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Embracing the Tension - 6. Chapter 6

Warning: This chapter may contain sexually explicit content. Reader discretion is advised.

"I can’t believe we’re doing this.” Erik shook his head as they walked through the roped off lanes that led onto the massive ferry.

“Why?”

“Because… I don’t know.”

Ryan chuckled, then gave his signature grin and shrug. “I like it. It’s one of my favorite things to do in New York.”

“Really?” Erik said, as they climbed the steps to the third level of the giant boat. “Of all the things to do in New York, riding the Staten Island ferry is one of your favorite?”

“Yeah. It’s the best way to see the Statue of Liberty.”

“I never would have thought that you’d like the Statue of Liberty so much.”

“It’s not just the statue, there’s also a nice view of Manhattan on the way back.

“Sure, but it’s all very touristy, don’t you know?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” Erik said. “Just unexpected.”

Ryan grinned at him and led them to the outdoor viewing deck. They claimed an empty spot on the railing.

“Are you sure you want to stand outside?” Erik asked.

“Yeah, you can see everything better.”

“It’s also colder.”

“Aw, are you cold?” Ryan bumped him on the shoulder, and Erik couldn’t help but grin at the touch.

“Don’t bring your Canadian standard of cold down here.” Erik bumped Ryan back.

“Wimp.” There was no sting in Ryan’s voice. Especially when he wrapped an arm around Erik’s shoulder and tugged. Erik let himself be pulled close so that his back pressed against Ryan’s chest and Ryan’s chin rested on his shoulder. When he turned his head, he could rub cheeks with Ryan, and that beautifully lush beard tickled his skin.

“Better.”

Ryan responded with squeeze and a sigh.

They leaned against the railing as the ferry moved away from Manhattan, the mid-morning sun glittering off the water. As the ferry picked up speed, the wind blew colder, and Erik snuggled more deeply into Ryan’s arms, leaning his temple against the warmth of Ryan’s beard.

He didn’t remember the last time he’d taken the Staten Island ferry—might have been during the first months he’d been in New York. As much as he teased Ryan for wanting to do something so touristy, he had to admit that it was nice, simple and carefree.

That’s it. That’s what he felt when he was around Ryan: carefree. He didn’t need to be the life of the party, didn’t need to be funny or charismatic or entertaining or any of the million other things people always expected him to be. With Ryan, he could just stand in silence and notice such things as the warmth of Ryan’s body against his and the chilly bite of the wind against his cheeks.

With Ryan, he could just be. Just Erik. Not Erik, the good son, the good student, the successful film producer, the famous porn star. With Ryan, being himself was good enough.

That realization was more than a little terrifying. His heart beat heavily against the inside of his chest, dangerously close to where Ryan’s hand lay flat against his body. Erik was sure Ryan could feel it, but the only response Ryan gave was a quick squeeze of his arms pulling them even closer still.

Erik wasn’t sure he wanted to be himself. He’d spent his whole life trying to be something more than just himself. Leaving Salt Lake City, choosing a career in film, doing porn; he liked the Erik who did all those things; that Erik was ambitious, driven, accomplished, at the top of his game and climbing. Who would want to be the Erik who was just a gay boy from Utah? There was nothing interesting or special about that guy.

And yet, with Ryan, Erik’s bigger-than-life personas were met with a lopsided grin and a shrug. Ryan’s quiet reserve had no use for anything other than plain authenticity, and Erik found himself drawn to a place where he couldn’t put on those masks anymore. Ryan brought him to a place where, whether he liked it or not, he was just Erik Fischer, gay boy from Utah.

Erik turned around in Ryan’s arms, leaned back against the railing and wrapped his arms around Ryan’s waist, pulling the other man between his legs. He leaned his forehead against Ryan’s shoulder and then nuzzled into that spot right at the crook of Ryan’s neck. Spicy, earthy sandalwood filled Erik’s nose.

He couldn’t help a quick glance around to see if there were cameras nearby, recording their little moment. A few passengers stood huddled together farther down the railing, but no camera. He pushed the thought out of his head.

“You okay?” The vibration from Ryan’s voice reverberated against Erik’s cheek.

Was he okay? He couldn’t say what exactly was wrong, but things in his life hadn’t felt right in a long time. At least, they didn’t feel right when compared to moments like this.

Erik nodded in the small space between Ryan’s neck and shoulder. Whatever was wrong with him, he’d shake off like he’d always had. Gay boy from Utah, he may be, but that wasn’t the only thing he was now.

“You’re missing the Statue.”

Erik shrugged. “I’ve seen it before.”

Ryan gave him a quick squeeze, and Erik let himself relax into their embrace. By the time Erik extracted himself from Ryan’s embrace, the ferry was already pulling into St. George Terminal on Staten Island.

Erik blinked at the bright sun, and Ryan gave him a lopsided grin but didn’t say anything. And there it was again, the space Ryan created where Erik could just be.

“So, is there anything to do on Staten Island?” Erik asked as they headed toward the exit.

“I don’t know, actually,” Ryan responded. “I’ve never bothered to check.”

They entered the terminal, and sitting in the waiting area, in the middle of rows of seats, was a large fish tank, full of colorful rocks and corals and fish.

“Hey, look at this.” Erik headed over and looked in on the marine life encased behind glass. “Doesn’t this remind you of our aquarium trip?” he asked when Ryan joined him.

“Yeah, not quite as big, though.”

Erik scoffed. “Obviously, but…” That day had been special to Erik, but saying that out loud felt silly.

“You know,” Ryan filled in the silence, “Chloe still drags that magenta jellyfish around everywhere. She even sleeps with that thing. Rachel and Tom keep telling her she’s getting too old to sleep with toys, but she insists.”

Erik smiled at the thought of the little girl clutching her stuffed toy. He kind of wished he also had a magenta jellyfish he could fall asleep with. It would remind him of Ryan on all those nights they spent apart. He took a step back from the glass, slightly startled at how badly he wanted that toy now.

“Cute.” The word came out a little more dismissively than he had intended, and it got him a raised eyebrow from Ryan. He tried to smile to soften the tone, but that felt a little forced, too. God, he was a mess.

“So, it looks like the next ferry is in twenty minutes.” Erik changed the topic. “Let’s wander around a bit and then come back?”

“Yeah, sure.” Ryan agreed easily, and Erik left it at that.

There was a footpath that led from St. George Terminal along the waterfront past the Staten Island Yankee stadium. They followed the path, enjoying the bright autumn sun, the little strip of grass, and the breeze blowing off the water. Off in the distance was the Manhattan skyline, a little too far to really enjoy but standing tall all the same.

“Feels like a different world out here,” Erik said, turning his face toward the sun.

“It is a different world out here.”

“Funny.” Erik bumped shoulders with Ryan. “But so close to the city. It’s hard to believe that we’re only a twenty-minute ferry ride away.”

“You know, Manhattan is really its own microcosm. There’s a whole other world outside of that little island.”

There was something in Ryan’s tone of voice that Erik didn’t quite understand. He pirouetted on one foot and walked backwards, facing Ryan. “What are you trying to say?”

Ryan shrugged noncommittally. “Nothing. Just that there’s a world outside of Manhattan.”

“And?”

“And… it’s possible to have a life outside of Manhattan.”

Erik narrowed his eyes at Ryan. “I know that.”

“Yeah, I know you know that.” Ryan shrugged and wouldn’t meet his gaze. “But a lot of other people in New York don’t know that.”

“How long did you live here?” Erik asked, pirouetting again so that he faced forward.

“Um… eight years?”

“That’s a long time. Longer than most people who come to New York for school.”

“I only lasted that long because of my… career change,” Ryan said with a smile. “How about you? How long has it been?”

“Six years now.”

“That’s a pretty long time, too.”

“Yeah.” Erik shrugged.

“And you never get tired of it?”

Erik thought about his answer before speaking. “I mean, I get tired. Everyone gets tired. But tired enough to… what? Leave?” Erik shrugged. “And go where?”

“Anywhere,” Ryan replied. “Like we just agreed. There’s a whole world outside of New York.”

“Yeah, but… come on.” Erik raised his eyebrows and sent Ryan the look he used when he was humoring one of his nieces or nephews.

Ryan rolled his eyes and shook his head but didn’t try to convince Erik otherwise, and Erik didn’t try to continue with the topic.

Ahead of them was a white sculpture that rose from a small concrete courtyard. As they got closer, Erik realized it was actually two white sculptures, shaped almost like the wings of a bird, extending up into the sky with the tips curving outwards. They looked familiar to Erik, and it took a minute for him to remember where he’d seen them before.

“This thing is called Postcards,” Erik said. “It’s a 9/11 memorial to victims from Staten Island.”

“Oh, wow. I didn’t realize they had this.”

They walked around the sculpture and then in between the two wings. There, on each side, were plaque memorials bearing the names of the victims, their job titles, and their dates of birth. Each plaque was itself a little sculpture of the victim, his or her profile in silhouette, all facing across the water toward Ground Zero, where they lost their lives.

As they walked in between the two wings, Erik read the names etched in stone. Many of the people had been emergency workers, police and firefighters; others had worked in one of the towers, many from the same few companies. All of these people had gone to work that day as if it were any other day, perhaps expecting to be home in time for dinner with their family. But none of them got to do that.

Life is short. It might be a cliché, but it was true, and the thought rang loudly in Erik’s mind. Life was much too short to hold a grudge against family members; it was too short to push away people he loved.

Erik emerged from the sculpture and stood by the railing overlooking the water. The saltiness of the water wafted up to greet him. It was Thanksgiving today, and his family would be gathering in his parents’ house, the women cooking in the kitchen while the men watched football in the living room. The kids would be in the den, playing and making a racket. And he was on the other side of the country.

“Hey, you okay?”

Erik felt Ryan’s hand on his shoulder, the warmth of Ryan’s body pressed against his arm. He turned his face in the other direction, clenching his teeth and gripping the railing tightly until the vice around his chest eased.

“Yeah.” Erik tried to sound perky. “I’m fine.” He probably sounded too perky.

Ryan didn’t move away but didn’t say anything, either. He just squeezed Erik’s shoulder and waited until Erik was ready to go.

They walked back to the terminal in silence and caught the next ferry back to the city. Erik led the way again to the outdoor deck on the third level. He needed the wide-open space. Ryan didn’t say a word and simply took up the spot next to Erik and gave him room.

They stood in silence as the ferry pulled away from the terminal, and the gleaming Manhattan skyline gradually grew larger. The sun glinted off the shiny glass buildings, and the Freedom Tower soared above it all.

“Would you ever move back?” Erik asked quietly. He was pretty sure what the answer was—not the one he wanted—but he asked anyway.

“Probably not,” Ryan answered.

“Why not?”

Ryan sighed. “Because I don’t have a death wish?”

“Seriously? After we just saw the memorial?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” Ryan shifted so that he leaned his hip against the railing and faced Erik. “I won’t rule out ever moving back because I can’t see the future, so who knows. But I can’t see myself coming back here. Living in New York is about being the best, and I’m okay with not being the best.”

“What? Why wouldn’t you want to be the best?” Erik shifted to face Ryan, who looked much too nonchalant for someone who just admitted he didn’t want to be the best.

“Because, I don’t. What’s so good about being the best? I mean, I want to be good at what I do, but I don’t need to be the best.”

“It’s good because it’s the best. That’s the definition.”

Ryan threw him a skeptical look that Erik wasn’t quite sure how to interpret. It was half “I don’t believe you” and half “You’re so full of shit.”

“Look.” Ryan shrugged. “When I was in New York, it felt like a daily battle to prove to other people that I was worthy of the city. I’m just not interested in playing that game anymore.”

Erik wanted to deny it, the words were right on the tip of his tongue, but he gave himself a second longer to consider what Ryan had said. It did feel like a daily battle to prove that he belonged. Whether it was to prove to others or to himself that he was good enough to make it, Erik wasn’t sure. But there was truth in those words, and Erik was smart enough to let it stand.

###

The phone rang so many times that Erik thought it would go unanswered. Right before it would have gone to the answering machine, someone picked up.

“Hello?” It was a young woman’s voice, breathless and giggly. In the background were a dozen voices and the banging of pots and pans in the kitchen.

“Suzie?” Erik said, pretty sure it was his youngest sister on the other end of the line.

A pause, and then, “Erik?” His name was spoken in a hushed tone. Then there was a bit of shuffling, and the din of the kitchen faded into the background.

“Yeah, hi. It’s me.”

“Oh, my god, Erik,” Suzie said. “I can’t believe you called.”

“Oh, um… yeah. I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.” Erik was glad Suzie couldn’t see him pacing back and forth in front of his bedroom window, running his free hand through his hair or across his face. Why was she surprised that he called? Was it so far-fetched that he would want to speak with his family on the holiday?

“Oh, yeah, of course. Yes. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.”

“How have you been doing?” Erik asked. “How’s school?” As the youngest in the family, Suzie was still in college and exposed to more liberal thoughts than was usually touted at home. Of all his siblings, Suzie was a little friendlier toward Erik. He was glad she was the one who picked up the phone.

“School’s good.” Suzie sighed. “We’re doing a lot more training in the hospital now, learning from real nurses and all that. It’s a little scary to be working with patients, but I’ve been enjoying it.”

“That’s great to hear!” Erik smiled at the thought of Suzie working as a nurse. Those patients had no idea what they were in for. “And your dancing?” She was part of her school’s ballroom dancing team.

“Pretty good. We came in second at Regionals. We were hoping for first, but we gave it our all, and so we’re happy with it.” She paused. “So, um, how are you?”

“Good. Fine. You know, just work.”

“Right.” Another pause. “Remind me what you’re doing again?”

Erik scrunched up his face. Fuck. His family had never had to ask him that before. They’d always been up to speed on what he was doing, at least the more PG-13 stuff. “I’m a film producer now.”

“Oh. Right.”

He only realized how that must have sounded after the words left his mouth. “No, I mean. Like, real films. Not… I produce normal films. The last one was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.”

Fuck. Please don’t ask what it was about…

“Right.” Suzie didn’t really sound convinced.

“So, listen.” Erik jumped in before they could continue down that topic. “Are Mom and Dad around? I wanted to say hi.”

“Um…”

Erik hated the uncertainty he heard in Suzie’s voice. Please, please, please. Just let me talk to them. I just want to talk to them for a minute.

She sighed heavily into the phone. “Hold on.”

There was a muffled sound as Suzie’s hand brushed against the phone’s mouth piece. The longer the silence dragged on, the faster Erik’s heart beat until he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He pulled on his hair and forced himself to take a deep breath—no point in passing out now.

Suzie’s hand must have slipped from the mouthpiece because Erik could hear the hushed conversation taking place on the other end.

“Mom! He’s waiting on the phone! You have to talk to him.”

“Suzie, it’s— but— I can’t.” She was doing that blubbering thing she did when being asked to do something she really didn’t want to do. Erik’s heart was in his throat, blocking off his airway, and his lungs burned with the lack of oxygen.

“Mom! You can’t just not talk to him.”

“Suzie! I don’t like your tone.”

Erik leaned heavily against the wall and let his legs give way under him as he slid to the floor. His mother was more concerned about his sister’s tone of voice than speaking to him.

“Mom!” A pause from Suzie. “Mom!”

She must have walked away.

Erik squeezed his eyes shut and fought back the stinging behind his lids. Why had he thought this would be a good idea? He almost hung up when he heard a shuffling sound as the phone was handed off to someone else.

“Hello? Erik?” It was Dean.

“Hey.” Erik cleared his throat. “Hi, Dean.”

Dean sighed heavily into the phone. “Look, I’m sorry, but… it’s probably not a good idea to talk to Mom or Dad right now.”

Erik took a shaky breath. Just hold it together for the rest of the call, just a couple more minutes. “Mmhmm.” He didn’t quite trust himself to speak.

“You’re doing okay?”

At least the question sounded genuine.

“Yeah.” Erik took another gulp of air and cleared his throat again. “I’m good. I’m doing well. Yeah. Thanks for asking. And you guys? How’s everyone doing at home?” He hated how high his voice went when he tried to sound cheerful.

“Yeah, we’re good. Um, the kids have been asking about you.”

Erik bit back a sob. “Can you tell them I love them?” He managed to squeak out.

“Yeah, I will.”

There was still so much more that Erik wanted to say, so much that he wished they knew about him. But what use was it now? What could he say now to get them to listen, to get them to understand that he was the same person they’d always known? What could he say to convince them to let him back in?

“I… I should go.” Dean sounded resigned, and Erik thought he heard a tinge of regret.

“Yeah.” Another deep breath. “Yeah, okay. Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.”

As the line went dead, Erik gripped the phone tightly in his hand, and despite telling himself not to, he threw the damn thing across the room. It hit the opposite wall with crack and tumbled to the floor.

He couldn’t hold it in any longer. The sobs ripped out from him like some alien species clawing to get out. Why? Why were they such homophobic, ignorant, fucking assholes? Why was his family a bunch of hateful, narrow-minded fuckers who couldn’t see past their bigotry and just love their son because he was their fucking son?

Erik fell over sideways as if his body didn’t have enough strength to even sit upright. With his face pressed against the floor, he cried, his tears forming little puddles on the cool wood. God, he wanted to punch something. He wanted to punch something so badly that his fingers itched. He banged the floor with his fist and felt the reverberations through his knuckles and wrist. The pain felt good; it felt better than the fucking mess of his heart.

So, he did it again. And again and again until he felt someone else’s hand close over his own.

Ryan didn’t say anything. He just sat on the floor and pulled Erik into his lap, holding Erik’s hand so he couldn’t keep punching the floor.

Erik wrapped his arms around Ryan’s waist and buried his face into the warm solid muscles of Ryan’s stomach. He clung to Ryan because there was nothing else to cling to, no one else he could call family, no one he belonged to. He only had Ryan now, and he wasn’t about to let go.

They sat like that on the floor until Erik ran out of tears. Slowly, his brain registered the feeling of fingers running through his hair, massaging his scalp, a warm hand rubbing circles across his back, and soft kisses pressed against the back of his neck. Ryan holding him. Ryan being there for him. Ryan accepting him when his own family couldn’t.

Slowly, Erik pushed himself to sitting, pulled his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his shins. Ryan still sat close, close enough that their shoulders touched, but he didn’t say anything.

“Sorry about that.” The sobbing had made Erik’s voice hoarse.

“I’m sorry about the phone call.”

Erik shrugged, but stared resolutely at his broken phone still lying across the room.

“Listen, we don’t have to go to your friend’s for Thanksgiving tonight. Why don’t we just stay here?” Ryan spoke softly, and Erik knew he was trying to give Erik an out.

But goddammit if he was going to let his family ruin Thanksgiving for him. He shook his head. “No, let’s go,” he said, though his voice still sounded shaky.

“Erik—”

“No, I want to go,” he said with more conviction this time. “Let’s go.”

Using the wall behind him, Erik pushed himself up until he was standing and went to grab his phone from the floor. The screen was badly cracked, but when he pressed the home button, it still came sputtering to life. He tossed it onto the bed.

“I’m going to take a shower, and then I’ll be good,” he announced to Ryan, sounding more confident than he felt. He didn’t bother looking at Ryan; he couldn’t quite bring himself to see the look of pity he was sure he’d find. So, he went straight for the bathroom and the hot shower it held.

###

Ryan had serious doubts about this, but once Erik had come out of that shower, there had been no stopping him. Despite Ryan’s numerous attempts to get Erik to stop and talk and work out what had happened, Erik had brushed him off, determined to get to that Friendsgiving dinner and have the time of his life.

He couldn’t quite wait to get started, apparently, if the two beers he drank in the twenty minutes it took them to get out of the door were any indication. And since they’d arrived at Melissa’s and Aubry’s apartment forty-five minutes earlier, Erik had polished off two more and was halfway through a third.

It was a good thing they brought their own supply, otherwise it would a dry party after Erik worked through the alcohol stash.

There were eight of them around the table: Ryan and Erik; Melissa and her girlfriend, Robin; Aubry and a few mutual friends, Kim, Stanley and Arlene. Stanley and Arlene were a couple from Hong Kong, and though they’d lived in New York for a couple of years, they were still new to the whole Thanksgiving tradition. Erik had taken it upon himself to educate them, which Arlene found hilarious, but Stanley looked less than thrilled.

Erik went on and on about how Thanksgiving was supposed to be about giving thanks and appreciating family and friends. But the truth of Thanksgiving was that it celebrated the arrival of Europeans to North America and how they proceeded to rape, pillage, and destroy the Native Americans. So yeah, they gave thanks, they were thankful for being on the winning side of history.

Ryan tried to cut Erik off after that, especially when he caught the worried looks from Melissa and Aubry. But Erik was more tenacious than anyone gave him credit for, and he somehow managed to always have a bottle or glass of some sort of alcohol in his hand. By the time they started eating, Erik was halfway to pissed drunk.

“So, why turkeys? I never understood, why turkeys?” Arlene asked as she sliced away at her piece of turkey.

“That’s a really good question,” Erik said, waving his fork in the air. “Actually… I don’t know. Do you?” He looked at Ryan, eyebrow raised, eyes blurry with drink.

“No, I don’t.” Ryan wished he could have sent telepathic messages to tell Erik to just shut up and eat.

“Anyone?” Erik looked around the group, but no one seemed to have a definitive answer.

“Probably because there were a lot of turkeys around at the time,” Aubry offered.

“Well, we need to get to the bottom of this.” Erik dropped his cutlery on the table with a bit of a clang and started frantically looking for his phone. It wasn’t in his jeans pockets, and he ended up having to go find it in his jacket.

While he was away from the table, Melissa leaned over and whispered, “Is he okay? He doesn’t usually drink this fast.”

Ryan sighed and threw a glance over his shoulder at where Erik was fumbling through his jacket pockets, looking for his phone. “It’s not really my place to say. But I think it’s best if I get him home sooner rather than later.”

Melissa nodded just as Erik came back to the table.

“Found it!” Settling into his seat, Erik occupied himself with finding the answer to Arlene’s question while the rest of the party continued.

Ryan had to admit that Aubry and Melissa had put together a nice spread. Not only had they roasted an entire turkey in their small New York oven, but there was homemade cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, green-bean casserole, a potato-and-cauliflower salad, and a delicious herby stuffing.

Ryan tried to enjoy the meal; he really did. The food was great, the company was friendly, but Ryan couldn’t shake the tension that ran through his limbs.

“Hate to break it to you guys,” Erik spoke up again, dropping his phone onto the table with a thud. “No one knows why we eat turkey.”

“Really?” Arlene actually sounded disappointed.

“Nope! There is no reason why we eat turkey! No reason at all!” Erik gave the table a thump that landed a little too heavily, and nearly everyone jumped.

This was going from bad to worse, and short of just dragging Erik out of there, Ryan had no idea how to stop it. Cringing, Ryan sneaked a hand over the table and squeezed Erik’s thigh, trying to get his attention. When Erik turned to him with a silly, stupid, drunken smile on his face, Ryan thought maybe he could talk Erik into dialing it back. But then Erik reached down and gave his hand a return squeeze before continuing full speed ahead.

Ryan bit back a groan and squeezed Erik’s thigh harder. It only earned him a pat on the hand; Erik didn’t even look in his direction this time. And Arlene wasn’t helping. Apparently, she could hold her own in a drinking contest and was full of unending questions about the early history of the Americas.

Just then, Erik burst out laughing. It was a loud, booming laugh, that startled Ryan with its suddenness. It was a body-shaking laugh, that had Erik’s head thrown back and eyes squeezed shut, and when he settled back down there were some tears glistening on his lashes. Everyone stared at Erik with bemused smiles, but Ryan wondered whether there was more to it than some funny comment someone had made.

He caught Melissa’s eye and whispered a quick “sorry” in her direction. She smiled in return, but the smile looked strained to Ryan.

“So, are people ready for dessert?” Melissa announced a little too cheerfully as she started clearing the table.

“Let me help.” Ryan stood and followed Melissa into the kitchen.

“Seriously, Ryan? What’s going on?” Melissa asked when they were clear of the others. “He’s not usually this bad.”

“Yeah, I think the only other time I’ve seen him drink like this was…” Aubry had followed them into the kitchen. “Oh, um…”

Ryan raised an eyebrow and waited for her to finish.

“Um…” Aubry shrugged and waved her hand as if it were nothing. “I think someone he liked at the time moved away. It was a long time ago. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong. Anyway, is he okay?”

Ryan’s curiosity was piqued at Aubry’s statements, but they were both waiting for him to explain Erik’s behavior. At least, they sounded more worried than pissed off. He had no idea how much these girls knew about Erik’s situation, and the last thing he wanted to do was share too much. “Yeah, at least, he will be. It’s just that… something happened today, that’s all.”

“Was it bad?” Melissa asked.

“Um, kind of.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Aubry chimed in.

Ryan shook his head, glad that Erik had such caring friends. “No, I don’t think so. But thanks for asking. I’m sure he appreciates that.”

“Where would you like this?” Kim had brought over the remaining dishes, and Melissa cleared some counter space for her. “They’re getting impatient for dessert,” Kim added with a teasing smile.

“Coming right up!” Aubry reached into the oven and the kitchen filled with the scent of pumpkin pie.

They made it through dessert with only the smallest of hiccups as Erik’s loudness devolved into giggles. He couldn’t stop giggling and at one point almost snorted wine through his nose. The rest of the party joined Erik in laughing, but Ryan was fairly certain they were laughing at him rather than with him. He had to admit, it was pretty funny, and he much preferred giggly Erik over loud Erik.

The wine-snorting incident was Ryan’s sign that it was finally late enough for him to drag Erik home. He was worried Erik would put up more of a fight, especially once it became obvious that no one else was leaving. But to his surprise, Erik stood up from the table, albeit leaning heavily on Ryan, and waved goodbye at everyone.

At the door, he gave both Melissa and Aubry slightly overzealous hugs and thanked them for dinner with a fit of giggles before draping himself all over Ryan. That was how Ryan ended up half-carrying Erik out to the curb while trying to fend off sloppy kisses. Apparently, after giggling Erik came horny Erik.

In a cab, Erik scooted to the far side of the seat and lay down so his head rested on Ryan’s lap. Ryan let his fingers run through Erik’s thick black hair; he could never resist the soft, silky locks whenever they were within reach. Ryan laid his head back against the seat to gaze out the window, and Erik’s breathing fell into a steady rhythm.

All in all, Friendsgiving dinner hadn’t been a total disaster. Sure, Erik had made a fool of himself, but no one seemed particularly offended by it. Now, Ryan just had to figure out what to do about that phone call. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on Erik’s call to his family; he’d been the one to suggest Erik make it in the bedroom. But the walls in the apartment were thin, it was hard to ignore the strangled sounds that filtered through, and impossible to pretend that Erik hadn’t been sobbing while banging on the floor.

Ryan had no words that would make the situation any better, so he didn’t try to use any tired clichés. But he still didn’t like the helpless position that left him in. What he wouldn’t give to take away Erik’s hurt and replace it with love.

Erik stirred in his lap, and Ryan brushed his fingers through the thick hair, hoping to get him to fall back asleep. He kept stirring, though, and after a moment, Ryan had the distinct feeling that Erik was purposefully rubbing his cheek against Ryan’s dick.

Ryan tensed as he realized what Erik was doing. He bit back a curse when Erik turned his head, and he suddenly felt the wet heat of Erik’s mouth seep through his jeans. Fuck. He did not want to be doing this in the back of a cab; he did not want to be doing this when Erik was so obviously pissed drunk and hurting.

He tried pushing Erik away, but the other man was determined. Squirming in his seat, Ryan gripped Erik’s hair and tugged, but that only earned him a groan that reverberated through his clothing and sent shivers up his spine. “Erik,” Ryan said through clenched teeth. “Stop it.”

The cabbie glanced back through the rearview mirror, and Ryan gave him a tight smile. Nothing to see here, he tried to say with his eyes.

Soon a hand joined Erik’s mouth, reaching down between Ryan’s thighs to cup his balls and press against his crack. Ryan squirmed in his seat and clamped a hand around Erik’s wrist, trying to dislodge those exploring fingers, but Erik was wedged in there. It seemed like the more Ryan tried to push Erik away, the more he determined he was in his attack.

“Fuck, Erik.” Ryan’s cock was soft and all the Thanksgiving food churned unsettlingly in his stomach. “Stop it, Erik, please.”

The cab couldn’t have arrived a minute too soon. As the car rolled to a stop, Erik finally let Ryan push him off his lap. But that didn’t stop Erik from kissing and licking at Ryan’s neck as he tried to pull out his wallet and pay. Getting out of the cab, Ryan had to catch Erik before he fell out on to the sidewalk.

“Erik, Jesus,” Ryan said as he hauled the bigger man upright.

“Mmm, Ryan, babe,” Erik mumbled, his arms wrapping themselves around Ryan as he burrowed his face into Ryan’s neck.

“Okay, come on, let’s get you inside.”

“Mmm…”

They half-walked, half-stumbled toward Erik’s building. Negotiating the stairs was almost impossible; it wasn’t wide enough for two fully grown men to climb at the same time. Ryan tried to push Erik ahead of him, but Erik refused to let him go.

“Come on, Erik. Upstairs. We’ve got to get upstairs.”

“Mmm… need you.”

Ryan sighed with exasperation. Drunk Erik was one thing, he could handle drunk Erik. But drunk and horny Erik was an entirely different matter and Ryan had zero interest in letting Erik use sex as a distraction.

“Upstairs,” Ryan bit out through clenched teeth.

He managed to turn them sideways as he went up first, and Erik followed a couple of steps behind. Thankfully, Erik only lived on the third floor, because there was no way they would have made it any higher, not with Erik palming Ryan’s dick, grabbing at his ass, and generally tugging at his clothes

At Erik’s door, Erik wrapped himself around Ryan from behind, one arm a vice around Ryan’s chest and the other hand stroking Ryan’s soft cock through his jeans. Erik’s own dick was hard; Ryan could feel it as Erik ground himself into his ass.

“Erik, stop.” Ryan spoke with the voice he sometimes used with Chloe when she was misbehaving. He pushed Erik away, putting a good foot or two between them.

Erik blinked at him, a stunned look on his face, and Ryan thought for a second that maybe he got through. But then Erik’s lip trembled, his breath hitched, and he seemed to close in on himself.

“You don’t want me.” Erik wrapped his arms around his middle until he was bent over at the waist, leaning against the wall. “You don’t want me. Just like they don’t want me. Nobody wants me.”

Shit. That was not what Ryan had intended and his heart cracked as Erik slid down the wall into a ball on the floor. He crouched down next to Erik and put his arm around the hurting man.

“I’m sorry, babe. Of course, I want you.” Ryan whispered in the space between Erik’s shoulder and his ear. “But you’re hurting and drunk. This isn’t the time to have sex.”

Erik didn’t respond at first, the hallway filled only with the sound of him sniffling. Then in a burst of energy, Erik shrugged Ryan off and shot to his feet.

“You don’t want me!” He fumbled with his keys and dropped them. Ryan scooped them up and held them hostage.

“I do.” Ryan held onto the back of Erik’s neck. “Never doubt that.”

Erik’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut but still tears dripped from his eyelashes and trailed down his cheeks. Ryan leaned in close and pressed his lips against those wet paths, hoping that Erik felt his sincerity. When he pulled away, he tasted the salty tears on his lips, but Erik still wouldn’t meet his gaze.

Ryan unlocked the door and Erik pushed past him the moment it was open. He made a beeline for the bedroom, dropping clothes as he shed them along the way. Ryan followed more slowly after he made sure the door was locked behind him. By the time he made it to the bedroom, all he saw was a shaking lump under the covers.

Tears rose in his own eyes. Life was so unfair, everyone knew that, but it didn’t make it any easier to live through. He searched his brain for something to say, tried to imagine what he would want to hear if he was in Erik’s position. Coming up with nothing only made the tears flow a little more freely.

Ryan stripped down to his boxers and slid under the covers. He didn’t touch Erik right away, not sure whether Erik wanted to be touched. Finally, he settled on a hand on Erik’s shoulder. When Erik didn’t shrug him off, Ryan tugged and pulled Erik into his arms, Erik’s head pillowed on his shoulder.

Erik’s arms snaked around his middle and one of Erik’s long legs settled across the top of his thighs. “Please, Ryan.” Erik’s voice was hoarse as he whispered into Ryan’s shoulder. His breath hot against Ryan’s skin as he pressed open mouthed kisses along Ryan’s collarbone.

With his free arm, Ryan wiped at the tears on his own cheeks. “Erik, please, don’t do this. I’m so sorry about everything. But having sex isn’t going to solve anything.”

“I know.” Erik shifted so more of his body covered Ryan’s.

Ryan was effectively pinned to the bed. He normally would have loved being in that position, but it felt wrong to taint their intimacy with sex as a means to an end.

“No, Erik.” Ryan tried to push him off, but Erik didn’t budge. “We can’t hide behind sex anymore. We left that life, remember?”

Erik froze in place, a stiff board where he had been pliant just second before. When he tried to pull away, Ryan tightened his arms and kept him in place.

“No, listen to me.” Ryan tilted his head toward so they were cheek to cheek. “You’re hurting. I know you are. It’s okay to hurt because your family has done a really shitty thing to you. And I know you just want to forget, but please don’t use sex as a distraction. Use anything else, just not sex.”

After a moment, Erik’s stiff limbs started trembling. He shifted to bury his face into the pillow under Ryan’s head and let out a muffled scream. The sound was wrenching, reaching into Ryan’s gut and squeezing until he felt physically sick. He moved until they switched positions: Erik face down in the pillow, Ryan against his back, holding him, kissing his shoulder. Erik screamed again and again, shaking as Ryan held him. The shoulder under Ryan’s lips were soon wet with Ryan’s tears.

They stayed that way for a long time, until Erik’s screams melted into hiccups and sobs. Eventually, his breathing evened out and his body loosened as sleep took him. But Ryan was still awake, rubbing lazy circles over Erik’s back.

Erik’s dark eyelashes were a contrast to his pale cheeks and even in sleep there was a crease in the middle of his forehead. Ryan ran the pad of his thumb over it a few times until the frown smoothed out. He looked so young like that, without the mask he wore to convince others he was some hotshot.

Everyone wore masks; Ryan had his own, too. But after weeks of peeling back the layers, Ryan was finally seeing the inner Erik who was eager and ambitious but a little insecure and uncertain. Ryan liked what he saw—a lot.

“Babe?” Ryan whispered softly. “Erik?”

No answer.

Ryan pressed a soft kiss against Erik’s temple. “I think I love you.”

Yikes, this chapter was almost too emotion even for me. I hope you survived it and apologies for any tears :( Thanks for reading!!!

Copyright © 2018 Hudson Bartholomew; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



:,( The only comfort in the end was Ryan insisting they would not have sex and Eric respecting his decision. Interesting that he didn't catch that Eric also used drinking to numb his pain after Ryan left. But alcohol is no solution either. :no: 

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I can't choose the love/sad emoticon at the same time but I feel both for this chapter.

Sometimes just being there is enough, as there aren't always words that can comfort someone's pain.  Good for Ryan keeping Erik from using sex as a panacea; I think that's a slippery path for either of them given their past.  I think Ryan allowed Erik the liquid comfort thinking that might be enough.

Ryan confessing his love was the "love" emoticon for this chapter (yes, confession-they've been in love with each other for three years now).

That was a huge move for Ryan.

A good, bittersweet chapter, Mr. H.

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Hard stuff! Reading how Eric is suffering makes me almost weep for him. I just hope it won't get worse before it gets better.

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I felt sad for Eric, and the way he is suffering. Ryan took care of him, even during his drunken problem (I worry he uses drinking to drown sadness). Ryan was great, just wish he could say the " I love you" when Eric is awake.

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Superb writing -- I was so caught up that I felt myself getting increasingly tense as dinner progressed all the way through the very last scene. Very few authors can do that do me. 

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It’s interesting and authentic that the side of Erik he thinks will scare Ryan away is the side that makes Ryan fall in love with him. I look forward to seeing how Erik responds in the morning. 

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Damn it. I know my house is dusty but I didn't think it was this bad:,(

I still have a hard time wrapping my head around parents who could be so selfish and cruel about something that is so not their business.

Beautifully written. Now I need to go cheer myself up. Damn You! And I can't drink alcohol, as I did the same thing as Erik, trying to use alcohol to forget,  and it did not go well.

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If Erik could get away from the city and go somewhere where he can just be Erik who Ryan loves and who loves Ryan in return, he'll see that always striving to be the best slowly destroys your soul. It eats away at you from the inside till you're nothing but and empty shell. Ryan saw that and that's part of the reason he had to leave NYC. Now, he needs to help Erik see that. 

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Ah, I probably should not have read this right before I had to get ready for work. *sniff*

Erik is in a world of hurt, and he has to somehow reconcile with what he’s feeling so he can live not exist. 

He is much more than the gay boy from Utah, yes, but it is a part of who he is. It is that stripped down pure Erik that Ryan wants. Hopefully he can accept that even if his family doesn’t. He should probably also not be in the City.  

Ryan can help, but he can’t do it all. I hope too Ryan tells Erik again that he loves him, when they wake up. 

 

Great chapter! 

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I cried while reading this. I can never, never, NEVER understand parents acting like complete and utter asshats to their kids like that. And his siblings! What warped minds chooses a god over a brother? What god would ever ask that? The heavy responsibility religion has for ruining people's lives is a major cause I can never become religious. They cause too much pain and hatred. 

 

Erik will pull through, somehow, since he's not alone. He has Ryan, but he also has his friends. They may be a little pissed at him for acting like an idiot, but they will not give up on him. As for who he is? He is all those things. A driven film producer, wanting to turn out his very best work. A gay boy looking for a place to call home. A fun friend who can light up a party. No need to choose one thing. Except a place to live...  

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Absolutely heartbreaking for Eric. It’s not worth the pain, pining over family who doesn’t acknowledge you. Ryan is providing him a family. 

I hope Eric realizes soon that running is wrong. The more you run from your authentic self, the harder it gets to do.

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On 2/11/2018 at 10:14 AM, Timothy M. said:

:,( The only comfort in the end was Ryan insisting they would not have sex and Eric respecting his decision. Interesting that he didn't catch that Eric also used drinking to numb his pain after Ryan left. But alcohol is no solution either. :no: 

 

True, drinking is not a solution either. But sex has a significant role in their past :( This a dark moment for Erik, but also cathartic in a way. He'll have to move on now. 

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On 2/11/2018 at 11:02 AM, FanLit said:

I can't choose the love/sad emoticon at the same time but I feel both for this chapter.

Sometimes just being there is enough, as there aren't always words that can comfort someone's pain.  Good for Ryan keeping Erik from using sex as a panacea; I think that's a slippery path for either of them given their past.  I think Ryan allowed Erik the liquid comfort thinking that might be enough.

Ryan confessing his love was the "love" emoticon for this chapter (yes, confession-they've been in love with each other for three years now).

That was a huge move for Ryan.

A good, bittersweet chapter, Mr. H.

 

They totally have been in love with each other for three years!!! Even if they haven't been in touch :) I agree that Erik needed some kind of outlet, and given their history, alcohol was probably a little better than sex. 

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On 2/11/2018 at 11:10 AM, mayday said:

Hard stuff! Reading how Eric is suffering makes me almost weep for him. I just hope it won't get worse before it gets better.

 

I know!! I don't know why I put my characters through such misery. It does get better after this!!

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On 2/11/2018 at 1:15 PM, Sweetlion said:

I felt sad for Eric, and the way he is suffering. Ryan took care of him, even during his drunken problem (I worry he uses drinking to drown sadness). Ryan was great, just wish he could say the " I love you" when Eric is awake.

 

Erik was definitely using drink to drown his sadness. I think every once in a while is okay. It's not a consistent thing. Ryan's shy, he'll ease into saying it when Erik's awake. 

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On 2/11/2018 at 1:25 PM, starboardtack said:

Superb writing -- I was so caught up that I felt myself getting increasingly tense as dinner progressed all the way through the very last scene. Very few authors can do that do me. 

 

Thank you so much!!! :) 

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On 2/11/2018 at 1:48 PM, Geemeedee said:

It’s interesting and authentic that the side of Erik he thinks will scare Ryan away is the side that makes Ryan fall in love with him. I look forward to seeing how Erik responds in the morning. 

 

:D I love the idea that the parts of us we like the least as the parts that others love the most!! :D 

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On 2/11/2018 at 6:37 PM, empresslovesreading said:

Damn it. I know my house is dusty but I didn't think it was this bad:,(

I still have a hard time wrapping my head around parents who could be so selfish and cruel about something that is so not their business.

Beautifully written. Now I need to go cheer myself up. Damn You! And I can't drink alcohol, as I did the same thing as Erik, trying to use alcohol to forget,  and it did not go well.

 

I'm so sorry!! *hands over tissues* I hope you found something healthy to cheer yourself up!

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On 2/12/2018 at 2:47 AM, JayT said:

If Erik could get away from the city and go somewhere where he can just be Erik who Ryan loves and who loves Ryan in return, he'll see that always striving to be the best slowly destroys your soul. It eats away at you from the inside till you're nothing but and empty shell. Ryan saw that and that's part of the reason he had to leave NYC. Now, he needs to help Erik see that. 

 

Gah! Too insightful for your own good!! *eyes next chapter...*

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On 2/12/2018 at 7:12 AM, Defiance19 said:

Ah, I probably should not have read this right before I had to get ready for work. *sniff*

Erik is in a world of hurt, and he has to somehow reconcile with what he’s feeling so he can live not exist. 

He is much more than the gay boy from Utah, yes, but it is a part of who he is. It is that stripped down pure Erik that Ryan wants. Hopefully he can accept that even if his family doesn’t. He should probably also not be in the City.  

Ryan can help, but he can’t do it all. I hope too Ryan tells Erik again that he loves him, when they wake up. 

 

Great chapter! 

 

Aw, thanks Def!! :D Erik's got lots to work through in his head, yep, for sure. 

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4 hours ago, Puppilull said:

I cried while reading this. I can never, never, NEVER understand parents acting like complete and utter asshats to their kids like that. And his siblings! What warped minds chooses a god over a brother? What god would ever ask that? The heavy responsibility religion has for ruining people's lives is a major cause I can never become religious. They cause too much pain and hatred. 

 

Erik will pull through, somehow, since he's not alone. He has Ryan, but he also has his friends. They may be a little pissed at him for acting like an idiot, but they will not give up on him. As for who he is? He is all those things. A driven film producer, wanting to turn out his very best work. A gay boy looking for a place to call home. A fun friend who can light up a party. No need to choose one thing. Except a place to live...  

 

Agreed! No one is ever just one thing. We're all mosaics of different identities. Erik's gotta figure out what his looks like :) 

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