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Moving On by Fitz
1. Chapter 1 - The Funeral
I realized that I was frozen in place. I looked at the coffin in front of me and then down at the single white rose that I held in my hand. Forcing myself to move, I took a few steps and looked down upon Steve. My husband took my breath away every time I looked at him. Why should today be any different? I placed the rose on his chest, and leaned forward to give him one final kiss. Fighting tears, I quickly returned to my seat. As I sat, they closed his coffin. My name is Scott Hudgins. Today I am burying my husband. On my left side, my father held my hand gently, while my brother did the same on my right. Others would have called it a beautiful day. It was mid-July, yet the temperature was surprisingly mild, and there were few clouds in the sky. If it had been any other day, it would have been perfect. Instead, the weather just made me feel even worse. It just wasn't fair. It's supposed to rain at a funeral. At least the cool sting of rain on my face would force me to feel something. Anything. A pastor I had never met before stood and began to speak. I'm sure every word he said was touching. I didn't hear any of it. I was too lost in my head, still trying to process everything that had happened in the past three days. My parents, Michael and Felicia Hudgins, along with my brother, Ethan, and his new wife, Emma, had gotten on the first plane out of Washington DC when they found out. I had been Ethan's best man just 6 weeks ago. Mine and Steve's best friends from college, Dustin and Michelle Smithson, also dropped everything to fly down from Baltimore and be there for me. Had it not been for them, along with our neighbors, Chris and Sarah, I don't think I'd have been able to survive until the funeral. Even still, I wasn't sure how much longer I could take all the pain burning deep inside. My entire body felt like it was literally being ripped apart. My heart was somehow being crushed while simultaneously exploding. I'm pretty sure somewhere in there I may have had an actual heart attack. I really wouldn't have even noticed. I noticed Dick get up and speak. Richard O'Neil, that is. Steve's father. I was the only person I've ever known to call him that. On the best days we tolerated each other. After the events of the past few days, I could honestly say that I hated that man and his bitch of a wife, Lydia. They had done this to him. He never wanted any of this. Steve's twin brother, Tom, was standing awkwardly to the side. I know he needed me to be there for him, but I couldn't even look at him. Until a few days ago, we'd been close. I couldn't even bear the thought of knowing that a carbon copy of him was still walking around, perfectly alive, while he was dead. I noticed movement, which snapped my eyes back into focus for a moment. Dick was returning to his seat as Michelle walked up to speak. I really tried to listen to her speak. She's always been one of the two people in the entire world who can always make me feel better no matter how badly I'm hurting. Steve was the other one. Truthfully, I didn't want to feel better. I wanted the pain. I deserved the pain. Besides, I knew what she was going to say. "He was wonderful." "He was amazing." "He was perfect."

He was gone. I decided to tune her out. Michelle would be mad at me later if she found out, but I honestly didn't care at the moment. I wasn't caring too much about anything. I looked around, noticing that there was a very large crowd. I hadn't even noticed. Much later, Tom would tell me that virtually every person that Steve and I had met in our nearly nine years together had shown up to show their respects. He had that type of effect on people. I really only remember seeing bodies. My brain had decided that it had processed all that it could and had simply given up. I was pulled out of my thoughts when Ethan nudged me gently. "Dude, it's your turn, c'mon." He helped me up to my feet and half carried me the few feet to the stand that had been positioned for the ceremony. Ethan stood beside me, giving me support. "I know what you want to say. Just remember where we are, please, bro," he whispered. His hand gently gripped my shoulder. I cleared my throat and started to speak. "He was possibly the greatest person that I have ever known. No one ever met him and didn't immediately become his new best friend. He was gentle, caring, and loving..." At this point my voice broke. My entire body was shaking. I could feel my last bit of will power fading. The one part that kept me from saying or doing something that I might regret. From saying what I really felt. From saying the truth. "Bro, please don't do this now," Ethan almost growled in my ear. He could read me like a book. I also think he knew that I needed to do this. "Fuck this!" I said loudly. "This is a sham and most of you know it. We have been married for a year. We have the certificate from D.C. Superior Court framed in our living room. Many of you were at that wedding! And yet, since we have the audacity to move to a state that doesn't recognize it, nothing I say matters." I looked around for a moment and saw looks of shock and horror from the entire crowd. Then I looked directly at the object of my unbridled hatred. "Dick ," I said, with as much venom as I could muster. "When's the last time you talked to your son about his last requests? Did you know that we had talked many times. In fact, he wanted stipulations in our wills regarding last rights. I shot him down. I figured that no one would be a big enough asshole to question me as to what he wanted. And yet here we are." I threw my arms up angrily, indicating the cemetery that Steve had always found strangely charming. "Here we fucking are!! He wanted to be cremated and placed in a beautiful urn. He wanted a small ceremony with just our families, gathered on a beautiful and remote tropical island. He wanted his ashes spread in the sand and tide while we drank fucking mai tais and toasted his life. He wanted his sendoff to be a vacation for us and a celebration of his life. And yet, HERE WE FUCKING ARE!!!" My entire body was still shaking like a leaf. Ethan still had his hand on my shoulder, knowing that this wasn't the proper place for my rant, but also knowing that I needed to get it off my chest. My mom was holding my dad back from launching himself at Richard. Dad hadn't known any of this. He loved Scott like a third son and would have moved entire mountain ranges for him, had Steve even mentioned in passing that he liked the idea. Richard looked like he wanted to rip me apart. Only the fact that Lydia was crying hysterically and clutching his chest prevented him from doing so. I knew I had said too much. Still, I couldn't stop myself. "Every single God damn one of you are complicit in this charade that Dick has decided is in the best interest of everyone except his own son. Today we are here to bury him. Shouldn't what he wants matter to anyone other than me? Am I the only person in attendance who is not some brainless moron with nothing better to do than undermine the wishes of the dead?

"Fuck this! I need to get out of here." I shrugged my shoulder out from Ethan's hand and I started to leave. I vaguely recall Ethan trying to catch up and Emma's voice telling him to let me go, that I needed some space. I did. So I ran.

2. Chapter 2 - Requiem
I ran, pushing myself as fast and as hard as I could even though I was wearing a suit. I must have been quite a sight for anyone that I passed. My face was red with exertion, sweat forcing my pale brown hair to form odd clumps, and tears were streaming down my face. I knew that today I could run for quite a while. Even if I hadn't been in good shape, my adrenalin levels were through the roof. Combine that with the stress and emotions that I had been holding in for the past three days, and I was currently an unstoppable force. As I ran, I allowed my mind to wander and to think back on our life together. I was the tall one. I used to tease Steve that he was a shrimp at 5'9". He would respond that I was only 6'1" because I had my entire head shoved up my ass. He argued that if I ever managed to extract myself, I would discover that I was actually seven feet tall. We used to joke and tease each other constantly. There were very few occasions, most of them very early in our nine-year relationship, where one of us would actually offend the other. We made it our mission to try to outdo the other with the jabs we would throw back and forth. Whoever couldn't manage a reasonable comeback first was the loser. The winner's prize was having yet another thing to tease the loser about. It was our favorite game, and we were quite equally matched. The game was especially fun when we found ourselves in awkward social situations. People could never figure out that we were just messing with each other until we broke down laughing. We both kept each other in good shape. He was the best workout buddy anyone could ever ask for. Of course, the fact that every exercise I did accentuated one attribute or another in a manner that drove Steve crazy, was a perfect motivator. Simply working out made me seem sexy to him. And I was very happy with the motivation. At 28, I still had the flat stomach I had worked so hard to get in college. My chest was reasonably well defined, I had great legs, and my arms were decent. I never spent much time focusing on toning my arms, because Steve couldn't check out my ass as easily. And I was always happy to oblige his lecherous looks. Obviously, the motivation went both ways. He would love to see my hair now, I thought. All clumped and matted with sweat. Steve always teased me mercilessly for the amount of time I spent putting gel in and mussing it just to make it look like I'd just gotten out of bed. He actually tried to get me to just go out immediately after waking up and see if anyone noticed the difference. I would never give in, because I knew he was right. But I loved my hair. Before we met, it was too long to do anything with. Then, I started cutting it too short to do anything with. If asked in 'polite company', Steve would always tell people that his favorite part of my body was my eyes – my bright blue eyes that he claimed had a hypnotic power over him. I kept threatening to try them out on other people and see if everyone was similarly affected. On the other hand, if the person asking was a friend, or Steve was feeling particularly horny, when asked, he'd immediately tell them about my 8.5 inch cock. I always acted mortified when he told people, and I would always respond by telling him that I don't talk about his three inch dick like that. It was actually a quite satisfying seven, but it isn't as much fun to tease him for being well endowed. And Steve wasn't exaggerating when he told people about me. He was bragging. My thoughts continued to wander as I started to push myself harder, and I began to think back a few days ago. I had gone out to buy some groceries. Steve had given me the list, like usual. It'd only been a couple days, but I can't honestly remember what set me off. Something on the list irritated me. We had a brief spat before I left, with the little annoyances of the last few days being aired. I don't remember what they were. I

They were so intriguing that I felt like I was being drawn in. rubbing my back. His green eyes just looked like deep pools of concern. I tried to put all of my weight on those two points." I nodded in spite of myself. I assumed from the rainbow flags in front of the store that it was gay friendly. I'm Will Drake. and he didn't even seem to have the strength to open his eyes. His blood was pooling out from under him. I managed to introduce myself. My guess is that he didn't catch my name through the sobs. and shook my head. It just overwhelmed me. I just threw myself on top of him. Something was wrong. barely able to take a breath. but then I realized that I was still crying. He was coughing and sputtering. sobbing and rocking. I grabbed all the bags I could. and he looked directly into mine. I was hoping to somehow clear the fog that had been filling my mind since he died. thinking maybe I could stop the blood from leaving his body. hoping that by doing so I could bring him back. nor did he look down at me with pity. Maybe I could keep my husband alive. but it wouldn't have mattered anyways. and nothing completely out of the ordinary for me to say to him during one of our spats. "I've been told I'm a great listener. "You know I love you. I was torn out of reliving the worst day of my life.don't remember what was said. he didn't look embarrassed to be seen with a blubbering mess like me. but only barely. He just stared for a few moments before he started asking me questions. I had managed to nearly cry myself out. and was just hoping that I would calm down before he started asking questions. his eyes opened. Will nodded his head as if to acknowledge that he had heard me. you didn't need to run into me to do that. Just seeing you in that suit is enough for me." he managed to wheeze. The worst that could happen is that I'd make a fool of myself and then never see him again. I realized that I was in front of a coffee shop about two miles from the cemetery that I had just fled from. But that's what I said. staining the hardwood that had been the selling point to him when we bought this house a year ago. "Don't" His entire body went limp. He had been shot twice – once in the abdomen and once in the chest. My last words to him. After about ten minutes. It was open. I knew he was gone. "Scott. but sometimes you really fucking piss me off!" I swear I wasn't that mad. I dropped the bags. "So do you always literally knock people off their feet when you meet them? I mean. when I ran into something. I had never met this guy before. and all I could see where brilliant green eyes. Steve was lying on his back in the middle of the living room. "Do you need someone to talk to?" He asked gently. Sorry for getting in your way! Where are you going in such a hurry?" I thought about just blowing him off. I was just about to start running again when my personal roadblock stuck out his hand and introduced himself. "Hi. When I came home about an hour later. The slow flow of gentle tears gave way to deep chest-heaving sobs as I began to let out only the beginnings of the sorrow that had consumed me. and I heard glass jars breaking. Like a bolt of lightning. All I remember was the last words out of my mouth as I closed the door. Suddenly. I fell over. and stumbled to the door. I blinked. I think at that point. This was one of the sections of town with very a large gay population. Will grabbed me by the shoulder and escorted me into a seat. I was inside the house. Suddenly. Besides. I ." Will asked. and as I looked up. To Will's credit. I yelled his name and dropped down to him. I just needed to get everything off my chest.

Please promise me. so." Will just nodded his head sympathetically. I decided it was the least I could do." I was angry for a moment. "Sorry..quickly stood up and started to head towards the door.. I know he's dead." Will rambled as he tried to make conversation light until he inadvertently stuck his foot in his mouth again. He was clearly deeply moved by my story. I noticed that his eyes were wet with unshed tears by now. I didn't like it. How I never got to apologize. promise me that you will just try. I was just trying to ease the tension a little. Steve. Will just looked at me patiently. but maybe talking will make you feel better. um. "So where are you running from? If it wasn't Tuesday. pointing around the room. " husband. but his eyes only showed that he wanted to see if I could. at least most of me does. I'd guess a wedding. "I noticed the entire time you talked you never said Steve's name whenever you talked about his death. I realized that I desperately needed someone to talk to. my eyes were dry. "I really didn't mean anything by it. I'm sure that the story would have caused him to chuckle. "umm. "What's that?" "First. That you won't get mad and run away. "I want you to do something for me. He died. stopping me mid-flight. Ste-Steve d-" was all I could stutter out. "It's Steve. Steve di-" I just trailed off. . All that was left of my life was pain and despair." I thought for a moment and began to speak. um. He gently grabbed my arm. I couldn't finish the sentence. Apprehensively. Will cleared his throat and tried his best to smile for me to let me know that everything was going to be okay.. Will had tears streaming down his face and wasn't even trying to hide them. I slowly walked back to the table and sat down. Pretty much everyone in here is." I could feel the tears welling up again. and started to cry. Will had been so patient.. "Can I ask how Steve died? I'm not trying to push you. My cheeks were wet again. If the situation had been different. I hadn't been able to talk to anyone yet. I couldn't tell Will about his last words yet or the fact that he died mad at me. Nothing could ever be okay again. I just can't say it.." I was struggling to find the rights words to convey my meaning." I let out a deep breath.Oh. How I held him as the life drained out of Him. I told him about our little fight. I think I actually felt a little better. "Steve. I then noticed that I wasn't crying. and what I said to the crowd of supporters. I actually dropped my head into my hands. my mind isn't fully functional right now. How I dropped the groceries when I saw his body lying in a pool of blood. I don't know." At this point. For the first time in several days. I didn't want my friends to know how deep my wounds ran. I spared no detail from the funeral. Will seemed to be genuinely interested in just being a friend. Not better. including what was going on in my head. They were soft. Maybe it is. Will was on his feet just as quickly." Will said softly. If I had been more thinking more rationally. despite the pain." Will said. I just assumed you were gay. I gave him my word that I would try. How I left mad. It's too. that's not the right word. not the painful sobs from earlier.. but he'd been so kind listening as I told him my story. I really couldn't describe how I was actually feeling. I couldn't say it. You would think that I wouldn't have any moisture left to cry out. While I had been hesitant to tell Will the details of his death. I knew that it was a lie." I had no clue where he was going with it. shit! I'm so sorry. "St-St-Steve. I might have been a little taken aback that a complete stranger was being so kind and understanding. The tears had returned. I want you to say 'Steve died'. "Look. The words were just stuck in my throat.. I continued to tell Will about the funeral.

this is Scott's phone. I'll get it whenever you decide to call me." The fact that Will was able to connect to my feelings made me feel a bit better about the feelings I was having towards Tom. louder than I intended. That was a step that I wasn't sure I was ready to take. but maybe my treatment of him was actually understandable considering the circumstances. You look better right now. and I had gotten no sense of unwanted interest in me after the initial comment. or a 'Tom O'Neil'. Whenever he sensed that he was venturing into a painful topic. I haven't even been able to look at him since he showed up. but I had a . 74. You tried. they were just too similar. They are identical twins. We were doing our best to talk about a sport neither of us had ever watched. He carefully stayed away from anything that might be a painful subject for me. I realized what he was trying to do. "It's Tom calling again. He didn't talk about himself at all. which was laughable in hindsight. His caring was genuine. let alone played. Right now. Will and I continued to talk for another hour or so. I think it would almost feel like you were looking at a mirage. my only concern is your well being. don't beat yourself up over this." I had never had any problem telling the two of them apart." He was looking after me like a brother. He was just trying to help. By that point. "I have to get back. I could only hear the one side of the conversation. I really appreciated it. It felt too much like I was pushing Steve out of my life. such as a movie that Steve liked. I actually smiled a little when we started talking basketball. even by just a tiny fraction. But right now. Just know that I'm here if you ever need a friendly ear."Hey. it vibrated again with another incoming call. "Nope. If he could make me feel better. I'm proud of you!" As he said that." "That would be my brother. in only an hour. that to me they looked and sounded very different. I was even able to tell them apart in their baby pictures. Neither one of us cared about sports at all. he quickly changed started talking about something completely different. no shit. but I'm sure things are going to get worse again." "Do you want me to give you my number?" I was hesitant. "Shit!" I said." Will said. Suddenly. Just call me if you ever need to talk again. "Hello. I just hoped that we could become friends." "I'm not sure that I would be able to look at him either. I can talk to him instead." Will said. They seem to mostly be from either an 'Ethan Hudgins'. It's just too similar to Steve's. and even sports. we both did our best to convey knowledge about the local teams. It was all idle small talk. did you know that you have 74 missed calls? Like. Before Will handed me the phone back. I couldn't even begin to imagine how much he could help me repair my mind and heart if he became a friend. I was so familiar with everything about Steve. Will was great at leading the conversation. Still. Do you want to answer it? If you want. I still can't stand to hear his voice. movies. It was by a miniscule amount. I became aware that I had been sitting there for a long time. Somehow. but it was progress. Tom must be really worried if he's calling. and Scott's brother. I did feel better. and yet you still allowed yourself to try to push yourself to say the one thing you don't want to admit has happened. I think it's because Steve and I dated for almost six months before I even met his brother. And I mean actually better. My attitude may have been poor. That didn't stop us from trying. "Go ahead. I had already talked way too much about myself. Besides. My family is probably still waiting for me. Neither of us even knew the name of the city's NBA team. "I'll program my number." "Hand me your phone. We talked about the weather. You're hurting worse than I can imagine right now. By the way.

" Thankfully."Hello. he stormed over to me. "C'mon. I don't know where in the hell you get off making a mockery of my son's funeral. Mom and Dad. grabbing Lydia as they left the cemetery." Will said. but I guess they were just trying to give me some space." I knew he was right. this is Scott's phone. Emma and Ethan. "No. As the tension slowly lifted. you cause a scene. Maybe good? "You're right about me spending a lot of time with you today." Dick continued in his rant." "Actually. We pulled up at the cemetery. you little shit. I had been gone for two hours. and I'm not going to allow for second guessing by some faggot!" I staggered as if I had been slapped." I quickly added. with that Dick stormed off. Will stood awkwardly about 10 feet from me. well I'm not exactly sure how it felt. I am his father. As we got near the cemetery. more like I had just been hit in the face with a brick. I then realized that this was the first time that I'd actually taken someone else's feelings into account since his death. Not that I was surprised. "Thank you. undermining any chance I had at checking to see if he was sure. he was just about to leave. Everyone seemed to be avoiding me. Such a small gesture of support coming from someone that had been a complete stranger earlier in the day really helped to make me feel that it was somehow possible that everything might one day be okay." With that. As I looked to his gravesite. so I just followed him to his car without a word. That's more important than running errands. You've already spent a lot of time today listening to a complete stranger exposing their soul. I looked over and noticed Dustin. As soon as Richard saw me approaching. Dad and Ethan saw this and came running in case things became violent." Will said. and Michelle and Dustin were talking with Tom. "I actually thought that you had feelings for my son. "Instead. Emma. "I'll drive you back. I can spare a few more minutes. my entire body started to tense. "Listen to me. everyone slowly began to talk quietly. and he stopped the car. It means that I have my son's best interests at heart. I saw that Dick and Lydia were still there. as he turned off the car and started to get out. "Can you walk up with me? I don't think I can face his parents alone. very unsure what to do. He'll be there soon. but I had a pretty good sense of the conversation." "Ok. it won't take the rest of the day. Everyone else had already left. "I understand if you have other things you need to do. Will noticed and just gently put his hand on top of mine. and he looked like he needed someone to talk to. Really. so we went inside and started to talk. and Michelle trying to restrain my dad and Ethan. leave his funeral and come back with some new toy that you've probably been fucking since the moment you left the cemetery." was all I was able to offer in response. while Lydia and Dick were standing next to his grave. Just as Tom started to walk over to me. and that means more than just a silly little piece of paper." He followed a few feet behind me as I walked back to his grave. Besides. so the funeral had been over for a while. who wanted nothing more than to tear Dick limb from limb. It felt. but you needed it. "For everything. He is sitting across from me at a coffee shop. He ran into me as I was walking." I asked him." he said as he stood up from the table. Actually. I saw Michelle and Emma walk over and start to engage Will in . I could only hear the one side of the conversation. Will hung up and handed my phone back to me. he's fine. I'm not sure that you're ready to be alone with the thoughts going on in your head.

The nerve! YOU BASTARD!" Michelle informed me as she tried once again to lunge at a very terrified Will." "Yeah. he's never really seemed hateful. "Whatever. It was the first word that I had managed to say to Steve's twin after his death. "Stop it!" Emma yelled. or anyone else that I know." I responded. It was somewhat comforting to cry. Dustin loosened his grip a little. When I saw Dick. it was reassuring that I was apparently still having them. then go for it. right?" Tom asked. If this Will guy is that person.Just as Tom started to walk over to me. the only feelings I have for Will are akin to the same feelings I have for Ethan." I proceeded to tell him about running into Will. "Maybe it's the fact that he doesn't know me. "I hope you know that he doesn't mean any of that. "Hey. "So what's up with that guy? I know you." Before Tom had the chance to respond. I saw Michelle and Emma walk over and start to engage Will in conversation. I'm not sure anyone is really paying attention to how much other people are hurting at the moment. please remember that Steve would want you to move on. despite all of our differences in the past. "Don't you have sense of decency? He just buried his husband!" With those last words. I wasn't in the mood to think about how other people were feeling." "I think that there's a lot of that going around. I felt the all too familiar tears begin to fall." Tom said. We were just about to leave when you called. and she almost fell before he helped her find her balance." I responded. I spun around in time to see Will recoil as Dustin grabbed Michelle and pull her away. Even though I wasn't able to feel any emotions anymore. literally. It just felt good to talk. doesn't know Steve. and finding solace in a stranger. "How DARE you?!?!" Michelle screeched. "I've never seen him act the way he has until since Steve. obviously unsure what to say to me. I hadn't heard that tone since her and I had walked in on her then-boyfriend having sex with her roommate sophomore year of college. Tom realized that. Or you. She was always the calm in the center of the storm. Michelle froze mid-lunge. I just wish he would realize how badly I'm hurting. let alone care. if I had. but I just wasn't having anything to with any part of that statement. I never expected him to offer me a ride back. Any feelings that I have for him are entirely platonic. More than anything. how can you tell me that Steve would want me to forget about the last nine years of my life? Second. I just couldn't walk up here alone." Tom added showing off the insight that had made us grow so close over the years. . he would've already been here. I was confused as to what set Michelle off like that. Ethan and Emma were quick to jump between Will and Michelle just in case she managed to break free from her husband. and it seemed to break some of the tension between the two of us." I could tell that Tom was trying to be helpful. so I know that Dad was completely wrong. "Hey. Besides. our conversation was interrupted by a loud slap behind me. but I don't think I've ever met him before. "This fucker just told me that he thinks you're hot. "First off." "Scott. well you know.

as well. hugging my goodbye. "Promise me." I moaned. Even after everything that happened that day. You have my phone number if you ever need to talk. I want to apologize to you for all of our actions. Chapter 3 . I'll listen." Michelle thought for a second before deciding that Will was telling the truth. I still did not want it to end. but trust me that it will get better. and I promise that I won't act on my attraction unless Scott makes it clear that he feels the same way." With that Will turned and left the cemetery." my dad said. "Dude. My parents came up to the group. but unfortunately life goes on. I'll have my phone on me if you ever need to talk. "We were hoping to spend some more time with you before we left. I really hate that we have to leave while you are hurting." Mom said. I then noticed the small form of Sarah waiting on the front steps. A new security door had been installed. even if you aren't ready for that yet." "Not for him it won't. As she pulled away. I'm going to head back to the hotel. I would end up facing the pointy-end of the stick. She saw it. The large windows had been covered by ugly. I can't even imagine what he's going through right now. "I know you are hurting worse than you ever thought it was possible. but please leave. rubbing my back. She stood up as everyone got out of the cars. Ethan turned to Will. everyone here has gone through something terribly tragic today. Why me. I wasn't about to throw myself at him or anything." "No. All I know is that he's hurting and he opened up to me. . I managed to nod my head slightly. promise me that you're going to be okay. "But as it stands. and I think she even believed it." Silently. we really have to hurry to make our flight. But I do know that I'm going to be there for him if he ever needs anyone to talk to. Scott. Dustin noticed this and released his grip on her. more memories would surface. I have to fly to Tokyo for a meeting tomorrow morning. You seem like a pretty chill guy. 3. None of us have yet to figure out how to channel our emotions. I walked back to Ethan's car with Ethan and Emma right following me. No offense. Slowly she relaxed."I really didn't mean anything by it! That's not even what I said! I just mentioned that Scott was good looking." she repeated in my ear. black security bars. and unfortunately you are getting the brunt of it right now. but we just need time to relax. "I just wanted you to know that I'm here for you. but call me if you need anything. Scott." "Honey. I don't know. I immediately noticed a change. I did not want to go back home. I knew that as soon as I got there. It's not my fault that I find him attractive. Dustin shouted out that he'd see us back at the house as he and Michelle walked back to theirs. are you okay if I head out?" I just nodded "Good. Tom came up. I knew that by getting out of the car.Coping As Ethan's car pulled up in front of mine and Steve's house. even that bastard Richard. I get it. Just as my parents were walking away.

The mental image was too perfectly Steve for me. Oh. "Good. Were you two having an affair?" Emma asked." I just nodded to Sarah. Just think about it. You can just stay in the bedroom or something. and if you still aren't happy I will take them down personally. It was painful. Are you kidding me? Do you really think that I would cheat on him with HER?" I didn't even need to look to see Sarah's face. I'll bring the subject up again in a few weeks." I couldn't help myself. "Couldn't hurt. they won't care. I really thought I was going to be busted." "Relax. who was still in the doorway. but maybe the extra visible security would help." I just passed them on to Ethan. You have been living in fear! Any noise or sign of movement in or around the house and you freak out. Please. I knew you would be. I went pale." "I can't tell anyone. Well. Ethan." Emma. I'm sure they'd understand. bluntly. by the way. In fact. it's just that. You would have refused. "Sorry. Besides. I really think that you should tell them the truth. We would have had it done while you were out. Friends and family can help. "I also want you to get a security system installed. "I know you're mad at me." "Of course I would have! I don't want to feel like a prisoner in my own house! Besides. Besides. The third was the hardwood floors that ran through the entire house. I knew immediately how they came across. Dustin and I will be in the house when they come. Obviously. but Emma's guess was too far off the mark. Scott. but I felt the corners . well." I understood exactly what she was saying. overheard the conversation. Sarah grabbed my arm before I got inside. It would destroy them. Sarah. just promise me that you'll leave them on." my voice dropped as I spoke to almost a mumble as I finished. That was close. "What did you do?" There were three reasons that Steve had fallen in love with this house. Sarah?" I asked as we approached the porch. She smiled. more than usual. Dustin. Emma. I say go for it. "he wouldn't want me to live in fear. "What? NO! Ugh. The third reason had been ruined on that fateful day and the second had now been marred. I may not have been happy with it. The first was the large porch that wrapped itself around the side of the house. I was definitely not pleased to have a confrontation on the other thing that Steve loved most about our house. I looked over my shoulder at Ethan. "But Chris and I had a friend install the security bars and door while everyone was at the funeral. The second was the many large windows. You won't even notice them. I knew what you meant. Realizing that our conversation had been overheard. bro. "Wait. I didn't mean it that way. I'll tell Chris as soon as I get home. you're not my type. As soon as I had said those words."What the hell. who opened the door and everyone started to walk in." "Trust me. but only if they know everything. I'm just so ashamed of what I did. She came back onto the porch. "One more thing. his entire back would be covered in scratch marks. here are the keys to the new door. Steve had his claws so deep into Scott that if I ever managed to get to him." "But that's just it. but we needed your permission. Chris and I just want you to have a chance to relax." Sarah explained. and Michelle quickly followed.

So empty. Actually. Emma and Michelle tried to comfort me. It was the one place in the world where I felt closest to him. The gut-wrenching sobs did. right? All of us are here for you. and then tucked me into my side of the bed that Steve and I had shared since we first moved in together seven years ago. Upon entering. Michelle and Dustin stayed a few more days. Ethan really didn't give me a choice. and I only vaguely remember hearing them close the door. I felt someone grab my arm firmly. as close to Steve as I could get. It was painful. I don't know if Ethan was the first to notice it. however. and they led me to my bedroom. Awesome!" My smile faded quickly. I think they mostly carried me. This was my spot. "That's the first time I've seen that since we got here. His spot. before they had to return home. Emma and Ethan stayed a . as he firmly pulled me up to my feet. The mental image was too perfectly Steve for me.I couldn't help myself. realizing that I had found a second place where I could still feel his presence. Unfortunately for them. and I was too exhausted to put up much of a struggle. The events of the day had taken their toll. Just remember that we love all love you. "No. At that point. Just me and him. After about 15 minutes. just most of them." Dustin asked. The tears didn't return as I lay there. "C'mon bro. but I'm not sure. but it had been scrubbed so much that it looked nothing like the rest of the floor. even if you can't feel it. It felt so big." I said. Sarah walked up the street to go back to her home. but Dustin was sure that he could bring it back. they began telling the most ridiculously lame jokes and stories that they could come up with. I looked and saw Ethan. I would never leave The Spot if I didn't need to. I'm not sure how I would have been able to explain my actions." I think I tried to nod my head. I'm sure that your entire body is aching. they couldn't repeat the performance. Where he died. I still didn't want to leave The Spot. or they convinced me to take a shower. I pushed past everyone and lay down on a large discolored spot on the floor. The floor is not comfortable. but he was definitely the first to comment. It's his bed! I can't have anyone else it in it. "Do you want Michelle or me to sleep in here with you? You know you're not alone. If the four houseguests hadn't already seen this over the past couple of days. The last thing I remember before sleep overtook me was rolling over to Steve's side of the bed. I fell asleep clutching his side of the bed. clutching myself in the fetal position. but traces could still be seen between the boards. Since no one could get me to leave The Spot. Once all of my friends realized that they weren't going to be able to get me to smile again. I was too busy thinking about what they had almost uncovered. The Spot looked more faded than it had before I left it to go to the funeral. – – – * * * – – – I wish I could say that the nightmares never came back. and sleep was coming quickly. I was suddenly aware just how tired I was." I was barely conscious as Dustin said that. At least they weren't happening every night. That was the first night that I slept without nightmares since he died. they were only gone a few days before they returned. Dustin and Ethan helped me strip down to my boxers. but I just kept shrugging them off. You really should sleep in your bed tonight. The rest of us went inside the house. For anything you need. I was sore. I was pretty sure that Sarah had spent much of the time that I was gone trying to clean it. In truth. I was almost asleep by the time they left the room. The blood stains were mostly gone. however. A real smile. they could only clean it when I had to go to the bathroom. but I felt the corners of my mouth moved. Starting with him. I actually smiled. Dustin grabbed my other arm. "That's fine.

I spent all of my time either curled up on The Spot or clutching Steve's side of the bed. Anyone. What we want is for you to be able to smile again. too. he is." "Darling. I know he finds me attractive. he's the guy you talked to on the day of the funeral. – – – * * * – – – "Hello? William Drake speaking. but Emma and Michelle had gotten her up to speed with the events that she had missed. she began to push harder. There's nothing you can do about it. though. She did ask if I wanted the security windows and doors removed. right?" Sarah was not at the cemetery when we had returned. "Besides. "everyone told me that talking to him made you feel a little better. fine." she continued. Talk to Chris. "Yeah. "If you don't want to see a therapist. I thought I might be able to. You stink!" I didn't notice as she snuck into the bathroom to take my phone out of my pants." . Emma and Ethan stayed a little longer before they. Sarah began to push for me to see a therapist. To be able to walk out of that door and come have dinner with Chris and I. I'll just burden you further. I don't know what I would have done without her. "Scott.Michelle and Dustin stayed a few more days. You should see someone." "Is there anyone you feel like you can talk to or anyone that you've opened up to a little already?" "Well there was that one guy. Just embrace it. Almost before I realized it." Chris always seemed like a nice enough guy but I didn't really know him. Talking will make you feel a little better. Now go take a shower. If it hadn't been for her insistence. Even if I refused to admit it." I said hesitantly. knowing that it made me slightly uncomfortable. I'm sure that I would not have every bothered showering or even changing my clothes. If I start unloading my problems on you. Sarah. A few weeks after Emma and Ethan left. I can't forget him. Promise me you'll at least think about it. Sarah was constantly at the house. I know what my problem is. We were good neighbors." "Good enough for me. I'm not sure I can talk to him." "No one wants you to forget Steve. I don't want to move on. He died. At least she stayed away from any terms of endearment that Steve had used. and enjoy the attention. By the beginning of September. they did make me feel safer. "I can't do that. you really haven't been getting any better. went home in early August. but I'm just not sure." Sarah enjoyed using random pet names for me. I found myself alone in our house again. Hell. "Oh. you will realize that everyone who looks at you finds you attractive. At first. You guys have already done so much for me. Will. and I don't know if I'm able to handle that right now." "Okay. Talk to me. But that's the best I can do. and it may give you more perspective. I knew that Steve would understand why I had allowed his beautiful windows to be marred." "I really don't need a shrink. Even Sarah and I hadn't really been that close before his death. but little more than passing friends. one day. no one who ever met Steve will ever forget him. I can't do that. and Chris had a high-end security system installed shortly after the funeral. I can't and won't push it. I just really need you to be able to talk to someone. before they had to return home. You know he had that effect on people. I'll think about it. it doesn't matter who it is. She had followed through on her promise. it was hints and passing comments. I don't want to feel better. but I just shrugged her off.

" "I guess we just can't tell him what I do for a living then. . I know he opened up to you the day of Steve's funeral." "Trust me. my name is Sarah. and I'm hoping that you would be willing to try to talk to him again. I needed clothes and quickly.. You don't know me. "I'm actually a clinical psychologist. what is Will doing here?" They both jumped a little as they quickly swiveled their heads to face me." "I My patients are all pretty tame. I toweled off.. At least you tried. I quickly dressed as soon as Sarah was out of the room. The two were so involved in their conversation that they had yet to notice me. though. it doesn't work. Thank you so much. before turning back to me. I don't have any more appointments for the day. Will. "You need someone to talk to." Will stammered before he quickly bolted out of the bedroom.. Get out!" "I." Sarah gave him Scott's address. and I'll try to talk to Scott. I became all too aware that I was standing in front of them wearing nothing other than a loosely tied towel. I just finished graduate school a few months ago and am working in a small co-op." I just nodded and pointed towards the door. and beginning the trek towards the prominent bulge in my towel. no he's not. He's too hard headed and thinks he's fine on his own. too. Before they hung up." "Hi. I wrapped the towel around me and walked out to the bedroom." "Have you tried to get him to see a psychologist? They're usually pretty good at getting people to open up. Will told her that he'd be there in a few minutes. Wait. I really hope you can help Scott. I watched his eyes travel down my smooth chest and flat stomach. "What the hell. and he will only take care of himself when someone is making him. Are you that Will?" "What? Scott? I haven't heard from him since the day of Steve's funeral. "Will! Don't leave yet! I wasn't done talking to you." I glanced over to Will and noticed that his eyes were no longer directed at my face. You're standing there in just a towel. Even I can't stop checking you out." "Are you sure? You sound awfully young to be a shrink. He won't talk to anyone. Well." Sarah called after him." Will told Sarah with a chuckle. but I'm a friend of Scott's. He's not really much of anything. Is everything alright? Scott's not hurt.. sorry. Even if I did. After a moment I recognized the other person as Will. You were able to talk to Will before. and I know that I'm not your type. you are an amazing looking guy.I. "Scott.. it's nothing like that. just hear me out. Will? I thought you said that you would never show your feelings for me. Does that work for you?" "That would be perfect. He's fine. I'm hoping you can come and talk to him." Sarah started. you aren't the first person to act incredulously. why not try it again? If it doesn't work. "Sarah. I was startled when I saw Sarah talking to someone while sitting on my bed. He's only human. is he?" "No.."Hello? William Drake speaking. For a moment. none of them are as important. Scott's trauma is much fresher and he needs the attention more. "Remember. I didn't mean it the way it sounded. Why don't I come right over. Suddenly. – – – * * * – – – When I finished my shower." "Scott won't do it. Please don't hold it against him.

Hell. The worst that can happen is that he'll just tell me to leave again. I just can't fight the physical attraction to him. We'll all sit on the couch and just start talking." Will walked back up onto the porch and the two walked back into the house. Any other time. "Look. At that moment I just found it annoying. you need to get up. and I knew that he was smart enough to have probably figured out the significance to me already." I just shook my head. Do you understand Scott?" I was beginning to feel a wave of adolescent rebellion forming. He such a lost soul right now and needs all the help he can get. just go back in. "Will." Sarah started. why don't you tell Will about that specific spot and why it is so important to you?" Sarah prodded. I'm actually surprised that you didn't notice it. I just wanted to make my way back to The Spot. please don't go. I knew that I had told Will a lot of the story six weeks ago. if that was even possible. "Scott. Sarah sat down next to me while Will sat on the adjacent couch. "Ok." "I get the physical attraction. That's where I lost him. fine. you can leave.Sarah caught up to Will just as he was stepping off of the porch." Will said in a whisper. but you're smart enough to not try to make any unwanted moves or anything. I was feeling a little more numb than usual. After what had transpired. To my surprise she was gone. I would have found it hilarious that this little pixie. When they walked in. I was curled up on The Spot again. telling Will about the fight and the grocery trip. no foul. Even as I sat on the couch. I started from the beginning again. We can stop if you want. can you help me? We are all going to sit on the couch like adults. If he won't try to open up or anything. even if he doesn't know it" "No. and maybe both of them would leave. You of all people should know that. as she grabbed my arm to try and pull me up. I pointed to The Spot. "I want to help him so badly. she left as soon as you started talking. I'm already here. Both of us know that he's not." "That's where Steve died." Will just sighed. You know that she just wanted you to have a chance to get some of this off your chest. trying to be helpful. Like adults." he added quickly. 8 inches shorter and I'd guess close to 65 pounds less than me was trying to throw her weight around. I just fucked it all up again. I looked over to Sarah to see if she was satisfied and that we were done. . And then we are going to talk. "Oh. That I had come home and found Steve lying in a pool of blood after having been shot twice. He really does need you." I said." "You're right. It's human nature. I know that he's not emotionally capable of handling anything approaching a relationship at this point. "C'mon Scott. "That's where it happened. Not that I'm interested in pursuing a relationship with him or anyone else. No harm. you would have checked him out if in there if he was just remotely average looking. "Will. But I figured that I'd just placate Sarah. but I knew that arguing wasn't going to make this end any quicker.

stopping me. but it what I said wasn't anything out of the ordinary for us. but you'll never know exactly what Steve meant when he told you that. and the argument was over something menial." "I don't believe that for a second. I mean. "How can you say that? I failed him. You have nothing to be upset about. I wouldn't want the love of my life to see me in that position. you know that it's not true. Will stood and directed me back to the couch. I just can't forgive myself for getting angry with him. 'don't' by itself doesn't mean much of anything. I could tell he was trying to gently prod. No judgments. he was telling the truth. I didn't call anyone. "Scott." "I didn't" I barely whispered. but it did make some sense. At least for now. "I never left him." Will had started crying. I had to be closer to him. I didn't do anything. I stood up and went towards The Spot." "How many definitions of 'don't' do you know. "You didn't what? Leave him?" Will asked. don't you think there's a chance that he may not have been angry at you? I thought about what he was saying. let me try it a different way. I decided to go for it. but it wasn't out of the ordinary. I know you want to tell me. I didn't know if he could handle what I had done. Don't just assume that it means he was still mad. In case you haven't figured it out by now. As I looked into his eyes. because I could feel his judgment without having even saying a word. Maybe I just needed to talk. I couldn't lift my head to look at him. "If I was in his shoes." I couldn't. Now. I knew he was judging me. Will? This isn't exactly a situation where 'no' can really mean 'yes'!" "Ok. I saw the concern he had for me. I'm not sure how I could have been that stupid. I promise. The only emotion that his eyes were conveying was deep concern. I'm not going to judge you." . the sobs faded. "Please Scott. After what seemed like forever. look at me. And I wanted to talk to him. please." "Well. I didn't really want to believe it. "It's okay." I slowly looked up. Will's gently grabbed my arm. but his body gave out before he could finish. It might have been mean. More annoyed than anything. Whatever is bothering you. The last thing he ever said to me was 'don't'. Not really. I just…fuck. despite any recent troubles that we may have faced. I'd just led him straight to the most embarrassing part of the entire ordeal. If I had to guess he was starting to tell you something. How mad were you when you left?" "I don't know. "Another thing. He just gently rubbed my back the entire time. I did snap at him. Maybe it was the fact that Will was still virtually a stranger. You can kick yourself all you want for the rest of your life. if you weren't really that mad. or never getting the chance to say that I was sorry. I would have been terrified. You didn't do anything wrong. "He was still mad at me when he died. Maybe it was the fact that I know he's attracted to me. This time he sat next to me.I just shook my head. I then dropped my head to stare at the ground." The tears that had been slowly leaking from my eyes changed to heart-wrenching sobs. All I know is that I felt like I could talk to him. and your words weren't that unusual. I want you to tell me. I just held him. look at me. I pressed my head against his chest and just let it all out. it is eating you alive right now. nor would I want them to leave my side. I decided to go for broke. and I think deep down.

You never let him go. You were there for him. "If he hadn't already realized that I was not the killer. Since the funeral. You held him. but I just couldn't find a single fault in his logic. I was grabbing. And I didn't do anything about it. and his tone made it clear that no one. I think one of them even said that they would have reacted the same way if they had been in my position." We were silent for a long time after he said that. and that they may end up arresting me. Neither of us had ever owned a gun and obviously none were found in the house. and only stayed in the room long enough to make sure that I was okay before she went back to the porch to wait for the police to show up. but if he was already dead. She later told me that she had been calling our names. And yes. It did feel pretty good to get everything off of my chest. As soon as I was out the door. He told me that if he would handcuff me there if I didn't let the other officers." "You didn't fail him anymore than he failed you. It didn't take much. Will noticed and scooted over a little to create a little distance from us. the only change is that I now sleep on his side of our bed. "I was still holding him. When I had calmed back down. They were trying to take me away from him. The last thing I remember distinctly was him warning me that technically I had just assaulted several officers. I know I grunted and just moved my head for a lot of the questions. I don't know if that was a real possibility or just a ploy to get me to talk. She kept her distance. "Officer Vincenzo started asking me questions. I was there unless I was in the bathroom. He was a big guy. I just started yelling for whoever it was to leave. He grabbed me by the arm and guided me to the couch. Hell." I finally said. one officer shouted for everyone to stop. that's when she came in and found us. Will asked if I was hungry. kicking. I went straight back to The Spot. This is actually the longest I haven't been on The Spot other than when I was at the funeral itself. That's when she called the police. she noticed the front door was still open. Will put his hand on my shoulder. he left you. Sarah was right there. "He told me that his name was Officer Vincenzo. "Finally. I sat back up. I was simply just trying to process his words. I looked out the window and realized that the sun was already beginning to set. I heard someone come in. I knew he was wrong. not even the other officers. "They tried to pull me off of him. "Sarah was the one who called the police. Sarah was trying to get the officers to stop while trying to get me to calm down. pulling away from Will. I couldn't really understand them. I also realized that I was starving. he did after some CSI-type guy swabbed my hands and performed a gunshot residue test." Suddenly. would mess with him. but didn't know who it was. helping to repeat the questions and try to answer questions that I couldn't form the words to yet. The gentle tears that I had been crying since I started telling him the unabridged events of the day quickly became sobs again with that gesture of support. In fact. As she got closer. Sure." "How could he have failed me? He was killed. the more I thought about it. the more I thought that Will was probably right. In a way. I couldn't believe that we had been talking for hours. you did do something. I just started flailing. techs." "By your logic he failed you simply by dying. like you said he was. When she didn't see any movement inside. He was right. . then there was nothing that anyone could. I couldn't really answer them. or punching anything in my reach. Until the funeral. "I guess you're right. She was out jogging the next morning and saw the groceries strewn on the front steps."How can you say that? I failed him. I was very ashamed about that. I wouldn't stop. but I didn't hear anything at the time. "Sarah stayed with me after the police left. it may have been better to call 911. Officer Vincenzo talked the other officers out of arresting me for assault. and coroners do to their jobs.

"After the professor dismissed the class. but it looked like I had it down pat. Granted. He was easily the most gorgeous guy that I had ever met. If he had any preferences towards anything. After three of these sessions. because he understood it just by listening to the professor. Steve's passion for food made it so that if I wanted to avoid those things." "That's actually pretty easy. I took copious notes." Will said. attractive. I still wasn't sure that I was ready to start delving too deeply into the past. I realized that I had been had. he didn't let on." That was easy enough for me." I realized that at some point while we were talking. Why don't you tell me more about Steve?" Will started "Um…like what?" I was nervous about the question. Since he didn't know me very well. I worked up the nerve to sit down next to him. I had laid my head on his chest." "Wow. I still don't know much of the basics. That whole year. I'm not sure I even went on a single date. because by this point. "After hearing all the personal things you went through. I'd found my new challenge. but even I had limits to my crazy. It wasn't hard. and that he was struggling to get the material. I was a major slut. we sat back down on the couch. is why he chose me. We both just grunted our hellos before the lecture began. I knew that I was in love with him.After Will checked the fridge. only to find that it was virtually empty. I think he was trying to make sure he didn't cross any boundaries by suggesting something that Steve would have wanted. "Nothing major. "It turns out that Steve understood the material even better than I did. while the guy didn't bother to write anything down. Even before he asked me out. "that has to be one of the most romantic 'first-met' stories that I've ever heard. He didn't bother to open his eyes. articulate. . wiping his eyes. He wondered if I could tutor him. And yet. Honestly. "One thing I've never understood. have a wonderful personality. but I can tell that they are there. Just fucked every chance I got. By the second week of school. Shortly before finals. and I started to sit back up. Will realized what he said and how I had interpreted it. he asked what I wanted to have delivered. but he always brushed them off. A couple weeks later. he always gravitated towards me. though. and I let the freedoms of college go to my head. He constantly had guys throwing themselves at him. "I came out just before college. We agreed to start getting coffee after class each day and I would go over the notes and help him understand it. He made me promise to keep getting coffee with him. Tell me how you met. I really hoped that he wouldn't get the wrong impression. "As the semester went on. and I'm sure a great sense of humor. he looked like he was asleep through most of the class. As usual. we started going to parties and hanging out with each others' groups of friends. In fact. all I could think about was Steve." I felt a little uncomfortable hearing Will sing my praises. I mean. You're smart. sleeping with any remotely attractive guy I could. Even after telling him so much. but it felt really nice to be held like that again. "In my biology class. even before we started dating. I would have had to starve myself. When sophomore year began. and kept talking. He didn't take notes because he didn't need to. He told me that his name was Steve. I was planning on just doing more of the same. the guy stopped me. there was a guy that sat a few rows in front of me. and Will had wrapped one arm around mine. I haven't had too many opportunities to see the last two. After eating in a peaceful silence. I may have been in more pain than I would have thought possible. just looking at him made me nervous. Everywhere we went guys were all over him. he officially asked me out.

" I was confused. he noticed the time. I have a ton of sleep pants and t-shirts in one of my drawers. you can." We walked across the hall. you should really consider psychology. and I'll follow. "You know. while I changed quickly in the bedroom. I haven't felt as safe as I did in your arms since…" My voice may have trailed off at the end. no moves from me. I felt safe. Thanks for talking to me today and opening up. "Allow me to introduce myself. I just feel like being held again. I just hadn't thought about that. gentle demeanor. Will asked which side of the bed I wanted him on. trying to figure out exactly what my emotional state was. and I know that it makes you at least a little uncomfortable. I know that you are well aware of my attraction to you. It didn't quite make it all the way out. With your careful. Just one problem: I don't have anything to sleep in. It's Steve's bed. not a problem. I was asleep almost immediately. Don't worry. I really would like it. but you can stay if you want. you are better than any therapist I've ever been to. William Drake. You lead the way. and got into the bed. but both of us knew exactly what I meant. Will stuck out his hand. I pointed him to the bathroom. It was easily the best night of sleep that I had gotten since he died. Listening to his heart beat was soothing. Do you feel any better? I thought for a moment. if you ever decide to change career paths. Suddenly. Until you send clear signals otherwise. And you don't have to leave if you don't want. I laid my head back down on his chest."Look. actually." Will chuckled at that. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. It felt so good with him spooning up against my back with his arms wrapped around my chest. "I mean. If you want to lie back down. I was worried that Will would interpret them as a signal that I was interested in him. guiding questions. and insight. but it almost did. but they might be a little big on you. I will always assume friends first. I will. While he was finishing getting changed." I smiled. I grabbed a new toothbrush from the guest bathroom. "Man! I had no idea it was so late. We laid like that in silence for a few minutes. "No! Not this bed. I understand." Maybe I was being a little selfish. I'm going to go to bed soon." As soon as the words came out of my mouth. I really should get out of your hair. And don't worry. I can't share it with anyone!" "Okay. "If you want me to stay. I knew exactly who he was. "Yes. As we walked back into the bedroom. ." Satisfied. clinical psychologist. and actually thought that I might chuckle." "No worries about that. "Dr. but I know that Will was true to his word about putting his feelings aside for me in order to be my friend. I promise that I'll keep those feelings separate from the friendship that is developing between us. We went into the bedroom. We're almost the same size. as we had been talking for many hours by this point. I won't do anything to undermine that. and I grabbed a couple of pairs of clothes.

and usually spent the night. baby. I hate to admit it. One night in late September. I slept in Steve's spot in our bed. I crawled into bed late. because I didn't want him to try to stop me from being close to Steve. He came over every night after he got off of work. Fortunately. Every so often. 4. When that happened. The man let out an all-too-familiar chuckle. were pure white. I saw someone standing next to me. I was about to cower and back away as quickly as I could. Even I knew that the memories that were conjured up while sleeping on Steve's side of the bed could be exacerbating my nightmares. The idea of submitting myself to something so carnal and pleasurable just didn't seem right when I wasn't sharing it with the love of my life. my eyes grew heavy. I stood up to try to get my bearings. I still couldn't. we still slept in the guestroom. Will had practically moved in with me. going two months without so much as a wet dream seemed unnatural. Before I could even try to move. By this point. and of course." . Will would try to play psychologist. Will had decided to stay at his place. but I just felt too guilty. The only thing I was certain of is that the person was a man. Will was able to make me smile with some regularity. Even though I was nearly a decade out of my teens. It's not like the two didn't get along. The odd part was that the brightness didn't hurt my eyes. It was so bright that I couldn't see anything. Finally. like the room. the nights he stayed. he just held me tighter and repeatedly told me that everything was going to be okay. The nights that Will didn't stay. I had tried to masturbate a few times. and try to get me to say "Steve died". I almost always had nightmares on those nights. "Relax. and I had never even been near a room like this before. I looked down and realized that the clothes I was wearing. I was getting more than a little concerned. I didn't think of Will as anything other than a brother and good friend. –––***––– I woke up in a white room. by this point I had noticed that I had only gotten an erection a few times since that fateful day back in mid-July. I never told Will about them.It was easily the best night of sleep that I had gotten since he died. Everything was so bright that I couldn't make out who it was. Sarah came by less and less – largely because Will was usually there. hoping that exhaustion would allow me to sleep through the night without another nightmare. but all I could see was white. I certainly hadn't been wearing these clothes when I went to bed. I think Sarah just figured that I didn't need her around as much. On a personal note.Will As the next several weeks went by. we both just slept in our boxers. Chapter 4 . but nothing more. We were not together or anything. He even made me chuckle on occasion. I quickly looked around for somewhere to hide. I rarely had them. I heard the sounds of someone approaching. but it did help. and I fell asleep.

it fucking sucks! "You know I always loved you with every fiber of my being." My heart dropped." "So is this just a dream?" "Yes and no. But you're dead!" "Unfortunately. I'm sorry if this is freaking you out. I tried to move. The fact that I've allowed you your hurt and pain is a testament to that. That's the upside of being dead. but my entire body was completely paralyzed. then why the hell are you here?" "That's a fair question. but I didn't really have any say in the matter. You have no idea how much I've missed you. "One day. All I can do is watch." The shock of standing next to Steve had worn off some. All of the things you need to avoid in order to save yourself from more pain. My mind was racing as I tried to figure out if Steve had just told me that he no longer loved me in a riddle. If your way of showing me how much you love me is by not coming to me. But I can't. why have you waited over two months? I miss you with every fiber of my being." the person said with a laugh." "What the fuck?" was all I could think to say. Steve. How it's going to end. you'd be there every night. Don't question it for even a ." "If you can just show up in my dreams. It hurts to even breathe with you gone. or whatever the fuck this is. If you really loved me. I have to be very careful in any answer I give you. Now I literally am a know it all. baby."Relax. I'm beginning to get sick of these fucking riddles. smartass. The downside is that I've been ripped away from all the people I ever loved. Let me tell you. Since I can see everything that has happened or will happen to you. if only I could just move. I really want to tell you everything. "Steve? Is that really you?" "Who were you expecting? A little girl? Maybe a black panther? I can talk to The Powers That Be and see if they can work something out. "Well. "Ste-" "Let me explain what I can. I knew that I'd be a blubbering mess on the ground right now. I really needed to feel him in my arms again." "Okay. not exactly what I was hoping your first words to me to be. you'll realize that the true measurement of how much I love you shows in how restrained I've been. whenever you want." "What the hell does that mean? Can't you tell me what the fuck is going on?" "They put very strict restrictions on what I can and can't answer. The only other thing I can add is that I want you to think what your state of mind would be like if I did show up every night you went to bed. I want nothing more than to explain everything. but understandable." "Okay. Believe me. What your life would be like.

but the events that had just transpired were too much from me. I just lay there all day until Will came in after he got off work. but everything will work out in the end as it should. I had talked to Steve. If that had been a dream. But I needed it to actually be him. It's really simple when you stop and rationally think about it." "One day. Or something. you will learn the true relationship between forgetting and moving on. Being with Steve. I tried to go back to sleep. If he appeared to me every night. There are concerns that I've come too close to telling you too much. and the most terrifying nightmare all rolled into one. I wish I could explain it to you. Steve's presence seemed much stronger there. I'm home!" Will called out as he came in. You also know what I'd want more than anything else. This whole omniscience thing gets a little confusing sometimes. I don't want to move on. or whatever just happened. Before I go." I noticed the shape of Steve's body stiffen slightly. But I'm not allowed to explain. If anything it was worse. That thought caused me to realize the truth he'd confided in me. Don't question it for even a moment." –––***––– I suddenly jerked upright in my bed. I still felt Steve's closeness. I would go crazy. but I had to get out of the bed. That really would spoil everything. One day. I couldn't even find solace in his words. The path it leads you may seem to go astray. . Just know that I can't right now. got dressed. and went out to the living room. it was both the most wonderful dream I've ever had. provided no solace. Goodbye for now. I need to know. My subconscious may have only been trying to make me think more rationally and work to pick up the pieces. Steve. I had to believe that he was still out there looking out for me. What did you mean by 'don't'? I have been wracked because I just know that you died mad at me. –––***––– "Hi. love. I could have convinced myself that it was all a dream. "Now you must go. I just have to say that I want you to follow what your heart tells you. I want you to find a way to move on. Or the journey. I got up." "I will explain my last word to you. The pain wasn't gone."You know I always loved you with every fiber of my being. honey. you need to know that I wasn't mad at you. It was almost as if he'd just received an order from a superior. I'm sure that if I tried really hard." "Please. Also." "But I can't allow myself to forget anything about you. I noticed for the first time that the sun was coming up as I curled up on The Spot. I have to leave now. I had been with Steve. But I couldn't see his gorgeous face or find comfort in his arms. since I was pretty sure that he had told me a whole lot of nothing. I could never stay mad at you. It might give away the ending. "Scott.

I tried putting a chair on The Spot early on. In fact. he didn't let on. I just lifted my head and glared at him. so I went for comfort at that point. Most of the time. I hope you know that. but you know that your business relationships have been severely strained. and I hate to sound like a nag or say something that I know will upset you. Will seemed to notice. I suddenly became aware that my face was covered in tears. Everything will be alright. But it was a long time after his death before I was able to even begin to think about work again. The only thing I hadn't been able to do recently was bring in new clients. Sarah regularly did grocery shopping for me. You managed to hang on to most of your clients. All they were offering me were small. I missed several deadlines. he would have tried to put his arm around me to comfort me. for the most part." If I had been anywhere but on The Spot." I managed a nod. I was working from The Spot. it felt good being sought out. I had been good at getting back into the swing of things. I'd hate for you to lose more. As a web designer. I knew what he said was correct. I just knew that they had been sent to me by some of my more loyal clients. but you need to make sure you're spending extra time on your work. I still hadn't been able to put myself out there and actually seek out new clients for myself. I just wasn't feeling extroverted enough yet to whore my services out. I had gotten a few new clients. but I just didn't feel the connection. every day. The past several weeks. I don't think I was crying when he came in. but I didn't really care. but some days I sat on the couch as I worked. but I refused to acknowledge it." "It's nothing. I'm home!" Will called out as he came in. I had the fortune of working from home and. "Also. "Hey. and wound up with a lot of very unsatisfied customers. Whenever I . The biggest difference was now I was working almost the entire day. I just had a particularly…painful…um…dream" If he caught onto the strange wording that I struggled with. I also hadn't left the house. "Are you okay? What happened? Recently. everything continued as it had been. easy tasks. I just get worried when you have days like this." Again. on my own schedule. but even some of the understanding ones terminated their contracts with me. A part of me knew that he was just joking around. –––***––– As the next few weeks went past. I just nodded. but it was entirely possibly that I had been crying the entire day. By now he had learned that I wouldn't tolerate being touched while here. when I get here you are doing some work. honey. The events of the night before were too fresh."Hi. Granted. I was working from The Spot. don't worry. Most of them were very understanding of the circumstances. "I'm sorry. but a laptop and a good wireless network meant that I could do my work anywhere in the house. I really didn't mean anything.

I had to admit that I looked pretty good. "You've been cooped up in the house for more than three months now. "Great! Saturday night. But I really didn't think of him in that way. In fact. It'll be good for you. Finally. I needed to make sure that he didn't get the wrong impression. It wasn't a fancy." I couldn't shake the thought that maybe Steve had been trying to tell me that I should be with Will. I didn't mean it like that. I had resigned myself to going as soon as he first asked. and that I wanted nothing to do with any feelings he used to have – or still does for that matter." "Fine. you need this. but I knew from the beginning that he was dead-set on making me go out. and I had a certain amount of pride knowing that I still remembered how to make myself presentable. super-romantic dinner or anything. I knew that there was no way he'd drop the subject until I agreed. It wasn't that I necessarily wanted to. The entire time. He had told me to follow my heart. we just chatted idly. Getting me out of the house had become one of Will's new projects. Will was a great guy. but that didn't make any sense to me. Please. I hadn't picked out my clothes. two weeks before Halloween. Ethan had laid out all my clothes on the bed. I hadn't needed to buy anything other than food. "I'm not taking 'no' for an answer. –––***––– That Saturday. Whenever I offered her money." he explained to me as I tried to talk my way out of it. but he really was like another brother to me. "Will. Sarah regularly did grocery shopping for me. I'll go. It felt nice to pay attention to myself. then. and that made me a somewhat uncomfortable." Truthfully. it's remarkably easy to become a shut-in. I might have realized how attractive he was. she turned me down. he insisted that he was taking me out. I know you don't need to leave the house for anything you need to do. It's a date. the word 'date' made me cringe a bit inside before I even saw his face. Will took me to a nicer restaurant. She always said that it was the least Chris and she could do. You just don't realize it yet. It was the first time that I'd paid any attention to my looks since he died. but virtually anything I could even conceive of wanting could be ordered on the internet to be delivered to my door. I hate repeating myself. and I appreciated that. and if I hadn't been so depressed. In this day and age. I…" "Relax. but you're going to drive yourself crazy. This was the first time that I had worn nice clothes since the funeral. But even if you don't. and I was really beginning to enjoy the time away from the house. and even then. Will did most of the talking. Actually. I dressed nicely. Hopefully you'll forget everything for a little while. I just want you to be able to get out and have a good time. but the conversation was kept light. Any issues relating to his feelings towards me hadn't been brought up in a long time. it'll at least give you the opportunity to have a change of scenery.I also hadn't left the house. When I had gotten out of the shower that morning." Will looked a little too happy about that. .

" I did think about it. but I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that maybe part of him wanted it to be. though. The lights dimmed almost as soon as we sat down. though. See. As Will drove. so I thought it'd be something you were comfortable with. I want you to think for a few minutes and then make a decision. Since Will had never told me our plans. Frank . I didn't know how to explain to him that I didn't think that I could go. I also knew that it would be hard. if only because he knew how much I had wanted to see it. I agreed to give it until intermission. because I know what your gut is trying to tell you. so I really couldn't understand what we were doing there. and loved the soundtrack. And he made perfect sense. I bet once the play begins. we're going to see 'Wicked' aren't we?" "First guess." Up until that point. The entire area we were in was primarily office buildings. "Is everything okay?" Will asked. I quickly realized that we weren't heading in the direction of my house. Besides. but I owed it myself – and possibly Steve – to try. pulling me out of my thoughts. I had always wanted to see. I didn't think I wanted to see it at all. I really didn't want to go.I was a little irritated when Will insisted that he paid. "I don't know. your brain can still work when you decide to use. I remembered back to a day in June when he had seen a billboard advertising that 'Wicked' was coming to town. On the other hand. then we'll leave. I asked a few times where we were going. Part of me didn't want the night to be over yet – I was enjoying myself much more than I had expected. "Will. I had wanted to see this for years but just hadn't had the chance to actually do it. I didn't know. That's when I remembered. so I just resigned myself to my fate. you'll be too engrossed in the story to worry. He had been so excited about it. It's just that he was going to bring me here. Please give it a shot. I figured that the night was over after we left the restaurant. I know he said that it wasn't a date. I was very uncomfortable about the fact that I wasn't feeling any closeness to Steve while we were out. I began to get extremely curious as we pulled into a parking garage in Midtown. If I couldn't go see it with him. And he never got the chance to buy them. Tell you what. I quickly forgot about reality and was drawn into Gregory Macguire's retelling of L. but it was Steve who bought it for me. I don't think I want to see it without him. and the orchestra started the overture. Knowing how much Steve had wanted to take me to see the show. I had completely forgotten that it was coming to town. We timed it perfectly. Don't answer me immediately. I knew that Steve wouldn't really begrudge me that opportunity." "Sorry. I noticed that you had the soundtrack. I knew I had given him carte blanche when I hadn't made him verify any plans through me. I think Will was trying to make sure that I didn't start second-guessing myself while sitting in the theater. no questions asked. but all he would give me were a series of very noncommittal responses. If you are miserable at intermission. Tickets didn't go on sale until August. We just sat in the car and talked until the last minute.

the wicked witch and protagonist of the story. During the second act. I was deeply moved during the final number of the act. and suddenly I was completely exposed to him. I froze for a second. I felt his lips pressed up against mine.5 inch rock-hard member. and I suddenly became fully aware of what I was doing and who . One hand ventured back up to my nipples and began to play with them as I writhed in pleasure. and the contact between us helped to relax me. Our tongues were dueling in each other's mouths. He began kissing me again while stroking my cock with one hand. Elphaba thinks that she was responsible for the death of Fiyero. I was thrashing on the bed and moaning into his mouth. that monster's fucking huge. muscled back. Will's hands were playing with my defined chest and every time he brushed my nipples. unsure what was going on. As Elphaba." He pulled my boxers off. but clear rational thinking hadn't been something I'd done much of for a while. It didn't take any convincing on Will's part to get me to stay to watch the rest of the show. He darted his tongue into my belly button and my eyes shot open as I gasped loudly. The other hand continued its journey south. His hands wandered down and he began to erotically stroke my flat stomach. and bite my taught skin as his continued to make his way down my body. one of my favorite songs. Only the thin material of boxers separated his hand. sang about living a life with no limits and not letting anyone bring her down. and I could feel the heat on my cock. Wiping my eyes as the house lights came up for intermission. I realized that it was the first time in months that I had cried tears of anything other than pain and sorrow. rubbing up and down his firm. My happiness didn't last long. No longer stifled by his mouth. I might have considered how Will would interpret our closeness. crying. like usual. The tears didn't last long. I didn't let go until it came time to get out of the car back at the house. His were wandering over any part of exposed flesh they could find. 'Fuck!' I thought to myself. my moans became louder. lick. and my body reacted before my mind could even process it. I let out an audible gasp. Despite all the kinky things we had done over the years. "Damn. Will broke the kiss and growled in my ear. 'Defying Gravity'. I grabbed Will's hand and leaned into him. and climbed into the bed in the guest room. I was still shaken. His tongue brushed against my lips. It was almost as if my body began to act of its own volition. He started to rub his hand all over my 8. He was tugging and rolling my large balls in his other hand. her love. before starting to kiss and lick his way down my chest. before grabbing it. As he began to suck and bite my nipples. Suddenly. I found comfort in Will's arms. After the play ended. kissing me passionately. I was moved to tears. I didn't let go of Will's hand. Suddenly. My arms were wrapped around him. Will was lying on top of me. We got undressed. If I had been thinking more clearly. Frank Baum's magical world of Oz. He broke the kiss again and moved to my neck. He continued to kiss. for whatever reason. I'm sure that my neighbors could hear every noise that I made. but I stayed close to him for the rest of the play. Steve had never done that. Once again.I quickly forgot about reality and was drawn into Gregory Macguire's retelling of L.

–––***––– I was back in the white room. Instead of returning to the bed that Will was asleep in." Before I could say anything. My mind was racing and I couldn't comprehend what I had just done. he had fallen asleep. Tears were streaming down my face. I sat with my head in the toilet for a while. "No. His voice was coming from behind me. Or came to this place. "Will. I resigned myself to what was happening and just enjoyed the carnal pleasure as he bobbed up and down. I hope you enjoyed it though. Any magic of that moment had died. "I'm right here babe. I went back to our bed. I would have jumped. My eyes clamped shut again as I felt Will's lips wrap around my throbbing cock. I really am sorry. I felt nauseous. Before I knew it." I moaned before I suddenly realized what I said. I may have pushed a little too hard tonight. What I had done. he pecked me lightly on the cheek and then rolled onto his side." If I could have moved. sucking hard on me. ridding my stomach of everything I had eaten at the restaurant. Anyways. However this worked. I finally got up and brushed my teeth again. It's fine. and I knew that he wasn't fine with what I just said. trying to wrap my brain around what happened. It's just that…I don't think that I can…I don't know if I'm ready to…" He just looked at me. barely making it to the toilet before I threw up. I understand. "No. Goodnight. "Oh Steve! That was…. and felt his hard cock pressing firmly against me. I wanted nothing more than to find a way to stop. Why are you crying. My eyes were still closed as he came back up to kiss me. but my body was in control and refused to listen to my mind. which was why I didn't even see the shadow of him that I had witnessed the last time I had this dream. Within moments.'Fuck!' I thought to myself. I just laid there in bed for what felt like hours. "Shit! I'm sorry. and I suddenly became fully aware of what I was doing and who I was doing it with. I felt my body tense up and before I knew it. I could taste myself on his tongue. Will…I didn't mean to…" I tried to apologize as he cut me off. I jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. I really understand. I was shooting a massive load down Will's throat as he eagerly swallowed every drop that I had been holding for the past three months. I didn't even hear footsteps approaching this time." His eyes betrayed him. I felt his tongue frantically playing with the sensitive underside of the head of my cock and poking at my slit. I felt like I had just cheated on Steve. I felt dirty. I quickly climbed in on Steve's side and was asleep immediately. It's just that you're so incredible. we should get some sleep. . I stood up and called out for Steve.

Not what happened tonight. I jumped out of the bed. I saw. the pleasure is only fleeting if the right emotions aren't there. the voice didn't quite sound like Steve's. "I could never hate you.this worked. "Steve." "Dude. Last night was wonderful. even after his death. "You don't hate me for it?" I couldn't believe my ears. My eyes shot open as he kissed the back of my neck. "Can you explain to me what you meant by 'don't' yet? Because right now I feel like whatever you meant I went against it. I really fucked up. what? That doesn't make any sense Steve." "Maybe you're right. I won't leave you hanging forever. I'm sure that you remember your freshman year. babe. I was still in Steve's side of our bed. and Steve enjoyed watching? This is not the Steve I knew. After he finished laughing. "If that's how you feel." "Wait. The lights dimmed quickly. I never even thought about Will that way." "Not yet. pulling my body tighter into him. Even I cracked a smile. but any laugh was caught in my throat. A better question would be 'do you hate you?'" "I don't know. I knew that I wouldn't feel calm when I woke up." He was always able to calm me down." I could hear the smile in his voice even if I couldn't see it. but for some reason I couldn't stop. I slept with someone else. You need someone who will be." Will repeated. –––***––– "Last night was wonderful. how do you feel about Will? Deep down. baby." "I'm not really sure. he continued. make sure you tell him. Unfortunately. This is not the right moment. everything will work out in the end. I can't be there for you anymore. but overall. I'm so confused. . Honestly. bro" Steve responded with his rich laugh that I missed so badly. baby. knocking him to the floor in the process. baby. it was pretty hot." This time. He's been so kind and understanding these past months. I almost think of him as the non-surfer Ethan. It just felt so good. I promise. but for now I just took comfort in his logic. I think that he's more like a brother to me. Remember what I said about following your heart. I had slept with another man." "I know. Your happiness is the most important thing." "Last night was wonderful. Don't worry." "Sex usually does. "Now tell me.

. After what had happened. Hell. Will just stammered.On the Run I caught the first flight out of town to Baltimore. I knew. Besides. That was followed by a call to an airline. I think I'm just going to leave town for a while. I wasn't sure that I could ever forgive him for what happened that night. But I'm not ready for that. "What gives you the right to think that you can get into Steve's bed?" "I just…I thought…last night…" Will sputtered. even then. where I booked a ticket to my parents' that left in a few hours." He was crying by this point. I grabbed my suitcases and started packing. but I was just too overwhelmed by everything that had happened. I'm definitely not ready for a relationship." As Will ran to get dressed. He deserved an explanation. Steve had told me to tell him how I felt. I can't even think of you that way. Chapter 5 . I called for a taxi and waited for it to arrive. "What's wrong. "No. I called my parents to ask if I could visit for a while. Will. "What the fuck are you doing?" I practically screamed at him. You need to leave. and I felt a little bad. but I just had to get out of town and try to clear my head. And at the time. knocking him to the floor in the process. I asked her to talk to Will and explain that I really didn't blame him for what happened. unable to form words. "I'm sorry. it was nice. Last night was a…mistake is the closest word I can think of at the moment. trying to find the proper words that might satiate my rage. concerned a little frightened. I was sure that he thought that I was sending signals that I didn't mean to send. At the same time. Will had been the only person that I had felt that I could confide in. I heard Will call out from the hallway to tell me again that he was sorry and that he hoped that I'd be okay before he went out the door. 5.I jumped out of the bed. Besides. where my parents picked me up and drove me back to their home in Annapolis. I then called Sarah. he had told me that he would make sure that I felt the same way before he ever acted on his feelings towards me. Don't get me wrong. though. and I've treated you like shit. I felt more confused than ever and completely overwhelmed. he violated a boundary that I had clearly laid out by climbing into the bed with me. I didn't let her get a single word in as I told her that I was leaving town for a while and didn't know when I was getting back. let alone for violating the sanctity of our bed in the morning. that I was simply running from my problems. I ran back into the house quickly. babe?" Will asked. I just couldn't wear it anymore. but I just felt like my trust had been exploited. I think I need to leave. You're like my brother. After I finished packing. I pulled my wedding ring off and left it on the night stand. Just before I got in. I hoped that between the strained explanation that I had forced out and any explanation that Sarah provided would be enough to satisfy him. You've been so kind to me. It's just wrong.

He understood and said that it was fine. He said it wasn't. we don't mean you need to leave this instant. My dad knew that the entire holiday season would be difficult for me." "Scott. Finally." I stood up and walked up to my room and started packing. Steve hadn't come to me. My first Christmas without him. when they sat me down. They pushed me to see psychologists. even though I knew that Steve's appearances had only left me confused. the worst part of the stay at the Hudgins family household was Christmas." "What are you saying." . out of concern for me. but I can't make you. Let me pack up my things. and I'm sorry for bringing extra hurt and pain into your lives since I came. I couldn't be happy. I got out of bed once on Christmas. I knew that it wasn't doing me any good to stay here. my parents had had enough of me. even though I haven't been able to show it at all. and we'll find a way to help. and I asked if tonight would be too early. I warned Dustin on the phone that it might be stay of indefinite length." my Dad said. Mom? You guys are kicking me out?" "You haven't been able to find whatever it is that you are searching for here. The music was so damn chipper that it made me sick. I'd suggest back to your home. You know we love when you visit. therapists. Except that I didn't even have something like The Spot. I wasn't angry in the slightest. The only trouble is that neither of us ever remember seeing any decorations missing. Realizing the extent that I had been burdening them was all the incentive I needed. "Maybe with more time you'd be able to." "Thanks. If you ever need anything at all. He asked when I would arrive. and tried to get my mom to go easy on the decorations to not overwhelm me. To make matters worse. Mom doesn't know the meaning of the word discretion. Even if I could." "I do. and returned to bed. "Dad. "Where ever you go. it would help. I don't know why you are even here." Mom told me. My parents really tried to help. anything. I was worse while at my parents than I was at my house. I refused to see anyone. I really hope you find whatever it is you are looking for. and you are in just as bad of shape as you were when you got here. "Scott. psychiatrists. At least for you. even if only fleetingly. I just didn't realize how badly I had overstayed my welcome. My mom even suggested a hypnotherapist at one point. where I could at least feel Steve's presence. you know you have all of the love and support that we can provide. Every time I went to close my eyes. After hanging up. I'm not sure that I would have wanted to be happy even if I could have been. I really do appreciate what you guys have done for me. but I know there are issues with that. just let us know. Your mother and I feel that maybe it'd be best for you if you went somewhere else. honey. Until then…well. which I appreciate in hindsight. I won't be in your hair any longer than I have to. and asked if I could stay with them. but you've been here for two months. and any sense of comfort was gone by the time I woke up. I love you both. I brought my bags downstairs. I really hope you know that. Dad told me much later that there were three large boxes of Christmas stuff that Mom hadn't put up. Still. support groups. The little sleep I did get was filled with horrific nightmares. I'm not sure forcing you to do something you are so adamantly opposed to would do any good. "I really think that if you talked to someone. and make a few calls. shortly after New Years. I barely slept. But this isn't a visit. I interact more with the girls on the View than I do with you. Once I had finished packing. I put all of my effort into hoping that this time I'd get to hear his voice and sense his presence. I barely ate. I just realized something. I went downstairs and unplugged the stereo. Dad. I had reverted back to the way I was immediately after the funeral. I called Michelle and Dustin.If possible. but I just couldn't bring myself to leave. so I told him that I would be there in a little bit.

" "What's that?" I don't blame my dad for being confused. Dad was probably worried about how calm I had acted when they had practically thrown me out of the house. Nearly every night of the week I would go out and cruise various locations. For our second date. To say that my stay with the Smithson's was more adventurous than at my parents would be a wild understatement. Anyone who was interested was fair game. I didn't have any expectations that this guy would keep his hands to himself. a great personality. which wouldn't have been hard to do. After we ate. and agreed to at least behave myself. but both were feelings. so I just decided to go with it. too. the date was officially over before the entrées had arrived. I would have sex with any guy I could. I didn't feel any guilt. Before I knew it. It had dawned on me after getting off the phone that I had no mode of transportation. It was almost a calm silence. The dates were typically still miserable for all involved. I thought long and hard about how I felt about the events. Instead of any traditional form of therapy. That night. Michelle's solution was to set me up on dates. Unlike when Will made his move on me. I had no preferences. and got worse very quickly. or just had a handful of guys slightly modify their appearances just enough to fool me."Dad. For a moment I felt better. but she stopped quickly because the first words out of my mouth were usually asking for a quick fuck. On the first several dates she dragged me to against my will." I offered a weak sheepish half-smile. My curiosity as to the source of the seemingly endless stream of eligible bachelors was satisfied. but I had been so numb for so long. I had no idea where Michelle was finding so many guys readily available. but I completely forgot that I don't have a car. paid people to take me out. and a razor-sharp wit. even though I'd made little effort to open up about myself past the most basic information. He slowly started inching his way closer to me. which seemed to remove any concern about my wellbeing for the moment. the guilt hit like a thunderclap. bud. I just realized something. so I figured that I was making progress. she sat there as the date started bad. I knew it. many of whom were exactly the types of guys I would normally go for: Tall. It turns out that most of them were straight. I was dressed and out the door before he even knew what happened. and had made no effort to learn a thing about him. swallowing my load. and was somehow still interested in seeing me again. For the next month. I wasn't sure I . Granted. The guilt was as painful as the act was pleasurable. sex feels great no matter what. I was always quiet during that period of my life. my dad helped me get the bags out of his car before gently hugging me and reminding me to call if I needed anything. in excellent shape. He seemed nice enough. I actually had a guy ask me for a second date. Not a problem. It felt nice. I had actually felt something during the act. "Can you drive me to DC? I told Dustin that I'd be there this evening. Eventually. On more than one occasion. While we were kissing. "Sure." The drive was silent. When he pulled the car to a stop in front of Dustin and Michelle's house. we sat on the couch. I wondered at the time if she had talked people into going on sympathy dates with me regardless of their sexual orientation – I clearly wasn't going to make any first moves. I was naked on his bed and he was in his boxers. but I knew that my dad was beating himself up for doing this. Not that I had been hoping that he would make a move on me. I did have limitations. Michelle still tried to set me up on dates. Next thing I knew. I was familiar with and could cope with the guilt associated with what I was doing. that the fact that I was feeling anything felt pretty good in its own right. I gave in. Let me grab your bags. I would not allow myself to be penetrated in anyway. he was kissing me. but I tried to not be blatantly rude. After I'd been there about two months. As soon as I came. the guy made dinner at his house for me. He did know that it was in my best interest.

I began to eat excessively. We would go to restaurants. He deserves better than that. . I grabbed my luggage and walked outside to wait for Ethan to arrive." "We do. Part of the reason was that both of them refused to let me be alone with my thoughts as long as they were at home. and we know that you're hurting. just like my dad had done when he dropped me off three months prior." "Why wouldn't he forgive you?" I understood why Steve wouldn't forgive me. I don't know what is. stores. He was convinced that it was just as selfdestructive as the wanton sexual escapades had been. but she had plans of her own to help me. but it's not this. I was still very depressed. but this is just not the way to deal. I was doing better overall. Simply their constant presence was helping to provide me some comfort. I can't allow myself to forget even the smallest thing about Steve. and I really don't understand why no one understands where I am coming from. "Because I allowed you to do it. It's just you aren't listening to us. You know that we are here for you. I know that I don't want to. I can't move on. that wasn't going to happen. "Do you have any idea how stupid you're being? How dangerous what you're doing is? You do know that if you caught HIV Steve would never forgive you. I was familiar with and could cope with the guilt associated with what I was doing. I wasn't sure I could do the same if I allowed more to happen. When we arrived. With that." "Look. Scott. I found a gallon of triple chocolate ice cream in the freezer while they were both at work. and for that I was thankful. Emma sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms would they allow me to continue the same self-destructive behaviors that I put myself through at Dustin and Michelle's. they would drag me out of the house. Or me for that matter. The rich dessert made me feel better and didn't have the same guilt attached to it as the random sexual encounters had had. When he showed up. That's why I was trying to get you on dates. I had eaten the entire thing. No one is telling you to forget anything about Steve. he tried to get me to leave but Emma always stopped him. One day. and Ethan will be here in about an hour. One night in early April. I hoped that I would fare better there than I did with my parents or with Dustin and Michelle. Most of the time. and she had some success in getting me to replace junk food with healthier alternatives in my binges. We never talked about my feelings or how I was coping. they came out and hugged me.anyway. Ethan quickly got fed up with my new coping mechanism." Michelle added. A few times. Well. trying to be helpful. I will never forget him. but you have Michelle and I really worried. you need to move on. but almost as soon as one of them returned home from work each day. They wouldn't push me for therapy. Even if I could. Finally Dustin had enough. he confronted me as soon as I had walked in the door from one of my excursions." "Besides. anything. 'Chelly. Also like my dad. Dustin and Michelle waited inside for Ethan to arrive. I hate to send you out this way. Even by the next week I was doing better. I figured that maybe getting out there again might help you to move on. parks. I got in the car and headed to Ethan and Emma's house. I was looking for a snack. there wasn't much conversation between the three of us. I didn't want to know what she had to say. they told me that if I needed anything they would be there for me. museums. That was a regular part of my post-coitus guilt routine. By the time they came home. All…" I wasn't about to let her finish that sentence. It was perfectly clear to me that what everyone thought I needed to do was to forget about Steve and just move on. Your stuff is already packed. "You know that I can't do that. early on. and the pain was almost unbearable at times.

I can't even look in the mirror because it's not me I see staring back at me. but he just seems beyond help. but I don't think there's much we can do. I don't like it. we really need to prepare ourselves. Some days. "He's actually trying. Trust me. "Dear. I'll just hope that Scott is so far into his own world that he hasn't even noticed." I knew what he meant. Anyways. Despite my own feelings regarding Tom." "Yeah." "I haven't either. I can't do it alone. "Hey. I'm not sure how you feel about hearing my voice. I still wasn't doing anything to take care of myself. It was very jarring to hear something like that coming from him. I guess you're right. I feel like my body is being ripped apart just thinking about him. You've seen the change in him in the last six weeks or so. you know we can't just kick him out. I really don't think he's emotionally ready yet to return to his home. I just really need you with me. I have no idea how she managed it. and rationally. though." For the next six weeks. this was the first time that I ever heard him curse." "No. Of course that's not surprising. I think Scott would look like the posterboy for coping with grief compared to me. Learning that I had put on 20 pounds over a two-month span was enough to force me to get things under control. I can't really blame you for that. I also had never considered that there was still at least one person that really knew how I felt. But I think you expected that. I know you need me. but think about it from his perspective. I really hadn't given Tom much thought since he died. He's my big bro. I'd feel the same way about me. Identical twins. I haven't been able to bring myself to visit him since…well. if something were to happen to you." In all the years that I had known Tom. I feel the same way. I don't know what to do about the anniversary. and I'll do anything I can to help him." "You don't think I'm hurting too? You're not the only person who's feeling like they lost their other half. The anniversary is coming up. You were the only person closer to my brother than I was. I know I need to see him. you know. which I knew were completely groundless. Please. but it's just hard. I got a call from Tom." "It's just that I don't want to go by myself. with healthier alternatives in my binges. The anniversary's coming up soon. life continued much as it had. Considering that whenever we went shopping she never left my side. I've thought about it a lot. although Emma had been successful in curbing my binge eating. I forgot that it's almost been a year since Steve was killed. but I'm not sure how I can help with that. Maybe not as much as we'd hoped. but I did stop gaining weight. but she bought a scale. Right now. because I think the shit will hit the fan soon and he'll need us more than ever. One day. By the way. seeing as they are identical twins. That includes DNA. I had purposefully avoided it because they were so identical." "Don't worry about that. We're pretty much the last line of defense. I appreciate the call. do you really think that you'd be handling this much better? "Besides. I'm not planning on going anywhere for quite a while. let me talk to Emma and Ethan. If I died suddenly tomorrow. Does that work for you?" ." "Look. We shared everything except love interests. What's up?" "It's about him. but I need a favor. Scott. I decided to give him a chance. I know I've been unfair to you. If I was in your position." Emma started one night after they went to bed. but I don't know if I can. It's just hard. "I guess you're right. I'll get back to you in the next few days. it's hard. "I'll be honest. Tom's voice sounded almost identical to Steve's. and I'd really like it if you were beside me. So I have a pretty damn good idea how you're feeling." "Please don't take this the wrong way.

just hard. I'll get back to you in the next few days. Does that work for you?" "That's fine. I wasn't necessarily looking for an answer today, anyways. Just give me a call." "Is it alright if I just send you text? Talking to you is…hard. No offense." "That'd be fine. I know you're probably sick of hearing it, but I'm here for you." With that, we hung up. At dinner that night, I brought up Tom's phone call to Emma and Ethan. "Scott, I'm glad you talked to him. So what is it you want to do?" Emma asked me. "I want to drop off the face of the earth and disappear." Emma tried to cut in, but I wouldn't let her. "However, deep down, I know it's something that I need to do. I've been spending all my effort to avoid my pain, but running away hasn't really helped. I think I'm going to go. Besides, I'm not sure I will be able to live with myself if I don't go." "That's great, bro. I'll call the airline after dinner and make reservations for us," Ethan said. "No!" I said a little too loudly. Both of them jumped a little, and looked at me, bewildered. "It's just that I think it's something that I have to do myself. You guys have been amazing, but I think maybe it's time to go home." "Here's a thought: take all your stuff with you, but purchase an open-ended return ticket. Stay down there if you feel you can, but if you need to come back, you'll already have a ticket. Plus, even the irrational side of your brain will remember that you are welcome back." "Who are you, and what did you do with my little brother? That's possibly the most insightful piece of advice I've ever gotten from my little surfer." "You know I've never even been surfing, bro. It's just the way I talk. Besides, it lowers people's expectations. That way, when I have something deep to say, people will actually listen to me. Dude." Even I couldn't help but chuckle as he threw that last part in. "It's been hard on you. I can't imagine how hard it's been. But you've been slowly getting better since you came here. Part of me wishes that you'd come here first, but I think if you had then we wouldn't have been able to help you. You just weren't ready," Emma said, as we finished eating. I called the airline and did exactly what Ethan had suggested. Even though I thought I was ready to go home, I wanted to wait until the last possible moment, so I bought a ticket on the anniversary. I texted Tom after I had booked the flight so that he knew when I was scheduled to arrive. Before I knew it, it was the day. The anniversary of the day that Steve died. I was withdrawn as Emma and Ethan drove me to the airport. I didn't want to think too much, because I was worried that I would break down and cry. And just like that, I was on my way back home. I was dreading what awaited me. Had I known how quickly my life would change for the better, I probably would have been more excited.

6. Chapter 6 - Reunions
Soon enough, my plane landed, and I took my time returning to the main terminal. I wasn't trying to dawdle in hopes of blowing off Tom, although I have to admit that I considered it. I hoped that by stalling, my head

in hopes of blowing off Tom, although I have to admit that I considered it. I hoped that by stalling, my head would clear a little. I wasn't ready for this, but I didn't have much choice. Besides, I knew that that I would probably never be ready. Tom met me as soon as I walked up the stairs from the security area. He had already gotten my bags. I was struck by the fact that I immediately noticed the ways that Tom differed from Steve, and only then took into account the many ways that they were similar. I was seeing Tom as Tom and not as a surrogate Steve. Maybe this wouldn't be as hard as I thought. I suddenly realized that I must have been staring at him. "Is everything okay? First you take forever to get from your plane, and then you just stare at me." "Sorry, I was just trying to clear my head. And right now, I was noticing all the ways that you're not Ste… him." "That's good enough for me. I was really worried how you'd react. Are you hungry? We might as well get some food before we get out of here. I'm not sure I'll want to stop once we leave, and neither one of us will be hungry after…" Tom just left his voice trail off. We both knew what he was going to say, and neither one of us really wanted to vocalize that thought. We grabbed a quick bite at one of the sit down restaurants in the main terminal. We chatted, not really talking about ourselves. It was actually really nice. Tom and I had been really close before Steve died. Sometimes Steve would joke that it was because I was hoping to bag both of them. Either way, I really missed having my good friend by my side. "Scott, I'm actually planning on staying a while with you, if that okay." "Yeah, that should be fine. It feels good to have you back in my life. Is everything okay?" "For the most part, but I just miss having you around. You were always my other best friend. Besides, I know that a part of you needs me there, whether or not you'll admit it." We kept talking for a while after we finished. I know the waiter was getting irritated, but both of us were avoiding our next stop. Before we left, we did have a minor confrontation. "Scott, I just wanted to let you know that I've been talking with your parents, Dustin and Michelle, and Ethan and Emma. I know what all went down everywhere. I know the destructive ways you tried to avoid coping with your grief. I also know that you're doing a little better. What I need you to realize is that I need you as much as, if not more than, you need me. You have no idea how much pain I've been in." "What the hell do you mean by that? I lost the love of my life that day. And you think that I have no idea how much pain YOU'VE been in? What the fuck would you know about it? You've never been in love." My voice kept getting louder, as I let my anger take control. "Yeah, and you've never had a twin," he said quietly, wiping a tear from his eyes. My jaw just dropped. While I had been almost yelling by the end of my response, his rebuttal was almost a whisper. I slumped back in the chair as reality hit again. "Look, I think that we're just both really tense about this afternoon. We both had an extremely special connection to an extraordinary person. Neither of us know how to put our feelings into perspective. Tom, I didn't mean it." "Yes, you did. Or at least part of you did. But I know what you're saying. That part of our brains that censors our irrational thoughts seems to be on the fritz for both of us. You especially, no offense." I just offered him a thin smile, which he returned. We grabbed my bags and began to walk to the car. We drove in silence to the cemetery. – – – * * * – – –

It didn't take us long to reach the cemetery. After Tom parked, we just sat in the car for several minutes. Neither of us were quite ready to get out of the car. Just as I had done in the airport, we were simply delaying the inevitable. Tom eventually got out of the car, unable to put it off any longer. "I'll be there in a few minutes. I just need to gather my thoughts. And my courage." I told him quietly. "That's fine. I'd like to have a few minutes by myself anyways, so I'll see you up there whenever you're ready. Remember, I'm here for you." About ten minutes later, I summoned the nerve to join him. I slowly walked up the hill to Steve's headstone. My knees were weak, and it took all the strength I had to just put one foot in front of the other. As soon as I approached the headstone, my knees finally gave out. I just lay there, clutching Steve's headstone, sobbing uncontrollably. All of the emotions that I had tried to bottle up came rushing out of me. I'm not sure how long I lay there before I felt a warmth surround me. Suddenly, I heard Steve's voice speak to me for the first time since I left town all those months before. It was different than when he came to me in my dreams, more disjointed. It almost seemed like it was a rush of statements all spoken at once. "I'm glad you're here." "I forgive you for everything." "I need you here." "I need you to be strong." "I still love you." "You need to stay." Just as suddenly as Steve's voice had appeared, it was gone. It was almost like a gentle breeze that stops suddenly. I realized that Tom was holding me. "Did you just hear that?" I asked him, hopeful that I wasn't the only one who could hear Steve's voice. "Hear what? I was just holding you and telling you that Steve still loves you and he forgives you for everything. I said a few other things too, but nothing important. I was just trying to comfort you." "Oh." That really was all that I could think of to say. I didn't know if Steve had spoken to me or if it was really Tom. Their voices are similar enough anyways, that it was possible that my mind confused them. But I couldn't understand how I had heard different words than the ones that Tom said he spoke. I might have questioned my sanity, but I already knew my mind wasn't working the way it should. Besides, Steve had already appeared to me twice since he had died. I decided that it would be better to just not dwell on it. The sentiment was the same from either of them, so there was no harm either way. We just lay there a little bit longer, not speaking, or even moving for that matter. Eventually, we got up, and slowly walked back towards the car. "You know, I've been wondering about something ever since the funeral. I've always wondered where you went when you ran out." "I wasn't really paying attention, but I ended up at a coffee shop about two miles from here. But you knew that part, didn't you? That's where I ran into Will." "Do you want to walk it? I feel like moving around to clear my head. I just can't seem to shake this foggy

" Tom thought about it for a second.well. it's a big deal. Not entirely. but that's when I realized what had slipped out of my mouth. What brings you back?" Will asked. "Has it been a year already?" He asked me."Do you want to walk it? I feel like moving around to clear my head. Occasionally. I'm curious as to why you are here. but you probably were so far in your head that the run was not enjoyable" "In case you haven't noticed. Besides. we would utter a few words back and forth. I began to think he had abandoned the idea. "What about your car? If we walk. The hurt in his eyes changed to compassion. though. "I know you know why I'm here. Besides. We might as well keep going. It seemed out of character for Tom." We continued the rest of the way in near silence. but not nearly as surprised as I was to see him." "It's a perfect destination. you haven't noticed where we are yet. I wasn't sure I could deal with randomly running into him right now. I remember you told me . but I didn't know if I wanted to go back to the coffee shop in case Will was there. "What the hell. It may not seem like much. "Anyways. I just can't seem to shake this foggy feeling." I just pointed at my gut. We just visited Steve." The whole idea of this walk seemed weird to me. I did like the idea of wandering and clearing my head. as if I could prevent other words from slipping out as well. Trust me. before the silence once again engulfed us. Tom's car was here. Will looked hurt for a moment. It really just…" I was going to keep talking. "Hence why I suggested we walk. Will stood up. then was suddenly unsure as to whether he should hug me or shake my hand. I'm not sure if it's closure. but you're making progress. He looked surprised to see me. I had expected a surge of pain and sadness to overwhelm me. or what. "Nah. clearly ignoring my attempts to be rude and dismissive. Instead. anyways." I was surprised to notice that we had already walked about a mile. now that you know why I'm here." I actually did believe him. As soon as I realized what I had said. and now we are retracing the steps you took on the last day you were here. "I didn't know you were back in town. "I'm really proud of you. Now we might as well keep going. I began to realize why Will had pushed me from the first time we met to try to get me to say that Steve had died. Will's face grew into a big grin. I immediately noticed that Will was sitting at a table facing the door. good. I covered my mouth with my hands. we'd have to walk the two miles back." I responded icily. I could definitely use an iced coffee or something. we can just take a cab back to the car if we don't feel like walking back. As we walked into the coffee shop. and there was some pain. I solved his dilemma by giving him a curt nod in acknowledgement. We're now closer to the coffee shop than we are to the car." "Why the coffee shop? It just seems like too specific of a destination for a random wander. I actually felt almost…. I really can't believe it's been a year since Steve died. "Today's the anniversary of his death. I'm not exactly in shape for a two mile run in the summer. and then it was as if a light bulb went off above his head.

your feelings. Do you want some money for cab fare for yourself?" I just shook my head. what he did had really messed with my mind. I'm not trying to –" I was beginning to get angry at both of them. I was supposed to meet Tom." "I'm not sure I can do that after what happened. but Will was able to get you to come to life a little. whatever. I would have called you or something. I never expected him to bring you. Please tell me that you know that I wouldn't try to hurt you more than I already have. Just don't run off. I really don't know what came over me that night. a few times. from what Sarah has told me. indicating that he wanted to at least finish his thoughts before I tore him a new one. It was really the only thing I could think of to say. In fact. I really thought at the time that you were making your intentions clear when you held my hand the whole way home from the play. please believe me. I really didn't have an answer. "Look." "I do believe you. Had I known that. "Ok. "Scott. I took the initiative." I could feel myself begin to get angry. if nothing else. . maybe you can get a sense of closure. I remember you told me before I left that you rarely came here. I'm not sure that he would have come had I told him my plan to get you to talk. I'll see you back at your house. already half-way out the door. and suggested that we meet here. Sit with him." I said after a few moments. "Me too. I'm really sorry for taking advantage of your trust in me. I'm curious as to why you are here. Tom had known about the stunt that Will pulled on me. and was about to cut in. now that you know why I'm here. "Scott. Finally." He looked at me." He seemed surprised that I wasn't still angry. so I just let my voice trail off. I think I even got you to chuckle. Tom jumped right back in."Anyways. I don't hate you or anything like that. and you were smiling regularly." We both took our seats and then just sat there staring at our hands. With what he had just confessed. "Scott. I really didn't know you were coming. It would be great for you to have someone to open up to again. I think in hindsight that I may have just been looking for an excuse. if not laugh. I don't think that either of us really knew how to start the conversation we needed to have. nor was I prepared to give one. I couldn't fathom towards what goal they were conspiring. Scott. He called and asked if he and I could talk this afternoon. I just never thought of you that way. "I realize now that I had misread the signs altogether. Will. I know you won't even consider seeing anyone officially. "Sorry. I'm going to go ahead and catch a cab back to my car. and I realized that he expected an answer. "Will really didn't know you were coming. If I remember right. but Will held his hand up. "Well. but that was nothing compared to what I did to myself while I was visiting my Dustin and Michelle." "Actually. though. I'm not sure if I could ever think of you that way." I realized that I was talking to Tom about Will as if he wasn't standing right next to us. Why don't we at least sit down or something before people start staring at us. Please. I thought you had been possibly moving on. Talk about what happened. you were talking about Steve less and less." he called over his shoulder. You had been doing so much better. I just HAD to get the fuck out of this city. Sure. I hope you know that. Will…I…" I didn't know what else to say at the moment. Suddenly it all just became too much for me to handle." Tom began. listen.

It's better than if I had found out later." "This isn't an attempt to set me up with a shrink is it?" I couldn't help but crack a small smile as I asked. it's completely fair. "Not at all. just seemed to really scare me. it will take a while for me to forgive you. Will seemed to know that I needed some time to think. I remembered that Steve said there was a relationship between forgetting and moving on. adorned with an air of confusions. neither of us really sure what to say. I'm still not entirely convinced that I want to. That will be very tough for me." I explained. We sat there quietly for about twenty minutes. especially after I fucked everything up. trying to keep tears from forming. I really did view you as a brother and confidant. Eventually. but I just can't. Especially since you…" Will's voice trailed off. I'm sorry. He's a really good listener." Will's hopeful look had returned." He had looked up hopefully when I started talking."Do you think that you'll ever be able to forgive me? Or trust me?" Again. And honestly. Finally. but I'm glad I know. I'm not sure why you hold us in such low regards. and I knew that both of us owed it to each other to see the conversation through until the end. but now he could no longer try to blink away the tears. I was beginning to wonder if they should be treated as separate concepts as well. "You know. "I think we might be able to salvage some level of friendship. but I didn't quite know how to interpret it yet. and never pressured me. if you're interested in meeting him." "No. though it will be hard work on both of our parts. You were in so much pain" "I'm not sure that I'm moving on." Will cast his eyes down towards his lap. I understand. "Honestly. But as far as trust…I'm just not sure about that one. We worked out together for a while and then started hanging out. I tried to put those feelings aside. but what would you have work on?" He asked. just staring at our coffee cups. I wanted to feel bad for him. but I couldn't shake the feeling that this conversation wasn't over yet. I'm just glad that you seem to be moving on. . It took my several minutes to form my thoughts. it'll make me very sad. Had I not known that you may have known at the time that it was wrong. after what you just told me. Will. To his credit. "After you left. "I don't know if we can ever be good friends again. it would be easier for me to do so. "I get what I would have to work hard on in order for a friendship to work between the two of us. I'm not trying to be harsh. I probably would have just left. "No. though. but I actually met him at the gym a few years ago. Since they were treated separately by Steve. I noticed that he was blinking quickly. Scott." Will replied shakily as he wiped another tear from the corner of his eye. I know you could never return those feelings. but is there any way you can see us continuing to be friends? If I can't have you in my life at all. "Just being your friend. but I really couldn't. which only a few days before had incited a panic within me. it's just the way I feel right now. it was Will who broke the silence. I really was deluding myself. Those words. I understand. and you shattered that view. but I think I can. I have a good friend who I turned to talk to after you left. I really like you." Whatever had happened in the cemetery earlier seemed to have altered my mood a little. I had to think briefly before I could come up with a response. I spent a lot of time thinking. He's actually become one of my best friends.

He looked slightly disappointed that I didn't offer a hug. Maybe pumping up the adrenaline a little will also make you start to feel more normal." I sighed. I stood up. "I appreciate the offer. I remember how much you opened up to me. but I had hoped that Sarah would have explained it better than I could have at the time. You wouldn't even really have to talk to me. Who could I have told? Besides. and I know that I fucked it all up. Just think about it. even if you were never my patient. and will let any friendship that might develop take its natural course. but I usually go to the gym in the evenings if you're interested in coming with me." "I hate to beat a dead horse. Especially considering that Steve would have been on my case to get back into shape had he still been alive. "Don't take this the wrong way." I couldn't help but get a little angry. Anything you told me stayed with me. Especially since you…" Will's voice trailed off. and I was beginning to appreciate how much he had helped me in the months that followed Steve's death. I figured that he would hate me for it. and I really think a lot of that had to do with me being a stranger." One look in Will's eyes told me everything I needed to know. I looked back down at my coffee mug. "After I left. Granted. but I have to know something." "I understand. "The offer to meet my friend stands. but you might want to consider going to the gym. I didn't know you. as a psychologist. Does that work for you?" "That'd be great. You are a great guy. had no idea of your pain. I really liked the idea of working out. "I should really head back to my house to make sure that Tom hasn't destroyed anything. But I will meet . I really wish that we had met at a different point in your life. But I have to think about it. I really appreciate you giving me a chance to continue to be a part of your life. "I guess I can give gym buddies a shot. I really do. a large part of me blamed him. But you've told me how much you and Steve used to enjoy going to the gym." "None. I need you to swear that you have no intentions of trying to make a move on me. I take doctor/patient confidentiality seriously. It's just a few doors down the street if you hadn't noticed it before. but don't think for a moment that I'm trying to set you up. I know he was trying to be a friend and offer some advice. I just want to try to pull my life back together. so why don't we meet up on Monday in front of the gym. No guarantees that I'll continue it. whatsoever. I know you're not ready to be friends. and I think we could have become really good friends. too. but I never thought that he would blame himself as badly as he clearly had been. but that's not the point. if for no other reason than I didn't know anyone you knew." Now it was Will's turn for his eyes to drop to his coffee cup. I'm not looking to be set up. but maybe we could be gym buddies. No interference. Will really was a wonderful guy. don't get me wrong. and held out my hand for Will to friends. Ever since I had packed on 20 pounds at Emma and Ethan's house. I had hated my looks. Tomorrow is Sunday. but I just wasn't there yet. "You still look great. and there was no way I could directly relate to your feelings. I'm glad he didn't let me cut him off before I said something I would eventually regret. and that he would understand. I'm not trying to replace him in any way. However you were coping while you were away has led to you becoming a little soft. but it was far too soon for me to be able to take it. I'm just grateful for any chance to try to rectify my errors. and maybe I could find a way to forgive him. or to really meet any new people at this point." I finished for him. I knew that my leaving would hurt him. He took my hand and shook it firmly. he's eyes made it clear that he was being as sincere as he could be. I knew he was right about my body. If the fact that his voice was wavering and straining hadn't been enough. but I'll meet with you once and then we'll take it from there.

I didn't bother to leave any details out. Absolutely floored. she could make a lot of noise. Tom already knew most of the details from having heard directly from my friends and family. nor did she admonish me for my activities. It looked fantastic. because I just knew that Sarah would find any holes in my story and demand that I fill them in anyways. I actually think that I am. But I will meet you at the gym on Monday evening. I guessed that Tom had probably already filled her in. as she started dragging me to the couch. and I proceeded to tell her of all of the events that unfolded when I was at my parents'. I quickly headed up to the front door. It didn't look any different on the outside from when I left. I opened the door and walked in. something I had never bothered to do. Surprisingly. The place looked as good."I should really head back to my house to make sure that Tom hasn't destroyed anything. and Ethan and Emma's houses. although I had noticed that the grass was mowed and the shrubs had been tended to. if not better." I said as honestly as I could. With that. I braced myself before I walked in the door. I made a mental note to thank Sarah and Chris for taking care of the outside appearance while I was gone. The three of us sat down. I do like the idea of shedding some pounds of flab." I said quite honestly. I made another mental note to wax them more often. He just sat there as he listened to everything from my perspective. Chapter 7 . are you going to tell me the details? I want to know EVERYTHING that went on while you were gone. I walked outside and managed to flag down a cab without difficulty before heading back to my house for the first time in nine months. You're a great guy." he said to me.Homecoming When the cab arrived at my house. I really hope I can prove that I just want to be friends. I was shocked. I could already picture that the inside looked like something out of a suspense film. I set my bags down and shut the front door just as Sarah walked into the living room from the other room. For such a petite person. I'm not even sure that I had really thought of her at all during my time away. Feeling myself smiling. 7. Most of my neighbors were not the caring types. jumping into my arms for a hug. than when I left." "Me too. with a little bit of a grin. I hugged her. I missed you so much!" Sarah said. "SCOTT!!!! OH MY GOD!!!!! YOU'RE HERE!!!!" She squealed. and then set her back on the ground. Dustin and Michelle's. Scott. Tom walked in before I could say anything. "Thanks. The floors even looked like they had been waxed. Sarah didn't have any questions for me." "So. with everything blanketed with inches of dust and covered in thick cobwebs. I realized just how much I had missed her. "I'm glad we had the chance to talk again. "You look like you're doing better than earlier. There were no traces of dust. asshole. but she wanted to hear it . They probably only did it because I'm sure my other neighbors were concerned with their property values.

I'm volunteering us. but he's the only one that you've ever really opened up to about your problems. "What's settled?" "Tom and I are going with you to the gym on Monday. I still wasn't convinced that I hadn't. I had never told her about the times that he had come to me while I was asleep. I was glad she didn't ask about the trip to Steve's grave. he still pushed one on me. You orchestrated this whole thing. I knew I couldn't tell her that I thought Steve had talked to me. nor was I interested in one. You may be right. "Please don't get mad. "Tom. I told her everything that happened in the coffee shop. "So you're not sure if you can trust him?" She asked when I was done. I had yet to find a way to distract her. You're not sure you can trust him. I truthfully don't know anymore about it than that. Besides." she asked after I had finished catching her up on everything that happened prior to the current day. I knew that he had succeeded. We're both going with Scott. I'm sorry for trying to push you to talk to him." "Then it's settled. allowing his voice to taper off at the end. he knows he screwed up." "I'm not asking. causing him to jump a little. "Nope. didn't you?" I asked. I couldn't figure out how she already knew that I had met with him. he's not the only one with a little extra flab. Especially after he told me that he knew I wasn't ready for a physical relationship. "Um…I didn't exactly have to…" he mumbled. "So tell me all about your conversation with Will. I just suggested that Tom get the two of you together. redirecting my anger towards Sarah. I felt my temper rising slightly. she would think that I had gone crazy. her face darkened." Sarah said with a laugh as she poked Tom in the side. Hell. "No. "Wait. Either way. but she wanted to hear it all from me. I've found over time that it's usually just better to give in and give her what she wants. We just want to help. And yet. After a moment. you'll feel better if we're by your side." she explained. I guessed that Tom had probably already filled her in. When Tom came back without you. "Don't I get a say in the matter?" Tom asked. We know he screwed up. . I want to know all the juicy details. did you already tell her about you blind-siding me with a forced run-in with Will?" Tom's eyes dropped to his shoes. When Sarah had her mind set on something. Even if I had. but I'm not sure.activities." "I can't ask you guys to do that. "What's wrong?" I asked her. Now tell me what happened!" I just sighed." she said with a certain degree of finality in her voice. obviously.

everything should be settled soon."I'm just a little pissed at Will. The bastard started to get too damn clingy." I really didn't have to think about it. I never told him that. I'm not going to give him the opportunity. I can find someplace else. though. I want you to stay here. Scott. I'd feel the same way." Tom piped in. if you'd like. I was worried that I had said something to offend her. I had hoped that meeting him today would help make it easier to transition back into your routines. Obviously. but he swore he would watch himself. "No. considering how much anger I still have towards him. until he brought it up. Actually. Besides." . I've been staying here. help me fix dinner. Thanks to both you and Chris. just out of spite. I know it's stupid. It might be nice for the house to feel more lived in. toothy grin and nodded emphatically. "Anyways. I filed for divorce a few weeks ago." "Actually. Then I started avoiding him. Actually. but it felt great. Tom. did Scott just make a joke?" Tom just gave a big. I flipped the fuck out on him after you left for doing something so stupid. Chris started to get jealous that I was ignoring him. so it's not like we would be cramped. There was no question in my mind that she was always welcome in my house. "I know you're not entirely back with us. Was that a joke? Did you just crack a joke? Tom. I knew about his crush on you. but he just betrayed me so badly. There are two guest rooms. Besides. it hardly even looks like I was ever gone. And Sarah was there for me so much when I needed someone. once she had calmed down. but it sounds like he still has deep feelings for you." "It's not stupid. "Now you just relax. I've been taking care of the place. "Wait. That shouldn't be too hard to do. Sarah. You know. I knew that Tom was staying with me. I'm willing to work on developing a friendship. I will just wash my hands of the whole mess. All that I was able to manage was a slight grin that may have slightly exposed my teeth. He was devastated when you left. That was around the time you were spending more time with Will." Sarah just looked at me blankly for a moment. Shortly after Steve died. we legally separated a little over a month ago. but it's good to see a little bit of life in your eyes. I took the moment to try to steer the conversation back to lighter subject matter. "You've done a great job taking care of the place. you've done such a good job. for her part. it was all me. It wasn't intentional. gave out a loud laugh. It'd be a shame to lose my new maid so soon. Of course. but I couldn't imagine what it had been." she said seriously. Now that you're back. I really don't think he's stupid enough to try something again. such as they were." "Whether or not he plans on trying something. I needed to thank Sarah. so assuming he doesn't try to contest it. but if that doesn't work. when I was spending lots of time over here. so you really didn't need me. "To make my long story short-ish.

I had managed to work just often enough to keep a few of my bigger clients satisfied. the house felt so much livelier than it had since Steve's death. and once again. I didn't have any good dreams. and I bade goodnight to Tom and Sarah before getting ready for bed. I could still feel Steve's presence coming from it. I slept on Steve's side. I didn't have any nightmares. After dinner. I showered. Once again. –––***––– Monday morning arrived without fanfare. I felt very accomplished when I set the laptop aside and joined Tom and Sarah in the kitchen to help with dinner preparations. but I certainly enjoyed a restful night without bad ones. but she even managed to get me to chuckle a few times as well. Even when Will had practically been living with me. I figured if I could get people to notice any effort that I put forth." Once they left the room. chatting and drinking coffee. and often were successful in pulling me into the conversation. or try to clutch the floor. because I hadn't had a restful night since I left. and quickly fell asleep. When I walked out of the bedroom. so I was also dreading the idea. While I was waiting for dinner. I didn't feel the urge to curl up in the fetal position. I got out of bed. and got ready for the day. but most of them had terminated their contracts with me. dressed. –––***––– I awoke Sunday morning feeling better than I had for a long time. feeling comforted by the closeness to Steve's presence. It was the first night since late October that I didn't have a nightmare. I got off of the couch and walked over to The Spot. Finally. Part of me was hoping that Steve might come to me again. let alone looking rested. I climbed into the bed on Steve's side. I sat there for several hours as I worked. we just sat on the couch and chatted for a while before we all headed to bed. Other than the fact that Sarah wanted to go to the store for some groceries. The nightmares had gotten better towards the end. I was feeling completely drained from the emotional toll that the day had taken. . I woke up feeling very refreshed. sheer exhaustion won out. Even though it'd only been a little more than a day. in addition to the strain of travel. Tom and Sarah were already sitting at the kitchen table. Like the day before. I just sat there. the place hadn't been nearly this active. and met Tom and Sarah in the kitchen. I decided to sit down on it while they worked on dinner. Tom and Sarah were constantly talking. I was terrified of the idea of going to sleep. This was different than previous times. She was usually successful on Tom. I could really get used to this. They both seemed surprised to see me up. but they never went away. but both of his nocturnal visits had made me feel even worse after he had left. Without much thought. I sat on The Spot and did some work on my laptop. After dinner.dinner. Since I was doing better today. none of us had any plans for the day. Sarah was constantly making jokes and trying to get either Tom or I to laugh. I couldn't really blame them. I pushed myself hard. maybe they would request additional work or even recommend me to others who needed some work done. showered.

greeting him with a hug. but after what he told you. I hadn't allowed that to sink in. I hoped that he was able to realize that he doesn't have a chance at a relationship with me. Just don't screw up again. as we climbed into Tom's car. There wasn't much talking between the two of us. At first. "what better way to get true insight into his motivations? I just figured that he had made a mistake and misread signs. Before long. I felt a little self conscious because my gym shirt clung tighter than it used to. "Not at all. After I finished. "Do you think I should have called Will to let him know that you two are coming with me?" I asked as we were walking out of the house." Will said as we got closer. Eventually.After breakfast. He quickly recovered before we'd even gotten close enough to greet each other. we had parked and were walking to the gym." "I guess you're right." Sarah said. "Hey gym buddy. I pulled out my laptop and worked for several hours. If I hadn't known before. I still wouldn't have been able to think of him that way. as we were focused more on the task at hand. . I mean. After a while. Tom and Sarah. We all changed into some gym clothes. I reminded them that Will was not expecting them to be there. Will brought up the subject of introducing me to his friend. Before we left. He stuck out his hand before I even had the chance to think about how to greet him. I know now that all I can really hope for from you is friendship. we all worked out near each other. chatting comfortably on the couch. Tom and Sarah broke off to use some of the other machines on their own while Will and I continued working out with each other. Tom and Will shook hands before the four of us walked into the gym. Since I had returned. I knew that. I just wasn't expecting you. but I think somewhere in my mind. but even if he had given me all the time in the world before I left. it had seemed like less of a place to escape the world in order to be near Steve and more of just a place of comfort. I'm beginning to think that he had purposefully crossed the line and taken advantage of you. Even if Will hasn't gotten over any feelings that he has for me. "Besides. I knew that going to the gym was important to make me start feeling better about myself. Will was waiting out front. Eventually. but that expression changed briefly to disappointment when he noticed Tom and Sarah with me." Tom responded. I felt like my gut was hanging out for the entire world to see. he has to see you as no more than friends. Maybe he would have at another time in my life. At first he looked excited. but I couldn't help but think that maybe Sarah was right." "As far as I'm concerned. I sat for about an hour more or less meditating on The Spot. and his initial reaction might show if he has any ulterior motives. the three of us relaxed and talked for awhile. "I'm sorry if I looked a little disappointed when I noticed you. it was time to go to the gym. With us there." added Sarah." I conceded. After a late lunch. it's all good.

I'll make sure that he knows. Especially since it's not like I would actually know him. I felt calm and relaxed. I heard Steve's voice in my head. looking at his watch." "Don't worry." "In that case. but I didn't sense any feeling of ill-will towards me. I knew I wasn't ready to leave. "Remember what I said. I doubt you'd feel comfortable talking to me about your problems. As I started to lift the weights up above my chest. I can just walk away. "I've been thinking about it a lot since I left the coffee shop the other day. I have no idea how many reps I had been doing. I walked over to the free weights section." "In which case. I glanced around. and was tinged with a little regret. if that works for you. Never about you specifically. and saw Tom and Sarah running on adjacent treadmills on the far side of the room." Suddenly the bar seemed much heavier. Hell. Steve and I didn't have too many friends in the city. I felt myself enter the zone. Since I didn't have a spotter. I think I'd like to. With our history. I don't know if I can handle another misinterpretation of my feelings at this point. Will hurried to the locker room to change and leave. I stood up from the bench." "Great. That shouldn't be a problem anyways. just as someone helped me put the bar back into its holder. you want to plan on meeting him a week from today? We'll meet at the coffee shop. I'll be here. and sometimes I just feel so alone. Of course. and turned to face the person that helped me. I'm partially the cause of them." "Perfectly understood. I've talked to him a lot since you left. I was beginning to wonder why I didn't return to the gym earlier. I didn't put too much weight on the bar. and put some weight on the bench press. and I realized that I was struggling with it. I didn't realize how long we've been here. It'll be good for me though. there's no harm in meeting him." "Yeah. so it was something that I always associated with him. but he knows that I screwed up by doing that. If I'm not comfortable with the situation." His tone was a little cautious. We still on to continue this tomorrow? It was nice to spend time with you." "Me too. "Shit! I really need to get out of here. Suddenly." Will said. that sounds fine. going to the gym had been something Steve and I had always done together. My eyes were squeezed shut as I just allowed myself to be lost in the workout. My eyes shot open. I'd say that I'm looking forward to it. I really hope we can be friends again. but I'm not sure if that's entirely true."Have you given any more thought into meeting my buddy? It would be good for you to have someone to talk to. I'll see you tomorrow!" With that. so long as you're certain that he's not going to think I'm interested in anything other than someone to talk to. . and clearly they were still enjoying their workout as well. Embarrassed. And no worries.

but the shirt wasn't quite tight enough for me to know how defined it was. and stood a little taller than me. We can push . since I met Steve." "Just promise me that you won't try it again unless I'm here to save you." Noah said with a laugh. I just stared. I really didn't think I was pushing myself too hard. I'm not sure how long I was standing there like an idiot before I heard a cough that pulled me back into the real world. He had an amused look on his face. "The other one was working out with me. I normally workout in the morning. I made myself look away before I got lost in his amazing eyes again. gazing into the most enchanting hazel eyes that I had ever seen. The guy was a few years younger than me.I didn't even get a chance to get a good look at him. I blinked and for the first time. I was looking at one of the most gorgeous men I'd ever seen. I noticed his eyes seemed to sparkle when he laughed. My gaze was slowly drifting further south." I said. I blinked and forced myself not to gaze back into his eyes. "I'm Noah. I'm pretty sure that it's about time to gather up my friends and head out." "I'm here with some friends. I couldn't help but crack a smile at that. Do you want to join me on Wednesday? It never hurts to have someone to workout with. and am just starting to get back into going to the gym. I don't need a repeat of the bench press. pointing to Tom and Sarah. The beautiful man standing before me stuck out his hand. which I took. "Not a problem. All that I saw were his eyes. referring to the near-disaster that the man had saved me from on the bench press. Chapter 8 . His shirt clung to his built chest. I noticed the entire person standing in front of me. My name’s Scott. with well-defined biceps. His arms were large." "That's cool. and was immediately drawn back into his eyes. but I missed it today. "Um…I've been going through a lot. I could feel my shorts begin to constrict. His body looked amazing. but he had to leave. I felt my knees weaken slightly. I felt myself slipping away as I became lost in those eyes. before I even realized what I was doing. closer to 6'3". So what are you doing on the free weights without a spotter? That can be dangerous if you're not paying attention. maybe 25. staring up into the beautiful almost golden orbs in front of me. Hey." I said. I hadn't felt this way about anyone since…well. Anyways.The Struggle Within I just stood there. and he had a flat stomach. 8. Thanks for the help. "I…um…sorry about that. He cleared his throat again. I just want to get myself back into shape." His voice was a very sexy tenor. His chestnut hair was short and spiked with gel. They were so rich and bright that it was almost like staring into two golden orbs. You just lost track of what you were doing for a moment. Two of them are over there on the treadmills. I forced my eyes back to his face.

and gathered Tom and Sarah from the treadmills. too. –––***––– I spent the entire ride trying to figure out how I felt about Noah. When we pulled up to the house. Are you okay?" Sarah asked. It's only natural that you would find someone that you had feelings for. I could only hope that he would explain it to me soon Part of me thought that he was trying to tell me that he didn't want me to feel these feelings. but the thought of being so close to him while I was thinking of Noah just made me feel dirty. He had also told me to follow my heart. There was this guy that I met after Will left. For the past few days." . We can push each other a little harder. It really bothered me that I felt anything towards Noah. I couldn't figure out what the hell he meant by 'don't'. Rather." he continued.join me on Wednesday? It never hurts to have someone to workout with. It was so damn frustrating to be so confused. Ultimately. I found myself extremely excited at the thought of seeing him again. "Well. We shook hands again. I just nodded my head. "Steve would want you to feel like you could move on if you found someone that you were interested in. but once we got to the car. and I had to fight myself to keep from becoming lost again. and what Steve would think. I felt like a jolt of electricity shot into my hand when we made contact. you just shut down. Noah chuckled. great." "You're being much too hard on yourself. Once again. but I was too lost in my own mind. otherwise Steve would not have acted so cryptically when I tried to make him explain when he came to me. this time. I was feeling so conflicted between those two statements. I look forward to seeing you Wednesday morning. Tom and Sarah were trying to engage me in conversation." Tom said. Within minutes. "Besides." The idea that this gorgeous stud wanted to spend time with me was enough for me to be unable to find my voice. "I don't know. Granted." he said with a smile. let alone found myself so strongly attracted to him. it wasn't my heart that was drawing me toward Noah. I could tell that Sarah and Tom were concerned. I couldn't help but feel incredibly ashamed about my feelings regarding Noah. They quickly sat on either side of me. For the life of me." "I can't just move on. but that didn't seem to make much sense. I really couldn't figure out what I should do. Obviously it was very important. Steve and I were together for nine years! I can't just forget everything he meant to me and start seeing someone else. my first – and usually only destination – in the house was The Spot. I can't stop thinking about him. I turned. I couldn't stop thinking about Steve's last word to me. trying to comfort me. I wanted to be close to Steve. another part of my anatomy seemed to be in control. At the same time. his eyes sparkled. "What happened at the gym? You seemed really happy when you came to get us. I walked in and immediately sat on the couch. we were back in Tom's car heading back towards the house.

Are you guys planning on coming tomorrow evening?" "Yeah. you do need all the exercise you can get. it'll be really good for me. There was a small pair of arms wrapped around my chest." If I hadn't been so deep in thought.he meant to me and start seeing someone else. know that Tom and I will support you. Besides. I hope you know that. "That would be nice. As much as I still wanted the closeness of Steve. but I still managed to feel incredibly guilty about them." "Scott. sobbing into her arms. and grew one of his own. I would have felt…I guess embarrassed…if they came along. He's in much better shape than any of us. but ." "Well. I would've noticed the knowing smirk that spread across Sarah's face. We're here for you. I think I really like the idea. I was able to fall asleep anyways. I wasn't asleep very long before I found myself engulfed in a nightmare. Am I right?" Sarah asked. I couldn't bring myself to lie on his side of the bed. but this was different. we agreed to get together Wednesday morning and workout then. No matter what happens. "What the hell are you doing? This is his bed! You don't get to use it!" I screamed. I'm sure you still want some support when you're around Will. I may not have really understood my new feelings for Noah. It just felt wrong. Hopefully it'll rub off on me. I freaked out and jumped out of bed. it'll feel nice to get some more exercise. I'm not sure how long she stood there with me blubbering into her shoulder. I think you should go. that's what friends do. "Do you want us to come with you?" Tom asked me. I think this is something I need to do by myself." With that. as I broke down." "What do you think about that?" "I'm not entirely sure yet. who had been trying to comfort me. I hadn't really thought about that. if only to ensure that Will understood the new dynamic of our relationship. I quickly showered to remove the sweat and grime from the gym before getting into bed. "Actually. I thought for a minute. poking me in the gut." "Well. It had been good to have Tom and Sarah with me today. Do you think that you'll run into him at the gym again?" Sarah asked. "No. to fall off the other side of the bed. screaming. Tom didn't miss it. no matter what you decide regarding this mystery guy. Besides. Sarah just walked over to me and gave me a big hug. I really appreciate you guys coming with me today." Sarah said. we all decided that it was time for bed. I was now clutching Steve's side of the bed. I jolted awake. causing Sarah. After a short while. "Anyways. There are just too many things going on in mind right now. I really appreciate everything you guys have done for me.

That didn't make sense. Not that it meant anything. Not in nearly a decade." I couldn't say anything in response. About an hour before I was supposed to meet Will at the gym. Think of it as one big slumber party. I was surprised to see Tom lying asleep in her bed. he tried to get me to move. that's not entirely true. After dressing. I knew that Steve was dead. She noticed my confusion. We all do things in our own way and on our own time. I was still feeling incredibly guilty about my feelings for Noah. or at least talk to him. because we had each other. and curled up. everyone needs someone to hold them and comfort them. I'm not sure how long she stood there with me blubbering into her shoulder. You're sleeping with me tonight. "Scott. but I still felt like I was being unfaithful. but eventually the tears began to fade. "I hope you remember that you're not the only one hurting right now. I didn't have any more nightmares that night. I simply couldn't handle it anymore. I started crying softly. but we'll all fit. I know that he and Sarah whispered back and forth most of the morning. Steve and I always enjoyed checking out other guys together. but also not the point. Before long. I really think you are overreacting. They managed to get me to at least sit up and eat a sandwich." I was too tired and distraught to put up any resistance. I headed directly over to The Spot. and managed to get a few hours of somewhat-peaceful rest. They tried a few more times throughout the afternoon to get me to open up. After spending the entire evening and night guiltily trying to avoid Steve's presence. Well. As soon as I arrived. I fell back asleep with Sarah's arms wrapped around me. I think I managed to tell him that I just needed to be close to Steve and that I felt guilty. it may be a little bit of a squeeze. "C'mon. but couldn't convince me to leave The Spot. When Tom came out to the living room. and she guided me back to her room. Either way. you big lug. I knew she was right. which was more than fine as far as I was concerned. Sarah came over and sat down beside me. "Do you want to still go to the gym? I can always call Will for you and say that something . I just hadn't experienced anything like this in years. Sometimes. –––***––– I awoke the next morning still wrapped in Sarah's arms. they just left me alone. "Besides." I just nodded. Both she and Tom were still asleep. we're really worried about you right now. These feelings were completely natural. which continued through most of the day. but that's not important.arms. but for the most part. It's not like we ever brought any hot guys we found home with us." she said a little bit cryptically. I carefully extracted myself so as not to disturb them and headed into the bathroom before pulling on some clothes. but I truly don't know if I ever was able to vocalize anything. either.

Besides." With that." "Did I do something to upset you? I'm trying really hard to make amends here and rekindle our friendship. "I don't think so. After a while. I couldn't tell if he was hurt or just concerned about my change of plans. even if I couldn't yet bring myself to trust him. and took turns spotting each other. Even if he no longer thought of me in a sexual manner – which I still wasn't convinced was the case – I wasn't about to explain that I was beginning to think . I'm sure Will noticed the tension between us. I'm really glad you got me back into going to the gym. I was still lost in my thoughts after realizing that Noah almost definitely would not be there today that I didn't realize that I still hadn't answered Sarah's question. but. They didn't know that he wasn't going to be here. I was looking forward to meeting Noah tomorrow morning." he asked. I felt better. Will was already waiting out front. "Well. "No. It's nothing you did. when the three of us arrived at the gym. But that was tomorrow. and put on your gym clothes. Tension was high between Tom. "Good." I left the statement vague. but I think a lot of that was the fact that I knew that there was no chance of running into Noah today. Will asked if we would be joining him the next day. but then I remembered that he said he usually worked out in the mornings. Get up. Or we could just blow him off. I wasn't ready for it yet. but not as much as I was excited by it. You need a shower or at least wash your face. Sarah. I didn't tell Will about my near-accident after he left the day before. I was also really freaked out by the idea. "it's just something that I have to do. I think they were worried that I was going to break down in the middle of working out. so I hadn't mentioned it. Like the day before. he would have asked me to workout with him this evening had he been planning on coming. are we going to the gym?" she asked impatiently. Initially. trying to find the right words. We didn't really talk while we worked out. she stood up and walked into her bedroom to get changed. I just nodded. and I while we were working out. It's just…" I paused. I still couldn't quite find my words. we moved over to the free weights. on the off chance that I saw Noah there. I rationalized. We need to leave soon. and it was nice to spend time with Will again. The two of us finished before Tom and Sarah were ready to go. but I think I'm going to start going earlier in the day."Do you want to still go to the gym? I can always call Will for you and say that something came up. he never said anything about it. Working out had felt great. but I was grateful that he was there in case I had another mishap. While there. –––***––– Like the previous day. I'd have no problem with that. No one had asked. to his credit. I was going to say no. so we walked over to the coffee shop while we waited for the two of them. they worked out with Will and I for a while before breaking off to do their own things. I was unsure at first.

" "So I take it we're still on for Monday then?" Will's voice was shaking a little when he asked that. I've spent the last nine months trying to push my feelings for you to the side. I wish that I could feel comfortable opening up to you again." "No. Sarah and Tom were walking out of the gym as I approached. Instead of shaking it. I'm not meeting up with him ." I said. because I just don't think of you that way. I told him that I wasn't going to work out with him anymore. standing up. and I wasn't ready to cope with his anger." "I know those feelings are still there. and his eyes were moist with unshed tears. "I am still interested in meeting your friend. but it's really difficult. I really do understand. That night is still just too fresh in my mind to reconcile with the great friendship that we had before that. On the ride home. I do know that if this friend of yours is someone you can trust. Sarah asked me how my talk with Will went. I just can't help but place some of that blame on you. even if the first move was. we're still on. and stuck out his hand.still wasn't convinced was the case – I wasn't about to explain that I was beginning to think of someone else in that way. I pulled him in a brief hug. It felt good and I just couldn't stop myself. Besides. Anyways. I just can't help but continue to feel betrayed by your actions that night. "Of course not. "I know. it's just that I went through a lot of shit. and everything that happened after I left as a result of that night. "Yeah. I think both of us knew that any attempt for a friendship to rekindle between the two of us was impossible with me in my current state. It almost felt like we were saying goodbye. then I can trust him as well. rationally. but right now I don't. "You didn't tell him about the cutie you're going to be working out with did you?" she cut in. so we just met at Tom's car. because it has me constantly thinking about what happened between us. Sorry. However." Will stood up as well. Scott. "Besides. I knew it would hurt him deeply. "Well. I've told you so many times that I really think of you as a second brother. even if for only a week. I don't think that I could. Do you want to?" "Not really." I started. but in my head. I know it's not really your fault. And even if I wanted to. You have no idea how amazing of a guy you are. I knew that what I had said had hurt him and made him feel guilty all over. but he deserved to know my feelings. but I'm just not sure that I can." "You never told me about what happened after you left. He wouldn't have understood. it is surprisingly difficult to see you every day. even though I really did want to. And even though it's not entirely your fault. I really am looking forward to meeting your friend. I really wish they weren't. I really do want to try to be friends again. "I should go gather up Tom and Sarah and head back home. no. Sorry. that what happened that night was not completely your fault.

I was getting really excited about meeting up with Noah. It's not like I was going to act on my feelings in any way. I vowed to work to change that. And I'll be fine. It was almost embarrassing the power that this man had over me. His eyes had lost any semblance of the twinkle that had been there moments before. From behind Sarah's door. "I'm feeling great this morning. but I even had a little bounce in my step as I walked into the kitchen to get a quick breakfast before putting on some gym clothes and heading out to meet him. How are you doing this morning? I hope you're not planning on going crazy on the bench press again today. I heard the unmistakable sound of someone softly crying. Besides. I spent some of the evening on The Spot. For a moment. Like the day before. I spent the night on my side of the bed. It wasn't the most peaceful sleep I had had since I returned. As I walked past their rooms." I said. "Hey. I felt better about that. defensively. Noah was outside waiting for me." I responded. –––***––– I parked my car and walk towards the entrance to the gym. –––***––– When we returned home. and not replacing Steve in anyway. It meant that my comment hadn't been misinterpreted.' I thought to myself. He wouldn't have understood. I was up before Sarah and Tom. 'Shit. with a smile. I just wanted to have someone to workout with and talk to. "Everything okay? Your face got a little dark there for a second." Tom said with a grin. 'Did I just flirt with him?' I ran my last statement through my head again. I'm not meeting up with him because he's cute. I'm meeting up with him because he's going to help push me back into shape. I rationalized that I was just making a new friend. either. I noticed that Tom's bed didn't look like it had been used. It was different than the previous day. I just sat there and relaxed." Noah said jokingly. Scott. . I realized that I hadn't been there at all to support Sarah. deep in thought. as long as you're there. I wasn't really sure what I had meant. I just glared at the two of them. reminding me that we met when I nearly crushed myself under the weights. That night. I felt my knees go weak again. even though she was in the middle of going through a divorce with Chris. I was more than a little upset at myself for being so excited." Noah asked. though. but I wasn't fraught with nightmares that night. "Keep telling yourself that. Or correctly interpreted. I could almost feel the concern oozing through his words. which immediately faded when I thought about what I had just said. When he saw me."Of course not. I found a certain level of comfort in that thought. and hoped that Noah didn't interpret it that way. I gave him a small smile. I realized that it wasn't a very big deal that I was attracted to Noah. Tom and Sarah just chuckled. he grinned and his eyes twinkled a little. which meant that he must have slept in Sarah's room again.

"Shit. The last one I engaged in was over-eating. Noah asked me why I was so interested in getting as many tips as I could." I pointed to my gut as I said that last part. I've actually put on about twenty pounds. but he was nice enough to let it go. I gave him a perturbed look." Clearly. I'd almost made it sound like small talk. It seemed like events in my life were repeating. Noah continued with his thought. and I'm really hoping to shed them. he didn't believe me. "If I may ask. We chatted idly for a while. I was beginning to wonder if Noah was just another Will. We just hopped from one piece of equipment to another and pushed each other. nothing major. Before I could even form a coherent thought. After a while. I'm sorry. I realized that I needed to get out of there." My mind completely froze on me. I knew he was checking out all the problem areas that I saw when I looked at myself critically in the mirror. I just have a hard time imagining you twenty pounds lighter. Besides." I told him. I stopped and waited for him. I was actually fairly proud of myself for summing up the past year without going into any major details. but I just wasn't ready to open up about anything. It's not a big deal. but I didn't think that he was checking me out. if you say so. Even though I had regularly gone to the gym with Steve. When he arrived. "Let's just say that I've had a very rough year. "Noah.interpreted." I began to quickly walk towards the front of the gym. we weren't exactly in the proper venue for me to go into details of the past year. I could tell he was eyeing me up and down. I just said that I needed to get some fresh . we didn't really know what we were doing. "Sorry. In fact. I gave him a small smile." "Alright. I didn't understand what part of my story could be interpreted as amusing. I just spend a lot of time stuck inside my head lately. "Scott! Wait!" Noah called. waiting in the wings for a chance to make a move when I least expected it. but I…uh…I think I need to leave. With that." My look of irritation quickly changed to one of dejection. "No. I wasn't really sure what I had meant. It wasn't necessarily that I didn't trust my new workout buddy. I really miss the flat stomach that I used to have. That didn't come out right either. I'm fine. Noah chuckled slightly when I was finished. Noah really knew what he was doing. I just realized that I needed to get back into shape. and he gave me tips and pointers as we went to help get more out of each exercise. I didn't mean to laugh or anything. we went inside and started working out. trying to catch up. and I spent a lot of time coping in several self-destructive ways. and I was grateful that he was giving me some advice. "Oh. What I mean is that you're already looking pretty hot. though. how exactly did you get out of shape?" Noah asked.

We shook hands again before I left. but I just haven't been able to find a way to ease my pain. Then again. I've been trying to forgive Will. he was the only one who made me feel like I could talk to them about what I was going through. I fell to my knees. and realized that I had been walking around for nearly two hours. I just can't trust him enough to open up anymore. and had been told by Steve in his first appearance that he was fully aware of everything that I went through. My feet decided for me." he responded. . you were always the one person that I could unload all of my problems on without any judgment. quietly approaching Steve's grave. though. I didn't know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I just said that I needed to get some fresh air. but I just can't seem to be able to bring myself to do it." Even though I was still fully aware of my surroundings. and has been giving me pointers and tips to try to really bring my body back around. "For the past few days. After you died. "Steve. Weeping. I don't want him to get any wrong impressions. He even makes my knees weak by just looking at me. I had no idea where I was until I noticed familiar surroundings. but even that seems like an impossibility at this point.Working Things Out Once I had arrived at Steve's grave. I promise. I didn't realize how much I had missed it until now. All of my attempts have only hurt me in the long run. I figured that this was my subconscious' way of forcing my hand. I found myself wandering aimlessly through the city. There's this guy that I worked out with briefly the other day. I always thought of it as something you and I did. I want to be friends with him again. I just feel so lost without you. Now I'm finally doing something to try to undo some of that. I don't even know what's going on in my life anymore. It makes me feel good to think about being back in shape. I glanced at my phone. so I quickly crossed the street and walked up the hill. he would have found this whole situation to be hilarious. but I didn't really expect him to. and without even realizing it. "It's nothing personal. The rational part of me knew that he had no clue as to what had caused my change in behavior." "Yeah. I'd really like that. I continued to unload the thoughts that were weighing me down. Noah didn't offer anything in the way of an apology for his remarks. If Steve was here. I know that my actions this past year have probably hurt you. but this guy is just so damn cute. I find myself really attracted to him. The thing is. Will convinced me to go back to the gym again. I only wanted to try to clear my head. explaining the events of the past few days to him. even if it was at your detriment. I'm still interested in working out with you tomorrow if you're still interested. I haven't felt this way about anyone since I first met you. I really do. I poured out my heart to Steve. I've gotten out of shape and have let my body go. and then again today. "But I have to tell you about something that happened at the gym. He's in really good shape. I wouldn't be having these feelings. if Steve was here. "At least one good thing has come of the past few days. Chapter 9 . When he arrived. more for fun than for any other reason. I was very embarrassed about the idea of explaining to my dead husband that I was beginning to have feelings for someone else. and the one on whom I could rely for advice. but I didn't feel like explaining it to him.I stopped and waited for him. My feet had directed me to the cemetery. "I tried to fight these feelings. 9.

I immediately pulled out my laptop and started to work. his name is Noah. my long walk. but I felt that somehow Steve understood. but I felt better about that. I told you repeatedly during the whole thing with Will that you are a very attractive man. With my head feeling clearer."Steve. And through it all. Please understand that I don't really want to have these feelings about anyone. something is really bothering you. Tom and I were starting to get worried. with a quick laugh before getting serious again. Between working out. I'm sure. Instead. I felt like my head was actually clear for a change. I had already answered that question. It didn't seem to come from any one direction. The only times that you've come into the house and immediately sit down on the couch. the breeze faded away. After a few moments. so without a word to the other two. because I couldn't read her expression at all. I didn't know what more she needed to know to make her understand that I was feeling fine. I got a little uncomfortable. When I got to the car. – – – * * * – – – By the time I got home. Tom and Sarah were in the kitchen when I walked inside. All I want more than anything in my life is for you to come back to me. and I don't think that he would have said or done anything had he known. We were talking about why I wanted to lose weight. "Scott. Are you sure you're alright?" "Yes." "Oh. I slowly walked back to street. I felt a warm breeze blow. giving me a huge . But I am so glad to hear you say what you just did. What the hell is this third-degree about?" I was beginning to get irritated. "It's just that you're not on The Spot. and explained what had caused my funk. As I felt the warm breeze circulate around me. I was a little concerned. and called my name to get my attention." I hadn't even thought about what I was doing. I'm really not trying to grill you. Sarah walked into the room. I quickly drove home. this really fucking terrifies me. I pulled out my phone to call a cab to take me to it. "Is everything okay? You were gone a while. Obviously other men can't restrain themselves around you. which I had not done since Steve had died. "I'm sorry. so I ended up taking a long walk to clear my head. He didn't do anything intentionally. I had just walked into the house and started working." I could tell from her voice that she was being sincere. so I bailed on him. "Before you say anything. but overall you handled the situation wonderfully. "I'm still not convinced that you answered my question sufficiently." She just looked at me blankly for a moment. You may have been overwhelmed." As I said that last sentence. so I take it that Noah is the name of the mysterious man that you've got the hots for?" she asked. I told him before I left that I would work out with him again tomorrow. and he commented that he thought I was already hot. I told Sarah as much. I'm fine. I realized that I needed to start putting myself out there and try to recruit some new clients. "Yeah." "No. Sarah. my pain seemed to ease slightly. My feelings for Noah hadn't lessened. I just got a little overwhelmed working out with Noah. I didn't have the strength to walk back to my car. We all know that's your usual base of operations. and my emotional release at the cemetery. I barely got the laptop out of the way as she ran and jumped into my lap. I didn't tell him anything other than that I've been going through a really bad spot the past year. I just wish these feelings would go away. though. He seems like a really nice guy. I wasn't excited about the idea of having a crush on someone else. rather from all directions at once. I know it was a chicken-shit action and I feel bad. he was happy about it. "He didn't do anything to make you uncomfortable did he?" I blushed.

though. "Sarah. both Noah and Will had assumed that I was after my reaction to a pick-up line. The sparkle left while I finished. I had tears running down my face as I vividly recalled the day Steve was killed. police responded to a robbery at a local store. and I feel awful that you've been beating yourself up over it the entire time. When I arrived. but I did realize that I was probably the reason for its absence. myself. They now looked like deep pools of concern. I quickly got ready and headed off to the gym. It didn't make me feel any worse. Four days in a row. "Look. after we finished eating. I didn't realize how much I had been looking forward to seeing that sparkle. Even though I hadn't been thinking about it. but I was also a little more nervous because of the way that our work-out session had ended. The entire time. I know I didn't handle it very well. only a few days later. I'm sorry for assuming you were gay. the person I was supposed to meet at the gym had arrived before me and had been stuck waiting. I've been so far deep in my head that I haven't been paying attention to much of anything. and the gun matched the one used to shoot Steve. Scott. Did the police ever find the guy who…" I'm not sure if I would have finished that sentence even if my voice hadn't broken. In the past year. The robber was killed. she just rubbed my back. and I really hope that you'll be able to forgive me. but his hazel eyes were no longer sad. but did not take it. but I never knew how to bring it up. "No. Noah was waiting outside. Again. Sarah sat down next to me. It's not that at all Noah. When I crawled into bed. I would have thought that knowing that Steve's killer had been apprehended would have made me feel a little better. the comment just made me feel overwhelmed and I needed to leave and clear my head. . but his eyes didn't sparkle. I was just as excited about meeting up with Noah as I had been the day before. I was beginning to get a little miffed. I may not be a flaming queen. leaning into her. I felt a little better when I checked the time on my phone only to discover that I. if I remember correctly. He looked at my outstretched hand.Sarah as much. and I fucked it up." I lay there for several hours. which brought back the all-too-familiar weakness in my knees. I hadn't had any nightmares. When I approached. I'm really sorry for hitting on you yesterday. they looked sad. and pulled me into her arms. I've been kicking myself ever since you left. Noah gave me a smile. By the time I went to bed. I would have told you earlier. I am gay. That evening. I felt like I had after I had visited Steve. It turns out that his fingerprints were found on the door to the house. was a few minutes early. but talking to Steve the day before had done a lot to make me feel better about them. Anyways. Instead. I did feel better. – – – * * * – – – I woke up on Thursday feeling even better than I had the previous morning. It just brought back a lot of emotions. You were so out of it that I'm sure you don't even remember the call. it was as though a weight had been lifted from my chest. giving me a huge hug. I was still a little bothered by my feelings towards Noah. the police called your house a few days later. You just needed a buddy to be there for you. but I was wrong. One of them died. "Actually." Noah's eyes sparkled a little while I spoke. alternating between sobs and quiet tears. As someone who has always prided himself on his punctuality. it's just that with everything that I've gone through. but I don't think another person had assumed I was straight after briefly getting to know me. I immediately felt guilty. I thought of something that I was surprised hadn't occurred to me before. I want to apologize again for yesterday. I barely got the laptop out of the way as she ran and jumped into my lap. but not before he shot three cops. neither of us saying a word." I was shocked. and stuck out my hand for him to shake. I greeted Noah.

I had been so upset with a mildly flirtatious comment by Noah that I had fled the gym mid-workout. I won't be able to hit the gym with you tomorrow or on the weekend. he put his hand out for me to shake. I moved an accent rug from our bedroom and placed it over The Spot. As we were finishing up. but I'd told Will that I was having trouble reconciling our past so far and wasn't ready to see him regularly yet. Noah. I let my hands fall from my face. Sarah and Tom had both left the house for the day. and began to scrub them. Finally. What happened next surprised me more than anything. "Tuesday works perfectly for me. I'm sure you're a great listener. just followed my lead. but it just felt right. for his part. jumping on the opportunity to see him again. I brushed it aside. we just enjoyed each other's presence. Noah was unavailable through the weekend. After we broke the hug. The previous four days. As we left. and managed to get some work done. yet today I was making an even bolder statement back at him. because I have some plans that I just remembered as well. which bothered me a lot more than I was willing to admit. Noah stopped me before we left. I even took stuff out of cupboards so that I could wipe the shelves clean. Noah stiffened at first. Not a light chuckle. Noah. – – – * * * – – – Friday morning. toothy grin. I laughed. and broke into a big grin of my own. Finally out of desperation. The majority of the workout was done in a very comfortable silence. which is pretty much all that I had managed for the past year. and pulled him into a gentle hug. I asked Noah if the following Tuesday would work for him. just so you know. I had gone to the gym to work out. it would have been a little bit of a crunch to make Monday work. but quickly returned the light embrace. which took much longer than would normally occur for something so trivial. ." "No offense. I enjoyed Noah's. but it was something to do. which let me know that he had chosen to interpret it – at least on the surface – in a joking manner. I woke up feeling slightly directionless. I don't. but I haven't had too much luck opening up with people recently. as Sarah had done an amazing job keeping the house looking better than ever. and I was hoping that the reverse was also true. Noah stood there shocked for a moment after I spoke. I'm not sure what that did. each going our separate ways. Unfortunately. We would occasionally make small talk. This wasn't really necessary. just wait until I get my flab back under control. I don't know exactly what compelled me to do that. we were both blushing. You won't be able to keep your hands to yourself!" I put my hand up to my mouth as soon as the words came out of my mouth. He clearly wasn't sure how he should respond. Hopefully. we should get into the gym. he just lifted his mouth into a big. Well."Is it something you want to talk about? I'm more than willing to listen if you want. Besides. you want to get together again on Monday?" I was going to say 'yes'. Then I vacuumed the floors. With that. I wish I could. but for the most part. Yesterday. I dusted and cleaned all the surfaces and wiped down the cabinets. After our laughter subsided. Actually. and I've been told that I'm an excellent listener. we parted. I threw myself into giving the house a thorough scrub-down. or Noah would give me some pointers. I had no idea where they came from. "Scott. it just continued to bother me. but no." Noah said. but it satiated my worries. something wasn't sitting right with me. No matter how much I scrubbed. I haven't had this much fun working out in too damn long. knowing full well that we were nearing the point of having to exchange numbers to arrange a future workout session. but an actual laugh. so I putzed around the house for a while. If you like the way I look now. I have a standing weekly appointment that I can't bring myself to miss. When I got to The Spot in the living room. we walked into the gym together and began to workout. Unfortunately. After a moment. I remembered my meeting with Will and his friend. something that I was definitely not willing to do just yet – exchange numbers that is.

and had a pleasant. but you were always the only person I could really talk to when I had any issues. and pulled her into a hug. A part of me couldn't help but wonder if I had had something to do with her sudden change of mood. You're beginning to pull yourself back together. We just sat around and chatted. . or I would have asked them to come with me. or maybe my subconscious was trying to send a message because I seemed to find my way here blindly whenever I wasn't paying attention. Sarah and Tom returned to the house. I knew I'd been there three times in the past few weeks. It was just so hard living here without you with me. but I was no longer going to allow any physical pain to stop me from reaching my goal. Sarah. I pushed myself to a run for a few blocks. I continued to work for several house. I was enjoying the nice July morning. she began to cry. I decided to go for a run. When I had arrived at Steve's grave. I also almost feel like I've been bothering you the past two weeks. if uneventful evening. "I'm sorry. just so that I was aware of how far I had to go to get back to the house. I felt like I had to do more. I probably should have paid more attention to that. so I tried the rug. I started to speak. right across from the entrance to the cemetery. Eventually. With my hands on my knees. When Tom came home. No matter how hard I scrubbed. and that just makes me so happy. From that vantage point. "Hi. she began to explain. I'm just…it's…I can't believe…" I had never seen Sarah at such a loss for words. but strangely I felt a little bad that I had been coming by so frequently in the past few weeks. I can move it back to the bedroom. I ran out of ideas. and I just couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to do something. before I had to stop completely to catch my breath. Maybe it was just a coincidence. As a result. Steve. I looked around and noticed that I was. I jumped up off of the rug. "Scott. I'm sorry that I didn't visit you for so long.When I was finished. I was worried. Since she hadn't seen upset when she first walked in. I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going. In hindsight. as I pulled her deeper into our hug. I awoke feeling good overall. However. – – – * * * – – – When the sun came up on Saturday. once again. there was a less dramatic repeat of the same encounter. I hadn't put any focus on cardio in the past week at the gym. I almost felt like I was disturbing him." Her tears fell again. When Sarah saw me sitting there. I kept pushing myself. I honestly couldn't stand seeing it every day. "No. my body was so used to working out every day that I was feeling a little off. I had absolutely no idea what had caused this or what the actual problem was. I didn't know that The Spot held any significance to her or anyone else but myself. you covered up the stained floor. I'm not sure why I put the rug there. I grabbed my laptop. I'm sure you don't really mind. before the heat and humidity made it unbearable. I felt bad that I hadn't been by more frequently. Tom and Sarah were still asleep. I'm not crying because I'm upset. but if it bothers you. I know it's important to you. don't do that!" Sarah said more forcefully than I expected. I was cleaning. I began to alternate between jogging and walking. It seemed to help. Before I even had the chance to ask her what was wrong. as I desperately wanted to force myself back into shape. You know…such a blatant reminder of what happened. so I've never said anything. heavier this time." I was just about to break our embrace and move the accent rug when she stopped me. "I'm not upset that you covered it up. and sat down on the accent rug. I decided to take the opportunity to stop and visit Steve again. Like I had the past several times that I had spent time on foot. and that before that I hadn't been by to visit since his funeral. I was sore from the past week at the gym. I found I wasn't able to run very far before I was gasping for breath. nor had I done any real running or jogging in the past year.

it was like the entire world stood still. "…when I'm with him. After the shower. I couldn't help but think back on our wonderful years together. I felt more refreshed than I had in a long time. I need you to tell me that these feelings are wrong. far earlier than I was expecting. I miss you more than words can express. and the sounds of traffic could once again be heard. I was on my side of the bed when I woke up. The entire time. As I walked past Steve's side. "I still think about you constantly. I will never be able to forget you. The only times I'm not thinking of you is when I'm with…" I had to stop for a second to gather my thoughts. As I turned to leave. or how to do it. Without thinking twice. I felt like Steve had just given me his blessing. I began running my fingers on my right hand over the ring that I had just put back onto my finger the day before. my head was filled with thoughts and memories – both old and new.were always the only person I could really talk to when I had any issues. and I also thought about Noah. even if he had never vocalized them. I hadn't really thought about it since I had left town. I saw my ring still sitting there. but I knew that I hadn't had any nightmares the night before. I asked you to make them go away. "Look. – – – * * * – – – When I opened my eyes on Sunday. I've been trying not to ever since I met him on Monday. and our wonderful relationship together. especially considering all of the strain my recent workouts had taken on my body. nor will I ever love you less than I did the day you married me. and the long walk back in the growing heat." I finished. "Steve. I walked back into the bedroom to get dressed. I vaguely recalled having pleasant dreams throughout the night. I don't really know him yet. A quick glance at the clock told me that it was only five o'clock. but I just wasn't quite sure if I was ready. In fact. but I just find myself drawn to him – both physically and emotionally. Without really thinking about it. I was a sweaty mess. Steve. Suddenly. I felt like it really was the first day of the rest of my life. In fact. and possibly see where this takes me?" I finally asked." I kissed my hand. and placed it gently on Steve's headstone. surrounded by complete silence with the still air hanging heavy around me. I just stood there for about five minutes. When I got home. I put it back on my finger before I walked back out into the living room to get some work done. I feel really guilty that I'm having these feelings for him. I thought about the . I needed to tell Steve more about my feelings for Noah. I know that you are well aware that no matter what happens. He's also got a really good body. you don't know how much this means to me. although I wasn't certain. but he's smart and funny. I slowly walked back home. but I really wanted to see it again. as trite as that sounds. I immediately took a shower. But I need you to at least tell me that they're wrong. "So are you trying to tell me that you want me to keep spending time with him. I felt a large grin spread across my face. He's actually been helping me get back into shape. The emotional pain isn't quite as bad as it used to be. The breeze began to blow again. but it still hurts so bad. and with a hop in my step. I slipped the ring off to study the engraving. I walked out of the cemetery feeling like a new man. Please. A light breeze that had been blowing through the trees stopped. and our budding friendship that I was quickly hoping might lead to something more. I know you can communicate with me. and they didn't. it was as if the world around me came alive." As I finished talking. Between the jog in the morning. as it was burned into my memory. I thought about Steve. "He seems like a great guy. and even the ambient city noises seemed to disappear. I didn't really need to. and that I have to keep fighting them. Scott and Steve: Forever in Love As I read those words.

In their minds.As I read those words. but I secretly loved them. When they had finished. he would pawn the completed lists on me. The words wouldn't' come to me. I walked down to the basement." He told her as I went back to work. and amused by the only thing on the list: 'Replace the floors'." Tom said. I felt hope. It was the first tear of happiness that I had shed since Steve died. Steve wanted me to replace the floors. I had been deep in thought for a long time. there was little around the house for me to help out with. I hadn't seen one. everything is fine. I suddenly remembered that there was a list that Steve had started the day before he was killed. he quickly handed it back to me and released me. Chapter 10 . only to see me wielding a crowbar. Usually. I had just finished exposing the floor boards under The Spot when Tom grabbed my arm to prevent me from continuing. I continued to lie in bed. I picked it up and looked at it. Tom noticed that I was wearing my wedding ring again. When Tom read the list. They were old. thinking about our lives together. It was not a tear of sorrow. As I slid the ring back on my finger. what's going on?" She asked. I'd forgotten that Steve had gotten sick of the floors very quickly. but didn't say anything about it. where I grabbed my toolbox and the crowbar. I felt something that I had not felt in the past year. the first time that I told him 'I love you'. Since he usually thought of things right before going to bed. so using my left hand. our first kiss. and the day I married him. We'd tried just sanding them. and hadn't been well maintained over the years. Feeling a new sense of purpose that I had recently been lacking. "Tom. All of the best days of my entire life. but that had been done enough in the past that the nails were showing. I always complained about the 'honey-do' lists. which was free from his grasp.A New Friend Tom and Sarah were ripped out of their slumber by loud bangs and cracks emanating from the living room. Tom asked if I had another crowbar he could use. I couldn't help but think back on our wonderful years together. just give me a hand. and I hadn't even notice them come into the room. tearing up the wood floor. It didn't help matters that in my haste to get to work. So Steve had decided we needed new floors. "Sarah. I got out of bed and threw on some clothes. They came running into the living room. so as not to disturb Tom and Sarah while they slept. I thought of that Steve loved to make up lists of things he wanted to get done. As I was lying there. but I still didn't think it was necessary to wake them up early on a Sunday morning if it could be avoided. "What the hell are you doing?!" He yelled at me. was his last 'honey-do' list for me. I just handed Tom the crowbar I had been using. the night he proposed to me. insisting that I should do his bidding. I walked quietly down the hallway. I felt a tear run down my cheek as I reminisced. I was stunned. straining to read his chicken-scratch. and it made me completely stop as I tried to think of a response. "Trust me. help me clear out the furniture in here. Steve had so many hobbies that other than the lists. . and I knew just where to start. I hadn't bothered to move any of the furniture out of the way. and she hadn't seen the list. Sarah didn't have a clue what was going on. Sitting on top. I had just started. I thought about the awkward early dates. as he began to grab things to move out of my way. Hope for my future. 10. I reached into my pocket and produced Steve's list. but I got up and opened the top drawer. they probably thought that I had completely lost my mind. It was only the second time since I had known him that I had heard him curse. but she had at least determined that I wasn't acting destructively. in his hideous scribble. Sarah was still clueless. he usually kept any lists on the nightstand. In everything that happened.

whistling as I went. but I think it's better if he explains it to you. I'm sorry for worrying and confusing you two." I offered. and I'll explain everything to you. With that accomplished. "I have no idea where he went. Tom had managed to rip up about half of the flooring in the living room. It turns out they had . something that I haven't felt in a long time." I turned and walked out the front door towards my car. We'll go out to brunch before too long. Where are you going Scott?" Sarah had had just about enough of being in the dark about everything. They looked unhappy to be there. the doorbell rang. so I went in to talk to them. but he seems to have a plan in his mind. After we had ordered. "I did. I went to get a second crowbar. It shouldn't have taken that long. and hallway to the bedrooms finished in one day. as long I eventually get brought into the loop. I'm hungry. When they came in. and now he just walked away. and my brain wasn't able to put my thoughts into words. I showed them the living room. Are you ready to go now?" "Not yet." "Okay." Sarah demanded as soon as I walked in the door. Tom. so the bedrooms and office were not ready. but that was understandable. I understand why he's doing this. While I was leaving. I thanked them exuberantly. "What does that mean? Tom seems to have an idea as to what's going on." I opened the door and. and with the four of them. but then I had to spend more time than I thought I would negotiating. then you want to help him. but I just felt like it was something I had to do. I entered something of a zone when I started. I explained the 'honey-do' list that I had found and that Steve had wanted to replace the floors. and let in the carpenters that were waiting. and the three of us quickly moved the furniture out of the hallway and into the bedrooms while the contractors started working. We drove to a restaurant and were quickly seated." I told the two of them. "I know it seemed a little impulsive. but I'm still completely in the dark here!" "Sorry Sarah. First you try to stop him."I'll be right back. will you? I'm so confused right now. I was surprised to find it open. kitchen." While not happy with Tom's answer. I'm expecting…" Before I could finish the thought. she had gotten all of the rooms cleared except the bedrooms. Where is he going?" Sarah asked as soon as I'd left. I wake up and Scott's ripping up the floor in the living room. but I suddenly felt extremely motivated. Sarah accepted it as the best that she was going to get for now and continued to move things out of the way. "Where have you been? I figured you were just going down the street to buy a crowbar. Speaking of brunch. since Scott won't explain what's going on. I just need to take care of something. I'm sure they were surprised that we had already started without them. I decided to check out the flooring place that Steve found the style he wanted. "I have no clue what's going on here. They told me it wouldn't be a problem. we just have to wait for a little. I haven't been fair to you this morning. We hadn't planned on redoing the floors. "Don't worry about it. as if that explained everything. Sarah. they should be finished by around dinner time. and I left to get some food. I asked they would be able to easily get the living room. By the time I'd returned about 90 minutes later. "That would be them. "Tom. They hadn't expected to work on a Sunday morning. I almost feel like it's not my place to do so.

We cleared everything out of the three bedrooms except for the beds themselves. After they had left. I pulled the list out of my pocket. and ended up back at the cemetery. When we arrived. even when I stayed on my side. I felt like today was going to be a great day. I couldn't remember any specifics. there's a bounce in your step. I was already beginning to see the improvement in my body since I had started going to the gym. but after seeing the list I completely understand. but I couldn't quite place it. and I opened my eyes. "I'm not saying that I'm going to pursue a relationship with Noah or anything. but I just got a sense that he was fine with the attraction I feel towards Noah. After I showered. Neither of them knew that I had been able to have some sort of communication with Steve. It turns out they had the floors in stock. The new floors looked amazing. I just realized that it would be okay if I started paying more attention to my feelings and needs. so I decided to not have the contractors redo Steve's office. your smile seems to be genuine. I told him that I felt really guilty about them. and my . and I knew that Steve would have loved them if he was still alive. and less on what Steve would think of everything. but it was okay to let all of my hurt go. Sarah. After we had finished. Scott. I'll admit I was worried. She also noticed that I was wearing my wedding ring again for the first time. but it just felt right. but I knew that I wasn't ready to start going through Steve's possessions yet." As I told them this. killing time. but I knew that while I had been dreaming. He's not here for me. Does this have anything to do with the crush you have on Noah?" I had to think a minute before continuing. I think I can actually feel better about everything without really having to forget anything about Steve. but I didn't think anything of it. as he was still sleeping in Sarah's room most nights. paying close attention to what I wore. I knew that I had had some great dreams. You've made a lot of progress in the last few days. so I went in to talk to them. before tidying up the bedrooms so that we could clear those rooms out. we went around the city. He looked a little uncomfortable as he said that. and I hadn't seemed to move throughout the night. before we went back home. I may have made a lot of progress. Something seemed a little different. We continued to chat throughout brunch. The old flooring seemed to complement the new flooring. the contractors were almost finished for the day. I had been happier than I could recall being in a very long time. I hadn't had any nightmares. "It was the first time that I actually thought that I might be able to stop dwelling on the pain inside. You're wearing your ring again." I explained. but I just decided to get it done as fast as possible. and showed it to Sarah. or anything like that. As I looked around. "I guess it does. "I had originally planned on installing them myself. Afterwards. and told him my feelings about Noah. and I didn't want them to think that my mind had snapped. –––***––– Monday morning arrived. I got dressed. and I worked to get the furniture back into the living room and kitchen. and your eyes have a glow about them that I haven't seen since he died. It took a lot of negotiating before we could work out terms that they were happy with in order to bring contractors in at the last minute on a Sunday. I was surprised to find it open. I realized that I was still on my side of the bed. I realized that for the third night in a row. Tom. and that I wanted a sign that he didn't want me to pursue anything with Noah. Today was the day that I was meeting Will's friend. It's not that he spoke to me. but never on any heavy subjects. I went for a run. we sat in the living room for a while and talked before we all headed to bed. I talked to Steve for a long time. I had a few tears running down my face and both Sarah and Tom's eyes were moist. Tom suggested we could go ahead and remove the bed in his room. Yesterday. and I thought I should try to make a good first impression. "Wow. I had forgotten how excited he had been at the prospect of our first major renovation to the house. I had grabbed Steve's pillow to hold close while I slept. Often. In fact. My arms and chest were a little bit more defined. I can keep all the wonderful memories. I didn't really know why I wanted to impress the person.found the style he wanted. but I hadn't. and he would want me to have every chance in the world at happiness.

one of my best friends. this is Noah. I finally got the opportunity to see who Noah was talking with. even though you two seem to already know each other. staring. then I sat on the couch for a while and did some work before I left the house to meet Will and his friend. His eyes had locked onto mine shortly after I had sat down. it was Will sitting across from him. and then I would just set another date to meet them. and I had become lost in the golden pools in front of me. Just before I left. I figured that I would just call Will and apologize profusely for standing him and his friend up. but I wasn't positive about that. Will looked a little agitated. and then return to searching for them. for a few seconds – although it felt like an eternity – I felt myself becoming agitated. I think the closest sensation that could describe it is would be jealousy. I had used product a handful of times. the person I was telling you about. I took one last glance at myself in the mirror to make sure I looked exactly as I wanted to. As I neared the table. He may have even seen the wedding ring. I guess I never did mention his name. I figured that I would greet Noah quickly. partially because his back was to me. and my stomach was a little flatter than it had been. I could feel his gaze piercing into my soul. but he didn't say anything about it. –––***––– I made sure to arrive a few minutes late. As I looked down. facing the entrance. as it had been so long since I had last experienced it." Neither of us responded to him. Granted. I heard someone call my name. looking around to see if I could find Will and his friend. and it was Noah. why?" I'm sure that Noah had noticed the distinct change in my appearance. "Wait…do you two know each other?" "Yeah. "Well. Scott and I met at the gym last week. Just as I had reached the door. He's been there for me whenever I needed someone to talk to. I'm not sure how long we had just sat there staring at each other. My arms and chest were a little bit more defined. and I couldn't help but wonder if he'd become just as lost in my eyes as I had in his. so that the contractors could replace the floors. but I hadn't really fussed over it. so long as they didn't see me. I still had a ways to go in order to get back to where I had been. but it was probably less than a minute . In the corner. I couldn't believe my eyes. He's the one I told you that I had saved on the bench press. I couldn't quite describe the sensation. I decided that I had to leave. His eyes were sparkling again.body since I had started going to the gym. so I made my way over. For the first time in over a year. Noah was sitting there. We actually worked out together several times last week. As I stood there. I wouldn't know the other guy. but he quickly pushed it aside. I could just claim that something came up. I saw something I definitely wasn't suspecting. I turned around. I walked in and immediately looked around. which I somehow felt slightly self-conscious for wearing at the moment. but I still didn't know if I was comfortable being alone with Will if showed up early by himself. but mostly because I was so enraptured by Noah's presence. but there was some definite progress. Will moved to a neighboring seat so that I could sit across from Noah. and I wanted to kick myself for feeling my knees get weak again. which is uncharacteristic of me. I spent close to 20 minutes trying to get my hair to do exactly what I wanted it to. Noah beckoned me over to the table. talking animatedly to someone. trying to find Will. I wasn't sure if the two would arrive together or separately. he started the conversation. I actually took the time to style my hair. I couldn't tell who it was. Before we had a chance to greet each other. We quickly removed the beds from the bedrooms. Granted. Scott. He seemed surprised that Noah had called out my name. as he had just found out why I had changed my workout schedule. let me introduce you to Scott.

you can trust him to open up. At several points while I was telling Noah my story. and I definitely didn't know how he felt about me. Bear with me. After a moment. I did stop there. but you two should definitely talk. Scott. Scott. With that. because it's very painful for me to think about…" Over the next two hours. he took the opportunity to ask about the changes in me since he had last seen me on Thursday. I even told him about my desire to remain as close as possible to the spot where Steve had died. I started with the day Steve died. I had expected him to tear up a little. "You know. especially since I wasn't proud of my actions in hindsight. for his part. not the entire story. I had to stop to wipe tears from my face. but I didn't feel like sharing it with Noah at the moment. but I had started talking. It's just very…" I choked up a little as I was saying that.I'm not sure how long we had just sat there staring at each other. I glanced over at Will. but I realized that in order to explain why I left town I would have to explain how Will had betrayed my trust." I knew. uh. I mean that in a good way. but I can't help but wonder what caused the changes since Thursday. but then there's your ring…" Noah’s voice trailed off at the mention of the ring. I also told him all of the details about how I spent the nine months that I was gone from the city. and they frequently were dripping down his face. and he was clearly uncomfortable. I still didn't know exactly how I felt about Noah. "Anyways. Has that changed? If it has. however. I just. I told him about my first visit back to Steve's grave. but it was probably less than a minute before Will cleared his throat. my reunion with Will. Before I got the chance to say anything. I did. but he was definitely thinking about it. he clearly had by now. I figured that I would just tell him about everything up until I came back into town. I wasn't entirely sure why he was acting so strangely. then I can too. Well. but that was more because I was worried about what he would think of me. get done today. looking a little bit angry. I'm more than willing to listen. and if Will trusts you. but I kept going. Will stood up and left quickly. The two of us just stared at each other awkwardly for a few minutes. Again. Finally. thought of a few things that I should really. "I'm sure you're a good listener. or to clear my throat before I could continue. I had planned on stopping when I arrived back in the city. and just couldn't stop. I promise. but I hadn't expected such an emotional . "Let me start from the beginning. I almost left out the details of my sexual excursions in Baltimore." If Noah hadn't noticed my ring when I first came over. or at least had a very good idea what caused Will to act that way. and our agreement to go back to the gym. I proceeded to tell him everything. and didn't want to spend the effort only to have it ruined by sweat. I just nodded my head." Noah said. causing us to break our trance. I told him about the funeral. and it took me a moment to find my voice before I could finish the thought. I hoped he would understand. and everything that happened between me and Will. it was Noah that broke the tension. It was clear to me that he hadn't put the story together. of course. I decided it was time to tell him the whole story. had tears in his eyes the entire time. um. He's usually very calm and collected no matter what happens. and take it from there. as Will and Noah were very good friends. "I've never really seen him act like this. I thought about glossing over some of the more lurid details." I looked down at my coffee and began to idly play with my ring. "I wonder what the hell got into him. however. neither of us knowing exactly how to begin the conversation. "You look very different today. "…very hard for me to talk about. leave out the two times that Steve had come to me while I was asleep. I know I asked you at the gym if you wanted to talk about what you were going through and you weren't interested. I think I'll go ahead and head out. Noah. but a part of me couldn't help but wonder if Will felt jealous of my reaction towards Noah. I felt a little bad about it. Maybe it's just that you knew you were going to the gym. I don't know anything about what you've been through.

were dripping down his face. I had expected him to tear up a little, but I hadn't expected such an emotional display from the man sitting across from me. He made no attempt to mask his tears, nor did he at any point seem ashamed of them, as he made no attempt to wipe them away. After I had finished catching Noah up on everything that happened between Steve's death and the day I met him, we sat in silence for several minutes. I figured I'd give him a chance to respond to everything I had just said, but knew that he would need a few minutes to digest the entire story. It wasn't uncomfortable, just neither of us knew what to say. Eventually, Noah spoke. "Scott, I…shit. I don't even know what to say. You told me that you had gone through a lot in the past year, but I never imagined it was anything like this. My natural response is to say something like 'I'm sorry for what you went through,' but that just seems contrite, and slightly condescending. I do have a few questions for you, if you don't mind. I really don't want to pry, but I just want to try to understand a few things better." I was moved that he seemed to be taking everything in better than I had expected. I really had anticipated his first words after I finished being a standard generic statement of sympathy, but clearly, he felt that it was inappropriate. I greatly appreciated that. "I've told you so much about my personal life in the past year, Noah. I'm not sure that any questions you ask can delve much deeper, or unleash any additional hurt from me, so go ahead. I'll answer everything the best that I can." "It's just that you look completely different today than I've ever seen you at the gym. When you came in, you looked, I don't know, happier than I'd seen you before. You're dressed in stylish clothes, and you're hair…well, it looks amazing. Is that his…" Noah allowed his voice to trail off again. I knew he was talking about my wedding ring. Since I hadn't worn it until Saturday, I couldn't blame him for being confused about it, and I'm sure he felt at least a little uncomfortable asking about it. "Yes. It's the ring he gave me when he proposed about three years ago. After what happened with Will, I felt too guilty to wear it anymore, so I took it off just before I left town. After everything that happened this past weekend, I can't explain it properly, but it just felt right to start wearing it again. I also woke up today feeling like I should go back to paying attention to my appearances. I haven't really cared in so long," I explained. "Scott, I hope you realize that I would never have said anything even remotely flirtatious if I had any inkling as to what you were going through. I can't help but feel like such an ass. But then I see you now, and it's impossible for me to not notice what a hottie you are." Noah realized what he said as soon as the words leaved his mouth. I got a little bit uncomfortable and couldn't help but blush. He noticed my discomfort, but I don't think he noticed the change in my complexion. "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean for that to come out that way. Please…" I cut him off. "No, it's okay. I knew what you meant." We both sat there in silence for a minute or so. I knew he had more questions, and I had been too flustered by his comment to initiate any conversation for the moment. After a few moments, he continued to ask for more details. "You mentioned something happening this weekend that caused you to change your mind about wearing your wedding ring. Is it okay if I ask what it is?" "It is. I know you're just trying to get a better understanding of everything that's happened, and it is helpful to be able to talk to someone about everything." I told him about the weekend, starting with how I had been cleaning on Friday and had decided to cover The Spot with an accent rug. I told him about my jog on Saturday. I didn't tell him my reason for talking to

Spot with an accent rug. I told him about my jog on Saturday. I didn't tell him my reason for talking to Steve, but I did say that I felt that Steve had sent me a sign that he wanted me to stop dwelling so much on the pain and begin to look towards the future. I knew he wanted to cut me off and ask additional questions about my interaction with Steve, but I just held my hand up to signal that I wasn't done with my story. I wanted to get the rest of it out before I got distracted. I finished by telling him about the list of Steve's that I found and my decision to replace the floors immediately. I went into the details of how I started with The Spot and explained that contractors were at the house as we were speaking, finishing the bedrooms. "Now I'm sure you want to ask me why I think Steve sent me a sign." "Well, yes and no. First off, I don't doubt you at all. I've always believed that loved ones are fully capable of communicating from beyond the grave. I'm more wondering if that's the first time that Steve sent you a message." I told him it wasn't and explained that something similar happened the previous two times I had gone to the cemetery. I even told him that I felt like Steve had whispered in my ear once. I didn't tell him that it was moments before I had first laid eyes on Noah, though. I paused for a second, trying to decide if I wanted to tell him about the two times that Steve appeared when I was asleep, but I figured that I had already explained so much, and he didn't seem freaked out yet. Besides, I told him about what Will had done, and realized that my conversations with Steve helped to actually explain a lot of my motivation. I decided to tell him. I was almost disappointed with his reaction as I told him. I really did expect him to act like I had completely lost my mind, but he just nodded his head as I told him. When I had finished, I asked him if he thought I was just imagining it, or if he was weirded out with the idea that Steve could come to me. "Not at all. Besides, even if I didn't believe you, I would know that you believed it, and that alone attests to your sanity in my mind. Steve was such an important person in your life. It'd be impossible for you to not want him to somehow continue to be a part of it. "But I really do believe that he did send you signals and speak to you. The way you describe how he came to you leaving you feeling unsettled is completely different from how you would have expected him to, which is exactly why I have no doubt that he did. "Going back to the last two visits to the cemetery, are you sure you didn't leave anything out? You mentioned that he sent messages, but you never explained what you were hoping to hear from him." I couldn't answer his question, even if I wanted to. There was just no way that I was about to tell the beautiful man sitting across from me that I couldn't get him out of my head. I just lowered my head and blushed. He unavoidably noticed that I was unable to look him in the eyes. I think my actions made it pretty clear why I had gone to see Steve, but fortunately, he decided to graciously change the subject. "Will told me that you are averse to all forms of therapy, is that true?" "I don't need to see a shrink. I never did. I've always known what my problem was. Why?" "Because I have an idea. It's not therapy, technically. It's just something that I've been doing for a long time when I have a lot on my mind. It's actually a better form of stress relief than working out, if you'll give it a chance, and I guarantee it will work. Would you be willing to trust me?" The twinkles in his eyes were back in full force, and I couldn't help but stare at them for a moment. They were just mesmerizing. I knew I didn't want to say yes, but staring at those eyes, I couldn't bring myself to say no. "I don't know, Noah. It's not that I don't trust you, but…" "Great! Then it's settled. You'll meet me in front of here Thursday evening at eight. Just to make sure you

"Great! Then it's settled. You'll meet me in front of here Thursday evening at eight. Just to make sure you don't get the wrong impression, feel free to bring anyone else you want." "You're not going to give me a chance to say no, are you?" "Not on your life, buddy," Noah said with a laugh. "Will you at least tell me exactly what we're doing?" "I'll just tell you that it's an alternative form of therapy, that's guaranteed to work if you keep an open mind." I was really skeptical about this, but he was clearly not taking 'no' for an answer. I knew it was some sort of group activity, since he had readily invited Tom and Sarah along without me even asking, so I wasn't worried that he might possibly misconstrue this as a date. Even though I didn't know Noah that well, I did trust him, and if he told me that it would help, and wasn't therapy, I figured I should give it a chance. "Is Will going to be there?" I asked him. "I actually hadn't thought about that. He usually goes with me, but I have to admit that I'm pretty angry at him for what he did to you. When he told me about everything, it was fairly generic, how 'he screwed up', and stuff like that. To actually hear from you exactly what happened, I think he really fucked up bad. Don't get me wrong, Will is normally a really nice guy. I'm not sure what the hell got into him. "We had talked about you. To be fair, I didn't know it was you at the time, and I didn't know exactly what you had been through. I knew he had feelings, but I didn't think he was going to do anything so…so… fucking stupid. "Anyways, if you want him there, I'll gladly bring him along. Otherwise, I think I'll just tell him to sit this one out, if that's alright with you." "That's actually what I was hoping. I wouldn't mind being friends with him eventually. But all I can think about when I see him is everything that happened before that night before I left," I told Noah. I really was grateful that I didn't have to ask him not to invite his friend along. While I really didn't think I wanted Will around, I would have felt really bad asking Noah to not bring him. I thanked Noah, and gave him a grin. He responded in kind, and his eyes gave off their glorious sparkle. As I felt myself beginning to be drawn into them, I blinked to try to clear my head. He noticed, and we both looked away, blushing. As we left, he stopped me at the entrance. "Just promise me one thing, Scott." "What's that?" I was a little concerned about the idea of having to make a promise about Thursday night. I figured that no matter what it was, I could probably deal with it, even if just for Noah's sake. "I just want you to keep an open mind. You don't have to participate if you don't want to. But if you do, I want you to really put in an effort."

11. Chapter 11 - Group Therapy
"I just want you to keep an open mind. You don't have to participate if you don't want to. But if you do, I want you to really put in an effort." Noah's comment really threw me for a loop, and I couldn't help but ask the first thing that came to mind: "Hopefully this is going to sound really stupid, especially since you said that I could bring anyone I wanted. You're not taking me to an orgy or something are you?" Noah just doubled over laughing, and it took him several minutes to regain his composure. Even I couldn't

I knew it was a ridiculous idea. but I wasn't being careful in the slightest. I didn't want to unload on you when I called. feel free to have them tag along as well. life was continuing to settle into a new normal. He never gave me any indication one way or the other how he felt about my actions. that's not something I'd ever consider doing. The new floors looked amazing. I'm a little pissed at you after hearing Scott explain things from his perspective. I think you're really going to have a good time. "NO!! God. even if I had no idea what I was in for. and it took him several minutes to regain his composure. it's nothing like that! I really didn't think about what I was saying before I spoke. Scott. – – – * * ** * * * * * – – – "Dr. I still hadn't been in Steve's office. Conversation seemed to come easier than ever before. whether or not you decide to take your turn. Noah said. I still haven't met them. He said it every time with a sarcastic emphasis. it's Noah. William Drake speaking." With that. and I couldn't help but smile every time he did it. and for a moment. and I'm sure they'll have a lot of fun." "If you say so. too. Wiping tears from his eyes. "Will. Even I couldn't resist joining in. he'd develop feelings back. he reminded me once again about the plans for 'therapy'. I still wasn't back to my normal workload. I guess. but I was making good progress repairing relations with my clients. but then again. but it would have been impossible for him not to notice. "And remember to bring Tom and Sarah with you. I wasn't necessarily trying to flirt with him." "Hey Will. I'm still not telling. You promised to keep an open mind. Is everything ok?" "Everything on my end is good. I'm still not sure. but it was the only conclusion I could draw based on his cryptic statement. and they had begun to request additional services from me. my longing for Steve's presence during the day was very bearable. Back at home." Will didn't say a word in response. Noah was too angry to say anything. What's up? Haven't heard from you since Monday. I'm sorry. I was skeptical. you've been extremely vague as to what's going on. I really was looking forward to seeing him again in a few hours. it was Thursday morning." That was enough to set fears to rest. – – – * * * – – – We resumed our workouts the next morning. I knew you were at work. After Noah and I had finished working out. "Remember. and I found myself chatting idly with him for the entirety of our sessions together. It's just that I don't feel right venting this anger . so I didn't bother with trying your cell. Before I knew it. I agreed that I would keep an open mind. but to be honest. I caught him watching what he said a few times." I responded. we parted. I don't know if it was my self-discovery over the previous weekend or the fact that he was completely understanding of everything that I've been through. If there's anyone else you want to bring. Maybe whatever he had planned really would help. For the record. but it's nothing along those lines. but there were a few times when I might have unintentionally let a hand linger on his shoulder or arm a few seconds longer than necessary." "Hey buddy. I could tell he was still a little worried about how I might react to things. I truly believe that you were just hoping that once you got him in bed. he was able to respond. The more the merrier. but I knew deep down that anything Noah was planning would be a good time.Noah just doubled over laughing. and it's entirely possible that I may have made a mildly suggestive comment or two. I was surprised that even with The Spot a thing of the past. Eventually. but I was extremely proud of all the work that I had accomplished in the past few weeks. I don't believe for an instant that you misread his actions.

something I hadn't seen him do before tonight. and I couldn't help but stare for a moment. We only had to wait about five minutes for Noah to arrive." Noah said with a grin. which had clearly put his friend on edge. Noah immediately realized that he had taken the wrong tone with Will. It would have been impossible for them to not realize I had developed a full-on crush for Noah. He'll be disarmed by the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. that's my goal. and the four of us engaged in small talk for a few minutes until the anticipation for events to come became too much for Sarah to take any longer. . Noah. but you do realize that he's going to think it's a ridiculously cheesy idea. where exactly are we going for this therapeutic non-therapy? Scott hasn't told us anything. I need to ask you something. but I didn't get the feeling that they had any problems with it. Because of everything that has happened between the two of you. "Anyways. ending the call and leaving Noah more confused than before. Noah responded."Will. yes. Will slammed the phone down. Did Scott ever seem to flirt with you. And we both know that's not a good idea. I know he wasn't ready to do anything. "Actually. "I really don't understand how you can find it therapeutic. especially after my tirade earlier. even though that had been the last thing from my mind at the time. other than the last night he was in town? I'm just trying to understand some…" "Look. even though I'm mad. Fun. he had clearly spent some time styling his chestnut-brown hair. After all. and I'm sure that I had talked their ears off about Noah all week long. and a quick glance at Tom and Sarah made it clear that I wasn't alone. the only other person I would normally want to do that with is you. I already told you. "Why? Are you taking him there?" Noah was shocked by Will's tone. he looked like an 'eleven'. and then without realizing it he'll find a way to let down his guard and he'll feel a little bit better. I didn't want to unload on you when I called. It's just that I don't feel right venting this anger around Scott. Taking a more conciliatory tone. Noah. Is it possible for you not to come to our usual thing tonight? Like I said…" Noah was cut off by an angry Will. Tom had given me his blessings to date Will hours after burying Steve. Tom and Sarah were definitely excited about finally meeting Noah – if not a little on edge that they had no idea what the night would entailed. I caught his eyes. I'm sorry. Neither was as nervous as I. I know he didn't try to flirt with me. I just misread signs. I know that he didn't feel the same way about me at all. – – – * * * * * ** * * – – – That evening. I was definitely confused. And before you say anything. They had witnessed firsthand the progress I had made in the past few weeks." Will couldn't help but chuckle at Noah despite his anger. I think that it's really going to help him. and the golden shimmer almost seemed to explode like fireworks into the calm summer air. They never said anything about it either way. I just lost my focus for a second. I thought it might be best for him to avoid any awkwardness tonight. and I really don't want you to take this the wrong way. he was easily a 'nine'. Like me." "Actually. but he said it was because you've kept him in the dark as well. He had practically snarled when he referred to me." And with that. I quickly introduced Noah to Tom and Sarah. "So. I want you to know that it was not his idea. Without putting forth any effort into his appearance. I actually managed to arrive before Noah for once. but tonight. I couldn't understand how hanging out at the coffee shop with a few people could count as therapy by any definition. definitely. "Will. we're going to the coffee shop. right?" "Actually. Hell. That's all. I really hate what I'm about to ask of you. He was dressed in tight clothes that showed off his physique and accentuated his bulging arms.

"Wait. They are singing for themselves and that definitely comes through in their performance. So you have a song picked out already. If you find the night therapeutic. that is one of the things that I love about karaoke. He still had a smile on his face as he responded. learning that we were just having a karaoke night felt almost anticlimactic. "I mean. What I find therapeutic is taking the time to find the perfect song to express how you feel and then letting all of your emotions out on stage. Is that really your plan? I figured we were going to a spa. but I could tell that he was a little frustrated that the three of us hadn't reacted the way he expected. if for no other reason than to make him happy. or possibly because of his remonstrations. catching Sarah off guard. "I want you all to have fun. all you do is get up and make an ass out of yourself in front of a room of strangers. I really do think that if you come in with an open mind." "Okay. even though that's what he had already done. and that he wasn't going to force us to spend lots of time deciding on songs. I swear! But I knew you might think that it was. and Noah's previous statement had made it clear to me what he expected from me and his cryptic comments on Monday made a lot more sense. My sorority sisters and I went out several times in college and always made complete fools of ourselves. or on the other extreme you can make a complete fool out of yourself. then great. when we could've just come any time this week. We always sang "Don't Stop Believing"." "Have you ever actually done karaoke before. It's karaoke night. he looked a little hurt. and went a little bit crazy." he explained. Before we went inside. We also didn't have to focus on picking songs that perfectly fit our emotions. "I do.or why it had to be tonight. . And when you're not singing." Sarah cut in." Noah stuck his tongue out at Sarah when he said that. I've found that the release is extremely cathartic. "Of course I have. you'll find it therapeutic. After all the buildup to this night. I couldn't restrain a laugh. Noah reminded us again that we didn't have to sing if we didn't want to. I take it?" Any tone from disbelief about tonight was gone. "Really. I've also found that the best performances you'll hear are from the people who are doing the same." "I have to know how karaoke is supposed to be therapeutic. and I was worried you wouldn't want to do it at all if you knew what we were doing. "Well. Noah? After all of the anticipation and avoiding questions. though. Sarah?" Noah asked. She thought that her 'Mr. Mr. but I'm not going to try to push anything on any of you. The experience is whatever you want it to be. if nothing else. I felt like my reaction was understandable. you have to deal with great songs being slaughtered by horrible singers." As soon as she said that. I was determined to pick the perfect song. but I won't tell you what it is. and I regretted my choice of words. other than the small wave of nervousness that hits right before you begin to sing. or getting drunk or something like that. "I guess I can see where you're coming from. He wasn't rude." Sarah sad with a chuckle. Since I hadn't been in jovial moods during much of my time since I'd met Noah." she answered. Smarty-Pants. Smarty-Pants' comments would be sufficient juvenile one-upmanship. Despite. but I was already beginning to enjoy it. You can just sit and enjoy the company and conversation. I find the whole experience to be incredibly relaxing. "It's not cheesy. Sarah was the first to make the connection after staring at the storefront. it's just karaoke? Why all the buildup for something so cheesy?" As soon as I said that. but he had proven her wrong. this was a side that I hadn't seen much of. You'll find out when I take the stage.

I realized that I needed to do so. I had tears streaming down my face. and we were definitely enjoying ourselves. One woman even sang a very powerful version of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" that I felt was even better than the original. I suddenly realized that I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation. next up is someone that I know can hold his own. Sarah was dabbing her eyes with a napkin. Even through our pants. My shirt could have caught on fire. After everyone had settled down again. and Sarah and Tom sat on the other as Noah went ahead and submitted his song request with the DJ. and Tom was trying to casually dry his eyes with his sleeve. I was the first audience member on my feet but definitely not the last. When Noah finished. and hadn't even known that they hosted a karaoke night. I pushed my chair a little closer to Noah's and allowed my leg to touch his. He saw me notice. just listening to the other singers. and went to turn in a submission of her own. Noah addressed the crowd through the microphone. I made no efforts to pull away and was happy that Noah didn't either. but someone has to. The audience's reaction to Noah's name being called was subdued compared to the reaction that the previous singer had gotten. The four of us sat there for awhile in relative silence. I was surprised that the coffee shop was as busy as it was. The reaction from the rest of the audience was on par with the one they gave the previous singer. Give it up for Noah!" We all wished Noah luck as he headed up to the stage. As soon as Noah returned. "I would like to take a moment to dedicate this song to Scott. The smooth. the DJ got on the microphone to call up the next singer. She stood with the same evil grin she gave when she went to submit . I figured that Noah's voice would be decent. it was amazing. and it took all of my effort to not lean into his body. Tom.– – – * * * – – – Inside. I'm sure that he thought it was entirely accidental. Noah sat on a stool on the edge of the small stage and began to sing. Sarah got an evil grin on her face. I hadn't had a chance to look. for his part. but then again. I'd only been there a few times. was taking Noah's words about finding the right song to heart. and I still hadn't bothered to pick out a song yet. When Noah returned the table. By the time Noah had gotten to the bridge. I could feel a jolt of electricity. despite the cheers from the three of us. She was clearly a regular and a crowd favorite. the familiar first chords of James Taylor's "You've got a Friend" filled the room. and I saw Noah visibly tense. I couldn't believe my ears. us included. As would be expected a few were horrible. nor was I necessarily thinking about a song yet. Without thinking about it. I sat down on one side. He was looking through the catalog of songs almost as if he were reading a book. When the next singer was finished. and soon. "I always feel bad for whoever has to follow Suze. along with anyone else who feels like they've hit rock bottom. I gently whispered a 'thank you' in his ear before sitting back down. as Noah had filled the classic with all of his heart and soul. the entire room was on their feet in a rousing round of applause. Fortunately. Tom was still studying the catalog like there was going to be an exam on the song selection." With that. Sarah and Tom also gave him quick hugs before he returned to his seat. Immediately after she had finished. Sarah was called up. jumped up. and I was completely enraptured. I pulled him into a deep embrace. but I was wrong. sultry tenor that emanated from him fit the song perfectly. and I wouldn't have noticed. A quick glance to the other two showed me that they were just as moved. I just wanted to enjoy the night and let it progress on its own. Before the music started. we ordered our drinks and found an empty table. and managed a meek grin in embarrassment for being caught. but most were passable.

"Scott. Tom burst out laughing. I opened to a random page. Tom still hadn't found the perfect song. indicating that I was now the only one still clueless. however. "I'd like to dedicate this song to my husband. I was tempted to move it and see if he would move his to reinitiate the contact. "Scott. I felt electricity shoot through me as he did that. Before he could even object. Interesting choice. Shortly before the DJ called my name up. I'm not a very good singer. but I was worried that he wouldn't. before the music began. I really needed to pick out a song. because I know that he's always there. and she was wrong. I had a while to wait before it was my turn to go. which I interpreted as agreement with my assessment of my vocal abilities. I know you. All of us knew that was as good as her telling everyone that Noah had been right. Granted. but didn't have a clue as to what song. As I climbed the steps to the stage. I am ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears. and it'll show in the song. Besides. but a glance to Noah let me know that I wasn't the only one in the dark. I saw him blush.was finished. not the cheesy 80's power ballad. so I realized that he had figured out whatever her scheme was. watching over me. I hope you know what you're doing. which made all of us laugh. we all gave her a hugs and offered praise." Tom. but his face looked pained. I knew what I wanted to sing about. like I said before. That lasted just long enough for the first few chords of the famously overplayed Journey song came out of the speakers. I knew I'd make a complete fool of myself. As Sarah left the stage. His eyes weren't twinkling. By that point. That was what moved me to tears. I began to feel really nervous. let out a chuckle. I was really enjoying the closeness to him. Sarah was called up. The DJ was calling me up to sing. I wondered if he was referring to something more than just my singing ability. . and kept reading the catalog as if it were a user's manual. Like Noah had. knowing that it was nearing my turn to sing. I glanced over to Noah. next we have Scott. I'm sure you're much better than you realize. and picked a song at random. and as I tensed. There must have been some level of divine intervention. The four of us just continued to talk and listen to the other singers. I grabbed the microphone from the DJ and said in a very weak and shaky voice. It didn't help that she kept making faces at him the entire time. this isn't about how well you sing. Since the coffee shop was busy. I spoke to Noah. and this was just one more way of showing how much she cared. "I have to warn you. Noah laughed the entire time that Sarah sang. When Sarah returned to the table. I noticed that he was still smiling. but I wasn't sure that could be helped. "Okay. She made it clear to Noah that she wouldn't give him the pleasure of admitting that it was somewhat therapeutic. And anyone who thinks that karaoke can be therapeutic can suck it!" Noah let out a loud laugh. Steve. who was the only person in the group who had ever heard me sing before. who was still reading it as if it held lost secrets within. as the song was even more perfect than anything I would have normally chosen. I began to get really nervous. the DJ sarcastically thanked her for such an original choice. I quickly handed the catalog back to Tom. In my defense. I grabbed the catalog from Tom." For a moment. but I didn't have a chance to dwell on it. and didn't want to lose it." Just before the music started. She stood with the same evil grin she gave when she went to submit her song." I hoped so. Noah patted my leg as I stood up and wished me good luck. I really hoped I was doing the right thing. just put your heart into it. I didn't have a chance to fully process it. and walked up to submit my song. By the time she got to the end of "Don't Stop Believing". she had done so much for me since Steve had died. too. listen carefully to the words in the chorus. My leg kept contact with Noah's the entire time. Sarah spoke before the music began. I'm really worried that my performance won't be any good.

She put on some house music." The large black woman just waved her hand dismissively. but I have to ask. "You're voice is beautiful. When they released me. too. I began to sing Beyoncé's "Halo". and that was only when I got to the table. It was just me and the microphone. I had been trying to be discrete. Noah grabbed me. Apparently. Sarah and Tom enthusiastically pulled me into a joint embrace. When I finished singing. "I…um…I don't know what to say about that. I was completely unaware of my surroundings as I finished the chorus the first time. Most of them had tears in their eyes. My eyes were closed as I let the song flow through me. cutting Noah's apology short. no offense. Suddenly. His eyes suddenly began to glimmer and sparkle again as a single tear slipped from his right eye. Noah was right about emotions being more important than singing ability. next up. "Are you happy?" Tom asked me. Please don't be mad at me. but I felt a very similar yet completely different energy flowing through Noah's gaze. My eyes locked with his as I sang the chorus one final time. I…" "No. tears streaming down his face. Noah suddenly seemed incredibly nervous. I was the only one in the room. Chapter 12 . I quickly jerked my hand free of Noah's. He gave me goofy grin. I was no Beyoncé. it was as if the entire room went black." She.began. As soon as the first notes came out of the speakers. After a few seconds. I opened my eyes as I finished the chorus the second time. and I could feel Steve's presence surrounding me. The three of us sat back down. Part II I stood there as the first notes of the song emanated from the speakers in the small coffee shop." That was all the explanation that Noah needed. I cast my head down. 12." was all I said softly. which seemed to bring the DJ back to her sense. As I was about to start singing. Every patron was staring at me with their mouths agape. I must have tensed when he said that. There were two of us now: me and Noah. "You. it was as if the room faded to black. "I can't remember the last time I've felt something so powerful here. but I was definitely giving it my all. I'd really expected him to be . so I wasn't able to do the runs and belts like her. was wiping tears from her eyes. Suze.Group Therapy. I grabbed his hand under the table. They had no idea what they were in for. Was that song only for Steve?" he whispered in my ear. and pulled me into a deep hug. As I was about to sing. "Scott. and slowly the room was filled with quiet conversations. and it was as if lights had been turned back on. and concentrated on a discoloration on the table. I just put the microphone back on the stand and walked back to the table. we have…" The next three people all turned down their turn. indicating that she understood. shaking me out of my embarrassment. and suddenly I was no longer alone in the room. I could hear the crowd gasp. because I wasn't sure that I was ready for how Tom and Sarah might react. the DJ announced that they were going to take a five minute break. there was complete silence. The only people that seemed to snap out of their trance at that point were my three friends. With that. "Anyways. I blinked. I'm sure they thought that the DJ had put the wrong song on. I looked across the table and saw Tom's jaw was resting on the table. Finally. I could still feel Steve all around me.

This woman could sing. but I ain't never met a white boy with the jewels to even think about singing no Beyoncé. I wouldn't have normally let something like this go. firmly placing both hands on Noah's shoulders and giving him a gentle shake. I couldn't seem to find my voice." "Sugar. that's sweet of you. let alone some little white boy. Tom got up and walked up to the DJ. Noah looked around the room as I was doing this. and I quickly rose to my feet to embrace her. Hell. What in . but we both know it's a load of hooey. clearly old friends." I said. but for the moment I wanted to focus on just being close to Noah. but we've gotten really close already. Suze. I figured that out the minute this here boy opened his sweet little mouth. Now get on up here and gimme a right proper hug. Besides. "It's nice to meet you. He kept his hands around her ample waist as he said. I'll explain later. where she embraced the two of us with a squeal that only petite women seem capable of making. and nodded. this is my friend Scott. sweetie. "The pleasure’s all mine. We rested our hands gently on the table as a scooted my chair a little closer to him. How am I supposed to perform my best if my big competition don' even show up?" Suze allowed Noah to stand up and they hugged. "Well. I can't greet someone properly if I don't got two arms wrapped around me. I've never met anyone else that was quite like Suze. and our fingers intertwined. "Well. "It's nothing to worry about right now. The DJ called Suze up. he pulled me gently back against him. and held her arms out wide. When she had returned to her seat. expecting an embrace. Where you been hiding this cute thing at?" I squirmed a little in my seat as this woman I never met before sang my praises. shaking me out of my embarrassment. I've finally picked out a song." With that. ’Sides. He's gone through hell and back this past year. Sarah jumped up and ran over to our side of the table. and I felt his body tense a little. Suze." With that she ceremoniously turned to me. Janis wouldn't even be competition to you!" "Sug." There was nothing but affection in her voice." she said. She walked right up behind Noah and me. Now if you'll excuse me. and had just opened my mouth to say something when Noah jumped in." With that."Are you happy?" Tom asked me. I'd really expected him to be angry at me for showing any signs of affection towards another person. I leaned gently into Noah. "Sorry. being pulled into her larger-than-life personality that exuded well past her ample frame. I turned a little to face her better. I looked up at him. but I couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. "What is it?" I asked. and I thought tonight might be a way to let out some of the pain he's been holding in. but to this day. and she gave an amazing rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee" that gave Janis Joplin a run for her money. And Lord help me. "Suze. "Where have you been? I ain't seen you in here for two whole weeks. I ain't never seen no one kill the room like that. In my life I'd met many interesting people. "Sugar. I'm no completion for you. addressing Noah. that's good enough for me. I quickly sat up and tried to see whatever he had noticed. Noah gently took my hand in his. I just haven't had a song to sing. By this point a few people had been brave enough to go up and perform again. I just met him two weeks ago. Sweetie. I just stared at her blankly for a minute. After she had finished she made her way over to our table. Though I got half a mind to whoop your cute tush 'til it burns red for upstaging me. I finally met real competition tonight. I'm waitin’.

God. They look like they're getting lonely without you. Both of you. and wrapped my arm around his strong shoulders." Realizing that she. I didn't have time to really process it. Sweetie. What you did up there was inspiring. If Chris were still alive. but lemme put it to you like this. I didn't know exactly what she meant by that statement. too. but believe you me. and he wrapped an arm around me. I would'a never found my Solice. . though. I turned my body a little so that I could lean my back up against his chest. with our backs to the table." Both Noah and I blushed. Her face was gleaming with amusement. I could hear Suze call out. before Tom jumped up and chased her down. Not much can happen that'll hurt worse than that. but I do. Suze. but trust when I say you put everyone in this little shop to shame. You were the song. it does. I know that I'm not even in the same league as anyone here normally. Trust. I know part of you don't like the thought of finding a new man. but I ain't never met a white boy with the jewels to even think about singing no Beyoncé." she said. "You may not be Beyoncé. but she hadn't spent this amount of time chatting with any of the other patrons in the shop. It hurt. I'm sure your Steve is sitting up there right next to my Chris. After a moment. What in God’s name you thinking. I also realized that for her. While I couldn't hear what Tom asked. Suze! I'm so sorry about your husband! How lo…" "Don't you go and worry yourself about it. Not that she was aloof. before he walked up to the front of the stage and picked up the microphone. Or happier for you. I didn't get the chance to figure out what he was up to before Tom was called up for his chance to perform. Honey? You're plums must be as big as your friend's if you're serious!" They spoke a little longer before Tom hurried back to the table. as much as I wish he were. I guessed it largely had to do with how methodically he had picked out the song he was singing. As far as she was concerned. I know you don't like hearing that from no one. now." I said. But everything happens for a reason. and I watched as he quickly rushed up to the stage. terms of endearment were more than that. I'll let y'all get back to your friends. Sarah. "Thank you. had lost her husband. but I really don't know what possessed me to choose that song. Noah and I were standing next to each other. Your husband is watching you. I was surprised that Tom didn't seem that nervous about singing. but sometimes a woman's gotta give some sage advice when she sees it needs giving. I know that Chris would never want me to be sad for one and I know in my heart of hearts that he's ne’er been more proud of you. we broke the hug. boy?" I could tell from her tone that her scolding was just a part of who she was. holding me tight. my free hand shot up to cover my mouth. and they're having a right good time enjoying the show we been giving them tonight. Sweetie. Chris got himself killed in a car accident eight years ago. pointing to her lover across the coffee shop. Noah and I returned to our seats. She was clearly the queen of karaoke here. It's not like my…" Suze cut me off using her hand to close my mouth. "Oh. or possibly whatever he had planned with Suze. but I'm sure they can figure out ways to keep themselves busy!" With that. she let out a loud cackle and gave us each another hug before continuing to wander through the small coffee shop and talk to the other attendees. 'Tweren't no song you were singing. "I'm sorry for getting heavy on y'all like that. as he put his arm around my waist. "Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me. I leaned into him. as I felt a tear run down my face. He spoke to the DJ briefly. "Oh. "You sure. and I was being inducted as one of her princes. and I know Steve would want the same for you. Noah. and I just can't imagine what my life would be without that woman. they were our names. and yet I chose a song that there's no way I could pull off.

Suze walked up to the DJ and got a second microphone as the music began. The only problem was that he didn't really remember the song well. When they finished singing. congratulating him on a job well done. "So." Sarah cut in before I had the chance to even think of a response to Tom. by the way. had I known about the closeness between you too. good job. I figured that I had to be thinking of a different song when I immediately recognized "Without You" from RENT as the music began to waft throughout the narrow space. First off. it definitely is now. and our relationship had become really strained. I would be singing this song for Steve." Tom chuckled at the way that I threw in my reaction to his performance as an afterthought. how long have you and Sarah been together? I feel stupid asking this since we live in the same house. I suddenly realized that Tom was looking at me expectedly. There is no reason that I should have a problem with you guys seeing each other. we've been taking it very slowly. It seems silly in hindsight. but as far as a relationship goes. Even if that weren't the case then. but confusion over the song choice was apparent throughout the crowd. you were planning on coming back. I've been so stuck in my head that I've been having a hard time considering the feelings of anyone else. but I figured that there was no point in contacting you for something so trivial. nor did he remember who sang what part. Suze had actually been the one who explained to him that he was going to be singing the part of Mimi while she sang the part of Roger. "Scott. Oh yeah. and she told me about the problems she was having with Chris. um. "We started talking a little more than a month before you came back. or even if. I told her all about the issues I was having getting over losing Steve. I know you wouldn't have minded either way." Without any fanfare or airs of grandeur. "You know we've been sharing a bed and all that. we started to talk a lot. I'd like to ask Suze join me on stage to help me. but I knew you were trying to distance yourself from Steve's death. and Sarah gave him a big hug. you two are probably sick of trying to hide everything from me. the music began. He had become an obnoxious. Anyway. "I really wish that I had known what was going on between the two of you. as I was the only one of us that hadn't commented on his performance. Tom explained to me later that he vaguely remembered the song from when Steve would play the album from RENT at home during breaks while we were in college. I was initially calling Tom just to find out if he had any idea when. that I wouldn't have a problem with it. She originally called me and asked if I thought you'd have a problem with her tidying up inside your place. even though I never told Tom this. jealous brat. but Tom was almost the catalyst. Secondly. the audience gave them an enthusiastic round of applause. "Besides. Tom gave Suze a hug and began to walk in our direction. I decided to ask about tidying up inside. I'd like to think that even then. Noah patted him on the back. When Tom returned to the table. We've kissed a few times. I jumped immediately to the million-dollar question. which it was. my growing attraction to him was a large reason why I actually filed for divorce. but we wanted to make sure that you were okay with us exploring our relationship before we got too serious. Instead of complementing him on a job well done. and knew that it was the perfect choice. but I was proven wrong when Tom began to sing. "Anyway." "Wow. "Actually. It wouldn't have taken much to end the marriage anyways. because without her." I said when Sarah had finished her explanation. and my response was to become a cold and passive-aggressive bitch. guys. When he said you didn't know. but I think it was largely a ploy for me to stay on the phone with Tom a little longer. I noticed that Sarah blushed when Tom dedicated the song to her. I didn't say anything at first because I was torn between questioning the choice of song or making him aware that I had finally realized what had kindled between Sarah and Tom. I never felt this way about Chris. I would have called you."I'd just like to say two things really quickly. Why don't you two go ahead and . I'd like to dedicate this song to Sarah. but before I could question her about it. and all of the painful memories you were trying to deal with.

Noah and I stayed for a little while longer. he ran out of the shop. We didn't talk about anything deep. you two are probably sick of trying to hide everything from me. He knew that I was still coping with my loss of Steve and that he'd always hold an untouchable place in my heart. Sugar. as we really were just getting to know each other. I wanted to kiss Noah. if we had gotten together. Sweetie. but I just wanted you to know. But you should have said something." "It wouldn't have mattered if I said anything anyways. To me. I will let lose a pack of dogs in this town if need be to track your scrawny behind back down here. I promise we'll be back again soon. "That's perfectly fine with me. "I screwed things up just now. Or Sarah. we walked in a comfortable silence for a while before Noah spoke up again. and she quickly crossed the space to our table." "I'm glad you told me. I learned that he played football in high school. and I'm still so damn pissed that he put moves on you like he did." When we eventually returned back to his car. it's just not healthy. he put his hand up to my cheek. So far. I don't know if he'll say anything to you or anything. not that I really blamed him. he'd have to accept that as well. but to be honest. I thought to myself that she didn't need my help to bring out her inner diva. but I want to get the chance to spend some time getting to know Noah. Suze noticed when we both stood up. Why don't you two go ahead and head out. I don't know if he saw me looking or not. "I'm sorry Scott. Noah treated me talking about Steve in the same way that I treated him talking about his life. "I declare that boys do NOT have the stamina they used to back in the day!" "Sorry. You best be here every chance you get. I think he saw you holding my hand and leaning against me. I knew that you would be uncomfortable. I don't really care. didn't I?" He continued before I had a chance to say anything. He looked me straight in the eyes as he slowly drew closer." With that. Steve was a part of me. she gave us one last hug and waltzed back through the crowded room. because just after I noticed him. I could tell immediately that he was hurt. Now you two: scram!" he said with a laugh. Noah and I walked around the block for nearly an hour talking. it seemed he did. you boys cutting out early?" she said with a grin as she pulled us in one at a time for a hug. That's too one-sided and not something that I'd ever want. just listening to other singers and enjoying each other's presence before we decided to walk around for a bit and talk. I told him the story of how Steve and I met. I'm not quite ready to leave yet. Suze. He never seemed awkward or jealous when I talked about Steve. His eyes were ablaze with the fiery twinkle that made me weak. In exchange. Will was standing in the entrance to the coffee shop." "You better believe you will. She did that perfectly all on her own. but he was clearly crying. and if Noah wanted to be a part of my life. "Sweetie. I pulled back just before his lips met mine. because I love me a good competition! Brings out the diva in me. Besides. After I finished. but it just didn't quite feel right." Noah said. "I should tell what caused me to tense up in there. with a little bit of a grin. I told him many times that I couldn't see him like that. As you were leaning into me. holding hands the entire time. Tom grabbed Sarah's hand. Is that okay with you?" I turned to Noah to ask. I'd love to stay. For example. I swear that I told him not to come. and dagnabbit if that boy can't sing! But he ain't got nothing on you. I'm lucky if I get my Sugar in here once a month. . but I'm sure that Noah will drive me home. what kind of relationship could we have? He was always there taking care of me. and they wasted no time leaving the coffee shop for Tom's car. I was looking around. Maybe you or I could have talked to him."Anyway. wiping a tear from his eye. She's good at that sort of thing. He said he'd considered playing in college but didn't go into detail as to why he didn't. and I think that would always have been the dynamics in a relationship between us.

I think. but I really want to make sure that you are okay with it." He just gave me a smile and a shrug to indicate that he understood. Noah. With my voice catching in my throat." With that. I know I shouldn't have been surprised. I let go of Noah's hand and walked up to Steve's headstone. Steve. "No. but he's still my best friend. I didn't realize how creepy going to the cemetery would be at night. but if it would make you feel more comfortable. still worried that he had pushed too far.Introductions "So I wasn't too forward trying to kiss you?" Noah asked hopefully. So please. I'd only visited during the day. and I just can't start doing it now. I want to kiss you. but it doesn't sound stupid at all. I know it must sound stupid. I really want you to be as clear . Just tell me where to go. at least let me take you home. gently placing my hand on it. I'd really like the chance to find out." "No. and I'm pretty sure that he feels the same. But first. I don't know yet where this relationship is going.He continued before I had a chance to say anything. I want to give you a goodnight kiss. but I'll do my best to keep you safe." He smiled. This is Noah." I told Noah. but wouldn't it be better to go during the daytime?" I had expected Noah to be bothered by the idea of being taken to a cemetery to visit my dead husband. there's someone I really want you to meet. As we pulled up in front of the main gate." he said wrapping his arms around me." A quick glance over to Noah made me realize that I had just revealed to him that he had largely been the inspiration for the rapid changes that he had noticed on Monday. Fuck! Anyways. we can come back when we don't feel like we're vampire slayers or something. part of me wishes we'd brought along some wooden stakes. I know that I like Noah. Granted." Noah said with a laugh. I just need you to meet someone. getting out of the car. "I'll be honest. that's not it at all. I could feel my voice beginning to waver and my eyes were growing moist. "I'll admit it's a little weird. "Like I said. I wouldn't feel right kissing you before I introduced you to him. "Sorry. I never kept anything from him in all our years together. Chapter 13 . "My hero. if it's alright with you. I know you've sent me signs in the past. no matter what. "Steve. I was surprised by how different it looked at night. I know I talked about him the last two times I've been here. we walked into the cemetery and up the hill to Steve's grave. I responded by giving him a playful shove. He will always be one of the most important people in your life. and then he helped me into the car. making a move when you're clearly not ready for it yet." "Noah." I said with a little smile. "I really want to go tonight." As I was talking. but I hadn't thought about it. Besides. "I can't wait to meet Steve. I really want to do this now." 13. I need you to meet someone. I don't know if I could bear the thought of doing something you didn't want me to do. With that said. "Anyways. but I never said his name. "I understand. if you want to do this tonight we should. "Sorry. looked at Noah. but he didn't seem to be. and whispered. and I wouldn't feel right until I tell him about you. "I guess I'm not any better than Will. I paused. I said." Holding hands. Up to this point. But only if I know that it's alright with you. Definitely not.

he burst out laughing. or something. Each previous time. if for no other reason than it's exactly the type of thing that I would have expected him to tell Noah. and looked scared. I was instantly worried. I walked over to the wrought-iron fence that separated the cemetery from the street and slumped against the brick retaining wall. and accepts that as part of me. You haven't laughed like that in over a year. but I'd just feel better returning it to you. I know that I could just put in a drawer or something. So please. I was a little worried. I didn't expect him to come to me. When I saw him. I think you'll understand though." As he explained. but not this time. babe. I have deep feelings for him. I bent down and kissed the headstone. Noah noticed the mix of confusions on my face. I'm okay. After a few panic-filled moments I turned around in confusion to look at Noah. I kissed it before placing it gently on Steve's headstone. I heard a sexy voice in my ear. though. but the mental image was just too much for me. I knew that it had to be Steve. "Sorry. Just after you said you wanted Steve to give you a sign. Suddenly." . it was my turn to hear his voice." I blushed when Steve told me that. Anyways. and I knew that Steve was giving me his approval of what I had just done. I then kissed my hand. I really want you to be as clear as possible this time." "Anything. 'If you ever hurt Scott. But I can really see things with Noah becoming serious. let me explain.' I really didn't mean to laugh like that. I'll come back as a zombie and fuck your shit up. "You know that I love you. "Sorry. When I returned to Steve's grave. even though I've only known him for a short time. He had turned extremely pale. and while I believed you when you said he's spoken to you. I stood and slowly walked down the path back to the main entrance. and always will. "Actually. "I have missed that beautiful sound so much. I knew it had to be him. I'll be waiting by the gate. It was one of those deep." Noah rubbed my back before turning and walking towards the entrance to wait for me. I could feel the misery growing in me. "I think I was on an adrenaline rush or something. just makes me feel even more hopeful. instead of going directly to Noah." Nothing happened. I slipped my wedding band off of my finger. and placed it on the ground. he told me that it was nice to meet me. however. I couldn't help but burst out laughing as well. and slightly irritated. We didn't get far before I stopped Noah and extracted my hand. once again holding hands. I was surprised by how enthusiastic it was. The fact that he knows all about you and me. "Please don't hate me for what I'm about to do. He was immediately by my side asking if I was ok. After a moment. I didn't know what had caused his outburst. Then he told me. I'm just a little overwhelmed. hearty laughs that seemed to come from the very core of my being. and I couldn't figure out how I had been wrong." With that. When I returned to the sidewalk. but I couldn't help but feel like it was inappropriate. Other than that. I thought I had read the signs from Steve so clearly. can you give me a few moments alone with Steve? There's one last thing I have to tell him. and I hope that this guy is the one who will be able to keep making you do that for a long time to come.bear the thought of doing something you didn't want me to do. and it's over now. and that he'd heard nice things from you. I said. It just doesn't feel right entering into a new relationship wearing my wedding ring. very confused. It was very disconcerting. and wiped a tear from my face. about where I expected Steve's lips to be. Noah and I stood there for a few more minutes in silence before starting to walk back towards the entrance of the cemetery." I felt a gentle breeze break through the still night." I told him. there had always been a change in the air.

Other than that." "Scott. I was resting my head on his chest. he continued. if that's alright." There was no possibility that I would misinterpret his comment. but he felt familiar. I turned to him. The electric charge from his lips set off fireworks throughout my body until it felt like the energy was exploding out my pores. grabbing me by my shoulders and twisting my body so that we were facing each other. After brushing my teeth I stripped off my clothes. "Is that something that you'd like?" "I don't really know. The kiss briefly became more passionate before we broke it off. though. – – – * * * – – – I knew something was wrong when I jerked awake. Besides. and perfect. thinking that it was about time that Tom was happy. – – – * * * – – – As Noah's car pulled up in front of my house. My eyes snapped open. Considering all the history in this place. I never want you to regret a single moment with me. I think I'll wait to see you naked until after you get rid of your flab. As our relationship grows. if that's fine with you. I was no longer completely on my side of the bed. and climbed naked into my side of the bed. "was completely unexpected. This. As I walked down the hallway toward my bedroom." With that. hold it right there.over now. "to…um…spend the night?" Noah looked amused. I'm okay. so I almost feel like I owe you. This time I didn't hesitate. because the next thing I knew. and chuckled. and I must have dozed off. he was waking me up." "I'll just rest here. and only because you really needed a chance to get things off of your chest. . As we broke apart. I don't want to do anything that isn't something you want to do. before pulling him back in for another kiss. That night is not tonight. Almost. and we slowly walked to the car. "So. With one last quick peck on the lips. I'm a little surprised that I've never been here before. Noah once again put his hand on my cheek. "You don't owe me a damn thing." he grabbed my hand and intertwined our fingers. I had an amazing time tonight. I could help but smile. you will want me to spend the night. I think I was asleep before my eyes even closed. I could feel my cheeks burning in the darkness of the car. I just chuckled and playfully punched him in the arm. I was so wrapped-up in all the emotions rippling throughout my body that I almost didn't notice the noises coming from the other side of Sarah's bedroom. His body was radiating warmth. I was not prepared for what I saw. You having a good time would have been all the repayment I need. or do you want me to help you to the car? I'm feeling really energized and think I'm going to walk back through the cemetery a little bit and look around. my lips bridged the gap between us. as the big goofy grin on his face was broadcast through his voice. Instead I had curled against whoever was sleeping in the bed with me. stroking it gently. and I could feel his heart beating inside his chest." Noah walked away. I don't want to stay too much longer. "One day. um…I guess…would you like…" I gulped trying to get it the question out. Steve was in bed with me. I think a part of me wants that. I told him goodnight." Noah said. and my right arm was wrapped around his shoulder. and made my way to the front door." "Do you want to just rest here for a minute. "Besides. Before he had even started to lean in. When we got there. He was resting his hand on my back. He helped me back onto my feet. I had no idea who it was that I was laying with. We went out tonight as friends. Noah pulled me in for our second kiss.

What?" Steve ran his hand through my hair. you're awake baby. "You know the answer to that. and it was all in my head after all. All I wanted was to make it easier for you. . because I knew how badly they would hurt you." "But…I….. That's largely because you aren't allowed to use all your senses. Your mind focuses on all the dark places in the world. Don't forget me. It's not fair to you. "You're right. and I'm glad you're happy. or watching over you. I tossed back the sheets and examined my body closely. So much had changed in the past twenty-four hours. but I didn't have a choice. Maybe it never really looked as bad as I was imagining. but I only had enough strength left for one word. feeling tears leaking from my eyes. I could barely contain my excitement as I showered and dressed. I'm sorry. I loved the way that sounded. I didn't want to disturb you until you were ready. this is how I would always appear to you. Don't blame yourself. Don't do that. but isn't it much less disconcerting to be able to see me. – – – * * * – – – I woke up just as I'd fallen asleep originally. with one quite noticeable exception. I'll never stop loving you. But what does that mean?" He just lay there. Don't stop loving yourself. and I was surprised by how good it looked. The entire time I was slowly playing with myself. Sleep quickly overtook me again." Steve said with a smile. I hated our meetings before. "Anyway. even if you didn't realize. I've always been looking out for your best interests. I hoped you would be able to figure it out on your own easily enough. and it's not fair to him. All you're left with are haunted memories. but this is where we have to say goodbye. isn't it? To say good. I wasn't allowed to explain it to you explicitly until you finally managed to figure the basics on your own. I lay in bed for a while. enjoying the feelings of pleasure that I had been denying myself for so long. How could that help to alleviate my pain?" "Because I knew how your mind works." "So are you saying that you're really here?" I asked hopefully. babe. but I can no longer come to you like I have in the past. I've rambled long enough. "It was never supposed to cause you any pain. My Noah. With dry-eyes. I kissed my husband one last time. Don't stop loving me.." "But you said 'don't'. If I had my way. Though it wasn't quite as good as it was before Steve died. as I curled up with my first love just one last time. my body was starting to show signs of looking better. love. before laying my head back down on his chest. and I was eager to make my way to the gym so that I could see Noah again." My voice trailed off before I could finish. "Noah seems like a good guy. A large tent had formed in the sheet. Eventually it was time to get up and get ready. lost in thought. "It's time. "You mean that you're going to explain what you meant?" "Of course. to feel me?" He squeezed me slightly for emphasis. Don't be miserable. but I couldn't think of a better word at the moment. rubbing my back while I gathered my thoughts. Do you know why I'm here?" I slowly nodded my head against his chest. "Trust me. Suddenly I knew what he was referring to. Steve was silent for a moment before laughing. "I wanted to tell you all of this. Don't miss out on love. even though I already knew the answer. I knew he was right."Good. "I promise that you won't be left feeling as empty from this rendezvous. As selfish as I wish I could've been. Don't shut down. Don't shut people out." I just smiled.

and I would have at least expected him to remind me that he wasn't going to be available. My Noah. It didn't explain why he wasn't answering his phone." He looked at me for a moment as if appraising me. "Will. Every time I had talked with Will recently. I thought we were. At least I managed to wait another thirty minutes before trying his phone again. and fast. anyways?" I couldn't help but gasp as he said that. My inability to think clearly and rationally under stress was once again coming through. I then thought that maybe he'd forgotten about meeting me somehow. I'll be honest. I figured that I could sit in the window and stew for a while in case Noah decided to show up. "You mean. I double-checked the time on my phone. I had no idea what Will was talking about. but he'd always been friendly and easy-going. and I wanted an answer. I couldn't believe that I had forgotten. he seemed more and more bitter and angry. I waited outside for another fifteen minutes or so before I tried his phone again. I didn't really know how to respond to him. "Did he tell you why he's not around on weekends? He didn't tell you about the guy he goes to see every week. I loved the way that sounded. I really don't know what's going on. but it went straight to his voicemail. "You do know that he goes out of town every week right?" Will asked with a sneer. and I was a little early. is everything okay? You don't look like yourself today. Will had to know what was going on with him. and I began to get more and more concerned that something terrible had happened to Noah. but I was beginning to get concerned. this time leaving a message for him. 'Oh shit!' I thought to myself. "Well. but right now he seemed to be extremely happy. As I walked in. it was time to go. and I was only a few minutes earlier than normal. Will had seemed a little off from his usual self the last few times I saw him. so I startled him when I touched his shoulder gently. He had always arrived before me in the past though. I wasn't actually expecting to find him. and part of me was hoping that he was just running really late and had forgotten to charge his phone. I was too upset to go home. Today he was abrasive and rude. As well as all the area hospitals. but began to glimmer. As Noah's best friend. he didn't tell you? This is just too perfect!" "What do you mean? Tell me what?" I was incensed." Will perked up upon hearing this. I went inside and wandered around the gym for ten minutes. did he?" I couldn't have formed a coherent thought at that moment if I tried. I felt betrayed. His eyes grew cold. I immediately noticed a very morose looking Will. This was a side of Will that I had never seen. but it certainly felt like an eternity. and he's not answering my phone calls. and I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. so I decided to go with the truth. – – – * * * – – – I was surprised when I got there that he wasn't there yet. After about ten minutes he still hadn't shown up. I ended up going to the coffee shop to get a that I could see Noah again. Finally. All I could process were the words 'Noah' and 'guy'. and a smirk spread throughout his face as he let out a laugh. "Why do you care? Aren't you with Noah now. . I tried his cell phone. and it just made me feel uncomfortable. It wasn't that I had to wait long before it was time to leave. He didn't notice me walk in. but he didn't show up for our standing gym date. so I raced to my car and was on my way.

I think they were worried about how badly I had slipped backwards. Don't let your anger get in the way and ruin something that could be great. Before Will even realized what had happened. Tom and Sarah tried their best to console me. and he wiggled his eyebrows provocatively as he said. due to my burgeoning feelings for Noah. even hearing his voice prerecorded hurt me deeper than I would have expected. Ask him where he was. Friday night and Saturday night. Scott. So pay attention to what he has to say. I rubbed my eyes. "Look. You were the only one I ever wanted to be around. and I couldn't believe how much it hurt. Tom and Sarah insisted that I join them in bed. the situation really was that dire. even if they never said anything about it. before you came around. I hung up." 14. Even through my bleary vision. but this was not the Will that I had thought I had known so well. I woke up early and was deep in thought. "Whoa! That's not what I mean at all! What I was going to say was that I think you should meet up with him today. I'm not sure that Will was entirely honest with you. something on the side. despite the protestations by Tom and Sarah. but I was never seeing anyone else the entire time I was spending time with you. but the phone always went straight to voicemail. at least in part. "That's the important part. "I may have fucked up and misread the signals you were sending me.and 'guy'. my voice quickly beginning to rise in anger. "Considering that you only do things like this when they're important. I'll still be here to satisfy your needs. but I could barely force myself to function at all the entire weekend. Just listen to him. It always looked so easy in movies. Tom quickly threw up in arms. I was already out of the coffee shop and heading back to my car. his Zachey was just about all Noah was able to talk about. Every aspect of how you described the encounter just screams manipulation. I could see the concern etched in his face. "I see he never told you. I pulled back and punched him as hard as I could. I'll hesitantly forgive you in advance. but you can at least judge his reaction to your questions and be able to ferret out the truth. Neither you nor I have witnessed or heard of any reason why Noah has not been completely forthcoming. I knew that I needed to work through things on my own. With that said. Chapter 14 . I was a wreck by the time I got home. I tried calling Noah a few times over the course of the weekend. and forced myself to sit up in the bed. I don't know what had happened to cause such a dramatic change in Will. Because there was no way that my razor-sharp wit had fallen flat. I wouldn't suggest that you pry. especially now that their relationship was out in the open. "In fact. if you ever get lonely. I'm sure that they were getting frustrated by my lingering presence in their personal bubble. I could only assume that whatever was going on. I call dibs on seconds for kicking his rear. even if it didn't feel quite as warm and comforting as it did before we said our goodbyes. I just think…" "Don't tell me that you think I should go play kissy-face with Noah and pretend nothing ever happened!" I said. with only a hint of a half-smile. He must want to keep Zach a secret. Besides. This whole thing with Noah and Zach just seems fishy to me." A particularly evil look flashed through Will's eyes. I awoke to a light knocking on my door." he started. I did sleep on Steve's side. When he didn't respond in kind. if Will's accusation was accurate. considering everything I had through over the past few weeks was. tears streaming down my face. When his message came on. I hadn't even quite become alert enough to answer the door when Tom poked his head in. I felt betrayed. In fact.Confrontations Without even thinking about what I was doing." I replied.. I slept in my own bed Sunday night. "Sorry for waking you. I'd never done that before. and I could still feel his presence." . You know. since you guys are really just starting down a path together.

And I've really screwed this whole thing up... so you're just gonna brush me aside. If I was going to be ending my first relationship post-Steve only a few days after it began. he at least has been honest and forthcoming. I opened myself up to someone for the first time since my husband died. "Yeah. look: this is all one big misunderstanding." . His eyes sparkled. I decided that it couldn't hurt to listen to what he had to say and decide from there if his explanation was believable or not. and then you can decide if you still want anything to do with me. shaved." I immediately knew that my wit had returned when Tom cracked a smile.h. I parked and walked to the gym. I took a deep breath before saying. "H. Maybe working out isn't such a good idea after all today. Just let me explain." "Oh I see how it is. I'm not sure if he noticed or not. You know. but I really thought you knew me better than that!" "Then who the fuck is Zach?" Noah immediately went pale and froze with a look of shock like he'd just been slapped. "No. but I hope to God you do. Still.. I miss that. I was going to do it in style." "Thanks. and on that note.. I meant that we should get some coffee so I can talk to you and explain some things I should have told you before I even kissed you. and you're just looking for a new addition to your harem! I've had about all I can take of this shit. and I felt my knees go weak for a moment before I forced my eyes away. and for a second our eyes met. Sarah stopped me on the way out the door to give me a hug. I saw Noah as I approached. Tom. but I didn't care. Noah grabbed my arm. I'm out of do you know about Zach?" "That's completely irrelevant. I did care about the look of confusion and hurt on Noah's face as I went off. I wasn't going to be in it at all. "Where the FUCK where you this weekend?! I thought you cared about me. Anger began to course through me. I guess it's only fair to hear what you have to say. and I quickly showered. in her words. and dressed to kill. it's been a while since you've given me really good brotherly advice. That wasn't fair to you. Noah had just raised his arm to embrace me when I shouted. I don't share. despite every effort to not. I found myself losing my cool. Now what time is it?" I quickly glanced at the clock. but I was too riled up to stop. but he spun me back around to face him. – – – * * * – – – As had become the norm. styled my hair. but I am not generally a jealous person. and despite the fact that I spent the entire drive repeating Tom's words over and over again. I may jump to conclusions and manage my emotions poorly. but what the fuck are you talking about? It's not like we've even had sex or anything! I know we've only known each other for a few dibs on seconds for kicking his rear. That really means a lot. and wish me luck "confronting the two-timing bastard". I tried to shrug him off." As I turned to leave. because I was purposely avoiding looking at his face and his hypnotic gaze. If I wasn't enough to be the only man in Noah's life." I took a breath and felt the anger dissipate as Tom's words entered my mind again. but despite how screwed up Will has been acting. but what am I? Just another notch on your fucking bedpost?" I knew I was making a scene. How could you start a relationship with me while you were seeing some other guy? Did you really think that I'd date someone who was seeing other people?" "Scott. Tom left. "I don't know what you're so upset about! I'm sorry I didn't return your calls. I was out the door on my way to do just that. I won't go along quietly with your little game. "Shit! I gotta hurry and get ready if I'm going to be ready for a throw-down in the gym.

and she acted like I was breaking up with her. "In hindsight. The beer tasted funny. let me start from the beginning. I didn't see her for nearly a year. I noticed that he was trying to hold back a grin at this point. But then she showed up at my apartment with a lawyer. "Anyway. Zach. but I could tell not as friendly as she'd like. I know you deserved to know all this before we started seeing each other. so I didn't really think much of it. She was all over me. I grabbed his hand in mine. and I had already had a couple. I'm not even sure if she was a student or not. but I was unable to make sense of them. We were somewhat friendly. but I was too worried about what you'd think or say." "She wanted a relationship with you?" "Yeah. and I realized that I was being incredibly dense and acting like a broken record. just about any way would have been better than this. I saw Will sitting by the door. and she offered to refill my cup. It's a lot to take in. I understand. I didn't even know how to start. "This is Zach. because I wanted you to be able to control where the conversation went." He chuckled slightly. I didn't tell you because I was afraid it would scare you away. but the whole 'being gay' thing kinda precluded the idea of dating a girl in my mind. . but I just couldn't figure out the best way to bring it up. and the next thing I remember is waking up naked in bed with her. As we got closer. Scott.We walked next door to the coffee shop." Noah responded." "So…. "I told Willow off. and I was completely disgusted with myself. but she was a lot of the same parties I was. I guess that's part of the reason I didn't tell you about Steve at first. I don't remember much more of that night. if you get my drift.Zach…is…your son?" "Yeah. that's what I've been saying. He's my son. but I'm pretty sure she slipped something in my drink." I heard the words he said. I knew this girl named Willow. When I was still in school. Honestly. He looked shocked when he noticed the two of us walking in together. "No. He's four. "Wait…what?" "I have a son. I'm not really sure where to start. One party. he slid a photo of a young boy across the table to me. Apparently more came out of that night than me losing my virginity to a woman. We got our coffees with no words passing between us before choosing a quiet table in the back of the shop. I didn't tell you." I was so enthralled with the story that I didn't notice Noah get out his wallet or pull something out of it. I should have told you about him from the beginning. and I'm very sorry that I never did. I should have told you. As I walked in." I couldn't stop myself at this point. "I'm sorry. but she warned me that she thought the keg might have gone skunky or something. "Zach isn't my boyfriend. but he no doubt could feel the tension radiating between Noah and myself." Noah held up a small piece of paper." With that. "Why didn't you tell me that you had a son?" "At first. I wasn't even sure he'd even said something in English. We were silent for a few minutes before he cleared his throat. we were talking. "I can't prove it.

I couldn't prove anything enough to keep her from getting custody. Don't be ashamed about your relationship with Steve. he probably should have told me about Zach. I mean. "It's like I don't even know Will anymore. "Is meeting him something you actually want?" Noah asked. Noah and I watched as Will dashed out the door. but maybe just the idea that if he can't have me then no one can…I guess…" I said." We sat in silent for a few minutes while I digested everything that Noah had just told me. This might not have been the best way of you to find out about Zach. and he fought dirty. but I can promise to always be understanding. He saw an opportunity to possible break us up easily. It almost felt like I was being unfaithful to Noah. I'm not going to stop seeing him as much as I can. So that's where you go every weekend? Why didn't you at least return my calls when you heard my messages?" "Yeah. neither did Will. Maybe it was just the fact that I'm gay. and I know how hard I avoided the subject of my husband while we were getting to know each other better." Noah said angrily. I can't say that I would have done anything differently. and those plans. . I only get to see him Friday. and I didn't think about telling you. "Anyway. You two made all sorts of plans together. but since I was going to be seeing you soon. I love kids. If that's not too soon. but at least it's in the open now. Sure. Me and Steve." I quickly reached across the table and grabbed his hand again. I quickly knew exactly what I needed to know. though. that is. I know he had feelings for you." "That sounds great! He won't have a problem with me?" "He won't. It wasn't his place to tell you about my boy. It's something I do every time I go. "We had always planned on having kids one day. and even then it's only supervised visitation. "It's part of being in a relationship. "I'd be more than happy for you to. "I'm beginning to think that he's not nearly as over me as he claimed to be. if you want. I'm not sure why he'd think that would improve his chances. I'd understand. If I had been in his place. but I just don't understand why he's doing this. and completely forgot about it. I don't know how she managed to con the judge during the custody hearings. you can come with me this weekend to meet him. It was hard to bring up future plans that Steve and I had made to Noah. Willow probably will. and to say it ended unexpectedly would be a massive understatement. a commotion from the other side of the coffee shop distracted us. Not that Willow usually pays any attention when I'm around. I also figured I'd come clean about him today. and I keep thinking that maybe she's hurting Zach. I can't promise to never be even the slightest bit hurt by them. I got stuck with supervised visitation. Besides. After fighting for anything for so long. and despite the efforts by my lawyers. I forgot to turn it back on until this morning." I diverted my eyes and lowered my head a little. Maybe even jealous of you. He's important to you. I turned my phone off so I wouldn't be disturbed. but Will deliberately misconstrued the information and led me to believe that something far more nefarious was underfoot. I still hadn't figured out how. but only if it's what YOU want. but if you want to stay out of that part. For that matter. I felt Noah's fingertips on my chin as he gently lifted my head. I should warn you: she is completely unfit. wiping tears from his eyes." I felt a brief wave of sadness wash over me.either. from time to time. trailing off a little at the end. "Can I meet him?" Before Noah could even respond. His story made perfect sense. but he never actually lied about it. After our wonderful night. You were together a long time. "Don't do that. possibly a whore. returning to the subject at hand. it completely slipped my mind to remind you I'd be gone. Saturday. I got your messages. That means he's important to me. and Sunday. It's inevitable that you'll think of him. I figured I could just wait until I saw you to apologize for not telling you I'd be gone. and it certainly wasn't his place to portray him as someone that I was involved with. Guys get really weird when they find out I'm a father. But she's a junkie. I've never seen him act this vindictively or passive-aggressively. Will had stood up so quickly that he'd knocked his chair over.

" Noah and I stayed at the café for several hours just talking and getting to know each other more. huh?!" I said. but I understand. but until. While we were working out. even if the biggest pieces we each carried had already been revealed. My mom's parents disowned her when they found out. Hopefully that doesn't make me sound like a lazy and unmotivated loser!" I chuckled. I rented a studio apartment across town. the conversation was always kept light. Crashed about 20 minutes after takeoff due to improperly maintained equipment. even though I do miss them greatly. we resumed our morning workouts. I haven't heard from them since. You see one one-room living-space. I was very depressed and had more money than I knew what to do with. "Maybe a little. About the only good thing they ever did for me was make sure that I got the wrongful death settlement for both of my parents. "Yes. giving him a playful shove. but I just haven't been. "Someone once asked me how I could stand living off the blood money. Dad surprised her on their anniversary with plane tickets he had been saving up for years to be able to afford. I can't wait to meet him. they disappeared from my life as quickly as they had entered." I leaned across the table and gave Noah a gentle kiss on the lips. Noah revealed a lot of his past to me. I haven't been invited over. and it wasn't long before the school decided that it was probably better if we parted ways. they never showed it. And I'm surprised you actually have a place to live. They were both on Air Italy Flight 115. "Well. I was offered a football scholarship. On Tuesday. I'd never even met them before the plane crash! By the time the check arrived. Those conversations weren't nearly as light. I didn't really want the blood money. so they weren't able to control the funds at all. but since then I've become pretty frugal. I keep waiting for some inspiration to strike and motivate me to take charge again. Talk about cheating! . "No…. I blew a good bit of the money early on. and if they ever regretted the life we had. "It's an efficiency. "I finished high school. and Mom's parents were suddenly very interested in being a part of my life. I do want to be inspired to do something with my life. and the benefit and curse of the money is that I don't really have to. I can keep living off the settlement money. The way I see it. I didn't care about football anymore. Wednesday Night. you dolt. Eventually. After fighting for anything for so long. When I was 17. but I sure as hell wasn't giving a penny to my grandparents. those model rooms in Ikea feel larger than my place!" "Dolt. but I turned it down. but he just nodded his head and wiped his eyes before continuing. why shouldn't I only do things that make me happy? Then I remember that I really do love my job. and as morbid as it is. he continued to unravel his past. "I'm an only child. but you've certainly been around here a good bit!" Now it was Noah's turn to laugh. Hell. got married. and I grew up here in the city. but they made sure that I never lacked anything I needed. We both had baggage that we needed to reveal. I'm just grateful for anything I can get. and worked hard to keep the utilities on and the family fed." A tear slid down his cheek as I recalled reading about a flight to Rome. my mom had dreamed of visiting Rome.visitation. I just haven't figured out what I want to do. and I've been there ever since. "The airline was quickly subject to a class-action lawsuit. but each evening we spent time at my house talking. you've seen them all. He told me all about Zach and warned me again about Willow." We sat there in silence with my arm around his back." was all I could say. and my dad's parents died shortly after I was born. I was already 18. they wanted me to have as much of a life as possible. They loved each other very much. For as long as I can remember. Not that Willow usually pays any attention when I'm around. It's not that I'm still depressed about their deaths. but we'd both realized that our relationship was getting serious fast. He retaliated by unfairly leaning in and kissing me. They dropped out. Once they realized that I wasn't giving them any money. It wasn't a good combination. their deaths gave me the economic freedom to live without any cares. No one survived. Having this insurance money from Steve has left me feeling the same way: I have the money to keep life as normal. and went to college in town. My parents were both in 10th grade when Mom got pregnant.

I know I'm supposed to be feel bad about getting this money from Steve's death.Strained Relations Noah was silent for much of the two-hour drive south. back on point. I lost most of my clients when I was too depressed to function. With an internal chuckle.about cheating! We sat in quiet companionship for a while. I used to make very good money as a web designer. In reality he was much more nervous about me meeting Willow than me meeting Zach. but the screen was still intact. "Anyway. One window on the side was broken. I know what you mean about blood money. The silence was tenser than I would have liked. but it's been slow going. He had invested wisely. He could talk his way out of anything if he had his mind set about it. but there wasn't much that I could do about it either way. but did little to calm my nerves." "Yeah. Thursday. I had been warned about Willow. considering the fact that this was the first time I was going to meet his son. After a few attempts to make anonymous calls. As soon as we started to make solid gains on our investments. he took out a five-million dollar life-insurance policy on each of us. Anyway. our budget barely grew from our college days. I know what you mean. Before we left the car. "Wow. he never lacked for clients. "I know you are a web designer. but I refused to give up his other hand. 15. Willow can somehow anticipate CPS's arrival and cleans up the trailer and puts on a show about how great of a mother she is. Only the most loyal remained. and that's slowly beginning to happen again. Before I knew it. The front end of the trailer seemed lower on one side than the other. but I couldn't tell if that was really the case. it's all been invested well. I amused myself with the notion that at least the bugs couldn't escape the sweltering August heat into the trailer. That's a helluva lot more than I got from the airline! I've been frugal with my money. or if my mind was so overwhelmed that I was actually imagining more damage than was actually there. but she seems to have a sixth-sense when it comes to child services. I always knew that he wanted it to be there to make life just a little bit easier for me to deal with. and we profited greatly from his talents. and so far I've only touched the principal to pay for funeral costs. Chapter 15 . I had been so unsuccessful . Noah came over and cooked dinner for the four of us. but even in my grief. Paint was peeling off its sides. Regarding the insurance. "I don't know how. we pulled up in front of a rundown trailer. Everything else has been from the interest. This reassured me." Noah's eyes bulged when he heard the number. Even when it's for an unannounced visit. Noah reminded me for the umpteenth time that Willow was completely unfit to be in charge of plants." We continued to sit on the couch and chat a little longer that evening. Noah had one hand in a death-grip on the steering wheel. Finally. she actually threatened to sue for me harassment and return to court seeking full custody. let alone a child. it was Friday morning. but I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself. but understandable. I'm not entirely sure how much I believed that. clutching it tenderly. so I'm imagining that he made sure that you would be taken care of if anything were to happen. I don't really have any plans to use much of it. but because I just don't need to. and don't have a lot of things to spend it on. and the time had come to meet Noah's son. I couldn't believe how nervous I was to meet a little kid who didn't know me from Adam! The few times that Noah spoke. He was also paranoid. but what is it Steve did? You mentioned insurance money. "Anyway. Not because of where it came from. let alone tried to climb them. Even when our income grew. A damn good lawyer. before he took the dangling carrot." "Steve was a lawyer. he did assure me that he was no more tense than he would have been had I not been there. As a result. and the wooden steps leading to the door looked they would topple over if you so much as leaned against them. Part of the reason we were able to start saving up so much money is that we were never big spenders. Steve was excellent at managing money and playing the markets. he calmly reassured me that Zach didn't have a hateful bone in his four-year old body.

Noah whispered to me. it was filled with trash. Her skin almost an ashy gray. After taking a deep breath to steel his nerves. Just like the yard. I wish I could be more involved in his life. the bedroom door burst open. Momma's got plans today. and we walked into the cramped room. and out stormed a waif of a woman. Even from a distance. Suddenly. I had been so unsuccessful up to that point in the court system that I just didn't want to fight anymore. no matter what happens. I knew I would need to move ahead with my plan. "Please. and she had primary custody. buddy?! It's Daddy!" Noah called out. Actually. where are you. but I have to abide by the visitation agreement. the room was filled with trash. he knocked on the door. these pictures would be necessary. "You sonovabitch!! Your asshole fag of a father'll be here in a minute!! You better be ready. The few pieces of furniture in the room were almost completely hidden. "Zach! Get your fucking ass out here! I don't have time to deal with your bullshit today. I never would have had anything to do with her if it weren't for Zach. but the humor passed quickly as I remembered that this language was directed at a four-year old. I would have guessed that she was at least 40. I kept taking pictures while trying to keep Noah from noticing. Please just stay strong for me. I surreptitiously slipped my cell phone out of my pocket and began to take pictures of what I was seeing. As we neared the steps. I glanced into the tiny kitchen. and I love him far too much to walk away. A cigarette dangled precariously from her thin lips. I've never heard her so abusive before. As I opened the car door and kicked a glass bottle out of the way in order to get out. and she was so thin that I was sure she couldn't weigh more than 90 pounds. "Zach. His face belied the optimism and excitement that he projected when he called to his son. She's not usually this bad. The sink was overflowing with dishes." "I'm right by your side. Scott. I would have instantly realized just how much he hated being here and having to deal with this situation in order to spend time with his son. If I hadn't already been thoroughly briefed on what to expect this weekend. a scheme was already beginning to form in my mind. She stormed over to a door on the hallway that I hadn't noticed yet and began banging loudly on it.threatened to sue for me harassment and return to court seeking full custody." "I understand. Don't give her the satisfaction. and the little that was visible showed signs of damage and neglect. "Zach! Answer the fag! He has to deal with you now!" There was no movement anywhere in the trailer and silence filled the air following Willow's outburst. Noah would be none-the-wiser. She didn't even notice us. if I hadn't known that she was 25. She's going to try to bait you to piss you off. and I'll just stay back and follow your lead. and like everywhere else. and the air was filled with flies. I just told him that Tom had texted me a question. and I was responding. and just a genuinely miserable person. Scott." I had to stifle a chuckle at the thought that a mother just called her son a 'son of a bitch'." . Her jet-black hair resembled a bird's nest. "Get the fuck in here! You need to man up and be a fucking father to this piece of shit!" Willow yelled from somewhere in the trailer. The acrid stench of spoiled food filled the small area. even though I had said I would not even two minutes prior. I could clearly see the track marks up and down her arms from extensive drug use. the same age as Noah. Obviously she's manipulative. but as I glanced at the trash-strewn excuse for a lawn. her face was gaunt. Noah shot me a look that clearly read 'I told you that she's unfit'. Before opening the door. If my assumptions were correct. I wasn't taking a backseat." I said. just don't react. I'll try to be as invisible as possible. a voice screamed loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Willow's voice rang out from the back bedroom. Suddenly I felt like I was about to enter a viper's nest. "I'm really sorry. and if I was wrong. When Noah asked what I was doing." I replied. Keeping my phone out. Noah opened the door.

" "Please. coming into my house and tell me how to raise my kid? I oughta drag your ass back to court and take away all your visitation rights. He's just a four-year-old for God's sake! You shouldn't be yelling at him like that. tapping his chin with his tiny index finger as if that would help his concentration. "Zachy. are you in there? It's me. before asking. It's mean. Noah laughed at the young boy's apology. you goddamn fairy. she gave in. should be forced to live with someone so emotional and verbally abusive. You didn't know." The door opened just a crack. I sorry. "Daddy? Are you ok?" "Of course I'm ok. I play 'hide'." "Oh." Zach's door flew open. Zach was lost in thought for a few moments. and he jumped into Noah's arms. I'm sorry for talking to you like that. and silence reentered the living space. "Hi Daddy! I missed you!" he said happily. She didn't hurt you. and I'll talk to him any way I fucking please! You ain't the boss of me. shyly. so you shouldn't call people that. Mommy says it a lot. is he your boyfriend?" "Yes. but I could hear the concern seeping through. "He is my goddamn son. I decided to take the reins. but it tore me apart. buddy. Just let me talk to him. she slammed the door. "Zachy. He's a really nice guy. and stormed back into her room. Noah carried him into the living room. "Daddy. champ. Zach couldn't see it." he reprimanded her. No one. "I'm sure you are." "Hi. "Zach. then we'll sit in the living room and play. "She didn't hurt you. and it hurts people's feelings." Zach said." With a laugh. as he was still facing me." I couldn't help but grin when Noah said that. "Stop! I'll go in and talk to him. he's my son. When she gets mean. as Willow's anger was clearly rising. I could barely hear a young voice whisper. "Don't worry about it. It made me feel good.Noah quickly rushed over to her. did she?" Noah tried to keep his voice light. Noah gently knocked on Zach's door. Before Noah could respond. and turned the boy around in his arms. little buddy? Why wouldn't I be?" "Mommy's being really mean today. that's not a nice word. did she?" "Of course not!" he responded with a chuckle. Why don't you come out to the living room? I want you meet someone. but I didn't know that word hurts your feelings! Don't be mad at me! PLEEEEEAAAASE!" Zach pleaded. muttering 'fucking faggot' as she went. Daddy. I'm really good at it. he is. Willow. "So does that mean that Mommy was right when she said you were a fag?" A look of hurt flashed across Noah's face. and very important to me. too. It was the emotional turn-around that only a young child is capable of. Why don't we . it's just that I only get to spend a few days a week with him. especially such a sweet boy. Noah said. He really wants to meet you. With a loud crash." "Hi Zach. Daddy. and you can do whatever it is you need to do. buddy." With a loud sigh. this is Scott. Who the fuck you think you are. Your daddy's told me a whole bunch of good things about you! It's nice to meet you. "No.

but the tiny glimmer of truth just struck me as amusing. Look. I thought he had hung up on me. "I really thought he was just a friend helping me out. Well. You didn't know. Honestly.Noah laughed at the young boy's apology. Whenever we talk to Tom. and sent me into a tailspin. sir." I kissed Noah's cheek and ruffled Zach's hair. Still." "I see. There was no way that I wasn't going to help this beautiful boy who clearly was in a horrible situation. why don't you two get started? I think I need to make a quick phone call. It was disrespectful of Steve's memory to tarnish the funeral with my anger. Now." I proceeded to tell Richard about how I had met Will while blindly running and how he'd allowed me to get everything off my chest and made me feel just a little better. and the first chance I get to spend time with him. Dick. I know full well that you two were truly in love with each other. since he was at least partially correct. I'm not calling about Will. he crossed the line." "Sounds like you got yourself in a right little jam. I didn't even realize it was still there until your name showed up on the caller id. let me start this whole conversation over. "Don't worry about it. you're completely wrong. as much as HOW and WHERE I said it. as modestly and conciliatorily as I could. but I'm not so sure now. and I lost control. And I'm sorry. when I heard him sigh. Lydia and I have talked a lot about everything that happened just after his death and how we handled things. Twice my normal one. you're right. it's not criminal. but one night." "Actually. but I don't even know that for sure. Tell you what. I actually left town for a long time and didn't return until the anniversary of Steve's death. I still thought he was a good guy at heart. Hell. I'm not sorry for WHAT I said. before leaving a perplexed Noah and stepping outside to make what I knew was going to be a difficult phone call. I paused to collect my thoughts. I'm pretty sure it's civil. – – – * * * – – – "Hello? Richard speaking. I don't know who to contact. "Don't worry. I'd made a big deal of wanting to meet his son. what did that bastard do. but he did mention you're doing better now. then. I'll help you for a special rate. "Scott. since we were once almost family." I said." "Hi. sir. My anger and grief took over. not a lot. I am really and truly sorry for what I said at the funeral. I could see the hurt and confusion spread on Noah's face." I said. I was about to stupidly ask if he was still there. and that you only had his wishes in mind. I was begging off. I know you well enough to know that you'd only call for help if there were no other options. your date at my son's funeral screwed you over and took your inheritance?" I knew this conversation was going to bad. and I let my own grief get the better of me. This is…" "Scott…What the hell are you calling me for?" "Sir. Now let me guess. which elicited a giggle from the boy. you don't really come up in the conversation. That's a whole other story that I'm not in the mood to go into. but in bits here and there over the last year. please." "Ha! Managed to get yourself on the wrong side of the law? You know damn well that I am no ambulancechasing scum of a lawyer who deals with criminals!" "No. but I really need some legal help. and how can I help you. For a moment. I'll fill you in later. but just trust me for now. After all. I have a plan. I chuckled a little. but it was going much worse than I thought. Although maybe I should explain." . Why don't we clear off some space and play some games out here for a little bit?" "Actually. even if that meant facing more of my past. champ. and there was silence on the other end. "What the hell's so funny?" "Sorry. that I've been holding on to all that anger.

"I'm sure you know that courts regularly side with the mother. that's a lot to take in for me. I don't know where this relationship is going yet. here's the deal. Scott. Since it's Friday. I included all of the vile things that Willow had said to. We're going to need proof that the living conditions are bad enough. That's something that can't be completely said about me. even if it's in the best interest. so simply involving them won't really help the situation." I chuckled too. and it gave me hope that the whole 'Willow Situation' would be dealt with and Zach would get a better life. this is a family court matter. since I'm going to actually be representing him in this matter.doing better now." "Ok. that's actually more in lines with why I'm calling you. "Please. let me email them to you. especially when he has an able biological father who is willing to take him. I'd only heard that a few times. "Well. I know that. I just hope that he's not too mad at me. I am happy that you're doing better. You mentioned that she seems to clean up her act around Child Services. with a slight chuckle. he needs your legal expertise. but we both know that's not really true. And I'll even give you actually family rate. and we've started dating. sometimes almost one hundred percent. I need to make some calls. I'm calling on his behalf. Again. The mess that had once been on the coffee table had merged with the mess on the floor. and walked back into the trailer. Don't do anything rash. I'll talk to you soon. "Ok. so please don't get angry with me. I know a few guys who could give me whatever help I need. but it would at least give us a starting point. you've sold me on helping." "Well. Hold on. and a game of Candy Land was under way. and I think he's worried about what might happen if he tries again and loses. you're definitely correct that no child should be forced to live like that. "Yeah. I've met someone. For the first time since Steve's death." I proceeded to inform Richard about how Noah ended up with a child and the living situation that Zach was forced to be in. PLEASE. In the last few weeks. but. but I never really thought that I'd hear much about it. We're dealing with legal issues here. realize that it's probably not a good start to a new relationship to go behind their back. we may be able to do something. Deep down. "Honestly. and while I don't have too much experience with that particular court system." I could almost hear the beginnings of rage on Richard's side of the phone. I could hear the anger dissipate." "I'm actually a step ahead of you. as Richard let out a loud sigh. Hopefully with you in our corner." "Thank you so much! I feel so helpless. Hell. I feel alive again. I already took about 20. so we don't want to screw anything up by rushing." This time. I'll get the ball rolling." Richard scolded me. "Oh my God! Who the fuck would allow a child to live like that! Here's what I'm going to do. but I really need to talk to Noah directly before long. I knew you'd probably find someone at some point. he'll realize that he has the help he needs. You can judge me all you want." He chuckled. ." I quickly emailed the photos." "Well. but I can't make any guarantees. and within a minute. Through all the times that I'd interacted with him. My default reaction is to say that I'm happy for you. even if she is unfit. but I know that Zach needs me to do something. and I don't even know how strongly I feel about him. sir. Maybe you could try to take photos and document it? They may or may not be admissible. well I need to get started on my end. Noah feels like he's trapped with no more options in this situation. but I do know that I like him. All right." he said. Never thought I'd say that again. "Huh. please remember that I'm calling you because I need help and don't know where to turn. and around. Just so you know. I heard Richard gasp in horror. said goodbye. and definitely can't be said for Lydia. I know he'll understand. I sat down on the couch next to Zach and immediately noticed that Noah's character was way behind Zach's. Zach that I had overheard.

" "That's ok. "You know. Steve's dad. but there's a first for everything. you need to talk to him at some point. It started much worse than I expected." The excitement that had entered Noah was beginning to wane. He's a lawyer like Steve was." Noah winked at me. What do you think?" . And lose. he's not someone you want to face up against. He's now got it out for Willow." With that. I can do it!" With that. but instead one that only moved him forward a single square. I taught him that dance. buddy. "Only you would cheat at Candy Land." I told Zach. In the little time we've been here. "Good job. and believe me. with a smile." "I think his dad is beginning to feel the same about you. Almost immediately. I called Dick." We both watched for a moment. It just broke my heart to see how he's living. "Look how much you're winning. You can't let Zach see you this way. His eyes flickered with excitement of the thought of helping Zach. I watched with amusement as Zach excitedly won a few minutes later. You must be really good at this game. Zach drew a card."Wow. "I really didn't think he realized what I was doing. are you hungry? I think we should go get a pizza. I noticed it wasn't the top card." "Well. I gave Noah a quick kiss on the lips. "Daddy." I blushed when he said that. but he's not good at it. "We need to be optimistic. He just grinned. Daddy keeps picking up several cards and then says 'Oops' and puts them back. "How did that go?" "In some ways better than I had hoped." Noah said with another goofy grin. Noah then drew about five cards. Zachy! I'm so proud of you! Hey. Besides. I wanted to make sure that he won. and 'whispered' loudly. "Please don't be too mad at me." "Wait…that's what you did?!?" his voice wasn't angry anymore. since he'll be representing you. that'll be a little awkward. "Are you going to tell me what the hell that was about? You wanted to meet him. "I don't know. and how excited he gets when you're around. I'm really sorry that I did all this behind your back just after I said that I'd follow your lead. If he was still hurt or confused it didn't show. "I did it Daddy!" an excited blur said." He leaned in to me. I've never had to interact with a boyfriend's husband's father before. You need help?" "No. and it made my entire body feel weak for a moment. as Zach happily danced around the living room. I was hoping maybe he could help get Zach out of here. Since it's all luck. and moved his piece. but it got a lot better. Zach quickly ran out of the room. Also." I said jokingly with Noah. but I can't allow myself to get my hopes up. and then you immediately have to run off to make a phone call?" It was the first time he'd been angry with me. and I knew that his past legal struggles cut like deep wounds. zipping back to his spot between us on the couch. He said he had to make a few calls and see what he could do. just as we heard the toilet flush. I can't believe I keep doing that!" and then put all but one back. I also took some photos of the house and sent them to him. I gotta go potty. "I think Daddy's cheating. I've see just how much he loves you. and he completely ignored my apology. Hopefully he'll be able to help. said "Oops. Noah's grin was gone. Suddenly Zach stopped dancing. I think I'm falling in love with the little guy. looked at them quickly. Look how happy he is. but I was prepared for it.

Unlike your daddy. "Maybe." "YAAAAAY!!!! I like pizza!" We stepped outside. "Ok. I really don't think Willow even does that very often with him. I'm sorry. "Your daddy and I have to talk about something. As soon as the door closed." "Where?" I pointed to random spot on his chest." he said. Suddenly I remembered that Richard had warned me about not screwing up anything at this point. I'm still new at being around little kids. Then we'll see what we can do about pizza. which I could only assume meant that he thought the idea had merit.think?" "PIZZAAAAAA!!!" Zach answered. can you do me a favor?" I asked the boy." At this point I was just trying to get him out of the room so I could voice my concerns with Noah. "No." "Yes. "Why don't you play with this while Scott and I go talk outside?" "So I'm not in trouble?" He looked up at me. and there's just no reason that a little kid like you needs to hear it. and I had just backed myself in the corner. again tapping his index finger to his chin. Zach pulled the bottom of the shirt out and very carefully examined it. of course not. and ruffled his hair. He giggled. I used the textbook practical joke and tweaked his nose. Please give me a second chance?" He thought for a moment. until he found a toy fire truck." I laughed. and his bottom lip stuck out a little as he pouted. How about this:" Noah paused and dug around the junk for a moment. "Zach. When he looked. "How about this: you don't need to change your clothes. which caused him to giggle. He's eyes were brimmed with tears. You have a second chance. and my heart melted. "No. while Zach busied himself with the fire truck that apparently also delivered pizzas. But I'm not little anymore. "Now what? You don't want pizza? Besides. it'll be good for him to get out of the house." . Noah was on my again. To Mars. you did. Sometimes grownups need to talk to each other. Zachy. Then he surprised me by jumping in my lap and giving me a big hug. "Now if you'll excuse us for a minute. "Did I do bad? I don't wanna go to my room!" Noah quickly wrapped his arms around him. but I need to talk to your daddy about something. old man Zach. "No I didn't. I'm four. "Can you go change your clothes?" "Why?" "Umm…because you spilled something on them. matter-of-factly. Zach. Can you go to your room for a few minutes?" Tears began to well up in his eyes when I said that." which caused the boy to giggle again.

I wasn't sure that it would actually be effective in the case of an accident. out of an area where I have direct supervisory capacity for the purposes of."No it's not the pizza." "Yeah!" Just as I shut the door. Zach. and with the condition it was in. It will also show that she doesn’t seem to give a damn about what her responsibilities are during your visits. But they were just about to deliver a pizza to Candy Land. or whatever. why don't you bring your truck with you. in his case to strip Willow of her parental rights. The car wasn't locked. I walked over to him. Hey." Noah grumbled under his breath. But that's not to say that I didn't pick up a few tricks of my own. "Almost. This visit is probably going to his 'Exhibit A'. obtaining food. but we have been in the same house the entire time. hereby authorize Noah Abrams and anyone else in his company. Willow! I'm going to take Zach to get pizza. Dick made it very clear to me that we need to make sure everything we do is legit. Even if it doesn't hold up in court. Zacharias Hollin. Let's go get in the car while your daddy talks to your mommy real quick. so I opened the door and pulled it out. Hold on." "Ok. I quickly strapped it into the back of Noah's car. You're right." "Anyway." "Well. but it was better than nothing. and you can deliver it in the car. whatever! Just take the fucking bastard and get out of my hair for a while. just Steve. "If you can even call it that. Zach was still focused on his fire truck. and pulled out a pad of paper. I want to be alone anyway. Granted. He looked scared. and saw a beat up car seat in the back. I got an idea. "Have her sign this." "Doesn't your mommy strap you into it when you go places?" . is that ok?!" There was another squeal of excitement from Zach. to take my son. "Scott." He opened the door and shouted." "Is that good enough for you?" He asked me with a grin. You know better than I do that Willow is supposed to be with you at all times when you're with Zach. then looked at Zach. "Nope. immediately followed by a bellow from the back of the trailer." "Why not?" "Because it's scary." "I never thought about that. but not limited to. "Hey. I quickly wrote "I. I laughed. it'll help our case to show that we're trying to do the right thing. "Fine. I was pretty sure it wasn't intended for four-year olds. Willow Hollin. while Noah headed for the lion's den." We walked back inside." I ran to the car. she hasn't bothered even leaving her room yet." "Are you sure that Steve was the only lawyer? This is good!" Noah said with approval. I don't wanna ride in that. Looking at the size of it. It's the getting him out of the house." I then put an X and drew a line. Signed. I heard Willow speak (not yelling for the first time) "What the fuck is this?" I looked in Willow's car. "C'mon.

" "Ok." I picked him up and strapped him in. he looked up from his truck. Are you excited?" I asked. Cheese. we got in the car. How'd Scott manage that?" "He told me that I'd dent my ass if I didn't. I'm glad he got you in there."No. I told her that it was to protect her if we didn't bring him back. You are amazing. he added. was far too engrossed delivering pizzas to faraway places with his space-traveling fire truck to notice until the car came to a stop. it'll keep you safe if we get into an accident. "Where's Zach?" he asked. "Yes we are." "Well. He was completely secure. You'll be fine. but it makes me feel better too. I can't move around when I'm in it. Did she sign it?" "Without even reading it." "I do my best." "Ooooooh. I promise. and it wasn't long before I noticed the telltale sign of the place we were going. I knew the answer. "I'm right here. He saw me immediately. "I didn't see you there buddy! I see you agreed to your seat." Then to me. "Well." Just then Noah came out holding the piece of paper. She said she couldn't be bothered. It'll hold you tight so you don't get hurt. That's right. "They're tight enough to keep you safe now. Chuck E. For the first time since we left. I know you don't like it. Like if we're driving and another car hits us. Since I don't get too much time with him." "What's an ass-a-dant?" "It's when something bad happens that you don't think is going to happen. . "Scott? Are we there yet?" he excitedly inquired. strapped in his booster seat." "No. Daddy!" the boy giggled from inside the car. And I mean it. Chapter 16 . I do what I can to avoid dealing with a screaming four-year-old as much as possible. Zach. but he just won't get in it. in the tone that only a worried parent is capable of." "Are you sure? I don't want to break. "I've been trying to get him to use that thing for the past year. I noticed the telltale neon sign of every child's favorite mouse-infested pizza restaurant/arcade. 'Sides. but didn't notice Zach. but he kept asking me to make the straps tighter. He doesn't even do that for me sometimes. as he move the truck through the air. So let's strap you in here nice and tight. So like when I knock something over and it breaks? That's an ass-a-dant? I don't want to break. but the little boy's squeal confirmed it. and I don't want to break!" I quickly translated that sentence for a bewildered Noah.Out With Zach As Noah pulled the car into a shopping center. 16." With that. ignoring the look of jealousy that Noah was trying to hide. He listened to you.

He then looked around the parking lot. I was impressed that he made the connection between the anthropomorphic mascot that was plastered on the window and real mice. "They have all sorts of fun games and rides we can do after we eat. and he simply nodded. he was just taking Noah's response as an explanation for why we weren't at a Pizza Hut. I don't wanna go someplace that has mouses that will eat my pizza. can I tell you a secret? Noah. Is that ok with you?" "Of course I'll share with you. After a short whispered conversation by me and Zach. but did as I requested. I then realized the implications were that his home-life was even worse than I had previously thought. Are you losted?" "No. Ok. "Why's that Zachy? Tell me what's wrong." Noah looked a little confused. Noah crouched down and took both of the boy's tiny hands into his own. he explained. His lower lip had distended and was trembling a little." "Oh." "I don't like mouses. so I bent over and addressed him." Noah's face fell a little at the less-than-expected reaction from his son. Noah looked up at me with a bewildered look on his face as he struggled to come up with an answer that would appease the four-year-old's concerns. I whispered to him that I'd explain when we sat down. we walked into the hell that is Chuck E. This is just between me and Zach. but the fact wasn't too much of a surprise. "Daddy? I don't wanna go anymore. I knew it wouldn't be until we got inside and Zach actually saw everything that he'd get excited. "This mouse is a special mouse. After a moment. buddy. I beckoned Noah back over just as Zach responded loudly with a 'YEAH!'. I hadn't seen any signs of an infestation while we were there. The boy held his father's hand as we walked across the parking lot. As we got close the door. Don't be silly. They come in and take our food and eat our house. Zach froze. and his name is Chuck E. We're going to a special pizza place in that building right over there. "But where is it? I don't see Pizza Hut. With that. He still didn't look completely sold on the idea. "Zach. But you'll have to share with me and Scott. both of us holding one of Zach's hands." His eyes were wide and tears were beginning to well up. but I still struggled to suppress a smile." I was out of Zach's line of sight. Noah and I got out of the car. step away for a second. "So the mouses won't eat my pizza?" "No buddy." The tears that had threatened seemed to dry up immediately as Zach hopefully asked." he said. For the moment. . pointing to the storefront. and Noah quickly came around and unstrapped Zach from his car seat. Cheese for an adult. Daddy. Daddy." the boy responded with a giggle. He's our friend. Mommy's always yelling at them.

I made mental note that if I ever had the opportunity. "and make sure it never bothered me again. I also told him that you didn't know about my fear and that I was concerned you wouldn't like me anymore if you found out!" "Wait. They stamped Zach and Noah right away with invisible ink. "Sorry.Immediately upon entry. sound effects. and it gave Noah and I some time to talk amongst ourselves. it's the only 'real' way to eat pizza. manipulating my son to get in my good graces. Flashing lights. "How can you be sure that Scott leaves with the right person? I don't want him to get losted and go home with a stranger. you would like me even if I was afraid of 'mouses'. I was trying to be coy. "I see how you are. are you afraid of mice?" "Of course not. so that they could ensure that Zach left with the right adult." "Nice save. I was glad it was still early on a Friday. glancing at Zach. too. with a malicious twinkly in his eyes. Hopefully. and I could already hear the spiel about how I didn't need to do anything to make him like me and that he just wanted me to be myself. I laughed. I put my hand on his knee to preemptively cut him short. I might scream like a little girl if one jumped out when I opened a drawer or something. "I told him that I was a little afraid of mice. But I don't feel right saying them in front of him. clearly. He even turned her logic around on her. According to Zach. . The poor girl gave in and stamped my hand too. it wasn't fair that he and Noah were magical and I wasn't. and while my secret was safe with him. According to Zach." We were led to the tables. then I'd be able to as well. Back to the point." I quickly amended. I'd catch the little fuc…um… bugger." He said." "I know what you mean. we wouldn't have to worry about crowds or lines and Zach would have the time of his life. But he loved it. but they showed him how it looked under a UV light and that got him excited because now he was 'magical'. but he didn't convey it. "So what is it you told him outside?" Noah asked. He was disappointed that he couldn't see his stamp. before winking. His tone was simply one of curiosity. but after the surprise wore off. but today was all about the little guy. and music filled the entire room. a new thing would catch his eyes. Besides. but if he could be brave and face his fear." "Thanks. I think Zach gave me the four-year old equivalent to what you were about to say: he told me that he could tell that you already liked me just fine. I even used the air-quotes. I'd eventually challenge him on that. I'm not really used to censoring myself. Anytime he tried to focus on something. not that Zach hasn't heard all the words before. Speaking of. and quickly ordered a large pepperoni for the three of us. I think he was a little frustrated that I had shared a secret with his son that he knew nothing about. his eyes were wide with amazement as he struggled to take everything in. is it working?" I could tell that Noah decided to interpret my question as a serious one. He sat there drinking out of a crazy straw while staring at the creepy (at least to me and Noah) animatronic band that was 'playing' really bad music. "Well." Yes." I giggled a little at that. Noah and I hit critical mass of sensory overload. and the place wasn't very full.

The light flashed. but that's my issue. and we all got up and walked over to the games. and make a scene until he got what he wanted. and just about everything else that he could do. I reached over and ruffled Zach's hair. it's been even more fun sharing my father-son time with you as well. He managed to only get sauce on his cheeks. he's a real smart cookie for a little guy. and Noah and I were easily able to continue talking. and one spot on his shirt. little buddy. which only got him to glare at me for a second and try to smooth it before returning to what he was doing. While Zach kept getting frustrated at not being able to win tickets. Let me try that again. I excitedly ripped off the five tickets that popped out as Noah hip-checked me out the way for his turn. After a few minutes. but I really do think I love you. nose. "He really is a great kid. though. Noah gave me a little smile." Noah responded. Can we go play games yet?" "Not yet. Zach seemed to like it. managing to successfully miss all the holes on his first throw. I was shocked when he came over to me and took my hand as we went." I responded with a laugh. Those sort of attractions were more his speed anyway. apparently indicating that I had 'won'. "Yeah. We gave Zach a small bucket of tokens and told him to have fun. Noah and I frantically pumped token after token into machines in a mad-dash attempt to win as many tickets as possible for Zach to trade in. I was surprised at how neat of an eater Zach was. so we didn't have to deal with crowds around any of the games. "Ok. which made me a little sad for him. For Zach's part. as our waitress brought us our delicious steaming-hot pepperoni-and-cheese-covered cardboard. Fortunately. adding on a 'Yes!' when I managed to drop the last skeeball into the hole worth the highest number of points. He quickly ate a slice of pizza and a few bites from a second slice before promptly informing us. so it wasn't a big shock that he gravitated towards those. "You have to admit." "That he is." Noah said after a hearty laugh that managed to even draw Zach's attention for a moment before he returned to staring at the robots and bopping in his seat to the crap blasting through the stereos. We watched with amusement as Zach played the arcade games and skeeball. but I could tell there was just a twinge of jealously beneath the surface. because those things were always my favorite when I was a kid. I keep getting a little jealous at how quickly he's taken to you. I can see why you want to devote every moment of your weekends exclusively to him. I know it's still REALLY early in our relationship. we had eaten our fill. he quickly tired of the games that gave prizes and began riding the little mechanical animals and playing in the tubes. he was off. Since it wasn't crowded." was the boy's entire response. whine. I know you don't feel the same . Wait." Noah told him. "I'm full. he is." I said. hands. we just let him do his thing as we continued to work towards allowing him to trade-in for a cheap prize. then we'll all go over together."That's my boy. With that. and it's not really a big deal. I expected him to get upset. and I hope this doesn't freak you out to much. I continued to be impressed that such a well-mannered and easy-going kid was the result of Willow's parenting. there weren't many people. They no longer have ball pits. as he quickly returned his attention to the music. despite the din from the arcade games. "Let Scott and I finish eating first. We didn't get the chance to talk further. and a buzzer sounded. "But to be honest.

" "Damn. Everything just happened so naturally between the two of us. Remember when I said that Chuck E. "NO!!! STOP!!!" We looked over. "Ok. "Between what you just said and the way you acted." "I know. you have to be the one to figure out how to diffuse this. which drew the attention of all of the workers and the few customers. will you give him one too?" Zach tapped his chin in thought for a moment before simply responding with his patented. But I'm sure Scott is grateful that you wanted to keep him safe. This is all so strange to me. "See?" Noah said. We both burst out in uncontrollable laughter for a few moments. aren't you Scott?" He added the last part with a nudge to my ribs." I responded. I've played enough carnival games and gambled enough to know that the house always wins. but I just had to tell you how I feel. Oh well. Just give me time to figure it all out. as he threw his last ball. but I doubt that Zach will really notice. Besides. I responded. which had apparently been walking our way. just as Zach shouted. Scott. I know you don't feel the same way. As you know. yet out popped five tickets. we approached Zach from behind. and stood in front of him defiantly." With a chuckle. That's why I love you. matter-of-factly. Apparently my ploy had backfired. "Yeah.doesn't freak you out to much. The bulb didn't light up. which I thought was particularly impressive. if I give him a hug. "I'm so sorry about this. but I really do think I love you. hip-checking him right as he went to throw a ball. Cheese with his son is a little strange for a date. but I wasn't really surprised. "You can't come down here! My friend. is our friend? We don't need you to protect us from our friends." While hugging the mascot. We were both confused." With that. and the little guy was running towards us. I'd never really dated anyone before Steve. and I know I haven't felt this way about anyone in my life other than Steve. but he just went by in a blur. despite all of my experiences. "Look what you did. barely able to speak while laughing. Noah startled him a little when he put his hands on the child's shoulders. I'm not really sure how I feel yet. "Sure thing. We turned to follow his course. and the buzzer didn't go off. He ran straight to the mascot. I'm gonna protect him from you!" I stifled a laugh at the scene I was witnessing. which caused him to miss his target altogether. putting his hands on my waist. Noah grabbed his winnings and turned to me. Try to look a little apprehensive. He's afraid of mice and ." I finished with a chuckle. you have to admit that going with your new boyfriend to Chuck E. doesn’t like mouses. I whispered. He leaned in slowly to kiss me. He did manage to get 50 points for the ramp next to ours. and now Zach was trying to 'save me'. "I know you do. Noah leaned over and told me. I felt bamboozled. but since I'm supposedly afraid of him. but Zach simply responded with a 'Hi Daddy!' "Hey buddy. Now that I know you'll protect me from him." I sighed. I know I really like you. just follow my lead.

so off we went. As we walked away from the counter and towards the exit. He got a large chocolate waffle cone. Zach watched us play games for a few minutes. Then he decided to try to show 'him' his new favorite rides. I ordered a small chocolate cone for me. Pretty much every exposed part of him was covered. . Zach sat in his seat playing with his new soldier and finger puppet. I could tell that Noah wasn't too happy with the choice. Noah ordered a butter-pecan. The three of us eventually went to the prize window and Zach excitedly handed over his tickets. Of course he chose the most expensive one with all the bells and whistles. and tossed the boy over my shoulder in a fireman's carry. huh?" Zach took his turn hugging Chuck E. but he asked me to carry him. We climbed in the front. Scott! You're the bestest. too and needed him to be brave for me. His wallet may have been much lighter. and Noah suggested we get some ice cream. I whispered. so I quickly offered to pay." I was a little surprised when a teenage girl's voice came from the costume with a laugh. he stopped and gave one of the soldiers to Noah. They had several different styles so we let him choose the one he wanted to ride in. He chose a blue monster finger puppet that we could have probably bought in a store for two dollars. He was temporarily frustrated because he was ready to get out but couldn't really move because of the straps. My stomach churned slightly at the thought. I quickly released Zach. and picked him up out of the car. "I'm so sorry about this. He giggled the entire way in. "Thank you. Noah had insisted on paying for everything. and we both took turns playing racing simulators with Zach on our laps so he could steer." With that he unhesitatingly gave me a big hug and kiss as well. relieving the poor woman of the boy's attention. shrugged. We each held one of Zach's hands as we walked out of the restaurant. I gave Noah a look. He then tried to talk to the mascot. and gave me one of his soldiers as well. Hell. I noticed that the shopping center had one of the big box retail stores. and said excitedly "Thank you. thinking nothing of it. and quickly put the new booster seat in. He was in his own world the way only a young child (or crazy person) can be. The entire drive. He also got three little green soldiers. gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. We walked back to the car. He's afraid of mice and didn't want to come in until I told him that I was afraid. Zach happily jumped in. He wasn't nearly as successful eating this neatly as he had been with the pizza. but it made him happy. "Guess that backfired on you. I was just content to hold Noah's hand during the short drive. I quickly explained that I was sure that Chuck E. so I suggested we go in and replace his busted car seat with something new. Zach should have been using a booster seat. and then I turned around so Zach could place his order. It turns out that I was right. Noah agreed. as I was still processing lunch. but both of our hearts were much fuller. despite the fact that Zach was chattering excitedly the whole way. too. I went to put him down. had other friends to spend time with. Daddy! You're the bestest!" Then he turned to me. but got frustrated when the mouse wouldn't respond. It helped that Noah covered him in napkins before he ate. it even had a cup holder. I have no idea what they were doing. and we got a few cute pictures of the two together. Still holding Zach upside down. He stopped playing as soon as we pulled to a stop and the toys were quickly forgotten. but only a little. and Noah secured him.While hugging the mascot. but the squeal in the back of the car was enough to signify our next stop.

"Oh, crap," I said suddenly to Noah. "You still have to call Richard. You want to step outside and call now?" Noah let out a loud sigh, before saying, "I guess I'd better. I'm just worried because this will probably be one of the most awkward things I've ever done." I patted his leg supportively. "I know it'll be awkward. But he's a damn good lawyer and a true professional. He may have a problem with me meeting someone new, but he's not going to be too difficult, because he knows that it's not about you and me, but about you and Zach." "I know, I know, but thanks for saying it out loud, Mr. Rational." Then, to Zach, he added, "I need to go make a quick phone call. Can you stay with Scott and keep him company?" Zach just nodded – his content apparent beneath his gooey mess of face. With that, Noah slid out of the booth after giving me a kiss on the cheek. He ruffled Zach's hair, carefully avoiding the spots that had somehow come into contact with chocolate. I watched with amusement as Zach somehow managed to eat the entire ice cream cone, and tried my best to scrub him clean while he squirmed. I was grateful he didn't shriek or anything. Instead he just giggled as he tried to wriggle away from me. I could see Noah was still on the phone with Richard when I had finished cleaning up his son. He appeared to be doing more listening than talking, which I interpreted as a good sign. Suddenly Zach asked me a question. "Do you like my daddy?" Great, now I was being given the third-degree by a child. "Yes I do. I like him very much. Is that ok?" Zach once again tapped his chin, as if he was contemplating the meaning of life. After a moment he responded. "I guess. He's a lot happier than usual." Psychoanalysis from a four-year old. And I hate shrinks. At this point, I was committed to the conversation, so I asked, "Is he usually sad?" "No. He's just happier." I decided to turn the question around on the boy. "Well, do you like me?" He giggled at that. "Of course I do! You're fun." His face fell for a second, and he asked me with sad-eyes, "Do you like me?" "I think you're just about the greatest little guy I've ever met." He immediately scowled at me. "What?" "I told you! I'm not little anymore! I'm FOUR!" As if to emphasize this, he held up four grubby little fingers.

I laughed at that, and mussed his hair, to which he giggled. "I'm sorry. You're the greatest BIG guy I've ever met. Is that better?" He nodded, got off his seat, and climbed in my lap, laying his head on my chest. "Zach, can I ask you a question?" "Yeah," he replied sleepily. "I know you said you're mommy is mean sometimes. Does she ever hurt you?" "Most of the time I play 'hide' when she starts yelling, but some days I'm too slow," was all the tired boy could muster before his eyes fluttered shut. I made a mental note to talk to Noah about that, and knew someone would have to talk to Zach in more detail about that later. I just held Zach against me while he slept for about ten minutes, or so, until Noah walked back into the store with a big smile. "You were right about being a professional. He started out by apologizing in advance if he ever steps out of line, but made it clear that this is uncharted territory for him. That closest the conversation ever got to dealing with your past with Steve, and that made me feel a lot more comfortable. "Anyway, he managed to look at a lot of the previous custody hearings and even got his hands on some of the findings from Child Services. Apparently they've been suspicious, too. Those photos you sent him seemed to have really helped to open doors on this case. "The bad news is that no action can be done immediately. Child Services is going to do a surprise visit tomorrow while we're at the trailer. Since they don't usually show up on Saturday, I doubt she'll be able to clean up her act in time." I put my hand up, to let him breath, and let me take in everything he was telling me. "Well, that's all understandable, I guess. I'm glad things seem to be progressing in our favor. Does that mean there's good news?" Noah didn't seem to catch my Freudian slip, and I wasn't about to point it out after I realized what I had said. "Yeah, there's great news! In the event that Child Services feels that Zach needs to be removed from the home, I've already been extended emergency custody. Oh wait. There's an issue with that." Noah's eye's darkened a little and his brow furrowed with worry. "You'll have to agree to it to. Since I live in an efficiency, Richard suggested that I use your home as my temporary address. Please don't be mad at me. I agreed to it without thinking, then realized that would mean that I just moved in with my new boyfriend, child in tow, without even asking if that was ok. It would only be for a few days. As soon as we get back to the city, I'll find a larger apartment for me and Zach to share." I just smiled. "Of course you can move in. I mean, this isn't exactly the timeframe I expected before we discussed moving in with each other, but this is a special circumstance. BUT," I put a little too much emphasis on that word, and Zach rearranged himself slightly in my arms before relaxing again. I waited until he was fast asleep again before continuing. "I'm not saying you're 'moving in' with me in the same capacity as we might discuss in the future. We'll figure out the best arrangement, but you're welcome to

might discuss in the future. We'll figure out the best arrangement, but you're welcome to use either a spare room or the couch if need be." Noah seemed surprised by my response. "What? You expected me to say 'no'?" I said with a grin. He laughed his response off. "No. I expected you to have to think about it first. I expected you to have questions about sleeping arrangements. I didn't expect you to already know the answers I was planning on giving. Even while I was on the phone, my mind was in overdrive trying to find a way to sell it to you. The way I see it, Tom and Sarah pretty much share a room, so there's practically one unused bedroom and the couch. I'll take the couch and we can put Zach in the bedroom. Are you sure that'd be ok, though? He'd be right next to you while I'd be further down the hall." "You, my dear," I said with a chuckle, "are thinking way too hard about this. Zach needs a place to stay that's child-appropriate in case Child Services determines he needs to be removed from Willow. I can provide that. We'll figure everything else out as needed." Noah leaned over and kissed me gently on the lips. We were met with a few uncomfortable looks from other patrons. I was quickly reminded why I preferred to stay in the city. I picked up Zach and carried him to the car, and strapped him in his seat. As I climbed in the passenger seat, I asked Noah to take us back to the retail store we'd been in earlier. "Why? Do you need something?" "I just had a thought, and want to look into something," was my entire reply. I had a nagging feeling that Child Services couldn't inspect Willow fast enough. I climbed out of the car in front of the store, and told Noah to just wait for me. Zach was still asleep in the back, so it would just be easier go alone, anyway. I walked in and went straight for the electronics area. I grabbed the cheapest disposable cell phone they had. After paying, I used my phone to activate it while standing there, while a bewildered employee was clearly thinking I was a drug dealer or something. I programmed my phone number in it, and put it away for the moment. Noah was carrying Zach into the store very quickly as I walked out. I shot up my eyebrow in a questioning look, but he just mouthed 'bathroom'. I nodded and walked in that direction. I guess the ice cream and drinks had worked their way through the boy's system already. Fortunately, an accident was avoided. Returning to Willow's trailer, we found it vacant. She must have stepped out. I breathed a sigh of relief because I had been fortunate enough to avoid any confrontation with her. The three of us played games for a while and just kept busy. Zach took another nap, during which time I called Richard and told him that it was fine if Noah used my address temporarily. Apparently, he had assumed it was because he had already submitted the information to Child Services. He asked to speak to Noah again, so I went inside to get him. I was surprised that Zach was up again. "Hey buddy," I said, after Noah had stepped out. "I thought you were asleep." "Not anymore! I'm awake," Zach said, proudly. "I see that. Hey, I got something for you." I slipped the disposable phone out of my pocket and gave it to the boy. "This is just in case you REALLY need help. Just press the green

I knew that Noah usually slept on the couch while he was there. And some real food.and gave it to the boy. We weren't there too much longer before Noah announced that we needed to go for the night. and I was certain it wasn't just Noah directing it there. but it's usually me. you promise?" "I promise!" And with that. "The food is amazing. we chatted about everything under the sun. He simply nodded and squeezed me tighter. if you insist. and Willow. Zach. I know Zach was upset when we left. I just really don't want to take away the little time you get with your son. his bottom lip still quivering slightly and his eyes red from crying. Surprisingly." "Don't tell anyone I gave you that. Somehow the conversation kept coming back to Zach. but he'll forget all about it when he sees us in the morning. Scott. Just no pizza or ice cream. of course. Just imagine him with spaghetti sauce! Usually I just order a pizza and have it delivered. Noah quickly agreed. I really think that I'm going to have custody by the time this weekend's over." Noah said. Willow didn't even seem to notice. he just had to call." . and it took nearly an hour before the boy calmed down enough that we felt ok leaving." I groaned. Since I'm here every week. but I doubted that would happen anytime soon. Zach will be asleep most of the time. Just press the green button and it will call me. He gave each of us a big hug before we did. so we should definitely celebrate. "So how come you've never been here before?" I asked at one point. or at least eat. clutching my stomach. I was introduced to her as Noah's 'friend'. "This is just in case you REALLY need help. I offered to have him just drop me at the hotel and he could go back. Besides. Over two heaping bowls of pasta and glasses of good wine. based on my conversations with Richard. just convenient. excitedly. Willow stumbled back in around five." "Don't think of it that way. I'm not sure they'd even let her in. "I think you're right. I made a big deal of whispering in his ear that if something happened and he needed us. She was definitely much calmer than when we were there earlier. we need some grownup time. It's best for us to get away for the evening. "No. but it could have been the drugs. Separate rooms. Ok?" "COOOOOL! Ok. We went to a nice Italian place he'd seen before. but he refused." "That it is. It would be discovered if someone cleaned the room. he walked into his bedroom and hid the phone under his pillow." "Ok. We left the trailer. she didn't seem fazed at all. but insisted we stay at a nearby hotel this weekend. But it's never good sleep. I think. clearly high. Zach seemed confused and started to cry. especially your mommy. it never made sense to constantly spring for a hotel when I can crash for free on the couch. and you saw how Zach fared with ice cream. I wouldn't feel right bringing you out here and ditching you for the night. Besides. With a laugh. and I could tell that Noah was conflicted. He explained as best he could to Zach. It also doesn't really make sense for me to stay anyway.

Finally. You are the single most amazing person I've ever met." My voice had taken on a wispy quality as I imagined a future with Noah and Zach in it. Shit. I mean. you're almost better than me with Zach.order a pizza and have it delivered. "Zach. after I told him that I liked you a lot." He raised a good point. no-frills motel. I'm only too happy to share it with you. but I definitely want to find out. are you there? Is everything ok?" I was trying to keep my voice calm." "I gathered as much when he asked me sadly if I liked him. "Scott? Help me. around eleven. scared voice came through the speaker. "I know you really like Zach. if that clarifies anything. wiping a tear from his the corner of his hazel eyes as they sparkled gently in the candlelight. You ready to go back to the hotel?" He agreed. too." "Fuck. and I changed and crawled into bed. "Hopefully. He really loves you already. We even had connected adjoining rooms. but I'm definitely in this relationship for the long haul. I could hear Willow screaming in the background for a few seconds before a small. "Honestly. but I was pleasantly surprised that the rooms were quite clean. I know you're interested in a more long-term relationship. I don't think we are." "Well if Zach comes to stay with us. My heart leapt into my throat as I saw it was Zach. we'll have to fix that. I can only imagine the messes that will ensue. That was just before he crawled in my lap and took an impromptu nap while you were on the phone. and you looked so happy. He was completely at ease. Scott. and that means even more to me than anything I feel towards you. but do you think we're moving too fast? I mean it seems like you've already moved us in completely in your mind. Now I'm stuffed. Noah wandered back to his room." Noah responded. I know that I want something long term. and you've only known him one day. I just know that I've already learned the lesson of going for what you want." "You know how I feel about you. I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for. – – – * * * – – – I had just fallen asleep when my cell phone rang. if that's what you're implying. so if I'm moving too fast let me know. and if the next chapter in my life involves you and your son. We cuddled on my bed for a while and kept talking." I reached over and patted his hand gently. at least from my perspective. I should've gotten a picture of the two of you. but I look forward to it. and honestly worn out after today. but I was in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. I still don't know exactly where our relationship is going. It was so adorable seeing the two of you like that. so I paid and he drove us to the place we were staying." And then the line went dead. and I thought for a few minutes before responding. because I know you're not ready for that. Granted. there will be plenty of opportunities for pictures galore in the future. It was a basic. but I'm not interested in something casual. . "I'm not going to say it again.

Scott. "Sir. but at this hour. I didn't have time to beat around the bush." "Ok. For now. "Look. Breathe. Tell me what to do!" "Whoa. I pulled him into a hug with my free hand and he buried his face in my neck as he began to sob. first off. if I bring them in earlier the whole situation will be just a little bit less complicated. He opened it groggily. Instead. What do we do about Zach?" "Well. so I immediately started barking at him." "What about Zach? Is he ok?" The operator took a deep breath. so hopefully. we'll be there in ten minutes. "Look. 911 wouldn't tell me anything. I was under duress. "Sir. after all. but you need to send police and possibly an ambulance to Green Acres Estates." "Fuck! Well. I woke him up. and practically dragged me by my free hand towards my door." Noah." "Sir! I don't recommend you go over there. Now!" Was all I managed to get out before the emergency call was answered." Without responding. who knows how long that will be. but shrugged it off. we don't know how bad the situation is yet. I blurted. Chapter 17 . Unsurprisingly. as are the paramedics. he grabbed his keys and wallet. I wouldn't be allowed to tell you until that information is released publically. A fire truck is on its way. I'll apologize later. "Get dressed. and when he spoke.17. I'm not actually sure if you SHOULD go – but if you do. who hadn't moved since he opened the door. I don't want you guys going in there without the police. I hung up. I just got a frantic call from a young boy living in trailer 17.Firestorm Adrenaline hit me. but apparently a fire truck is on its way too. I frantically gestured for him to put on clothes. Tell you what: if you go – and as Noah's attorney. I realized immediately afterwards that I should have been more gracious." With that. . all I can tell you is that the proper emergency personnel have already been dispatched and that the situation is under control. He looked like he was about to completely lose it. and suddenly I felt like I could – and would – move entire buildings if Zach needed me to. " "They're all already there. Hopefully." "A fire truck?! Can you tell me what the fuck is going on?!" Noah stopped dead in his tracks as we were halfway out the door. but we're on our way over there now. I don't know. My guess is they'll take care of him. and hold him at the police precinct until Child Services gets contacted. I don't know exactly what's wrong. wearing a gray t-shirt and a pair of black shorts. To the man on the other end of the phone. "Dick! Shit's going down at the trailer. just keep me informed. I wish I could tell you more. If Richard had a problem with it. I quickly dialed 911 on my phone and started banging on the connecting door to Noah's room frantically. who I've talked with about Zach several times today. but even if I DID know anything. All I know is that all of our circuits are filled with calls coming in about that trailer. I'm going to hang up and call the director. Are cops and/or paramedics on their way there? If the situation is that bad. I could tell that his professional detachment had faded. His mother is a drug addict and I could hear her screaming in the background. had gone completely pale and his mouth hung open. we'll know soon. I rudely hung up. I quickly dialed Richard. police are already on the scene.

Part of me had wondered why I hadn't encountered any cops on the way. Do you want to stay here? I can find the place again if you're not sure you can handle it. I have to tell you Mr. I pushed the car to its limits." He quickly patched the request through. It didn't do any good. plead. we were saved by the arrival of a black sedan and a van labeled Child Protective Services. clutching himself. and walked right up to us. sorry. Now. "I'm going. A flickering orange glow from the direction of Willow's trailer nearly stopped my heart. I made it there in three. Noah was a wreck. Mr." He just shook his head. but I'm not sure Noah knew what to make of it. Get me whoever is in charge here. Abrams. I detailed the short call I had received. I'll apologize later. they wouldn't let us through. Fortunately. curse. I quickly shook her hand. after all. for the record. Had I obeyed the speed limit. but I have strict orders not to let anyone in the perimeter. muttering "Oh. I need to find out the status of a little boy. and I hoped that it was the director that Richard had spoken of. Oh. Abrams? Oh. as we were quickly stopped by a police perimeter. She looked like she was still trying to wake up. However. but rest assured that I'm up to date on everything that's been happening. and just buried his head in my neck again. Saunders about the cell phone I'd given Zach in case of an emergency. Well that does help some. "For the record. "No. I'm Dr. I could tell that he was in shock again. Immediately he was out of the car. where he immediately curled up. I need to know what's going on. so if I feel it comes to that. Despite his attempts to beg. but under these circumstances…Let's just say that this is the worst part of the job. Which one of you is Mr. Officer. She held out her hand. but I was a little worried about how he was holding up under the pressure. the woman turned to us. "Ok. I helped him into the backseat. but that was answered as we pulled into the trailer park." I pointed to Noah. I just…what if it's too late? I'll never forgive myself if…" He was unable to finish the sentence. If Richard had a problem with it." "Fine. Period. But. before I say anything more.shrugged it off. seeming to strengthen his resolve. Now. sobbing. which was understandable." I explained. Nor would they give us any information about what was happening. God. God. I was under duress. but he said he didn't really know specifics. it would've taken us ten minutes. I need to be there. Then. I heard other onlookers complaining that this was all "the drugged-out whore's" fault. Seeing this barrier seemed to spring Noah to life. What's the situation?" "Ma'am the primary situation is under control. but I forced myself to continue. I'm sure you don't know anything new since your lawyer called me. half-carried him to the car. "Now I'm assuming you two are Scott Hudgins and Noah Abrams. A woman in her late fifties climbed out of the sedan. "You. emphasizing that I could her Willow screaming in the background. Without hesitating. Saunders. Can you fill any details in for me?" I told Dr. "I just had a bad feeling that I couldn't shake." . stopped at stop signs and red lights. There's a fire in one of the trailers that's nearly contained. "If we were meeting tomorrow. Director of the regional branch of Child Protective Services. that I can't order any action take place until I get a lot more details. but couldn't make out anything she said. Red and blue flashing lights lit the entire complex. there will be no issues." Over and over again. I'm the one who signed off on the emergency custody agreement. Abrams. and threaten. I've never met your son personally. but no one knew any specifics that would help us find out about Zach." "Yes Ma'am. I half-led. I'd say it's a pleasure to meet y'all.

you dat city fag always coming 'round lookin' after tha whore's boy. and the two moved down the police tape. Even when he came alive when we first approached the barricade." Dr. we just called your office a few minutes ago. just remember that Zach needs you to be strong for him. he was just reacting. He stuck out his hand.Noah simply nodded. I'm tearing myself apart trying to figure out what I should be doing. and I've never seen you respond personally to an emergency call like this. I'm sure we'll get some more answers. I feel so damn helpless. I just wanted to tell ya that I hope your boy's alright. and when he began to speak. Saunders accepted. but what are you doing here? As far as I know. thin as a rail. out of ear shot." I was certain that somewhere in there was a compliment. and he rested his head on my shoulder. "Ok. And I'm so scared. Shortly. Saunders and the detective rejoined us shortly. If it was my son in this situation. except of course for his sizeable beer-belly. If he is. "I was made aware of how bad the boy's living situation was earlier today. Possibly even worse. I didn't know exactly what to do. Now." "Noah. but the Good Book says it ain't my place to judge. Saunders said. I'll pass it on to you. I was beginning to wonder if the crowd was viewing 'city fags' with as much interest as the scene in front of them. I know people." Noah confessed after a moment. but I assumed that his face hardened just as quickly as mine did. ain't ya?" I wasn't looking at Noah." I rubbed his back. I promise that as soon as I have any information. When I got an frantic call from an old friend about an emergency involving him." "Excuse me?" the woman responded. "You're doing all you can right now. Then said." She turned to us and excused herself. fill me in on exactly what the situation is. . I've heard everything I need to hear. I noticed that he seemed much calmer and more composed than he had been just moments before. ma'am. and he was wearing nothing more than a ratty pair of boxers and a wife-beater. "Hey. please. "I don't know what to do. "Ah. Deserves a shot at a real life. just don' think fags are right with God and all. I should have known it was your crime scene. Detective Martin." he said. 'Sides. He was the epitome of the trailer-trash stereotype – bald. reaching out her hand to shake the detective's. "Now. Then. but before either of us had a chance to process what he said. I mobilized the troops and got here as fast as I could. I'd be acting just like you. Dr. I don' mean no disrespect. you's best take him from here fast as you can. I noticed that he only appeared to have a few of his teeth remaining. For now. he was nothing like this. "Noah. "Pardon me asking. don't go getting' any wrong ideas here. ok?" She glanced up. One of the other onlookers approached us. It has a little more big-city feel than most around these parts. I'll have to actually walk through everything for my official report. "Call me Noah. confused. the man had already wandered back into the rest of the crowd. so I just stood close to Noah and wrapped my arm gently around his shoulder. and he sure as hell don't belong in this cesspool with the rest of us. Saunders gets back. which Dr. When Dr. His face was covered with wrinkles. there no way some fag can be worse with kids than tha whore. You're doing great. He's a good kid. look at me. as he grinned and shook his head. I followed her gaze and saw a man approaching the barricade." the detective asked. "Sorry.

Saunders quickly ducked under it. she lit the porch on fire to try to keep from being arrested. "Daddy? Scott? Is that you?" Noah broke into a sprint.big guy. Sensing my hesitation. Detective Martin addressed me." Noah almost knocked over the detective. As we got closer to the flashing lights. although I wasn't sure how much was actually salvageable. Just what we needed. "Daddy! You came!" His face was covered with soot. and I was only a few steps behind him. As I neared. "Scott. I paused. as he kept trying to break into a run. I know. She's been spouting off like that the whole time. and Noah followed with only the slightest bit of hesitation. "Why don't you go see for yourself? Follow me. Hudgins' and 'Mr. Noah quickly engulfed his son in a bear hug. We still haven't actually been cleared to enter the trailer. will lead us in. I assure you. He's assured me that things are under control enough. and at least legally speaking. child endangerment. too. In fact. when the first officer showed up. Mommy was really mean. only the front half was completely destroyed. A charge for assaulting a police officer. There's a little boy who wants to see you two. had no business being there. assaulting an officer. and began sobbing. and then lifted the police tape. I've heard everything I need to hear. but he didn't look any worse for wear. there's someone who's been asking for you almost as much as he's asked for Noah." "I was scared. God. however. "Wait. drug possession. "You scared me with the phone call. "I was so scared. Again. Detective Martin just looked at us and laughed." . he seemed to be surrounded by several paramedics tending to him. Now come on. I was not related to Zach." "But I'm not losted." he said. we could clearly hear Willow yelling from the back of a squad car. Without hesitation. "Daddy. Abrams'. addressing us as 'Mr. It looked like the firefighters had been able to save the bedrooms. "Those are the fuckers! They're the ones who did this! They're trying to ruin everything! Let me out of here! I'm gonna fucking kill those goddamn faggots!" Noah and I stopped in our tracks for a second. so it's very possible that there could be more charges filed once we get inside. As we approached the nearest ambulance. baby boy." He did have to stop Noah a few times. Zach's ok? Why didn't you say so?!" Detective Martin just patted Noah on the back with a laugh. we heard a little voice from the back of the ambulance. And I'm so happy you are. unsure what to do. unsure what to do. Actually. We have her dead to rights. Zach smiled a big grin when he saw his father. finally putting the boy down." Noah sobbed. Still unsure how the boy was. At first glance. Daddy. which we both quickly corrected. "Relax gentlemen. Actually. it became plain that they were merely doting on him. the three of us being led let out a gasp as we saw the smoldering ruins of Willow's trailer. After all. I'm so glad you're ok. what's wrong? Why are you crying?" "Oh. So far. we're charging her with arson. so I knew I had to call. Zach ran to me." Detective Martin officially introduced himself to us. I'll have to actually walk through everything for my official report. litt. Another officer broke in Zach's window and pulled him out before subduing Willow. but Detective Martin." Before we'd gotten much further. here. and resisting arrest. I thought I lost you forever. and I picked him up and hugged him tightly. I was bracing for the worst. I also called the 911 number like Daddy told me to do if I was ever in trouble. I'm right here!" "I know buddy. it's quite alright for you to come back here. We found crystal meth and marijuana on her when we arrested her."Ok. Dr.

But I don't know exactly what's going to happen next." "Oh. Today was definitely the best day of my life." ." I pointed to Dr. I just don't want to completely assume I have custody. They're talking about jail. Saunders. "Is everything ok?" I asked. I should have told you. which elicited the usual giggle from the boy. I seemed to startle him. For all I know. the 'mice' thing was a stroke of brilliance. what's going to happen now? The nice ladies said that mommy was going to the big house. Even if it backfired on you. Situations may come up where you need to act in Zach's best interest. I guess I'm just the wicked step-mother. he was off. "I know that. he apparently called 911 after he called me. but until I hear it from Dr.Daddy told me to do if I was ever in trouble. "You're not going to the 'big house'. I'll definitely keep you in the loop in the future. just to make sure he doesn't have any smoke inhalation. but only for a second." I said with a laugh." I explained. I promise. worried about his sullenness." "That's my boy. Why didn't you tell me you got him a cell phone in case something happened?" His tone wasn't quite accusatory. which is where they send people who do bad things. "Do you see that woman over there?" He just nodded in my arms. Is that ok with you?" "Yeah. "What? Oh. nor your daddy. "Scott. "At least promise me that you'll let me know each time I step out of line." As if he needed any prompting from me. but I just kept having a bad feeling. No. or anything. I know we were told that Willow's going off to prison. they're just going to load him in the van and take him somewhere. who was deep in discussion with Detective Martin. because I know you're just trying to help. He certainly acted well under pressure." he said." I put him down and said. I knew I was being paranoid. who looked like he was lost in thought. everything's fine. Saunders. are going anywhere until we find out. which managed to rouse Noah from his funk as he joined me in laughter. jokingly putting out his hand for me to shake. Am I moving there too?" In spite of everything. Besides. and you shouldn't have to worry about how I feel. startled by my sudden presence. But I promise you that neither me. which I did. and to check for signs of abuse. buddy. and it convinced him to go in. "Me too. You were very brave. Noah. I kissed his forehead and ruffled his hair. Again. but it's there. "She's a very nice lady. and I'm left in the dark about it. "But we shouldn't be getting too far ahead of ourselves. too. Zach made a big deal that it was you who taught him that. He IS your son. as well as what might have happened…" he trailed off. Noah. At least rationally." "That's very good. "Go right ahead. "You couldn't be wicked if you tried. and you know that. They want to take him to the hospital. I just feel like you're doing stuff with my kid. Well. I didn't think about it that way at all. It's stupid." he finished. I just can't get over what happened here. nagging at me just a little." "It's a deal. pointing to the trailer. I guess it's like your 'secret' of being scared of mice. the innocent question of a child made me laugh. he seemed to get a lot more serious. not counting this. but I could tell he was hurt by being left in the dark. I'm just so overwhelmed with everything that happened tonight. and she'll be the one who will let us know exactly what's going to happen. after all. I walked over to Noah. I slipped my arm around his waist. Suddenly." I said proudly. and he jumped. hun. By the way. you're a natural with him. "I'm so sorry about that. and didn't want you to worry. Can I go play with the nice ladies in the am-boo-lance? They let me turn on the siren.

so what I say goes. As far as emergency custody goes. "Now." Shy Zach immediately disappeared as he giggled. Please don't come in before noon. and the fact that she's about to be incarcerated for a long time makes this a whole lot easier. I saw a scared and shy boy. In fact. I'll be there most of the day doing my own paperwork from tonight. Now do y'all have any questions for me?" Noah looked so happy that he was about to burst. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Ms. "Wait? I have custody of Zach. but we can discuss that then. "Oh my. Now. he clutched the bottom of Noah's shorts. "I'm aware. When she approached. but you can come by the office tomorrow." For the first time." She looked down at her watch." "But you do know that both Noah and I are gay. and hopped out of the back of the ambulance and ran over to his father. I'm sure I'll be there before then. if you were both granted custody." he announced. she immediately crouched down and addressed the boy. if you want. already after three. at least for the emergency custody agreement. There are a few papers that we have to fill out. he loudly exclaimed. clutching his leg. When I was talking with Richard. I do have a legal notice in my car that I'll bring over before I leave. Hollin is an unfit mother. "No! I'm the ONLY boy in the am-boo-lance. Scott is too. I'm the one with the authority to determine who gets it. that's why I'm here. Is that right?" "Well." . You're not going to 'the big house'. Do you want to play in the ambulance some more?" He tapped his lower lip before responding simply. and it's quite possible that they'll take away your custodial rights even if they extend them permanently to Noah.him in the van and take him somewhere. On behalf of the state of Georgia. we agreed that things would simpler. Dr. "The thing I hate most about this job is having to make visits like these. "Ok. there will be a hearing in the near future to determine official custody. "YEAH!!!" several officers and the paramedics. you can go live with your daddy and Scott." and off he went. you still have another visit to make before you can rest. Saunders shook Detective Martin's hand and began walking over to us. Would you like that?" Without any hesitation. Dr. His eyes widened and his lower lip trembled a little as he asked her the same question he asked me earlier. "If you don't want to have custody rights. The arrangement I have with me is already set. too?" "Yes. And from what I understand. let me get that notice. while he stuck three of his fingers from his right hand into his mouth and nodded. Lord knows. "They say mommy's going to a big house. but I was just shocked. and try to get some sleep before I come into the office tomorrow. you must be Zach. "Well good." Dr. I can amend the papers tomorrow. "This part of the job is my favorite part. but there's nothing in the law that says same-sex couples can't share full custodial rights." As if on cue. That's especially true since Noah is using your address as his temporary domicile. who had been talking to themselves all turned to look momentarily at the outburst. "Daddy's the bestest ever. "Hi! My name is Rebecca. With his left hand. right? I mean we don't exactly live in Massachusetts." "Now I have to talk to your daddy and Scott for a few minutes. I officially grant both of you emergency custody of Zach. but I know y'all need to rest as well. but Scott says I don't have to go too. I'd hate to talk to the wrong boy in the ambulance. Saunders chuckled before saying. Zach noticed this as well. Saunders stood up and said.

I agree. but I'll understand. "Thank you so. she walked off towards her car. I added. "Sorry." Noah just laughed. She turned to me. This was my idea. he moves fast. I think. and asked for something. Like you said at dinner." He looked me straight in the eyes. and. She reached a hand out. I was expecting that they would grant you custody. this is just the emergency custody. To top it all off. He asked me like three times if I was sure. you're not the only one who can scheme. ok. which caused confusion for the few cars on the road at the early hour. Dr. I laughed. while I returned to the car. "Scott! Scott! The ladies want to take me for a ride in the am-boo-lance now. "What's wrong? I thought that this is what you wanted?" "It almost is." To Noah. Maybe not in name. who ran over to me first. I just feel like I overstepped my boundary as 'boyfriend' by accepting custody of Zach. and realize that in no way do I think you're stepping on my toes by also having custody. and that means much more than the title." Suddenly. and wiping a tear from his eyes." "What if I'm not sure I'm ready for this step? I don't want to hurt you. "Don't worry about it. Noah was beside himself with glee. Zach. breaking the hug. "Is that all? For the record." Zach then looked to me for clarification. while I was still in shock from the news. "Ok. It'll hurt. "Why don't you ride with him? I'll follow in the car and meet you there. We stood there silently while we waited. and began tugging at my pants. and handed Noah the papers. If you're not sure you want the responsibility. you're a natural with Zach." "But you mentioned finding a new apartment. and drove off. but you were in action. We've just been informed that they're opening up the scene. and the paramedics got in the ambulance. and you were just using my address since you don't even have a bedroom. I'm in this for the long-haul. I was surprised that the ambulance's lights stayed on enroute to the hospital. You have a ride waiting. but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Just think about it. I'll understand. "Today you were a father. I brought it up to Richard when we were on the phone at the trailer." I grinned at that. teasingly. buddy. With that. but he just pulled her into a hug. Wouldn't that be made more difficult if we both have custody?" "Maybe. You don't know how happy you made me. "Congratulations. a paramedic trotted over. We still need to get Zach to the ER just to check him out a little better. it was my turn to be startled when Noah wrapped his arm around me. I shook her hand. Zach and the paramedic just looked at him confused. Saunders returned quickly. Besides." "Scott. Since it wasn't an emergency. I don't know. so much. but they did obey all the traffic lights.With that. look. with a little twinkle in her eye. she said." he said. we were interrupted by Zach. at least for now. still slightly worried that Noah might not be happy with sharing custody with me. she walked out of the crime scene. I get the point. And you think you're not ready?" Noah asked. . Can I go with them?" Just as he finished. you're now a father. It just seemed like a no-brainer." Noah. This time. because he knew we hadn't been dating long. so. Are you ready to go?" "See? He came to you first. Consider it a trial-run at fatherhood.

but it's also only temporary. my brains slowing down. .We pulled into the hospital. They said it was too early. and I don't see why Noah would have a problem with it. I quickly went inside. I did. and will try to make it happen as fast as possible." "Yeah. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that." "How were you bad?" he pressed. "Now that I know everything is ok for the night." I told him. "I don't think you want that. Sometime can I ride in one again when it's making noise?" Noah fielded that one. How is he?" "Zach's fine. Is that what you want?" Zach looked conflicted as he tapped his finger against his chin. I'm going to hang up and get some sleep. and Zach's ok. but otherwise. "Because I was too slow." "Well. Saunders. Is it something that you really don't want?" "No. It sounds like Willow's going away. "Now that we're all ok. I was trying to hide." I said. and they're a little worried that he may have breathed in some smoke. trying. They only turn the sirens on when someone is really badly hurt. They also want to check him out for any signs of abuse." "Ok. it would. That works for me. I'm going to go outside. that's great news on two fronts. after making a notation on the chart. What did Rebecca do?" "Who? Oh. Dr. I'm just worried about overstepping boundaries in our relationship and in his relationship with Zach. and thanks to my new custody. "About damn time. I was taken to the room where they were about to check out Zach. and thank you so much for everything. but your daddy will stay right here with you. "No. I'll let him know. Get some rest. but they're just checking him out. Sorry. Noah insisted. and I found a parking spot. but he insisted. "How did you get these?" he asked the boy. That will be just one less thing you have to worry about. I have a few favors I can call in if need be. but failing. to match his level of excitement. Tomorrow." We hung up. It's after four. buddy. He had his shirt off and the doctor was examining some faded bruises on his back." "I told Noah that I wasn't sure how you'd take that. I really do want it." "Don't be. "Scott! They left the lights on for me! It was so cool! Did you see?" the boy said excitedly as soon as I walked in. but Mommy found me. "They wouldn't turn on the noises though. while the ambulance carrying Noah and my new 'son' went to the emergency bay. ok?" I ruffled the boy's hair and gave Noah a quick hug before stepping out of the room to call Richard. Like I said. and I went back inside Zach's room. He answered the phone on the first ring. I guess not. He was actually disappointed that the paramedics wouldn't turn on the siren. I was bad. We're at the hospital right now. I'm going to need to get up to speed on custody law and maybe see if I can find a way to speed up the official custody hearing. It's possible that it might cause minor tensions here and there. I need to make a phone call. I think the adrenaline is wearing off. he's a perfectly happy four-year old. She gave both of us emergency custody. "Yes. But it'd be fun if I wasn't hurt. Apparently Willow set fire to the trailer when cops showed up.

and I immediately signaled for them to be quiet due to the sleeping tyke in my arms. "I understand. "Well good morning to you. and I know your daddy does too. "Doc." "So is Mommy going to be punished?" Zach asked. I didn't mean to forget it. or if he was just that much of a morning person. While you should always put your toys away. While it was . no. I know you want to be able to observe him a little longer. Actually. you may get punished for breaking rules. I'm pretty sure that the boy was asleep before he'd even touched my lap. but shoving you wasn't working." Noah quietly told the doctor. Zachy." Noah just laughed in response. "Mommy did a lot of bad things today. I'm usually good to go. I am not. I forgot to show you what the am-boo-lance ladies gave me. "Scott. "Are you always this damn chipper? Last night was Hell."I left my fire truck on the floor and Mommy tripped on it. though. I was beginning to get really tired myself. ever." He reached into his pocket and pulled out his toy soldier and finger puppet. That's up to the doctor. but I'll never." he said with a sniffle. but you just have sign a waiver and you're free to go." I said reluctantly "Time to get up. "Sorry to wake you like this." I picked him up. 18. but he's been through so much today. "I thought I losted them. Can you hold me?" "Sure thing. but I couldn't quite tell if it was sarcastically so. I sat up. "It's ok buddy. buddy. "Ok. and the police. Sunshine!" Noah responded. Honest!" Zach said. Once I get some coffee in me. but I guess you're right. Technically you're leaving against my advice. and she's going to be punished for those. that doesn't mean that Mommy was right to hit you. Hitting is much worse than what you did. I still have the soldier you gave me back at the hotel. Ok?" "Ok. then we gathered up our stuff went back to the car. We put Zach in the other bed in Noah's room and quickly said goodnight. hit you. Noah quickly held his son. And you're wrong about last night. I was still carrying Zach while he slept. but I'm not sure about this one. It's nearly eleven. "Not really. and we need to get up and figure out a game plan. I fell asleep the second my head hit the pillow. I'm sleepy now. does that answer your question? We're going to take Zach with us back to the hotel. I promise that as long as you're with me. The doctor quickly finished up his evaluation before pulling Noah out of the room to talk." "Awesome." Zach let out a yawn. too." Noah filled out the requisite form. but they told one of the men with hoses to find them for me. Today's different. I could only imagine how tired he was. and you didn't find anything wrong. His voice was annoyingly chipper. Noah and the doctor walked back in. Chapter 18 . and set him in my lap. All I want is a little more sleep. Maybe you can play with them all in the morning. beginning to cry.Homecoming I awoke when the curtains to my room were thrown open by a fully-dressed Noah. "What the hell?" I demanded." With a groan.

we heard a quiet voice come from Noah's room. Hell. He seems to have that one down pretty well. he yelled his question again." I wrapped my arms around him. and began screaming. I was right behind him. but his attempt to sprint into the adjoining room was stifled when he banged his knee into the dresser. you and I can get though today. We have to go by Child Services. "You say that." he said. we have to go by the trailer. screaming 'Daddy' as loud as he could between sharp gasps for air. and deal with whatever comes up. his hypnotic stare drew me into his sparkling hazel orbs. it ended up being the best night of my life." I added with a laugh. "Daddy?" You could hear the fear in Zach's voice. he hobbled as quickly as he could. Zach was lying on his stomach. "Before. it just felt special to me. and I'm sure there will be some things we didn't think about that will come up suddenly. you've referred to it as 'my' house. Together. though. I mean you get a baby. "We're just going to take things one step at a time today. we'll just take everything one day at a time. I don't really have too much of a say in the matter. Without waiting for a response. Zach's past crawling. ok. I have my son. but there are still accidents. I'm sure Sarah and Tom will be more than willing to help us childproof the house when we get there. All the evil in the world could have descended on us last night.good to go. We really do have a lot we need to do. It wasn't a big deal or anything. Noah jumped out of my arms. just taking in the wonderful emotions permeating the air. There's a lot to go through. "What?" "You just said 'the house'. While it was terrifying at first. he doesn't even really walk anywhere. Now – are you ready to have a four-year-old in your house?" "Well. and it wouldn't change the fact that today my son is coming to live with me!" "Ok. Again. but you only saw him for one day. but loving kiss." "And you're point is?" Noah's confusion was growing. my biggest concern is that I don't know how much needs to be done to child-proof the home. Sorry. a smile slowly spreading across my face. now do I?" I said. I now have custody." Noah continued. He didn't even seem to realize we were in there until Noah picked his terrified son up. Besides. jokingly. I get it. poking him in the ribs. At least I miss out on potty training. "Honestly. Today's different." I looked at him. Instead. and pulled him down. Scott. Suddenly. I'm just not quite awake yet. we have to…" I was abruptly cut off as Noah sat on my lap and gave me a firm. I held his head against my chest for a few minutes. He's mostly got it down. even yesterday when we were talking about you living with me. . at least temporarily. And you're wrong about last night. you have several months to prepare before they can even begin to crawl and around and start getting into shit. "Now listen to me. usually approaching everything at a sprint. Like always. gazing into my eyes. Scott. "Good morning.

" "You got yourself a deal!" I said excitedly. and ruffled his hair. ok?" Zach just nodded in response. I was in the other room talking with Scott. Scott!" he replied.terrified son up. a few minutes later. "I don't have any plans to go anywhere. we have a VEEERY big day today. Ok. tapping his finger against his chin as he did so. is afraid of baths. Zach?" "Ok. after all. I'll be back in a few. here. "Now. I sat down on the bed next to Noah. There may be times were I can't be with you at that moment." he said. so you're still little from the way I see it. of course. I never meant to scare you." "No. while you shower? Then we'll grab lunch and go over to Child Services. Zach sat naked in an empty tub and giggled as his father poured cups of warm water on him." That caused Zach to pout a little bit. His eyes were still brimmed with tears. as he struggled to calm down. at least for a while. but the sobbing continued for a bit. He thought for a moment. "How about I give Zach a quick bath." "Yeah. Noah just bounced him gently in his lap. but only because you're bigger than me. fully-dressed. The boy's eyes went wide and the screaming stopped. "I'm not little! I'm four. "Daddy? Where were you? I thought you lefted me. While he was still giggling from that. Both you and your daddy are going to be moving in with me." I said with a grin plastered on my face. little buddy. Maybe I might be cut out to be a father. We'll have to figure out how to do this better in the future. I get to call YOU 'little buddy' if I'm bigger than you." Not wanting to waste any time. but I'll always come back to you. When I'm all growed up. I gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. almost as if I was a drill sergeant giving orders. Zachy. "Will you leave me?" I smiled at the simplicity of the world as it appears to a child. and I didn't want to deal with an upset kid at the moment. "I guess. well Zach. But he does seem to like this. and his lip continued to quiver as he asked. I'll never leave you again. pouring one last cup of water over the boy's head. repeating soothing words and sounds. but you're a lot shorter than me. so we had to improvise a little. bud?" . I found them in the bathroom. "that's good enough for now. before looking at me. Zach looked up at Noah. I'm sorry I wasn't here when you woke up. When I returned. ok. After a few minutes. "Yeah. Can I call you 'little buddy'?" I'd already learned with Zach that giving him a distraction from what was upsetting quickly caused him to return to his usual self. "I've never seen a bath like this. But first we have to take care of a few things here in town first. and stroked Zach's back. There. I hurried out of the room without hesitation. Sound like a plan?" "That works for me.

and was surprised by an immediate sense of unease while watching them leave and not knowing exactly what was happening. Saunders. He didn't seem that bothered by it." I said with any hesitation or second-thought. That woman was causing a scene all night. this is mostly just a formality. Cheese. it just slipped through the cracks. once we're done here. He explained to Dr." "No." We soon managed to finish up and were out of Dr. "Of course we only have the one set of clothes for now. and strapped him into his seat before climbing in beside Noah. Zach proudly showed her the drawing he'd made of Noah. Although to be fair. where Zach glumly ate his kid's meal. After eating fairly quickly. ok. I know you were overwhelmed yesterday when I granted you custody. Saunders's office by two. but in the chaos. "Don't worry. Once we'd identified ourselves. She led us through a bunch of paperwork. I never would have guessed from her appearance. I watched them go. which we filled out. because he's not supposed to know. but he made sure that I was ok. knowing that this was something that I wasn't going to live down for a long time." Noah had to clamp his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. We bade farewell to the woman we'd only known for twelve hours." He explained. Do you want to have the paperwork amended? This is the chance to do so. eyeing the pocket that Noah had put the toy in the entire time. while Noah and Zach were herded to another room. but "don't tell Daddy. Now let's get some food!" I held Zach's hand as we walked out of the motel. while Zach happily sat on the floor filling out his own 'paperwork' with crayons she kept in a drawer. We went to a nearby fast food restaurant. and I was overwhelmed. If I hadn't known how late of a night she had. Saunders struggled to keep a straight face herself. I can tell how much he looks up to you already. there really wasn't much to contribute. Detective Martin seemed to catch on. We have a room with toys and all that. but since the conversation lasted all of three words from the boy. Saunders how we were friends with the mouse. He quickly came around once he finished and was allowed to play with his new toy." I gave him the little bit I could. . But now that things have settled down a little. but it'll have to do. bud?" "Yeah!" Zach replied as his father grabbed a towel and proceeded to dry him off. I definitely like the idea. but had radically changed all of our lives in that time. and headed off to the police figure out how to do this better in the future. "Scott. and wouldn't have taken any longer than it just did. Zach. we headed over to see Dr. they led me to Detective Martin's desk to take my statement. just from Zach. "I just hadn't thought it was even possible. Now. you're going to have to go to the police station. while Dr." "Good. I'm sure they're going to want official statements. There is no question. based on the evidence we've already collected. "This should've been taken last night. and we've found kids are more responsive when they are in a place they feel a little more comfortable. You really caught me off guard. as to what happened. We don't actually need a statement from Noah. I just shook my head. and with the world'sworst whisper informed her that I was scared. and I standing with Chuck E. I just need you to give me the details of your phone call with Zach.

including two officers. I'm running on fumes at this point." He explained. this morning?" He yawned. There were also plenty of witnesses who watched you arrive after everything had happened. Who knows. She was busy trying to untangle the statements from the onlookers when you arrived last night. Maria. Detective Rodriguez. Maybe see if some of Zach's stuff is salvageable. I doubt you'll be able to find much. but I know we're going to have to replace most of the stuff." "Scott. she and Noah were sitting on the floor. I wouldn't be. It's always possible that it could come up again in court. and we don't even have a change of clothes for him yet. it just slipped through the cracks. "Good idea." I explained to him. is that ok if they . "Sorry. But there were plenty of witnesses." "I'm sure it won't be an issue. I can always send someone else." Detective Martin led me to the room where Zach and Noah were waiting. Noah gave me a confused look. this is my partner. would you be willing to go out to the scene with these three? If you don't want to. Between the smoke and the water." Suddenly I had a thought and turned to the officers. playing with Zach. come back here. the stuff about us being responsible for everything?" "Personally. though. With Zach. I'll just take what I can. I'm just a cop.but in the chaos. and then we can head home. who saw her light her own home on fire and attack a cop." "I don't have a problem with it. "I wanted to see if anything was salvageable. my guess is that most of the stuff inside is ruined. too. Instead. We're taking him back to Atlanta once we're done here." I told her. are we interrupting?" "Not at all. "Maria. but any toys would be good." "One last question. I'm sure he'd want some of HIS stuff when we get to the house. What's the question?" "I was wondering if we could go to the trailer. if possible. I guess it's time for another coffee. Like he had suggested. and then I'd like to gather up Noah and Zach. Clothes especially. though? You just might luck out. After consulting with the doctor who saw Zach. Er." "That's an even better idea. "Should I be concerned about the stuff she was yelling from the car? You know." "Thanks. we are officially adding 'child abuse' to the charges against her. "Wait. Jason. just to make sure that it's consistent with what he told us last night. the officer inside wasn't really asking questions. I trust you to take whatever you think we can salvage. I was helping Zach build a skyscraper using these blocks." "That shouldn't be an issue. But can Zach and I stay here? I'm worried that going back there will upset him. Of course. "Say. it's more going over his statement a second time.

We returned to the station with a half-dozen toys. and I could tell that mildew had already begun to set into his clothes. I dug through them anyway. SCOTT!!! THAT'S GREAT!!" I had to pull the phone away from my ear to prevent hearing loss as Sarah screeched on her end. I called Sarah. and Zach's coming with us. Aren't you spending the weekend with Noah's kid?" "Actually. and the two of them would stay with us until we figured everything out." Tom stated. including. is that ok if they stay here?" I realized that we were making plans to utilize a room of the police station without even asking. most of them seemed like they were too small for Zach to wear anyway. Unfortunately. "Wait. I gathered up Noah. Both Detectives Martin and Rodriguez laughed at that. "Is this maybe a little too soon?" . who held Zach. his fire truck from the day before. Oh." "OH MY GOD." I waited until Tom announced that he was there to. even if I had been able to find clothes I thought we could clean. I could hear noise in the background as she tried to relay information to Tom. I also found a stuffed bunny that seemed to have escaped the water damage. but I hoped that I'd be able to wash it enough to get rid of the smell. before we got in the car to return home. always a voice of reason. I did manage to salvage a handful of toys. The short version is that Noah and I are on our way home right now. and I'll just explain it when we get home. but Noah insisted that I have custody as well." "Wait. asleep. now awake. somewhat ironically. The trip out was mostly a bust. that's why I'm calling. "Hello?" "Hi. "What do you mean 'we'?" "Since Noah lives in an efficiency. All that remained of the first four years of Zach's life. and we were granted emergency custody of Zach. You said 'we'. I rode with Detective Rodriguez in her squad car. Shoved between the wall and his bed. just put the phone on speaker so I can talk to both of you.head home." "Oh my God! Is everything ok? What happened?!" She cried out. It still reeked of smoke. "That's not a problem. they were going to set it up so that my place was his temporary address." Detective Martin answered. shi…crap hit the fan this weekend. thanking them profusely. Tom. "Basically." "I'm surprised to hear from you. but I hoped I'd be able to clean it up. asked. Zach's room reeked of smoke. I needed to get a bedroom opened up in the house. It's a long story. As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot. Even Zach. clutching several trash bags that I hoped to fill. "Sarah. it's me. That's still the plan." Suddenly I had a thought and turned to the officers. in his arms and shook both detectives' hands. winced at the volume from the back seat. It was very sooty. Sarah. hoping to find something.

I looked back. Hopefully they didn't think I'd completely lost my marbles and was now talking to myself. Zach needs clothes. Your legal standing may be terminated at the hearing. or we may decide it's simpler to have it revoked whenever I find a place. At least wait until tomorrow to deal with that. since my current living situation isn't amenable to having custody. Tom made a good point that hadn't sunk in yet for me. it just felt like the right thing to do. and Zach was fighting back tears. "You always just worked from the couch and never used it. you can help if you want. of course!" I told him. I know people who have been together for years but don't have legal custody of their step-children." "Well. "It was a bit impulsive. even if it's just for tonight. "But only because you're taller than me." After I hung up. "You know. Isn't granting custody to me a little too soon in our relationship? I mean. We still need to get home. Richard mentioned in passing that it would be simpler overall if you had joint custody. we will have to figure out where to go from there. Whenever I find my own place. the better he'll be. at least Zach can have his own bedroom. "Is this maybe a little too soon?" "Honestly. asked. I'm sure there's stuff in there that you or your parents might want. until I heard a quiet sniffle in the back seat. at least while we were staying at your house. a little more emphatically than intended." "That works for me. We'll figure out the rest of the details later." "No!" I said. Again. We'll have the bedroom ready for Zach by the time you guys get home. and then try to hit the mall before it closes. as a matter of fact. "I guess the couch for now. it's only temporary." I paused for second. As he said that. I'm calling because we need to open up a bedroom for Zach to stay in. After all the hell that my boy has gone through. "Alright. "If this was an ordinary relationship." In response. I turned to Noah. always a voice of reason. Noah noticed as well. but the way you two have taken to each other. That way everyone can have a bedroom. it seemed like the natural choice. but technically the arrangement is only temporary. However.Tom. I'd say yes." "What about Steve's office?" Tom asked. and the little guy has really taken to me already. Tom. If you want – Sarah and I can go through it and clean it out. I haven't been able to bring myself to go in there since Steve died. we'll see you then." "That's right. thinking over what I had just said before adding. would it be too much if I were to ask you to move your stuff into Sarah's room? That way." We rode in relative silence for a while after that. and then realized that Tom and Sarah probably couldn't even hear Zach. and it's not a bad idea." Tom responded. I returned to the reason I called. Me too. Hell. what I mean is that I thought about doing that. "Actually. I just think the more he knows that you and I are there to support him. "Anyway. probably. But I just feel like it's something I need to do. "Sorry." a little voice behind me perked up." "Oh? And where will Noah sleep?" Sarah asked suggestively. Noah first sighed. .

" I said with a laugh as I climbed out of the car. When I come up with the next brilliant plan to make him feel better. "If you'd prefer. She was out on the porch. – – – * * * – – – Sarah must have been staring out the windows waiting for us to get home. You're also going to be living with two other great people." he responded dejectedly. Sarah was all over him. eyes wide with fright. deal?" He said. He wasn't quite crying. Fortunately. "What's wrong Zachy?" Noah asked his son. Can you be the big. By the time I had unstrapped Zach and got him out of the car. I'll drive if you want to sit with him. you're already as much his father as I am. but I managed to stay that way until we got home. while slowing down and pulling onto the shoulder of the highway. pull over. I get to be the one to put it in action. This is a big change for all of us. and Zach was fighting back tears. Does that sound ok to you?" Zach just nodded slightly. and he's leaving the only home he ever knew. I looked back. "I know you are. I'm not trying to step on your toes or anything. At least legally. where you are going to stay with me and Scott. "But what if I don't like it there? I like my house. I'm going to ride in the back with Zach. "But I'm scared." "If you don't like it. "Why?" "Just do it. he just nodded before quietly saying. no. "Noah. but it's just something he doesn't know how to deal with. before we even stopped the car. and didn't wake up until we arrived. He grabbed the leg of . Fortunately. Noah noticed as well. Zach woke up as we came to a stop." Noah sighed." "No. brave four-year old we all know you are?" He tapped his chin for a moment before shaking his head. "I miss my house. and we're going to have SOOO much fun together. "Deal. It was uncomfortable. though." For his part." I told him. I quickly got in the back. buddy. but he was definitely still sniffling. It didn't seem to bother Zach at all. He fell asleep after a few minutes." With that he started sucking on his fingers on his left hand while wiping his eyes with his right. "I'm your Auntie Sarah. who just buried his face into my bicep. talk to me or your daddy. Ok?" Again. We both know he'll be fine. His whole world's turned upside down. "I know you do. "We'll see what we can do to fix it to make it better for you. "Oh aren't you just the cutest thing ever!" She squealed. Tom and Sarah. "Uh-uh. It was your idea. so you can do it. before quickly adding. and I was able to free my arm and get a little feeling back in" I told him." I said. Zach just backed away from her. and wrapped an arm around Zach. but we're moving to Scott's house. dragging Tom behind her. Noah and I were right beside him.

Zach removed his fingers from his mouth and quietly said. but he seemed to be sizing-up the situation from a perspective he was comfortable with. but warned him to be careful. His whole world has been turned upside down. Then to Zach. I'm going to be right beside you. The man next to her is Tom. I know this should be an exciting time. much the same way he had done when he had met Dr. Right now. I set Zach down.For his part. "I can't promise that I'll never get upset at you. right?" Again. "Hi. who quickly released Noah's pants and giggled happily. How does that sound?" Zach looked in my eyes and his eyes showed no signs of fear for the first time since we had arrived. Zach. I wasn't surprised by it. "Remember how I told you that there were two very nice people that would be living with us?" Zach just nodded at his father. too. "Well. ok? This is your home now. "Just help me carry our stuff inside. Sarah looked a little put off by his reaction. The rest will come naturally. eyes wide with fright. He grabbed the leg of Noah's shorts and stuck his fingers in his mouth. still a little apprehensive." I saw Tom give a mock-salute as I carried the squirming tyke up the stairs to the porch. but I can promise I'll never be mean like her. but his concern seemed to fade a little. That way. "Just give him a little time to adjust to things. . you'll already know where to go. if you ever need to. Sarah tried to apologize to Noah for how over-the-top she acted. "Sarah. Tom." He didn't loosen the death grip he held on Noah's shorts. his concerns were showing. not an 'Auntie Sarah'. but I think he might be near his breaking point at the moment. Can you say 'hi' to them for me?" For his part. he added. but Noah stepped in before I could say anything. so I won't have to play hide. Zach just backed away from her. "Look. but I'll bring you up to speed while Scott shows Zach around. so I want you to look all around. and told him to explore." I responded as truthfully as I could." I added to Sarah. you're recruited to help too. and find all the best spots to play 'hide'. "It doesn't help that he literally just woke up from a nap. this nice lady is Sarah. Just be 'Sarah'. He nodded. Saunders. please calm down. Everything I've seen of him shows just how strong he is for such a little guy." "C'mon. but it was clear he was still overwhelmed and a little frightened. he needs love and support. scooping up the boy. let's go check out your new home!" I added brightly. "It's my home now?" "Of course it is!" "But you're not mean like Mommy. but he just shrugged it off.

this is the porch. I'm sure your daddy would love to push you on the swings. One moment. Steve was utilitarian in that everything in the room had a specific purpose. For a moment. I felt like I could feel him again. "Well. really high."Ok. and red pens. and trinkets and mementos covering nearly all available surfaces. Steve's office. Scott?" I steeled my resolve. but most of it was just stuff. the conditions he was living in. but he lacked the ability to utilize his organization scheme simply due to the sheer volume of stuff. He seemed very curious about all the kitchen cabinets. by not even stepping foot in 'his' room. He was in awe of how big and clean the house was. "Oh my God! That poor boy!" and I knew immediately that Noah was well into the story. Unfortunately for Zach. I also went down the slide all by myselfs!" It would never cease to amuse me the way the mind of a young child worked. it wasn't like something you'd see in a reality show. It was neat and orderly with everything in exactly the right place. We were back in my bedroom when I heard Sarah exclaim. and simply said. "Now let's go inside and see the rest of the house. and there's a swing we can sit on later. Ok?" "Yeah!" Slowly I let him lead me from room to room. Don't get me wrong. especially ones that had chemicals in them. especially when he only ever used the computer to write anything anyway. Finally we came to the one room I hadn't been in for over a year. while still managing to look completely overwhelming with brimming bookcases. and the next he was rambling on about something that any adult would think hardly warranted comment. "What's in here." "Great!" I said enthusiastically." "Yay!" he said with a level of enthusiasm that only a kid could muster. there's a few really neat parks nearby that we can go to someday. he was almost too scared to speak." "I like swings! Daddy took me to a park once and I got to ride on the swings and pushed me really. but I never understood why he needed four containers for writing utensils (black. or the actual events of the night before. or anything. "Well. Sure. but he wouldn't let me jump because I might get hurted. I'd done myself a great disservice. . Maybe if I'd been strong enough to face it earlier I could have started coping with the death of Steve much earlier. but I realized that it would be cathartic if nothing else. It still hurt a lot to think about going through everything." and opened the door. and I made a mental note that we should consider putting locks on the cabinets. I realized that. The room was completely Steve. I had no idea if he had just described Willow. and I thought I'd be able to fly. stacks of meticulously organized papers. some of the things in the room had sentimental value to me. "Let's find out. as well as pencils) with at least a dozen in each container. but then I realized I was wrong. blue. I have no better way to describe it than that.

I was pulled from my reverie by Zach tugging at my shorts. The two of us were boyfriends for many years. Suddenly. but I'd been lost in my own thoughts. Apparently he'd been trying to get my attention. I wasn't particularly interested. which caught the attention of the others. and I had to pay $15 to get my camera back. "Scott. He had a brother who looked exactly like him. I remember when Gramma went bye-bye. I wrapped my arms around Zach. We had been sightseeing in the Virgin Islands when a local approached us and asked if we wanted a free picture with a burro. . Scott!" Zach said loudly. I crouched down to his level. Scott. It was a scam. "That's not Tom in the picture. "I'm just confused." "Oh. so I took the moment to wipe the single tear that had managed to escape my eye. I decided that direct honesty was probably the best policy in this case. embracing the little guy firmly. I was engulfed as the young boy launched himself in my arms. Where is he?" I thought for a moment. "I'm sorry. "He died. especially if he was ever worried that Steve might show back up again at some point. Mommy cried for a week. but Steve was. He was hurt so badly that the doctor's couldn't make him better. tears began to fill my eyes. "He got hurt very badly." I figured that was all the reaction I was going to get from Zach. who rushed to the study. and he handed me a picture frame containing a photo of Steve and I on our honeymoon.would be cathartic if nothing else. or Tom?" The threatening tears began to dry as I saw Tom cover his mouth to keep from laughing. "Don't cry. It turned out I was right to be wary. Are you boyfriends with Daddy. As much as I tried to fight them. and a quick glance to Noah confirmed that he was just as moved as I." He kissed my cheek and buried his face in my neck." "Oh. Scott. Then he tried to sell us weed. trying to figure out the best way to put it. what's this?" he asked when he finally got my attention. "I love you. Do you know what that means?" Zach just shook his head." Fresh tears filled my eyes.

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