Now That You're Here
Justin watched Brian join right in with his friends, talking and laughing as they put together a game of volleyball. He declined playing and instead took a seat on one of the now empty blankets. He jumped slightly when he felt someone sit down beside him. He turned to see it was the guy named Steve.
“Hey, how’re you settling in? I know Chris, Brian, and Zander were anxious for you to get here.”
“Okay, I guess. I’ve only been here since this morning, but everyone seems to be really great. You’re Steve, right?” Justin replied.
“Yeah, I’m Brian’s best friend so he told me some stuff, you know? I’m sorry about all the shit that’s happened.”
“Thanks.” Justin wasn’t sure what else to say so he turned his attention back to the game and he and Steve sat side by side quietly for a while as he watched Brian interacting with his friends. He remembered Brian saying that half of his friends were gay, but he couldn’t figure out which ones he was talking about. What he did know was that Zac was. He could tell by the way the guy was hanging all over Brian. As crazy as it was, Justin couldn’t help the feeling of jealousy that washed over him while he watched from the blanket. “Is Zac Brian’s boyfriend?”
“Zac? Hell no. Brian doesn’t have a boyfriend. He and Dane were together for a few months last summer but it didn’t work out and they decided they’d make better friends. Zac’s actually nursing a broken heart right now. He and his girlfriend just broke up last week,” Steve explained.
Justin listened to what Steve was saying with confusion; especially as he watched Brian and Zac kissing over a scored point. Kissing a little too heatedly for Justin’s taste. “He doesn’t seem like the type to have a girlfriend,” he said.
“Zac believes in equal opportunity, if you know what I mean.” Steve looked over at Justin and couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on his face. “He’s bi, he goes both ways. Every time he breaks up with a girl he runs to Brian for comfort. Don’t worry, there’s really nothing between them.”
“Oh, I wasn’t worried. I was just curious. What Brian does has nothing to do with me,” Justin replied quickly.
“Of course it doesn’t,” Steve replied knowingly. He might be straight, but he wasn’t blind. He knew how good looking Brian was, and he could see the way Justin was looking at him. Luckily for Justin, he also noticed the way Brian looked at him when they first got there. He smiled to himself when he thought about the entertainment they were all in for as the Brian and Justin show unfolded.
Brian glanced over to where Steve and Justin were sitting and smiled. He knew he could count on Steve to make Justin feel welcome. He quickly put his attention back on the game in time to make a good save and score them another point.
“Lucky shot, Bri. Next time why don’t you keep your eyes off of Blondie and pay attention?” Dane shouted from the other side of the playing field.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just making sure he wasn’t sitting all by himself,” Brian replied with a glare.
Dane walked over closer to Brian with a smirk. “Oh, so then you’re not interested in him?”
“Of course not. He’s like family. Besides, I’m sure Chris and Zander would kill me if I even thought about making a move on him. I just want him to feel comfortable around you animals. That’s all,” Brian insisted.
“Cool, then you wouldn’t mind if I were to go introduce myself a little more intimately.”
“What?” Brian asked suddenly, causing him to lose focus and miss the ball coming his way. “Shit!”
“I just wanted to make sure you didn’t have your eye on him. He’s hot. I think I’ll make a play for him myself,” Dane said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. He’s been through a lot lately. He doesn’t need you trying to get into his pants,” Brian growled, stomping down the jealousy he felt surge through him. “Just stay away from him.”
“Come on, Brian. Justin’s a big boy. I think he can make up his own mind when it comes to who gets in his pants,” Dane replied before turning his attention back to where Justin was sitting. “Hey, Steve, take over for me. I need to catch my breath.”
“Dane,” Brian warned as he watched his friend saunter over to Justin and Steve jump into the game. He suddenly felt a strange sense of jealousy course through him and knew it had more to do with Justin than it did Dane. His and Dane’s relationship was brief and whirlwind, and he didn’t regret it, but he knew that it wouldn’t last after the second week. He was just glad that they were able to remain friends. No, his jealousy was aimed at the way Dane was instantly attracted to Justin. Just like he had been. Who wouldn’t be attracted to Justin’s soft blond hair and deep blue eyes, not to mention his shy innocence and bright smile? Shaking off his thoughts, Brian forced himself to refocus on the game, leaving Justin and Dane to get to know one another better.
Justin was sitting there watching the game when Dane plopped down alongside him and cracked open another beer. He noticed Dane first when they’d gotten out of the jeep earlier because of his good looks, but he didn’t seem like someone Justin would have much in common with. He was gorgeous, confident, and sexy as hell. All the things that Justin would never be. As he watched the game, he felt Dane watching him more than the ball and finally turned to be friendly and strike up a conversation. He didn’t want to appear rude.
“So, do you guys hang out here often?”
“Yeah, especially now that summer is here. There really isn’t any place in town that can handle all of us at one time and since the cops don’t come back here, it’s a great place to kick back and have a few beers,” Dane said with a smile.
“How do you get the beer? No one here is old enough, right?” Justin asked.
“No, Trent’s brother usually gets us a case now and then if we ask for it. We’ve promised him that the drivers wouldn’t drink more than a beer or two, so we take turns. Usually it’s alcohol free around here, though. We’re just celebrating the end of the school year and the fact that we’re going to be seniors next year. What about you? How old are you?”
“I’m seventeen and going into my senior year, too, although it will be a little weird for me to be in a new school. I just can’t wait until I can put high school behind me,” Justin laughed.
“It must suck having to change schools right before senior year, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess. Although I’m pretty happy to be away from my hometown. Things were too…complicated there,” Justin explained carefully, hoping that he wouldn’t have to say anything more. Apparently he did, according to Dane’s next question.
“Complicated? Did you get in trouble or something?”
Justin thought about telling Dane that he’d rather not talk about it, but figured it would be easier to be honest with anyone who asked up front. “No, nothing like that. My parents were killed in a car accident so Zander took me in.”
“Shit, man,” Dane said immediately. “I’m sorry. That so has to suck.”
“Yeah,” Justin whispered, thinking about how much his life really did suck now that his parents were gone. “But at least I have Zander now, and Brian and Chris seem really cool.”
“Are you kidding? They’re the best. Most of us go to Zander and Chris if we have a problem rather than our own parents. They’re a lot easier to talk to,” Dane replied. “Plus they always let us hang by the pool when we’re bored.”
Justin was saved from further conversation when a few of the guys started teasing Dane about wimping out and he was forced to return to the game to prove his manhood. Justin was happy to be left alone for awhile. It had been a long day and with all the changes that were happening around him, he enjoyed the peace and quiet for awhile. Eventually the game broke up and everyone sat around talking about their plans for the summer. It was the first time Justin had heard anything about the vacation he’d be taking the following month, but that didn’t surprise him. He still had a lot to learn about his new family. He waited until the evening finally ended and they were on their way home before asking Brian about it.
“Oh, I guess I probably should’ve mentioned that before talking about it with everyone else. Every year Zander, Chris, and I take a trip up north. There’s a cabin on a lake that they own a timeshare on. It’s really cool up there. We rent a boat and jet skis and just lounge around for a week. It tends to get pretty crazy around here most of the time, especially when Chris is working on a deadline. He tends to panic and swears he won’t finish in time, which is bullshit because he always finishes on time. Going to the cabin is the one week out of the year where we all put aside our worries and just relax and have fun,” Brian explained excitedly.
“Oh, that sounds cool. Since I’ve only been here one day, I guess there’s a lot that I don’t know about yet. It all still seems so unreal,” Justin replied.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. When I first got here, Chris seemed to just assume that I knew everything that went on. It was funny when he would expect me to know something that I had no clue about. He was constantly apologizing to me. Don’t worry; I’ll try to keep you informed.”
By the time they got home it was midnight and Justin was exhausted. No one was awake inside so they made their way upstairs and said goodnight before going to their own rooms. Brian offered Justin the bathroom first and after brushing his teeth, he stripped down to his underwear and climbed into bed, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
The next morning Justin was pulled from sleep by the feeling of his bed shaking; really shaking. He cracked an eye open and saw Brian smiling at him as he bounced on the bed. A glance at the clock told him that it was only eight. He wasn’t ready to get up yet and made his feelings known by groaning and rolling over, pulling the blankets up over his head.
“Oh no you don’t, Blondie,” Brian said as he grabbed the blankets and pulled them back down. “It’s time to get up.”
“Why? We didn’t even get home until midnight, and I know for a fact that I have nothing to do today,” Justin mumbled.
“I have to go to work,” Brian stated, as if that explained everything.
“Well, that sucks for you, but what does it have to do with me?”
“Zander figured you wouldn’t want to spend your first full day here home alone so he told me to bring you with me,” Brian explained. “We’re getting a delivery in today and can use an extra set of hands.”
“Of books. Zander owns a book store, remember? I work for him. We only get two deliveries a month unless it’s a special order. It’s a pretty large shipment and usually takes a couple of days to put it away. With an extra person, we can have it up by the end of the day. Zan’s already gone. Don’t worry about it, though. He’ll pay you for it,” Brian assured him.
Justin didn’t care about the money, but the thought of being stuck in the house alone all day didn’t appeal to him. “Fine, fine, I’m up,” he growled as he threw back the blankets. “Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll be ready.”
Brian smiled to himself as he watched Justin stumble towards the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, after stopping for coffee at the corner market, they were on their way into town.
“So Zander told me he opened a bookstore. What’s it like? Is business good?” Justin asked as the caffeine spread through his system, waking him up.
“Actually business is great,” Brian replied proudly. He’d been working for Zander since his second week in Sierra Vista and was proud of the work he’d done. Zander was a good boss and listened to any ideas Brian came up with. He even used a few of them. “A couple of years ago, some businessmen came to town wanting to open up one of those Borders bookstores, but the townspeople vetoed the idea. They like the personal touch that Zander gives them at Between the Pages. He keeps a wide variety of titles on hand and will special order anything still available in print. When I first got to town he was worried because he’d just bought the empty building next to his and expanded the shop. He was afraid that he was taking too big a risk, but it definitely paid off. He’s busier than ever. In fact, I think I finally convinced him to start up a web site so we can reach people outside the Sierra Vista area.”
“Wow, that’s great,” Justin replied, strangely proud of his cousin’s accomplishments.
“Yeah, but I’m not 100% sure he’s going to go for it. He’s been looking into the cost of building and maintaining a web site. He’s worried that if the site doesn’t do well, he’ll be throwing away a lot of money for nothing. Web masters charge a fortune for building and maintaining, not to mention he’d have to sign a one year contract. He doesn’t like the idea of being locked in for a year if the sales aren’t worth the added expense and trouble.”
“Well, maybe I can help him,” Justin said with a smile.
“You know how to do websites?” Brian asked.
“Hell yeah. I love computers so I spend all my free time learning everything there is to know about them. My mother was a realtor and worked for a small broker in town. Since the broker didn’t offer much in the way of leads, I designed a website for her. It helped her out so much that pretty soon a few of her co-workers had me building theirs, too. I’d just need to know exactly what he’s looking for and I could have it up and running by the end of the week,” Justin told him excitedly before remembering that Zander still had to agree first. “I mean…if he wants me to.”
“Are you kidding? He’ll love the idea. He wouldn’t have to sign a contract and he could keep a better watch over it. I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him. I got him so excited over the whole idea of being online, and I could tell he was disappointed when he began looking into it further. He just figures that he took a big risk when he originally opened and then again when he expanded. I don’t think he wants to push his luck.”
“Well we can talk to him about it and I’ll do whatever I can to help him. It’s the least I can do for him after all he’s done for me,” Justin replied.
“Hey, if you want to help him out, that’s cool. Just don’t do it because you think you owe him something. You’re here because he wants you to be, not because he feels obligated. Trust me, I’ve been right where you are now,” Brian said.
“I’ve been wondering about that. I mean, why you’re living with Zander and Chris instead of with your parents. Maybe you can tell me about it sometime.” Justin already figured it had something to do with Brian’s being gay, but he couldn’t help wonder what really happened. Being that he’d be living with them for awhile, he’d like to get to know both Brian and Chris better.
“Yeah, I’ll tell you about it. All my closest friends know,” Brian said, leaving the implication hanging in the air.
They arrived at the store a few minutes later and Brian parked the jeep in the back, using his key to let them in the back door. The shop didn’t open until nine. Justin was impressed with what he saw. Between the Pages was nestled in the middle of a quaint shopping town. There were cobblestone walkways and rows upon rows of shops. There was so much to take in, but he did manage to notice an outdoor café as well as a pet shop, beauty parlor, and a shoe store. He’d have to take a look around and see what else the shopping area had to offer. They found Zander behind the front counter counting money.
“Hey guys, I’m glad you could make it, Justin. I appreciate the help,” Zander greeted them with a smile.
“Yeah, well I didn’t have much of a choice with someone jumping on my bed and pulling off my blankets,” Justin teased, giving Brian a playful shove.
“Brian, I told you to ask him, not order him,” Zander replied with a scowl before turning back to Justin. “Sorry about that. He hates delivery days.”
“Hey, I just didn’t want him sitting home alone all day,” Brian said in his defense.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” Justin assured them. “Besides, I’d rather not sit at home all day if there’s something else that I can do.”
Brian decided to change the subject so Zander would stop glaring at him. “Oh Zan, guess what? Remember when we talked about getting Between the Pages online?”
“Yeah, and I’m still not sure if that’s going to work. I like the idea, but I’m just not sure if I want to lay out that kind of money right now. I’m still waiting for a few quotes from people, but I could be looking at thousands of dollars for the first year. Did you know that they charge per page? Not to mention the costs of all the added features like a shopping cart and a mailing list. Plus there’s a monthly charge for upkeep. That’s just crazy,” Zander said as he shook his head in disgust.
“I know, but guess what? Justin’s a computer geek and knows how to do all that stuff,” Brian said excitedly.
“Hey, I’m not a geek,” Justin replied indignantly.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way,” Brian said sheepishly. “Anyway, he knows how to build websites. He used to do it for his mom and her friends.”
“Aunt Jen had a website?”
Justin nodded his head. “Apparently she got bored once I started school so she got her real estate license. She worked for a small broker who wasn’t doing so great so she and some of her co-workers expended their business by going online. I started with hers and once everyone saw how good it looked, they all wanted one. Of course those types of sites are easy, but eventually one of the women’s sisters asked me to create a site for her so that she could sell her handmade jewelry. I had to do a lot of research, but I eventually created her site just like she wanted, with a mailing list and a shopping cart. Believe it or not, it’s not that hard once you know what you’re doing.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Zander laughed.
“So now you don’t have to hire someone to do the site. You can just pay Justin to do it,” Brian said.
“Oh no, you don’t have to pay me anything. I’ll do it for free,” Justin said quickly. “I wouldn’t charge family.”
“Okay, slow down. Brian, why don’t you go start checking in the stock while I talk to Justin?”
“But, Zan,” Brian began before seeing the look Zander was giving him. “Fine, leave me out of it. I mean, it was only my idea in the first place.”
Justin chuckled at the way Brian was sulking as he walked into the back room.
“He’s such a drama queen,” Zander sighed with affection. “Now that he’s gone we can talk. Are you sure you can do this? I’m not doubting your abilities, but this whole website business is foreign to me. I can’t be of any help to you.”
Justin thought about it for a moment before he spotted a computer behind the counter and had an idea. “Here, let me show you what I’ve done and then you tell me.”
They spent the next fifteen minutes going over all the websites that Justin had done, ending with his mothers, which he’d turned into a memorial for her. He still felt the familiar tightening in his chest when he looked at it, but with all the changes that had taken place in the last couple of days, her death seemed like it happened in another lifetime.
“Wow, those were amazing,” Zander finally said in awe. “And what you did for your mom…I’m blown away.”
“Thanks,” Justin replied shyly. “I was so upset; I guess I just needed to do something for her. She met so many people through the site, I thought it was appropriate.”
“I think it’s perfect,” Zander assured him as he laid a comforting hand on Justin's shoulder. In all the chaos of the move and getting settled, it was easy to forget the reason behind the move. The poor kid lost both of his parents only weeks before. “Okay, so now that I know you can do it, I guess the next question is, are you sure you want to? You’re seventeen years old and it’s the summer before your senior year. I know you’ve agreed to do some sketches for Chris. Do you really want to take this on as well?”
“Of course I’m sure. Look Zander, Brian already gave me the speech about not doing it because I think I owe you something, but the truth is that I do owe you. If it wasn’t for you, I’d be stuck with the Johnson’s, and as nice as they are…well, I didn’t really want to stay there. You, Chris, and Brian had to make adjustments to your lives to have me here and I appreciate it. If I can do something for you in return, especially something that I enjoy doing, I’m going to do it. Besides, we’re family, and family helps each other, right?”
“Well, I’ll say it again although I know you won’t listen. You don’t owe me anything. I knew as soon as I heard about Aunt Jen and Uncle Craig that I wanted you here with us. But if you’re sure you want to do this, than I’ll gladly accept your help. I’d be a fool to say no. One thing, though. You’re not doing it for free and that’s the end of it. If you want to do this then I’m going to pay you for your time. No arguments. We can sit down later in the week and discuss your price, but you are getting paid. Understand?”
“Alright, alright, you can pay me something,” Justin sighed in defeat.
Zander and Justin both laughed out loud when they heard a cheer coming from the back room. “He’s always been pretty good at eavesdropping, the little shit.”
“Hey, I heard that,” Brian called out.
“Of course you did,” Zander replied with a chuckle. “Now we better get to work or we’ll be here till midnight.”
“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it,” Justin told him.
“Well, since you’re such a computer ge…I mean wiz, why don’t I show you my inventory list on the computer and you can enter the delivery. I’m sure you’ll get it in there a lot faster than I will,” Zander replied.
“I don’t understand how a business owner can be so illiterate when it comes to computers,” Justin said with a smile.
“It’s easy. I hate computers. I know the basics. I can check email and search the internet, but I have no desire to spend my time learning all the little tricks. I just barely passed my computer classes in college and managed to forget most of what I learned by the time I graduated. It usually takes me hours to enter new stock because I’m constantly getting sidetracked with anything else just so I don’t have to be on the computer. Chris is always giving me a hard time about it. Obviously, as a writer, he’s pretty good with his, but it’s like I’ve developed a mental block. It’d be like you going on a date with a girl. You wouldn’t be enjoying yourself, you’d be distracted, and you’d be anxious for the whole thing to end,” Zander laughed.
Justin smiled at the analogy. “Damn, you really do hate computers, huh.”
“Finally, someone who understands. Now let me show you how this program works.”
End of part 5
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