Now That You're Here
Brian was actually in a good mood considering he, Justin, Zac and Jason had been up late the night before. He loved being able to work more and make more money during school breaks, but then there were times when he wished he could take a week off from everything and just spend his days sleeping in and bumming around; preferably with Justin at his side. He parked the jeep in his usual spot next to Zander’s car and climbed out, making sure to grab his super-sized coffee before he closed the door. The old fashioned shopping center where the bookstore was located was just beginning to wake up as he made his way inside. He called out to Zan as he walked towards the counter, noticing that there was an unsettling silence around him. Usually by the time he got in there in the morning, Zan had the soft sounds of music piped through the place. He put his coffee down on the counter and then turned to go search for Zan when he saw the man’s body lying on the floor.
“Oh my God, Zan!” he screamed as he raced towards Zander’s body. He reached for his cell phone as he went, calling for help. “Zan, wake up!”
“911, what’s your emergency.”
“I need an ambulance…”
Brian gave the operator the information she needed as he gently shook Zander, trying to get him to regain consciousness. The operator had him turn Zan on his back, to check for breathing, and feel for a pulse. Brian breathed a huge sigh of relief when he saw that Zander was indeed breathing. He continued to hold the man’s hand while he waited, thrilled when he heard the sirens in the distance.
“Zan, please wake up. Help is on the way, but I’d really love it if you’d wake up,” Brian pleaded once again. He was rewarded by a soft moan as Zander began to come to. “That’s it. Come on, wake up and talk to me.”
“Bri…an?” Zan managed to mutter.
“Yeah, it’s me. Thank God. You scared the shit out of me!” Brian exclaimed as he squeezed Zander’s hand and brushed the hair off his forehead. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Um…I’m not…sure. Where…”
“You’re at the store. I know you were planning on coming in early to put away the rest of the delivery. I came in and found you unconscious on the floor. Are you in pain? Did you trip?”
Brian looked at the man in horror. “Ryan? Ryan was here? Did he do this to you?”
Zander didn’t have time to reply before the paramedics and the police came in, gently pushing Brian to the side so that they could work on Zander. With shaking hands, Brian called Chris.
“Hey Chris, it’s me. When I got into work this morning, I found Zander unconscious on the floor. I called 911. He’s awake now, though. The paramedics are working on him.”
“What! Shit…alright…um…let me get dressed. I’ll meet them at the hospital,” Chris ordered as he sprang out of bed and reached for his dresser.
“Chris, there’s something you should know,” Brian replied hesitantly.
“He really couldn’t say much. He seemed a little confused, but he said the name Ryan.”
“Ryan? Why would he…no. He must just be confused. Ryan wouldn’t…no…he wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Chris insisted although doubts began to fill his mind. The last few times they talked, Ryan seemed so distraught. Was it possible that he’d go after Zander, figuring he was what stood between them? “Just…let me get dressed…and wake Justin up. Stay there and keep the store open. I’ll call you and let you know what’s going on.”
Brian put his phone away and stood off to the side, watching while the paramedics prepared Zander for transport. A police officer came over to him to ask him a few questions.
“Did you see anything suspicious when you pulled up outside?”
“No, everything seemed normal. When I walked in and realized how quiet it was, I started to worry. Zan pipes that elevator music throughout the store during the day. He hadn’t turned it on yet. I called his name and when he didn’t answer, I put my coffee down and turned to go find him. That’s when I saw him on the floor,” Brian explained.
“Can you tell if anything is missing?”
“Oh, I didn’t even think to look.” Brian walked back behind the counter and looked around and then glanced around the rest of the store, looking for anything out of place. “Except for the books that were obviously knocked over when Zan went down, nothing seems out of place.”
“Okay, is there anyone that you could contact for Mr. Morgan?”
“Uh…I already did. He’s my brother’s partner. I called my brother. He’s going directly to the hospital.”
“Great. I’ll follow them over there and see if I can get an official statement from Mr. Morgan once he’s settled. From what I’ve been able to get out of him so far, it appears that your boss was attacked. I’ll have one of my guys take a look around back and see if they notice anything unusual. If you come across anything that might be considered suspicious, give the station a call and ask for Officer Reynolds, okay?”
Brian waited until everyone was gone before collapsing on the stool behind the counter. The adrenaline rush was wearing off leaving him shaking and on the verge of tears. He had left the closed sign up and locked the door after everyone was gone, knowing that he wasn’t up to dealing with customers at the moment. Zander was looking much better by the time they wheeled him out the door, but Brian couldn’t help but worry. Knowing that he was going to be pretty useless until he knew for sure what was going on, he called Stacy and told her what happened. She was horrified and promised to be in as soon as possible to run things so that Brian could go to the hospital. Brian thanked her over and over again and promised to call as soon as he knew anything. As soon as he hung up the phone, he grabbed his keys and headed out, anxious to get to the hospital.
As he walked into the ER, he spotted Justin, Jason, and Zac all sitting in the corner talking among themselves. He walked over and joined them. “Hey, do you know anything yet?”
“Not yet,” Justin offered as he stood up and hugged Brian tight. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. I found him lying unconscious on the floor when I got there. When he started coming to, he mentioned Ryan’s name, but then the cops and paramedics came in and took over and I didn’t get a chance to talk to him again.”
Justin paled. “Ryan? Do you think…”
“I don’t know, but maybe…I don’t know why else he would say the name. Chris thought that maybe he was just confused, but…”
“Who’s Ryan?” Zac asked as he and Jason listened in on the conversation.
Brian looked at his friend and mentally kicked himself for saying anything in front of him and Jason. “Um…no one. Shit, I shouldn’t have…”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Jas and I heard nothing. It’s a family thing. I get it,” Zac jumped in and assured him before Brian could finish. “Hey Jas, let’s go take a quick walk outside.”
Jason looked between Brian and Justin and then nodded. “Yeah, I could use some fresh air,” he replied as he grabbed Zac’s hand and led him toward the doors.
“Thanks guys,” Brian called out to them. “Shit, I wasn’t even thinking about them being here.”
“It doesn’t matter. They won’t ask any questions. Do you really think Ryan might’ve had anything to do with this?”
“Well, one of the cops asked Zan a few questions at the scene and then he asked me if anything seemed out of place. It didn’t. He said that he was assuming that Zan was attacked, but that he was going to come here to get an official statement. Zan must have said something to him. Otherwise, why would he think it was an attack instead of just a guy collapsing from some medical condition? There’s no reason to think that it was a robbery gone wrong if nothing was out of place. I don’t know. Do you think this Ryan guy would go after Zan? I mean, Chris ended it months ago.”
“Yeah, but he’s not taking the break up really well apparently,” Justin replied hesitantly. “Look, I don’t know if Chris told Zander yet, but Ryan called him Christmas Eve day before you guys got home from the store. I overheard enough of the conversation to know that Chris was trying to make Ryan understand that the relationship, or whatever it was, is over. He didn’t seem to want to accept it. Chris and I talked about it afterwards. The guy is willing to be the “other man” as long as Chris stays with him. It was kind of creepy, really. Chris didn’t want to ruin the holiday by bringing it up, but he said he was going to tell Zan after Christmas. I hope he did, because I’m sure it’s all going to come out now if Ryan was involved.”
“I really hope he wasn’t. I don’t even want to think about what something like that will do to the two of them.”
“Yeah, me either,” Justin sighed in agreement. He really hoped his cousin was just confused.
Chris was sitting in a chair alongside Zander’s hospital bed, holding the younger man’s hand. The nurse had just left, after assuring them both that the x-ray results would be back shortly. Chris didn’t know what to say to Zan that would make the situation better. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”
“It’s okay, Babe. It’s not your fault,” Zander said for the tenth time since Officer Reynolds left.
“How can you say that? I brought that asshole into our lives! If anything had happened to you, I don’t…”
“Hey, hey, hey…look at me.” Zander waited until Chris was looking at him before continuing. “I’m fine. It’s just a bump on the head.”
Chris leaned over and kissed Zan tenderly on the mouth before pulling back. “I love you so much. I was so scared when I got the call from Brian.”
“I know. I love you, too. And I’m sorry you were scared but I really am okay. There’s no need to worry anymore.”
“I’ll always worry about you,” Chris told him with a small smile. “Now tell me exactly what Ryan said to you.”
“It’s not important.”
“Please Zan, I’d really like to know,” Chris prodded.
“I don’t want to talk about it right now, okay? Can we just discuss it later? Preferably while we’re soaking in the Jacuzzi or something?”
“Alright, I’ll drop it for now,” Chris sighed. “I’d better go out and let Justin know what’s going on. He, Jason, and Zac were right behind me on the way over here.”
“Oh please, tell them that I’m fine and that they can go now. Justin and Jason were supposed to be meeting the Meyers for that tour today. They shouldn’t miss out because of this,” Zander insisted.
“I’ll tell them, but you know how Justin is. I’m sure he’s going to want to see you before he goes,” Chris said as he stood to go, kissing Zan on the forehead.
“Yeah, I know,” Zan smiled. “I really love that kid.”
“Me, too. Be right back.”
Sure enough, when Chris came back, he had both Brian and Justin with him.
“Hey guys,” Zan greeted them. “Bri, I’ll assume that Stacy is at the store?”
“Yeah, she’s got it covered. I’m going back as soon as I leave here, but I couldn’t stay there after what happened,” Brian replied. “I needed to be here.”
“It’s okay, but I’m fine. We’re just waiting for the results of my x-rays, and then I’ll be released. You can both go and get on with your day and not let this keep you from anything. Bri, I’ll be at the store as soon as I’m discharged.”
Chris immediately jumped in. “The hell you will! You’re taking the rest of the week off. Brian and Justin can help fill in for you.”
“Chris, don’t be ridiculous. It’s a bump on the head,” Zan protested. “Besides, Justin has Jason visiting for the week. I’m not going to make him work at the store.”
“I don’t mind, Zan. And Jason already offered to help out there, too. So did Zac, so there’s no reason for you to race back.”
“Yeah, in fact it’ll be good to train them so they can help out while you guys are in Italy. I could start training Zac today while Jason and Justin are with the Meyers. It never hurts to have back up for emergencies. It’s perfect,” Brian replied. “You trust them, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” Zan insisted. “I just don’t want to make a big deal out of this. I’m okay.”
“Humor me, alright? After the scare I just had, I’m not willing to let you out of my sight for awhile,” Chris said.
“Alright, alright, I give up,” Zander laughed. “I’ll take the day off, but I’m perfectly capable of going in tomorrow. Deal?”
“Nope, but nice try, Blondie,” Chris replied with a smile. “Guys, go ahead and do what you need to do. Bri, Zan most definitely will not be in for at least a few days. Adjust the schedule accordingly and let me know if you have any problems.”
“You got it, Chris,” Brian agreed enthusiastically. He walked over and hugged Zander, speaking softly in his ear. “I’m really glad you’re okay. Don’t ever scare me like that again.”
“I’ll try not to,” Zan promised. He sat quietly as he accepted a hug from Justin, too. “Now you boys get going. You’ve wasted enough of your day on me.”
Brian and Justin smiled at Zan one last time, hugged Chris and then walked out to go start their day. Zander couldn’t be more proud or feel more loved over their obvious concern. He really was a lucky man, bump on the head and all.
Chris spent the rest of the day doting on Zander and making sure the man had everything he needed. A huge part of him did it because of the love he had for the younger man. Receiving the phone call that he had been hurt nearly drove Chris out of his mind and he needed to hover to assure himself that Zander was fine. But there was a part of him that felt the need to somehow try to make up for the fact that the whole incident had been his fault to begin with. Regardless of what Zan had said in the hospital, Chris knew he was responsible for the concussion and the bump on the head that Zander had received.
After dinner, Chris filled the Jacuzzi with hot water and bath oil, just like Zander liked it. Once it was filled, Chris undressed himself and then took the time to undress Zan before they both climbed into the tub. The water was just the right temperature and Chris sighed in contentment once he was settled with Zander in his arms.
“Okay, now tell me what he said,” Chris insisted gently.
Zander cursed under his breath. He had been hoping Chris would forget to bring it up. He should’ve known better. “Babe, can’t we just forget about it? I’m fine and this tub feels like heaven right now. Let’s just enjoy it.”
“Nice try, Blondie. Now spill it.”
Zan sighed in resignation. “He told me that you love him and that all you feel towards me is a sense of obligation. That once you figure out what to do with me, you’re going to leave me for him.” Chris tried to interrupt, but Zan wouldn’t let him. “No, you wanted to hear this, just let me finish. He said that it was easy to get you into his bed. That you’d been unhappy with your life and that after you guys…after you…um…well, that you cried in his arms and claimed that you’d never experienced anything as wonderful as you did with him. He said it was no wonder that you kept going back. That you’d been unhappy for years and needed a real man to satisfy you.” Zan was surprised to find that he was on the verge of tears by the time he was finished. He hadn’t realized how much Ryan’s words had hurt until that moment. All those insecurities that had begun when he’d found out that his partner had been sleeping with another man came flooding back with a vengeance.
“You know none of what he said is true, right?” Chris offered as he tightened his arms around Zan. “Yeah, I liked him and thought he was a good guy, but I never loved him. I never even hinted at loving him. He knew right from the beginning that I was in love with you and had no intention of giving you up. And yes, I did cry that first night, but not because of whatever it was that he said. I cried because I was overcome with guilt. When the reality of what I had done sank in, I was a mess. I was so disgusted with myself; I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I wish it had been enough to make me stop seeing him immediately.”
“Why wasn’t it?” Zan asked tentatively. “I still can’t seem to understand that. If you knew what you were doing was wrong, that it was going to hurt me, and you didn’t want to hurt me, why did you keep going back for more?”
“I honestly don’t know. The thrill of it, I guess. He wanted me so much and it felt so good to be wanted like that. He made me feel like I was important. Every time he saw me, his face would light up like a kid on Christmas morning. Even when we…you know…it was as if he couldn’t get enough of me. It all made me feel like I was his whole world.”
“And I don’t do that for you,” Zan sighed sadly. “It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? Because you are my whole world. You are the most important person in my life, I love you with everything I have, you turn me on in ways that I never knew existed, even after all these years. All that and yet you felt like you needed someone else to give that to you.”
“I’m sorry, Babe. I’m so sorry that I ever doubted you. It’s not your fault, though. You didn’t do anything to make me doubt us. I was just so mixed up and he was right there to offer what I didn’t realize I already had, but I won’t make that mistake again. If I ever start to doubt your feelings for me, I’ll talk to you about it right away so that we can work it out,” Chris promised. “And for the record, I’ve had a lot going on in my head for years now, but I was never unhappy with you. You’re the reason I’ve been able to keep going all these years. You satisfy me in every way possible and I’m going to spend the rest of my life making sure you know that.”
Zan turned in Chris’s arms and looked him in the eyes. “Really?”
“Really,” Chris assured him and then kissed him gently. “You look exhausted. Why don’t we get out and get into bed? I want to hold you.”
“That sounds good to me.”
As soon as they were out of the tub and in bed, Chris took Zander in his arms and held him close. Zan drifted off almost immediately. Chris waited until he was sure that Zan would stay asleep and then went into the living room to call one of the guys he’d gotten friendly with while working at the newspaper. Teddy was a sergeant at the police station and always willing to help Chris out when needed. It took about fifteen minutes for Chris to learn that Ryan was picked up, charged with assault, and then released after claiming his innocence. A court hearing would no doubt be happening in the future. Chris thanked Teddy and promised not to do anything stupid, and then hung up and grabbed his keys. He felt a little visit to Ryan was definitely in order. He left the house quietly, hoping not to wake Zander or alert the boys upstairs to his departure, and headed towards the apartment complex where Ryan lived. By the time he parked the SUV and made his way into the building, his anger had been completely restored. He found the apartment and knocked on the door, taking a few deep breaths as he waited. The minute the door opened, Chris had Ryan by the shoulders and slammed him up against the nearest wall.
“Just what the fuck did you think you were doing?” Chris demanded angrily.
“Chris, let me explain,” Ryan replied quickly, his fear evident in his eyes. “I just wanted to talk to him. I never meant to…”
“Never meant to what? Hurt him? Leave him lying unconscious on the floor so my little brother could walk in and find him like that? Give him a concussion? What exactly didn’t you mean to do?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him. I was just trying to talk to him but when he said he was going to call the cops, I freaked out. I didn’t go there looking for trouble. Honest. I just wanted to tell him that we lov…”
“Don’t even finish that thought!” Chris exclaimed. “I don’t love you. I’ve never loved you. What we had was a mistake and nothing more. I love Zander and nothing you say or do will change that. You’re going to stop calling me and you’re going to stay the hell away from me and my family. Got it? If you ever go anywhere near Zander again, I’ll kill you!”
“Consider yourself warned,” Chris replied as he let go of Ryan and turned to walk away.
“Chris,” Ryan pleaded from behind him. “Please, I can make you so much happier than he can.”
Chris stopped, but didn’t even bother to turn around. “No you can’t. No one can. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I plan to spend the rest of my life proving that to him. It’s over between us, Ryan. And the sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.”
Nothing else was said as Chris made his way back out of the building. Once outside, his muscles relaxed and the tension in his body began to recede. He just hoped that his little talk with Ryan would do the trick. He didn’t know what he’d do if Ryan pushed any further. He wasn’t normally a violent man. Being raised by Jack Kinney taught him that violence was wrong and that no one deserved to live in fear, but this was different. He’d do whatever it took to protect the people he loved - whatever it took.
Brian was in the kitchen when Chris got back.
“Hey, where’d you go?” Brian asked as he pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge.
“I…uh…ran to the store.”
“You went to the store? You don’t have any bags with you.” Brian looked at Chris warily. “Where did you really go?”
Chris sighed. “Fine, I didn’t go to the store. I went to see Ryan.”
“What? Why would you go see him?”
“To tell him to stay away from Zander,” Chris replied. “Did you think I was just going to let what happened go? I told him that if he ever went near Zan again, I’d kill him.”
Brian gasped in horror. “Chris, you don’t mean that.”
“The hell I don’t. Look Bri, I’ll do whatever it takes to protect Zan from Ryan, even if it means tearing the man to pieces. Don’t you see? This is all my fault. Zander spent most of his morning in the hospital because of me. He was hurt because of me.”
“No, he was hurt because Ryan is a nutcase with serious issues.”
“But I brought Ryan into our lives. Whatever Ryan is, he wouldn’t have gone after Zan if I hadn’t been fucking around with him in the first place. If anything had happened to Zan, if Ryan had ki…if anything had happened, I’d never be able to live with myself. You can’t tell me that you don’t understand exactly what I’m talking about. I seem to recall hearing about your reaction to Dane after he hurt Justin, and that’s not even close to the same thing…and you and Justin weren’t even together at the time. What would you do now, if someone hurt Justin?”
Brian knew Chris had him. “Alright, I get it. Just be careful, okay? Ryan isn’t stable. I don’t want that bastard going after either one of you.”
“I know. I don’t think Ryan’s going to be bothering us anymore. I can’t be sure, but he looked pretty scared when I had him up against the wall. I think he might have gotten the hint this time,” Chris said with confidence. “Just do me a favor and don’t tell anyone I went over there? Not even Justin? I know it’s asking a lot, but I just think it’s best if no one else knows.”
“Alright, I won’t say a word. Just do me a favor and stay away from him from now on. If he tries contacting you again, ignore him. Don’t answer his calls, don’t respond to text messages. If he went as far as hurting Zan, who knows what he’s capable of doing.”
“I know, although he claims that he didn’t go to the store to hurt Zan. He was just trying to talk to Zan but when Zan threatened to call the cops, he freaked out. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he did seem kind of sorry. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Believe me; I’m going to stay as far away from him as I can. If he keeps trying to contact me, I’ll file a restraining order. I just want him out of our lives for good,” Chris insisted. “But if he doesn’t…”
“We’ll deal with that if and when the time comes, alright? But I want you to promise me that you’ll come to me before you do anything stupid.”
“Brian, I’m not…”
“Promise me, Chris. You may think of me as your little brother, but I’m not little anymore. I’m going to be eighteen next month. I’m not a kid anymore and I want to help you if you need it. Zan’s my family, too, and I’m very protective of my family. If Ryan doesn’t back off, we’ll find a way to deal with him together,” Brian insisted.
“Okay fine, I’ll let you know if I hear from him again,” Chris agreed. “Now, I’m going to go to bed and hope that Zan doesn’t hear me come in. Good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
End of part 42
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