Now That You're Here
Brian was pacing the floor and cursing himself for being so ridiculous. Justin had only been gone for a few hours and already he was missing the blond more than he should. How was he going to survive the two nights that Justin planned to stay at Zan’s apartment? Granted, he was going over there the following night to see the place and hang out a bit, but that wasn’t the same as having Justin sleeping right next door. Chris and Zander better work out their differences quickly. Brian was not going to enjoy sharing Justin a few nights every week. The sound of his cell phone stopped the pacing. He was surprised to see Jason’s name on the caller ID. Although they had swapped numbers months ago, it was rare for Jason to call Brian directly.
“Hey, Jas, what’s up?”
“Not too much. I talked to Justin earlier so I know he’s spending the next few nights with Zander. I figured it was the perfect time to call and talk to you,” Jason replied. “You got a few minutes?”
“Yeah,” Brian chuckled. “Sadly, without Justin around I’m finding myself a little lost. Is something wrong?”
“Not wrong necessarily. It’s just…has Justin talked to you about the holidays?”
“You’re going to have to be more specific. We’ve talked about Thanksgiving before. Who’s cooking what and who’s coming over afterwards for dessert and drinks. The gang usually comes by later at night. Then again, who knows what’s going to happen with what’s going on between Chris and Zander. I’m not even sure what we’re doing for Thanksgiving now,” Brian sighed as the realization set in. “Why?”
Jason sighed in frustration. “I told him to talk to you. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were huge on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Mrs. Taylor especially. It was her favorite time of year. She planned for weeks to make sure everything was perfect. On Thanksgiving morning, Mr. Taylor and Justin put up the Christmas tree and decorated the house while Mrs. Taylor baked pies and cooked both a turkey and ham. She made enough food to feed an army. By late afternoon everyone they knew in the area, my family included, started arriving to celebrate the day. It was crazy and chaotic and Mrs. Taylor loved every minute of it. From there she just became more crazy leading all the way up to Christmas day. There always seemed to be a steady stream of Christmas cookies and eggnog coming from her kitchen and Christmas music coming from the stereo. Their house was like some kind of wonderland. It was awesome.”
Brian could see where Jason was going. “And now they’re gone.”
“Yeah, now they’re gone. And Justin’s been doing a really good job of moving on, but with the holiday season right around the corner…he’s really hurting right now. I told him to talk to you about it, but he didn’t want to. He only talked to me because I’ve spent the holidays with his family since I was a baby. I know what he’s missing, you know? He told me that he was thinking about them a lot and it was hard, but that he was alright and would call me if he needed to talk,” Jason replied. “Only now…”
“Yeah, now his new family is in crisis and he’s being shuffled back and forth between here and Zan’s apartment. Who even knows if we’ll be together for Thanksgiving? Fuck!” Brian exclaimed as his fist slammed down on his desk. “I’m going to talk to Chris and Zan. They need to fix this now so that Justin isn’t miserable for the next six weeks.”
“Brian, you can’t force Chris and Zan to be together just for Justin’s sake. It doesn’t work that way. I only know bits and pieces of what’s going on there right now, but it sounds to me like they need this time apart. I just wanted you to be aware of what Justin’s going through so maybe you guys could find a way to help him through the holidays. I’m going to fly out for Thanksgiving. Justin told me that I didn’t have to, but under the circumstances, I think it might be better if I’m there. Don’t worry though, I’ve already talked to Zac and he said I could stay with him. You guys have enough going on right now.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. You’re always welcome here. And hopefully Chris will have given up his walking zombie routine by then,” Brian only half joked. “But I’m glad you called. I’ll talk to Chris and Zan as soon as I can and let them know what’s going on. Just let me know when you’ll be here and I’ll pick you up so you can surprise Justin. If you want to stay with Zac, I’ll understand, but it’s really no problem to have you here.”
“If you’re sure, I think I’d rather stay with you guys. I’d feel a little funny staying with Zac’s family over the holidays when I hardly even know Zac,” Jason laughed.
“Cool, it’s not a problem. I’ll let Chris know you’ll be here.”
“Thanks, Brian. I’ll text you with my flight information as soon as I have it. Just make sure Justin doesn’t know I called. He’d kill me if he found out.”
“I won’t say a word,” Brian promised him. “And I’ll make sure Chris and Zan keep their mouths shut, too. Thanks for giving me a heads up though. He seems so well adjusted around here that it’s easy to forget that his parents haven’t been gone all that long and he’s still dealing with the loss.”
“No need to thank me. I’d do anything for Justin,” Jason replied. “If I don’t talk to you, I guess I’ll see you in a few weeks. Later.”
Brian stuffed his phone in his pocket and then headed downstairs in search of his brother. He found Chris in the bedroom, lying on the bed staring at the ceiling. He knocked lightly and then went inside, sitting down on the foot of the bed.
“I’m still breathing,” Chris replied softly. “What’s up?”
“I just got off the phone with Jason and I think we might have a problem.” Brian spent the next few minutes repeating the conversation he’d just had with Jason, adding his own observations into the mix. Once he was done, he waited a few moments for his words to sink in. “Chris, we have to do something. From the sound of it, he’s really hurting right now.”
“Shit,” Chris sighed. “I never even thought about how hard the holidays would be on him. I usually seem to forget that he hasn’t just always been here, you know?”
“I know. Me too. Jason’s going to fly out for moral support but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough. Especially if we’re not going to be together as a family for Thanksgiving. Oh, and I told him you wouldn’t mind if he stayed with us.”
“Of course not. He’s always welcome here,” Chris assured him. “I’ll talk to Zan and see what we can do to make things easier on him. Maybe it’s time we both got out heads out of our ass and focused on him.”
“Well, it’s not like you guys aren’t going through a lot right now. I don’t want to make it sound like his feelings are more important that what’s going on with you and Zan,” Brian replied.
“No, I know that and you’re right. Zan and I are dealing with a lot right now, but it’s not the same as what he’s going through. Justin’s just a kid and facing his first holiday without his parents. He needs us right now. I’m sure we can find a way to make this a little bit easier. I’ll send Zan a text and tell him that I need to talk to him when Justin isn’t around.”
“Thanks, Chris,” Brian said gratefully. “I think I’m going to take a ride to Steve’s and see what he’s up to. Sitting here without Justin is driving me crazy.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Chris replied softly.
“Shit, sorry,” Brian said quickly. “I wasn’t thinking. Do you want to go do something? Or we could watch a movie.”
“No, it’s alright. Get out of here. I’m gonna take a shower and then try to do a little bit of writing. I’ve got a deadline coming up and I’m never going to be done if I don’t start focusing. Have fun.”
Chris waited until Brian was gone before sending Zan a text. He made sure to mention that he wanted to talk about Justin to be sure that Zan would actually call. Once it was sent, he laid back down, deciding to put off his shower a little bit longer. He just couldn’t bring himself to do anything other than think of how screwed up his life suddenly was. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Zander called five minutes later.
“Hey, Justin ran out to the store. He needed more art supplies. What’s up?”
“I think we need to talk about how we’re going to handle Thanksgiving.” Chris proceeded to tell Zander about Jason’s call and about Brian’s concerns without letting on how much he himself would like to have Zan around.
“Yeah, I was going to call you about that anyway. Justin told me at dinner that Jason’s going to Arizona State. Because of that, his parents are flying in with Jason after Christmas to check out the campus. Justin wants us all to get together. When I assured him that we were still a family, regardless of what was going on with us, he mumbled something about not wanting to lose another one. This break that we’re on is hitting him pretty hard without the added stress of the holidays,” Zander said. “I can remember Aunt Jen going crazy every year, even before Justin was born.”
“So, what are we going to do? Chris asked.
“I’m not sure. Any suggestions?”
“Aside from you coming back home?”
“Chris,” Zander warned.
“Alright, I get it. That’s not happening anytime soon,” Chris sighed in frustration. “Do you think you can find a way to put up with me for a few hours so that we can have Thanksgiving together, or is that asking too much?”
“Please don’t talk to me like I’m being unreasonable. I have every right to want to have a little bit of space after what you did,” Zander replied bitterly.
“I know. I admit that I made a mistake and I’ve apologized numerous times for it.”
“Chris, a mistake is shrinking a sweater in the dryer, or forgetting to pass on a phone message. What you did goes way beyond making a mistake. You were fucking someone else!”
“So you’re saying that you can’t put it all aside for a few hours?”
“No, of course not. Justin needs to be with family. I’ll do anything to make Thanksgiving bearable for him. Since you’re practically useless in the kitchen, I’ll bring everything I need over on Wednesday night to prep and plan on spending Thursday in the kitchen just like every other year. Just…don’t push, okay? Being there with you is going to be hard enough without you pushing me to move home.”
“Yeah, alright,” Chris agreed. “I’ll…try and stay out of your way.”
“Chris, I’m not asking you to stay out of my way. I just don’t want to deal with our shit, okay? We’re doing this for Justin. I want it to be all about him.”
“It should be. Do you think he’d want to decorate or would that be too much of a reminder for him?”
“I don’t know. I’ll see if I can get him to talk a little bit tonight and see what’s going on in his head. I’ll tell him we talked and agreed to have Thanksgiving together and see where the conversation goes. Give me a call at the store tomorrow and I’ll let you know what he says.”
“Or maybe I could stop by in the morning? Bring you a cup of that cappuccino that you love so much?” Chris suggested tentatively.
“Look, I just want to see you. I miss you. I promise we won’t talk about anything but Justin and Thanksgiving, alright?”
Zander sighed. He missed Chris too, but he wasn’t sure if seeing him so soon would be a good thing or a bad thing. He still had a lot of thinking to do before he even decided whether he was willing to fight for their relationship. He was afraid that seeing him, looking into those hazel eyes he loved so much, would cause him to push aside his confusion and doubts and run right back into Chris’s arms.
“Make sure you get me a large. I’ve been doing inventory this week and it’s been a real pain in the ass,” Zander finally said.
Chris’s relief was palpable. “Anything you want. Thank you, babe.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Zander said softly and then hung up the phone as tears filled his eyes. All he could do was hope that allowing Chris to come to the store in the morning wasn’t a huge mistake. He needed to be strong and take some time to figure out where he wanted to go next and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to do that if Chris kept pushing him. After nine years of sharing his life with someone, it wasn’t easy to be on his own, but he owed it to himself to try. He needed to be sure that he could truly forgive Chris and at the moment, he wasn’t sure of anything.
By the time Justin got back from the store, Zander had pulled himself together and was just sitting down with a cup of herbal tea.
“Hey, did you get everything you needed?”
“And then some,” Justin laughed. “I really need to start sending someone else to do my shopping with a list. I walk in there to by a few sketch books and some charcoals and I don’t walk out until I buy half the store.”
“I know what you mean. I used to be the same way when it came to bookstores. That’s why I opened my own. To save money,” Zander smiled. “Why don’t you come and sit down? I want to talk to you.”
“Okay,” Justin said carefully as he took a seat. “Is everything alright? Did something happen while I was gone?”
“What? Oh, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it sound bad,” Zan chuckled. “I talked to Chris while you were gone and we decided that I would go ho…over there to make Thanksgiving dinner. Chris is pretty much useless to us unless we want a grilled turkey and this place isn’t big enough to have everyone over here.”
“You mean we’re going to have Thanksgiving together?”
“Of course. Jus, the holidays are all about family, and I told you before, we’re still a family. Besides, I wouldn’t want to put you or Brian in a position where you guys would have to choose who you want to spend the day with,” Zander replied. “I figured I’ll head over on Wednesday to make the stuffing and clean the bird and then head back early on Thursday morning to bake the pies before it’s time to put the turkey in the oven.”
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay at the house instead of traveling back and forth?”
“Um…I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Zan, I’m not suggesting you sleep in the same room as Chris. You could take my room. I’m sure Brian wouldn’t mind sharing his room with me,” Justin grinned.
“Oh, the sacrifices you boys would be willing to make astounds me,” Zander teased. “We can talk about that later. It’s not like the apartment is that far away from the house.”
“True, but it’s about twenty minutes. By the time you get out of work, go home and pack up all the food, drag it all to the house, make the stuffing and whatever else you said, it’ll be getting late. You’re actually going to drive all the way back here only to be up early to drive back to the house again? That’s just silly. Just stay at the house with us. We can watch movies and just hang out. And maybe we could even…” Justin’s voice trailed off.
“Well, I don’t know what you guys were thinking, but my mom always pulled out all the Christmas decorations on the night before Thanksgiving and went through them, running out to buy any last minute lights if we needed them. Then we started putting up the tree on Thanksgiving morning while we watched the parade. I mean, we don’t have to do that. I don’t even know if you guys do much decorating for the holidays. I just thought…never mind.”
Zander could see Justin’s eyes tearing up as he spoke of seasons past. “You’re really missing them now, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Justin admitted tearfully. “I always miss them but with the holiday’s right around the corner, it’s getting harder. Mom and Dad loved this time of year and with you and Chris apart, it doesn’t really feel like it’s going to be happy holiday’s around here. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s your fault or anything. It’s just…I guess I was hoping that being with my family out here would make it easier to deal with the loss of my family back there, you know? I mean, you guys have been so great to me since the day I arrived. You made me feel like I wasn’t all alone in the world like I thought I was when I was living with the Johnson’s.”
“Come here,” Zander said as he took Justin in his arms. “You’re not alone in the world. We’re all here for you, regardless of where we’re living. I love you, Justin. And I know Chris does, too. The holidays are going to be the happiest that they can be. We’ll all make sure of it. You can help Chris get the decorations out of storage while I’m at work and we’ll all go through it together once I finish getting everything ready in the kitchen. I don’t even know what we have left. I threw away a lot last year because it was getting old. Once we know what we need, we’ll run out and get it so we’re ready for the morning. We’ll have a traditional Morgan-Taylor Thanksgiving in honor of your parents. How does that sound?”
“Thank you,” Justin whispered as he held on to Zander. “Thank you for everything.”
Zander and Justin stayed up pretty late talking about Jennifer and Craig Taylor and all the holiday’s that Justin could remember. Zander was able to jump in with some stories of his own from before the big family feud. Justin appreciated the stories since they were from before he was born. Zander was happy to see the smile return to his cousin’s face. Despite the late night, Zander still woke before the alarm. He was still only getting about three hours of sleep at a time before waking up feeling horrible and missing his other life. He took an extra long shower in hopes of washing away some of the fatigue he was feeling from the turmoil in his life. He was at the store by six.
The good thing about his inability to sleep was that he was getting a lot of work done at the shop. With Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season almost upon them, the store was getting crazy and the online orders were starting to pile up. Justin had printed out thirty-four orders the night before and that was exactly what Zan started working on as soon as he turned on the lights. He didn’t realize how fast time was flying until he heard a faint knock on the door. A quick glance at the clock told him it was only eight. That meant that it could only be one person knocking. He took a deep breath and wiped his hands on his jeans before going to let Chris in.
“Hey, I wasn’t expecting you this early,” he said as he re-locked the door.
“I figured you’d be here early and I thought it would be easier to talk without customers or Brian lurking about,” Chris replied as he handed Zander his cappuccino. “As large as they come.”
“Thanks,” Zan said as he took a sip. “God, that tastes good. Come on in. I hope you don’t mind if I work while we talk. Justin pulled thirty-four orders off the site last night and I need to get them sent out today.”
“Thirty-four? That’s great!” Chris said. “I guess it really is paying off to have the site, huh?”
“Yeah, it is. I pulled in a few thousand last month from internet sales. Definitely worth the extra work of the site. I’ve been trying to pay Justin a little more to keep it updated, but you know him. He refuses to take it.”
“I know. He’s so stubborn when it comes to accepting money. It’s a good trait to have to a point, but we’re his family. I wish he would feel comfortable taking what we offer; especially when he works for it. I hate that he still thinks he owes us for taking him in,” Chris said.
“Me too, although we had a nice talk last night. He was thrilled to hear that we’re going to have Thanksgiving together. He…uh…wants me to spend Wednesday night there at the house. He offered up his room. He said we could go through the Christmas decorations and make sure we have everything we need so that we could decorate while watching the parade.”
Chris fought to keep his excitement from showing. “That’s probably a good idea. I know how much work you do to put together such a nice dinner. It’ll be easier if you don’t have to run back and forth across town. And we threw out all those decorations last year, so who knows what we’re going to have to buy. Just the fact that he wants to decorate is a good sign, don’t you think?” He knew he was rambling, but he wanted Zan to agree to stay without thinking about all the reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea.
“It is a good sign. I just…I’m not really sure if I feel comfortable staying at the house under the circumstances,” Zan said softly.
“You don’t feel comfortable staying in your own home? How are we supposed to work things out if we never spend any time together? Look, I know what I did was horrible. I’m asking you to forgive the completely unforgivable. I get that, but I don’t know how to live without you. Ever since you walked out of our home on Saturday, I feel as if I can’t breathe. I have this tightness in my chest that won’t go away. I’m completely exhausted, but I can’t sleep because when I do, I wake up feeling…”
“Like your whole world is caving in on you,” Zander finished for him. “I know.”
It broke Chris’s heart to see the pain flash in Zan’s eyes. “Please, Babe, I know you’re not ready to forgive me yet. I’m not expecting you to just forget everything that’s happened and pretend like everything’s okay. All I want to do is spend time with you. I think we need that so we can remember how great things between us can be.”
“Don’t you get it?” Zander snapped, his anger suddenly rising to the surface. “I don’t need to be with you to know how great our lives used to be. All I have to do is shut my eyes and I can remember every single wonderful moment of our life together. That’s the problem. I see our past and it hurts so much to think that you would throw it all away for some casual affair with a co-worker. I really thought that what we had was special…to both of us.”
“Then why did you do it? How could you kiss him, touch him, fuck him when you knew that it would destroy me? Did you even think of me at all?”
“Of course I thought of you. I just…”
“Just what? Make me understand, Chris. Make me understand how you could do this to us. I have been wracking my brain over and over again, just trying to make sense of it all. Trying to understand what was going on in your head when you were sharing someone else’s bed. Maybe if I could understand what you were thinking, then I could find a way to forgive you. I don’t know. When I think about being back home with you, all I can feel is fear of the unknown. Every time you left the house, I’d be wondering where you were and what you were doing; who you were with. Don’t you see? I trusted you more than anyone else in the world and you ruined that. You broke that trust and as much as I love you, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get that back. I’m not keeping my distance because I’m angry and trying to punish you. I’m doing it because I’m scared. Scared to figure out that we can’t fix this. Scared to realize that what we had is gone forever.” Zander turned his back on Chris, refusing to let him see the tears that he could no longer hold back.
Chris swallowed, fighting back his own tears. “God, Zan, please.” His voice shook with emotion as he took a few steps forward and wrapped his arms around Zander from behind. He sighed when the other man didn’t pull away. “Please, I’m begging you. Don’t give up on us. I don’t care what it takes, I’ll do whatever you need me to do to prove that I love you and that I’ll never do anything to hurt you again. I just need you to give me a chance.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Zander cried softly as he pulled away and ran into the back, leaving Chris standing alone, watching him go.
Brian pulled into the parking lot of the store a half hour before his shift. He had been so bored without Justin around that he had gone to bed early and woken up long before his alarm. He was surprised to see Chris’s car parked there. He hadn’t noticed that it wasn’t outside the house when he left. He wasn’t sure why Chris would be at the store, but he hoped it was a good sign. He also hoped that he wasn’t going to interrupt an important conversation by showing up early. He even contemplated going for a drive and giving them more time, but before he could decide, Chris was walking across the lot looking heartbroken. Brian jumped out of the jeep.
“Hey, what’s going on? What are you doing here so early?”
“Making everything worse, I think,” Chris replied tearfully. “Brian, I fucked up so bad and I don’t think he’s ever going to forgive me. What was I thinking? How could I have done this to him? It’s killing me to know that I’ve hurt him like this and he refuses to even let me try to make it better.”
“Come here,” Brian took Chris in his arms. “I thought you were going to try and give him some space.”
“I’m trying, but it’s so hard. I came here to talk about Thanksgiving. I wasn’t planning on saying anything else, I swear. It’s just that it hurt when he told me that Justin suggested he stay at the house the night before Thanksgiving, but he didn’t think he’d feel comfortable staying there. I mean, it’s his house too and now he suddenly doesn’t feel comfortable there? I just…I snapped. I asked him how he expected us to work things out when we never see each other. That spending time together would remind us of how good we are together.” Chris paused to take a deep breath before continuing. “He said that he didn’t need a reminder. That remembering just made it hurt more and that he isn’t staying away from me because he’s trying to hurt me. He’s staying away because he’s afraid to realize that we might not be able to fix this. That what we had is gone forever. God, to hear him say that. I begged; I pleaded with him to give me another chance. To give me a chance to prove how much I love him and that I would never hurt him again.”
“And what did he say?”
Chris wiped away the dampness from his eyes. “He said…he said that didn’t know if he could, and then he ran into the back. I just left. I figure I’m the last person he wants to see right now.”
“Okay, look…I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never been in the position that he’s in right now. I know I’d be devastated if Justin cheated on me. Would I be able to forgive him? I don’t know. All I know for sure is that Zan loves you. That’s got to count for something. As hard as it is, just give him the space he’s asking for. You want to spend time together so he can remember how things used to be. Maybe not being together will do more. Maybe he needs to really miss you before he realizes how much he needs you in his life. Either way, pushing him to do what you want him to do is not the solution.”
“I know. I just keep screwing up,” Chris sighed in frustration. “I’m going home. Do me a favor and tell him…tell him I’m sorry.”
“I will,” Brian replied. “Try to get some sleep, okay? You’re really not looking so good.”
“I’m going to do one better. I made an appointment with Dr. Reynolds for this afternoon. I’m past due for a check-up anyway and I figured that while I’m there he could give me something to help me sleep. I’m never going to make my deadline like this.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Brian offered.
“Bri, I’m a grown man. I think I’m capable of taking myself to the doctor.”
“Alright, I’ll see you at home then. Maybe we can order a pizza or something.”
“I’m not really in the mood for…” Chris trailed off when he saw the look Brian was giving him. “Okay, we’ll order a pizza. Go check on Zan. I’ll see you later.”
Brian nodded and then headed into the store. He locked the door behind him and then went into the back. He found Zander sitting at his desk staring at the picture of him and Chris that had been moved into a drawer days earlier.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Brian,” Zander glanced at the clock on the wall. “What are you doing here so early?”
“Well, at the risk of sounding pathetic, you stole my boyfriend and I was so bored last night that I went to bed before most senior citizens. I woke up before the alarm. I knew I’d find you here bright and early. Chris was a surprise, though.”
“Is he still here?” Zander asked casually as he put away the photo.
“No, he left. He wanted me to tell you he was sorry.”
“You know,” Zan laughed dryly. “If I didn’t love him so much, I’d kill him.”
“You and me both,” Brian agreed. “Would it be wrong of me to tell you that I’m really worried about him?”
“I don’t know what’s right and wrong these days. Why? What’s going on?”
“Well, he’s not sleeping. And when I say not sleeping, I mean as in he hasn’t slept for more than an hour at a time since you left. He’s not eating. Justin’s been forcing him to eat at least a little something each day, but last night he wasn’t home and when I suggested food, he growled at me. He hasn’t been able to write. I heard him on the phone with his publisher pushing back his deadline, but it didn’t sound like they were happy. I think because it was already pushed back once because of the accident. And now he says that he’s going to the doctors today to get something to help him sleep. You don’t think he’d like…take too much…do you?”
“You mean as in try to kill himself?” Zander asked incredulously. “No, he would never do that. He’s just upset right now and when people are upset, they tend to lose sleep and not eat as much.”
“So does that mean you’re not eating or sleeping either? Am I supposed to be worrying about both of you now?”
“No, it means that you don’t have to worry about either of us. I know this is hard on you too, but you just have to let us work this out on our own. It’s our mess and one way or another; we’ll get it cleaned up. Just be there if he needs you and try getting him to eat now and then. He’ll be okay. We all will be.” Zander hoped that was true as he got up from the desk. “Now let’s get to work. We have a lot to do today.”
“You got it, boss,” Brian replied, noticing for the first time that Zander had the same dark circles under his eyes that Chris did. And they were supposed to be the grown-ups.
End of part 34
Return to Now That You're Here