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    Jdonley75
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The Empty Spaces Between Us - 14. Chapter 14

The following chapter contains potential subject material which may offend or upset some readers. Discretion is advised.

The blaring alarm woke Tyler up early Tuesday morning. His body went into a half-asleep stumble out of bed to turn it off and had to blink a few times to realize why he had set it for so early. Upon remembering, he groaned softly, forcing himself fully awake, and went to his little dresser to get clothes for the day ahead of him before heading to the bathroom to get cleaned up so he could wait for Jacob to show up.

The last two days weren’t his best. After Alex walked out Sunday, he could barely get through the next day without feeling a weight in his chest the entire time. Andy had been acting strangely as well. One minute he was upbeat and soon after, he was quiet with a thoughtful frown on his face. When Tyler asked him how things were going, he just shrugged and told him things at home were good. He thought about asking him if he wanted any company, but the truth was Tyler wasn’t really all that interested in being around anyone that day.

After work was over on Monday, Tyler got cleaned up and after a few hours of debating it with himself he decided to go ahead and text Alex. He apologized for hurting his feelings and wanted to make it up to him. He waited and waited but got no response. He spent the rest of the evening dwelling on what it was he did wrong, playing the moment over and over in his head. He almost wished he would have just not spoken to Jacob at all. He should have concentrated on Alex instead.

Even then, it just seemed so unreal to him. He knew now he was the one who started it all. Maybe, if he’d spent more time with Alex, he could have avoided the misunderstanding before it got so out of hand. He waited past the time when he knew he should be in bed, but Alex never responded. Feeling even worse than he had the day before, he crawled into bed and lay there mulling it all over again before exhaustion set in.

He also texted Jacob the night before. Tyler was low on gas and he wasn’t getting paid again until the next Friday, so he needed to conserve. Jacob told him he would pick him up in the morning around six and they’d have breakfast before heading out on their delivery. That was at least one small bright spot to set him more at ease. At least he was going to be spending most of the day with Jacob instead of on a work site around all the other guys. Sean, Dex and Neal had become regulars working with him. He liked all of them and they seemed to like him well enough. Maybe he should think about spending some time with them out of work, but with everything with Alex going on, the idea of spending time with a bunch of young straight guys wasn’t all that appealing to him.

After he finished getting dressed, Tyler sent Jacob a text to let him know he was up and ready. It wasn’t long after that he saw Jacob’s truck pull up outside his house. He closed and locked the door behind him and headed down the driveway and hopped into the truck.

“Hey,” Jacob said with a small smile. “You awake yet?”

“Nearly there,” he replied.

Jacob smirked in a slight laugh as he pulled away from the house. “Well, breakfast first and then we’ll start loading.”

Tyler yawn and nodded. “Sounds good.” He zoned out for a few minutes while Jacob drove. It wasn’t until he felt the small jolt of the truck as they drove up the drive to Jacob’s house that Tyler realized where they were. Tyler thought they were going to go out to eat. Now, he was going to have to meet this guy from Jacob’s past. “Um… you sure this is a good idea?”

Jacob parked his truck near the large doors to his workshop and looked over at him. “Yeah. What’s the problem?”

“It’s just that… you said he’s here.” Tyler felt stress rising inside as he got out of the truck. Reluctantly, he followed Jacob up to the back door.

When he stepped in behind Jacob, he was surprised to see David at the stove, cooking food as if he hadn’t been in the hospital a few days before. He looked around and found that it was just the three of them. “Hi, David,” he said as he tried to sound casual.

“Hey, Tyler,” David said with a smile brighter than any he’d ever seen before. “I’m frying some ham and gonna start eggs soon. Anything else you want?”

“Whatever you’re making is fine,” he replied as he sat down at the table.

Jacob was pulling milk and orange juice out of the fridge. “Don’t overdo it with the fried food today. You just got out of the hospital yesterday and I don’t want you going right back.”

David replied in a gruff voice, “I’ll eat what I please. I’m feeling a hell of a lot better than I did a week ago.”

“Don’t lie,” Jacob retorted. “And please don’t rush things. I’m serious.”

David rolled his eyes and chuckled. “Okay, okay. To make you happy. But the ham is for you two and Kyle when he wakes up.”

“Thank you.” Jacob smiled at the man before sitting down at the table, setting the milk and juice in the center. “Help yourself, Tyler.”

It only took David a few more minutes to finish cooking breakfast. He had Jacob get plates before grabbing his own and joining them at the table. Jacob poured him a small glass of orange juice with a meaningful look at the older man. “So, how’ve you been, Tyler? I haven’t seen you since your birthday, I think.”

Tyler managed a smile. The memory of that day helped make it look genuine. “Nothing big going on in my life really. Just been working and paying the bills like any other person.”

David nodded in approval. Despite just coming home from the hospital, Tyler was surprised at how animated and alive he looked compared to the other times he had been around him. “You’re young, son. Still got a lot of life left to live. You should be out there living it and enjoying yourself.”

“Not for want of trying, sir,” he replied, which got a grin from David.

“You mentioned you’d talked to your dad the other day,” Jacob remarked between bites. “Have you talked to him since?”

Tyler shook his head. “Not yet. Maybe soon.”

“Tonight,” David said with a kind of parental authority in his voice. “If you can’t see him, you should at least call him once or twice a week.”

“We’re… not that close.” His eyes went from David to Jacob and back.

“All the more reason too.” David’s eyes never left Tyler as he took a fork full of eggs into his mouth.

Tyler realized that it wouldn’t be asking a lot to give his dad another call later. “Okay. I will.”

“Good.” David looked over at Jacob and remarked, “he reminds me of you when you were a boy.”

Tyler broke into a laugh, seeing Jacob’s face redden. “Not sure if that was a compliment or not.”

“Usually it is,” David replied with a grin.

Jacob rolled his eyes. “Let’s finish eating so we can start loading. We need to get back here before it gets too late.”

David looked over at Jacob. “Three o’clock. No later than four.”

Jacob nodded. “I’ll be here.”

The three of them finished eating and David said he would make a fresh pot of coffee for them to take with them on the trip to Washington. Jacob and Tyler head out to begin slowly moving the unassembled bed frame into the bed of Jacob’s truck. They had to be careful as the pieces were both heavy and bulky. Jacob had taped his moving blankets around the larger pieces, so Tyler wasn’t entirely aware of what it looked like. Jacob always preferred to work alone when he was in his workshop, so Tyler never got to see what it was he was working on. All he could tell was that the wood had a dark, almost black stain to it.

David came out a few minutes later with two travel mugs of coffee for them both. He’d sweetened them enough for them both to stay awake on the long trip. “Now, just because I want you back at three doesn’t mean I don’t want you to be careful,” David said to Jacob. “No matter what, I want you back in one piece, okay?”

Jacob managed a shaky smile, looking at him. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it.” Jacob glanced behind David at the house. “Still not up yet?”

David’s eyebrow arched up curiously. “Why so worried? He’s just a ‘friend,’ remember?” The last part was said with a meaningful look.

“Good point. I gotta get this last bit in the truck. I’ll see you later.” He turned to resume moving the pieces of the bed from his workshop into his truck.

“Tyler, you make sure he doesn’t get in an accident,” David called out before heading back inside.

Tyler smiled a little to himself. It seemed like his trip to the hospital had done a lot of good for David and he was glad. “Yes, sir,” he called back before David was back inside.

“Come on,” Jacob said as he headed back into the workshop. “Just a couple more pieces and we can get on the road.”

Jacob went in and grabbed one of his ball caps and put it on before tying up his hair in a ponytail. He and Tyler carefully got the final pieces into the truck bed and Jacob jumped up into the bed to double-check that they were secure and wouldn’t move much during the trip. “I think you may need to look into getting a bigger truck,” Tyler said as he put on his sunglasses to shield his eyes from the sun that was starting to peek out of the clouds overhead.

Jacob was satisfied with their efforts and hopped off the end of the tailgate before putting it up. “Well, that’ll be in my first million dollars I make, I guess.”

“A million?!” Tyler looked at him as they walk around either side of the truck and got in. “That’s a pretty high goal.”

Jacob shrugged. “We’ll see, I guess.” He started up the truck and began backing out.

“If you need help counting it all, let me know. I’m pretty good with numbers.” He sat back in the seat getting comfortable for the long drive.

As he reached for the coffee mug in the holders between them, he happened to glance up at the house and saw a figure standing at the window with a noticeable frown on their face. At first, he thought it was David but then he realized this man had no beard, wasn’t wearing a shirt and was noticeably younger. It occurred to him who it was he was looking at. He had to admit, the guy had a nice body and face. “That’s him,” he asked as he nodded at the window.

Jacob glanced at the house before putting all his attention on getting out of the driveway. When he spoke, it was with a quiet, almost reluctant voice. “Kyle. Yeah.”

They rode through the warm summer morning on the less traveled roads. When Tyler asked him about it, Jacob explained it was to keep their speed low while they had the bed in the back. “We should get there in about two and a half hours. Usually takes about an hour to get there, but we have the time.” He glanced over at Tyler and offered a small smirk. “Besides, you’re getting paid for the day anyway. Don’t sweat it.”

Tyler gave him a smile in return, but the look in Jacob’s eyes made him a little concerned. He also noticed the music Jacob was playing was different as well. Normally, he’d listen to a list of rock bands from the 90’s but today he was listening to softer music, a lot of which he had never heard before. It dawned on him after the first hour of their drive together that Jacob had chosen all of this on purpose. The bed frame in the back of the truck wasn’t moving at all with how well secured Jacob had made it. He could have used the highways instead of the more rural routes. The only thing Tyler couldn’t figure out was why.

It wasn’t until around noon before Jacob found the house that they were to deliver the new bed too. Even then, Tyler could almost swear Jacob was dragging his feet as they moved the pieces into the room the client had instructed. It wasn’t easy getting the big pieces of the bed up the stairs to the appointed room and Jacob insisted all of it be in the room before they started putting it together. Once that was started, he had Tyler hold pieces together as he started fitting them with small bolts to secure them. In all, it took nearly an hour to get it finished and Jacob went out of his way to put the box springs and mattress the client had stored onto the new bed.

Jacob had been relatively quiet throughout the whole process, but Tyler noted the look of pride in his eyes as he snapped a picture of the completed piece. He had to admit Jacob had done an excellent job not only putting it together. Not only was the bed sturdy and obviously made to last for a lifetime, the shade of the wood stain contrasted well with the lighter toned etchings of what looked to him like mythical creatures that were on the headboard, footboard and along the sides.

Once the client paid Jacob and thanked him profusely for his efforts, the two of them got back in the truck and started on the journey back home.

“Wanna stop for some lunch before we head back,” Jacob asked him in an almost too causal manner.

Tyler looked over at him and shrugged. “If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine by me.”

Jacob nodded and drove around town while Tyler looked at the dashboard clock and watched twenty minutes pass before they ended up at a place called Old Mexico. As they got out, Tyler checked his phone to see how long it should have taken to get from the house to the restaurant. Seven minutes. He watched the back of Jacob’s head as they walked into the place. Now he had proof Jacob was dragging his feet This whole time.

Once they got their food and took a seat, Tyler watched Jacob carefully. He wasn’t the same guy he saw Sunday. He had seemed almost depressed when they ran into each other at the store. Now, he didn’t look like his normal self, but that cautious, sad-eyed person he saw then wasn’t there now. He seemed pensive, like a man worried about a storm that’s coming to destroy his house and all he can do it wait and hope for the best. When he spoke, he sounded less confident than he usually did. His eyes which were normally bright blue seemed dulled in a way like part of who he was had been taken from him. Finally, Tyler could stay silent no longer. “You didn’t tell me how things went with the two of you since the other day.”

Jacob looked up with a melancholy look on his face. “We… talked. David told him about me. About being an alcoholic.”

“Why didn’t you,” he asked.

Jacob stared off to the side and answered, “I didn’t think it would matter one way or the other. I can’t take back what I did. Being blackout drunk isn’t an excuse. It’s just what it was.”

Tyler looked at him cautiously before he finally asked what he knew Jacob would probably not tell him. “So, what did you do, exactly?”

He sighed and his entire body language changed to indicate he was not wanting to discuss it. “It’s private. If it was just me that fucked up, I wouldn’t mind telling, but I don’t want to hurt anyone else by talking about it. Besides, if I told you, you’d probably never respect me again.”

“I’m sorry,” Tyler said. “That wasn’t right of me to ask. You’re my friend and I doubt I’d ever not respect you.”

Jacob gave a silent chuckle and shook his head. “Glad someone does.” A few moments later, Jacob finished his food and looked up at Tyler with an almost resigned look and said, “guess it’s time we head back.”

Tyler stood up and followed him out the door. Even as they approached the truck, Tyler could feel a tension building inside his friend. He wished he knew what to say. But he didn’t know what was going on inside him and doubted he could even understand. “You got up earlier than I did,” Tyler said to him. “You want me to drive us back?”

Jacob looked at him and gave him a genuine if small smile. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I can manage.”

Tyler shrugged and replied, “if you change your mind…” He started to go around the truck to get back in when he stopped and impulsively put his arms around Jacob in a warm embrace.

Jacob stood there for a moment before returning the hug. “What brought that on,” he asked as he let go and stepped back from him.

Tyler smiled and said, “you looked like you needed it.”

“Well… thanks.”

Tyler said nothing in reply. Seeing Jacob’s eyes brighten even if just a little before he climbed up in the truck was thanks enough for him.

As they drove off, Tyler’s thoughts started to drift back to his own dating problems. After two days he still hadn’t heard back from Alex and figured it was a lost cause. Again, he replayed those fateful moments over in his mind. He couldn’t get past the idea that he wasn’t smart enough to see where he had gone wrong. The anger and hurt in Alex’s eyes afterwards had been genuine. What was he supposed to say if Alex hadn’t wanted anyone to know they were seeing each other? Was he supposed to say he was a friend? That didn’t feel right. It was close but there were pieces missing to that. As fast of a friendship he had built with Drake and others in the last year or so, Alex had seemed both there and at the same time removed from his life. It wasn’t quite like the casual sex with Drake either. They both seemed to be more emotionally involved than he had been with Drake. That ruled out being friends-with-benefits or fuck buddies.

He was beginning to come to the conclusion that he wasn’t really ready for that kind of relationship. He loved Alex and had wanted to explore a life with him, but he was almost certain that possibility was gone. Maybe he should have called him a friend. Maybe he should have just said his name and left it at that. That was probably the best answer he could come up with. If Alex ever came back, maybe he could tell him.

They were well past Pittsburgh and heading towards Butler before Tyler pulled himself out of his thoughts and realized that nearly an hour had passed and neither of them had spoken. When he glanced over at Jacob, he saw his jaw clenching and unclenching. His eyes looked as if they were shimmering as he stared ahead of him at the road. Tyler sat back and heard the soft, sad voice on the speakers.

And there are voices
T
hat want to be heard
So much to mention
But you can’t find the words
The scent of magic
T
he beauty that’s been
When love was wilder
Than the wind

Tyler gave him a moment before he said, “you’re kinda quiet. How’re you feeling?”

“Honestly? Like my chest is going to explode.” Jacob wiped his eyes. “I just… I dunno. I just feel tight inside. Like any minute now something inside of me is going to pop.”

“Because of him?” Tyler didn’t want to use the name. He didn’t want to know him or like him. He could tell Jacob was still hurting over something. Maybe a fight they had or something lingering in their past. Whatever it was, it looked like it was killing Jacob.

Jacob’s hands gripped the wheel as if trying to steer his life out of the chaos it was in. “All I’ve been thinking about the last couple days is why am I still here? What right do I have to make a home out of a place I destroyed?”

“Does your dad know what happened,” Tyler asked him bluntly.

Jacob looked like he was about to both laugh and cry at the same time. “Yeah. Yeah, he knows.”

“And he forgave you?”

Jacob was silent for a moment, collecting himself before he felt he could answer. “Yeah.”

“Does anyone else know,” Tyler asked.

The side of Jacob’s mouth tugged down, and he blinked away a tear. “Troy does.”

“Did he forgive you too?”

“After reading me the riot act for ten minutes while I was drunk off my ass, yeah.”

“If they forgive you, then why can’t this asshole,” Tyler asked in a slightly more heated voice.

Jacob frowned, almost angry. “He’s not an asshole.”

Tyler rolled his eyes, unphased. “He sounds like one. If he never heard your side of things…” he paused, realizing he was half talking about himself and his dad at the same time as Jacob and Kyle. “…then maybe it’s time you tell him.”

Jacob was silent as he thought it over. “Maybe I will. When I get the chance. Not all that sure what I would say.”

“Just… say what you feel,” he replied.

Jacob let out a long sigh. “You sure you don’t wanna come to the cookout? I’m sure no one would mind you there.”

Tyler grinned. He got the impression Jacob was asking so he could use him as a human shield or something like it. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’m gonna spend the night quietly by myself. And call my dad like I was told too.”

“Well, if you change your mind…” Jacob let the notion hang there. The remainder of their trip was made in relative quiet. When Jacob pulled up at Tyler’s house, he got one more hug before Tyler jumped out and headed up to his door.

 

****

 

Andy was headed to David’s from work after a relatively light day. He was still dealing with his own shock of finding out his best friend he hadn’t seen in years suddenly revealed he had a kid this whole time and managed to keep it to himself for four days before the child showed up and stunned all of them. He felt sorry for Jacob and wondered how that had worked out the next day, but he didn’t get a chance to ask after Kyle left.

Whenever his mind came back to it, he couldn’t stop giggling about the entire thing. All their years growing up, he’d never known Kyle to be able to keep a secret from him (apart from him being gay and in love with Jacob) and now he managed to hide probably the biggest secret of all without him figuring it out. Maybe he was getting rusty?

He slowed down after he turned onto the access road that led to the house. Mentally going over what he was going to say and all the vague and half-answers he could give to questions he’d rather not answer. After his confession to Brian a few nights ago, he’d been considering doing this. Thinking it over now, he realized what an idiot he’d been keeping this secret. One way or another, he was going to get yelled at, that much he knew. He put on his best poker face and hoped to skate through without any consequences.

When he parked at the top of the driveway, he noticed Jacob’s truck and David’s SUV were the only two vehicles here. From what David said to him yesterday, Kyle would be back some time tomorrow, so he had to do this now when there would be less witnesses. Kyle not being here was a boon because there was no way he would be able to deflect pointed questions from a lawyer who’d known him since before kindergarten.

Andy checked under his seat and found what he was looking for but opted to keep it there for now. He got out and headed up the ramp and into the house. The only thing he heard was the TV on as he entered, but it sounded more like the news than cartoons. “Anyone here?” He stepped into the hall and made his way to the front of the house.

“Andy? You’re early,” David’s pleasantly surprised voice rang through the hallway as he got up from his spot on the couch only to see the young blonde marine lean against the doorway.

He smiled and nodded. “Thought I’d kick off early and see the boys and your new grandson.” Andy had already learned saying that brought a bright smile, not just to David’s lips, but to his eyes as well. It was a look that reminded him of the man he grew up admiring.

“Jacob took them out into the orchard awhile back.” David’s grin didn’t disappoint as it seemed to take years off him. “You want me to call him up to the house?”

Andy suppressed a pleased smirk and kept his poker face in place. He’d got about as lucky as he could possibly get. “Well, before you do, I need to show you something. Just the two of us.”

David gave him a curious smile and shrugged. “Alright then. What’re we doin’?”

Andy nodded down the hall. “Got something I want you to see.” He headed back the way he came in, listening to David’s footsteps just behind him. Guilt, worry, and his ever-present demons made him feel paranoid that what he was about to do wasn’t going to be as easy as he convinced himself. There would end up being questions he didn’t want to answer and things he didn’t want to hear being said.

As he went out the back door, he was suddenly very aware of the beating of his heart. The little kid in him knew there was no way he was going to get out of this without some kind punishment. He could feel it. In a way, he was that little kid he used to be, trying to get out of trouble that he had been in without anyone else knowing. As he went down the ramp, he looked back at David who caught the look in his eyes and slowed his steps.

That’s when Andy definitely knew he not getting out of this clean. He’d seen that look way too many times by both his dad and David when he was a boy. David was onto him. He might not know exactly what was going on, but he knew Andy was up to something and whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

Andy stepped up to his truck and opened the door. Reaching in under the seat, he carefully pulled out a small metal case with a lock on it. David was just coming up behind him as Andy turned around and held it up to him in both hands.

The older man stopped in his tracks. He looked at the case for a moment and then his eyes met Andy’s. There was a heavy silence between them as David’s entire body seemed to transform from carefree grandfather to a stern father who just walked in on his child doing something he had been told not to do. David’s lips slowly started to press together, and his eyes narrowed. He was no longer the easy going, loving and always kind dad of his best friend. He was Uncle David, the authority figure that his dad always told Andy, “You treat him the same way you treat me.”

“What’s that,” David asked in a voice that was quiet, but held an edge of absolute authority of a father who wanted answers now.

Andy knew it was hopeless but went with it anyway and kept a stoic look on his face. “While I was cleaning up and making room for some of Bri’s stuff…” Hearing his own words, he didn’t even believe himself. “…I found this tucked away.”

David’s eyes blazed bright as he took a step forward, hands on his hips. “Tucked away,” he repeated, like a father who’d caught his son in a lie.

Andy had the good sense to break eye contact as he looked down at the case. “I don’t know how we missed it.”

“Where did you find it?” The casual question held a sharpness to it that made it sound less like a question and more like an order but there was no anger.

Andy’s right hand gripped the case a little tighter to hide the tremble in his hand. Despite that, he managed to keep his voice even and casual. “In the back of the closet. In my room.”

“Funny,” David practically barked. “I could’ve sworn I checked over your bedroom twice.”

Andy paled a little under his tanned skin and shook his head. “No one’s perfect. Sir.”

David exhaled through his nose loud enough to convey his frustration. “Good thing you found it then, huh?”

Andy shrugged. “I figured… I might as well bring it here with the rest of my stuff.” He looked back up at David. He wasn’t sure exactly what David was going to say, but he hoped and prayed he didn’t say the worst thing possible.

David stared at him for seconds that seemed like eternity to the younger man. “Good idea.” David reached out and put his hands on the case, displaying no emotion when he felt Andy let go of it and looked it over. It wasn’t dissimilar to the other cases Andy had stored his firearms in. This would be the sixth one David was keeping for him. He put his right hand under it and held it up. It was as heavy as he expected when he first saw it. He looked at Andy before holding his other hand out, palm open. “The key?”

“Oh.” Andy went reaching into his pockets. “Yeah. Right. The key.” He pulled it out and put it into David’s hand.

David fit the key into the lock and turned it. There was a soft click and it opened to reveal a simple 9 mm handgun resting in the black foam within the case. The first thing he noticed was that there was a magazine already in it. He placed the case on the hood of Andy’s truck and picked up the handgun. Turning it in his hand, he made sure the safety was on before he stared at Andy and released the magazine, catching it in his left hand as it slid out. He glanced down long enough to note it was empty while Andy stood there saying nothing but keeping his eyes on the gun and avoiding David’s stare. He slowly put the empty magazine into the case. “Seems pretty clean for a gun you just now found.”

“I must’ve… cleaned it. At some point.” He betrayed no emotion and stood there without flinching. He knew he’d been caught. He could tell from the look in David’s eyes. He could only pray that David wouldn’t say what he couldn’t bear to hear.

With careful precision, David placed his free hand on the slide of the handgun, pulled it back and watched dispassionately as a single unspent round was ejected from the barrel and fell harmlessly onto the ground. Once he put the gun back in the case and locked it back up, he turned to look at the young man and muttered quietly, “you should have been more careful, Andrew. Someone could have gotten hurt.”

Andy met his gaze and said, “well… Once I saw it… I knew I should give it to you. I wouldn’t want Bri getting hurt or… you know.”

David nodded. Even as his voice stayed quiet, the look on his face was one of furious disappointment. “Yeah. Good thing Brian is staying with you or else this could still be sitting there in your closet and I wouldn’t have known it was there.”

Andy forced a chuckle. “Yeah. Actually, it was when we were talking the other night, I’d told him about getting rid of all of them and I did a little mental inventory and realized—”

“Andy…” His gaze and the sharp rebuff were a clear message: Lie to yourself if you must, but don’t lie to me.

Andy swallowed hard. “Sorry.”

David let out another long breath but said nothing else on the matter as he picked the case up and held it. The disappointment in his eyes that was evident only a second ago was gone. “How are the two of you doing?”

In the back of his mind, Andy pleaded, ‘please don’t tell the others. Please don’t tell the others.’ “Good. We’re good.”

“Okay.” He looked over towards the orchard and said, “I suppose, if you want, you can probably track down Jacob and the boys. Just listen for the sound of your boys. That should be pretty easy… For a marine.”

“Yeah, I can do that.” He stood there, feeling like the little kid he had every right to be treated as. David walked away, taking the gun case with him into the house. Andy looked down and saw the bullet still laying on the driveway. He picked it up and held it out. “You forgot this.”

David glanced back and said, “keep it.” Saying nothing more to him, the old man went back into the house.

Andy stood there, watching the back door close and let out a half breath, half shudder. He clasped the bullet in his fist, hating and disgusted with himself. What had he been thinking, keeping it hidden from David? He knew the answer, but he didn’t want to admit to it. Not to himself or anyone else. Brian was with him now and maybe that would be enough. He took another moment to collect himself before shoving the bullet in his pocket where the key had been all day and walked down the path from the driveway that led into the orchard.

Like the others, the orchard held years of memories that he treasured. There were times it seemed as if the trees themselves had some form of magic that suspended those moments so much so that he could pass by certain points and almost see the past and hear those voices from an age of innocence that had been stripped from all of them over time. He almost wished he could somehow walk far enough to find his younger self and save him from all the miseries he’d endured.

A couple of minutes into his walk, he could hear voices approaching. Andy’s lips raised slightly and some of the gloom around him was lifted hearing the high-pitched voices of his sons and a newer yet familiar voice. He picked up his pace and followed the sounds until he could see Jacob’s form along with three smaller ones ahead of him, all jogging his way. Tanner was the first to notice him and broke into a sprint. Andy stopped and waited, kneeling with a happy smile on his face as the older boy rushed into his arms. “Oof!” Andy had to put effort into keeping himself upright as he chuckled. “Oh, wow, you’re getting stronger.” He kissed the side of his head and muttered, “must be taking after your uncle Jacob.”

Tanner giggled. “Matt almost started taking apples off the trees.”

“He did…!?” He grinned. “He must not’ve known the rules then, huh?”

Tanner shook his head. “No climbing the trees, like grandpa told us.”

“Did you save him from his grandpa?” Andy couldn’t help but remember how many times he had nearly faced David’s wrath as a child, trying to climb the trees when the apples were growing. David’s wrath wasn’t something he wanted to think about right now.

“Blake pulled him down before he got too high up.” Tanner’s happy smile infected him with the same feeling of love he’s had for his son from the moment he first held him in his arms.

Just as Tanner finished, Blake came trotting up with Kyle’s son, hand in hand. Andy’s attention went to them as he held Tanner in his arms. As much as he loved Tanner, Blake was special in how unusually kind he was for being only three. Having known Matthew for barely two days, they had a look about them of already being nearly inseparable. “Hi, daddy!” Blake released his hold on Matt’s hand to get pulled into a hug.

“Hey, my little boy.” Andy sometimes felt addicted to his sons. No matter how dark his thoughts might get or how depressed he might feel, the two of them made him feel invincible sometimes. The rest of the time, they seemed to give him an inner peace that was harder for him to find without them. “Saving Matt from climbing the trees, I hear?”

Blake grinned. “He’s just learning, daddy.”

Andy chuckled and then looked at the slightly timid little boy standing there staring at him. For a moment, it wasn’t Matt staring back at him. All he saw was Kyle. “Matt, did you have fun today?”

Matt took a half-step back, looking down at the grass shyly.

“This is my daddy,” Blake looked back at Matt, sensing his shyness. Andy noted he said it not out of jealousy but as an invitation. He was so proud of his son.

Before Matt could make a decision, Jacob ran up behind the boy and lifted him up in the air, eliciting a delighted squeal. “Got you finally, you little apple thief!” Matt suddenly broke into fits of laughter as Jacob held him and proceeded to tickle his sides.

Andy chuckled as he stood up. “So, he nabbed a few, huh,” he asked Jacob while he was still administering justice to the apple thief.

“Only one,” Jacob said as he finished tickling the boy to let him come down from his laughter. He didn’t let go of Matt and Andy noticed Jacob seemed to hold him pretty close. There was also a new kind of look in his bright blue eyes. “He tried to eat it, but it wasn’t ripe yet.”

Andy smirked. “Well, that’ll teach him. Come on boys, let’s head back and get your stuff so we can get home before Brian.”

Jacob lifted Matt up to sit on his shoulders and held his hands to keep him steady as he fell into step next to Andy. There was a moment or two of silence between them before Jacob very quietly started singing, “Andy and Brian sittin’ in a tree…”

Off the top of his head, Andy had half a dozen retorts. However, none of them were child appropriate. He giggled silently to himself as Jacob kept going, sounding like a five-year-old. “How come you’re not cutting something or sanding something?”

“I’m waiting on something to come in,” he replied in an animated voice. “Actually, it may have come in today, but I’ve been having fun with the boys. If it did, I’m gonna need you and Tyler’s help, if I can get you guys for about ten minutes tomorrow.”

Andy looked over at his friend. He sounded so… alive. He was almost jealous of him. “I think I need to tell David to cut down on your sugar intake. You sound like you’re on a sugar high.”

Jacob ignored him and looked up at Matt, still holding his hands to steady him. “Hey, Matt? Say, ‘uncle Andy.’”

Matt looked down at him and smiled. “Uncle Andy.”

Andy hadn’t heard Matthew speak until just then. That he sounded just like his dad when he was a child was more than a little eerie to him. Or, it was possible his memories weren’t that accurate. He looked up at the boy and said, “that’s me. I’m your uncle Andy.”

Matt looked at him silently and then looked down at Jacob as if to confirm his statement. When Jacob nodded in confirmation, Matt looked back at Andy and said, “Uncle Andy.”

Andy chortled. “See? I’m harmless.”

“No,” Blake insisted. “Daddy is super strong.”

Andy shook his head with a rueful laugh, wondering where exactly his son came up with that notion. “You say that when we’re standing next to your uncle who I know for a fact has been bench pressing one eighty-five for the last five months.”

Jacob smirked. “Sorry. Just a habit, I guess, ‘one fifty.’” He glanced up at Matt and saw a dazzling smile looking down on him which he returned.

Andy glanced over and watched the exchange between Jacob and Matt. “How are the two of you doing, anyway?”

“He’s getting used to the place,” Jacob answered. “He didn’t sleep so good last night, but we’ve spent the day having fun and seeing everything there is to see.”

Andy noted it wasn’t just the smile on his face that was bright. Even his voice sounded different. No. Not different. More like the old Jacob he knew from a decade past. The one who was unabashedly in love with his best friend and got the same in return. “Well, that’s all good news, but I meant how things were with you and his dad.”

Jacob was quiet long enough to get Andy’s attention back on his face. Looking like a cloud has just blotted out the sun. “It’s… complicated, I guess. We need to talk once he comes back to pick up Matt.”

“Well, I was thinking,” Andy said casually, “since it is the end of the summer vacation and Tanner and Chase are starting back up to school here soon we’d take them all to the gym and let them run wild in the pool on Saturday. That sound like a good idea?”

Jacob nodded. “Sure.”

“Then, maybe you and Kyle can talk.” He didn’t want to push them, and he felt like he’d already said too much when Kyle came over, so he was trying to stay out of their situation. He loved them both and didn’t feel like he should pick any sides.

“Maybe.” Jacob sighed and then the cloud lifted again. “So, anyway, could you two stop by sometime tomorrow? Late morning, so you can help me take the door off the house?”

“The door?!” Andy stopped and turned to him. “Why the door?”

Jacob smirked. “I don’t wanna give it away yet. I had an idea and I wanna try it just to see what happens.”

“You said you’re waiting on something to arrive?”

“Yeah,” he replied as he pulled out his phone. “Should’ve been delivered today according to the tracking info.”

More secrets. Andy had a feeling that them keeping secrets was against the rules of the team. But, if he was gonna hang anyone for that crime, he’d have to start and end with himself. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow morning and see if he’s interested. We’re just taking the door off the house?”

“And getting it into my workshop so I can make some changes to it,” Jacob answered with a nod.

“Alright,” he said with a sigh. “Sounds easy enough.”

“Thanks, bro.” They exited the orchard and Jacob proceeded to make a big show of lowering Matt off his shoulders and safely onto the driveway before the five of them headed up the ramp and inside. Andy kept his amusement to himself, saving it to share with Brian later that night. One thing he knew for sure; Jacob was completely attached to Matthew.

When they went inside, David was sitting quietly at the kitchen table with a glass of water in front of him. Andy started to get worried as he exchanged looks with David before the older man’s gaze went to his grandson and he broke into a prideful smile. “There’s my happy Baby Boy.” He leaned down a little, holding his arms out and was delighted to see the little boy’s bright grin as he scampered up and into his warm embrace.

Andy got the boys out of the kitchen and got any of their things they brought with them ready to go. It was never a question that if anything had been left behind David wouldn’t have been displeased, but Andy never wanted him to think he was being taken for granted after all he’d done for him over the years.

“Did we get any packages today,” Jacob asked as he watched the little reunion. He was glad Kyle opted to leave Matt here for the rest of the week. It was doing wonders on David’s heart and his soul. For that reason alone, it was worth everything else that was going on between them.

“You did,” David replied as he gazed adoringly at his grandson. “I put it on the dining room table.”

“Awesome. Thanks.” Jacob stepped out of the kitchen just as Andy came back in.

“Well,” Andy began as he looked at David, “we’re heading out for the day. Thanks for watching them.”

David looked up at Andy and then back at Matt. “Give your uncle Andy and his boys a big hug before they leave, okay?”

Matt turned around and went up to Andy who promptly knelt down just as Matt hugged him. Andy couldn’t help but grin when he hugged the little boy. “See,” he whispered to the boy, “harmless.”

Matt looked at him with his father’s eyes and charming smile. “Bye, uncle Andy.”

He stood up, feeling relieved as Matt moved on to Tanner and Blake. A warm gentle hand touched his shoulder and he looked to see David’s eternally kind and loving smile before he was wrapped up in those familiar arms. Without thinking, Andy put his arms around him let his head rest on the older man’s shoulder. The tension in his body he didn’t even realize had been there started to drain out of him like an oily grime being washed away. A part of him wished he could remain there forever in those arms.

“You’re a good boy, Andy,” David muttered quietly in his ear. “Get your boys home safe. Spend some time with Brian. It’s doing you more good than you probably think.”

Andy suppressed a sob and took a hard swallow before he whispered, “I’m sorry.” He felt so ashamed that he couldn’t talk about how he felt because he couldn’t understand it or put it into words.

“It’ll be okay.” David held onto him for a few more breaths before finally releasing him. “Get my boys home safe, you hear?”

Andy nodded as he straightened up. “Yes, sir.”

David gave the two boys hugs and kisses before the three of them departed. He gave a small sigh and said a silent prayer before sitting back down and thought over what all had taken place.

“Hey, Dad,” Jacob said as he entered the room with the opened box in his hands. “I wanna take the back door off tomorrow and do some work on it.”

David blinked and looked up at him. “Why?”

Jacob seemed to debate what he wanted to say. “I have this idea I wanna try out. It’s not gonna destroy the door or anything. I just wanna try something a little more artistic.”

David smirked. He couldn’t find a good reason to say no. “As long as it’s back up before dark, go ahead. I’ll get a sheet or something to put over the opening.”

“Thanks.” Matt came up to him and put an arm around his leg, looking up at the dark-haired man.

David sat and watched Jacob’s face light up. It made him feel good to see him so happy. He thought about Andy’s boys and how well they treated Matthew which brought his thoughts full circle back to Andy himself. “I got something I want you to do for me,” he said to get Jacob’s full attention. “This is just between us. If you see or hear anything that strikes you as odd or out of character for Andy, I want you to let me know. Right away.”

Jacob frowned in confusion. “Okay… why?”

“I just have a feeling, is all,” he explained. “And I don’t want to make a big deal out of it or else Troy or Kyle or Brian will be all over him and I’m pretty sure that’s not what he wants right now. So, just between us, I want you to keep your eye out and tell me if you see or hear anything that sounds weird or gets you concerned. You understand?”

Jacob nodded. “Yeah. Sure. I can do that.”

“Alright then,” he stood up and walked over to the fridge. “Time to start dinner.” Jacob didn’t ask him anymore about it the rest of the night and David was grateful for that. Kyle would be back the next day and he wanted everything to be as normal as possible. Hopefully, that would be enough to give him and Jacob a chance to reconnect.

Suicide should never be ignored. If you know of someone who you think needs help, get them the help they need. Be a true friend and don't deny the warning signs.

And if you are one of those people, here is my way of helping.

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.crisistextline.org/

https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

Copyright © 2019 Jdonley75; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



20 hours ago, FanLit said:

Your warning at the beginning of the chapter made me think we were going to witness Alex hitting Tyler;  Instead we saw Andy dismantle his plans for suicide. *SIGH*

We know his reunion with Brian didn’t keep all the demons away but I’m thankful he grabbed on to anything that gave him hope.  The mention of Andy’s dad in this makes me feel we really missed out on knowing another interesting guy: “You treat him the same way you treat me.”  The friendships between he, David and Troy’s dad interests me but somehow I feel as close as it was, it wasn’t as close as the friendships that developed between their sons.

Seeing how attached Jacob was to Matthew from the other side was quite endearing and I really like seeing how much Andy regards and loves Kyle.  

Thanks for this installment.... I think you know what I’m thinking but won’t ask, 😊.

Andy's dad and his absence is a part of Andy's troubles.  But, there's bigger parts that need to be addressed.  As much as Kyle loves David, Andy worshiped his dad.  That he wasn't there when his father died is something that he's had problems with dealing with.

David, Sam and Pete were good friends and David and Sam still are.  Kyle, Troy and Andy are closer though.  The three of them were basically raised together.  That's the basis of their relationship.  Brian and Jacob came later but they were just brought into the small circle and there's no real denying that they are all made better for it.

Jacob and Matthew bonded instantly, but the reason for that is obvious (and in the last book.)

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20 hours ago, FanLit said:

You are doing a beautiful job of making this a separate, standalone story while seamlessly blending its timeline with that of “The Acquittal”.  I look forward to where you will bring this once it matches up to the end of that story.

It's my opinion that the story will improve once it's standing on its own instead of running along side the other book.

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10 hours ago, spikey582 said:

Re-reading large portions of the Acquittal, Tyler really wasn’t mentioned much after Kyle and Jacob got back together.  Yet Tyler really was getting close with the group.  I hope Tyler gets the chance to actually know Kyle and realize the guy wasn’t an asshole, and was just as much of a victim as Jacob and David were in the falling out.  Not that he needs specifics.  

I’m also concerned that Tyler retreats from the group, partially because of Kyle’s return and also because of Alex. If he lets that dude continue his abusive behavior, isolation from friends and family is par for the course.  I will say, I just don’t see Tyler as the type of guy to let himself be brutalized, so maybe I’m wrong about Alex.

Tyler wasn't mentioned because "the camera" wasn't on him through that first book.  This time around, things are different.  He will eventually meet Kyle.  I'm not sure how soon they will get along (Tyler is understandably biased) but I'm sure in time they will learn to appreciate each other.  

Things for Tyler are going to be challenging.  But, he's got two good friends and one of them is a retired marine.  You think someone's gonna mess with Tyler? ;) 

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38 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

Tyler wasn't mentioned because "the camera" wasn't on him through that first book.  This time around, things are different.  He will eventually meet Kyle.  I'm not sure how soon they will get along (Tyler is understandably biased) but I'm sure in time they will learn to appreciate each other.  

Things for Tyler are going to be challenging.  But, he's got two good friends and one of them is a retired marine.  You think someone's gonna mess with Tyler? ;) 

Oh believe me the thought definitely crossed my mind that Andy and Jacob would destroy anyone messing with Tyler :thumbup:

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36 minutes ago, spikey582 said:

Oh believe me the thought definitely crossed my mind that Andy and Jacob would destroy anyone messing with Tyler :thumbup:

See?  Nothing to worry about then. :)

Glad you and everyone is enjoying this story.  As nice as it is now, it will get better.  A lot better, I'd like to think.

Edited by Jdonley75
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Excellent chapter! Alex having his tantrum is hopefully giving Sean the chance to be bold and ask Tyler out on a date. Jacob and Kyle are still getting their past problems worked out and Andy and Brian have started to pick up the pieces of their relationship and are moving forward toward reconciliation. Andy being suicidal is hard to read, PTSD is a profound emotional state that can be difficult to understand, control or realize what triggers can create an overwhelming overload. His boys are his ground to keep him on an even keel. Brian’s being back in his life will bring problems at first but peace and stability as they become more comfortable with their relationship. Kyle and David still have tough times ahead, but can restore their relationship for the benefit of Matty. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😃❤️

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5 minutes ago, flesco said:

Excellent chapter! Alex having his tantrum is hopefully giving Sean the chance to be bold and ask Tyler out on a date. Jacob and Kyle are still getting their past problems worked out and Andy and Brian have started to pick up the pieces of their relationship and are moving forward toward reconciliation. Andy being suicidal is hard to read, PTSD is a profound emotional state that can be difficult to understand, control or realize what triggers can create an overwhelming overload. His boys are his ground to keep him on an even keel. Brian’s being back in his life will bring problems at first but peace and stability as they become more comfortable with their relationship. Kyle and David still have tough times ahead, but can restore their relationship for the benefit of Matty. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😃❤️

We will have to see if and how Sean capitalizes on the situation with Tyler and Alex.

Andy is going to be going through a lot before this is done.  Who he ends up being is still a question.

 

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On 7/28/2019 at 6:14 PM, Jdonley75 said:

Andy can't help being on the roller coaster.  He was put on it the moment he put on the uniform.  David may be the only one close enough to him to know what's going on inside him.  As much as David loves Kyle, Jacob and the others, I feel he's grown closer to Andy over the years since he came back from the war.

If I remember correctly, David is an ex-Marine too. Military Vets can usually understand the special demons that haunt Vets who were traumatized by their service. David was the one who encouraged him to join up in the first place, although at the time, he was unaware of what or who Andy was running away from. They will always have that connection that differentiates them from the others.

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On 7/29/2019 at 6:29 PM, spikey582 said:

Oh believe me the thought definitely crossed my mind that Andy and Jacob would destroy anyone messing with Tyler :thumbup:

On 7/29/2019 at 7:05 PM, Jdonley75 said:

See?  Nothing to worry about then. :)

Tyler is the one who hid his birthday because he didn’t want to be a bother. Andy hid being a victim of domestic violence from everybody because he didn’t want their pity. I think the parallels suggest that Tyler wouldn’t be asking for help and things might not be noticed until they got extremely serious.

I wouldn’t be so cavalier about the situation, but you’re the author who hears what Alex is thinking!
;–)

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And thank you for including the crisis numbers. Too many authors forget to list even a few when they write a chapter that could potentially trigger dangerous feelings. It’s a relatively easy thing to look up and post. I’ve done it in the Comments a couple times.

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5 hours ago, droughtquake said:

If I remember correctly, David is an ex-Marine too. Military Vets can usually understand the special demons that haunt Vets who were traumatized by their service. David was the one who encouraged him to join up in the first place, although at the time, he was unaware of what or who Andy was running away from. They will always have that connection that differentiates them from the others.

Perfect analysis. 

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4 hours ago, droughtquake said:

Tyler is the one who hid his birthday because he didn’t want to be a bother. Andy hid being a victim of domestic violence from everybody because he didn’t want their pity. I think the parallels suggest that Tyler wouldn’t be asking for help and things might not be noticed until they got extremely serious.

I wouldn’t be so cavalier about the situation, but you’re the author who hears what Alex is thinking!
;–)

And I hear what Tyler thinks.  And I hear what Andy thinks (mostly).  And Brian, and Kyle and Troy and Jacob....

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4 hours ago, droughtquake said:

And thank you for including the crisis numbers. Too many authors forget to list even a few when they write a chapter that could potentially trigger dangerous feelings. It’s a relatively easy thing to look up and post. I’ve done it in the Comments a couple times.

Thank you.  When I wrote it, I knew I would be stepping into uneasy territory so I made sure I went in prepared when it came time to publish.

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I don't know if I will be able to express all my emotion in English. It is very difficult for me to describe how I felt reading this wonderful chapter.

Of all the chapters I've read so far, this one has thrilled me the most. My emotions went wild.

Firstly, the dialogue (and also the silence) between Tyler and Jacob in the car is exceptional. Jacob's tension and sadness as he drove made me cry.

The conversation between Andy and David is very delicate. The words, the gestures, the expressions, the theme implicit in the conversation. I cried even more 😪

Finally, the meeting of Andy, Jacob and the boys in the orchard is charming and nostalgic. More tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized all the affection between the two friends and the affection of Jacob for Matt.

I wish the chapter had described Jacob's internal reaction to discover that Kyle had put his name on Matt's second name. But I am sure that will soon know about that in a third book 😁

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7 hours ago, Dante Lucas said:

I don't know if I will be able to express all my emotion in English. It is very difficult for me to describe how I felt reading this wonderful chapter.

Of all the chapters I've read so far, this one has thrilled me the most. My emotions went wild.

Firstly, the dialogue (and also the silence) between Tyler and Jacob in the car is exceptional. Jacob's tension and sadness as he drove made me cry.

The conversation between Andy and David is very delicate. The words, the gestures, the expressions, the theme implicit in the conversation. I cried even more 😪

Finally, the meeting of Andy, Jacob and the boys in the orchard is charming and nostalgic. More tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized all the affection between the two friends and the affection of Jacob for Matt.

I wish the chapter had described Jacob's internal reaction to discover that Kyle had put his name on Matt's second name. But I am sure that will soon know about that in a third book 😁

The chapter was a good link between the two novels, I thought. 

No one's life is perfect.  Things go bad and sometimes worse before they get better.  But, they do get better.  I'm never one to write drama and have it all go in one direction.  The imperfections of life usually define us far more than the good times.  

I'm glad all the emotional points resonated with you like they did with me when I wrote them.

Jacob's internal monologue wasn't necessary to discuss his reaction to Matt.  His actions said it all.

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deliver the new bed too.   deliver the new bed to.
would be less witnesses   would be fewer witnesses (witness is a 'countable' noun).

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On 7/28/2019 at 2:25 PM, Jdonley75 said:

Andy does a very good job of hiding what's going on inside him.  He's used various means to ignore his PTSD and just tried to go day by day.  His sons are probably the #1 reason he never went through with it but the idea was there always.  Brian coming back into his life has made him want to try and live again and that's why he knew he had to give the gun to David, even though he figured he'd get yelled at for hiding it from him.  Remember, David specifically went over to his house and talked him into removing his guns for this very reason.  The fact that he pulled a fast one on David and then tried to call it an innocent mistake is very much within his character.  But I also think, in a way, he wanted to be caught.  He wanted David to see that there was a problem and this is his cry for help.

Tyler is indeed a great friend to have.  In case anyone didn't notice, this is the infamous trip Jacob took right before he found out about Matt (Oh, hey, look, Matt's in this story before his dad is.)

Thank you for reading. :)

 

Getting clean can take time, and several incomplete efforts. That Andy could summon the courage to surrender the weapon to David, rather than let it be discovered or secretly disposing of it, says a LOT about his desire for health and his changed heart. David is completely correct when he says that Brian is doing more for him than Andy knows.

Recovery, healing from depression and PTSD, ain't for sissies.

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51 minutes ago, BlueWindBoy said:

Getting clean can take time, and several incomplete efforts. That Andy could summon the courage to surrender the weapon to David, rather than let it be discovered or secretly disposing of it, says a LOT about his desire for health and his changed heart. David is completely correct when he says that Brian is doing more for him than Andy knows.

Recovery, healing from depression and PTSD, ain't for sissies.

I like to think Andy's decision to give the gun to David was his way of saying, "I am not okay and I need help."  He has a long way to go to being okay again.

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Even then, it just seemed so unreal to him. He knew now he was the one who started it all. Maybe, if he’d spent more time with Alex, he could have avoided the misunderstanding before it got so out of hand.
 

I am confused by this passage as Tyler was clearly under the assumption Alex wanted to keep it all on the down low. The fact he didn’t counter Alex’s outburst at first basically paints him as  a pussy. Please explain.

 

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1 hour ago, re2 said:

Even then, it just seemed so unreal to him. He knew now he was the one who started it all. Maybe, if he’d spent more time with Alex, he could have avoided the misunderstanding before it got so out of hand.
 

I am confused by this passage as Tyler was clearly under the assumption Alex wanted to keep it all on the down low. The fact he didn’t counter Alex’s outburst at first basically paints him as  a pussy. Please explain.

 

Part of this book is Tyler growing up and gaining a measure of self-confidence in himself and his choices.  He didn't have the best experience growing up and it left a few marks on his heart.  His journey through the book is a little painful and uncomfortable at first, but it's worth it in the end.

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