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Aceinthehole

Author: Promising Author
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Everything posted by Aceinthehole

  1. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    I'm glad it was worth the wait! Thank you for your understanding. Considering you've been reading my stories since I was writing Velocity, it's great to see you still enjoying them! Thank you for supporting me since the beginning!
  2. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    Haha, I have to admit, it's always tempting to write more updates about Riley, Carter and Grayson. Perhaps one day there will be another! After all, it's difficult to say goodbye to these characters! But I agree, I think Oli has his own outlets to focus on. He'll have his time in Book 3: Ascension soon enough!
  3. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    Always happy to share! Thank you for reading!
  4. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    I'm so glad you enjoyed all three stories! I've been playing around with the idea of a fourth story to tie it all together, but that's all I can say for now! As long as theres even just one person enjoying my stories, I'll be happy to share them! Thank you for catching the typo, I'll correct it right now.
  5. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    Thank you! I'm hoping the time passes quickly. I'm just as eager to resume writing!
  6. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    I'm happy you enjoyed the update. It's always nice to think about the characters grown up. They have their differences, but at the end of the day they're still the same people! Thanks for your understanding, and for reading my stories! I'm glad you've enjoyed them so far, hopefully they only get better as time goes on!
  7. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    Thank you for your understanding! Glad I could help expand on the ending for you guys!
  8. Aceinthehole

    Family Man

    I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It's certainly a very different side of Riley!
  9. To all my readers, I'm sorry for not being as present on GA as I want to be. For those who don't know, I'm a first year grad student and although I enjoy what I study, the adjustment has been challenging.

     

    Make no mistake, writing is still one of my biggest passions, however due to school I've been unable devote the time and effort I believe stories deserve. Due to this circumstance, chapter 58: Family man  of Tales of the Underground: Blinded will be my last story update until the week of May 20th. I apologize if that decisions upsets anyone, but my current story deserves a proper ending, and I just can't deliver on that with my current schedule.

     

    It may feel like a while, but I plan to deliver with a strong ending to The Golden City  and an even stronger beginning to  Hidden Ones Book 3: Ascension 

     

    Thank you for your understanding,

    Ace

  10. -- To all my readers, I'm sorry for not being as present on GA as I want to be. For those who don't know, I'm a first year grad student and although I enjoy what I study, the adjustment has been challenging. Make no mistake, writing is still one of my biggest passions, however due to school I've been unable devote the time and effort I believe stories deserve. Due to this, this will be my last story update until the week of May 20th. I apologize if that decisions upsets anyone, but my current story deserves a proper ending, and I just can't deliver on that with my current schedule. To make up for this, I give you a chapter I've been tinkering away on over the past few months. A few of you asked for it over the summer, and I hope it lives up to expectation. Blinded felt like my first real success here on GA. Without you readers supporting and encouraging me, I wouldn't have dared to dream up or write my last few stories. Thank you. I'll never forget that. -- --20 years later-- - Riley- There’s always a nervous energy that fills me before a speech. Heart racing, palms sweating, hands shaking, it’s the same spirit that made me fall in love with basketball. The same spirit that’s kept me alive my whole life. The same spirit that’s kept pushing me forward. I took a deep breath as I reached the podium and looked out to a crowd of close to two hundred parents and kids. I’ve run this camp since I graduated from the University of Michigan sixteen years ago, but it’s never once lost it’s meaning to me. It’s never once felt like just another job. “If twenty years ago you would’ve told me the changes that happened in my life. If twenty years ago you would’ve told Cy Walker he’d be adopted and graduate both High School and College, well you’d be lucky if you walked away without a knife sticking out of you.” I announced, making sure to take another breath as some laughter rumbled out from the crowd. “That’s who I was. I was hard headed, and short sighted. I didn’t care what the future held, because I had an idea of what that future meant. I was foolish enough to think I knew what life had in store for me.” I lectured as I began to grow serious. “And talking to many of you young men and women before we began, I could see that same foolish spirit is still alive amongst you.” “You think you know what’s coming your way. You think you’re ready for it. You think you’re big enough and bad enough to take life on.” I challenged, beginning to scan the crowd. “But let me tell you something, you’re not. And that pisses you off. Even right now, listening to me say that, it makes you angry, doesn’t it?” I paused to let my question sink in. “Because the thing is, you’ll never beat life. No matter how big you are, no matter how strong you are, no matter how smart you are, you will never beat life.” “So what can you do?” I asked, pausing once more. “You can learn to stop fighting it. You can learn to give into life, and let it carry you to where you’re meant to be. Because fighting life, all that’s doing is creating anger inside of you. Anger that’s going to weigh you down and destroy you.” “Some people look around this camp, and all they see is basketball. What they don’t see is the challenge. The challenge to leave all that anger behind, and be a part of something bigger. The challenge to change. And let me tell you right now, change is scary, but it’s how you survive. You come here Monday morning with an open mind and I promise you, you will change. I promise you, all that anger you’re feeling, it’ll fade and what takes it’s place, that’s up to you.” I nodded my head, as the parents in the crowd tried their hardest to get some of their kids to applaud to my speech. Whether they take my challenge or not, I’ll make sure this camp is one of the hardest thing’s they’ll go through. We don’t just teach basketball fundamentals and life lessons here. We push campers the hardest they’ve ever been pushed. We teach them the hard way, they’re not invincible, because if they don’t learn that now, well I’m scared to think of how they will. Tak made sure to land a supportive pat on my back as he walked past me and towards the podium. “Thank you, Riley, for such a great speech.” Tak began, taking over the microphone to run the camp orientation once again. “What he didn’t tell you, is that he was once a counselor here. That he built this up from a basic charity camp, to something much more. But you’ll all learn that for yourselves this summer.” Tak smirked as he glanced over to me and received a stern stare. “But that’s enough about h im for now, instead let’s go over your daily schedule, if you check the folder you were given,” As I listened to the same rundown Tak gives every summer I couldn’t help but look out into the crowd and stare at the man sitting in the front row. His hazel eyes cutting through everything around me, just like they always have. It’s amazing how so much time could pass us, and yet he barely looks any different. As he saw my stare focusing in on him he gave me subtle nod of support. I mimicked the motion before looking over to our son sitting just right of him. He noticed my stare but diverted his glance to his youngest uncle. Yet I couldn’t help but take in all his features. His neatly styled dark black hair, and brown eyes all balanced out by the youthful freckles on his face. We adopted him when he was five, just seven years ago tomorrow, and despite what he might think, that moment means the world to me. I tried my hardest to redirect my attention to Tak, but it seemed no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t. Thoughts of my family bounced around my head for the remaining forty minutes, until finally we were set free. “You did great man.” Tak supportively patted me on the back once more as we walked off the small gym stage. “Same to you.” I nodded my head, but kept my eyes on my family. “I think this is going to be a hard group to break in.” He began to analyze as he looked around the crowd. “We’ll get through it.” I cut off, before he could voice any doubts. “We always do.” “With you in charge, how could we not?” He teased, but got no response back. “You good?” He asked, but as he followed my stare, backed off. “Oh, I get it. I’ll catch up with you later.” “Yeah,” I accepted, grateful he had taken the hint. “Hey there.” Carter began as I finally reached him. “That was a great speech, right Grayson?” “Yeah.” The young boy forced out, looking to me then quickly away. I let out a short breath, but Carter grabbed my attention back before I could say anything. “It feels like this camp just gets bigger and bigger every summer.” He observed as he began to scan the gym. “You and Tak really should be proud of it.” “It’s got a long way to go.” I lectured, thinking about all the improvements I still want to make. “You’ve been saying that every summer since High School.” Carter giggled as his smile grew. “Excuse me,” A young voice interrupted, instantly grabbing Carter’s attention. “Mr. Walker-Williams, can I, can I get your autograph?” “Of course.” Carter quickly answered, reaching into his pocket and taking out the sharpie he always seemed to carry around. “That’s a nice jersey you’ve got.” Carter teased as the boy turned around and exposed the number 8 below a familiar white nameplate. I couldn’t help but notice Grayson proudly watching Carter, as if this was the first time we’ve experienced this. “Alright,” Carter finished up. “You’re all set to go.” “Thank you!” The boy shouted before excitedly running back into the crowd. “I think that’s your cue to leave.” I warned, knowing the swarm that would chase Carter once people found out he was still in the crowd. “I don’t know, it was just one kid, I’m sure it’ll be fine for now. I’ve got another,” “Carter.” I interrupted with a stern stare. “You’ve got a game to prepare for. Go ahead, we’ll see you there.” “About that,” Carter hesitated as he glanced down to Grayson then back up to me. “I was talking to Aaron this morning, and he said if you drop Grayson off with him, that he could take him to theater rehearsal and hold onto him until we can pick him up.” “Carter,” I began once more. “Aaron has to take Lilly anyway.” He quickly interrupted. “It’s not like we’re inconveniencing him.” “It’s not about that.” I warned, feeling Grayson watching us both closely. “I know.” Carter sighed with a nod. “I’ll call Aaron and tell him to forget it.” “What?” Grayson began to whine. “That’s it?” “Yup.” Carter nodded as I shot him a confused look. “Sorry kid, I tried.” “That wasn’t trying!” Grayson complained, beginning to grow louder. “You gave up right away!” “Watch who you’re talking to.” I scolded, shooting him a cold look. “Sorry.” Grayson pouted, immediately forcing his head down. “It really is fine if he misses a game Riley.” Carter began once more. “He made a commitment to his theater group and it’s not like he’s never seen me play.” “It’s not about that, this, it’s an important weekend, alright?” I reminded Carter. “He misses games all the time, he can afford to miss a practice for once.” “Practice has been over for a month, they’re rehearsals now.” Grayson corrected, still refusing to look up. “Whatever.” I shook off, looking back down at him. “We’re going to be together as a family this weekend. Whether you like it or not.” Carter shot me a disappointed look as he gave Grayson a light tap on the back of the head. “I’ll see you both tonight.” “You will.” I reinforced before landing a light kiss on his lips. As Carter began to walk away I looked down towards a sulking Grayson and exhaled a deep breath. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Grayson warned, still not daring to look up. “Can I go sit in your office?” “Go ahead.” I sighed, grabbing a set of keys out of my pocket and handing them to him. The conversation seemed to play on repeat in my head as I spoke to parents and helped clean up the gym. One day Grayson will understand where I’m coming from. One day he’ll understand how important this weekend is. “You sure you’re alright?” Tak asked as we put away the remaining chairs. “Yeah.” I lied, trying to focus on wrapping up work the fastest I could. “Grayson seems pretty pissed at you and Carter.” He observed, seeing if he could get me to open up. “He’s pissed at me.” I explained, happily taking the bait. “Cause God knows everything bad that happens in his life is my fault.” “That seems a bit, dramatic.” Tak teased, seeing how far he could push me. “Well that’s how it feels.” I complained in a sigh. “Grayson doesn’t see that I’m the one always around. Carter does his best, but when basketball season hits he’s only home for three or four days a week, and that’s if we’re lucky.” “So Carter’s the fun Dad?” Tak poked, happy to let me rant. “It’s not that.” I tried to dismiss. “It’s just, it’s different when you’re with a kid day in and day out. And I ain’t trying to shit on Carter here. He’s a great Dad,” “You just feel underappreciated?” Tak guessed, trying to save me the words. “No.” “You miss having Carter around all the time?” “No.” “You hate that you can’t relate to Grayson?” “Why you guys always saying shit like that?” I snapped, shooting him an angry look. “Like that helps how he feels about me.” “How does he feel about you?” Tak asked, finally growing serious. “Just forget I said anything.” I grumbled, throwing the last fold up chair in a metal cart and walking towards the hall. “He looks up to you, you know?” Tak called out as I tried to make a quick escape. “Maybe that’s what scares you the most!” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and keep walking. Tak doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Grayson doesn’t look up to me, he tolerates me until Carter gets home. That’s just the way it’s always been. He’ll never admit it, but deep down I’m just too rough for him, and I don’t see anything changing that. “Yo.” I called out, forcing my office door open to find Grayson playing around on the computer at my desk. “Ready to go?” “I guess.” Grayson sighed, standing up and slowly following me back out. I glanced back at him and went to say something, but nothing came to mind. Just like usual, I have no idea how to talk to him. “You sure you don’t wanna join us this summer?” I finally managed out, drawing an eye roll from him. “It’s a fun camp.” “It’s a boot camp.” Grayson corrected. “And you know I don’t like basketball. Besides, I’m doing the theater camp at school.” “You don’t like basketball, or you don’t like to play basketball?” I asked, but received an even more frustrated look than before. “Which answer gets me in the least trouble?” He mumbled to himself. “You can like what you like.” I argued, forcing eye contact with him. “Doesn’t feel that way.” He complained as we finally reached the car. “Look, if theatre practice is really so important that you want to miss Carter’s game, fine.” I surrendered as I started the engine. “Rehearsal!” He cried out in a loud voice. “I tell you that every day, and every day you forget!” “Rehearsal, sorry.” I repeated in a defeated sigh. “So you’re going to that?” “So you can guilt trip me all weekend?” He asked, putting his head right back into his phone. “Watch the attitude.” I warned as I tried my hardest to keep my temper. “I’m trying to work with you here.” “By putting me in a lose-lose situation?” He pressured, picking his head up and staring at me. “Either I go to rehearsal and feel like crap for missing Pop’s game, or I go to the game and feel like crap for letting my friends down. I can’t win here!” “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize theater meant that much to you.” I tried to back off, realizing how genuinely angry he had grown. “You pick me up from rehearsal every day!” He shouted, too far past his temper to control himself. “You’ve been to my plays! Did you even watch them?” “I watched, I just,” “Don’t believe that theater can be as meaningful as basketball?” He asked, making sure to stay on my case. “I never said that.” I defended, starting to feel my own anger boil. “You didn’t need to.” He exhaled, falling fully back in his seat. “And then you insist this is a big weekend.” “This is a big weekend!” I boomed, trying my hardest to split my focus between the road and him. “For who?” He asked, refusing to back down. “For all of us!” I shouted in an angry tone. “I’m trying my fucking hardest here, alright? It’s not easy, and you giving me shit for confusing the words practice and rehearsal doesn’t help! You’re not happy to be a part of this family, that’s fine, but don’t put that on me!” As he heard my words he turned towards the window and refused to look back. I exhaled a deep breath, before letting silence fill the car. Every now and again I would hear a sniffle escape from him as we both struggled to calm down. “I’m sorry,” I began as guilt swarmed my brain. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He quickly shut down, still hiding his face. “Just, I am happy to be a part of this family, okay?” “We’re happy you are too.” I exhaled, before racking my brain for something to say. I opened my mouth but nothing came out, just like every time before, I let him down as silence took over once more. How can I talk with the kids I coach so easily, but not with my own son? It doesn’t matter if they’re on the Lake Michigan basketball team, or the Southside camp, I never run out of words for them, but when it comes to Grayson, well I never seem to have any. The rest of the car ride from the High School to the United Center was quiet. Every now and then I’d glance over to Grayson, but he never dared to look back. Even if I could think of anything to say, he wouldn’t want to hear it. Maybe there was a time when we were close, back when me and Carter first brought him home. Back when he thought my job coaching Lake Michigan during the school year, then a charity camp during the summer was cool. But that time is long gone. The idea of going to High School where I coached used to excite him, but now, well I think that’s his worst nightmare. -- -- As we pulled up to the arena and turned into the VIP lot I finally saw Grayson sit up in his seat. He put his phone away and observed everything around him. This always seemed to capture his attention the most, the flashy cars and clothing. That was his world. “You want your jersey?” I asked, reaching into the back seat and feeling around. “I guess.” He sighed as I finally found the two bright red shirts. “We gotta get you more than just Carter’s jersey.” I teased, tossing him his jersey as I threw on one with an older style. “Sure.” He answered, not putting much thought into it. “Or I gotta start wearing Carter’s jersey more.” I continued, trying my hardest to start a conversation. He turned and shot me a suspicious look as he forced the jersey over his head. “What’s that for? I wear Carter’s jersey sometimes.” “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear his jersey.” Grayson said as he forced his door open and slipped out of the car. “I wore his Michigan jersey all the time after I stopped playing.” I explained, thinking back to our college days. To no one’s surprise we wound up at the same university, living together like we were a married couple. I had tried my hardest to make my basketball dreams come true, but unlike Carter, I just didn’t have it. After my sophomore year I retired from basketball and focused on degrees in coaching and social work. My love for basketball was always there, but the skill just didn’t seem to follow. “That was a long time ago.” Grayson pointed out, snapping me out of my thoughts. “I’m only 35,” I reminded him. “College was like, thirteen years ago.” “That’s before I was born.” Grayson teased, finally starting to relax. “So you haven’t worn his jersey since before I was born.” “I guess so.” I shrugged as I looked down at the one I was wearing. The age shown through the stained, red, bulls jersey, but it still looked just as perfect as the day I got it. “This one means more anyway.” “Why?” Grayson asked, turning back and staring at it. “I know you wore that number in college, but who is Rose? Was he even actually a Bull?” “Yes, he was a Bull.” I defended, as we made eye contact for the first time all day. “This is my first jersey from the first Bull’s game I went to.” “Sounds a lot more meaningful than your husband’s jersey.” Grayson rolled his eyes. “You really gotta watch that attitude. I don’t play that, and you know it.” I warned him as he quickly looked straight ahead once more. “Besides, Carter gave me this, that was basically our first date.” Grayson glanced back and shot me another look as though he didn’t believe me. “Ask him yourself.” I shrugged. “Me or Carter have had to tell you that before.” “Pop maybe, but you?” Grayson asked before remembering my warning. “You don’t talk about Pop much.” “I do too.” I childishly defended. “No, you talk about work, work, work.” Grayson continued, finally talking openly. “But Pop, he tells stories all the time.” “What stories?” I asked, but knew he had a point. I just prefer to live in the present, while Carter, he loves to reminisce about the past. “Just stories.” He shrugged unsure how to respond, but as my gaze stayed on him, he finally gave in. “Like when you guys first met, and you played a game of one on one or something.” Grayson began, trying to recall the story the best he could. “Pop said you kept fouling him hard to try and get him to quit.” “I wasn’t trying to get him to quit.” I quickly defended. “I just wanted to see what he could take. He was talking a big game.” This time Grayson’s look turned to surprise as I expanded on the story. “He backed up his talk, then came right back at me.” “He came at you?” Grayson asked, his surprise growing. “Of course, you’ve seen us play basketball against one another before.” I explained, trying to help him connect the dots. “You know we get, competitive.” “Yeah, but that’s different.” He quickly dismissed. “That’s now, you guys are married and old, but back then, you were,” He paused, thinking over his next words carefully. “Pop just makes it sound, different.” “I was what?” I asked, but got no response. “What’s he make sound different?” I pressured as we worked our way through security. “Nothing.” He shook his head, nervous he had said too much. “It’s alright, you can say it. I won’t get mad at you, and you know I don’t get mad at Carter.” I pushed, trying my hardest to figure out what Grayson thought about the old me. “I was in a gang?” I filled the empty air for him as he refused to answer once more. “I’m not sure how to answer that.” He anxiously let out, keeping his eyes on the crowd around us. “However you want.” I shrugged. “We’re open to you about my past for a reason.” “Yeah, because if you didn’t tell me I’d find out from your camp anyway.” He complained, before immediately looking back at me. “Sorry.” “It’s fine,” I shook my head. “I just wish you’d stop avoiding this conversation.” “I’m not avoiding it,” He insisted. “I just, I don’t know, you sounded scary, alright? It’s hard to imagine Pop playing rough with you.” “Carter’s played against a lot scarier guys than me.” I pointed out, but could tell he didn’t believe it. “How could I have possibly been that scary, but wind up being the Dad that takes you to theater stuff?” “People change.” He shrugged, reluctantly accepting the conversation. “Plus, it’s not like you love taking me to Theater.” “I don’t hate theater. I actually think it’s great that,” “It’s fine, I get it, just, don’t keep lying to me about it.” He interrupted, showing off the level of maturity he always keeps hidden. I nodded but let the thoughts bounce around my head as we finally found our seats. Nearly front row at the center of the court, just like always. “You know you can ask me about who I was?” I said, finally finding the courage to speak once more. “You and Pop tell me that all the time.” Grayson sighed, looking up and watching the stadium feed on the large LED screen. “Because it feels like you keep some questions to yourself.” I explained, causing him to shake his head. “Well I’m sorry it feels that way.” He cut off, keeping a blank look on his face. Just like that any progress I was making with him is halted. It feels like whenever I’m about to break through, he just pulls back. I’ve been trying day in and day out ever since I realized how far from me he had drifted, but that’s never made a difference to him. Even worse, I watched his face light up as the players started to come out for warm ups. The second his other father stepped on the court, the blank look fell from his face. It no longer mattered that he didn’t want to be here, he was near Carter, and that was more than enough for him. Not many people would refer to Carter as one of the greats, but he’s undoubtedly left his impact on this city. He hasn’t brought back a championship, but he’s been consistent and loyal at a time when not many basketball players are. The Bull’s took a chance when they signed him out of college as an undrafted shooting guard, but he paid them back and then some when he became a lethal sharp shooter. Even now, when he’s pushing thirty-six, he’s yet to start fading. Carter gave us a subtle nod before focusing in on his practice shots. Just like in High School, he’s a workhorse. He’ll take shot after shot until he collapses if it means he’ll be ready for game time. Even when he’s home, well, he spends a lot of his time practicing. The deeper the shots Carter began to take, the more attention he received from the crowd. Slowly but surely, he worked his way back from the 3-point line towards half court, making sure to take shots as often as he could. And when he finally reached half court, well he threw up a hail Mary that found nothing but net. A proud smile grew on Grayson’s face as he heard all the shouts and hollers ring out from the crowd. Carter took a second to let everything calm down before quickly pointing over to us, then landing another deep shot. If Carter’s feeling any guilt from making Grayson come tonight, well he’s letting it out by putting on a show. Carter let a few more flashy shots fly, before giving us one last quick waive and heading down the tunnel back to the locker room. The second Carter disappeared I noticed Grayson put his head right back into his phone. “Wanna grab food before the game starts?” I asked, drawing a small nod from him. The closer we got to the crowded corridor the closer Grayson seem to get to me. I couldn’t help but laugh, the only time he seems to really pay any attention to me is when he’s scared. “What?” He defensively let out, quickly looking up at me. “Just Carter on that banner.” I lied, pointing to a team picture. “Oh.” He exhaled, before cautiously leading me to the food stand he wanted. “He put on a show, didn’t he?” I asked, once more trying to start up any conversation I could. “Yeah.” Grayson answered as he thought it over. “If he did that more, maybe people would realize how good he actually is.” “That’s not his style.” I reminded Grayson as he looked into my eyes then quickly away. “I know, but it should be.” Grayson complained, drawing the attention of the kid in front of him. “You’re talking about Carter Walker-Williams, right?” The boy no older than Grayson asked. “Yeah.” Grayson hesitantly answered. “He totally should get flashy!” The boy yelped. “He’s at the end of his career anyway, what does he have to lose?” “Adrian!” The boy’s father quickly reprimanded. “What did I tell you about listening in on other people’s conversations?” “Sorry.” The boy quickly apologized, looking up at me then quickly back down to Grayson. “It’s fine.” I dismissed. The man went to say something, but as he looked at my face hesitated and looked back down at our boys. I noticed Grayson peer at me through the side of his eye as he observed the same thing as me. Yet it was nothing new to us. Even with the bionic eye I got years ago, people could never get past all the scars that decorated my face. “Is he your favorite player?” Adrian asked Grayson, filling the awkward silence that had taken over. “I guess so.” Grayson shrugged. “He, he’s my Dad.” The second the words left his tongue he glanced back to me, but received only a dissatisfied look. “Whoa, really?!” Adrian shouted. “That’s awesome! I mean, he’s not my favorite, but he’s still really good. Are you that good?” “I don’t play basketball.” Grayson uncomfortably answered. “Oh, that’s still cool.” Adrian began once again. “You should try, it’s really fun. I’ve been playing since I could walk!” The boy exclaimed. “So, then what do you like to do?” “I like theater.” Grayson answered, slowly starting to warm up to the conversation. “My Mom loves theater stuff, she even takes me to musicals sometimes!” Adrian began to ramble once more, drawing a genuine smile from Grayson’s face. “Can you like, sing and dance?” “Adrian, it’s our turn to order.” His father interrupted, reached out and ushering his son away. “It was nice meeting you!” Adrian happily called out as he slowly moved away from us. “You too.” Grayson smiled, happy with the small conversation they had had. “Sorry again, he could talk the paint off the walls if we let him.” Adrian’s father apologized, this time as he spoke he forced himself to keep eye contact with me. “All good.” I exhaled as he finally turned around and forced his son towards the waiting cashier. “I know what you’re going to say.” Grayson quickly began, trying to anticipate my words before I could scold him. “Not right now.” I discouraged as he nervously looked forward once more. “Do you need help reading the menu?” He offered, trying to get back on my good side. “I know with the small font it can be hard. Sometimes I can’t even read it! Just tell me what part,” “Stop talking.” I warned in a stern voice. “You’re rambling. Take a breath, and get control of yourself.” “Sorry.” He exhaled, before falling silent and waiting for the next cashier to open up. When we finally got our food, Grayson made sure to keep as quiet as possible, worried he would dig himself into an even deeper hole. As we finally reached our seats I let out a deep breath and looked over to him. “What am I going to say to you?” “I talk too much.” Grayson grumbled, keeping his focus on his food. “No.” I quickly rejected. “You trust people too easily.” “That’s a bad thing?” Grayson skeptically asked. “Yes.” I answered, forcing eye contact with him. “You never know what somebody wants from you. You want to talk to the kid in front of us, that’s fine, but don’t tell anyone Carter’s your father until they earn it.” He let out a small groan and kept his eyes on his food. “I’m serious.” I warned in a voice strict enough to force his head right back up. “You’re young and rich, people are going to try and manipulate you, don’t let them.” “But that’s not what happened.” He tried to argue, before quickly catching himself. “No, but I guarantee you it will.” I said, breaking eye contact and staring ahead at the court. “Blindly and naively trusting the world doesn’t sound like a smart way to live life, does it?” “No, I’m sorry.” He backed down as he let my message bounce around in his head. “I’ll be better.” I glanced over and gave him a nod of approval before I let him eat in peace. I don’t like having to be the strict Dad. I don’t like having to scold him on a daily basis. But someone needs too. He’s just too, naïve. We’ve sheltered him too much, and that needs to change. When the game finally started Grayson watched Carter closely. He can complain about being forced to come all he wants, but deep down I know he loves watching his father play. To him it’s inspiring, the roar of the crowd when Carter sinks a shot, the competitive fire that flashes in his movements, and most importantly the way he stays calm through it all. It’s all given him a fantasized image of who Carter is, and to an extent, what a father should be. He stayed quiet through most of the game, only speaking to ask a question or two about a rule he didn’t fully understand. Every now and again Carter would glance at us in the crowd and tap his chest three times, our hidden gesture to show he was thinking about us. Yet for the most part he was determined to make this game his best of the year. It seemed as though he made every look he got with the ball count. A lot of basketball analysts are reluctant to refer to Carter as a superstar, but they could never discredit his ability to take over a game when he got hot enough. And that’s exactly what he’s doing tonight. When the last buzzer sounded the Bull’s had won 102 to 93. An excited Carter flashed us a quick three taps to the chest before getting pushed along by teammates in an effort to celebrate. “Can I stay up until he gets home tonight?” Grayson asked before we could even leave our seats. “We’ll talk about that later.” I dismissed, trying my hardest to guide him out of the row. “But he never gets home that late.” He began to argue. “And it’s a Saturday so it’s not like I have to get up early.” “Later.” I repeated in a booming voice. He let out a deep sigh and looked down at his feet before following me up the stairs and towards the lot. “Walk with your head up.” I warned as I tried my hardest to pull him along the arena traffic. He did as instructed but made sure to show off the angry look that was covering his face. As we reached the lot I noticed him looking anywhere but towards me or the car. “If you’re already pouting like a child, then you’ve made the decision before we’ve talked about it.” I began as his anger grew. “You made the decision before we even left the seats!” He insisted in a whine. “Watch your temper.” I growled as we finally approached the car. “I don’t have a decision. I said we’d talk later.” “Well when’s later?” He frustratedly asked, walking around the car and pulling the door open. “When you’re mature and calm enough to handle it.” I replied as we both shut our doors. With a simple push of the button the engine roared awake, and we could finally head home. “I’m calm.” He forced out in a sigh. “Then why should I let you stay awake past your bedtime?” I provoked, waiting for him to give me a good enough reason. “Well like I said he doesn’t get home that late.” Grayson began. “That depends on interviews or team meetings.” I rejected, waiting for the next one. “I don’t have school tomorrow.” “That’s an excuse, not a reason.” I dismissed as he began to shoot me an angry stare. “Give me something I can’t say no to.” “Because you’re a nice Dad.” He forced out, unable to come up with anything else. “Compliments won’t work.” This time I could feel his anger growing as he stared me down. “Come up with something I can’t poke a hole through.” He took a few seconds to think as he tried his hardest to keep his patience. “Because this is a family weekend for us, and I want to spend more time with Pop.” “Good.” I remarked, putting my full focus back on the road. “So I can stay up?” He excitedly asked as I nodded my head. “Pop is going to be so surprised! I, I won’t even sleep in tomorrow, you won’t regret this.” I raised my eyebrows as his enthusiasm got the better of him, but stayed quiet and turned on the radio. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that he loves Carter so much, it’s just hard when he can do no wrong and I can do no right. -- -- When we finally pulled up to our house in the Northside Grayson went one way and I went the other. Moments like this I wonder why Carter and I thought a mansion would be a good idea. Especially since it’s only the two of us most of the time. Its funny, people assume that would make us close, that we would be some inseparable team, but most of the time Grayson can’t even look at me. It didn’t take long for Carter to get home, and the second Grayson heard the sound of the garage door he was downstairs waiting for Carter to walk through the door. “Am I in trouble?” Carter teased as he pushed the door open to find us both waiting for him. “No,” Grayson quickly answered. “Dad let me stay up until you got home.” “He did?” Carter asked, shooting me a surprised look. “Yup, and now he’s home.” I teased, looking over to Grayson. “And I’ve already stayed up this late,” Grayson began to argue. “what’s a little while longer?” “Riley?” Carter checked, looking back to me. “If we can play a quick one on one?” I asked, as a smirk began on my face “I just got back from a game.” Carter sighed. “I’m tired man, plus what if I get hurt?” “I get it, you’re just too old.” I shrugged as I began to walk away. “Yup, that’s it.” Carter sarcastically replied. “Or you’re scared of losing.” I taunted, taking a seat at the nearby kitchen table. “I get it, it’s embarrassing for an NBA player to keep losing to his husband.” “You’re such a pot stirrer.” Carter complained as he thought it over. “We play to twelve, but only if we get to watch a movie as a family after.” “Yeah!” Grayson exclaimed as he looked from me to Carter. “It’s already eleven-thirty,” I complained as I stood back up. “what do you want, Grayson to be up until two?” “It’s the weekend.” Carter tried to argue. “That’s an excuse, not a reason.” Grayson tried to mimic with a half-smile. “What?” Carter asked, shooting him a look of confusion. “Do you not want to stay up?” “He’s mocking me from before.” I rolled my eyes. “But yeah, let’s screw up his sleep cycle, that’ll be fun come Sunday night.” “That’s your big concern?” Carter giggled. “Come on, since when are you such a hard-ass?” “Since forever!” Grayson added in as his smile grew. “Watch it.” I warned, making sure to shoot him another stern look before looking back up to Carter. “Fine, you’re home for the next few days, so if he can’t sleep you’re taking care of him.” “Deal.” Carter quickly accepted, drawing an excited yelp from Grayson. “I mean it.” I insisted as we began to walk towards our indoor basketball court. “I don’t wanna hear that you’ve got practice, training, a game or whatever. You’re the one making sure he’s in bed without his phone or laptop.” “Alright, I got it.” Carter laughed as he shot me a cautious look. “What’s gotten into you today? You’re so grumpy.” “I’m not grumpy, I’m just making sure there’s some kind of order around here.” I explained, as our eyes locked. “You have always been the king of rules and order.” Carter mocked with a friendly smile. “Come on Riley, I get it, work’s stressing you out, just have some fun with me and Grayson.” I let out a deep breath and shrugged my shoulders. “I’m gonna kick your ass first though.” “Um, did you see me play tonight?” Carter teased with a laugh. “I’m hot tonight.” “You’re hot every night.” I smirked as he pushed open the doors to the large gym attached to our home. A Bull’s logo decorated the center of the court, as our old basketball jerseys decorated the walls. “EW!” Grayson groaned as my eyes locked in on a pair of old black and gold basketball jerseys. “Thinking about back then?” Carter smirked as he followed my gaze. “Never.” I shook my head. “The past is in the past.” “Yeah, yeah, and you’re focused on moving forward.” Carter rolled his eyes. “But would it kill you to admit you had fun in High School? Do I have to remind you, you still coach there?!” “I’ve never said I didn’t enjoy it.” I argued as he grabbed a ball off the rack. “I just like to think ahead.” Carter’s smile grew as he heard those words. “Stop.” I complained as I glanced over to Grayson. “You wanted to stay up for this?” “It’s just so crazy how much you’ve grown up,” Carter started his usual spiel. “Not this again.” I interrupted as Grayson took a seat on the sidelines. “It’s the same speech every time.” Grayson sighed. “You’re so mature now, you’re like a different person from when we first started dating” He began to mimic. “you even speak properly and all.” He continued, drawing a short laugh from me. “Since when do you two team up against me?” Carter smiled, shooting me a proud look. “Since you started boring us both to death with the same speech.” I teased, just as surprised as Carter. “Hey,” Grayson began, looking at me. “how did you speak before?” As Grayson grew closer to the end of his question, he quickly looked over to Carter. “I don’t think it was that much different.” I lied, as Carter tossed me the basketball. “It’s like night and day.” Carter insisted. “You know how him and Uncle Tak start talking when they both get excited?” “When they use their street talk?” Grayson asked in a quiet voice. “That’s offensive.” I provoked, as I began to dribble the ball. “Yup.” Carter nodded, ignoring my words. “So like that, except all the time, and he wouldn’t even fully say words.” “I did so, you just couldn’t hear me.” I lied, taking a shot that hit the rim and bounced out. “You’re rusty.” Carter pestered. “But I heard you loud and clear. I’m pretty sure you spoke a made-up language. I always thought it was cute though.” “Now you sound like Nancy.” I sighed as the ball came right back to me. “She wouldn’t leave me alone until I spoke how she wanted me to.” “Like a well-educated human being?” Carter asked as our eyes connected once more. “Because believe it or not, that’s what you are.” “We gonna play, or you just gonna stand there running your mouth?” I pressured, taking another practice shot that found its way into the hoop. “You think you’re good?” He taunted, waiving me towards the ball. “I’ll let you start.” “Nah, you go first.” I insisted, scooping up the ball and launching it towards him. “I’d hate to end it too quickly.” “So that’s how you’re going to play it?” Carter asked, catching the ball and immediately starting to dribble. “I hurt your feelings?” I asked as the smile fell from his face and his normal competitive look took over. “We gonna play, or you gonna run your mouth?” He mimicked as we stood face to face. “I’m ready when you are.” I offered, but the second I finished the sentence Carter pulled up and sank a shot. “It can be losers’ ball,” Carter shrugged, keeping eye contact the whole time. “I’d hate to end it too quickly.” “Ohhh!” Grayson yelped from the sidelines. I shook my head and grabbed the ball before lining up in front of Carter. He gave me a nod as I tried my hardest to dribble around him. Finally, after forcing my way forward I slipped around him and found an easy layup. “No easy buckets tonight.” Carter warned, as he let confidence flow through him. Even after playing a full game he’s still got the energy to go toe to toe with me. It’s amazing, twenty years of playing each other and it’s still as heated as game one. We’ve never carried the anger or frustration off the court, but you better believe neither of us hold back. Even if we wanted to, I don’t think we could. We push each other to new levels, and that’s the way we like it. “Grayson,” I called out as I tried to hold Carter off. “Grayson,” I repeated. “drive to the hoop and win this for me.” “You can’t do that!” Carter argued as he tried his hardest to get a finger on the ball. “You scared of our son?” I teased as Grayson watched us both closely. “It’s not about that, you’re just trying to cheat.” He exhaled, blocked every attempt I took to get around him. “Not that you’d get the pass off anyway.” “Alright, put your money where your mouth is.” I challenged before glancing over to Grayson. “Come on, don’t you wanna say you beat Pop?” “Don’t do it.” Carter warned as Grayson rose to his feet. “I don’t want to beat you too.” “Then don’t worry, because you’re not going to!” Grayson teased, coming off the sidelines and making a b-line towards the hoop. I quickly took a step back and floated a ball over Carter’s head and to him. He had some trouble controlling the pass before managing to grab the ball and trying his hardest to go up with it. The ball soared high over the hoop as Grayson awkwardly fell to his feet and stumbled to the ground. “Fuck.” I groaned as he grabbed his ankle in pain. Of course, the one time he wants to have fun with me, he get’s hurt! The one time he takes my side against Carter, and this is what he gets? “What’s wrong?” Carter asked as we both rushed over to his side. “I don’t know.” He whined, pulling up the right leg of his pajama pants to find a swelling ankle. “I’ll go get ice.” I exhaled, quickly making my way out of the gym and to the kitchen. I tried my hardest to move as quickly as I could, but as I headed back to the gym I overheard a conversation that froze me in my tracks. “Well I promise you he’s trying.” Carter insisted in a concerned voice. “Doesn’t feel like it.” Grayson complained, trying his hardest to hide how difficult the conversation was on him. “He’s probably mad at me for missing an easy shot.” “Don’t say that.” Carter quickly discouraged. “He’s not mad at you.” “It’s not like you think it is when you’re not here.” Grayson sighed. “I think that you’re strong willed when you want something, and he doesn’t give in easily.” Carter replied, nailing our day to day. “But at the end of the day he still loves you, and is proud of the young man you’re becoming.” “Really?” Grayson sarcastically asked. “Maybe he’d be proud if I played basketball, but I can’t even make a layup!” “It was an awkward pass.” Carter tried to comfort. “And even if you are bad at basketball, that doesn’t make him any less proud.” “Why do you both have to lie about it? I know how he feels.” Grayson mumbled in a frustrated voice. “You know what he told me today? He didn’t know theater meant so much to me.” “I’m sure he didn’t mean that.” “No?” Grayson cut off as his frustrations reached their boiling point. “Then what did he mean?” Grayson asked, stunning Carter. “Exactly! He picks me up from rehearsals and practices, he even comes to shows! But he didn’t know how important it was to me? He just doesn’t pay attention.” I heard Carter exhale a deep breath as it all sank in. “That’s not fair to him.” Carter began. “He has a lot on his plate, and I haven’t exactly helped that.” There was a moment of silence as the tension began to disperse. “Look, Riley, he can seem a bit, cold.” “Mhm.” Grayson hummed. “But that’s just how he is.” Carter clarified. “He’s got a lot of love, he just doesn’t always know how to show it. I know, he expects a lot of you, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t proud and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re not his number one focus.” Things grew quiet once more as Carter let his words sink in. “Why can’t you just spend more time here?” Grayson finally spoke. “You know I’m trying my hardest.” Carter argued, but his words only meant so much. “The season ends in a couple of weeks, then I’ll be home so long you get sick of me. This time when silence took over I walked through the propped open door. “How you feeling?” I asked, trying my hardest to act like I hadn’t heard anything. “It’s getting worse.” Grayson complained, hardly even looking up at me as I wrapped the icepack around his ankle. “You didn’t bring any Advil for him?” Carter asked, forcing eye contact. “You know how I feel about that.” I answered drawing an eye roll from Grayson. “It’s not good for you.” “And pain is?” Carter argued. “Yup.” I replied, looking down into Grayson’s eyes. “It’s a good teacher.” Grayson let out an annoyed sigh as he heard another one of my usual sayings. “You’re a psychopath.” Carter argued, forcing me to look over at him. “His ankle is swollen.” “And he’s got ice for that.” I shrugged, rising to my feet. “Now come on,” I encouraged, reaching out a hand for him. “games over, it’s time for bed.” “So I don’t get any say in this?” Carter asked, starting to let his frustration from the earlier conversation show. “You can say whatever you’d like.” I shrugged as Grayson grabbed my hand and struggled to rise to his good leg. “Well I’m saying that we should give him something for the pain. You’re really just going to push him off to bed?” Carter asked, even more annoyed that Grayson was just going along with it. “This isn’t anything new.” Grayson finally spoke up. “Yeah, he comes home with bruises all the time from dance.” I shrugged. “I meant ballet.” I corrected before Grayson could get on my case. “What do you mean he comes home with bruises?” I noticed Grayson let out another sigh at Carter’s surprise. “Ballets not easy Pop.” He grumbled as he tried his hardest to lean against me. “I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying you’re twelve years old, they shouldn’t be pushing you that hard.” Carter argued as concern took over his irritation. “They should, and we’re not getting in the way of that.” I defended, glancing over at Carter. “You were never pushed that hard at his age?” “I didn’t come home with bruises.” Carter replied as the intensity in his eyes rose. “Yeah? Well this one falls a lot.” I grumbled as we struggled to make it to the stairs. Grayson balled up a fist as he heard my words. “Riley!” Carter shouted in a surprised voice. “What? He does.” I insisted as Grayson’s eyes dropped to the floor. “And he always gets up. I’ll take one man who falls and gets up over ten who have never fallen.” Grayson tried his hardest to fight off a smile as his fist came undone. “I get what you’re trying to say,” Carter began as we slowly began to climb the steps. “It’s fine Pop.” Grayson interrupted. “An icepack is good enough.” Carter looked at me in disbelief, before quickly hiding his gaze from Grayson. “But what happens if the pain keeps you awake tonight?” “He doesn’t want to be babied.” I answered for him. “Let’s respect that.” “Alright.” Carter backed off as we finally made it to the top of the stairs and towards his bedroom. “If you change your mind just send one of us a text, or call to wake us up.” Carter offered, pushing open the bedroom door. Different posters from the various plays we’ve taken him to lined his walls as a collection of playbills were proudly displayed on his dresser. “I know.” Grayson nodded as I helped him into bed. Yet as I looked over at his nightstand I couldn’t help but stare at an old family picture, one from when we had first brought him home. “That’s seven years ago tomorrow.” Carter happily reminded me as he followed my gaze. “Crazy.” I remarked as I snapped back into the moment and began helping to remove the excess pillows and stuffed animals from his bed. As Carter grabbed the last stuffed animal I noticed Grayson uncomfortably move in his bed. “Woh, you know he likes to sleep with that.” “He stopped that months ago.” Carter corrected, holding onto the raggedy old stuffed lion. “Well it’s been a long day.” I insisted, trying to get Carter to take the hint. “Oh, yeah, it has been.” Carter nodded, offering it to Grayson. “No, really, I, I haven’t slept with it all year.” He lied in an anxious voice. “Why start a bad habit back up?” “Because it’s not a bad habit.” I clarified in a stern voice. “If it helps you feel safe then there’s no shame in keeping it with you from time to time.” “Alright.” Grayson accepted, quickly taking it from Carter and putting it next to him. “Good night, I love you.” I forced out before heading towards the door. “Love you.” He repeated, running through our nightly routine. “Sleep tight, okay?” Carter began from the side of his bed. “Don’t forget we’re right down the hall if you need anything.” “Stop!” Grayson playfully giggled as Carter planted a kiss on his forehead. “I love you.” “I love you too.” Carter replied as he joined me in the doorway. I ushered Carter out before quickly flipping the light switch and shutting the door before our son could try and stay awake any later. “So much for not babying him.” Carter teased as we walked down the hall. “Letting him sleep with a stuffed animal isn’t babying him.” I argued, pushing open the door to our master bedroom. “No?” Carter asked as a smirk grew on his face. “He’s a complicated kid.” I tried to defend. “We just gotta push at the right times with him.” “Maybe he’s complicated because of all the mixed messages you give him.” Carter replied, turning the conversation serious. “He stopped sleeping with his lion because of your macho attitude, then you turn and tell him it’s alright. That’s confusing even for me.” “If he stopped doing something because of the way I act, well I can’t control that.” I exhaled, taking a seat on my side of the bed. “But he never stopped sleeping with that thing. It’s always on his bed, and every time I check on him he’s got it with him.” “Check on him? When he’s sleeping?” Carter asked in a surprised voice. “I’ve never seen you do that.” “That cause it’s different when I know you’re home.” I began but stopped myself. “You worry a lot more when I’m not?” He asked but got no answer. “Then get that dog you keep talking about.” “And who’s going to take care of it?” I pointed out as our eyes locked. “It’s hard enough juggling coaching, camp and Grayson.” “Yeah,” Carter dejectedly replied. “sorry I mentioned it.” “You know I didn’t mean it like that.” I sighed “You’re doing the best you can.” “I know.” He nodded, pretending to pay more attention to getting changed than my words. “You retire early and I’ll kick your ass.” I teased, trying to help him lighten up. “I just feel like I’m missing so much around here.” He finally opened up. “I mean, ballet is really pushing Grayson that hard?” “He gets a little eaten up,” I swayed my head. “but that’s good for a kid his age.” “Just like your stupid rule about painkillers?” Carter pressured. “You don’t need to pop a pill every time you feel pain.” I warned as our eyes connected. “You’re insane.” Carter sighed as he joined me in bed. “When I do retire, we’re going to fight a lot more, aren’t we?” “Banking on it.” I smirked as he moved in closer. “I miss all that, I miss just getting to be with you.” “You sure you don’t want me to retire early?” Carter asked, starting to grow serious once more. “Nah, you got one more year left, finish it out for Chicago.” I forced a smile. “Besides, you’re living this dream for me too.” “I have a feeling you would’ve done it a lot differently.” Carter teased. “Well you’ve done it better.” I reminded him. “So stop thinking about quitting early.” “It wouldn’t be quitting.” Carter argued. “Plus, I have to think about Grayson. It’s not fair to him that I’m not always here.” “You’re here enough.” I nodded. “It’s just that when you’re here, you could make time for him.” I confessed, finally saying the words I had held back for so long. “I don’t now?” Carter asked as my words started to hit him. “No, not the little stuff.” I sighed. “The dropping him off and picking him up. Taking him to birthday parties. Hyping him up before auditions. That’s what he really wants from you.” “You’re so good with him.” Carter shook his head, hooked on my words. “I’m not.” I rejected as I began to fall into my own head. “He thinks I hate him.” “Is this about what you overheard before?” Carter dug. “Of course you knew.” I shook my head. “Well I didn’t think it took you five minutes to grab him an icepack.” He pointed out. “You should’ve spoken to him about it.” “And lose his trust too?” I replied, letting it grow quiet for a few moments. “Besides, if that’s how he feels, a conversation’s not changing it.” “No, but it’s a start.” Carter pointed out. “Something has to break. I mean is this really what you want?” “No.” I answered, thinking it over and over in my head just like I usually do. “Good, because the change has to come from you.” He began to pressure. “I don’t know how, but you have to show more interest in theater or ballet. He has to know you’re proud of it.” I nodded but stayed quiet as my mind continued to race. “You are proud of it, right?” “Yeah.” I quickly forced out, but could tell Carter didn’t fully believe me. “Seriously, it’s cool.” “You sure?” Carter asked with raised eyebrows. “It’s not the path I dreamed for him.” I admitted as I broke eye contact. “But it’s not like I got a problem with it.” “Then what about it has you holding back?” Carter forced my eyes back up as he asked that question. “Because we can all tell there’s something. If this was basketball,” “If this was basketball I’d be acting the same way.” I interrupted with a lie. “If this was basketball you’d be practicing with him all night every night.” Carter corrected with a stern look. “You can be honest with me, it’s alright.” “It’s just making him too soft, alright?” I confessed in an agitated voice. “What’s he gonna do if someone messes with him? It’s fine if he wants to dance and act, but fuck, he needs something else to round it out.” “What about all those bruises you say he comes home with?” Carter pressured. “You said it yourself, he’s learned how to get right back up after falling down.” “It’s different when you got someone beating on you.” I grumbled, starting to look away once more. “I know the shit he does now is hard, but it puts a target on his back.” “So what do we do? Sign him up for boxing and have him hate us?” Carter asked, but once more I stayed quiet. “I get what you’re saying, but kids are a lot more accepting than when we were young. Plus, Grayson can handle himself. He fights with you, doesn’t he?” “Way too often.” I complained in a sigh. “Then there you go, if he fights with you, are you really worried about him being scared of some bully?” Carter asked but got nothing back. “You’ve been toughening him up since he came home, I just think you’re not ready to let go yet.” “Oh, come on!” Carter groaned as I turned my back to him. “I’m not ready to let go either, but we have to let him grow up.” “I’m fine with letting go.” I lied in a groan. “No you’re not,” Carter teased, trying to help me ease up. “and that’s alright. He’s our baby.” Carter comforted as I felt him cuddle up against me. “But at some point soon you’re going to have to face the facts, he’s growing up.” “I just didn’t want it to happen so soon.” I complained, letting him hold me close. “He’s going to be a teenager soon, and then going off to college and,” “Let’s just worry about high school for now.” Carter cut off in a slight laugh. “Besides, after I retire, well maybe we can adopt another.” “Maybe?” I repeated in a cautious voice. “It’s not a maybe for you?” Carter asked, but got only silence back. “Then it’s not a maybe for me either.” He decided in a confident voice. “But our next kid might not like basketball either.” Carter teased as I pulled away and turned over to face him. “He will.” I forced out as our eyes met. Carter let out another laugh as a smile grew on his face. “You’re going to wind up with another theater kid.” He teased. “On the bright side, maybe we’ll have two gay sons.” “Two?” I said, as confusion entered my eyes. “You think Grayson’s gay?” “Riley,” Carter pressured, surprised I would even doubt it. “just take a look at him.” “That’s a stereotype.” I dismissed causing Carter to roll his eyes. “Besides, he likes one of the girls from theater camp.” “He’s young,” Carter began to argue. “and one of the girls in his English class,” I interrupted. “and one of the girls in the play he’s doing now.” “He tells you all of this?” Carter asked, not believing a word of it. “I hear him talk to his friends when I drive them around.” I explained as Carter began to think it over. “And I’ve seen him try and talk to the one from theater camp.” “How’d that go?” Carter prodded, this time with concern entering his voice. “I don’t think we’ve gotta worry about him bringing home a girl anything soon.” I answered with a sigh. “Well can’t you help him?” Carter suggested with a forced smile. “He doesn’t listen to me as it is,” I dismissed. “so he sure as hell ain’t going to listen to his gay dad’s advice on how to pick up girls.” “Just tell him you’re the one who gave Aaron and Noah girl advice.” Carter pleaded. “If it weren’t for you they probably wouldn’t even be married!” “He’ll just wind up going to Tak anyway.” I rolled my eyes, and looked away from him. “Please don’t let him go to Tak.” Carter quickly forced out. “Don’t get me wrong,” Carter nervously laughed. “I love your brother, but I don’t exactly want Grayson turning out like him.” “Why not?” I pressured, taking the opportunity to make Carter squirm. “It’s nothing personal or anything, he just,” Carter hesitated as he though over his next few words. “he’s a player. It’s like a new girl every other week with him. I don’t want that for Grayson.” “Aren’t you pretentious.” I teased as Carter gave me a friendly shove. “I’ll tell Tak to keep advice to himself.” “Or, you could just give advice to Grayson.” Carter began again. “One step at a time.” I warned, done with the conversation. “But you’re good with girls.” He continued, refusing to let up. “How bout I show you how good I am with guys?” I smirked, leaning in for a kiss. Carter connected lips with me, but pulled away before it could get serious. “Tomorrow morning you can show me.” He instructed as he put more space between us. “Come on man,” I began to whine. “I’m sore and tired Riley.” He dismissed, closing his eyes and pretending to try and sleep. “I’ll do all the work.” I argued, but could tell I wasn’t getting anywhere. “Come on old man.” “If I’m old, you’re old.” He grumbled as I finally hit a button. “Younger than you.” I teased, happy to finally get some sort of reaction. “Goodnight Riley.” Carter forced out as he turned his back on me. “I love you.” “I love you too old man.” I laughed before cuddling up against him and closing my eyes. He resisted for a moment or two, but finally gave up and let himself comfortably lay into me. The closer we cuddled, the quicker sleep seemed to come for us. Yet just like when I was a teenager, I found a few nights a week plagued by bad dreams. Sure, years of therapy have made them easier to process, but that only does so much, and tonight’s dream, well it was especially bad. I found myself chained to my bed by some invisible force as I heard Grayson cry out for me. His screams grew louder and louder as I struggled to break free of the unseen restraints. I could feel tears coat my face, but as I opened my mouth nothing would come out. I tried with all I had, but I just couldn’t escape my bed. I just couldn’t save my son. Suddenly a loud boom threw me out of my dream and into a cold sweat. As I opened my mouth I was finally able to let out a short scream, a comforting reminder that I was awake. Yet all that relief quickly faded as I saw the man next to me sit up. “You alright Riley,” He began, slowly reaching out and placing a hand on my arm. “it’s just a bad dream and some thunder. You’re alright.” He attempted to comfort as his hand began to gently stroke my arm. “Yeah.” I forced out, but the sweat only seemed to fall from my forehead faster. “I’m sorry.” I apologized as I shook my head. “It’s alright.” He let out in a quiet voice. “It’s been a while since you’ve had one that bad.” I couldn’t see his face through the darkness, but I could tell he was forcing a smile. Forcing a brave face for the both of us. “At least on the nights I’m home.” He corrected as he attempted to pull me close. “We really should get separate bedrooms.” I groaned as I refused his touch. “How many times do I have to tell you to stop with that.” He exhaled in a disappointed tone. “You’ve been saying that since we bought this house.” He sighed. “I won’t leave you in the dark by yourself, at least, no more than I already have.” He spoke more to himself than to me. “And how many times do I have to tell you to stop saying that.” I mimicked turning his words back on him. “Traveling is part of your job, and I can handle sleeping alone.” “You sure about that?” Carter asked but I stayed quiet. He let a few more moments of silence pass before he reached out for me again. “I’ve always told you I’d be by your side no matter how bad things get, and I’ve always meant that.” He reassured as his arm began to find its way around my waist. “I know.” I forced out, but once more broke free of his grasp. “You’re a fool for that.” I teased, trying to lighten the mood. “But I love you for it.” I exhaled before slowly rising to my feet. “Tomorrow’s a big day, get some more sleep.” “Don’t go to the gym.” He groaned as he turned on the lamp on his side of the bed. “It’s not good for you to wake up, work out, then go back to sleep.” “I take a rest period before I go back to bed.” I dismissed with a waive of my hand. “Besides, what am I supposed to do, just stay up thinking about this shit?” “No.” He surrendered, knowing I had a point. “Can you at least tell me what this dream was?” “It was more the thunder than the dream.” I lied as another loud crack sounded from the sky, causing me to lightly jump. “See?” “You have God helping you lie or something?” He teased, seeing right through my words. “Loud noises are one of my triggers, you know that.” I shrugged, quickly walking towards the door. “Twenty minutes.” He called out as he shut his lamp off. “Then I want you right back in our bed.” “Mhm.” I hummed, quietly opening and shutting our bedroom door behind me. Just like when I usually have nightmares, I found myself in our indoor gym taking shots. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my PTSD, its that physical activity is one of the only things that helps me manage it. It’s like I have to remind myself that I’m not some weak kid anymore, that I’m not helpless anymore. Besides, basketballs always helped me clear my head, and no matter how old I get, that’ll never change. I felt myself falling into a quiet zone as I sank shot after shot from the three point line, until suddenly I heard the door slowly creak open. “Twenty minutes already?” I teased with a forced smile. “This was just a warm up, Imma need twenty more.” “What?” I heard Grayson force out in a tired voice. “Gray?” I called out as I quickly turned to him with a surprised look. “Did I wake you up?” I asked but got no response as he took the same seat he was sitting in before he got hurt. “I’m sorry, it was just a bad dream, you can go back to bed.” “You didn’t wake me.” He shook his head. “I just can’t sleep.” “Your ankle still bothering you?” I asked, dropping the basketball and starting to walk over to him. “A little bit, but not really.” He rejected before letting out a sigh as I took a quick look at it. “It’ll be better by the morning.” I nodded my head. “But you’ll need sleep for that to happen.” I hinted, hoping I wouldn’t have to force him back to bed. “You’re not in bed.” He began to argue before quickly catching himself. “Sorry, I just, I can’t sleep in my bed, so why can’t I sit up with you for a while?” Before I could say anything else another loud crack of thunder sounded out, causing us both to jump. “Alright.” I accepted, quickly piecing together the real reason he couldn’t sleep. “Loud noises scare me too.” I began, seeing how he would respond. “I’m not scared of a thunderstorm.” He lied with a pout. “I just can’t sleep is all.” “Alright,” I backed off as I began to walk back towards the rack of basketballs. “but I know I am.” “Yeah, right.” He sarcastically muttered to himself. “I am.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “What? I can’t be scared of thunder?” “You’re just trying to make me feel better because you think I’m scared.” He replied, looking over to the hoop as I resumed shooting. “That’s not true.” I shook my head. “Why do you think I’m down here and not up in bed?” “Because you had another nightmare.” He quickly answered. “And this is just where you go when you have nightmares.” He shrugged his shoulders as though it was that simple. “Yeah, but the thunder didn’t help.” I explained as I glanced over to him. “Loud noises make me jump, you know that.” “But it’s not because you’re scared.” He spoke, still refusing eye contact. “Right?” “Why else would I jump?” I laughed but found myself focusing more on my next shot as I quickly regained my momentum. Grayson finally looked over at me but quickly away as he refused to answer. “Go ahead.” I encouraged. “Because you’re ready.” He managed out. “Ready?” I repeated in a confused tone. “You know,” He began once more. “for what it might be.” He hinted, trying his hardest to avoid further details. “So you think that I think every loud noise is a gunshot?” I asked as a half-smile began on my face. “I never said gunshot!” He whined as his face began to turn red. “Just, just a threat.” “Maybe deep down that’s why.” I shrugged my shoulders, trying not to let him know just how right he was. “But my life hasn’t been like that in long time. We’re safe.” “I know,” He quickly nodded his head. “but Pop said that you,” He began before quickly stopping himself. “But Pop said that I,” I led, waiting for him to continue his sentence. “Just that certain things from when you were younger still follow you.” He mumbled in a low voice. “You mean that I have PTSD?” I asked but once more he looked away. “It’s alright, you can say it.” I tried to encourage. “Although I guess I lost that diagnosis a while ago, but I still get symptoms every now and then.” I explained, trying my hardest to be as transparent with him as possible. As hard on him as I am, I never want him to think he doesn’t know the real me. I never want him to think he didn’t know his father. “You’re being weird tonight.” He finally spoke, changing the subject. “How am I being weird?” I asked, trying to hide my disappointment as he avoided yet another conversation about my past. “You’re talking a lot.” He analyzed looking back up at me. “Because you’re not.” I shrugged my shoulders. “You really want to sit here in silence?” “Maybe.” He mimicked my shrug as he seemed to look over to Carters old high school jersey, yet as I followed his gaze, I realized it was my jersey he was staring at. “I mean, that’s what you like to do.” “Not when you or Carter are around.” I offered but could tell he didn’t believe me. “I mean it.” I insisted as I turned to face him. “Mhm.” He hummed as he finally made eye contact with me. I let out a deep sigh as he began to stare me down. “Why don’t you believe me?” I asked, stunning us both. The second he heard my question he began to fidget in his seat as his eyes dropped to the floor. “You can tell me. I won’t get mad.” I offered but could tell he wasn’t budging. “I promise.” I said, but got nothing back. “If I get mad, I’ll take you to whatever play you want, even if we have to fly to Broadway.” “Okay.” He played along with a roll of his eyes. “Seriously” I insisted. “We can even stay at Uncle Eli’s place. I haven’t seen him in a month or two.” “He was just here when the Devils played the Blackhawks.” He exhaled, but I could tell he was finally starting to believe me. “But we can really go to Broadway?” “If I get mad at your answer.” I shrugged my shoulders. “But that doesn’t mean you can intentionally push my buttons.” I warned as he nodded his head. “So go ahead, why don’t you believe I want to talk to you?” “Because you just don’t.” He answered, trying his hardest to find the right words. “We can sit in the car for an hour drive, and you don’t say anything.” “I try,” I corrected. “but you just yes me to death and text your friends.” “Because you talk about what you want to talk about.” He began but quickly caught himself. “Continue.” I encouraged as our eyes connected once more. “You won’t get to Broadway by staying quiet.” “Is it really that hard to ask me how I’m doing, or how my latest play is going?” He finally began to let me have it. “It’s always Grayson do this, or Grayson do that! It’s never what do you think Grayson? It’s never what’s your opinion Grayson? It’s never are you okay Grayson?” He ranted as his tone began to grow angry. “I get it!” His voice grew louder. “We like different things! But you don’t care about what I think, so why would I think you want to talk to me?” I couldn’t help but let out a deep breath as his words began to sink in. I managed to close my mouth and gulp hard as my heart began to break. “I didn’t mean that,” He lied, trying his hardest to take back his words. “It’s okay.” I interrupted before guilt could start to build in his mind. “You’re right.” I nodded my head. “I still treat you like you’re a child. I don’t consider what you have to say.” I exhaled. “I’m sorry. I, I’ll change that.” He uncomfortably squirmed in his chair once more as he desperately tried to find the words to make things okay. “So what do you get for making me mad?” He teased in an attempt to lighten the mood. I forced a smile at his joke and slowly nodded my head. “I want to hear what you think,” I began. “about my past.” “I don’t think much about,” He began to lie. “I know you ask Carter about it.” I interrupted as I threw my husband under the bus. “But I want you to ask me about it.” “It’s getting late.” He replied, trying to find any excuse to get out of the conversation. “Getting late?” I repeated. “It already is late, now come on, let me hear a few questions.” “How old were you when you were adopted?” He asked as I rolled my eyes. “I mean a real question Gray.” I shot down. “Now come on, neither of us is going to bed until I get a few.” He let out a deep sigh and shot me the same annoyed look Carter gives me when I push him too hard. “How about I ask you a question?” I offered, drawing a nod from him. “Why are you scared to ask me about it?” I asked. “I know you’re curious.” He shrugged his shoulders but stayed quiet. “Are you scared of me?” “No.” He quickly shot down. “I mean sometimes when you’re mad.” He swayed his head. “But who isn’t scared of their Dad when he’s mad?” He rambled, trying his hardest to avoid the question. “Alright.” I accepted with a defeated. “You can go to bed.” I dismissed. “We can talk more in the morning or something.” At first he went to stand up, but as he saw the look on my face, let out a sigh. “I’ve seen your mugshot,” He finally forced out, keeping his eyes on my feet. “I found it online in some article from when you were a teenager, it listed off all your charges and I, I, I just don’t want to think that’s you.” He shook his head. “But if I hear you talk about it, then I know that was you. I know my Dad did those things.” Once more I felt his words pierce through me. “What charges were they?” I asked, trying my hardest to draw his eye contact. “Assault, armed robbery, possession of deadly weapons, selling and using drugs, and it said,” He hesitated as he took a deep gulp. “the article said the police thought you killed people, they just couldn’t prove it.” At first I felt anger start to rise in me. I always knew this day would come, and I guess pushing him to ask questions, I should’ve expected it’d be soon, but I didn’t know he’d find something online! This is exactly why I wanted him to ask me the questions. This is exactly why I wanted to control how much he heard and when he heard it. I let out another deep breath as I forced myself to stay on top of my emotions. “If I killed people, would they really have struck a deal with me?” I asked, trying to dispel whatever false rumors were started about me. Sure, I shot at people. Sure, maybe those shots hit people. But to my knowledge I never killed anyone. And maybe it’s wrong to stay ignorant, but I need things to stay that way. For my son’s sake. “No.” He forced out. “But the other stuff, is, is it true?” “Yeah.” I exhaled, slowly walking over and taking a seat next to him. “There’s no excuse for it, so I don’t want you to think I’m giving you one.” I explained as I prepared to go over the usual spiel I tell my campers or students. “But everything I did back then, I was doing to survive.” I said as I regained his eye contact. “I was only ten when I officially became a saint.” “How come,” Grayson suddenly began. “How come you weren’t put in foster care like I was?” He asked, relating his past to mine for the first time since we adopted him. The truth is his past is just as heart breaking as mine. He was just another orphan from the southside no one seemed to care about. Just another forgotten child. “Southside was a very different place back then.” I answered with a shake of my head. “Cops were a lot more worried about the crime going on than an orphan escaping foster care.” “Then it’s their fault!” He exclaimed as my story began to rile him up. “If they would’ve just found you, if they would’ve protected you, then a gang wouldn’t’ve had to!” He shouted before catching himself and trying to settle back down. “Maybe,” I swayed my head. “but I don’t think I would’ve let them. If you think I’m stubborn now, well I was a damn fool when I was a kid.” I explained, trying my hardest to help him understand. “I would’ve ruhyA Qn away to join the saints, my destiny, it was set no matter what the police did.” “But why?” He asked in a concerned voice. “Didn’t you know it was wrong?” “I did, but I joined them anyway.” I slowly nodded. “I just, lost faith in the world.” I confessed, hoping he was mature enough to understand what I was saying. “I didn’t care about right and wrong anymore. I just wanted to be someone people spoke about, even if it was in a bad way.” He sat in silence, slowly thinking everything over as my words began to sink in. “The mistakes I made, they’re nobodies fault but my own.” I said as my eyes began to drift from him. “Did that many people really know about you?” He suddenly asked in an attempt to keep me talking. “Yeah.” I let out in an almost laugh. “Most of the southside. There was a time I was an urban legend.” I bragged as a small smile began to replace the serious look on my face. “People knew who Cy Walker was, even some of the kids at Lake Michigan.” “So that was actually your nickname?” He prodded with a raised eyebrow. “You were really okay with people calling you cyclops?” “No one actually called me cyclops, it was usually just Cy.” I corrected, surprised by how interested he was in the minor details. “There were a few other nicknames too.” I shrugged. “It was just a way to escape being Riley walker. It was like I wasn’t that scared kid anymore.” I shook my head. “Suddenly I wasn’t just stealing food, I was stealing whatever I wanted.” I explained as I started to get carried away. “I was jumping rooftops and doing whatever I wanted.” “Jumping rooftops?” Grayson repeated in disbelief. “No you weren’t!” “Swear on my life.” I insisted without hesitation. “I’d climb fire escaped and jump from building to building, the only person who could ever keep up with me was Tak.” “Weren’t you scared?” He poked as his eyes began to fill with concern. “What if you slipped?” “Then I slipped.” I shrugged my shoulders. “When you live without meaning, you just, you don’t care about life and death.” “Oh.” He exhaled as my words began to hit him harder than I intended. “You, you have meaning now, right?” He forced out in a shaky voice. “I’ve got you and Carter.” I quickly answered. “That’s all the meaning I’ll ever need.” A flash of happiness began to spark in his eyes as he turned away from me to hide it. “The person I was back then is long gone, and he’s never coming back.” “Then why, why are you so excited to talk about it?” He asked in a shaky voice. I shrugged my shoulders as I thought over his question. “I’m just happy we could finally have this conversation.” I confessed, drawing his gaze back to me. “So you didn’t like being in a gang?” He pressured but I could tell he knew the real answer. “Honestly?” I asked, drawing a nod from him. “Part of me liked it. I felt like a king out there and I tricked myself into thinking I had it all.” I explained as my eyes drifted to Carter’s high school jersey. “But I had no idea what it meant to have it all.” “Then what does having it all mean?” “It means getting to come home to Carter almost every night,” I shook my head. “and getting to see a smile on your face.” I teased as I reached over and nudged him with my elbow. “It means getting to love someone, and getting to be loved.” A small laugh escaped Grayson’s lips as he heard those words. “Sorry!” He exclaimed as he saw a blush form on my face. “It’s corny I know.” I groaned as I slowly stood back up. “Its’ not, well, maybe a little.” He swayed his head. “It’s just weird hearing you talk like that.” He said, once more looking anywhere but at me. “It’s like, like when the grinch falls in love with Christmas.” “So I’m the grinch?” I muttered as I took a basketball off the rack and began to shoot around again. “You’re right, I’m wrong, you’re never grumpy,” He sarcastically teased, taking a playful jab at me for the first time. “and you never yell at me.” “Alright.” I surrendered as I saw his point. “I’m hard on you some of the time,” “Some?” Grayson interrupted. “Some.” I repeated before he could get carried away. “But I’m your Dad not your friend. That’s my job.” “Yeah.” Grayson exhaled but I could tell he was holding back words. “Say it.” I instructed as I let another basketball fly from my hands. “Just, would it really be such a bad thing to be my friend sometimes?” He asked, this time it was his turn to blush. “I know you’re my Dad, and I know you have to be strict, but sometimes, sometimes I want to joke around with you and you just, you push me away.” I nodded as once more his words began to break through my walls. “You’re Carter’s son, I think I forget that sometimes.” I shook my head. “Oh.” He sighed, unsure how to take it. “It’s not a bad thing,” I quickly corrected. “It just means you see right through my bullshit.” I forced a smile. “It means you’re smart.” I encouraged. “But you’re not fully right, I’m not, I don’t push you away I just, I don’t always know what to say.” “Don’t know what to say?” He quietly repeated. “Because we’re different?” He guessed as I shot the last basketball on the rack. I could tell by his words that it bothered him just as much as it did me. So then he must notice it too? Does he struggle to talk to me like I do with him? Does he feel just as guilt as I do about it? “I think so.” I slowly nodded, I opened my mouth to say something else but nothing came out. Come on Riley! Say something! I can’t end this conversation here! I can’t let our differences divide us, not when we’re making so much progress. Yet before I could find the words he stood up and grabbed a basketball that had rolled near his feet. “Being different isn’t always a bad thing though, right?” He offered, picking up the ball and passing it over to me. “No.” I agreed. A genuine smile crossed my face as I caught his pass and pulled up for another shot. “I mean you and Pop are pretty different.” He spoke, grabbing another ball and passing it to me. “You’re telling me.” I agreed with a laugh. “Sometimes that man doesn’t shut up.” “So maybe it’s not so bad that we’re different.” He decided in a confident voice. I felt my smile grow as I saw just how comfortable he was while talking to me, how comfortable he was opening up to me. “I’m sorry,” I suddenly began to apologize. “for saying I didn’t realize how much theater meant to you.” I shook my head. “I did realize I just, I was trying to justify making you skip rehearsal.” “You got it right.” He smiled as he heard my words. “What?” “You said rehearsal instead of practice.” He nodded his head as confusion grew on my face. “And I forgive you, but I, I really can’t miss any more rehearsals or they’ll recast my role and I, I won’t let that happen.” “Don’t.” I encouraged as I saw passion begin to rise in his eyes. “You earned that spot Grayson. Don’t let anyone take it from you.” “I won’t.” He nodded his head but suddenly the smile began to fade from his face. “I’m sorry too.” He began. “Before, before I told Pop that you, you don’t try.” He confessed as water began to pool in his eyes. “But I, I don’t always try.” He exhaled in a shaking breath. “I push you away sometimes too.” The more he spoke the more water seemed to gather in his eyes. “I just, I miss Pop so much sometimes.” He let out as tears finally began to stream down his face. “But you, you just keep working and working, it’s like you don’t even care he’s gone!” He yelped, struggling to process everything going on in his mind. “And it just, it makes me so mad at you!” “Is that what you think?” I asked, shocked by his confession. “You think I don’t miss Carter?” “You don’t show it.” He replied, trying his hardest to wipe the tears from his eyes. “I miss your Pop every second we’re apart.” I explained, quickly walking over and embracing him. “Carter’s my best friend Grayson, but I, I try to be strong for him.” I spoke as his head rested against my shoulder. “Because if he ever found out how much I miss him when he’s away, he’d retire, he’d quit on his dream.” I shook my head. “And I don’t want to see his dream end until he’s ready to end it.” “I’m sorry.” He whimpered as my words sank in. “I’m sorry.” He repeated, only crying harder. “I just want my Dads around more.” He let out as his grip around me grew even stronger. As I heard his words, I couldn’t help but begin to grow teary eyed. “Why don’t we all go into the city next weekend?” I suggested, immediately trying to make it up to him. “Just you, me and Carter. We could go to lunch, and I heard there was a writers museum you might like, maybe we could check that out?” “Yeah.” He sniffled, finally starting to calm down. “I’d like that.” “Good.” I forced another smile as we let one another go. “But for now I think it’s time for both of us to get back to bed.” “Okay.” He agreed but walked slowly as I led him to the door. “I, I just have one more question.” He began as he looked back up at me. “Alright.” I accepted, giving him another nod as I stood in the doorway. “Why don’t you like that I do plays or ballet?” He asked, keeping his eyes on mine the whole time. I could tell he was scared of my answer, but trying his hardest to come across as brave. “You gotta stop saying I don’t like it.” I replied, trying my hardest not to show any hesitation. “I do like it, and I’m proud of you every time I see you on a stage.” I saw doubt fill his face as his eyes began to drop from mine. “I mean that.” I insisted but could tell I was starting to lose him again. “But when I was your age, that’s just not what boys did.” I finally confessed, hoping he was old enough to understand where I was coming from. “And I saw, I just saw kids get hurt over it.” I spoke, unsure if he was even still listening. “It’s not that I don’t like it, and it’s not that I’m not proud.” I explained, reaching over and landing a hand on his shoulders. “It’s that I’m worried about you. I’m worried about how the other boys treat you.” “They, they do tease me sometimes.” He confessed, looking back up at me. “They call me a pussy, or a faggot or gay, but I don’t care.” He spoke in a voice so confident I almost didn’t even recognize it as his. “Pop’s gay and he’s in the NBA, you’re gay and you’re, you’re the toughest person I know!” He exclaimed. “So they can call me gay or faggot all they want, they don’t know what those words mean.” “But if it gets physical,” I began in an unsure voice. “Then it gets physical.” He interrupted without any doubts. “I have my own friends who watch my back, and, and my ballet master said I should start working out.” He began to blush. “She said that boys that do ballet need to be really strong to do lifts and turns.” “So you want to start training?” I asked, blindsided by his words. “I need to.” He nodded his head. “The better I get at ballet, the more confident I am during plays and I, I want to be the best I can, just like you and Pop.” “Who’s going to train you?” I asked, already beginning to build some ideas. “I could talk to some of the trainers I work with at school.” He swayed his head as he took a closer look at me. “You go to the gym every day.” He softly began, scared to share the idea on his mind. “You want to work out with me?” I let out as Grayson continued to surprise me more and more. “Yeah.” He accepted with a nod. “But I want Pop’s muscles more than yours.” “So you don’t want to actually be that strong?” I teased as I tried to lighten the mood. “More muscles make it easier to pick people up.” I joked around, reaching out and starting to lift him off the ground as he squirmed in my hands. “No!” He yelped as he began to laugh. “Dad! No!” He shouted through laughter. “Stop!” He giggled as I finally put him back down. “I just, I don’t want my arms to be so big.” He blushed as the smile stayed on his face. “Dancers just need to keep a certain look.” “Alright,” I accepted with a nod. “We’ll speak with Pop in the morning and see about creating a plan that works for you.” I encouraged as the smile grew on his face. “But for now, it’s time for bed.” “We could just pull an all nighter.” He teased, finally following me out of the gym and towards the stairs. “The last thing I need is my Mom hearing you didn’t sleep last night.” I quickly rejected, reminding him of the company we were having tomorrow. “Fine.” He surrendered as we finally began to make our way upstairs. “Can I at least sleep in a bit?” “On the ride home from the game, you said you’d get up at your normal time.” I teased, watching the smile fade from his face. “But tomorrows your adoption day, so I think I can make an exception.” “Thank you.” He forced a smile back on his face. “Yeah, yeah.” I dismissed, following him into his bedroom. “You good if I go back to bed?” I checked as I watched him crawl back into his bed. “Yeah,” He slowly nodded. “but, if, if you’re nightmares still keeping you up, you can lay here with me for a little bit.” “I did promise Pop I’d rest between shooting around and going back to sleep.” I accepted as he made space for me. “Man,” I shook my head, laying back in his queen size bed. “when I was your age I slept on a couch or the floor, and you got this monster?” “Guess I’m just lucky.” He shrugged as I finally got comfortable. “I, I’m sorry, for messing up that shot before.” “What shot?” I had to asked, turning over to look at him. “The last one against Pop.” He replied in a quiet voice. “It was easy, and I should’ve made it.” “It’s not your fault.” I tried to dismiss. “I gave you a bad pass, if anything I should be saying sorry for messing up your ankle.” “It doesn’t even hurt anymore.” He rejected. He went to say something else but before he could let out a big yawn. “Thank you for letting me stay up.” He began again. “I, I liked this.” “I liked it too.” I smiled as I realized how close to falling asleep he actually was. “I love you.” “I love you too.” He replied as I reached over and turned off the last lamp in his room. A few minutes of silence passed until finally I began to hear his breathing slow. Tonight wasn’t perfect, but somehow, someway, I finally got the breakthrough I was looking for. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but at least this time we both laid it all out for each other to see. At least this time we opened up to one another. -- -- Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep in his bed too. It’s funny, I had no actual intentions of sleeping in his room, but I guess my body had a different idea! “What’s going on here?” I heard Carter tease as morning finally rolled around. “A sleepover and I wasn’t invited?” “Good morning Pop.” Grayson quietly spoke as he began to wake up. “Good morning Grayson, happy adoption day!” Carter greeted. I could feel his eyes shift to me, but I kept mine closed, hoping he’d let me fall back asleep. “I know you’re awake Riley, don’t make me get ice water.” “This is why I slept in here.” I muttered as I finally opened my eyes. “Grayson’s a lot easier to live with.” “Mhm.” Carter hummed, but the second our eyes connected I could tell he was awaiting the real story. “I’m going to shower before breakfast.” Grayson yawned once more. “Breakfast?” Carter repeated in a laugh. “It’s almost eleven thirty! Everyone will be here by one!” “Yeah,” I supported. “breakfast is for people who weren’t up at four in the morning.” “Four in the morning!” Carter exclaimed as Grayson rose out of bed and began to get some clothes together. “Dad let me!” Grayson yelped, quickly rushing out of the bedroom. “I thought you were worried about his sleep schedule.” Carter teased, beginning to stare me down. “The kid was scared of the thunderstorm. “I shrugged my shoulders as I finally sat up. “We only stayed up for an hour.” “So he shot around with you?” Carter prodded, eager to hear what he had missed out on. “Grayson, play basketball?” I asked in a laugh. “It was four in the morning, not the twilight zone.” “That’s not very nice.” Carter warned, having second thoughts on how much progress had been made last night. “I’m just kidding,” I dismissed as I slowly rose out of bed. “he wants me to joke around with him more.” “Yeah?” Carter asked as I walked over and landed a kiss on his lips. “So what, you’re dad of the year now?” I shrugged my shoulders and pushed past him as I walked towards the door. “Let’s just say you’ve got some competition for favorite parent now.” “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Carter teased, following me out of his room and down to the kitchen. “Now are you going to actually tell me what happened, or not?” “We just stayed up and talked is all.” I replied, trying to avoid the question the best I could. “If you want to know what happened, you should’ve been there.” “So that’s how it is?” Carter asked with a smile. “Guess so.” I shrugged my shoulders, matching his smile. Yet as I thought over my conversation with him, I felt my smile fade. “Actually,” I began once more. “we gotta talk but you, you can’t take it the wrong way.” “Okay.” He cautiously nodded, suspicious of whether I was being serious or not. “You gotta be more available to Grayson.” I began as Carter took a seat next to me. “I am available.” Carter defensively replied before I could finish my point. “I’m not trying to attack you here, but like I said last night, you gotta do the little things with him.” I continued, reaching out and holding onto his hand. “I know you’re a perfectionist and I know you need to get in your hundred shots a day along with your other training, but you gotta balance that with Grayson.” “I don’t balance it well with him now?” Carter asked as he grew frustrated with my words. “Not as well as you could.” I shook my head. “He wants more family time, alright?” I explained as I began to stroke his hand. “I told him next weekend we’d go into the city for lunch, then take him to a museum as a family.” Carter let out a deep sigh as he heard my words. “You know I have practices on the Saturdays I don’t have games.” “I know you have optional practices on Saturday mornings.” I shook my head. “Go in the morning, come back and I’ll drive us into the city, or, just opt out for once and make it a family day.” “Riley.” Carter sucked his teeth as he tried to hide how annoyed he was. “I get it, you have to always be there for your team because you’re one of the leaders.” I said before he had the chance to argue. “But what about this team? What about doing stuff with us?” “We do stuff together all the time,” He argued, but I could tell he knew he was wrong. “and it’ll be the offseason soon. Plus we have that trip over the summer planned as a gift for today.” “Grayson won’t be this young forever.” I warned in a sigh. “You said it yourself last night.” Carter raised his spare hand to his head as he began to think it all over. “Maybe I should just retire after this year.” “It doesn’t have to be like that.” I argued, beginning to hold his hand tighter. “It doesn’t have to be basketball or your family.” “It sure feels that way.” He muttered as he began to rub his eyes. “Cause your almost thirty-six and trying to play like you’re twenty-five.” I reminded him. “Getting old hasn’t been easy, but it doesn’t mean you’ve gotta stop basketball, it just means you’ve gotta start slowing down and making time for me and Grayson.” “When did you become the voice of reason?” He sighed as he dropped his hand from his face and connected eyes with me. “I always told you I was a genius.” I teased with a smirk. “Alright, I’ll start opting out of every other optional practice.” He decided with a nod. “But that means those days are family days, and that includes you too.” “No place I’d rather be.” I happily agreed but paused as I saw insecurities remaining in Carter’s eyes. “You know me and Grayson think you’re a great father right?” “Yeah, this conversation is a great example of that.” He shook his head. “It is.” I insisted as I leaned in closer to him. “We wouldn’t want to spend more time with you if you weren’t.” He nodded his head before leaning forward himself and letting our foreheads connect. “Promise you’ll set me straight if I don’t make enough time for us.” “Promise.” I accepted before connecting with his lips. “I love you Riley walker.” He smiled as our lips disconnected. “I love you too.” I replied, but as we heard the sound of Grayson coming downstairs quickly pulled away from one another. I noticed Carters smile grow as he saw the shirt Grayson was wearing. The word Bulls sat on his chest with a number 8 just below it, on his back sat the name Walker-Williams with an 8 below that as the shirt mimicked the jersey he had worn yesterday. “I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen you wear that,” Carter teased as he closely studied our son. “let alone any bulls shirt!” “I figured today was a good day for it.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Happy adoption day.” I cheered. As he grew closer, I grabbed onto him and pulled him in for a hug. “Stop!” He laughed as I held onto him tightly. “You know, our son wants to start working out?” I asked, looking back to see Carter trying to hide a surprise look from our hug. “Yeah?” Carter asked as a smile grew on his face. “He’s gotta be strong for ballet.” I encouraged, still holding onto him. “But he wants to be your size.” I explained, looking back at the shape Carter was in. Make no mistake, Carter isn’t small by any means, but he’s definitely more toned than muscular, while me, well I’d been fighting to put on as much bulk as my body would let me. “What’s that mean?” Carter tilted his head as he faked offense. “It means Dad’s stronger than you.” Grayson teased as I finally let him go. “Is that so?” Carter asked with a smirk. “Then I guess I’ll be returning your adoption day gift.” “You’re still strong.” He quickly insisted. “Stronger than all of my friend’s dads.” “That’s what I thought.” Carter teased, but I could tell it surprised him that Grayson had taken my side. “So,” Grayson began to hum as he took the seat across from us. “what is that gift?” “It’s still early.” Carter continued to push his buttons. “What do you think Riley?” “I think he can wait.” I played along as Grayson began to whine. “Wouldn’t it be best to do it before everyone gets here?” Grayson began to plead. “That way it’s a family moment.” “We do like family moments.” Carter nodded his head. “Why don’t you tell him Riley?” “For adoption day, we’re getting you a week at my camp.” I teased as Grayson shot me an unamused look. “Not good enough for you?” “Is that really the gift?” He asked, seeing right through my game. “You don’t seem very excited, so I guess not.” I dismissed in a laugh. “Alright, for real, on the week of July 5th, we need you to look at the plays on Broadway and pick out the one you want to see most.” “Really?!” He exclaimed in an excited voice. “Like we’re actually going!” “We’re actually going.” Carter agreed with a nod. “Yes!” Grayson exclaimed in a loud voice. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He began to shout as he rushed over to hug us both. “Wait!” He yelped as he pulled away from me. “That’s what you bet last night!” “Guess I could’ve killed two birds with one stone with this gift then.” I teased as he gave me a playful push. “So how many days are we going?” Grayson asked, ignoring my joke. “We’re going to spend three days there.” Carter nodded his head. “In a hotel.” He warned before I could say anything. “We’re not imposing on Eli.” He threatened as he saw me open my mouth. “It’s not imposing, he loves when we visit.” I insisted as Carter shook his head. “I’m sure he does.” Carter rolled his eyes. “How would it look if we go to New York don’t visit?” I asked, finally making a good point. “How about we add another day and spend it at his place.” “Dad wants a playdate with his friend.” Grayson began to tease, drawing a laugh from Carter. “Alright, you can have your playdate.” Carter dismissed with a shake of his head. “Does this mean I have to spend that day with E.J. and Matty?” Grayson groaned as he returned to his seat. “Sanders-Taylor?” Carter asked as Grayson nodded. “Probably.” He shrugged. “But you like Matty.” “Yeah, but E.J. is scary.” Grayson explained as he made a face. “Eli Jr. isn’t scary, he’s just, disciplined.” Carter tried to explain. “He’s an MMA fighter, just like his father, you know that.” “Disciplined is a nice way of saying scary.” I teased as Grayson began to laugh. “That’s really nice to teach your son.” Carter shook his head. “Well what kind of lunatic signs up their kid for MMA?” I asked with a grin. “Like you wouldn’t sign up Grayson tomorrow if he wanted to.” Carter rolled his eyes. “With all we know about concussions? Hell no.” I insisted as I rose to my feet. “I always told you Aidan Taylor was an insane brat.” “You’re so full of it.” Carter couldn’t help but laugh. “Aidan’s a good guy, you just don’t like that he could kick your butt.” “Yeah, well if I have my way it’ll just be us and Eli.” I warned, much to Grayson’s approval. “Go shower.” Carter dismissed with a waive of his hand. “Your family is going to be here soon.” “Yeah, yeah.” I grumbled, but followed his instructions anyway. Sure enough, the second I got out of the shower I could hear the chatter from company downstairs. I took in a deep breathe before getting dressed and joining everyone in the living room downstairs. “It’s about time!” Aaron shouted as soon as he saw me. “But I guess it was time for your one shower a month.” “Ha. Ha.” I sarcastically exhaled walking up and quickly hugging him. “Hello Riley.” His wife greeted, giving me a hug as soon as I pulled away from her husband. “Hey Emma.” I smiled, happily hugging her back. “You still find his bad jokes funny?” “Some of them.” She swayed her head, causing me to laugh. “Hey!” Aaron shouted as he looked over to her. I always thought Aaron would be alone forever, but somehow, he managed to meet Emma in college, then again, I guess they are a perfect match. Two extremely nerdy engineers from Chicago, I don’t know if fate could’ve worked out any better for him. “Yo.” I heard Tak greet from across the room. “Hey.” I quickly nodded before returning my attention to Aaron. “No hug for me?” Tak teased with a smirk. “I see you every day.” I dismissed with a waive. Before anyone could say anything else Carter walked into the room, followed by our parents. “Happy adoption day Riley.” Mom began quickly walking over and hugging me. “I’m not the one who got adopted.” I couldn’t help but laugh as she hugged me tightly. “No, but it’s a big day for you too.” She supported, finally letting me go. “He sees her every day, and he still got a hug.” Aaron instigated as Mom walked over and hugged him. “I don’t see her every day.” I fought as Dad gave me a hello hug. “Just every other day.” Dad teased, making sure to get in on the fun. “Stop ganging up on Riley.” Mom began to warn. “Carter travels a lot, and sometime he needs help cooking.” “You cook for them!” Aaron exclaimed as I flashed him a smile. “And it’s delicious.” I teased, making sure to throw a jab at him. “How do you guys still act like children?” Carter complained in a sigh. “I think Riley and Aaron moved out too quickly.” She began, as she leaned against her youngest son. “They could’ve used another few years of living together at home with Tak.” She encouraged, hugging him once more. “Me and Emma lived with Carter and Riley in the city before they got married.” Aaron reminded her. “But that’s not home,” Mom shook her head. “and you didn’t let Tak visit enough.” “Tak was over as much as he needed to be.” I rejected, before she could start up an old argument again.” “For all the major holidays, like St. Patty’s day, the night before thanksgiving, what are the other days everyone goes bar crawling?” Aaron taunted drawing a laugh from me. “And then the next morning we’d wake up and he’d bitch at us because he was hung over.” I encouraged as me and Aaron began to team up against him. “That better not be true.” Mom warned him as she began to squeeze his arm. “He once threw up on our coach from being so hungover.” I sold him out as Aaron let out a loud laugh. “Man!” Tak yelped. “What’d I do to you?” He exclaimed. “Is this cause I beat you in basketball the other day?” “You didn’t beat me.” I quickly shut down. “We ran out of time before I could get hot.” “I’m sure that’s what it is.” He sarcastically agreed as he flashed me an annoyed smile. “We could go finish that game right now, so I could show you.” I instigated as Grayson and Lilly walked into the room. “You couldn’t beat my Dad in basketball Uncle Tak.” Grayson began as Lilly walked over to hug me hello. “Hey Uncle Riley.” She happily greeted. “Hey Lilly,” I replied as I gave her a tight hug. “you keeping Grayson out of trouble?” “Trying my hardest.” She sighed as we both looked over to see him still arguing with his Uncle Tak. “There’s no way you could beat my Dad!” Grayson insisted, enjoying how much he was getting under his uncle’s skin. “Well why not?” Tak finally asked in a sigh. “Because he’s just as good as my Pop, and my Pop’s the best basketball player in Chicago.” Grayson confidentially spoke. “Just as good?” Aaron whispered to me, just as surprised by Grayson’s words as me. “What’s going on with him?” “Don’t be nosy Dad.” Lilly warned. As I looked down to her I could tell Grayson had filled her in on the conversation we had last night. “It’s his adoption day, he’ just in a good mood.” I lied with a shrug of my shoulders, but noticed my Mom watching Grayson closely as she noticed the same thing as me and Aaron. “You sure about that?” Aaron prodded, looking for whatever answers he could get. “Mind your own damn business.” I dismissed walking away from him and towards Carter. “One day you’re going to get sick of telling me that!” Aaron shouted, but I ignored his words. “You’re really the worlds number one dad today, aren’t you?” Carter teased with a smile. “You tell me, Mr. best basketball player in Chicago.” I shot back with a smirk. “He could’ve been in the NBA too, you know?” Grayson continued to argue with Tak. “He just had more important things to do.” “Like work with me?” Tak asked in a sigh. “You need the help.” Grayson shrugged his shoulders, done with the conversation. “Tell ‘em Gray.” I encouraged with a proud smile. “You can be just as thick headed as Riley sometimes.” Tak shook his head. “You know that right?” “Good.” Grayson happily agreed as he took a quick glance over to me. “Riley,” Mom suddenly began. “can you be a dear and help me warm up some food in the oven before it gets too cold.” “Sure.” I cautiously nodded, knowing she was up to something. The second we were alone in the kitchen, her eyes stayed fixed on me. “So you’re just as good at basketball as Carter?” She prodded with curious eyes. “You’ve seen me play,” I teased. “don’t act so surprised.” “I’m more surprised about who it came from,” She clarified keeping her eyes on me. “and don’t lie and say it’s just a good day with him.” She warned, seeing right through me. “Somethings up, I can just tell.” “It’s nothing Ma,” I groaned as I started to preheat the oven. “Really.” I insisted. “Would it really be such a bad thing to tell me?” She began to work me over. “Your own mother?” She continued to guilt trip me. “We both just couldn’t sleep last night,” I began to cave. “and I don’t know, I guess we finally saw each other’s perspectives.” “That’s wonderful!” She happily cheered. “Does that mean you two are going to fight a lot less?” “I hope so,” I swayed my head. “but everything’s not going to get fixed overnight, this, it’s just the start.” “I’m so proud to hear you say that.” She encouraged once more, walking over and giving me a tight hug. “Now go find him and ask if he wants the pot stickers with dinner or for appetizers.” “Appetizers.” I answered for him without much thought. “No!” She quickly shut down. “It’s not your day, you don’t get to decide!” She warned. “That’s his favorite food, and he’ll get it when he wants it.” “He’s twelve,” I began to argue. “Riley Walker-Williams,” She threatened in a strict voice. “I want this day to be perfect for your child, and I swear to God,” “Alright, alright,” I interrupted before she could get too excited. “I’ll go ask him.” I sighed. “Damn, Aaron was right, you do get crazy over your favorite kid.” “I love all my children and grandchildren the same.” She insisted, but I couldn’t help but smile at her words. She can say what she wants, but I know the truth. I know Grayson is her favorite. Afterall, how could my kid be anything but that! “Where’s Grayson?” I sighed as I walked into the living room to only find adults. “Movie room with Lilly, why?” Carter replied as he saw the fed up look on my face. “Ma’s lost her mind again.” I shook my head. “She wants to make sure King Grayson gets his food how and when he wants it.” “Does it hurt not to be the favorite anymore?” Aaron quickly teased, taking advantage of the moment. “She’s just being thoughtful.” Carter tried to remind me, but I waived him off as I stayed focused on finding our son. Yet, as I grew closer to the movie room, I couldn’t help but stop and listen to my son’s voice. “I mean you should’ve seen it,” Grayson explained to Lilly. “It was like, like my Dad was a completely different person!” “Are you going to actually tell me what you guys spoke about, or just keep saying that?” Lilly whined, pressuring Grayson for more of his story. “There’s just so much we spoke about,” Grayson dismissed, stepping around the question. “he just, he was trying, you know?” “Hasn’t your Pop told you he’s been trying?” She asked in a curious voice. “Yeah, but, but this times just felt different.” Grayson said, trying to think of the best way to explain it. “This time it felt like he was listening, it was like he cared about what I had to say.” “And what about today?” Lilly pried. “Everything different.” Grayson happily answered. “He’s joking around with me, and he’s letting me push his buttons, he even hugged me this morning!” “Do you think it’ll stay this way?” Lilly asked as the curiosity in her voice turned to concern. “I don’t know,” He sighed as he thought it over once more. “We’re still pretty different people.” He decided as he figured out his answer. “But as long as he keeps trying, so will I.” I gave them a few more moments before walking into the room and trying my hardest to play it off like I hadn’t heard anything. “Your grandma wants to know if you want the pot stickers for appetizers or with dinner.” “Are they vegetable or pork?” He asked as he thought it over. “I don’t know.” I sighed turning around to go find out. “I’ll go ask.” I groaned, slightly amazed by how overcomplicated both Grayson and Nancy had made a small part of the meal. “I’ll go with you.” He quickly agreed, jumping up and joining me in the hallway. “That’s my favorite food, you know?” “I know.” I couldn’t help but laugh at his enthusiasm. As we almost reached the living room, I felt him grab onto my arm. “Can we talk? Just for a minute?” “Yeah.” I quickly nodded my head. “What’s the matter?” He shrugged his shoulders before suddenly giving me a quick hug. “Thank you for letting me stay up last night.” He said, holding onto me tightly. “It, it meant a lot.” “It meant a lot to me too.” I nodded my head. “You know there are times I’m still going to be hard on you, right?” “I expect it.” He smiled as he pulled away from me. “I mean, our conversation last night was just the start, right?” “Yeah.” I agreed with a smile of my own. “I still have a lot to learn about you.” He encouraged, showing how much he had been thinking about it. “Like did you go to middle school? Were there other kids your age in your gang? Did you,” “Another time.” I interrupted in another laugh. “Right now let’s just enjoy your day.” “Okay.” He nodded before hesitating once more. “Yesterday, yesterday I said I didn’t know who this was a big weekend for, but, it’s a big weekend for me and I, I’m so happy you and Pop adopted me.” “I couldn't ask for a better son.” I encouraged as he hugged me once more. “Now come on, your grandma’s waiting.” “Mhm.” He hummed, finally letting me go and walking through the living room. At first I had to wonder what’s gotten into him, but the second I saw my brothers, Emma, Dad and Carter goofing around with one another, I knew the answer. I know what it’s like to be an orphan, I know what it’s like to wonder if you’ll ever find your family. I know what it’s like to feel so disconnected with your dad, I thought over as I looked at Walter. More importantly, I know what it’s like for all those pieces to finally fall into place. I know the relief and happiness that fills your heart. I know the freedom love can give you. If only Cy Walker could see me now, if only he could’ve understood that lesson. But if that’s what it took for me to get here, well I’d relive it again and again. I walked a broken road, with plenty of wrong turns along the way. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes, well it felt impossible, but I made it. I have a mother, a father and brothers. I have a husband and I have a son. I have the life I’ve always dreamed of. I have peace.
  11. Aceinthehole

    Used

    Chapter 32: Used As Dizzy held me on the couch I could tell Adam’s words were starting to get to him. With every passing second he seemed to grow more and more anxious, until finally he let out a deep sigh. “What are you looking for with Ezra?” He asked, but I didn’t answer. “I’m not judging you, I just, I want to know where you’re coming from.” I stayed quiet for a few more moments before finally looking up to him. “He’s my birth father.” I forced out. “I just want to meet him, even if I end up hating him.” I hesitated as I thought it over. “I just need to know” Was all I could manage out. “You don’t owe him anything.” Dizzy advised, trying his hardest to help me see his side. “No, but I owe it to myself.” I explained as I sat up and made eye contact. “I’ve been wondering about my birth father since, well, forever.” I shook my head. “Now that I finally have my shot, I can’t just throw it away.” As he heard my words, I notice his concern only growing stronger. “You can’t relate to that?” “Not at all.” Dizzy denied as he broke eye contact and stared off towards the door. “Our dads, they didn’t want us Artie.” He forced out. “They left our Moms to figure it out, not caring that they barely had enough money for food.” He warned, now looking right back at me. “How can you just forgive that? They made our Moms’ lives impossible.” “I know and I’m not forgiving him,” I accepted in a sigh. “I just want answers why, don’t you?” “No, because those answers won’t change anything.” Dizzy shook his head. “My birth father left me. Ezra left you. That’s enough of an answer for me.” “I need more than that.” I exhaled as our eyes reconnected. “I’m sorry.” “I know.” Dizzy quietly spoke as he thought it over once more. “I just hope you know what you’re doing.” “I do,” I lied with a nod. “and even if I don’t, I have you and Adam to help guide me.” “If you listen to us.” Dizzy muttered to himself but before I could respond Adam came in the back door. “Oh boy.” Dizzy exhaled as he straightened himself up and forced a smile on his face. “Feeling better?” He asked as Adam approached. “I guess.” Adam shrugged his shoulders before taking his normal spot on the couch. “You guess?” Dizzy repeated, shooting him a strange look. “Sounds like you need to start buying better stuff!” “I’m not having this conversation with you.” Adam warned as he turned on the T.V. and picked up his controller. “Why?” Dizzy whined, knowing exactly how to distract Adam from everything on his mind. “You know, one day you’re going to smoke with me and Artie.” “When you’re like twenty-one,” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “but until then, we’re not talking about it.” “Really?!” Dizzy exclaimed, shocked by Adam’s answer. “We’re not talking about it.” Adam repeated as he kept his stare on the T.V. “Now are you going to play, or keep yelling in my ear?” “I have to go home soon.” Dizzy replied, letting himself fall against me. “If I don’t win my Mom back over soon, she might actually get strict.” “Is she actually that mad at you?” I asked, wrapping my arm around him so he couldn’t stand up. He shrugged his shoulders and looked over to Adam. “Is she?” He asked, seeing what he could learn. “She’s not mad, she’s just worried.” He answered as Dizzy rolled his eyes. “You’re getting too old for some of the stuff you do. What are you, seventeen?” “Yeah.” Dizzy forced out, knowing what was about to come next. “So what happens if one of your jokes goes too far, what if you get yourself in serious trouble?” Adam dug, but got no response. “Pretty soon people are going to look at you like an adult.” “Yeah.” Dizzy exhaled, he went to stand up but I grabbed onto his shoulder and kept him on the couch before he could. “I don’t want to see you get in trouble because you were just messing around.” Adam continued to lecture. “You need to find a better outlet for yourself.” “A better outlet than what?” Dizzy forced out, trying to hide how much the conversation had started to affect him. “Spray painting every building in San Francisco.” Adam teased, trying to help Dizzy relax into the conversation. “I’ve seen some videos of people doing spray paint art on canvases or poster board, maybe you can try that.” “Maybe.” Dizzy repeated, but it was clear he was done with the conversation. “Don’t take it like that.” Adam sighed as he finally turned away from the T.V. and towards us. “It’s not easy to hear, but it’s the truth.” “I know, I’m listening.” He lied, finally breaking free of my grasp and standing up. “Anyway, I better get home to my Mom.” “Why don’t you stay a little longer?” I asked, not wanting their conversation to end on such an abrupt note. “Just hear Adam out a little more.” “It’s nothing I haven’t heard already.” Dizzy complained, not paying either of us much attention. “ I know you and my Mom are buddies now, but you don’t have to do everything she asks you to.” He exhaled, finally connecting eyes with Adam. “What do you mean?” Adam asked, shooting him a strange look. “You think she asked me to talk to you about all of this?” Dizzy shot him a sarcastic look as he refused to answer. “She didn’t.” Adam insisted as his voice began to grow louder. “I mean, sure, we spoke about this stuff, but she didn’t tell me to talk to you.” “Mhm. Dizzy hummed, slowly getting his stuff together as he continued to ignore Adam. “You’re not just Artie’s boyfriend anymore.” Adam warned as Dizzy’s attitude began to get under his skin. “You spend nights here, you came with us to Texas, hell you even come over when Artie’s not home!” He shouted, trying his hardest to break through to Dizzy. “Your Mom isn’t the only person worried about you, I thought you knew that.” As Dizzy heard those words he stopped moving and turned back towards Adam. “I’m worried about you too.” Adam confessed in a sigh. “So just, dial it back sometimes.” “Smoking makes you a lot less fun,” Dizzy teased, unsure how else to respond. “but I get it.” He forced out before Adam could say anything else. “I, I hear you.” “Oh, good.” Adam nodded, trying his hardest to read past Dizzy’s reaction. “I’ll walk you to the bus stop.” I offered as I rose to my feet and Dizzy slowly made his way over to Adam. “You don’t need to hug me.” Adam quickly argued as he noticed Dizzy growing closer. “You’re worried about me.” Dizzy teased as he forced a hug on Adam. “Thank you.” He let out, but this time I could tell he was being genuine. “You’re always welcome here” Adam forced out as Dizzy finally let him go. “Careful what you wish for.” Dizzy shot back as he returned his attention to me. “You have to teach your Uncle how to hug, he’s really bad at it.” “He is pretty bad.” I agreed with a nod as Dizzy wrapped himself around me. “Would you two give one another space?” Adam complained as our hug began to linger on. “I swear I’m going to start keeping a spray bottle in here.” “Good hugs take time.” I shrugged my shoulders as Adam rolled his eyes and we began to walk towards the front door. “Maybe Mason could teach you that one day.” Dizzy teased with a smirk. “Go home Dizzy.” Adam exhaled as things quickly began to return to normal. “I’m going, I’m going.” Dizzy played along as he let me lead him out the front door. “Is it me, or is Adam more responsible when he’s high?” “I think he’s just more emotional.” I answered as I thought it over. “He meant what he said though.” I supported, seeing how Dizzy would respond. “I know.” He nodded his head. “Now I have two people trying to lecture me, how annoying.” He complained, but I could tell he didn’t mean it. “What if I want to lecture you?” I teased as Dizzy looked over to me. “You’re just as lost as me.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders. “Not that that’s a bad thing.” He quickly tried to clarify as he saw the expression on my face change. “I’m not lost.” I began to argue as I thought it over. “You’re lost.” Dizzy confidently nodded his head. “Not that it’s a bad thing.” Dizzy stopped and pulled me in close as he noticed I wasn’t understanding. “You don’t know what to do about Ezra, I don’t know what to do about life, so we’re lost.” I went to say something, but stopped as I realized what he was trying to say. “I guess I am lost.” I confessed as I let my head rest against his shoulder. “Well lucky for you, I’m pretty great at being lost.” He forced a smile as he kept his hands on me but took a step back. “So then what do we do?” I reflected his smile, but noticed the bus turning coming down the street. “If I knew that we wouldn’t be lost.” He answered with a laugh. “How about you come over my house tomorrow after school and we’ll figure it out.” “Dizzy,” I warned as trouble began to spark in his eyes. “My Mom has to take her turn watching us do homework too.” He interrupted with a smirk. “Plus, she doesn’t care if we go hangout in my room all night.” “And what will we be doing in your room all night?” I couldn’t help but ask as I caught his smirk. “Finding ourselves.” He shrugged leaning forward and laying a kiss on my lips before breaking free and heading towards the bus. “So what do you say?” “It’s a plan.” I nodded as his smile grew and he hopped on the bus. He gave me a quick wave as the door closed behind him and the bus slowly began to pull away. Adam and Colleen can try and lecture him as much as they want, but at the end of the day he’ll always be Dizzy. He’ll always be the goofy, fun loving kid who isn’t afraid of making a scene. But then again, it’s not about trying to change him, it’s about keeping him out of trouble. About trying to help him understand the right time and place to be, well, Dizzy! -- -- When I walked back through the front door of our house, I noticed the same serious look on Adam’s face. I let out a deep sigh as I took a seat on the couch and turned towards him. “Still thinking about everything?” I asked, trying my hardest to steal his focus away from his game. “I guess.” He replied in a sigh of his own. “It’s not exactly something that’s easy to forget.” “What’s going on with Dizzy, or what’s going on with me?” I asked, but already knew the answer. “You,” Adam answered with a shake of his head. “and I guess a little bit of Dizzy, but mainly you.” “Why?” I asked but got nothing back. “I can’t understand what’s going on if you don’t let me in.” “I just don’t want to get into it right now.” He grumbled, keeping his eyes on the T.V. “Alright.” I shrugged, but as I went to pick up my book I noticed him glance towards me. I pretended to ignore it, and kept going until finally I noticed him glance towards me again. “You sure you don’t want to talk about it?” “No.” He confessed in a sigh as he paused his game. “I guess I want to talk about it, but I, I don’t want you to feel like I keep bashing your birth father.” “Say what you need to.” I encouraged, but felt my anxiety slowly begin to rise within me. “If you can keep yourself calm.” “I can keep myself calm.” He nodded his head. “Everything that happened with him, it just still gets to me is all.” Adam confessed in a heavy breath. “Yeah?” I let out, putting my book down and looking over at him. “We were so close as kids.” Adam finally began to explain. “We did everything together.” Adam emphasized. “Sarah had Sadie, and I had Ezra, that’s just how it was.” He explained. “But when we became teenagers, things just got, complicated.” He paused as he began to think it over. “Complicated how?” I asked as his words began to sink in. “Did, did he know you were gay?” “I never told him.” Adam confessed as his eyes began to drift. “But he knew, and there was a time I thought maybe he was too.” Adam explained. “That’s just how some teenagers are, you know?” “Sure.” I hesitated, not fully understanding what he was trying to get at. “Like you never got curious with friends.” Adam pressured as he shot me a skeptical look. “I didn’t.” I shook my head. “Well, not before I came here, but that’s different.” I began to nervously ramble. “I don’t think I would’ve tried anything with guys before I came here.” “Alright,” Adam backed off, unsure if I was telling the truth or not. “but Ezra certainly wasn’t afraid to.” He shook his head. “So you guys,” I paused trying to find the best way to ask what was on my mind. “hooked up?” I finally managed out. “At first.” Adam slowly nodded his head. “Then over time, it just became one sided.” Adam confessed. “I let him use me for years before I realized it.” Adam began to grow angry, but suddenly the anger turned to sadness as he thought it over. “I thought I was getting what I wanted, somehow I convinced myself it was what I wanted.” Adam shook his head. “But by the time I realized I was his play thing, it was too late.” “Play thing?” I repeated more to myself than to Adam. “It was that bad?” I couldn’t help but ask. “He used me.” Adam confirmed before falling quiet. “So when he started seeing my Mom, were you two still,” I paused, waiting for Adam to fill in the blank. “No.” Adam quickly rejected. “That was after we had stopped, but even then, he got worried I was going to tell her.” He said, now talking in a near quiet voice. “He convinced her my lack of faith was turning me into someone she couldn’t trust.” This time when he spoke his sadness seemed to only grow stronger. “By the time she was pregnant with you, Sarah didn’t trust a word that came out of my mouth.” “So what’d you do?” I asked as the story slowly began to pull me in. “I couldn’t do much of anything,” Adam shook his head. “and I was only growing angrier at everything around me.” Adam explained as the look in his eyes began to grow dull. “Ezra, my parents, the town, hell, even Sarah.” Adam confessed. “I would drink when I could find alcohol, smoke when I could find drugs, then one night when I got loaded enough, I went after the church.” “You did that while drunk?” I couldn’t help but ask. “You thought I vandalized a church sober?” He asked, almost in a joking way. “I was a dumb kid, but I wasn’t that dumb.” “Did your parents know you weren’t sober?” I couldn’t help but ask, starting to get side tracked by his words. “By the time they found me I was sober, and they never pieced it together.” Adam answered in a sigh. “But that’s not the point.” He shook his head. “The point is Ezra played me, over and over again.” He explained. “I was naive and vulnerable and I fell right into his trap.” This time his eyes finally returned to me. “He manipulates people Artie. That’s just what he does.” I nodded my head but stayed quiet for a few moments. “Did you ever get a chance to try and patch things back up with my Mom, you know, before everything happened?” Adam let out a deep sigh as my question hit him. I know I’ve asked it before, but maybe, maybe this time he’ll tell me something he’s been holding back. “There was some time after Ezra left and before I came out.” Adam nodded his head. “Sarah started to really see Ezra for who he was, but whether she trusted me again, that’s something you’ll have to ask Sadie.” “Okay.” I accepted before growing quiet once more. “I’m sorry.” I offered, looking back up at him. “I’m sorry he treated you like that,” I hesitated. “and I’m sorry, I, I still need to give him a chance.” Adam let out another sigh, but nodded as though he had expected my answer. “Alright,” He accepted as I felt guilt start to crawl into my mind. “but you have to listen to me, and you, you can only talk to him when I say you can.” “I know.” I slowly nodded my head. “Do you, do you think he’s gay?” “No, I don’t.” Adam rejected as he looked away once more. “He just enjoyed being in control of someone.” I could tell he wanted to say more, but left it at that. “I’m sorry.” I offered once more, not knowing what to say. “Don’t be, just, learn from my mistake.” He exhaled now laying back in the couch. “Not that I’m worried about Dizzy.” He shook his head. “Good, because he, he doesn’t use me like that.” I forced a smile as a light blush began on my face. Adam let out a small laugh as he heard my words but turned back towards the T.V. “What?” I asked but he refused to answer. “What?” I whined as my voice grew louder. “Nothing.” Adam shook his head. “Just tell me.” I insisted as I began to stare at him. “That’s just the first time you weren’t afraid to mention your sex life.” Adam shrugged his shoulders as my face turned an even brighter shade of red. “See!” Adam began to laugh as the tension in the room broke. “Now you’re all uncomfortable again.” “Like it doesn’t make you uncomfortable too!” I complained with a roll of my eyes. “It does,” He nodded his head. “but at least I can have the conversation without turning bright red!” Adam continued to laugh. “I’m still adjusting.” I warned, picking my book back up and trying to hide my face in it. “You snuck Dizzy up to your room a few days ago,” Adam pointed out as he glanced over at me. “you’re well past adjusting.” “Maybe that’s part of adjusting.” I lied with a shrug of my shoulders. “Besides, that wouldn’t happen if you let us hangout in my room.” “That’s not happening for another year or two.” Adam quickly shot down before the idea could even grow in my mind. “Once I know you’re emotionally mature enough to handle that serious of a step.” “Then why even buy me stuff for it.” I complained more to myself than him. “Because if you really have to do it, I want to make sure you’re doing it safely.” Adam shrugged his shoulders, once more causing my face to turn red. “Trust me, there’s a big difference between doing that, and just letting you two spend the night in your room.” He shook his head. “I learned that one the hard way.” “We just slept,” I lied in another whine. “I swear!” “Sure.” Adam shrugged not believing a word of it. As the room finally fell quiet again, Adam couldn’t help but let out another laugh, setting me off once more. Yet as much as we went back and forth, it was hard to ignore that Adam had let me in even closer than before. What Ezra did to him, that must have been one of the hardest parts of his life. Am I making a mistake by giving him a second chance? Am I selfish for doing this? Dizzy better have some kind of answer for me tomorrow night!
  12. Aceinthehole

    Spooked

    Thank you, your work is what's part of making it a great chapter!
  13. Aceinthehole

    Spooked

    Thank you for sharing your story! I'm sure at times that was hard to go through, so I'm sure you can relate a lot to Artie. Plus it sounds like you were blessed with a loving family, like he has found.
  14. Aceinthehole

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    I agree, especially since his mother would never tell him about Ezra growing up. That curiosity would kill me.
  15. Aceinthehole

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    I agree, personally I could never leave that door shut. Even if I tried to, it'd always be in the back of my mind.
  16. Aceinthehole

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    Especially considering Ezra grew up in the same time as Adam and Sarah. For Ezra to take care of Sarah, it most likely would mean leaving his family for good. It doesn't justify his choices, but sometimes it takes a while to find the balls to leave your family.
  17. Aceinthehole

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    He's certainly come a long way since Artie first moved to San Francisco. Especially when it comes to being more of a parent than a friend. Thank you! Next chapter will be out within the hour
  18. Aceinthehole

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    I agree, people can change. Especially when it comes to doing the best thing for their child. Hopefully that's all he has in mind.
  19. Aceinthehole

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    I agree, I think Adam demanded it from Ezra and will have his lawyer be in contact later in the week. One of the ways abandonment is established is by leaving a child with no communication or child support. So a court would likely rule Ezra abandoned Artie, but I think Adam just wants peace of mind knowing Ezra terminated his rights.
  20. Aceinthehole

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    Especially with how oddly he introduced himself. A normal person would reach out to the guardian and not just approach a minor like that.
  21. Aceinthehole

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    I feel the same. Although from Adam's perspective it's frustrating to feel so strongly against someone, and still have a person you love want to meet them.
  22. Aceinthehole

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    Prices do always seem to be popular
  23. Aceinthehole

    Spooked

    Chapter 31: Spooked As Adam laid back and watched T.V., I couldn’t help but keep looking over at him. Does he even have a strict side? Could he ever actually stay mad at me? I mean, I’ve seen him panicked, but never really angry. Even at the court case and reading of Mom’s will, I could feel his anger against his parents, but he never really let it show. So if I know he’s this relaxed, why am I still hiding Ezra’s card from him? Why don’t I want his advice on this? I went to say something, but before I could a knock began on our front door. I forced a smile as Adam quickly jumped to his feet and let Mason in. I guess I’ll give it a little bit more time before I drop that bombshell on him. He just seems so happy since we got back, I’ll wait until I know what I want to do. I’ll wait until I know how I feel about this. I mean that’s a smart way to approach it, right? As Mason and Adam finally picked out a movie I put my book down and tried my hardest to sneak off to bed with as little attention as possible. “No Dizzy tonight, right?” Adam called out, freezing me right before I could take the first step up the stairs. “No Dizzy tonight.” I confirmed, drawing a strange look from Mason. “Why don’t you tell Mason what happened?” Adam smirked, but I simply rolled my eyes. “I heard Dizzy sneaking in last night to spend the night in Artie’s room.” “And you didn’t stop it.” I reminded him as I slowly began to climb the staircase. “You snuck your boyfriend in?” Mason asked as he carefully thought it over. “or your boyfriend snuck in?” “I snuck my boyfriend in.” I confidently answered, trying to shield Dizzy from receiving all the blame. “You don’t have to lie,” Adam warned as our eyes met, forcing me to stop halfway up the steps. “he’s already in trouble.” “It was my idea.” I insisted with a shrug of my shoulders. “If it was a Dizzy plan, we probably wouldn’t’ve got caught.” “What’s that mean?” Adam quickly asked as concern entered his gaze. “It means watch the doors closely tonight.” I teased, before finally walking up the rest of the stairs and out of their view. I heard Adam call something out to me, but ignored it as I got ready for bed. It’s not like Dizzy’s actually coming over tonight, hell, his Mom’s probably broken both his legs already! But I know it’ll mess with Adam tonight, and that’s what he gets for teasing me about it! Yet as I laid down, I couldn’t help but wish he was here with me. Especially after how he started acting this morning! Maybe he’s just trying to get laid more often, but he was so sweet today. It was like a side of Dizzy I hadn’t even seen before! -- -- Eventually I drifted off to thoughts of Dizzy, and when I did wake up, was happy to find him waiting outside my front door. “Good morning.” I smiled, leaning forward and landing a kiss on his lips. “Morning.” He replied in a mumble, before gripping my hand and leading me down the stairs. “You seem energetic this morning.” I teased, noticing his normally bright smile was reduced to a blank expression on his face. “Do we have to go to school?” He whined as he threw his head back. “We could just skip and hang out at your place.” He said, but I could tell he didn’t mean it. “Yes.” I played along as he let out another groan. “Why? What’s so bad about school today?” “My Mom said I have to stay after while you’re at baseball from now on.” He complained as the look on his face grew even more blank. “That’s it?” I asked in an unamused voice. “I mean she took away my bag with my tagging stuff, and computer too.” He answered in a sigh. “But I have to stay after and get tutored by teachers, and then she said she’s going to talk to Adam about something for us after that!” “I only have baseball like, three times a week.” I clarified, but once more received a groan from him. “Besides, if Adam’s the one in charge of whatever happens after that, it can’t be that bad.” “Speak for yourself!” Dizzy exclaimed, proud of how dramatic he was behaving. He went to say something else, but caught himself as the noticed the people walking around us. “I don’t want to know.” I rolled my eyes as we reached the steps of our school. “I don’t want to know!” I repeated as he went to say something else. He let out a guilty laugh as he knocked shoulders with me. “We can talk about it over lunch.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You and Charlotte had one on one yesterday, so me and you get one on one today.” “Actually, we didn’t finish our conversation from yesterday.” I shrugged my shoulders. “We only had enough time for me to tell her about her date, we didn’t get to talk about Texas.” “Or about what happened the night we got back from Texas.” Dizzy smirked, knowing he had caught me. “World doesn’t revolve around you.” I replied, trying my hardest to find an out. “Sure, it doesn’t.” He sarcastically agreed, seeing right through my lie. I rolled my eyes, and made sure to change the topic as we approached our homeroom. The last thing I need is all of homeroom to overhear that conversation! It’s bad enough we sit close enough to the front for Mrs. Mowry to hear us! I really hope she just tunes us out! For our sake and her own! -- -- When lunch finally rolled around Charlotte and I managed to slip away from the group and find a small table in a quiet area just like yesterday. Every now and again I would turn back to where Ky and Dizzy were sitting and notice him making a funny face at us, but tried my hardest to keep my focus on Charlotte. “What’s going on with you two?” She finally asked, getting to the main question on her mind. “He’s been even more head over heels for you than usual.” “I don’t know.” I played stupid as I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess visiting Texas just helped him understand me more.” “Bullshit.” She called out as she watched me closely. “I gave you the details on my love life.” “Charlotte.” I exhaled, but as I noticed her stare growing more intense, knew I wasn’t worming my way out of the conversation. “He just wants more sex.” I rolled my eyes. “That can’t be it.” She pressured, still not believing me. “I rocked his world.” I confidently nodded my head, trying my hardest to hide the red filling my cheeks. “You rocked Dizzy Armstrong’s world?” Charlotte asked, not believing a word of it. “Sure.” I shrugged my shoulders, my face now fully red. “You’re missing something.” She shook her head, before glancing over at Dizzy then back to me. “I’m not.” I insisted in a nervous laugh. “We just, took things one step further.” “One step further?” Charlotte repeated as her mind went to work on cracking the code. “Why can’t you just say it?” She groaned, tired of my games. “We already tell each other everything already.” “Because it’s kind of embarrassing.” I forced out as our eyes connected. “We just moved onto more advanced stuff the other night.” “Advanced stuff?” She asked, as she thought it over once more. “Oh.” She exhaled with a smile. She let out a loud laugh as she saw the look on my face. “What do you have to be embarrassed about?” She dug, but I stayed quiet. “Did you like it?” She asked, this time drawing a nod from me. “It was amazing.” I finally forced out, causing her to laugh once more. “Then there you have it!” She encouraged with a wide smile. “You had amazing sex with your boyfriend, kids here would kill to have that experience! You have nothing to be embarrassed about.” “Yeah.” I agreed as a smile finally cracked my face. “So how’d he convince you to do it?” She asked as her curiosity got the best of her. “I convinced him.” I corrected, trying to calm the blush lingering on my face. “Him coming all the way to Texas to help me, it just made me want to get closer to him.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Only you could make sex sound so innocent.” She shook her head. “Well trust me, it wasn’t very innocent.” I joked as the blush fully returned to my face and Charlotte began to laugh once more. “Yes Artie!” She exclaimed through laughter, yet as she glanced towards Dizzy she began to calm down. “You’re wrong though.” “About?” I asked, not fully following her train of thought. “He doesn’t want to get laid more,” She shook her head. “on second thought, he probably does.” She quickly clarified. “But that’s not why he’s so crazy for you lately.” “Alright, then what’s going on?” I asked in a skeptical voice. “I think taking that step, it just showed him how serious this relationship is to you.” She shrugged her shoulders, proud of her answer. “And the trip to Texas didn’t?” I asked, still not believing her theory. “I’m sure that helped.” She replied with a smile. “But come on Artie, when you first got here you would nearly implode at the idea of kissing another guy, and now you were the one that suggested, well, you know.” “Yeah.” I shrugged my shoulders, but still wasn’t overly sold on her point. “I think Dizzy’s still just shocked he got that lucky.” “Now that I agree with.” Charlotte giggled as our eyes met once more. “Now tell me, how was Texas?” “It was good.” I nodded my head, unsure what to tell her about first. “Sadie figured out me and Dizzy were a couple right away.” “Really?” Charlotte asked as a shocked expression quickly filled her face. “Yup, I guess we’re not that great at hiding it.” I teased with a smile. “But she took it like, really well. She said she didn’t want to lose me and that she’ll work to accept it.” “That’s great.” Charlotte replied as a genuine smile overtook her face. “So then did you also tell the court.” “Nope.” I shook my head. “Adam still wanted to keep it a secret, but I don’t think the judge would’ve cared anyway.” I shrugged my shoulders. “He was kind of fed up with the case after the first ten minutes, and then Dizzy testified on how Adam took him in for two weeks after that incident with his Mom’s boyfriend.” I continued to explain. “And the judge just kind of ended the case right there.” “Well it seems like you gave Dizzy one hell of a thank you!” Charlotte giggled as she caused my face to blush once more. I rolled my eyes, but kept going with my story. “That’s not like, the crazy part though.” I warned as she leaned forward in her seat. “You have to keep this a complete secret. Only Dizzy knows this happened.” She hesitated as she nervously began to lean in her chair. “Alright.” She finally accepted. “I met my birth father.” I forced out as she grew quiet. “You met your birthfather?” She repeated in shock. “Just like, out of nowhere?” “Kind of.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Me and Dizzy were waiting in the lobby of the court house, and he just found us.” “He found you?” Charlotte asked as confusion overtook her face. “Yeah.” I nodded my head. “He walked up to us, and gave me some stupid line about how I looked like someone he went to school with.” I said causing Charlotte to roll her eyes. “It was like he didn’t even have a plan.” “What are you saying?” She asked in a suspicious voice. “You think he just happened to run into you?” “No,” I shook my head. “I, I know I look like Adam and my Mom, but he had to know who I was. Someone had to tell him.” “Your grandparents?” She guessed, getting side tracked by the minor details. “Maybe.” I shrugged my shoulders. “But I don’t know why they would do that. I, I think it was someone in town who knew we were there, maybe, maybe my friend’s Dad, but that’s not important right now.” I clarified. “Dizzy told him he needed to leave, so he gave me his business card and just, left.” “Just like that?” Charlotte asked as she shot me a worried look. “Yeah.” I slowly nodded my head. “What do you think?” “Something doesn’t sound right.” She shook her head. “He sounds, creepy.” “He was creepy!” I agreed, a little louder than I intended. “Then I look at his card and he’s some kind of CEO!” I continued to shout. “He’s had money all these years, and he never sent any to my Mom??” “If the business card is even real.” Charlotte observed, sending my mind into an even bigger tailspin. “Sorry!” She quickly apologized. “You probably didn’t need that right now!” “He just seems like such a jerk.” I remarked, as I tried my hardest to ignore her past few words. “He is.” Charlotte agreed without hesitation. “So why haven’t you told Adam?” “Because he’s been through enough this past week and a half, he doesn’t need something else on his mind.” I shook my head. “Plus, I think he would freak out and I, I don’t want to deal with that right now. I just want things to be normal again.” “They will be.” She nodded as she reached out and placed her hand on mine. “But you need to tell Adam first. He, he deserves to know.” “Now you sound like Dizzy.” I complained in a sigh. “Why?” She asked, watching me closely. “How did he react?” “He was spooked.” I shook my head. “It was like when a horse sees a snake and freaks out, that kind of spooked.” “Artie.” Charlotte sighed as she heard my analogy. “Sorry,” I apologized as I tried my hardest to think of another example. “it’s like if,” “I get it.” She cut off before I could say something else she didn’t understand. “I think Dizzy has a point,” She supported as our eyes locked. “and he has pretty good instincts about this stuff, I think you should trust them.” “I trust them, and I, I feel the same.” I nodded my head. “But this, this is my birth father, am I crazy for not wanting to give up on him so quickly.” “Maybe,” She swayed her head. “but I, if I was in your situation, I’d feel the same.” She confessed as her face stayed serious. “So I should reach out?” I asked, drawing a deep sigh from her. “Not without talking to Adam first.” She warned in a stern voice. “I meant that Artie. You might have Dizzy staying quiet, but, but if you reach out to your birth dad without telling Adam, I will.” “Charlotte,” I began, but froze as her stare grew more intense. “I mean it Artie.” She said, finally relaxing in her seat. “Don’t make me do that.” “I won’t.” I quickly shook my head. “I, I’ll tell him about it soon.” “Good.” She forced a smile, but before she could say anything else the bell rang. “I love you, you know that right?” “Yeah,” I replied as I reflected her smile. “I love you too.” I smiled as we both rose to our feet. “So,” Dizzy began as he quickly worked his way over to us. “what did you two talk about?” “None of your business.” Charlotte dismissed, grabbing onto my arm before he could. “I don’t know if I believe that.” Dizzy smirked as he and Ky tried their hardest to keep up with us. “I think we had pretty similar conversations.” “Trust me, we didn’t!” Charlotte insisted as we finally lost Dizzy and Ky in the growing crowd. For the rest of the day I noticed Charlotte trying to stay close to me. I could tell she was just as worried as Dizzy has been, maybe even more! But I swear I’ll find a way to get this all under control, and thanks to her, well I’ll actually tell Adam about it. I just have to find the right time, and hope his head doesn’t explode! -- -- Baseball was a welcomed escape as I hit practice with everything I had. I have to make up for my last game, for all the mistakes I made. Our team may not be perfect, we may not even make the playoffs, but I won’t be the reason that happened. I won’t be the one holding us back. By the time practice ended and I made it back to school, I was more exhausted than I had ever been before. “You look dead.” Dizzy giggled as he walked out of the front door of the school to find me waiting at the steps. “Gee, thanks.” I forced out as I began to lead him home. “Don’t take it like that.” He smirked as he grabbed my gym bag from my hand. “Let me take that for you.” He offered before landing a kiss on my cheek. “What are you up to?” I cautiously asked as I noticed the look on his face. “I just figured I’d help.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You alright?” “Fine.” I answered with a sigh. “Just tired is all,” I complained as I felt his hand try and wrap around mine. “and uncomfortable.” I warned as I pulled my hand away from his. “Alright.” Dizzy let out as he gave me some space, but a smirk grew on his face as his eyes checked me out. “What now?” I complained, preparing for some kind of stupid joke. “I was just thinking I’m lucky.” He shrugged once more. “How can you be worn out, but so hot all at the same time?” “I thought I looked dead?” I asked, refusing to let his compliments win me over so easily. “Sure, you look tired.” He swayed his head. “But it’s like after games, I don’t know, that’s always when you’re the hottest to me.” “Adam’s probably home.” I reminded him, knowing what he was trying to get at. “I’m not trying to get laid.” He defended as he lightly bumped me with his shoulder. “I just want you to know I think you’re beautiful is all.” “Seriously?” I asked as I shot him an unamused look. “Yes, seriously.” He agreed as he landed another kiss on my cheek. “You’re the most handsome guy in all of California Arthur Price.” I shook my head as I fought off a smile and grabbed his hand. “I knew I’d win you over.” He teased. “Don’t ruin it.” I warned, this time bumping into him. He flashed me a wink, but stayed quiet for a few moments before suddenly turning back to me. “Just say it.” I groaned, knowing there was something still on his mind. “You told Charlotte about Sunday night, didn’t you?” He asked with a proud smirk. As I looked at him I let out a sigh, knowing he’d see through any lie I tried to tell. “Well you told Ky.” I answered, side stepping the question the best I could. “I didn’t.” Dizzy shook his head. “Well, I tell him we’ve been hooking up and I did say Sunday was the best sex of my life,” he quickly clarified. “but I didn’t tell him any details.” “Mhm.” I hummed, not believing a word of it. “Really.” He insisted as we reached my house. “Because I know you wouldn’t be comfortable with it.” He explained, stopping me before I could start climbing the steps. “I promise.” He smiled before stealing a kiss from my lips I let out a guilty sigh as his words sank in. “I may have told Charlotte.” I forced out as I broke eye contact. “I’m sorry, we’re just close and I, I figured you were going to tell Ky anyway.” “It’s fine.” Dizzy laughed as he leaned his forehead against mine. “I’m alright with you telling Charlotte if you need to.” He offered. “I just want you to be comfortable with it.” “With doing it, or talking about it?” I asked, unsure of his point. “Both,” He replied with a smile. “besides it’s just Charlotte. She probably just laughed and cheered you on.” He said, perfectly describing her response. “Maybe,” I shrugged my shoulders with a guilty smile. “and for the record I am getting more comfortable with it.” I offered, trying my hardest to show him the progress we’ve made. “Even though you wouldn’t take it that far yesterday?” He asked with a growing smirk. “I was sore,” I reminded him as a proud look entered his eye. “but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t looking forward to next time.” “As if the baseball pants didn’t kill me enough!” He whined as I finally led him up the stairs. “Why does Adam have to be home?” He continued to complain. “I bet now you regret acting stupid in school.” I couldn’t’ help but laugh as he let out one last groan. Yet we both froze as I pushed open the door to find Adam and Coleen sitting around the living room. “About time.” Adam remarked as they both zeroed in on us. “What’s going on?” Dizzy cautiously asked as he looked from his Mom to Adam. “Well Adam came up with a great plan this morning,” Colleen began as she stared down her son. “Artie has A’s in the classes you’re failing, and you have an A in the class Artie is struggling in. So you’re going to tutor one another.” She explained, proud of their plan. “And to make sure you’re not just doing one another’s homework, one of us will always be here to monitor you two.” Adam pointed out with a smile. “Alright.” I accepted, too tired to fight them on it. “So you two are just going to watch us do our homework?” Dizzy asked, not fully sold on their plan. “We’re just going to be more attentive than we were before,” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “and from now on homework is the first thing you’re doing when you get home.” I let out a groan as I heard those words. “Can I at least shower first?” “For all our sake, please do.” Adam dismissed as he took a long look at me. “I’m not that gross.” I defended as I headed towards the stairs. “I could smell you the second you walked in the door.” Adam shook his head as he walked towards the kitchen table. “He’s right,” Dizzy nodded his head. “you’re so dirty you probably need some help in the shower.” “Z!” Colleen shouted as she stepped forward causing Dizzy to have to avoid a swing of her hand. “How stupid are you?!” She exclaimed as he began to laugh. “Both me and Adam are here and you’re still making that joke!” “The worlds in danger!” He continued to tease. “I’m just doing my share to save water!” “Shut up with that line already.” Adam exhaled as he took a seat at the table. “You’ve made these jokes before?” Collen asked as she shot him an angry stare. “Global warming isn’t a joke Mom.” Dizzy argued, causing me to fight off some laughter as I climbed the stairs. “You’re such a fool!” She shouted at him, repeating her words from last night. “I could kill you sometimes, I swear to God I could!” I heard her yell when I was at the top of the stairs. Once more I held back some laughter as I finally made it to the bathroom. I made sure to take my time in the shower, having no rush to get back to the chaos downstairs. I mean, Dizzy will be fine by himself, right? Afterall, he is the one who caused this mess! When I finally reemerged down the stairs, I received a quick smirk from Dizzy but he quickly hid it as his Mom stared him down. “Nice of you to finally join us.” Adam remarked, staring me down as I slowly made my way towards the table. “Nice to be here.” I replied causing Dizzy to laugh. “So they’re both smartasses now?” Colleen asked, turning towards Adam. “Unfortunately.” Adam groaned as I finally reached for my backpack. “Well I’ve got news for the two of you,” Colleen began as I grabbed a textbook and sat next to Dizzy. “if Dizzy’s grades and behavior don’t improve before the end of the year, he’s not allowed to spend the night here anymore.” She warned. “and I mean that.” She emphasized, staring down Dizzy. “Yeah but,” Dizzy began. “But nothing.” Colleen cut off, now staring him down. “And that’s just the beginning, if anything gets worse there will also be less dates and spending all day here.” “You can’t be serious.” Dizzy shook his head and returned his attention to his work, not believing a word of it. “I agree.” Adam suddenly spoke up. “Dizzy, I want what’s best for you too, and if that means you have to see Artie less, I’ll support your Mom’s decision.” “Well it won’t reach that point.” I warned as I turned towards Dizzy. “Right?” “Right.” He replied, but I could tell he was holding back some anger towards Adam and his Mom. “We’ve got work to do.” He grumbled, pointing to one of his responses on the work sheet. “Does this make sense?” He asked as I began to proof read it. “If you want, you can head home and I’ll watch them the rest of today.” Adam offered as I saw Colleen nod her head out of the corner of my eye. “You sure?” She asked as she slowly stood up. “Yup.” Adam answered, leaning back in his chair. “Alright, well I’ll be back Wednesday to watch them, She nodded her head. “and Z,” she began. “you can pout and be as mad as you want, but that’s not changing anything.” She warned, heading towards the door. “It’s time we all grow up.” She said, in a confident voice. Dizzy made a face at her words and let out a groan as she left the house and shut the door. “She wants what’s best for you.” Adam clarified, beginning to stare down Dizzy. “You don’t get to fool around all the time, and get mad when she cracks down on you.” Dizzy flashed Adam an annoyed look but he simply shrugged his shoulders. “You don’t get it both ways Dizzy.” “Whatever.” He grumbled as he focused back on his homework. We spent the next hour and a half staying focused on school work. Anytime one of us would get distracted, Adam would make sure to pull us back in and make sure we stayed focused. When we finally finished up Adam made sure to check most of it over before heading back towards the living room and taking his spot on the couch. “Still annoyed?” I asked Dizzy as I noticed the look stay on his face. “I just hate being babied.” He complained as our eyes met. “You kinda did it to yourself.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Besides, we just have to outlast them. You think they want to do this every single night?” “You better be right.” Dizzy shook his head. “You better get better grades.” I corrected with a serious look. “Don’t hurt our relationship because you want to fool around in class.” “I won’t.” Dizzy agreed as he leaned in and laid a kiss on my lips. “I really do need you to be a good tutor though.” He warned. “Especially in math.” “I will be.” I nodded my head. “I’m actually pretty good at math.” “Of course, you are.” Dizzy rolled his eyes and stood up. I watched with a smile as he walked over to the couch, and let his weight fall dangerously close to Adam. “Why do you always have to do this?” Adam began to complain. “The whole damn couch, and you sit right next to me?” “I like being close to you.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders. “It makes me feel safe.” “Didn’t you just say you’d stop goofing around!” Adam exclaimed as he turned towards him. “In school,” Dizzy argued as I stood up and headed towards the stairs. “I said nothing about at home.” Adam let out a sigh and rolled his eyes, but suddenly locked in on me as he saw me headed upstairs. “Where are you going?” “I need to grab something from my room.” I shrugged my shoulders as Dizzy stood up. “Sit back down!” Adam instructed as Dizzy went to head towards the stairs. “Not there!” Adam yelped as Dizzy sat even closer. “You told me to give you space, so I was going to Artie’s room to give you some space!” Dizzy began to tease, getting his revenge on Adam for before. “Now I know why your Mom could kill you.” Adam shook his head. “You really are a fool sometimes.” “Thank you.” I heard Dizzy reply as I disappeared back up the stairs and quickly made my way to my room. I grabbed the business card from my nightstand before nervously walking back down the stairs. The second Dizzy saw the card in my hand he straightened up and gave Adam some space. “What are you up to now?” Adam complained as he noticed how worried Dizzy’s face had grown. “I actually have something I need to talk to you about.” I began as I took a seat between Dizzy and Adam. “Alright.” Adam hesitantly agreed as the concern from Dizzy’s face spread to his. “Did something happen?” “Kind of.” I answered, gathering the last of my energy. “When, when we were in Texas, me and Dizzy ran into someone in the courthouse.” I began in a nervous voice. “You sure this is the right time?” Dizzy asked, trying to give me an out. “Yeah.” I forced a nod. “We uh, ran into a business man and he, he said I looked familiar, and gave me this card.” I finally said, anxiously offering Adam the card. “What?” Adam asked as he began to scan over the card, but the second his eyes lock in on the name I saw his face turn red. “Is this a joke?” He suddenly demanded as he turned towards me. “No.” I forced out as the anger in his eyes froze me. “He found us.” Dizzy spoke up, unsure how to read Adam’s reaction. “Swear to God.” “This is some kind of fucking joke.” Adam yelled, shocked by my revelation. “How did he find you?” Adam asked, but I shook my head, not having an answer. “I’m going to call him right now, and I, I’m getting a restraining order.” “No!” I suddenly blurted out. “No?” Adam echoed as his eyes focused in on me. “Are you insane?” “That’ my birth father.” I began to speak up. “He, he’s reaching out to me and I, I don’t want to slam the door on him without giving him a chance.” “The same way he slammed the door on your mother before you were born?” Adam asked as his anger got the better of him. “Sorry.” He forced out, but I could tell he meant what he said. “He’s right.” Dizzy agreed, just as nervous as me. “He abandoned you Artie.” “I know,” I exhaled in a sigh. “but I, I can’t just move on like this didn’t happen.” “You should.” Adam warned, unable to calm himself down. “He’s a manipulative liar. You’re better off without him in your life.” He lectured in a cold tone. “People change.” I argued as my eyes fell to the floor. “This is my birth father we’re talking about.” I forced out as I began to grow more and more upset. “And I, I want to work to forgive him or at least, try to.” “Because of your faith?” Adam asked, but once more I stayed quiet. “Well let me tell you something, if there’s a God out there, he’s yet to catch up to Ezra Green.” Adam warned. “but when He does, well you don’t want to be anywhere close.” “Are you even listening to him?” Dizzy asked, nearly worried sick over it. “I am,” I forced out, still not looking up. “but he’s not changing my mind.” I exhaled. “I want to do this through Adam, but if you’re not on board, then I’ll do it myself.” Adam let out a deep sigh as he heard those words, and pulled out his phone. “What are you doing?” I asked as he began to dial the number on the card. “Adam,” I forced out but he simply raised a finger to me. I heard the other end of the phone click on followed by a muffled “Hello.”. “Ezra?” Adam asked, anger still seeping out into his words. Once more I heard a muffled response from the other end. “I don’t know how the hell you found my nephew, but this, it’s not going to fly with me.” Adam warned in a strict voice. “I should go to the police right now with this.” He threated as I heard the muffled voice quickly shoot something back. “He’s not your son,” Adam boomed in a loud voice. “and if you want any sort of communication with him, you’ll have to go through me.” I couldn’t help but gulp and look towards Dizzy as I heard those words. “Before anything happens, you’re going to terminate your parental rights and send those forms to me.” Adam lectured, still as angry as when he first saw the card. “Second, you’re going to explain how you found him.” There was another muffled response but I could tell Adam wasn’t satisfied. “I want a name.” Adam demanded. “James Brooks?” He repeated as I felt my heart jump to my throat. “And how did he know we were in town?” “I have the answer to that.” I spoke up as Adam quickly looked to me before returning focus to his phone. “I want those parental termination papers within the week.” Adam dismissed as he hung up the phone, all while keeping his eyes on me. “How did James Brooks know we were in town?” “I was friends with his son,” I nervously shrugged my shoulders. “and we, we ran into them at their farm so I told them we had family court in Dallas.” Adam let out a deep sigh as it all began to connect in his mind. “That doesn’t explain how Ezra knew which court it was and when we’d be there.” Adam shook his head. “He must know someone on the inside, I don’t trust it Artie.” “I know.” I forced a nod and grew quiet. “We’ll talk about it more when I get those termination papers.” Adam decided, still staring me down. “But any communication you have with him is through me, do you understand that?” He asked, anger still resonating through his voice. “Yes sir.” I replied, too nervous to say anything else. “I have to go smoke.” He shook his head as he stood up from the couch and headed towards the stairs. Once more I gulped hard as I looked towards Dizzy. “You better have listened.” Dizzy shook his head. “This, this is really serious.” “I know.” I nodded, reaching out for Dizzy. He hesitated for a second, before moving in and letting me lay up against him. “Adam grew up with this guy,” Dizzy began once again. “he knows him.” “Yeah.” I exhaled with a sigh. “I just, I want to give him a chance, even if it’s a small one.” “Alright.” Dizzy let out, but I could tell he didn’t agree. As Adam came back down the stairs with a joint in his hand, I saw him focus on me one more time. “For the record I’m not angry at you.” “I know.” I nodded my head, but stayed quiet. “I’m only being so strict about this because I love you.” He explained, trying his hardest to keep eye contact. “Same goes for you and the homework thing.” He clarified as he looked over to Dizzy. “We’re just doing what’s best for you boys.” “We know.” Dizzy agreed with a forced smile. “Now go get high and calm down already, I think you’re going to burn a hole through the floor!” Adam shook his head but headed out the back door so the house wouldn’t smell. “Have you ever seen him so mad he had to smoke to calm down?” “I was just thinking this morning that I never see him mad.” I shook my head, looking back at the silhouette of the man through the glass doors. “Well I hope you know what you’re doing.” Dizzy warned in a sigh. “Me too.” I agreed, laying even more into him. If I ever want to feel like my life in Texas is fully over, if I ever want to sever all my ties to that state, it starts with making peace with my birth father. It starts with getting to know the man he was, and who he is today. I’ll listen to Adam and let him guide me through it, that should be enough, that should lead me to the other side in one piece, right? My mind went around in circles until finally the exhaustion from practice caught back up with me and I passed out in Dizzy’s arms. One way or another, things will all work out.
  24. Chapter 30: Knuckleheads I don’t know if Sadie could’ve predicted just how much laying under those stars again meant to me. It’s one of the last memories I have with my Mom, something I’ve thought about everyday since her passing. You might think that would make me sad, but being back here with so many people I love, it’s helping me heal that wound. I know Adam’s seen this before, but the look on his face showed just how long it’s been and Dizzy, well he seemed mesmerized. The quiet Texas sky seemed to keep us under it’s spell, until finally Sadie reminded us we needed to be up early in the morning. The ride back was silent, and when we finally arrived, well everyone fell asleep almost immediately! I wish I could say the next morning was easier on us, but visiting my Mom’s grave for the first time, it felt like even more of an emotional weight than yesterday. “You want some space?” Adam asked as we approached the grave. “Yeah,” I quietly nodded my head. “just for a few minutes.” “Take as long as you need.” Adam encouraged as he, Dizzy and Sadie walked back to the dirt path. I gave it a moment or two, but the second my eyes found my Mom’s stone I placed down the flowers we had bought and lowered to my knees. Without thinking I began saying every single prayer I had ever been taught, every prayer she had taught me. I felt water gather in my eyes a few times, but wiped it away, desperate to stay as strong as possible. When I finally ran out of prayers I couldn’t help but open my eyes again and begin studying the stone on the ground. “I miss you,” I let out without thinking. “but I’m with Adam now and he’s taking good care of me. He even reminds me of you from time to time.” I exhaled as I began to run out of words. “I want you to rest peacefully, but if you can, well I don’t know what to do about Ezra.” I spoke, keeping my voice as low as possible. “I know you’re watching over, I know you’re guiding me, so please, help me know what to do.” I wrapped up as I felt my hand land on the stone in front of me. “I love you.” There were a few more moments of silence until I heard a pair of footsteps behind me. I turned to my side to find Adam kneeling next to me. “God grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” He began to pray as he placed an arm around me. He paused and looked to me, waiting to see if I’d finish the prayer. “Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it,” I continued for him. “trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life.” Adam began to pray with me. “and supremely happy with Him, forever in the next, Amen.” “You remember that prayer?” I couldn’t help but ask, once more having to wipe water out of my eyes. “Sarah made me say it with her every single morning.” He answered, trying his hardest to keep it together. “It was always her favorite.” “We said it every morning we were together too.” I nodded as a tear finally began to escape my eyes. “I just, I thought you didn’t believe anymore.” “I’m not sure I do.” He confessed. “But every time I missed her, I would say it, and after she passed, well I’ve been saying it every morning since.” He said, causing more tears to fall from my eyes. “It doesn’t make sense why she got taken so early,” He shook his head. “but she would say it’s all part of God’s plan, that everything that’s happened, it has a reason we just don’t understand yet.” “Do you believe that?” I couldn’t help but ask. “I have to.” He answered as his emotions finally got the better of him. “Besides, she was always right when we were growing up. Every damn time. It wouldn’t be like her to be wrong.” “It wouldn’t.” I agreed as I let him pull me closer. We stayed quiet for a few minutes as we let everything sink in. I really hope you’re seeing this Mom. I hope you’re seeing that Adam is here when I need him. That he’s comforted me at every step of the way. That you made the right choice by leaving me with him. When Dizzy and Sadie finally joined us, I made sure to finally open up to Dizzy about who my Mom was. About the quiet women who held onto a strong faith, and somehow still found a way to keep Adam’s independent spirit. She may never have been as free as him, but she always dreamed of it. I hope she’s found that now, even if it meant leaving first. When we finished at the cemetery, things only grew harder as I had to say goodbye to Sadie. “I’m going to miss you so much.” I exhaled, as the tears flowed freely from my eyes now. “I know,” She exhaled, combing my hair with her hand as she held back her own tears. “but I’ll come visit in a few weeks. I swear it.” “And you’re going to visit every few months, right?” I asked, holding onto her tightly. “Of course.” She accepted. “I’m just a call away Arthur. I always will be.” “I love you.” I let out, knowing it was time to go. “I love you too.” She said, giving me one last squeeze before letting me go. “You two better look after him.” She warned Adam and Dizzy as she wiped the tears from her face. “He’s really special.” “I know.” Adam nodded as I felt his hand land on my shoulder. “We’ll keep him nice and safe for you.” “We promise.” Dizzy finished for him. “Good.” She smiled as she pulled Dizzy in for a hug, before taking a step forward to Adam and hugging him. She held onto him as she whispered a few words to him, but all I could make out was the beginning of an apology. She really meant it when she said she was wrong about him, I can tell she’s coming around for him, I can tell she’s starting to trust him again. -- -- When we finally got back in the car, the ride to the airport kept the somber tone that had grown in the cemetery. The weekend had taken its toll, and there was no doubt we could all feel it. The second I sat down in the airplane, I fell asleep and when I finally awoke well we were almost landing already! As we walked through the airport, I found myself glued to Dizzy, not because I was scared of the crowd, but because I just needed him close. I needed him to lean on. I could tell he noticed, but didn’t say anything as we made our way through baggage claim and onto BART to head downtown. Every now and again Adam would glance over to us, but I could tell he understood, and to no surprise Mason was waiting for us to do the same for Adam when we got home. When Mason saw the state we were in, he made sure not to ask too many questions, instead Adam put on a movie and once more we found ourselves falling asleep on the couch. “You alright?” Adam asked as I woke back up, and Dizzy went to the bathroom. “You’ve been hanging pretty hard on your boyfriend.” “I’m alright.” I nodded my head. “I just need some time.” “I understand.” Adam nodded his head. “Plus you’ve been doing the same since you got back.” Mason teased with a laugh. “You’re never this physical.” “It’s been a long weekend.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Well rest up, because you’ve got work tomorrow,” Mason continued to taunt. “and Lindsay will kill you if you try and take the day off.” “I know,” Adam groaned. “tomorrows going to be a long day too.” He complained. “At least you don’t have school.” Dizzy complained as he stepped out of the bathroom. “Talk about a waste of time.” “That’s what everyone says until they finish high school.” Mason warned. “Sure class is boring, but getting to spend all day with your friends and boyfriend, I’d go back to school for that.” “Yeah, yeah.” Dizzy dismissed, knowing Mason raised to good a point to argue. Adam let out a small laugh before playing another movie and letting the room grow quiet once more. The day continued like that, until finally Dizzy went home, leaving me with Adam and Mason, and as much as I enjoyed hanging out with them, well I still found a way to slip up to my room. As I locked the door behind me, I couldn’t help but finally look at the business card I had been too scared to examine yesterday. A circular logo sat at the top right corner with the name “McNeil Corporation” under it. Next to sat the name “Ezra Green” with the title of “Chief Executive Officer” under it. I couldn’t help but snicker as I saw his phone number under it. So, he was a CEO this whole time, and still didn’t reach out to my Mom? As if his suit didn’t make him look rich enough, being some big fancy business man proves it! I quickly stuffed the card into the drawer of my nightstand, already fed up with what I had seen. I can’t think about any of this right now, It’s just been way too long a weekend. Instead I picked up the book next to my bed and began to get lost in it, that is, until I got the text from Dizzy I had been waiting for. “On my way, is Adam in bed?” He texted as a smirk began on my face. I may have been worn out all day, but I didn’t forget about me and Dizzy’s night together. If I’m being honest, I’ve been looking forward to it since we planned it! He’s always held the cards for the romantic part of our relationship, tonight it’s my turn. I tried my hardest to keep reading, but I couldn’t keep my mind clear. I’m usually so good at controlling this side of me, but what can I say, Dizzy traveled all the way to Texas for me, comforted me the whole time, then gave the testimony that helped Adam keep custody. He’s just been hitting the perfect buttons recently! Suddenly I heard a quiet jiggle of my door handle as someone tried to turn the locked knob. The second I saw my phone buzz with another text from him I couldn’t help but quietly laugh to myself. I stood up and quickly stripped of all my clothes but my boxer briefs and grabbed the cowboy hat from my dresser before walking to the door and unlocking it. “Were you trying to get us caught?” Dizzy whispered as he slipped through the crack in the door and locked it behind him. He went to say something else, but as he turned to me he froze. “I uh,” He began but his words froze as a goofy grin began on his face. “I uh,” I repeated as I leaned forward and gave him a deep kiss. “I know you said you had ideas on how to celebrate,” He finally managed out. “but I didn’t know you meant it.” “I think about this kind of stuff too ya know?” I smiled, leading him back to my bed. “You sure you do?” He teased, trying his hardest to hide the surprise on his face. “Mhm.” I hummed as I went in for another deep kiss. He went to say something but before he could I pulled him down onto the bed, the same way he had with me in the past. This time, I had him exactly where I wanted him to be instead of the other way around. With every motion I took, I made sure to stay in control of our actions. All that time he took to help me feel okay with my sexuality, well I want to show him it spread to the bedroom too. “Alright, I, I need a minute.” He forced out, stopping our activities before they could grow too intense. “Already?” I teased with a smirk as our eyes connected. “No, I just, we haven’t done anything all weekend.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s all backed up.” “Sure.” I sarcastically replied, taking a moment to push his buttons. “You’re a piece of work, you know that?” He teased as I crawled back up to him so we could be face to face, but I stayed quiet before connected with a deep kiss on his lips. “You’re really into this tonight, aren’t you?” He managed out as he broke away from my lips. “I’m always into it,” I shrugged my shoulders. “but let’s say we’ll make tonight extra special.” I began as I crawled over to the side of the bed to find the condoms and lubricant Adam had left for me. Once again I saw shock enter Dizzy’s face as he saw just what I had been planning. “Where’d you get that?” He forced out. “Adam left it for me, he said it made him feel a bit better about me growing up.” I shrugged my shoulders. “But we, we’ve never done that before.” He remarked as I pulled the box open. “It took like, two weeks for you to even blow me.” “That was like a month ago.” I dismissed as I pulled a bright colored square out of the box. “I’m ready for this, I mean it.” He nodded his head as another dopey smile filled his face. “Besides, I trust you.” “Do you even know how to use that?” He giggled, watching me slowly tear open the wrapper. “How hard could it be?” I asked, but Dizzy laughed as he saw confusion enter my eyes once I got the latex circle free. “Look.” Dizzy instructed as he guided my hand, he went to place it on my length but I quickly shifted over to his. “Alright, now you just roll it on.” He explained, holding himself still and helping me gently place it on him. “You know, you know what putting it on me means, right?” “I know.” I forced a nod as I opened the bottle of lubricant. “And you’re sure you’re okay with that?” He asked, as surprise continued to grow on his face. “I think, I think I’ll enjoy it more like that.” I admitted as a blush grew on my face. “Me too.” He smirked as he took the bottle from me. “Why don’t I help you with that?” He offered with a growing smirk. This time I had no choice but to give control back to Dizzy. And as much fun as it was to be the one in charge, well, there’s something special about having him in the driver’s seat. He was just as gentle as our first time, making sure to check with me every step of the way. Yet when it was time, well he made sure to leave nothing behind. And when the climax came, well the past few months barely even scratched the surface of what this felt like! “Woah.” Dizzy let out as he tried to catch his breath. “You, you alright?” “Yeah.” I gulped as I started to come back down to earth. I noticed his smile widen as he noticed the mess on my stomach. “I didn’t even have to touch you.” He proudly bragged. “Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?” I asked as he slipped out of me, and let himself fall next to me. “You wish.” He exhaled as he laid his head next to me. “I think I set the bar too high for myself on that one.” “You’re such a jerk.” I couldn’t help but laugh as pride began to emanate off of him. “You’re really that into me?” He suddenly asked as the look on his face began to change. “Well yeah,” I let out, surprised by his question. “would I have let you this close if I wasn’t?” “But still.” He shook his head, unable to wipe the smile from his face. “You’re really patting yourself on the back for this one.” I teased, unsure why he was so thrilled. “You really are naïve.” He shook his head. “It’s not just that, you, tonight, I’ve never had sex feel like this before Artie.” He exhaled as he began to grow serious. “I thought our first few times were good, but this, it’s chemistry I didn’t even know existed.” He sighed. “So I did good too?” I asked in a laugh. “Sure.” He answered, but I could tell I didn’t fully understand what he was trying to say to me. When we finally cleaned up and went to bed, I found him more physical than usual. Not just sexually either, he just seemed to really cuddle up to me. Like I had earned a new level of affection from him. -- -- The next morning when we woke up Dizzy stayed just as physical with me. Kissing and hugging me every chance he could get. “This isn’t going to fly in school.” I giggled as he snuck one last kiss before we headed down the stairs. “I can’t help it.” He groaned as I led him towards the kitchen. “You put me under some kind of spell Artie Price.” I felt another smile cover my face as I heard those words and began to read the note Adam left me. “Well this might snap you out of it.” I handed him the note as I quickly grew serious. “Artie, have a good week in school. Keep working hard and making me proud,” Dizzy began to read. “Dizzy, I heard you slip in through the front door last night.” Dizzy hesitated with a nervous laugh. “If you sneak in to spend the night with Artie again, I’m taking my key back.” “Would you stop laughing!” I exclaimed as Dizzy did his best to hide a nervous giggle. “At least you got a nice note.” Dizzy complained. “I got a threat!” “You got caught!” I corrected in a groan. “I knew I should’ve used the back door.” Dizzy shook his head. “I’ll make sure to do that tonight.” “You saw the note.” I quickly rejected. “You’re not staying in my room again for a long time.” “Artie,” Dizzy began to whine. “He’s nice enough to let you sleep on the couch whenever you want.” I interrupted in a stern voice. “We got caught, let’s not push it any further.” “Fine.” He surrendered but a smile quickly returned to his face. “What now?” I groaned as our eyes met. “I’m still under your spell.” He teased leaning forward and stealing a kiss from my lips. I rolled my eyes but quickly went back in for another kiss. “I guess that’s good.” “Mhm.” He hummed, but I had to pull him towards the door before he could try for another one. As much as I tried to act as rational as possible, well the truth is since I woke up I was feeling the exact same way as Dizzy. If I thought we were close before, well I guess I had no idea what close really meant. -- -- “Look who made it back to California alive.” Charlotte teased as we stepped into homeroom. “Congratulations.” She quickly stood up and hugged me. “Congratulations man.” Ky nodded as he reached over and gave me a strong pat on the back. “Class,” Mrs. Mowry called out as me and Dizzy took our seats. “does anyone know if their parents are not coming to parent-teacher night tonight?” I shot Dizzy a confused look as I heard her words before quickly raising my hand. “I’m not sure my Uncle knows.” I spoke up as our eyes connected. “I spoke with him last week, he said he’s coming.” She explained with a smile. “Oh, thank you.” I replied, as I tried my hardest to remember if he had told me about it. I mean, I didn’t even know it was tonight! How in the world did he? “Crap,” Dizzy groaned as he turned to me. “Adam definitely told my mom about it.” “Dizzy,” I began as I turned to him. “this school probably made sure your mom had the conference circled on her calendar.” Mrs. Mowry let out a small laugh before trying to cover it up with a cough. “She’s laughing at you!” Ky suddenly called out. “I just had a cough.” Mrs. Mowry corrected as she tried to fix how she was sitting. “Don’t lie.” Ky continued to tease. “You can laugh.” Dizzy rolled his eyes. “Artie has gotten funnier since he first moved here.” “I was funny before I met you.” I corrected as he flashed me a wink. “Dizzy why don’t you go call your mom to make sure she’s coming?” Mrs. Mowry suggested, happy to find an out. “Yeah, yeah.” He waived as he stood up, he stopped at my desk and flashed me another wink before heading towards the door. Charlotte looked at him then back to me as she picked up on the slight change in how we had been acting. “Huh.” She let out, beginning to us stare down. “We just,” “I want all the details later.” She interrupted, not even bothering to hear my excuse. “Fine.” I exhaled, but knew I would’ve told her all about it anyway. “That means you have to tell me about your date with Jose.” “It wasn’t a date.” She blushed as a smile crept on her face. “We were just,” She began to tap her fingers against the desk. “getting coffee.” “Mhm.” I hummed knowing there was much more to the story than she was telling. “Then Dizzy and me were just hanging out.” I shrugged. “Fine.” She shook her head. “We’re sitting alone during lunch and swapping stories.” “Deal!” I accepted as Dizzy wandered back into the room. “Adam told her,” Dizzy groaned as he turned back towards me. “and about the note this morning.” “You’re in trouble.” I teased, flashing him a grin. Mrs. Mowry ignored our teasing and made a note before starting to ask other students. “You’re in trouble too.” Dizzy corrected, returning the smile. “She said they’re going to make Mason check in on the two of us tonight.” “Mason has work tonight.” I shrugged my shoulders. “They’re bluffing.” “Your Mom and Adam are a team now?” Ky asked, looking over at Dizzy. “Adam hired her as his assistant.” Dizzy explained. “So I guess so.” “You didn’t tell me that!” Charlotte exclaimed as she began to stare me down again. “You better have some story during lunch.” “Story about what?” Dizzy asked with a smirk. Before anyone could say anything else the class bell rang. “Alright everyone, have a great start to your week!” Mrs. Mowry dismissed as students began to head to their first period classes. “I better get to class and see what work I missed on Friday.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Come on Charlotte, we’ll catch up on things as we go.” “Fine.” Dizzy rolled his eyes as we headed towards the door. “Wait!” He called out. “We have first period together!” He caught on but by then me and Charlotte had already disappeared into the crowd. We spent the rest of the day gossiping as much as we could. I told her all about the trip to Texas, while she told me about her date with Jose. By the sound of it, it went really well! They even had a second date over the weekend! I have to admit, at first, I wasn’t sure they would be a great match, but I guess Jose has a soft side for art! Who would’ve guessed? -- -- When school ended, Dizzy and I headed back to my house to find Adam patiently waiting there. “You boys get my note?” He asked as we dropped our backpacks by the door. “I can’t read your handwriting.” Dizzy lied with a shrug. “We got the note.” I answered, shooting Dizzy a serious look. “Sorry Adam,” I quickly spoke. “we won’t let it happen again.” “Sorry.” Dizzy agreed as he finally grew serious. “It was my fault, I talked Artie into it.” He lied once more, trying to take most of the blame. “I don’t care who’s fault it was, I can’t have you sneaking in here without me knowing.” Adam warned in a strict voice. “What if your Mom woke up looking for you? What if she called me asking where you were?” Adam lectured, trying to drive his point home. “Yeah.” Dizzy accepted with a nod. “We screwed up.” “But you knew right?” I asked, as I drew Adam’s gaze. “This time.” Adam nodded. “Who knows how many times you two have done that before.” “Yeah, but this time you knew and didn’t say anything.” I analyzed. “You easily could’ve made him sleep on the couch.” “I was too tired to get up.” He lied as he looked back towards the T.V. “Yesterday was a long day.” “Mhm.” Dizzy hummed, growing as skeptical as me. We both kept our eyes on him until finally he let out a deep sigh. “I just understood, alright?” He finally spoke. “You guys wanted to be close after everything, and this time I let it slide.” He clarified, looking back at me. “But it’s not happening again, and I mean that.” “I understand.” I quickly replied. “Thank you Adam.” “Thank you Adam.” Dizzy repeated with another grin. “Besides,” He stood up. “Dizzy’s going to be in enough trouble tonight when his teachers talk to his Mom.” “Crap.” Dizzy groaned as he leaned back in his seat. “Can I sleep here?” “She already told me to send you home if you try.” Adam shrugged his shoulders as he headed towards the stairs. “Don’t worry, I’ll order you a pizza for your last supper.” “That’s not funny!” Dizzy pouted as he sank even further in his seat. “How did you know about parent-teacher night anyway?” I asked, remembering my question from before. “I get the school emails, duh.” He teased. “I’m also all hooked up with your classes, so I can see your grades whenever I want.” “What?!” I exclaimed as I quickly looked at Dizzy. “That’s a thing?!” “Don’t they have that everywhere?” Dizzy asked, before quickly remember where I grew up. “Oh yeah, that’s a thing.” “I haven’t checked yet, so calm down.” Adam dismissed. “But we’re going over your grades tonight anyway.” He shrugged before quickly disappearing up the stairs. “Guess that pizza is both our last supper.” I muttered, joining Dizzy, lounging on the couch. “Why? An A minus got you down?” He teased as he began to lay against me. “I have a C in computer science.” I mumbled as I crossed my arms. “I pretty much do your homework for you.” Dizzy let out as he shot me a cautious look. “How do you have a C?” “I keep bombing her stupid tests.” I complained in a sigh. “Eh.” He swayed his head. “It’s still just Adam. You think he knows anything about computer science?” “He still might be mad.” I argued as our eyes connected. “Oh no, he might be mad.” Dizzy said, making sure to emphasize the uncertainty. “Plus, either way, we get the house alone to ourselves for a few hours.” “Worth it.” I cheered, drawing an immediate laugh from Dizzy. When Adam came back down the stairs he was dressed up as nicely as he could manage. He gave me and Dizzy one last lecture before warning us that Mason was stopping by to check on us and off he went. To no one’s surprise, Mason never stopped by and me and Dizzy made sure to enjoy our night alone together. “How do you even fight a dragon?” Dizzy asked as we laid back on the couch watching T.V. “I would just run.” “I don’t think you can outrun a dragon.” I skeptically replied, but before I could say anything else the front door began to open. “Here we go.” I heard Dizzy exhale as Adam and Colleen walked through the front door. “Ryan Dizzy Armstrong,” Colleen immediately began. “get your stuff, because you have a lot of explaining to do.” She boomed, shooting Dizzy such an intense look I thought the eyes would pop out of her head. “And did you apologize to Adam for last night?” “I did.” He answered but as he walked past her, still received a swat on the head. “Sorry Adam.” He forced out again. “You’ve got some explaining to do too.” Adam warned as he looked over at me. Dizzy made a face at me, but received another light swat from his Mom. “Your stupidity is spreading to him, and now you’re both knuckleheads.” She lectured as she turned back to me. “Congratulations on winning your case by the way.” “Thank you?” I forced out, unsure how to answer. “Go say goodbye.” Colleen ordered Dizzy as he walked over and landed a quick kiss on my lips. “If they find me dead tomorrow, it was my mom.” He whispered as I had to bite my lip to hold back from laughing. “Bye Adam.” Dizzy sighed. “Come on Dizzy, move your feet.” Colleen scolded as she saw how slowly Dizzy was walking. “Even now you’re acting like a fool.” She began to yell at him. “Honestly, do you not know how to act in school? Should I send you back to preschool?” She asked, as she led him out the door. “I mean, dancing whenever the teacher turns his back to the class, are you five?” She continued as she shut the door behind them. I went to laugh but quickly caught myself as I saw the look Adam was giving me. “I know I have a C in computer science, but it’s really hard for me.” I began to explain. “It’s not about that.” Adam dismissed as he took a seat on the couch. “I mean, I wish you were doing better than that, but you have A’s in everything else, and I’m pretty sure you just found out computer science is a subject last month.” He analyzed as I nodded my head. “So what’d I do?” I forced out in a nervous voice. “Almost every teacher said you talk too much.” Adam exhaled. “First teacher blamed it on Dizzy distracting you, second teacher said you and charlotte talk all class, third teacher brought up Dizzy again, fourth teacher said it was Dizzy and Charlotte,” Adam hesitated as he looked into my eyes. “you understand what I’m saying?” “Yeah.” I forced out as I thought it over. “I get it.” I accepted in a sigh. I’ve never had teachers say anything bad about me before! Hell, they usually talk about how mature I am! But now I guess things are changing, I guess I’m not exactly the same student I used to be. “Are you sure you get it?” Adam asked, as he began to scold me in a strict voice. “Because I’m not going to screw you up. Sadie told me about the type of dedication you had in Texas.” Adam continued to lecture. “Now you get here and what? You can start goofing off? How long until that starts affecting your grades?” “I don’t know.” I forced out, caught off-guard by how strict he was acting. “Well you better figure it out.” He warned in a loud voice. “Now that my custody is protected by the court, things are going to start changing around here.” He said as my heart begin to beat faster. “I won’t be the fun Uncle who just lets you do whatever the hell you please. So here’s your god damn wakeup call!” I nodded my head as I began to nervously tap my foot against the ground. “I’m sorry Adam, I, I’ll stay focused in class again,” I began, but before I could say anything Adam’s serious face began to crack. “What’s going on?” I asked as he began to laugh. “You should’ve seen your face!” Adam exclaimed through his laughter. “I got you so good!” “What?” I let out, as I tried my hardest to calm back down. “That’s what you get for goofing around in school!” He shouted, proud of the act he had put on. “So things aren’t changing?” I asked, still not quite understanding what was happening. “I mean, I guess a little,” He shrugged his shoulders. “but overall I’m pretty happy with what I heard. You have good grades, and you’re fitting in well. You just need to stop talking all class.” “So I’m not in trouble?” I had to ask once more. “Nope.” Adam rejected as he sat back in his seat. “Mason’s coming over to watch a movie if you want to stay up.” “You’re so mean!” I shouted as I nearly jumped out of my seat. “Do you have any idea how bad you scared me!” “Good.” Adam began to laugh once more. “You deserved it!” I rolled my eyes and let out another sigh as my heart rate began to return to normal again. “I’m going to bet Dizzy isn’t this lucky?” “Each teacher spoke to his mom twice as long as they spoke to me.” Adam shook his head. “I actually think she might kill him.” “I guess I wouldn’t blame her.” I teased as I thought about just how much trouble I’ve seen Dizzy start, and I’ve only been here two months! “You were scared of me.” Adam happily bragged as he turned back on the T.V. “Shut up.” I rejected as more laughter escaped his lips. “You’re a good kid Artie,” Adam finally grew serious. “I’m proud of everything I heard tonight.” “You’re serious this time?” I asked as he nodded his head. “Well aside from tonight, you’ve been a great Uncle.” “Oh please.” Adam dismissed as he waived his hand. “You could use a little tough love in your life.” “Sure.” I sarcastically agreed as I let him focus in on whatever show he wanted to watch. I can’t believe I actually fell for that! Adam suddenly getting strict with me? There’s no way that happens! I don’t even think he would know how to do it! I just hope Dizzy’s okay! By the sound of it, Colleen was not letting him off easy tonight! Then again, he’s made it this far without changing, I don’t know if there’s any punishment that could calm Dizzy Armstrong down!
  25. Aceinthehole

    Second Chance

    Thank you! I was worried the length of the chapter would throw it off, but I'm glad it worked out!
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