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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 - 32. Chapter 32

“He what?”

Troy winced slightly as Brian shrieked. Decades of friendship together was the only thing that kept him standing there as Brian exploded once he finished explaining what had happened to Andy. Brian’s usual pleasant face was suddenly filled with rage and it was only those years spent together growing up that kept him calm. Sean, not knowing Brian as well as he did, took a cautious step back. “I know is sounds bad,” Troy said calmly, trying to keep things from getting worse.

“Sounds bad?!” Brian advanced a step towards him as his face darkened. “It doesn’t sound bad, it is bad!”

As much as Troy wanted to chastise Brian for yelling, it wouldn’t have been genuine considering he had done much the same thing when Sean walked into his office not that long ago and told him that Andy and Tyler had left the work site and driven away. Text messages and a few frantic phone calls to both of them were ignored and he spent the first ten minutes trying to figure out how he was going to tell one of his oldest friends that the man he loved and intended to marry had suddenly left with no clue as to where he was going, what the purpose of his trip was and, more importantly, when he was going to come home.

“Tyler went with him,” Sean said weakly.

Brian turned his wrath on Sean. “That’s even worse! He won’t be able to stop Andy if he suddenly snaps!”

“Hey!” Sean frowned, defending his boyfriend. “He did what he thought was right.”

“You need to calm down right now,” Troy said as he put a restraining hand on Brian’s shoulder. Being upset was acceptable but taking it out on an innocent bystander was not. And Troy suspected Sean was as upset about it as they were. “Losing your shit isn’t going to do anyone any good. Where are the boys?”

Brian glared harshly at Troy, but his anger began to abate. “I just got back from dropping them off at the orchard for the night. We were—” Brian’s lips snapped shut and his lower lip started to tremble. He turned and swallowed hard before looking back up at Troy with tears brimming in his eyes. “We were supposed to start planning our wedding tonight.”

Troy stepped up to him and wrapped his arms around his friend. “He’ll come home.”

Brian hid his face in Troy’s shoulder. “You can’t promise me that.”

“I think I can,” Troy replied. “We’re all worried about him. And I know it’s killing you inside. But I think this might be a good thing.” He felt Brian start to pull away, making him think he was going to yell again. “Hear me out. It’s been nine months since he had a serious breakdown. That’s a long, long time for him. Whatever he’s going through right now, I think could be something good for him and for you.”

“I want to talk to him.” Brian pulled away from Troy and grabbed his phone from its spot on the sofa where he’d been relaxing before he found Troy and Sean at his door. Troy started to object, but then thought better of it and stayed silent. Brian stood there, waiting for Andy to answer his phone when his face fell along with his heart.

From up the stairs, coming from one of the bedrooms, he could hear the faint ring of what he knew to be Andy’s phone. He ran upstairs to their bedroom and found the phone tucked just under his pillow. As Brian picked up the phone, he felt his hand tremble as a tear ran down his cheek. He was at the same time angry and frightened. Angry because it was obvious Andy had planned this, which meant Andy lied to him. Frightened, because he wasn’t sure if there was going to be anything left of the man he knew and loved when he returned.

If he returned.

Brian heard a shuffle of boots on the floor behind him. He gave himself a moment to take a breath before turning to look at Troy. “He left his phone behind.”

Troy frowned as some of his concern started to grow. “Tyler’s with him. His phone should still be working.”

“If Andy hasn’t already tied him up,” Brian said dryly.

“Bri,” Troy said with a little smile. “I can’t believe he would hurt Tyler. He was ready to kill for him a couple months ago.”

Brian wished Troy knew just how true that statement was. “So, what do I do now? Should I tell Tanner and Blake their dad ran away?”

“I think we should call David,” Troy said, avoiding the question. “He might be able to do something.”

Brian said nothing as he slowly walked out of the room, past Troy and back downstairs where Sean seemed rooted to the spot. The look of confusion mixed with feeling like he didn’t belong there irritated Brian. “Oh, calm down. I’m not taking your head off. Or your boyfriend’s, for that matter. How long ago did they leave?”

“About two hours ago,” Sean replied.

Brian frowned. “Where would they be by now? Did he go to his mom’s house?”

“Maybe you should call and ask,” Troy replied.

“No,” he said with a shake of his head. “I don’t want to alarm her for… for no reason.”

“Where’s Nate living now?”

“Williamsport. Him I will call.” Brian sighed. “But not right now. For now, I’ll call David. See what he says.”

“Good idea.” Troy started for the door and then stopped himself. “You want to stay with me and Liz tonight?”

Brian grimaced and shook his head. “No, I’d just be in the way and no fun for anybody.”

Troy gave him a meaningful look. “You shouldn’t be alone tonight.”

Brian rewarded him with a half smirk. “Worried about breaking one of the rules? Don’t worry. I’ll be alright.”

“Alright.” Troy opened the door and let Sean exit first. “Call me if you need anything.”

Brian nodded and watched them leave. Once the door was closed, he took a moment to take a few shuddered breaths. The only thing he wanted right now had disappeared and he had no idea where it went.

 

****

 

Stephanie watched David’s face as he sat across the kitchen table with her. Outwardly she remained cool and calm, but she started to feel a measure of concern the longer David had his phone to his ear. His eyes had widened for a moment and what he was saying in response to the person on the other end didn’t make any sense to her. While she pretended to dislike being “stuck” in the house through the final few months of her pregnancy, she had come to enjoy the simple quiet life the orchard offered. She had gone with David a few times into town for simple errands and learned much about the area and the people.

The most surprising discovery to her was how highly regarded David was within the community. No matter where they went, someone they would walk by or bump into knew him and his family. People always were curious to hear about when the harvest would start or when he would be opening his orchard to customers later towards the end of the month. The amount of respect and affection most people in town afforded him was noteworthy to her which only served to raise her level of respect for him in her own right because he maintained a humble demeanor. She could only conclude that it was a byproduct of having lived in the same area all his life and that the most visible landmark in the area was his backyard.

As she listened to his side of a confusing conversation, she stood up to refill his coffee cup for him before sitting down again, keeping her eyes on his until the change in his tone told her that the call was nearing its end.

“I’ll do what I can, but I can’t make any promises. And you tell Troy if he hears from him, I want to know immediately. Same goes for you. Alright. Stay calm for now. Let’s just see how things plays out. I’ll take care of the boys until he comes home. You can come stay if you want. I understand. I’ll tell them. Bye.” He put his phone down and sighed, suddenly looking older and pensive as he looked down at his refilled cup.

“Something wrong,” she asked him.

David frowned with concern as he stared at his coffee. “Andy’s disappeared. Tyler went with him, but… we don’t know where he is.”

Stephanie’s eyebrows arched high at the news. “So, they both disappeared?”

He nodded as his eyes went to hers. “Andy has PTSD. He’s been doing good lately and has made a lot of progress, I thought. But it looks like something has him upset or… something, I don’t know.”

“Shouldn’t we call his family,” Stephanie asked.

“Not yet,” he said. “I don’t want to upset Lisa or get Nathan’s ire raised.”

She frowned slightly. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea.”

A corner of David’s mouth lifted slightly as he looked at her knowingly. “As close as you may have become with him over the last few months, I’ve known him since he was in diapers. Trust me on this.”

Her eyebrows rose slightly in surprise. She wondered if Kyle had said something to David or if he was truly that observant. “Alright. Far be it for me to dispute your wisdom.”

David smiled even as his eyes were troubled. “Pete loved his sons. He’d be so proud of them both. But Andy was always his boy. Even if he didn’t look much like him. He looks more like his uncle than anyone else in the family. But he’s got his dad’s humor.”

There was a moment of silence between them as she watched his face. “It’s not easy losing a friend, is it?”

“No,” he said with a sigh. “No, it’s not. I just hope my boys don’t have to lose a friend this soon in their lives. There’s so much left for them to live for.”

“You said Tyler went with him?”

He nodded. “Not sure what that’s all about. He’s a good kid. Just… young.”

“Have you always been this close to all of them? Troy, Brian, Andy?”

His smile returned. “It’s hard to explain. They’re not my children. I wasn’t their father and I wasn’t really there when they were born like I was with Kyle. But, they’re my boys. And I love them as if they were my own. Always have. Always will.”

Stephanie was quiet as she watched his eyes get that far away look parents get when remembering when their children were still needing kisses to cure skinned knees, their beds checked for monsters waiting to pounce in the night, and a strong hand or a soft word to help them through the pains of growing into adulthood. “Well,” she finally said, “if they feel the same way, then I’m sure they know their way home if they get lost.”

David took a drink of his coffee and nodded. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “If there’s anything they should know by now, it’s that they always have a home to go to when they need it.”

She grinned playfully to hopefully brighten his mood. “Then he’ll be home when it’s time. Don’t fret over a lost cub, papa bear.”

Her efforts were rewarded with a good natured chortle from him. “I need to tell Kyle and Jacob what’s going on and make sure they keep an eye out for any messages from Tyler.” He stood up and headed out of the kitchen leaving Stephanie sitting there, pondering the situation.

 

****

 

Tyler finished refilling the gas tank and took a moment to grab a couple vitamin waters in the convenient store before heading back to the truck. They were nearly an hour away from Indianapolis and the sun was just starting to dip down towards the horizon. He figured that would be where they would stop for the night and he was grateful for that.

Beyond the fact that he was still in his work clothes, hadn’t showered and didn’t have a change of clothes available, Andy had all but stopped talking soon after they left Pennsylvania. Each time Tyler had looked over at him to make sure he was still alive, Andy was silently sitting there, staring out of the side window, lost in his own thoughts. Once in awhile he would see him wince and rub his thigh as if rubbing away a sore muscle. When he finally asked if it was okay, Andy just shrugged and sighed before saying he was fine.

As he climbed back into the truck, he handed one of the waters to Andy. “We’re gonna need to stop for the night in a couple hours. Get something to eat and hopefully find something for me to wear so I stop stinking up your tuck.”

Andy seemed to think about it before saying, “that should be fine. We won’t get there until about noon tomorrow most likely.”

“Where’s that?”

He looked back out the window as Tyler pulled out of the gas station. When he answered, his voice sounded distant. “Missouri.”

“What’s in Missouri,” Tyler asked as he got the truck back on the highway.

Andy didn’t answer. The silence hung between them for miles before he finally said in a subdued voice, “something I should have faced up to a long time ago.”

“Is it a person? A place?”

“Both.”

Tyler frowned slightly. “When were you last there?”

The left corner of Andy’s lips lifted slightly as his eyes stared at the view in front of him. “Twelve years ago. It was that last time I was… who I used to be.”

Tyler thought through what Andy said. Then he remembered what Troy had told him before he came back to work for him. That Andy needed a friend. Someone he could trust. If he was going to be that friend, he had to know more about what was going on and why they were trekking halfway across the country. “If I promise on my father’s grave that anything you tell me stays between us and no one will ever hear a word of it from my lips, will you answer some questions for me?”

Andy settled back in the seat with a resigned look in his eyes. “Sure.”

Tyler was mildly surprised. He hadn’t expected that would actually work. “Alright then. Just between us. No Brian or Sean, Troy or Jacob. No one but us. How come you broke up with Brian before you left to join the marine corps?”

Andy chuckled. “We didn’t break up. We weren’t even… Well, we were in love, no doubt about that. And did have sex towards the end of our senior year. But we were so young, and I was scared of admitting I was in love with him to myself much less anyone else. And he was scared because he was worried his family would kick him out, which they did. I didn’t really think it was real, either. Like I said, we were young and very stupid. I decided to go into the marine corps to get away and give myself time. That mistake created bigger mistakes along the way.” He sighed, realizing he was rambling. “To simplify the answer, we broke up because I was a coward and wasn’t strong enough for him when I should have been.”

“You regret joining the marines then,” Tyler concluded.

“No.” Andy shook his head slightly. “I regret joining for all the wrong reasons.”

Tyler was glad he was learning more about Andy. “You were in the marine corps when you were last in Missouri?”

Andy nodded. “We were on leave for a few weeks. My dad had died not long before and… I just didn’t want to go back home and him not be there.”

He wished he could empathize with Andy over the loss of his father, but the tone in his friend’s voice conveyed a deeper loss than he still felt from his own dad’s death. “So, what exactly are we doing in Missouri? Visiting one of your marine friends?”

“Something like that,” Andy muttered.

Tyler glanced over at him. “What are you not telling me?”

“I’m not visiting him. I’m visiting his dad.”

Tyler was confused by that. “Why?”

Andy closed his eyes and sighed. “Because he deserves to know why his son died.”

Tyler suppressed his own feeling of surprise and focused on his friend. He could hear a little reluctance in his voice and wanted to keep this going. “What was your friends name?”

Andy went silent again and Tyler thought he’d lost him. When he finally answered, it was with a voice tinged with sadness. “Brandon.”

Tyler could feel in that one word answer how difficult it had been for him to say the name out loud. He reached over and put his hand in Andy’s before saying in a soft tone, “I’m sorry.” It was a heartfelt moment and he knew he had gotten closer to Andy when he felt Andy take his hand and squeeze it.

 

****

 

Brian had spent several hours laying on the couch in silence, trying desperately not to think about the worst possible outcome of what might happen to Andy. He had called David and they both agreed that to tell the children anything until they had more information would just confuse and scare them. David told him he would keep the children at the orchard for now until they heard one way or another what had happened to Andy and would take the next step once they knew what that step was.

But that was the only call he could make. It was the only thing he could do. He didn’t want Jacob or Kyle coming over to try and console him. It would just make him feel worse. The longer he laid there the longer he went over every aspect of the last few days, trying to figure out what signs he might have missed that something was wrong. Some small detail he may have overlooked because he was too busy being happy for himself and not concentrating on Andy and his needs. A feeling like he had failed in his task to take care of Andy centered around his heart. When he went into this, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Maybe deep down he always thought that loving Andy would be enough to miraculously heal his heart and mind.

He was roused from his thoughts when the doorbell rang. As he sat up, he glanced at the time and felt a cold dread creep into his chest. It was nearly dark out now and no one should be coming over. He steeled himself as he crossed the room, preparing to see a pair of police officers standing there, waiting to deliver bad news. As he opened the door, he turned the light on illuminating the one man standing there on the porch and immediately felt surprised, relived and annoyed all at once. “What did you come back for,” he asked in the politest voice he could muster.

Sean stood there, holding a large paper bag in one hand. “Have you eaten? You didn’t seem like you were all that interested in eating earlier.”

Brian gave him an odd look as he was caught off guard by the question. “N-no. I haven’t. Why?”

Sean held up the bag and offered him a smile. “I figured you might need something to eat. I think I remember Andy mentioning that you love Chinese food.”

He stood there in the door. He couldn’t deny Sean was handsome and very sweet. “I’m not sure I’m up to eating right now anyway.”

“I got Kung Pao Chicken…”

Despite how horrible he felt, a small smile crept its way onto Brian’s face. “Well, maybe a couple bites wouldn’t hurt.” He moved aside for Sean to come in before closing the door.

“Where should I put this?”

“In the kitchen. Is that all you brought?”

Sean smirked. “I got some Mongolian Beef and some fried rice.” He took a moment to take in his surroundings as he followed Brian into the kitchen. “You have a nice home.”

Brian flashed him a smirk before motioning to the table for him to sit. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were hitting on me.” As he spoke, he took out a pair of plates and some utensils before bringing them back to the table.

“I’m not,” Sean reassured him. “I just felt bad about what you’re going through. I thought you might want to eat something at least. And maybe we’ll get some good news before too long.”

Brian got a couple sodas out of the fridge and sat down across from him. “I learned to stop praying for miracles a long time ago,” he said as they both started to take the containers of food out of the bag.

“I have to admit,” Sean began as they started putting food on their plates, “I’m not sure I really understand what’s going on. I realize Andy taking off is a big deal and all, but you make it sound like life or death.”

Brian’s eyes lowered to the plate in front of him. “It could be. We don’t know. Andy has PTSD from his time in the marine corps. It’s… never something you can plan for. I don’t even think he really knows what really triggers his… ‘attacks.’”

Sean’s expression softened in genuine remorse for him. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

“Tyler didn’t tell you?”

“No, but Tyler isn’t one to gossip,” Sean pointed out. “If he thinks it’s no one’s business then he doesn’t talk about it.”

Brian chuckled silently as he shook his head. “God, that kid is weird.”

“I don’t think he’s weird,” Sean replied before taking a bite from his plate. “I think he just doesn’t like hurting people if he can help it.”

Brian shrugged as he took a bite. “Still… he’s got bigger balls than I gave him credit for.”

Sean snickered. “They’re alright.”

Brian glanced up at him as a smirk slowly lit his face. “Well… learn something new every day, I suppose.” They continued to eat quietly for a few moments before Brian finally asked, “so what’s your story? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t seem like the typical small-town boy to me.”

Sean stabbed a slice of beef with his fork before bringing it up to his mouth. “I’m just an average guy. Not much to tell.” He stuck the slice in his mouth and chewed as he looked across the table at Brian.

Brian snorted. “Bullshit. I’ve been around a lot and I know you’re no farmer’s boy. Where’re you from?”

“California,” Sean replied with a smirk.

“Oh, surfer boy then.” Brian sat back in his seat eyeing him. “So, what brought you here of all places?”

Sean thought about it for a moment before replying. “In all honesty, I can’t tell you. I was just driving from place to place for a while and I just… stopped and decided I needed something to do. California is nice and all, but there’s so much baggage there I didn’t want to deal with it. I’ve been to other places in the past. Just random places I found interesting and wanted to experience. That was something my mom kind of taught me young; to experience everything you can in life.”

Brian nodded slightly in approval. “Smart lady, your mom. Where is she now?”

One side of Sean’s lips curled slightly in displeasure. “She died when I was fifteen. Since then my dad’s been through about three other wives. All of them getting closer to my age every year it seems.”

Brian’s eyebrows rose in curiosity. “Wow. That sucks. What did she die of?”

Sean shrugged and went back to eating before saying in a casual voice that one uses when they’ve repeated the same thing before and have accepted it. “Drug overdose. She explored a little too much, I guess.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Brian felt bad for him but also found it odd Sean was just so nonchalant about it.

“Just how that kind of life is,” he explained casually. “My dad remarried a couple times since. He insists I call them ‘mom’ like it’s gonna make everything go back to normal.” They both let a silence fill the time as they continued eating to move past the subject. “So, what is it you do? I mean, I know you’re planning on getting married to Andy and all. But what do you like doing?”

Brian sighed. “Well, right now, this is it. I used to be a college teacher. It was alright but I wasn’t really into it as much as I thought I’d be. Then, Andy creeped his way back into my life and I moved back home and in with him. I’ve been boyfriend, fiancé and backup adult to his kids since we got back together.”

“So, what do you want to do then?”

Brian grimaced slightly and shrugged. “Right now, just want to take care of Andy and his kids. They’re really sweet. Whatever I end up doing, I just want to be with them.” He sighed as his thoughts turned back to his current situation. “I just wish I knew where he was. If he was okay.”

“Did you go over his phone?”

Brian gave him a questioning smirk. “What? No. I wouldn’t go through his phone…”

Sean shrugged. “Well, it’s right here. Maybe half the reason he left it here was to tell you something.”

Brian’s dubious look made his thoughts on that clear. “He’s smart, but he’s not that smart.”

Sean shared a chuckle with Brian as they finished up their dinner. When he offered to help clean up, Brian waved him off, telling him he’d clean it up in the morning. As they went into the living room, a notification sounded on Sean’s phone. Brian stopped and looked at him with almost hopeful eyes as Sean read what was on his screen. Sean smirked and glanced up at Brian. “it’s an email. Hold on.”

“Tyler sent you an email?” Brian found that unlikely and watched Sean as he opened his app.

Sean checked his mail and read it carefully before a smile appeared on his face. He tapped a button and then closed it again before meeting Brian’s slightly worried gaze. “It was about my credit card. Checking to see if I authorized a charge on it recently.”

“Oh.” Brian was hoping for news on Tyler and Andy and his disappointment showed.

Sean smiled kindly before clarifying. “It’s Tyler.” Brian stared at him waiting for an explanation. A slow, almost mischievous grin appeared on Sean’s face as he explained, “I gave him my credit card to use. Partly to make their trip easier. And… partly to keep tabs on them so I know where they are whenever he uses it.”

Brian’s face lifted as hope slowly crept back into his heart. “And...?”

“Looks like they stopped in Indianapolis for the night,” he replied. “He’s used it four times now. Once at a gas station in Wheeling, West Virginia and again somewhere in Ohio. And now, two more charges, one for a motel room and once at a Walmart.” He frowned slightly in disappointment, adding, “just wish he’d gone ahead and gotten better clothes. The card has a fifty thousand dollar limit on it.”

There was a lot of details in Sean’s words that made Brian’s mind whirl for a moment, but the important part seemed clear. He impulsively threw his arms around Sean’s neck and hugged him as relief flooded him. “So, he’s okay then?”

Sean was a little stunned by the physical affection but returned it warmly with a smile. Glad to be able to at the very least give Brian a little peace of mind. “I would assume so. If Tyler got a room, then he’s obviously stopped for the night. If something was wrong, I’m sure he would’ve called by now. He might call here in a minute anyway.”

Brian breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay. Well, if he calls, you tell him to knock Andy upside the head for leaving like he did.”

Sean laughed softly. “I don’t think I’d want to incite any violence. Let’s just be happy they’re both still alive and well.”

A soft smile appeared on Brian’s face. “I guess you’re right. Just… tell him I miss him.”

Sean nodded. “I’ll do that. I need to get home and get to bed. I still have to work in the morning.”

“Okay.” Brian escorted him to the door. “Thanks for coming over,” he said as he opened the door.

Sean nodded as he stepped onto the porch. “Happy to help out. Try and get some sleep.”

Brian nodded and gave him a smile. “Thanks.”

 

****

 

Tyler sighed as he ended his phone call with Sean and gazed out over the darkened parking lot below him. Standing on the balcony just outside their motel room, Tyler felt a little relief after making the call right before Sean went to bed. He updated him on their progress and that he thought Andy wasn’t acting completely irrational, just determined. One thing he knew for sure after they spoke; there was going to be hell to pay for Andy once they got back home.

He wasn’t fond of the clothes he bought but he didn’t want to spend lots of Sean’s money on himself. Not wanting to feel or appear as if he was taking advantage of his boyfriend’s generosity, he kept it as cheap as he could manage. Taking one more look around the area, and feeling out of place in a foreign place, he turned back to their motel room door and slid his keycard into the lock. When he stepped inside, he saw Andy laying on the bed nearest to the bathroom, lounging as he stared at the television in the room that was on a news channel. From his appearance, Tyler could see Andy had already showered and was just lying there, waiting.

“I’m gonna grab a shower and change,” Tyler muttered as he crossed the room. He got a quiet grunt from his friend before he slipped into the bathroom to strip and get cleaned up with minimal fuss and to not let Andy be by himself for too long. The water was warm but not as hot as he would have liked after the long day working and then driving. His back was sore, his stomach was empty, and he was desperate to get clean. But deep down, he knew his real issue was he missed Sean. By now, if he had stayed home, they would have already finished eating, watched some television, and be in the middle of some really good sex before Sean would have curled up in his arms. There would have been a little talking in the dark. A laugh or two and a few more stolen kisses before they drifted off to sleep.

Instead, he was taking a piss poor shower, changing into cheap clothes and waiting on a pizza before passing out alone in a bed next to his friend. As he dried himself off, Tyler realized that he and Sean needed to eventually decide where this relationship was headed. He wanted to believe it was heading in a good direction, but he knew that anything could happen. Whatever would happen between them, he was going to keep himself grounded. Tyler sighed as he pulled on the new clothes he bought before leaving the bathroom to rejoin Andy and putting thoughts of Sean on hold for now.

They both rested quietly on their respective beds as they watched the news program for a few minutes before there was a knock at the door. Tyler got up and signed for the pizza delivery and they both sat on the floor to eat. As they ate, Tyler’s attention became drawn to the tattoos on Andy’s arms and chest. He’d seen a few of them over the years but never this close and never all of them on display for this long. A few he recognized and understood. The marine logo with its anchor and eagle along with a flag on his right arm were obviously from his time in the service. They had become slightly faded overtime, but they were still obvious to anyone who saw them. On the left side of Andy’s chest, just over his heart, was the more interesting stuff. A heart dripping blood with two riffles crisscrossing through it with lettering underneath he couldn’t decipher. He squinted as he leaned a little closer for a better look. “BT, Semper Mecum,” he muttered out loud as he stared at it.

Andy stopped mid chew and looked up at him. He slowly finished what was in his mouth before speaking. “Yeah.”

“That’s not the marine motto,” he pointed out.

Andy give him a playful smirk. “Thanks for letting me know. Semper Fi. ‘Always faithful.’ That’s the marines.”

“That one looks newer than the heart with the guns above it,” Tyler said, looking into his eyes. “When did you get it?”

“After I left the marines.” Andy’s eyes drifted down as he continued. “The heart with the rifles was kind of an inside joke between me and… And Brandon.”

Tyler was watching his face as he spoke and had a slightly surprising insight. “You were in love with him.”

Andy’s lips twisted in an uncomfortable grimace. “I don’t think either of us really expected it. He thought he was straight. I thought… I thought he was the best thing on two legs. He was funny, smart-assed, handsome and kind. We got drunk one night off base and ended up having sex. It wasn’t planned by either of us. But I guess there was always this lingering feeling between us and the next morning we were doing it again. Only sober and aware of how good it felt between us.”

Tyler stayed quiet as Andy seemed to just let it all out at once. “We kind of went back and forth for a few weeks after that. Wanting to just stay friends at times, and unable to keep our hands off each other the rest of the time. He made me feel so good about myself and then, when my dad died and I fucking lost it because not only was I on the other side of the world, I wasn’t able to get away. Every night for a week, I laid there bawling my eyes out while Brandon just kissed my cheek and told me everything was going to be alright.” Andy could feel tears filling his eyes and wiped his hand over them. “I’d loved Brian before that, but Brandon was so much more intense and… real. We weren’t two teenagers pawing at each other. I loved him and he loved me, and it was like the best drug in the world.

“After our tour was over and we returned to the states, we were given leave time. I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to deal with everyone offering me sympathy for my dad dying. I didn’t want to think about it and being with Brandon for so long, working and fighting together in a unit, I didn’t want to leave him either. So, he talked me into going to his hometown for a week. His parents had another house not far from town, so we were shacked up there, visiting his folks and meeting up with friends. We were both a little uneasy about being a couple in public, but it didn’t stop us from spending some serious quality time together. The longer we were together, the more we loved each other.”

Tyler was shocked learning all of this about Andy’s past. “Who else knows about all this?”

Andy looked at him with a steady gaze. “No one.”

“Why not?!”

Andy took another bite as he thought about his answer. “You said you would keep this all between us, or was that just while we were in the truck?”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “Of course. You know I wouldn’t break your trust in me. How serious did you two get?”

Andy sighed and was quiet for a moment. When he spoke, it was with a more hesitant voice. “We… we talked about what we wanted to do after we left the service. He’d already been told by his parents they were giving him the house after he came home.” Andy sighed and sat back against the bed. “I was planning on moving in with him. Settle down. Just… be with the person I loved.”

“What about Brian,” Tyler asked in a subdued voice.

Andy smiled ruefully as he stared at the floor. “I’d already fucked that up as far as I saw it. He was always showing off pictures of guys he was hanging out with online. Talked about dating and stuff. I dunno. It’s possible he was just trying to get my attention. Make me jealous. But in truth, I was happy for him. While I did love him and always had, I just felt like it wasn’t meant to be between us. That we’d be friends – close friends – but nothing more. I had Brandon and I loved him. Then…” A pained look crossed his face as he closed his eyes.

Tyler moved around to sit next to him. That close, he could see the single tear on Andy’s face as it fell down his cheek. He slid his hand into Andy’s and asked in a soft, caring voice, “then what happened?”

Andy’s lips trembled for a second before he managed to say, “Brandon. He… didn’t make it home.” He squeezed his eyes shut as he fought back the pain in his heart. “I lost everything that day. I could barely think and while the rest of the unit knew we were close, most of them had no idea just how close we were. They did what they could for me, but we were in a war zone. We had a job to do. So, I just… buried it. Tried to forget.”

“What’s that mean,” Tyler asked, nodding at the tattoo. “Semper mecum.”

Andy looked at the floor as he said in a voice that still reflected the grief of his loss, “Always with me.”

Tyler felt tears swell in his eyes, thinking about how he might have felt if it had been him and something had happened to Sean. “You never told anyone this?” Andy shook his head mournfully, still keeping his eyes shut as he tried to block out the memories that were overwhelming his heart. “God, Andy, I’m so sorry.” Thinking only to comfort his friend, Tyler put his arm over Andy’s shoulders.

Andy’s head rested on Tyler’s shoulder as more tears fell. “I think about him every day. I try to deny it, but I keep thinking what might have been if I hadn’t… lost him.”

Tyler felt that it was enough for now to just let him get it all out. “I take it, after Brandon… passed away, that’s when you ended up getting married to Stacy?”

Andy chuckled and nodded. Sitting back up, the sadness in his voice dissipated slightly. “I came home less than a year later. Was hanging out with Jacob and Troy at a bar and she came sauntering up. She was acting all impressed with my looks. We got to talking and drinking. Next thing I know we’re in the backseat of my truck. Three months later we were married. Six months later, Tanner came along.”

“Why didn’t you just tell her, or anyone else, that you were gay,” Tyler asked curiously.

Andy smirked. “Because then everyone would know. About my feelings for Brian… and Brandon. Plus, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ hadn’t been repealed yet. All I felt I had at that point was the marine corps. I couldn’t jeopardize that.”

Tyler nodded. “Alright. So, you’re gonna go tell his folks about the two of you, tomorrow.”

Andy nodded. “I have too. It’s the only way I can move past it. And… I wanna see him again.” Tyler looked at him, not understanding until Andy confessed, “when Brandon… died… I… got rid of all of my stuff. Pictures, clothes, everything that was attached to him. I’ll admit, that was probably the biggest mistake I made. I was so desperate to get rid of my grief, I threw everything that was attached to him out of my life.”

“Okay, that was dumb,” Tyler muttered with a smirk. “You’ve hidden from this for too long. Other than the anniversary today, what made you want to do this?”

He looked up at his friend as if the answer was obvious. “I still love Bri, Tyler. I want to live the rest of my life with him. But I can’t do that. I can’t be his husband while half of my heart is laying in a graveyard. I’m not just doing this for me. I’m doing it for my whole family. All of us.” He leaned forward to grab another slice of pizza as he muttered, “and maybe I can start sleeping every night.”

Tyler smirked to himself and they both went back to eating. Not long after they finished, Andy said they should get to bed now and get up early so they could get to Scott City before noon. If they could pull that off, maybe they could get home sooner. Tyler was all for that, so he settled into bed as Andy shut the lights off. As Tyler lay there, with the muted lights from the nearby highways coming in through the curtained window, he tried to see this trip as a new experience and a chance to prove he was part of something bigger than himself.

“Tyler?”

Andy’s muttered voice in the darkness of the room, jolted him out of his inner thoughts. “Yeah?”

“I’m glad you came with me.”

Tyler broke into a smile that was hidden in the darkness. “You’re welcome.” Nothing else was said and it wasn’t needed. In the end, Tyler knew there hadn’t been a choice in this. You do whatever you have to do for family.

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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Chapter Comments



Well, I was right about Andy needing to get closure with Brandon by visiting Brandon’s hometown.
;–)

It was good that Tyler went with Andy. As an ‘associate’ Team member, he doesn’t come with the baggage that the long friendship/brotherhoods come with. He and Andy have become close through work, so they have a closeness anyway. Tyler is able to get Andy to expose long hidden secrets that are exasperating his PTSD precisely because he lacks the baggage.
;–)

Andy is less concerned about Tyler judging him the way Troy and Brian, especially, might. Andy knows that David will take care of his boys for him. Andy knows that Troy and the others will take care of Brian – although he probably would be surprised to find out that Sean fed Brian!
;–)

I was right about Sean being able to track Tyler’s spending and thus his (and Andy’s) location.
;–)

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1 hour ago, Philippe said:

Sean is definitely coming into his own now that he is finding meaning and purpose to call his own; what a wonderful gesture of support for Brian.

Tyler is amazing too, after suffering his abuse and then bouncing back, he sacrificed his personal time with his first true love ❤️ To help a friend; not of obligation but of concern. I think Sean sees the treasure in Tyler and this event will make their growth and understanding as a couple even stronger.

Sean is a good person, mostly because he's seen what the consequences are when it comes to making the wrong decisions.  He meant well and he knew he was going to visit Brian for more than just to share a meal.

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Funny how every time there’s a crisis, when the Team should be pulling together, the one in crisis isolates. Brian needs to let the Team support him. How will Kyle and Jacob sneak under Brian’s defenses? What strategies will Troy come up with?

4 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

[Andy] continues to put a lot on his own shoulders when he shouldn't or doesn't need too.

No wonder he and Brian make such a great couple!
;–)

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6 minutes ago, mfa607 said:

Andy’s lack of communication may cause some issues…

Andy’s in Marine mode. He’s focused on his mission. He needs to do things his way to ensure they are done properly. He needs to block out all distractions while he executes the tasks set forth in the mission. That results in being incommunicado for the duration. When he is able to declare mission complete, he will report back to his superiors (ie the Team). And he will finally be able to commit to Brian completely.

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1 hour ago, Jdonley75 said:

What about Brian, you ask?  Well, that's something you'll soon find out

Why do I not like the sound of that? Of course Andy and Brian are meant to be together. They deserve a HEA!:o

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12 minutes ago, Andre Delport said:

Why do I not like the sound of that? Of course Andy and Brian are meant to be together. They deserve a HEA!:o

The paranoia is spreading, perhaps? ;) 

But seriously.  While most people deserve a happy ending, not everyone gets one.  That's part of life.  You have to learn to make your own happiness instead of waiting for it to come to you.  And even then it sometimes doesn't work out.  Life is a lot of things but it's never fair.

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4 hours ago, Jdonley75 said:

Perhaps you should be looking at that from the other way around.

"Funny when the team faces a crisis it's usually because one of them isolates himself from the others for one reason or another."

;) 

❤️ 👏 👍 

Perfectly said.

Edited by FanLit
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2 hours ago, Jdonley75 said:

Life is a lot of things but it's never always fair.

Can’t appreciate the sweet without the bitter and life gives both. 😉

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Great update... I continue to be impressed with both Sean and Tyler!  

For healing to occur sometimes pain has to be involved....just hope that the healing continues and does not cause lasting issues between Andy and Brian.

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Without repeating others' thoughts  all I will say is you have continued the excellence!  May the next chapter come a bit sooner!

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23 minutes ago, pvtguy said:

Without repeating others' thoughts  all I will say is you have continued the excellence! 

Some people ignore what others have written and post what they thought even if it looks redundant. Your thoughts are your thoughts. You might feel that they’re similar to things others have posted, but we like hearing what you are thinking when you read the chapter. You don’t need to censor yourself.

I rarely do!
;–)

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