Now That You’re Here: Life Moves On
Sophia was laying down on her bed, listening to music and wondering how she was going to get out of telling her brother that she and Kaleb were dating. She knew he wasn’t going to react well. He and Chris had been telling her from day one that she wasn’t even allowed to consider dating until she was at least sixteen and even then, there were no guarantees that they would give their permission. And now, thanks to Kaleb and his big mouth, Trent was making her come clean to her guardians. She had asked for a couple of weeks to find the right time and the right way to tell them, but so far, she hadn’t had any luck. The one time she mentioned something close to a date, Chris had nearly lost his mind. And now she only had a few days left before Trent went ahead and called Chris and Zan himself. She didn’t know what she was going to do.
She sighed and rolled over, grabbing her phone when it signaled a text message. It was from Benji.
Benji: Hey, do you and Kaleb want to catch a movie with us? Brad and I want to see the new Avengers movie. There’s a matinee at 2:00.
Sophia: I don’t know, maybe. Let me check with Kaleb,
Benji: Okay, let me know.
Before Sophia had a chance to call Kaleb, her phone rang. She smiled when she saw the caller ID. “Hey Jus, what’s going on?”
“Not too much. I haven’t talked to you in a while and wanted to see what you were up to.”
Sophia laughed. “I just saw you two weeks ago at Christmas. Not much has changed.”
“That’s funny, because I actually saw you yesterday and it looked like a lot has changed,” Justin replied dryly.
Sophia sat up in a panic. “You saw me yesterday? Um…where?”
“At the mall,” Justin told her. “Imagine my surprise. I was walking through the mall, minding my own business when I look over and see my little cousin in a lip lock with her best friend.”
“You didn’t tell Chris and Zan, did
Justin chuckled. “No, I didn’t say anything. But I’d like to talk to you about this new development. You and Kaleb both. What are you guys up to today?”
“Nothing much. I was thinking of going to the movies with some friends, but I’d rather see you anyway,” Sophia admitted. “What did you have in mind?”
“Why don’t I swing by and pick you up in about an hour. I’ll take you out for lunch and we can talk,” Justin suggested.
Sophia sighed. “Fine.”
“Relax, Soph, I’m not Chris or Zan,” Justin assured her. “And I know what it’s like to try and hide something from them, remember? I know you’ve heard the story about Brian and me when we were teenagers. I just want to talk to you and see if I can help in some way.”
“Well, unless you can lock Chris away until I’m over 18, I doubt there’s much you can do. I know I’d have a hard time with Zan, but I could handle him. He’s so much cooler than Chris is,” Sophia sighed.
Justin laughed. He remembered a time when he and Brian used to say the same thing. “Look, Chris means well. He’s just very overprotective when it comes to the people in his life. He eventually settles down though, and Zan has a way of calming him. I’ll see you in an hour and we’ll figure something out.”
“Okay, I’ll call Kaleb now and have him meet me here. See you soon. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” Justin replied before ending the call. He looked up and saw Brian standing in the doorway. “Hey, what’s up?”
“You tell me?” Brian asked as he crossed the room, took Justin in his arms and kissed him deeply. “I had plans for the day and all they included were fucking you in every room of the house and ordering take out. Then I come in here and hear you say you’ll see someone in an hour?”
“Sorry Bri, but I’m having lunch with Sophia and Kaleb. You’re welcome to come if you want,” Justin offered.
Brian began to pout. “How am I going to fuck you in every room of the house if you’re not here?”
“Listen Stud, all we’ve been doing since we got back together is fucking in every room of the house. There is life outside of sex, you know.” Justin laughed.
“There doesn’t have to be.”
Justin looked at Brian as the wheels in his brain began to spin. “I think we need to talk.”
Brian immediately became serious. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure, but in the last two
weeks all we’ve been doing is having sex, and I don’t want to complain…I’m not
complaining…I’m just a little worried…”
“Worried about what?”
“I guess I’m worried that you want to constantly have sex to try and fill a void that you have now that you can’t go out and pick up random guys,” Justin replied softly. “I know how important that was for you.”
“There’s nothing for you to be worried about. Since we’ve been back together, I haven’t even thought about being with anyone else. Come here,” Brian took Justin by the hand and led him over to the couch. Once they were both seated, he began. “Look, I’m sorry for putting so many doubts and fears into your head. It was stupid of me to ever say anything to you in the first place. I’m not going to lie, picking up random guys was fun for a while, but it’s definitely not worth losing you over. My wanting you has nothing to do with filling a void…there is no void. As long as I have you, I have everything I need. I’m just trying to make up for lost time. We were broken up for over six months.”
“Yeah, but we were fucking through most of them,” Justin pointed out.
“Not enough,” Brian chuckled. “Now, according to my calculations, we have about 55 minutes before we have to pick up the teen patrol. What do you say we hop in the shower and have a quickie?”
“Like I could ever refuse an offer like that,” Justin laughed as he stood up and grabbed Brian’s hand. “I always have trouble with all those hard-to-reach places.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll reach them.”
They made it to Sophia and Kaleb with two minutes to spare.
Derek was sitting at the kitchen table lost in thought when Aiden walked through the door.
“Hey Babe, what are you doing here? I thought you were working tonight. Shouldn’t you be getting ready to go?” Aiden asked as he approached the older man. “Is everything alright?”
“My mom died,” Derek said softly.
“Oh Derek, I’m so sorry,” Aiden said as he made his way over and took his boyfriend in his arms. “What happened? I thought there had been some progress.”
“I’m not sure. My aunt just said that she went to the hospital for her daily visit, but she had passed right before she got there. I don’t really know anything else. My aunt was pretty upset. She didn’t really get into details,” Derek explained. “I don’t know why I’m even upset. That woman was dead to me a long time ago.”
“Babe, you’re upset because despite everything that happened, she was your mother. Did you call the bar and let them know that you’re not going to be in? I can call Greg for you,” Aiden offered.
“Why wouldn’t I go in? It’s not like there’s anything I need to do.”
“No, but I think it’s okay to take the night off and mourn the loss.”
“What loss?” Derek asked as he got up from his seat. “Aid, I told you before that I lost my mother when I was 16 years old. I did all my mourning then. There’s nothing…”
Aiden watched as Derek crumbled in front of him and immediately took him in his arms. “Babe, it’s okay to be sad. What happened between you and your parents was awful, but it doesn’t have to mean that you can’t still love them. They were your parents. She was your mother.”
Derek cried as his boyfriend held him, feeling the loss deep down inside. Secretly he always hoped that one day his parents would realize that his being gay wasn’t a bad thing and they would want him back in their lives. He lost any chance of that with his father the night of the accident, but he had been hoping that it wasn’t too late for his mother. The phone call from his aunt took away any hope that was left, leaving him feeling empty inside. “I…I don’t want to feel like this. I stopped being mad at them years ago and just moved on. Why am I so upset now? She doesn’t deserve my sadness.”
“Maybe she doesn’t, but you deserve to feel it. Babe, there is no right or wrong here. You are entitled to feel however you feel about losing her - them. Maybe they turned their back on you when you were 16, but that doesn’t take away the first 16 years of your life when they were good to you and loved you the way they were supposed to. You can mourn them…not the people they turned out to be,” Aiden said. “Now, do you want me to call Greg?”
Derek nodded and pulled away. “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. I’m going to go splash some water on my face. I’ll be right back.”
Aiden called Derek’s boss and explained what happened. Greg was very understanding and told Aiden he would take Derek off the schedule for the week and wait to hear from him. Aiden thanked him, promised Derek would call in a day or two and then hung up. He was just about to go looking for the other man, when Derek’s phone rang. It was an unknown number so Aiden answered it, just in case it had to do with Derek’s mother,
“Um…hi. I’m looking for Derek,” the voice on the other end said tentatively.
“Sure, hang on. Can I ask who’s calling?”
Aiden was shocked. According to Derek, after his parents had thrown him out, he and his sister had managed to stay in touch through school, but Deanna had been so mad at her parents because of what happened that she eventually started hanging out with the wrong people and getting into trouble. They had lost touch after her high school graduation when she moved out to get away from her parents. According to the aunt, Deanna hadn’t been in touch with their parents in years either, and she hadn’t been as easily found as Derek had been. The last time Derek had spoken to his aunt, she still hadn’t been able to find her to let her know about the accident. “Oh…okay. Yeah, hang on. Let me get him for you.”
Derek was just coming out of the bathroom when Aiden appeared, holding out his cell phone. “Your phone rang, so I answered it. Um…it’s your sister.”
Derek looked at Aiden, then the phone, then Aiden again. “My sister?”
“That’s what she said. Here.”
Derek took the phone and brought it to his ear. “De, is that you?”
“Oh my God, Derek,” Deanna cried. “I can’t believe I finally found you.”
Derek barely noticed the tears running down his face. “How are you? Where are you? I’ve been trying to find you for years! Are you okay?”
Deanna chuckled through her tears. “Slow down, Derk…give me a chance to speak.”
Derek laughed at his childhood nickname. When Deanna was young, she couldn’t pronounce Derek properly, so it came out as Derk…once she got older and learned how to say Derek, Derk was reserved for special occasions. “Don’t call me that,” he chuckled.
“Still overly sensitive, I see. I’m okay. How are you?”
“I’m good…where are you? Where have you been? I know Aunt Gina’s been trying to find you for weeks.”
“I know, she finally tracked me down a little while ago. I heard about Mom and Dad. I say good riddance,” Deanna replied.
“De, don’t say that. They were still our parents,” Derek pointed out.
“Fuck that!” Deanna exclaimed. “And I can’t believe you of all people care about them after what they did to you.”
“De, I’ve spent a lot of time hating them for what they did, but I can’t be mad anymore. They were homophobic, that’s who they were. How can I be mad at them for being who they were when I wanted them to accept me for who I am?”
“How can you be mad? I don’t know, maybe you could be mad because they were hateful people who disowned their own son for being gay. You can’t compare being gay and being filled with hate. Whatever, you may have forgiven them, but I’m not that nice. I’m just glad that Aunt Gina found me and gave me your number. I’m so sorry for disappearing. That summer…things got so bad at home. I still wasn’t talking to Mom and Dad, and it was getting too hard to live there so I took off. I didn’t plan on losing touch, but things happened. By the time I tried to call you, your number had been disconnected and I didn’t know what else to do.”
“I’m sorry, too. My landlord decided to increase my rent $200 a month and I couldn’t afford it, so I had to move. I didn’t have a phone for about six months because I was having trouble finding steady work and by the time I had a phone again, I didn’t know how to reach you. I actually called home and got Mom on the phone. She told me that you had taken off and she didn’t know how to reach you. Then she hung up on me. I spent months trying to find you, but you didn’t leave a trail. Are you okay? Where are you now?”
“I actually live in Ohio now, but I’m in Arizona for a few days. I’m staying with a friend in Bisbee,” Deanna said.
“Really? I’m in Sierra Vista. It’s like 20 minutes away. What are you doing right now? Can you come over? Do you want me to come there? Do you want to meet in the middle?” Derek asked, unable to hold back his excitement.
Deanna laughed. “I really missed you. How about if I come by around six? We can order take out and catch up.”
“Okay. Is this your cell phone? I can text you my address.”
“Yeah, this is it. And make sure you put it into your phone. I don’t want to lose you again,” Deanna replied.”
“Trust me, you’re never going to lose me again. I’ll see you tonight. Love you, De.”
“Love you too, Derk.”
As soon as Derek disconnected the call he turned to Aiden, who had been listening to the one-sided conversation. “She’s gonna be here at 6. I can’t believe she’s here.”
Aiden smiled at his boyfriend. “I’m so happy for you. Do you want me to go out? Grayson and I haven’t really caught up since he got back from his honeymoon. Maybe he and I can go grab a drink or two.”
“Of course not! Why would I want you to leave? I love you; we’re buying a house together. I want her to know that we’re together. Besides, it’s not like she doesn’t know who you are. You knew her in high school, right?”
“Yeah. She was more Christian’s friend than mine, but the three of us hung out a bit now and then. I don’t know if she’ll remember me. High school was a long time ago,” Aiden replied, refusing to let thoughts of his teen years play through his mind. “I just didn’t know if you wanted a little time alone to catch up. You haven’t seen her in what, 13 years? I would understand if you did.”
“I appreciate that, but I’m good. You two are the most important people in my life. I can’t wait to have both of you in the same room,” Derek assured him with a smile. “Now, how about if you come and lay down with me for a while? It’s been a roller coaster of a day emotionally for me and it’s only 2:30 pm. I’m totally wiped out.”
“Of course. Anything you need,” Aiden replied as he took Derek’s hand and led him to the bedroom. He knew his boyfriend was going to need him once the reality of his mother’s death hit him again but reconnecting with his sister had pushed away the bad thoughts for the time being and Aiden was happy to see his smile back.
Dane was sitting at the kitchen table lost in thought when Eric walked in.
“Hey babe, what do you think about having everyone over tomorrow night as a little goodbye party for Julia? I know it’s not forever. She’s just going back to coming over on weekends, but I’m going to miss having her here everyday. I thought we could do something nice for her.”
Dane looked up at his fiancé and tried to smile. “I just got off the phone with Sandy.”
“Okay, when will she be home?”
“Um…she’s not coming home,” Dane said softly.
“What do you mean she’s not coming home?”
“Apparently she checked herself out of rehab over a week ago. She said it was too hard. She’s drinking again,” Dane explained.
Eric was shocked, “Where is she?”
Dane shrugged. “I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me. She just told me to take care of Julia, tell her that her mommy loves her, and that she’d be in touch. I don’t even have a number for her. She wasn’t allowed to bring her cell phone to rehab, and she just called from a private number.”
Eric pulled Dane out of his chair and engulfed him in a hug. “I’m so sorry, babe. I know you were hoping that she was going to get the help she needed and come back as her old self. Maybe she’ll come around, though. Maybe she just needs a little more time to get herself together.”
“Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and she’s hammered. I could hear it in her voice. What am I going to tell my little girl?”
“I don’t know. Maybe for now you can just tell her that Sandy just needs more time to get better and see what happens. See if she calls again. I know she has a problem, but I also know she loves her daughter. She has to be missing her. Hopefully she’ll miss her enough to want to get help again.”
“I still can’t believe this is happening,” Dane replied. “How could anyone choose alcohol over their child? I don’t understand.”
“Babe, she’s an alcoholic. It’s a terrible disease that causes people to do crazy things that they wouldn’t normally do. Try not to be to upset with her. At least she recognizes she has a problem and knows that Julia would be better here with us than with her. She might still come around.”
“Maybe, but I’m not going to sit around and wait for her to come to her senses. I’m going to call the lawyer on Monday and see what we would need to change the custody arrangement from temporary to permanent. If she wants to continue to screw up her life, that’s her decision, but I’m not going to let her screw up Julia’s, too. If and when Sandy is sober, we can decide on visitation for her, but Julia is staying with us until she graduates college and moves out on her own. Sandy lost the chance to be the custodial parent the minute she chose to sign herself out of rehab,” Dane replied.
“That’s your decision, babe. You know I have no problem having her with us permanently. In fact, I like it better that way. I always hated that we only had her part time. Where is she? Do you want to talk to her now?”
“Actually, Gracie and Julia are next door. Apparently Samantha’s having a tea party and invited them both over. At first I thought Gracie wouldn’t want to go. She’s getting a little old for tea parties, but she seemed excited about it,” Dane explained.
“You mean we’re here all alone? As in no children around?” Eric smiled as he tugged Dane to him. “What do you say we go upstairs and have a little party of our own?”
Dane kissed Eric deeply, pulled back and smiled. “That is the best offer I’ve had all day. Let’s go quickly though, I don’t know how long the tea party is going to last.”
Eric grabbed Dane’s hand and pulled him through the house. It wasn’t often that the two of them were the only ones in the house. They wanted to take advantage of the time they had.
Forty-five minutes later, as they were putting their clothes back on, Dane looked over at Eric and smiled.
“What?” Eric asked.
“I was just thinking about how happy you make me and how lucky I am that you came back to Sierra Vista to work for Robert.”
“You know, it’s funny…I have those same thoughts every day,” Eric replied as he walked around the bed and kissed his partner, and it was true. There were still times when he thought about Cooper and their relationship and wondered what would have happened if he had just gotten the help he needed. And if there was any way that he could change the past and bring Cooper back for Gracie and Betty, he would. But he would never want to change where he ended up. As much as he loved Cooper, that love didn’t compare to what he felt for Dane. The feelings he had now were stronger than anything he had ever felt before and he couldn’t imagine a life without him. “So, have you decided on a date for the wedding yet? We need to start planning if we’re going to do it this year.”
“Babe, we don’t have to have some big, grand ceremony. I’d be happy to marry you in a small shed, just you, me, a couple witnesses and an officiant.”
“You don’t want a big, fancy wedding?” Eric asked suspiciously.
Dane smiled. “I didn’t say I didn’t want one. I said I’d be happy with something small and intimate. All I really want is to be your husband. I don’t care how we accomplish that.”
“Sweetheart, we’re only doing this once. I think we should go big. I want everyone we know there to celebrate our love with us,” Eric told him.
“But what about money? We finally have what we need to remodel our kitchen and now you’re opening up a restaurant. Can we really afford a big wedding?”
“We can afford whatever it takes to make you happy and give us the day of our dreams. Don’t worry about the money. All you have to do is pick a date,” Eric assured him.
Dane smiled. “If you’re sure…I was thinking about a fall wedding. Maybe late October, early November? With the leaves changing colors…the cooler temperatures. I think it will be perfect.”
“Fall it is,” Eric replied as he pulled Dane close and gave him a quick kiss. “Let’s go downstairs, look at the calendar and pick a date before the girls get home and ruin quiet time.”
Before they could take another step, the sound of the door slamming shut, and shrieks of laughter rang through the house. “I guess quiet time is over,” Dane chuckled.
“That’s okay. We’ll have a lifetime of quiet time,” Eric said as he stole another kiss.
“I love you,” Dane said as he pulled away.
“I love you more.”
Zan walked through the front door and dropped his bag, ready to put the day behind him. He had a one on one with a very troubled young man earlier that morning and it left him feeling terrible. The poor kid was struggling with being gay, and his family was less than accepting of him. He was getting ready to turn eighteen years old and had already been told that once he was legal, he was going to have to come to his senses and stop all the gay nonsense or find a new place to live. Zan could see the pain in Trevor’s eyes as he told his story, but he wasn’t sure how to help. The center could provide temporary housing and a lot of emotional support, but it couldn’t replace a mother and father. He walked into the living room and went right to the bottle of scotch they kept in the liquor cabinet for entertaining. That’s where Chris found him a few minutes later.
“Uh oh…nothing says having a bad day more than drinking scotch alone at two in the afternoon,” Chris said as he walked over and took the bottle out of Zan’s hand. He placed it back in the cabinet and then took his partner in his arms. “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day, Babe. Why don’t we sit down, and you can tell me what’s going on?”
Zan allowed himself to be led to the couch and then sat down with a sigh as he snuggled up in Chris’ arms. It was his favorite place to be. “I had this kid come in this morning. He’s seventeen and struggling with his sexuality. He said that he felt he was different from a very young age but refused to accept it because he comes from a very religious family. His father is a pastor, and his mother is a Sunday School teacher, so he tried to deny what he was feeling. A few months ago, he realized that he couldn’t deny it anymore and came out to his parents.”
“And let me guess,” Chris said. “They didn’t welcome him with open arms.”
“Nope. He has until his eighteenth birthday to ‘stop all the gay nonsense’ or he has to get out of the house.”
“Oh, the poor kid.”
“And what’s worse? His birthday is tomorrow. He tried talking to his mother again this morning and she refuses to budge. Once he’s eighteen years old, unless he denies who he is, he has nowhere to go. I really wish he had come to us back when he first came out. That might have given us more time to come up with other options. Now all we can do is give him a bed in the shelter until we can find something for him.”
“Or…” Chris began.
When Chris didn’t continue, Zan pulled back a little and turned to his partner. “Do you have an idea?”
“A temporary one, but better then him staying in the shelter,” Chris replied.
“I’ll take anything at this point. He seems like such a sweet kid, and I really want to help him,” Zan said. “What were you thinking?”
“I’m thinking about the basement.”
“The basement? You mean our basement?”
“I know it’s not ideal, but he’s almost eighteen years old. If we can just give him some guidance, let him graduate, help him find a job…give him a little time to figure things out…” Chris trailed off.
“Babe, I know taking people in is our thing, but usually we only take in family and close friends. We don’t even know this kid. I met him four hours ago. Besides, we can’t suddenly start taking in every person who walks through the doors of the center. We get a lot of traffic every week. We don’t have the room for that.”
“I agree, but Zan…you’ve been working at the center for six years now and I’ve never seen you come home and start downing scotch at two in the afternoon. There’s obviously something special about this kid. I’m willing to trust your gut. Let’s talk to him and see what he thinks. We have the room; we have the money…and we haven’t taken in a stray in years. We’re overdue.”
Zan smiled. “You are the sweetest man I have ever met; you know that? I gave Trevor my number and told him to call me in the morning if his parents follow through with their threat and kick him out. I promised that I would help him get settled in at the shelter. He was really nervous about it. I’m kind of hoping I don’t hear from him, but somehow I think I will.”
“Well, Sophia went out to lunch with Brian and Justin. What do you say we make a quick trip to the bedroom so I can have my wicked way with you and then we’ll go down to the basement and straighten up a bit? I haven’t been down there since Brian and Justin stayed here for the holidays so I’m guessing it needs new sheets and blankets, towels, and a little cleaning.”
“Sounds good to me,” Zan agreed.
An hour later, Chris and Zan were in the basement cleaning when Chris finally found the courage to address the future. “Babe, we need to talk.”
Zan looked over at his partner and
smiled. He was so glad that his days of panicking over a line like that were
over. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that their relationship was fine, and
Chris would never stray again. “Okay, what’s up?”
“Well, apparently the movie has been doing so well that it has blown up in the overseas market as well, which has caused my book sales to jump there, too. From what I’ve been told, I’m developing a huge following in England and other parts of the world.”
“That’s amazing, Babe. But it doesn’t surprise me. I knew you were going to be a huge success back when I was in college and you used to let me read all your short stories,” Zan told him as he beamed with pride. “So, what does that mean?”
“It means that my publicist wants me to do a six-month book tour. He figures I could start here, hitting about 30 states and then head overseas to do some of the major cities there. I would be able to fly home occasionally, but probably only about once a month,” Chris admitted as he watched Zan closely for his reaction. He had originally told Todd no, but after a few hours of gentle persuasion, Chris had finally agreed to ask Zan how he felt before turning down the opportunity.
“You’d be gone six months?” Zan replied quietly. “Wow…that’s a really long time.”
“I know, and that’s why I told Todd I wouldn’t do it, but he thinks it’s really important for me to get out there and meet people. Especially since they’re so close to signing a deal on a sequel to the movie. If they get the green light, they want me to write it and Todd thinks it would be beneficial to connect with my fans to help promote the movie.” Chris walked over to where Zan was standing and took him in his arms. “But I don’t want to leave you. I love you, and our life here. I don’t know how I would make it six months with only seeing you every few weeks. You know what? I’m just going to tell Todd no. It’s too much to ask…for both of us.”
“Chris…no. Just…I need a few minutes.”
“No you don’t…what’s a few minutes going to do? You’re never going to want me to go. I don’t want me to go. I think it’s better if I…”
“Babe, the thought of you being gone so much, traveling around the world is really hard…”
“I know, so…”
“Let me finish,” Zan insisted. “It’s going to be really hard, but I think it’s something you need to do. You are such a talented writer and I’m so proud of all you have done. I realize that when you started writing for a living, you never imagined getting to where you are now, but you have. And you need to follow your dreams wherever they take you. I will miss you so much while you’re gone, but you have to go.”
Chris felt a lump in his throat. He really didn’t want to go. The longest he and Zan had ever been apart, aside from their short separation, was nine long days and Chris hated every minute of it. How was he going to go away for weeks at a time? “Maybe I can just…”
“You know, with the money we now have in the bank, along with all the royalties I bring in, not to mention your pay checks, I could quit writing today and we’d be fine. “
Zan laughed. “You’re not going to quit writing. Now, when does Todd want the tour to start?”
“He’s thinking he could have everything set in six weeks,” Chris sighed.
“Okay, then I say we make the most of the time we have together now. And we’ll find a way to make this work. You can fly home on your breaks. I can fly out and visit for some long weekends. It’s not like we can’t afford the airfare. And let’s face it, we haven’t done much traveling through the years because of the kids. It’ll be fun. I’m sure Brian and Justin will watch Sophia so I can get away. And maybe I can bring Brian, Justin and Sophia to one of the locations and we can have a mini family vacation.”
“Do you have an idea how much I love you?” Chris said as he felt himself begin to choke up. He wouldn’t be leaving for six weeks, but he was already missing the love of his life.
“I love you, too. Now why don’t you finish up in here? I’m going to run upstairs and make a shopping list. I need to go to the store anyway and with the possibility of another mouth to feed moving in tomorrow, I want to make sure we at least have all the basics.”
Zan gave Chris a quick kiss and then headed upstairs. He was so thankful that he was able to hold back the tears until he was out of sight. Six months with only the occasional visit. How the hell was he going to make it that long without having Chris by his side?
Justin waited until the waitress took their plates away before he began. “Alright you two, what’s going on?”
Kaleb started first. “It’s my fault Justin. I just…I started having feelings for Sophia a long time ago, but I tried to ignore them. I really did. It just didn’t work.”
Brian laughed. “I remember those days. Ignoring your feelings never works.”
“Tell me about it,” Kaleb replied. “But I waited as long as I could.”
“How long has this been going on?” Justin asked.
“Next week it will be eight months,” Sophia admitted.
“You guys managed to hide it for almost eight months?”
Sophia chuckled. “Yeah, and we could have gone a lot longer if dip shit over here kept his big mouth shut. Now Trent is making me tell Chris and Zan.”
“What was I supposed to do? Trent overheard me on the phone and then accused me of having sex. I was just trying to get out of trouble.” Kaleb turned to Brian and Justin. “How long did you guys hide from Chris and Zan?”
Brian smiled. “Only a few months, thanks to blondie.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. I would have gone on hiding a lot longer if it wasn’t for the accident,” Justin replied to Brian before turning to the teens. “We were in a really bad car accident and Brian ended up in a coma. I had to come clean so they would let me see him.”
“So, now you have to tell Chris and Zan?” Brian asked.
“Yes!” Sophia exclaimed. “And you know how well that’s gonna go. Brian, I love the guy, but your brother can be a real pain in the ass sometimes.”
“Tell me about it,” Brian laughed.
“Maybe we can help,” Justin offered. “Brian and I will be there if you want us to. Maybe it will soften the blow.”
“Really?” Sophia shrieked as she jumped up and ran around the table hugging both men. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Kaleb smiled at the happiness on Sophia’s face. “Do you guys think I should be there?”
“Truthfully?” Brian replied. “It might be better if you’re not there. Chris isn’t going to be happy and the last thing either of you need is for you to have an altercation with him, and believe me, you’re going to want to.”
“Do you really think it’s going to be that bad? I mean, Sophia has been insisting that they’re going to keep us from seeing each other, but do you really think that’s a possibility?” Kaleb asked nervously.
“It’s not going to go well,” Justin replied. “But Brian and I will help anyway we can. And Chris will calm down eventually. He always does. He just…he feels this overwhelming need to protect the people he loves. It’s not a bad trait to have, he just takes it a bit far sometimes.”
Before anything more could be said, Brian, Justin and Sophia’s phones all went off. They knew it was the group text. All five of them were in the group as a way for them to all keep in touch with daily updates, jokes, and other nonsense.
“Uh oh…” Justin said.
“A family meeting? This can’t be good. We haven’t had one of them in years,” Brian pointed out.
“A family meeting?” Kaleb asked in confusion.
“Yeah, it’s Chris and Zan’s way of getting us together to discuss something important,” Justin explained. “They want us there in an hour.”
“I’ll respond for all of us,” Brian said.
Sophia sighed. “This can’t be good. What do you think is going on?”
Justin looked over at Brian. “Do you know of anything going on?”
“Nope, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
Sophia was immediately worried. “You don’t think they somehow found out about Kaleb and me, do you? I mean, if you saw us yesterday, someone else could have and then told them.”
“Relax honey, I doubt they would call Brian and Justin if it was about us,” Kaleb said.
“Yeah, Kaleb’s right. They wouldn’t have used the family chat for that. Chris would have just waited until you got home and then grounded you for the next 20 years,” Brian teased.
Justin signaled the waiter to get the check. “But I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Soph, why don’t you and Kaleb go ahead and have a few minutes alone while Brian and I pay the bill. We’ll drop him off on the way home and get this over with.”
Sophia got up, grabbed Kaleb’s hand and lead him out of the restaurant and over to Justin’s car. “I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. I don’t know why they called a family meeting, but unless something terrible happened, which I really hope isn’t the case, I’m going to come clean tonight while Brian and Justin are there. I will do everything I can to call or text you tonight, but if for some reason Chris grounds me and takes away my phone, I’ll have Brian or Justin text you, okay? And then I’ll see you on Monday at school.”
“Do you really think they’ll take away your phone?”
“I don’t know…but I do know that Chris is going to be really mad. He told me that I wasn’t allowed to date until I was at least 16,” Sophia reminded him.
“But your birthday is only a month away and then you’ll be 16,” Kaleb pointed. “Grounding you now would be kind of pointless.”
“He’s not going to ground me to keep us apart. Well, not only to keep us apart. He’s going to ground me when he finds out that we’ve been dating for almost eight months behind their backs. Just promise me one thing?”
“Anything, you know that,” Kaleb assured her as he gently caressed her cheek.
“Promise me that if I get grounded for a while you won’t dump me for someone who doesn’t have strict guardians.”
“Honey, I’m never dumping you,” Kaleb promised. “You’re stuck with me for the rest of your life. If you get grounded for a while, we will just make do with seeing each other at school until Chris and Zan come to their senses. I love you, remember? I’m not going anywhere.”
“I love you, too,” Sophia replied as she leaned in and kissed Kaleb softly.
Brian and Justin sat at the table waiting for the waiter to return Justin’s credit card. Each one was lost in thought, but Brian spoke up first. “So, what do you think is going on? It’s kind of odd that they called a family meeting, don’t you think.”
“It’s very odd,” Justin agreed. “I really hope everything’s okay. The last time they called us to a meeting was when Chris was diagnosed with cancer. You don’t think…”
“No, don’t even think it,” Brian said, stopping Justin from voicing both of their concerns. “I’m sure everything is fine. Here comes the waiter. Let’s get out of here. I want to get this over with.”
Brian, Justin and Sophia walked into the house about 30 minutes later and found Chris and Zan sitting in the living room laughing together. It took some of the stress away from Justin. If it had been anything really serious, they wouldn’t be laughing.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” Brian asked as he took a seat on the love seat, pulling Justin with him. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything is fine,” Zan assured them. “We just wanted to talk about a couple things that are going to be happening and since it’s going to affect all of us, we figured a family meeting was the easiest way to go.”
“What’s happening?” Sophia asked.
“Well first of all, we might be having someone come and stay with us for a while. He’s turning 18 tomorrow and is going through a tough time at home. I’m probably going to see him in the morning and if I do, I’m going to invite him to come and stay in the basement while he works some things out,” Zan explained. “If that happens, I’m hoping all three of you will try and make him feel welcome here. Obviously it will affect you the most, Soph…are you okay if we do this?”
Sophia didn’t even have to think about it. “Of course. I know how things go in this house. Anyone in need is welcome. We should really have that put that on a sign that we can hang up over the door.”
“Wow, it’s been a while since you guys have taken someone in,” Brian said. “Who is he? Anyone we know?"
"Doubtful. I met him today at the center. He just needs some help and Chris and I think we can offer that. We have so much, and we’ve always enjoyed helping others.”
“The super-couple is back in action,” Justin teased. “I think it’s great, guys. Brian and I will pop in more and do whatever we can to help.”
“Thanks guys, we really appreciate it.”
“Okay, what else is going on?” Justin asked, trying to speed things up. They still had to talk about Sophia and Kaleb and Justin was anxious to get home and spend some time alone with Brian.
“Well, after a lot of thinking and a discussion with Zan, I’ve decided to go on a book tour,” Chris told them.
“That’s great,” Brian said. “Did Todd finally convince you to go to the east coast?”
“Well, kind of. It’s a six-month tour. I’m going to hit about 30 states here in the US and then head overseas.”
“What?” Brian asked. He must have heard Chris wrong. “You’re going on a six-month tour?”
Justin was stunned. “What about…I thought you hated being away from the family?”
“I do, but Todd thinks this would be really good for my career. I could not only push my books, but I can also push the movie, start generating buzz for the sequel. And it’s not like I’ll be gone for six months straight. I’ll be able to come home for a few days here and there.”
Justin looked over at his cousin. “And you’re okay with this?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be my first choice,” Zan replied honestly. “But Chris is really making a name for himself. This is part of it. He has spent his entire career refusing to go too far from home. I knew that one day he would have to branch out further than Arizona.”
“Why? You said yourself, he’s making a name for himself, and he was able to do it all from Arizona,” Brian pointed out.
“Guys, I know this is a shock, but it’s really no big deal. I’ll fly home about once a month, and Zan can come visit me. You all can. We even talked about doing a mini family vacation. It won’t be as bad as you think. Besides, you two don’t even live at home anymore. You have lives of your own now. And I’ll only be a phone call or video chat away if something comes up.”
“Yeah, I’m surprised you guys are this upset,” Zan said before turning to the youngest member of the family, suddenly realizing that she hadn’t voiced a thing. “Soph, what do you think?”
“You’re leaving us?” Sophia whispered softly as tears pooled in her eyes. Without saying another word, she jumped up and ran upstairs, ignoring the sound of everyone calling her name. She went into her room, slammed the door, threw herself down on the bed and cried.
Chris, Zan, Brian and Justin watched Sophia run from the room in shock. “I didn’t expect that kind of reaction from her,” Zan finally said.
“Neither did I,” Brian piped in as he looked at Justin.
“Maybe I should go talk to her,” Justin suggested.
“No,” Chris said softly. “I…um…I’ll go talk to her.”
Chris went upstairs and knocked lightly on Sophia’s door. He could hear her soft sobs and felt horrible for causing her so much pain. He waited for an invitation, but when he didn’t get one, he knocked again and opened the door. “Sweetheart, can I come in?”
“Go away,” she cried out. “I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Pumpkin, please talk to me,” Chris begged, using the nickname she had outgrown in the last couple of years. “I’m so sorry I upset you. I never want to hurt you.”
Sophia sat up and turned on him. “Then why are you leaving? How could you go away for six months? I thought we were a family. You told me when I came here that you and Zan were my new family and that you would always be here for me. You lied to me.”
“Oh sweetheart,” Chris said as he walked over and sat on the bed, taking Sophia in his arms. “I didn’t lie to you. I’m always going to be here for you. I just need to go away for a little while for work, but I’m not leaving you. I’ll be back. I promise to fly home as often as I can. And you and Zan are going to come and visit me, too. And I’m going to talk to you every day, I promise. The time is going to fly by and before you know it, I’ll be back and driving you crazy.”
“Why do you have to go? I don’t want you to.”
“I know sweetheart, and to be honest, I don’t want to go. But I have to. In life, sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do because it’s what’s best for us. Todd really thinks I need to do this.”
“I hate Todd,” Sophia growled.
Chris laughed. “I’m sure he’ll he heartbroken to hear it. I’m sorry that you’re upset. I wish I could say or do something to make this easier for you. Please try not to be mad at me. I don’t think I could stand it if my best girl was mad at me.”
Sophia sighed. “I’m not mad. I’m just sad. When are you leaving?”
“Todd has to start setting everything up. He’s thinking about six weeks.”
Sophia looked into Chris’s eyes. “I miss you already.”
“I miss you already, too. I love you pumpkin, and I promise this is all going to be okay.”
“I love you, too!” Sophia said as she threw herself back into Chris’s arms.
Chris held her tight as he was overcome with such sadness. He really didn’t want to leave his family and wondered how he was going to survive six long months apart.
End of part 7
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