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Authors: Mia Watts

Actually (7 page)

BOOK: Actually
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For the second time in as many days, Aaron’s heart broke. Their parents weren’t the only deaths that day. Mike had fallen through the cracks of self-loathing. Aaron, caught up in the stupid pieces of life and living, had let him. God, what a fucking pair they’d turned out to be.
Aaron stood, flushed his sick and rinsed his mouth. He splashed cold water on his face and dabbed it off as he stared at his reflection. He couldn’t let the lie stand. Mike needed to come clean, and Aaron needed to hear it.
Taking a deep breath, he exited the tiny room and made his way to the couch. Aaron took a seat on the edge of the coffee table facing Mike.
“Hey, kid. I’m glad you’re home,” he started.
“I can’t believe you called the fucking cops on me,” Mike snarled.
Aaron looked up at Ian. “This might get messy. Are you sure you want to stay?”
“I’m here for both of you,” Ian answered.
Mike snorted. “I don’t do guys.”
“You don’t do drugs either,” Aaron stated.
“Do you want me to leave?” Ian asked Aaron.
Aaron looked at his little brother. He’s been experimenting with eyeliner and it smudged beneath his eye like he’d either sweated it off or rubbed away a tear. Considering the temperatures outside, Aaron would be the latter. They had a lot to discuss and all of it was deeply personal.
“I’ll call you later,” Aaron replied. “I don’t know when. I don’t know if Mike will be in school tomorrow, but I’ll call you.”
“Later,” Ian repeated with understanding. “You got it.”
Aaron kept his eyes locked on Mike’s while Ian walked away. He stayed silent through the sound of Ian’s car starting up and backing down the driveway. Neither of them spoke.
“So there’s this thing I have to say to you,” Aaron began.
Mike flopped back on the couch, his arms folded stubbornly across his chest. “I can come and go when I want. You aren’t my dad. You aren’t big enough to stop me anymore.”
Aaron propped his forearms on his thighs. “The thing I have to say is, I love you. I’m really glad you came home.”
Mike’s face melted and he jerked his head to the side as his eyes filled with tears. “Fuck you.” His voiced sounded as strangled as Aaron’s heart.
“You scared the shit out of me, Mikey. I can’t lose you. If you want to hold that over me to manipulate me, go ahead. I love you, and I’m not losing you too.”
Something shifted in Mike. A wall came up or something slid into place, and Aaron realized he was being shut out.
“You and Officer Gunder go way back,” Aaron said, trying a different tack.
Mike shrugged.
“Do you remember him? He was there the night—the night of the accident,” Aaron recounted, unable to say,
the night Mom and Dad died
.
Mike looked at him cautiously, his brows drawn together, and his eyes narrowed.
“I love you, Mike. There’s nothing you can tell me that will take that away.” Every time he said it, Mike’s façade chipped a little more. He’d keep saying it until there was nothing left. “Do you hear me? I love you. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I heard you.”
“Nothing. The past is over. It can’t be brought back or replayed. It can’t be changed because it is what it is and it makes us who we are today. This, right now,
this
is all we can work with,” Aaron said touching his chest and motioning between them. “What we do with it makes us or breaks us.”
“Trite, Aaron. Even for you,” he spat.
“You disagree? I’d love to hear how you think we can bring them back. How you think we can make everything different. I haven’t found a way and believe me, I’ve been trying.” Aaron laughed humorlessly. “I’ve been beating my head against a wall trying to take us back to the way things used to be, and I’m failing miserably. So
you
tell
me
. How do we fix it?”
Mike dropped his gaze. “You’re doing fine. I’m doing fine. We’re both fucking fine.”
“No, we aren’t. We’re a disaster spinning out of control. I’m hardly here, caught up in mundane shit and you’re—I don’t know where the hell you are, but I’m trying to get to you, Mikey. I’m trying.”
“You wouldn’t if you knew. You’d leave too.”
“If I knew what? That you were the driver that night?”
Mike looked up in shock.
“I know. Granted, I just found out, but I know. Do you see me heading for the door?”
The tears came freely now, spilling down Mike’s cheeks. Angrily he rubbed at them with the heel of his palm only to have them replace with more.
“I love you. I love you. I love you. I’m not going away. I’m staying with you. Hear me,” Aaron urged, feeling his own cheeks grow moist.
“I hear you.”
“Do you? I know you were driving Mom and Dad that night. I know you hit a tree. I know you lied to me about it. I
know
.” Aaron put his hand on Mike’s knee. “I know and I’m still sitting across from you trying to make you see that we are the only family that matters now. You and I, and we’re going to make this thing work.”
“Why, because that’s what they would’ve wanted?”
“Of course they would’ve. Don’t you? I want you for my family.”
“Don’t you hate me for what I’ve done?” Mike shouted. “I killed them. It’s my fault they’re dead! I did it!”
Aaron moved to the couch. “Did you do it on purpose?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“No! It was an accident. I took my eyes off the curve for one minute. That’s all. I swear and this guy came out of nowhere!”
“Okay.”
“It’s not okay!” Mike shouted again. He’d stopped wiping away the tears. Black eyeliner glistened like heavy weights beneath his eyes.
“It was an accident,” Aaron reminded him.
“I didn’t mean to kill them.”
Aaron hugged him close. At first, Mike stiffly accepted the embrace. Then slowly, his arms circled Aaron’s torso and he sank against his older brother.
“I know you didn’t mean to. I know you’ve been having a hard time with it too. Only a person who thinks he deserves to be punished wanders around alienating himself from all the things he used to love about living. Only someone suffering from guilt and pain would try to make others around him push him away. You think they should hate you as much as you hate yourself.”
“Don’t you?” Mike’s question muffled against Aaron’s shoulder.
“No. I love you, remember? You’re my family. We’re what’s left and I’m not losing you, too. I refuse to be a family of one.”
That made Mike laugh. He let go, hanging his head as he sat up. “A family of one. That’s lame.”
“True. I’d rather have a brother who loves me so much that he thinks I’m safer without him, even if he’s wrong.”
Mike lifted his chin. “I thought you’d hate me. I thought you’d find out and leave me to CPS.”
“Hell no. What does the government know about raising kids? Taxes? Sure. Kids, not so much.”
That brought another groaning chuckle from Mike.
“So you’re in this with me?” Aaron asked.
Mike nodded.
“Then we have to cooperate with one another. I need you to go to school so CPS doesn’t decide I’m a bad guardian and take you away from me.”
“I’ll go to school.”
“Awesome. I’d also really like it if you got involved with soccer and basketball again. You’re great at sports and we could kind of use the college assistance.”
“I don’t know. I’ve pissed off a lot of the team.”
“Here’s a tip about being a grown up: you fix your problems. Don’t look at me like that,” Aaron scoffed. “I just learned that one! It’s gold!”
“Fine. I’ll go talk to the coach. Anything else?”
“Sara? I’m not going to tell you not to see her. That’s your decision. I don’t think she’s in your best interests though.”
Mike shoulder bumped Aaron. “Too late. I broke up with her. I don’t do drugs.”
Pride swelled in Aaron’s chest. “Smart kid.”
“I thought I was an adult.”
“Only if you fix your problems. I’ve decided that’s the new definition,” Aaron teased. “Do you have any thoughts for me on how I could be a better big brother?”
“You do alright.”
“Counseling together?” Aaron offered.
“Sure. And can you maybe be home for dinner?”
“You want to have dinner every night?” Aaron asked, surprised.
“Yeah. Like when Mom used to make us come to the table.”
“I will do my very best to be home in time to make and eat dinner with you as much as possible. And you can help me keep the house clean.”
“Deal,” Mike agreed. “And maybe I’ll cook sometimes because you’re not so good in the kitchen.”
Aaron grinned. He sounded more and more like the old Mike. The realization soothed him like a balm. Yeah, they’d get back on track.
“Dude, one more thing,” Mike said.
“Shoot.”
“Don’t fuck Mr. Mitchell when I’m home. I’m not sure I can handle that.”
Aaron laughed. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t do that. You’re an impressionable youth. You might think it’s okay to bring someone home, and there’s no way in hell I’m condoning sex to a minor under my care.”
“I don’t care if he’s here. I like Mr. Mitchell, but I’m not really prepared for the guy on guy love thing.”
“I can understand that. Besides, Ian isn’t out to anyone yet. We all need to keep it under wraps for him.”
“Well, maybe he ought to tell Ms. Mallory because she’s all over him at school,” Mike said. He stood. “I’ve reached my quotient for heart to heart talks. Do you mind if I go upstairs for a while?”
Aaron smiled. “Sure. But Mike?” Mike stopped on the first stair. “I love you.”
Mike laughed. “I love you too, bro.”

Chapter Seven

Aaron took his lunch break away from the store. Pulling up in front of Westwood High, he turned off the ignition in his car and sat for a moment. This conversation had to happen in person. After calling Ian Sunday night to let him know that Mike was back on track, he’d left their budding relationship unresolved.

Then he’d called Barney to let him off the hook. In case he’d felt hooked by their one kiss. Barney, being Barney, had assured Aaron that waiting wasn’t in his nature. He’d finished by suggesting that if Aaron did come back to school, he should look him up to see if they could pick up where they’d left off.

Aaron still thought about that. He had no idea where his relationship with Ian was headed. He hoped, but he had no guarantees.
Aaron picked up his cell phone and found Barney’s contact information. A lot had changed in three months. The first holiday without his family would occur next week. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same, but it could still be good.
He’d
changed too. He wasn’t the same guy who’d hook up just to see if he could get his rocks off. He had obligations and more than ever he understood the link between responsibilities and consequences. Mike did too. They were learning the hard way, together.
Aaron knew something else, too. The truth was worth telling.
He opened the text file for Barney. “Won’t be back. Find blood in the water without me.”
A moment passed and Barney replied. “What up?”
“Changing directions, actually.”
“Cool. Talk later. Got class.”
Aaron tucked away his phone. He got out of the car and went inside the building. After signing in at the office, he declined directions to Ian’s classroom. He already knew the way, assuming they hadn’t shuffled him around.
He turned left and located the last door on the right. Mr. Mitchell’s name place hung on the wall beside the opened door. The classroom was empty of students, and Aaron poked his head in only to find that Ian wasn’t there either.
He walked to the Ian’s desk, inhaling the scents of the school that brought back so many memories. Finding a pen and notepad on his desk, Aaron wrote out a note for him to call.

Ian tucked his notebook under his arm and made the corner into his room. He smiled when he saw Aaron bent over his desk, his ass pulling taut the fabric of his jeans. Ian had been trying to give him space, but the visit was more than welcome.

“Hey, stranger,” Ian’s warm voice said from behind him.
Aaron stood up. “Hey. I was just leaving you a message.”
“Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Aaron said smiling. “We just need to talk about a few things.” He looked good, relaxed. He looked like he’d been sleeping, and the color had returned to

his face. Even his smile slipped easily into place like it used to, having lost the tightness around the mouth that Ian had come to expect the past few weeks.
“Like?” Ian asked.
Aaron glanced at his watch. Ian’s gaze followed. “I’m on lunch break now, but you can come over later.”
Ian lifted his brows feeling a moment of anxiety. “That bad, huh?”
Aaron laughed, but he didn’t deny it. “Just come over later. Mike has detention to make up for missed days, and he’s talking to the coach after that. I think we need to sort a few things out.”
“I’ll be there,” Ian agreed.
“Good.” Aaron came to him, rubbed Ian’s arm. “I look forward to it.”
If they hadn’t been in school, he’d have kissed Aaron. He didn’t like the finality of the way he was talking. Like he meant to end things between them.
He didn’t like this at all.
“Stop looking so worried,” Aaron teased.
“Worried about what?” A woman said from just inside the room.
“Leanne, this isn’t a good time,” Ian said tightly.
“Sure it is. I was leaving.” Aaron sent him another smile.
“Wait. Aaron, she can come back later.”
“No, it’s fine. I have to get back to work.”
Aaron disappeared and Ian couldn’t help but feel like he’d just walked out of his life.
Shit
.
“Damn it, Leanne, I was having a private conversation,” Ian snapped.
She crossed her arms and pursed her lips.
“What? What can’t possibly wait a few more minutes?”
Her expression was classic Leanne, and it never failed to annoy him. “Oh,” she said with apparent understanding. “Was that the Hedlund kid?”
He sighed. “Yeah.”
“Sorry, I didn’t realize.”
“It’s okay. I’ll catch up with him later.” Ian dismissed her by organizing the papers on his desk.
She didn’t take the hint. “So this weekend I’m wide open.”
Ian had no doubt in his mind that she meant that exactly how she’d said it. “I’m not.”
Leanne sashayed toward him as though her hips would hypnotize him into acceptance. “Are you sure? I thought I’d light a few candles, play some classical music and order from that fancy little French place downtown. I’d hate to spend the evening alone.”
Ian stopped shuffling. Like Aaron’s apparent need to take his time to say whatever he wanted to say, Ian supposed Leanne needed the same consideration. “Okay. I’ll be there tomorrow night. No music and candles, and maybe we have Chinese takeout instead, but we should sort this out.”
Leanne grinned broadly. “You got it.”
The lunch bell went off. He had five minutes, but he looked at it anyway, to motivate her departure.
“I’ll see you Friday night at my place. I’ll swing by tomorrow after school and leave the address on your desk,” she said as she left.
He lifted a hand in acknowledgement. Now if only he could find the words to turn her down without outing himself in the process.
* * * *

BOOK: Actually
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ads

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