Now That You’re Here: Life Moves On
The minute Matt pulled his car out of Justin’s driveway the tears started. He cried for the family that perished the week before. He cried for the man that was so mentally ill he felt the need to kill his family and then himself. He cried for Gary, who had lost his life way toq early, and for Zac and Liz, who now had to find a way to go on without him. He cried for Justin and the pain he could clearly see in his eyes when he spoke of Brian and how much he was hurting. And most of all, he cried for his own relationship and the wonderful man waiting for him at home who he had treated terribly over the last week. He tried to calm himself down. He wasn’t one of those people who cried over everything, but the tears were still coming as he pulled into his own driveway. He dried his face as best as he could and sent Justin a quick text before getting out of the car and heading inside. He found David sitting in the living room reading a book and stopped just inside the doorway, overcome with such love for the man before him.
David heard Matt enter the room with trepidation. He wasn’t sure what to expect and finished the paragraph he was reading before looking up in greeting. The sight of Matt standing there with a tear-stained face nearly broke him and he jumped up off the couch and slowly approached the other man. “Babe, are you alright?”
Matt immediately threw himself at David. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to be so horrible to you. I love you so much. Please don’t leave me.”
“Shhh…it’s okay,” David whispered as he held Matt in his arms. “I love you, too. More than you will ever know. I’d never leave you. Come on, let’s go sit down.”
Matt allowed himself to be guided to the couch but continued to cling to David for dear life. It appeared that once the flood gates fully opened, he couldn’t get them to shut again. The couple stayed in each other’s arms for more than thirty minutes while Matt cried himself out. Once he was done, he felt kind of foolish, but he knew he needed to release everything he had been trying to hold inside. He felt David start to pull away and tried to hold on.
“It’s okay. I’m just going to go grab you a bottle of water and some tissues. I’ll be right back, okay?”
David hurried to the kitchen to grab a water and then stopped by the bathroom for tissues before going back to the living room. In that time, Matt had gotten up from the couch and was standing by the French doors staring out at the dark sky. David put down the items he carried, walked over to his boyfriend and wrapped his arms around him from behind. He sighed in relief when Matt didn’t pull away.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Matt said softly as he leaned back into David’s arms. “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
“I think that’s understandable after what you went through. Maybe you just need to give yourself time to talk about it and work through your feelings instead of trying to hide them from everybody,” David suggested.
Matt turned in David’s arms and hugged him tight, resting his chin on the other man’s shoulder. “I really am so sorry for the way I’ve been acting. I don’t know why I’ve been taking everything out on you. I shouldn’t have been pushing you away.”
“It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it. I’ve just been really worried about you. You've been so angry, and you wouldn’t let me help you.”
“Is that why you went to Justin?” Matt pulled back and smirked.
“He told you?” David looked sheepish.
“Yeah, but he wasn’t trying to throw you under the bus, and he told me that you didn’t tell him the details. He said that you just told him I had a bad call and I’ve been really upset but wouldn’t talk to you about it. I had told him that I was worried that you were going to leave me. He was trying to reassure me that you love me and only want to help.”
“It’s true, you know. I’ve felt so helpless watching you suffer the last week and not knowing how to help. I figured if there was anyone who could get you to open up, it was Justin. I won’t apologize for trying to help,” David replied.
“You don’t have to apologize. I guess I should actually be thanking you for interfering. Tomorrow afternoon I have to go to the precinct to sign some papers to officially start my 30 day leave of absence. I called the captain from Justin’s house and let him know what’s going on. I can’t do my job properly if my head is all screwed up. I’m going to call Zander tomorrow and see when I can get on his schedule.”
“I think that’s a good idea. In the meantime, do you think you’re up to having a conversation with me? I think I can kind of understand why you shut down and didn’t want to talk to me. And I don’t really mind that you took some of your anger out on me. I mean, I’d rather you didn’t, but I’m a pretty tough guy. I can handle it. The part that concerns me is the way you jumped to conclusions and thought that I was going to leave you. If you don’t know how deep my feelings for you are, then we have a problem.”
Matt looked at David and nodded and then lead him over to the couch. Once they were sitting down, Matt blew his nose and took a sip of his water before facing his boyfriend. “I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions, but let’s face it, you haven’t been very happy with me lately. And that was before I decided to treat you like shit. I know how mad you’ve been since I agreed to stay in the closet, and I know you don’t understand why I did it.”
“No, I’m sorry but I don’t understand it. What your father is doing to you, to us, to our lives together is unfair and cruel…but I told you six years ago that I would stay in the closet with you for the rest of our lives if I had to, and I meant it. Nothing has changed for me.”
“There is no but. God, what I feel for you…I can’t even put it into words. I honestly don’t know what I would do without you. Do I like the way things are right now, hell no. But if I have to choose between living in the closet or living without you, there is absolutely no question what I would choose, and I’m a little worried that you didn’t know that.”
“I’m sorry. I guess I should have known. I’m just so messed up right now, and I don’t think I can blame it all on the shootings. There’s a lot going on in my head, there has been ever since I was twelve years old and realized I was different. I probably should have been in therapy a long time ago. I do know that you love me, and I love you too. I can’t even imagine where I would be today if you hadn’t forced me to be honest with myself and I will always be grateful to you for that. You’re my life and I feel very blessed to have you by my side.” Matt leaned in and kissed David softly, but when he tried to deepen the kiss, David pulled away.
“Okay, keep that thought in mind because you might not feel so blessed when I tell you what I have to tell you.”
Matt could see the twinkle in David’s eyes and knew he was up to something. “What did you do?”
“Well…last week I was talking to Danny. It was on the day of the shootings so by the time everything was planned out, I couldn’t tell you about it. And since then, you’ve been so upset...it’s not really my fault.”
“Oh God…what did you plan?”
“Well, the Jacksons are coming in tomorrow and they’re staying through Christmas.”
“The Jacksons?” Matt had a sinking feeling in his chest. “Which Jacksons?”
David hung his head. “All of them.”
“All of them?” Matt asked incredulously. “As in…everyone?”
“All seventeen of them,” David admitted. “I’m so sorry. I was talking to Danny, and he was trying to get us to go to New York for the holiday, but of course we can’t do that. Then he mentioned that he never gets to see us and I kind of just invited him and before I knew it, we were inviting the whole family. I’m sorry. I planned on telling you that night when you got home but then Andrew called, and everything went nuts. I actually forgot all about it until Danny called me today when we were leaving to go to the funeral home. I’m sorry…I guess I can call them and cancel. It’s probably not the best time to be entertaining.”
Matt didn’t know what to say. “I’m almost afraid to ask, but where is everyone staying?”
David didn’t want to answer that question. “Here,” he finally whispered.
“So, what you’re telling me is that
it’s a few days before Christmas, we are going to be having seventeen
houseguests coming in tomorrow, and we haven’t planned anything for them yet.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, not all of them are coming tomorrow. My parents and Dylan and his gang aren’t flying in until Christmas Eve morning,” David explained.
Matt took a few deep breaths and then raised his eyes to the ceiling and started chanting, “I’m very blessed, I’m very blessed, I’m very blessed.”
“Do you still love me?” David asked when he saw Matt trying to hide the smile on his face.
“I do,” Matt replied. “But you owe me big time, buddy. I’m talking big time.”
“How about if I start by filling up the jacuzzi? We can take a nice, relaxing soak in the tub and then I will take you to bed and ride you until you're screaming my name.”
David’s words caused Matt to harden instantly. It wasn’t often that Matt got to feel David from the inside. “That sounds like a very good start. I’ve really missed you.”
“I missed you, too.” David kissed Matt deeply and then took him by the hand. Together they locked up the house, turned off all the lights and headed upstairs for a relaxing night. Neither one of them was foolish enough to think that everything was going right back to the way it was, but they were confident that they took the right steps to begin to fix things and that was all that mattered at the moment.
“Are you sure? You already have so much going on over there.”
Zander walked into the kitchen and heard Chris on the phone, but he had no idea who he was talking to. He went over to the refrigerator and started taking inventory of what was needed. With everyone so caught up with Gary’s passing, he hadn’t had a chance to shop for the holiday. It was now December 23rd, and he still had a million things to do.
“Okay, as long as you know what you’re getting into. I will take care of letting Brian, Justin and Zan know. No problem, see you tomorrow.” Chris disconnected the call and walked over to Zan, taking him in a heated kiss. He had only been home from LA for a couple of days and there had been too much going on for them to spend any real time together. With Sophia only having a half day of school, there wasn’t much time for them to do what he had planned for their morning either, but he was determined.
Zan kissed Chris back with everything he had. With the movie release upon them, Chris had been spending a lot more time on the road than he normally did, and Zander had really missed him. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to go where he knew Chris wanted to go so Zan ended the kiss and pulled back. “Sorry Babe, but that’s going to have to wait. I need to make a list and head over to the grocery store. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and we have nothing in the way of food or drinks to serve everyone.”
“Well then luckily for you, we don’t have to serve everyone,” Chris said with a smile as he started to lead Zander out of the kitchen and down the hall.
“What do you mean?” Zan asked as he allowed himself to be lead away.
“That was Matt on the phone. Apparently, David’s entire family is coming in between today and tomorrow and they’re staying for Christmas. Matt wants everyone to go there tomorrow night instead of here because he doesn’t want to miss a Christmas with us, and he knows he can’t get away.”
Zan stopped just inside the bedroom doorway and stared at Chris in disbelief. “David’s entire family? Isn’t that like…”
“According to Matt, it’s seventeen people,” Chris laughed. “No wonder David insisted on buying the Hamilton Estate. It sounds like they need it.”
“Right? So, we aren’t having a house full of people here this year?”
“No, is that alright with you? I know how much you enjoy being the host,” Chris said.
Zan didn’t even have to think about his answer. “Hallelujah!”
“Um…okay. That was not what I was expecting.”
“Babe, I love entertaining, but I’m just not feeling it this year. Between the boys’ breakup, you being gone so much for the movie promotion, trying to handle a very moody teenage girl, and the extra workload I’ve been taking on while Grayson has been away on his honeymoon, I’m so far behind. I didn’t know how I was going to pull everything off in time. Now I don’t have to. I can go over to David and Matt’s house, enjoy spending time with everyone, and not have to lift a finger.” Zan grabbed Chris and pulled him in for another kiss as he reached for the button on his jeans. “Now take off your pants. I want you to fuck me into the mattress.”
Chris pretended to be shocked as he did what he was told. “What is it that you always say to me? ‘Charming as ever?’ What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing has gotten into me lately, but we’re about to rectify that right now.”
Chris didn’t object as he finished taking off his clothes and then helped Zander remove his. The two of them had a couple hours to kill and Chris couldn’t think of a better way to spend them than being in bed with the man he loved.
After their morning festivities, the two men left a note for Sophia and headed out to the mall. Waiting until two days before Christmas to finish up their shopping was definitely not the best idea in the world. The place was packed, and a lot of the shelves were empty. Luckily, they were able to find what they were looking for. They were just about to head out when they ran into David and Matt.
“Hey guys, what are you doing here? I figured that with seventeen people staying at your place, you’d be running around the house trying to get ready,” Zan teased.
“Well, I definitely have people running around the house trying to get ready. It’s just not us,” David replied with a smile.
“David has hired a cleaning company to come over and prepare everything and a catering company to be available to make sure everyone gets fed. You don’t even want to know how much that cost,” Matt said as he glared at his boyfriend, the smirk on his face showing that he wasn’t really mad.
“Okay, in my defense, the cleaning company and the caterer are already on payroll at the Jackson Foundation,” David said. “I just gave them a very nice incentive to work through the holidays with very little notice.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to throwing money around like that,” Chris admitted.
“I don’t think he will either,” Zan laughed. “With the money he’s making off the movie alone, he’s still trying to get me to buy all of our Christmas wrapping paper at The Dollar Store.”
“I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to it either. I still cringe when David drops a lot of money and we’ve been together for six years. You’d think I’d be used to it by now,” Matt chimed in. “Listen, Zan, since you’re here, do you think I can talk to you for a few minutes?”
Zander took a closer look at Matt and could see that something was bothering him. “Of course, do you wanna go take a walk? These two can go off on their own and maybe David can explain to my loving partner the difference between frivolous spending and paying a little more for a better product.”
“Oh hush up,” Chris chuckled as he leaned in and gave Zan a heated kiss. They may have spent the morning in bed together, but as far as Chris was concerned, he could never get enough.
Zander returned the kiss with matched passion, but then suddenly remembered where they were and pulled away. “Down boy,” he teased as he gave Chris a gentle shove. Chris was laughing as he walked away with David.
Once they were alone, Zander turned to Matt. “So, what’s going on?”
“I…I had a bad call last week and I can’t seem to shake it off. I was wondering if you could possibly fit me into your schedule sometime soon. It doesn’t have to be right away. I’m actually on a 30 day leave of absence, so I have time. I remember David mentioning something about Grayson getting married right before Christmas so I’m sure you’re super busy.”
“You’re on a 30-day leave?” Zander asked with concern. “This is more than just a bad call. Let’s go take a seat over there.” Zander led Matt over to the closest bench so they could talk a bit. “Exactly how bad was it?”
“It was bad,” Matt admitted. “Did you hear about the murder-suicide that happened over in Lincoln Park last week?”
“I did. The guy killed his wife and two kids before turning the gun on himself,” Zander replied. “You were at the crime scene?”
“Worse, my partner and I were the first ones on the scene. We had gotten a call about possible gunshots, so my partner went to the back of the house, and I knocked on the front door. The guy actually let me in. I was standing about five feet from him when he pulled the trigger and took his own life.” Matt could feel his emotions starting up again.
“Oh Matt,” Zander said softly as he took the younger man in his arms. “That must have been awful. I’m so sorry.”
Matt held on to Zander as he took a few deep breaths and tried to hold the tears at bay. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to have a total breakdown like the one he had the night before, he pulled away. “It was definitely the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, and now I can’t seem to let it go. I’ve been tossing and turning at night, unable to fall asleep. Then when I do fall asleep, I never stay asleep more than a few hours and then I can’t fall back to sleep again. If I get three full hours a night, it’s a lot. I’m exhausted, and I’ve been taking it out on David since he was really the only one who knew. I didn’t want to tell everyone because I didn’t want to talk about it. I just…I feel like I’m losing my mind, you know?”
“I’m sure you had to talk to someone before going back for your next shift. I’m guessing that didn’t go too well?”
“No, I felt like the shrink was reading from a script, you know? I just told her what she wanted to hear. In my defense though, I saw her less than 24 hours after it happened, and I think I was still in shock. My Captain suggested I go see her again, but I don’t think she’s really what I need. If you’re too busy, I can see if I can find someone else.”
“Of course I’m not too busy for you,” Zander assured him. “I know you’re about to be invaded by David’s family, but do you think you can break away tomorrow morning around nine and meet me at the office? The center is closed for the holiday, but I’ve found that I like to counsel people in my office rather than at my house. It’s more effective in a professional setting.”
“Zan, we don’t have to start tomorrow. I don’t want to disrupt your holiday. I’ll be fine until next week…or even the week after.”
“Really? Because the dark circles under your eyes and the haunted look in them tells a different story,” Zan pointed out.
“I’ll tell you what. If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you’ll be able to sleep for eight hours tonight, we’ll set something up for after the holidays,” Zan said and then waited while Matt refused to make eye contact. “Exactly. Look Matt, you're family and I’m always available for family. In fact, at some point I think we’ll have to talk about why you didn’t call me the day it happened. This is what I do now, and I think I do a damn good job at helping people through all the shit life throws at them. Hell, you won’t be the first police officer on my calendar.”
“I’m sorry, I just…I really thought I’d be able to just put the whole mess behind me and forget about it. And then Gary died, and I was so focused on that…but you’re right. I should have known better, and I should have called you.”
“Hey, I get it. Not everyone is comfortable with talking about their feelings. That’s one of the reasons the suicide rate is so high. But what you saw…that’s a lot for a person to take. I don’t think anyone would be able to come back from there unscathed. So, nine o’clock tomorrow?”
“As long as you’re sure you have the time.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make the time. Come here.” Zander pulled him in for another hug. “I promise, I’ll help to make this better.”
“Thanks,” Matt whispered.
“Now, really quick…before David and Chris get back…I want to run into the Hallmark store over there. I am not using Dollar Store wrapping paper.”
Matt laughed. “I’m with you…let’s go.”
Justin was in his studio when he heard a knock on the door. He knew without looking that it was Brian on the other side. Taking a deep breath, he made his way to the door and opened it, trying to ignore the way his heart rate kicked up a notch at the sight before him.
“What are you doing here?” Justin asked.
“I think we need to talk,” Brian replied. “Can I come in?”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Justin said.
“Now I’m not even welcome in your house?” Brian asked incredulously. “What the fuck happened? What changed that now we’re suddenly not even friends?”
Justin sighed as he stepped back and
allowed Brian to enter. “Of course you’re welcome in my house. Go have a seat on
the couch. I was just finishing up something in the studio. Give me a few
minutes so I don’t lose my train of thought and then we can talk. Okay?”
Brian nodded and then watched the blond walk away, trying not to be too concerned with the dark circles under his eyes. He knew that their relationship was what was causing the circles and felt a pang of regret wash over him. He never wanted to hurt Justin, and that seemed to be all he was doing. He knew deep down inside that he shouldn’t have ever talked to Justin about what he needed. Yes, being able to go out and have anonymous sex had been exciting and it helped fill a desire that he always felt he needed to explore, but it wasn’t worth it if he lost Justin in the process.
Justin finished up with what he was working on and then sat down on the secondhand couch he kept there for late nights. He wasn’t sure he had the energy that he would need to have a conversation with Brian. The pain of missing him ran so deep, but he didn’t want to continue on as they had been. The pain of knowing that Brian only wanted him part-time was starting to affect him as well. Taking a deep breath and praying for strength, he went in search of the love of his life.
“Sorry, but I didn’t want to forget where I was. Can I get you something to drink? I think I still have a couple of beers in the fridge.”
“No, I’m good,” Brian replied. “I just think we need to talk. Well, I probably need to talk. Maybe you can just listen?”
Justin sat down in a chair, making sure to keep a safe distance between them. “Okay, but I have something to say first. Look Bri, I’m sorry if I’ve been kind of blowing you off lately. I really do want us to be friends; I just can’t do the rest. I can’t roll around in bed with you and then send you off to roll around with God knows who else. I’m sorry, but that’s not who I am. If it was, we would still be together. The problem is that when you’re around, I don’t know how to say no to you. I still love you so much and not being with you has been hard for me, so when you make your advances, I keep saying yes and all it’s doing is making it harder for me to get over you. And I need that. The only way we’ll be able to be friends is if I’m able to put what we had behind us and move on. Maybe you and I can agree that for right now we need to put some distance between us and let some time pass. Obviously we can still hang out for the holidays. I wouldn’t want to have to miss out on being with our friends and family because we’re trying not to be in the same room together. But I think that after Christmas…we need a little space. Okay?”
“No, there’s no way I can give you space. Especially not if you’re asking for it so you can get over me. The last thing in this world I want is for you to get over me,” Brian admitted. “I love you, blondie and I’m here so we can fix this, not to make it easier for us to be apart.”
Justin tried to push down the excitement Brian’s words stirred in him. He didn’t want to jump to conclusions and needed to hear exactly what Brian was suggesting. “Fix what? Our friendship?”
“No, our relationship,” Brian said as he stood up and walked over to the chair Justin was sitting in, dropping down so he was squatting before the blond. “I miss you. I need you back. I need us to be who we were before.”
“But what about your desire to sleep around? I haven’t changed my mind. I’m still not okay with it,” Justin reminded him.
“I know, and I don’t expect you to be. Look, I never should have said anything to you in the first place. I never meant to hurt you. I should have known that you wouldn’t go for it. And I was an idiot to think that you’d eventually get used to the idea. I guess I thought that if you saw that the anonymous sex really didn’t mean anything to me, you would be okay with it. Hell, I was hoping you would see the perks of it.”
“The perks?” Justin asked in confusion.
“Come on, Jus, you can’t tell me that you haven’t enjoyed going out and sleeping around while we’ve been apart.”
“Actually, I haven’t. I’ve had two one-night stands in the last six months, and it was awful. I felt like I was betraying you and our relationship,” Justin told him. “And I know how stupid that sounds since you were out sleeping around all the time, but like I said, I’m just not made that way. If I love someone, truly love someone, that person is enough for me.”
“I really hate when you say it that way,” Brian said. “It’s not that you weren’t enough for me. You have made me so happy through the years and I’m sorry if you ever doubted that.”
“I may have made you happy, but I wasn’t able to satisfy you,” Justin pointed out.
“That’s not right, either. Our sex life was everything I could ever ask for. I just felt like adding a little excitement with a stranger occasionally would add to something that was already amazing. What about a threesome? You, me and someone of our choosing?”
“Seriously? The thought of watching someone else touch you…it makes me sick.”
Brian frowned as he stood up. “I guess I’m pretty fucked up, huh?”
“I don’t think you’re fucked up,” Justin assured him. “I just think that you and I have completely different views on relationships, and that’s fine. We just need to accept that it doesn’t allow us to be in a relationship.”
“No…I won’t accept that. I’m here to get you back and if monogamy is the only way to do that, then that’s what we’ll do.”
“I’m serious, Jus, I’m not going to lose you. We just lost six months together and Gary’s death is a reminder that tomorrow isn’t promised. I refuse to lose any more time with you,” Brian insisted. “We’ll just go back to the way it used to be.”
Justin stood up then, unsure of how to react. Brian was standing before him, saying all the right things, but Justin was scared. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
“Why not? We love each other and want to be together. Why wouldn’t we just be together?” Brian asked.
“Because you want something that I can’t give you, and what happens when your needs get to be too much to ignore? I don’t think I can go through another breakup with you, and I doubt I’ll suddenly be okay with you sleeping around,” Justin replied honestly.
“I can promise you that I will never break up with you again, and I know you’re not going to change who you are…and to be truthful, I don’t want you to change. Yes, I wish your views on anonymous sex and mine matched, but they don’t, and your views are what helps to make you who you are, and I love that person more than anyone on this earth. There is no doubt in my mind that we belong together. I just need you to know that, too.” Brian walked over to Justin and grabbed him by the arms. “Please tell me you forgive me for all the pain I caused, and you’ll give me another chance.”
Justin could feel his determination
falter. “I want to…”
“Then do it,” Brian said softly as he pulled Justin close and covered his mouth with a soft kiss. Justin opened for him immediately and Brian took advantage of the green light and deepened the kiss as he began to steer them towards Justin’s bedroom. He had missed his blond more than he ever thought he could, and he needed to be inside him. By the time they reached the bedroom, Brian was completely hard and ready for more, but he suddenly felt Justin hesitate, so he pulled back and looked into his eyes. “Am I moving too fast?”
“I just…I’m scared, Brian. I know you promised that we wouldn’t breakup again, but I’m not so sure of that. As much as I don’t understand the need for anonymous sex…you feel that you need it. I don’t want to force you to give up something that is so important to you, just like I can’t be forced to be someone I’m not. How are we going to be together if we have completely different needs?”
“It’ll be easy. If I’ve learned nothing else in the last week since you put the brakes on, it’s that anonymous sex is nowhere near as important to me as you are. If you ever decide that you want to give it a try, let me know and I will jump at the chance. That especially goes for threesomes. I think it would be extremely hot to be kissing you while someone else is sucking you off…but as long as I have you, I have everything I need.”
Justin saw the sincerity in Brian’s face and couldn’t stop the tears that sprang to his eyes. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” Brian replied. “What’s with the tears though. I thought you would be happy.”
“I am happy. You have no idea how
happy I am to hear you say that I’m enough for you.”
“You are definitely enough for me, sunshine.”
Justin kissed Brian, putting all the love he had into the kiss as he started pulling at the other man’s clothes. It had been too long since they had been together, and all Justin could think of was being filled by the man he loved. It really was going to be a Merry Christmas.
It was almost midnight and Zac was lying in bed, thinking about the next few days ahead. It was Christmas but he didn’t feel like celebrating. Not now that his father was gone. The older man had been buried two days earlier and since then the world seemed to go back to the way it used to be, except in his world. He had called his boss and told the man that he was willing to work virtually for the first couple weeks of the new year to tie up loose ends, but that he was going to be moving back home to help his mother get through the loss of his father. He was surprised when his boss agreed to keep him virtual for six months on a trial basis. If working virtually worked for the company, he would keep him on permanently. If not, they would re-evaluate his position then. If Zac was ready to move back to California, he would still have a place within the company. If not, he would be able to walk away with a glowing letter of recommendation and a decent severance package. Zac had been touched that his boss had valued him that much and happily agreed to the terms. At least his professional life was in order. His personal life was a completely different story.
The following day was Christmas Eve and according to the phone call he received from Matt, everyone was going over to his and David’s house instead of going to Chris and Zan’s. Zac hadn’t been to a Morgan/Kinney/Taylor Christmas in four years, and he really didn’t have any intention of going now. He didn’t think he could watch Jason and Macy together playing the happy couple. It would be too much. Especially since he was still so distraught over his father’s death. He missed the man more than he thought possible and wasn’t sure how he was going to get through the holiday as it was. His mother had agreed to go to her best friend’s house to get away from the memories, assuming that Zac would want to be with his friends, and he didn’t have the heart to tell her he was going to stay home. He knew she would cancel her plans to stay home with him and he was happy that she was getting out for a while. He just didn’t have the strength. His phone signaled a text message and he sighed and reached for it. His friends had been sending random jokes and memes to try to cheer him up, and he appreciated it, but it wasn’t really working. He was surprised when he found a text from Jason.
Jason: I’m on my way over for some of Leona’s finest. Meet me there in fifteen minutes.
Zac smiled as he thought of all the nights the two of them would sit in the diner, eating Leona’s pies and talking about everything under the sun. He really missed those days, but they were long gone. He wasn’t sure that stirring things up would help him now.
Zac: I’m kind of tired.
Jason: You’re not going to make me eat alone, are you? I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. I hope to see you there.
The diner was about ten minutes away, so Zac had five minutes to decide if he was going to get up and go meet his ex-boyfriend for pie. He didn’t need five minutes. He sighed as he got up and threw on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and was out the door in under five minutes. He saw Jason’s car as he pulled into the parking lot and hated the way his heart rate quickened. He needed to stop thinking about Jason as anything more than a friend. As much as he wanted the other man back, Jason had moved on and was living with someone. He was just going to have to face the reality that they were done.
“Hey there, sweetheart!” Leona called when she saw Zac walk in. “I’ve really missed seeing that gorgeous face around here. It is so good to have both my boys back again. My cherry pie will be out of the oven in less than two minutes. As soon as it’s cool, I’ll bring two slices right over to you both. Go have a seat.”
“Thanks, Leona,” Zac called back as he smiled at his favorite waitress before heading over to where Jason was sitting. “Hey.”
“Hey Z, how are you?”
“Never better,” Zac replied dryly. “What are you doing out so late? Shouldn’t you be in bed snuggling up to Macy right about now?”
Jason frowned. “Don’t do that. I’m here because I know that you’re having a hard time right now and I want to try and help.”
“But what about Macy…”
“Macy has nothing to do with this. I told you before, I’m here for whatever you need. Especially pie,” Jason chuckled, trying to pull a smile from Zac. He wasn’t disappointed. “There you go. You might be able to say no to me, but no one can resist Leona’s pie.”
“Thanks J,” Zac said softly. “I probably needed to get out of the house. My brain has been spinning.”
“So, what’s going on? Have you figured out what you’re going to do next?”
“Actually I have. I called my boss and he’s going to let me work virtually for the next six months to see how things go. From there we’ll sit down and decide what’s next. If I’m ready to go back to California, then my job is still there. If I’m not but working virtually turns out to be profitable for the company, then I can stay here and continue as is. If it’s not, then I can walk away with my severance package, no hard feelings.”
“That’s great!” Jason exclaimed.
“Yeah, I’m kind of happy about it. I don’t go back to work until the beginning of January, which will give me time to go back to Cali and pack up more of my stuff. I was only prepared to stay a few weeks. I need to take care of things back there. I looked into flights leaving on the 29th. I figured I wouldn’t need more than a day or two and I can be back before New Year’s.”
“Do you want some help?” Jason offered.
Jason laughed. “Yeah, why does that surprise you?”
“J, you need to stop. You have a job, a girlfriend, and a life here. You don’t have to blow it all off to help me. This sucks right now, I’m not going to lie, but I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”
“I know you can, but I want to help. My office is closed until after the new year and my girlfriend is going home to visit her mother on Christmas day and won’t be back until the 2nd. There is nothing keeping me here,” Jason explained. “Let me help you.”
“I don’t know…I’ll think about it,” Zac finally replied.
“Okay, that’s fair,” Jason said. “Let’s change the subject. So, you’re going to Matt and David’s tomorrow, right? Well, I guess it’s today since it’s after midnight. It’s going to be weird not being at Chris and Zan’s for Christmas, but from what I’ve heard, Zan is thrilled to let someone else host.”
Zac frowned. “I don’t think I’m going to go.”
“Why not? I think getting out will be good for you.”
“I just don’t think I can do it. The holiday is going to be hard enough without my dad here. My mom and I agreed to just put away the decorations and celebrate later. We’re thinking Christmas in July.”
“So you and your mom are just going to sit at home and do nothing for the next few days?” Jason asked sadly.
Zac considered lying but didn’t see the point. Knowing Jason the way he did, he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. “Actually my mother is going to spend tomorrow night at a friend’s house. She really didn’t want to sit at home with all the memories there.”
Jason sighed. “And let me guess, she thinks you’re going to be with all of us, so she’s not worried about you. Z, I’m so sorry that your dad is gone. And I know I can’t understand what you’re going through, but why are you torturing yourself? Do you honestly think you’ll be better off sitting at home alone on the holiday rather than spending the time with people who love you?”
“Ha,” Zac spat. “You want to talk about torture? Torture would be me going over to David and Matt’s house and spending the evening watching you and Macy get cozy all night long. To be honest, I really don’t have a desire to go out and spend the holiday trying to pretend that everything is fine in the world right now, because for me, it’s not. I lost my father, my whole life is changing, and the man I love is so afraid of me that he’s going to spend his life hiding who he is because he doesn’t want to be with me.”
Zac felt his eyes tear up and quickly brushed them away as Leona made her way over with two pieces of her pie. “Here you go, boys. You give a yell if you need anything else.”
Once Leona was gone, Jason reached over and took Zac’s hand. “I am so sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you. I never meant to hurt you. I’m just trying to get through life as best I can. It’s been six years since the attack, and I still have nightmares. There are still times when I’m out in public and I’m so afraid of what could happen that I can barely breathe. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve spent years working with therapists and nothing seems to help.”
Zac could see the sadness in Jason’s eyes and felt a tug in his heart. “I’m sorry, too. I’m still so sorry this happened to you. I wish we could go back in time, and I could take your place. It kills me to know that you’re still hurting from this. But J, hiding away isn’t the answer. You can’t build a relationship with a woman just because she’s less threatening than being with a man.”
“That’s not what I’m doing...”
Zac wouldn’t let him finish. “Isn’t it? I know you, Jason. I know what it’s like to be bi-sexual and I know how things were between us before the attack. Deep down inside, you don’t want to be with a woman. Deep down inside you know that you fall far more gay than bi-sexual on the scale. I understand that you’re scared, I probably would be, too. But you can’t spend the rest of your life hiding. You can’t let him win.”
Jason wiped away the dampness that somehow appeared on his face and forced a smile. “Hey, don’t try to turn this around on me. I’ve already had plenty of therapy sessions over Leona’s pie. Tonight, it’s all about you.”
“Seriously, Z, I’m really worried about you. Please come to David and Matt’s. Let your friends help you through the holiday. I promise, you won’t regret it.”
Zac sighed. “Alright, I’ll stop by for a bit, but I’m not staying long.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” Jason replied with a smile. “Now don’t judge me. I’m about to stuff my face with this pie…and then maybe order another.”
Zac smiled. “No judgment here. I’ll be right behind you.”
End of chapter 4
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