Now That You're Here


Chapter 13


Justin woke up to a soft knock on his door. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost ten. He was surprised that he’d slept so late, considering he went to bed pretty early the night before. When another knock came, he pushed himself up and called out, “Come in.”

“Good morning sleepyhead,” Chris said as he entered the room. “I was beginning to worry about you. I know you and Brian went to bed at the same time last night and he was up over an hour before his alarm went off this morning.”

“I don’t know what happened. I fell asleep not long after my head hit the pillow and I don’t remember a thing until you knocked,” Justin replied as he stretched. “What’s up? Do you need me to do something?”

“No, I was just going to head to the mall and I thought you could come with me. I figured we could pick you up that cell phone we promised.”

“You know, Chris, you guys don’t have to buy me a cell phone. I have some money in the bank. I can buy my own,” Justin said.

“It’s not a big deal. The guy Zander got our plan through was gay and cruising him relentlessly so we have something like a gazillion minutes between us, not to mention free cell phone to cell phone. It’s only gonna cost us ten bucks a month to add you on. So, go get ready. Since the morning’s almost over, I figured you could wait a little bit longer to eat and then I’ll take you out to lunch. It’s the least we can do since we get to sit home all day while Brian and Zander work,” Chris teased.

“You’ll never hear me turn down free food,” Justin laughed. “Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be ready.”

“Take your time. I’m in no rush. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Justin jumped out of bed as soon as Chris was gone and got ready quickly. He knew that although Chris worked out of the house most of the time, he still had a lot of work to do. He didn’t want to keep him away from it. He was down in the kitchen in fifteen minutes, ready to shop.

The mall was fairly crowded for a Monday, probably due to school being out. As soon as they walked through the door, Chris led them to a cell phone stand in the middle of the mall. As promised, twenty minutes later, Justin walked away with a cell phone in his hand.

“Later tonight, we’ll make sure to program all of our numbers in your phone book so you’ll know how to get hold of us,” Chris told him as he steered them towards Applebee’s.

“Yeah, and then all I have to do is figure out how to access it if I need to,” Justin replied as he gazed down at his phone.

“I’m pretty sure they’re all standard when it comes to the basic features.”

“I’m sure they are, but I’ve never had a cell phone before,” Justin told him.

“You’ve never had a cell phone?” Chris asked incredulously. “I thought all teenagers had cell phones these days.”

“That’s what I tried to tell my mom, but she wouldn’t let me get one. She was convinced that I would talk on it too much and end up with brain cancer. She wasn’t much for modern technology,” Justin explained.

“Wait, wasn’t she a real estate agent? How’d she manage that without a cell phone?”

“She had a separate line put into the house for business calls and between that number and her office number, she managed. She hated computers, too. You don’t know how long it took me to convince her to let me build her website. You would’ve thought I suggested posting naked pictures of her the first time I suggested it.”

“Wow, I’d be lost without modern technology. I guess it’s a family thing, but even Zander, as computer illiterate as he is, knows the value of computers.”

“Yeah, he just wants someone else to do the work for him,” Justin smiled.

Chris laughed at that, knowing how right Justin was. By the time they got to the restaurant, Justin was starving and blushed slightly when his stomach growled, letting Chris know just how hungry he was. Since it was early, they were seated quickly and Justin just about ripped the menu out of the hostess’s hand so that he could get ready to order. Chris chuckled, but didn’t comment, instead looking through his own menu so he’d be ready for their server. As soon as their order was placed, Chris got down to the first reason for wanting to take Justin out.

“In all the excitement of the radio show, I forgot all about getting my story ideas to you. I spoke with the guy who’s coordinating the deal and told him I thought I had someone to do my art work. He’s anxious to see some preliminary sketches. Are you still interested in drawing something up?”

“Are you kidding?” Justin laughed. “I’ve been dying to get to work, but since you didn’t mention it I figured that you were either too busy to worry about the book right now, or you changed your mind about wanting me to work on it.”

“Sorry about that. I wouldn’t have suggested it if I wasn’t sure I wanted you on the project. I’ll give you my rough draft when we get home, as long as you remember it’s a rough draft and promise not to be too critical,” Chris joked.

“I promise to overlook any mistakes I might find,” Justin said with a smile.

“Good. Are you sure you’re going to have time to work on this? I know you promised to build Zander’s website. I don’t want you to overdo it. We didn’t bring you out here to work you to death.”

“Are you kidding? I have plenty of time. My mother used to have this enormous amount of energy. She never seemed to be able to sit still. Ask Zander about it. I’m sure he remembers. Anyway, it seems she passed it off on me. I’ve been bored out of my mind since I got here. I already have all the basic designs for the website ready for Zander’s final approval. Once he makes his decision, all that’s left to do is purchase the site space and upload everything to the server, and he’ll be up and running,” Justin told him. “In fact, I’ve been thinking. I don’t think it would hurt for you to have a website, too. I’ve been doing some research on it and a lot of authors have their own space so that their readers can learn more about them. You could have a mailing list and send out quarterly newsletters with updates on new books due to release and any signings you might be having. It would also give them a place to send you feedback. It would make it all more personal, and it wouldn’t be that hard to set up. I could have it done in a few days.”

“You really are a go-getter, aren’t you?” Chris laughed at Justin’s enthusiasm.

“Yeah, I guess. But it also depends on what it is that I’m doing. Anything related to art and computers, and I can’t get enough. So, is that a yes?”

“I’d tell you to give me a few days to think about it, but something tells me that you already have some ideas ready to show me, don’t you?”

“Um…maybe?” Justin replied sheepishly.

Chris laughed so loud that everyone in the restaurant turned to look at them. “Well, then I guess I don’t have a choice. I’ll take a look at your ideas when you’re ready and we’ll go from there.”

“Cool,” Justin replied.

After the matter of the website was decided, the food came, Chris and Justin talked about the upcoming trip while they ate. Justin was still hungry and ordered dessert, while Chris chose to stick with coffee. As Justin dug into his cheesecake, Chris decided to approach the second reason for wanting time with Justin.

“Justin, you do know that if something is bothering you, you can always come to either Zander or me, right? Even though we’re technically your guardians, we’re not like real parents. You don’t have to be afraid to talk to us about anything.” Chris watched Justin as he looked up quickly, seemingly embarrassed. “I mean, I know you and Brian are becoming close, but sometimes getting a perspective from someone older can help, too.”

“I know I can talk to you guys, but I’m fine. Really,” Justin replied weakly.

Chris looked at Justin skeptically. “So, you’re not having trouble settling in or anything?”

“No, not at all. You guys have been really great,” Justin replied honestly.

“Are you missing Pittsburgh?”

“No. I mean, of course I miss my old life back there, but I was missing that when I was still living with the Johnson’s. I think I’m actually doing better out here, away from all the memories.”

“Good, I’m glad you like it here,” Chris said with a smile. “How are things with you and Dane?”

Justin looked surprised by the question and fought to keep his face expressionless when he answered. “We’re not really seeing each other anymore.”

“Oh, when did that happen?” Chris asked, noting the strained look on Justin’s face. At least he now had an idea of what was bothering Justin the night before.

“Over the weekend. We kind of had a…disagreement over something. It’s no big deal.”

“Are you sure it’s no big deal? You seemed to like him.”

“Chris, is there something you want to say?”

“Okay, look…Zander and I noticed that something was bothering you last night. We were concerned so I figured I’d try talking to you about it. I guess I’m not very subtle. Do you want to talk about it?”

Justin was about to say no, that he was fine with what happened, but he realized that he wasn’t fine with it. He was still really upset about what happened with Dane on Saturday night and even though he had talked it over with Brian, he found he still had some unanswered questions. “Can I ask you a personal question?” he finally asked.

“Sure, you can ask me anything,” Chris told him.

“How old were you when you had sex for the first time?” Justin asked quietly, feeling his cheeks flush with embarrassment.

Chris panicked momentarily. Although he wanted to be honest with Justin, he wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for him to share his past with the kid. He knew he should’ve let Zander handle things. Unfortunately it was too late to turn back. Justin was looking back at him expectantly with those blue eyes of his, and he couldn’t find it in himself to turn him away.

“I was fifteen and it was with my best friend Corey Miller. He lived right down the street from us and we’d been friends since kindergarten. I knew I was attracted to him somewhere around seventh grade, but of course I never said anything to him about it. One day we were hanging out at his house. His parents were gone for the day so we were all alone. He decided it would be cool to break into his parents’ liquor cabinet. God knows how much we drank. And I really don’t remember who made the first move, although Corey insisted that it was my idea. Maybe it was. I’d been fantasizing about him long enough. It was awkward…and painful. And then his parents came home early. Luckily we were already dressed again, but there was no hiding the fact that we were drunk. His father brought me home and told my old man what happened. I got the beating of my life that day.” Chris chuckled at the memory, having long since gotten over his past.

“What happened after that? I mean, with you and Corey?”

“Corey didn’t talk to me for about a week. He’d managed to convince his mother to drive him to school to avoid the bus stop, and walked away every time he saw me in the hallway between classes. He even refused to take my phone calls. Eventually I managed to confront him in one of the bathrooms. He claimed that it was the alcohol that started it all and insisted that he wasn’t gay.”

“What did you do?”

“What could I do? I was fifteen and scared to lose my best friend. I lied and told him I hated it too, and we moved on from there. Our friendship was never the same, though. When we graduated from high school, he went off to UCLA and I never heard from him again. I heard somewhere that he got married right after college and has four kids. Obviously he was telling the truth…or he’s so far in the closet that he can’t find his way out. Either way, what happened between us was a mistake made after too much drinking.”

“So, you don’t think it was right to have sex so young?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that. I don’t really know if age has anything to do with it. It was stupid of us to do something so important after raiding the liquor cabinet. It was probably also stupid of me to go after someone when I knew I was gay and didn’t know if he was. He never once indicated that he had any interest in the same sex. I’ve learned since that some guys just like to experiment with their buddies and it doesn’t mean anything. I was destined to have my heart broken in that situation.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense,” Justin replied thoughtfully.

“Justin, what’s going on?” Chris asked gently.

“I don’t know. Since I wasn’t out at home, except to my parents, I don’t have any…um, experience with all of this. And Dane understood that. At least, I thought he did. But then, on Saturday, he tried to push me into sex and…” Justin’s voice trailed off.

“You weren’t ready for it.” Chris said. “And that’s okay. Look, Justin, everybody is different. Some people feel that they need to have sex, whether it’s because they think about it and want it all the time, or because they think they have to give in to please their boyfriend or girlfriend. And sometimes it even works out okay for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. If you don’t think you’re ready to take that step, then you probably aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with waiting until you’re sure. There’s no age limit on when you have to have sex for the first time. Hell, there are still people out there who want to wait until they’re married. It’s all up to you and how you feel about it; but whatever you decide, make sure your decision is based on what you want and not what some guy thinks you should give him.”

“And you really don’t think that there’s something wrong with me for refusing to give into Dane?”

“Trust me, Justin. There’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, in your case, I think it’s understandable for you to be hesitant. Not only were you not out to your friends back home, but you just went through a devastating loss. You’re still trying to get past losing your parents, on top of settling into a new place and learning how to be open about who you are. Give yourself time to adjust to all the changes that have taken place. When you’re ready, you’ll know,” Chris told him.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Justin sighed, although after talking to Chris, he was feeling much better.

“Do me a favor and tell that to Brian. He refuses to admit it when I’m right,” Chris laughed.

“If I let you in on a little secret, do you promise not to tell?” Justin asked with a smirk.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” Chris promised.

“Brian may not admit to you that you’re right, but he knows it. All he ever talks about is how great you and Zander are. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the two of you could part water or something,” Justin replied. “You did a really good thing, taking him in when he needed you. It couldn’t have been easy having a fourteen year old waltz in and turn your lives upside down, but somehow I know that you didn’t give it a second thought.”

“You’re right, I didn’t. The only thing I ever really regretted when my parents disowned me was losing touch with Brian. We may have a huge age difference between us, but he’s the best brother a guy could ask for. From the moment my mother brought him home from the hospital, I loved him dearly and spent as much time as I could with him. I thought I’d die when they refused to let me see him. I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye to him. I hate what that bastard did to him, but I’m glad that he’s with me again. As much as I love Zander, my life wasn’t complete until Brian came back into it. The last three years have been really good. I have a wonderful family that I’m really proud of, and our newest addition is only going to make it that much better. I don’t know what your plans are for after high school, but whether you go away to school or stick around here, I want you to know that you always have a place to call home. We’re a family, and family is forever.”

“Thanks Chris,” Justin said, wiping away a stray tear that slipped down his face. He didn’t know what he did to deserve such loving support from practical strangers, but he really was starting to feel like he was finally home.

End of part 13


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