Now That You're Here


Chapter 33


Justin wasn’t too surprised when he woke up and saw that it was only 5:00 in the morning. He had fallen asleep somewhere around nine the night before so it was only logical he’d be up early. He stayed in bed for a good half hour, hoping to fall back to sleep, but when 5:30 rolled around he knew it was useless. He took a quick shower and then headed downstairs for a cup of coffee. He found Chris sitting at the kitchen table looking lost.

“Hey, did you get any sleep?” he asked as he made his way to the coffeemaker.

“A couple of hours,” Chris replied huskily. “I spent most of the time thinking.”

“I bet.” Justin was quiet while he set up the coffeemaker. Once it was brewing, he sat down at the table and looked closely at Chris. He looked horrible. His eyes were bloodshot and he had dark circles under his eyes announcing his lack of sleep. “Chris, when was the last time you had something to eat?”

“Huh? Oh, I don’t know.”

“Let me make you something.”

“That’s okay. I’m not hungry.”

“I didn’t ask if you were hungry. I said I was going to make you something, and I expect you to eat it.” The startled look on Chris’s face caused Justin to chuckle. “Did you know that I passed out the day before my parents’ funeral and was rushed to the hospital? They couldn’t find anything wrong with me and chalked it up to the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything since they had died. Since I was a ward of the state, they insisted that I go to grief counseling. They were convinced that I was starving myself so that I would die and be with my parents. If it wasn’t such a screwed up time, I would’ve laughed in their faces. I’m seventeen. I’m not stupid enough to think that if I die, I’ll suddenly be reunited with them and we’ll be one big, happy family. I didn’t eat because I couldn’t. The thought of trying to eat anything at all just made me feel sick. I felt like I wouldn’t even be able to swallow anything down, so I know what you’re going through. But trust me, you have to force yourself. I’m not saying that you need to eat three meals a day with snacks in between, but you have to make sure that you get something in your stomach everyday or you’re going to end up in the back of an ambulance.”

“I keep forgetting that you lost your parents not that long ago. You must think I’m an idiot for acting like this. Zander isn’t dead,” Chris said in a low voice.

“I don’t think you’re an idiot. No, Zander’s not dead, thank God, but you’re still suffering a loss right now. Brian and I have only known each other for a short time, but I can’t even imagine what I’d do if he walked out on me. I just want you to take care of yourself. No matter what happens between you and Zan, it’s going to get better. The sadness and pain does become bearable eventually.”

“You’re right,” Chris agreed, sitting up straighter in his chair. “Go ahead and make me those eggs.”

“That’s better,” Justin smiled as he got busy fixing breakfast. Once the eggs and toast were finished, Justin joined Chris at the table and the two dug in. “Chris, Zan asked me to move in with him.”

“He did?”

“Yeah, and it feels kind of weird. I mean, technically I’m Zan’s family, not yours. Do you want me to go?”

“Of course not. You’re as much my family as Brian is. You’re more than welcome to stay here, but I’ll understand if you want to go with Zander,” Chris replied.

“Well then I’ll do what I told Zan and travel back and forth. I don’t want to leave you guys, but I hate the thought of him sitting home alone every night in some small apartment. It’s not like it’ll be for long. I’m sure Zander’s going to come around soon and realize he belongs here with us,” Justin assured Chris.

“I hope so,” Chris sighed. He finished his breakfast in silence as he thought about Zander sitting alone in an apartment rather than coming home. He really did screw everything up.

Once the kitchen was cleaned up, Chris went to lie back down on the couch while Justin went upstairs to wake Brian. Since school was closed for the week, they agreed to spend as much time together as possible to make up for their normally busy schedules. Justin couldn’t think of a better way to spend time than curling up in bed together.

Brian was being pulled from a deep sleep by the comfort of warm arms wrapped around him. He groaned as he snuggled deeper into Justin’s body, smiling to himself. There was nothing in the world more satisfying than being with his favorite blond.

“Good morning, beautiful,” Justin whispered. “How did you sleep?”

“Not as good as I would have if someone had been awake to give me a good night kiss last night,” Brian teased.

“Sorry about that,” Justin replied shyly. “One minute I was working on sketches for Mr. James, and the next thing I know I was waking up this morning.”

“It’s okay. You needed the sleep. And since you weren’t up, I went right to sleep and feel more rested today. How long have you been up?”

“Since five. I ran into Chris a little while ago. He doesn’t look so good.”

“I know,” Brian sighed as he sat up a bit. “I talked to him for a few minutes last night when I got home. He’s sleeping on the couch. He said he couldn’t bring himself to sleep in his and Zander’s bed alone. I don’t know what to do for him.”

“There’s not too much we can do for him. I forced him to eat some eggs and toast this morning, but we’re going to have to keep a close eye on him. I’m hoping that after a few days he’ll snap out of it and at least be able to function normally.”

“I can’t wait to see how Zan’s holding up.” Brian’s voiced dripped with sarcasm. “This whole thing is ridiculous. He needs to just come home and work things out with Chris.”

“It’s not that easy, Brian.”

“You think that Zan made the right decision by leaving?” Brian asked incredulously.

“I don’t know. I’ve never been in this position before, but just think about it for a minute. How would you feel if I came to you and said I’d been sleeping with someone else for weeks behind your back? I can’t imagine the pain that learning something like that would cause if you had done it to me, and they’ve been together a hell of a lot longer. You know I love your brother to death, but what he did? I don’t know if I’d be able to forgive something like that, and even if I could, it wouldn’t happen overnight.”

Brian sighed. “I guess you’re right. I just hate this. Not only does it suck to watch Chris suffering so much, but what if they don’t get back together? For the last three years, those two have been my family. I don’t want to lose that.”

“You’re not going to lose that. I told you Zan thinks of you as family. Regardless of what happens, he’ll always be there for you,” Justin assured him.

“Yeah, but it won’t be the same.” Brian threw back the covers and got out of bed. “I’m gonna go jump in the shower.”

Justin watched Brian go in silence.



When they got to the bookstore, neither one of them were surprised to find Zander hard at work. It was apparent that he’d been there for awhile. A lot of the displays had been moved around and the space that had always been reserved for Chris was gone. Justin wasn’t going to mention it, but Brian didn’t seem to mind.

“Where’s Chris’s display? What? Are you going to stop selling his stuff now, too?”

“Brian,” Justin warned.

“And a good morning to you, too,” Zander drawled. “And no, of course I’m not going to stop selling his stuff. Forgive me though if I don’t want to spend my days seeing a huge display honoring him right now.”

“This is just ridiculous!” Brian exclaimed. He told himself he wasn’t going to get defensive when he saw Zander, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. It probably had something to do with seeing the haunted look in his brother’s eyes before leaving the house. “Why don’t you just come home and fix this?”

Zander took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. He didn’t want to lash out at Brian. He was only trying to help. “Bri, it’s not that simple. I wish it was.”

“But it can be. All you have to do is…”

“Is what, Brian? Forgive and forget? Pretend nothing happened? Spend my days and nights trying not to think about how your brother was fucking another man? Not think about how, while I was so busy taking care of Justin, worrying about you, and trying to be there for Chris, he was getting his comfort from someone else? You’re not the only one who’s upset about this, Brian. I’ve loved your brother and given him everything I’ve had for almost nine years. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to walk out of that house the other day? Can you even imagine how hard it is for me to get out of bed in the morning when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and die?”

Justin could see that Zander was on the verge of a complete breakdown and grabbed him by the shoulders, looking him in the eyes. “It’s okay, Zan. You don’t have to explain anything to us. You have to do what’s right for you and don’t worry about what the rest of us think. Now why don’t you go splash some water on your face? Brian and I will finish getting set up for the day.”

“Thanks, Jus,” Zander whispered tearfully before heading into the back room. He didn’t even glance Brian’s way.

Justin waited until he was gone before turning on Brian. “Are you out of your mind? What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I didn’t mean to upset him. I just thought that if…”

“That if you made him feel guilty enough he’d come home? Not for nothing, Bri…but this is all your brother’s fault. If he had just kept his pants on, Zander wouldn’t have left. I know you’re just trying to help Chris, but you can’t do that at Zander’s expense. It’s not fair. If you can’t stay neutral, then maybe it would be best if you stopped working here for awhile. I can work here without making Zander feel worse than he already does.”

Justin’s words hurt, but they were the truth and Brian knew it. “Shit, I’ll be right back. I’ve got an apology to make.”

“Good. I’ll get the registers up.” Justin smiled sadly as he watched Brian go.

Zander was pacing back and forth in his office, fighting to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall. He hated that he snapped at Brian. He was still just a kid, trying to keep his family together. Zander knew that. He just wished it was as easy as the kid suggested. He’d give anything to be able to just forgive Chris for the mistakes that he made and move on. Only it wasn’t that simple. The pain and humiliation of Chris’s infidelity ran deep and Zander was becoming more and more afraid that the damage that had been done was irreparable.

After falling asleep around ten the night before, Zan had tossed and turned, waking up every hour until he finally gave up and got out of bed at three. He was still exhausted, but sleeping wasn’t the relaxing comfort it had been before. Not when he dreamed of Chris and their time together. It was as if nothing had changed while he was in slumber, but the moment he woke, all the hurt and anger came rushing back to him stronger than ever. He’d rather not sleep than wake up to those feelings over and over again.

It was around five that he decided he might as well head to the store. He needed to do a full stock inventory and had been putting it off ever since the accident, wanting instead to spend more time with his family. Since his family was slowly falling apart, he figured he might as well work. The jolt of sadness that overcame him when he saw Chris’s display was startling. He immediately began taking it down. Maybe one day Chris would be able to return to his special spot up front, but it wasn’t going to happen overnight. He slowed his pacing as he finally managed to get his emotions under control and was about to go back out front when Brian knocked lightly on the door and then walked in.

“Hey,” Zan said softly.

“Hey,” Brian replied hesitantly. “I’m sorry about what I said. You’re right. I have no idea what it’s like to go through what you’re going through. And I know you’re not the one who caused it in the first place. It’s just hard for me to see my brother so upset, you know? I just want things to go back to the way they were.”

“Don’t you think I want that, too? I’ve spent the last 38 hours wishing I had a time machine so that I could go back to the moment right before he told me what happened and broke my heart. I keep thinking that if he hadn’t told me, if I didn’t know…but then again, I wouldn’t want him keeping something like this from me, either. I don’t know what the right thing to do is, Brian. I just know that I have to follow my instincts and right now they’re telling me that I need to be on my own for awhile. Does that mean that I’ll never forgive Chris and move back home? No, it doesn’t, but I also can’t promise that we’ll be able to get past this and move on. I really don’t know what the future holds for us right now. All I do know is that I really don’t want this to affect the relationship you and I have.”

“Neither do I. And I don’t want you thinking that I’m taking sides, because I’m not. I swear. I get that you’re angry right now. You have every right to be. What Chris did was selfish and stupid.”

“Yeah it was, but it’s not the anger that worries me. I’ve been angry with Chris before. I know I can get over that. It’s the pain that I’m having a hard time with. It hurts so bad that at times I feel like I can’t breathe. I don’t know how to get past that,” Zander replied sadly.

“Maybe you and Chris should go to some kind of couple’s therapy,” Brian suggested. “I could ask Megan to recommend someone.”

“I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I don’t really want to be in the same room as him right now,” Zander replied honestly. “Look, Brian, I know you’re only trying to help, but I don’t think I should be talking to you too much about this. Not only because you’re Chris’s brother, but because you’re seventeen. You should be focusing on school, college applications, and Justin. Not on us.”

“But I…”


“Alright, alright, I’ll back off for now,” Brian laughed. “But promise me that you won’t just give up? Promise that one of these days you’ll talk to Chris and try to work things out with him?”

“Bri, you may not believe this right now, but that’s what I want, too. Your brother’s my entire life. I don’t really want to throw that away. Not if there’s some way we can work it all out. I just need some time to figure out what to do next.”

“Uh, guys?” Justin said as he poked his head in. “”It’s after nine and we already have some people roaming around. You never trained me on how to ring people up.”

“Well then let’s go, Blondie. There’s no time like the present.” Brian winked at Zan as he grabbed Justin and dragged him towards the front. Zander watched them with a smile. He was going to miss having them around all the time.



Chris was pacing the living room once again. He’d tried his best to put Zander out of his mind and focus on work throughout the day, but he hadn’t been successful. Every time he walked into his home office, he thought back to the days when he and Zan worked on putting it together. It had originally been a spare room. Back in their early days in Sierra Vista, Chris was just starting out and he spent his days writing on his laptop, usually in the living room or the bedroom. Once he started selling his work, Zander thought he needed his own space. He surprised Chris with a gallon of paint, tied with a red ribbon. Together they spent countless hours refinishing the hardwood floors, stripping off the horrendous wallpaper, and sanding and spackling every imperfect spot on the walls. When they finally got around to doing the actual painting, Chris was certain they had more paint on themselves than on the walls, but it had been fun and the finished project turned out great. Now it taunted him. Now, just walking in there reminded Chris of how wonderful things had been and how he might have singlehandedly ruined that.

Brian and Justin had come home from the store earlier and he hated how he could feel them watching him. It was like they thought he was moments away from a complete breakdown and were just waiting for it to happen. And maybe they were right. Maybe he was on the verge of a breakdown. Who wouldn’t be after they watched the love of their life walk out the door with the possibility that they wouldn’t return? Yet that didn’t mean he wanted to be under the teen watch program. He couldn’t stand the sad looks the boys exchanged when they thought he wasn’t looking. The sympathetic looks directed towards him. He really needed to get it together. He just wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.

Thinking that the first move just might be to force himself to sleep in the bed that he and Zan shared, he grabbed his pillow and blanket off the couch and walked down the hallway. He paused at the door before going inside. He refused to look towards the bed, choosing instead to take a shower. His back was stiff and sore from lack of sleep and the uncomfortable couch. Once he was standing under the hot spray of water, the dam broke again and he found himself sobbing softly. He never knew it was possible to miss someone so much it caused a physical ache. He allowed himself a few moments to cry and then pushed the tears aside and washed himself clean. Once he was finished, he dried himself off and dressed in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. He took his time brushing and flossing, until he finally ran out of things that kept him from the bedroom. The time had come where he had to face the emptiness of the situation. He walked back into the bedroom and stared at the bed. He felt his stomach dip at the memories that came rushing back, but managed to push them aside. He had to get it together.

He was just about to crawl into bed when his cell phone rang. Seeing that it was after ten, only one thought came to mind. He raced forward and was rewarded when he saw Zander’s name on the screen. With his heart thumping wildly in his chest, he answered the call.


“Hey,” Zander said softly.

“How are you?” Without giving a thought to what he was doing, Chris climbed into bed.

“Not so good,” Zander replied honestly. “You know, Chris, I think the boys think I’m doing this because I’m angry with you, but that’s not it.”

“You’re not mad at me?”

Zan chuckled humorlessly. “Oh no, I’m mad at you. I’m furious with you right now, but that’s not why I left.”

“Then why did you leave?”

“I left because the pain of seeing you right now is just more than I can handle. I’m just so confused. Why did you do it? Am I not enough for you?”

Chris hated the anguish he heard in Zan’s voice. “Of course you’re enough for me. It had nothing to do with you.”

“How could it not have anything to do with me? It wasn’t even a one night stand. I think if it was just one night I’d be able to accept it a little better. My God, Chris, you were in a relationship with this guy. How could you do this to us?”

“I don’t know,” Chris whispered as his tears started to fall again.

“Do you love him?” Zander asked hesitantly.

“Of course not. I love you,” Chris insisted.

“But you like him.”

“Yeah, I like him. So what? I like a lot of people. I swear to you, it meant nothing to me and it’s over now. Please, can’t you come home so we can work this out?”

“I can’t,” Zander sighed heavily, his voice filled with pain. “I need time to figure things out.”

“Figure what things out? This is your home. You belong here. How are we supposed to work this out if you’re not even here?” Chris pushed.

“Please don’t make me say it. Just give me some space.”

“Say what?”


“Oh my God,” his heart squeezed in anguish as he realized what Zan was trying not to say. “You’re not coming home, are you?”

“Truthfully? I don’t know.” A deep pain threatened to choke him, but he forced himself to breathe. “I wish I could say that it’ll all work out and that we’ll be back together next week, but I can’t. I’m sorry, Chris, but I honestly don’t know if I can forgive you for this.”

Chris’s spirits sank even lower. “Then why did you even bother calling me?”

“Because I miss you,” Zander replied as a tear rolled down his cheek. “I just needed to hear your voice.”

Chris cleared his throat. “Well, I guess that’s something.”

“Yeah, it’s something,” Zan agreed. “Goodnight, Chris.”

“Night, Zan.”

Chris spent the rest of the night trying not to think about the very real possibility that he’d lost Zan forever.



Justin looked around the small but tidy apartment with mixed emotions. It was Wednesday night and he and Brian agreed that he’d spend a few nights with Zan before spending the last few days before break ended at home. He was glad that Zander had found a nice place at a reasonable price, but kind of wished that he’d only been able to find a dump. He wanted his cousin to be miserable so that he’d give in and go back to Chris. Then again, the dark circles under his eyes told Justin that Chris wasn’t the only one pacing the floors at night.

“Why don’t you put your bag in your room while I take dinner out of the oven?” Zan suggested. “It’s down the hall on the left, across from the bathroom.”

“Zan, you didn’t have to cook. We could’ve just ordered pizza.”

“I know, but I wanted to. It’s only a casserole, nothing fancy.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m starving.” Justin went down the hall and found the room. It was small but clean, and the bed appeared to be comfortable. Zander had told him to consider the apartment his home, but he had to admit that he liked his other room better. He dropped his bag at the foot of the bed and then went back to the kitchen area. “This place isn’t too bad.”

“No, it’s not. And I like having Jules right upstairs. She’s been great the last few days.”

“If you guys are so close, how is it that I’ve never met her?” Justin asked curiously as he helped Zan set the table.

“She spent six months over in Italy in some cooking exchange program or something like that. I don’t know what it was, but she just got back to town a few weeks ago. She’s on a date tonight, but I’m sure you’ll meet her tomorrow. She tends to pop in once a day to check on me and make sure I’m eating.” Zan laughed. “It’s like having my mother living upstairs…assuming that I had a decent mother.”

“Good, then I’m glad she lives close by. I hate you being here all by yourself.”

“Don’t worry. I know how to take care of myself. I’ve done it before. Now let’s eat before dinner gets cold.”

As they sat down and dug into the casserole, Justin was trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t lead to a conversation about Chris. Zander had actually looked happy to see him when he showed up. Justin didn’t want to do anything to bring back the sadness that had been haunting his cousin’s features the last few days. Luckily Zander had the same thoughts.

“So, how are things with Jason? The last time I talked to him, he said that he had submitted his college applications early. Has he heard back from anyone?”

“Yeah, actually he’s going to Arizona State,” Justin laughed.

“Really? Huh, that’s great. I’m sure you guys will love to be in the same state again. He’s a good kid.”

“Yeah, he is,” Justin replied. “When he comes out after Christmas, his parents are coming with him for a couple of days. His mom wants to see the school he’ll be going to. They want to see me and I’d really like for you and Chris to meet them. I mean, I don’t know how things will be with the two of you by then. I guess they could meet you separately if they had to.”

“Jus, relax. I’d love to meet them; especially since they were so supportive after the accident. And I know you guys are confused about things right now, but when it comes to you and Brian, Chris and I can work together. We can make reservations at that Italian place you like and all go out to dinner while they’re here. I think Chris and I can manage a meal together regardless of what’s going on with us.”

“Thanks,” Justin sighed with relief. “I know it probably sounds stupid, but they were like a second family to me for most of my life. My mom and Mrs. Meyers met their freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. They went their separate ways after graduation, but ended up living a couple blocks apart while Jason and I were still in the crib. I’d really like for them to meet my new family.”

“They will,” Zander said. His voice was a little choked with emotion. “I promise that no matter what happens, Chris and I are still your family. Nothing is going to change that.”

“Good. I don’t think I could bear losing another one,” Justin said quickly as he stood up and started clearing the table. “You cooked, I’ve got the dishes.”

“Jus, you don’t have to do that,” Zan replied, letting Justin’s comment pass for the moment. He was going to have to talk to Chris. Both boys needed to understand that they were still a family, no matter where any of them were living.

“Yes I do. It’s my place too, remember?”

Zander smiled as he playfully shoved Justin. “Yeah, I remember.”

End of part 33

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