Now That You’re Here: Life Moves On


Chapter 1



Five years later…



“Mr. Kinney, do you have a minute?”


Brian looked up from his desk and smiled. “Sure Tony, what’s up?”


“I was wondering if there’s a way I can get some extra credit for this marking period. I really bombed on yesterday’s test, and I don’t want my GPA to suffer.”


“I have to say, I was a little surprised to see you only got a C. What happened?”


“There was just some stuff going on,” Tony replied softly, his eyes trained on the floor. “I just know that I can do better next time and if I could do some extra credit, I should be able to get my overall grade back to an A.”


Brian could see that the kid was upset and wanted to help. He had noticed a faraway look in his eyes several times during class and had a sinking feeling that he was in some kind of trouble. He stood up and shut his door before going back and leaning against his desk in front of Tony.


“Tony, I can see something’s bothering you. I promise I won’t tell anyone if you want to talk about it.”


“I’m not really supposed to talk to anyone,” Tony said.


“I understand, but sometimes a person needs to talk about things to help them feel better. I don’t judge.”


Tony looked into Mr. Kinney’s face and decided to tell him what was going on. Someone needed to know. He needed help. “It’s my dad.”


“Your dad?” Brian prodded.


“Yeah, he um…sometimes he drinks too much. Then he…he gets angry.”


Brian’s stomach dropped. “Does he hurt you?”


“No, not really. Maybe a smack here or there, but nothing bad. I’m more worried about my mom. When he comes home really mad, my mother always makes me go to my room and stay there. I can hear them yelling and sometimes I hear things breaking and my mother is always crying. By morning, she usually has a new bruise or two, sometimes she’s limping.”




“She begged me not to tell anyone, but I don’t know what to do. He’s going to end up hurting her really bad one day and then what? What’s going to happen to me? She’s the one that protects me from him. Anyway, I was trying to study for the test the other night and my dad came home drunk again. It was pretty bad. I couldn’t get any studying done and my mom…well, he beat her up pretty bad. I couldn’t really concentrate on the test, you know? But if you let me do extra credit, I promise I’ll get it done right away and I won’t let anything stop me.”


“Tony, I think you should go talk to Mrs. Spellman. Maybe she can…”


“No, I can’t go to her. I’m not supposed to tell anyone,” Tony reminded him.


“But she’s a counselor. She might be able to find someone who can help you.”


“I don’t need her help. I just need your help with the extra credit. I need to maintain my GPA so I can get a scholarship to a good college. I need to get a good job and make a lot of money so my mom can leave my dad,” Tony explained. “You promised you wouldn’t say anything. Can I please just get an extra credit assignment?”


Brian sighed in defeat. “Yeah, okay. Why don’t you write a short story using the characters from one of Shakespeare’s plays? Your choice, just modernize it to today’s standards. Use your imagination, just make sure all your grammar and punctuation is correct.”


“Thanks Mr. Kinney. I really appreciate it,” Tony exclaimed with excitement. “I’ll see you Monday.”


Brian watched the kid leave his classroom before kicking the desk in front of him. He wasn’t sure how he was going to handle the situation he found himself in and he was pissed. He knew he shouldn’t have promised Tony he would keep his secret. As an educator, he was obligated to report any signs of abuse he might see. Yet he didn’t want to break Tony’s confidence. It was obvious the kid needed someone to listen and help him, and it appeared that he wasn’t the one in immediate danger. The ringing bell signaled that it was the end of his free period, and he was about to be bombarded by thirty 14-year-olds. Thoughts of Tony had to be put into the back of his mind for the time being. He would think about his next move later.





Steve walked through the door after work, ready to enjoy the rest of his day. Business had been booming at the store and due to a staff shortage, he hadn’t had many days off in the last couple of months. But that was over now. He had two new employees trained and ready to go, which was why he decided to leave for the day around noon. He was hoping that with Abby in school, he and Charlie could have a little bit of time alone.


“There’s my loving husband,” Charlie said as she came into the room. “I have to say, when you told me you would be home early, I didn’t really believe you.”


Steve laughed as he greeted his wife. “Are you kidding? I’m so ready to leave that place in my employees’ hands and be able to spend more time with my family. How’s my little man?”


Charlie rubbed her ever growing belly. “He is kicking up a storm. I know I’m supposed to have three more months, but I get the feeling he’s going to come early.”


“As long as he’s healthy, I’m okay with that. I can’t wait to meet my son,” Steve replied with a huge grin. As much as he loved Abby, and considered her his daughter, he was so excited to be having a child of his own. It was something he had wanted since he was a kid. The fact that he was having the child with Charlie was just icing on the cake. He couldn’t believe how lucky he had been to find her. He was still so thankful that he had dropped out of Princeton and gone home to Sierra Vista. “How’re you feeling?”


“Like a whale? I can’t believe how big I am. I wasn’t nearly this big when I was pregnant with Abby,” Charlie laughed.


“Well, I think you look beautiful. More beautiful than the first day you walked into the bookstore, if that’s even possible,” Steve told her as he caressed her cheek, and he meant every word. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”


“I love you, too. Now, what do you want to do with our afternoon? We have a little over three hours until Abby gets home from school. Do you want to go out to lunch? Maybe go shopping at that little village not too far from here?”


“Actually, what I really want to do is take you to bed and make love to you over and over again until the bus pulls up out front,” Steve purred. He leaned in and nibbled on Charlie’s ear, knowing how much that turned her on. “What do you say?”


“God Steve, do you even have to ask? Let’s go.”


Three hours and a long slow shower for two later, Steve managed to get dressed in just enough time to meet Abby at the bus stop.


“Daddy! You’re home,” Abby shrieked as she ran into her father’s arms. “You’re never home this early.”


“I know buttercup, but I missed you and Mommy so much that I decided to take the afternoon off.”


“Yay! Can we go to the park? We haven’t been to the park in forever!”


Steve laughed at his daughter’s enthusiasm. “The park it is. Come on, let’s get you inside and into your play clothes.”


Abby’s excitement grew even more as they got inside and got ready to go. They were just about to walk out the door when Steve’s phone rang.


“No Daddy, don’t answer it. Every time your phone rings, it’s work, and you have to leave. We have to go to the park!”


Steve felt guilty at Abby’s reaction and sighed in relief when it saw it was his brother. “Relax buttercup. It’s Uncle Eric.”


Abby sighed dramatically. “Okay, but please hurry up. I want to get to the park.”


“It’s okay, why don’t you and Mommy go ahead, and I’ll catch up with you in a few.”


Charlie leaned in and gave Steve a kiss. “Tell Eric I said hello. Come on, baby, we can go check the mail before we get in the car, give your daddy a few minutes with Uncle Eric.”


As soon as they were gone, Steve answered the phone. “Hey bro, what’s up?”


“I found it!” Eric exclaimed with excitement.


Steve was confused. “Found what?”


“The perfect place! Remember that restaurant downtown, Enrique’s? The one that suddenly shut down with no warning? Apparently the owner got himself into a shitload of trouble and he needs to sell the place to afford his legal expenses. His lawyer’s wife is my realtor and she called me immediately. This is it! I’m finally going to have my own place.”


“Eric, man. That’s awesome! I’m so happy for you.”


“Thanks. I’ve enjoyed working for Robert, but having my own place is my dream. I can’t wait to be able to get in there and make it my own.”


“This calls for a celebration. Charlie and I are taking Abby to the park right now, but how about we go out to dinner tonight? My treat,” Steve offered.


“Steve, you don’t have to do that.”


“I know, but I want to. I’m so proud of you. We can go to The German Café. I’ll call and reserve a table. How many?”


“We are now a household of four. Julia has officially moved in with us as of this past weekend,” Eric told him.


“You got it. Now I’d better get out to the car before Abby comes in and drags me out. I’ll see you at 6:00.”


“I’ll see you then. Thanks Steve.”


“No problem, and again congratulations. I’m so happy for you.”


Once Steve disconnected the call, he headed outside to join his family. The park that Abby liked the best was a short trip from their house. Once they were there, Abby saw a few friends from school and quickly took off to play with them, leaving him and Charlie alone.


“Hey, we’re going to meet Eric at The German Café at six for dinner. Is that alright? I told him we need to celebrate. He finally found the location for his restaurant. In fact, I better call them now and make a reservation.”


“That’s wonderful! Of course we have to celebrate. This is huge!” Charlie exclaimed.


Once Steve was promised a table for seven, he turned to Charlie. “Eric said that Julia has officially moved in with them. I still can’t believe Sandy has agreed to give up custody.”


“Sweetheart, despite her issues, she loves her daughter. She knows deep down inside that at least for the time being, Julia would be better off with Dane than with her,” Charlie said. “You’ve got to give her credit for that.”


“I just can’t believe she allowed herself to get into the mess she’s in.”


“Allowed herself? She’s an alcoholic. I don’t think she allowed herself. It was beyond her control.”


“I guess,” Steve signed. “But I don’t understand why she didn’t come to one of us when she realized there was a problem.”


“I do. She thought she could handle it. She didn’t think she had a problem. The last thing she wanted to do was to have to ask for help from her “baby daddy” and his friends. I was afraid this was going to happen. Ever since she started dating Joel, I’ve had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.”


“Well, luckily Joel is history and now she can get the help she needs. Poor Julia though. I’m sure she’s going to love living with Eric, Dane, and Gracie, but her whole life is going to be uprooted. It’s going to be a huge adjustment.”


“Probably not much of one. Ever since Dane moved in with Eric, she’s been spending a lot of time over there. She already had her own bedroom. And her and Gracie get along really well despite the three-year age difference. I think this is going to be the best thing for Julia. By the time Sandy gets it together, I think Julia’s going to want to stay with her dad,” Charlie said.


“I hope so. I know Dane hates what Sandy is going through right now, but I also know he’s thrilled to have his daughter with him full time.”


“Mommy…Daddy…is it alright if I go over to Shana’s house? Her mom said it was okay,” Abby asked as she and her friend ran over to them. “Please?”


“Sweetheart, we have dinner plans tonight. We’re going to go out to dinner with Uncle Eric and Uncle Dane. Maybe another night,” Steve explained.


Abby thought about it for a moment and then smiled as she turned to her friend. “Sorry, I can’t go. My uncles are the best. I guess I’ll see you in school tomorrow.”


Steve breathed a sigh of relief that Abby didn’t put up a fight. In the last year she had been trying to see how far she could push them. He had done some research and learned that it was all a part of growing up, but he really wasn’t in the mood for a confrontation. “We have a little more time. Why don’t you go play for a little while longer?”


“I don’t really want to anymore. Daddy, can we go to the pet store?”


“I don’t think that’s a good idea, sweetheart. You’re always sad when we leave there, and we still can’t get a pet. As long as we’re renting our house and we don’t own it, we’re not allowed to have any pets.” Steve hated having to tell Abby no. He really wanted to get her a cat, but the landlord wouldn’t allow pets. He had been hoping to be able to buy a house, but most of their extra money had been going to his education. With running the store, he hadn’t been able to pursue college full time, but he managed to do well taking two to three classes a semester and was finally graduating with his bachelor’s degree in business in May. He could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. He hoped to be able to buy a house by the end of the following year.


“I promise I won’t ask for anything, Daddy. I just want to play with the kitties.”


Charlie looked over at Steve. “Come on Daddy, let’s go play with the kitties.”


Steve didn’t even try to argue. He knew that when it was two against one, there was no use. He really hoped that when his son was born, there would be a shift in testosterone throughout the house because for the last five years, it had been all about the hormones. “Come on my beauties, let’s go.”






Eric hung up the phone and smiled. He was really proud of his accomplishments, but with the drama going on around him, he didn’t want to make a big deal about it. He was glad that Steve cared enough to make a fuss.


“Dad, what are we doing for dinner? I’m starving,” Gracie said as she walked into the living room.


Eric missed the days when Gracie called him Daddy, but she was already 10 years old and growing up fast. These days ‘Daddy’ was saved for when she wasn’t feeling well or when she wanted something. “We’re actually going out for dinner. We’re going to meet Uncle Steve and Aunt Charlie over at The German Café.”


“Oh good! I have to talk to Aunt Charlie about something,” Gracie told him.


“What do you have to talk about? You know you can always come to me or Dane,” Eric assured her.


“Dad,” Gracie sighed. “It’s about girl stuff. I can’t talk to you. You’re boys.”


Eric fought to hold back his laughter. “Sorry, Peanut, I forgot.”


“And really Dad, could you please stop calling me Peanut? I’m ten now. Peanut is a silly name.”


“Alright, little girl, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but you need to slow your butt down. You are still my little girl and I’m not letting you grow up just yet. You have a few more years before I’m willing to consider treating you as anything other than my little girl, got it?” Eric asked as he grabbed his Peanut and tickled her as she screamed.


“Daddy, stop!” Gracie shrieked. “Stop! I can’t breathe.”


“Daddy…that’s better,” Eric said as he let Gracie go. “Peanut, listen. I know you’re anxious to grow up, but I need you to stay my little girl for a little while longer. Ten isn’t as old as you think it is. Don’t rush it. Trust me, it goes faster than you think.”


“Okay, I’ll try. But I still want to talk to Aunt Charlie. I want to be prepared for when I get my first period,” Gracie said.


Eric didn’t know how to respond. Luckily he didn’t have to. Julia chose that moment to walk into the room and end the conversation. “Eric, do you know when my daddy will be home?”


Eric glanced at the clock. “It shouldn’t be too much longer, Munchkin. Do you need something?”


The little girl sighed. “No, I’ll just wait for Daddy.”


Eric hated the sadness he had been seeing in Julia’s eyes ever since she moved in over the weekend, but he didn’t know what to do about it. She had also been extra clingy with Dane, which was unlike her. In the years that Dane and Eric had been dating, and then living together, she never seemed to be reserved. He wasn’t sure what had changed. Unless she was just really worried about her mom, which was possible. “Julia, if you need something and your daddy’s not here, you can come to me. I’ll take really good care of you when he’s not around. Now what do you need?”


“Um…can I have a drink? I’m thirsty,” she replied softly.


“Gracie, can you do me a favor and give Julia and me a few moments alone? I think we need to have a little chat while we have our drink,” Eric said as he looked over at his daughter. “Please?”


“Sure Dad, I have some homework to do anyway.”


Once they were alone, Eric turned to Julia and reached out for her hand. “Let’s go, Munchkin.”


Julia hesitated for a moment, but then took Eric’s hand and allowed herself to be lead into the kitchen. Once they were there, she took a seat at the table and waited. She hoped she wasn’t in trouble. She had promised her mommy that she wouldn’t get in any trouble while she was staying with her daddy.


Eric waited until he had their drinks poured and was able to sit down before he began. “Okay, Munchkin, I need you to tell me what’s bothering you.”


“What’s bothering me?”


“Come on, sweetheart, ever since you moved in here you haven’t been yourself. It’s obvious something is bothering you. Please talk to me. Are you upset that your mommy had to go away? You know it’s not forever, right? She’s just…sick right now. But she’s going to a place that is going to make her all better. You don’t have to worry about her.”


“I know. Daddy explained it all to me. I’m going to miss her, but I know she had to go and that once she’s all better, I’ll see her again,” Julia said.


“Okay, if you’re not upset about your mommy, then what’s going on? Are you unhappy that you had to move in here?” When Julia didn’t respond, Eric got a sinking feeling in his chest. “I’m a little confused. Why are you unhappy here? I thought you liked coming over and spending the weekends here. Did I do something to upset you? Did Gracie?”


“No,” Julia whispered, her lip quivering.


“Honey, talk to me. How can I make it all better if I don’t know what’s wrong?”


“I…I overheard Mommy talking…on the phone. She was talking about my friend Jessica and about how Jessica’s Mommy moved in with her boyfriend, but the boyfriend didn’t want to raise another man’s kid and now Jessica is going to live with her grandparents, so the boyfriend doesn’t leave,” Julia explained.


“Um…okay. So you’ve been upset because you’re worried about Jessica?” Eric asked in confusion.


“No…I don’t really even like Jessica. She’s too bossy.”


“Okay, you’re going to have to explain this to me a little better. What exactly are you upset about?”


Julia sighed. “Well now I’m living here…and what if you don’t want to raise someone else’s kid? It was different when I only came to visit, but I don’t want to do something bad and make you and Daddy send me to live with Grandma and Grandpa. I like it here.”


“Oh Munchkin, come here,” Eric said as he opened his arms. It only took a moment before Julia threw herself at Eric. “I promise you, that is never going to happen. I love having you here. As far as I’m concerned, this house is as much yours as it is mine, Gracie’s, and your Dad’s. You will always be welcome to live here.”


“So you like other people’s kids?”


Eric laughed. “Yes, I like other people’s kids…but I love you. I know technically I’m not your dad. You already have one of those, but I love him and plan on spending the rest of my life with him, so in a way, I feel like you’re my daughter, too. Does that make sense to you?”


Julia just shook her head and shrugged.


“Okay, sit back down. Maybe it’s time I tell you about Gracie. You know she’s my daughter, right? And she calls me Daddy?”


“Uh huh.”


“Well, what you didn’t know is that technically, I’m not her daddy. She was born to a different mommy and daddy. But her mommy died when she was just a tiny baby. I never got to meet her. After that, I started living with her Daddy. We were together just like your daddy and I are now. His name was Cooper. Gracie was only a couple years old then…so young, that she just started calling me Daddy, too. And I fell in love with her right away.”


“So then where is her daddy now?”


“Sadly, he died too. When Gracie was only four. That was when she came to live with me. You see, you don’t have to be related by blood to be family. When I started dating your daddy, you were so little that I kind of feel like you’re mine because I’ve known you almost your whole life. You already have a mom and dad, so we just had you call me Eric, but if anyone asks me, I tell them I have two beautiful daughters. That’s how much I love you and how much I want you here. Do you understand? I don’t ever want you to worry about being sent away because it will never, ever happen.”


Julia jumped back out of her seat and threw herself into Eric’s arms. “I love you, too! If anyone asks, do you think it would be alright if I told them I have two daddies?”


Eric felt a lump forming in his throat. “I would love that.”


“Okay, I’m gonna go play now.”


Once she was gone, Eric wiped the dampness from his eyes and stood up in time to see Dane walk into the kitchen. “Hey, I was wondering when you were going to get home.”


Dane walked right over to his boyfriend and kissed him deeply before pulling back and looking him in the eye. “I love you so much.”


“I love you, too,” Eric replied. “But what did I do to earn such a proclamation?”


“I got home a few minutes ago and I heard your conversation with Julia. You are the sweetest man alive. Do you know that? I’ve been trying to figure out what was going on with her. I assumed she was just missing Sandy. I had no idea she was worried about being sent away. Sometimes her mind…she just hears snippets of a conversation and uses her imagination to conjure up the weirdest scenarios. Thank you for reassuring her how much we love her.”


“You don’t have to thank me. Everything I said to her was true. I do tell anyone who will listen that I have two beautiful daughters, because I do. I couldn’t love her more if she was my own flesh and blood. Gracie too. I don’t know what it’s like to have a child of my own, but I don’t need to. I’m a very lucky man and I’m grateful every day that I have you and Julia in my life.”


“I feel very lucky, too. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I ended up with Steve’s smoking hot, older brother.”


“Smoking, huh?”


“Oh yeah, definitely smoking.”


“Hmm…wait until tonight when our daughters are in bed, and I can show you just how hot we can be together.”


Dane shivered at the thought. “I can’t wait. But until then, what’s for dinner? I’m starving.”


“Actually, we’re going out to dinner with Steve and Charlie tonight. I told him about the restaurant, and he wanted to take me out to celebrate. You don’t mind, do you?”


“Of course not! You deserve to be celebrated! And besides, I haven’t talked to Steve in weeks. It will be good to catch up with them. What time are we meeting them?”


Eric glanced at his watch. “We have to leave in about an hour.”


“Perfect. I’ll go say hello to the girls and then get cleaned up. Any chance you want to come give me a preview of what’s coming this evening?”


“I’ll meet you in the bedroom,” Eric said as he slapped Dane’s ass before leaving the kitchen.


Dane laughed as he watched the older man leave. He really was a very lucky man.







Justin was putting the finishing touches on his latest painting when he heard a knock at the front door followed by someone calling out his name. “I’m in my studio.”


“Of course you are,” Jason replied with a laugh. “Where else would you be?”


“Oh stop. You know I have a show coming up. I need to finish getting everything ready.”


“And what’s your excuse when you don’t have a show coming up?”


“There’s always going to be another show coming up. At least I hope there will be,” Justin replied. “Besides, this is my job. I’m working. It’s no different than you going into work every day.”


“Yes it is. I go to work in an office every day. I work my schedule and then I go home. You work days, nights, weekends…Hell, you bought a fixer upper almost five months ago and the only room you actually fixed up is your studio,” Jason pointed out. “Face it my friend, you need to get a life.”


“I have a life,” Justin insisted.


“Really? When was the last time you went out and got laid?”


“A week ago.”


“I’m not talking about the weird pseudo friendship thing you’ve got going on with Brian. I’m talking about you actually meeting someone, having a relationship with them. Moving on.” Jason paused as he watched a wave of emotions wash over Justin’s face. “Jus, you and Brian broke up over six months ago and I think it’s great that you found a way to stay friends for the sake of the family, but you really need to move on. Life is passing you by and you’re missing it because you spend all of your time in your studio, except for the occasional roll in the hay with your ex-boyfriend.”


“That’s not true,” Justin insisted. “I’ve gone out with other guys since Brian and I broke up.”


“A one-night stand here and there doesn’t count.”


“Yes it does.”


“Justin, please help me to understand because I’m confused. When you and Brian broke up, you said it was because he wanted an open relationship and you didn’t.”


“Yeah, so? I know a lot of people have open relationships and that’s fine for them. It’s just not something I can live with.”


“I understand that, but technically isn’t that what you and Brian have now? You guys still talk every day, you still go out to the bar together…when he can drag you out of your studio…you’re still fucking. Hell, you still end every conversation with I love you! The only thing that’s different is you’re not living together.”

Before Justin could respond, his cell phone rang. He contemplated ignoring it just on principle but knew that he wouldn’t. “Hey Bri, what’s up?”


“Hey Jus, I was just wondering if you wanted to have dinner with me tonight. I need your advice on something so I figured I’d swing by that Thai place you like so much and grab some of their Drunken Noodles. How does that sound?”


Justin glanced over at Jason and hated the smug look on his face. “Yeah, that works. Just don’t forget the Pot Stickers this time.”


“Not gonna happen, blondie. That’s a mistake I’ll never make again. See you in about an hour. Love you.”


“Love you, too.”


“So…” Jason said with a smile when Justin ended his call. “Another date with your ex?”


“Fuck you! It’s not a date. He just needs my advice on something.”


“And instead of going to Chris, or Zan, or any of his other friends, he goes running to you…with dinner.”


“Is there a reason you came over here other than to give me a hard time?”


“Justin, I’m sorry. I’m just really worried about you. I know how heartbroken you were when Brian told you he wanted to open things up and I get why you refused. I don’t think I’d be happy in an open relationship. But what you’re doing isn’t working, either. You’re miserable. You rarely go out, you hardly see your friends anymore, you won’t date. I don’t know why you were so opposed to an open relationship if you were going to end up being alone and still fucking Brian. Why not just have an open relationship? At least then you’d still be with the love of your life.”


Justin didn’t have a response. What could he say? How could he give Jason an answer when he didn’t have one? When Brian first approached him about an open relationship, Justin had been devastated. He couldn’t understand how Brian could say he loved him and that he wanted to sleep with other men in the same breath. It didn’t make any sense. But Brian had insisted that despite his love for Justin, he needed more. After almost a month of talking and fighting and fucking, Justin decided that he couldn’t stay in a relationship with someone who couldn’t be monogamous, no matter how much he loved Brian.


Moving out of the apartment they had shared was one of the hardest things Justin had ever done, but he knew he had to do it. And over the last almost six months, they had managed to save their friendship and stay close…probably too close. The first time they had ended up in bed together was about four weeks after their break-up and it had been awful. The sex had been better than ever, but when Brian got up to leave, Justin burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably for almost an hour. Brian held him while he cried, but in the end, he left to go back to his own apartment and Justin had been left feeling more alone than ever and vowed to start putting some distance between them, but it never worked. The pull was always too strong. And ever since their first hook up, the longest they had gone without hooking up was three weeks and that was mostly because Justin had a New York showing so he spent almost three weeks on the east coast.


“Justin, I’m not trying to be the bad guy here, but if you can’t accept Brian for who he is, then you need to stop spending all your time with him and move on. You know in your heart I’m right. It’s one of the reasons that nobody knows you two have been hooking up. You wouldn’t be keeping it a secret if there wasn’t something to hide.”


“I know…I know, I know, I know. You’re absolutely right. I just don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know how to tell him no. I don’t know how to tell myself no,” Justin said softly. “Jas, I love him so much. Why can’t I be enough for him?”


Jason took his friend in his arms as the tears started to fall. “I don’t know the answer to that. All I do know is that I hate to see you hurting like this. I know how hard it is to end a relationship, remember? There are still some days when I really miss Zac, but I’ve moved on. I had to let him go so I could move on.”


“Yeah, well at least Zac was nice enough to move out of state so you didn’t have to see him all the time,” Justin laughed humorlessly. “Have you talked to him lately?”


“A few weeks ago. He’s coming home in a couple of weeks and is staying through the new year. He asked to see me, wanted to know if I was still with Macy. He sounded a little upset when I told him that we were moving in together. I don’t know why. We’ve been broken up for almost four years now. What difference does it make if I’m living with someone?”


“Really? You have to ask? Jas, he’s still in love with you. He transferred to a college in another state just so he could try to get over you. Of course he doesn’t want to think about you moving in with someone else,” Justin replied. “Are you going to see him?”


“I…don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”


“Why? Do you think Macy would be mad?”


“No, I know for a fact Macy wouldn’t be mad. She…uh…has no idea that Zac and I were together. She doesn’t actually know I’m bi-sexual.”


“What? Why? That’s not something you should be keeping from a girl you're dating, especially if you’re planning on living together,” Justin told him. “Is that why you haven’t brought her around? You’re worried about what she might find out?”


“I don’t know. Maybe. It’s complicated, you know? I’ve talked to girls about it before and knowing that I like guys…it kind of weirds them out, you know? And there’s no reason for her to know. As long as I’m with her, my interest in men is irrelevant because I only date one person at a time. I can’t imagine hopping from bed to bed.” Jason saw a flash of pain in Justin’s eyes. “Sorry…I didn’t mean it like that.”


“No, I know. How the hell did this happen? Five years ago we were both extremely happy and in love with the men in our lives and now here we are. I can’t seem to stay away from the one guy I should definitely stay away from and you’re back in the closet to please a girl while missing the only man you’ve ever loved. Life really sucks.”


“You ain’t kidding,” Jason laughed. “Listen, I need to get going. I have to meet Macy for dinner and I definitely don’t want to be here when Brian shows up. I love the guy, but I don’t like what he’s doing to you and I don’t want to put myself in the middle of whatever it is that you two have going on. Just do me a favor and be careful. I don’t want to see you get hurt any more than you already have been.”


“Thanks Jason. I appreciate it. I’m here if you need to talk.”


“Same here. Love you!”


“Love you.”


Justin walked his friend to the door and then dropped himself down on the couch. “What the fuck am I doing?” he asked the empty room.






It was getting so hot…way too hot…and Kaleb knew that they needed to stop. He also knew in the back of his mind that it was up to him to stop it, before things went too far and he broke the promise he made to T. He suddenly pulled back and tried to catch his breath.


“Why did you stop?”


“Because we have to stop,” Kaleb said.


“But I don’t want to stop,” Sophia purred. She reached up and pulled Kaleb back down into another heated kiss. He allowed her to be pull him back down and groaned as Sophia kissed him while thrusting her hips up, feeling Kaleb’s hard on.


She didn’t know why he kept telling her no when it was so obvious that he wanted her as much as she wanted him. She deepened the kiss as she rolled them over, taking the top position. She broke free from the kiss just long enough to pull her shirt over her head, and then attacked his mouth again. She was determined to get her own way this time. He had been keeping her at arm’s length long enough.


Kaleb ran his hands over Sophia’s bare back, a little surprised to know that she didn’t have anything on under her shirt. Then again, knowing his girlfriend as well as he did, he had a feeling she had nothing on under her pants either. She had been trying to get them to have sex for the last seven months. Ever since Kaleb took the plunge and asked her to be his girlfriend, changing their friendship in the process, but he kept putting the brakes on. It wasn’t easy, either. His interest in her being more than just his friend started right around her fourteenth birthday, but he tried to ignore his feelings. He didn’t want to lose his best friend if things didn’t work out, and he definitely didn’t want to risk Chris or Zander killing him for his impure thoughts. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop those feelings. They just seemed to grow stronger as time went on until he finally gave up and told her how he felt. He was thrilled when she had admitted to liking him as more than a friend as well, and they started dating immediately. No one in their family knew they were together. Having such a huge, blended family made it hard to hide their relationship, but they had managed to keep it to themselves.


The only problem was that Sophia was getting very tired of being told no and Kaleb refused to do anything to break the promise he made to Trent when they had the sex talk. He had agreed to wait until he was at least eighteen, and then he would only cross the line with someone who really mattered to him. Someone he could see spending the rest of his life with. That part was easy. He had no doubt that he loved Sophia and hoped that they stayed together for the long haul. No, the problem was trying to wait until he was eighteen when Sophia didn’t even want to wait until she was sixteen. He was raised with morals, but a sixteen-year-old boy could only stand so much temptation before he exploded. He pulled her close and flipped them back over, this time jumping off the bed entirely, to put some much-needed space between them.


“Kaleb…” Sophia whined.


“Soph, we have to stop. I told you, neither one of us is ready for sex yet. And besides, there is no way I would have sex with you in your house. Chris and Zander would kill me if they found us.”


“You don’t have to worry about them. Zan has a group session going on right now and Chris is out of town for a signing. No one is going to find us.”


“I don’t understand what the rush is,” Kaleb said softly. “Why isn’t it enough that we’re together and we can hold hands and kiss and stuff. Why are you so determined to do more?”


Sophia looked at her boyfriend and could feel tears pooling in her eyes. “I don’t know. I just…”


“Soph, talk to me.”


“Do you remember when you took me to the spring formal? We had just started dating and we told Trent, Zan and Chris that we were going as friends?”


“Of course I remember. I still consider that our first official date,” Kaleb smiled as he sat on the bed next to Sophia and took her hand. “I was so happy that night.”


“I was too,” Sophia insisted. “But then when I went into the bathroom, I overheard some girls talking about you. This one girl said that you were hot and she wanted to ask you to dance. Another girl said that you were there with me and the first girl said that I was too young for you. That you wouldn’t want to be saddled with a baby. You’re sixteen now…getting ready to get your license and looking into colleges. I don’t want you to think of me as an annoying little girl.


“Oh Soph, I would never think of you that way,” Kaleb assured her. “Those girls, whoever they are, don’t know what they’re talking about. First of all, you’re only a year younger. That’s not a huge age difference. Look around us? Just about everybody has an age difference. Hell, even your bother and Chris have six years between them. And on top of that you’re my best friend and I love you. I don’t care how old you are. We belong together. Yes, there is an issue with age…both of our ages. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that at fifteen and sixteen years old, we’re ready for sex. That might make me sound uncool, but Trent and I had a long talk about sex and what it means and when it’s appropriate and I promised him that I would wait until I’m at least eighteen. I don’t want to break that promise. Do you think you can be happy with me if we just stick to what we’ve been doing for now?”


Sophia looked up at him and smiled. “As long as you’re sure you’ll still love me no matter what.”


“I promise…I will still love you no matter what.”


“Okay, then I’ll stop trying to get in your pants,” Sophia laughed. “You know, you and your values are going to start making teenage boys look good.”


“I’m okay with that. As long as I have you, I’m happy. I love you, Soph.”


“Love you, too.”


End of part 1



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