Now That You’re Here: Life Moves On


Chapter 13










Matt was sitting in the living room looking through a stack of wedding magazines when David walked in looking exhausted. “Hey babe, how was your day? You look beat.”


“I’m exhausted,” David replied. “This fundraiser is going to be the death of me. It’s the biggest one I’ve done so far and twice the trouble. Thank God I hired Gina. I may have just been trying to help someone who was down on her luck, but she’s a Godsend. When I hired her, we discussed the possibility of the position being temporary, but I’m not letting her go. I’m going to talk to her once the craziness is over and offer her a permanent position, which will include benefits and a company car. I know she’s still taking the bus or an uber everywhere because she’s saving her sign-on bonus to find an apartment, but I need her to be able to get around. The last couple of days she took my car to run a few errands for the office, but she says it’s too nerve wracking to drive a car that costs more than her annual salary.”


“I agree with her. I hate it when you make me drive the Lexus. It definitely cost more than my annual salary,” Matt chuckled.


David took a seat next to Matt and leaned in for a kiss before responding. “Hey, if you don’t want to drive my car, then let me buy you a new one that actually starts when you turn the key.”


“Hey, stop picking on my truck. She’s been good to me for a long time.”


“A very long time,” David pointed out. “Which is why you’ve had to put her in the shop twice in the last four months. Please babe, let me buy you a car. Think of how much fun we can have shopping for one. We can go to all the dealerships in town and test drive whatever cars you like. We’ll make a day of it.”


“I told you; I don’t want you to buy me a car. I can buy my own with a little money down and a reasonable monthly payment.”


“Okay, you’re leaving me no other choice,” David replied as he turned his entire body so that he was facing Matt. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you propose to me the other night?”


“Yes, but…”


David didn’t let him finish. “And I said yes, right?”


“I know, but…”


“That means that we are going to be married, which will make you my husband. Which means that whatever is mine, is yours. So, no more discussions. I am buying you a new vehicle this weekend. You can either concede nicely and help me pick it out, or I’m just going to buy whatever I like, and you know my taste tends to run really expensive. Somehow, I don’t think you want to pull up at the police station in a car that starts at six figures.”


Matt didn’t doubt that his fiancé would follow through on his threats. “Okay, fine. But I don’t need a new car. We can go to the used lot over on Main St.”


“Babe. We’re not buying a used car. I promise not to go overboard, but buying a used car is buying someone else’s headache. Your new car is going to have less than 100 miles on it,” David knew he had finally won the argument and it was time to change the subject. “So, what are you reading?”


Matt smiled. “Don’t make fun of me, but I picked up a couple bride’s magazines. I tried to find ones that focused more on venues, menus, and flowers than on dresses, but that wasn’t easy. Someone needs to design a groom’s magazine for us gay men.”


David laughed. “I agree. But babe, I know we haven’t discussed what we want for our wedding day, but I kind of expected us to run away somewhere secluded with just our family and closest friends.”


“Oh,” Matt hesitated. “Okay. I mean, if that’s what you want…”


“It has nothing to do with what I want or don’t want. When Dylan got married, he had 350 people in attendance, along with various news stations. Deanna and Joe eloped for that reason. I just figured you’d want to keep it low key, especially because of your dad. Otherwise, a Jackson wedding is more like a circus,” David explained.


“I don’t care,” Matt replied.


“You don’t care?”


“Look, if you want to do something low key, I’m okay with that, but that wouldn’t be my first choice. I have been listening to Dane and Eric talking about their wedding for 4 months and it made me realize that I want a big wedding, too. Marrying the man I love is a huge deal for me, something that I thought I would never be able to do. I want to shout from the rooftops and if my father doesn’t approve, he doesn’t have to be there,” Matt told him. “So, it’s all up to you. What is it that you want to do?”


Seeing the look of pure excitement on Matt’s face made his decision very easy. “Let’s shout from the rooftops! There’s going to be a nice, big Jackson wedding next year!”


“I can’t wait!” Matt exclaimed before pulling David to him and kissing him deeply. Once they parted, Matt grabbed the magazine he had set aside. “So, I guess we have some planning to do.”


“Yes, we do, but first I have to tell my parents that we’re engaged.”


“You haven’t told your parents?” Matt asked incredulously.


“Babe, I haven’t told anyone other than Gina. I’ve been swamped the last few days. In fact, other than you and Gina, I haven’t seen or spoken to anyone that isn’t directly involved with the fundraiser. I haven’t even spoken to Daniel.”


“I’m sorry you’ve been so busy,” Matt replied. “But at least you only have one more week until the event. Then you can relax a bit before the next one.”


“I can’t wait. By any chance, did you have the time to drop our tuxes off at the dry cleaners?”


“I dropped them off this morning on my way to work. I pick them up on Monday.”


“You’re a lifesaver,” David said as he stood up and began unbuttoning his shirt. “I’m guessing you already ate since it’s almost nine o’clock?”


“Actually, I had a late lunch so I could have dinner with you. I didn’t feel like cooking though, so I ordered from the Italian place you love so much. There’s Eggplant Parm warm in the oven just waiting for us.”


“You complete me,” David laughed as he kissed Matt’s forehead. “Give me ten minutes to jump in the shower and then I’ll be down.”


“Take your time. I’ll set the table and get everything ready,” Matt told him. “I love you so much.”


David beamed at him. “I love you so much, too.”





Eric was sitting at his desk at the restaurant, lost in thought when Daniel walked in. “Hey, what are you doing here on your day off? Please don’t tell me you’ve come to your senses and found something better to do with your time.”


Daniel laughed. “Sorry buddy, you’re stuck with me.”


Eric signed in relief. He and Daniel hadn’t really talked about things since Daniel started working there and Eric knew the conversation was long overdue. “I’m so happy to hear you say that. Come on in and sit down. I’ve been wanting to touch base with you since you started here, but there never really seems to be a good time. I take it you like working here?”


“I’m loving it. Despite the full house every night, there is a lot less stress than there was when I was in New York. This doesn’t even feel like work.”


“Okay, now you’re making me feel bad, because I feel like it’s work,” Eric chuckled.


“Sorry,” Daniel laughed. “But there is a big difference between Sierra Vista and Manhattan. I like not having the pressure of big time A-Listers coming in without notice and demanding special orders, or having restaurant critics coming in regularly because they live close by. You have made me remember why I decided to go to culinary school in the first place. Thank you for that.”


“I should be the one thanking you. It feels good to be able to spend time with my family again. I was afraid the girls were going to forget what I looked like after a while,” Eric teased. “So, if you’re not here to quit, what brings you in on your day off?”


“Well, I got a phone call from an old acquaintance of mine. He was very upset to find out that I left Sorrento’s and wanted to know what I was doing now. When I told him I was working for a friend at a new restaurant here in Arizona, he immediately asked if he could come out, review the place, and write a piece for some of the food and restaurant magazines he freelances for. I told him I would have to check with you first. You don’t have to say yes. I just thought you might like the publicity.”


“Are you kidding? That would be amazing!”


Daniel smiled. “I figured you would be okay with it, but I didn’t want to do anything without your approval first. He has some time free towards the end of May. Do you have any opinions on a timeline?”


“Not at all. Whatever works best for him. Just give me a date and I’ll make sure to prepare the staff and update the menu. Well, I guess you can update the menu, since he’s coming out to see you,” Eric replied.


“Actually, he’s coming here because he found out this is where I work. This is your place. I think you should be in the kitchen that night. I will play the perfect host so that you can wow him with your talent.”


“Are you sure?”


“Dude, the last thing I need is more attention. I’m a Jackson, remember? This is your time to shine.”


“Thanks! Now I just hope that I don’t screw things up and poison the man,” Eric said, only half joking.


“Oh stop. You’re a great chef. You’ll do fine. And we can go over the menu together if that helps. I happen to know some of his favorite things.”


“I will take any insight you can give me,” Eric said. “Seriously, thanks for the opportunity.”


“No problem at all, man. I appreciate you giving me a place here. I meant what I said, I love it here. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel leaving New York to come to a small-town in Arizona, but I think it was the best move I could have made. I love my job and I really love being close to my brother again…although I haven’t seen him in ages. He’s been so busy with this fundraiser he’s been putting together.”


“I heard he’s been swamped. Matt has been hanging out at our place the last couple of weeks because David has been working 15-hour days and he doesn’t want to be alone. It sounds like it’s going to be epic. I’m looking forward to it. I already arranged for my mother to come stay at the house to watch the girls that night and Dane and I rented our tuxedos. We’re all set. And you’re sure Shane can handle running the kitchen, right?”


“He’s ready,” Daniel assured him. “He’s actually going to handle things on his own tomorrow night as a test run. I’ll be here, but I’m going to spend the night in the front of the house and see how he does. I’m not worried at all though. He’s not ready to run the place yet, but he’s doing great and can definitely handle a night here and there. Where did you find him?”


“Believe it or not, he was a dishwasher at the last place I worked while he was in high school. He loved being in the kitchen and used to come in occasionally on his days off so that he could watch me work. As soon as he graduated high school, he went away to culinary school. He graduated in December and then got an opportunity to spend a few months in France taking workshops at Le Cordon Bleu. He just got back about a month ago and called me up looking for work when he found out that I opened this place,” Eric explained.


“Lucky for you,” Daniel replied. “We can train him to be exactly how we want him and then, when it comes time to open a second location, he’ll be ready to run it for you.”


Eric laughed. “A second location? I’ve only had this place open for a couple months. I don’t think I’ll be opening a second location anytime soon, if at all.”


“Why not? People seem to like what you’re doing here. Most places don’t have lines out the door during their first two months of business. I’m not suggesting you start looking at property right now, but you might want to start thinking about locations. Especially once the articles come out.”


Eric had been dreaming of opening his own restaurant ever since he submitted his application to culinary school, but he never really imagined things would take off so quickly or that he’d even have to consider a second location. The prospect was exciting. “Well, I guess only time will tell. And thanks again for all your help. I don’t know how I would have done all this without your help. I was in a little over my head before we opened.”


“Yeah, but you would have figured it out. You just needed someone to help you put your ideas into place. And you’re welcome. Thank you for giving me a place where I can do what I love without driving myself into an early grave. I meant what I said when I told you I love it here. And I think we make a really great team, so when it comes time to open the second location, count me in,” Daniel told him. “Now, I’m going to get out of your hair. David sent a text and told me he has about 30 minutes free to have lunch with me and I don’t want to miss it.”


“Go on, get over there quick before you miss your window.” Eric laughed as he watched the other man leave in a hurry. He meant what he said. He owed the success of the restaurant all to Daniel. Maybe the opportunity of a second location stemmed from bringing Daniel in as a partner. He could use the money to help buy the property, but more importantly, he could use his expertise to make his dreams become bigger than he ever imagined. Then he shook his head and forced his mind back on his current task. He couldn’t even begin to think about the possibility of a second restaurant just yet. He had something much more important to focus on, which was his upcoming wedding to Dane. They had less than seven months to pull it all together and that was what mattered to him most. Making Dane his husband.







Daniel pulled up outside of the foundation office and sighed. His brother’s SUV was nowhere in sight. He turned off the car and made his way inside. He was sure David’s assistant…he thought her name was Gina…was inside. He hadn’t had the opportunity to meet the woman yet, but he heard nothing but good things about the way she jumped right in and became invaluable to his brother. He found her sitting at her desk, talking to what sounded like the venue for the fundraiser, probably trying to tie up any loose ends. She glanced up with a pair of stunning blue eyes and waved him in.


“Okay, Mr. Brownfield. I will make sure to let Mr. Jackson know how helpful you’ve been. Of course. I will email the list over to your assistant as soon as Mr. Jackson gives final approval. Okay, then. I will talk to you soon. Have a nice day.” Gina hung up the phone and looked over at the man who just walked through the door. “Hi. I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say that you must be Daniel, David’s brother.”


“Yes I am. And you must be the office angel that my brother is constantly raving about,” Daniel replied as he stepped forward and offered his hand.


“I don’t know about angel,” Gina laughed. “But I am the new assistant. David called about ten minutes ago and told me that he was running about fifteen minutes late, but to let you know that he will be here. He also had me order some sandwiches for you both. They should be here shortly.”


“I’m guessing he had you order them from Mario’s?”


“Does he ever order from anywhere else?” Gina smiled.


“No, and he shouldn’t. As sandwich places go, that happens to be one of the best,” Daniel replied. “I don’t want to keep you if you’re busy. I can wait in the conference room and amuse myself.”


“That’s okay, I was just getting ready to take a break,” Gina replied. “These fifteen hours days are tough. I need to take a break now and then.”


“I know he’s batshit crazy, but I didn’t realize he was making you stay late with him,” Daniel teased.


“Oh, he doesn’t make me. I offer to stay. I love my job and I like making sure all the little details are being handled. My husband never let me work so I’m thrilled to be here. And your brother was so sweet in hiring me without any real experience. He claimed that running a house is experience enough to run an office, but I know he was just being nice. That’s why I don’t mind working so many hours. I want to prove to David that he did the right thing in hiring me.”


Daniel’s mind seemed to focus on only one thing. “So…you’re married?”


“Yes…well, no. I mean, not really, I guess. I mean technically I’m still legally married, but I’m separated. And as soon as I can afford a lawyer, I will begin the divorce proceedings.” Gina explained. “I’m sorry, I just keep rambling, don’t I?”


“It’s fine. I kind of like your rambling,” Daniel admitted and smiled when he saw Gina blush. Before he could say anything else, his brother walked in.


“Sorry Danny, I got caught up with an investor and I couldn’t leave until I convinced him to loosen up his purse strings.”


“That’s okay, little brother. Gina and I have been chatting.”


Gina jumped in then, letting David know what he missed while he was out. “David, I still need you to approve the final list before I can send it over to the venue. And Mr. Jenkins called and asked about purchasing another table. I spoke with Mr. Brownfield, and he said he could find a way to add another table if we want, but any more additions beyond that and we’ll have to change rooms or run the risk of breaking fire codes. And if we move rooms, that will change our entire decorating plan, and we’re running out of time since the event is just a few days away.”


“No, I’m not adding anyone beyond this, but I will have Mr. Brownfield add a table for Jenkins. He’s got deep pockets. I not only want the money two tables will bring in, but I want him to be there for the silent auction as well. He is a bit of a travel junkie and I have several exciting trips that have been donated to be auctioned off for the event. Please call him back and let him know we’ll have a second table for him. And then give Mr. Brownfield a call and let him know that we will need the additional table, but that we won’t sell any more seats. Also, you can go ahead and send the list over to him as well. I double checked it while I was waiting for Davis to finish up with a call. Everything looks good. Oh, and go to lunch. As in, grab that huge bag of yours and get out of here for at least an hour. I really appreciate how many hours you’ve been putting in, but you need to remind me that you’re entitled to a life outside of this place. As soon as this event is over, you are taking a week off with pay to regroup and spend some time with Tony. Now go,” David insisted before turning to his brother. “Let me just return one call while we wait for lunch to get here and then I am all yours for 30 minutes, I promise.”


Daniel smiled as he watched his brother go into his office and shut the door. Then he turned to Gina. “If I were you, I’d make those calls quick and then get out before he remembers a million other things he needs done and you don’t get your lunch.”


“I would, but I don’t currently have a car and I’m not walking anywhere in these heels,” Gina chuckled. “He keeps forgetting that I have someone drop me off in the morning and he usually drives me home at night. He’s been forcing me to take his Lexus when he needs me to run errands and I hate it, but I haven’t been working here long and I’m saving up for an apartment, so I haven’t been able to buy a car yet.”


Before either one of them could respond, David’s office door opened, and he walked out looking sheepish and holding out his car keys. “I don’t know why I keep forgetting that you don’t have a car. Here, take mine. I’m not going anywhere for the rest of this afternoon. And remind me when you get back that we have to talk.”


Daniel watched as Gina’s expression changed from happy to nervous. “Is everything okay? I didn’t forget to do something, did I?”


“No, of course not. You are the perfect assistant. I just want to talk about making this a permanent position and the benefits that will entail. Go enjoy your lunch. I’ll see you in an hour. Danny, I’ll be right out.”


Gina smiled and then turned to Daniel. “Well, I guess I’d better make those calls and then get out of here. David added a small refrigerator in the conference room last week and it’s filled with plenty of drinks if you would like to go in and wait for him to be done. The food should be here any minute. I’ll wait to accept it before I leave. It was nice meeting you, Daniel. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”


Daniel smiled at his dismissal. “It was nice to meet you, too. I’ll definitely be around.” He went into the conference room and grabbed an iced tea out of the fridge before taking a seat at the large table. He heard the delivery driver show up just as David walked out of his office. He could hear the exchange between the driver and Gina, and then David and Gina talking as she grabbed her things and headed towards the door. A moment later, David walked in carrying their lunch.


“Sorry about that, but I’m all yours now. I hope you don’t mind that I ordered for you. I figured you’d want your usual since you don’t work here anymore so you probably don’t get it much.”


“You’re right, I don’t. Although I did drive out here a few weeks ago to get my fix,” Daniel laughed. “I couldn’t give it up cold turkey and you’ve been so busy lately; I didn’t want to wait for you to fit me in to your busy schedule.”


“I’m sorry. This fundraiser has me all over the place. I’ve never done anything this big before and I want it to go off without a hitch. We’ve already raised almost $75,000 just with the price of the tables, minus the cost of the venue and caterer. And wait until you see some of the items up for auction. I outdid myself on this one. Even I’m impressed.”


“Good for you, Davey! I know how important this money is. How much have you personally laid out for everything?” Daniel asked.


“My only out of pocket cost was the $7,500 I paid for our table. Everything else is covered.”


“Who did you invite for our table? Eric mentioned he was going to be there.”


“Yeah, I know you two have gotten close, so I asked him to come. It will be You, Me, Eric, Dane, Matt, Aiden, Derek, Brian, Justin and Gina,” David told him. “Do you mind if I put you next to Gina? Everyone else is paired up so I figured you two could keep each other company during the dancing.”


Daniel tried to hide his excitement. “That’s fine by me. She seems nice. What’s her story?”


“Her story?” David asked.


“Yeah, she mentioned that she’s separated and planning on getting divorced. Is she seeing anyone? Who’s Tony?”


David looked closely at his brother. “Danny…whatever you’re thinking, don’t think it.”




“Gina is the best thing that’s happened to me, and I can’t afford to lose her because you don’t know how to treat a lady.”


“Hey! That’s not fair! Yes, I’ve gone through my fair share of women in the past, but that’s because I was working 80 hours a week and couldn’t find the time to treat them right. Those days are over now. I have a great job where I only work 4 nights a week and can take off for things like weekend getaways and vacations,” Daniel explained. “Now I’m a catch.”


“Maybe, but…”


“Come on baby brother, I don’t want her life story. I just want to know if she’s seeing anyone or if she’s still hung up on her ex. That’s all.”


David sighed. “Fine, but if things go badly between you two, I’m taking her side. I have three other brothers, but only one office angel.”


“You got it!”


“And I’m not giving any details. That’s up to her. All I’ll say is that she is not seeing anyone, there’s no way she would ever want her ex back, and Tony is her 13-year-old son. You’re on your own from here.”


“That’s all I need to know. Thank you. I promise not to be a dick,” Daniel replied. “Now, what’s new with you?”


“Matt and I are engaged.”


“Seriously? Dude, that’s awesome!” Daniel exclaimed as he jumped up and went around the table, pulling David into a giant hug. “I’m so happy for you. When did you pop the question?”


“I didn’t. Matt actually proposed to me the other night. I think it was spontaneous. He worked the evening shift and came out to his partner finally, so he was feeling bold,” David explained. “I’ve been thinking about proposing for a few years, but I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea considering he’s still in the closet, but now? Dude, he wants a big wedding.”


“A big wedding? Marrying a Jackson? Is he crazy? Have you told him what happens when a Jackson gets married?”


“I did, and he said he doesn’t care. He’s sick of staying in the closet to please his father and he wants to shout from the rooftops that we’re getting married…or something like that. I don’t know, I’m so exhausted these days that I don’t know if I actually hear what everyone is saying to me.”


“You need to get some sleep, and soon,” Daniel replied. “Anyway, I’m really happy for you. Have you told the 'rents yet?”


“No, I haven’t told anyone but you. I just need this weekend to go off without a hitch and then I’m going to take it easy for a while. I might even drag Matt off for a long weekend to Florida and tell everyone in person. If I can swing it, do you want to come with us? We haven’t seen anyone since Christmas.”


“I’m in. Dylan was giving me shit the other day because I haven’t been home. He thinks now that I’m here with you I’ll never go home to visit because you’re my favorite Jackson,” Daniel laughed.


“That’s not true,” David chuckled.


“Well, you are my favorite Jackson,” Daniel admitted, “But that doesn’t mean I don’t love everyone else and want to see them. Let me know as soon as you talk to Matt so I can make sure to have the time off and we’ll go home and see everyone. Mom is going to cry her eyes out when she hears that her baby is getting married.”


David smiled. “I know. I can’t wait.”


The two brothers spent the rest of their thirty minutes together talking about their upcoming trip and the upcoming wedding. Before they knew it, David’s cell phone rang, alerting them to the time.


“Sorry Danny, but I really need to get this.”


“Go ahead. Do what you got to do. I’ll clean this up and then get out of your hair. I’ll see you Saturday.”


“See you Saturday,” David agreed before answering the call and slipping back into work mode as he headed towards his office.


Daniel cleaned up the wrappings from their lunch and then headed out to Gina’s desk. He pulled a post-it from its holder and wrote ‘See you Saturday’ with a smiley face, signed his name, and left it right on the center of her desk and then whistled as he made his way out to his car. He couldn’t wait for the fundraiser.







Brian was standing by the English Lit section of the library, watching his third period class pick out a book they wanted to write their final paper on when he heard it. The unmistakable sound of screaming followed by gunshots. He could feel his heart rate double from fear, but quickly reminded himself that he needed to stay calm for his students. The entire staff had been trained extensively in what to do during an active shooter situation, and the most important lesson was to stay calm and get the students to safety.


“Okay guys, come on. I know you’re scared, but you need to stay calm,” Brian whispered as quietly as possible as he started leading them away from the front doors. “I think our best move is getting in the A/V storage room. You guys start heading that way as quickly and as quietly as possible. I’m going to kill the lights and see if I can find a way to block the door.”


“No!” Tony shouted softly; his eyes filled with panic. “Brian…I mean…Mr. Kinney…you can’t. You need to hide with us.”


Brian could see the fear in all their faces and sighed. “Okay, you guys go ahead. I’m just going to kill the lights. I’ll be right behind you.”


Brian raced to the front of the library and took a second to listen for any sounds of distress. When he didn’t hear anything, he took that as a sign that whoever was in the building had moved away from the immediate area. He didn’t see Mrs. Hagel, the librarian, and hoped she was okay as he quickly turned off the lights pulled down the blackout curtains, and made his way back to the others. Everyone was already inside, except for Tony, who had been waiting for him.


“Come on, buddy. Let’s get inside and wait until someone comes in and finds us.”


Once Brian was inside the storage room with the door shut, he reached for his phone in his back pocket and sighed. He left it in the classroom. “Okay, is there anyone in this room that ignored my classroom policy and has a cell phone on them? I promise not to be mad.” Brian said softly. He was hoping that at least one of his students ignored his policy to leave their phones in their backpacks during class. Unfortunately, he was well respected, and everyone followed the rules. “Okay, well…thanks for following the rules, but I think I might be changing them a bit after this. Let’s all just try to get as comfortable as possible and be quiet. I’m sure Vice-Principal Lockhart will come and find us once things are handled.”


“Mr. Kinney, what do you think is going on?” One of the kids finally asked.


“Yeah, what happened? Is there someone out there with a gun? Are they going to find us in here?” another one asked.


“My sister is out there somewhere,” a third chimed in. “I need to go find her.”


“Okay guys, listen up. I know you all have a million questions, but unfortunately, I don’t have any answers for you. We all just need to be quiet and wait. When I went to turn out the lights, it sounded quiet in the hallway. That’s all I know right now. And Bobby, I know you’re worried about your sister, but the best thing you can do right now is stay here where you’re safe. She wouldn’t want you to go looking for her right now. Why don’t you all just sit here and think about your paper? Think about what you want to write about and how you want to begin. It might help you keep your mind off of things. And remember…no talking.”


Because Brian had turned the lights off once he got inside the large storage room, he couldn’t see his students’ faces, but he imagined they all nodded in reply because suddenly it was silent. He used his time to think about Justin and how he was going to get himself out of the predicament he was in. Ever since the night he told the blond that he never wanted to get married, he’d been getting the cold shoulder. He didn’t mean to upset Justin; he didn’t even know getting married was that important to him. They hadn’t really talked about their future beyond wanting to spend it together. Brian really didn’t understand why getting married was so important, but if Justin wanted it that badly, Brian would concede. Justin’s happiness was more important than Brian’s desire to avoid falling into the hetero trap of marriage. They needed to talk, but for the last couple nights it seemed that one thing or another stood in the way of their privacy.


And now Brian was locked in a storage room with 26 thirteen-year-olds, hoping that whatever was going on in the building would come to an end quickly and that nobody would get hurt, if they hadn’t already. The sound of the gunshots was unmistakable. There was no doubt in his mind that someone had walked into the school with a weapon, and he hated feeling helpless to do anything about it. Not that he could, necessarily, but he would be willing to try. Unfortunately, they were all instructed in their training to get their students to safety as quickly as possible and stay with them until they got the all clear. All he could do was wait and see.






Justin looked at the clock and sighed. It was almost noon, and he couldn’t seem to focus on the painting in front of him. Ever since Brian made his feelings on marriage known, things between them had been strained. He knew it was his fault. Brian technically didn’t do anything wrong. He just spoke his feelings. Justin was the one who made it weird by getting mad instead of sharing his own feelings. On top of that, since Tony and Gina moved in, they didn’t have any privacy and with their busy schedules, they hadn’t had a chance to talk about things. It had been three days since their conversation and in that time, Justin’s concentration had all but disappeared. He knew that as soon as Brian got home, the two of them were going to have to make time to talk. Until then, trying to paint was futile. Shaking his head in frustration, Justin left his studio in search of something to eat. He was just about to open the refrigerator when his doorbell rang. He changed direction and went to the front door, finding Matt on the other side dressed in his uniform. His partner was leaning against the patrol car looking serious.


“Hey, what are you doing here during your shift? Is everything alright?”


“Justin, I need you to come with me.”


Justin felt his stomach drop. “Why, what’s going on? You’re scaring me. Is it Brian?”


“As far as I know, Brian is okay. Look, I’m not even supposed to be here, but I couldn’t not come and get you. There’s an active shooter over at the school. That’s all I know. We weren’t on the initial call. We were clocked out for lunch, but I heard the call and came right here. I didn’t want you to hear it from someone else. I tried calling Brian’s cell twice, but he didn’t answer.” Matt watched all the color drain from his friend’s face. “Come on, ride with us.”


“Um…” Justin said. “Let me…I need my shoes.” He walked through the house to the bedroom and grabbed a pair of sneakers. He took a moment to look around the bedroom that he and Brian shared as an overwhelming sense of fear washed over him. He jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder, wondering how long he had been lost in thought.


“I know what you’re thinking, but don’t. He’s going to be fine. Now let’s go. The sooner we get there, the sooner I can find out what’s going on,” Matt told him as he led his friend out of the house and towards the car.


By the time they pulled up by the police barricade, Justin was in full panic mode. He couldn’t help but kick himself for the way he’d been acting the last couple of days. So, Brian didn’t want to get married. What was the big deal? As long as they were together, it shouldn’t matter what their marital status was. And now, because of his stupidity, Brian was locked away in a building with a crazy person with a gun and their last real conversation was filled with petty anger.


“Justin,” Matt called, pulling him from his thoughts as he opened the door. “Collins and I are going to go see what we can find out. You need to stay behind the tape with everyone else but keep your phone in your hand. If I can’t get back to you, I’ll text you with any information. Okay?”


“Um…yeah, okay…” Justin replied as he climbed out of the car. They were a block away from the school, having to keep a safe distance, and all Justin wanted to do was go find Brian and tell him how much he loved him. “Please…be careful…and just…” The thought of his friend getting closer to a crazed gunman didn’t sit right with him either.


Matt hugged his friend briefly. “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.”


Justin watched Matt walk away and prayed to God that he was right.




End of chapter 13




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