Now That You're Here


Chapter 48


By the time Justin got to his car and headed back towards Sierra Vista, he knew what he was going to do. A glance at his watch told him that it was just after two. The time difference put him back in Arizona before school let out. He had about an hour before Brian reached the bookstore and Justin wanted to talk to Zander before he got there. Luckily the store was almost empty when he walked through the door. He smiled at Stacy and then headed into the back, finding Zander at his desk working on an order.

“Hey, Zan,” he said softly from the doorway.

Zander looked up at Justin’s greeting. “Hey, you’re back.” The older man stood up and walked over, taking the blond in his arms. “How’d everything go?”

“Um…good. Do you have some time? I kind of need to talk to you about something.”

“Is everything alright? Did something happen? I knew you shouldn’t have gone alone.”

Justin couldn’t help but laugh at Zan’s instant panic. “Relax, everything is fine and I’m okay. I’m just a little bit overwhelmed right now and I need your advice. Now, do you have time to run down to the deli and talk or should I wait until later?”

Zander looked closely for signs of sadness or turmoil. He found none. “No, I have time. It’s been slow today. Come on, let’s go.”

When they reached the deli, they each ordered a sandwich for themselves and something to take with them for Chris and Brian before sitting down at a table in the back. As soon as they were settled, Justin began.

“When I was at the lawyer’s today, I had to sign two sets of documents. The first one is a waiver releasing my college fund.” Justin pulled out the documents and showed the first one to Zan.

“Wow, this is great. You’ve got enough to pay for Arizona State for four years and then some. Your mom and dad must have started this really early.”

“Actually they started two college funds as soon as they got married, always planning on having two children. After they had me, my mom found out that she wouldn’t be able to have any more kids. They merged the two accounts and continued contributing as much as they had been. I’ve known for awhile now that I wouldn’t have an issue with going to school.”

“You’re lucky. I know Brian is stressing over college tuition. He’s getting quite a bit in government grants because technically he’s a foster kid since his parents disowned him, but not enough to pay for such an expensive school. Chris and I want to pay the difference, but he’s fighting us on it. He doesn’t want us to feel obligated. I want to ring his neck. We don’t feel obligated, we want to help and we’re in a financial situation where we can. We were going to offer to help you too, but I guess we don’t have to worry about it now,” Zan chuckled.

“No you don’t, but I wouldn’t have accepted anyway. I can understand Brian’s thinking. You guys have been so wonderful, taking us both in when no one else wanted us. We’re adults now. It’s our responsibility to get ourselves through school and make our way in the world,” Justin replied.

“That’s where you’re wrong. You guys are eighteen years old and still in school. It’s your responsibility to work hard and make something of yourselves. Struggling to find a way to pay for school shouldn’t even be a thought. You can make your way in the world once you have a college degree. And here I was hoping that you could talk to Brian and get him to let us help.”

“I can try to talk to him, but it’s going to be hard when I understand where he’s coming from. On the other hand, I love him and I don’t want him struggling with anything, so I’ll do my best.” Justin smiled.

“Thank you. Now, let’s get back to whatever has you needing advice. You mentioned two documents?”

Justin took a deep breath before continuing. “Yeah, Maxwell handled the sale of the house, the remaining car and everything else that my parents owned. He took that money and added it to the life insurance, then paid off all of their debts. The rest of it went into an account and has been sitting there waiting for me to turn eighteen. He said that usually kids don’t inherit money until they’re older, but my parents felt that I was mature enough to handle my own finances.” Justin handed over the second set of documents and waited for Zander’s reaction. He wasn’t surprised when Zan gasped and looked up from the papers in front of him with a shocked expression on his face.

“Holy shit, Jus. This is a lot of money.”

“I know. I knew I would eventually get some money from their death, but I never imagined it would be so much. It almost scares me, you know? I don’t know what to do with that kind of money. Maxwell opened an account and put ten thousand in there so that I could have access to it. He wasn’t sure if I needed to buy a car or find a place to live. He wanted me to be able to do whatever I needed to do. Of course, all I have to do is call him if I need more and he can transfer more over. The rest is still sitting in a separate account, waiting for me to decide what happens next.”

“Okay,” Zan replied and then took a moment, trying to wrap his mind around what Justin had told him. When he had spent his first year with Chris while his parents thought he was finding himself, he had access to money when needed, but nothing like the sizable amount Justin had just inherited. The amount staring at him from the document below was life changing. “I’m assuming that your parents’ lawyer made suggestions?”

“Yeah, of course. He also told me that he’d be happy to continue handling the money, if that’s what I wanted.”

“And he’s someone you trust, right?”

“With my life. He and my dad went to college together. He was best man at their wedding. He’s the one who handled all the arrangements after their death. I have no problem letting him continue to do what he does best. He just wanted to offer me an out if I wanted it. I pretty much told him I didn’t, but he made me promise to think about it. He also said that I needed to take a more active role in the handling of it all now. He would be happy to watch over it, but that I needed to know where my money was and what it was doing. He’ll send me monthly statements and keep me updated with what he feels are my best options to bring in the most return. I don’t know. I’m an artist. I’ve never had any desire to learn about finance or business.”

“He’s right, though,” Zander said. “You should be well informed on how much money you have and where it all is. You’ve received a very special gift from your parents. They took care of you, not only in life, but in death, too. Now it’s time to learn how to take care of yourself. If you’re careful; get your degree, make something of yourself, use the money wisely instead of blowing through it like some teenagers would, you’ll be able to live a comfortable life instead of being one of those starving artists.”

“Trust me, I’ve read enough stories on the internet about those child stars who make a fortune while they’re young, but then end up homeless because of too much partying and frivolous spending. That won’t be me. I’ve got ten thousand in the bank and that’s all I plan on using for a very long time, although I would like to have Maxwell cut you and Chris a check for…”

“Don’t even finish that thought,” Zander demanded sternly.

“But Zan…”

“I mean it, Justin. Don’t go there. Chris and I are not taking a penny from you. We took you in and helped you out because you’re family and we love you. You don’t owe us a thing,” Zan insisted.

“Yeah, but this money…”

“Is yours. End of discussion. Chris and I don’t have anywhere near the money that you do, but we’re living very comfortably. In fact, Chris’s latest book just made the New York Times Bestseller list. That alone will increase his draw from now on. We’ve already set aside the difference between Brian’s financial aid for the first year and actual tuition without putting a dent into our ‘Rainy Day’ account. Trust me; we don’t need anything from you except your promise not to offer us money again.”

“Well, can I at least pay you back for the car?”


“How about for the money you paid behind my back for my car insurance?”


“Is there anything I’m allowed to pay for?” Justin asked in exasperation.

Zan pretended to think for a minute. “You can leave the tip.”

“Thanks a lot,” Justin laughed, but then sobered quickly. “Seriously, Zan, thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Family or not, you and Chris went above and beyond what some people would do for their family and I just want you to know that I’ll always be grateful that you came to Pittsburgh and brought me here.”

“Trust me; we’ll always be grateful too. Especially Brian, who has been driving us crazy since you left, by the way. He’s always teased Chris and me about how we react to being separated, but he’s been ten times worse. He’s really not happy about having to work tonight. He tried to get someone to cover for him, but with Stacy away for the week, everyone’s already working extra hours.”

“I know. He’s been texting me all day and might have mentioned ‘hating his job’,” Justin laughed. “Maybe I’ll bring my things home and then come back and hang with him tonight. I have some work to do on the website. I could just as easily do it the store.”

Zan looked at Justin closely. “You’re just as bad as he is, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, yeah. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

The bookstore was extremely busy, but Justin was glad that he’d decided to spend the night there. Not only was he able to help Brian during the busier moments, but just being there was enough to calm his anxious mind. After the raw emotions he’d experienced the day before, being with Brian soothed him like nothing else could. It was an hour before closing when his cell phone rang. He knew without looking who was calling.

“Babe, it’s Jason. I’m going to take this in the back.”

Brian just nodded his acknowledgment and continued ringing up his customer. Justin answered the phone as he walked towards the back room. “Hey.”

“Holy shit, Jus. Why didn’t you warn me?” Jason said immediately.

“Because I didn’t think it was my place to say anything. It’s pretty messed up, huh?”

“Messed up? It’s horrifying! I can’t believe Tony did that to him!”

“I know. I keep thinking back to all those times he used to visit, you know? I mean, I don’t remember Sean acting differently, but then again would we have picked up on it if he had? We were kids. Would we have really noticed a change in his behavior? I feel so bad, like we let him down in some way. How could we all have been such good friends and not have noticed that he was being molested?”

“I don’t know Jus. I really don’t know,” Jason sighed in frustration. He’d been wondering the same thing ever since Sean told him what had happened. “I asked my parents that question, but they told me that we shouldn’t blame ourselves. My mom said that victims of sexual abuse are usually so afraid of their abusers that they hide all the signs really well. That’s how come it usually goes on for so long without anyone finding out.”

“Did he seem okay to you? I mean, he’s on medication and seeing a therapist, but I’m still worried about him.” Justin couldn’t help but think about Ryan. Years of abuse led him to become the sick and confused person he was when he was stalking Chris and threatening Zander. He didn’t want his childhood friend to fall into that kind of despair.

“I think he’s still working through a lot of shit, but he’ll be okay. His parents will make sure of it,” Jason assured him. “We’re going to get together sometime next week. Maybe see a movie.”

“Good, I’m glad you guys were able to work things out. I don’t know how screwed up I’d be if I went through what he did. It doesn’t feel right to blame him for his reaction to my news. It’s almost understandable, and he’s okay with me now. That’s all I care about.”

“Yeah, me too. I told him about Zac. He wants to meet him when he visits over the summer. I think he’s more confused over my story than anything else. Not everyone understands being bi-sexual. Hell, I don’t even get it sometimes. It wasn’t easy facing the reality of being attracted to both sexes. I think that’s one of the reasons Zac and I bonded so quickly. As nice as it was to talk to you about being attracted to guys, Zac lives my life. He really gets it.”

“You know, Brian and I both thought it would be good to introduce you two once I knew about you, but we never imagined you guys would end up together. I’m glad you have someone to share it all with,” Justin replied.

“Jus, if I ask you your opinion on something, do you promise not to tell anyone we had this conversation? Not even Brian?”

“Of course. Jas, you know I would never say anything if you asked me not to. What’s up?”

“Do you think Zac and I are rushing things? I mean, I like him…I really do. I like him a lot, but I don’t know. I feel like maybe things are moving too fast. I’ve only been out of the “closet” for like a second and suddenly we’re together and he wants us to live together in the dorms next year. Don’t you think it would be better if we just dated first? We’re not even living in the same state yet.”

“Oh Jas, why didn’t you tell me you were having these thoughts?”

“Because I wasn’t…I mean, I don’t know. I just started thinking about it all recently. I was talking to Ryan the other day about leaving for college and he mentioned how nice it was going to be to go off and be on his own. It got me thinking that I’m not doing that. I’m going off to college, but I’m in a relationship. I’m not going to be able to do whatever I want to do. I’m going to have someone else’s feelings to consider, you know?”

“What exactly are you worried about? Do you want to be free to date other people? I know I’m excited to experience being on my own and not having rules to follow. I don’t think that sharing a place with Brian is going to make it all any less exciting. Then again, I love him to death and want to spend the rest of my life with him. Maybe that’s the difference.”

“I don’t know what it is. I don’t want to date anyone else. It’s not that. I think I’d just like to know him a little better and be able to date him before suddenly sharing a tiny dorm room, you know? You and Brian may have been living together since the beginning, but you guys have your own space. If you’re fighting or if you just want to be alone, you can just go to your room and shut the door. Zac and I won’t have that. Maybe I’m just getting nervous about moving away from home, and I'm freaking out,” Jason sighed.

“Maybe, but I think you should talk to Zac about it,” Justin suggested. “If not, you might end up regretting it.”

“Yeah, I probably should. And I’m probably overreacting anyway, right? It’s not like I can’t make my own friends and go out and have fun on my own. We both can. And you and Brian will be right there on campus with us.”

“Um, not exactly.”

“What? What do you mean not exactly?” Jason asked anxiously. “You’re not going to ASU?”

Justin laughed. “Of course we are. I just meant that we’re not living on campus. I looked into off campus housing and it’s actually cheaper to live in one of the apartment complexes in the area. Brian’s been stressing over the cost of going to school. He’s eligible for financial aid because he’s in the system as a foster kid, but it doesn’t cover the entire thing. He doesn’t want Chris and Zan to help him, but they’re refusing to let him take out student loans, so I looked into other options. Between his financial aid and his scholarships, his tuition and books are paid for, and he’ll have about $3000 left over towards housing. It’ll costs over $11,000 for just one of us to live on campus in the dorms, but at this really nice apartment complex that rents to college kids, it’ll only cost about $5000 each. It just makes more sense to do it that way. The apartment complex is practically right down the street and there’s a shuttle service that provides transportation to the campus.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know. I just checked into it all a few days ago and my mind’s been so wrapped up in the trip to Pittsburgh that I guess I didn’t think about it,” Justin explained.

“Oh shit, I’m sorry. I didn’t think about that. Forget I said anything. You’re right. You’ve had other things on your mind,” Jason replied, feeling horrible for jumping at his friend. “How did everything go with the lawyer?”

“Um…good. I’ve got a lot to think about before making any decisions. My parents had a lot more money than I ever thought. I need to decide what to do with it all. It’s all way too complicated for an art major,” Justin laughed. “But back to your situation. I think you need to talk to Zac before things go any further. Let him know how you feel and see what he thinks. Give him a chance to listen and understand your feelings. I think he’ll be okay with it. And if you want, I’ll send you a link to the apartment complex. I really didn’t mean to keep it from you. It just happened really fast. Brian and I are driving up there this weekend to check it all out and sign a lease. It would be cool to have you and Zac living there, too.”

“Yeah, I guess I’ll talk to him. I’d rather do it face to face, but it’s probably not a good idea to wait until graduation. By then we’ll already have secured our dorm room and if he ends up dumping me over this, sharing a dorm room would be awkward,” Jason said, only half teasing. “And yeah, send me that link. I’d like to check it out. My parents wouldn’t be opposed to saving money on my room and board for the next four years.”

“Oh stop, Zac is not going to dump you. Call me and let me know how it goes. I’ll send you the link to the apartments as soon as I get home.”

“Alright, thanks. Later.”



Graduation day finally arrived. Justin woke up super early, well before the alarm went off, and spent the time lying in bed thinking about his parents. He knew they wouldn’t want him dwelling on their death during one of the most important days of his life, but he needed to give them a little time before his day started. There were still moments when he couldn’t believe that they were gone. Times when something happened to him and his first thought was “I’ve got to tell Mom”, or “wait until Dad hears this”. Yet there was a part of him that felt like they’d been gone forever. His life had changed so drastically since their death. Moving to Arizona, coming out of the closet, inheriting a lot of money, it all made him someone completely different than who he used to be back in his parent’s house in Pittsburgh. He hoped that they were proud of him. He hoped that they were happy with the person he was becoming.

Eventually Justin threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. He and Brian had to be at the school in an hour for their final graduation practice. He jumped in the shower and dressed quickly before making his way into Brian’s room. A few months prior, Chris and Zan had pretty much said that they could share their bed at night, but after a long talk, they agreed to keep separate rooms until they left for college. As much as they loved being together, they enjoyed having a little space of their own once in a while. Living together in a small apartment wasn’t going to give them much of their own space so they decided to keep their living arrangements the same at home. That didn’t mean that there weren’t times when they curled up in bed and spent the night together. It just meant that overall; they had their own rooms and their own space when needed.

After kissing his boyfriend awake and leaving him to take his own shower, Justin made his way downstairs. He wasn’t surprised to find Chris and Zander sitting at the table waiting for them.

“So, how does it feel to know that you’ll be graduating tonight and leaving high school behind?” Chris asked as he got up to fix Justin a plate for breakfast. Zander had cooked up eggs and hash browns and left them warming in the oven.

“It feels really good,” Justin replied as he poured himself some juice. “I thought I’d be sadder at the thought of finishing high school, but I’m not. I really feel like I’m ready to move forward, you know?”

“I know exactly what you mean, although I was ready because I couldn’t wait to get away from my home life and those horrible people who called themselves my parents,” Chris pointed out.

“Well that’s not the case with me. As excited as I am to be starting college in the fall, I’m not looking forward to leaving this house and you guys. It’s going to suck having you so far away,” Justin admitted sadly.

“I think it’s going to suck, too,” Zander agreed as he got up and pulled Justin into a hug. “Just make sure you and Brian visit a lot. Jason too, if he wants. I know it’ll probably be hard for him to be so far away from home.”

“Yeah, I think it’s starting to hit him how big a move this is going to be for him. I just hope he and Zac work out the problems they’re having before the end of August.”

“What’s going on with them? I thought they really hit it off and then Brian mentioned that they were having some issues, but he didn’t elaborate,” Chris asked as he put Justin’s plate down and then took his seat again.

Justin sat down and grabbed his fork, taking a mouthful of eggs before explaining. “I’m not sure anymore. I know that Jason was freaking out a little at the thought of moving across the country and right in with Zac. He felt that they didn’t know each other enough to be dating and sharing a dorm room. He still wants to date, but he just wanted a little bit of space, you know? But when he tried to explain how he was feeling, Zac freaked out and accused Jason of wanting to fuck around. Now they’re barely even talking to each other. I really don’t want to get in the middle of it, but Jason doesn’t have anyone else to really talk to about it. None of his friends back home even know Zac. Jason’s plane doesn’t get here until late this afternoon so they’re not going to get a chance to talk until either later tonight or tomorrow.”

Before either man could respond, the doorbell rang, startling all three of them.

“Who’s that?” Zan asked as he got up to answer the door. “The only person who comes by this early is Steve and he doesn’t knock.”

Justin watched Zan go and then took another forkful of eggs. “I really hate this. We’re graduating today. We should all be spending the day celebrating, not dealing with Zac and Jason drama.”

“I agree,” Jason said as he walked into the kitchen with Zan following behind him. “That’s why I caught an earlier flight. So I can talk to the bone head in person before your graduation starts.”

“Holy shit,” Justin exclaimed as he jumped up and greeted his friend. “Why didn’t you tell me you were flying in early?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a flight. I sat at the airport for five hours on stand-by before a seat finally became available. Apparently June is a busy travel month,” Jason explained. “Would you mind if I took a nap for a couple of hours while you’re at graduation practice? I hardly slept on the plane and I’m exhausted.”

“Of course not,” Justin replied. “Crash in my bed. I haven’t set up the rollaway yet. I should be back around noon.”

“Cool, thanks. Just do me a favor and don’t tell anyone I’m here. I’m afraid that if Zac finds out, he’ll go missing until the ceremony,” Jason sighed sadly.

“It’s really that bad between you two?” Zan asked thoughtfully.

“It’s getting there, yeah. I managed to get him on the phone yesterday afternoon but he won’t listen to me. He really believes that I don’t want to be with him anymore.”

“And you do? Are you sure?” Chris asked.

“Yes, I do. Look, I don’t know if you guys can understand where I’m coming from. Up until last summer no one even knew that I was into guys. I wasn’t sure if I was even going to act on my attraction to them. I mean, it’s not like I can’t fall in love with a woman. Then I met you guys and found out about Justin and it made me start seeing things differently; seeing my life and my future differently. Especially meeting Zac. It was awesome to have someone who understands exactly what it’s like being attracted to both sexes. It was so easy to care for him, and I do. In fact, I think I’m falling in love with him. That’s what scares me the most. Jus, I know you and Brian don’t get it because you’ve been living together since you met, but it’s different for Zac and me. We’re only eighteen. I just think that we need to live in the same place and continue dating and getting to know each other before living together. I never said I didn’t want to be with him. I would never say that. I’m just asking that we have a little space while we develop a relationship that doesn’t have to rely on phone calls and video chats.” Jason turned his attention to Chris and Zander. “You guys dated for awhile before moving in together, right?”

“Yeah, of course we did,” Chris replied. “You’re right, Jason. Brian and Justin aside, most couples date for quite awhile and really know each other before moving in together. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to take your time before living together.”

“Thank you. At least someone understands me. I mean, if you add up all the days we physically spent together, I don’t think we’ve spent more than a few weeks in each other’s company. All I want is one or two semesters to really be together and make sure that we know each other as well as I think we do. And it’s not like we won’t see each other most of the time. I’m not trying to hide him or our relationship. I have a boyfriend. We just won’t be living together.”

“And you explained it like that to Zac?” Zan asked.

“I tried, but the minute I mentioned having my own dorm room, he freaked out and refuses to listen to anything I have to say on the subject. For the last six weeks he barely takes my calls and when he does, he doesn’t have much to say. I asked him if he wanted me to get lost and he said no, but everything is so strained between us. I have to fix it. I don’t want to lose him over this, but I also don’t like feeling pressured to do something I’m not ready for just because he’s being unreasonable.”

“Okay, why don’t you go lie down for awhile? Jus, you and Brian make sure to bring Zac back here after graduation practice. I’m working from home today so I’ll wake Jason up as soon as you text me that you guys are on your way. We’re going to get this all worked out this afternoon. You two need to sit down and have a heart to heart and if that doesn’t work, I’ll kick his ass into understanding,” Chris assured Jason as he laid a comforting hand on the kid’s shoulder.

“Thanks, guys, I really appreciate it.” Jason couldn’t hold back a yawn. “I’m going to go upstairs. I’ll see you all in a bit.”

Justin waited until Jason was gone before turning to Chris. “Do you think you can get through to Zac if Jason can’t?”

“I don’t think it’ll be necessary. It’s obvious that Jason loves Zac, even if he’s not quite ready to admit it. Zac will see that and listen to what Jason has to say. He’s not really dumb enough to give up the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He’s just scared. They’ll be alright.”

“I hope you’re right,” Justin sighed. “I really hope you’re right.”

As it turned out, Chris was exactly right. The minute Zac saw Jason, he apologized for being such an ass and really listened to what Jason had to say. And despite not agreeing with his idea of needing some space, he agreed to give it a try without making Jason feel guilty. They agreed to spending freshman year living separately on campus with the promise that if their relationship continued to move forward, they would check out the off campus apartments for their second year. Everyone was happy about their reunion and they were able to put the whole mess behind them before the ceremony.

Jason’s parents arrived at their scheduled time and met up with everyone at the house so that they could all head over to the school together. Justin was thrilled that they had agreed to fly out to see him graduate. It wasn’t his parents, but it was the next best thing. The ceremony was long; too long for Justin’s liking, and when the end finally came, he had a brief moment of melancholy. His parents were gone, his childhood was over, and life was about to become much more complicated. As they all walked off the stage with their diplomas in their hands, a feeling of fear threatened to overtake him. He could feel his palms start sweating and his breathing become erratic…until suddenly Brian was at his side.

“Hey, Blondie, you alright?”

And the smile on his boyfriend’s face was enough to soothe his racing heart. It didn’t matter what happened next in life. He had his family, he had his friends, and most importantly he had Brian. Everything was going to be okay.

“I’m great. How about you? Are you alright?”

“Yeah…I am. There were times in my life when I wasn’t so sure, but now I am. Now that you’re here. I love you, Jus.”

“Love you, too.”

The End…finally.

Author’s note: Thank you all so much for taking this journey with me. I know that it has taken me a long time to finish this story. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy writing it. I not only love Brian and Justin; I’ve grown to love Zander and Chris and all the others, too. It’s just that real life seemed to want to intrude on my time with the guys. That’s why I felt it was appropriate to end the story here. With everyone happy and healthy and settled. Gotta love those happy endings.

Does that mean that we’re never going to hear from the Arizona gang again? Of course not. When I started writing this story five years ago (Yes, it was really five years ago) I had a vision for where I wanted to go with it. Into the college years was part of that vision. After several twists and turns that I never dreamed of and the addition of several characters that I never knew would exist, I’d still like to move into the college years. So that’s what I’m going to do…but not as a new story. I’m going to be adding snippets of their lives as often as I can. We will all be popping in on the boys now and then, just to see how they’re doing. It’ll be like catching up with old friends. They have so much more to experience and I plan on including you all in on those experiences. I hope you all will continue to follow their lives with me. It wouldn’t be the same without you.


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