Now That You're Here
The next morning came very early for Justin considering he was up most of the night thinking about the kiss. He knew in his heart that Brian was right in saying that they needed to forget what happened, but that didn’t make it any easier to actually forget it. Especially when all he could see when he closed his eyes was Brian’s face right before he leaned down for the kiss. The last time he looked at the clock before drifting off to sleep, it was already three in the morning. Getting up at eight to get on the road, coupled with the vivid dreams that had him tossing and turning, caused him to be slightly on the grumpy side. A quick look at Brian from the corner of his eye as the got into the car told him that his friend’s mood wasn’t any better than his own. He shook off any thoughts of Brian and settled into the back seat, closing his eyes in hopes of falling asleep. Otherwise it was going to be a long and tension-filled ride home.
Brian followed Justin’s lead and shut his eyes the minute he got comfortable in the car. He hadn’t been ready to face Justin since his colossal mistake the night before when he kissed the blond without considering the consequences. How could he have been so stupid? After all the times he told Steve that nothing could happen between them, he went ahead and risked screwing everything up by going against his own words. He knew he needed to apologize again for his stupidity, but wanted to wait until they got back to Sierra Vista before bringing the night before back up in conversation. He already sensed that Chris and Zander knew something was going on and didn’t want to risk being overheard talking about it. He’d just have to wait until he and Justin were alone upstairs before bringing up the subject of his stupidity.
Chris glanced in the rearview mirror once again, mentally trying to figure out what was going on with Brian and Justin. He and Zander noticed something was wrong the minute the boys appeared in the living room just an hour before. The tension between them was obvious to anyone with eyes, yet neither one of them admitted to it when questioned. As far as Chris knew, everything was fine the night before when he and Zander were getting ready to go out. When they returned home, both Brian and Justin were quick to retreat to their room, so Chris figured that whatever happened had happened sometime while they were out. He glanced over at Zander and the concerned look on his face told Chris that his partner was just as worried as he was. Since he wasn’t the type of person to interfere to the point of nagging, he’d just have to wait until one of the boys were ready to share his story. He hoped he didn’t have to wait too long.
As soon as they got home, the boys helped unload the car and then went to their separate bedrooms. Justin changed into a pair of sweats and then sat down at the computer and started working on the bookstore website. It had only been up for a little more than a week, but there had already been quite a few views and even one order. He couldn’t wait until the flyers and mailers went out announcing the opening of Betweenthepages.com. He anticipated the traffic at the site would skyrocket once word got out that there was an online bookstore that catered to book lovers nationwide. He even had Sean and Jason getting the word out among the people of Pittsburgh. Location wasn’t an issue in the dot.com world. Once he was finished, he checked his email and responded to a few friends who had found out about his move from Sean and Jason. It made him smile to know that he wasn’t forgotten among his friends in Pittsburgh. A soft knock on his bedroom door had him straightening up and preparing for the talk that he knew he and Brian were going to have.
“Hey,” Brian said as he walked through the door, shutting it behind him. “I just wanted to apologize again for last night. I never should have kissed you like that.”
Justin wanted to tell Brian that he didn’t mind the kiss. That if he was honest, he actually enjoyed it, but he knew that it would only make things between them worse. Brian obviously regretted what had happened, and knowing that Justin didn’t would no doubt make things between them even more awkward.
“Brian, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. We were wrestling and things just got out of hand. It’s already forgotten,” Justin replied.
“Really?” Brian asked skeptically.
“Really. There’s no reason we need to dwell on it or have it cause all this tension between us. Besides, we’re family. It’s not like anything could ever happen between us anyway. It was an accident. That’s all,” Justin insisted, hoping that his true feelings didn’t show.
“Yeah, we’re family,” Brian agreed. “We couldn’t do anything together, even if we wanted to; which we don’t. Thanks for being so cool about it.”
“It’s no big deal.”
“Okay then.” Brian looked around the room, wanting to say more, but unsure of what to say. “Um, I guess I’ll go finish unpacking and maybe go for a swim. You wanna meet me down at the pool?”
“No, that’s okay. I think I’m going to work on the illustrations for Chris’s story. I told him I’d have them finished by the end of the week and with Sean and Jason coming tomorrow, I probably won’t have much time to focus on drawing,” Justin said, grabbing for the first excuse that popped into his head. No one knew that the drawings had been finished for almost a week and that he’d just been too nervous to show them to anyone. For once in his life, he’d been thankful for his insecurities.
“Alright,” Brian sighed in disappointment. “I guess I’ll see you at dinner.”
Once Brian was gone, Justin breathed a sigh of relief. He knew he had to let things go back to normal, but he wasn’t ready to completely let go of the kiss just yet. That moment, the feel of Brian’s mouth on his, stirred something so deep inside him; he just needed more time before he’d be able to forget it ever happened. If that was even possible.
After dinner was over, Brian and Chris stayed behind to clean up the kitchen while Zander and Justin went over to Stacy’s to pick up the rollaway beds. And as soon as they were alone, Chris jumped right in.
“Is something going on between you and Justin?” he asked as he loaded the dishwasher.
“Going on?” Brian asked, purposely keeping his back to his brother. “What do you mean? What could be going on?”
“I don’t know. Zan and I picked up on some tension between the two of you this morning. At first we chalked it up to you both being tired and grumpy from getting up so early, but even dinner was awkward with you two,” Chris explained. “Did something happen that I should know about?”
Yeah, I kissed your partner’s cousin like an asshole and now he’s mad at me, Brian thought to himself. How he wished he could share the events from the night before with Chris and get his advice. But he knew that wasn’t an option. Sharing his stupidity with anyone was out of the question. He caused the problem with Justin and it was up to him to work it all out.
“Everything’s okay. I kind of acted like an ass last night and now he’s ticked off at me,” Brian said, condoning his explanation by telling himself it was a half truth. Kissing Justin was a stupid thing to do, and now he was ticked off. No matter how many times Justin insisted it wasn’t true, the blond was definitely ticked off. “I’ll apologize to him again and everything will be fine. He can’t ignore me forever. The Kinney charm is irresistible, remember?”
“Are you sure? If you tell me what you did, maybe I could talk to him for you?”
“No, that’s okay. I’ll handle it on my own. It’s really no big deal,” Brian assured him.
Chris saw the determination in his brother’s face and knew that he wasn’t going to get anywhere in finding out what happened between the two teens. “Okay, well my offer stands. If you need any help, just let me know.”
Brian breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he needed was Chris getting involved. “Okay, I’m heading out for a little while. I promised Steve I’d meet everyone at the river after dinner.”
“You’re not going to stay and help with the beds?”
“You don’t mind, do you? We’ve been gone for a week and apparently Zac has been driving everyone crazy. He met a new girl and he’s convinced it’s true love,” Brian laughed.
“Again? How many does that make this year alone?”
“I know. I keep telling him he needs to slow down, but he won’t listen. Anyway, she’s supposed to be there tonight and I want to check her out,” Brian said.
“What about Justin? Did you ask him if he wants to go?” Chris asked.
“No, but I doubt he’ll want to go anywhere. He’s pretty excited about his friends coming tomorrow. I’m sure he wants to stick around and get everything ready. I won’t be gone long.”
Brian took off before Chris had a chance to comment. He needed to get out for awhile and knew that leaving Justin behind was the right thing to do. The blond hadn’t said more than a few words to him since they’d returned from the lake. The last thing he would want was to be out with their friends. No, it was better that Brian left without him.
Justin tried not to feel slighted when Chris told him that Brian had gone to the river without him. It wasn’t like he didn’t have a lot to do to get ready for his friends’ arrival the following night. After getting the rollaway beds upstairs, Justin moved some of his stuff around to make room for them. Despite all the furniture in the small space, everything fit perfectly. He took the extra sheets and blankets that Zander had given him and made up the two extra beds so they would be ready. He’d already offered to go in to the bookstore and help the next morning so that he didn’t have to sit around all alone and watch the clock. He was so excited to see his friends after not seeing them for so long. He had just finished straightening everything up when his phone rang. He grabbed it off the dresser and smiled when he saw Jason’s phone number displayed.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Hey Jus, how was your trip?” Jason asked when he heard Justin’s greeting. “Was it as much fun as it sounded?”
“Yeah, it was great,” Justin replied, pushing the part with Brian to the back of his mind. “We rented jet skis and canoes and spent most of the time on the lake. It was definitely better than that time we went camping with boy scouts. Remember that? Our mothers’ idea of fun was wading in knee high water looking for minnows.”
“Hey, we were seven. Wading in knee high water looking for minnows was fun,” Jason laughed at the memory. “I can’t wait to get there tomorrow. Billy and Kevin are so jealous that Sean and I are going to see you.”
“Well, as much as I hate to say this, they’ll have to get over it. I’m not inviting everyone I ever went to school with to fly out here. I haven’t seen them since right after the funeral and that’s only because their mothers made them come over and see how I was doing,” Justin chuckled. “They were so afraid to talk to me. If I wasn’t so upset by what had happened, I would’ve laughed at them right there on the front step.”
“Yeah, they can be kind of lame,” Jason agreed. “Listen, I just wanted to say thank you for inviting me out there. I know Sean was the one you called and I feel bad; kind of like I invited myself along.”
“No you didn’t. I miss you just as much as I miss Sean. When I called him I planned on calling you right after, but it was just so hard. I didn’t expect to be so sad after talking to him. I guess I was so excited about getting away from all the bad memories when I took Zander up on his offer to move here that I didn’t think about leaving you guys behind. You two are my best friends. I’m thrilled that you’re both going to be here together,” Justin explained carefully.
“Cool. Okay, well I’m going to go finish packing. We’re working tomorrow and then we’ve got a plane to catch. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
“Sounds good. See you tomorrow.”
Once Justin hung up the phone, he sat back on his bed and thought about Sean and Jason. He was telling the truth when he said that he missed them both equally. Despite their different qualities, he considered them both to be his best friends. He couldn’t wait for them to get off the plane and spend the week in his new world. He just hoped that once he was honest and shared his secret with them, they’d still be his best friends.
Brian waited until the last possible moment before returning home. He wasn’t sure who he was avoiding more, Justin or his brother’s curious glances. After talking to Steve about what happened, he knew without a doubt that he needed to fix things once and for all. He just wanted to do it when it was just the two of them. He put his key in the front door and went in quietly, breathing a sigh of relief when he noticed that Chris and Zander were both in bed. He walked over to the stairs and was about to head up when he noticed the light shining in from the backyard. A quick peek outside told him that Justin was taking a late night swim. Without thinking about it, he raced upstairs and threw on his suit, hoping to make it back down before Justin got out of the pool. He did.
“Hey, what are you doing out here? I thought you’d be sleeping. You’re still coming down to the shop in the morning, aren’t you?” he asked as he approached the pool.
“Yeah, I just couldn’t sleep. I keep thinking about Sean and Jason,” Justin explained.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Well, since you’re already in your bathing suit, I guess I can’t say no,” Justin teased as he splashed Brian with water. He’d already decided to pretend that the previous evening never happened. As much as it confused him, he needed to get things between him and Brian back to normal. He feared he’d need his new friend in case things went bad once he confessed to his old friends.
Brian took Justin’s teasing as a good sign and dove into the pool. He swam a couple of laps and then resurfaced and looked over at the blond.
“I guess you’re still freaked out by the thought of coming out to them, huh?”
“Yeah,” Justin admitted. “I’m trying not to be, but I can’t help it. What if they’re not cool with it? What if accepting my cousin and his partner isn’t the same thing as accepting me? What if being honest with them causes me to lose my two best friends?”
“But what if it doesn’t? What if being honest with them brings you all that much closer? And even if it doesn’t, how close can your friendship be if they can’t accept you for who you are? Do you really want to live in the closet when you’re with them? Do you really want to have to censor every conversation you have with them for fear of letting something slip out that would give you away? I would think that being honest with them and risking their disapproval would still be easier that keeping who you are a secret.”
Justin knew he was right. As hard as it was going to be, he knew he had to come clean with them. Censoring himself around his friends was never a problem before, but now that he was out and experiencing life, it would be really hard to keep certain parts of his life to himself. He would’ve loved to have been able to call Sean or Jason after Dane pulled his little stunt, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t talk to his friends because they didn’t know about his world. Like it or not, he was going to be honest and tell his friends exactly who he was. And whatever happened after that, well he’d just have to deal with it. At least he knew he had Brian, Chris and Zander there to help him through whatever the outcome was; and knowing that made all the difference in the world.
“You’re right,” Justin replied. “Thanks, Brian. I guess I just needed to hear that.”
“Hey, what are friends for? Now we’d better get inside and try to get some sleep. We have a pretty big delivery coming in tomorrow and we’re going to have to work our asses off to get out of there early. Don’t want to be late getting to the airport,” Brian said as he pulled himself out of the pool.
“No, we don’t want to be late. I can’t wait for my new best friend to meet my old best friends,” Justin replied with a smile.
Brian searched Justin’s face before responding. “So, we’re okay now?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t we be? Nothing happened last night, remember?”
“Yeah, nothing happened.” Brian smiled, knowing that his mistake was in the past and everything between them was back the way it should be. Now all he had to do was keep better control over himself and make sure he didn’t give in to his desire to taste those full lips again. He couldn’t do anything to ruin the friendship that was beginning to mean so much to him.
End of part 16
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