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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 - 30. Chapter 30

The July air was still warm even as the sun was nearly set, and Andy was walking out of the meeting hall from his therapy session in Butler. It had run later than usual, and he had been eager to leave an hour ago. Far too many memories had crept into his mind and he had taken the unusual step of talking out loud about some of his experiences with the other veterans and counselors that were there. He knew that it should have made him feel better. The main point of the sessions was to talk about what they witnessed and what they felt after years away from their personal wars. But the flood of memories and sharing them with the rest of the group left him feeling empty inside.

Andy had talked about some of the men he’d served with who never came home. Men who he had been close too. Fought beside and watched them die. He talked about the deaths he had caused and how it had changed him. It was the second time in months he had opened up that much to his fellow vets. But still, there was one person, one experience, he refused to talk about. He had opportunities. There had been one tonight when another man, an army vet who also had served in Afghanistan, had broken down while talking about his best friend who had been killed in a horrible road-side bombing. It was hard for the others to listen because they all felt the same sense of loss in one form or another. Andy had his chance then. To really open up and talk about the one thing he lost that broke him. He could have said the name he hated saying, but he chose to remain silent as the other vets talked and helped the army vet come to terms with his loss.

It was no surprise then that he stopped at the door of his truck and listened to the sounds that drifted through the air. The creaking, buzzing sound of the insects in the air. The sounds of cars and trucks on the road. The heaviness of the air that was thick with moisture that indicated a thunderstorm was coming soon. He didn’t want to remember. Since the incident in the hospital months ago, a seal had been broken inside his mind. Whether from the drugs, his condition, or his unconscious need for something he knew he could never have, the memories would play out in his daily life. He’d ignore them when he could. Run and hide when he couldn’t. He had thought he had stuffed it away years ago when he watched helplessly as a dream died in front of his eyes. Yet, he couldn’t stop his eyes from closing, biting his lower lip and remembering those arms around his waist and that voice just next to his right ear that felt so real that his head turned involuntarily. A tremor ran through his spine and he heard the words that they had shared all those years ago and a thousand miles from where he stood.

“I’ve never loved anyone like you. I wish we could stay here in this moment forever.”

He’d hidden this burden all that time. Ashamed and afraid, he’d even lied to his best friend just to keep his secret the one time he slipped and gave voice to the ghost haunting him. Andy took a few seconds to gather himself again before getting in the truck. He prided himself on the fact that there were no tears this time. Just a hollow hole still inside him he pretends doesn’t exist. Nearly a year ago he had hoped that Brian could have filled that hole, but he couldn’t bring himself to show it to him. To do that would have meant showing him the monster he really had become. So, he covered it up, ignored it and hoped that once they were married, the ghost in his head would finally go away.

The truck rumbled to life and he pulled out of the parking lot to head home. For the briefest of moments, he almost gave into the impulse to turn in the opposite direction. The feeling never lasted long, but it was more noticeable than it used to be. Like an unseen hand tugging him to turn the other way. Drive and drive until maybe he could outrun the demons inside him, or find what it is that he’s lost. But duty and family forced him home. Maybe someday the call would be too loud to ignore. He wished he could get high once he got home. Even if he did, he knew in a couple weeks, he’d be back on medications given to him by the VA.

Trying to get his mind off his inner demons, he refocused himself on everything else going on in his life. Brian had started giving him not so subtle hints that it was time they set a date and made plans for their own wedding. They’d had so much fun at Kyle and Jacob’s wedding that they wanted to do much the same thing, but they also wanted to make it their own special moment instead of a carbon copy of their friends. He had some ideas of his own, but he wanted to make sure it would work out first before he said anything.

Tyler came to work Monday nearly glowing which made it hard for Andy to not laugh when he looked at him. He claimed he was trying to take things slow with Sean and they were learning about each other more than they had in the past. Apparently, Sean was having family issues and he kind of blew them off to come back here. Tyler didn’t want to give away much more than that. From how it sounded, Sean was kind of sensitive about it all and Tyler didn’t want to tell everyone his problems. Andy told him to keep it to himself for now and when Sean’s ready to talk, then he would be there to listen if he was needed. But Tyler looked so happy about being together with Sean, Andy figured a few secrets for now wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Half an hour later he was pulling into his driveway of his home and smiled when he saw the porch light was on. Andy got out of his truck and headed up to the door. A thundering of feet scrambling up the stairs was heard as he smiled and waited. It was a surprise to see Matt appear and run up to him with Blake and Carter not far behind. Andy grinned and picked the boy up in his arms. “Well, this is a surprise. When did you get here?”

“Daddy brought me,” Matt said happily.

“And where is your daddy?” Out of all the surprises he could have found coming home, this was probably the best one he could have come up with.

“He dropped Matt off,” Brian explained as he appeared from the kitchen doorway. “Tanner is staying the night with Chase and a friend of his from school.”

Andy nodded in understanding. “Sounds like we got a little boys slumber party then.” He couldn’t deny Kyle wanting some more time alone with Jacob for a few days since they only just got married. “Well, how about we get you boys ready for some movies and you can all sleep down in the family room tonight?” He set Matt back down on his feet and gave Carter and Blake hugs before getting them ready for cleaning up and pajamas.

While the idea of baths wasn’t what they had in mind, the boys didn’t mind if it meant they could stay up later watching movies and eating popcorn. Andy had become famous with his ability to make great popcorn and he wasn’t about to disappoint them while Brian made sure the boys got clean and changed before they grabbed pillows and blankets to take down to the family room. While it was smaller than the larger rooms upstairs off of the kitchen, Brian and Andy had made it feel a little cozier with the furniture arranged closer together.

Once, Andy was finished with the popcorn and had split it up into three small bowls for the boys and one big bowl for them as they spread out on the sofa. “What are we watching,” Andy asked as he got comfortable. He watched with an amused smile as it looked like Brian was consulting with the three boys before they finally came to an agreement.

Coco,” Brian announced as he slipped the disk into the Playstation.

“Never heard of it,” Andy replied as Brian walked back to where he planned to sit.

Brian used the game controller to start up the movie. “It’s pretty cute. Want me to turn the lights off?”

“Please.” He sat back on the couch. Once the movie was the only illumination in the room, he felt the comforting presence of Brian leaning against him. While there were three little boys laying on the floor, the movie was animated and they were lounging around in shorts and shirts, it almost felt like a nice date night. Having never seen the movie before, he found himself watching the screen more than the boys while absently picking some popcorn from the bowl between the two of them.

An hour or so into the movie, Brian came back from the bathroom and noticed how quiet the room had become. The story in front of everyone seemed to have everyone enthralled. He wasn’t sure how a movie about the dead was going to go over, but it seemed he’d made a wise choice when he picked it up a week ago. Glancing down at the floor as he sat back on the couch, he saw the three boys laying together on the ground. A part of him wondered if that was what his friends looked like when they were that young. They were so adorable laying there almost cuddled together. Less than a year now and the three of them were already very close. He hoped their friendship would be as lasting as their fathers.

Most of the popcorn was gone by the time the movie got to its final scenes. When the little boy on the screen started to sing to his great-grandmother, Brian felt a tug in his heart that was quickly overridden by a more immediate concern. He leaned back a little to subtly check on Andy to gauge his reaction. The look on Andy’s face seemed stoic, as if he wasn’t paying attention. But his eyes didn’t waver from the screen and Brian thought for a moment he could see tear in his eye. He looked down at the boys. It might be just his imagination, but they looked like they were closer to each other now.

Brian started to think this was the wrong movie to watch. Andy had another therapy session and hadn’t mentioned it since he got home. Not that he ever said much beyond a single, non-informative sentence about his night. He wished he could go with him sometimes. Just to see for himself if it was helping him as much as Andy claimed. He turned his head back to the movie just before it ended. Before they went to be tonight, Brian knew he would need to ask Andy some questions.

Once the credits started to roll, Brian got up and stretched before saying, “okay. It’s time for little boys to be asleep if they want to eat breakfast in the morning.” He knelt down and gave them all goodnight hugs before Andy quietly got up and replaced him. Brian watched, noticing how Andy gave them their hugs before wishing them a good night. He may have sounded his normal self, but Brian could tell something was different tonight. He went to the kitchen to get a drink before Andy came in, closing the door to the family room. One of the benefits of a quad level house was the ability to close off part of it for more privacy.

As Andy wordlessly got a beer out of the fridge, Brian decided to speak up. “You didn’t tell me how your meeting went earlier.”

One side of Andy’s lips tugged down slightly. “It went fine,” he said as he exited the kitchen and headed into the living room.

Brian’s expression hardened as he followed behind him. “I wanna ask you something. And I want you to be honest with me.”

Andy frowned as he sat on the loveseat. “Why wouldn’t I be honest with you?”

Brian ignored the question and sat down next to him. “Will you ever tell me about what happened?”

Andy took a drink of his beer and met his gaze. “You know enough already. I killed people. I watched people die. That’s really all that matters.”

Brian tamped down his frustration and pressed on. “I’m trying to understand why you don’t want to share it with me. I understand that there might be parts I don’t completely understand, but I also know you’re hurting. You’re hurting right now, as a matter of fact.”

Andy sighed. “I’m fine,” he said trying to reassure him. “It was a pretty intense night and then I come home and find the kids here and I had to… to put it all away for awhile and be ‘dad.’ When I’m at the therapy sessions, a lot of memories come out and it’s not always easy to deal with it.”

Brian was quiet for a moment as he pondered what to say next. “Kyle told me you mentioned names. You never told me any names. Except for Brandon.”

Andy looked down at the floor. His face became rigid as he fought back the images in his head. “The names aren’t important. They’re all dead.”

“They’re more than names,” Brian said quietly. “What was Brandon like?”

Andy closed his eyes as the image rebelliously came to him. The laughing eyes. The twang of his southern accent that used to make his spine tingle. The arms around his waist. The cicadas in the distance… “I don’t wanna talk about him.”

“Even if you loved him?” Brian moved closer to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

An irrational anger towards Kyle started to rise within him. He wished he hadn’t said anything and wished Kyle and the others had kept it to themselves. “What does that matter now,” he asked with a hint of bitterness in his voice.

Brian sighed and gave up. He wasn’t going to talk. “I guess it doesn’t.” Before Andy could say anything more, Brian got up and left the room.

Andy sat there with his eyes still on the floor, holding his beer in his hand and listened to Brian’s footsteps as he went up to bed. He leaned back and sighed, knowing that this wasn’t going to go away. As he drank his beer, he replayed those memories. The good ones. The first time Brandon took his socks off…

“I can do it myself you know.”

“Your back is sore. I saw you wince when we were coming back from patrol.”

That first night alone on leave when drunken fumbling and laughing turned into a kiss that could have been passed off as innocent. A kiss that ignited a fire inside both of them neither knew existed until then. The awkward next morning that was tempered by them both admitting it wasn’t the booze that had caused it. He could replay over and over that extended leave where he didn’t come home like he had before. After his father had passed away and Kyle had left, there were too many sad memories there and he didn’t want to deal with them. So, Brandon took him home to Missouri and showed him around. It had been a memorable road trip where promises were made, and love had felt more real than ever before in his life since Brian.

Less than a year later, it all ended. How cheated he’d felt and the guilt he carried ever since. Like a punishment from God for going back on his word. No one knew what all the two of them had planned. Even the men in his unit who rallied around him at the time because they all knew he and Brandon had been more than just friends. He buried his feelings deep to avoid it messing up his job at the time out of fear of going crazy from the sudden loss of a future he’d been anticipating. Even now, the tears ran down his face when he remembered the words Brandon whispered in his ears on that warm summer night.

“Even after we’re both old and gray, I’m gonna love you as much as I do right now.”

He took a long breath and let it out and tried to put the memory away. Like a picture found in a drawer that he could just close and walk away and never have to look at it again if he didn’t want too. But the reality was, since that moment in the hospital, either because of the drugs, his emotional state at the time or just some random occurrence, that memory came back after nine years to haunt him.

After he finished his beer he got up and put the glass in the recycle bin before quietly opening the door and tiptoeing down the steps into the dark room where the boys were all laying on the floor. He smiled at the scene before him. Like three stray puppies curled up together for warmth, they were all laying on their sides in the same direction. He knew he should take a picture of it, but it was too dark and turning on the lights would run the risk of waking one of them. And he’s learned in the last few months that if you wake up one of them, you wake them all.

He wished he could stay there and watch them all night, but he knew he couldn’t avoid Brian anymore. With a quiet sigh he went up the stairs, closing the door behind him before heading up to their bedroom. An odd hesitation stopped him at the door for a moment before he stepped inside. The lights were on and Brian was sitting up in bed, reading from his tablet. His eyes hadn’t moved but Andy knew he was aware of him. He had to find a way to make this right.

With slow movements, Andy closed the door and began to undress. No words were exchanged between them which only doubled the oppressive feel in the room. When he finished slipping on a pair of cotton shorts, he usually wore to bed, he turned and cautiously got into bed next to Brian, sitting up against the headboard along side him. “What are you reading,” he asked, trying to sound like everything is normal.

“Just a book,” Brian replied with a shrug. Andy also noted he didn’t bother to take his eyes off it either.

They sat there in silence before Andy finally spoke up. “The reason why I don’t talk about it is because I’m not ready too.”

Brian put down his tablet and turned to him. “What does that mean exactly?”

He was already regretting saying too much already. “It means, I’m not ready to relive what happened.”

Brian looked into his eyes and said, “I need you to understand that I’m not asking for my sake. I’m not jealous or angry that you hooked up with a guy you were screwing on the other side of the world. We were screwed up back then and I get that you were still dealing with coming out and all that.

“I want you to talk about it because a family shouldn’t hold these things back from each other. That’s what you said when you proposed, remember? That you wanted the four of us to be a family? I understand that what happened to you is heartbreaking. I get that just from the look in your eyes. I know it hurts and I know you wanna be the tough guy and deal with it on your own. But that’s not us being a family. That’s you being you and me on the outside. I want to help but I can’t if you won’t let me. Don’t shut me out just because you think you’re trying to protect me.”

Andy looked into his eyes and knew he meant every word. He loved him even more because of it. “Did… did the others tell you? About… what I did?”

“You mean that you killed people,” Brian nodded. “They told me. I knew you would have had to when I knew you were going over there. That you’d end up having to kill people. It’s part of what it means to be a soldier. That didn’t really shock me.”

Andy looked down and cleared his throat before approaching things warily. “What if I told you there was more to that?”

Brian frowned slightly in confusion. “What more is there?”

He knew he’d already gone past the line. The prospect of losing Brian to his silence might have been better than losing him to the truth. “What if… I liked it?”

Brian sat there, staring at him as he tried to process that and at the same time hold onto the Andy that he’d known nearly his entire life. “It was war, sweetheart. Things happen.”

“I still think about it sometimes.”

“The people you killed?”

“No.”

Brian was starting to lose the reins of the conversation. “I don’t understand.”

“Killing people,” Andy said flatly. “Sometimes I think about killing someone.”

“Like who? Why?!”

Andy leaned back on the pillows. “Anyone who makes themselves a threat.”

Brian managed to keep his face neutral. “How often does this happen, exactly?”

“Since we’ve been together? Twice.”

Brian couldn’t stop his mouth from dropping open. “Was I there when it happened?!”

“First time, yeah,” Andy confirmed with a nod. “It was that night with those hicks at the bar, remember?”

Brian gave him a sarcastic smirk. “Yeah, but there was three of them and only one of you. You mean to tell me, you could’ve killed them all, no problem?”

Andy shrugged. “I dunno. Probably. I did some extra training in hand to hand combat after my first tour in Afghanistan. I learned how to use whatever I have on hand as a weapon and learned where on someone’s body to strike to do the most damage.”

The fact that he was saying it all so casually, like he was just talking about how he does his laps in the pool struck Brian in a bizarre macabre fashion that he almost laughed. “I’m just gonna go ahead and take your word for it. But, back on topic here. Did you want to kill those guys?”

“No,” Andy said with a frown. “I don’t want to kill anyone. But I will if I have too.”

“Okay, so, what I’m hearing is there’s no danger in you going on a killing spree.”

Andy gave him a weird look before chuckling despite himself. “No…!”

Brian shrugged. “Then I’m okay with it.”

Andy blinked, not expecting him to say that. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah,” he said with a nod. “But I do have one thing I’d like you to do for me in the future.”

“What’s that?”

“The next time you want to kill someone, you have to ask me permission first.” Brian grinned a little as he met Andy’s eyes.

Andy rolled his eyes and then laid down on the bed. “Turn the lights off when you go to sleep.”

Brian got up and set his tablet on the dresser before shutting the light off in the room and slipping back under the single sheet. “I’m serious,” he insisted, while sounding anything but serious. “I think you should ask permission before using lethal force.” He draped an arm over Andy’s chest and held him close.

“Dream on.” Andy chuckled while at the same time feeling a kind of relief. He’d told Brian something he hadn’t shared with anyone and he didn’t run away.

“Fine,” Brian grumbled playfully. “And just so you know…” Brian pressed against him and kissed his shoulder. “…I still love you more than you love me.”

Andy smiled and felt himself relax more than he thought he would. Brian may had said the words in jest, but they were honest all the same. “We’ll see about that.”

There was a long silence and Andy nearly drifted off to sleep when Brian said in a hushed voice, “so, who else did you think about killing?”

Andy grunted and replied, “that Alex dickhead. Probably would’ve snapped his neck if Kyle hadn’t shown up.”

Brian giggled. “You definitely need permission from now on.”

“Okay.” There was still an ache in his heart he couldn’t bring himself to touch. A part of him wanted to share it but he was tired, and he knew he still wasn’t ready to go back there. It could wait until he figured out what to do next. Right now, all that mattered to him was that Brian still loved him and that might be enough to finally defeat all the demons inside him.

 

****

 

“Are you sure we shouldn’t dress up a bit more?” Sean was standing in the middle of Tyler’s front room in a simple pair of shorts and shirt as he waited for Tyler to come out of his bedroom.

The last few weeks they have been dating had been memorable ones. While they spent a lot of time together, they made sure to give each other space so neither of them felt smothered by the other. Neither of them wanted to move in together right away or spend every night together. On the weekends, they were nearly inseparable. Sean made good on his promise and took Tyler out on a date, starting with an afternoon baseball game at PNC Park to watch the Pirates play and ended at the same club they had seen each other in the year before.

While Tyler always found Sean attractive and liked his personality, the more they learned about each other, the closer they became. Tyler learned about Sean’s family and that while they maintained a pretty underscored life, his father was a very influential man in the entertainment business. He was still a little hesitant to talk about it with anyone but Tyler. When Tyler asked him why he explained that his past experience was that it made people treat him differently. “I just want to be one of the guys. Not the rich kid.”

Tyler appeared wearing much the same as Sean as he smiled in reassurance. “They’re not all that formal at the house. We’ve been invited to dinner so lets just go have fun and you can get to know Jacob and Kyle better.”

“So, who should I be expecting to see?”

Tyler shrugged as if unconcerned. “Just Kyle, Jacob, their dad and Stephanie.” Tyler was leaving out the part that they weren’t so much invited as David informed Tyler that they were expected to come to dinner. Tyler still shivered a little when remembering how David let him know he wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. Perhaps someday he’ll ask Kyle how often his dad intimidated him when he was growing up. “It’s no big deal. I promise. Besides, after dinner there’ll be plenty of time, we can go take a walk in the orchard if you want.”

Sean shrugged. “If you want. Who’s driving?”

“Me,” Tyler said with a grin as he grabbed his keys. “Let’s go.”

Sean smiled and followed him out the door and to his truck. He loved watching Tyler move when he was in a good mood. Tyler looked so energized as if nothing could get in his way. He kept trying to find ways of telling Tyler just how great he was but each time he tried he felt he couldn’t find the right words to say it. As he climbed into the truck, he got a renewed sense of relief that he took this chance and came back. Ever since they met, Sean hadn’t been able to get Tyler out of his mind. He hadn’t wanted to wish for too much, but so far things have been better than he could have imagined.

Tyler drove them out of town and down the familiar narrow road as the evening sun blazed in the sky. Sean looked around curiously. He’d heard about the apple orchard from Andy and Tyler, but he’d never seen it for himself. As the truck turned to head up a steep drive Tyler reached over and took Sean’s hand in his. Just as Sean turned to ask what he was doing they reached the top and his eyes took in the sight of the rows and rows of trees before him as the hills lifted and fell. He had seen many beautiful places and people in his years, but the sight before him struck him speechless as he beheld the simple elegant beauty before him. As Tyler parked the truck Sean felt his hand being squeezed and get his attention. “We’re here,” Tyler said simply with a small smile as he got out.

Sean followed suit and found himself stopping again to look around at the barn, the workshop next to it and then turning towards Tyler and seeing the large house. His first thought was how welcoming it looked compared to his parent’s houses. “This is definitely something new,” he remarked as he caught up to Tyler.

They walked up the ramp and Sean slowed as they reached the door. He got a puzzled look on his face as Tyler reached for the door handle. “Shouldn’t we knock?”

Tyler looked back at him and giggled. “No.” He opened the door and escorted Sean into the kitchen where David stood over the stove, stirring a pot. The aromas in the room brought a smile to Sean’s face. He could tell this would be a good dinner at the very least.

“We’re here,” Tyler announced as he brought Sean into the kitchen beside him.

David glanced over at them and smiled warmly. “Just in time. I figure dinner will be ready in a few minutes. The boys are in the other room.” His eyes went from Tyler to Sean. “Welcome to my home, Sean. How have you been?”

Sean smiled brightly in return. “Been doing great. Just working and spending time with Tyler for the most part.”

“So I hear,” David replied. “You took Tyler to his very first Pirates game from what I heard.”

Tyler got a curious look in his eyes, wondering how David found that out. “Who told you?”

“Brian mentioned it to me the other day,” David said casually.

“Oh.” Tyler turned to look at Sean. “Yeah, I may have mentioned it to him.”

Sean seemed unphased and just shrugged. “It was a fun thing to do together.”

David’s smile didn’t waver. “Go ahead and visit with the others if you want. I’ll call you all to the dining room when it’s time.”

“Okay.” Tyler motions Sean to follow and he heads down the hall to the living room where the sounds of the television can be heard.

When they walked in, Tyler came to a sudden halt in the doorway at the sudden shift in the room. The couch that had always been against the wall next to the doorway was gone, replaced with a chair with a high back to it and what looked like a comfortable cushion. Stephanie was sitting there, looking almost bored while Kyle and Jacob were cuddled together on one of the other couches in the room.

“Wow. This changed fast,” Tyler said.

All three of them looked up but it was Stephanie who spoke up first. “Oh, thank God. You’re here to save me, right?”

Tyler and Sean both looked from her to Kyle and Jacob rolling their eyes. “Save you from what,” Tyler asked her.

“From these two,” Stephanie said, pointing a thumb at the other two men in the room.

Tyler smirked and went to sit down on the couch across from the others. “What did they do to you, exactly?”

“They insist on driving me everywhere,” she said as she glared at her tormentors. “Like I’m going to give birth any minute now and I can’t fend for myself.”

“Oh, give me a break,” Kyle muttered. “I told you it was because I didn’t want you getting lost since you don’t know the area all that well yet.”

“Never heard of Google Maps,” she asked.

Tyler grinned and shook his head. “Yeah. Sorry for that, but there’s not much I can do for you. You remember Sean, right?”

Stephanie looked over at them and smiled. “Yeah. Hot boy who suddenly showed up next to you at the wedding. How can I forget?”

Sean blushed and chuckled. “Dunno about all that, but nice to see you again.”

“Nice to be seen. So, is sex as good as I remember it being?”

Tyler and Sean’s eyes went wide as their faced turned crimson.

“Ignore her,” Kyle said even as Jacob stifled a laugh. “She’s just irritable in her third trimester.”

“You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone,” she said with a satisfied smile.

“Like a canker sore,” he replied.

Tyler and Sean managed to go back to a normal skin color, and they talked for a few minutes to catch up. Tyler could notice right away that after two weeks of being married, Jacob had a new look in his eyes. A kind of peaceful, casual glow as if all the stresses in his life, the loneliness he first saw in him and the shyness that Tyler remembered being so attractive in him was gone. What he saw now was a man who had found his place in life. A life fulfilled as the pieces that had once seemed jumbled now fit into place around him.

“Dinner is ready,” they all heard David announce from the kitchen.

“Finally.” Kyle grinned and he got to his feet, grasping Jacob’s hand to pull him up before the others followed them into the dining room where David was just setting the last dish onto the table.

“Whoa,” Sean said in genuine surprise as he looked at the table. “This is amazing! Where did you find this table?” He ran his finger over the table with its dark stained wood with the dark blue resin setting within it that swirled and wove its way around the edge of the table.

“I made it,” Jacob said casually as he went to his customary seat next to Kyle.

Sean looked at him in admiration. “You made this?! You make it sound so easy. Must’ve taken months.” He slowly sat down once Tyler led him to a seat next to him.

Jacob smirked and shrugged. “I’ve done most of the woodwork around the house. Still waiting to find a good design for new front doors.” He gave his father a meaningful grin before starting to fill his plate from the dishes set in front of everyone.

“I’m still thinking about it,” David said gruffly but not without a gentle smile.

“Dad, those doors are older than me,” Kyle said as he joined Jacob in filling his plate. “Updating the house should include the doors as well.”

“Let’s table this for another time,” David replied. “We have guests tonight.”

Stephanie chuckled. “God, you must put something in these sweet potatoes that makes them addictive.”

“Just some brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.” David absently said.

Tyler and Sean joined in filling their plates. Sean had eaten a lot of dinners in a lot of places in his life. He’d rarely felt such a casual and open atmosphere sitting around with a family in his life. The food was delicious, and he busied himself trying to identify all the spices and flavors on his tongue as he chewed his food. The conversation around the table was almost as good. He got to listen to Kyle and Stephanie debate a few points of legal opinions and recall old cases they had worked on in the past. Jacob would chime in from time to time, talking about his newest projects and also debate with David about what to do next in the orchard. David mentioned a couple dozen red apples trees weren’t producing as well as they used to and his suspicions that they were infected with a disease. They agreed to have an expert come in a few days to examine them and determine the next step to take but from the sounds of it, they were both prepared to destroy the trees before they could spread it any farther.

Even though Tyler didn’t talk as much as he usually did when they were together, Sean felt a deeper connection with him. He could tell from the look in Tyler’s eyes how close his friends were to him and that it was a special and important act for him to share Sean with them. If he didn’t know better, Sean started to wonder if he had been snuck into the “meeting the family” stage in their relationship.

“So, Sean,” David said, “I’m afraid I don’t know much about you. I don’t even know your last name.”

“It’s Brighton, sir,” he replied. “I’m originally from California.”

“Really,” David’s eyebrows rose as his interest increased.

Kyle sat up and looked at him curiously. “Brighton? Brighton… That sounds familiar…”

Sean shrugged. “It’s a pretty common name, I guess.”

“No,” Kyle said absently as he searched his memory. “I know that name means something…”

Sean attempted to appear casual about it. “No big deal. Probably someone not related to me anyway.”

“So, if you’re from California, how did you end up here,” Jacob asked.

Sean shrugged. “Just looking for a job and I found a nice one. And I met Tyler and we kind of hit it off, I guess you could say.”

David smiled slightly as he seemed to lock eyes on his target. “Tyler gets that a lot, I think. He’s had some past experiences about guys who hit it off with him.”

Tyler had the good sense to stay silent, but his cheeks started to redden slightly. Sean cleared his throat self-consciously, knowing he’d chosen the wrong words. “Uh… Maybe it’s more accurate to say that we… found a lot of happiness together.”

Tyler dipped his head to hide his smile. “That’s an understatement,” he muttered to no one in particular.

“What’s your goal in life, Sean?” Stephanie’s question was the last thing Tyler expected to hear from her mouth. “I mean, what is it you want to do someday?”

“Well, I have a degree in management,” he said with an edge of uncertainty in his voice. “I would likely use that to go into a lot of fields available.” Sean realized now that all eyes at the table were on him now.

Jacob watched his face curiously. “Are you looking to put down roots here?”

“I… really haven’t thought that far yet.”

“So, you and Tyler are just… what, exactly,” Kyle followed up.

“Whoa.” Tyler broke in to slow things down. “He and I will cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we’re just taking things one day at a time. He’s not living with me. We’re not exchanging vows or proposing two months after getting back together like some people I know.” His stare hardened slightly as Kyle and Jacob seemed to stand down. He could hear David’s soft chuckle and Stephanie’s smile of approval in his peripheral vision.

“You’ll have to excuse my sons,” David said with a smirk. “They’ve taken quite a shine to Tyler. They just want what’s best for him.”

Sean smiled shyly. “It’s okay. He hasn’t had the easiest of times in the past.” He reached over and put his hand over Tyler’s causing the younger man to break out into a wide grin.

“Were you here visiting the orchard last fall, Sean?” David seemed to lighten his tone as he inquired more about the new person in his home.

“No, actually,” Sean replied. “I knew about it last year. Andy had mentioned it to me a couple times, but I’d never thought about seeing it for myself.”

David turned his focus to Tyler, his smile brightening slightly. “After dinner, maybe you should go take him on a walk in the orchard and show him around.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to mess anything up,” Sean said deferentially.

“As long as you’re not carrying an axe around, you’ll be fine,” David assured him.

Tyler nodded. “Yeah. I mean I’ve only been in some parts. We could go explore and I can show you what I know.”

Kyle hid a smile as he exchanged a meaningful look with Jacob. “I think he’ll like it, Tyler.”

“By the time you get back, you might be ready for dessert,” David concluded.

Dinner was finished soon after. As David started to clean up the table, Tyler rose and put his hand on Sean’s shoulder. “Hey, where’s your son,” he asked Kyle.

“Oh, he’s at Troy’s tonight,” Kyle explained. “He wanted to spend one more night with Carter before going to California with Dad and Steph.”

Tyler hadn’t heard about this and turned his attention to David. “What’re you doing there?”

David shrugged. “My ex-wife wants to spend more time with her grandson, and we figured that we’d give Kyle and Jacob some serious alone-time and bring Stephanie with us.”

“All expenses paid vacation to Los Angeles,” Stephanie said with a hint of amusement. “It’s sounded so horrible I nearly passed it up, but David managed to talk me into it.”

Tyler chuckled as Sean stood up to join him. “You’ll like it,” Sean assured her. “Plenty of stuff to do.”

“As long as I’m not on lockdown with these two,” she said sarcastically.

Kyle chuckled and led them out of the dining room and into the kitchen. “Why you go ahead and show Sean around Tyler. I think the rest of us will just sit out on the deck for a while and rest.”

Tyler looked and Sean questioning. “You want too?”

He smiled back at him. “Sure.”

Seeing Sean’s enthusiasm, they headed for the door. “Have fun,” Kyle called before the door closed. There was a moment’s pause in the kitchen before Kyle said, “how long do you suppose they’ll be out there?”

Jacob glanced out the window as the two young lovers walked down the path into the orchard. “Not sure. But I’m sure they’ll be making a good memory before they’re back.”

“Let’s hope.” Kyle grinned and slid his arms around his husband’s chest.

When the two of them stepped into the orchard Sean slowed down to take in his surroundings. The trees were mostly in rows with a few clusters of trees dotting the landscape. They were shorter than he expected but having never been to an apple orchard before so all of this around him was new. Except for Tyler who had stopped to watch him with a bright eyed smile. In the shade of the trees, the filtered sunlight seemed to highlight his face and created a kind of halo around his hair. In that moment, he looked so handsome Sean felt his heart skip a beat.

“It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it,” Tyler said as he turned his head to look around them.

“Yeah,” Sean said when he found his breath again. “Have any favorite spots?”

Tyler shrugged and kept walking, following a well worn trail he had never seen before. “I don’t usually go this way. Usually head towards the parking lot on the other side.”

Sean fell into step with him. “Parking lot?”

Tyler grinned. “Every year, when the apples are ripe and ready to be picked, David opens the place up for locals and tourists to come pick their own apples. He also makes a bunch of apple butter and stuff like that he sells. They get a pretty big crowd for a couple weeks before Labor Day and then again two weeks later. Everything that isn’t picked off the trees by then David hires temp workers to clear and box them up to sell to stores around the state.”

“That all sounds really complicated,” Sean said as his hand reached out for Tyler’s.

Tyler shrugged and let his fingers intertwine with Sean’s. “Maybe. He’s made the place run on his own for thirty years or so.”

Sean smiled. “You sound like you’re bragging.”

“Just telling it how it is.” They trees began to be more clustered around them, blocking out more of the sunlight. The air around them was cooler in the shade as a gentle breeze sang quietly through the leaves. They turned and found a small hill that couldn’t be more than seven or eight feet high. The top was obscured which piqued Tyler’s curiosity. He searched the side of the steep hill until he found a few stones sticking out of the soil. He tested them and found them to be sturdy enough to hold his weight.

“What are you doing,” Sean asked as Tyler started to climb up.

“They did say we should explore,” he looked down at him with a grin. “What? Can’t climb?”

Sean chortled and started to follow him up. The climb wasn’t difficult, and he was reaching up onto the grassy hilltop in two strides. Once he got to his feet he looked around and was again struck by the simple beauty as the orchard seemed to surround them in all directions. Waves of green swayed gently in the breeze as the sun slipped towards the horizon. Tyler stood next to him, taking in the sight himself with a captivated smile. “So, this is it, really. If you look over there, you can see the parking lot.” He pointed towards the east where Sean could see a more traditional chain-link fence going around the property.

After a few moments, they sat down and looked out over the orchard, enjoying the tranquil feeling the breeze and the trees created. Sean slowly moved closer to Tyler and let his arm wrap around his chest. Tyler smiled and leaned back a little against Sean. The feel of their bodies together gave him a sense of completion that he found hard to understand. As if he just discovered a part of him that had been empty for so long was suddenly filled. He tilted his head back feeling Sean’s breath on his neck. Being held in that moment felt like God had stopped time just for them to capture the moment in their hearts forever.

“Tyler,” Sean murmured next to his ear.

“Hm?” Tyler closed his eyes. He didn’t know what was coming next but he felt his heart started to beat faster.

“I’ve been trying to say something for awhile now and I’ve been screwing it up.”

Tyler’s lips tugged down for a moment. Not exactly what he was hoping to hear. “What were you trying to say?”

“When I said I didn’t like baseball?”

“Mmhm…”

“And that I said I wanted to see you more?”

“Yeah…?”

“What I’ve been trying to say…” Sean stopped himself and unsure how he was going to react. “What I’ve been wanting to say is that… I love you.”

Tyler opened his eyes and leaned back to look up at him. “You’re sure?”

“Look at me. I mean it when I say no one has made me feel like I mattered more than you have. I know we had a slow start with things and Alex hurt you a lot. I feel… so bad that I didn’t grab you and tell you at the club that night we ran into each other how crazy I was about you, but I thought you were with Drake.”

Tyler could see the look in Sean’s eyes. He leaned up and kissed him. “I wish I had been braver then and not let so many stupid ideas of how things should be get in the way of what I knew in my heart was the right thing to do. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner that I loved you too. My only excuse is that I didn’t know exactly what love really is.”

Sean smirked. “I think somewhere in there I heard you say you love me to, right?”

Tyler turned his body to face him. “Yes, I do. I love you Sean.” He leaned in and shared a soft, soulful kiss that lasted until Tyler leaned closer and gently pushed Sean down onto his back. Once there, he kissed him again and again. They held each other as they kissed until they finally stopped, feeling content to just lay there together. “So, where do we go from here? I mean, it’s all nice that we love each other but, what kind of future do you want us to have together?”

Sean looked into his eyes. He thought Tyler had such beautiful eyes. “What kind of future do you want?”

Tyler seemed to ponder the question for a second before grinning. “A future with you in it. Everything else is just window dressing to me.”

Sean chuckled. “Okay then. I want to stay here for as long as I can but at some point, I’m going to have to go see my parents again.”

“Any time soon?”

He shrugged. “Before the end of the year at least. Would you come with me?”

“To California? To visit your parents?”

Sean smirked. “I met your family. Only fair you should meet mine.”

Tyler laughed and sat back up. “My mom. That’s about all the family I have left.”

“If you say so.” Sean rose slowly to his feet and looked around again. “Want to explore some more or go back for dessert?”

“We can always come back,” Tyler reasoned as he stood up.

They went back down the hill and joined hands as they settled into a comfortable pace back towards the house. The sun was just starting to disappear on the other side of the orchard as they found the path leading to the house. All around them, the sounds of the insects chirping and clicking drifted through the warm air. When they reached the blacktop drive, Sean was once more caught up in awe as he witnessed the green glow of the door to the house that showed off the intricate design nearly hidden within it. “Did Jacob do that too?”

Tyler laughed softly. “Yeah. He’s a pretty good artist.”

“I know people who’d pay a lot of money for work like that.” They went up the ramp and back into the house just as the last sliver of the sun slipped under the horizon.

When the door closed behind them, they heard muffled laughter coming from the living room. Smirking, Tyler led Sean down the hall into the living room where he found the source of the laughter.

“How about Eileen,” Jacob said with a smile to everyone who was sitting and relaxing.

“Absolutely not,” David said. “I don’t want to call my granddaughter to supper and have an old eighties song stuck in my head.”

“What are you all talking about,” Tyler said as they stepped into the room.

David smiled up that them from his recliner. “Did you guys have a good walk? I got coffee and lemon meringue pie in kitchen if you want some.”

“Sure,” Tyler replied. “I’ll go get it. Sean, did you want some?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Have a seat and I’ll be right back.” Tyler turned and headed back to the kitchen leaving Sean behind with everyone else looking up at him.

“Have a seat,” David said as he motioned to the empty couch in the room.

“Thank you,” Sean said as he moved to take a seat. “You have a beautiful home. And the orchard was amazing.”

“Glad to hear it,” David nodded with muted pride. “You can come with Tyler on Labor Day weekend and help us pick some of the apples.”

Sean grinned. “Sure! That’ll be fun.”

“It’s not as fun as you think,” Kyle said with a half-smirk. “It’s grueling work. Only fun part is everyone else there with you.”

Sean chuckled and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “So, what was everyone laughing about when we came in?”

Stephanie grinned at him. “Oh, they’re just desperately trying to figure out if I’m having a boy or a girl because I won’t tell them.”

“So, we’re thinking of baby names and deciding if it’s a boy or a girl with how she reacts,” Kyle added.

“Oh, I see.” Sean nodded and sat back on the couch.

“What about Sally,” David said thoughtfully.

“And you were saying something about reminding you of old songs,” Stephanie quipped with a sly smirk.

“True. Could be a middle name, though.”

Jacob was watching Stephanie closely with a small smile. “Adam.”

She shrugged. “That sounds nice.”

“I’m not wild on it,” Kyle said. “How about we name him after Andy? Only name him Patrick.”

Jacob made a pain face. “Eww. Don’t like that. Or Zachary for that matter. I think we’ve gone through all the middle names and Andrew is out too. Too common. I want something original.”

“Rachel,” David suggested.

“You seem hellbent on having a girl,” Stephanie said with a grin.

“Are you saying I’m barking up the wrong tree,” he countered with a grin of his own.

She laughed lightly. “No.”

Tyler returned with a slice of pie and a mug of coffee, setting it on the small table nearby before sitting next to Sean. “So, what’s going on now?”

Sean smirked as he looked at him. “They’re grilling her over the baby’s gender.”

Tyler chuckled. “Oh, that again.”

Sean grinned. “How much longer?”

“Sometime in October,” she replied with a shrug. “I have maybe ten or eleven more weeks left.”

Tyler ate his pie quietly as they all talked, making guesses and trying to get Stephanie to reveal any clue. Sean sat comfortably next to Tyler, moving a little closer to him once he finished his pie. Conversations turned to other subjects and Sean found Tyler’s friends to be very attentive and polite. The entire house and those within had a pleasant and welcoming feel. He laughed at their jokes, heard stories about how Kyle and Jacob met. He listened to David talk about his orchard and his time raising a son on his own and Stephanie’s stories of the cases the two of them shared when they worked together.

Jacob talked about Tyler and how helpful he had been when he first started getting his business going and the trips they made for deliveries. Sean liked those stories the best because of how Tyler would blush which seemed to make his freckled cheeks seem even more irresistible. He shared part of his story about how he came to be in the area the prior year and working with Tyler and Andy on construction sites. He told them about the fun moments they shared. At some point in the middle of all the conversations, his hand had found its way into Tyler’s and they stayed there as the other noticed but seemed pleased enough to just let their obvious love for each other grow all on its own.

Eventually, Stephanie rose from her seat and declared it was time for her to get some rest. “I don’t want to oversleep tomorrow and miss my flight,” she said with a grin. “Have a good night all. It was fun meeting you, Sean.”

Everyone wished her a good night as she departed the room. Tyler got to his feet soon after. “Well, we should be going home too. It’s late and we have to work in the morning.”

David and the boys stood as well. “Be careful going home,” he said to Tyler with a smile before turning his eyes to Sean. “It was a pleasure to meet you. Feel free to drop by anytime.”

“It was great getting to know you all tonight,” Sean said with a genuine smile. “I’ll be sure to be here with Tyler when you need help picking the apples off the trees.”

They all chuckled as they made their way to the back door. “Oh, shit,” Kyle suddenly exclaimed. “Wait wait wait wait. Don’t go anywhere. I almost forgot.” He dashed down the hallway leading to the back of the house and the new rooms.

“What’s that about,” Tyler asked Jacob.

Jacob smiled a little sheepishly. “Oh, his mom sent us a huge box full of gifts for everyone who was part of or helped out with our wedding. She wanted to show her thanks since she wasn’t able to get here sooner and help. We’ve been trying to get it all distributed and she sent us one for you along with everyone else.”

“Me!?” Tyler was shocked since he did so little and was involved in only a few parts of the ceremony.

“Helen likes gifting,” David said with a smile. “It’s her way of showing she cares.”

Kyle returned a moment later with a box tucked under his arm and a piece of paper in his opposite hand. “Here it is. It’s a little heavy so make sure you don’t drop it.” He handed the box over to him before he looked at the paper in his hand. “She wrote us a letter and said about you…” He paused, looking for that section in the letter before reading aloud. “’Make sure you give Tyler his gift and let him know that while it was unfortunate we did not have adequate time to truly get to know one another, I am confident we will meet again in the near future.’ Huh. Wonder what she meant by that?”

“Threatening to come visit maybe,” Jacob said with a grin. “Be on your best behavior.”

Sean lowered his head to hide the blush on his cheeks as Tyler examined the box in his hands. “What’s in it?”

Kyle shrugged. “I don’t know but she has a knack for getting people just the right thing. And you’ll probably want to open that when you’re alone.”

Tyler nodded. “Well, thank her for me next time you talk to her.”

“I’ll tell her next time she texts me,” he replied with a smile.

They made their way to the door and waved goodnight before heading out in the warm summer night air. Their drive back to Tyler’s house was quiet but there was still a comfortable warmth between them left over from their time in the orchard together. When he parked in his driveway, they got out and Sean went around to meet him with a smile. “I had a great time with you and your friends tonight.”

Tyler looked up at him with loving eyes that made Sean feel so lucky. “Did you want to stay the night?”

Sean smiled softly at his invitation. “Normally, I’d say yes but you have a gift to open privately. We don’t need to rush things between us. I’ll come back tomorrow night, if that’s okay with you.”

Tyler was struck by his deference to him, letting him make the decisions about when he stays or not. “Well, that’ll be fine. I don’t think this gift is as big a deal as you think though.”

Sean knew better than Tyler what was possibly inside the box and knew it might be best to not be there for whatever he may find. “Never know. Just remember that I love you. And I always will.” He leaned down and kissed him softly on the lips before stepping back. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Tyler still couldn’t believe how someone like Sean could love him when he had so little to offer other than himself. “Okay. I love you too.”

Sean smiled back at him before walking down the driveway to his car and pulling away as Tyler stood there watching him drive off. Tyler headed inside and locked the door behind him before turning on the lights. He had a curious sensation of floating as his lips remembered how Sean’s felt pressed against them. The words and feelings shared kept reverberating inside him making him feel so emotional he felt his eyes getting wet as he set the box down on the sofa that used to belong to Kyle. He walked to the back of the house to strip off his clothes and take a quick shower before bed all while his mind was preoccupied with thoughts of Sean and how strong their feelings were.

A part of him wanted to be cautious out of fear of a repeat of his experience with Alex. But Alex had never wanted to get to know his friends. He never once tried to include himself with being part of the orchard or Jacob or the others. If anything, he’d gone out of his way to try and distance Tyler from them. Sean was almost the complete opposite. Wanting them to spend a lot of time together but also urging Tyler to be with his friends and maintain his relationships with them. This felt more like a partnership between them. That their lives were merging not to exploit or control him, but to lift him up and make his life better and happier. Tyler laughed to himself thinking if this is what Jacob felt for Kyle, it’s no wonder no one else stood a chance with him.

After he dried off and put on some loose shorts be went back to the front room and sat on the couch, examining the box next to him before removing the wrapping from it. Once opened he found a piece of foam protecting the contents within. What he picked up made his eyes widen. It was a crystal frame with etchings of leaves around the border. The leaved were frosted with small gems inlaid. While he was no expert, he could only guess that the frame itself was worth hundreds of dollars. The picture with in was no surprise. It was a wide framed picture of all of them from the wedding. He’d been included in that shot along with Helen and the others. He smiled as he looked at their faces, remembering how special that day had been. Tucked in the corner was a small envelope you would expect to see in a bouquet of flowers. He picked it up and opened it.

Tyler,

Family is not always defined
by who we are related too…

His eyes teared up as he looked at the picture of him and all his friends. The memories of the last two years of how generous they had been to him when he had nothing to give back. How selfless they were when he had been at his lowest point. He’d never felt like this before. That he could be confident that no matter what turns life might be in store for him, he had these people that he knew would always be there for him and they loved simply because of who he was. He wiped his eyes and sat the picture onto the end table next to him. While the frame may have cost her hundreds of dollars, the picture within it was priceless.

Tyler stood and grabbed the box, ready to discard it when he felt something else rattle inside it. He stopped and looked inside it, pushing the tissue paper aside to discover another smaller frame at the bottom. He picked it up and turned it around only to find a black and white picture of himself and Sean dancing at the reception. How the picture came into existence he couldn't begin to fathom. He'd never seen a picture of the two of them together until now. In the picture, Sean was grinning as Tyler laughed at something they had shared, and it took him back to that moment instantly. The joy of the day and their feelings for each other were evident in the picture and it amazed him to think he hadn’t known it himself at the time. He remembered what Drake had said to him that day. “He looks at you the way Max used to look at me.”

There was another note in the corner of this picture that he opened. He read her words and made it his mission to thank her in person as soon as he could.

…And there’s always room for one more.

Best wishes,
Helen

Copyright © 2019 Jdonley75; All Rights Reserved.
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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.
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19 minutes ago, akuhata said:

I am so glad I found this story and you sir have become one of my favourite authors, Thank you so much for this, I look forward to more great chapters and being a part of this great family😊

Omg, that was your first comment on the entire website?! Thank you so much!  This story has been a challenge to write but it's been worth every minute spent bringing Tyler and the other to life for everyone to enjoy.

I look forward to hearing more from you in the future. :)

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2 hours ago, FanLit said:

Andy’s opening up, slowly but doing so at all is a good thing.  Hearing Andy confess to like killing isn’t surprising after him whopping on Tyler’s ex but I do wonder what that means;  Trust Brian to inject his dry wit to let Andy know he’s okay with what he heard.  I had my concerns about what the movie “Coco” might trigger for Andy but he seemed only as troubled as he was when he left the veteran’s meeting at the end of the movie (while I know the premise of the movie, I haven’t viewed it in full so I don’t know if any scene might have done more to alter Andy’s mood). Brian will have some revelations through Andy’s healing process but he’s in it for keeps, unlike Andy with Brandon, Brian’s only ever truly loved Andy.

Brian hearing about Brandon won’t be as easy as Brian may think, I believe;  Not from a jealousy standpoint, as he said but harder than he may expect. As a side note, these guys sure like consistency...,Brian and Brandon, Jacob and Jason 🤔 😄  Another side note is how very much I love seeing the relationship between Matthew and Andy, something special is brewing there.  

It was nice to “invite” Tyler and Sean to dinner, lol.  Tyler effectively shut down any serious third degree about their relationship very well.  Sean’s upbringing of socializing with all types of people stands him in good stead with the Orchard Crew;  He is non-plussed being grilled.  His intentions are good and his heart is pure about Tyler and it shows-he has nothing to hide about that.  I like how another link was placed on Tyler’s connection to the orchard and it’s inhabitants by having he and Sean declare their love for each other for the first time there (was that on Kyle and Jacob’s hill?)  Sean is the perfect antidote from Tyler’s former relationship.

Helen’s gift to Tyler was in meaningful good taste....boy will she be in her element when David, Matt and Stephanie visit, LOL!!  I’m curious about her husband and their relationship, I wonder if any insight will be provided directly or through any observations of David or Stephanie.

Regarding Stephanie-I know she isn’t being cruel withholding the baby’s gender, that it’s her way, if you will but as this is Jacob and Kyle’s baby, I think she should tell them the sex;  it’d be different if they didn’t want to know but they do, just my opinion.  
 

Are you at the point where you post more than one chapter a week?  😬 ☺️

 

@Jdonley75 more chapters soon please sir. 😁

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3 hours ago, FanLit said:

Andy’s opening up, slowly but doing so at all is a good thing.  Hearing Andy confess to like killing isn’t surprising after him whopping on Tyler’s ex but I do wonder what that means;  Trust Brian to inject his dry wit to let Andy know he’s okay with what he heard.  I had my concerns about what the movie “Coco” might trigger for Andy but he seemed only as troubled as he was when he left the veteran’s meeting at the end of the movie (while I know the premise of the movie, I haven’t viewed it in full so I don’t know if any scene might have done more to alter Andy’s mood). Brian will have some revelations through Andy’s healing process but he’s in it for keeps, unlike Andy with Brandon, Brian’s only ever truly loved Andy.

Brian hearing about Brandon won’t be as easy as Brian may think, I believe;  Not from a jealousy standpoint, as he said but harder than he may expect. As a side note, these guys sure like consistency...,Brian and Brandon, Jacob and Jason 🤔 😄  Another side note is how very much I love seeing the relationship between Matthew and Andy, something special is brewing there.  

It was nice to “invite” Tyler and Sean to dinner, lol.  Tyler effectively shut down any serious third degree about their relationship very well.  Sean’s upbringing of socializing with all types of people stands him in good stead with the Orchard Crew;  He is non-plussed being grilled.  His intentions are good and his heart is pure about Tyler and it shows-he has nothing to hide about that.  I like how another link was placed on Tyler’s connection to the orchard and it’s inhabitants by having he and Sean declare their love for each other for the first time there (was that on Kyle and Jacob’s hill?)  Sean is the perfect antidote from Tyler’s former relationship.

Helen’s gift to Tyler was in meaningful good taste....boy will she be in her element when David, Matt and Stephanie visit, LOL!!  I’m curious about her husband and their relationship, I wonder if any insight will be provided directly or through any observations of David or Stephanie.

Regarding Stephanie-I know she isn’t being cruel withholding the baby’s gender, that it’s her way, if you will but as this is Jacob and Kyle’s baby, I think she should tell them the sex;  it’d be different if they didn’t want to know but they do, just my opinion.  
 

Are you at the point where you post more than one chapter a week?  😬 ☺️

 

Andy's relationship with Brandon is going to be dealt with.  Probably in an unconventional way that's going to get him into trouble.  But, hey, it's Andy.  When he finally does open up about Brandon, it will be interesting to see how Brian is going to react to the news.  It could create a fissure in their relationship. 

I have no idea why the names from past and present are so similar.  I honestly don't do it on purpose.  Also, that the couples involved tend to have names that are right next to each other alphabetically.  Andy and Brian.  Jacob and Kyle.  I dunno.  It just seemed to happen that way.

Sean is obviously used to going through worse.  Makes you wonder what worse looks like, huh?

Helen's gift was meant with sincere affection.  While at the same time, letting him and Sean know she's aware of their relationship.  I guess it stands to wonder if she's going to be on TeamSean as well?

Stephanie has taken your concerns under advisement and has opted to keep her mouth shut because it's her body and if she need to find some alternative form of entertainment to keep her from going nuts while she waits out her final ten weeks, then so be it.  🤣

I am at a point where it'll be a miracle if I get another chapter done by next week.  This has been a great story to write but work has thrown me for a loop in the last few months and it's getting harder to get a chapter out of my head and onto a page.  For that reason alone, I will never again publish a story unless it's complete.

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2 hours ago, Tonyr said:

Wow, love Helen! She's the best.

See?  And everyone thought she was this cold, dismissive woman who walked out on her child... ;) 

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2 hours ago, mfa607 said:

Your postings are one of the reasons I look forward to Sunday mornings!  Great chapter!

I hope this is the beginning of Andy opening up to Brian. He’s holding on to so much pain. As far as Tyler and Sean, maybe he’s found his Prince Charming! 

Thank you!

Thank you very much. :)

This is the beginning of the end for Andy's problems.  What happens next will be... well... shocking.

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1 hour ago, Bft said:

I think that Andy and Brian need to have a in-depth discussion about all of Andy’s issues without the kids around or any other interruptions,  because Andy is still shutting Brian out, the sooner they talk about it the sooner Andy can move on, it may help to have David there as well, both of them are going to need to have a lot of support around them over the next few months.

I love how Sean and Tyler’s relationship is developing. 

The gifts from Helen were amazing. 💕

 

What really needs to happen is Andy needs to stop running from his issues and deal with them.  The next couple chapters are going to be key to how all of this is resolved.

Sean and Tyler (S&T, fuck!  I did it again!)  are going to have some interesting moments.  Thankfully, they won't deal with them alone.

Helen is herself amazing, actually.  In some ways, she's just like David.  Only possibly more subtle about it. ;) 

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1 hour ago, Bft said:

@Jdonley75 more chapters soon please sir. 😁

As soon as I get them written...!  :D 

And rewritten. 😁

And double-checked for continuity. 😟

And go through a final check.  🙁

And checked for grammar and spelling... 😰

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25 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

Stephanie has taken your concerns under advisement and has opted to keep her mouth shut because it's her body and if she need to find some alternative form of entertainment to keep her from going nuts while she waits out her final ten weeks, then so be it.  🤣

I am at a point where it'll be a miracle if I get another chapter done by next week.  This has been a great story to write but work has thrown me for a loop in the last few months and it's getting harder to get a chapter out of my head and onto a page.  For that reason alone, I will never again publish a story unless it's complete.

I saw another comment you made about RL getting in the way of your writing.  I hope you know my gentle ribbing about extra posting is because I love the story so much.  Take as much time as you need to continue this story, I think I can safely speak for others in saying we will wait as long as needed.

Stephanie, as a fellow female, I understand your position as an egg carrier but you chose this, Hon.  I know you are capable of finding other ways of getting to the guys about giving you stretch marks, 😉.

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13 minutes ago, FanLit said:

I saw another comment you made about RL getting in the way of your writing.  I hope you know my gentle ribbing about extra posting is because I love the story so much.  Take as much time as you need to continue this story, I think I can safely speak for others in saying we will wait as long as needed.

Stephanie, as a fellow female, I understand your position as an egg carrier but you chose this, Hon.  I know you are capable of finding other ways of getting to the guys about giving you stretch marks, 😉.

No offense of pressure felt, so no need to worry about that.  If I wanted, I could just wait and write out the rest and leave everyone hanging for possibly months but I won't do that.  However, I thought I could have finished this back in August and... well... here we are. :)

I think Stephanie is more or less forcing them to be patient and not rush things.  Let them get used to being married first before they end up having to get up in the middle of the night and change diapers and everything else that comes with a newborn.  It's her subtle way of tell them to slow down and just enjoy themselves now.  She's got this baby thing well in hand.

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I don't know how you do it, @Jdonley75, but your writing ability is such that it seemed to take me no time at all to read all 10,828 words of this chapter. Basically two scenes, one for Andy and Brian, and another for Tyler and Sean; and yet I felt that I was actually there in both of them. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to paint a scene.

I'm glad to see Andy making baby steps towards opening up to Brian about his feelings and experiences in Afghanistan. His admission to having liked killing may seem somewhat extreme, but I suspect that that may be in part be due to the training soldiers have to undergo before they can be sent out to the battlefront. The one real cause for hope, is that Andy told Brian “The reason why I don’t talk about it is because I’m not ready to,” as at least he didn't say that he would never be ready to. Hopefully the time will come when he is ready to. It may be the only way to get through his PTSD; to share the cause of it with the one he loves. 

Meanwhile, Tyler and Sean seem to be getting to know each other more fully. Like Tyler, I am also pleased to see that Sean is definitely not treating him like Alex had. He certainly doesn't seem as possessive or controlling as Alex was, being quite happy to get to know his friends and not just try to keep him to himself.  I'm also pleased that he has invited him to California for another meet the family session. I'm just not sure whether that will go as well as the one in this chapter went...

A degree in management, huh? Wonder whether David needs a manager for the orchard? Or whether Troy (Sam?) needs one for the construction business? Or even Jacob for his woodwork...?

Edited by Marty
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8 minutes ago, Marty said:

I don't know how you do it, @Jdonley75, but your writing ability is such that it seemed to take me no time at all to read all 10,828 words of this chapter. Basically two scenes, one for Andy and Brian, and another for Tyler and Sean; and yet I felt that I was actually there in both of them. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to paint a scene.

I'm glad to see Andy making baby steps towards opening up to Brian about his feelings and experiences in Afghanistan. His admission to having liked killing may seem somewhat extreme, but I suspect that that may be in part be due to the training soldiers have to undergo before they can be sent out to the battlefront. The one real cause for hope, is that Andy told Brian “The reason why I don’t talk about it is because I’m not ready to,” as at least he didn't say that he would never be ready to. Hopefully the time will come when he is ready to. It may be the only way to get through his PTSD; to share the cause of it with the one he loves. 

Meanwhile, Tyler and Sean seem to be getting to know each other more fully. Like Tyler, I am also pleased to see that Sean is definitely not treating him like Alex had. He certainly doesn't seem as possessive or controlling as Alex was, being quite happy to get to know his friends and not just try to keep him to himself.  I'm also pleased that he has invited him to California for another meet the family session. I'm just not sure whether that will go as well as the one in this chapter went...

A degree in management, huh? Wonder whether David needs a manager for the orchard? Or whether Troy (Sam?) needs one for the construction business...

Thank you so much for the praise.  I try really hard to get the good feels in when it's time.  I wanted to evoke Andy's slowly crumbling wall around his past (not unlike Kyle's) and a little foreshadowing that it will likely be pretty extreme when it finally comes down and some shocking truths might come out and really put their relationship to the test.

The dinner at the house with Tyler and Sean was their prom night in a way. ;)  And, yes @FanLit that was the very same hill Kyle showed Jacob on his first visit there and the same hill the two of them slept on top of a few weeks ago the night after they were married. :D   There's very few barriers left between them and the contrast between Sean and Alex is striking.  It could be safe to say Sean is Tyler's true love and they're on their path towards a relationship not unlike Kyle and Jacob's.  It seems that way at least. 

A degree in management is all well and good I suppose.  Would have to see how Sean's family feels about him working a construction job for the rest of his life.

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49 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

I think Stephanie is more or less forcing them to be patient and not rush things.  Let them get used to being married first before they end up having to get up in the middle of the night and change diapers and everything else that comes with a newborn.  It's her subtle way of tell them to slow down and just enjoy themselves now.  She's got this baby thing well in hand.

👍

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Beautifully crafted chapter!  Though Andy seems to be making some progress, he appears to be at a critical tipping point that makes me extremely nervous for his survival.  He’s lucky to have Brian, as I don’t know that he would make it without him.

I’m loving the blossoming (...I’ll wait 😉 ) relationship between Tyler and Sean, and hope they go the distance. They certainly have a lot of support and appear to be building a solid, healthy foundation.  I think the trip home to see Sean’s parents will be pivotal as one never really gets to know someone until they travel together and encounter the inevitable glitches and unpredictability of a trip - not to mention a complicated family dynamic.

Helen continues to grow in my estimation. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness of her gifts to Tyler touched me.

Edited by tesao
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I am at once amazed and yet ratified in my admiration of your story telling abilities!  Simple and complex find a wonderful mix in terms of plot, character development and emotional depth.  Again, another brilliant chapter!!!

Tony

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1 hour ago, tesao said:

Beautifully crafted chapter!  Though Andy seems to be making some progress, he appears to be at a critical tipping point that makes me extremely nervous for his survival.  He’s lucky to have Brian, as I don’t know that he would make it without him.

I’m loving the blossoming (...I’ll wait 😉 ) relationship between Tyler and Sean, and hope they go the distance. They certainly have a lot of support and appear to be building a solid, healthy foundation.  I think the trip home to see Sean’s parents will be pivotal as one never really gets to know someone until they travel together and encounter the inevitable glitches and unpredictability of a trip - not to mention a complicated family dynamic.

Helen continues to grow in my estimation. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness of her gifts to Tyler touched me.

You could be very right about where Andy is at in his life.

Tyler and Sean seem to be headed in a very good direction.  It seems more grounded than with Drake and more of a mutual relationship compared to Alex.  It's not the fantasy he envisioned with Jacob either.

Helen is always going to be a source of surprises I think.

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