Authors: J. Roman
“I can, baby. I will. Please, let me tell someone.” I just knew Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie would help if they knew. I knew Jason had forbidden Kevin, his best friend, from telling anyone, but this was a new situation. My uncles didn’t count. They would get him the help he needed. I knew they would.
“No. Please, just take me home, Tommy. Please.” Jason closed his eyes and seemed to shrink into my passenger seat.
. I knew the stony expression that was threatening to come over his face. That was Jason’s I’m-not-dealing-with-reality-and-I-care-but-I-say-I-don’t look. I sighed again in frustration.
The worst part about having a boyfriend like Jason was that he thought he was a freaking island or something. He never let me actually help. I could deal with the aftermath of his emotional wreckage, and I could put a bandage on whatever wound he brought to my attention, but I could never fight the bad guy, never fix the problem. I could just clean up the mess afterward. I should’ve been used to that by now. I should’ve been prepared for my life as the continual observer, but it still sucked. Just like when my mom was dying, I was helpless to do anything but wait and hope we’d make it through another day.
We used napkins from my glove box to wipe off the side of the door, and I tried not to gag too much. Jason apologized over and over again as we cleaned, and I told him continuously that it was okay and I wasn’t mad or anything. I tossed the dirty papers into a nearby trash can before returning to my Camaro. Exhaustion made my shoulders slump and my movements slow as I sat in the driver’s seat for the second time that night.
I cranked the engine and backed out of the space. We had a twenty-minute ride back to my house, and I imagined the smell of puke wasn’t going to dissipate in the time it took to get there. I glanced over at Jason as I pulled out onto the main road and hopped on the highway.
He was beautiful as usual, a little paler, but still just as beautiful despite his sickness. Brown hair that had just a bit of a wave to it was cut long enough to run your hands through, and his eyes, even though I couldn’t see them in the dim light of the interior of my car, were a deep jungle green, mysterious and unpredictable. He had a smaller build than me, thinner, with muscles defined more by natural fitness than any diet regimen or workout. He used to be on the basketball team, but he’d quit some time back. I think he only did it for popularity’s sake anyway, because he was definitely not into most sports.
Most people never saw past his pretty smile. They saw him as they wanted to see him, a beautiful, catty statue of high school perfection. I saw more. I’d always seen more. I just didn’t know what the extra bit was until I’d asked him out and we’d started dating again. Most people who knew about the first time we’d “dated”—“hooked up” would’ve been a more accurate phrase—thought I was crazy for going out with him. It had ended badly. He’d posted a video to my mom’s blog that had included me practicing my oral exam skills with him after a football game. Needless to say, we didn’t speak for a while. But that was behind us.
Jason does “pretty” very well, and he fools everyone into thinking he doesn’t know how to do anything else. What people don’t see is the sharp wit, killer sense of humor, and sweetness that is tinged with just a bit of a bite to give it real flavor. He wasn’t easy to figure out but would tell you exactly what was on his mind whenever he thought you needed to hear it, and I was fascinated with him from the beginning. Those qualities had made me fall head over ass in love with him, and I’ve been in love with him ever since. However, when I’d signed up to be his boyfriend, I hadn’t counted on him coming with more emotional scars than a starving refugee from a war-torn country. I was starting to crack, and I just couldn’t let him realize it.
is going on?” Uncle Mark asked as I came out of my bedroom after tucking Jason into bed. He was supposed to finish his calculus homework, but he’d been exhausted, and I’d insisted that he rest after his ordeal. I knew him, and I knew his panic, and I knew he would have a meltdown the second he tried to use busy work to not think about what had happened at his job between him and his stepdad.
Uncle Mark’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me. Now, Thomas.”
My stomach started churning, and I gauged how much information he would let me get away with not sharing. “Jason had a rough night at work.”
I shrugged. “Not rough enough to need stitches?” At least not external ones. I started to sweat. Where were my cousins when I needed them? More often than not, Dean ran interference for the two of us when it came to probing questions by Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie. It was like they knew we weren’t coming clean or something.
“You know you can talk to me. You both can,” Uncle Mark began.
I held up a hand, pleading with him. “Seriously, I got it. There is nothing going on that I can’t handle. Jason just gets wigged out sometimes. He’s my boyfriend. I am responsible.”
“You are still a child, Thomas. You are not responsible for this or anything else while you live under our roof.”
I really hated when he talked “dad” to me. It didn’t matter that Uncle Charlie and he had been the only real father figures in my life. I didn’t want anyone to try and parent me. I was used to being the man of the house, and I really didn’t appreciate the idea that I was some helpless kid in need of saving.
. I swear. Please, lay off. I have a ton of homework, and I have to get up early.” I wanted to go for a swim in the morning before weights. I needed to keep swim-ready for the spring season. I was captain of the swim team, after all. Jason would either ride with me or get a ride with Dean. After tonight’s debacle, he’d probably want to ride with me. That was cool. He could do his homework while he waited on me to finish.
Uncle Mark sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Fine. I’ll just have to ask Jason myself.”
!” I snapped, panic and adrenaline instantly dousing my insides. If Uncle Mark stuck his nose in it, Jason was liable to panic even worse than he was currently. He was already trying to erect barriers and establish distance. I’d worked too damn hard to get him to open up to me to see it ruined by Uncle Mark’s meddling. “It’s none of your business. He’s just having trouble with his stepdad and is depressed about it. He just needs his boyfriend. Let me deal with it!”
Uncle Mark considered me for longer than I really wanted him to, but in the end he nodded. “I mean it, Tommy. If you need us, we’re here.”
I rolled my eyes and continued on my way without comment. Instead of parking it on the couch or at the kitchen table like I usually did when I had homework, I went to the side door and out onto the small enclosed patio attached to the house. It was still cold out, but it wasn’t unbearable with the small space heater turned on. I turned the dial on the heater and then sat in the armchair closest to it. The room was nearly all windows, so the chill was understandable. I rummaged in the backpack I’d slung down beside me and tried to remember the most pressing thing I had due tomorrow. There was an essay for Mrs. Ferguson in lit class. That could wait. Algebra II was probably the first thing I needed to do, but… images of that man touching Jason wouldn’t get out of my mind.
“Won’t work, you know. When he’s involved, it’ll just go in your head over and over. The only way to get him off your skin is to wash it off with something else.”
I looked up at the now-open doorway where Jason leaned casually against the frame. “I thought you were in bed napping?” I asked. He’d been so shaken up not twenty minutes ago. Now he looked cocky as heck, and he had a glint in his eyes that was dangerous. I’d seen that devil-may-care attitude before.
“I was. Now I’m bored. I’m going out. Want to come?”
I hesitated. If I didn’t offer him something, he was going to bolt. “Uncle Mark is in a mood, so I doubt he’ll let us go.” It was the wrong thing to say.
“No one tells me what to do! I’m not a child. They’re not going to trap me here! Got it? No one gets to put me in a box!” I tensed at the animal look in Jason’s eyes. He was wild.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked quietly. I didn’t know how or where we were going, but I knew I had to get him moving, get him out of the house and away from questions.
“I don’t know. I don’t….” He paled again. He shook his head as if he were arguing with internal voices. He expected me to either be for or against him. If he walked out the door without me, I knew I had lost him.
Expectation is the root of all heartache
. I would drink down his heartache in any way I could, delay the disappointment he would feel when I inevitably let him down. I wished Mom was alive for the millionth time. She always knew what to tell me and helped me weigh my options.
“Where do you want to go, baby?” I asked again.
He swallowed. “Bowling alley?” He wanted to score some beer. The bowling alley was the easiest place to get a pitcher since they never carded. I really needed to finish up this homework. I loved him so absolutely, though.
“Bowling alley is fine. Say you need to sleep with me and we’ll go to bed. When Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie crash, we’ll head out.”
I saw the tension drain out of his body and that cocky look that marked his insanity take hold of him once again. “It’s a school night. You know Mark and Charlie won’t let us sleep together.”
“Shit. You’re right. You’ll have to tell Dean.”
We are so going to get caught
. I stuffed what few supplies I’d grabbed out of my backpack back into it and pushed myself to my feet.
He grinned. “Fine by me. Two hot guys as an escort with some beer to bring my night around right sounds like a freaking fabulous way to relax.” He ran his hands over my back, but I didn’t take the comfort from the action as I usually did. I had to protect him.
“I’ll go play nice with Uncle Mark ’til he goes to bed. You go tell Dean what we’re doing and then hit the sheets yourself. Just be careful not to wake up Christian when you guys come downstairs.” Danny and Christian shared a room that was connected by a doorway to Dean’s room. Jason’s was across the hall from Dean’s in Uncle Mark’s former office. Danny might sleep like the dead, but Christian and Dean were both insanely light sleepers.
Jason rolled his eyes but nodded. “I swear to God, that kid is like a burglar alarm.” We’d had our fair share of reprimands because Jason had tried to sneak downstairs to sleep with me on a school night.
I pressed a kiss to his lips, needing some kind of connection between us. It wasn’t like we’d never done something “bad” or never snuck out to have a bit of fun. I’d certainly done it before him, and I would probably still do it with him long after we settled into a perfectly comfortable, long-term relationship. However, it was the reason behind our outing that made me uneasy. When his lips collided with mine, it was like kissing a stranger.
house was quiet as we opened the side door that let out of the kitchen by my bedroom. Dean ducked under the doorframe and out onto the darkened porch. It was barely eleven, but our house tended to bed down early. When I’d lived with my mom, that hadn’t been the way she did things. She had been a night owl and was often up until two or three in the morning. Luckily for us, Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie were early risers instead.
A quick assessment of the driveway told me that the only two cars we could get out without moving all of them were Uncle Charlie’s, no thank you, or Dean’s. My cousin’s car was far from reliable.
. I could’ve sworn I was the last person in tonight, but Dean’s car parked behind mine meant he’d come in after me.
“You have a late class tonight or something, Dean?” I asked.
In the streetlight I saw Dean’s brows lower in his classic way that said two things: one, whatever was going to come out of his mouth next would be a big fat lie and two, that it was going to be smart-ass as hell. “Yoga class. Helps my flexibility, and the instructor at my school has an ass I want to sink my teeth into. Problem with that?”
“No problem with you doing whatever. My problem is that it’s your old junker we’re going to have to take to the bowling alley,” I said, circling to the driver’s side. The door was unlocked, something Dean did more often than not. “Keys?”
“Here.” Dean handed them over. “Put it in neutral, and we’ll back it down the driveway and push it halfway down the block. You know Charlie can hear that weird whining noise my car makes when I back it out of the drive.”
Jason all but skipped over to me and squeezed my butt through my blue jeans. “Here, I’ll steer. You push.”
I passed the key to Jason and stepped back out of the way. The grin on Jason’s face unnerved me. Here was the boy at school everyone talked about, uncaring, aloof, and reckless. I tried to shrug it off, to reconcile the man I was seeing with the boyfriend I lived with.
Dean grinned back at Jason. “You’re kinda wild, J. I like it. Why haven’t we hung out more?”
“Because Tommy makes me behave.” I never
my boyfriend do anything. Jason ducked inside the car, put the key in the ignition to release the gear, and put it in neutral.
Dean winked. “Tommy ought to let you let your hair down more often.”
“Yeah? Screw you, Dean.” A flicker of resentment settled in my gut. Who was Dean to tell me anything about how to treat my boyfriend? As far as I knew, Dean had never even had a boyfriend. The two of them laughed and jealousy flickered. Dean was a good-looking guy for sure, and I didn’t like the easy, reckless energy that was flowing between him and Jason.
I tried to just focus on what we were doing rather than on how off-kilter I was feeling and didn’t really succeed. We pushed the car back out of the driveway and then down the street. When we thought we were far enough from the house, Jason cranked the engine. Predictably, it didn’t start up right away, and we had to coax it to life under Dean’s careful guidance on starting crappy cars that hated the cold.