You mean they sliced into his stomach?” Brian exclaimed in horror.
Zan chuckled. “Well, they didn’t exactly slice into his stomach. They did have to go in through his abdomen. Or, at least I assume they did. The doctor explained it to us yesterday in his office and told us that if the results from his most recent blood work were still showing signs of elevated tumor markers, he’d probably have to do that. The elevated markers are usually a sign that the cancer has spread. I didn’t actually ask him for a step by step of what was done. All I care about is that Chris is okay.”
“Of course, that’s all we care about too,” Justin said. “Don’t mind him. He’s just an ass.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Brian jumped in. “It’s just…I mean…that has to hurt. And it’s going to leave a huge scar.”
“Bri, I don’t think a scar is going to matter to your brother. He’s not a shallow person. Hell, he even opted not to have a prosthetic put in.”
“You mean he’s only going to have one ball!”
“Brian, keep your voice down,” Justin insisted. “The whole hospital doesn’t need to hear you.”
“Brian, why is it so shocking that your brother didn’t want a prosthetic? There are risks involved with having a foreign object implanted in your body. Chris didn’t feel that the risk was worth it. Testicular implants are merely cosmetic. They don’t serve an actual purpose, so why take the risk that something could go wrong? He doesn’t have to impress anyone. He already impressed me years ago. We talked about it and I have no problem with his decision,” Zan explained.
Brian was silent for a moment as he wrapped his mind around everything his brother was going through. He couldn’t imagine losing a part of himself, let alone making the decision to not be shallow enough to try and replace what was lost. “I guess…well, it’s none of my business anyway. It just kind of shocked me. All that matters is that he’s going to be okay.”
“Yeah, that’s all that matters,” Zan agreed. “Now, why don’t you two go and get something to eat? It’s going to be a while before he’s moved into a room and I know you must be hungry.”
“Any chance we can talk you into coming with us?” Justin asked.
“No, I’m going to wait right here until they come and get me. But you guys go. If he gets moved before you get back, I’ll text you and let you know what room he’s in.”
Brian considered arguing with Zan, insisting that they wait with him, but he knew it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Zan was a very easy going guy, but when he put his foot down, there was no winning with him. “Alright, we’ll go, but I’m going to bring something back for you. You barely touched your dinner last night and I know you haven’t eaten anything since. We can’t have you passing out from hunger. You’ll end up in a bed next to Chris.”
Zan sighed. “That’s fine. Just bring me back a sandwich, something light. My stomach has been in knots since we left the doctor’s office yesterday. I can’t even think about putting something greasy in there.”
“Got it. We’ll be back in a little while.”
Zan watched the boys go and then leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He still didn’t have his emotions under control and was struggling to keep the tears at bay. Up to that point in his life, living apart from Chris for two months was one of the hardest things he had ever done. The thought of losing him to something like cancer…he couldn’t even fathom it. But he wasn’t going to lose him. The doctor assured him that Chris was going to be fine. He just had to focus on that until he started believing it himself.
Dane hung up the phone
and breathed a sigh of relief. Brian had called to say that Chris’s surgery had
gone well and that he was in recovery. Thank God for that. Dane couldn’t even
begin to imagine what they would do if something happened to Chris. He was the
head of their make-shift family. Losing him…well, none of them would really
recover from such a loss.
“Hey, is everything okay?” Eric asked as he entered the room. The two of them had been taking advantage of Steve’s early morning work schedule and meeting at the condo each day before the restaurant opened to spend time together. “Who was that on the phone?”
“It was Brian. Chris is out of surgery and everything went well.”
“See that,” Eric said as he crossed the room and took Dane in his arms He breathed a silent sigh of relief. “I told you there was nothing to worry about.”
“Yeah, I know. According to Brian, the cancer had spread so he’s going to be hurting for a while. Maybe we can cook something for them. I’m sure no one is going to feel like cooking while Chris is in the hospital.”
“We could do that,” Eric replied. “Now, why don’t you come sit down with me? I’m going to have to leave for the restaurant soon and I haven’t kissed you nearly enough yet today,” Eric suggested as he pulled Dane towards the couch and gave him a gentle shove, following him down.
“Oh, alright. If you insist,” Dane teased before gently attacking Eric’s mouth. The two of them hadn’t slept together since the night they had gotten the call about Cooper. Eric had said that he wanted to keep things simple until he was out of the closet and they could be a real couple, but Dane was beginning to have his doubts. What difference did it make who knew about them? They were spending most of their free time together and their make-out sessions were hot enough to melt butter. He couldn’t help but wonder what was really keeping them from having sex.
Forty-five minutes later, Eric forced himself to pull away from Dane. “We’ve gotta stop or I’m never going to make it to work. Are you working tonight?”
“Yeah I’ll be in at five, then I’m off tomorrow.”
“Cool. I asked Billy to cover for me tomorrow. I’m meeting your mom’s friend Donna at noon. Apparently she’s got a decent list of houses in my price range. I want you to come with me, if you’re free, of course.”
“I’m free, as long as you don’t mind a rambunctious one year old with us. I told Sandy to take the weekend off. She was so good and didn’t complain once when I took off to Flagstaff last week. My mom’s watching Julia while I work tonight. Sandy’s going to Bisbee to see her friends this afternoon and won’t be back until Sunday afternoon.”
“Of course I don’t mind. I love spending time with Julia. She’s my second favorite little person,” Eric replied. “And I’m glad Sandy’s getting a break. It was cool of her to be so understanding after I dragged you away from your responsibilities.”
“You didn’t drag me away. I was right where I wanted to be, but yes, she was amazing. That’s why I insisted that she go on a girl’s weekend. She deserves a break. As it turns out though, my parents are going to be gone tomorrow night, too. One of my dad’s college roommates is getting married tomorrow. It’s his second marriage, so it’s not a huge affair, but he asked my parents to be there. The wedding is in Las Vegas so they’re leaving at the crack of dawn and driving up to Phoenix to catch a flight. They won’t be home until late Sunday night. I didn’t know you took tomorrow night off, so I was just hoping that you’d come over after work and spend the night. Now that you’re off, we could make a day of it. We’ll meet Donna and see what she has to offer, then maybe a trip to the park with Julia, then to my house to have a home cooked meal and a relaxing evening together. What do you say?”
Eric pretended to think about it for a moment. “I think it sounds perfect. We can make a quick stop at that specialty market and pick up a few things and I can teach you how to make my special Lamb Stew.”
“Oh hush, you’ll like it. You know, if you’re going to be a chef, you need to start eating more than cheeseburgers and chicken fingers.”
“I eat more than just that,” Dane insisted.
“Barely,” Eric threw back. “Now come on. I gotta get going before I’m late. I have to stop at the ATM and get gas before I go in.” He pulled Dane up off the couch and right into his arms, kissing him deeply. He really didn’t want to say goodbye. What he wanted to do was drag the younger man down the hall and bury himself inside Dane’s tight little ass, but that wasn’t possible. Not only did he not have time, but he also had been keeping their encounters to heavy make-out sessions and some mild petting. He knew it was a little like putting the cart before the horse considering what had happened between them on the morning Coop had passed away, but things were different now. He was hoping to build a real relationship with Dane and he felt that jumping into bed with him constantly when he wasn’t even out of the closet yet diminished what they had. Dane hadn’t pushed the issue, but he got the feeling that he didn’t agree. It wasn’t going to matter for much longer, though. Eric knew that it was time to sit his brother down and tell him how he felt. He was just waiting for the right moment to do it, when they both had time to have a real heart to heart talk. Until then, Eric had to be satisfied with sucking face and cold showers. He finally pulled back. “God, I love kissing you.”
“I was just thinking the same thing about you,” Dane said breathlessly. “Let’s go before I drag you down the hall and to hell with anything else.”
“Is that supposed to be encouraging me to leave…or to stay and be dragged down the hall, cause I’ve gotta tell you, it’s a toss-up,” Eric laughed.
Dane laughed, too. “No it’s not. You’re too responsible to blow off the restaurant.”
Eric sighed. “Yeah, I know.”
Dane kissed Eric one more time and then took his hand. “Come on, let’s go.”
Eric grabbed his wallet and his keys and walked out with Dane. He really hated saying goodbye. He knew it was crazy. They were going to see each other in a few hours when Dane came in to work. Why was it so hard to say goodbye? He had given it some thought on a few occasions and wondered if it had anything to do with Cooper. In their final few months, when Coop was really out of control, Eric feared what would happen to his partner while they were apart. Visions of overdoses and car accidents kept him on edge constantly. The fact that an overdose had eventually killed the man he loved just justified all his worries. Rationally he knew that he didn’t have to worry about Dane. The younger man never did drugs and vowed to keep his alcohol intake to a minimum before his daughter was born, but irrational fears played with his mind when Dane wasn’t by his side.
“Eric, where did you go? You look so sad,” Dane said, pulling Eric from his thoughts.
“Sorry…I was just thinking about something…something I shouldn’t be thinking about. I’m good. So, I’ll see you in a little bit?”
“Hey,” Dane said as he held onto Eric’s hand a little bit tighter. “Is everything alright? This isn’t the first time you zoned out on me in the last week. We haven’t really talked much since we got back from Flagstaff. Not about what happened with Cooper. I’m sure you’re still in shock over what happened. If you need to talk, I’m a great listener. It comes from all the hours I spent in a therapist’s chair.”
“I’m alright, I promise. I just have a lot on my mind with trying to find a house, getting Gracie here, and telling my brother I’m bi-sexual and falling for one of his best friends.”
“Falling for…hey that’s a dirty trick!” Dane admonished.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eric replied innocently.
“Yes you do. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Throwing in that part about falling for his best friend knowing that I’d latch on to that and stop pushing you to talk to me.”
“Did it work?” Eric asked hopefully with a sickly sweet smile.
Dane knew not to push. Especially since they were in the parking lot of the condo and Eric had to get going. “Of course it did. Consider the subject dropped. Now kiss me goodbye. I don’t have all day to stand around talking to you.”
Eric laughed and he gave Dane a quick kiss. “Brat.”
“Yep.” Dane got in his car and waited until Eric was out of sight before starting his engine. He hated seeing that faraway look in Eric’s eyes. He first noticed it back when they first started spending time together, but it was a rare occurrence and he didn’t know the man very well so he minded his own business. Now though, knowing what he did, he knew the demons that were beneath the surface. He knew that Eric blamed himself for Cooper’s death despite all his and Betty’s efforts to assure him that there was nothing he could have done. He wished there was something he could do to ease Eric’s mind, but he knew that the only thing he could do was be patient and be ready for the day Eric needed someone to talk to…and hope he was the person he wanted to talk to.
Matt was just finishing
up the dishes when his grandmother walked in.
“Sweetheart, you didn’t have to do the dishes. I would’ve gotten to them.”
“It’s fine, Nana. I don’t mind helping out. Besides, you did the cooking. It’s only fair that I do the cleaning,” Matt laughed.
“Let me guess, that’s one of your mother’s lines, isn’t it?”
“Yep, and it works every time.”
“Oh Matty, you always make me laugh.” The older woman sat down at the small dinette and watched as her favorite grandson finished cleaning up. She’d never admit that he was her favorite, of course, but he was. As much as she loved all her grandchildren, and she did, with every fiber of her being, there was always something about Matt that pulled at her heartstrings. It was like he had some internal need for her protection. She used to think she was crazy for her thoughts, but now she knew better. “Sweetheart, why don’t you let the rest of those drip dry for a while and come sit down with me? I haven’t seen very much of you since you came back home.”
Matt took her advice and let the dishes sit as he joined her at the table. “I’m sorry, Nana. I’ve just been kind of busy settling in.”
“I understand. I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad. I know that a young man like you has more important things to do then spend all his time with an old lady like me,” she teased.
“Don’t say things like that, Nana. You’re not that old and I love spending time with you. How many times have I told you how happy I am that you moved to Sierra Vista? You’re still so far away when I’m in El Paso, but I love knowing that when I come home, you’re right here.”
“You’re such a sweet boy, my little Matty.”
“Nana, I don’t think I can be called little anymore.”
“No, probably not, but you’ll always be my sweet little boy. Now, tell me what your plans are for the summer?”
“I’m not really sure just yet. I was thinking about finding a part time job somewhere. I don’t want to just sit on my butt all summer, you know? And my friend David is going to be staying somewhere close by so I guess I’ll be spending my time with him and the gang, and Mark too, of course. And let’s not forget stopping in on my favorite Grandmother as often as she’ll let me,” Matt winked at her.
“You’re welcome here anytime, Matty. You know that,” she assured him. “Sweetheart, did I ever tell you about the first boy I ever fell in love with?”
Matt gasped in horror. “You mean it wasn’t Papa?”
“Goodness no,” she laughed at the shocked look on Matt’s face. “Don’t get me wrong. I loved your Papa very much and was happy with him from the moment I met him until he passed away, but he wasn’t the first person I fell for. My first love was Harold Jensen. He was in my eleventh grade math class. He was tall, with dark hair and the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen. I’m telling you, my heart skipped a beat every time he walked into the room. When we were together, every girl in my class was green with envy.”
“So what happened? Obviously things didn’t work out because you married Papa,” Matt prodded.
“Well, we dated for a few months and when it seemed like things should’ve been getting more serious, I got the feeling he wasn’t that interested. I asked him about it a few times, even suggested that we break up, but he insisted that he didn’t want that. I finally cornered him one night after a school dance and asked him point blank what the problem was. I was shocked when he burst into tears. It took him quite a while to calm down but when he did, he finally told me the truth.”
When she didn’t continue, Matt pushed for the rest of the story. “What was the problem?”
“The problem was that Harold was more into the fellows then he was to me.”
Matt felt like the wind was knocked out of him. “Um…what did you…what did you do?”
“What could I do? I hugged him tight and promised that I would never tell anyone. It was his secret to share when he was ready. I pretended to be his girlfriend for another six months, until I met your Papa. Then we ‘broke up’ and developed a nice friendship. We stayed close for quite a few years. Then he moved away and we drifted apart. I haven’t spoken to him in almost fifty years, but I thought about him a lot. I always wondered if he ever found the courage to be himself. No one should ever have to hide who they are.”
“Um…no…they shouldn’t,” Matt stammered. “I better get the dishes dried and put away.”
“Nana…please…” Matt got up and went to the sink, using the counter to hold himself up as he felt his whole body shake. A gentle touch on his shoulder caused him to jump.
“Sweetheart, you can talk to me. I promise, I don’t judge.”
Matt turned around and threw himself into his grandmother’s arm as he started crying. “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad. They’ll never understand. He’ll never understand.”
“Come on, dear. Let’s go settle ourselves in the living room while you pull yourself together and then we can talk.”
Matt allowed himself to be led to the couch and dropped down, thankful when a box of tissues appeared out of nowhere. He cried for several more minutes before finding the strength to pull back his emotions. “I’m sorry,” he finally whispered.
“There’s nothing to apologize for. I’m sorry I upset you. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted you to know that I’m here for you.”
Matt wiped his eyes and then focused on the old woman. “How did you know?”
“I’m not sure. I always felt there was something there, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. You always seemed so alone, even when you were surrounded by a room full of people. It wasn’t until I saw you with David when the two of you came up to see me at the hospital that I started putting two and two together. Am I right in thinking that you and David are more than just friends?”
“Yeah…I really love him, Nana. Wow, this feels weird…talking to you about this.”
“There’s no reason to feel weird. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about him? I barely know him. If he stole my boy’s heart, I think I need to know more.”
So Matt spent the next hour telling his grandmother all about ‘the boy who stole his heart’. After the first few minutes, the awkwardness disappeared and he began to enjoy telling her everything that was going on in his life. He loved his Nana more than anyone else on the planet. His relationship with her was even stronger than what he had with his own mother. Having her accept him was the best thing that could have happened to him, aside from meeting David, of course. By the time he was done telling his story, he felt lighter than he had since before he realized he was attracted to boys.
“You know, I used to tell your Aunt Lisa that she needed to land a rich man. I guess you did it for her,” she chuckled. “So when is this man of yours coming back to Arizona?”
“Tomorrow. He’s flying in to El Paso later tonight so that he can pick his car and then driving up in the morning,” Matt knew he had a goofy smile on his face, but he couldn’t help it. He was anxious to see his boyfriend. It had only been five days since they said goodbye, but he really missed being in his arms.
“Wow, you really do have it bad, don’t you?” she smiled.
“Yeah, I do. I don’t know how to explain it, Nana. He’s just so amazing, you know? And sweet and kind and gorgeous. I never thought I’d have this. Before meeting David, I never planned on being gay.”
The older woman looked at him in confusion. “What do you mean you never planned on being gay?”
“From the moment I realized that I liked boys instead of girls, I knew Dad wouldn’t understand so I just decided that no one would ever have to know. As soon as I was old enough, I started dating girls and just resigned myself to eventually getting married and having kids, just like I was expected to.”
“I know now how horrible that would’ve been, but come on Nana. He’s your son. You know how he’s going to react when he finds out. I’m going to be kicked out of the family. There’s no way he’s going to accept having a gay son. Uncle Andrew, Uncle Tommy, Uncle Mike, I don’t know how you raised such Neanderthals. I guess it comes from being cops, but none of them are going to pat me on the back for this, and God knows Granddad and Uncle Peter are going to have a stroke. Homophobia runs on both sides of my family. I really wish Papa was still alive. It sounds to me like he would’ve accepted me.”
“He would have, sweetheart. As for the others, I don’t know. I think you might be surprised, but you’re right,” the old woman sighed. “Your father is not going to take the news well. I don’t think he’ll kick you out, though.”
“That’s because he’s your baby and you don’t want to think that he’s capable of doing something like that, but trust me, it’s going to happen. Mark and I have talked about it a lot. We don’t see any other possibility. That’s why I haven’t decided when I’m going to tell them. I don’t want to lose my college fund. David insisted that he’d pay my tuition if it happened, and I know he can afford it, I just don’t want him to have to. I don’t ever want to take his money.”
“Well then, you’re in luck. Your college fund is actually in my name.”
“It is?” Matt asked incredulously.
“Yes it is,” she chuckled. “When all my grandchildren were born, your Papa and I started a small college fund for each one of you. We contributed every year, and when Papa died, he had a separate life insurance policy that was split up between all of you. Of course your parents added some money through the years, but it’s all still in my name. There’s no way he can touch it. In fact, as responsible as you are, maybe it’s time we get your name put on yours so that if something happens to me, it goes right to you, not your parents.”
“Oh Nana,” Matt exclaimed as he jumped out of his seat and threw his arms around the small woman. “You have no idea how much better I feel knowing that he has no control over my tuition. Getting kicked out is still going to hurt, but at least I don’t have to worry about school. I love David, but I don’t want to be kept by him, you know?”
“I don’t blame you. Now when am I going to get a chance to really know this boy? I’ll give him time to get settled…how about dinner next weekend? Say Saturday night? I’ll fix my special Pot Roast?”
“Nana, you don’t have to cook for us. Why don’t we go out to eat?”
“Nonsense. I love to cook but at my age, I don’t get a lot of chances to do it these days. It’ll be fun.”
“Okay, but only if you’re going to let me help. Besides, I think it’s time I learned to cook, don’t you? I mean, I love my mother, but she’s definitely not a chef.”
“No, I don’t suppose she is. Okay, I’ll let you help under the pretense of wanting to learn, although I’m not senile just yet. I know you’re just worried about me overdoing it. I’ll take the help just so I can spend some extra time with my boy.”
“Nana, you never have to have an angle with me. I love being here with you. In fact, if I get kicked out of the house, where do you think I’m going?” Matt teased.
“Well I hope to God up above that it never comes to that, but you know that you’ll always have a place in my home.”
“That’s what gets me through,” Matt assured her with a smile. Knowing that his Nana was on his side and that his tuition was covered gave him such a sense of relief. He still didn’t want to lose his family, but at least he knew that if he did, he would be alright.
“Please, don’t give it a second thought. I will take care of everything until you’re ready to come back. You just take care of Chris, alright? Leave the center to Gray and me.”
It took another five minutes of reassurance before Aiden was able to say goodbye to Zander. The man had been a wreck ever since finding out that his partner had cancer, and after finding out that the cancer had spread just increased his anxiety. Being on the outside, Aiden was able to breathe a sigh of relief that Chris made it through the surgery without any complications and was on the road to recovery. There was no doubt that he was going to have to go through further treatment before he could put the illness behind him, but with the amount of support he had, the older man was going to be just fine.
“Hey Aid, have you heard anything?” Grayson asked from the doorway, pulling Aiden from his thoughts.
“Yeah, I just got off the phone with Zan. Chris is out of surgery. The cancer spread, but they’re confident that they got it all. Zan didn’t say, but I doubt if he’ll be back for a couple of weeks. We need to check his calendar and make sure we get everything covered.”
“I took a look at his schedule earlier. We shouldn’t have a problem covering for him. I might have to juggle a few things, but I don’t mind. I’m just glad that everything went well. Next time you talk to him, tell him to take his time coming back. Chris needs him more than we do.”
“I already did, but I’ll reiterate it again,” Aiden promised. “I arranged to have a gift basket sent over from us, too. I felt like we needed to do something.”
“Oh good, I’ll throw you some money as soon as I get to an ATM,” Gray replied. “So, what are your plans for tonight? You up to dinner and a movie?”
“Sorry, I can’t. I already have plans.”
“Plans? What kind of plans? I haven’t seen you all week as it is?”
“Yeah, about that,” Aiden said sheepishly. “I’m kind of seeing someone.”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you. I just didn’t want you to go all Grayson on me and ruin my mood.”
“Go all Grayson? What the hell does that mean? And who is this guy?”
Aiden took a deep breath before replying. “It’s Derek, the bartender from Tony’s Tavern. We hooked up again last week and realized that there might be more between us than just a hop in the sack.”
“You’re dating the bartender? The one you drunkenly hooked up with when Jason moved to Pittsburgh? I thought you didn’t like him. You said that it was just a one night stand.”
“It was. We hadn’t hooked up again until last week. I’ve barely seen him since that night. You know I haven’t really been drinking since. I just…last week I was kind of bummed about Jason and I wanted to go out for a few drinks, but you didn’t want to, remember?”
“Yeah, of course I remember. I didn’t want to go out because I didn’t want you drinking while you were upset after what happened last time. Apparently there were reasons behind my concern if you ended up in bed with the bartender again. God damn it, Aiden.”
“Hey, my landing in bed with the bartend…with Derek is turning out to be a good thing,” Aiden insisted. “I like him, Gray. I really do. We’ve been together almost every night this week and he seems to be a good guy. Granted, our first time together was less than ideal, but that was months ago. It’s different this time.”
“How is it different this time? From where I’m standing, it’s exactly the same thing. Jason breaks your heart and you get drunk and land in bed with the first guy who wiggles his ass at you,” Grayson snapped.
“Oh fuck you, Gray. You make it sound like I’m a drunken whore. Before Derek, I hadn’t been with anyone in years. You, on the other hand…shall we count the number of girls you’ve banged over the last five years? Don’t you dare get all high and mighty with me. You’re just upset because I might actually be getting my life together and if that happens, you won’t have anyone to take care of anymore. You might actually have to get a life of your own.”
Grayson stood there in shock for a moment, fighting to keep from saying something that they both would regret. Once he had his temper in check, he replied. “You know what? I’ve got some errands to run. I’m going to head out. I’ll see you Monday.”
Aiden felt the guilt immediately. “Gray…” he began, but it was no use. He friend disappeared, leaving Aiden feeling horrible about the things that he said.
Chris felt the pain
before he even opened his eyes. It caused a quick jolt of reality, pulling him
from his dreams. The sound that escaped almost sounded inhuman.
“Hey, are you okay?”
He heard the voice and smiled despite the pain. Having Zander by his side always made everything better. He slowly opened his eyes and found Zan watching him closely. “Yeah, I’m okay. It just kind of hurts.”
“I know. I’m so sorry, babe. Let me see if I can find your nurse so you can get another dose of pain medication.”
“No, don’t rush,” Chris said, stopping Zan in his tracks. “That stuff knocks me out. I want to talk to you for a while. What time is it? Hell, what day is it?”
Zan couldn’t help but chuckle. “It’s Saturday morning, a little after eight. You’ve been pretty much out of it since the surgery.”
“That’s because of the damn pain meds. Why are you here so early?” Chris looked at him suspiciously. “Have you been here all night?”
“Maybe,” Zan replied sheepishly. “I didn’t want to leave you when you were so out of it.”
“Babe, I would’ve been fine. I have plenty of people here to take care of me. You need your rest.”
“I’m fine. The chair is more comfortable that it looks. I actually got a few hours of sleep. I was more worried about you. How bad is the pain? Are you trying to be brave? Because if that’s the case, I’m calling the nurse.”
“I’m not going to lie to you and say it doesn’t hurt, but I’m okay for now. Why don’t you pull up a chair and talk to me? I kind of remember the doctor coming in and talking about what happens next, but otherwise most of yesterday is a blur. Did I miss anything? How are Brian and Justin? I know they were both pretty worried about me. And Sophia? How’s my little pumpkin?”
“Brian and Justin are okay. They were both here most of the day yesterday. I convinced them to go home around dinner time so that they could be with Sophia. She had a good day with Jason, but I wanted them there in case she needed reassurance that you were going to be okay. The boys are going to bring her by this morning so that she can see you for herself.”
“Good, I miss my little girl,” Chris said and then let out a soft moan. “God, did they say how long it’s going to feel like someone sliced through me?”
“Babe, please let me call the nurse,” Zan pleaded.
“No, it’s okay. Really. It’s nothing I can’t handle and I’m sure they’ll be back in a little while anyway. I want a few lucid moments with you while I can get them…unless you’re trying to get rid of me,” Chris teased.
“Of course not,” Zan assured him as he leaned over and kissed his partner. “Truthfully, I’d much rather see you awake. You know, you’ve never really been sick before. Aside from a cold, you’ve been as healthy as can be. Seeing you yesterday in so much pain and then unconscious most of the night, it was horrible. I kept thinking that…”
Chris knew immediately where Zan was going and wouldn’t let him. “Babe, don’t even go there. I’m going to be fine. I can’t promise that I’m going to be 100% while I’m going through radiation, but I’m going to be just fine. I don’t want you to drive yourself crazy worrying about me. Got it?”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Hey, what did I just say?”
“Sorry, I’m okay,” Zan said before changing the subject. “Are you hungry? I know they were getting ready to bring out the breakfast trays. Want me to go down to the nurse’s station and see if I can charm them into getting yours here faster? You haven’t eaten since dinner on Thursday night and you barely touched your food then.”
“No, don’t worry about it. I could eat I guess, but I’m not wasting away. I can wait until they get here,” Chris told him. “How about you? When was the last time you ate something?”
“I ate last night. Brian and Justin brought me food after you were out of surgery but I wasn’t really hungry then. I didn’t eat until almost midnight. I’m not even hungry now. You don’t need to worry about me. I’m going to make sure I take care of myself so I’m well enough to take care of you.”
Before Zan could say anymore, his phone rang. As expected, Brian’s name flashed on the screen. He smiled as he answered. “He’s awake and doing fine.”
“Good…Sophia was really worried about him,” Brian lied.
“Sophia…I see,” Zan chuckled. He knew it was a lie. Sophia was still too young to understand all the risks involved in surgery. All she really knew was that Chris was under the weather and the doctor was going to make him better. To her, that was enough. “So when are you guys coming by? You know, to ease Sophia’s mind.”
“Ha ha. Sophia is just finishing breakfast. We’ll probably be there in an hour or so.”
“Okay, we’ll see you then.” Zan disconnected the call and turned his attention back on Chris. “I really love that kid. He’s trying to play it off that Sophia is the one who’s worried. They’re going to be here in about an hour. Why don’t you shut your eyes for a while and get some rest.”
“You are trying to get rid of me!” Chris exclaimed in mock horror.
“Oh hush,” Zan laughed. “You just look so tired. I thought a little nap might help before everyone gets here.”
As if on cue, Chris yawned. “Yeah, I am kind of sleepy. I just don’t want to close my eyes. I love looking at you.”
“You can look at me later, I promise.” Zan leaned over and kissed Chris again. “Rest now.”
“Love you,” Chris whispered as he drifted off to sleep.
Zan smiled to himself as Chris succumbed to sleep. Once he was sure that it was safe, he sat back down in the chair and sighed. He hated seeing the love of his life in so much pain. Truthfully, he hated seeing Chris with a head cold. The thought of what they were dealing with now was almost too much to take. Telling himself that everything was going to be alright wasn’t working as well as he had hoped. Logically he knew the statistics of a complete recovery were in their favor, but statistics didn’t mean anything when worrying about someone who meant as much as Chris did. A text message pulled him from his thoughts. He smiled when he read the message, and then got up and quietly left the room. He headed to the waiting room before placing the call.
“Hey, what are you doing up so early on a Saturday?”
“Oh, you know me. I’m not much of a sleeper most of the time,” Matt replied with a chuckle. “Besides, David is coming in today and I guess I’m kind of anxious to see him.”
“Ah, that makes more sense. To answer your question, Chris is doing well. He’s been sleeping pretty much since the surgery, but I just got about twenty minutes with him and he’s okay. I wish the pain wasn’t so bad, but there’s nothing they can do other than pump him with drugs and keep him comfortable. It’s going to take time.”
“It sucks that he’s in pain. So, what’s next? Radiation? Justin said that the cancer spread?”
“Yeah, it spread to a few of his lymph nodes. They’re going to do a round of radiation as a precaution, but the doctor is confident that all the cancer is gone. It’s going to be tough for the next few months, but after that, things should be good.”
“Good, I’m so happy. You know, you and Chris have been so good to all of us through the years. We all agree that you guys have been lifesavers for each of us at some point in our lives. If there’s anything you or Chris need while dealing with the aftermath, please let us know,” Matt reiterated once again, although every one of them had already assured the couple that they were going to be there if needed.
“I will. Thank you so much. It’s really nice knowing that we have so many people in our corner. I know that Brian and Justin agreed to make sure one of them was always around to keep an eye on Chris when I go back to work, and Aiden is going to help cover me so I can drive Chris to his treatments once we set them up. I think we have everything worked out for now. If this had to happen, at least it happened during summer break,” Zan chuckled. “This would’ve been a lot harder all the way around if Brian and Justin were at ASU.”
“Trust me, they would’ve bowed out of the semester and been there, but you’re right. It did work out better this way,” Matt agreed. “Okay, I’ll let you get back to Chris. Do you mind if David and I stop by later tonight? I don’t want to intrude, but I’d like to say hello and see him for myself.”
“Of course I don’t mind and you wouldn’t be intruding. You’re family. And maybe he’ll be feeling a little better by tonight.”
“Great, I’ll see you later.”
Chris was still sleeping when Zan returned so he took his place in the chair beside the bed and watched his partner breathe in and out. It was all he could do at that moment and it broke his heart to know that.
David chuckled to himself
as he came to a stop at a traffic light. He wasn’t sure how he managed to get
lost. He had been to Sierra Vista several times since meeting Matt. He should’ve
been able to find his way to the center of town. Yet there he was, looking
around what appeared to be a bad area. Abandoned buildings and rusted fences
surrounded him. A homeless guy was sleeping in a doorway not too far from where
he sat. Graffiti covered every wall he could see. David shivered as he thought
back to the wintertime when Zac got caught up in a drug deal that left one
person dead and himself injured. Somehow he had a feeling that he was in close
proximity of where that drug deal took place.
The light finally turned green and David breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped on the gas and began driving again. He made the first left he could find as he pulled out his phone, resigned to the fact that he was going to need to use his GPS. At the next red light, he began putting in his destination, but before he could finish, something caught his eye. Three young thugs were kicking what appeared to be a pile of garbage off to the right of his car. He was about to resume his task when he noticed the pile of garbage move on its own. Without thinking about what he was doing, he jumped out of the car and started yelling.
“Hey…what the fuck are you doing? Get lost!”
The thugs hesitated for a moment, and then seemed to think better of facing off with David, scattering as they ran away. Running on adrenaline, David approached the figure.
“Hey…are you okay?”
The figure rolled over on his back, giving David a better view. He was young, probably somewhere around sixteen years old. He was writhing and moaning in pain as he held his stomach. He was also bleeding from a gash on his head and his normally fair complexion was already starting to bruise.
“Can you get up? Maybe I should call 911?” David reached for his phone before realizing he had left it in the car. “Hang on, I’ve got to go get my phone.”
“No,” the figure groaned. “Don’t…call…anyone. No…cops.”
“But you need medical attention,” David stated the obviously.
David wasn’t sure what to do. There was no doubt that the kid was hurt. He needed a doctor, yet the pleading in his voice pulled at David’s heart strings. “Well, at least let me take you home. I’m sure your mom or dad can help you.”
“Ha…ha…” the figure replied humorlessly. “This is…my home. You can just…leave me here. I’ll…be okay.”
“I’m not leaving you here,” David assured him. “Is there anyone I can call for you? A relative? A friend?”
David knew he had to make a decision quickly. He didn’t want to spend another minute in that particular part of town. “Then come on, you can come with me.”
“I’m not going to leave you lying here on the sidewalk in your condition. Let me get you somewhere safe and see if we can get you cleaned up a little bit.”
“Why? What the…fuck…do you…care?”
“It’s called being a decent human being. From the looks of things, you don’t have much experience with that, but there are a lot of us in the world. Now, can you walk on your own or do you need me to carry you?”
David could tell that the kid wanted to argue with him, and was relieved when he saw the resignation wash over his face. He stood up and gently helped the kid to his feet before leading him slowly to his car.
“Dude…you’re pretty brave…driving a BMW through these…streets,” the boy chuckled softly.
“Trust me, it was an accident. I’m supposed to be on the other side of town,” David explained. As soon as they reached the car, David loosened his grip on the kid and opened his passenger side door. “Be careful getting in.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t get blood all over your leather seats.” Sarcasm was dripping from the boy’s voice.
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” David replied quickly. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Now get settled and put your seat belt on.”
David waited until the boy was settled and then closed the door before rushing around to the other side and climbing in. A quick glance at the kid told him that he was in a lot more pain than he was letting on. He considered driving to the hospital, but quickly shoved that thought aside. He knew the kid would hop out of the car and take off before he ever let himself be treated. There was only one other option. He just hoped that Matt was as compassionate as he was because it looked like he was going to have a roommate, even if it was only until he could figure out what to do about a child that had no one to love him.
End of part 27
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