Now That You're Here - The College Years
David had just picked up his parents from their hotel and was heading towards his apartment. His stomach was in knots as he tried to figure out the best way to tell his parents about Grant. The kid in question was at the apartment with Matt waiting for their arrival. There was no way he could get out of telling them. He didn’t want to lie for fear of being caught. He hated lying and spent his life avoiding it when he could. Especially after what happened with Ricky.
“Mom, Dad…there’s something that I want to tell you before we get to the apartment,” He finally began.
“Does this have anything to do with why we weren’t allowed to see it yesterday?” his mother asked. “I didn’t buy your story about having to clean.”
“Yeah,” David chuckled. “I didn’t think you would. Actually, I have a roommate.”
“You mean Matt? Honey, you know we don’t judge things like that,” Theresa assured him.
“No, it’s not Matt. His name is Grant. He’s a…well, he was a hustler.”
“Yeah, when I was moving here I kind of had a run in with him. He’s sixteen and his father kicked him out of the house. He was homeless and selling himself to live. I met him when I stopped a bunch of kids from beating on him. The poor kid has nothing, and I knew that if I called the authorities, he’d end up in some group home and would run away again. I couldn’t just let him continue to…I just couldn’t walk away. So he’s been living with me for the last couple of weeks, but I have a friend who is looking into other options for us. Hopefully he’ll have a home soon.”
“Mom, before you say anything, I didn’t have a choice. He’s such a sweet kid…underneath a very rough exterior. I couldn’t turn my back on him. He needed me…and what’s the point of having all that we have if we can’t help those who need it?”
“I’m proud of you, son,” Donald said as soon as David stopped speaking.
“I am too, honey,” Theresa added.
“You are?” David was confused. He was sure his parents wouldn’t approve.
“Of course we are. Honey, when your father started making his money, we sat down and talked about how we wanted to raise our children. All you have to do is turn on the entertainment news and see what happens to kids when they are raised in very wealthy homes. We didn’t want any of you to think that you’re owed something, or that you can do whatever you want because you have some money in the bank. And I think we did a really good job. Deanna can be a bit much sometimes,” Theresa teased. “But seriously, even she knows her limits. All of our children turned out to be kind and respectful and appreciative of what they have…but you. You have always been our do-gooder. Always looking out for others, trying to do what you think is right regardless of what it might cost you. What’s not to be proud of?”
“Um…thanks. I really thought you guys
would be mad.”
“How can we be mad at a son who’s trying to single-handedly save the world?” Donald asked.
“I wouldn’t go that far, but I do enjoy helping people. I actually wrote out a check this morning to help fund the local LGBT center. The guy who runs it is close to some of Matt’s friends and he does so much good there, but he couldn’t get the funding he needed to open up a shelter for kids like Grant, who don’t have anywhere to go. You should have seen these kids. All in their teens, selling themselves so they can live. It’s heartbreaking.”
“That sounds awful,” Theresa said.
“I’m glad you were able to help, son,” Donald stated.
David was beaming from his parents’ praise as he pulled into the apartment complex parking lot. “That’s thanks to you, Dad. All your hard work at Jackson Tech through the years has given me the ability to be able to cut a check when I see a need.”
“Well just think about how much more you’ll be able to do once Matt graduates and you’re able to leave El Paso and find someplace and settle down. Do you think you boys will end up in Arizona? Maybe you can help at the center you’re funding.”
“No Dad, once Matt graduates, I’m hoping our relationship will be at the stage where he’ll come with me to either Florida or New York, depending on where you want me at Jackson. You know I’d prefer New York, but if you need me in the Florida office, I’ll be fine with that, too. I miss living close to you and Mom.” Once David parked, the three of them got out of the car and headed towards the apartment. “That’s mine over there.”
“David, I’m absolving you of your obligation to take over the business. You’re free. Now let’s get inside. I’m anxious to meet Grant.”
David was surprised to see that they had reached the door to the apartment. He hadn’t noticed much as his father dropped his bomb. “But Dad…”
“Not now son, just open the door. I’m an old man with a small bladder. I need to use the facilities.”
David stared at his father for a moment before unlocking the door and leading his parents into his apartment. They walked in and greeted Matt like they hadn’t just seem him the night before and then introduced themselves to Grant. The teen looked a bit nervous as he shook hands with the newcomers and then smiled politely as Theresa began questioning him on his likes and dislikes, never mentioning his sordid past.
Matt saw the strange look on his boyfriend’s face, tapped his shoulder, and gave him a nod, indicating that they should go into the kitchen. Once they were alone, Matt turned to David. “Are you okay? What’s wrong? They didn’t give you a hard time, did they? They seemed fine with Grant.”
“What? Oh no…they were fine with it, actually. They told me they were proud of me for trying to help Grant.”
“Then why do you look so upset?”
“Um…my father said I’m absolved of my obligation to take over Jackson Tech. He said I was free. But then we were here, and he just dropped the subject. I’m…confused.” David relayed the conversation. “I’m not sure what to say. I hope Dylan didn’t tell him what I said. I don’t want my dad thinking that I don’t want to join the business.”
“But you don’t, do you?” Donald said from the doorway. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was just looking around.”
“I think I’ll leave you two alone,” Matt offered.
“You don’t have to go, Matt. You’re a part of this, too. And to answer your question, Davey, Dylan didn’t say a word. Did you think I didn’t know how you felt? I may have worked long hours through the years, but I know my kids. I always knew that joining Jackson Tech wasn’t your first choice. I have to say, I was hoping that you would change your mind one day and want to be a part of things, but I know that’s not what you want and I’m not going to force you to do something that will alter the course of your life if you don’t want it.”
“Davey, can you look me in the eye right now and tell me you can’t wait to join the business? Tell me the truth.”
David knew he couldn’t lie. “No, I can’t. But it’s fine Dad. You need someone to take over for you and I really don’t mind.”
“Son, you have no idea how much it means to me that you would be willing to give up your dreams to continue mine. Not many children would do that for their father. Hell, none of my other kids were willing. I love you for that. And it’s because I love you, that I’m not going to let you do it. Look, I’m only 57. I’m not going to be retiring anytime soon. I’m not ready to give up doing what I love. When the time comes, I will sell the business for a boat load of money and enjoy my retirement knowing that my children took their own path and are happy.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You could say where we’re ordering take out from. I’m starving!” Donald said, stopping further conversation. “And we should probably go save Grant. Your mother is probably smothering him right now.”
Matt watched Donald leave the kitchen before turning to David. “Wow, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I guess,” David replied. “I just feel bad. I know he’s always wanted one of us to take over for him and now there’s nobody left to do that.”
“Babe, I’m sure he would have loved to have you join him, but not if it’s something you really don’t want to do. He’s a good father. His only concern is that his children are happy. Be thankful. Not all father’s feel that way. My Dad is still really mad at Mark for changing his major and he reminds me regularly that he’s happy that I’m still on the right path. I can’t imagine having to tell him I don’t want to be a cop. Luckily, I don’t have to. Of course, once he finds out that I’m gay, it won’t matter anyway…but that’s a completely different issue. You need to be happy. Now you can do whatever it is that you want to do.”
“Oh crap! I’ve spent my whole life planning on working at Jackson Tech. Hell, I have a degree in Computer Science. I don’t know what to do now.”
Matt laughed at his boyfriend. “Babe, how about if we go out and enjoy the evening with your parents? You have plenty of time to figure out your future.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Besides, as long as I have you, I’m happy. You’re all I really need. I love you so much.”
Matt’s heart still skipped a beat whenever David professed his love. “I love you too. Thank you for knowing who I was before I even knew. I can’t imagine my life without you.”
David kissed Matt deeply and then took him by the hand and lead him out to where his parents and Grant were in the middle of an intense conversation on which team was better - the Arizona Cardinals or the Miami Dolphins. All discussions about the future were put on hold.
Dane waited until Steve and Abby went to bed before finally getting a minute alone with his boyfriend. He had been worried about the older man all evening. Eric had seemed distant and sad, and knowing that he had met with Zander that morning had Dane concerned for his mental state.
“Babe, are you alright? You seem kind of out of it.”
“I’m sorry. Talking to Zander was harder than I thought,” Eric admitted. “And actually, we need to talk.”
“Oh.” Dane felt his stomach drop. “Okay, I don’t like the sound of that. Should I be worried?”
Eric saw Dane turn visibly pale and instantly felt bad for the way he approached the subject. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m very happy with us and I’m hoping that we keep moving forward.”
Dane signed with relief. “Okay, then what’s up?”
“This isn’t going to be easy for me. Is it alright if we go lay down in my room?”
“Of course,” Dane assured him. “Let’s lock up the condo and go to bed.”
Once they were in bed and comfortable, Eric started talking. Pushing his discomfort aside, he told Dane his entire history with Cooper. He didn’t hold anything back, even when he saw the horror on Dane’s face a few times. When he was finally done, he just laid there and waited for Dane’s reaction to what he had heard.
“Babe, I’m so sorry. I had no idea things were that bad. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“Shame, I guess. I’m still having a hard time understanding why I allowed things to get out of hand, you know? I should have stood up for myself. I never should have let him get away with hurting me the first time, let alone let it continue for so long.”
“Look, it would be easy for me to sit here and say you should have handled things differently, but no one knows how a person will react to certain situations. You had been living with Cooper for six months, that’s a pretty strong commitment to walk away from. And you had Gracie to think about. The fear of losing such a precious little girl played a huge part on how you reacted to what was happening. I don’t think you should be that hard on yourself. You did the best you could in a pretty bad situation,” Dane replied. “I’m glad you shared this with me.”
“I didn’t want to. I didn’t want anyone knowing how bad things were, but Zander made me see that if you and I were going to have a healthy relationship, you had to know what I went through,” Eric explained.
“You told Zander we’re together?” Dane was surprised, but secretly happy that Eric shared their secret.
“Of course. You’re one of the reasons I decided to talk to someone.”
“Yeah, being with you is making me see just how screwed up I am,” Eric admitted. “Look, I’m sorry that I’ve been making you keep us a secret. You shouldn’t have to lie and sneak around because of my issues. I’m also sorry that I’ve been keeping some distance between us. I don’t want to. I just…Cooper and I worked together and then lived together. We spent so much time together that when it ended…I didn’t know what to do. We were always together and then suddenly he was gone. It was a hard adjustment, you know?”
Dane offered a sympathetic smile. “I’ll quit my job if you want me to. I’d rather be with you than work at the restaurant.”
“No, I don’t want that. You’re one of my best workers, seeing you there makes my job so much better, and you deserve the opportunity. Working in a restaurant like this is going to look great on your resume once you graduate and start looking for a job. I just need to get my head together, and hopefully seeing Zander every week will help with that.”
“So you’re going to continue seeing him?”
“Yeah, today was pretty intense. It made me see how much I need to talk about things. But no more hiding, I promise. It was wrong of me to expect that from you and I apologize for putting you in that position.”
“Eric, you don’t have to apologize. Even if I didn’t know about your past, we all have issues. Hell, mine caused me to swallow a bottle of pills, remember? I’m willing to wait until you’re ready for whatever the next step is. I’m just happy to know that there’s going to be a next step.”
“I know, Steve mentioned that you were a little worried and I’m sorry for that, too. You have nothing to worry about. I…”Eric wanted to tell the younger man exactly how he felt but decided to wait a little bit longer. “I like you and I want to see where this goes.”
“Good, because I like you too,” Dane replied, trying not to feel disappointed. They hadn’t been together that long. Just because he was falling in love, it didn’t mean that Eric felt the same way. He was just going to have to be patient and hope that he wasn’t hurt in the end if it turned out that Eric just needed someone to help him get over the loss of Cooper.
“Alright then, you are free to talk to your friends and tell them that we’re together.”
“I have a better idea. How about if we just show them? I got a call from Brian earlier. Apparently Chris and Trent decided to have a barbeque on Sunday. I’m off, but of course you’re working because you never take a damn day off unless you have to. Why don’t you see if Billy can cover for you and come with me? This way everyone can find out at the same time.”
“Are you sure shocking everyone is the best way to get the word out?” Eric asked. “Remember, no one knows I’m...there are going to be a lot of questions.”
Dane thought about it for a minute. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think about the fact that you’re not…that no one knows about you. We don’t have to just start telling anyone right away.”
Eric felt guilty the minute he realized what Dane had assumed. “Babe, I didn’t mean that like it sounded. I am 100% okay with everyone knowing about me, about us. I just didn’t think you’d want to turn the barbeque into the Eric and Dane show. There are going to be a lot of questions to answer.”
“True, but I’d rather answer them all at once and be done with it than tell our story over and over again,” Dane assured him.
“Okay, that’s your call. And I’m sure Billy will cover for me. He just asked me the other day if he could get some more shifts in. He’s been looking at engagement rings for Shelly and needs to bring in a lot more money before he can buy anything. I’m actually thinking of cutting back my work week to four days instead of five. This way I’m ready once the closing happens and it’s time to bring Gracie here.”
“Is the closing still set for the middle of next month?”
“Yep, so far everything has been smooth sailing. As long as nothing out of the ordinary pops up, we should be ready to go. The sellers are very anxious to close. From what I’ve been told, he was transferred to the east coast for work and has to report by the end of next month. If the closing gets held up, he’s going to have to go alone and leave his wife to handle things by herself, so they are pushing for this to happen on time.”
“Good, I know how anxious you are to get Gracie here,” Dane said. “Any luck talking Betty into moving here?”
Eric chuckled. “She keeps saying no, but I can tell she’s not as against it as she originally was. Now that Cooper is gone, there really isn’t anything keeping her there. I think that once Gracie is gone, she’s going to see that moving here really is the best thing for her.”
“Good, and I’ll try talking to her again next week when we’re there.”
“Thanks. I really appreciate you coming out and helping us get Betty set up for Zoom. It’s an old computer. I would have no idea how to buy a camera or set it up myself. I can use a computer, but I don’t know the first thing about setting one up. That’s why I love my laptop. The day I bought it, I opened it up, turned it on, and was good to go.”
“No need to thank me. I really don’t mind and this way I don’t have to go a day without seeing you while you’re visiting Flagstaff.”
Eric laughed. “Just so you know, I meant what I said before. I’m not going to keep trying to distance myself from you. You don’t need an excuse to see me. If you want to see me, just say the word. I’m planning on spending a lot more time together outside of the restaurant.”
“Are you sure?” Dane asked. When he saw Eric’s eyes narrow with an unspoken question, he continued. “I couldn’t help but notice that you’re still unable to say that you’re gay. Or even bi-sexual. Earlier you said no one knows you’re…and then you hesitated.”
“Babe, I told you before, I don’t have an issue being who I am. I was openly living with a man for two years, remember?”
“Yeah, I know…but you were living five hours away from home then. No one in your family was there. Your childhood friends weren’t there. It’s like you had this brand-new life that never overlapped with the life you were raised in. And I know you said that Cooper was the only guy you were attracted to, so you were confused. But now…I mean, you’re here with me. Cooper isn’t the only guy now, yet you’re still having a hard time admitting to being bi-sexual. I’m just kind of wondering if you’re not as okay being into men as you claim to be.”
Eric took a moment to consider what Dane was suggesting. “I never really thought about it like that before. I guess that I was so confused when I was with Cooper that I was still telling myself that I wasn’t gay. That it was just him. Now…I don’t know. I’m not really sure I know who I am anymore. Does that make sense?”
“Kind of. You spent your whole life thinking a certain way about who you are. It wasn’t a case of trying to hide in the closet. It was you being who you grew up to be. Having that change in the blink of an eye must be tough. I just don’t want to do anything to make things harder on you. Again, maybe you’re not ready for everyone to find out.”
“No, I’m ready. I think I might have the next topic to discuss with Zander next week, but I’m ready. I don’t know exactly what label I should be putting on myself just yet, but I know that I like you a lot…and I know that I love being inside of you,” Eric laughed as Dane blushed down to his toes. “Gay, bi-sexual…whatever I am, I know I’m with you and I don’t care who knows it.”
Dane didn’t respond. Instead, he leaned in and kissed Eric with everything he had. He knew his boyfriend still had a lot of issues to deal with, but he could be patient. Being with Eric made him happier than he ever remembered being, aside from the day his daughter was born. That’s all that mattered.
By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, Aiden was a bundle of nerves. Zander had invited him to barbeque that he and Chris were having and as much as he enjoyed being around the whole gang in the past, the barbeque was going to be the first time he saw Jason since they stopped seeing each other. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He was happy that the younger man was able to fix his relationship with Zac and start putting his life back together. Jason’s mental health always came first. That being said, despite his budding relationship with Derek, he still thought about Jason more than he should in terms of what could have been. No one knew that, of course, so he didn’t really have a choice when Zander asked if he could make it. He would have to put on a brave face and make the best of it. He was happy when Derek was able to get someone to cover his shift at the bar. He definitely didn’t want to go alone.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Derek’s question pulled him out of his thoughts. “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know, but we’ve been sitting in your car for almost two minutes now and you still haven’t turned it on.”
“Sorry, I’ve just got a lot on my mind…you know, with work. I’m wondering if I should just stay home and get caught up on paperwork.” Aiden hated lying, but he definitely didn’t want to discuss Jason with Derek.
“Babe, you work so hard. I think it’ll be good for you to get out and have some fun on occasion. How about if you just put your paperwork out of your mind and try and have some fun? I don’t want to make you feel guilty or anything, but I’m missing a night’s pay for this. I really don’t want to spend the evening watching you do paperwork. I save that for my scheduled nights off.”
Aiden heard the teasing in Derek’s voice, but still felt bad. It was true, most of their evenings together consisted of Derek watching TV while Aiden caught up on paperwork, then some really hot sex before they fell asleep. “I’m sorry, you’re right. I didn’t ask you to take the night off so we could sit in my apartment. Let’s go out and enjoy ourselves.”
Derek smiled. “At the risk of sounding sappy, I could enjoy my evening just as much watching you do paperwork if that’s what you really need to do.”
Aiden started the car. “Not a chance. Let’s go.”
By the time they turned down Zander’s street, Aiden could see that almost everyone was there. There were cars lined up and down the block leaving very little room for parking. Aiden found a spot halfway down the road and pulled in, taking a deep breath before getting out of the car. He took some comfort in having Derek by his side. At least he wasn’t walking in alone. As they made their way towards the house, Aiden noticed a familiar blond head walking towards them.
“Hey Aiden, how’ve you been?” Justin asked as soon as they were in earshot.
“I’ve been good, busy but good,” Aiden replied. “This is Derek. Derek, this is Justin. He’s Zander’s cousin.”
Derek stretched out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too. You guys can go right on back through the gate over there. I’m just grabbing something from Brian’s jeep.”
“Great, thanks.” Aiden took Derek’s hand and lead him to the gate and into the backyard. He recognized just about everyone there from previous gatherings, but there were a few new faces, too. He looked around for Eric, but he wasn’t there yet. He knew from speaking with him earlier that he was going. Aiden had hoped to have him there already as another buffer.
“Hey, glad you could make it,” Zander said as he approached them. “You must be Derek. I’m Zander. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“You have?” Derek asked as he glanced at Aiden. “I hope it was all good.”
“Oh, it was very good,” Zander teased.
“Knock it off you two,” Aiden laughed. “Thanks for inviting us. Even though he won’t admit it, I think Derek is getting tired of watching me do paperwork every night.”
“Well, it’s definitely not my first choice, but I don’t mind. Your work is very important. As long as I’m with you, I’m good.”
“That’s sweet,” Zan said. “But I have a suggestion to help make things easier for all of us. Matt has been looking for a job to keep busy this summer, but he hasn’t found anything yet. I guess no one really wants to hire a college student that will be leaving in the middle of August. So, I’m going to pay him to help me while Chris is going through radiation. He’s going to kind of play secretary for me, so I don’t have to waste time on paperwork and can focus more on the people. Why don’t you throw some of your work his way, too? I know you’re still behind because I was out for over two weeks. Maybe having him around can help you catch up, too.”
“I’m all for it. In fact, I’ll help you pay his salary,” Derek teased.
“Oh hush up, you,” Aiden laughed as he gently shoved Derek. “But that’s a good idea. We’re getting really busy these days. Maybe it’s time to hire a receptionist to answer phones and do some of the filing and paperwork for us. The salary could come out of the money Chris’s fundraiser brought in. We can use Matt as a Guinea pig, see how it works out for the next two months. By the time we’re ready to hire someone, we’ll know exactly what they’ll be doing, and we can have Matt train them before he goes. This is perfect.”
“I thought you’d like the idea, but I don’t mind paying his salary. I wasn’t suggesting you hire someone. I just wanted someone to help me stay afloat while I’m in and out for the radiation appointments.”
“No, you don’t have to do that. I’ve been on the fence about hiring someone for a while now, but with David’s donation, we’re about to start getting really busy. Might as well break someone in now,” Aiden assured him.
“Okay, if you’re sure. Now enough about work. Go mingle. There are some snacks and stuff out now. Chris is in the kitchen getting all the meat ready for the grill. I hope you guys are hungry. Chris decided while I was at work the other day to not only plan this barbeque, but to have someone help him do the shopping. I don’t know who he thought we were feeding, but there’s enough food for an army in my kitchen right now.”
“You haven’t seen me eat,” Derek joked as he led Aiden over to the table of food.
Aiden allowed himself to be pulled and came up short when he nearly bumped into Jason. “Oh, hey.”
“Hey,” Jason replied softly. “It’s…good to see you. I’m glad you came. How are things going with you?”
“Good, really good,” Aiden said. “Um, this is Derek. We’re…um…seeing each other.”
“Hi,” Jason said, extending his hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m Jason.”
Before anything more could be said, Brian called Jason over to where he and some of the others were debating something regarding a trip they took. Aiden had never been so happy to see someone walk away in his life.
“So…ex-boyfriend?” Derek inquired as soon as Jason was out of earshot.
“What? Oh, no…not really. We dated, kind of. It was a while ago and it was never going to go anywhere.”
“I’m guessing that was his choice by the look on your face,” Derek pointed out. “Should I be worried?”
“No, of course not. Why would you be worried?”
“Because you certainly still have a
thing for him.”
Aiden blanched at this observation. “Look, I promise there is nothing to worry about. See that guy standing next to Jason with his hand on his back? That is his boyfriend and the love of his life. Whatever it was that Jason and I had was nothing compared to what those two have. I never stood a chance. Can we please stop talking about it, though? I don’t really want anyone to hear this conversation.”
“Will you tell me about it later?” The look Aiden gave him told him that his boyfriend didn’t want to talk about it later. “Look, I’ve never been a jealous guy before, but I really like you. I just want to know what I’m getting into with you. If you’re hung up on someone else, what’s the point of me being here?”
“Fine, we’ll talk tonight, alright? But I swear, there is nothing to worry about. I’m not hung up on him and you’re here because I’m very interested in you.”
Derek leaned in and gave Aiden a gentle kiss. “Good, because I’m very interested in you, too.”
It took almost thirty minutes to get Jason alone. He wanted to check in on his boyfriend and see how he was doing after seeing Aiden again. After their reconciliation, Zac had pushed his boyfriend to admit that he had some pretty strong feelings for his former therapist. It wasn’t easy to hear, but his brain already knew the answer before he asked the question, so he felt it was best to talk about it. He just had to force himself to believe that Jason’s decision to end things with Aiden was what he really wanted.
“Hey, are you okay?” he asked Jason as he led him away from everyone.
“Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Babe, I know this is the first time you’ve seen Aiden since you told him we were going to work things out. Are you okay with that? Did seeing him stir anything up?”
Jason could see the trepidation in Zac’s eyes and smiled. “No, seeing him didn’t stir anything up. I’m right where I want to be. No second thoughts. Aiden is a great guy and I hope that one day we can be friends, but you’re the one I love”
“I was really hoping you were going to say that,” Zac laughed and he placed a soft kiss on Jason’s forehead. “I love you, too.”
“Good, because I have something I want to talk to you about. Care to come with me to my room? I want to show you something.”
“Lead the way.”
Jason took Zac by the hand and led him into the house and into his room. Once Zac was inside and sitting down, Jason pulled out a small stack of papers from his backpack and handed them over.
“Read them and see,” Jason chuckled. He couldn’t believe how nervous he was to hear Zac’s reaction. It had been something that they had technically planned a year ago, but between the attack and Zac’s arrest, the future hadn’t really been discussed beyond a few days at a time. Of course, Jason had been thinking about it. He knew that he was ready to go back to school in the fall. There was no way he was going to let his rapist ruin his entire life, but the thought of living on campus among so many strangers had him tossing and turning at night. He finally spoke to Zander and Chris about it, and they helped him set the plans in motion.
“You’re going to live in the apartment complex that Brian and Justin live in?”
“Yeah, I just…as much as I’m ready to get back to school, the thought of living on campus after what happened had me a little freaked out. I spoke with Chris and Zan and they suggested that getting into an apartment off campus might make me feel better. I could go to classes, but I didn’t have to be on campus all the time. Does that make sense?”
Zac had to think for a moment. “Actually, yeah it does. I don’t blame you for not wanting to be on campus more than you have to. When I was there last year after the attack, I found myself constantly looking around and watching for…I don’t even know what. I think you’ll feel much safer in the complex. And Brian and Justin will be right there, too.”
“True, but I was kind of hoping you would be there with me as well.”
“Well, yeah…wasn’t that our plan? To move in together for our sophomore year?”
“It was…but I just thought…with everything that’s happened, I kind of figured that us moving in together was put on hold,” Zac explained.
“Oh, that’s okay. You don’t have to move in with me. I’ll be all right by myself, and you can just live in the dorms.” It took everything Jason had to keep from laughing as he teased Zac.
“No!” Zac exclaimed. “Are you kidding? I’ve been wanting to live with you almost since the day we met! You’ve got yourself a roommate!”
Zac grabbed Jason and pulled him close, taking his mouth in a deep, but gentle kiss. Ever since the attack, Jason had been having some issues with sudden or strong movements, so Zac had been doing his best to let Jason be the instigator in anything beyond a quick kiss on the lips. He knew Jason appreciated the special treatment and because of that, they had been slowly moving back into their old habits. It was rare that Jason had nightmares or anxiety these days.
Jason could feel Zac’s restraint and although he was thankful for it most days, some days he just wanted to have a normal relationship without any reminders of the brutal attack. Pushing those thoughts aside, Jason deepened the kiss as he gently shoved Zac down on the bed, following him down as he went. Time passed unnoticed as Zac and Jason lost themselves in each other. They didn’t make it back to the barbeque for quite a while, but they didn’t care. They were in love and ready to live their lives together.
Once all the food had been cooked and served, Chris finally had a few moments to himself. He was exhausted after spending the last three weeks taking it easy, but he would never tell that to Zander. His exhaustion was the good kind. The kind that reminded him that he had the ability to do the things he loved again. He wasn’t looking forward to radiation in another week, so he wanted to make the most of his time before the treatments began. He looked around the yard and smiled thinking about how lucky he was. Despite a rough upbringing, his life turned out better than he could have imagined. He had money in the back, and thanks to his last few books landing on the NY Times Best Sellers List, he had plenty of money. He had a partner who loved him and his “children”, which of course were Brian, Justin and Sophia. Then there were the friends that had become family through the years, and the new friends that would one day be moved into the family category. Life was good and after his cancer scare, Chris was going to make sure he never took that for granted.
“Hey, penny for your thoughts,” Zander said as he sided up to Chris.
Chris put his arm around his partner. “I was just thinking about how much I love my life and how lucky I am to have everyone in this yard in it.”
“Well, I will definitely second that,” Zander replied. “We definitely did something right to end up where we are. Have I told you lately that I love you more than anyone on the planet?”
“I think you’ve mentioned it a few hundred times lately, but I’ll never get tired of hearing it. I love you too, blondie. And I’m so thankful that you walked into my bar all those years ago.”
Before Chris could lean in and kiss his man, Trent appeared at his side. “Hey, I wanted to let you guys know that I just set Kaleb and Sophia up in the living room with a movie. They were tired of hanging out with old people. Their words, not mine.”
“Old people? I’ll give them old people,” Zan laughed as he headed inside.
“Uh oh, someone’s in trouble,” Chris laughed. “Zan’s been a little sensitive to age jokes ever since he turned 30. I find it funny because he didn’t seem to mind when I turned 30 and he started calling me his old man.”
“You guys really are the cutest,” Trent pointed out. “And I just want to point out that I was right the other day. You insisted we buy way too much food.”
“Hey, better too much than not enough. Just ask Eric or Dane.”
“Speaking of which, where are they?”
“Dane called earlier and said that Julia was teething and not feeling good, so he doesn’t want to bring her out. He’s going to come over after Sandy gets home. And I think Eric’s driving him, for some reason.” Chris glanced as his phone. “Actually they should be here soon. Did you get a chance to talk to David yet?”
“No, not yet. He seems to be having a good time. I don’t want to bother him. I barely know the guy.”
“Oh come on, he won’t mind. I’ll be right back.” Chris went over to where David, Matt, Steve, and Brian were standing around talking. “Hey David, can I steal you away for a few? I need a favor.”
“Sure,” David replied as he followed Chris over to Trent.
“I was talking to Trent the other day. He’s spent his whole life planning on going to med school to be a doctor, but now he needs to change direction. He’s thinking about computers, but he has absolutely no idea what would be the best course of action. He wants to make sure he finds a career that will pay him enough to support his son and give him the flexibility to be there for him. I thought maybe you could talk to him and give him some options.”
“Of course,” David assured him. “Do you have an idea what you think you want to do?”
“Not really. Aside from the standard computer classes in high school, I really don’t have a lot of experience with them. I know that I enjoy working with them, but that’s really all I know. I’m sorry,” Trent replied.
“That’s okay. I have an idea. Why don’t you come by my apartment tomorrow, and we can talk? I can go on my laptop and give you a quick lesson in what options Jackson Tech has that fit your needs and then we can discuss what you think you’d like to do. Sound good?” David offered.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to put you out. Chris just thought that you could give me a few options.”
“Put me out? It’s no trouble at all. I have absolutely nothing to do tomorrow since Matt insisted on getting a job,” David signed dramatically. “What’s your cell number? I’ll text you my address. How does 10:00 sound? Kaleb will be in school by then, right?”
“Yeah, this is the last week of school before summer break, which is why I want to figure things out. I want to do whatever I have to do to get settled now, so I can spend the summer with him. The poor kid really never had any fun while he was living with his mother. I want to show him everything.”
“Hey, Matt and I are flying to Florida sometime in August to take my nieces to Disney World. You and Kaleb should join us.”
“Let me rephrase that. I want to show him everything within my budget,” Trent laughed.
“All you need is money for the parks. We’re flying on the company jet and we’re staying at my parents' house. They have six spare rooms. Trust me, they won’t mind.” David looked up just as Matt was joining them. “Hey Babe, I just told Trent he and Kaleb should come to Florida with us. I think Kaleb would love Disney.”
“Yeah, you guys should come. I think Brian and Justin were going to see if it’s possible for them to bring Sophia.” Matt looked at Chris. “Did they mention it yet?”
“Not to me, but I don’t see why not. Things are going to be a little rough around here while I’m going through radiation. It would be good for her to get away for a few days and have fun. I’ll have to check with Zan, but…um…did I miss something?” Chris suddenly changed gears as he watched Eric and Dane enter the yard
Dane and Eric walked through the gate and stopped on the side of the house for a moment. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Dane asked.
“Babe, I’ve told you a million times, I’m ready. It’s going to be okay. Now give me a kiss and let’s get back there. We’re already really late. I don’t want to walk back there and find everyone leaving,” Eric teased.
Dane kissed Eric deeply and then pulled back, giving his boyfriend a reassuring smile. “Okay, here goes nothing.” Then they walked through the yard hand in hand.
“Sorry, my baby girl just isn’t feeling good. I couldn’t bring her, and I didn’t want to leave her with my parents. Sandy just got home so we came right over,” Dane called out, ignoring the strange looks they were getting as everyone stopped what they were doing and focused on the two of them. “What did we miss?”
“Um…I think we’re the ones missing something. What’s this?” Brian gestured to where Dane and Eric’s hands were intertwined.
“Oh yeah, Eric and I are seeing each other,” Dane said as if there was nothing strange about it.
“You’re seeing each other?” Brian looked back and forth between the two of them. “I don’t mean to be rude, but what does that mean?”
Eric snorted. “What does that mean? It means that Dane and I are a couple. Come on, Brian, you’re a college man. Don’t tell me you don’t understand the concept.”
“Shut up,” Brian laughed as he shoved Eric gently. “I know what it means. I just meant…when did you become gay? I’ve known you for six years and I’ve only ever seen you with girls. Have you been hiding in the closet all this time?”
“No, I wouldn’t hide in the closet. Especially not with this group. The condensed version is that a couple years ago I fell in love with a man. It was the first time in my life that I ever felt an attraction to a man. We broke up, I moved here, and then I found myself attracted to Dane. I tried to ignore my feelings for five very long months before I couldn’t ignore them any longer. We’ve been together for a few weeks now. And I’m sorry Dane hasn’t mentioned it to anyone. There were some things I was dealing with, and he was waiting for me to explain everything to my brother first. But now that Steve is aware of my past, we are officially out in the open,” Eric clarified. “You don’t have a problem with it, do you?”
Brian pretended to think about it for a minute before he smiled. “Are you kidding? Have you seen the last guy Dane hooked up with? You are definitely a step in the right direction.”
“I definitely have to agree with you,” Dane interjected. “Now that everyone knows, you can all go back to whatever you were doing and stop looking at us like we’re a sideshow.”
Brian turned around and saw that everyone was still standing there in shock. “Alright, who’s ready to go swimming?”
Dane thanked Brian for the change in subject and then led Eric over to the food table. Chris came right over. “That was some entrance.”
“You know me, I like to do things right,” Dane snickered. “How are you feeling? You look better than the last time I saw you.”
“Thanks. I’m feeling much better…just in time to have radiation start. I’m going to assume I don’t have to have the big brother talk with Eric like I did with Michael?”
“You had a big brother talk with Michael?” Dane asked incredulously.
“Yep. I basically told him that I would kick his ass if he hurt you,” Chris admitted. “He didn’t tell you?”
“No, he never said a word.”
“But to answer your question,” Eric said. “I don’t need the big brother speech. I’ve known Dane as long as you, if not longer. I would never do anything to hurt him.”
“Okay then, we’re good here. Now, eat something. I might have gone a little overboard on the food.”
“Hey, better too much than not enough,” Dane and Eric said in unison.
Chris just laughed as he walked away.
Zander finished locking up the house and went to the bedroom just as Chris was coming out of the shower. “Damn, you’re still as hot as the day we met?”
“How can you say that? I’m a lot older and only have one ball now. I’m only about an eight these days,” Chris teased.
“Yeah right,” Zan replied. “I may be biased, but you still turn the heads of everyone you come in contact with. As for your missing ball, that means nothing to me. I love you exactly the way you are.”
“You are biased, but I’ll take it.”
The two men climbed into bed and got settled in each other’s arms. Chris spoke first. “I’m going to assume by the way your jaw didn’t drop that you knew about Dane and Eric?”
“Yes. Obviously I can’t tell you what I know, but I did know they were together.”
“Eric told me that he would never hurt Dane. Without breaking any confidences, are you concerned with their relationship?”
“No,” Zander promised. “It’s a slippery slope counseling Eric and knowing Dane, but I’m not worried about anyone getting hurt.”
“That’s all I need to know. Oh by the way, Brian and Justin are hoping to take Sophia to Florida this summer with Matt and David. I guess David promised his nieces a trip to Disney World. They asked Trent if he wanted to take Kaleb as well. Neither one of them have asked yet, but Matt mentioned it. You don’t have a problem with that, do you? I think she could use a break from all this cancer crap.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. She may not know exactly what is going on, but she’s a very bright little girl. She knows something is up. I think a trip to Disney will be good for her.”
“I’ll ask Brian about it tomorrow,” Chris said. “So that Derek guy seems pretty cool.”
“Yeah, and from what I understand he’s really into Aiden. I just hope it works out.”
“You don’t think it will?”
“I don’t know. I hate to say this, but I think Aiden still has a thing for Jason.”
“Maybe he does, but that ship has definitely sailed. Jason asked Zac to move in with him when they go back to school and of course Zac said yes. As much as I like Aiden, I don’t think he ever really stood a chance. He needs to find someone who can love him the way he deserves.”
“I agree,” Zan replied. “He is such a nice guy, and he really got a raw deal when he was attacked. I don’t know how he lived through all that. The rape was one thing, but watching his boyfriend die right in front of him…I can’t even imagine how awful that was. I just really want him to be happy.”
“Hopefully Derek will be what he needs to finally move on. Oh, and what did Aiden say about Matt?”
“He loves the idea. I was only going to bring Matt in for a couple days a week, but I think Aiden is going to keep him busy all week. We’re going to use Matt to help create the receptionist position and then train his replacement before he leaves.”
“I don’t think David thinks so,” Zan snorted. “He’s already moping around because he and Matt won’t see each other as much.”
“Oh to be young and in love,” Chris thought aloud.
“It’s funny, isn’t it? They are all so young, but almost everyone is in a relationship and claim to be in love. Whatever happened to spending your college years finding yourself?”
“Who knows? Maybe they’ve all spent so much time with us that they are looking to find their soul mate just like we did,” Zan teased. He looked up and could see that Chris was fighting sleep. The poor man had to be exhausted. He had really overdone it throughout the day. “Go to sleep Babe. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you.”
“Love you, too,” Chris mumbled as sleep overtook him.
Zan smiled to himself. They really were very, very lucky.
End of part 31
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