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    Jdonley75
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Empty Spaces Between Us - 17. Chapter 17

“Moping?”

Troy nodded his head with a grin as he looked across his desk at Andy. “That’s what David said. “He said he’s thinking about kicking Jacob out the door to make him go to Harrisburg just so he’ll cheer up.”

Andy chuckled. “They definitely fucked then. Finally.”

“Well, that was weeks ago too,” Troy said with a shrug. “I texted Kyle last night. He was taking his time responding but he seemed to be like his old self. Still in lawyer mode most of the time. He’s all wound up about this homicide case he’s working on.”

“I never figured, out of all the things he talked about doing after high school, that lawyer was what he was gonna end up as.” Andy chuckled as he shook his head. “I think the one I most expected him to do was engineer.”

Troy sat back in his chair and laughed. “Engineer?! He was horrible at math!”

He grinned. “I think it was our sophomore year when he mentioned that one. Then he went talked about coaching, psychiatry, computer programmer…” He sighed. “He was all over the place. Lawyer seemed to come out of nowhere.”

“Well, he seems like he found his calling.” Troy picked up a folder and held it out to him. “Couple things for you and the other guys. You probably won’t finish them, but that’s fine. Also, you’re without Tyler today.”

“Why?”

“He’s taking the next few days off. Visiting his dad in New Jersey.”

Andy smirked as he stood up. “I guess I’ll just have to manage on my own then.”

“Hey. Real quick.” Troy got up and came around his desk to face his friend and put a hand on his shoulder. “I just wanted to say how happy I am for you. You’re a totally new person since Brian moved in with you.”

Andy’s cheeks reddened a little as he looked down. “Thanks. This might sound strange, but I never realized how much I’d missed him until he was with me again.”

“Does that mean you two may be talking about…?” Troy looked at him hopefully.

“We’ve discussed it, but we haven’t really started looking for a new place yet.” He knew what Troy had been hinting at but decided to not answer directly. But the grin on his face was proof to his old friend that he wasn’t going to be baited into answering a question he wasn’t ready to tackle just yet. “If you got any ideas, though, we’d love to hear from you.”

“Poor Brian,” Troy said with a sad shake of his head. “Has no idea just how much of an asshole you’ve become over the years.”

“Oh, he’s learning quick.” Andy headed to the door and stepped out of the office and down the hall to get his team moving.

He looked around the room at the men sitting and talking, waiting for him to send them out on their jobs. He broke the men down into teams of three, giving out assignments and sending the guys on their way. He picked out Neal and Sean for his team and had them get their stuff.

Andy’s stuff was already in his truck and he had Neal drive the company truck with the supplies the client ordered for the deck they were going to begin that day. Sean climbed into his truck and the three of them set off for their assignment for the day. The radio played softly in the background as Andy drove and he felt relaxed and looking forward to the day. Sean seemed preoccupied when he got in the truck, but Andy didn’t say anything. He allowed himself a small smirk, having a good idea what the first thing that was going to come out of Sean’s mouth.

“So, why isn’t Tyler with us today,” Sean asked in a sort of stunted tone.

Andy silently congratulated himself on his guess. “He’s probably about halfway to New Jersey right this second. He went to go visit his dad.”

“I see.”

Andy looked over at him curiously. Sean always seemed to ask about Tyler, but he never seemed to really try and do something about his obvious attraction to him. “I think he said something about him being sick. Not exactly sure. How come you didn’t ask him?”

Sean shrugged. “I don’t have his number. So, I couldn’t call him if I wanted to.”

Andy sighed. “I’ll give it to you when we get to the site. Then you can call him later and ask him how his dad is.”

“It’s okay,” he said, sounding a little crestfallen. “He’s… I ran into him and his boyfriend out at the bar the other night.”

Andy frowned. That didn’t sound right to him for some reason. “Last I heard, he was single. At least he was last weekend when he was over at my house.”

“Well, the local bartender was out with him the other night at a club in Pittsburgh. They were dancing and touching a lot.”

Andy rolled his eyes. “That doesn’t mean anything. How come you haven’t asked him out?”

“I did. He turned me down.”

That didn’t sound like Tyler at all to him. “I think you’re going to need to be a little more forward. I don’t know about the bartender, but I do know he broke up with a guy a few weeks ago and he was out of sorts about it. Talk to him.”

“Might not even be worth the effort,” Sean replied. “My lease is up at the end of next month.”

“Leaving town then?”

“Yeah. I should.” He frowned and looked out the window. “I’m supposed too.”

“Well… Sounds like you’re gonna have to make a tough call then soon.”

“I guess.” He was quiet for a few moments. “You’re not like most of the guys around here. How come you’re not freaking out about me talking about wanting to date Tyler?”

Andy laughed softly. “My boyfriend would probably kick my ass if I gave you any crap about it.” They exchanged looks and Sean felt some relief. Maybe before the day was over, he would ask Andy for Tyler’s number.

 

****
 

Tyler sighed and tried to shake off the sense that he was making a mistake as he parked outside of a small but pleasant looking house in Trenton, New Jersey. He put the truck in park and stared at it for a moment. He hadn’t been back here in over ten years now and he struggled to remember when. Probably his last Christmas with his dad and step-mother. His dad’s family had been there. There were brief flashes of memory from that time but nothing that he could hold onto. All he remembered was that it was a short trip. As much as they had been talking on the phone the last two months, he still wasn’t sure if this was a good idea.

He turned the engine off and got out of the truck. While he had brought a bag with some clothes in it, he decided to keep it there for now and just see how things turned out. There were two cars in the driveway, one with New Jersey plates and one with Pennsylvania plates. He wondered about that as he walked up the porch steps to the door and knocked.

The sound of footsteps could be heard approaching. Tyler thought they sounded a little too normal for someone who was supposedly battling cancer. When the door opened, a woman with brown graying hair, a plump build and a smile that brought back unexpected happy memories stood there before he was instantly enveloped in a hug so infused with love it stung his eyes. “Tyler!” Her voice was subdued but no less excited as she hugged him fiercely.

“Hi, Aunt Julie.”

He hugged her for a moment before she released him only to clasp his face in her hands. “I always knew you’d grow up to be such a handsome man.”

He laughed, feeling some of his earlier uncertainty begin to melt away. “Thanks.”

She gave him a kiss on his cheek before finally letting him go. “Come on in. It’s a little chilly out here.”

They went inside and Tyler got his first look at a house he only barely remembered from years ago. The hallway and rooms off to the side were well furnished and everything seemed clean. The one thing that seemed amiss to him was the silence. His aunt led him down the hall into the kitchen. Her voice was still soft as she asked him, “can I get you anything to drink?”

“Anything is fine for now,” he replied. He sat on a stool at the small island in the kitchen an asked her, “where’s dad?”

Julie’s smile dimmed a little and placed a can of soda in front of him. “He’s sleeping. He was up most of the night.” She sat down across from him and looked at him with a serious expression. “What did he or your mom tell you about his cancer?”

Tyler’s eyes looked around the room, feeling like something was suddenly changing with his plans. “She, ah… she said it was really bad and that he was dying. But, it’s just cancer, right? I mean, didn’t they catch it in time?”

Julie’s eyes softened as she regarded him. “No, honey. It’s pancreatic cancer. Usually by the time you start to show symptoms it’s already too late.”

Tyler felt an odd tightness in his chest. His dad had sounded so hopeful when they talked. Even when he didn’t sound so great. “So… what are they doing for him?”

His aunt sighed. “Ty, this might not be what you’re wanting to hear. And I know all about your situation with your dad. He got his diagnosis in March and it’s September now. That’s six months. The cancer has spread into his liver and his rib cage.”

Tyler fought to keep his face stoic. “I don’t… I don’t understand. What are they doing for him now?”

Julie’s tone was one of remorse. One that has already accepted the inevitable and facing it with what strength they have. “They’re keeping him comfortable. He’s in a lot of pain but the best we can do for him now, is to keep him comfortable and not upset him.”

She didn’t say anything else, but her eyes told him the entire story. His dad was going to die and there was nothing anyone could do about it. His mind latched onto the memory of his dad laughing and holding him. He swallowed and then asked the dreaded question, “how long?”

She shrugged and replied, “could be today. Could be tomorrow. Could be a month from now. We don’t know. But he wants to see everyone before he goes. What I need you to do is not act angry or upset around him.”

He nodded. “I understand.”

She leaned in a little. “I’m serious, Ty. Don’t lose your shit when you’re sitting there with him. It’ll be hard, I know. But we want him to be happy in his last days.”

Tyler cleared his throat and took a drink of the soda in front of him. “He didn’t really mention any of this. He said he was doing pretty good.”

She smiled wanly. “He wasn’t lying to you, sweetheart. He was lying to himself. Phil hasn’t wanted to give up on this since he found out.”

He sat there, staring at the table, trying to wrap his head around all of this. This really could be the last time he saw his father. Of course, he always thought he’d seen the last of him a few years back. But, maybe, somewhere deep in his subconscious where he didn’t want to look, there was still a kid standing at shortstop, looking into the stands, hoping to see his dad’s face in the crowd. One last time to see that smile and hear that voice. He’d spent so much of his life angry at him and now, it just felt like wasted effort. At some point, it would all be over, and all those missed chances will remain missed forever. This was his last chance. He knew if he didn’t take it, he’d never forgive himself.

As he put his thoughts and feelings in order, he slowly nodded his head before looking up at her with eyes that belied his youth. “Okay. I can do this.”

“For him?”

“And for me.”

She smiled that same dazzling smile he saw earlier. “I’m glad. For both of you. Now,” she pointed an accusatory finger at him and grinned, “you’re going to tell me everything I’ve missed since I last saw you. And don’t bother leaving anything out because Phil is going to sleep for at least another hour or two before he gets up.”

He chuckled and sat back on the stool and the two of them talked away the rest of the morning. Tyler felt a new sense of connection to the family he hadn’t seen in years. And he was grateful that he came.

 

****

 

“Eight ball in the side pocket.”

Brian stood there with his pool cue in hand as he watched with barely veiled contempt in his eyes as the cue ball rolled towards the eight ball causing it to go effortlessly into the called pocket. “You had to have cheated somehow,” he mumbled as he moved around the table.

Andy laughed and picked up his beer. “That’s, what, three games now?”

“You’re insufferable sometimes.” Brian took a drink of his beer and grinned at his lover who seemed unphased.

“Wanna play another?”

“Aren’t we supposed to… I dunno… take care of your kids or something? Where are they?” When Brian was headed back home after his classes for the day, Andy had texted him to meet him at The Steel Door. They’d spent the last hour and a half eating bar food and beer and three spirited games of pool by that point.

“They’re at David’s for a little while so we can celebrate.” He put some more coins in the slot to release the balls to start another game.

Brian was confused. “Celebrate what?”

“Our anniversary,” he replied so calmly Brian was totally caught off guard.

Brian took another drink of his beer as he did the math in his head. “Wait a minute. You’re talking five weeks since we got together? That’s the big deal about tonight?”

“No…” He looked up at Brian with a playful smile. “Today is our twentieth anniversary since we first met.”

Brian giggled. “You made that up!”

Andy was putting the pool balls in the rack, getting them ready as he calmly said, “the Monday of our third week in seventh grade I got in trouble for talking to Kyle during class and the teacher made me get up and move to the front of the class instead of sitting with Kyle and Troy.

“When I sat down, I looked over at the new kid who just moved into town that year. And I smiled and I said, ‘hi.’ That was you and that was when we first met. Twenty years ago, today.”

Brian’s mouth opened a little in muted surprise. He tried to remember back to the day, but it all seemed to mash together. But Andy sounded so emphatic and sincere and at the same time so like how he used to be. Maybe with a little added authority to him, but Brian wrote that off to him being a dad instead of a kid himself now. Maybe his initial feeling that his time in the service had changed him was misplaced? “Well… Thank you for remembering, I guess.”

Andy went around the table to stand right in front of him. Brian stared into his bright green eyes as he leaned forward and whispered softly, “so, who loves who more now?”

Brian rolled his eyes and chuckled. “Fine, Jarhead. You win this round.”

“Thank you. Now, there’s something I want to ask you to do this week for me.”

Brian smiled and couldn’t stop himself from putting a hand on Andy’s hip. “What’s that exactly?”

“We talked about it before, but I want us to really start looking for a new home. I want you to look around and find maybe five good houses you like, and we can talk about them together, how’s that?”

Brian was only a little surprised. True, they had talked about it and agreed they needed more space, but Andy had that determined look in his eyes. He was going to do this soon. Knowing him, he also had other things up his sleeve too. “Alright. I can do that.” They remained standing there with their faces only inches apart from each other, staring into each other’s eyes. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No.” Andy’s smile started to look more like his usual smug smirk that Brian loved so much.

“Are there any other plans you have going on in that evil mind of yours I should know about?”

Andy chuckled and replied, “if I did, do you really think I’d tell you?”

Brian shrugged. “Probably not, but it was worth trying.”

“Come on. You can break this time. I’ll get us some more drinks.”

“Just a water for me, please, sweetheart.”

Andy walked over to the bar to get their drinks. When he got up there, he noticed a trio of men staring at him. He didn’t recognize them from work or anywhere else. He dismissed it and got his beer and Brian’s water and walked back to the pool table they were using.

Drake watched Andy walk away and glanced over at the three guys who he’d subtly heard muttering and watching the two men playing pool for the last few minutes. He could tell there might be trouble and kept his phone handy just in case things got ugly.

Andy rejoined Brian and stood aside while Brian took aim and started up a new game at the table. He nodded approvingly when Brian’s initial break resulted in him sending one of the striped balls into the corner pocket.

“So, is this one of the things they taught you in the marine corps,” Brian asked innocently. “Pool hustling?”

Andy smirked and watched him lining up his next target, moving subtly to one side. “You could say that. I was taught how to aim and anticipate.”

“Well, seems you learned pretty well.” He made his shot but didn’t achieve his goal and stood up to let Andy take his turn. “Seems to me you did a lot while you were away.”

Andy already could hear the subtle attempt to dig for information. He thought about it for a moment as he looked over the table and any of the possible moves he could make. “I’d say I did what everyone expects a young man to do when he goes off to fight for his country.” He left that vague as he moved around the table to line up a shot, glancing around the room as he leaned over the table.

Brian smirked and watched him. “It certainly did wonders for your ass.”

Andy smiled but wasn’t going to be goaded into missing his shot. He kept his hand steady as he connected with the cue ball and sent it gliding down the table the nicking one of the solid colored balls just enough to ease it into the pocket. “I’m glad you approve.”

“Oh, I more than approve,” he said with a small chuckle. “I love it when you fall asleep on your stomach most of all.”

Andy stood back up and went around the table to stand right in front of him. “Are you trying to get into my head,” he asked in a soft, seductive voice.

“No.” Brian slid his hands around Andy’s waist and leaned in a little closer to him. “But I wouldn’t mind getting into your pants later.”

They shared a quiet laugh and Andy gave into his impulse to lean in and kiss him softly on the lips. “Pretty sure you can pull that off.”

The sound of people approaching caught his attention and he stepped back from Brian to see who was getting close. They were the three guys he had seen earlier near the bar that were staring at him. He knew that stare well enough to know to keep part of his attention on them after he went back to the bar. Their overall appearance didn’t do much to intimidate Andy. All three of them looked close to overweight. He pegged their ages around fifty or so with the greying hair on one of them and the bald heads on the other two. One of the bald heads had a good amount of stubble on it which made him Andy’s first target.

“Go on and get out,” the older of the trio said as he waved his hand angrily. “We don’t want none of you queers stinking up our bar.”

Andy moved a little closer to the table, keeping his pool stick firmly in his grasp as he stared them down and said in an casual tone, “I wasn’t aware you owned this place.”

“You know what he means,” the older bald headed guy said as he stood just behind what Andy assumed was the leader of the three. “This place ain’t for fags like you.”

Andy smiled as he put his had on one of the balls on the table. It was nice and solid. He could probably crack the man’s skull open with it if he hit him in just the right spot. “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Brian glared at the men and subtly pulled out his cellphone to begin recording.

“Sorry ain’t worth shit from the likes of you,” the leader said in a louder voice. His cheeks were tinted pink and getting brighter the longer he stood there. “Now, get out of our bar.”

“Owen! You get your ass outta here right now!” Drake’s voice sounded loud and clear from his spot behind the bar. “I got the cops on the way and I’ll make sure they drag your sorry ass outta here and that’s the last time I put up with your bullshit between all three of ya!”

“Shut up,” the skinhead said over his shoulder. “We’re protecting our own here.”

“Okay.” Andy’s smile and calm voice seemed to cut through the yelling, and he took a step towards the three men. “I’m just out tonight with my boyfriend, trying to enjoy a drink and a couple games of pool. Now, if you wanna do this, that’s fine, but I’m not really wanting to go to jail tonight and I doubt any of you want to go to the morgue, so how about you guys just go back to your lives and I’ll go back to mine.” As he spoke, he was mentally preparing himself. Grip the pool ball and punch hard into his nose. The nose will break and send the broken pieces into his brain. Break the stick and stab into the gut of the skinhead and shove upwards hard. Will either pierce the lungs or the heart. He’ll die in seconds. Baldy gets punched in the throat. Once, twice, three times until he stops breathing. Whatever it takes, don’t let any of them get near Brian.

The leader started to take a step towards him when the door to the bar opened and two uniformed officers stepped inside. They looked around the room and one of the officers walked up to them while the other walked over to the bar. “What seems to be the problem here, gentlemen,” he asked looking at all five of them.

Andy didn’t realize he’d been breathing so heavily until just then. He forced himself to calm down and he took a step backwards but didn’t take his eyes off the three of them. “You’d have to ask them, sir. We’re just out having some beers and playing some pool.”

“And I got the proof right here,” Brian added, holding up his phone.

“Alright,” the other office said as he joined his partner. “You three are coming outside with us.”

The three thugs started to protest, and it looked like they might start to fight the cops, but when one of them put his hand on his sidearm and gave them a steely look, they finally complied and were escorted out of the bar. Drake came up to Andy and said in a sincere voice, “I’m so sorry about that. I’d heard them yapping but didn’t think they’d actually try something.”

Andy was outwardly calm as he smiled and shrugged. “It’s all good. No need to worry. Have you heard from Tyler today?”

“No. Why?”

“He was visiting his dad. Not sure if he came back or not.”

Drake nodded his thanks. “I’ll text him after I get out of here. You guys need anything else?”

Andy looked over and Brian and then back to Drake. “No. We’re fine here.”

“Okay. But, if you need anything, just let me know.” Drake gave them both a friendly smile before returning to the bar.

Brian was giving Andy a look of admiration. “Wow. You were totally cool with them. Ready to diffuse the situation all on your own, just like that, huh?”

Andy smiled slightly. “No big deal. Let’s get back to this game and then we can go get the boys and go home.” He went back to his spot around the table, calmly getting ready to line up another shot.

“And after that,” Brian asked coyly as he leaned over next to him.

Andy looked at him and said bluntly, “you said something earlier about getting in my pants…”

Brian laughed and moved back to let his cool-under-pressure boyfriend make his shot.

 

****

 

“It’s really great to see you again.” Tyler’s cousin, Chad was all smiles as they sat on the sofa together in his dad’s living room.

“Well, it’s good to be seen, I guess,” Tyler replied with a smile. Chad was always so much older than he was the few times they saw each other. Now, it seemed like Chad was so eager to see him and catch up that it caught Tyler off guard.

“He should be down in a minute. Mom and dad are probably helping him get cleaned up.” Chad’s eyes seemed to darken a little and his smile lost some of it’s light, but he seemed to be going out of his way to stay positive. Tyler wondered how much of that was for his benefit and how much of it was for his dad.

“Must be a shock seeing me pop in out of the blue.”

“Oh, no,” Chad assured him. “He’s been real excited since you two started talking on the phone. It’s all he’s talked about in the last few months.” Chad’s eyes wandered to the stairs that led up to where their parents were. “I think in some way, it’s been what has been keeping him going for this long.”

Tyler didn’t know how to respond to that. He was totally out of his element in this foreign place. Even if he had been here as a child years ago, this entire house and the people here were relatively new to him. Talking to his cousin was almost as uncomfortable as that first phone call with his dad. It wasn’t that he felt any anger or resentment towards his cousin. He just didn’t know him. A day ago, he could have been just another person he passed on the street and never looked twice at. And because of that, he felt no connection towards his cousin, even if it appeared his cousin seemed to feel differently.

There was the sound of movement just out of sight at the top of the stairs. Tyler stood up and nearly started to go to the stairs when his cousin stood and put a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Let him come down. He doesn’t want to be treated like an invalid.”

Tyler let out a breath and just nodded. He could hear his aunt and his uncle Terry mumbling encouragement as they slowly made their way down the stairs. The anticipation started to build inside him as he saw his aunt take a step down and come into view. She was looking up and talking to Phillip as he slowly descended the stairs. Her words this afternoon came into his mind again along with all the feelings it had dredged up within him that had been long forgotten.

Julie looked over her shoulder at Tyler and Chad before returning her attention to his father whose feet he could just now see on the stairs as he slowly came down. When he heard his dad’s voice, it sounded quiet and weak. “I’m okay. Just give me a minute.” The memory of his dad’s laughter came back to him and he had to chew his bottom lip to make sure he stayed silent.

Tyler wasn’t sure how long he stood there waiting as his dad’s feet finally come to rest at the bottom of the stairs. His uncle Terry stood behind his brother, looking at Tyler with a hopeful expression. Phillip looked over at his son. Tyler saw a thin, pale shadow of the man he once remembered. But his eyes sparkled still, and his lips lifted in a smile. From Tyler’s perspective, he appeared to be using all his strength to make that smile. Just for him. “Tyler. I… can’t tell you how happy I am to see you.”

He blinked a few times to clear his eyes before he responded. “Sorry it took me so long to get here.”

Phillip chuckled silently. “It’s alright. You’re here now…that’s all that matters.”

Tyler took the few steps to close the distance between them and embraced his dad. When he felt how truly thin his dad was underneath his clothing, he made sure to be as gentle as he could while still conveying his feelings of regret that it took this long for them to be in the same room together.

“Phillip are you hungry,” Julie asked him as she stood off to the side, watching the reunion.

“Are you hungry,” Phillip asked his son.

Tyler chuckled. “I can stay for dinner.”

“You can stay as long as you want.”

Chad came up and patted Tyler on the shoulder. “Why don’t you two have a seat and mom and I can get dinner going.” He stepped out of the room, soon followed by Julie and Terry.

Tyler separated himself from his dad and slowly led him to the couch. “How was your trip,” his dad asked as he slowly sat down.

“Not too bad.” Tyler joined his father on the sofa but kept a small distance from him so he could get comfortable. “I managed it in about four and a half hours.”

“That’s pretty good.” Phillip took a breath and let it out and took another.

Tyler tried to not show too much concern as he watched his father seeming to struggle just for breath. “If you need anything, just say something.” He wasn’t sure what to say or do if anything were to happen to his father right in that second.

Phillip chortled. “What I need I can’t have anyway.”

“What’s that?”

“More time.” Phillip regarded his son and smile a little. “Don’t ever waste it like I did, Ty. You only get today once and then it’s gone. Use every day you can because eventually you’ll run out.”

Tyler’s eyes drifted to the space between them. “Why didn’t you tell me how bad things really were?”

“Because I didn’t want it to be a big part of our talks,” he explained. “I was lucky enough just to get through to you. I didn’t want to waste what time we have left going over the details of my cancer. I wanted to hear about you and what you were doing. I wanted to know my boy is safe and happy. It might sound strange to you, but that’s all that really matters to me now.”

“Well…” He searched for something positive to share with his dad. “That guy I was telling you about. Alex? He showed back up yesterday.”

“Oh?” His dad leaned in a little closer.

Tyler could tell he was genuinely interested. “We patched things up. I think he’s gonna move in with me by the end of the week.”

“That’s what you want?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I love him. I know it’s not the best situation, but he means a lot to me.”

“Then seize the moment.”

“What about you? Where’s Andrea been all day?”

“Oh…” his father broke eye contact with him and looked around the room. “I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”

Tyler frowned. That didn’t sound all that. “I haven’t seen her since I got here. I guess she’s not taking things all that well?”

His dad smirked. “You could say that.”

Tyler frowned. “When was she last here?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Phillip assured him. “Your aunt Julie is taking care of me just fine.”

Tyler wanted to say that that wasn’t the point but didn’t want to press it and run the risk of upsetting his dad. If he hadn’t been dying, he would probably be yelling at him now. “Do you need anything to drink?”

“A glass of water would be fine, if you’re planning on getting something for yourself.”

Tyler stood up, suddenly eager to be out of the room. “I’ll be right back.” He headed towards the back of the house and into the kitchen. His aunt, uncle and cousin were all in there. Chad and his uncle Terry were sitting at the table while his aunt Julie was at the stove. “Where’s Andrea been all day,” Tyler asked as he went to the fridge to get a soda. As he grabbed the can, he could almost feel the weight of silence that was suddenly in the room. He turned around to look at their faces as they attempted to avoid looking in his direction. “Seriously,” he said, “how come she hasn’t been here all day?”

His eyes went to his aunt who turned her attention back to her work on the stove. His eyes went to his uncle who also seemed unable to speak until he finally focused on Chad. His cousin sighed and looked around for a minute as if debating what to say. “She’s gone.”

“Gone?” He looked at the others for confirmation. “What do you mean gone?!”

“She moved out,” his aunt said quietly, keeping her gaze on the pot she was stirring. “About four months ago.”

“She…” Tyler swallowed the anger in his throat before he started yelling. “How come everyone’s acting like she just went to the store and will be back in a few minutes?”

“Because your dad doesn’t want to make a big issue of it,” Chad gently answered.

“So, where is she exactly then?” He was starting to get more demanding, wanting to know what’s going on in this place. For a split second, he understood the irony of the situation he was in. An adult son with next to no real connection with his dying father who’s suddenly enraged that that same father had been suddenly abandoned by the wife who once didn’t want him around when he was a child.

“She’s in Wildwood,” his uncle said quietly. “Your dad knows she’s there and he knows she’s not coming back. He doesn’t want to focus on it. He doesn’t have much time left and he doesn’t want to waste it worrying about her.”

He grabbed a glass out of the cabinet and filled it with water for his dad. “Of all the cold hearted shit she could pull…”

“Yeah,” Chad said with a slight sneer. “He really could pick ‘em, huh?”

“Chad!” Julie’s tone was one of disapproval meant to silence him.

Tyler looked from his cousin back to his aunt, frowning. “What was that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Don’t pay any attention to him.” Tyler glanced back at Chad and frowned, deciding to just drop it. He headed back to the front room, putting whatever just happened behind him, but he kept the information about Andrea clutched tight in his mind. “Here you go,” he said as he sat the glass near his dad before returning to his place on the couch.

“Thanks.” His dad looked over at him and gave him a tired smile.

Tyler leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked at his dad. “If you want, I could stay with you for awhile.”

His dad looked at his quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“I mean…” He paused, trying to find a way to not say it in a morbid way. “I could stay with you and help out around here.”

Phillip shook his head. “I appreciate that offer…”

“Wait. I’m serious. I can take a leave from work. Things will slow down soon anyway once it gets cold out. Maybe I can get my landlord to help me out a bit while I’m here if I explain the situation—”

“I can’t ask you do that, Ty.”

“You’re not asking. I’m volunteering. We can spend a lot more time together. I might not know what you need all the time but I’m sure aunt Julie can help me get started…”

“No, Ty…” Phillip smiled, despite the sadness in his eyes.

“Why not?” Tyler thought for a moment his dad was rejecting him again for some unknown reason.

“Because this is my last week here, son.”

He could see his dad’s eyes watering a little, but he didn’t understand what he meant. “You don’t know if you’ll be dying this week,” Tyler replied.

His dad chuckled softly. He could tell, if he hadn’t been so weak, it would have been a full throated laugh. “It’s my last week here, in this house, Tyler. Next Monday, I’m moving back to Philadelphia.”

Tyler was confused. “You… bought a new house there?”

“No…” Phillip smiled sadly. “I’m moving into Heartland.”

The sadness in his dad’s face gave him an insight that caused his words to fumble. “What’s… what’s at… at Heartland?”

Phillip sighed and said, “it’s hospice care, son.”

Tyler looked away as his eyes flooded, and his throat seemed to close from grief. It came out of nowhere so fast he wasn’t prepared for it. “Oh.” He squeezed his eyes shut and took a few small breaths to regain control of himself. Somewhere inside him was that little boy he used to be, so desperate for his father’s love he would do anything to get it. He never wanted to admit to it from that first phone call months ago that deep down inside he really did want that father again in his life. He’d seen how close Jacob was to his dad and they weren’t even related. Or how Troy’s entire face beamed with pride when he announced he was having a third child. The look in Blake’s eyes when he talked about Andy and how no matter how quiet Tanner was, he never hid how much he loved and worshiped his dad.

But his dad admitting to going into hospice meant that the fight was really over. There was going to be no second chances. No ninth inning comeback story here. It was all going to be over and there was nothing anyone could do. As low as he felt, and as confused as he was with all of his anger and sadness, he couldn’t help but smile as he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder to comfort him. “Ty… Look at me.”

Tyler blinked a few times to clear his eyes before he sat up and turned to look at his father’s eyes. He had to steel himself from his heart breaking when he saw the look in his eyes. It was the same look he saw in David’s when he looked at Jacob. The same look in Andy’s eyes when he listened to Tanner tell him about his day at school. A look of complete and unconditional love. In that moment, he felt he didn’t deserve it.

“Tyler don’t feel sorry for me. And definitely don’t feel sorry for yourself. I can’t tell you what it means to me that you’re here right now with me. I feel like I got that best part of myself back and never knew it was missing. But I’m part of your past. Not your future. You have someone you love back home and I’m sure you have lots of friends too. Don’t waste your time worrying about me. Focus on your future. Make a better life for yourself than what you had and don’t stop trying until you fill all those empty spots in your life with people who you know are going to love you and be there for you, through all the good times and the bad.”

“I’m sorry, dad,” he managed to say while catching a tear that slid down his face.

Phillip shook his head. “Don’t be sorry for something you didn’t do. This is all my fault and no one else’s.”

“I know,” Tyler said quietly. “It’s just not fair.”

“I know… I know.” Phillip took a breath before a small smirk lifted one corner of his lips. “You wanna watch a baseball game while we wait for Julie to finish dinner?”

Tyler let go of his grief for the moment and smiled back at him. The little boy in him may never get the chance to have his dad see him play, but maybe the man can sit with his father for one last time and watch a game with him together. “Sure.”

Copyright © 2019 Jdonley75; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



8 minutes ago, starboardtack said:

Tough chapter to read. Well done.

Thank you.  Tyler having to come to terms with reality isn't pretty, but it's life.

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Yeah, agree with all of the above. Written with incredible empathy and knowledge??? of the circumstances. You continue to amaze me!

Also, just noticed that you have chosen 'Chronicles from the Orchard' as the series title - thank you.

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WOW!! What a great chapter, as I sit here with tears in my eyes.  So glad Tyler went to visit his father.

Thank you!
Mark

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Wonderful content and wonderfully written!  As a retired counselor, I can tell you from experience that many never get the chance to experience this type of re-connection before a loved one dies.  Tyler took advantage of an opportunity that evades many.  Thanks for the story.

Tony

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I agree with pviguy.

This was a real emotional chapter and so well written it even affected me.  Great chapter.  Something in me wants Tyler to find Andrea and let her know how terrible she is running out on her husband because she can't or doesn't want to deal with him dying.  I hope she gets nothing from Philips estate.

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Dang it --- not sure that I can see to write this out..........this one hurt a lot -------- and haven't cried like this in a bit.......

Losing a parent is so hard -- harder when you are young and just getting your own life started.  Brought back the memories of the 18  year I was when I lost my Dad....thankfully we had a good relationship, I can feel what Tyler is feeling and can only imagine it is 50 times worse with not having that relationship.  Please let Tyler do the right thing and at least stay with his Dad for a while.....

Brian/Andy -- still love the interactions and the playfulness that they have together......AWESOME with the anniversary!!!!

Keep it up @Jdonley75 -- it is FANTASTIC work!

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15 hours ago, Andre Delport said:

Yeah, agree with all of the above. Written with incredible empathy and knowledge??? of the circumstances. You continue to amaze me!

Also, just noticed that you have chosen 'Chronicles from the Orchard' as the series title - thank you.

You're welcome.  I toyed with a couple titles for the series before I found what felt right.

I'm glad you enjoyed this chapter.  I wrote it putting myself as far into Tyler's point of view as possible.  He had a serious shift in perspective meeting his dad now.

I always try and use empathy when considering my characters' reactions.  I'm not going to say none of myself is in any of them because I know that wouldn't be true (and my sister will gladly get on the phone and call bullshit on me.)  At the same time, I try to weave the scenarios to make them both original and grounded so that the readers can empathize with the characters.

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13 hours ago, mfa607 said:

WOW!! What a great chapter, as I sit here with tears in my eyes.  So glad Tyler went to visit his father.

Thank you!
Mark

Glad you liked it.  I had a few tears in my eyes when I wrote some parts of it as well.

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11 hours ago, pvtguy said:

Wonderful content and wonderfully written!  As a retired counselor, I can tell you from experience that many never get the chance to experience this type of re-connection before a loved one dies.  Tyler took advantage of an opportunity that evades many.  Thanks for the story.

Tony

I just found an error and had to fix it real quick. ;)  (there was a "c" missing) 

Far too often, people lose that last chance to connect with a loved one.  Tyler is luckier than he thinks.

Really glad you're enjoying the story.  Hope you find the rest as good as this chapter.

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11 hours ago, Terry P said:

I agree with pviguy.

This was a real emotional chapter and so well written it even affected me.  Great chapter.  Something in me wants Tyler to find Andrea and let her know how terrible she is running out on her husband because she can't or doesn't want to deal with him dying.  I hope she gets nothing from Philips estate.

Thank you.  I'm glad you're enjoying the story.  The emotional aspect of the inter-connected relationships with all the characters is one of the overall themes of the story.  It's not easy writing the unpleasant moments of a character's life, but they need to be shared with the readers to so that the readers feel connected to the characters as well.  

As far as Andrea and Phillip's estate are concerned... it will be dealt with in time.

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10 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

This was an emotional chapter.  As hard as it might have been for Tyler, it was undoubtedly a good trip to have made. I loved watching the scene of Andy and Brian in the bar unfold in my head. You really drew that one well. I fear that Tyler may be making an error with Alex, but that remains to be seen. I feel very badly for Sean in any case. Thanks very much for this chapter.

Thank you so much.  :) 

Andy and Brian's moment at the bar is going to be seen as more significant later on.

Tyler may be making many errors.  Only time will tell.

Sean has a lot of things getting in his way where Tyler is concerned.

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6 hours ago, FanLit said:

I chose “love” for this chapter because it is one of, if not the most affecting chapter you’ve ever written (in my opinion).  There were very emotionally charged life and death moments in this chapter for Andy and Tyler.

Andy showed that life is a permanent patrol for him, protecting his perimeter (his loved ones) from any threat; his mental dispensation of how to efficiently kill those men while appearing calm was chilling, more so because no one had any idea what he was thinking; Even when the threat was averted it wasn’t, Andy is always ready to do battle and that has to be exhausting.  (Those homophobes had no idea how Andy’s talk of sending them to the morgue wasn’t idle).

Phillip’s imminent demise and Tyler’s reaction to it was equally encompassing; From being reunited with not just his father but other members of his father’s side of the family and realizing that visit may be the last time he saw the father he still loved alive.

Focus on your future. Make a better life for yourself than what you had and don’t stop trying until you fill all those empty spots in your life with people who you know are going to love you and be there for you, through all the good times and the bad.”

Phillip’s advice for Tyler is some of the best advice any of us can get.  Death can bring you closer or further apart (ask Andrea);  As much as Tyler loves Alex,  I hope he keeps his father’s advice in mind if Alex doesn’t step up for him emotionally because Tyler will need his boyfriend very much now.

Amazing chapter, Jonathan.  👏

It's possible you could look at this chapter and think it was about imminent death...

I wouldn't say Andy is a "permanent" patrol, but when push comes to shove, he will kick and punch and stab whatever or whoever he has to to protect his own.

Phillip is going to die and he knows it.  He seems to be using what time he has left with what is important in his life.

Tyler is going to have to face this situation with his father in his own way.  Regardless of his relationship with Alex at the time, he will not be alone.

Glad you enjoyed the chapter.  Not sure if it's my more affecting chapter so far....  But, I'm a little ahead of you too. 

 

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8 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

.Glad you enjoyed the chapter.  Not sure if it's my more affecting chapter so far....  But, I'm a little ahead of you too. 

 

That you are.  

Awaiting the next chapter with great anticipation....

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4 hours ago, JayA said:

Dang it --- not sure that I can see to write this out..........this one hurt a lot -------- and haven't cried like this in a bit.......

Losing a parent is so hard -- harder when you are young and just getting your own life started.  Brought back the memories of the 18  year I was when I lost my Dad....thankfully we had a good relationship, I can feel what Tyler is feeling and can only imagine it is 50 times worse with not having that relationship.  Please let Tyler do the right thing and at least stay with his Dad for a while.....

Brian/Andy -- still love the interactions and the playfulness that they have together......AWESOME with the anniversary!!!!

Keep it up @Jdonley75 -- it is FANTASTIC work!

:hug:

Losing a parent is hard, regardless of what age you are or how close you were.  This I can say with some experience.

It's unclear in this chapter how the loss of his father is going to affect him.  Time will tell how that all works itself out.

Brian and Andy's relationship is fun in so many ways.  Their ease in talking to each other is a strength for both of them.

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Excellent chapter! Difficult to read. Andy & Brian out celebrating when acosted by three drunken homophobes. Andy calmly assesses the threat and prepares to enact his battle plan. He advises them that they will end up in the morgue if they don’t back down. The police arrived and escorted them off the premises thanks to Drake. Andy surprised Brian by how calmly he dealt with the drunks and by announcing their 20th anniversary of meeting. Tyler meeting his terminally ill father was very emotional for him realizing that he’s finding  the reunion much harder than he expected. He’s discovering that he is glad that he came to see him before he dies. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😃❤️

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In the future, I’m sure Tyler will look back and realize that he made the right decision when he went to visit his father in person.

I’m concern about cousin Chad’s quip that suggested that Tyler’s mother was also wasn’t a good pick either. Of course, it could just be that he meant that Phillip should never have married Tyler’s mother and not that he thought she was a bad person like Andrea. But it certainly doesn’t paint Chad in a good light…

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Bullies like the three skinheads in the bar aren’t particularly bright when they choose to pick on ex-Marines like Andy. (I’ve known quite a few Gay or bisexual ex-Marines in my life. Sadly, they are outnumbered by the homophobic Marines and ex-Marines I’ve known.) Bullies see LGBTQ+s as victims who can easily be cowed. They don’t expect LGBTQ+s to fight back – they don’t know about our proud history of standing up to bullies even when they’re wearing police uniforms.
;–)

I did notice that Brian wasn’t frozen in fear while Andy was strategizing, he calmly started recording the scene on his phone!
;–)

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7 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

In the fitter, I’m sure Tyler will look back and realize that he made the right decision when he went to visit his father in person.

I’m concern about cousin Chad’s quip that suggested that Tyler’s mother was also wasn’t a good pick either. Of course, it could just be that he meant that Phillip should never have married Tyler’s mother and not that he thought she was a bad person like Andrea. But it certainly doesn’t paint Chad in a good light…

Or possibly, he was just making a bad comment at a vulnerable moment.  Yeah, makes him look like an ass, but can't blame him given the circumstances.

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2 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

Bullies like the three skinheads in the bar aren’t particularly bright when they choose to pick on ex-Marines like Andy. (I’ve known quite a few Gay or bisexual ex-Marines in my life. Sadly, they are outnumbered by the homophobic Marines and ex-Marines I’ve known.) Bullies see LGBTQ+s as victims who can easily be cowed. They don’t expect LGBTQ+s to fight back – they don’t know about our proud history of standing up to bullies even when they’re wearing police uniforms.
;–)

Okay.  Well, first off, there's no such thing as an "ex-marine."  There are marines and retired marines.  This was drilled into my head by my uncle David at a young age. ;)

As for the bullies, of course they didn't know.  Marines don't put on airs or wear their valor on their sleeves.  They rarely brag and they don't boast or start fights.  They just finish them.  😆

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Great chapter!!!

2 master scenes:

1. Andy and Brian having the right to be happy and to be able to celebrate their union in a bar, like any citizen of their small town.

2. Tyler taking a big step into adulthood, showing understanding of the condition of his dying father.

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8 minutes ago, Dante Lucas said:

Great chapter!!!

2 master scenes:

1. Andy and Brian having the right to be happy and to be able to celebrate their union in a bar, like any citizen of their small town.

2. Tyler taking a big step into adulthood, showing understanding of the condition of his dying father.

Thank you.  This story is mostly about Andy and Tyler.  Jacob and the others do get their time in, but for the most part, this is all about the two of them.

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