We Will Remember Them: Book Two ~ And Then, Everything

Chapter One

August, 2014

ROB

 I was working on an email to my new employer when my father barged into my room Wednesday evening.

"This came in the mail today," he said, tossing the package of documents on my desk. "Care to explain?"

I looked over at it, recognized the title company who'd handled the purchase of a condo for me, and then back up at him.

"Dad, this doesn't need to be a thing..." I barely got out before he interrupted.

"Yes, it does! You can't go around buying condos! You have to be careful about your spending!"

"DAD. Stop. I'm not buying condos, plural, I just bought one. YOU told me to handle my housing since I didn't want to live in a dorm. So, I talked to an agent about leasing vs buying and then ran it past Teague and he agreed that given the market, it made more sense to buy."

"You didn't even think to come to me and talk to me about it?" he asked and that was when I knew where this was all coming from. He felt sidelined.

"Uh, I did. You told me to handle it."

He sat down on my bed, staring into space. "Well, yeah, but I figured you'd lease something. I didn't expect you buy something!"

"Well, then you should have been more detailed. Look, it made more sense financially and that's if the place only appreciates at 2% per year. Housing values in Austin have been going up more than that. I wasn't capricious and I got a good deal. The unit's dated, but I can make improvements over time."

I took a deep breath, and then continued, "I can't do anything without Teague and Griffen signing off on it until I'm 25 and they both looked at the data, just like I did, and decided it was a good deal."

My father sat there, staring at the floor, "Well, if you decided to buy something, you could have come to me and I would have done it for you."

I smiled, "But that's what the trust is for. And Griffen and Teague are there to make sure I don't get into trouble. For the record, I DID go to you and you just told me to handle it. I don't get why you're so upset, I did what you told me to and I did a good job. I thought you'd be proud of me."

He looked up, a smile breaking on his face, "I am. This just came as a shock and I know I told you to handle it yourself. I'm going to have to get used to you doing that a lot more."

He got up to leave and as he walked out the door I said, "I love you," and yes, I did mean to be a little bit of smartass.

He perked up and looked back at me, "Love you too, kiddo."

I had talked to my mother earlier in the week and she confided in me that he was really having issues dealing with me moving off, which I was doing Friday morning. He wasn't ready for me to leave home, even for school, and he was certainly not ready for me not to need him. Mother had to remind him that he would always be needed, but that things were going to change. She told him I was an adult now, not a kid, and that I had a good head on my shoulders which he'd played a big part in filling. That didn't mean I wouldn't make mistakes, but it did mean he would have to let me. It was time to let go.

And my father was anything but good at that. For about the last month, as we got closer to the move, he'd been agitated, as if there was something bothering him and he couldn't quite nail it. If he'd found out about the condo earlier in the month, it would have been a screaming match. Now, so close to the end, he was really starting to mellow.

Cat, of course, thought the whole thing was funny as long as I was bearing the brunt of it. As with most things, I was paving the road she would travel down in two years and it would be much smoother as a result. One of the real benefits of being the second born.

I turned back to my email. I'd taken a job with a gallery owner in Austin. It wasn't anything special and really paid next to nothing, but I liked her. I liked the artists she represented and it was the kind of low impact job I could do without causing problems with school or with Jack. Plus, I was engaged with it and, as with a great many things over the last two years, I was exploring what I might like to do as a career. While I didn't think of myself a gallery owner, I could see myself working in any number of creative jobs. I thought this might open doors and we'd see where they led... hopefully to a career where I could excel at something other than cashing checks resulting from my grandfather's thoughtful planning.

The fact that she was an ex-girlfriend of Roger Jenkins certainly helped me get the job. His endorsement had been so over the top that when I met her she was way more excited than necessary, almost comically so.

I finished up and called Jack who answered quickly, "Hey babe... gimme a second to get back to my room."

He'd been in Austin a little over a week practicing. He was officially the first out member of the Longhorns and much as he didn't like to admit it, Jack had become something of a minor celebrity since he'd signed with UT the previous spring. I could tell at times he was enjoying it, especially when a kid asked for his autograph when we were at the mall. They had no idea why people were talking about him, just that he was going to play for UT and that was all that mattered.

What he really loved were the kids who were coming out as a result of him, especially other jocks. Jack, for all his self-effacing crap, was a leader. He was someone to look up to now and as odd as it may seem to him given his past, it was a role he was growing into nicely.

I heard the shuffling of papers and the jangle of keys, then a click as he opened the door.

"How are you tonight?" he asked and I could hear him putting things down and closing the door in the background.

"Good, just wanted to check in on you."

"Everything's OK, right? Still on target to be here Friday?"

I laughed, "Yep. I'm meeting the Realtor at the condo at noon, then just waiting for the deliveries to start."

"OK... we should be done with practice by 6 and I'll be over by 7. Can you put off dinner until later?"

"Oh, yeah... I already told everyone you'd probably be tied up until at least 6 so that'll work with my plans."

"Any idea where?" he asked. My boy liked meat. There was no mistaking him for a vegetarian, one of his more endearing qualities as far as my father was concerned.

"Not yet. My father says he's taken care of it so I'm sure there will be something on the menu that had a face. And parents."

Jack groaned, "You're not thinking about going vegetarian again, are you?"

I laughed, "No." The year before, as we started our senior year, Sebastian had talked Greg into going vegetarian for six weeks and the two of them had pressured Jack and me to join. I'd given in, but Jack had steadfastly refused. Greg lasted exactly one week to the meal. I made it the full six weeks and decided that no, in fact, being vegetarian was not for me. Jack had been extremely relieved.

"OK, just wanted to make sure..."

"Oh, stop. You know there's no way I'm going back to that. I'll do free range and fair trade, but I'm not going meatless again."

"Hell, I'll take you any way I can get you. God, I can't wait to hold you. It's been rough..."

"Is it getting any easier with the rest of the guys?"

He sighed and I could hear him sitting down, "A little. The outward hazing is done, but there are still the jokes. Especially from a few of the black guys on D."

"Just the gay thing?" I asked.

"That and the fact that my dad was white."

"You're kidding?"

"Nah, and of course they've looked me up and seen pictures of the two of us so it's even worse. Willy got in one guy's face earlier today."

"Shit. He didn't get into trouble, did he?"

"Nope, the guy backed down. But I could tell Willy was ready to go the distance."

"I'm so sorry. Are you sure you really want to do this?"

"Hell yeah. I'm not quitting. They can quit, I'm playing. I want to and that's what I'm going to do."

"I just don't want..."

"I know, babe. But I want to do this. I know I don't have to, but I want to play."

I took a deep breath, "Well, you know I'm 1000% behind you, whatever you want to do, no matter what."

I could hear him smile over the phone, "And that's just one of the many reasons I love you more than anyone in the world."

And that made me feel warm all over. It had never been about sex with us, though that part was really amazing, but about being there for one another. We had tons of friends many of whom, like Willy, were going to be there for us regardless. But, ultimately, we both understood from the moment we first kissed that we really only had each other. There was no one who was going to know us or understand what we'd been through, like ourselves.

"Babe, you still there?"

"Yeah, sorry, got in my head for a bit."

He laughed, "Well, I have to go. Just do me a favor..."

"Sure, anything." I responded.

"I don't want you worrying about me. I got me. I have Willy and we've managed to bring on a lot of the other guys on the team. It's going to work out fine."

"I know, babe, and I'm with you," I said, softly, through the rather large smile on my face.

"That's what I needed to hear... sweet dreams, babe."

"Good night... oh, one last thing before I forget. My father..."

"Tickets?"

"Yeah, it's going to come up on Saturday."

"I have it covered. Don't worry, babe, and I'll see you Friday."

As I put down the phone, I was glad for probably the thousandth time that Willy had taken the offer from UT. Their team wasn't great, but I was really happy since it meant we'd be together at the same school again. Brent had decided on USC, following Lane and Josh out to sunny Southern California, while Alan, for some insane reason, had gone to Baylor where he was miserable. He liked the school, but Waco 'was a drag'. Darnell followed Christy to TCU where her father had gone to school. Frank Hatcher and George Brown had decided on A&M since they both were thinking career military which actually made me happy because if there were any two guys I'd trust to defend the country, it would be them.

Greg and Sebastian had both decided to stay local and go to UTD (or, as Greg liked to call it, UT Dipshit) and Seth was at SMU.  Of my close friends from Plano, only Carter, Julian, and David were going to be anywhere near me. Carter was going to be in Austin going to St. Edwards while Julian and David were both at Texas State in San Marcos.

It was weirder than I thought it would be knowing I wasn't going to see them every day this fall. I'd grown so attached to so many people that throughout the summer, with every party and quick lunch, I'd grown a little more melancholy. Ileana had been feeling the same way and we'd talked a lot before she and Ethan took off for Arizona State. That was a tough departure. Of everyone in Plano, they really meant a lot to me. 

It was Jack who really worried about how I was feeling and it hadn't abated with his move to Austin. When we started dating, it had taken him time to really get how my mind worked, but once he did it was all over. Oh, sure, he understood the GAD intellectually but he didn't get it instinctively like Toby. It wasn't until the first anniversary of the accident that he really had me tuned in. From that point on, he could read me with a glance and there was no use even trying to hide something. Not that I ever really did... the accident and its aftermath changed me in ways I didn't think possible and it made me a lot more open. However, some old habits remained, namely the desire to keep things from worrying those closest to me. By March 2013, it was impossible with Jack.

While we'd had arguments and the very rare fight, after that the conflicts melted away. He got me and I got him. We might disagree on something but we always found a way to work it out without any anger and I knew it was because when I got exasperated he understood something else was behind it and he chose not to feed into it. Temperamentally, Jack had rapidly become a match for me and he'd done it without prompting or any coaching from me. It had just happened. When Jack was bent out of shape, it was easier... it stayed contained until he was ready to talk and I just waited patiently because I knew that time would come sooner if I didn't pry.

If Jack had a flaw, it was his protectiveness. Toby had been overprotective to be sure, but Jack was militant about it. The first time I really noticed it was in July 2012 when we went to a movie. We were standing side by side in line for tickets and some guy started walking fast in our general direction. Jack, sensing some sort of danger stepped in front of me just a bit which was comical since the guy was Tevor Landis. I smiled at him and introduced him to Jack. After he left us, I had to fill Jack in on his background as well as Kurt. It was like his eyes opened up to what had happened with Toby and I the previous fall. And that tore him up for the rest of the night.

As tough as he was, he was really sensitive especially when he'd done something to me he thought was bad. Toby had never told him the details and he was so ashamed of what he'd done to me that it took days of me talking to him before he finally came out of it.  I was really just thankful he didn't decide to take off after Kurt.

The time the protectiveness got really bad was about six weeks later at Marks weekend before school party. I'd been talking to some senior who was being a jackass about Jack and I and he made a comment about how quickly I'd moved on, which prompted me to say 'Fuck you'. That got me a full force shove to the ground and Jack saw it and started running. It took Seth, Reggie, and Mark to hold him back from killing the guy... but no one was paying attention to Reese who was there with my sister and heard the guy say something about how it was my fault Toby was dead as I laid on the ground. Reese just beat the guy down until Ethan and Carter grabbed him and hauled him off.

I still remember him yelling at the guy, "Don't you ever talk about Toby! Rob loved my brother and my brother loved him! He went through hell along with the rest of us when Toby died and if I ever hear you even mention their names, I'm going fuck up your face so badly you'll be shitting teeth for a week!" Reese had been wary of Jack and I being together. After, I asked Cat what had prompted him to react the way he did, and she told me it was because he had a sudden realization that he'd been an asshole to the two of us... hearing what he'd been thinking from someone else's mouth made him ashamed and he lashed out.

I waited about a month to talk to him about it, and he just broke down crying, saying he was sorry for being such a dick to us. In all honesty, he hadn't been, but in his head he had and it made him sick. Toby had been right; we were very much alike in that we were our own worst critics. Reese was one of only four people I gave a copy of the book I wrote. I had wanted him to know how I felt about his brother, what he had meant to me. Now, Reese was as much a little brother to me as my sister's boyfriend.

Reese wasn't the only one who had to adjust to Jack and I being together, it was everyone including ourselves. But it all, as my father would say, came out in the wash and the last two years of high school ended up being really good. I even got Jack to like baseball or at least pretend to, a feat I'd never been able to accomplish with Toby.

I spent that Wednesday evening and most of the next day packing and looking through things, deciding what to take and what to leave. The picture of Cat, Josh, and I in Laguna was one I was taking with me, along with one of Toby that Sebastian had taken at a football game. There were so many things that what I thought would take an hour ended up taking most of the next day.

Friday morning I loaded the last box in the truck and we left Plano. My father, truly out of character, didn't take a single call until we got to Georgetown because it was an emergency. It was really weird. He also insisted we stop at West so we could buy out the bakery, something of a tradition he explained when driving to and from Austin. The cookies were at least good.

We rolled into the complex in West Campus about 1145 and then waited for the Realtor to show up. The poor woman, who'd been so nice, was kind of overwhelmed by my father's quizzing until she finally begged off and left.

Mother and Neil showed up around 1 when the first delivery drop was happening. It didn't take her long to figure out what I'd need that I hadn't thought about and she took off with Cat to shop. My father jumped ship about 3 with Neil and went to the hotel. This left me alone, in my own place for the very first time, waiting for more things to be delivered. It was a really overwhelming feeling. I realized, for the first time I was in my place and that I wouldn't have my parents nearby. It wasn't just time for my father to let go, it was time for me as well.

By five all the furniture and electronics I'd bought had arrived and everything was in place. My sister and mother had made short work of getting curtains put up and then distributing the crap they'd picked up. There were a few things that were going to disappear into the second bedroom but I'd wait for tomorrow to make that happen. My mother had really good taste, but some of her decisions weren't exactly me. Of course, if it were just me making the decisions, I'd have probably just had furniture and nothing on the walls with cheap blinds covering the windows, early utilitarian gay.

My mother left to head to the hotel and Cat and I decided to clean up. By 6:15, I was ready and had just turned on some music when I heard a knock on the door and I jumped up, running to it. I opened it as calmly as possible but as soon as I saw Jack standing there the facade I'd put into place crumbled.

He apparently felt the same way since he walked directly to me, grabbing me in the process, and shut the door with his foot. He pushed me against the wall and we started trying to make up for the time we'd been apart.

We finally broke, breathless, looking at each other.

"I'm so happy to see you!" I said, which prompted him to hug me tightly.

"Right back at ya, babe," he said into my neck as he breathed me in. We held like that for a while, just feeling safe and secure in each other's arms, something we'd taken to doing after we'd been apart. The one thing that had remained constant with us throughout our relationship had been the knowledge that we needed each other and that there was nothing between us... no secrets, no unvoiced anger or frustration, just love. Jack and I were more than just boyfriends, we were best friends.

I showed him around the condo and we put his bag in my room, after taking a brief moment to test out the bed. I'd purchased a king and we had to kind of shoehorn into the room, but it worked. While we usually fell asleep with him spooned behind me, during the night we'd separate and Jack would, well, turn into an X. I usually just curled up as close to him as I could, I was a pretty compact sleeper. He liked to spread out and being the size he was, he needed a big bed on which to do it if I wanted to share it with him.

Cat joined us a little while later and we left to meet our parents for dinner. My father had picked Austin Land and Cattle for dinner and it was pretty unusual. Cat and I both thought it was kind of run down looking, but it ended up being really good. My parents decided to have a drink back at the hotel, leaving Cat, Jack, and me to our own devices. Since none of us knew Austin well at that point, and it was unlikely we were going to get in anywhere, we headed back to the condo and watched a movie. Cat and I stayed up a talked a bit after Jack went to bed.

We'd been chatting for maybe thirty minutes when she said, "You know this is going to be hard."

I smiled, "Yeah, but I'm just a phone call away and in a few months you and Reese will be driving..."

"NOT what I meant," she said.

I cleared my throat, "Then what did you mean?"

"Being here is going to be hard on you, are you ready?"

"School? I can handle school."

She sighed, clearly annoyed that I wasn't getting her point, "I mean, this," she said, gesturing around the room, "and that," she finished, pointing to the bedroom.

"Cat, the fuck are you talking about?"

"You haven't really considered that your life is going to be a hell of a lot more complex? You're not just dating a football player, you're in a relationship with the first one who is out at one of the largest universities in the country. There aren't going to be a lot of places you guys are going to be able to go without people knowing who you are."

I sat there thinking about what she was saying and hated the fact that she was right. Oh, it had been fun running into people who knew who Jack was and wanted a selfie or an autograph. But that was before the first game. Now, it was going to be a new thing and people would see me not as me but as Jack's boyfriend.

Suddenly I got really self-conscious as if the world was watching me. And that was NOT a feeling I enjoyed. I liked anonymity. In fact, it was one of the few things I really had liked about living in Plano when we first moved there. Ouichita had been different; it was like living in a fishbowl. This, now, would be the same thing, on a far grander scale.

I focused back on her and realized the truth, "I hadn't even really thought about it."

She smiled, "I didn't think so, that's why I wanted to ask you..."

"So I could have a panic attack!" I shot back at her.

"No, dummy, so you'd think about things before they became things!"

"And Friday night at 12:45, after a long ass day, seemed like a good time?" I responded, exasperated with her.

"Yeah, because if I don't no one else will." She adjusted herself on the sofa. "You're thinking about it now which means when it finally hits it will be easier to take. And you will be ready. Honestly, I'm surprised it hasn't hit you sooner."

I snorted, "It wouldn't have. I bet it's hit Jack, but it hadn't hit me. Jack probably thinks he can shield me from it somehow..."

She reached out and grabbed my hand, "That wouldn't surprise me. You've been pretty well cocooned. Not just by him, but by everyone. Now the wrapping is falling off and you're going to have to fly. And you can", she got up and I stood with her and she pulled me to her. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

We said goodnight as I shut off the lights and made sure the doors were locked. As I went into my bedroom, I saw Jack asleep, covers already thrown off him because he was hot. It made my heart do a flip and I had to stop myself from just climbing into bed with him right then.

I shed my clothes in front of the closet, putting them in the basket mother had picked up for me ("You can't use a plastic tub for laundry, Rob!" she'd said, which was hilarious when you realized that I'd been doing just that in Plano for three years) and then went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. As I stood there at the sink, I looked at myself and realized that while I may not have thought about it, I could handle more than Cat thought... I'd already been there once before. When Toby started talking about the future, I paid attention. I may have been a little bewildered, but I was listening and I remember that the life he wanted, which included me, would be a lot larger than anything I'd ever considered. I didn't want the things he wanted for me, but I wanted him and so I made the decision to roll with it.

Jack was the same way. He was comfortable with the attention he was receiving and rather than build his ego, it made him more personable. He'd done an interview with a station in Dallas after he'd signed to play for UT and even my grandmother, who didn't particularly like Jack ('If you're going to be gay, can't find another nice white boy like Toby?'... My father had to damn near drag me out of her house for that one), though he did an amazing job. And he absolutely did... he was charming and totally on point. It made me proud because he was a stunning guy. Moreover, he was my stunning guy and he wanted to share his life with me.

Of course, as all this started, I had my moments of weirdness and insecurity but I knew that after all we'd been through he'd decided to love me. It wasn't because I was physically or mentally superior or even equal to him; it was because I loved him and cared about him as much as he cared about me. I loved him unconditionally, just as I had Toby. And that got me through my bouts of anxiety and weakness without being a pill. Arya had done amazing work with me and this was the culmination of it. I could deal with what was coming. It may stress me out, it may cause an attack, but I could deal with it.

I finished up and climbed into bed, trying not to disturb him which was pointless. As soon as I got settled I felt his arm come around me as he pulled me to him. His breath on my neck and arm around me made me feel completely at peace and I fell asleep quickly, happy to be past this day and thrilled to be reunited with him.

JACK

I woke up with a start as my alarm went off, not wanting to disturb Rob. He was a heavier sleeper than me, which helped, but still. I needed to be up far earlier than he did and I didn't want him up yet. This was the first morning in weeks we were together and I needed some time just to watch him sleep. It's been a hard couple of weeks without him, so I'm making up for lost time. I'll have to leave for practice soon and he will have to get up to meet his family before they head back to Dallas. But, right now, it's my time to just sit and take things in, to see him, and know that when I'm done with practice and come back here, I'll find him.

I love watching him sleep. He got on my ass when I scheduled 8 am classes for Tuesday and Thursday because he wanted to wake up with me and he didn't have anything until 930. I acted like it was the only way I could make my schedule work, a little lie that I'm certain he saw through, but he didn't need to know the real reason why. And this was it... He knew I did it, he'd caught me so many times that it didn't even give him a second of pause, but I didn't have to tell him it was the reason I'd made my schedule out to make sure I had this time.

On those days, like today, I would be able to get up early and watch him sleep for a few minutes before I had to really start my day. It centered me, helped me remember who I'd become, that there was a purpose to my life and someone in it who loved me completely and needed me to be there for them. Someone I could never take for granted.

We've been together more than two years, but this was our first place together. He'd paid for the condo, but I told him I'd pay utilities and the HOA. He thought it was nonsense, but I finally explained to him that I had to contribute, that it was hard-wired into me. It was the least I could, the barest contribution I could make, for the opportunity to wake up every day with him in my arms, softly breathing, his blond hair a tangled mess. I was so happy the day before just knowing he was on this way that it was hard to hide, something my teammates had been quick to notice and kid me about, except for Willy. He got me. He and Suzy had moved about a week before we started practice and had time together. I'd stupidly decided that I needed to focus and that having Rob here as we started would be a distraction. It was something I regretted the moment I left Dallas.

As I sit here, taking him in, I remember the night he came to talk to me after we lost Toby. I had no idea what he was going to say and when he told me what he did, I was unable to really understand what it all meant. Here was this absolutely beautiful man, as attractive to me inside as out, coming to tell me he had feelings for me, that it wasn't just the loss of Toby, but that he knew we needed one another. He was so earnest, so careful, and so nervous that the memory still makes my eyes water.

That evening was emotionally exhausting for both of us and I was happy when his dad said he could sleep over since the last thing I wanted was for him to be alone. While we had been drinking, and I wasn't about to let him get into a car, I got this sense from him that he was feeling raw and unbelievably vulnerable, as if the least thing might set him off into a sobbing fit.

I could tell he was all used up as he watched me clean up in the kitchen. I led him into my bedroom and as we got ready for bed, it never even occurred to me that he would sleep anywhere other than in my bed. He walked right into my room and began to strip down, too tired to care. Looking at him undressing, my desire for him was every bit as intense as it had been the first time I'd seen him at Bennett's party. But there was something more and it made my heart beat so hard I was afraid he'd be able to hear it. He got into bed first, and then I quickly followed, silently. Without hesitation, he backed himself up to me and I left one arm under his neck while I wrapped the other around him and pulled him tightly into me. Until that moment, I'd never realized just how small and frail he was, at least compared to me. I remembered Toby saying something about it one time and thinking he was crazy since Rob was a really solid guy. But then, that night, there was a delicacy to him that I'd never noticed nor appreciated and he was placing himself willingly in my hands. 

I adjusted the pillow under my head and leaned to kiss him softly on the back of his neck. Shortly thereafter, he made a little whimpering sound and his body tensed, then completely released and I knew he was asleep. Just like that. The whimper was something Toby had told me about, the memory settling in around me like a warm blanket. Suddenly, tears came to my eyes because I realized what it meant. He felt safe and he was placing himself in my hands with no restrictions or reservations and it stirred awareness in me that what he'd told me earlier was true. I instantly felt warm, glad, excited, and happy, all at once. I had this feeling, this hope, that as I held him he was giving himself to me much as he had to Toby. And it made me joyful in a way I've never felt before.

I fell asleep shortly thereafter with the last thoughts in my head being a silent prayer of thanks for the man in my bed whom I'd fallen for so completely almost a year before. I never told him or Toby, but I'd fallen for him the night I met him. I'd papered it over pretty well, not ever betraying how I felt, mostly because I didn't want things to be awkward between the three of us. I also knew that no matter what, he had eyes only for Toby. He just didn't LOOK at me the way other guys did, he looked at me like someone he trusted and cared for... but as a friend. And I was fine with that because for the first time in my life, after the two of them started dating, I realized what was possible. I didn't think it was probable, at least not for someone like me, but I knew it was possible and that gave me hope.

I'd never have wished for things to turn out as they did, for while they led him to me, it was through the kind of emotional pain that some people simply don't survive. Whether by suicide or becoming the walking dead, they just decided life had beaten them down enough and that they were done fighting it. During the spring, I'd been concerned about that happening to Rob and even shared my fears with Josh, Ethan, Lane, and Mark. They were just as worried as I, except Josh. Josh knew he would pull through.

"Rob's a fighter, don't give up on him. He'll turn around, just be patient with him. I know he's stronger than I am. If it had been Lane who died, I'd have probably already ended it. But Rob doesn't give up. He only needs time to be sad."

And slowly, with a smile here or there, I saw him re-emerge. His heart was broken, but he was not. Josh was absolutely right, Rob IS a fighter. As soft as he can be at times, caring and so sweet it makes your heart ache, he's tougher than you can possibly imagine. He just doesn't know how to quit. I held on to my own grief until I knew he was going to be OK and when that moment came in early April 2012, I went off the deep end. I hid it well from everyone, my mother included. Rob, on the other hand, owned how he felt. He didn't hide, he just kept going. My mom is the strongest person I know and Rob is a close second, probably why the two of them get along so well. Neither of them gave in when life threw them a tragedy.

I remember watching the clip of him being hauled out of the car after the accident, screaming and begging for them to help Toby who was already dead. He knew he was bleeding from the broken leg, he just didn't care. He fought them until they finally sedated him. Rob fought, it was he did. Oh, he wasn't like me... sure he could take a punch and throw one, but he wasn't physical. For him, after that heartbreaking night, it was the emotional pain he was fighting and he just refused to give in. Even when that video made its way around school, he soldiered on, head held high almost as if he was daring life to drop some more shit on him.

That stupid video... even now, it's a part of our lives. The weekend before Ethan left for Arizona, we had a party at Seth's, just the seniors who'd played varsity the previous year. We were going around talking and at some point, someone asked 'What's the saddest thing you've ever seen', and Ethan didn't even hesitate.

"The video of Rob being hauled out of Toby's car," and as the words left his mouth, he started to tear up. He looked over at me and I nodded as my own tears started to fall.

I slowly said, "The saddest thing I ever saw was Rob, in the hospital the night of the accident." It was one thing to lose my father. It had been bad losing Toby. Seeing Rob in that bed in ICU, his little body broken and unconscious... even thinking about it makes my stomach knot up.

I wasn't in the room the day they brought him out of the coma, but I heard the anguished scream from the waiting room and instantly began crying like someone had ripped my heart from my chest. Hours later I still felt that ache. I don't know how anyone could have heard that and not felt the feeling of loss it conveyed. The love he had for Toby was so complete, so filled with trust and faith, that it could only be described as pure. That was Rob, he loved unconditionally and completely.

No, I'd have gone a lifetime celibate and alone if it meant reversing all of that. I loved Rob so deeply that sparing him that pain would have brought me happiness enough. Of course, I too would have had Toby back and that would have meant the world to me.

During that first night, I dreamed of Toby, strong and healthy. I saw him, standing in this gray mist that appeared to be coming from nowhere. He looked at me with the most amazing smile.

"Hiya," he said and I instantly knew it was really him.

"Hey," was all I could reply, suddenly awkward about what my body was doing in the real world.

"It's OK, you know. I'm gone; you're both there, and you need one another more than either of you realize. I talked to him on the field the other day when he got hit with the baseball. I've been watching both of you, but I couldn't speak because I was such a tangled mess. One of his friends who passed helped pull me back together."

"He... he told me. I didn't really believe him, but I'm so glad to see you, man," I said, hugging him tightly to me. It felt like Toby. It smelled like Toby.

"I know, Jack. Trust me when I say I'm happy to see you too. I'm also happy to see you with Rob."

I looked down at the ground that wasn't there, just the mist on which we appeared to be standing.

He lifted my chin with his fingers, raising my eyes to meet his. "I don't want you to feel bad, Jack. You both need one another in ways you can't imagine. I'm here to tell you it's OK."

I sighed, tears falling from my eyes, "It just so hard because I love him so much, but I feel like I'm betraying you."

"He thought the same thing and you're both wrong. I'm not there anymore, you are. And he needs you. I need you to be with him, to know you're protecting him and making him feel like himself again. He's still torn up and he's trying hard to be strong. You have to help ease that burden on him and he'll help ease yours. That's what tonight is all about.

I know it's not altogether clear to you but you need each other. Without each other, you'll never achieve anything close to what you could together. Right now though, you need each other to heal."

"What do you mean," I asked.

"You'll see it on your own as time goes on; just know that I'm thankful you're there with him. It brings me comfort that you won't understand, but I'm really happy. Take care of him and let him take care of you. All you have to do is remember that you already have the most precious thing you'll ever possess."

"How can you be so sure? How do you know he's going to be OK with all this? It's a big leap from what he told me tonight to..."

Toby just smiled and interrupted me, "The whimper. It doesn't just mean that he feels safe with you; it means he loves you, too. He's giving himself to you because he loves you. All you have to do is let him. Take the chance and trust him."

If only it were that easy, I thought. "Toby, I've done... things..."

"I know. He wouldn't care and neither do I."

"But I'm not good enough for him..."

"No, you're not. It's something you're going to have to earn, just as I did. And believe it or not, there will be times when it feels like he's not good enough for you. But you have to know, deep down, you're the person for him now and you need him every bit as much as he needs you. Don't worry about anything else, just focus on stepping up and being the man I know you can be."

And with that, the mist dissipated and I fell into a dream about a dog I'd had years ago.

I woke up at 8 needing desperately to pee. My morning wood was painful as hell and I tried to figure out the best way to disentangle myself from Rob without waking him. I finally just pulled my arm out from under him and got up to use the bathroom. When I came back, I saw him lying there, sleeping, so peaceful and perfect.

I remembered Toby telling me one time that the best part about sleeping with Rob was watching him sleep. There was an innocence to him when he was asleep, a beauty, that was hard for him to really express and I could tell it touched him on some unbelievably deep level. I knew he was madly in love with him so I just chalked it up to that, but standing there in the morning light of the late spring sun, I saw it. Calling it angelic would be cliché, this was something that was only meant to be seen by a very few who would cherish it. As I sat down in a chair, looking at him, I realized that I had given myself to him as completely as he'd given himself to me. I knew my past was meaningless, that the only thing that mattered was a life with him and I was determined to earn it. I wanted to be the one with whom he shared himself, the one who was there for every victory and loss, the one he could laugh with uncontrollably and who would hold him as he cried his heart out. I wanted to be everything to him and I knew that while I wasn't good enough right then, I could become worthy over time. I had to. At that moment, six feet from me, laid my future.

Of course, I was uncertain and filled with worry, but I was determined to press on, to be the man he needed and wanted, all rolled up into one package that I hoped would be irresistible to him. Jack 2.0.

I'd been watching him for about 20 minutes when I saw him yawn and stretch a bit while rubbing his feet together. Then I noticed his eyes flutter open and that he seemed disoriented, clearly not remembering he was in my bed. Then he focused on me and smiled, saying "Good morning."

And the last shreds of doubt and worry melted away.

I never told him about my dream that night, or of the talk, I had with Toby. I'd thought about it, a number of times, especially after he let me read the book he'd written as part of his therapy. I decided at some point our junior year my talk with Toby was something I needed to keep private. It was the last time I got to speak with the man who was more a brother to me than anything. It was something I wanted to keep for me.

Now, more than two years later, we're living together and starting college. I love how unworried and unconcerned about the future he is. Someone who doesn't know him well would think it's privilege, just another white boy from a rich family who doesn't need to worry about the future because it's planned out for him. But that's not Rob. He's not worried about the future because he has what he wants and is with the person he wants in his life. Everything else is secondary to him. He'll achieve so much in his life, but he'll do it because he finds a reason to, not because of his ego. You can see that in him when he talks about the people close to him. The pride he takes in his friends is breathtaking. There's none of the usual jealousy or competition, he's really happy for them and is proud of his relationships with them. I think he feels lucky to have so many people close to him who are impressive. I have to tell him that the friends you have are a reflection of the person you are, that, of course, he's surrounded by amazing people... he himself is pretty amazing. It makes him blush and it's really cute. It's also kind of humbling to him because I know it's not something he's ever considered.

I stretch to look back at my phone and realize I'm out of time, that I have to get moving to make it to practice on time. Gently, I lean over to kiss his forehead lightly, which doesn't even make him stir. That's how I know I've been successful; he's still asleep and feels nothing but peace.

ROB

I woke up about 8:45, smiling, despite the fact that my bed was empty because I could still smell him. I picked up his pillow and breathed in deeply, feeling the warmth spread through my body. I'd been looking forward to the two us, in our own place, being together and now it was here. Far from being anti-climactic, I felt energized and sprung out of bed.

I pulled on some shorts and went to the bathroom, then went to rouse Cat from her slumber, which was at the best of times taking my life into my own hands. While I could wake up mean if jolted awake, Cat could be really nasty.

I went into the kitchen after I knew Cat was really getting up and made a soda. I could see Jack had used the coffee maker but had apparently not had anything else, hardly a surprise since I knew he wouldn't eat much before practice, especially when it was hot. Football practice on a hot August day with a stomach full of breakfast usually resulted in vomit, something I knew all too well.

I started some eggs and bacon, nothing much just something to get some food in us. Cat asked for coffee as she walked in and sat on a stool at the bar that separated the kitchen from the living room.

"You need to start drinking coffee," she said. I could feel her eyes on me as I focused on the eggs.

I took a drink from my soda, "OK, I'll bite...why?"

"Because you're in college now and drinking coffee is what you need to do," she replied, with an air of authority that she absolutely did not possess.

"That's stupid. It's already 90 degrees outside; I'll stick with the soda."

I finished up breakfast and served us, discovering that the plates we'd shelved weren't nearly as clean as we originally thought and my mother's admonition to wash them ringing through my head. After, I loaded the dishwasher, and we got ready to go pick everyone up the hotel to go have lunch.

By 11:30 Cat and I were at the Four Seasons picking up my parents who quickly put their luggage in the back of the Escalade I was driving. I'd passed my father's no accident test, but I didn't really want a new car. The damn thing was only four years old and drove great so I just didn't see a need for anything new. To be honest, it's a really nice truck and I know I can't afford anything close to it right now, so I'm going to use it until I can afford something new or the wheels come off.

Lunch was barbecue which ended up being really good, peppered with pictures taken by my mother and questions about everything. Do you have this? Do you know who to call? Everything you can imagine and I had to remind them that I was an adult that I could take care of things, but if something did throw me off, I'd be ready for it.

"What about therapy?" my mother asked.

I smiled, "Arya gave me a referral to a doctor here and I'm going to see her Thursday afternoon late. I'm going to start with twice monthly, for now, we'll see how things go and I've already let work know that I'll have to leave early on those days."

That caused my father to make a face. He didn't like the fact that I was working while I was in school, which was comical to me considering how gung-ho he'd been about me learning the value of hard work and money when I was a kid. I guess he thought the lesson had been learned and now it was time for me to concentrate completely on school.

"Don't make that face," I said to him.

"What face?" he shot back.

"That 'I don't like you working face'. I see you making it and it's not like this is a job that's going to take a lot of my time or energy and it's something I'm really interested in."

He snorted, "Art?"

"Yeah, art. It IS a business and it does make money."

And that went on for a good 10 minutes. Mother and Neil agreed with my father that it was stupid, but I wanted to work. I thought, on some level, that it might lead me in a direction that I could base a career on. I really don't know why, but after the accident, I'd gotten much more into photography and even painting, though my skills were admittedly meager. When I showed Helene one of my pieces, her comment was that it was shit... literally, she said it was shit but she did allow that she 'could see potential in it'. I just 'hadn't found my voice'.

After lunch, I drove them to the FBO at the airport since they were all riding back with Neil and my mother. Since the accident, the way my father had worked to mend fences was pretty amazing and now it was like the three of them were one unit. My mother even liked my father's new girlfriend, Margeaux. Truth be told, so did Cat and I. We both, however, did not like her son who was an entitled little douchebag who was rude to everyone, Margeaux included, with only one exception... his father and mine. She was in New Hampshire getting Tommy settled into Dartmouth and I'd asked my father to say thank you for the towels she'd given me.

I stopped at a grocery store on the way back to pick up a few things, and then went home. I didn't have anywhere I needed to be and nothing I needed to do. After I unloaded the car, I just sat down on a chair in the living room and realized I was home. THIS was home. It was my place with Jack and from now on I would really think about it as my home rather just the place I was living while in school. For the next four years, this is where I was going to live and the thought calmed me. After all the moves and being tossed around between my parents, I had some stability and I was happy for it.

I flipped on the TV and picked up the TV guide from Time Warner to figure out what was where and start programming the DVR, one of the more unpleasant tasks that I had been looking forward to. While I was doing that, Susie called and I answered the phone immediately.

"What's up?"

"Are you settled in? Ready for company?" she asked.

"Yep, including some stuff my mother bought that I don't think is going to stick around long," I replied, laughing.

"Oh, hell. Yeah, if I'd let my mother have her way my place would look like a dollhouse and Willy would feel like he couldn't move without breaking something."

"Yeah, she even bought an ashtray, like I'm going to let someone smoke inside or something. I don't even know what to do with the damn thing." I told her.

"Put candy in it?" she said.

"That's a pretty good idea because I absolutely need more candy in my life!" I paused for a second, "You want to come over?"

"Well, I think Willy and Jack have dinner planned for 7. Will y'all be OK if we pick you up there about 6:30? Will that leave enough time to do the tour?"

"Oh yeah... two bedrooms, I think we can cover it in a well-planned 2 minutes," I told her, laughing.

"Great! I'm so excited to see you!"

"I know, Susie. I'm so glad you guys are here."

"It's going to be a good year, just wait! I'll see you tonight."

I hung up the phone and went back to programming until I heard the door from the garage click and there was Jack with a box in his arms.

"What's that?"

"Some of the stuff I brought down with me. I stripped my dorm down to basically nothing but a change of clothes and personal stuff so I can sleep there occasionally."

I got up, "Well, let me help you."

We made quick work of the boxes he had, it really wasn't much. His mother had wanted to send furniture with us, but I'd already told her it was taken care of so all he had was pictures, clothes, books... stuff. And we put it where it belonged in our place. Thankfully, we had similar taste so there wasn't a fight. It wasn't until we were done and drinking a beer in the living room before he finally told me about the plans for the night.

I smiled at him, "Susie already called. They're coming over at 6:30 to view our palatial estate!"

He grinned, "Compared to that one bedroom she's in, it IS kind of palatial."

"Well, what can I say... I have an eye for real estate." I took a drink from the beer then said, "That gives us about two and half hours before they get here..."

And he just sat there, grinning at me.

I gave it about a minute before I laughed out, "Are you really going to make me say it?"

That sly grin stayed on his face as if it was painted there, his eyes full of mischief as he nodded.

I put my beer down on the table, then got up and walked over to where he was sitting, took his beer from him and set it down, then straddled his legs as I sat down on him. I leaned in for a kiss and went deep and hard, making him moan.

I broke the kiss but didn't pull away. Instead, I leaned closer, moving my mouth to his ear and nibbled on it, something that always made him crazy, as I whispered, "Would you please take me into our bedroom and fuck the hell out of me?"

And as the last word left my mouth, I felt his hands tighten around me as he stood up, taking me with him, and walked into our bedroom where he placed me on the bed. Then he stood up and just looked at me.

"Just give me a second," he said, breathlessly.

I lay there, staring intently at him as I watched his eyes move over my body. The effect he had on me, by doing just that, sent me from level 8 horny to level 10. I knew he was anxious, pent up from being apart, so taking that moment was important to him. He put aside his need just to take a moment for himself and reacquaint himself with his man. It was really erotic and it drove me absolutely crazy.

I gave him a minute before I shrugged out of the t-shirt I was wearing and pulled down my shorts and underwear in one motion, which made him laugh.

"I guess someone is anxious," he said as he finally started to undress and I got to see the work of art that was my boyfriend. Big, broad, sculpted... absolutely beautiful. Over the last two years, Jack had grown two inches and put on 50 pounds of solid mass. Amazingly, he always stayed lean, partially the result of the sparring he still did. While he had the size to play football in division one, he was still just as agile and fast as he'd been in the cage years before.

He looked at me with hunger in his eyes and said, "Where's the..."

"Nightstand," I replied, nodding toward the one on the side of the bed closest to him. He opened the door and pulled out the lube I'd put there after my trip to the grocery store. He squeezed some out and began to work me as he leaned over and kissed me. I was thankful he didn't decide to draw this out and rim me first. To be honest, I NEEDED this and even what he was doing, working me open with his fingers, was making me crazy. We knew each other and how to prep to get where we wanted to go in a hurry and he was working furiously to open me back up. Rimming would have been way too much at that point.

Once he was able to get three fingers in he pulled back from kissing me and smiled, then moved us into missionary, my legs pushed back and my ass completely exposed and ready for him.

As he started to slide in all the warm and very familiar sensations came back in a flood. The pain (and yeah, there was always pain and probably always would be) quickly followed by the feeling of his flared head rubbing against my prostate. This was where Jack had really learned how to work me into a frenzy and it always had the effect he needed, a quick release for me, tightening down on him and then the relaxation he sought to be able to enter me balls deep, running into my second sphincter and delivering unbelievable pleasure to me.

This was what I needed. Oh, he'd have me topping him before the weekend was out, but what I needed was to feel him in me, going deep, and letting me know with each and every powerful stroke that I was his now and forever. I knew it wouldn't last long, but I know he would hold out at least until I came again.

"Oh, babe, I've missed you so much..." he said, short stroking furiously to give me my first nut.

"I know, Jack, I've missed you too and I'm so cloosssseeeee..." and I lost it, just that quickly as he played my prostate like an expert.

As I came down from the orgasm, I felt the familiar sensation of his bush crushed against my ass, and then the one of him punching deep into me, which made my whole body tingle. I could tell from his breathing he wasn't far away from the release he so desperately needed.

"Please keep going, it feels so good," I told him.

"God, you're so beautiful, Rob! I don't know if I'm going to last much longer. I'm trying baby..." he panted out, sweat pouring off his face.

I felt his big hands massage my hamstrings as he held my legs back, something that always felt good and was a sure signal he wasn't going to last too much longer. And, with one final burst of energy, he was unloading what felt like the biggest nut ever, which sent me over the edge a second time.

He collapsed on top of me and I wrapped my legs around his waist, but he used his arms to hold himself up, shakily. No matter how many times I told him he wasn't going to hurt me, he still did it no doubt motivated by some subconscious fear of crushing me. It was pure nonsense, but I also knew it was never going to change. He was protective of me, even from himself.

I laughed, looking up at him, and forcing him to roll over to the side as he caught his breath.

"THAT was exactly what I needed!"

I leaned over to him and kissed him, then looked into his eyes and saw what I needed, peace and contentment.

"Me, too. Sorry, I couldn't go longer, but..."

"No need for sorry," I smiled at him, "That was perfect."

I laid my head down on his chest and shoulder, as he wrapped his arm around me. I fell asleep listening to him breathing, satisfied and complete.

I woke up about an hour later and heard the shower running. I lay back in bed, waiting for him to emerge. I took a couple of deep breaths just enjoy the feeling of being completely relaxed and happy.

A few minutes later, I heard him get out of the shower and I sat up in bed so I could watch him emerge to dry off. I don't think I would ever grow tired of seeing him without clothes on.

"How about tomorrow we go nude all day?"

"What," half chuckling his reply. He walked to the doorway to look at me directly. "You're serious?"

"Yeah, I am," I said laughing, "I mean, why not? It's our place and we can do whatever we want without worrying about anyone walking in on us."

He smiled, "Well, you know I'm not going to object."

I got up and walked to the bathroom, giving him a quick kiss and then started to get ready.

A little before 6:30 Susie and Willy showed up. I answered the door and Willy crushed me to him as soon as I had enough of it open for him to move his bulk through the door.

"Damn, man, let me say hello before you decide to break my ribs!"

"Oh, stop, weakness! I missed you, man!"

"I know, brother! I missed you too!"

"Well, when you fellas are done with your brofest, I could use a drink," Susie chimed in. I hugged her as she came in.

"MMM, good to see you, Susie!" I said.

"You too!"

"What do you want? Jack has us pretty well stocked, so name it."

"Jack and coke, but easy on the jack," she said with a lopsided grin.

"You got it."

I walked to the kitchen as Jack walked in from our bedroom, and welcomed our guests.

"Jack, Willy... what do y'all want?" I called out.

They just looked at each other, then turned to me and simultaneously said, "Beer."

Willy and Jack, over the years, had developed a pretty nice bond, something which had obviously intensified a bit since they'd been working on the field together. They quickly fell into a conversation about some fool thing someone had done today and Susie walked into the kitchen.

"Let me guess, every time they're together this is what happens," I said, motioning to the two of them as I handed her a drink and made myself a bourbon and club soda.

"Oh, yes. Every night he's been over for dinner, they talk about the day and I finally told them to quit it last Friday since I just couldn't take it anymore," she took a big gulp from the drink, "I can't tell you how happy I am that you're here!"

I laughed as I grabbed two beers for them and we made our way to the living room.

"I like the place, Rob. It looks great!" Susie said.

"Want the tour?" I offered.

"Lead on," she said.

I took her into the guest room then back through the living room to the master.

"And here ends the tour," I said, giggling, as we walked into the master.

"Well, it looks good. I love the lamps on the nightstands. Where'd you get them?" she asked.

"Pottery Barn®. I got the chairs in the living room there, too."

"Nice! Well, it looks amazing. If I didn't know you moved in yesterday, I'd say you'd been here a month."

"What can I say, moving around as much as I did when I was a kid, I had everything planned out and luckily nothing got delayed."

"Well, cheers to that and having damn good taste," she said, bringing her glass to mine.

Jack walked in and wrapped his arms around me, "He certainly does, especially in me."

And that made Willy groan, "Oh, hell."

We ended up sitting down in the living room and having another drink before we left since I was still without a fake. Jack was using an older sparring partners ID, Willy had one from his cousin and Susie got hers from a friend that went to Trinity Valley. I was the odd man out since the only guy I'd known who looked like me happened to be 6'2" and I was only 5'10". Josh was working on something with a guy in California, but he wasn't promising anything. For now, I was on my own and that meant a brake on any fun we might have.

About 7:30 we piled into Willy's ginormous truck and took off for downtown. Downtown Austin wasn't really like Downtown Dallas. There were people everywhere. If anything, it reminded me more of New York than a city in Texas. And finding parking, while not as tough, was still pretty hard. We ended up having a nice dinner and they dropped us off about 10:30. We changed and settled in for some quiet time in front of the TV, before moving back to the bedroom for the continuation of our lovemaking from the afternoon.

I fell asleep with him spooned behind me around 1, feeling nothing but happy. 


 Thank you for reading, any comments can be sent to Don Cornelius