Now That You're Here - The College Years
Here is the final chapter of Now That You’re here: The College Years. I want to apologize again for all the time between chapters. Real life just got in the way and there just never seemed to be enough time to sit down and think, let alone write. I also want to thank you for being patient and waiting while I figured things out. I would still write, regardless of whether I had readers. I just enjoy it that much. But it’s nice to know that there are still some people out there enjoying what I do.
And for those who are interested…this is not the end of the gang. I promise, they will be back. Probably sooner than you think. I am just not ready to let them go.
Chris stood in the bathroom and stared at the mirror in disgust. He couldn’t believe it. Eight weeks of radiation had left him nauseous and twenty pounds lighter. Weight he couldn’t afford to lose considering he had already lost ten pounds between the diagnosis and the surgery. He hated the way he looked now, his eyes shadowed, his cheeks drawn. The only thing keeping him going was knowing that he was in his final week. He just had to get through four more days and then he could finally start putting the entire mess behind him. He just didn’t know if he had the energy to throw up any longer. His constant nausea was leaving him feeling shaky and weak. Unfortunately he didn’t have any other options but to push through. He wasn’t going to stop his treatments, no matter how sick he was. He had promised his family that he would fight for his life. He just didn’t realize how much of a fight it was going to be.
“Are you almost ready?” Zander asked from the doorway.
“I guess,” Chris replied. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“Come here,” Zan said as he took his partner in his arms. He refused to allow himself to think about how much weight Chris had lost in the last three months as he fought cancer. He couldn’t let himself think about it because it was too scary, and he needed to be strong for their family. He only allowed himself to break down and cry through his fears when he was locked away with Aiden, pouring out his heart. “I’m so sorry, but it’s almost over. You’ll be feeling like your old self in no time.”
“I hope you’re right,” Chris said. “I don’t even remember what my old self feels like anymore.”
“I wish there was something I could do to make it all better. I would gladly take your place if I could.”
“Don’t even say that!” Chris exclaimed. “As awful as this is, I can’t even imagine having to watch you go through it. If it had to be one of us, I’m glad it was me.”
“You are the sweetest man alive, and I love you so much,” Zander told him.
“I love you too, blondie. Now let’s
get out of here. I know you’re anxious to get to the center today.”
“I’m thinking that I might just have Aiden and Grayson take care of my group today so I can stay home with you.”
“Nope, not happening sweetheart. I appreciate that you want to sit here with me all day, but I have short hair. I don’t need you here to hold it back.”
“I know, but I don’t like you being all alone here. I can’t believe that with everyone living in our house, we’re currently the only ones here.”
“I know, and this damn radiation is keeping me from banging you in every room of the house,” Chris chuckled.
“Charming as always.” Zan smacked Chris playfully. “Seriously, when will everyone be home?”
“Brian, Justin and Sophia are flying back from Florida on Saturday. Zac and Jason will be back from Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon. But seriously, I’m fine. I’ll come home, throw up for a bit and then lay down and crash for the afternoon. As much as I love having you with me, I will be fine all by myself,” Chris assured him.
“Do you promise to call me if you need anything?”
“I swear. If I need anything at all, I will call and you can rush to my aid,” Chris promised. “Come on, time to get cooked.”
“I really hate when you call it that,” Zan sighed.
Four hours later, Chris was laying on the bathroom floor wishing he wasn’t the only one home. He didn’t know if he had the strength to get up and make it to bed. It had been easy to make sure someone was around all summer long. They really did get lucky that the cancer was found right at the beginning of summer break. But that break was ending next week and there was no way Chris was going to let Brian, Justin and Jason spend their whole summer playing nursemaids. That’s why he insisted Brian and Justin take their Florida trip and Jason fly home to see his family before school started again. There were only a few days left and he could make it through them by himself, no matter how hard it was going to be. As he laid there trying to decide if it was safe to attempt to get up, he heard a door close and the sound of someone calling his name.
“I’m in here,” he called out weakly. It was all he had the strength to do.
“Hey, it’s Eric. I was just coming to check on…Chris, are you okay?” Eric said as he made his way into the bathroom and found Chris on the floor. “I had an appointment with Zan today and he mentioned that he was worried about you, so I told him I’d come in and check on you. He gave me a key. Do you need me to call 911?”
“No…no, I’m fine. Just very nauseous. I just need some help getting up and getting into bed. This fucking radiation is getting worse every week. I can’t wait until it’s over.”
“Zan said this is your last week?” Eric asked as he helped Chris to his feet and out of the bathroom.
“Yes, thank God.” Chris dropped down on the bed in exhaustion. “Please don’t tell Zan that you found me on the floor. I’m fine, really. Just a little nauseous and weak, but I’ll be okay. I don’t want him to miss any more work because of me. He’s missed so much already and he’s already taking the mornings off to drive me to and from my treatments.”
“Seriously, I’ll be fine. I just need to get through the next few days and then I can start feeling better. Besides, after I spend a couple hours throwing up anything I managed to get down over the course of the last 12 hours, I sleep the rest of the afternoon away. There’s no point in Zander leaving work to sit here and watch me sleep,” Chris pointed out.
Eric didn’t like the thought of Chris being there by himself, and he sure as hell didn’t like the idea of lying to Zander about it. “It’s summer break. Where the hell is everyone? Your house is never this quiet.”
“Brian and Justin took Sophia to Disney and Jason went to Pittsburgh before heading back to school. They have spent the entire summer watching over me. I wasn’t going to let them go back to school without having a chance to have a little fun. I’ll be fine by myself. Just please don’t say anything to Zander. It took so much for me to get him to agree to go to work.”
Eric could feel himself caving and knew he had to do something. There was no way he was going to leave Chris alone when he was so sick. “Okay, I’ll agree to keep my mouth shut on one condition.”
“What do you want?” Chris groaned.
“You have three more days. Each day, as soon as Zander drops you off and leaves for work, you are to call me. Depending on mine and Dane’s schedules, one of us will come over and stay with you until right before Zander comes home.”
“Eric, I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Really? Because when I came in here, I found you on the floor unable to stand up. You can either take my offer or I can tell Zander about what I found when he calls me.”
“Look, I don’t want to be a burden. You and Dane have your own lives to deal with. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Chris, you’re not a burden. Hell, if it wasn’t for you, my little brother would have been living in his car when our parents kicked him out. You do so much for everyone in your life and now you need a little help yourself. Let Dane and me do this for you.” He had just finished speaking when his phone rang. A quick glance told him it was Zander. “Guess who? So, what’s it going to be?”
“Fine, whatever. Just keep your mouth shut,” Chris growled.
Eric chuckled as he answered the phone. “Hey Zan, Chris is fine. A little tired, but otherwise okay. He’s actually going to lay down for a while. What time should I tell him to expect you?”
Chris listened to the one-sided conversation as he fumed inside. He knew that Eric was just worried about him, but after almost three months, he was tired of everyone worrying about him. He just wanted to be left alone until he started feeling better. Why was that too much to ask?
“Okay, crisis adverted. Zander’s last group finishes up at 6:00 and then he’s going to head right home. That means I’ll be out of here by 5:45. Now, get some rest. Do you need anything before I leave you to nap?”
“Don’t even try it. You either get
Dane and me, or you get Zander. It’s your choice.”
“Fine, I’m good. I’m just going to go to sleep.”
“Okay, I’ll go watch TV. Call me if you need anything.” Eric smiled at the disgruntled man and then headed out of the bedroom, leaving the door open a bit so he could hear for signs of distress. Once he was in the living room, he made his first phone call. It only took a few moments to get Billy to cover his shift for Wednesday and Friday. He wasn’t available on Thursday, but that was okay. Billy agreed to get someone to cover for Dane on Thursday so he could stay with Chris. Once that was done, he called Dane.
“Hey, how did your appointment go? I expected to hear from you almost an hour ago. I was starting to get worried. Are you on your way home?”
“No, I need to cancel our afternoon plans.” Eric spent the next few minutes filling Dane in on what had transpired. “Are you mad? We’re not going to be working together again until the weekend.”
“Of course I’m not mad, you sweet, sweet man. I would’ve done the same exact thing. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Then the line went dead, and Eric smiled to himself. He really did love the little shit. Now all he could do was wait and see if one day Dane fell in love with him, too.
Zander was lost in thought when Aiden walked into his office. “Are you okay? You seem extra quiet today.”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I’m just worried
about Chris,” Zan assured him. “The radiation is really taking a toll on him.”
“This is his last week, right?”
“Yes, thank God. He’s lost so much weight. He barely eats anything and when he does, it’s usually only chicken broth and maybe some crackers. On the weekends, he does a little better because he’s not getting the treatments, but even when he feels better, he’s not feeling great. He’s starting to look sick; you know? And it’s scaring me. And his mental state isn’t very good, either. He doesn’t like what he sees in the mirror and it’s affecting him. He’s never been conceited about his looks but come on. Anyone with eyes can see how gorgeous he is. Seeing himself looking thin and drawn with dark circles under his eyes is making him feel self-conscious. He won’t even let anyone come over to the house. He doesn’t want people to see him like this. I told him he’s still gorgeous, but he doesn’t believe me,” Zan sighed. “I sent Eric over to check up on him today and I’m probably going to get a bunch of crap for that when I get home. I was just worried. He really didn’t bounce back that much this weekend, despite the break so yesterday took a lot out of him. I don’t know what to do. If I go home early, he’s going to be really pissed. He told me if I tried to take the rest of the week off to babysit him, he was going to go check into a hotel.”
“I’m sorry, this has to be tough on both of you. There aren’t many people out there that like feeling as if they can’t take care of themselves. Do you want me to try talking to him?” Aiden offered. “Maybe an outside party can get through to him.”
“I don’t know. I’m already in trouble. I don’t know if I want to make things worse,” Zander laughed humorlessly.
“Well let me know if you want me to try. I was actually coming in to talk to you about a few things regarding the upcoming construction and future plans, but I see that you’re not up to it right now. I can just compile my thoughts and we can discuss it next week when Chris is starting to feel better.”
“No, don’t be silly. I could use the distraction. Sitting here worrying about Chris is just making me crazy,” Zander assured him. “What’s going on?”
“If you’re sure…” Aiden took Zan’s nod as permission to go on. “Okay, so I was talking to Derek last night and I think we need to make a decision on how we’re going to proceed with David’s donation. We’ve spent so much time throwing ideas around, and while it’s good that we’re not rushing into things, it’s been two months and we haven’t accomplished anything.”
“Derek, huh?” Zander asked with a smirk. “You guys have been seeing each other for over three months now. Things must be getting pretty serious.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Aiden replied.
“You guess? That doesn’t sound promising. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. I think I might just be too screwed up in the head to have a healthy relationship.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Aiden hesitated. He really didn’t like talking about himself. He blamed it on too much therapy after the incident. Once he was physically healed from the attack, he started going to one-on-one therapy. His parents forced him to go, and he hated it. He resented anyone who didn’t go through what he had. How could someone sit there and tell him how he should feel when they had no idea how it felt to be beaten and raped while watching their boyfriend die? How could they possibly offer advice? It was one of the reasons why he chose to work with victims of violent crimes. He felt he could offer more than most psychologists because he had firsthand knowledge.
“Aiden, talk to me. I can tell you’re upset, and God knows I run to you with every little thing lately. Let me help you for a change.”
Aiden laughed. “I don’t think coming to me to vent while your partner is fighting cancer can be considered a little thing.”
“You know what I mean. Now stop avoiding the issue. What’s going on?”
“The same thing that always goes on when I meet a guy I like. We start getting close and then I start thinking about the possibility of losing them. It scares the crap out of me, and I start pushing them away,” Aiden finally admitted. “You know, I’m one semester away from a Master’s in Psychology and looking into getting my Doctorate and I can’t figure out how to handle my own life. Sometimes I feel like such a phony.”
“Aid, you’re not a phony. You know as well as I do it’s easier to help someone else through a difficult time then is it is to help ourselves,” Zan pointed out. “I don’t understand though, you didn’t seem to have a problem when you and Jason were dating.”
“Please, let’s face it, Zan. Jason and I never stood a chance, and deep down I knew that. His heart was always with Zac. I was able to just kick back and have fun with him because it was never going anywhere. It’s different with Derek. He wants me. He wants us to be together, maybe even for the long haul. That scares the hell out of me.”
“Does he know how you feel?”
“I haven’t told him, but I get the feeling he’s picking up on things. I spoke with him this morning and asked him if he wanted to come over after work tonight. Tuesdays are his early days. He told me that he figured he’d just give me a night off.”
“Do you want a night off?”
“It depends on the hour,” Aiden chuckled. “When he said that to me, it kind of hurt. He works the late shift at least three to four nights a week and unless I go down to the bar for a beer, I don’t see him. Because of that, we usually spend the other three to four nights together. Now he doesn’t want to see me. And at first, I thought that maybe he was losing interest, but the more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to think he’s pulling away because he thinks that’s what I want. And I don’t. But then…when we are together, I feel myself pulling away because I think we’re getting too close.”
“I told you…I honestly think I’m too screwed up to be in a relationship. I think I’m destined to spend the rest of my life alone, finding an occasional trick when the need arises.”
“Aid, I don’t think you’re screwed up. Despite the fact that the attack happened more than nine years ago, this is the first time you’re allowing yourself to get past the initial dating stage. Of course you’re going to be a little scared. But you need to talk to Derek and let him know how you feel, otherwise you’ll end up alone and I don’t want to see that happen. You deserve to fall in love and be happy, and I know that Christian would want that, too.”
“I know you’re right. It’s just so hard. Derek knew about the attack because his sister was in one of Christian’s classes, but we never really talk about it much. The only time I really open up about what happened is when I’m counseling someone who needs to hear it and I think Jason is the only one who ever really heard all the details. Even after nine years, it’s still hard for me to go back there, you know? The attack was bad, really bad, but the part that hurts the most is reliving the moment when I watched the boy I loved die. No one should ever have to see something like that.”
“I agree. It must have been awful for you. I can’t even imagine. I’m having a hard enough time watching Chris while he’s sick,” Zander replied. “But Aiden, you can’t let what happened keep you from being happy. Life is hard sometimes but having someone to share it with makes it all better. Listen, if your feelings for Derek aren’t that strong, then just say the word and I’ll back off. But that’s not the case, is it?”
Aiden thought about lying but knew Zander wouldn’t believe him if he tried. “No, that’s not the case. I like Derek…a lot. He makes me feel things that I haven’t felt since Christian. That's what scares me the most.”
“But don’t you see? That’s why you need to talk to him and work through your fears. Because this might actually be the real thing and if it is, you don’t want to let it go.”
Aiden had enough of the conversation. “Okay, point taken. Now can we get back to the reason I came in here?”
Zander laughed. “Yes, I’m done preaching for the moment. But seriously, Aid, I’m here if you need to talk some more. Just think about what I said, before it’s too late. I’ve seen the way Derek looks at you. I know if you’re honest with him, he’ll be patient while you work some things out, but everyone has a breaking point. If you leave him in the dark and just keep pushing him away, he’s eventually going to give up.”
“So, I was thinking about calling Stonehedge Construction and having them come out and give us an updated estimate with the changes we talked about and a timeline for the work. We just need to decide what to do about the food pantry.”
Zander smiled as he switched gears and focused on the ideas in front of him. He just hoped that he was able to get through to his friend before his budding relationship fell apart.
“Bri, relax. They are 10 and 11 years old. They don’t need us to hold their hands on every ride. We can see them from here,” Justin pointed out as he tried to reassure his boyfriend. He, Brian, and Trent were at Magic Kingdom and had agreed to let Kaleb and Sophia go on a ride alone, but Brian’s overprotectiveness was in high gear and had been since their plane touched down in Florida two days before.
“I know, I just worry. There is no way I want to call Chris and Zan and tell them that I broke Sophia,” Brian replied, his eyes never leaving the ride.
Trent choked on his drink. “Dude, relax. You’re not going to break Sophia. They’re fine and having the time of their lives. God knows they deserve it after all the shit they’ve been through. You’ve got to relax.”
“I’m trying,” Brian sighed. “I’m just not used to having so much responsibility over another human being. It’s kind of scary.”
“Well you better get used to it before we have our own kids,” Justin told him.
Brian glanced at Justin and then looked away without comment. It had been the third time in the last few weeks that his boyfriend had mentioned them having kids and each time it was said, Brian couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling of dread that bubbled up inside of him. Fear that when he finally sat Justin down and told him he didn’t want to have children, the blond was going to leave him for someone who did. Yet that fear was not as strong as the fear he had of having children and then turning into his father. Jack Kinney was a ruthless man who destroyed the childhoods of two innocent children. There was no way Brian was going to do something that could possibly ruin another. Luckily Matt, David and the girls took that moment to appear and change the subject.
“Sorry we’re so late,” Matt said as he greeted his friends. “Who knew it would take so long for three girls to get ready to go out.”
“Babe, you know how females can be. I don’t know why you’re surprised. Now that we found everybody, I’m going to take the girls over to get them the drink they’ve been begging for. Wait here for us. Come on, girls.”
“They’re only nine. I didn’t think the late gene kicked in until at least the teen years,” Matt chuckled to his friend once David was out of earshot. “Anyway, where are Sophia and Kaleb?”
“They’re on the ride.” Justin motioned to the kids as the ride brought them around again.
“They went on by themselves?” Matt asked in astonishment. “How did you get Mr. Overprotective to agree to that.”
“Oh fuck all of you,” Brian spat. “I’ll be back. I have to take a piss.”
Brian walked to the bathroom they had passed a few minutes earlier and went inside. It was cleaner than he expected, and he sighed in relief. He wasn’t a fan of public bathrooms. After relieving himself and then washing his hands, he was looking at himself in the mirror when he saw a random guy walk in and stop dead in his tracks. “Wow, you’re hot.”
“I know,” Brian drawled with a touch of fake bravado.
“You wanna get out of here? My resort isn’t too far from here.”
Brian stared at the man as an unexpected thrill ran through him. He knew he wasn’t a bad looking guy, average at best, but he never experienced such blatant admiration from a stranger before. “Sorry, I’ve got a boyfriend.”
“So? I do, too. Doesn’t mean I can’t have fun when I want to.” The man walked closer to Brian, seemingly oblivious to all the men who had been walking in and out to use the facilities. “Fucking is just fucking. You can love your boyfriend and still go out and get your needs met. One thing has nothing to do with the other.”
“I’m pretty sure my boyfriend wouldn’t see it that way,” Brian laughed.
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a card, then stuffed it in Brian’s front pocket. “My name’s Damian. I’m staying at the Polynesian until Sunday. Give me a call if you change your mind. My cell phone number is on the back.”
Brian just nodded and walked away, the card in his pocket pushed to the back of his mind as he walked back and joined the others. Once everyone was together, the group went about their day, going on ride after ride, and seeing every show. By the time they made it back to David’s parents’ house, they were all ready to drop from exhaustion. It didn’t take long for the kids to fall asleep, leaving Brian, Justin, David, Matt, and Trent to plan the next day.
“How about if we go to Epcot?” David suggested. He was the only one out of all of them that had been to Disney before. “It’s my second favorite. The food is amazing.”
“That works for me,” Matt agreed.
“Yeah Dude, you’re our tour guide since none of us have been here before. We’ll follow your lead,” Trent pointed out.
Brian sat there pretending to listen to what everyone was saying, but now that they were able to kick back and relax, the card that had been seductively stuffed in his pocket was taunting him. He didn’t know how he felt about the altercation with the guy from the bathroom. He loved Justin, wanted to spend his life with the blond, but being hit on like he was, seeing the desire in a stranger’s eyes made him feel things he never felt before. Made him feel like there might be more out there than sex with the same person over and over again for the rest of his life.
“Brian?” Justin called again.
“Where were you? I was calling your name. Are you feeling okay? Do you want to go lay down? It’s been a long day.”
Brian saw the concern in Justin’s face and immediately felt guilty for his thoughts. “No, I’m fine. I was just thinking about Chris. I’m going to go give him a call and check in.”
“Oh, yeah. Okay. Give him my love.” Once Brian was gone, Justin turned to his friends. “I don’t know what to do about him. Chris’s cancer has really affected him. He’s not the same Brian.”
“I’m sure it’s been tough,” David offered, “but he’ll be okay. Isn’t this Chris’s last week of radiation?”
“Yes, thank God. He looks awful. I’m really worried about him, but sadly, I think I’m more worried about Brian. He’s been moody and restless ever since we found out about the cancer. Once Chris recovered from the surgery, I thought things would get better, but with his reaction to the radiation…I think it just made Brian worse.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like he’s been the last three months, and I met him a few weeks after everything went down with his parents. I think this has him more upset,” Matt agreed. “Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s anything you can do other than what you’ve been doing. Be there for him if he needs to talk and otherwise just let him get through it the only way he knows how. I was actually surprised that he came on the trip.”
“He tried backing out, but Chris wouldn’t let him. He told us that we had to go on our trip and Zander had to go to work or he was going to go check into a hotel somewhere and finish the rest of his treatment all alone.”
Trent laughed. “And he’s just stubborn enough to do it.”
“Exactly, that’s the only reason we’re here.”
“Look, I don’t know Brian as well as you guys do, but he seemed to be having fun today,” David pointed out. “We just have to keep him busy so he can get out of his own head for a while. I have to be honest; I don’t know if I would be any different if it was one of my brothers.”
“I know, I was thinking the same thing,” Matt said. “If it was Mark…I can’t even imagine how hard it must be.”
“Well I don’t have any siblings, but I know how affected I am by Chris’s cancer…and I’ve only known him a couple of years. I’m glad Chris insisted we come. Brian really needed to get away, whether he realizes it or not. Thanks for inviting us, David.”
“Hey, no need to thank me. It’s fun having with everyone here, and I know my parents are enjoying having a full house again. And don’t worry, we’ll keep Brian busy so he has fun, too.”
Brian went outside and down the long, circular driveway to call his brother. He used the call as an excuse to get away from Justin for a few minutes, but he did want to check in on Chris as well. He needed to make sure his brother was okay. It took four rings before he got an answer.
“I wasn’t going to pick up, but Zan insisted,” Chris growled. “Why are you calling me instead of having fun with your friends?”
“Chris, relax. There’s a 3-hour time difference. It’s after eleven here. We’re home for the night because the kids are in bed. We were all just sitting around talking so I figured I'd check in and see how you’re feeling.”
“Oh, okay then,” Chris chuckled. “In that case, I’m fine. A little nauseous, but that’s normal. I’ve got two days down, three more to go. How’re things in sunny Florida? How’s my peanut?”
“Florida is fine, Sophia is having a blast. Everything is okay here,” Brian replied. When he was greeted with silence, he cursed himself for making the call. His brother knew him too well. He needed a change of topic. “Did you know that when you go to Disney for the first time, you get a special button, and everyone pays extra attention to you? Sophia is loving it. She got to meet so many characters today.”
“Bri, what’s going on?” Chris asked.
“Nothing, I’m just tired. You have no idea how big Magic Kingdom is. We were there for over ten hours today. I don’t think I’ve ever walked that much in my life.”
“Look, can you please just drop it? I’m fine, everything is fine. There is nothing I want to talk about, and I certainly don’t want to dump my problems on you…if I had any…which I don’t because I’m fine.”
“Chris, I’m begging you. Please just drop it.”
“Listen, little brother, I think in the last few years I have done a very good job of giving you your space and letting you figure a lot of stuff out on your own, only jumping in when I felt you needed me. Call it big brother instinct, but something in your voice is telling me you need me,” Chris replied. “Bri, talk to me.”
Brian sighed. “Something happened to me today. Something unexpected and unsolicited, but now it has me all freaked out and thinking things I shouldn’t be thinking. Feeling things I shouldn’t be feeling, and I feel so bad. So guilty.”
“When we were at the park, I went to the bathroom and this guy came in. He was really hot, and he…he told me I was hot and asked if I wanted to go back to his place.”
When Brian didn’t say anything further, Chris started having a sinking feeling in his chest. “You didn’t go with him, did you? You didn’t…”
“No!” Brian exclaimed. “No, of course not. I told him I had a boyfriend, and he was like ‘so? I have one, too’. Then he told me that fucking is just fucking and that I can love my boyfriend and still go out and get my needs met. I told him my boyfriend wouldn’t see it that way. He…uh…he pulled out his card and shoved it into my front pocket and then told me to call him if I change my mind.”
Chris chuckled softly. “Oh little brother. I was wondering when you were going to have your first real experience in the gay world.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“Bri, he was cruising you. It happens all the time, usually at the gay bars and clubs, but I’ve even been cruised at the grocery store. Zan and I have both been cruised hundreds of times. Hell, we’ve been cruised in front of each other. It’s no big deal, unless…” Chris trailed off as he realized what had his brother so upset. “You wanted to go with him, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Brian whispered. “What the fuck is wrong with me? I can’t explain it. He walked in, stopped dead in his tracks, looked at me and said ‘you’re hot’ and…it was exciting. In that moment, Justin couldn’t have been further from my mind, and I wanted to go with him. I wanted to…well, you’re my brother so I won’t tell you what I wanted to do, but trust me, I wanted to do it. And I love Justin so much, but am I supposed to be with him forever? Never be with anyone else? I’m 19 years old…shouldn’t I be going out and having fun without the fear of breaking someone’s heart?”
“That depends. Do you want to break things off with Justin?”
“No…I don’t. I mean, I don’t think I do. I can’t imagine my life without him. I love having him in my bed every night. And our sex life…wait, is this too much for you?”
“No, don’t worry about it. I’m already nauseous,” Chris laughed.
“Oh shut up. Anyway, our sex life is amazing. Our relationship is just about perfect. I just…I don’t know. When this guy hit on me, I just wanted to be free to do what I wanted to do, you know? If I could have gone to his place, banged his brains out and then went back to Justin with no repercussions, it would have been a perfect day. Shit!”
“Okay, so what if you had that right? Say you and Justin had an agreement and you were able to go home with this guy. How would you feel if Justin did the same thing? Would you have a problem if some guy cruised Justin, took him home and fucked him? How would that make you feel?”
Brian thought about that for a minute. “I don’t know. You know, I can’t imagine my life without him, but the thought of him being with someone else…fucking someone…it’s kind of hot. Shit, what the hell is wrong with me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you. Open relationships are very common in gay relationships, and even in a lot of straight ones. There’s nothing wrong with it as long as both parties agree. Hell, even Zan and I were open for the first couple years we were together. We rarely ever acted on it, but we had the option to go home with someone as long as it was strictly casual. One night stands only.”
“What? How come I never knew that?”
Chris chuckled. “Because it’s none of your business. And, because we agreed long before you came along that we were past anonymous sex and only wanted to be together. But that’s our relationship. You need to form your own. This is something that you need to talk to Justin about.”
“Yeah, that should go over like a lead balloon. I doubt he’s going to be okay with fucking around,” Brian said.
“Maybe not, but you never know. I do suggest though, that you think things through before you speak with him and decide how important this is to you. If he gives you an ultimatum, you need to know how to respond. If it’s monogamy or nothing, what are you going to choose?”
“I’d choose him. I told you, I can’t imagine my life without him,” Brian insisted.
“Just make sure that if you choose the monogamy road, it’s a road you can travel. Having an open relationship is one thing. Sleeping around behind your partner’s back is unacceptable.”
“I hate this. I don’t want to hurt him. Maybe I should just forget it and keep things as they are.”
“Well that’s always an option, but is that something you can do? Look at your reaction to the very first guy to cruise you? Bri, you’re a very good-looking guy, despite what your insecurities are always telling you. What happened today is not going to be a one-time thing. You need to make sure you can resist the temptation,” Chris told him. “Can you do that?”
Brian wasn’t sure. “I can’t believe you’re encouraging me to consider an open relationship. You and Zan are like the gay supercouple!”
“Is that really what everyone thinks? That’s very flattering, but not true. We are just two men who have chosen to spend our lives together. We’ve had a lot of bumps on the way, and as I said, we tried the open thing for a couple years and enjoyed it during that time. Even had a few threesomes.”
“Eww, I didn’t need to know that.”
Chris laughed. “Sorry bro, but let me tell you…the sight of some guy going down on Zan was one of the hottest things I’ve ever seen. And to be honest, Zan was also the first guy I was ever monogamous with. Before him, I would fuck anything that moved, provided he was hot.”
“Oh my God! How did I never know you were a man whore?” Brian asked with amusement.
“You were fourteen when you came to live with us. That wasn’t something I was going to share with you. Besides, that was a part of my past so there was no need for you to know anyway. But now you know why Zan was so hurt over the Ryan situation. He would have handled a one night stand a lot better because that used to be acceptable in our relationship. He was completely devastated because it was more than one night. That’s what really broke his heart.”
“Wow, I don’t even know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. My relationship isn’t the issue anymore. Now you need to figure out yours. Don’t say anything for a while. Take some time and think about what you want to happen. Once you open Pandora’s box, you can’t close it again and having a conversation like the one you need to have could change your relationship forever. You need to make sure it’s something you want to do before it happens. And of course, if and when you do talk to him, I’ll be there for you if you need it.”
“Thanks Chris. I really appreciate it.”
“Anytime, little brother. Just remember one thing. We’re a family. You, me, Zan, Justin and Sophia. If something ever happens between the two of you and you guys decide to end your relationship, that doesn’t change the family. We’re all in each other’s lives for the long haul. Got it?”
Brian thought about that for a moment. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t ever want to think about it, but even if Justin and I broke up, I would always love him. I couldn’t ever imagine not seeing him again.”
“Good, now I’m going to let you go because I need to lay back down.”
“Seriously Chris, how are you feeling? I hate that I’m not there with you.”
“Why, so you can watch me throw up? Brian, I’m not going to lie to you. This has been the worst experience of my life and on most days I feel like death. But it’s almost over and then I can put it all behind me and move on. I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you, Justin, or Jason for all the help this summer. Hell, everyone has been great. It makes a guy feel special that everyone would put their lives on hold for me.”
“Of course we would. We love you. You’re the patriarch of our family. We need you.”
“Well don’t worry about me. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Brian teased before sobering. “I love you, Chris.”
“I love you, too. Now go have fun and don’t worry about anything else while you’re there. And give my peanut a kiss for me.”
“I will. Give Zan our love. Later.”
Brian stayed outside for another few minutes and thought about what Chris had said. He knew deep down inside that telling Justin he wanted them to be in an open relationship was going to hurt the blond. On the other hand, he had to wonder if keeping his feelings to himself would end up hurting the relationship more. Would he really be able to keep his feelings inside, stay monogamous and not end up unhappy and resentful?
He never heard anyone coming up behind him.
“Hey,” Justin said softly as he walked towards his boyfriend. “Is everything alright at home?”
“Yeah,” Brian sighed. “Everything is fine. I was just getting ready to head inside.”
“Bri, are you okay? You’ve been pretty out of it today. I’m worried about you,” Justin admitted.
“I’m sorry, come here.” Brian pulled Justin into a tight hug. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’m worried about Chris, but I know he’s going to be fine. Just another few days and everything can start getting back to normal.”
“I can’t wait. Now how about if we get inside and get some sleep. Everyone else was going to bed. Spending the day at Magic Kingdom with five kids is not an easy task. I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired.”
Brian looked Justin in the eyes as he gently caressed his cheek. “Does that mean you’re too tired to fuck? Because all I can think about is being inside of you and feeling you grip me from within.”
Justin smiled. “I’ll never be too tired for that. Let’s go, stud.”
An hour later, as Justin lay sleeping in his arms, Brian thought about his conversation with Chris. Maybe an open relationship would make him happy, but he knew without a doubt that it would break Justin’s heart and that was something he couldn’t bring himself to even consider. He loved the blond too much to see the pain in those blue eyes as he tried to explain wanting to have sex with complete strangers. He would just have to put his desires aside and hope that in time, the desires would disappear completely. Maybe one day Justin would be emotionally ready to consider an alternative lifestyle, but Brian refused to bring it up until the time presented itself, if it ever did.
Epilogue – 6 months later
Zander and Chris pulled into the driveway laughing to themselves.
“You had to know there was no way they were going to stay away,” Zan chuckled as he looked at Brian’s jeep parked next to them.
It was a Wednesday in February, and Brian and Justin should be at ASU, but it was also the day of Chris’s six-month check-up. The doctor had ordered blood work, an ultrasound and a pet scan the week before and Chris had to go in for the results. The man had managed to gain back more than half the weight he had lost during his diagnosis and treatment, and he had lost the dark circles under his eyes. The only real evidence was his missing ball and he and Zan had adjusted to the difference quickly. The only thing that mattered to either of them was that the cancer was gone.
“You know, I really love those little shits,” Chris smiled. “I’d be more upset if they didn’t always land on the Dean’s list at school. They’re good students. Missing a class or two really isn’t a big deal for them. Let’s go.”
Chris walked in first and found Brian and Justin sitting in the living room, curled up together on the couch as if it was any other day. “Excuse me you two, I believe you’re supposed to be in class.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brian feigned innocence. “My professors said that I’m such a good student that I could take the rest of the week off. Where have you guys been?”
Zan decided to join in on the joke. “We were out shopping for new curtains for the bedroom. We didn’t find anything we liked, though. Maybe next time. Now I don’t know about you guys, but I’m exhausted. Babe, you wanna go grab a nap with me?”
“Sure, let’s go.” Chris took Zander's hand and started walking down the hall until Justin spoke up.
“Alright, all of you knock it off. We all know you were just at the doctor’s office for your follow-up and you had to know there was no way Brian and I were going to stay at ASU on such an important day. Now what did the doctor say?”
Chris thought about dragging it out, but he didn’t want to leave Brian and Justin in suspense any longer. His cancer had been really hard on both of them. “I am 100% cancer free!”
Brian jumped up and took Chris in his arms, ignoring the silent tears that were slowly running down his face. “Thank God,” he whispered.
“He has to continue going in for six-month check-ups for the next couple of years, but the doctor is confident that he’s going to be okay,” Zan explained as he hugged Justin.
Brian finally let Chris go and cleared his throat as he dried his eyes. “This calls for a celebration! I’ll give everyone a call and have them come over tonight for a barbeque.”
“Bri, it’s a Wednesday in the middle of a school year. Who are you calling? Between work and school, I’m sure everyone is busy,” Chris pointed out.
“Actually,” Justin began. “Everyone is waiting for our call. Jason and Zac are at Zac’s parents’ house, Matt and David are at Eric’s house, Eric and Dane took the night off, Steve’s getting done early and Trent doesn’t have classes on Wednesday.”
“Why? Because we all love you and wanted to be here to celebrate with you,” Brian replied. “Come on, Blondie. Let’s head over to Eric and Steve’s and we’ll make the plans there. Give these two a little time alone.”
“I’m right behind you.”
Chris watched the boys walk away as his eyes filled with tears. He looked at Zan whose eyes were just as damp. “I’m going to say it again. We are very, very lucky.”
“Yes we are,” Zan agreed. “Now, since our home is once again going to be invaded by the teen scene, how about we take a trip down the hall and have our very own celebration, just the two of us.”
“That works for me, blondie. Lead the way.”
Once they were coming down from their intense orgasms, Chris turned to Zan. “Before we have to get up and get ready for the barbeque, I just want to say thank you for all you’ve done to help me through the last nine months. I know it wasn’t easy on you and yet you always managed to stay strong for me and I am so grateful for that. Hearing the doctor tell me I had cancer was the scariest moment of my life, but deep down I knew I’d be okay as long as I had you by my side.”
“I will always be by your side, my love. It’s my favorite place to be,” Zan assured him. “Hearing that you had cancer was the scariest moment in my life too, but I knew I needed to be strong for you so when I needed to let out my fears, I turned to Aiden. He was wonderful through it all, helping me to be here for you. I could never be happy that Jason was attacked, but I am glad that the attack brought Aiden into our lives.”
“Me too. Aside from having someone to go to when you needed it, he’s the reason you’re doing what you love to do with your life. As much as you loved the bookstore, I’ve never seen you as happy as you’ve been since you started working at the center.”
“I am happy. Now that you’re on the road to recovery, I have to say that my life is everything I could have ever dreamed of and more, and I owe it all to having you here with me. You have always been my biggest supporter and gave me the courage to be exactly who I wanted to be. I love you so much, more than you will ever know.”
“I love you too, blondie. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, and I am so thankful that you’re mine.”
Brian pulled up outside of Eric’s house and turned off the jeep but made no move to get out. Justin gave him a few moments before he spoke. “Are you okay?”
Brian just nodded, unable to respond and was happy when Justin pulled him into his arms. “I’ve been so scared these last nine months. I know I have you and Zander, but the thought of something happening to Chris…it was just too much.”
“I know, but it’s over now. Chris is getting stronger every day and he just got a clean bill of health from the doctor. Life is good again,” Justin assured him.
Brian hugged Justin a few moments longer and then pulled back, looking into his favorite blue eyes. “Thank you for being by my side through it all. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“No need to thank me. There is nowhere else I’d rather be,” Justin promised. “Now let's go let the extended family know the good news. We have a lot of celebrating to do.”
Are you curious as to what happens to the gang in the future? Stay tuned.
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