Copyright © 2016-2018 Don Cornelius. All Rights Reserved.
It took days for me to recover from the dream I had New Year's Eve. It was strange, but something about it affected me deeply and I couldn't control the fear and insecurity that popped up as a result of it. Toby wasn't just worried, he was beside himself and demanded to go to my session with me so he could explain how it appeared to him, thinking it might give Dr. Arya additional insight. At least, that was the story he gave me. When he saw how shook up I was, I'm pretty sure he decided to go to make sure I didn't miss a detail.
Those few days between the dream and my session were not fun. I was trying to make sense of the dream and I landed on the idea that I would die and Toby would never forgive himself. Then there was the possibility that we would both die, but one of us would be pulled back. Then there was... it just went on and on, usually until I cut off a piece of Xanax.
Thursday finally rolled around and when I was done telling Arya the dream, he sat back in his chair and looked at the two of us.
"It's not uncommon, at the beginning of a relationship, for the subconscious to develop fears of abandonment..."
Toby piped up, "This wasn't a fear of me abandoning him, this was me letting him drown! He died in the dream!"
Arya leaned forward, "Toby, it's the underlying basis of the dream. It sounds as though Rob is concerned something will drive you away and his subconscious created the dream as a manifestation of that fear."
I cleared my throat, "Dr. Arya, I promise that's not it. The last time I had a dream like that it was the rape and the voice was exactly the same..."
"Rob, we talked about how the brain can rapidly adjust a memory to match external stimuli."
"Yes sir, but that didn't feel like what was happening. The dream was telling me that person meant to harm me, I just didn't realize until it was almost too late that he was trying to hurt me unintentionally."
"By hurting Toby, if I remember your interpretation of events?"
I sighed, "I remember how it sounded then and it sounds the same now. I know you don't believe me..."
Arya spoke quickly, "It's not that I don't believe you, it's that I know how the brain interprets new information to fit into established frames."
"Yeah, you told me. The cloud thing."
Toby spoke up, "The cloud thing?"
I turned slightly to him, "When we see clouds that look like things or remind us of paintings, it's our brain interpreting them through our memories. From any other angle, they wouldn't look that way so it's the brain making the incoming information fit into something that we're familiar with."
"Exactly," Arya said. "Look, guys, I appreciate your concern but there's really nothing to be worried about here. It's not even a symptom of the anxiety disorder, it's really very normal."
"Here's the problem with what you're saying... when I was having those bad dreams, you thought it was because I was stressed out. I wasn't. After the event, the dreams stopped. Now I'm having another and there's no stress and I'm not worried about anything driving Toby away."
All that was absolutely true. I wasn't at all worried about Toby suddenly abandoning me in any circumstance. Now, I knew that was me being naive, there are a lot of things that could happen that none of us could foresee, but even then I knew he wouldn't just leave me to die. He wouldn't, to use the imagery of the dream, let me go.
"OK," Arya said, sounding somewhat irritated, "Let's see how things go for the next week. I want you to keep a dream log and when we meet next week, alone," he said pointedly to Toby, "we can discuss anything that comes up. I really think this is entirely normal but I want you to know I'm taking it seriously. If this ends up being persistent, then we'll deal with it."
I had an idea what 'deal with it' meant and I wasn't at all satisfied with that response. Dealing with it meant drugs, of that I was entirely certain and it was something that would definitely increase my anxiety level.
We finished up the session and walked out, Toby silent by my side and his hand on my back providing more comfort that he could have imagined. When we got in the car, he sat there for a second, just staring at the dash.
"Toby?" I asked. I had to repeat myself two more times before he finally looked up and over at me, with a small smile on his face.
"I've been trying to figure out what to say and I just realized it's all bullshit. What you need to know is that I'm not going to abandon you. Whatever this is, we're going to figure it out and I'm going to hold on to you no matter what comes."
I got kind of choked up, hearing that. This wasn't my boyfriend, this was the man I was going to build a life with. This was the man I could trust as much, maybe more, than I could trust myself. This was the man who was my heart and soul.
"I love you," was the only thing I wanted, needed, to say as I leaned over to him and kissed him.
Toby started the car and we proceeded on with the rest of our plans, namely batting cages and then dinner. Jan 27th would be the first day of practice and I was still feeling good about my chances for varsity since we'd been playing around in groups and Carter and I had spent some time with a few of the returning varsity players, none of whom were really impressive and all of which thought the same of me, based mostly on height. I was over 180 pounds at that point, but I was still 5'9" and didn't really fit the mold of a typical baseball player. While I wasn't tall, I could jump well, the extra muscle I'd packed on my legs and butt had seen to that. I was also much faster and seemed to have increased my endurance. The muscle I'd put on my back and arms really helped with my batting. Our little intramural workouts didn't reveal everything unless you knew what to look for, one of the reasons I assumed the returning varsity guys didn't see me as much of a threat.
Toby and I tore up the cages for the next hour and I enjoyed spending time working with him and showing him how to hit to direct the ball. He just assumed you swung the bat and the ball went where it was going to go. And no, I really didn't laugh when he admitted that, at least not much. The cages were about as far as Toby could go into baseball since he didn't really like it much. I'd overheard him moaning about going to my games to Mark at one point, not because he didn't want to see me but because baseball was 'sooooo boring'. Yeah, Toby could have his childish moments just like everyone but thankfully they were few and far between.
I ended up keeping the journal for two weeks and didn't have anything out of the ordinary to write down, nothing like the nightmare I'd had New Year's Eve. Arya seemed relieved, I think more by the fact that he apparently wasn't going to have to deal with a crazy patient who thought his dreams were prophetic.
Honestly, I didn't think they were. I thought they were a warning, but prophetic? Absolutely not. I can still remember dismissing the thought out of hand, like so much trash. I liked to think of prophetic dreams as direct, but in reality, they aren't.
Everything appeared to be normal and for the first time in my life, I embraced it rather than worrying when the next load of shit was going to fall out of the sky and hit me on the head. Toby seemed to relax as well, and by the middle of January, he'd stopped asking me every day if I'd had another dream. In fact, the further away we got from January 1st, the more we both relaxed and realized that while something may come, we were just going to deal with it.
The only thing out of the ordinary that happened in January was Toby failing to make a trip with us to Ouichita one Sunday. That was something he'd gotten pretty used to and so when he said he couldn't make it, I asked what was up. He wouldn't tell me much, other than that he had something 'he needed to take care of'. I tried most of that week to get something out of him, but he just absolutely refused to elaborate. It worried me, not because I was afraid of him cheating, but because there was something he'd decided he would handle on his own. It was a blow to me because I thought we were a team and suddenly there was this thing he refused to talk to me about. The only thing I got out of him, one time that week, was a comment that 'there are just some things a man has to do on his own'. At the time I only wondered, internally, what kind of John Wayne old-school cowboy caca is that?
I discussed it with Josh and Jack, both of whom didn't know anything and couldn't get it out of him either. They, unlike me, didn't get into their heads about it and each of them told me the same thing, almost word for word... when he was ready, he'd tell me what was happening. Until then, I shouldn't worry about it. Great advice to give to someone with GAD. 'Don't sweat it, man, it'll all be fine!'
While it worried me, I didn't do a damn thing to hurt my relationship with Toby. There were times, especially as I started baseball practice when I was insecure as hell. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a spot on varsity and there were times when I was pretty keyed up (which is my way of saying I wasn't quite a complete basket case). Toby, often with just a look, had a way of making me feel calm and capable again. No matter how much I beat myself up over something trivial, he was always there with that look and I stopped feeling small and alone. It wasn't artificial confidence, it was knowing someone believed in you and would do anything to see you succeed.
And he was there, every day, starting with the first week of practice. He'd sit in the stands, freezing his ass off, watching me run all over the field, going from fielding to hitting and back again.
I was feeling really good by the Thursday of our first solid week. Adams and Wessel, our coaches, had already decided to make the announcement on the roster after practice on Friday. Well, they'd initially decided to do it the following Monday until we all whined and bitched so much about a weekend of uncertainty that they relented. I just wanted two things, a spot on varsity and for that spot to be anything but a catcher. I'd done really well at it and I was afraid it might overshadow what I'd done in other positions on defense, especially second base where I felt like I was king of the world.
I got both wishes on February 3rd. Left field and I was starting. Carter got first base, but second string. It really pissed him off, because the guy he was behind was in his opinion a pretty inferior player. Carter, it should be noted, wasn't wrong. Colton Murry was a great batter, he could hit anything and he had good control, but he wasn't as good as Carter on first.
Carter was pretty bummed as we were walking out after practice together to my car. He wouldn't turn 16 until March and I'd already told him I'd give him a ride home.
"I just can't believe it..." he said.
I thought I had an inkling as to what was going on, but I wasn't sure. I really didn't want to say anything but he was way more upset than I initially thought so I figured I should let him in on my thinking.
"Look, I don't know for sure if this is their plan, but I don't think Colton is going to see much playing time on 1st."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
I kicked at a rock, then stopped and bent down to tie my shoe which had somehow come undone in the 10 minutes since I'd tied it.
"Adams and Wessel aren't stupid. They know he's not the best choice for 1st, but they need to keep him happy to make him feel good about hitting. He needs to feel good about being The Man on 1st, so I think they're going to let him roll the first two innings then switch him out for you to let him concentrate on O."
"That just sucks!" he said, bitterly.
I just looked at him as I stood back up, then reached out to rest my hand on his shoulder.
"Dude, you just made varsity baseball your sophomore year. THAT is, in and of itself, spectacular and I guarantee you that the Coach Adams didn't put you there to warm the bench. Trust me, you're going to play and you're going to shine."
I saw the smile trying to break through as he said, "It is pretty awesome, isn't it?"
I laughed, "Yeah, it fucking is. And I can tell you that doing it at the beginning of the season is a hell of a lot better than being moved up because someone got injured."
I dropped him off at his house, then rushed home to get ready to go out with Toby that night. We hadn't seen each other much that week so I was really excited to be able to spend time with him. As I walked into the house, I ran smack into my father who was leaving to have dinner with some friends.
"Well, how'd it go?" he asked. He knew the roster would be posted today and that morning he'd been trying desperately to let me know how proud he was of me, no matter how things turned out.
I smiled at him, "Varsity, and I'm starting, left field."
My father's eyes went wide with genuine excitement. Then he hugged me, "Congratulations, kiddo! That is outstanding news!"
"Thank you, I'm pretty excited about it."
"Can I tell people? Or is this something that has to stay quiet until Monday?"
I laughed, "No, you can tell people now. The roster was posted, I'm sure it'll be on a website before tomorrow."
"OK. I'm really proud of you, Rob. You worked hard to earn that spot and you're going to have a really good season." Then he looked down at his watch, "Shit, I have to go. Love you." And he hugged me again.
I went up to my room to change and I was pretty much on cloud nine. My father's reaction was deeply satisfying. He'd been able to see how hard I worked to get something and he'd been impressed when I did, even if it was at something he didn't particularly care for. Oh, I knew he wasn't going to turn into a big baseball fan or make it to all my games. But it really felt good.
As I walked downstairs, I stopped in to see Cat. She was having people over to spend the night and so I was expecting a late night filled with squealing and talking about boys.
I stood in her doorway, not saying anything until she looked up at me, a questioning look on her face that broke into a smile.
"You got varsity, didn't you?" I nodded in response and she asked, "Which position?"
"Oh, Rob, I'm sorry. I know you wanted second base..."
"Nah, it's cool. I just didn't want catcher. Honestly, I'm thrilled. I'm good in the outfield."
"Well, then congratulations!" she said, getting up to hug me.
"So when do the bitches descend?"
"Most of them will be here at 8. The rest will be here at 10 after they go see some stupid movie with their boyfriends."
"Reese didn't ask you to go..."
"He did, I told him no. He's going by himself."
I sighed, "You know sometimes it's nice to do something with your boyfriend that he wants to do, even if you don't."
She smiled, "Well, you can tell me ALL about being altruistic tomorrow. Now, I have to finish getting ready."
"OK," I said, feeling a little irritated with her. Then, I decided, fuck it, she's not going to ruin my good mood! "Love you!" and I pulled her door shut.
I walked downstairs to wait for Toby, which didn't take long. He had plans which he refused to tell me about, so when I got in the car I asked what we were doing and he just said, "You'll see."
20 minutes later we were parked in front of Mesomaya and I started to get out of the car.
"Nope," he said, leaning over to kiss me, "It's 'take out'. I'll be right back."
Once he was back in the car, with the food that smelled absolutely amazing, he took off back to the tollway and drove south, exiting Northwest Highway. It was then I knew what he had in mind and I fished my keys out of my pocket and handed them to him with a smile. There was a small access card on it for the parking garage and he went right in, parking in one of the spaces for Neil and my mother's unit.
I looked over at him, smiling. We hadn't taken advantage of this since Neil had basically given me permission months ago.
"What prompted all this?" I asked.
"I figured we needed some time to ourselves to celebrate you making varsity."
I leaned over and kissed him which caused him to moan with need. It had been a week since we'd been together and I knew he was pretty wound up.
"Sounds good to me," I said breaking the kiss and opening the door to the car.
Once in the condo, we made quick work for the food, then sat down in front of the TV to relax. Thirty minutes later, we were in bed and Toby was fucking me like a champ. After, we laid there talking and just enjoying being in each other's arms. While it was nice, it didn't last long.
"You up for another round," Toby asked.
"Yeah," I said, surprised since it usually took me an hour or so to recharge. "I really am!"
He smiled down at me, having propped himself up. "OK, but this time I think I want you to top me."
We'd talked about it a few times, but we'd never switched things up. While I wasn't adverse to topping, I actually liked it a lot, Toby was a damn good top and while it might have been greedy of me, I enjoyed him fucking me.
HOWEVER, right then, with the look in his eyes, my dick went from chubbed to granite in about 3 seconds.
"Oh, fuck yeah," I said, pulling his head down to me.
The times I'd thought about fucking him I'd always imagined it doggy style. It was weird since I really didn't like being fucked in that position but it was absolutely what I wanted.
I made him put the condom on me, which was kind of shocked me since they were the Durex he used and while I wasn't small, I didn't overfill them the way Toby did. I spent an inordinate amount of time on his ass, fingering him and making him moan as I opened him up slowly. One thing that was especially awesome was that Toby's prostate was really well defined. I knew as soon as I stuck my finger into him he was going to love anal.
After working him up, I got him into position then slowly started to go in. He was unbelievably tight, far tighter than Christopher or even Kurt had been.
I leaned forward onto his back and whispered to him, "Babe, you're so tight I don't think this is a good idea."
He groaned in response and growled back at me, "Punch through! I want this. NOW!"
And that's exactly what I did, causing him to yelp a bit, like a wounded dog. I was halfway in and I stopped to give him time to adjust. I told him to push back when he was ready for more and the next few minutes were excruciating as I resisted the urge to bury myself in what I could only describe as the heat of him. This was a far better experience than I had ever had previously and I wanted nothing more than to snap my hips forward.
Slowly, he ground back onto me and I began to go deeper. I am bigger than average, but not by much, just shy of 7 long and a little over 5 and a half around so there wasn't too much more for him to take but it felt, I'm sure to him like I was fucking him with his own dick which was far larger.
Finally, I was balls deep and he ground his ass back on my pubes with a soft moan.
"Fuck, this feels so weird."
"Does it feel good?"
"Yeah, start working it."
I began by drawing all the way back, leaving just the head in, and adjusted myself so that my thrusts would hit his prostate as I went back in. It worked as he started to really grind back on me, meeting my thrusts with his own backward push to get all of me in him.
Every other time I'd has fucked someone, I'd felt connected to them. I wanted them to feel good as much I wanted to get my nut. This time was so different and so much better. Call it love or just my first time being inside my boyfriend, it was far more intense than any sexual experience I'd had as a top. While I wanted this to be great for him, I also knew he was doing this for me and I knew it meant he wanted me to focus on myself, which I'm not ashamed to admit I mostly did. And no, it didn't last long. The heat and pressure, not to mention the breathtaking view of his back and ass, the muscles playing underneath the skin so beautifully, drove me close to the edge and I pulled back to try to calm myself.
"What's wrong," he asked, suddenly aware of my lack of movement.
"I don't want this to end and I'm so close, babe. I just need to cool off a bit," I told him.
I tried thinking of anything nonsexual, but it didn't work and as I started to pump back into him, I let go and let my body take over. I lasted, maybe two or three full strokes before I felt him tighten up a bit, flexing to see how it feels, and I felt the tingle in my balls as they tightened up. I no longer cared about anything other than driving into him as my orgasm washed over me and I cried out, "Oh fuck!"
As my motion finally died down and I became a mass of nerve misfires, I finally rolled back and felt the unbearable sensation of my dick sliding out of him. I then collapsed onto the bed next to him, still breathing heavily.
He leaned over me and kissed me deeply, then laid down next to me, head to head.
"That was intense," was all I could manage.
Toby just laughed, "Honestly, I expected it to hurt more. It really felt pretty awesome."
I rolled my head toward him, "Well, not everyone has a telephone pole between their legs..."
He let out a groan and kissed me again, "Yeah, but you're not exactly average yourself." He laughed, then, "I was really anxious about it, but I loved it."
Those were the words I wanted to hear. While I'd bottomed every time we'd had sex, I really did like to top and I knew I needed to make it an experience he'd want to have again. I also wanted him to see know how much I loved him in the most carnal way possible, the way he'd shown me. Sure, he was more aggressive than I was, a quality I found very attractive in him, and he did like to dominate at times. Most of the time, however, he was really gentle with me, and his every move showed absolute confidence, skill, and passion. That was what I wanted him to experience from me.
I set a timer on my phone and we ended up sleeping for a bit before getting up to clean up the mess we'd made. I ran the sheets through the wash while we were cleaning up, then put them in the dryer as we were leaving. My plan was to stop by at some point the next day and put them back on the bed. I knew Neal understood that at times we'd use the place for some privacy, but I didn't want to abuse it.
I got home a little early, right about 12:30 and walked into the house. I could hear the girls in the family room so I walked down to say hi. I stayed and chatted a while since I knew some of them and really liked them. One of the girls I didn't know took an interest in me and it was a little too obvious which prompted Cat to blurt out, "Oh, Dani, don't bother. He's gay and he's got a boyfriend who he's all gayed up about."
Cat Hallstrom, performing her one-woman show, "Oh fuck subtlety (and your feelings, too)!"
Not long after that I made my way up to my bedroom, brushed my teeth and fell asleep in my clothes on top of my covers. I ended up waking that way when Carter and Ethan showed up around 10:30 the next morning and loudly announced their arrival.
"Dude, WAKE UP!" Carter said, causing me to snap up in bed, completely disoriented.
"What? What's happening?" I asked, looking around my room.
Ethan, laughing, "I'm taking you guys to breakfast to celebrate varsity, remember?"
Slowly, awareness flooded back in and I remembered.
"Oh, man. I'm sorry. I completely forgot."
"Late night?" Carter asked, grinning.
"Nah," I said, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, "Toby dropped me back here about 12:30."
Ethan grunted, "I thought you guys would have celebrated a little last night?"
I couldn't help the smile spreading across my face, or my blushing, which caused Carter to laugh.
"Well, at least one of us got some last night."
I just shook my head, "Give me 10 minutes to take a shower and I'll be ready." I got out of bed, shucking off my clothes, and started walking to my bathroom as the guys said they'd wait for me downstairs.
After I got ready, I went down to find them in the kitchen talking to my father who apparently had made breakfast for the girls who were all eating and laughing. I caught one of them feeding Henry some bacon.
"Caro, don't feed Henry human food. I already got a lecture from the vet and I don't want another."
Cat just laughed, "But Rob, he's starving to death!"
"Yeah, he's so starving to death he's 10 pounds overweight." Which made my father laugh. I looked at Carter and Ethan, "Are y'all ready to go?"
"WE'VE been ready," Ethan said laughing.
I looked at my father, "I should be home in a few hours."
"OK. Have fun."
We ended up at the Pancake House and after waiting 20 minutes finally got a table. Carter and Ethan were both surprisingly curious about what Toby and I had been up to the night before, and I pretty flatly shut them down.
"We had sex, but that's all you're going to get out of me."
"Oh, come on! You have to give us more! I'm living vicariously through you and Ethan since I broke up with Michelle."
"That was an excellent decision, by the way..."
"Sure, from the standpoint of her being a hateful bitch. But from the standpoint of being ready and willing to have sex, it's been a disaster."
Both Ethan and I laughed at that. Ileana was also EXTREMELY pleased that Carter had moved on.
"Well, I could go into detail but it's not going to be something you want to hear, right? I mean, how much do you think you'd enjoy watching gay porn?"
Carter snorted, "Right now, I'm so horned up I think I'd be able to get hard and beat it."
I hung my head, making my forehead slam against the table.
Ethan, seeing my frustration, finally stepped in, "What about Cynthia Randalls?"
Carter stopped, lost in thought for a second, then awareness seemed to settle in.
"The redhead from Richardson? Oh, man, she was a lot of fun." He got up and started to walk away from the table, pulling out his phone.
"Where are you going? Can we order first?" I asked.
He looked back at me, "Order me a dutch baby and a side of bacon. I'll be right back."
I looked over at Ethan and we both started to smile.
"So, what do you and Toby have planned tonight?"
I took a drink of my OJ, then told him, "Nothing as far as I know. You have something in mind?"
"Well, if he gets a date with Cynthia, maybe we can all go to dinner and then catch a movie?"
"I'm game. Let me text Toby real quick."
I pulled out my phone and sent him what we were thinking about it. By the time I was done, Carter was walking back in all smiles.
"She's picking me up at 7." That was another issue with losing Michelle, who had her license and a car.
"Cool," Ethan started. "We're thinking about grabbing something to eat, then going to a movie. You in?"
"Sure, she's down for anything."
About that time, Toby responded back, "No plans, just tell me where to be. XO"
We sat and ate together, talking about where we wanted to go for dinner, how hard Algebra 2 was, and how much Carter hated Stace Hernandez, one of our teammates. Stace was the guy Jack was fucking on the side who had issues with acting tougher and meaner than he was, mostly in an effort to hide the fact that he's gay. I wanted to tell Carter to back off and why, but I kept my mouth shut instead. The guy was in the closet and it wasn't my job to out him. Plus, he HAD been a dick to Carter on more than one occasion. I did decide to say something though, just to see if I could put it to bed.
"Dude, he has been an asshole, that's true. But remember, everyone is fighting a battle on one level or another that you may not be aware of."
"So, you're saying I should let it go because he's dealing with shit? Fuck that. Like you said, everyone has shit to deal with but it doesn't make everyone act like a prick constantly..."
"Nah, I get what you're saying and I swear that's not where I'm going. I'm just saying, there's probably more there because very few people are that nasty naturally. You don't have to forgive and forget, just don't take it personally and remember what's important."
"What's that, oh font of all wisdom?"
"That you made varsity on your own and that you have to work to keep the spot. Don't get distracted by someone like Stace, he'll be gone in a year and won't even matter."
Ethan smiled, "He has a pretty good point. You don't have to be empathetic, just ignore him and do you."
Carter, clearly frustrated, "OK, fuck! You're right. Damn, I'm sorry I brought it up!"
"I'm not. I'm glad you did. I'd rather you vent about it with us rather than someone else."
That got Carter to smile, saying "Thanks."
That night was fun. Nothing special, just dinner with friends. The kind of night you have and months later think about something that was said and realize you completely missed the joke. It was exactly what I needed, just having fun with people who got me and who I really trusted. No jockeying for position or scheming about something, just friends enjoying each others company.
The next week was busy as hell, mostly with baseball. Toby and I maintained our schedule, but there were times when I fell asleep on him, I just wasn't able to keep up. Toby had done it a time or two with me during the football season, so he didn't give me too much crap about it. If anything, he seemed to relish being a baseball widow and he seemed to find my occasional bouts of sudden sleep really 'precious'. I hit him hard for that one, which he amended to 'cute'.
The next weekend we had a doubleheader on Saturday and by the end of the day, all I wanted to do was eat and crash out in front of the TV. Toby had wanted to do something for Valentines Day that night since it was the following Tuesday, but he'd wisely anticipated that I might be wiped out and decided to leave things til the actual day.
That Sunday and Monday were kind of a blur, just ordinary days. We did go to Ouichita to see my mother, but we didn't spend a great deal of time together since Josh and Alan took him to go shooting on the range Neil had set up at the ranch.
Valentines Day itself was awesome. There were flowers delivered that morning, roses for me and for Cat. Reese and Toby had paid extra to make sure they were delivered before we left for school. My father was genuinely impressed, a pretty decent win for the boys.
Throughout the day, I got texts from him and little gifts would show up in my locker. That kind of freaked me out, until I made a comment about it when I was talking to Greg and he finally copped to aiding Toby.
"OK, but how the hell are you getting them into my locker? You don't know my combination."
He smiled, "Remember when Dick tried to fuck with us?"
I shook my head.
"Well, when you were trying to get your locker open, you were pretty flustered and I memorized your combination."
"You're kidding me!"
"No, man. I'm sorry, I should have told you sooner. Sometimes I can't help it and when it's numbers, there's just no way to stop it."
I smiled, relieved at least there wasn't something I needed to be worried about. "It's fine, Greg. If there's anyone in this place I'm cool with having my combination, it's you."
After practice that afternoon, I ran straight home and at 7 Toby showed up. We ended up going to a place he knew in the city and had a fantastic time. It was an old place off Greenville, really romantic even though it was packed with other couples who apparently had the same thought Toby did. The surprise, which he'd been hinting at, was after we left the restaurant. He took off east down Mockingbird and we ended up at a park overlooking White Rock Lake which also had a great view of the city. We parked then walked over to a bench and sat down. We were silent for a bit and I could tell he was nervous about something but decided to give him time to reveal whatever was on his mind.
He finally got up and paced a little, then turned to me, his eyes glistening. It wasn't terribly cold that night, so I knew something was up.
"I've been trying to think of some way to show you how much you mean to me, and that my desire to spend my life with you is real..."
"Toby, you don't..."
He smiled, cutting me off, "Yes, I do. I've known it for months, and today just kind of sealed it in my head and confirmed that I needed to follow through with what I've been thinking about."
"What happened today?"
"You. While I was having stuff planted in your locker, you had all these nice things you'd bought for me and every single one had meaning. It wasn't candy or little bears like I'd had Greg hide in your locker, it was stuff I'd mentioned that you remembered. Like those shoes. You knew I was bummed when I didn't get them for Christmas and you probably bought them right after, didn't you?"
I nodded. It was true, I'd bought them on the 26th. They were just a pair of Nikes, probably more an oversight on his parents part than anything. But I knew he wanted them and I'd had them in my closet for almost six weeks waiting to surprise him.
"You... you just amaze me. Every day. And I know you, you were probably dying to give them to me, weren't you?"
I smiled, nodding my head again as I got kind of teary-eyed. At one point in January, I'd almost thrown in the towel, but I decided to wait for Valentines.
"When I got to practice and saw everything you'd had Mark hide, I lost it. I just started bawling right there in the locker room. Most of the guys thought I'd finally gone crazy, but Mark just started laughing and told them to give me space. It took me a few minutes to knock it off, but babe... you just blow me away and now I'm hoping I can do the same to you."
He got down on one knee in front of me. I immediately sucked in my breath as he pulled out a box, and opened it, his hands shaking. Inside were two rings.
"I love you with all my heart. You are my first thought when I wake and the last when I sleep. My happiest is when I'm with you. You're my life in every conceivable way and I want to hold onto you forever." He pulled one of the rings out of the box. "Will you marry me?"
I was crying, the tears coming gently down my cheeks.
"Yes!" I shouted as I bent down to hug him. He stood, pulling me with him, and wrapped me up, kissing me the way he'd done hundreds of times, and I gave myself over to it completely. When we finally broke, I just looked into his eyes and saw him looking back at me with nothing but joy.
"Now, I know it'll be awkward if we start wearing engagement rings, so I thought I'd get chains and we could wear them on those..."
"Fuck that. I'm wearing it on my finger!"
He laughed, grabbing me again and spinning me around. When he finally put me back on my feet, he very carefully put the ring on my hand, then I grabbed his and did the same. We kissed again, then he pulled me down next to him on the bench and we just sat there in silence, looking at the lake and the city beyond, enjoying the night together.
No one was around when I got home so I went up to my room and got in bed with Henry. Despite the fact that I was newly engaged and feeling more than a little euphoric, sleep took me quickly and I woke up the next day ready for the inevitable questions.
The first came at breakfast when I told my sister and father. Surprisingly, my father was good with it since it was little more than a promise, not a full-on engagement. Cat was pretty stoked since she absolutely loved Toby. I made them promise to keep it to themselves as I wanted to tell mother, Neil, Lane, and Josh when we saw them on Sunday for lunch. Neil and my mother had planned a little trip to Aspen and would be coming back on Sunday morning so we'd already planned to do Sunday in Dallas.
School was... interesting. I didn't say a word to anyone, but Ileana saw it immediately and hugged me. By the time the first period rolled around, the news was rapidly spreading. I didn't see Jack until I got to class and he was sitting there, grinning madly at me.
"You knew, didn't you?" I asked as I walked up to him.
"For a few weeks. He's been sweating it the whole time, I'm surprised you didn't notice how preoccupied he was."
"I had no idea. Seriously, he's been talking about it for months, but I didn't think he'd actually buy rings!"
Seth walked up at that point, "Rings?"
I smiled at him, "Toby and I got engaged last night!"
His eyes went wide, then he smiled and hugged me hard enough to snap a rib.
"Congratulations! When are you guys going to get married?"
I started to laugh, "It's more of a long-term thing. No way we're doing this before I graduate."
We had talked about it a little, basically deciding that we'd wait until the summer after I graduated since God willing we'd be together at the same university and living together. Then we could set up housekeeping which would, of course, involve an apron and a perfectly mixed cocktail ready to go with dinner every night at 6. Yeah, I knew my little daydream was bullshit, but I figured I'd get a laugh out of him one evening.
The rest of the week was pretty much like that and Wednesday night I caught hell from Josh and Willy about not telling them. I explained why I wanted to wait, but they were having none of it. Josh was irritated, but it seemed kind of contrived. Willy, in particular, wasn't just hurt, he was mad.
"Willy," I said at one point in the conversation, "Does it help any that I need you to be my best man when we finally do get married?"
He thought for a second, then nodded his head once. "It does. But you still should have called."
"I don't get any slack for it being a school night and only about 24 hours ago?"
"Nope," he said, starting to laugh/cry. "And Brent is pissed too. It's like you coming out all over again."
"Oh, shit. Now you're just being dramatic."
"Fuck, Susie warned me not to take this too far..."
"Wait... So you're not really mad at me?" I asked, really confused at this point.
He died laughing, "Eh, a little, but mostly I'm just fucking excited as hell for both of you!"
I laughed, "Thank you, it means the world to me to hear that."
"I kinda knew something was up, to be honest with you. This morning the first thing Josh said when I ran into him was to ask if I'd talked to you. Any chance Toby may have said something to him?"
I smiled, "Yep, there's an excellent chance. They talk though neither of them has told me about it."
"Oh, man... that would be weird."
"Tell me about it. There's not much I wouldn't tell Josh but some things I'd kind of like to remain..."
"Yep. Still, I guess it could be worse. It's good they get along."
"Hey, do me a solid and reach out for Brent before you go to bed?"
Willy didn't know Brent and I talked a lot more than we used to, mostly about sex stuff. He wasn't squeamish about my sex life the way others were and I wasn't uptight about his. The conversation went well and he understood why I hadn't called the previous night.
Thursday and Friday were more of the same. I got to tell the story way too many times and Toby apparently had the same problem. By Friday evening, we were having dinner and rehashing what had been said.
"I never thought getting engaged would mean so many conversations with people," he said. "If I'd known how much energy it was going to take, I would have insisted on the necklace thing."
I snorted, "And I'd have told you to put that idea away. It's just new and we, fortunately, have a lot of friends, all of whom care enough about us to actually want to know the details. It's not a bad problem to have."
"Yeah, but my way would be have been a lot easier."
After dinner, we ended up back at my house and sat around until he left around 1. We'd decided it would be better to stay in since I had a game the next day and then we were going to a party the next night. Toby, always thoughtful, considered how I needed downtime and was only too happy to accommodate my out of control brain. He said it wasn't a big deal since he really was happy just being with me, but I knew he was handling me and I didn't care one bit.
The game was good and it was the first time I thought we really brought our A game to the field. We all worked together the way we were supposed to and it was, well, awesome.We played a team from Grand Prairie and they were good, so the win felt even better. It was also pretty nice having my father there... he was never going to be a baseball fan, so the fact that he was there meant it was really just for me.
I got home around two and rested up, then got ready for Toby to pick me up at 7. We were having dinner with Mark and his new girlfriend (an actual girlfriend) and then heading down to a party in The Village. It was at the apartment of a guy who'd graduated a few years before and had transferred to SMU at semester. Toby and Mark were friends with him and thought it would be fun to go down.
Dinner was good and Mark's new girlfriend Marcy was pretty unbelievable. She was hot, but she was also smart and really funny. I absolutely loved her.
I had a deja vu moment as we were flying down Central and remembered it was from a dream. I also remembered waking up feeling great the day after that dream and smiled to myself as I looked out the window. We sat and waited for the light at Southwestern, then turned left to get on the street.
I noticed as we made the turn the light on the northbound side turned green and then the one at Greenville turned green. Apparently, so did Toby who just kept accelerating. I still remember the song that was playing, Cobra Starship You Make Me Feel... because I hate that original mix and it was the one playing.
We had just gone into the intersection when I noticed a lot of light coming from the left and then the world just stopped.
That afternoon, Judy Allen, who was driving her husband's truck that day, had left work after a bad day and joined co-workers for happy hour. By 7 pm she was very drunk and by just after 9, she was getting angry texts from her husband. Her co-workers, the ones still at the bar, had tried to get her to take a cab, but she refused.
As she drove down Greenville she got a text. She grabbed her phone to look at it and ran the red light at Southwestern, slamming into a 2010 Dodge Challenger at just over 70 miles per hour.
Dreams aren't usually prophetic, it's your mind working through events you've had to deal with and pointing out, occasionally, something obvious that you've missed. In my case, the dream from New Years was prophetic, but it wasn't about me dying.
It was about me losing the one person I wanted to be with forever. My drowning was my mind returning me to reality while Toby remained, forever, in a dream.
AUTHORS NOTE – I'm really sorry for the delay in this chapter and I'm already three pages into 20 so it should come faster. With the holidays, work, and two run-ins with a nasty cold, it's been all I could do to keep it going.
I know many of you will be really upset with me about Toby. Please remember, the whole reason Rob is writing this is because of that loss and I beg you to give me the benefit of the doubt that this all comes out well in the end.