Now That You're Here


Chapter 39


“Why don’t you pull over and let me drive?” Justin asked as he reached out and grabbed hold of the dashboard. He and Brian were on their way to the hospital to see Dane, but Brian’s mind was obviously on something other than driving.

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not fine. You’ve already run a stop sign and just missed hitting a pedestrian. I really don’t want to have to go through another accident, thank you very much.”

Brian glanced over at Justin and then pulled the jeep over to the curb. “Shit, I’m sorry. Are you alright?” He could tell that Justin was pretty freaked out. He hadn’t given thought to the fact that they had just survived a nasty accident a few months earlier. He still didn’t remember anything beyond hanging at the river with the gang. Justin was the one who relived those awful moments leading up to and following the crash at least three nights a week in his dreams. “I wasn’t thinking. I promise I’ll pay attention, okay?”

“I can drive, you know. I have a license and everything,” Justin reminded him.

“I know. I just…I like to be the one behind the wheel. I know it’s crazy, but I like the feeling of being in control.”

“Especially when something like Dane attempting suicide makes you feel so out of control,” Justin pointed out. “I get it, but getting us killed isn’t going to solve anything.”

“You’re right, I should know better. I’m sorry I freaked you out. I promise to pay attention to the road from now on.” Brian looked in his rearview mirror, leaned over and gave Justin a quick kiss, then pulled back on to the road, pushing thoughts of Dane to the back of his mind.

When they got to the hospital, they went to the front desk to get Dane’s room number, then hurried up to the third floor. They found Dane’s mother pacing in the hallway outside his room.

“Hey, Nancy, is Dane okay?” Brian asked as they approached. The woman was obviously upset.

“Oh Brian, I’m so glad you’re here. He’s refusing to eat and anytime anyone tries to talk to him, he gets agitated and starts yelling to leave him alone. The nurse just went to get a sedative to calm him down,” Nancy told the boys tearfully. “Maybe you can get through to him.”

“I’ll give it a shot,” Brian replied. “Jus, wait out here for a few minutes and let me talk to him.”

“Yeah, go ahead,” Justin replied as he gave Brian a gentle shove towards the door.

Brian knocked on the door and then walked in to find Dane pacing back and forth mumbling to himself. “I said leave me alone!” he exclaimed without looking up.

“Dane, it’s me,” Brian said softly. He hung back by the door, unsure of how Dane was going to react to his presence.

“Brian,” Dane said as he finally looked towards the door. “Thank God it’s you. Everyone here is driving me crazy. You have to get me out of here.”

“Dane, what is going on with you? Your mother is out there in tears right now. I understand that you’ve got a lot going on in that big old head of yours, but you need to calm down and let everyone help you.”

“But I…”

“But nothing,” Brian said, blowing off Dane’s reply. “Come here.” Brian took Dane in his arms and held his friend tight. He could feel Dane shaking from anxiety and nerves and felt so bad for him, but he couldn’t be coddled. After his reaction to being alive the night before and now his angry outburst, it was apparent that a dose of tough love was in order. He only pulled back slightly when the nurse walked in waving a syringe of what Brian figured to be the sedative. “I don’t think we need that right now.”

The nurse looked like she was going to argue, but at the slight shake of Brian’s head, she backed down. “I’ll go speak to the doctor and see what he wants to do.”

Once they were alone again, Brian looked Dane in the eyes. “Dude, you need to calm yourself down before they end up putting you in a straight jacket,” he said only half teasing.

“Maybe they should,” Dane replied softly. “Bri, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I wanna just crawl right out of my skin. I know my mother’s only trying to help, but she’s treating me like a child, wanting to hold my hand and tell me everything’s going to be okay when she doesn’t know that. She doesn’t know that it’s going to get better. She doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in my head. I just can’t…I can’t do this.”

“You don’t have a choice. You have to do this. You have to work as hard as you can to get better because I need my friend back. We all do. And your mom and dad…did you see the look on their faces last night? I mean really see them? They’re devastated, Dane. It’s killing them to know that their son was so unhappy that he wanted to die. You need to get better for them. But most of all, you need to get better for you. Shit, you’re eighteen years old. Do you really want your life to just end? And no…I don’t want you to answer that. Just think about it. Think about our graduation coming up in a few months, and going to college and getting married one day…once we’re allowed to, that is. You can’t just give all that up because you’re not happy right now. No, what you’ve got to do is fight to change things so that you can be happy again.”

Dane pulled out of Brian’s arms and walked over to the barred window, looking down at the hospital grounds. He knew it was time to come clean and of all the people he knew, Brian was the one he wanted to come clean to. “Bri, I did something really, really stupid. I mean monumentally stupid and I don’t know what to do about it; how to fix it.”

“Okay, we all do stupid things sometimes. Just tell me what it is and we’ll find a way to fix it, I promise.”

Dane sighed before beginning, making sure to keep his back to Brian so he wouldn’t see the disappointment in his friend’s eyes. “Remember how screwed up I was over the summer? How I was drinking a lot and then that thing with Justin…which I really am sorry about, by the way.”

“I know you are, and I told you it’s in the past. You got a little out of hand, but no one got hurt and it’s over. Justin’s forgiven you. We all have,” Brian assured him.

“I know, but you guys weren’t so forgiving right after it happened. I lost all my friends because of that night. It was horrible. And then a few weeks later, my dad and I got into a huge fight. He caught me stumbling in drunk one night and really ripped into me the next day. You know how my dad is. I know he loves me, but he likes to keep his head buried in the sand when it comes to me being gay. Well, during that fight he was kind of…well, he said some things that hurt, you know? About me being a faggot. I know now that he didn’t mean it, but I was so screwed up and I took it personally. I stormed out of the house after promising that he’d never see me again. Kind of childish, but I was just so hurt.”

“That’s understandable,” Brian replied. “Sometimes people don’t understand how much words hurt. I know, thanks to my dear old dad.”

“Yeah, I guess you do.” Dane turned back and gave Brian a small smile before refocusing out the window. “So anyway, after I stormed out I drove into Bisbee. I didn’t really have any friends left around here. Kelly’s friend Ashley moved there last year and I figured I could crash with her. She was happy to see me and agreed to let me sleep on her couch for a few days. She and her roommate Sandy were cool. They didn’t even let Kelly know I was there. So, one night we sat around and drank a bottle of Tequila. Ashley passed out really early, but Sandy and I went on drinking. Before I knew what was happening, we were in Sandy’s bed.”

“You slept with her?” Brian asked incredulously. “With a girl?”

“I know. It turns out that at our age, with a little bit of alcohol we can fuck anything,” Dane laughed humorlessly.

“Okay, so what now? Is she stalking you, trying to convert you into a hetero?” Brian teased.

“I wish that was it. She’s pregnant.”

“She’s what?”

“Pregnant,” Dane finally turned around and looked at his friend. “Dude, I’m gay. I don’t even know how I ended up in bed with her and I get her pregnant? How’s that for karma. This is God’s way of getting me back for all the shitty things I’ve done in like…my entire life. In fact, I think he’s taking my future shitty things and adding them in, too. I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay…okay…okay…um…let me…wow.”


“Alright, first things first. Is she sure?”

“Bri, this happened over the summer. She’s five months along already and due in March,” Dane pointed out.

“Oh, right. Okay, are you sure it’s yours?”

“I’m as sure as I can be without a blood test, which she’s offered to do once the baby is born. Ashley said that she had broken up with her boyfriend last February and had sworn off men so she hadn’t been with anyone else. I kind of believe them. I don’t think Ashley would mess with Kelly’s little brother, you know? Try to pin something on me that I wasn’t responsible for.”

“Okay, so what does she want from you? She doesn’t expect you to marry her, does she?”

“No, not once I told her I was gay.”

“She didn’t know you were gay?”

“It didn’t come up in conversation. I had only known her for a few days and most of that time she was working. And trust me, once I woke up the next day and realized what happened, I ran home and begged my dad for forgiveness. That was also when I gave up drinking; apparently too little too late. Anyway, she wants financial help, of course. As for seeing the kid, she told me it was up to me how much or how little I want to be involved. At first I was relieved. I figured that I could send her a check a few times a month and move on, but then my conscience started kicking in. Who knew I even had one? And she’s not making it any easier. She’s been keeping me updated with doctor’s appointments and stuff. Then she had to go for an ultrasound yesterday because they were worried about the size of the baby. Luckily everything seems to be fine. She was so worried that I ditched school and went with her. I saw the baby, Bri. I saw her and she’s so tiny. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to be a father. I never even wanted to be a father. And what if she doesn’t want me as her dad? Who wants a faggot for a dad?” Dane wiped away the dampness from his eyes, trying hard to avoid his friend’s eyes. “That’s when I thought that if I…well, if I wasn’t here then I wouldn’t have to make any decisions.”

“Oh Dane,” Brian sighed, once again pulling his friend close. “I know this is scary for you. I don’t know what I would do in your position, but don’t you see that this is not the end of the world? It’s just the opposite. You’re going to be a dad…a really good dad. And I’m going to be an uncle!”

Dane pulled back and looked Brian in the eyes, a genuine smile appearing on his face. “You’re a nut, you know that?”

“I know,” Brian laughed. He suddenly felt lighter than he had since answering Steve’s call the night before. Dane’s suicide attempt was more a drastic move made out of sheer panic than a real desire to end his life. Once everyone knew what was going on and stood by him, he’d realize how foolish he was for swallowing a bottle of pills. “You said she’s so tiny. Does that mean…”

“Yeah, the ultrasound showed that it was a girl. I’ve got a picture in my wallet, but I don’t have it here with me. It’s at home on my dresser.”

Brian smiled at his friend. “You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you sounded just like a proud father.”

“It’s just a lot to take in, you know? I mean, I don’t know the first thing about babies. I’m the baby of the family, remember? And God knows how my parents are going to react. And Kelly, too. Sandy hasn’t told anyone other than Ashley who the father is. She was giving me time to decide what I was going to do. I’m just…I’m scared.”

“I know you are, but think about poor Sandy. She’s dealing with a lot more than you are and it sounds to me like she’s being extremely patient with you. She’s giving you the opportunity to walk away from 99% of the responsibility. That can’t be easy. Do you even know anything about her? How is her family taking it?”

“She’s…well, it was just her and her mom growing up and she doesn’t really talk to her mom anymore. Ashley is really the closest thing she has to family.” Guilt suddenly struck him right in the chest. “Shit, I was so wrapped up in my own problems; I never gave her a thought. She really seems like a great person, too. She deserves a hell of a lot more than I’ve been giving her.”

“Well, luckily it isn’t too late,” Brian replied. “I’m going to grab Justin and get out of here while you talk to your mom and start working this out. After what you did last night, I get the feeling that she’ll handle the news pretty good. She’s just going to be happy you’re okay. And I’ll keep quiet about this until you have a chance to tell everyone. Except for Justin, of course.”

“Actually Bri, do you think you could tell everyone? I know it sounds kind of cowardly, but I really don’t want to have to tell them all how badly I screwed up. Besides, they’ll all be wondering what’s going on and who knows when I’ll get out of here. They were talking about a 72 hour suicide watch.”

“Hey, remember, we all screw up now and then. But yeah, I’ll tell them. I’ll leave out the parts about your dad and stuff. Just tell them you were drinking with your sister’s friends one night and one thing led to another, okay?”

“Thank you,” Dane said as he hugged his friend. “I really appreciate it.”

“Hey, that’s what friends are for,” Brian replied. “Love you, man. Call me and let me know what’s going on, okay? If they don’t let you out, have your mom call, and Justin and I will be back to visit.”

“I will. Love you, too.”

Brian walked out of the room and came face to face with Nancy. Kevin had arrived too and they were both looking anxious. “Go on in. He’s got something he wants to tell you both.”

“Is he alright?” Nancy asked hesitantly.

“Yeah, actually he is,” Brian assured her. “Go on, he’s waiting.”

Brian took Justin’s hand and led him to the elevator, a smile on his lips.

“So? What happened? What did you say to calm him down? What did he say? Is he really alright?” Justin asked.

Brian laughed. “Calm down. Yes, he’s really alright. He’s got a lot on his plate right now, but he’s going to be okay. Let’s get to the jeep and then I’ll tell you everything.”



Later that night, Brian was sitting with the gang at the river laughing at all the startled faces. He had called them all as soon as he got home from the hospital and told them that he needed to talk to them about Dane. They all promised to be there.

“You mean to tell us that Dane is going to be a father?” Steve asked. He was the first one to break the silence.

“Yep. Sandy’s five months along and due in March.”

“But how did he get someone pregnant? He’s gay?” That was from Matt.

“Um…he slept with a woman? How do you think? Matt, just because we’re gay, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have the ability to get anyone pregnant. We just usually don’t because we don’t sleep with women. Dane made an exception,” Brian laughed.

“Shit, I know that.” Matt’s blush was obvious even under the low lighting. “It’s just weird. I mean, of everyone in our group, I would’ve thought one of us straight guys would’ve been the first to knock someone up.”

“I can’t believe that he would swallow a bottle of pills because of something as stupid as this,” Zac said in disgust. “I had a pregnancy scare about two years ago with Rachel and killing myself never even entered my mind. That’s just ridiculous.”

“Hey, give Dane a break,” Justin spoke up, surprising everyone including himself. “Whether it was right or wrong, you guys all ditched him over the summer when he was having problems so I’m guessing that his faith in his friends having his back is a little shaky. He’s been struggling with some drinking issues, I’m sure he’s never even considered having a baby before because gay men don’t usually fantasize about things like that, he hardly knows this girl, and he just saw his baby on a monitor in the doctor’s office, making it 100% real. It was a stupid thing to do, but I think we should all cut him some slack.”

For a few long minutes, nobody said anything. Finally Trent broke the silence. “You’re right, Justin. We should cut him some slack. None of us know what he’s going through. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do anything as drastic as he did if I was in his situation, but I can’t swear to it, and neither can any of you.”

“So, what’s next and what does he need from us?” Steve asked.

“I don’t know. He called me a little while ago. He’s out of the hospital, but his parents are keeping a close eye on him. He’s pretty much under house arrest. He’s not allowed to leave except to go to school and his mother has to drop him off and pick him up. He’s also going to start therapy three times a week for at least the next four weeks, until his parents feel he’s not going to be a danger to himself. Oh, and Sandy’s been ordered to the house tomorrow so she can meet Nancy and Kevin. They’re all going to sit down and talk about the best way to handle the future,” Brian explained. “I think what he really needs from us is our support. He still has his cell phone so calls and text messages letting him know he’s still one of us couldn’t hurt.”

“I think we can do that,” Trent smiled as he pulled out his cell phone. He spoke as he typed. “Hey, douche-bag, I’m glad that you’ve been sprung. No way are you getting out of that English test on Monday. L-O-L…think that will make him feel like he’s still one of us?”

“I knew he could count on you,” Brian laughed as he shoved his friend.

“What? If I was nice to him, he’d think something was wrong.” Trent laughed as his phone beeped with the response text. “Bite me, asshole. L-O-L…see? Everything’s right in the world.”

Everyone laughed at that.



By the time Wednesday rolled around, Chris was a nervous wreck. He knew that he needed to be open with Zander about his past so that he could start working through his issues, but that didn’t make him feel any more confident about sharing his deepest secrets. He parked his car in the parking garage and headed towards the entrance, surprised to see Zander standing there waiting for him.

“Hey, you’re early,” Chris said as he walked up and gave Zan a kiss.

“Yeah, I guess I’m kind of nervous,” Zander replied sheepishly.

“Why are you nervous? I’m the one who’s going to be cutting myself open in there. My nausea is warranted,” Chris laughed.

“True, but this is so important for us and I want it to go well,” Zan told him honestly. “Besides, I’ve never been to one of these people before so I’m a little nervous about that, too.”

“Good, now I’m even more nervous,” Chris sighed dramatically, causing Zander to giggle. “Now let’s go before I literally start puking.”

“Drama queen,” Zan mumbled as he pulled open the door and motioned for Chris to go in first.

They only had to wait for about ten minutes before Patti came to the doorway and called them in. Chris stood nervously and walked towards the door, knowing that Zander was right behind him. Once they were behind closed doors, Chris made the introductions.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Zander. Chris told me so much about you,” Patti said as she offered her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, too. Chris has spoken very highly of you,” Zander returned.

“That’s nice to hear. Why don’t we sit down? Chris is looking a little pale,” she teased.

Chris and Zander both chuckled and settled into the seats across from what was obviously Patti’s chair. Neither one of them said anything while Patti grabbed a notepad and pen and settled in her seat.

“Okay, before we get started, I just want to ask Zander a few questions. Is that alright with you?”

Zander looked at Patti in surprise. He never expected to be the center of attention. “Um…yeah, I guess so.”

Patti laughed at his response. “Relax; I’d just like to get to know you a little bit since Chris let me know right from the first session that his main priority is to fix the relationship that you two have. Can I assume by your agreement to join us that you have the same goal?”

“Oh, absolutely. I mean, I want him to be here so he can work out whatever issues he has, but I want to be able to fix things between us more than anything.”

“Good. Chris has told me that you’re 29 years old and were born and raised in Pittsburgh?”


“You went to school at Dartmouth, graduating with a degree in business before opening up your own bookstore.”


“And you and Chris have been together for 8 years?”

“It’ll be nine next month.”

“Okay, let’s go back to before you learned of Chris’s infidelity. If you were to describe your relationship in one word, what would it be?”


“Perfect? Surely you realize that nothing in life is perfect.”

“Yes, I do. But I’ve always considered Chris to be perfect for me. All his faults and insecurities made him exactly who he is and I couldn’t love him more.”

“I see.”

Zander watched Patti taking notes and looked at Chris nervously. “Did I say something wrong?”

Patti laughed. “Zander, you can’t say anything wrong here. Therapy is all about expressing your feelings and finding ways to deal with them. I just don’t think that I’ve ever heard a relationship described that way before. I kind of like it.” Patti smiled. “Okay, although I’ve done couples therapy before, this is the first time I’m counseling a couple who, aside from trust issues due to an infidelity, don’t have any serious issues together. Usually people don’t come to me until they can’t stand being in the same room together. That’s obviously not the case here. What I think I want to do is basically return to what we spoke about last week, if that’s alright with you, Chris. You’ve told me that you haven’t really shared your childhood with Zander before, and considering that what you lived through is probably a big part of why you stepped out of the relationship, it’s probably best that he understand how you got to where you are. Is that still okay with you?”

Chris sighed and nodded, taking Zander’s hand in his. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

“Zander, at this point I’d like for you to just listen to what’s being said as Chris and I talk. I’m sure you’re going to have some questions, but if you could hang on to them for a bit, we’ll make sure to touch on your thoughts towards the end.”

“That’s fine,” Zander agreed, squeezing Chris’s hand in support.

“Okay Chris, did you do those exercises I asked you to do last week?”

“Yeah, and I think it helped some.”

“Good, so let’s go back to that first day. It was right after your fifth birthday, right?”

“Yeah. I remember because I had been outside riding the bike my parents had gotten me. My mother had called me inside for dinner and I was starving so I laid my bike down on the front lawn and ran inside to eat.”

“Was your father home at this point?”

“No, he was still at work. Or, at least we thought he was still at work. As it turned out, he’d been fired that afternoon so he went to the bar and got drunk. He walked in the door while I was still eating, yelling about how he ran over my bike because I left it in the driveway. He was so drunk; he didn’t even realize that he parked on the lawn.”

“What happened then?”

“I started crying. I had been asking for a bike for almost a year, ever since Tommy Robinson down the street had gotten one, and he ran it over. As soon as he saw that I was crying, he started screaming at me, telling me to stop being a fucking fairy. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out of my chair, and then…”

Patti could see Chris’s struggle to continue, not to mention the horrified look on Zander’s face. She encouraged Chris to go on. “And then…”

“Then he…he pulled down my pants and started hitting me really hard on my ass. He kept telling me over and over again that I should’ve never been born. How if Saint Joan hadn’t been so wrapped up in the damn church, I wouldn’t have been.” Once he was done, Chris stood up and walked over to the window, looking out at the darkening sky.

Zander started to stand up to go to him, but Patti put out her hand to stop him. Zander wanted to ignore her, but since she was the professional, he gave in to her wishes. Instead he waited, his heart breaking for the little boy who was shown such viciousness from his own father. They waited a few more minutes before Chris turned back and went back to his seat. His eyes looked suspiciously damp, but no one commented on it.

“Sorry about that,” Chris said softly once he was sitting back down.

“It’s okay. I told you before that if it’s easier for you to talk about this while moving around, I was okay with that. Now, are you ready to continue?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“So, that was the first time your father ever laid a hand on you?”


“But not the last time.”

“No, not even close,” Chris laughed bitterly. “After that, it seemed like my father would find some reason to lay into me about once a week. Forgetting to clean up my toys, or leaving the bathroom light on, dropping cookie crumbs…those were all punishable offenses in the Kinney home.”

“And where was your mother through all of this?”

“That would depend on the day. Sometimes she was at church, sometimes at the store, sometimes she was standing right there watching,” Chris replied. “She never said a word to him. Never once tried to stand up for me.”

“Did she ever hit you?”

“Once.” Chris didn’t elaborate.

“And when was that?”

“When I was about thirteen. I was getting ready to go to a sleepover at a friend’s house when my dad came home really drunk and beat me for not taking out the garbage. He really did a number on me, left me pretty banged up. It was summertime so I guess he figured he didn’t have to worry about being reported to child services because he got a good swing right to my eye. It turned black and blue before he was even done with me. I couldn’t go to my friend’s house looking like that so I had to cancel. After calling with a lame excuse about having family from out of town show up unexpectedly, I turned to her and asked her why she didn’t love me enough to try and protect me from him. She slapped me across the face and told me that if I behaved, I wouldn’t have to be punished. I ran from the kitchen and locked myself in my bedroom. I never asked her again.”

“Did you ever tell anyone what was happening?”

“No. I thought about it so many times, but I was afraid to. I was afraid that they wouldn’t believe me, and then what? Could you imagine how pissed he’d be if he found out that I tried to get him in trouble? He’d probably have killed me.”

“So no one knew?”

“I think my friend Tommy had an idea, but he never actually asked me about it. He did give me a safe place to stay if I needed it. There were a few times when I realized my dad was drunk before he even saw me and I took off to Tommy’s before anything happened. Thank God I had him.”

“So when did the abuse stop?”

“When I left for college? As I got older, the beatings slowed down some. I had a growth spurt one summer and shot up five inches, making me taller than him. He thought twice about starting with me, but there were still times when he was too drunk to care about size. I’m not sure why I didn’t start fighting back. I guess I was just too afraid of him by then. I spent my high school years working as hard as I could so that I could get a scholarship and get as far away from him as I could. I promised myself that I’d walk away from them and never look back.”

“And did you? Did you get as far away from them as you could?”

“No. I went to Arizona State and lived on campus, but spent every weekend at home with them.”

“And why did you do that?”

“Because my mother had Brian. I was trying to decide where I wanted to go and had it narrowed down to NYU and UCLA when my mother got pregnant. I’d spent my whole life wishing I had a brother or sister to share some of my misery with and then she gets knocked up right when I’m about to make my getaway.”

“You still could’ve gone. Siblings with an 18 year age gap don’t usually have a very close relationship.”

“I know, and I did think about it. I decided to go to Arizona State, figuring that at least I would be close enough to go home for milestones, you know? Like his christening, birthdays, that sort of thing. But once I saw him, once I held him for the first time, I knew I couldn’t leave him. I was terrified to leave him alone with the two people who made my life a living hell. I pulled my father aside at the hospital and told him that if I ever saw even the slightest bruise on my brother’s body, I’d give him a beating that made what he’d done to me seem like child’s play. I promised to be home every weekend to make sure that Brian was safe.”

“And how did that work out?”

“It was fine at first. My parents seemed different with Brian. Maybe it was because they were older and more settled. I don’t know. They just seemed happier to have him around. It seemed like they actually loved him.”

“And how were things between you and them after Brian came along?”

“They were…better, I guess. Once I moved into the dorms and wasn’t underfoot all the time, they seemed to tolerate me more. Besides, they enjoyed having someone help with the baby. They were getting older and I guess it wasn’t as easy having an infant as it was when they were in their 20’s. I fed Brian and changed him. I even took the midnight feedings when I was around. The little shit really wormed his way into my heart from the moment I laid eyes on him. When I graduated college, I rented a small apartment not too far away from them and got a job working for a newspaper. Everything seemed to be working out okay. I kept a close eye on Brian like I promised to make sure he wasn’t being hurt, but I never saw anything other than typical boy bruises. That’s one of the reason’s I felt safe enough to move to the east coast for awhile. I had submitted some of my short stories to various publications and had a few of them published. A professor from Dartmouth read one of my stories and loved it. He thought I had a lot of potential and wanted me to work on a novel. He felt that I had what it took to make it as an author. I flew out to meet him and he arranged for me to stay with his nephew rent free for six months so that all I had to do was work part time to eat and pay for my car. I know it sounds crazy, but it was too good an offer to pass up. There were some issues so I ended up staying a lot longer than six months, but it was okay because I quickly developed a life there. I missed Brian so much. He was only nine at the time, but we talked on the phone once or twice a week and everything seemed to be fine.”

“Until you told your parents you were gay.”

“Yeah. I could still kick myself for telling them. I mean, aside from the fact that my mother lives and breathes God; they never really thought much of me to start with. My father called me a fairy and a faggot every time I cried from the time I was five. I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because of David. He was my roommate and he’d convinced me that they were going to find out sooner or later and that it would be better coming directly from me. He said that once my books started selling, my being gay would be public knowledge. I promised that I would tell them before the first book was published. I was just trying to find the right time. Then I met Zander and…well, it was love at first sight. Love apparently makes you brain dead because once we started getting serious; it was like I suddenly forgot who my parents were. I actually thought that they would understand…or at least not completely flip out when I told them. I was wrong. My mother broke down in hysterical sobs while my father threw every degrading word he could think of at me, and then told me that I was dead to them. I tried reasoning with them and when that didn’t work; I asked if I could at least talk to Brian before I left. He had been in school through all of it. My father told me that I would never seen Brian again and that if I tried, he’d have a restraining order thrown at me. I was devastated. Not by their rejection, but by the thought of never seeing Brian again. I knew that once he turned 18, he’d have the legal right to make up his own mind about seeing me, but I couldn’t imagine waiting that long. He was ten by the time I came out to them and I didn’t know what eight years of being raised by them without me there would do to him. As it turned out, I only had to wait four years before they disowned him, too.”

“Okay, we’ll save the next part of the story for our next session. Are you alright, or do you need a few minutes?”

“I’m okay,” Chris replied softly.

“Zander, you seem a little overwhelmed. Do you have something you want to say?” Patti asked as she focused on Zander.

Zander wiped away the dampness from his eyes and looked at Chris. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this before?”

Chris shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I was afraid that if you knew how unlovable I was that I’d lose you.”

“Unlovable? Chris, you are one of the most lovable men I know. It’s why I could fall for you so easily right from the start.”

“But my own parents…” Chris’s voice broke. “My own parents couldn’t even love me. From the time I was five, they knew that there was something inside me that made me unworthy of their love.”

Zander jumped up from his chair and kneeled down in front of Chris, taking the older man’s face in his hands and wiping away the tears with his thumbs. “Oh Babe, you weren’t unworthy of their love, they were unworthy of yours. You have to believe that it was their problem, not yours. You were five years old. You didn’t do anything to warrant the way that they treated you. My God, it’s amazing that you’re as wonderful as you are after being raised by them.”

“Zan, you don’t have to say that.”

“I’m not saying it to make you feel better,” Zander assured him without giving him a chance to continue. “I’m saying it because it’s true. I love you, and so do Brian and Justin.”

“Chris,” Patti said, interrupting their moment. “How do you feel when you hear that? What goes through your mind when someone tells you that they love you?”

Zander stayed down in front of Brian, but he spun around so he could focus on both Chris and Patti. He held Chris’s hand tight, refusing to lose physical contact.

“I don’t know. I guess I question it…them. I wonder if they really mean it. I wonder what they’d think if they knew how fucked up I was. What they’d think if I ever let my guard down and showed my real self.”

“And who is your real self?”

“The scared little boy who wanted his parents’ approval. The screwed up guy whose own parents couldn’t even love him. I don’t know what I did to make them hate me so much.”

“Maybe you didn’t do anything? Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that maybe they were just unhappy people in a bad situation who needed to have someone to take their anger out on? You said that they have an unhappy marriage and that you never saw them smiling or laughing together. Maybe they were just so unhappy with themselves and each other that they used you as a way to release some of that anger and resentment. Chris, you’re never going to know why they did what they did to you. That’s their secret to share, and they’re not sharing it. All you can do is look deep inside yourself and see that there is nothing wrong with you. You’re a sweet, loving, and giving man. You have a wonderful gift in your writing, you have a loving partner who would go to the ends of the earth for you, and you have two teenage boys who wouldn’t be nearly as happy and stable as they are right now if it wasn’t for your kindness and generosity. You need to start believing all of us when we tell you that there is nothing wrong with you.”

Chris kept his eyes focused on his lap, where his and Zander’s hands lay intertwined. He didn’t know what to say at that moment and hated that Zander was there to see and hear everything that he and Patti talked about. He knew that Zan needed to know, but it didn’t make it any easier to know that he did. He mumbled a thank you when Zan handed him a few tissues.

“How do I do that?” Chris finally whispered.

“Well, that’s what we’re going to be working on each week. It’s not going to be easy, but I promise that we’re going to fix this. I think that’s enough for today. Same time next week?”

“Yeah,” Chris agreed as he stood up, pulling Zander up to his feet gently.

Patti placed the notepad on her desk and then walked towards the door. She put her hand on the knob but looked back at Chris before opening the door. “You did really well today. No beating yourself up over the next week. Try to just relax and not overthink too much. We can do that next Wednesday.” She patted his arm and then looked over at Zander. “And will I be seeing you next week?”

“I’d like to come back, if it’s alright with Chris,” Zander replied, looking up at Chris.

Chris gave a hint of a smile. “He’ll be here.”

“Good. I’ll see you both then.”

When they got outside, Zander took Chris’ arm and tugged, pulling him into a tight hug. “You’re coming over for dinner, right?”

“I don’t know. I’m kind of tired and I doubt if I’ll be good company tonight. Maybe I should just go home,” Chris replied solemnly.

“Oh no you don’t. I slaved over a crock pot for ten minutes this morning to make you a good dinner. You’re not bailing on me.” He was happy to see Chris smile at his joke. “Seriously Babe, please come to my place. We don’t have to talk about anything that happened in there if you don’t want to. I just want to spend time with you.”

Chris looked deep into his eyes and then nodded. “Okay, I’ll meet you there.”

“Good,” Zan said before giving Chris a quick kiss. “See you in a few.”

Zander waited until Chris was out of sight before heading towards his own car. He couldn’t seem to shake the cloud of sadness that washed over him as he listened to the horrifying events of Chris’ childhood. He’d wanted to slap the Kinney’s around for years now, just knowing the little bit that he knew of them. After what Chris had shared, slapping seemed way too tame for them. It really was amazing that Chris was as well adjusted as he was. It also did explain a little about how things with Chris and Ryan got so out of hand. For someone with such low self esteem and self worth, it’s not surprising that he was drawn to someone who showed interest in him. Zander just needed to help Chris build up that self esteem and self worth so that he wouldn’t be drawn to the next guy that showed interest.

End of part 39

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