Now That You’re Here: Life Moves On
Trevor was lying in bed with Benji asleep in his arms, once again thinking about how much better his life has been since being kicked out of his house for being gay three months earlier. Yes, he missed his parents, but growing up in an overly religious household was really tough. Especially for him, knowing he would never be accepted for who he was. Living with Chris and Zander had been freeing. He was able to do whatever he wanted as long as he stayed in school and kept his grades up. The older men weren’t going to let him throw his life away just because his parents were ignorant when it came to who he truly was. Luckily his sister didn’t agree with their parents’ views and her new friendship with Sophia gave him an opportunity to see his sister fairly regularly. His only hope was that he would be accepted into The University of Arizona. It was only a little more than an hour away so he wouldn’t be far from Benji, who still had a year to go until he graduated and went off to college.
He still wasn’t sure how he was going to swing college. It looked like he was going to end up being in debt until the day he died. Eight years of school was going to have a very high price tag, but that’s what he was going to need to be a Speech Pathologist and that was his dream. He himself had a lot of speech issues when he was a child due to an inner ear problem. If it wasn’t for one of his neighbors who worked as a Speech Pathologist and offered to help him in her free time to help out his parents, who knows how his life would’ve turned out. His parents certainly didn’t have the money to pay for a specialist. Now he wanted to spend his life helping kids like him.
He was brought out of his thoughts as Benji started to stir. A glance at the clock told him it was almost time for his boyfriend to go home. “Hey, sleepyhead. It’s time to get up.”
“I don’t want to,” Benji whined as he stretched. “Your bed is so comfortable.”
“I know, and I wish you could just stay here, but you know your moms…they refuse to let you spend the night here until you're eighteen.”
“Which is so dumb,” Benji replied. “We’re done fucking long before midnight. All they’re doing is keeping us from literally sleeping together.”
“I know that, and they probably know that, but for whatever reason they feel the need to set certain ground rules until you are officially an adult,” Trevor pointed out. “And we have to honor them.”
“Yeah, I know. It just sucks. I’m not going to be eighteen until November. That’s seven more months…and by then you won’t even be living here,” Benji pouted.
“True, but hopefully I’ll only be an hour away and you can come spend the weekends on campus with me.”
“Come on, get up and I’ll drive you home.”
Trevor pulled into Benji’s driveway with two minutes to spare. “What are your plans for tomorrow?”
“My moms are making Brad and I help clean the house before my grandparents come over. What about you? Are you working?”
“I’m opening tomorrow. It’s my first time opening by myself and I’m so excited. Steve said he’d come in around 10:30 to make sure I did everything correctly,” Trevor said.
“You’re so weird. I don’t know why you’re so excited about having a job.”
“Hey, you didn’t grow up in my house. I wanted to get a paper route when I was younger, but my parents told me that I wasn’t allowed to work because it would interfere with my Bible studies and Sunday school. I’m so happy that Zan talked to Steve and got me a job. I want to make sure I don’t let either of them down. And it’s going to be so cool to have my own money, you know? For the last three months Chris and Zan have been completely supporting me. Even for my phone, my car insurance, and gas. I want to be able to take care of myself,” Trevor explained.
“Whatever, I still say you’re weird. If you’re opening, does that mean you’ll be home by five?” Benji asked.
“Oh yeah, I get off at three. Why, what’s up?”
“Would you want to come over for dinner?”
“For dinner? You mean, like meet your grandparents?”
Benji laughed at the fear in Trevor’s eyes. “Honey, my family isn’t like your family. I have two moms, remember? My grandparents are really cool and totally accept me. I’ve been telling them all about my gorgeous boyfriend, and they want to meet him. I promise, you’ll have a good time.”
Trevor sighed. “Fine, I’ll be there. Now give me a kiss and get inside before you moms come out here.”
Trevor gave Benji a kiss goodbye and then headed back home. He was surprised to find Zander in the living room when he got back. “What are you doing up? I just ran Benji home, and no one was out here. I thought you had gone to bed."
“No, I was actually on Facetime with Chris. He’s in London right now so it’s eight in the morning there. It’s the best time to talk to him. He goes to bed before I get home from work most nights.”
“That sucks,” Trevor replied.
“You’re not kidding,” Zan sighed. “So, we haven’t had a chance to talk much lately. I’ve been so busy at the center, and you’ve been busy with work and school. How are things going? Do you like working at the bookstore?”
“I love it! Thanks again for reaching out to Steve. He’s pretty cool. Today his wife stopped in with little Stevie. Oh my God, he’s adorable. He looks just like his father,” Trevor said. “But he’s so tiny.”
“He’s only two months old and he was on the small side when he was born, but he’ll catch up. I’m glad you like it there. Sometimes I really miss spending my days surrounded by books. I used to have some really busy days, but other days were just so calm and serene. Nothing like the extreme chaos of the center.”
“Are you kidding?” Trevor laughed. “You love the chaos of the center.”
“Yeah, I do,” Zan admitted. “So, any word from the colleges you applied to?”
“Not yet. I know I was a little late in submitting them. I should have sent them out in the Fall, but my mother was still trying to insist I go to seminary school. She had given me an application to Fuller Theological Seminary and had most of it filled out for me. I was so mad that I didn’t bother applying anywhere,” Trevor explained. “Pretty stupid, huh?”
“I wouldn’t say it was the best moved, but it wasn’t stupid. At that point, you were still under your parents’ thumb. Something like what you went through can make a person lose interest in everything,” Zan said. “But don’t worry, you still have time. I also called a friend of mine who has connections at The University of Arizona and gave him your name. He’s going to make sure they find your application. I can’t promise you’ll get in, but I can promise you’ll be considered. Although, with your grades, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“Really?” Trevor exclaimed. “Thanks Zan. It’s a great school for what I need and it’s only a little over an hour away. I hate having to move away from Benji, but at least if I could drive in to see him for a few hours here and there it won’t be so bad. His moms won’t let us spend the night together until he’s eighteen and that’s not until the end of November.”
“Trev, you’re not actually moving away from Benji. You’re just going to be living on campus during the week. At an hour away, you could drive home every weekend if you wanted to. Plus, there are holidays, winter break, spring break. You’ll be able to see him a lot.”
“But…I figured once I left for college…”
“What? You figured once you left for college, you wouldn’t be living here anymore? Bud, we told you when we extended the offer that we don’t consider you to be an adult until you graduate from college. That means that we still expect you to have a room here and come home for all breaks and holidays until you have your degree and are ready to be on your own. Then we’ll just expect you on holidays and family dinners. When you joined our family, you joined for life. You’re stuck with us.”
“But I’m going to be going to school for eight years to get my doctorate,” Trevor pointed out.
“Good, because I’m nowhere near ready for empty nest syndrome.” Zan smiled.
“I really don’t know how I’ll ever thank you for all that you’ve done for me.”
“Just make a great life for yourself and be happy. That’s all we want for all of our children.”
Trevor felt his bottom lip quiver as he got up and hugged Zander extra tight. “I think I can do that. Now I’d better get to bed. I’m opening up for Steve tomorrow. It’s my first time opening alone, and I don’t want to screw anything up.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Steve wouldn’t have scheduled you to open if he didn’t think you were ready. Goodnight. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Zan watched him disappear with a smile on his face. Trevor really was a good kid. He was so happy that Chris suggested they let him move it. He was a nice addition to the family.
Jason took a peek into the oven to make sure the lasagna he made was beginning to brown. He had already set the table and had the wine chilling. Everything was ready for when Zac showed up. He knew it was stupid to be so nervous. They had been back together for well over three months and things had been going well. Really well. They decided at the very beginning that they would take things extremely slow, which meant they would live separately and refrain from sex until Jason was feeling more comfortable in his own skin.
His therapy with Aiden had been going well, too. He had one on one sessions twice a week and attended the group session that he originally found six years ago every Thursday. Jason tried to tell Aiden he didn’t need to hold his hand, but the older man insisted that they dive in deep. He still felt guilty for letting their relationship stand in the way of Jason’s recovery. Between work and therapy, it didn’t leave much time for Jason and Zac to see each other, but they both agreed to do whatever was needed so they could build their relationship into something that would last forever. Earlier that afternoon, Aiden and Jason talked about the progress that was being made and Jason felt it was time to try something new, so he decided to invite Zac to stay for their first sleepover. He missed being in his boyfriend’s arms and hoped that he could make it through the night without a panic attack. He was pulled from his thoughts by a knock at the door and left the kitchen to let Zac in. When he opened the door, he immediately saw the smile on Zac’s face and returned the smile with one of his own. The man still took his breath away.
“Hey, come on in.”
“Something smells really good in here,” Zac said as he entered the apartment. “I told you that you didn’t have to cook. We could have ordered take out. Or gone out to eat. Save you the trouble of cooking.”
“I don’t mind. I like cooking. I made my famous lasagna,” Jason told him.
“With your homemade sauce?”
“Of course,” Jason laughed.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” Zac asked as he placed a kiss on Jason’s cheek.
“Um…you have actually, but it’s always nice to hear,” Jason laughed. “I love you, too. Now come into the living room. I have some wine chilling. Would you like a glass?”
“Lasagna in the oven, wine chilling…if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to butter me up for something.”
Jason smiled. “No, not really, but I do have something to talk to you about. Would you like that wine first?”
“I don’t know. Will I need it?”
“No,” Jason laughed. “It’s nothing bad. I promise. Now, is that a yes or no on the wine?”
“How about if we wait for dinner? I don’t want to drink too much when I have to drive,” Zac said as he took a seat and patted the cushion “Let’s talk.”
“Okay,” Jason agreed. He sat down alongside Zac and turned his body so they were sitting face to face. “I was kind of hoping that you might want to spend the night tonight. I don’t mean for sex…I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet, but I thought it might be nice for you to stay. I mean, if you want to. I won’t be upset if you’d rather go home.”
“So…by staying the night, do you mean sleeping in the guest room?” Zac wanted to be clear on what Jason was asking.
“No…I mean, I was hoping that you would spend the night in bed with me. Maybe we could start testing the waters,” Jason replied.
Zac took a moment to think before answering. “That depends.”
Jason looked at him curiously. “Depends on what?”
“That depends on whether you’re going
to wake me up if you have any issues in the middle of the night.”
“What do you mean?” Jason asked.
“Look, back when we were living together at ASU, you were apparently having a lot of issues sharing a bed with me and you never said anything. The only way we’re going to be able to move past all this crap and be together is if you’re honest with me…about everything. If I spend the night, and you have any issues at all, I want you to wake me up right away so we can address it. Okay?”
“I guess…I just don’t want to bother you if I’m having trouble sleeping. There’s no reason for both of us to lose sleep.”
“There is a reason. J, I love you and if you’re having trouble, then so am I. My sleep isn’t more important than whatever it is that you’re going through. I can’t help but think that if you were honest with me back at ASU, maybe we would have been able to figure things out without breaking up,” Zac replied.
“I’m sorry,” Jason whispered, once again overcome with guilt. They had missed four years together because he was too stubborn to admit that he was falling apart.
“Hey,” Zac said as he lifted Jason’s chin to make eye contact. “You don’t have to apologize. It’s all in the past and although we missed a few years together, at least we were able to grow up a bit and are now 100% sure we want to be together. But…the only way we can do that is to be honest with each other and deal with whatever comes our way. Right now, it’s getting you past all the trauma you went through when you were attacked. So, do we have a deal?”
“Yeah,” Jason smiled. “We have a deal.”
“Cool…now why don’t you pour us some wine since I don’t have to drive tonight.”
The rest of the evening was spent with the two of them laughing and reminiscing about the past. They talked about their time together and about their time apart, sharing more little tidbits about their lives. Jason was surprised when he glanced at the clock and saw that it was after midnight.
“Wow, I can’t believe it’s so late.”
Zac smiled as he brought the hand he’d been holding to his lips for a quick kiss. “Time flies when you’re having fun. Now, last chance. Are you sure you don’t want me to crash in the spare room?”
“No, I’m sure I want you in my bed,” Jason replied with a confidence he wasn’t quite sure he had now that it was time for bed.
“Hey, I promise it’ll be okay. I will be a perfect gentleman and stay on my side of the bed. Just know that I don’t mind company so if you feel the need to come over to my side, I won’t object.”
“Duly noted,” Jason laughed. “Come on, let's go to bed.”
Jason pulled out an unopened toothbrush from under the sink and the two of them brushed their teeth together, a task that felt so familiar to both men. It was the nightly ritual they lived by when they shared an apartment at ASU. Once they got to the bedroom, Zac climbed into bed and as promised, got comfortable as close as he could to the edge. Jason waited until Zac was comfortable before turning out the light and climbing in beside him. He immediately moved into Zac’s arms and lost himself in a passionate kiss. It felt so right to be in Zac’s arms, and he was not amused when the other man pulled away.
“Baby steps, remember?” Zac chuckled at the annoyed look on his boyfriend’s face. “We will definitely get there one day. I’m sure of that. But this time around I want it to be for good, so we need to make sure that you’re ready. That we’re both ready, alright?”
“Yeah, I know. I just hate this. It’s getting harder and harder to be with you and not be able to really be with you, but you’re right. I don’t want to screw this up again.” Jason leaned in and gave Zac another kiss, this one more loving than passionate. “Now roll over, I want to hold you as I fall asleep.”
Zac did as he was asked, and his heart swelled at the feeling of being in Jason’s arms as he drifted off to sleep.
The next time Zac’s eyes opened, the sun was shining through the sheer curtains and Jason was sitting up leaning against the headboard watching him with a small smile on his face. “Hey, what time is it?” he asked as he struggled to sit up.
“It’s after 9 sleepy head. How did you sleep?”
“I slept better than I have in over four years, but more importantly, how did you sleep?” Zac asked as he searched his boyfriend’s face for signs of distress.
“I slept better than I have since before the attack, actually. I woke up once around 3 and you were holding me, but I didn’t panic. I just reminded myself that it was you and that I was safe. I fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until about 20 minutes ago. I really have to pee, but I didn’t want to wake you up.”
“You’ve been watching me sleep for 20 minutes?” Zac asked disbelievingly. “You freak, go to the bathroom.”
Jason laughed as he placed a quick kiss on Zac’s head before jumping out of bed and racing to the bathroom. He actually sighed in relief as his bladder began to empty. Once he was done, he washed his hands and then turned around and almost ran right into Zac. “Oh, there you are.”
“Here I am,” Zac replied as he took Jason in his arms. “How about I take you out to breakfast? I’m starving and since you provided dinner last night, the least I can do is provide breakfast this morning.”
“I’m not going to say no to a free meal,” Jason chuckled. “I have a couple of hours before I have to go to Justin’s.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you had plans today. I was hoping to have you all to myself.”
“They’re not really plans. I promised Justin that I would look over his paintings. He has a show coming up next month and he doesn’t believe Brian when he says that his work is great. He says that Brian is biased,” Jason laughed. “They’re so cute. I’m so glad that they’re back together. Hey, why don’t you come with me? We can catch up with them a bit and then maybe go see a movie?”
“Hmm…I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday,” Zac replied before placing a soft kiss on his boyfriend’s forehead. “Now, why don’t you jump in the shower really quick because I’m going to have to stop home to shower. I didn’t bring anything with me because I didn’t know I was going to be spending the night.”
Jason looked deep into Zac’s eyes and knew without a doubt he was ready for more. “How about if you jump in the shower with me and then I can loan you a pair of sweats to put on until we get to your house.”
“You want me to take a shower with you?” Zac asked incredulously. “I mean, I’m willing to follow your lead and be as patient as you need me to be but showering together…I’m not made of steel.”
Jason kissed Zac as he reached down and began fondling his soft cock, smiling to himself when he felt an instant reaction. He pulled back and looked Zac in the eyes. “No, you’re not made of steel, but it appears one of your appendages is up for the challenge. Let’s go. I think we can squeeze a couple of blow jobs into our very busy day. Don’t you?”
“Are you sure?” Zac asked as he searched Jason’s face for signs of doubt. “I’m really okay waiting until you’re ready. I don’t want you to feel obligated to do anything you’re not ready for.”
“Oh believe me, I’m ready. I’ve been ready, but Aiden and I talked it through and felt it was best to wait a few months before engaging in any type of sexual contact. It’s been over three months since I started going to therapy again and I honestly feel like I’m ready to take the next step. And I promise you that if at any point I have a problem, I will not only talk to you about it, but I will also discuss it in therapy and work through it instead of trying to handle it on my own. I spent the last four years being miserable without you because I was too ashamed to ask for help. I’m not wasting any more time."
Zac could see the sincerity in Jason’s eyes and smiled. “Well, if you’re sure you’re ready, who am I to argue? Let’s go!”
Zac and Jason laughed as they took off their clothes and jumped in the shower. Breakfast suddenly didn’t seem so important. Not as important as the return of their sex life. They were ten minutes late to Brian and Justin’s house…and they were starving.
Eric walked through the door to the sound of silence and knew that he once again missed an evening with his family. Ever since the restaurant opened, his workdays went from eight hours to thirteen and he went from working five days a week to seven, and he wasn’t sure when that was going to change. He was so thankful for all Daniel’s help in getting things up and running, but he had yet to find the perfect staff to help him oversee the daily needs and until that happened, he needed to spend a lot of his time keeping things going. He finally realized why Robert offered him so much money to run his kitchen. Having someone competent to be in charge was worth its weight in gold.
He stopped by the kitchen to grab a beer and then headed into the living room, only to find it empty. That meant that Dane was already upstairs and most likely sound asleep. He usually tried to wait up on the nights when Eric couldn’t leave the restaurant before closing, but it wasn’t always possible. The restaurant Dane worked for had him working the breakfast shift which meant he was usually out of the house by five a.m. The opposite schedules worked out well for the girls. One of them was always around when needed. It just wasn’t great for their relationship. They rarely saw each other. Eric quietly crept upstairs and stopped by each of the girls’ rooms, hoping to hear some signs of life. Of course, he didn’t hear a sound. It was Sunday night, which meant school the next day. The girls were usually in bed and sound asleep by ten o’clock. It was now after eleven.
Eric walked into the bedroom he shared with Dane and was sad to see his fiancé sleeping. He put down his beer, quietly stripped off his clothes and went into the bathroom to take a shower. He had been standing under the spray of hot water when he heard the shower door open and opened his eyes to see Dane walk in.
“What are you doing up? Did I wake you? I’m sorry, I was trying to be quiet,” Eric said as he took Dane in his arms.
“It’s okay, I’ve been drifting in and out for a while. I was trying to wait up for you, but I was just so tired. How was your night?”
“It was awful until about ten seconds ago,” Eric said as he pulled Dane into a hug. “I miss you so much. I feel like we never get any time together anymore. Between your morning shifts and my late nights, the only time we really have is while we’re sleeping.”
“I know, I hate it too. And the girls miss you. Julia asked me why you opened up a restaurant if it was going to make you work too much,” Dane replied.
“Aww, my little Munchkin,” Eric said as his heart began to break. “I don’t know what to do. Opening my own place has always been a dream of mine, but I’m beginning to think that I made a mistake. I can’t seem to find anyone to run the kitchen properly and until I do, I can’t take a day off. I need to be there otherwise no one knows what they’re doing.”
“Babe, are you sure you don’t want me to quit the Landmark and come work for you? I really don’t mind, and it can help you get time off,” Dane suggested.
“What good would that do? Then I’d be able to take a day off, but you would be working. Part of the reason I want off is to be with you,” Eric pointed out. “Besides, I don’t do breakfast, which means that we would both have to work nights then pay someone to be with the girls. I don’t want that. At least with you working the breakfast shift, you can be home in time to be here with the girls after school.”
“Okay, how about if you talk to Daniel?”
“Daniel? Why would I talk to Daniel? He was a huge help when I was getting things up and running, but he came out here to leave the restaurant business behind. He’s helping David out at the foundation, remember?” Eric replied.
“I remember, but I heard from a little birdie that he isn’t very happy at the foundation. He’s used to the fast pace of a restaurant and doesn’t like sitting behind a desk all day.”
“Matt stopped by this afternoon after his shift,” Dane chuckled. “He said Daniel has had enough of the office world and is thinking about looking for a job in a restaurant around here. That’s one of the reasons I was trying to stay awake to see you. Daniel is going to give you a call tomorrow to see if you want some help. He’s not looking to work 70 hours a week again, but he is willing to work 3-4 nights a week to help you out and cure his boredom.”
“You already spoke to him?” Eric asked incredulously.
“Yeah,” Dane admitted. “I’m sorry, are you mad that I talked to him without talking to you first? You’ve just been so miserable lately and I saw the opportunity. I tried to call you, but Stephanie told me you were actually cooking tonight.”
Eric looked deep into the eyes of the man he loved. “Mad? Of course I’m not mad. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” Dane replied before kissing Eric softly.
Eric deepened the kiss as he began caressing Dane’s body. All talk about the restaurant was forgotten as the two men lost themselves in each other.
Thirty minutes later, both men were lying in bed in each other’s arms, when Eric spoke up, “So, if you already knew Daniel was going to come work for me, was your offer to leave Landmark bullshit?”
“Of course not,” Dane chuckled. “I told you that I would leave there and come to work for you when you were ready to open, and I meant it. I like working at the Landmark and I enjoy working the morning shift, but I would do anything for you, which includes changing jobs so you have someone you can trust by your side. You’re the one who thought it would be better for our family if we had separate places of employment. I enjoyed working for you back in the early days.”
“I know, I liked us working together too, but I do believe it’s better this way. Thanks for always supporting me. I know things have been tough lately with all the hours I’ve had to put in since opening the doors, but if Daniel really wants a job, my days of working seven days a week are over. I trust him as much as I’d trust you.”
“Yeah, I trust him, too. That’s why, when Matt mentioned he was bored and thinking about getting back in the kitchen, I jumped in. This is just what we need to get our lives back. We’re supposed to be planning a wedding and I was beginning to wonder if you would be able to take off on our wedding day.”
Eric knew that Dane was joking, but he could see from the look on his face that it really had been a concern. “Trust me, my love, nothing is going to keep me from marrying you. I’d close the restaurant if I had to. Hell, I’d sell the fucking place before I would miss our wedding.”
Dane fought to hide a yawn. “I’m very happy to hear that, because if you even tried to miss our day, I’d put the fucking for sale sign up myself.”
“Well, now there is nothing to worry about. Thanks to Daniel, I can spend our wedding day by your side where I belong. Now go to sleep. Your alarm is going to be going off soon and you need your rest,” Eric said before leaning down to kiss his fiancé.
“Yeah, I’m kind of tired. I love you,” Dane said as he rolled over and waited for Eric to curl up and spoon him from behind. It was his favorite way to fall asleep.
“I love you more,” Eric whispered as he settled down with Dane in his arms. He was so tired from the schedule he had been keeping but he couldn’t help but smile as he thought about Daniel working at the restaurant. Things were finally starting to look up.
Steve was sitting at his desk in the small backroom of the store, lost in thought when Trevor walked in.
“Hey Steve, there’s someone on the phone for you.”
“If it’s Charlie, tell her I’m leaving in ten minutes, fifteen tops,” Steve replied. They were going to be dropping the kids off with Zander and going out to dinner for their first outing without the kids since little Steven was born and nothing was going to keep Steve from leaving on time.
“It’s not Charlie,” Trevor said softly. “It’s your mom.”
Steve looked at Trevor in confusion. It couldn’t be his mother. They hadn’t spoken in almost seven years. In fact, a for-sale sign appeared on the lawn of his childhood home right around the time Eric bought his house so that Gracie could move in. How would she even know where to find him? “It can’t be my mother, she…”
“Maybe not, but when I asked who was calling, she told me to tell you that your mother was on the phone,” Trevor explained. He noted the confused and somewhat irritated look on his boss’s face and knew that whoever was on the phone wasn’t expected. “Do you just want me to take a message?”
Steve was tempted but decided he might as well talk to his mother and find out what she wanted. “No, that’s okay. I’ll take the call. Thanks.” He waited until Trevor walked out and shut the door and then took a few deep breaths before picking up the phone. “Hello Mom.”
“Oh Steve,” Leslie exclaimed. “It’s so good to hear your voice. You sound so grown up.”
“Well Mom, I’m 25 years old now. I am grown up,” Steve replied, refusing to allow his emotions at hearing his mother’s voice outwardly affect him. “Why are you calling me? And how did you know where to find me?”
“I didn’t know where to find you. I know that after you dropped out of Princeton, you went to work for Zander at the store, so I figured I’d start there. If I asked for you and I was told that you didn’t work there, I would have asked for Zander. Truthfully, I didn’t expect you to still be working for him.”
“I don’t work for him, Mom. Zander sold me the business several years ago. It’s my store now,” Steve replied proudly. “So that answered one of my questions. Now what about the other one. Why are you calling me now? We haven’t spoken in years.”
“I know, honey, and I’m so sorry about that. I never should have let your father do what he did back then. I should have stood up to him, and I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
“Why didn’t you?” Steve asked. “I get that dad wanted me to go to an ivy league school and make something of myself, but when I pushed back and refused to follow his dreams instead of my own, why didn’t you stand up to him?”
“I was scared,” she admitted. “Your father wasn’t the easiest man to live with on his good days. I was afraid to go against him.”
“You were afraid?” Steve asked as his mind began replaying his childhood. He didn’t remember ever seeing any signs of abuse. “What were you afraid of? He never hit you, did he?”
“Not really. A slap now and then. I was more worried about him leaving. Every time I didn’t agree with what he was doing, he would threaten to leave us, and I couldn’t take a chance. I was a stay-at-home mother. I only had a high school diploma. I couldn’t afford to support myself let alone you and your brother. I learned early on to just agree with him on things. I guess I just thought that he would eventually come around, or that you would. I called you one day, remember? Begged you to go back to Princeton. I didn’t want to lose you like I lost your brother. I think that’s when I realized how much I had grown to hate the man I married. Eric moved away because your father pushed him too hard. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to you, but you were so stubborn. I envy you and Eric for that, standing up for yourselves regardless of the outcome.”
Steve couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He never imagined that his mother wasn’t happily married to his father. “Where is dad now? Are you and he still…”
“No,” Leslie replied quickly, interrupting Steve. “Thanks to the help of your Uncle Oliver, I left your father six months ago.”
“Uncle Oliver? Dad’s brother? He helped you leave?”
“Yes. I was so upset when your father made us leave Arizona. He never even asked me for my opinion. I came home one day and found a for sale sign on the lawn. He had this brilliant idea to move to Florida and open up his own accounting firm and there was no talking him out of it. We were packed up and gone two weeks after he told me we were moving. It was awful. I spent the last five years living in a house that was way too big and showy for my liking and spent most of my time by myself. I didn’t have any friends, our nearest neighbor was more than a mile away, and he wouldn’t let me work so I never had human contact except for when I went to the grocery store. I thought I would lose my mind. I wanted to call you and Eric so badly, but he told me not to. He had me convinced that neither one of you wanted anything to do with me, and why would you? I was a horrible mother who let my husband control my every thought and action. I don’t even know how things got so bad. He wasn’t like that when you and your brother were young. It was like one day he just became this stranger that I didn’t recognize. Luckily Oliver came to visit with us for a few weeks. It didn’t take him long to realize that his brother wasn’t the same person he used to know and love. As soon as your father left the house to go to work one morning, Oliver sat me down and asked what was going on and I broke. I told him everything, from him pushing Eric away, to throwing you out of the house, to moving us away from our friends and family. I was so afraid that he was going to talk to your dad, and then I would be in trouble, but I didn’t care anymore. I needed to confide in someone.”
Steve was stunned as he listened to his mother. It was like she was reading from a script of a really bad TV show. “What did he do?”
“He apologized for not noticing something sooner. We hadn’t seen him since we moved out of Arizona, but they stayed in touch and talked on the phone every week or two. One of the reasons he came to visit was because he was starting to notice little things when they were on the phone. He would always ask how you and Eric were and apparently your dad would be very vague and then change the subject. Oliver asked him to come back to Arizona for a visit, but your father always refused. And I guess as time went on, your father’s stories started sounding so far-fetched that Oliver couldn’t ignore it anymore. He took a few weeks off from work and came to visit. I don’t think your father was happy when he showed up on our doorstep. I guess he didn’t want anyone to see what our lives had become.”
“Mom, I’m so sorry. I should have known something was going on. He was always a bit of a hard ass, but you weren’t. You were always so good to us. I should have known that something was up when you started pushing me like he did,” Steve replied as guilt washed over him.
“No Steve, please don’t apologize. None of this is your fault. I was your mother, I should have protected you, not turned my back on you because he said so. I will never forgive myself for missing so much of your life. I just hope that one day you and your brother can forgive me.”
“Of course I can, and I’m sure Eric will too,” Steve assured her. “Where are you now? Are you still living in Florida?”
“No, I’m actually staying with Oliver in Tucson. I’ve been here for a few weeks now. Your father was fuming when he found out I was leaving him. Thank God Oliver was there with me. I don’t know what he would have done when I tried to walk out of the house with my suitcase.”
“Good, I’m glad you’re far away from him,” Steve told her. “Can you get up to Sierra Vista?”
“I’ll find a way to get there, even if I have to walk. I miss my boys so much,” Leslie said, fighting back the tears that were threatening to fall. “You tell me when, and I’ll be there.”
“Alright, give me your number. I want to talk to Eric first. I’ll give you a call sometime tomorrow and we can make plans for a visit, alright?”
“Okay,” Leslie replied. “I love you so much, sweetie. And I am really so sorry for everything that happened with your father.”
“I love you too, Mom,” Steve replied. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Steve sat there staring at the phone long after he hung up, trying to pull himself together. How had his home life been so bad without him even knowing it? Did Eric know? Somehow he doubted it considering he never said anything. He glanced at the clock and saw that he was already almost thirty minutes late. He grabbed his keys and headed out of the store, calling out his goodbyes as he went. He needed to put aside everything he just learned for a few hours so he and Charlie could have a nice night out without the kids. She was a wonderful mother and wife and deserved some adult fun now and then. He would give Eric a call tomorrow and discuss what their next move should be.
Trent was just climbing into bed when his phone rang. He smiled when he saw the caller ID and answered it quickly. “Hey babe, how was your day?”
“Good. I finally got my boss to listen to my idea for a new flavor. He’s going to check with his supplier and see what he can get. How was your day?”
“Oh, you know. Same old, same old,” Trent replied. “Kaleb confirmed that he is staying at Brad and Benji’s tomorrow night so they can all go to the school dance together, so I’m completely free if you are.”
“I am all yours,” Maddie replied. “I can be at your place by 7:00, if that works for you.”
“That works for me. What do you want to do for dinner? Mexican? Thai, Italian? It’s your call.”
“Hmmm…surprise me. I eat anything and everything,” Maddie assured him. “Should I pack an overnight bag?”
“Absolutely! I can’t wait to have you all to myself for the night,” Trent replied. It was going to be the first time they spent the night together in the six months since they began dating.
He knew from the very beginning that Maddie had a boyfriend. She told him all about Dylan on their first date. They had been together for several years, but Dylan was openly bi-sexual and longed for the touch of a man from time to time. They were in love with one another and neither one of them had wanted to be promiscuous, so they were desperate to find a way to satisfy Dylan’s needs and stay together. Then they met a couple that lived the polyamorous lifestyle. After many conversations about what being polyamorous was all about, it sounded like a good solution to their dilemma, so they decided to give it a try.
At the time, Trent was okay with the situation because his main focus had to be on Kaleb. He figured casual dating would be perfect. He could have female companionship when he needed it without having to devote all his time to making a partner happy. Unfortunately, he ended up falling in love with Maddie without even realizing it and now his life was a mess.
He didn’t want to tell Maddie how he felt because he was afraid that she would tell him to get lost and he couldn’t imagine not having her in his life, but he was beginning to hate having to share her with Dylan. He knew he was going to have to end things sooner rather than later, but he wasn’t quite ready yet.
“I’m looking forward to it, too. I also think we need to talk,” she said.
“Uh oh, should I be worried?” Trent asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” she replied. “But I really don’t want to go into it over the phone. This is definitely an in-person conversation.”
“Okay then, I guess we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
“Sounds good. I will text you when I’m on my way. Goodnight, sweetheart.”
Trent disconnected the call and turned off the light before sliding down and getting comfortable in bed. His mind was racing with thoughts about what Maddie wanted to talk about, but he fought to push them away. There was no point in worrying about it until the following evening. He just hoped she didn’t pick up on his feelings for her and want to set him straight. He didn’t know what he would do if she confronted him about his love for her.
Friday evening finally arrived and after dropping Kaleb off with his friends, he went back to the apartment and straightened up a little. He had placed an order with the small Italian restaurant around the corner from him. They were one of the best in Sierra Vista in his opinion and they would be delivering the food at 7:00. He lit a few candles, set the table and put on some soft background music. He just finished primping when there was a knock at the door.
He took a final glance around the small living room before opening the door. Maddie stood there wearing a beautiful smile with the delivery man beside her.
“I see that you chose Italian. I think that was a very good idea. It smells wonderful.”
Trent laughed as he ushered Maddie inside then turned to the delivery man. He took the offered bag, handed over a substantial tip and then closed the door, locking it behind him.
“Come on in,” Trent said. He couldn’t help the way his palms were sweating and his heart was racing. Maddie had only been in his apartment once before and it was only to wait while he changed into warmer clothes on the night they decided to go ice skating a few months earlier. “You can just put your bag over by the hall for now. Can I get you a glass of wine? I’ve got a nice Cabernet breathing in the kitchen.”
“That would be lovely.”
“Okay, are you hungry now, or do you want to wait a bit. I can just put our dinner in the oven on warm until we’re ready.”
“Yeah, let’s do that. I could use a little time to unwind before I eat. I just got off work an hour ago.”
“Alright, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Trent went to the kitchen, turned his oven on warm, and put the lasagna he ordered inside to wait until they were ready. Then he poured two glasses of wine and went in search of Maddie. He found her looking at the family photos on the fireplace mantle. “Here you go.”
Maddie turned around and smiled. “Thanks. I was just looking at the pictures. I’m guessing that’s Kaleb. He’s a very handsome young man.”
“Yes, he is. I really wish his mother was alive to see him today. She’d be so proud of him.”
“I’m sure she would be,” Maddie paused to take a sip of her wine. “Mmm…this is really good.”
“Yeah, I found this on a trip to Napa Valley last year and fell in love. Now I have it delivered so I always have it on hand,” Trent laughed.
“I don’t blame you,” Maddie said. “So, do you want to talk now? Or wait until after dinner? I’m good with either, but I’m sure you’ve been wracking your brain since last night wondering what I want to talk about.”
“Maybe a little,” Trent admitted. “We might as well get it out of the way now. Let’s sit down.”
Once they were settled on the couch, each of them sitting at an angle so they could face one another, Maddie began. “You know I’ve always been upfront and honest with you about being polyamorous and my relationship with Dylan. We’ve been together for almost seven years and for the first few year’s things were perfect. We were very happy with it just being the two of us. Unfortunately, Dylan started to miss being with a man. He tried to push aside his desires, but I could tell that we were drifting apart. That’s when we met Callie and John. Listening to them talk about their lives…it just seemed like the perfect solution to our problem. I should have known it was too good to be true.”
Trent didn’t like what he was hearing. “Let me guess. He wants to go back to being monogamous.”
“Not exactly,” Maddie replied. “He thinks it’s getting to be too much with both of us being together and dating other people. He says we hardly ever get to spend any time together because we’re trying to effectively maintain outside relationships as well as our own.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him that I didn’t want to stop seeing you. That as much as I love him, I’m really starting to care for you too, and I’d like to see where the future takes us. I’m sorry. I know that we agreed to casual dating, but I can’t help it. You are such a sweet guy and my feelings for you just keep growing more and more as time goes on. I don’t want to end things between us.”
Trent sighed in relief. “I don’t want to end things either. I could really see myself falling for you, but how are we supposed to stay together if Dylan doesn’t want a polyamorous relationship anymore.”
Maddie took Trent’s hand and took a deep breath before giving Trent the only other option they had to stay together. “Have you ever considered being with a man?”
End of part 9
Return to Now That You're Here - Life Moves On