Now That You're Here


Chapter 22


Zander was finishing up dinner preparations when he heard the front door open. He put the salad he’d just made on the table and turned to see Brian and Justin walk in.

“So? How’d it go?”

“Mr. James agrees with us. He said that Justin’s art is beyond great and he can’t wait to use it on some of his other projects,” Brian said as he walked to the table, stole a tomato out of the salad, and popped it in his mouth.

“He didn’t say beyond great,” Justin corrected. “He said that I was very talented.”

“Same thing,” Brian replied.

“Anyway, he gave me a couple of projects of his that need illustrations. I have to read through them and see what I can come up with. He’s coming to town in two weeks to see what I have. Then we’ll go from there.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Zander said as he pulled Justin into a hug. “And I know your mom and dad would be, too. I made your favorite, lasagna, in celebration of your windfall.”

“Thanks, Zan, but you didn’t have to do that. Besides, what would you have done if he didn’t like my work?”

“Then I would’ve made your favorite in hopes of cheering you up,” Zander laughed. “But I knew I wasn’t going to have to worry about that. Where’s Chris? Didn’t you guys leave together?”

“Yeah, but he had to run to the ATM and stop for gas. He should be home soon,” Justin explained as he automatically went to the cabinet and started setting the table.

“Good, because the lasagna should be done and I’m starving. Brad called out for today so I was alone at the store.”

“Why didn’t you call me?” Brian asked as he stole another tomato. “Justin could’ve driven me to work and then taken the jeep.”

“No, I wanted you to go with him. I can handle the place on my own. I just didn’t have time to eat,” Zander replied. “And would you stop eating all the tomatoes? Some of us like to have them in our salad.”

“Then you obviously should’ve cut up more,” Brian laughed as he stole one more. “I’m going to run upstairs and check my email. I placed a bid on e-bay and I want to see if I won.”

“You’re a freak. You know that, right?” Justin told Brian as he headed out of the kitchen.

“I know. It’s part of my charm.”

Justin and Zander just shook their heads as they watched Brian walk away.



The following week Brian sat in the waiting room of the counseling office he thought he’d left behind. He knew he needed to talk to someone, but he hated to admit that he was still having trouble putting the past behind him. Overall, things were better. He was able to concentrate and keep his grades up, and he was able to have an active social life. Yet that part of him that considered himself as worthless as Jack Kinney claimed he was still haunted him. He just didn’t realize how much until the night he hurt Justin. He had to figure out how to completely let go of all the old baggage before he hurt Justin or anyone else again. He was suddenly brought out of his thoughts when he heard a familiar voice call him name.

“Hi, Megan,” he said as he stood and followed his counselor towards her office.

“I have to say, I was surprised to see your name in the appointment book. You were pretty sure that everything was going to be okay at your last visit,” Megan said as she ushered Brian into her office and closed the door behind him.

“Yeah, I thought everything was okay. I really thought I was past all the bullshit…I mean stuff that my parents did, but apparently I was wrong,” Brian admitted.

“Well, I read through your old file to familiarize myself with your history again. Why don’t you start by telling me what’s been going on since you were last here?”

Brian spent the next fifteen minutes giving Megan a quick recap of everything that had happened in the two years since he’d been there, leading right up to the week before and his outburst over Justin’s opportunity with Mr. James.

“Okay, you said that you didn’t realize that you were still hung up on the past until the outburst you had last week. Since the outburst centered on Justin, why don’t we focus on that right now? Tell me about him.”

“He’s seventeen also and Zander’s cousin. His parents were killed in a car accident a few months ago. Zander’s parents wouldn’t take him in because of some family feud and it took over a month for social services to track Zan down. He was living in a foster home in Pittsburgh. As soon as Zander found out about him he flew east and brought him home to live with us.”

“Wow, that must have been hard on him. So how did you feel having someone new move in?”

“Actually Chris and Zander asked me what I thought before he flew out to see Justin. Zander hadn’t seen Justin since he was a baby. He said that if I wasn’t okay with it, he’d just fly out to see him and not ask him to move in with us. He was in a good foster home and he only has one more year until he’s an adult, so leaving him there wouldn’t have been too terrible. But I couldn’t do that. He has just as much right to be with his family as I do. When my parents kicked me out, Zander had me out of my house before Chris even made it back from his business trip. How could I refuse to let Justin have the same opportunity?”

“That’s very commendable of you, Brian, and I agree that Justin, or anyone for that matter, would benefit more from being with family than in a foster home. But I didn’t ask what the right thing to do was. I asked how you felt about it.”

“I was okay with it.”

“Okay, so Justin moves in. Then what happened?”

“Life went on I guess.”

“So, what do you think of Justin? Do you get along? Are you becoming friends, or do you keep to yourself?”

“We get along. He’s cool. When he first got here, I brought him out to meet my friends and he seemed to fit right in. He helps out at the bookstore a few days a week. We hang out together, watch movies, it’s like he’s just one of us, you know?”

“You said that your outburst was over some illustrations he drew that were getting recognition. So, he’s an artist. Is he any good?”

“He’s great. Sometimes it’s hard to think of him as a senior in high school when you look at his work. He did the illustrations on a children’s story that Chris wrote and they were amazing.”

“And you said that he works at the bookstore occasionally?”

“Yeah. He helps out when we need him or when he doesn’t want to sit home alone. He also built a web site for Between the Pages and maintains that for Zander.”

“So, he’s been a big help since moving here. Helping Chris with his story and helping Zander with the store.”

“I guess.”

“Alright, let’s go back to before Justin arrived. How have you been doing in school? I know that your grades started to improve. Are you still doing well?”

“I’ve been on the honor roll for over two years now.”

“And sports? Are you still playing soccer?”

“No, I quit last year.”

“How come? I thought you enjoyed playing.”

“I did at first, but it got to be boring. I got tired of not having a life and spending all my time at soccer games.”

“What did Chris think of you quitting?”

“He was okay with it. He was starting to travel more and didn’t make it to a lot of the games.”

“And Zander? He was at all your games, right?”

“At first he was, but then the bookstore picked up and he had to spend more time there.”

“So, you were going to the games alone?”

“Yeah, I guess. I mean, Chris and Zander made it when they could, but they had their own lives.”

“Chris was a soccer player in high school, wasn’t he?”

“He was the star of the team. His name was all over the trophy cabinet in our old school.”

“Brian, let’s go back to the night of your outburst. When you heard that Justin was going to be recognized for his work, what was the first thing that came to your mind?”

“I guess I was mad.”

“Mad? Why would you be mad? You claim that you and Justin are friends. Why would you be mad at your friend’s good fortune?”

“Because he just lost his parents and was forced to move across the country to start a new life, and he’s already doing better than I am.”

“Is it a contest?”


“You said he’s doing better than you are. Is it a contest to see who does more first?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why does it matter how he’s doing? Shouldn’t you be happy for your friend? He suffered a terrible loss not that long ago, and it sounds like he’s really putting his life back together and moving on. Isn’t that a good thing?”

“I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Yes, it’s a good thing, alright?”

“Brian, I’m not trying to upset you and I don’t want you to agree with me for the sake of agreeing. I’m asking you what you think. Don’t you think it’s a good thing that he’s putting his life back together?”

“Yes, of course it’s a good thing, but it’s not fair!”

“It’s not fair?”

“No, it’s not fair! He comes here after losing his parents and he just fits right in. My friends all love him and always ask where he is when I go out alone. He’s helping Chris with his story, helping Zander with the store, and he always helps out around the house. He cooks and cleans and does the laundry. He’s just perfect!”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t.”

Brian jumped up out of his seat and walked over to the window, looking down on the city. He felt nauseous and slightly dizzy over the realization that he was jealous of Justin. How could he be jealous of someone that was so important to him?


“I know what you’re going to say, but I can‘t be jealous of Justin.”

“Brian, jealousy is a very common emotion. Everyone feels jealous sometimes when we see someone who has what we want or need. There’s no reason for you to feel bad about it.”

“No, you don’t understand. I really can’t be jealous of Justin. Anyone but Justin.”

“It’s okay to be jealous of anyone but Justin? Why is Justin so different?”

“Because I’m falling in love with him.”



Brian drove home with a heavy heart. He was jealous of his boyfriend. Not just of the opportunity that he was being given, but of him. Of his ability to go on after tragedy, of the way he was fitting in with Chris and Zander, of the way his friends took to him right away. He’d only been in Arizona for two months and he was already more together than most people who hadn’t experienced all that he had; and he didn’t need therapy to do it, either.

How was this new realization going to bode in their relationship? Was it even possible to have a relationship when one person resents the other? After he had admitted his feelings for Justin, Megan had changed the topic to more neutral territory and they’d spent the rest of the session talking about the upcoming school year and Brian’s plans for after graduation. It was a safe topic, but Brian couldn’t completely block out the thoughts that were running through his head. Now he was right down the street from the house and he was nowhere close to pulling himself together. A quick glance in the mirror told him that his eyes were still red-rimmed and damp. How was he supposed to go to the movies with Justin like he promised when he felt so drained and pathetic? He could only hope that Justin was caught up in his new project so that he could sneak in undetected and have some time to himself. Although with the way his luck was going, he doubted that was even possible.

Justin paced the living room for the umpteenth time, glancing at the clock to see that only three minutes had passed since the last time he looked.

“Justin, would you please sit down before we have to replace the carpet?” Chris teased, causing Justin to laugh.

“Sorry. I’m just anxious for Brian to get home,” Justin replied without thinking. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of Brian’s counseling session for fear of giving his feelings for Brian away. “We’re…uh…supposed to be going to see a movie and I don’t want to be late.”

“I’m sure he’ll be home any minute, but he might not be up for a movie tonight,” Chris said. “These sessions usually take a lot out of him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, therapy is all about working through personal issues. It usually brings up all kinds of emotions that our mind tends to push away because we can’t deal with them. He used to come home drained after his sessions and pretty much lock himself up in his room for the rest of the night. He was always feeling better the following day, but he needed that time to work through what he talked about during his session,” Chris explained.

“Oh, well then maybe I should...” Justin started, but before he could finish his thought, Brian came walking through the door looking like hell.

“Hey,” Brian said softly as he walked in the room, keeping his eyes downcast.

“How’re you doing, kid?” Chris asked.

“I’m alright,” Brian replied. “Justin, can we take a rain check on the movie? I’m kind of tired. I think I want to go lay down for awhile.”

“Sure,” Justin said as he took in Brian’s appearance. He could see the toll that therapy took on Brian and wanted to comfort him, but he didn’t want to push. Chris had said that he might need to be alone, and Justin was just going to have to give him the space to do that.

“Go on upstairs and rest, Brian. We’ll leave dinner in the refrigerator for you in case you get hungry later,” Chris told him.


Justin waited until he heard Brian’s door shut before turning back to Chris. “Is he going to be alright?”

“Yeah, he’ll be okay. By tomorrow he’ll be back to his old self again; until next week. Therapy is tough, but it does work. We just have to give him his space when he needs it. He’ll come talk to one of us if he needs to.”

“If you say so.” Justin didn’t seem so sure.

“Trust me. I know from experience. Now why don’t you go grab a jacket? The rain put a chill in the air. Zander should be home any minute and then the three of us can go out and grab dinner.”

“Should we really leave him here all alone?”

“He won’t even know we’re gone, and he can always call if he needs anything.”

Justin did what he was told, but he felt terrible for leaving Brian when he was so upset. He’d never seen anyone looking as lost as Brian looked when he walked through the door. It killed him to know that his boyfriend was hurting and there was nothing he could do about it, but he trusted Chris. If Brian’s own brother thought it was best to leave him alone, who was he to argue?

Dinner was a quiet affair. Justin tried to follow the conversation, but he couldn’t get Brian out of his head. They had gone to an Italian restaurant that Justin had been to before, and Chris made sure to pick up an order of stuffed shells that he knew was Brian’s favorite. Just like he’d promised, Chris put the food in the refrigerator when they got home in case Brian got hungry. Then Chris, Zander, and Justin sat down and watched a movie. Justin was exhausted from worrying about Brian and was happy when the night passed and it was time to go to bed. He went upstairs, changed into his pajamas, and brushed his teeth; performing all the usual nightly rituals, but couldn’t bring himself to climb into bed. Instead, he went to Brian’s door and knocked lightly, hoping that he could get a response.

“Brian, can I come in for a minute?” he asked softly.

“Yeah,” came the faint reply.

Justin walked into the room and closed the door behind him before making his way over to the bed. Brian’s back was to him, so he sat down gently behind him and placed what he hoped was a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry for bailing on the movie tonight.”

“Please don’t apologize. I couldn’t care less about the movie. I’m just worried about you.” Brian rolled over and Justin could still see the signs of tears and sadness in his eyes.

“You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be fine,” Brian assured him. “I guess I forgot how hard therapy can be. Did Chris and Zander go to bed?”

“Yeah. Chris fell asleep before the movie we were watching ended. Zander had to wake him up to go to bed. Are you hungry? There’s stuffed shells from Romeo’s in the fridge for you. I could go heat them up if you want.”

“No thanks, I’m not hungry.”

“Well, is there anything I can do for you?”

“Could you lay here with me for awhile? I don’t want to talk. I just want you close to me,” Brian admitted sadly.

“I’d like that,” Justin replied with a small smile. “Move over.”

Brian moved over and pulled back the covers, allowing Justin to climb in. He positioned Justin on his side and spooned up behind him, pulling him close. Once they were settled, Brian closed his eyes and started to drift off to sleep. He refused to let his mind dwell any longer on the possibility that if he couldn’t get past his unfounded jealousy, he’d have to let Justin go.

End of part 22


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