Now That You're Here
By the time Brian got to the river, the local hang out, all his friends were already there and waiting for him.
“Hey, it’s about time you showed up,” Steve said as he approached Brian. “We were beginning to think you were blowing us off.”
“Sorry. Chris and Zander needed to talk to me about something,” Brian explained as he hugged his friend in greeting.
Of all his friends, Steve was the one that Brian was closest to. He was the first person Brian came out to and even though he was as straight as an arrow, he never even batted an eye when Brian told him he was gay. Brian eventually came out to all his friends and no one cared. Sierra Vista was a very accepting town. In the last couple of years, more and more people began following Brian’s lead and came out, making Brian feel more and more like the beating his father gave him was the best thing that ever happened to him. It gave him the family and friends he loved so much.
“Is everything alright?” Steve asked, interrupting Brian’s thoughts.
“Yeah, I’ll tell you about it later,” Brian replied. He didn’t want to get into a lengthy discussion about Justin with everyone around. “Is Zac here?”
“No, he’s still sitting home moping because Stacy dumped him. I figured you could stop by and see him on your way home tonight. You always seem to make him smile.”
“It’s my undeniable charm,” Brian teased, earning himself a playful shove from Steve.
“Actually I think it has more to do with your cock size,” Steve laughed.
“I keep telling him he’d be much happier if he just came over to my side instead of bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball, but he won’t listen to me,” Brian chuckled.
“I just don’t get it. I understand liking girls. I can even try to understand liking guys. What I don’t understand is how Zac can like them both.” Steve shivered jokingly at the thought.
“It’s called being a bisexual. I’ll explain it all to you when you’re older,” Brian teased.
“Very funny, asshole.” Steve smiled to take the sting out of his words.
“Hey, are you two bitches going to stand around all day gossiping or are we going to get a game going?” Trent yelled as he ran over to his two friends with a volleyball under his arm.
“Let’s get a game going,” Brian called back. “I can’t wait to kick your ass.”
“In your dreams, Kinney,” Trent replied, tossing Brian the ball.
Brian caught it and took off his sweatshirt before he and Steve joined the rest of the gang, Justin and Zac temporarily forgotten.
Justin sat in his room, staring at the ceiling and wondering what Alexander was going to be like. His foster mother had told him the day before that his cousin was flying in for a visit and he’d had mixed emotions ever since. He didn’t remember him, but he knew from his parents that he had an aunt, uncle, and cousin that he never really knew. His mother’s brother was a bastard and stopped talking to his own sister when he was just a baby. He’d seen their pictures in old photo albums. By his calculations, Alexander would be about twenty-nine. Justin couldn’t help but wonder why he was coming for a visit. After overhearing a conversation between his social worker and his foster mother, he knew that his aunt and uncle wanted nothing to do with him. Apparently old hurts ran deep. They never bothered to show up at his parents’ funeral and didn’t feel the least bit responsible for the son they’d left behind.
That was fine with Justin. He had no desire to live with someone who caused his mother so much pain. Jennifer Morgan Taylor had been an amazing woman in Justin’s opinion. He wanted nothing to do with anyone who thought differently.
After a month of mourning, Justin had finally been able to think about his parents without breaking down into tears, but he still felt a black cloud hanging over his head and cried himself to sleep at least three nights a week. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had been good to him, but he missed his own parents terribly. The relationship he had with them was wonderful and something that all his friends envied. He never got yelled at or grounded like those around him and in return he tried to be a good son to them. He always did his chores, usually without being reminded, studied hard to bring home all A’s on his report card, and worked a part time job delivering newspapers so he didn’t have to rely on anyone for money. In fact, the only time he ever worried about disappointing them was when he finally admitted to himself that he was gay. He even thought about not telling them, but he knew he’d never be able to keep that kind of secret from them. As it turned out, they were not only okay with his sexuality, but they were as supportive as anyone could be. His mother immediately contacted the local PFLAG group and his father spent days doing research on the computer, wanting to learn everything he could so that he’d still be able to help his son become a man. Justin never had the nerve to come out to his friends, but being able to be himself at home made all the difference in the world.
And now the two people who mattered most to him were gone and he was left all alone in the world with no one to turn to. He didn’t tell his social worker or the Johnsons that he was gay. He didn’t want to chance being stuck in a group home because no one wanted to take in a fag. He only had one more year to go until he graduated and went off to college. He could keep his secret to himself until then.
The sound of the doorbell pulled Justin out of his thoughts. With a sigh he got up and checked his appearance in the mirror before heading downstairs, as ready as he was gonna be to meet his long lost cousin.
Zander was as nervous as hell as he parked his rental car outside the Johnson home. It was hard enough meeting a relative that he didn’t know, but coming out to him and asking him to move halfway across the country with him caused him to have an almost sleepless night. By two in the morning, he had wished that he had allowed Chris to make the trip with him. He always slept better in Chris’ arms.
Zander made his way to the door and rang the bell, saying one final prayer that the day would go as well as he hoped it would. A moment later the door opened to reveal a frail looking woman with a smile on her face.
“You must be Alexander. I can see the family resemblance. Come on in. I’m sure Justin will be down in a minute. He’s been looking forward to meeting you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Johnson,” Zander said as he stepped inside. “Have you mentioned to Justin the reason behind my visit?”
“Goodness no. I thought it would be best coming from you. The poor child’s been through so much lately. I didn’t want to give him something else to stress about,” Mrs. Johnson replied.
“Good. I’m hoping that he’ll be accepting of the idea, but it’ll be better if we have a chance to talk and get to know each other a little first.” Zander heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs and turned to come face to face with Justin. “Wow, you look just like your mom.”
“I know,” Justin replied shyly. “I guess you’re Alexander.”
“Yeah, but everyone calls me Zander. It’s really good to see you again, although I’m sure you don’t remember our last meeting. You were such a tiny little thing back then.” Zander smiled at the memory.
“No, I don’t remember that,” Justin laughed. “But I recognize you from pictures that my mother had. You’ve gotten a little bit bigger yourself.” Justin wasn’t sure why, but he felt strangely comfortable with Zander.
“Yeah, and a lot older,” Zander laughed.
“Can I get you something to eat? Maybe a little breakfast? I made muffins fresh this morning,” Mrs. Johnson offered.
“No thank you, Mrs. Johnson. I had a quick bite to eat at my hotel. Actually I thought Justin and I could go for a drive,” he replied before turning to Justin. “If that’s okay with you.”
“That’s fine,” Justin replied.
“Okay, well you two have fun then. Justin, did you put your dirty clothes in the hamper? I thought I’d do a little laundry today.”
“That’s okay Mrs. J. I did my laundry last night while you were sleeping. I told you that you don’t have to wait on me.”
“I know you did, dear. I don’t mind doing things like laundry. A seventeen year old boy is supposed to be out having fun, not doing household chores,” Mrs. Johnson said as she glanced at Zander. “He’s too responsible for his own good. He needs to learn to have fun. Maybe you can explain it to him. Goodness knows he doesn’t listen to me.” She touched Justin’s cheek affectionately.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Zander replied with a smirk. “You ready?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
Zander and Justin drove around town for a bit with Justin pointing out all the places he hung out before the accident, since he really didn’t want to leave the house aside from going to school anymore. Now that school was out for the summer, he doubted he’d go much further than the mailbox. He was lucky that his foster family lived close to where he was raised so that he didn’t have to change schools on top of everything else, but a part of him wished he could get away from Pittsburgh and all the painful memories. Eventually Zander found a park and pulled over so they could find a nice place to talk. They got out of the car and headed towards the picnic area, taking a seat at one of the tables there.
“Justin, I want to say how sorry I am about your mom and dad. I remember them well. They were such great people. I don’t know what happened between Aunt Jen and my father that caused them to fight, but I really missed them afterwards. I even thought about getting in touch with them once I was out on my own, but I didn’t want to make things harder than they already were. My parents and I haven’t spoken in almost six years. Kevin Morgan is as much of an ass now as he was sixteen years ago,” Zander said once they were settled. “I was heartbroken when I heard about the accident.”
“They were too young to die,” Justin said sadly. “They were the best parents in the world, and I know that sounds strange coming from a teenager, but it’s true. They were my best friends. Both of them were. I feel so lost now that they’re gone. It’s like I don’t belong anywhere anymore.”
“Maybe I can help change that,” Zander said, watching Justin closely for his reaction. “I was thinking that you could come live with me.”
“Live with you?” Justin asked. “You want me to live with you? Why?”
“Why?” Zander asked in confusion. “Because we’re family. Why stay here with the Johnson’s if you don’t have to? I mean, I know that your friends are still here, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t keep in touch with them after you’re gone.”
Justin sat there and stared at Zander, trying to grasp what he was offering. After overhearing that his aunt and uncle wanted nothing to do with him, Justin was devastated thinking that he was alone in the world. He assumed that the boy from the pictures wanted nothing to do with him, either. It took some time but he finally accepted that he was alone, and now…well, now he wasn’t sure what to do. He wasn’t sure if he could believe that he had someone on his side.
“Are you alright?” Zander asked after a few moments of silence. “You don’t have to decide right now. I was hoping that since you’re out of school you’d want to fly back with me tomorrow and take a look around. You know, see if you think you’d be comfortable there. But if you need some time to think about it, that’s okay.”
“It’s not…I just didn’t think…I figured that you were like your parents.” Justin saw the confusion on Zander’s face and continued, “That you wouldn’t want me, either.”
“You know about that?” Zander asked, horrified by the sadness in Justin’s voice. “Justin, whatever my parents think or feel, it has nothing to do with me. I want you to come home with me. I can’t force you to, but if it were up to me, we’d be back at the Johnson’s packing your things right now.”
Justin hated the tears that sprang to his eyes over the sincerity in Zander’s face. “I…I think I’d like that,” he said softly.
Zander was a little surprised to hear Justin’s reply. He hadn’t expected the poor kid to agree so quickly. Now all he had to do was tell him the truth about his lifestyle. He just hoped that he wouldn’t have to see Justin’s eagerness turn to disgust.
“I’m so glad you feel that way, but before you give me your answer, there’s something that you need to know.” Zander took a deep breath before continuing. “Justin, I’m gay.”
“Yeah, and I’ve been living with my partner for almost eight years. I discussed this with him before coming here, and he wants you with us, too. I just felt it was best to be honest with you up front. If you’re not comfortable with that, then you probably should stay here. In fact, I probably should have told you that first before asking you to move, but I just want you with us so much and I was kind of hoping that our being gay wouldn’t have any bearing on whether you come home with me or not…I mean…”
“It doesn’t,” Justin said quietly, interrupting Zander’s rambling.
“It doesn’t? Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Justin said, smiling slightly at Zander’s shocked expression. “I’m gay, too.”
Zander stared at Justin for a moment, trying to comprehend what he just heard. “You’re gay? Wow, of all the responses I anticipated getting, that wasn’t one of them.” He smiled as he thought about it. “So I guess you don’t mind then, huh?”
“My parents knew,” Justin said instead of answering. “I told them a couple of years ago when I realized. They were really great about it. I never did tell my friends, but Mom and Dad were always there for me. Since they…well, no one knows now. I was afraid to tell anyone, you know? I didn’t want to end up in a group home for unwanted kids. I just figured that I’d keep it to myself until I graduated and went off to college. It’s not like I had a boyfriend or anything. I don’t know anyone else who’s gay.”
“Well, you do now,” Zander replied. “So, I guess this mean you’re coming home with me.”
“I think so, but what about Mr. and Mrs. Johnson? Do you think they’ll let me?” Justin asked nervously.
“I’ve already spoken with them. As much as they love having you, they want you to be with your family. Mrs. Johnson’s been very worried about you. She says that you never go out and hardly ever leave your room except to go to school.”
“I just…it feels so weird, you know? I tried going out with a couple of friends right after the accident. At first I just felt uncomfortable with everyone watching me curiously, but eventually they all relaxed and I actually forgot about everything for awhile and started having a good time. But then, when it was time to go home…it all came rushing back to me. Mom and Dad weren’t at home waiting for me. Our house on Claymont Street was gone. It hurt so bad to have it all come rushing back like that. I just…it made me not want to forget again.”
“I’m sorry, Justin. I wish there was a way that I could make it all better for you, but I can’t. All I can do is be here for you if you want to talk. When you’re ready, I could even tell you some stories about them. Things I remember from when I was young that you probably don’t know,” Zander offered. “And give you a place to live where you can be yourself and heal.”
“Thank you,” Justin whispered tearfully.
“Come here,” Zander said as he stood up and walked around the table, pulling Justin into a tight embrace. “Everything’s going to be alright. I promise.”
Justin allowed himself to be pulled into the tight embrace, feeling for the first time since the accident, that his life might just turn out okay.
End of part 2
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