Now That You're Here
Justin spent the next hour unpacking his things and deciding where he wanted everything to go. He felt himself blush slightly when he opened the medicine cabinet to put away his toothbrush and toothpaste and spotted a box of condoms; a very large box of condoms that appeared to be half empty. Apparently Brian wasn’t nearly as innocent as he was. That thought depressed him, for reasons he wasn’t ready to examine. He shook off the confusing thoughts and quickly shut the door before going back to his room. He still couldn’t believe that this family, a family he didn’t know until the day before, went to so much trouble to make him feel welcome. It was almost more than he could comprehend. Instead of dwelling on it at the moment and driving himself crazy, Justin grabbed his sketch book and a pencil and climbed up on his bed, making himself comfortable in the center of it. He’d never had a bed that big. His mother insisted on bunk beds for when his friends slept over. He wondered how he’d ever sleep in something so big.
As he opened his book carefully, refusing to look at the pictures he’d drawn of his parents, he found a blank page and started drawing. He wasn’t sure what he planned on putting down on paper, but wasn’t really surprised when Brian’s face began to appear on the page. As a future artist, there were certain things he saw in people, places, and things that no one else saw. In Brian, he saw his sheer beauty as well as his caring disposition. He wanted to put it down on paper. He wanted to always remember the day he arrived in Arizona. He had a feeling that his life was about to change once again. This time though, for the better.
Zander was just finishing up his own unpacking when Chris walked through the door with a big smile on his face.
“What has you in such a good mood?” Zander asked as he felt Chris’s arms wrap around him from behind.
“You mean besides you being home?” Chris replied as he placed a soft kiss on the back on Zander’s head. “I’m just thinking of what my parents said right before they kicked me out of their lives.”
“Why are you thinking about that?”
“It was something my mother said that just came back to me. She said that if I continued to live my disgusting lifestyle, I’d end up alone with no one to love me. She said I’d never have a family of my own.” Chris stopped for a moment and turned Zander around in his arms before continuing. “Look how wrong she was. I have you to love me and we have a pretty good family of our own right here.”
“Yeah we do, don’t we?” Zander agreed as he wrapped his arms around Chris and kissed him gently. “Thank you again for allowing me to bring Justin home.”
“Would you stop that? You practically had Brian moved in before I even made it back from my trip when the ‘rents threw him out. Families have to stick together, right? Now, no more thanking me. Although, I wouldn’t object to a little show of appreciation once the boys are out of the house,” Chris added teasingly.
“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” Zander laughed.
“Listen, why don’t you put on your swimsuit and head down to the pool with Brian. I want to go have a little talk with Justin and make sure he knows that Brian and I are as happy as you are that he’s here.”
Zander’s smile widened even more as the love he felt for Chris threatened to bubble over. “You are a wonderful man, you know that?”
“I’ve been told a time or two.” Chris placed a final kiss on Zander’s waiting lips before smiling and heading out of the room. “We’ll be down soon.”
Justin was working feverishly on his portrait of Brian when he heard a knock at the door. He quickly closed his book and laid it beside him before calling out to the person on the other side.
“Hey, are you all settled?” Chris asked as he strolled in. “Is there anything you need that we forgot?”
“I didn’t even expect this much. I think I’m good,” Justin chuckled.
“Listen Justin, I’m sure this is all a lot for you to take in at one time. I just wanted to come in here and tell you personally that you’re a part of this family now. Zander and I don’t really consider ourselves parents. We’re more like brothers. Big brothers who have no qualms about kicking the ass of our younger brothers if we think they need it.” Chris laughed at the startled look on Justin’s face before continuing, “Relax, I was speaking metaphorically. Anyway, if you need anything or just want to talk, we’re all here for you.”
Justin was touched by Chris’ support. He wasn’t sure what to expect when he agreed to move to Arizona, but he was beginning to think that he’d be okay. “Thank you, Chris. I promise not to be any trouble.”
“Hey, you’re a teenager. You’re supposed to get into trouble. Just try to keep it down to minimal trouble, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Justin replied with a smile.
“Good,” Chris smiled back before noticing the sketch book that Justin held in his hand. “Hey, what’s that?”
“Huh?” Justin was momentarily confused until he realized that Chris was looking at his book. “Oh this. I’m an artist. Well, actually hoping to be an artist one day. My mother used to say that instead of being born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was born with a pencil in my hand.”
“Can I take a look?”
“Yeah, sure.” Justin turned to the first page, pictures of his parents that he’d been trying to ignore, and handed over the book. “These aren’t my best work. I did them after…the accident. It’s sort of like therapy for me or something.” He felt his cheeks flare at his admission.
Chris took the book from Justin and offered him a sympathetic smile before looking at the pages in front of him. He was surprised by the talent he saw. If that wasn’t Justin’s best work, then he had to be a genius when it came to drawing. The sketches in front of him were brilliant. “Wow, Justin, these are incredible.” He looked through page after page, becoming more and more impressed as he went, until his eyes landed on a picture of Brian, obviously still in the process of being done. “Are you sure you’re only seventeen?”
“Last time I checked. I’ve been drawing ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil. My father was a little worried when I told him that I wanted to pursue my art instead of business once I got out of high school, but he was very supportive of my decision. My mother used to frame some of my work and hang them around the house. I’ve even done a little freelance work for one of the ad agencies back in Pittsburgh. It’s nice to make money for something I really enjoy doing.”
“I know what you mean. I feel the same way when I’m writing.” Chris’s mind started turning with possibilities. “You know, I’m working with a writing team right now on a series of children’s books. The pay isn’t that good, but it’s a fundraiser for abused children. We haven’t found anyone to do the illustrations yet. If I give you my storyline, maybe you could work up a few sketches for me. If they’re any good, I’ll introduce you to the publisher that’s handling the project and see what he thinks. Would you be interested?”
“Are you kidding? That would be great!” Justin exclaimed, his excitement evident in the radiant smile that appeared across his face. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Just get on a pair of shorts and get down to the pool. We’ll be there waiting for you.”
Justin watched Chris walk out, smiling over his luck. He’d been in Arizona for less than a day and he already had something to look forward to. Even if the opportunity didn’t pan out, it still felt good to have Chris believe in him. He hadn’t felt that good since the last time his mother praised him over his work. He quickly put away his sketch book and went in search of a pair of shorts so that he could go join his family.
Zander was just settling down on a lounge chair when Chris appeared in the yard.
“Hey, is everything alright?” he asked when Chris was in earshot.
“Yeah, Justin’s just getting changed. He’ll be down in a few minutes,” Chris replied with a smile as he stripped off his shirt. He enjoyed the look of desire that crossed Zander’s face as he did. “You know, your cousin is pretty damn talented. He was sketching when I got to his room and he let me take a look at his work. You should ask him to show it to you. I’m going to give him my storyline for the fundraiser and see what he can come up with. Tom hasn’t found anyone to do the illustrations yet, so I thought maybe Justin could do it.”
“You think he could?”
“He’s that good,” Chris said confidently.
Zander knew that was high praise coming from his partner and made a mental note to ask Justin about his art. He was about to question Chris about it more when he felt a cold splash of water come their way. “Hey, you little shit. Watch it.”
Brian laughed from the edge of the pool. “Then stop acting like old men and get your asses in here.”
“I’ll show you old,” Chris replied before running to the pool and jumping in.
He broke the surface quickly and then went after Brian, grabbing him from behind and dunking him under the water. When Brian surfaced, he only had a moment to breathe before being forced back down, his arms flailing as he went.
Zander watched from the chair, laughing at the brothers’ antics. He glanced to the left and noticed Justin approaching hesitantly. He smiled at the kid’s shyness. “I hope you know how to swim. Around here, it tends to be a matter of life and death,” he teased.
“I was on the swim team for three years. I think I can handle it,” Justin replied.
“Good. So Chris tells me that you’re pretty talented,” Zander began.
“I guess,” Justin said shyly.
“Would you mind if I take a look at your stuff later? I’d like to see what you can do.”
“Sure,” Justin agreed. “Um...Chris said that I could try and do some drawings for his book. Do you think…I mean, does he…”
Zander saw Justin’s nervousness and doubt and wanted to ease his fears. “Justin, Chris takes his work very seriously. It’s how he got to where he is. If he thinks you’re good enough to do the illustrations on his work, then he means it. He wouldn’t suggest it just to make you feel better.”
“Thanks. I was hoping you’d say something like that.”
Before Zander could say anymore, he felt another splash of water, this time from Chris. “Let’s go you two. Stop sitting on the sidelines like a couple of sissies.”
“What do you say, Justin? The Morgan-Taylor’s against the Kinney’s?”
“I’m right behind you,” Justin replied with a devious smile, ready to forget all his troubles and have some fun for the first time in a month.
After spending a few hours in the sun, all four of them were ready to dry off and go inside. Brian and Justin went to their rooms and took turns taking their showers, while Chris and Zander spent a little time alone in their room, making up for their short separation. They all met back downstairs and had dinner before Brian and Justin left for the river.
“You look a little nervous. Are you okay?” Brian asked as he drove through town.
“Yeah, I’m alright. I guess I’m a little nervous though. Do they…I mean…do your friends know I’m gay?” Justin asked hesitantly.
“A couple of them,” Brian admitted before realizing the problem. “Shit, Justin, I’m sorry. I didn’t think about it when I told them. Did you not want anyone to know?”
“No, it’s okay. I wasn’t out to anyone but my parents at home, but it’s different here. I mean, they’re okay with you being gay so I doubt they’ll have a problem with me, right?”
“Everything will be fine. Trust me. About half of us are gay. The others are completely gay friendly. You have nothing to worry about,” Brian assured him. “But I really am sorry that I said anything. I guess I’m just so used to being out that I didn’t really think about it.”
“Really, it’s fine. It’ll be nice not to have to hide anymore. My mother used to try to get me to tell a few of my friends back home, and I wanted to. I just wasn’t sure of their reaction. I guess I’ll never know now.”
“You can always keep in touch with them, you know. Zander and Chris wouldn’t object to you having a friend or two come to visit. They’re really cool about having people at the house,” Brian told him as he turned onto the dirt road leading to the river.
“That’s alright. Since the accident I really haven’t spent a lot of time with them anyway. They used to call me all the time and try to get me to go out with them, but after the first couple of times, I decided that hanging out with everyone wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. They eventually stopped calling. They probably had more fun when I wasn’t there moping around.”
“That’s got to be hard,” Brian offered. “Look, if you ever want to talk, you know where to find me. My parents aren’t dead, but they might as well be. I know what it’s like to wake up one day and have your whole world changed.”
“Thanks Brian. I appreciate it,” Justin replied with a smile. “But out of curiosity, what exactly did you tell them about me?”
“No problem. That’s what friends are for, right? And all I said was that Zander’s cousin was coming to stay with us for awhile. I figured I’d leave the rest up to you.” Brian parked the jeep in his usual spot before turning to Justin. “Now before we get out, I just want to warn you. My friends are a little on the strange side, but they’re a good group of guys. I think you’ll like them.”
“I’m sure I will. And thanks for doing this. I don’t want you to feel like you have to drag me out with you all the time. You have your own life and I don’t want to interfere.”
“You’re not interfering and I can never have too many friends. Now let’s go. They’re waiting for us.”
Justin walked alongside Brian nervously as he saw a group of people hanging out on blankets by the water. He felt the tension building in him just as he felt Brian place a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Relax, they won’t bite,” Brian said quietly.
Justin thought about telling Brian that he wasn’t feeling well and asking for a ride home, when one of the guys in the crowd spotted them and jumped up off the blanket he’d been sitting on.
“Hey, Bri, I’m so glad you’re here. We need you to solve an argument we’re having. Who has the better ass? Me or Dane?”
“Well, I’d have to say Dane,” Brian replied seriously.
“Thank you!” Dane exclaimed as he jumped up and got in Matt’s face. “See, I told you.”
Matt looked angrily at Brian. “How could you say that?”
“Because I’ve seen Dane’s up close and personal, if you know what I mean. Now if you’re offering…” Brian let his voice trail off suggestively.
“Not on your life, Kinney,” Matt laughed when he got Brian’s meaning. He suddenly noticed the blond standing alongside Brian. “Hey, you must be Justin.”
Brian took a minute to introduce everyone to Justin before grabbing a beer out of the cooler. “So, who’s up for a game?”
Justin watched the interaction between Brian and his friends and couldn’t help but wonder how his life would’ve been if he had the guts to come out to his friends. Would they have embraced him and made him feel like nothing had changed, or would they have turned their backs on him and isolated him for being attracted to the “wrong sex”? He’d never really know, but seeing everyone laughing and talking like friends do, he kind of wished he had given himself a chance to find out.
End of part 4
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