Now That You're Here


Chapter 10

Brian refused to acknowledge his excitement over spending the night alone with Justin. They really hadn’t had any time alone since Justin arrived in Sierra Vista, and after the argument they had the night before, Brian was looking forward to working on their friendship. Of course he wasn’t going to mention that to anyone. Instead he finished his lunch, said goodbye to Steve and headed back to the store with a spring in his step. His bad mood from earlier was long gone as he walked through the door of the shop, startled at the line of people waiting to be checked out. Zander looked at him pleadingly and all thoughts of Justin were shoved from his mind as he hurried behind the counter and started ringing people up on the second register. It took about twenty minutes for the two of them to finish checking out the customers in line, but they still had quite a few browsing through the store.

“Where did everyone come from? I was only gone for a half hour,” Brian asked quietly so he couldn’t be heard.

“I was wondering the same thing. The place started filling up as soon as you left,” Zander replied as he looked around the store.

“Sorry I wasn’t here.”

“Are you in a better mood now?” Zander asked questioningly.


“Then it was worth it. Can you handle things out here for a few minutes? Chris called earlier and I was too busy to talk to him. I want to call him back.”

“Just make sure you close the door to the back room. I just ate and can’t handle listening to all that lovey-dovey shit,” Brian teased.

“You’re just jealous,” Zander shot back with a smile as he headed towards the back room. As soon as he was alone he reached for the phone and called Chris’ cell. It only rang once before he heard his partner’s greeting. “Hey, Babe, sorry about that. Brian was on his lunch break and we were swamped. What’s up?”

“Not much. I just wanted to call and hear my favorite man’s voice,” Chris replied softly.

“I miss you, too,” Zander said, enjoying the warmth that Chris’ words created. “How are things going?”

“Okay I guess. I have some bad news, though,” Chris said hesitantly. “It looks like I’m going to have to go to Boston for the weekend.”

“What? Why?” Zander asked, already feeling the distance between them.

“Because Jonathan set up an interview with some radio station that’s featuring up and coming authors and they asked for me by name. I can’t turn it down. The interview is on Sunday, but they want us to fly in on Friday so we can all get together. The invitation is for two, but I told Jonathan that I’d be going alone,” Chris explained.

“Why? Because you’re worried about what they’ll think if you show up with your partner and not a wife?”

“No, you ass,” Chris chuckled. “You know I gave up caring about that shit years ago. I’d rather have you there with me. I hate going away without you and I love showing off my gorgeous partner. I figured you didn’t want to leave Justin alone just yet. He’s only been here for a few days. He might feel uncomfortable if you took off for his first weekend in his new home.”

“You really want me to go with you?” Zander asked.

“Of course I do,” Chris insisted. “We were just apart last weekend. That was more than enough.”

“Well then, why don’t we talk to Justin and see how he feels about it? He’s seventeen. He might not even care if I’m not there. If it looks like he’s upset by the idea, you’ll go alone, okay?”

“Are you sure? I don’t want you to go if you’re going to feel guilty ten minutes after we land.”

“Trust me; if Justin’s okay with it, I will be, too. We’ll talk to both of them tonight and see what they think.” Zander heard a lot of voices coming from the store and peeked out to see another line forming at the register. “Babe, I’ve got to go. I don’t know why, but we’re busy as hell today. I need to get out there and help your brother. I’ll see you at home later.”

“Okay, love you,” Chris said.

“Love you, too.”

Zander went back to the counter and all thoughts of the weekend were forgotten while he spent his afternoon waiting on what felt like the entire town.



Justin tried to get his focus on the web layout he was working on, but his mind kept drifting back to Dane. The night before everything seemed perfect. He really enjoyed the date and was looking forward to going out with Dane again. In fact, after Brian barged in the bathroom and demanded Justin stop seeing Dane, he’d been more determined to go on a second date. Why all of the sudden, after getting Brian’s approval, was he starting to have doubts? It’s not like Dane was a threat. He was more than considerate of Justin’s nervousness and inexperience. Granted, Brian still wasn’t happy with the situation, but that shouldn’t matter, should it?

Finally giving up on getting anymore work done, Justin went downstairs and looked into the refrigerator. It didn’t appear that anything had been taken out to prepare for dinner and he needed something to keep his mind occupied. A quick peek in the freezer told Justin that he had what he needed to throw together a stir-fry. He took beef strips out to thaw and then began chopping up fresh vegetables that he found in the crisping drawer. Knowing that Zander enjoyed cooking, he knew that he would find the spices he’d need in the spice rack. Once the beginning preparations were done, Justin went upstairs and changed into his swimsuit. He figured that a few laps in the pool would help clear his head. After stopping on his way outside to throw a load of towels into the washer, he finally dove into the cool water. It was refreshing after being outside in the Arizona heat.

As he began his laps, thoughts of Brian and Dane were quickly replaced by thoughts of his old life. He remembered the days when he and his friends were on the swim team. The fun they had was some of the best times of his life. Unfortunately those memories stirred up more painful memories of his mother and father, who’d sit in the stands for every one of his meets, cheering him on. Justin’s tears went unnoticed as he began swimming faster and faster, trying to swim away from all the painful memories. He eventually began to tire, but continued on until his lungs began to burn and he was forced to surface. He pulled himself out, gasping for air and sat down on the side of the pool with his head in his hands. He was oblivious to his surroundings and jumped when he felt someone drape a towel around his shoulders.

“That’s some workout,” Chris said as he took a seat alongside Justin and let his legs dangle in the water. “You can’t get away from them no matter how hard you try.”

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Justin mumbled as he tried to catch his breath.

“Yes you do. I’m talking about the memories. I tried to outrun mine. It didn’t work.” Chris laughed at the look of confusion on Justin’s face. “When I came out to my parents, it was horrible. My mother broke down, crying and whispering her Hail Mary’s, or whatever the fuck she does when she thinks the world is going to end. My father, on the other hand, felt the need to tell me what a worthless faggot I was and curse the day I was born. I knew that they wouldn’t take the news real well, but I never expected it to be as bad as it was.” Chris took a moment to push away the awful memories that still haunted him. “When I finally got back home, I was devastated. I used to go out for a run every morning, but I quickly turned my exercise routine into an outlet for my anger. I would leave the apartment at five in the morning and just take off, running faster and harder than I ever had before. At first I used the excuse that I wanted to get into shape. It never occurred to me that I was trying to escape the memories.”

“What changed?” Justin asked curiously.

“I was out running one morning, with so many memories jumbled up in my head, when I tripped and tore my hamstring, landing flat on my face. The sun had barely started to rise and there was no one else around.”

“What did you do?”

“I cried. I’m not really sure if it was from my physical pain or the pain of my parents’ rejection, but I sat there on the ground and cried like a baby. Luckily Zander started picking up on things and knew I was more upset than I was letting on. When I didn’t turn up that morning, he came looking for me. We had a long discussion once we got home from the hospital and he made me see what I was doing to myself. I felt pretty stupid admitting it, but he was right. Every time those voices in my head started taunting me, I tried to run away from them. I didn’t want to face the past. Instead, all I was doing was putting myself in jeopardy. If it wasn’t for Zander, I’d probably still be running.”

“You’re lucky to have him,” Justin said.

“Yeah, I am,” Chris agreed with a smile as he thought of his partner. “And you have him, too; along with Brian and me. Look Justin, I may not be able to understand what it’s like to lose someone you love so tragically, but I do know what it’s like to have your whole world turned upside down in the blink of an eye. My parents weren’t as great as yours were, but I loved them and I loved Brian even more. Then one day, they were gone. It’s a hard adjustment to make. And I wish you didn’t have to go through it, but you do. Just remember, you have a family right here to help you face the past and accept the future. No running, or swimming, away from it.”

Chris looked over at Justin and saw tears brimming in the blond’s eyes and his heart went out to him. “Come here,” he whispered as he pulled Justin into his arms. “It’s been a rough few days with a lot of changes taking place, on top of everything else. It’ll get easier. I promise.”

They sat there for a little while longer as Justin found comfort in Chris’ embrace. Eventually he pulled back and wiped the dampness from his eyes. “Thank you…for everything.”

“No need to thank me. You’re Zan’s family. That makes you mine, too. And I think you’re a great addition to our fucked-up little group.”

“Thanks. I think I’m going to like it here,” Justin replied honestly, already feeling much better. “And for what it’s worth, your father was totally wrong. You’re not a worthless faggot. I think you’re pretty cool.”

“I think you’re pretty cool, too,” Chris said as he ruffled Justin’s blond hair. He glanced at his watch and was surprised by the time. “Wow, it’s almost five o’clock. Zan and Brian are going to be home soon and I haven’t even thought about dinner yet. Looks like another night of crappy take-out.”

“No it’s not. I was bored earlier so I started making a stir-fry for dinner. All I have to do is throw everything together and cook it up.” At Chris’ surprised expression, he explained further. “I noticed that there was nothing thawing for dinner and figured you had nothing planned so I went ahead and put something together. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

“Are you kidding? Of course it’s okay. If not for you, we’d be clogging our arteries with fat and cholesterol. Just so you know though, we don’t expect you to cook every night. We didn’t invite you out here to wait on us.”

“I know. It’s no big deal. I used to help around the house at home, too. I really don’t mind,” Justin assured him. “Shit, that reminds me, I have to move the towels from the washer to the dryer.”

“You’re doing laundry, too?”

“Yeah, well I saw a pile of towels in the upstairs bathroom and thought I’d throw them in. I grabbed a few from the bathroom downstairs, too. I really wasn’t doing anything anyway,” Justin replied sheepishly.

“Kids these days,” Chris laughed at Justin’s embarrassment. “Look, why don’t you go up and take a shower while I move the towels to the dryer? Then we can meet in the kitchen and finish dinner together. Deal?”


By the time Zander and Brian got home, dinner was warming on the stove, and Justin and Chris were in deep conversation over which was the better game system, Nintendo or Playstation.

“Give it up, Justin,” Brian said as he strode into the kitchen and grabbed a coke out of the refrigerator. “I’ve been trying to get him to switch to Nintendo for years and it hasn’t worked. He’s as stubborn as a mule. What’s for dinner?”

“Justin made a stir fry and I’m not stubborn. I just know what I like,” Chris replied.

“Justin made dinner?” Zander asked, ignoring the familiar bickering between the brothers. “You don’t have to cook for us.”

“I know, but I wasn’t doing anything anyway. It was no big deal,” Justin said.

“Watch it, or you’ll be doing the laundry next,” Brain warned teasingly.

Chris and Justin looked at each other and started laughing, earning confused looks from Brian and Zander.

All through dinner, the four of them kept up a steady stream of conversation ranging from what Brian and Justin’s plans were for the night, to the work Justin had already done for the website. It made Justin feel good to sit around an animated table again. The Johnson’s were good to him, but they weren’t big on lively conversation. Once everyone was done eating, Zander insisted that he and Brian do the dishes since Justin cooked and Chris helped and set the table. After everything was cleaned up, Brian suggested that he and Justin go to the video store and pick up a couple of movies for their night.

“Before you guys go, we want to have a family meeting,” Chris said before the teens could make their getaway.

“A family meeting?” Justin asked.

“Yeah, it’s when Chris and Zan have something important to talk about. You’ll get used to them. Those two talk a lot,” Brian joked. “What’s up?”

“Well, Chris has to go to Boston this weekend for a radio show that’s featuring up and coming authors and he wants me to go with him,” Zander explained, casually watching Justin for his reaction.

“Hey, that’s great, man,” Brian exclaimed as he clapped his brother on the back. “Congratulations. When are you guys leaving?”

“I’m not sure if I’m going yet or not,” Zander said.

“Why not? You always go with him when he has one of these trips,” Brian said, turning his attention to Zander.

“I know, but…well, it’s Justin’s first weekend here and I’m not sure I should just fly off with Chris and leave him alone,” Zander replied.

“Leave him alone? Hello, what am I? Chopped liver? I’ll be here with him, it’s not like you’d be leaving him all alone with no one to talk to,” Brian pointed out. “Besides, he’s seventeen. What were you planning to do? Sit here all weekend and hold his hand?”

“No, it’s not that. I just thought that I should be here for him. Maybe take him shopping. I know I was planning on getting him on our cell phone plan. Not to mention we really haven’t had much of a chance to talk and get to know each other better,” Zander said.

“Take him shopping? Again, he’s seventeen. If he needs something, I can take him, or he can borrow the jeep. He doesn’t need you to drag him through the mall like a little kid. It was different when I came here. I was only fourteen. And you’ll have plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. He lives here, remember?” Brian replied.

“I know, but I just thought…”

“Excuse me. I don’t mean to interrupt but maybe you should stop arguing and ask Justin what he thinks since he’s sitting right there,” Chris suggested, effectively stopping Brian and Zander from continuing. He turned to Justin. “What do you think about Zander coming with me?”

“I don’t have a problem with him going,” Justin said honestly. “Like Brian said, I live here now. I’m not going anywhere. Oh, and congratulations on the radio show. You must be pretty excited. I looked at some of your books when I was at the store the other day. I can’t wait to read them.”

“Thanks. I am pretty excited. And there’s a copy of everything I’ve had published in the bookcase in the den. Just don’t feel you have to read them, and if you think they suck, I want you to tell me, alright?” Chris laughed.

“I promise, but I doubt they suck or you wouldn’t be going to Boston this weekend.” Justin stood up and pushed the chair back and before turning to Brian. “Are we ready to go?”

“Wait? What about our meeting?” Zander asked in confusion.

“It’s been adjourned,” Chris replied. “Everything’s fine. Justin’s cool and we’re going to Boston.”

“Are you sure?” Zander asked Justin directly.

“I’m sure. Yeah, it would be cool to hang out with you this weekend, but we’ll have lots of time for that later. Go away with Chris and have fun. I’ll be fine here with Brian,” Justin assured him before adding, “And I promise to keep an eye on him while you’re gone.”

“Hey,” Brian said as he gently shoved Justin. “I’m the older one, remember?”

“By what? Two months? I think I’ve got you beat in maturity levels,” Justin teased.

“I’m not saying a word,” Chris said with a smile.

“Oh, screw you both,” Brian replied indignantly. “Come on, Blondie. Let’s go.”

Justin laughed and winked at Chris and Zander before following a sulking Brian out of the house.

“Well, I guess that’s settled,” Chris said once Brian and Justin were gone. “Looks like it’s you and me in Boston.”

“I can’t wait,” Zander said as he wrapped his arms around Chris and placed a quick kiss on his lips. “Did you happen to notice the nickname Brian used on Justin?”

“Yeah, actually I did. It’s what I call you,” Chris replied, suddenly frowning. “Do you think leaving the two of them alone this weekend is a good idea given the things you’ve been picking up between them?”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. We still don’t know if there’s an attraction there and even if there was, we can’t supervise them every moment. They’re alone upstairs together every night.”

“Don’t remind me,” Chris sighed.

“Relax; I’m sure everything’s going to be okay.”

Chris wanted to believe him, but since Zander expressed his thoughts the night before, a few incidents started replaying in his mind. The most disturbing one being the picture Justin had drawn of Brian on the day he arrived. The one that was done less than an hour after their meeting, but was meticulously well detailed. The one that showed how closely Justin was paying attention. How was he supposed to relax when they had two horny teenagers, who were obviously attracted to each other, living under the same roof?

End of part 10


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