Now That You're Here


Chapter 31


Justin was smiling before he actually opened his eyes. He was pretty sure it had to do with waking up in the warmth of Brian’s arms. There had only been a handful of times that the two of them were able to share a bed, but Justin was convinced it was a feeling that would never get old, no matter how often it happened. A quick glance at the clock told him that they had fifteen minutes left before the alarm went off. He snuggled closer to Brian and sighed in contentment.

“Morning,” Brian murmured as he tightened his arms around Justin. “How did you sleep?”

“Like the dead. I don’t even remember falling asleep.”

“Well, at least we now have a remedy for those sleepless nights, and it has nothing to do with sleeping pills,” Brian chuckled. “I’m thinking that we should get up and get ready now. Maybe go out for breakfast?”

“So we don’t have to see Chris and Zan,” Justin added. “Good idea. I’m not ready to face either one of them right now.”

“Me neither. Can you ride in with me this morning, or do you need your car?”

“I can go with you. It’s been a long week and you couldn’t pay me enough to stay in that school any longer than the final bell.”

“Cool, I’ll jump in the shower first. Why don’t you go write a note for Chris and Zan, telling them that we left early, and we’ll drop it on the kitchen table on our way out?”

“Sounds good to me.” Justin gave Brian a quick kiss and then went back to his room to start getting ready for his day.

They made it out of the house without being seen and stopped at the diner down the street from school. They quickly placed their order, relieved once the waitress was gone. They needed to talk more about what they were going to do next.

“So, obviously we can’t keep dodging them. Have you given any thought as to what we’re going to do?” Justin asked, breaking the silence.

“Actually, I decided to just come right out and ask Chris about it. I’m still hoping that there’s an explanation for what you overheard, but the only way to find out the truth is to ask him. I refuse to play detective while we try to figure out what’s going on and neither one of us will rest until we know,” Brian answered. “I was thinking that you could ask Zan to go shopping with you tomorrow so I can get Chris alone. I would hate to have Zan walk in on that conversation.”

“Not a problem. I need to go to the art store and pick up some more supplies. I’ll drag him along and then make him buy me lunch,” Justin told him. “Do you think he’ll tell you what’s going on?”

“Truthfully? I have no idea. I never thought he’d do this, so I guess I don’t know him as well as I thought I did,” he replied tersely.

“Hey,” Justin whispered, taking Brian’s hand in his. “It’s going to be okay. Whatever is going on, I’m sure it will all work out.” It was funny how Brian was the comforting one the night before but now Justin could see the anxiety etched in his face.

“I know.” The angry retort hardened his features. “I just can’t believe he would do this. He’s not only hurting Zander, but he’s going to destroy our family, and for what? A few quick fucks?”

Justin was taken aback by Brian’s cold and angry tone. “Maybe I should’ve just kept my mouth shut about what I heard. I was eavesdropping and it’s none of my business.”

“No, that’s bullshit. It’s our business when what he does affects all of us. Look, I’m sorry I snapped. I’m just so angry with him right now. Let’s just wait until I talk to him and see what happens, alright?”

“Yeah, alright,” Justin sighed.

The waitress brought over their meals, but neither one of them was very hungry anymore. They ate what little they could in almost complete silence and then headed to school. It had been a long day and when the final bell rang, they each made a quick dash for the parking lot. Steve and Trent were there waiting for them.

“Hey guys,” Steve called out. “We’re all going to head over to Bisbee tonight. They have a drive-in there that we want to check out.”

Brian stiffened. “Bisbee?”

“Oh shit, I’m sorry, Bri. I wasn’t thinking,” Steve said.

“Thinking about what?” Trent asked in confusion.

“It’s no big deal,” Brian replied. “It’s where my parents live, but it’s cool. What are the chances that they’ll be at the drive-in, right? We’re in.”

“Are you sure?” Justin searched Brian’s face for his true feelings.

“Yeah, of course I’m sure. And it beats going home, doesn’t it?”

“Why wouldn’t you want to go home?” Steve asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Justin replied quickly. “Chris and Zander were looking to have a quiet evening together. This way they’ll have the house to themselves.”

“Cool. Matt is borrowing his father’s pickup. I figure we’ll have to take two cars, but then we can hang out in the back of the truck when we get there. We’re all meeting at my house. Why don’t you guys follow us there now and we’ll make a list of snacks and shit we want to bring? Then we’ll just stop at the store on the way out,” Steve suggested.

“Alright, let’s go,” Brian replied as he grabbed Justin’s hand and led him to his jeep.

The gang made it to the theater with plenty of time to make themselves comfortable. With Dane being back in the group, there were seven of them to squeeze into the back of the truck, but they managed without too much trouble. Brian was happy that they had gone. It sure beat dwelling over the trouble brewing under the surface at home. He was actually able to forget about everything except Justin, his friends, and the movie they were watching. Friday nights were double feature night at the theater so they all got up to stretch in between the showings. Brian grabbed Justin’s hand and dragged him to the concession stand. He ordered them each a drink and had just finished paying when he heard someone calling his name. He turned around and was stunned to see Jonathon coming towards him.

“Oh my God, it is you!” Jonathon exclaimed as he grabbed Brian and pulled him into a tight hug. “Where have you been?”

Brian shook off his surprise and returned the embrace, Jonathon’s familiar scent transporting him back to when he was fourteen. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

Jonathon pulled back but didn’t release Brian. “Me? I’ve been here all along. You’re the one who just disappeared. I called your house a few days after…well, you know…and your mom said that you didn’t want to talk to me. When you didn’t show up at school after that, I kept calling back, but eventually your mom said that you had asked to go to some private school in Phoenix. She said that you were staying with a family friend. Why didn’t you at least call me?”

“I’m sorry, Jonathon, but it didn’t go exactly like she said. After you left, my dad kicked the shit out of me and kicked me out of the house,” Brian explained. “I didn’t think to grab my school directory when I left, not that I was really in the right frame of mind to be calling friends.”

“Holy shit! How could he do that?” Jonathon’s expression clouded in anger. “I called…I called so many times and that bitch lied to me! She made it sound like everything was fine. In fact, she almost sounded sad that you chose to live so far away from your family!”

“Yeah, well I guess she got good at pretending that everything was okay,” Brian replied dryly.

“So where did you go?”

“My mother did one nice thing for me before tossing me out of her life. She gave me my brother’s number. I called Chris and I’ve been living with him ever since.”

“Wow, I thought he had turned his back on you guys.”

“That was another one of her acts. Chris didn’t turn his back on us; he got thrown out of the family for being gay. Apparently it’s a theme in the Kinney family. My parents wouldn’t even let him say goodbye to me. Luckily, he’d been living in Sierra Vista with his partner so they were close enough to help me. It’s good there. I’m happy,” Brian said. “Speaking of which, this is Justin, my boyfriend.”

Jonathon turned towards Justin, seemingly surprised to realize that they weren’t alone. “Hey, Justin, it’s nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Justin replied. “Bri, why don’t I head back to the gang and you two can finish catching up?”

“That’s okay, I don’t want to keep you.” Jonathon turned back to Brian with a cautious expression. “Maybe you can call me sometime so we can really catch up?”

“Sounds good. Let me give you my number.”

Once Brian and Jonathon exchanged phone numbers, he and Justin headed back towards their friends. They were only a few yards away from the truck when Justin placed a hand on Brian’s arms, stopping him.

“What’s up?” Brian asked in confusion.

“I take it from your conversation; Jonathon was the bag boy your father caught you with?”

“Yeah, he was. I can’t believe he’s here. I never expected to see him again,” Brian said softly. “It’s funny how something or someone from your past can appear and remind you of a time you’d almost completely forgotten.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I think it’s just…good to know that at least one person missed me, you know? I mean, I had friends that I’d known since kindergarten and I always wondered what they thought when I just disappeared.”

“Brian, I’m sure a lot of people missed you after you left. I guess they all just thought that you moved away,” Justin said. “Which is much better than them knowing what really happened.”

“That’s true,” Brian chuckled humorlessly. “Come on; let’s get back to the truck. The next movie is about to start.”

Justin allowed himself to be dragged back to their friends, but it didn’t keep him from thinking about Jonathon. Maybe he was being foolish, but he didn’t like the way that Jonathon had looked at Brian. Yeah, they hadn’t seen each other in three years so Jonathon was obviously surprised to run into Brian at the drive-in, but it was more than that. Justin saw a hunger in Jonathon’s eyes that led the blond to believe that the kid didn’t want to just catch up with Brian, he wanted to pick up right where they left off, and that just wasn’t happening. Justin wasn’t about to lose Brian to a bag boy.

It was late by the time Brian and Justin got home, and thankfully Chris and Zander were in bed. After a quick goodnight, they each went to their own rooms and went to bed, dreading the following day.



It wasn’t hard to get Zander out of the house for the afternoon. He was still feeling somewhat guilty over not being around to hold Justin’s hand more, so when Brian claimed to have a report that needed his attention and suggested Zander go shopping in his place, Zander jumped at the chance. They were gone by noon. Brian gave it a good ten minutes after they left and then went in search of his brother. He found him lying on his bed staring at his cell phone; no doubt trying to decide whether he had enough time to call Ryan. Brian tapped lightly on the open door.

“Hey, you got a few minutes? We need to talk.”

“Of course, come on in,” Chris replied as he sat up, leaning back against the headboard. “What’s up?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Brian said. He swallowed hard, trying not to reveal his anger. “What’s going on with you and this Ryan guy?” Brian watched as his brother paled at the question, unknowingly giving away his secret.

“I don’t know what you’re…”

“Chris, whatever you do, don’t lie to me. Tell me to go to hell, tell me it’s none of my business, tell me whatever you feel you need to, just don’t lie to me.” His eyes boldly met his brother’s. “I don’t deserve that.”

Chris took a deep breath and looked away from his brother’s scrutinizing glare. “It’s not what you think,” he finally whispered.

“Oh really? Because I think you’re cheating on Zander. If that’s not the case, then by all means, tell me what’s going on, because right now I’d give anything to find out that I’m wrong. I’d give anything to find out that my brother isn’t some asshole that can’t keep his pants on.”


“No Chris, come on. I’m serious. Tell me there’s a logical explanation for the conversation that Justin overheard the other day. I mean, I’ve wracked my brain trying to come up with a logical excuse for why you’d be telling another man that you want to see him and that you’ll call if you can get away, but I can’t come up with anything other than you’re fucking him. So please, tell me I’m wrong,” Brian demanded angrily.

Chris’s shoulders slumped in surrender. “I wish I could tell you that you’re wrong; that it was all a misunderstanding, but I can’t. I’ve been seeing Ryan behind Zan’s back.” He got up from the bed and brushed past Brian, leaving the younger man to follow him.

Brian followed Chris outside and watched as he sat down on one of the lounge chairs. Brian dropped down alongside him. He could see pain and sadness in his brother’s face and waited for Chris to say more, but when he didn’t, Brian spoke up.

“Why Chris? What happened? I thought you loved Zander.”

“I do love him,” Chris insisted immediately. “I love him with all my heart.”

“Then how could you do this?”

“Honestly? I don’t know. And before you say anything, that’s the truth. I really don’t know how it happened. Ryan and I had been flirting with each other ever since he started working at the paper eight months ago, but it was no big deal. It was completely innocent, at least on my end. I never even considered anything more than that.”

“So what happened?”

“The accident,” Chris shrugged. “I don’t think I handled it as well as I thought.”

“What do you mean? What happened?”

“Nothing, never mind. There’s no need to go into that,” Chris replied.

“Chris, I’m your brother. You can talk to me,” Brian said.

“I don’t want to dump anything else on you. You’re still trying to deal with your own stuff.”

“Chris, I’m fine. Just talk to me. Maybe I can help.”

Chris thought about it for a moment. Maybe talking to Brian would help him. God knew he couldn’t talk to Zander. “Bri, do you think I should’ve called mom and dad after your accident. I mean, if you were me and you weren’t sure I was going to live, do you think mom and dad would deserve a phone call?”

“I don’t know,” Brian replied honestly. “You didn’t call them, did you?”

“No, but I thought about it. Zan and I both thought about it, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I mean, they made the choice to cut us out of their lives. I don’t think we owe them anything. Then again, I wonder if knowing you were fighting for your life,” Chris shuddered at the reminder of how close he came to losing his baby brother. “What if something like that made them come around?”

“Is that what you want? Do you want them to come around? Do you really want them to be a part of our lives now?” Brian wasn’t about to tell Chris that he’d been thinking about contacting them. It wasn’t the time.

“I don’t think so. And the last thing I’d want is to drag them back into our lives just to give them a chance to hurt us again. But this is what was going through my mind while you were in the hospital. It was just such a crazy time. You have no idea how scared I was that I was going to lose you. Those first few days were the worst of my life. I was so exhausted from sitting by your bedside and my thoughts were just all over the place. Zander was there as much as possible, but he needed to take care of Justin and the store.”

“And let me guess, Ryan was there for you,” Brian’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “He was available to you when Zander was busy trying to hold together the life you guys share.”

“Brian, I swear I never meant for it to happen. He’s just…I don’t know what it is. He’s a really great guy. He’s funny and he’s smart…not to mention gorgeous. He’d be just about perfect, except…”

“Except what?”

“He’s not Zan,” Chris sighed. “God, what have I done?”

“Chris, if you love Zan as much as you say you do, then you have to fix this. You have to tell Ryan it’s over and make things right again.”

“I know,” Chris whispered as he dug into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He’d known for awhile what he had to do. Brian and Justin finding out just made the next step a little bit easier. “Can you give me a few minutes alone? I have a couple of phone calls to make.”

“I’ll go inside and make us something to eat,” Brian replied. “Take your time.”

Chris waited until Brian was gone and then placed the first call. As soon as his boss from the Tribune answered his cell phone, Chris gently explained that due to his writing schedule and some complications at home, he was unable to continue working there. Mr. Baker was sad that he was leaving, but said he understood and knew that he’d lose his favorite writer one day. After promising to stop in on Monday morning to pick up the few things that he’d left there and say a final goodbye, Chris hung up the phone and took a deep breath. The next call wasn’t going to be as easy. Ryan answered on the first ring.

“Hey, can you get away?”

“Uh…no, I can’t. Listen Ry,” Chris began.

“Uh oh, I don’t like the sound of that,” Ryan replied sadly. “I guess telling you that I’ve fallen in love with you won’t help, will it?”

“No, but it’ll make it harder to say goodbye,” Chris said honestly.

“Well then forget I said anything. I know how hard this has been on you and I don’t want to make it any harder. And truthfully, I always knew this day was going to come. I’d have to be blind and deaf not to see how much you love him. I’m just thankful that I had the time with you that I did. Does he know about us?”

“Not yet, but I’m going to tell him. I can’t keep it from him any longer. I just hope he’s willing to forgive me. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose him.” Chris shuddered inwardly at the thought.

“Maybe I should steer clear of the paper for awhile,” Ryan suggested.

“You don’t have to. I just got off the phone with Baker. I told him I wouldn’t be back. I’m going in on Monday to clear out my things and then I’m done.”

“Babe, you didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, but it was time. I really need to focus more on my next book. I’ve got a deadline coming up and I’m way behind,” Chris explained. “Listen, just for the record, if I didn’t have Zander, I’d be more than happy with you.”

“Thank you for that. Take care of yourself, Chris.”

“You too.”

Chris was filled with both sadness and relief as he disconnected the call. He really did care about Ryan and enjoyed getting to know him. It was sad to think they’d never see each other again. But he was relieved that the lying and deceit was over. The guilt had been eating him up. Now all he had to do was tell Zander the truth and then do everything in his power to make it up to the man he loved.

Brian had just finished up the salad he had made to go with the soup on the stove when Chris walked in. He saw the sadness in his brother’s eyes and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Is everything alright?”

“It’s over. I called Ryan and told him it was over and I called Baker and quit the paper. Now the only thing left to do is to tell Zan and beg for his forgiveness.”

“Do you think you should? It’s over now. Maybe if you…”

“No, I have to tell him. As hard as it’s going to be and as much as I hate hurting him, he needs to know. If by some chance he found out later on, he’d be devastated. I think it would be better if he heard it now. Do you think you and Justin could give us some time alone tonight?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about us. We’ll leave as soon as they get back and I promise not to be home until curfew. And if you need more time, just text me. I’m sure we could crash at Steve’s house,” Brian offered.

“Until curfew should be fine. Thanks Brian. If you hadn’t confronted me about this, who knows how long it would’ve gone on. As many times as I thought about ending it, I could never seem to find the courage to do it. And I’m sorry that I put our family at risk like this. I promise I’m going to do everything I can to make it up to Zan.”

Brian pulled Chris into his arms and hugged him tight. “Justin and I were worried about us as a family, but we were also worried about you and Zan, too. We’ll be heading off to college in another nine months. You guys are the ones who stand to lose the most. You’re perfect together. I don’t want anything to change that. Now let’s eat. I’m starving.”

After that, they were able to put the whole affair mess aside and enjoy their lunch together. It wasn’t often that the two of them were alone so it was nice to have Zander and Justin gone for awhile. Brian just wished they didn’t have the black cloud looming overhead, waiting to strike. Zander and Justin returned home around four, but minutes after their arrival, Brian told Justin that they had plans and needed to go. Justin looked at Brian curiously but didn’t ask any questions. He was anxious to get Brian alone to find out how his conversation with Chris went. They had just pulled out of the driveway when he asked.


“You were right. Chris was having an affair with Ryan from the paper. He said it started right after the accident.”

“Oh God,” Justin sighed.

“He broke it off with him and also quit the paper. He’s going to tell Zander now, so we’ve been banished from the house until curfew,” Brian continued to explain.

“Is that a good idea?”

“I don’t know. I asked Chris that. I mean, if the affair is over, why tell Zan? But Chris is afraid that the truth could come out later on and cause Zander even more pain. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Chris loves Zander as much as ever. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Justin grabbed Brian’s hand and squeezed. “I really hope that they’re able to work through this.”

“Me too,” Brian replied. “Me too.”

End of part 31


Return to Now That You're Here