Now That You're Here


Chapter 41


Justin was pacing back and forth in his room when the phone finally rang. “Are you on your way?”

Jason laughed. “Yes, we just pulled out of the hotel parking lot. We should be there in about twenty minutes. Is, um…is Zac there?” he couldn’t resist asking.

“Like you don’t already know. I’ve never known anyone who text messages as much as you two,” Justin giggled. “Of course he’s here. He’s looking a little pale, though.”

“Would you please explain to him that there’s no reason to be nervous. My parents are going to love him.”

“I’ve tried. He won’t listen,” Justin replied with a smile. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Yep, see ya.”

Justin shoved his phone in his pocket and ran downstairs, finding Zan in the kitchen. “They’re on their way.”

“Okay,” Zan replied and then looked more closely at Justin. “Wow, you’re really nervous. How come?”

“I’m not sure,” Justin laughed. “I know it’s crazy. I mean, I’ve known Mr. and Mrs. Meyers almost all my life. I grew up in their house. They’re my family, too. I guess I just want you guys to like them.”

Zander put down the dish he’d been drying and went to Justin, pulling him into a quick hug. “Relax, everything is going to be fine. I’m sure we’ll love them. Why wouldn’t we? They’re obviously great people. Look at what a good job they’ve done raising Jason.”

“Yeah,” Justin agreed. “Where did Brian and Zac go?”

“Oh, I sent them to the store. I thought we had more milk. I’m going to need it for the mashed potatoes.”

“You know, we could’ve just gone out to dinner. You didn’t have to slave away in the kitchen,” Justin pointed out, although he was secretly pleased that Zan wanted to go through the trouble of cooking.

“I know, I guess I want them to like us, too,” Zander chuckled. “Now why don’t you finish setting the dining room table for me? The dishes are there. You just need to put out the silverware and the glasses. Use the stemware from the china cabinet.”

Justin grabbed what he needed and went to the dining room. They hardly ever used the room, choosing to be much more informal when it was just them. He looked at the dishes on the table and realized that Zander had pulled out the good china. He smiled once again at the man’s effort. He was just finishing up when Chris walked in.

“Hey, before Jason and his parents get here,” Chris said as he handed Justin a box. “I’ve got something for you. I just picked it up this morning, and wanted to give it to you before everyone gets here.”

Justin eyed the package suspiciously before taking it from Chris’s outstretched hand. He looked down at the box and then back up in time to see Zan walk in looking expectantly. He couldn’t imagine what could be inside. Christmas had been over for days and his birthday wasn’t until April.

“Go on, open it,” Zander encouraged.

Justin laughed at himself and opened the box, anxious to see what was inside. He looked in and his heart started hammering in his chest. “This is it?”

“That’s it,” Chris replied.

Justin’s hands were shaking as he pulled out a copy of the children’s book that Chris had written for charity. He stared in awe at the front cover. Not only was it amazing to see his artwork in print like that, but it gave him such a sense of pride. He started tearing up as he read the cover. “Bobby’s Amazing Journey. Written by Christopher Kinney, illustrations by Justin Taylor. Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”

“Believe it, Kid. We’re so proud of you,” Chris said with a smile.

Justin looked at the cover for a few more seconds and then put the package down and reached out to hug Chris tight. “Thank you so much.”

“What are you thanking me for?” Chris laughed as he hugged Justin back. “You did all the work.”

Justin pulled back and looked at Chris incredulously. “Are you kidding me? You got me the opportunity. All I did was draw; something that I’ve been doing since I learned how to hold a crayon.”

“Come here, you.” Zander took his turn to hug Justin. “Stop trying to diminish your accomplishment. You’re very talented, or they never would’ve used your work. Chris got your foot in the door, but you earned the right to stay there.”

“Thanks, both of you.” Justin’s voice was thick with emotion. “For believing in me.”

“Oh stop it,” Zander said. “Don’t start going all emotional on us. We’ve got company on their way here and I’ve got to finish dinner.”

“Sorry,” Justin replied sheepishly as he wiped the dampness from his eyes. “But it’s Chris’s fault for giving me this right before they get here.”

“Yeah sure, blame it all on me,” Chris pouted.

“Oh come here,” Zander sighed teasingly as he pulled Chris to him for a kiss. Ever since moving back home, Zan found any excuse he could to touch Chris in some way. “We don’t blame you at all.”

“Good,” Chris said, suddenly cheerful. “Now we better get going if the Meyers are on their way. Jus, I put two in the box. I thought you might want to give one to Jason’s parents.”

“Thanks, Chris.”

“Alright then, I’d better get back in the kitchen. Justin, you can finish up in here and Chris, I need you to run out to the garage and get the wine from the refrigerator out there. Now that most of the food is out of the one in here, I have room.”

“Yes sir,” Chris teased as he walked off to do what he was told. Zan just shook his head and went back to the kitchen.

By the time the Meyers showed up, Justin had finished the table and was hanging out in the living room with Brian and Zac. He heard the car pull up and went rushing outside just as Mrs. Meyers was walking around the front of the rental car. Justin smiled when he saw her and flew into her arms, hugging her almost as tightly as she hugged him.

“I missed you so much, Baby,” Karen Meyers said as she held on tight.

Justin was surprised by the tears that began to flow. “I missed you, too.” And he did. He just didn’t realize how much until he was in her arms. He held on for another few moments and then pulled away, wiping at his eye. He wasn’t surprised to see tears in Mrs. Meyers’ eyes, too. “I’m so glad that you guys came out here.”

“Well, to be honest; we wanted to see where Jason was going to be going to school, but I really used that as an excuse to come out and see you. I’ve been such a bad friend to your mom. I should’ve taken you in right from the start, but I was so wrapped up in my own grief and then with my dad being so sick for awhile. Well, it’s no excuse. I just needed to come and make sure that you’re alright. Better late than never, huh?”

“Please don’t feel bad. I know my mom would understand. Besides, it’s not like I wasn’t being taken care of. The Johnson’s were great to me. I still call them once a month to say hi. And if I wasn’t in foster care, then the state would’ve never found Zander. He’s my family and I’m really happy here. It’s the next best thing to being with them. I think my parents would be happy for me.”

“I think so, too, Baby,” Karen replied as she touched his cheek lovingly.

“Alright, move aside. It’s my turn,” Jeff Meyers said as he came up alongside of them and pulled Justin into a tight embrace. “How are you doing, son?”

“I’m good, Mr. Meyers. Really good,” Justin replied as he hugged the older man back. Jeff Meyers was a big man. He stood well over six feet tall and was built like a linebacker. Anyone in his arms tended to get lost in there.

“You know, Justin. You’re going to be 18 in a few months and under the circumstances, I think it’s time you dropped the Mr. and Mrs. and called us Jeff and Karen,” Jeff suggested as he finally let Justin go.

“I’ll try,” Justin offered with a smile.

“Hey, what about me?” Jason asked from the sidelines. “Don’t I get a hug?”

“I just saw you last month,” Justin teased as he grabbed Jason for their usual hug and kiss. “Besides, we all know that I’m not the reason you came out here now.”

“No, you’re not the only reason I come out here now,” Jason corrected him. “Where the hell is he?”

“He’s inside. I think they all wanted to give me a chance to greet your parents alone.”

“Oh, well we better go inside then.”

Jason led everyone inside, running into Chris and Zander hovering by the door. “Hey guys, did you miss me?”

“How can we miss you? You are almost always here,” Zan teased as he hugged Jason. He was slowly becoming part of the family. “Stacy’s starting to call her roll-away Jason’s bed.”

Jason let go of Zan and hugged Chris as he laughed. “Oh stop it. You guys love me.”

Once Jason was done greeting the men, he stepped away and introduced his parents. Zander extended his hand immediately. “It’s so nice to meet you both. We’ve heard a lot about you.”

Karen smiled brightly. “Same here. Jason is very fond of both of you. I’m sorry if he’s being such a pest.”

“Oh, not at all,” Chris insisted as he shook Jeff and Karen’s hand. “We just like giving him a hard time. He’s become part of the family. He’s a good kid.”

“Can I have that in writing for the next time you tell me I’m a pain in the ass?” Jason teased.

“Absolutely not,” Chris replied with a smile. “Now, come on in everybody. There’s no need to stand in the hallway. Jas, I believe someone’s anxiously waiting in the living room for you.”

Jason grinned and quickly headed into the other room, finding Zac pacing the floor nervously. “Hey you,” he said as he walked over and pulled Zac into his arms, kissing him tenderly. “Miss me?”

“You know I did,” Zac replied, momentarily stunned by the kiss. Once his daze wore off, he remembered the Meyers and pulled back quickly. “Um, don’t do that.”

“Oh, would you relax,” Jason laughed. He turned around and addressed his parents. “Mom, Dad, this is Zac.”

“Is this the boy who turned my son queer?” Jeff bellowed, causing Zac to take a step back.

“Dad, don’t scare him like that,” Jason chastised.

Karen jumped in quickly. “Jeffery, stop that. You’re scaring the poor boy.” She playfully smacked her husband on the arm and then turned to Zac. “Please excuse my husband. He likes to joke, usually at the expense of others. It’s very nice to meet you, Zac.”

“Um, thank you, Mrs. Meyers. It’s nice to meet you, too.”

“Oh come on, you guys. I’m sure Zac knows how to take a joke,” Jeff said as he extended his hand to Zac. “Don’t you, Kid?”

“Yeah, sure,” Zac chuckled nervously.

Zan stood back and watched the exchange between Zac and the Meyers with amusement before pulling everyone’s attention off the poor kid. “Alright, dinner should be ready in about twenty minutes. Who’d like something to drink?”

The evening passed smoothly. Justin was so happy to see Chris and Zan getting along so well with the Meyers. It meant a lot that his two “families” liked each other. Zac eventually settled down once the initial meeting of the parents was over and seemed to charm Karen and Jeff just like he charmed everyone else he came in contact with. Once dinner was over and the dishes were cleaned up, Brian, Zac, and Jason went upstairs to hang out, but Justin chose to stay downstairs and spend some time with Jason’s parents. At one point, Jeff had disappeared and returned with a box under his arms. Chris and Zan seemed to take this as their opportunity to go make coffee, leaving the three of them alone. Jeff walked over to where Justin and Karen were sitting and handed the box to his wife.

“Justin, I have to say that I’m really impressed with Chris and Zander and the life you’ve created for yourself out here. I’ve been so worried about you. Your mom was my very best friend, and her and your father’s death was so tragic. I’m glad that you were able to find peace and a family that loves you as much as this one does.”

“Thank you, Mrs…Karen,” Justin said tearfully as he hugged the woman again. “That means a lot to me. I just wish I didn’t have to be so far away from you and Jeff. I’ve always considered you guys to be my family, too. I didn’t even realize how much I missed having you around until I saw you again.”

“Well don’t you worry; we’re going to make sure that there’s less time between visits from now on. Especially since both of our boys are going to be living out here soon.”

“I’d like that.”

“Now, I’ve been spending the last few months going through my attic, finding what I could of the past. I’ve put together a scrap book for you. I hope you like it.”

Justin took the box that Karen offered him and opened it up to find a scrap book with a picture of him and his parents on the cover. He looked up at Karen for a moment and then reached in and took the book out. As he turned the pages, pictures of him, his parents, and even some of his mother from her college days jumped out at him and made him smile. There were pictures of him and Jason as boys, Sean was even in a few of them. The book was essentially a timeline, running from when his mother was just eighteen, right up until the final picture that had been taken just a few weeks before the accident. Justin was speechless as he thumbed through the pages over and over again.

“I didn’t mean to upset you, Justin. Was it too soon to give this to you?” she asked worriedly.

Justin shook his head and reached out, pulling Karen into his arms. “No,” he finally whispered. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

Chris and Zander finally rejoined them, bringing along a tray of coffee for those who wanted it. Justin showed them the book, and Zander smiled at the joy on Justin’s face. He knew the blond had some family photos, but the book was a work of art and gave Justin something beautiful to look at when he needed a reminder of his previous life. Once Justin finally put the book down, Chris suggested that he get the book that he wanted to give to the Meyers.

“Oh yeah,” Justin said as his memory was jarred. He went over to the entertainment center and grabbed the book from where he had placed it earlier. “This is…um…well, Chris thought you might like a copy.” He handed the book over to Karen shyly.

Karen looked down at the book and smiled as she realized what she was seeing. “Oh my God, Justin.” She opened the book and turned every page, amazed at how well the pictures helped to tell the story. “This is amazing. Your parents would be so proud. I’m so proud.”

“Great job, Justin,” Jeff added as he looked at the book over his wife’s shoulder. “You’ve come a long way from the little boy who used to draw us pictures to hang on the fridge, even though those were fantastic.” Jeff looked over at Chris and Zan and smiled. “When he was little, all he ever wanted to do was color and draw. Poor Jason used to get so frustrated with him. Most boys wanted to play with their cars or their little action figures, but not Justin. Anyone with eyes could see his talent even back then.”

“He’s definitely talented. I saw it on his first day here. I knew I was doing this book. It’s a charity series that a bunch of us writers were doing. I asked him to submit his work, knowing that the coordinator would love whatever he came up with. Sure enough, Justin’s doing a lot of his projects now. This is the first time his work has been published, but it’s definitely not going to be his last,” Chris explained proudly.

Justin basked in the praise he was receiving, glad that Brian was upstairs unable to hear. He’d be embarrassed by the way everyone was going on about him. A short while later, Karen and Jeff announced that it was time to go. They wanted to be on the college campus early the next morning and it was already after ten. Jason wasn’t going with them. It was decided that he and Justin would meet them at the hotel and they would all go on the tour together. Justin was looking forward to spending as much time with Jeff and Karen as he could before they had to fly back to Pittsburgh.

Once everyone was gone, the boys all said goodnight and went upstairs. Chris agreed to let Zac spend the night, provided that he and Brian shared a room and Justin and Jason shared a room. Of course, as they went upstairs they all went into Brian’s room to hang out for awhile before going to sleep. Brian sat down on his bed with his back against the wall and Justin sat between his legs, resting against Brian’s chest. He held the scrapbook in his lap, smiling as he looked through it again and again.

“That was really nice of Karen,” Brian offered as he tightened his hold on Justin. He enjoyed getting a glimpse at Justin’s old life.

“Yeah, my mom can be pretty cool at times,” Jason offered from where he was curled up with Zac on the floor.

“I thought I was going to wet myself when your dad asked if I was the boy who turned you queer,” Zac said as he smacked Jason’s arm lightly. “I can’t believe you told him I said that.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Jason giggled. “I told you they wouldn’t have any problem with me liking guys, although my mother is a little confused about the whole bisexual thing. I don’t think she likes not knowing if I’ll end up with a girl or a guy. I guess she wants to know if I’ll ever make her a grandmother.”

“Well, at least she’s got a 50/50 chance,” Brian pointed out.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Zac muttered under his breath.

Jason pulled back and looked into Zac’s eyes. “What was that?”

“What was what?” Zac replied, feigning cluelessness.

“What did you just say?”

“Um…nothing. I was just…nothing,” Zac stammered, and then called out to Brian to change the subject. “So, are we all ready for New Years Eve, Bri?”

Brian knew what Zac was trying to do and had to help out his friend. “Yeah, Steve’s parents said that we could have the basement, and they promised that they wouldn’t come down as long as we kept the volume down.”

“Cool, although it’s going to be weird not being here.”

“I know, but I think Chris and Zan could use the evening alone after everything that’s happened,” Brian said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Hey, as long as I can curl up with Jason in a dark corner, I’m good,” Zac laughed.

“Sounds good to me,” Jason said, deciding to allow the subject change. Instead, he pulled Zac to him and kissed him deeply.

Brian glanced over and saw his friends kissing and decided that they had the right idea. He reached around and took the scrapbook from Justin, placing it carefully on the floor, before following Jason’s lead and kissing his blond soundly. No one had much to say after that.

Chris was lying and Zander’s arms, listening to the sound of his partner’s even breathing. Zan had fallen asleep after an extremely exhausting round of lovemaking, leaving Chris awake to think about the future. He was so happy that they worked things out, but he couldn’t help fearing what lay ahead. He was really starting to feel better after so many weekly sessions with Patti, but a part of him was still concerned over his mental state. He promised himself and Zander that he’d never be unfaithful again, and he had really meant it. He would just feel better if he knew exactly what it was that made him stray in the first place. Yes, it felt good that Ryan wanted him, but deep down inside he knew what he was doing was wrong. He wanted; no, he needed to know what it was that made him disregard the feelings of the man he loved and jump into bed with someone else.

Sighing, he carefully slipped out of bed and grabbed his robe before heading down to the living room. He went to the entertainment center and poured himself a glass of the top shelf Brandy he kept there for company and special occasions. He walked over to the back door and looked out over the darkened yard. He had so many thoughts running through his head, he wasn’t sure which way was up. It was ridiculous, really. All he wanted was for Zander to move back home, and he’d been walking on cloud nine ever since the day after Christmas when he’d officially moved back in. He should be cuddled up in bed, grateful that he wasn’t alone instead of standing at the back door, drinking Brandy and worrying about what was to come.

Yet he couldn’t help but worry. Not when he had come so close to losing everything he held dear just two months earlier. He couldn’t help but fear Zan walking out on him again. He was sure that he wouldn’t be able to live through it again. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that watching Zander walk out that door again would literally cause him to die from a broken heart. He just wasn’t sure if he had the ability to make Zan as happy as he deserved. He wasn’t sure if he could be the kind of guy that Zan should be spending his life with. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore. He continued to stand there and drink his Brandy, as all those thoughts plagued his mind.

Zander woke up with a start, immediately noticing that he was alone in bed. He looked over towards the bathroom, but it was obvious that Chris wasn’t there. He listened carefully, trying to figure out where Chris could be but he couldn’t hear a sound. For a brief moment, he wondered if Chris had gone out somewhere, but stopped himself before he let his thoughts steer themselves into territory he wasn’t willing to travel. Instead, he got out of bed and threw on a pair of shorts before going in search of the missing man. As he entered the living room, he saw Chris’s silhouette standing by the back door. A Brandy snifter was obvious in his hand. Chris didn’t hear him so Zan walked over and reached around the other man, pulling his body close.

“Hey, did I wake you?” Chris asked without turning around.

“I don’t know. I woke up a little startled, knowing that I was alone. What are you doing out here?”

“Just thinking. I’m kind of restless tonight so I thought that maybe a drink would help.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really, but I’m thinking that I probably should,” Chris sighed.

“Well, you could wait until Wednesday and talk to Patti if it’ll be easier,” Zan suggested.

Chris considered it, but then figured it’d be better to be honest with Zan. He needed to do everything he could to try and make their relationship work. “I’m scared, Zan. I’m scared that I’m going to screw up again and lose you for good.”

“Oh Babe,” Zander replied as he reached up and took Chris’ face in his hands, forcing eye contact. “That’s not going to happen; especially if you come to me with your thoughts and fears. That’s the whole point of therapy. To learn what causes your insecurities and self doubt and work through them. Please don’t worry about me. As long as you’re honest and you talk to me, we’ll be okay.”

Chris kissed Zan deeply. He was glad he told the other man about his fears. It seemed to make him feel better. Maybe there was something to the whole “share your feelings” idea everyone around him had. He finally pulled back and took Zander’s hand, leading him towards the bedroom. “Come on, let’s go back to bed.”

The following morning, despite how comfortable he was lying in Chris’s arms, Zander dragged himself out of bed. As much as he loved owning his own bookstore, there were days where he wished he could call in sick like the rest of the world. It was just after six, and although he didn’t open until nine, he needed to go in early. They had received a huge delivery the day before to replenish the stock after the Christmas season and Zan knew that some of it was still sitting in the back. He needed to do some rearranging before the rest could be put away. He showered and dressed quickly, and then dropped a soft kiss on his lover’s cheek before rushing out the door.

He stopped on his way for a large cappuccino, and made it to the store by seven. That gave him almost two hours of uninterrupted time to do what he had to do. Brian wouldn’t be in until almost nine. He thought about getting the registers set up first, but then decided to spend his time wisely. Brian could handle the set up when he arrived. After going into the back and dragging the boxes he needed out to the appropriate shelving, he got to work. There were quite a few new authors and titles that needed to be worked into the set up. He was so lost in what he was doing; his brain didn’t register the sound of the bell over the door and he jumped at the cold voice that was suddenly beside him.


Zander turned around and came face to face with someone he’d never seen before. Most of his customers knew what time he opened and there was a sign on the front door with the hours of operation posted on it. Somehow Zan knew that this wasn’t a business call. He tried to remain calm. “I’m sorry, sir. We don’t open for another hour. If you’d like to come back during business hours, I’ll be happy to help you find what you’re looking for.”

“That won’t be necessary. I found what I was looking for,” the man replied with a sneer. “I’m Ryan.”

Zan did his best not to let the shock appear on his face, but his heart was racing in his chest and his palms started sweating. “Hello, Ryan, what can I do for you?”

“He loves me, you know”

“Um…actually, I don’t know that. If he loved you, wouldn’t he be with you?” Zan said, kicking himself for purposely antagonizing the man, but he couldn’t help it. What right did Ryan have to walk into his bookstore? “I think it would be best if you left.”

“He wants to be with me. He just doesn’t know what to do about you,” Ryan barked, ignoring Zander’s suggestion. “He feels sorry for you and doesn’t want to just leave you high and dry. He’s a good man and feels a sense of obligation towards you, but that’s all. He’s going to work it all out, and then we’re going to be together. He assured me of that when we spoke the other day.”

Zander looked in the other man’s eyes and could almost see his instability there. There was a momentary twinge of doubt that managed to creep in, but he pushed it aside. Ryan was delusional. Chris didn’t love this man. He had nothing to fear. “Well, then why are you here? If you’re so sure that Chris loves you and is going to leave me for you, then you should go back home and wait for him to make his move. Now I’m going to ask you nicely to please leave my store.”

“You know, it was so easy to get him into my bed. All I had to do was wag my little finger and he came running to me. I guess that’s what happens to guys who don’t get their needs met at home,” Ryan commented dryly. “I felt bad for him actually. The poor guy was so unhappy with his life before I took him in my bed. The first time we made love; he broke down and cried like a baby afterwards. Told me that he’d never experienced anything as wonderful as what we had shared. Is it any wonder why he kept coming back? He’s been unsatisfied for years and needed a real man to meet his needs.”

Zan felt like he’d been punched in the gut and although he kept telling himself that what Ryan was saying was just the incoherent ramblings of an unstable man, he couldn’t help but feel his own insecurities flair up. When your partner cheats on you, feelings of inadequacy are bound to make an appearance. Although he knew that Chris’s infidelity had nothing to do with him, the words Ryan was spewing hit a nerve.

“You better get out of here before I call the police.” Zander brushed past the man, heading towards the phone when he felt hands grab him from behind and then everything went black.

End of part 41


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