I apologize for the delay in getting this chapter done. I've been pulled in a few different directions, so it's been hard to come back to finish this one. I have already started on Chapter three and hoping to have it done in the next three weeks. I'm trying to whittle them down a bit.
I can't thank you all enough for your notes. The encouragement you have given me has kept this going and I just hope it hasn't passed its sell-by date
Sunday Funday... that's what we called our day of nudity and food delivery. Neither of us had to be anywhere. Aside from the few calls I got from people, like my mother checking in on me, and Josh telling me he was sending me something, we spent the day together; talking, eating, and watching movies, having sex. We were, in a way, getting reacquainted with one another and it was perfect.
The next day, I got up long after Jack had gone to practice, made breakfast and checked emails. We were coming up on the first day of classes, Wednesday, and then Labor Day weekend. I'd decided to start work that week and was going in after lunch. I was really excited since it was the first real job that I'd managed to get on my own, and it was going to be awesome!
Or so I thought. I spent my first afternoon stuffing envelopes to go out to former patrons of the gallery and prospects, in two separate stacks. Helene had a show she was planning near the middle of October and wanted to make sure it was well attended, thus the mail. About 4, I ran down to get coffee for her at Jo's and then came straight back. We worked until 6 and then she cut me loose, leaving the rest of the mail drop for the following day.
One thing I was unprepared for was Austin traffic. The gallery was in SoCo, not really much of a drive back to campus. I didn't even have to get on a freeway, but it didn't matter... all downtown was basically gridlock and it ended up taking me 30 minutes to get back to West Campus. By the time I walked in, Jack was already home and making dinner.
"Hey, how was your day?" he asked, as I put my keys into the repurposed ashtray.
"Exciting. I stuffed "envelopes," I replied, clearly bummed.
"Well, it can't all be glamorous parties with celebrities and artists can it?"
"No, it can't, and I knew that. To be honest, it was actually good and all bullshit aside, it IS a business and it's not like we can just tell commerce to go fuck itself. But it did suck."
"Oh, baby, you know I love it when you talk that way!" He said, with just a bit of lust in his voice. For some reason he found my use of profanity alternatively hot and humorous. Today it was clearly the former. He said it was because it was really out of character for me and I guess he was right, I didn't curse often. Well, at least I didn't in the past. Now, it was becoming something of a normal thing for me.
"Well, traffic will do that to "you," I responded drolly as I made myself a glass of water.
"Yeah, I should have warned you. It's a bitch getting around this town between 4 and 8."
I walked up behind him while he stood at the cooktop, stirring something, and hugged him tightly.
"What's for dinner?"
"Spaghetti Bolognese!" he replied, not even turning around. It was one of his specialties which was saying something since he could cook very well. He used this spicy Italian sausage that he removed from the casing, rendered, then put in the aromatics and beef. It was really damn good, and I was salivating thinking about it.
"Well, it smells amazing," I told him as I moved around him to grab a quick kiss, knowing he wasn't about to turn from the stove. "I'm going to go change."
I went into our bedroom and shed the clothes I was wearing, putting them in a dry-cleaning bag. I had a really simple rule... if it needed to be ironed, it was laundered. I couldn't iron for shit and this was one luxury I was going to take full advantage of.
I threw on some shorts and just left on the t-shirt I'd been wearing under the button down I had on, and then went into the kitchen to make a salad.
We sat down to eat in the living room where I'd bought a higher than normal coffee table knowing that from here on out, this would be where we would eat since there wasn't room for an actual table. Sure, we could sit at the bar, but we liked to face each other and talk. It was the one rule we'd decided on before we moved, we'd eat together and talk, not watch TV while silently shoveling food into our mouths.
"How was practice?" I asked.
"Good, actually. I think I've finally got a handle on things. Tom Smith, one of the senior linebackers, had a talk yesterday with some of the guys giving me shit and today, nothing. Not even a nasty word."
I took a drink from my water, "Nothing?"
He laughed, "Well, one of them did compliment me on tackling one of the running backs."
"Damn, guess that's something."
"Yeah. I know shit will pop up again, but it's nice to see some sort of progress. Helps us all feel more like a team."
We finished dinner and I cleaned up, and then sat down to watch a movie. I had a moment of Deja vu that evening as I lay back against him, his thick legs on either side of me, watching The Wolf of Wall Street. I didn't know why it was bugging me until the movie ended, and I suddenly needed to pee. As I stood there in the bathroom I remembered it was from a dream I'd had the first night Jack and I slept together.
I'd had other dreams with Jack and me, but this was the first one that came true. It really scared the shit out of me, not because any of them had been bad, but instead because they were literal. The image of us on the sofa had just happened, exactly as I dreamed. And that hadn't ever been the case.
I thought about mentioning it to Jack, but it was pretty late, and I knew he needed to be up early, so I went to bed with him and kept my mouth shut. I knew I had to tell him at some point because the more I thought about it, the more it would be obvious there was something I was grinding on and he'd be relentless until I gave it up. However, it didn't have to be tonight.
The first day of class was a breeze. Compared to an early morning practice, I was perfectly happy to wake up and not have to rush out of the house. Oh, I still got up about 30 minutes earlier than Rob, but I didn't have to leave with him still sleeping. I was quite happy to be his alarm clock.
We ate breakfast, and then walked together to campus, mostly hand in hand. Unsurprisingly, we got looks. It's not every day you see a black guy my size with a boyfriend who looks like Rob. I always knew most of the people who gazed at us a little too long were looking at him. I knew what I looked like, I wasn't blind, but Rob was really beautiful. At 5'10" and 180 pounds of solid muscle, he was fucking gorgeous. He'd never admit it, but I was only too happy to remind him. His features... God, it drove me crazy looking at him sometimes. It could be overwhelming, that perfect blend of masculine and feminine from his parents. Rob always thought Cat was the pretty one, but truly their parent's genes had worked wonders in equal proportions, blessing them both with the kind of beauty that would make it easy for people to give in to them.
And Rob was completely unaffected by it. Instead, he genuinely thought people were just nice and decent. It never even occurred to him that no, they were just being that way TO HIM. It cracked me up on more than one occasion and made me chuckle a bit, apparently a little too loudly.
"What's so funny," he asked as we crossed Guadalupe, smiling up at me with his perfect teeth.
I looked back at him and smiled, "Nothing. I'll tell you later."
We walked together a little further before we had to split up, with a gentle hug and an all too brief kiss to warm my lips. Today we weren't going to see each other until we got home, so it would have to do the trick.
My first class was Spanish, and I was expecting a cakewalk since I could read, write, and speak. My education, and the fighting I'd done, had prepared me well and I could shift pretty easily between Castilian and Mexican. I could also call you any number of very colorful names, thanks to one of the bouncers who worked the cage matches I'd done and who liked to go with me to see Los Muchachos, as he called some of the guys I'd hook him up with. He could be rough with them the way he couldn't with this girlfriend and side piece which he, and they, appreciated.
By 1:30 I was in the weight room lifting and by 3 I was out on the field. One thing I absolutely loved was football. I'd never really understood why Toby and Mark loved it so much, but after playing my first game my junior year, I got it. I'd decided to play because of something Mark had said about how much he was going to miss playing with Toby their senior year. I knew they needed someone to replace him and physically, I could do that. More to the point, at least for Mark, I could be someone close to him, a decent stand-in. I'd decided initially I would just play my junior year, but then the first game happened, and it felt right.
I'd never really thought of myself as a team player, but that was what I'd become, and I liked the person it had made me. I was competitive, to be sure, far more than Rob had been even before the accident, but it had been an individual thing for me when I fought. Winning also meant less hardship on my mother. Now, I wanted to help everyone win. I wanted to work with others to make something bigger happen. I felt good working with the team to get better. Two years ago, that had been a weird feeling. Now, it was like breathing.
After practice, as I walked back to the condo, I got a call from Mark.
"Hey brother, what's up?"
Mark sighed, "Not much, bro. Just thought I'd check in and see how you were doing."
I dug my earbuds out of my bag and plugged in, "Good, man. The bullshit has stopped, so practice has been much better. I think we're going to put on a good show Saturday."
"Damn well better, I have money on it," Mark replied, laughing. "Seriously, though, it's good to hear that's out of their system."
"Yeah, it didn't take too long either. I think Willy and one of the other linemen threatening to beat folks up had an effect."
"Shit, if they knew what was good for 'em..."
"Yeah, I think most of Willy getting in people's faces has been getting them to shut up before they really piss me off."
Mark laughed, "He's smart. Glad he's there to put to same space between you and the assholes because I could see you putting them in the hospital just ahead of the first game."
"Just the hospital?"
"How's LB?" Mark said, quickly changing the subject. He'd started calling me 'bro' and Rob 'little bro' his senior year. Rob and I agreed it was his way of putting himself into our lives and we were both really cool with it. Frankly, with Toby gone, Mark was more like a brother than a friend and he felt protective of Rob so calling him LB seemed natural. I always appreciated it, even if Josh didn't particularly care for it since Rob was actually his little brother.
"He's great and I'm so fucking glad he's here. It's made a huge difference in how I feel."
"Not quite so lonely?"
"Y'all mind if I come down next weekend?"
"Sure, we're home. I'll even get you a ticket to the game. Need us to pick you up at the airport on Friday?"
"No, I talked my dad into letting me drive his car down since mine is still at school."
That caught me off guard, "You're in Dallas?"
"Yeah, I don't start the next quarter until the 18th."
"Oh, badass… OK, I need you to do me a favor on the way down. Stop in West and pick up cookies. Get two dozen chocolate chip and two dozen snickerdoodles."
"Baked goods? Really?" Mark asked, laughing.
"Yeah, Rob's dad bought some at some bakery just off the freeway and I made short work of them. When he got home from work yesterday and saw that I'd demolished what was left, he tried to act like it wasn't a big deal, but I could tell by the look on his face that he was sad..."
"You fuckers and your domestic bliss. Yeah, I'll stop and get some fucking cookies."
I smiled, wishing he could see me through the phone, "Thanks, brother."
"YOU'RE welcome. I'll hit you up next week and let you know when I'll be rolling in."
"Cool. Talk to you then," I said and killed the call. I was really excited about him coming down since I hadn't seen him since Christmas.
When I got home, I knew Rob was back because his keys were in the bowl, but I didn't see him. I assumed he was in the bedroom, probably changing, so I made my way there as slowly as I could, taking a second to silently drop my backpack in the living room on the way.
As I walked in, I heard him humming in the bathroom and realized there was no way I was going to be able to sneak up and catch him from behind. So, I settled for the next best thing, walking directly to him, wrapping him in my arms, and pulling him in close for a kiss.
As he relaxed into me, I could feel him letting go and it was something I'd never tire of feeling. He did this thing where he just relaxed and let me support him as I overwhelmed him with my mouth. It stirred up feelings of dominance in me to be sure, but more importantly it meant trust. He was mine in every conceivable way and it was during an embrace like this when I knew I was the luckiest man in the world.
"Damn," he said, moments after I pulled away from him. "When you do that to me it's hard to think."
I smiled down at him, "Thinking is overrated. You do enough of it already." I gazed into his eyes, then felt the rumble in my belly and thought to ask about dinner. "What do you feel like for dinner?"
"Oh, I made King Ranch chicken before I went to work. I just put it in the oven."
"How long until we can eat?"
"About an hour," he replied with a face spanning grin.
We quickly shed clothes, but then I made him lay back and relax, so I could spend some time doing to him all the things he liked. It wasn't just sex; I wanted to really let him know how much I loved him and how much he meant to me.
After I brought him to climax with what I have to say was one of the finest blowjobs I've ever given, we lay back and relaxed for about 20 minutes before the alarm went off telling us that dinner was ready.
By then, I was actually starving and I'm sure he was surprised as hell when I took a third of the damn casserole and then went back for seconds. I filled him in on my talk with Mark, but didn't mention the cookies since I wanted them to be a surprise.
"I'm glad he's got the time to come down," he said. "Oh, guess what I got today?"
He got up and slowly walked to the bar, then picked up an opened envelope and reached inside to pull out his very own fake ID while shouting, "Ta-Da!"
"Josh?" I asked, nodding to the ID he was still holding in the air.
"Yep, he came through!"
I grabbed it from him and read the name out "loud. "Carl Smith Clifton? You don't look like a Carl, Carl." I said, laughing. I had to hand it to Josh; the guy did kind of look like Rob, except that Carl wore glasses. The height was also off, but just an inch which no one was going to notice, and he was a little heavier than Rob in the face, but the bone structure really did look, well, like Rob. Blond hair, blue eyes and a clear complexion with just a hint of color.
He snorted, grabbing the ID back from me, "According to Josh, he goes by Smith and he's actually a pretty good guy. Made Josh promise him it was for a good cause and that I would ONLY use it to get into bars."
"So, he just gave Josh his ID and went and got a replacement?"
"Well, yeah… because he's a nice guy and because Josh gave him $500."
I died laughing, "Figures!"
"Hey, just because you got yours for free doesn't mean we're all so lucky. Some of us have to work to get the things we need..."
"...so, we can go out and drink?"
"Well, yeah. I don't want to be trapped here or forced to go to parties where we can't be ourselves. I also don't want to have to wait until 2:00 in the morning to get in someplace. This way, we'll actually be able to go out and have some fun!"
"OK, OK… I'm sold!" I said, amused by his spiel and grabbing him up in my arms.
The first few days of classes went well for me. Jack seemed to breeze through, like he did with damn near everything. I wouldn't say I was breezing, but I was definitely feeling capable of handling the workload.
My first class on Wednesday was accounting. I was anything but thrilled. Oddly enough, the decision to go the business school route was one I'd decided myself, not one that had been forced on me by my father. Don't get me wrong, he was THRILLED since it would mean I had 'marketable skills', but I really did it, so I would understand what was going on with my own finances. Over the years, I'd picked up a lot. I knew how to read financial statements and I could analyze returns, but I felt like there was some magic in all of it I was missing and thought this would give me greater depth and understanding. At the very least, I hoped it would allow me to communicate better with Dan Teague.
Managing my trust had to be the biggest pain in the ass he'd ever had. He'd told me on more than one occasion that I was really a pleasure to work with and he assured me he had many other clients and beneficiaries that were, in his words, about as pleasant as a bag of wasps. Right before I left he flew down to Dallas to meet with Cat and me since we never had. Every interaction I'd ever had with the man had been over the phone or email, so it was nice to finally put a face to the disembodied voice. And he looked every bit a guy who ran money. Casually, but expensively dressed, tan with slicked-back black hair. He definitely wasn't part of the green eyeshade accounting crowd.
Willy was in my class and already seated with a couple of other jocks around him and an empty seat right next to him. He motioned me over as soon as I started looking around the theater for him.
"Y'all decide to sleep in?" he asked, grinning at me as I walked up.
"No, I actually made breakfast, and then forced him to sit down and eat with me."
Willy laughed, then motioned to the guy sitting next to him on the other side, "Rob, this is Connor Morris, one of the running backs. Connor, this is Rob, my best friend..."
"And Jack's boyfriend, right?" he asked, standing up and extending his hand, which I shook.
"Shit, is there any mystery to me at all or should I just start calling myself Mr. Jack "Reynolds?" I asked, only half joking.
One of the guys behind us stood up and introduced himself. "Rob, I'm Derek Gilly. Glad to meet Jack's better half."
I ended up meeting two other guys whose names I can't remember, all of whom seemed really comfortable with Jack and thankfully me. After class, Willy walked with me to Macroeconomics.
"That was really cool seeing them warm up to you," he said, as we made our way down Speedway.
"I thought they were nice. Were any of those guys the ones who were giving him shit?"
"Derek, a little, the first few days. He didn't know anyone who was gay so it was kind of a shock for him. He got over it pretty quick when he realized Jack didn't give a shit about him."
I laughed, what was it about straight jocks thinking the gay jocks are automatically going to be interested in them? "Well, hope I didn't do any damage to Jack's rep..."
"No, if anything you humanized him a bit. Jack's not really distant with the guys, but when he's on the field and even in the locker room, he's all business. Plus, the way he moves at his size scares the shit out of them. They may not really understand that he could fuck them all up, but I have a feeling they suspect it. Now that they know you, it'll be a little easier for them. He's not so one dimensional."
I nodded my head, pretending to understand though I honestly didn't. Jack could be intimidating, but a lot of these guys were as big as he was, even if they weren't quite as strong and agile. But then I remembered the first few months I'd known Jack, what I'd seen him do… finally, it dawned on me that Willy was 100% right and that we needed him to come out of his shell or something stupid and completely avoidable might happen.
"He doesn't joke around? Nothing?" I asked Willy.
"Nope. He'll compliment someone on something they did, but that's about it. He's buttoned up."
"Huh, well, I know he wasn't that way in high school. He was all the time playing little pranks on Ethan and Seth."
"Maybe we just need to give him some time. I know he's been feeling a little bunkered, at least until you moved down."
I took a deep breath, "OK, let me know if he doesn't start to lighten up, will ya?"
Macro ended up being good and the rest of my classes were nice. I actually found myself enjoying them. Work was also good, especially on Friday when we went to happy hour and I got to use my fake for the first time. I was FAR more nervous than I should have been.
Jack and I spent Friday night in and Saturday morning, he got up early, went for a jog, then came back and made breakfast. The game started at 2 so we had time, but he was nervous as hell. It was kind of cute, but I finally stopped him, around 11, while he was pacing.
"Babe, you've got to calm down."
He sighed, looking at the floor, "I'm just nervous. It's a big deal for me."
I got up on my toes to give him a soft kiss, holding his head in my hands.
"I know baby, and you're going to do some amazing things on the field today. You've got this."
He smiled, but it didn't carry to his eyes. I knew no matter what I said or did, he was going to stay keyed up right up until the end of the fourth quarter. It was weird because he'd never been that way in high school. This game, today, meant more. I could almost feel the weight settled onto his shoulders. It made me briefly think back to my conversation with Cat the previous Friday. Jack was aware, and he'd been feeling this for a while. He'd been holding it in to keep it from getting to me, but now it was getting to the point he couldn't contain it.
I made him a quick lunch and by noon he was out the door, heading over to the Stadium. I left about 1:30, walking out the front to ride over with Suzy, and ran into my new neighbors moving in. They were trying to shove a very large couch up the stairs which seemed purpose-built to keep it from happening. One of the guys was a little bigger than me, the other taller and a lot more built.
"Hey, I'm Rob Hallstrom. I live downstairs."
"Nice to meet you, I'm Ben," the larger of the two said, "and this is Max."
"Well, welcome to the complex. Wish I could help y'all, but I'm on my way to the game."
Max coughed, and Ben said, "Don't fucking start, Max."
"Well, who was it that thought it would be good idea to move on a Saturday?"
I left them squabbling and walked to the driveway. Suzy pulled up a little later and we took off. Somehow, she'd secured close in parking. The seats were with Willy's parents who were in town to see his first game. I hugged them as we joined them, Suzy sitting next to them and me on the end.
The game was amazing. I'd been to Cowboys games, but usually we sat in a box that belonged to one of my father's bankers or someone Neil and mother knew. This, sitting out in the open air, was pretty fucking awesome. Not to mention that my boyfriend and best friend were TEARING IT UP. It started about 6 minutes into the first quarter when Jack was finally sent in on D. That first play, he moved through the offensive line like a hot knife through butter and crushed the QB who fumbled the ball. They recovered, but it didn't matter. The QB was a wreck the rest of the game and you could see him panic every time 94 was on the field.
Yeah, Jack had picked 94 when he was in high school and the coach here agreed to let him keep using it in honor of Toby.
Rather than wait for the guys to get cleaned up and through their post-game media crap, I decided to head back to the condo after saying goodbye to Suzy and Willy's parents.
When I got home, I decided to take a nap which turned into a little over an hour before I was rudely awakened by the conquering hero who came to claim his prize, then demanded dinner. So, we cleaned up and took a cab downtown, then just got out and wandered into Trulucks for dinner. After, we went to Oil Can Harry's which was, well, interesting. It was even smaller than places I'd been to in New York, but it did have a nice patio. We ended up going from there to Rain which was a younger crowd, more like us, and we made some friends.
It was, a good night. Being together, really together, made a huge difference to me and while we were never shy about ourselves, we also felt constantly keyed up, as if waiting for someone to scream something from a moving car. In a predominantly gay club, that just wasn't going to happen. Far more likely that one of us was going to get hit on while the other went to grab drinks or went to the bathroom.
About midnight, Jack was clearly starting to wear down which didn't surprise me considering the day he'd had and our pre-dinner activities. So, we took a cab home and walked up to find my new neighbors on their patio having a few beers.
"So, did y'all get everything moved in?" I asked.
Ben, the bigger of the two, said, "Just about... got a few things to take care of tomorrow. Say, is that Jack Reynolds?"
I looked over at Jack who was doing his Aw Shucks smile and replied, "Yeah, I found him wandering around 4th Street looking for a dominant top, so I brought him home. Thought I'd give him a spin!"
After that last line, Jack grabbed me into a hug from behind, making me squeal just a bit. Then he said, "I'm actually his boyfriend."
"Oh, man! Y'all mind if we hang with you guys for a bit?"
I looked back at Jack and said, "Do you feel up to it?"
He smiled at me, knowing we needed to be friendly with the neighbors, "Sure," then to them, "Y'all come on down."
I unlocked the door to let us in and left it open. Jack went to pee and I made myself a weak bourbon and got Jack a beer. By the time I was done, Jack was walking into the living room and I handed him the beer, then we walked out to hang with Ben and Max.
"Dude, I cannot believe I live above Jack Reynolds and his boyfriend!"
I laughed, "Don't tell me you're a fan?"
Max spit up his beer laughing, "Nah, Jack busted HIS ass in a game his senior year!"
Jack looked dumbfounded and Ben was smiling, "I played running back at Irving Nimitz."
And just like that, Jack figured it out. "Were you a senior in 2012?"
"We both were," Ben responded.
I looked from him to Jack, still not getting it, "You were the one I tackled just before the end of the game!"
Ben laughed, "Yep. Ended my high school football career ignominiously with a loss to an inferior team."
Jack, serious as hell, "Man, I'm so sorry. You walked off the field, though. I didn't think I fucked you up."
"No, no... you didn't! I was all good; we just weren't supposed to lose that game!"
And finally, I got it as they all started laughing and clinking bottles. Yeah, it was a brofest, until Max said one more thing.
"Yeah, we were really thinking playing y'all would be a cakewalk since you didn't have Toby Martin playing. Instead, this motherfucker hits the field..."
Ben said, "He's not lying. Toby had never been able to catch me. For three years, I'd managed to stay a step ahead of him and he was the only one who really scared me. Then you came along and well, that was that. Whatever happened to Toby, anyway?"
I just sat there. I knew they had no idea who they were talking to or what HAD happened to Toby, but I could still feel the butterflies in my belly. For the first time in more than 8 months, I was close to an attack. I stood up, unsteadily, then sat right back down.
Ben piped up, "Dude, are you OK?"
Jack, thankfully, spoke up for me, "He's fine. Uhm... I don't know..."
"Jack, I'm gonna go to bed." I said, standing back up. "Guys, I'm sorry. I'm just out of it and I think the drinks from earlier are hitting me."
Jack stood, moving to hug me. "Are you OK?" he asked, softly.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Don't break up the party on my account; I just need to lie down." I decided I was better off trying to pass off my weakness as being drunk, but I knew Jack wasn't buying it. He knew where my head was. He also knew I needed to be alone for a bit.
It was a deal we'd made not long after the first anniversary of the accident. It didn't happen often, but occasionally something would pop up and I needed some space to deal with it. I knew letting me go was hard on Jack, but he understood and did what I needed him to do, which was be nice to our neighbors.
I walked back into the condo and made my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth while silently working through the exercises that I knew would keep me calm.
That Saturday night had been good. It started well; we had dinner then went out for a bit. It was good to see him feeling free and happy, deliriously so since he now had an ID and we could go out. But there was something more, right at the edge of awareness that I just couldn't really grasp. I could feel it coming off him, see it in his eyes... it was kind of magical. I'd never in a million years thought someone could so easily relax in such a crowded, noisy space as a gay bar, but he did. He unwound, he talked to people, we met some other couples and even got asked a few (well, several) times if we needed a third or wanted to play with another couple. I did my best to stay contained and I succeeded, mostly. I only shot one guy a really nasty look as I walked back up to Rob after using the bathroom.
Dancing with Rob is something I love. I never feel self-conscious and music just sounds better when he's with me. While I may not have been the most social person, I did like to dance with my man. At least here, the stares we would get were the jealous and lustful variety, not hateful. It felt good, especially after the game.
When we got back to the condo the new neighbors were out and we invited them down. From the moment Max brought up Toby, I could FEEL the anxiety settle over Rob. When he got up to leave, I knew the look.
For the first 10 months of our relationship, we learned to read each another. I figured out when he needed me, whether it was a kiss or a hug or just a touch, because he'd reach for me. The reaching got progressively more and more subtle until finally it stopped altogether, and I could tell he needed me with just a glance.
But there were also times when he just needed space. He called it 'time to process' and that was the look I got when he said the drinks had hit him and he needed to go to bed. I knew he was being polite and all I wanted to do was climb in bed and hold him until he felt better, but that wasn't what he needed right then, he'd need me later. So, I sat back down.
After the door closed, Max asked, "Did I say something?"
I leaned back and let out the breath I'd been holding, "Yeah, but there's no way you could have known..."
Ben got it right then, "Holy shit!" he swore, under his breath. Then, to me, "He was close to Toby, wasn't he?"
"We both were. Toby was like a brother to me and Rob was his fiancé."
"Oh, God. What happened?"
I rubbed my hand over my head and took a deep breath with my eyes closed. "Right after Valentine's Day two years ago, they were hit by a drunk driver. Rob was pretty seriously hurt, but Toby died. It tore us all up."
Max just looked down at the ground, "Oh, man, I'm so sorry. I didn't know..."
"It's OK, man. Rob's a really sweet guy, one of the many things I love about him. He's also pretty sensitive and as you can imagine, that's a subject that can throw him when it comes up suddenly. Trust me, he's going to be fine and he's not going to hold it against you. He doesn't know how to be mean or hateful and he's terrible at holding grudges."
"Is there anything we can do?" Ben asked.
"How do you mean?"
"Well, you know, for him. For you?"
I smiled, "I appreciate it, Ben, but it's been years since it happened and we're both through the pain. He just needed time to think and regroup. Trust me, he'll be fine."
There was an awkward silence for a bit, about what you'd expect given the situation.
Ben finally broke the silence, "I hope this isn't sticking my foot in my mouth, but I saw highlights of the game and damn you were AWESOME!"
I laughed, "No, it's perfectly fine. Anytime you want to compliment me, feel free!"
We ended up talking for another hour or so and they were very generous with their beer. It was a wide-ranging conversation about classes, football, what it was like playing Division 1, dating lives (Ben was single and looking, Max had a girlfriend going to Southwestern, so she was close by) ... it was that last part they were both really curious about. It struck me as kind of odd at first, but then Ben told me we were the first gay couple he'd ever known. Well, not the first but the first he'd met without previously knowing one of the guys in the relationship.
"It's not really much different from being in a hetero relationship. It's still two people who have their own motives, desires, and ways of dealing with things that happen to them." I took a drink from my beer, and then continued, "I'm lucky. He's... well, it's hard to put into words. We just fit, like two pieces of an awesome whole. I honestly couldn't tell you where I'd be without him."
"What do you mean?" Ben asked. It was a good question.
"I mean that I wouldn't be the man you see here now without him. He makes me want to be a better person and I know I am, or, at least I'm better than I was. I've done some fucked up things, but it's in the past because of him. I couldn't be that way anymore; it stopped working with him in my life. I don't know where I'd be if he'd never come along, but I know it wouldn't be sitting here right now."
Max exhaled loudly, "Wow. That's fucking deep."
"Nah, I get it. Thanks for being so honest, man." Ben said, nodding his head.
"I guess it's about time for me to head to bed, but can I ask y'all a favor?"
Max nodded, as Ben said, "Sure, anything."
"Keep an eye out for Rob when I'm not around. I worry about him."
"You afraid someone is going to fuck with him? Anything specific?"
"No, nothing. Just general shit. He's really a sweet guy and people can take advantage of that, or worse. You see something happen to him, just please step in."
"Of course, man." Ben replied.
After I calmed down, I actually fell asleep for a bit only to wake up suddenly, realizing Jack wasn't there. I got up to go check and they were still on the patio talking. I couldn't really hear much, but I heard them talking about me. Something about watching out for me when Jack wasn't around.
Jack's over protectiveness usually made me feel safe, but right at that moment I just felt like a burden. Was I really so weak and soft that I needed two guys I hardly knew to watch out for me?
I started to walk back to the bedroom, gloomy as hell and realizing that more than I cared to admit, I was probably a drag on Jack. I knew I was way too accepting and open something my father had been onto me about for years. It wasn't gullibility; it was a willingness to trust. I didn't approach new people with caution and it was something I knew drove Jack crazy. Especially my predilection for talking to people I really didn't know.
I lay back down, staring up at the ceiling. About five minutes later, I heard the door open and close, and Jack walked into the bedroom. He noticed me even in the dim light spilling into the room from the bathroom. He stopped and smiled at me.
"You didn't drink too much more, did you?" I asked as I sat up in bed.
He sat down next to me, putting his hand behind my head and leaning down to kiss me. "Just a few more beers while we were talking. Why?"
I looked into his eyes and saw what I always saw, love. "I feel like I need to talk about something, but I don't know if it's the right time..."
I could see the concern develop on his face, "What's wrong?"
I cleared my throat, casting my eyes downward. I felt kind of weak, to be honest, especially after what I'd heard.
"I got up to check on you a little while ago and I heard y'all talking about me..."
He smiled, "They're curious."
"I get that, but there was something you said about me that worried me."
"What did I say?"
"You were asking them to watch out for me..."
"Yeah, I remember. I just wanted them to keep an eye on you in case someone gave you trouble. Why has that got you so worried?"
I swallowed hard, "I feel..." and I just jammed up while my breathing accelerated.
I could see the concern flip to worry, "Oh, babe, please talk to me. I love you and there's nothing to worry about," he said, as his hand started to rub my back. It worked, and I calmed down.
I looked into his eyes and said, "Am I a strain on you?"
He looked shocked, like I'd just stabbed him in the leg. "Why would you ask me that? Are you seriously worried about it?" he coughed out.
Softly I replied, "Yeah. I know how frustrating I can be... Is it too much for you?" Jack wasn't like me, he was hard. Well, he could be. With me he never was, he knew how I was wired and did his best to act in ways that wouldn't upset me. But I also knew I held him back at times from doing things he wanted to do, especially when he wanted to take action on something he felt was threatening. It had all made such perfect sense in my head when I'd come back to bed... I was holding him back.
He looked at me, clearly upset, moisture filling his eyes and his face started to soften.
"That has you worried?"
"You didn't really answer my question..."
"Yes," he said quietly, "you're a strain on me. You strain my desire to do bad things. You strain my desire to use my fists rather than my head. You strain my ability to lead the lonely life I was leading, especially after Toby died.
You put a horrible strain on me because you make me want to be a man who is worthy of someone like you, and I know I'm not. I have to work at it, every day, and it's given me a life I love."
He shifted, slightly, centering more directly in front of me.
"That first night we were together, the night you told me how you felt, you really knocked me on my ass. You were so raw, so vulnerable, it was like you reached into your chest and handed me your heart. I didn't know what to do, but I knew out of all my options the one I couldn't stomach would be not grabbing on to what you offered. That night... no, shit... the next morning, when you woke up and told me 'Good Morning' with that amazing smile, I almost started crying because I knew, right then, my past was gone and in front of me was a future with you. And I KNEW," he said standing up, "I wanted that. I needed that. I desired that more than anything else. I knew you'd made the decision to be with me and there was no way I was going to let you regret it.
I told you years ago that you and Toby were a matched set, but we aren't. We're complimentary... two different parts that form something better. I even told the two of them the same thing. They seem like good people and so, yeah, I asked them to keep an eye out for you. I love you and want to make sure you're safe. But it's not because you're a strain on me in anything other than a good way."
I studied his face for a few seconds, almost like time stopped, and I realized he'd never told me the full story of his side of that night. It was when he talked about that night, just a moment's hesitation told me he'd been keeping something from me and I was pretty sure I knew what it was.
"That first night, when we were asleep, you dreamed of Toby, didn't you?"
His eyes went wide, "How..."
"You started to say something just now about what happened that night, and then you stopped yourself and skipped to the morning. Given how Toby came to me, I figured it was a safe bet."
He looked, I don't know, defeated. "Babe that was something I wanted to keep for myself."
"It's OK, Jack. I understand."
"No, you really don't and tonight makes it clear I never should have kept it from you. You've never really understood me and that's my fault." He then told me haltingly about the conversation he'd had with Toby and it broke my heart.
"Why would you even think you weren't good enough?" I asked tears of my own now running down my cheeks.
He looked at me as though I'd just said the craziest thing in the world, "Because I knew I wasn't. Once I knew you were OK, I went a little crazy. I hid it well, but I went to a dark place looking to take out the pain and grief I felt. There are things I did that April I will never tell you about."
"Baby, I already figured that out from what you've told me. You have to remember, I knew about your past and it didn't matter to me then. Hell, I told you I could even accept it if you still needed to fight. I fell in love with YOU and that was all a part of the deal. It may have taken Toby with that damn baseball hitting me in the head to get it, but I did. There's never been a moment since that I've regretted opening myself to you. I just don't want to be a burden on you, like some invalid you have to constantly take care of."
"Oh, God no, Rob! That's not it at all!" he said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "There are a million reasons I can think of to have someone look out for you, but what really scares me are the million things I can't think of. I love you and I can't help it."
I nodded, understanding what his request had really been about, and I felt stupid. This wasn't about me needing protection from myself, it was about him and it went much further back than just the first night we were together. Suddenly something struck. I thought for a second before deciding to press my luck.
"Babe, do you remember when I told Toby about Kurt and he got really upset? You thought I'd been toying with him and you confronted me about it?"
He looked at me, and through new tears glumly replied, "Yeah, I remember."
"You never hit me. I thought at the time it was because you respected me as a friend, but that wasn't it, was it?"
"No," he said, looking at the carpet.
"You were in love with me even then, weren't you?"
"Yeah," he said, sounding deflated. "I never said anything about it; I never wanted it to be an issue with Toby or you."
"So, you kept that bottled up the entire time we were together?" I asked.
"I didn't have a choice and it wouldn't have made a difference. I knew it would rip Toby and I apart..."
"I don't think it would..."
"Rob!" he exclaimed. "You don't know everything! You don't know how he talked about you to me, the things he said, the plans he was making. He had a life planned out and it was amazing. And I knew he would deliver it. He felt like anything was possible and I get it now more than I ever did then because I'm doing the same thing. Trust me when I tell you, it would have made him hate me. He wouldn't have been angry with me, he would have hated me, and I couldn't stand that. That alone would have been enough, but the reality was that you were only about Toby."
"I'm not done, babe." He closed his eyes, really squeezed them shut, like he was trying hard to think about what he wanted to say, as if this was the most important thing he would ever reveal.
"I saw how you were with him. I knew you loved him, I knew he loved you. That was it. It wasn't until you... no, that's not what I want to say. Shit."
"Jack, are you worried about me still..."
"No! No, it's who you are that I'm trying to get across without sounding so stupid, but I can't think of a way to say it that does it justice." He knelt down in front of me, taking my hands in his, "You love completely and unconditionally. You're not like most people; it's a big part of what makes you so special. I didn't put it all together until after Toby died, but even now I see it in your eyes when you look at me and in your voice when you speak. You loved him that way and you love me that way.
If I'd said something, it would have ruined my friendship with Toby and it wouldn't have brought us together. And honestly, I was OK with that. It wasn't torture because I was happy for my friend and for you."
I leaned down to hug him, "I'm sorry I was stupid..."
"You weren't stupid, you were just insecure, and I should've told you the whole story a long time ago... "
Sighing, I told him, "Yeah, I was and I'm sorry..."
Jack smiled, "I love you and I want you to always remember anything I do is with that in mind."
He stood back up and went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. Five minutes later, he was hugging me to him and I fell asleep.
By the following Wednesday, it was pretty clear that what had happened Saturday night wasn't something we'd leave there. Rob's insecurity blew up to nervousness, indecisiveness, and being really needy. I was fine having him close, but he needed almost constant, not occasional, reassurance and I wasn't sure what the hell was wrong since he'd never been that way. It started when we got up on Sunday and just kind of carried on through the beginning of the week. At first, I felt like he was still a little unsure and blew it off.
Now, however, it was really starting to worry me. We were getting ready to go meet Roger Jenkins for dinner and he was worried about the socks he was thinking about wearing. He had seriously been staring at two pairs of socks on the bed for 5 minutes before I finally walked over to him and wrapped my arms around him.
"I'm not feeling like myself, "Jack," he said as he relaxed slightly into me.
"I know babe, do you want me to call and cancel," I asked.
He sighed heavily, then looked up at me, his eyes starting to water, "No, we can't. It's Roger... he's family," he said, his voice trailing off to barely a whisper.
"What about a little bit of a Xanax? Do you think that might help?" I asked.
He just shrugged.
I went into the bathroom and got the pills out, cutting off about a quarter of one. He'd stopped taking the Lexapro, with the support of his psychiatrist, almost two years before. And he'd come off it well, with only few weird days for the first couple of weeks as he started to normalize. Even when we got through the first anniversary of the accident, he'd been able to deal with the anxiety pretty well.
This, though, was something else. Something threw him badly off and he knew it. I was scared.
I walked back into the bedroom and he took the tablet piece, then I helped him finish getting dressed. To look at him, even with a critical eye, you'd think he was great. I could just tell from the look on his face he was anything but.
Thirty minutes later we were in the car and he appeared to relax a bit, only asking once if he looked OK. I laughed and told him, "No, you look gorgeous."
After we parked, I grabbed his hand as we walked into the restaurant and gave it a light squeeze, just to let him feel me. I hated that he was feeling off and I hated even more not knowing why.
Roger immediately scooped Rob into a hug as soon as we walked in, asking how his favorite nephew was. I was just relieved he didn't call Rob 'Little Man' like he had in the past. It may not have bothered Rob, but it always rankled me a bit.
"Good, Roger. Still settling in, but it's really great."
Roger then turned and held out his hand to me, "And how are you, young man?" Roger treated me much more formally and had ever since our first meeting. Rob said it was a show of respect and I guessed it actually was. He'd never been anything but polite to me.
"I'm good, Roger. Thanks for inviting us for dinner!"
"Of course. I promise any time I have to be in Austin overnight, you guys can count on me for a meal."
Dinner was good, and Roger complimented me on my performance over the weekend which made me proud as hell considering his own history playing football at UT. He also invited us to stay with him in San Antonio when we had a free weekend. And honestly, that was most of the conversation... us talking. Rob would interject occasionally or laugh at something one of us said, but he was really quiet, noticeably so. When he excused himself to the bathroom, Roger leaned over to me and asked if anything was wrong.
I felt like I had to tell him. I didn't want to lie and leave him thinking something worse.
"Honestly, yes, but I don't know what it is. He's just not himself. Something happened Saturday night that's had him feeling really insecure. I've never seen him like this."
He leaned back in his chair, "Is he seeing someone?"
"Yeah, he was on an every two-week schedule but he made an appointment for tomorrow afternoon."
Roger smiled, "Good. He'll get better, whatever this is. I'm glad you're with him, Jack. I know how much you mean to him."
After we got home, we decided to watch a movie, but he couldn't decide on one. It was like with the socks, this indecisiveness that wasn't him. I finally decided to watch Into Darkness. I knew he'd be OK with it, since he was a giant nerd about science fiction.
By the time the movie was over, we got ready for bed and he was calm, but sort out of it. He wasn't apologizing, he wasn't asking for reassurance, he was just spacey. I hugged him to me when we got in bed and he went to sleep without a whimper, just as he had every night since Sunday. I tried not to read anything into it, but it was hard, brutally so. I couldn't help but wonder if maybe my need to protect him had finally gone too far, if maybe it had driven him to the point of not loving me?
I finally got to sleep that night, but it was anything but restful and when my alarm went off, I fell out of bed trying to shut it off. Thankfully, he wasn't disturbed, and I got to spend the time I usually allotted just watching him sleep. It was the only time he'd been peaceful in days.
Before I left, knowing I wouldn't see him until tonight, I left him a note...
"Babe, I love you with all my heart. Have a good day and I'll see you tonight."
While between classes at one point I started surfing relationship self-help articles on how to deal with things when your partner has a mental illness. I knew how to cope with the anxiety, but this was different. And then there was an article on depression and insecurity and I realized that was Rob, especially over the last few days. I suddenly felt nauseous because I realized this was more serious than I thought, and it would mean a trip back to what Rob dreaded, constant medication.
The rest of the afternoon I was overwhelmed by sadness because the man I loved had to deal with the fact that, yet again, life was throwing him a wicked curveball.
That Thursday I got up and I was still feeling weird. I didn't have a lot of energy and I wasn't enthusiastic about anything. I'd pretty much self-diagnosed with depression, but I didn't say anything to Jack as I didn't want him to worry. I knew he already was, but he didn't need to be burdened until we got the actual diagnosis.
I called in sick to work, then took a long nap after lunch. About 3 I went to my appointment with Doctor Griner. As I sat in her office, I was really pretty discouraged. I knew enough to know this wasn't something that would just go away quickly. I was dealing with something else now.
Thankfully, she was a lot more encouraging. I told her what had transpired on Saturday, leaving out nothing. She wanted to see if my symptoms persisted or if things cleared up. In the meantime, she gave me some exercises to do when I found myself getting overwhelmed.
"Now, about how you are with others, there's not much we can do. Those closest to you are going to know something is off, they'll see it first. Just remember you can tell them as little or as much as you want, you're in control."
"Yeah, Jack knew on Sunday something was wrong."
"Tell him not to worry, we're going to dig down to the cause and we're going to treat it. Given your history, how would you feel about going back on Lexapro?"
I hadn't really thought about it, but as soon as the words left her mouth, I had this glimmer of hope that it might help me now, just as it had when I got really down after Toby died.
"I'd be fine with 'it'," I told her, the relief obvious in my voice.
"Well, it may not be enough to take care of this, but if we're seeing symptoms next week, then we'll already be a week in and we can assess how it's doing and adjust if needed."
"Thank you, Doctor Griner," I said as I stood up to leave, "I feel a lot better."
"You're welcome, just remember... break everything down into simple tasks."
The drive home was eventful, mostly because I had to literally stand on the brakes to keep from crashing into someone who stopped for a red light. That actually gave me one hell of a jolt and pumped a ton of adrenaline into my bloodstream. By the time I got home, about 10 minutes later, I was fully cooked. I walked straight to my bathroom, took half a Xanax, and then lay down.
Jack came in about an hour later and I told him what had happened. While we were sitting there, I got a call from Walgreens saying my prescription was ready. So, he drove me over and we went to Burger King on the way home. We did at least wait until we got home to eat despite the fact that he was starving. I was kind of disinterested and it wasn't just because I wasn't a BK fan.
I sat there reading my economics book after dinner, while he stretched out on the sofa watching TV. I was forcing myself to do this since I knew it needed to be done and I had put it off. Griner was right, breaking things down would help, or at least it had in terms of studying. I started reading around 9 and didn't move until 11:30 when Jack turned off the TV and got up to head to bed.
He bent down to kiss me and that was what broke my concentration. I was so out of it, I actually jumped like he'd really scared me... because he had.
"Babe, are you OK?" he asked.
"Yeah, I was focused, and it jolted me," I told him as I shut the book and pulled my legs from underneath me. He just stood there, looking at me, face filled with worry. I tried to ignore it, but it got to me. I woke up weird at times and this was like that, a dislocation. It was also different than how I had been feeling, like something had flipped in my head. I've had moments like this in the past, but never as intensely unless I was being awakened.
"How do you feel right now?"
I yawned and stretched a bit, then put the book down on the coffee table. "Actually, I'm pretty tired. But I feel not quite as out of it as I have been."
He smiled, softly, then grabbed my hand and pulled me into the bedroom. He was there and right then it was all I needed.
Friday morning, I got up early and watched him. I noticed a smile on his face as he slept, and it made me hopeful that the worst was behind him. I knew from the reading I'd done there would be ups and downs, so I was prepared for things to shift. I knew it was going to take a week or two for the Lexapro to really kick in, so I knew it wasn't that. I was hoping that he'd turned a corner, not for me, but for him. Dealing with him like this was one thing and I could cope with that. I loved him, so taking care of him and being there for him was something I was completely prepared for. What I hated, because it made me feel so weak and helpless, was watching him having to deal with it, knowing things weren't right in his own head. It's heartbreaking to watch someone you love struggle with everything.
I'd had a talk about that feeling with his father the previous spring while waiting for him to join us after one of his baseball games. I don't even remember how we got on the subject, I think it was how anxious he was about the game and his father winced.
I asked him what was wrong, and he just said, "It hurts when I know he's anxious about something. He's so contained about things, wrapped up tight, that I know when I can see it, he's really struggling and it just..."
He looked at me, really looked at me, and said, "Yeah, it does."
I sighed, "It hits me the same way, Mr. Hallstrom."
And it did. I knew exactly what he was talking about and that was how I'd felt all week, watching him have difficulty making even simple decisions or doing silly things, like loading the dishwasher. I knew him, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt he was beating himself up. And it made me want to vomit.
While the doctor hadn't actually diagnosed him with depression, in my mind that was a formality. She had to have seen what I had been seeing, I had no doubt Rob was truthful and open with her, and I was ready for it. There wasn't anything that was going to tear me away from him. He would get help and we would deal with whatever came, together.
I sat and watched him for about 20 minutes, then gently woke him up. We had breakfast and he seemed to be much more himself. I could tell he was still having issues, but he seemed better, like decisions were becoming easier.
Since we had a game the next day, practice was light, and I was out of the locker room by 5, on my way back to the condo. When I walked in I didn't hear anything, then I noticed something moving on the patio. I opened the door to find him and Mark sitting there having drinks.
"Hey! Look who finally showed up!" Mark said, rising to grab me into a hug that felt good.
He pulled back to look at me. "Damn, man. I think you've grown since I saw you at Christmas!"
"Not that much, thank God. I told him if he grew another two inches I'd have to start wearing heels," Rob laughed out.
I sat down next to him on the bench and he handed me a beer from the bucket they'd brought out, then I gave him a kiss. He looked at me with this incredible smile, warm and beautiful, but I knew he was working to seem OK. Whatever was going on was still there. He'd decided to make the best of things with Mark here and I wasn't going to ruin it for him.
Mark pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered them to us. Rob took one, but I didn't. It was a sore spot for me with him. He only smoked occasionally when he was drinking, but I still didn't like it. I didn't want him to die and I had to remind myself that no, a few cigarettes a month are not going to kill him.
"I thought you were going to quit?" I asked Mark.
"Yeah, well, that girl I was telling you about, Lucy? She smokes, and I didn't quit. We both know we have to, but to be honest it's kind of fun especially since just about everyone in Palo Alto is really uptight about smoking."
Rob laughed, "Austin's not any different. Last Saturday I had to hunt down a smoker on the patio of a bar to bum one. I felt like an outcast smoking it!"
"You both should feel that way, it's nasty."
"But it goes so damn well with drinks!" Mark responded raising his beer to toast. "To my brother and my little brother, all the best to the two people who mean the world to me!"
Rob and I raised our beers and knocked the bottles together.
"Well, what's the plan for tonight?" I asked.
"Dinner, then maybe go check out this place Ben told me about," Rob said.
"And we know we can't stay out late, Mother," Mark said, jokingly and I laughed in response. It wasn't so much what he said that made me laugh, it was how he said it.
I looked over at Rob and asked, "What was Ben up to?"
"Not much. He asked if we wanted to go to a party at their house, I said no, and Mark asked him if he knew of a chill straight bar."
Mark piped up, "A party at their fraternity house! Like it's the 60s and shit!"
"You have something against free beer? They're actually pretty cool," I looked over at Rob, "Did you want to go?"
"No. I really don't. Maybe another time but not while Mark's here. Plus, they may be cool with us, but who knows about their bros?"
It was a good point. Most of the fraternities here were pretty racist and homophobic. Why take a chance?
Dinner was all about hearing Mark's stories from his first summer in California and his adventures a couple of weekends with Josh and Lane in LA. Then the subject turned to Lucy and that was where it got interesting.
"She's the one, dude," he told me, face full of confidence. "I knew it on our third date when she keyed a guy's car because he'd treated her friend badly. She's fiery, but sweet when she wants to be, and obstinate as hell."
"So, obviously, she's perfect for you," Rob stated.
Mark smiled, "You got it."
"Damn, I'm happy for you brother."
"Thanks, Jack. Once football is done, I really want you guys to come out for a weekend and meet her. She's something special."
I looked over at Rob, my face a question and he just nodded his head and said, "Of course we will!"
Ben had recommended a place called Kingdom which ended up being interesting, as much for the looks we got from people as anything else. Rob... well, I don't know if it was because of how he was feeling or the night itself, but he picked up on it in a way he usually doesn't. The Look, as I called it, wasn't like the ones of desire directed at one or both of us, or a disapproving look because we were gay. It was the 'black/white' look. Even in 2014, people could still have a problem with a mixed-race couple, usually the same ones who were from suburbs and referred to the downtown areas of a city as 'urban'.
All it did was drive Rob closer to me in an effort to show me it didn't matter. My sweet guy only wanted to reassure me, as if I needed that reassurance. My doubts about us had been settled years before and he knew it, but still he felt the need to hold on just a little tighter to let me know he was there and he wasn't going anywhere. It's the kind of thing he'd do that would make your heart race and your eyes water, overwhelmed by the sweetness of his actions. He's only out tonight because Mark is in town and he's doing this for me because he thinks I need it after seeing someone mouth 'nigger'. He's not feeling like himself and he's trying to take care of those he loves. The irony, not feeling like himself but acting and doing things that were natural to him, wasn't lost on me. It also kept me from going over and beating unconscious the frat rat that had the audacity to even think that word near me.
I crashed out pretty fast when we got home around 12:30 and was back up by 8. Once again, I didn't have to be at the stadium until after noon, so I woke up Mark and we went to get breakfast. I needed some time alone with him and I knew Rob needed the rest. The previous night wasn't easy on him and he'd been worn out when he came to bed.
When we got to the restaurant, it was obvious and unsurprising that Rob's best efforts to hide his condition had failed. Mark saw through the act.
"OK, so are you going to tell me what's wrong or are you going to pretend I'm other people?" he asked after the waitress had taken our order.
"You know, when you say shit like that, it's like you're channeling Rob," I replied, smiling. That other people line was one I'd heard a million times.
He nodded, "So, who decided to hide shit from me?"
"Man, I'm sorry, it wasn't my idea. I can tell you I'm certain it was just because he wanted to enjoy the time with you and to make sure you had fun."
"Did he even tell you he wasn't going to talk to me about whatever is going on? And seriously, what IS going on?"
"No, I just noticed how he was when I came in yesterday afternoon. There's nothing wrong with us, it's something off with him and he's sensitive about it. Last Sunday he woke up feeling down and was really needy, asking for reassurance about the dumbest things, stuff we'd worked out long ago. It wasn't that he didn't remember, it was that he wanted to make sure it was still the case. His energy level has been terrible and he's having problems with decisions. He went to the doctor Thursday afternoon and she put him back on Lexapro. We're going to see if that helps."
"What is it?" he asked, genuine concern pouring off him.
"No diagnosis yet, but I'm pretty sure it's depression. They can't clinically diagnose so soon, but I'm guessing when he goes back on Thursday that's going to be what they come up with."
"How are you holding up?" he asked.
"Me? I'm worried. I mean, I worry about him anyway, but this has thrown it from normal to an emergency. Worse, it tears me up seeing him this way. He's been struggling with even easy things and I know how he is, he's beating himself up. It's awful for him because he knows his brain isn't working right and I can see it in how he reacts."
"You know, depression is pretty common. I had a psych class spring quarter and it taught me a lot. He may have progressed to MADD."
I smiled at him, "You took a psychology class?"
"Well, yeah. I wanted to know a little more since there's someone close to me who is living with mental illness. I wanted to understand better what was happening with him."
"I love you, Mark. Even half a continent away you're trying to understand Rob better."
"He's my little bro and he happens to be in love with my other bro. You're not friends, you're family."
"We feel the same way. I want you to know..."
"I do. I did. I never felt anything different, to be honest with you. We even talked about it last night."
"Talked about it? Like what?"
"If I tell you something, will you promise you won't tell him I told you?"
"No. Not if it's about Rob. You can't ask me to do that!"
"Relax! He wanted me to promise that if he got to be too much to take care of, I would step in and persuade you to move on."
"Oh, for fuck's sake!"
"I thought it was kind of melodramatic of him, but I realized he was serious. I asked him what was wrong, and he brushed it off, saying it was one of his worries with the GAD, but I knew that was bullshit. There had to be something else, maybe something that happened in the last few weeks. I didn't realize it was happening right now."
"But he has to know I'm not going to walk away, ever, for any reason. Hell, he could cheat on me and I'd still stick with him!"
Mark looked at me, face contorted with doubt, "You sure about that?"
I sat up in the booth, "Yes, I am. I love him and that's not going to just stop. I may get angry with him, but I won't stop loving him. And there's no reason I would ever abandon him because he's sick."
Mark sat back, smiling. "Good. I wanted to make sure."
"We talked about how the two of you felt about me and how I felt about you. I asked why he seemed a little off and he said it was an issue with the GAD, nothing to worry about. I knew he was lying and I knew you were helping him cover. I wanted to know what was up and, if it was something serious, that you were going to stick..."
"Motherf..." I started to say as the waitress arrived with the food.
After she cleared off, he smiled and asked, "You were saying?"
"So, the whole thing about him wanting me to cut him loose was bullshit?"
"Yeah, it was."
"Why would you do something like that?"
"Because you both mean a lot to me, but he's my responsibility. I owe it to Toby to make sure he's good. You two have never really been tested. You breezed through so much, and you changed so much, I figured you'd handle it well when real trouble did show up. But I had to be certain. What's going on now is about as close as the two of you have ever come."
I was angry... no, I was furious with him for testing me like this. I appreciated it, I understood it, but he was MY best friend. He was my brother. That he was more concerned with Rob's wellbeing than mine was maddening.
I stared at him, and then focused on my food. We ate in silence... I knew I needed to calm down and he wasn't too eager to talk at this point. It wasn't until we were walking back that I finally told him how I felt. His response surprised me more than it should have, given who he was in our lives.
"Jack, if this was anybody else, you know where my head and heart would be. But it's not and you knew that when you first told me you were together. I told you that. He's going through something now and he's going to need you, I just wanted to make sure you could handle it. If it helps any, I wouldn't have hated you if you didn't, but I also would have done everything I could to make the break quick and painless for him."
"You would have failed. He would just get worse," I told him.
"I know, but I would have tried. He deserves..."
I stopped him, grabbing his arm tightly and with a snarl told him, "Me. He needs me. And don't you ever forget it."
He smiled and nodded.
Despite still being in my head with what had happened that morning, I played well that afternoon, but it didn't make a damn difference. We lost badly, and it put a drag on the whole evening. Mark ended up having a good time, even if I wasn't really up for the party. When we got back, Rob turned in early and we stayed up talking with Ben who'd wandered back from a party.
The next morning, we made breakfast and hung out with Mark until about 1 when he left to drive back to Dallas. After he left, I got Rob to talk a little about what was happening. He was pensive, like he could be when he was anxious, and I was hoping if he talked some it might help.
"I'm starting to get a handle on things," he said, shifting nervously as he spoke with me, "but it's not...uh..."
"Easy?" I offered with a smile.
He had a pained look on his face, "No. It isn't. I know something is wrong and I can't shake it off. I can't get out of it..." and he started to cry.
I quickly stood, grabbing him on the way and then held him tightly to me. I didn't say anything, just let him let go, hoping it would help but knowing deep down it wouldn't. This was frustrating for him in a way that's hard to understand.
As he wound down I continued to hold him tightly to me and said, "I love you. I know what you're going through feels terrible and I know it's scaring you, but I'm going to be here with you. I'm not going to let you go."
At that point he looked up at me, eyes so sad they made me tear up, and said, "I'm sorry to put you through this."
I felt my chin wobble and I gripped him back to me as tightly as I could without hurting him, "Baby, I love you and I swear we'll get through this together."
We stood there in the middle of the living room for probably another 10 minutes as I held him tightly. I wanted so desperately for him to feel better that I would have done anything to make it happen, cut off a limb or removed an organ... anything if it would have helped him. But I knew it wouldn't. I knew what I was doing, right now, would have to be enough because it was all I could do.
He took a nap a little later and I worked on a paper. About 4:30 I started getting things ready for Willy and Susie to come over at 5 for what we hoped would be the first of our Sundays together. I went in and woke up Rob about 10 'til 5 and he told me he'd had a dream and that he was feeling better.
Rob really worked at trying to be himself, but it wasn't enough. Thankfully, neither Willy nor Susie made a thing out of it since they'd had a ringside seat to what had been going on. Willy had noticed it Wednesday morning when they had their accounting class and texted me as soon as they were done.
About 6 the rest of the gang showed up and we started the grill. I figured having Carter, Julian, and David over might help him some and it did. While Willy and Susie may have noticed that Rob seemed a little out of it, Julian and David didn't. Carter only mentioned it to me in passing and I told him he'd been feeling a little off but not to make a thing out of it. Thankfully, he listened.
By 11 we had an empty place and I told him to go on to get ready for bed, then finished cleaning and locked up. When I finally made it to bed, he was half asleep and I pulled his dead weight to me and kissed the back of his neck softly. I heard him whimper for the first time in days and then he went completely slack as a feeling of relief washed over me.
Life's hard when you're cracking up, even harder when you know it's happening. It's difficult to do much without forcing it to happen (even then it doesn't always work out) and it's frustrating that you can't shake it off and just 'get better'. People don't understand that hearing things like 'cheer up, it'll get better' hurts.
That next Tuesday I was really low again, but on Wednesday I felt the best I had since this episode started. Dr. Griner was cautiously optimistic and told me to stay on the Lexapro as if that was the one thing saving my ass. I thought maybe it was helping, but I'd only been back on it for a week.
Friday afternoon we drove up to Dallas and had dinner with everyone at my father's house. Then Jack left with his mother and I stayed home. We'd talked about sleeping either at his mom's house or my fathers but had decided that tonight at least we could be apart.
As a result, I slept like shit and I finally got up about 7:30. I went downstairs to find him already there, having breakfast with my father, which had been normal for years. They both seemed to be awake at the same time and they really seemed to enjoy each other's company. Every weekend and honestly most weekdays, I'd come downstairs to find Jack already here having breakfast with my father.
"Why didn't you get me up?" I asked him as he walked over to give me a hug and a kiss.
"I wanted to, but you looked so peaceful I just couldn't do it."
I laughed, "That was probably the only time I was actually sleeping during the night."
My father piped up at that point, "What happened?"
I kept glancing at Jack as I told him, "Nothing, dad, it's just... well, I don't know how to put this, but..."
My father's eyes went wide with understanding, "No, I get it. No need to explain. I made waffles!"
I couldn't help but laugh at his rather sudden change of topic. Daddy knew we were sleeping together; he wasn't weird about it or about Jack. I knew they talked when they ate about sports, football, cars, real estate, hunting, business... me. BUT, thinking about your son not sleeping well because he wasn't curled up next to his boyfriend was a bit much, like thinking about your parents having sex.
And I got that. I got it really well.
I ate with them, and then we cleaned up. It wasn't even 9, so I asked if he wanted to lie down for a bit. I was still pretty needy, and I know it came out in my voice since he winced. It was subtle, but it was there. He didn't make a thing out of it; he just put his hand on my lower back and let me lead the way.
We ended up sleeping until noon, then got up and went with my father, Margeaux, and Cat to grab lunch. Margeaux was surprisingly full of questions about school, football, Austin... everything. To be honest, it was kind of exhausting. I know it wouldn't have been had I been feeling better, but that afternoon I was starting to list. Cat picked up on it and she and Jack ran interference for me. I know I should have told her and my father what was happening, but then it would have been all about treatment and I really didn't want that. I'd asked Jack to keep things on the down low while we were in town.
When we got back to the house, Jack took off for the stadium in Arlington and Cat and I went swimming and caught up. I also gave her the backstory on what I was dealing with and she was cool about not going hip deep into it, knowing that I really didn't want to spend the afternoon talking about my malfunctioning brain.
About 5:30 my mother and Neil showed up together followed almost immediately by Jack's mother. I rode over with Cat and Reese, desperate not to be in the car with my dad asking about classes or Jack's mom asking about how he was really doing. She did that sometimes and I kept telling her, he was more likely to tell her things that were going on than he was me. I mean, he didn't hide things from me so much as just leave things out he thought might upset me. I never really got it, but it was how he wanted to be. Honestly, it kind of reminded me of my father which I knew at some point I'd have to confront.
Reese was really on point. He was telling me how the season was going how exciting everything was... it was infectious, and I honestly felt GOOD being in the car with him driving. It lifted the fog I'd been under a bit and helped me feel like myself.
I'd only been to JerryWorld a few times, but I had to admit it was pretty intimidating. Maybe not to others, but it sure as hell was to me. It's imposing in terms of scale, not really the thing for someone who really just wanted to curl up on a sofa in a hobbit house.
The game was fun and the Martin's made it for the second half. Seeing Linda and David was really awesome since they felt like a second family to me and I loved them dearly.
The game itself was pretty amazing. Willy and Jack both did really well but UCLA edged them out. It was close, but ultimately, they just couldn't hold on. We all went to dinner at a place in Arlington, then Jack and I decided to meet up with Sebastian and Greg. Greg and I started off such good friends and we'd actually drifted apart over the last few years. If anything, he was closer now to Jack than to me and Sebastian was really the person in the couple with whom I talked most. It was funny, but the more Greg got into lifting and football, the more he jocked out. Much like Jack who'd never been one for team sports, the change was pronounced and not at all bad. In fact, that night, I took some pride in the fact that the guy who was once a nerd was now a certified stud; lean, built, and very sexy. And he was also still very much in love with Sebastian who clearly adored him.
The best part about the entire night was that I'd steadily gotten looser. It was something of a relief and I noticed Jack looking at me as we walked back to the truck.
"What?" I asked him with a smile, curious what had him smiling while stealing glances at me.
"You're feeling better and it makes me happy," he said, not breaking his stride.
"There's really not much I can hide from you, is there?" I laughed out as we made it to the truck and he pulled him in for a kiss.
"Nope," he said breathlessly as he kissed me once more, so deeply that I kind of blanked. That was something that happened, especially when he got this way. I called it OverJack, which was an admittedly bad name but SuperJack sounded even worse to me.
"Well, why don't you get me home quickly, so we can take advantage of this."
It had been more than two weeks since we'd had sex and I knew he needed it badly and it wasn't all just the need for release. He'd been worried about me and I knew that stress had been building like tension in a stretched rubber band.
I just hoped we wouldn't wake up Cat releasing it.
Thank you for reading, any comments can be sent to Don Cornelius