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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 - 34. Chapter 34

Tyler was startled awake by a nudge to his arm. Through a sleepy haze, he heard Andy mutter. “Wake up. We’re almost there.”

Tyler yawned and sat up a little more as he wiped his eyes and blinked them to clear his vision. In front of him was the familiar road leading into town and to home. “Sorry I fell asleep.”

It had taken the better part of yesterday just to make it from Missouri to Ohio. Eventually Tyler decided he’d gone as far as he could and stopped in Columbus for the night. Andy was still mostly quiet through the trip. When Tyler suggested they bring the boxes into the hotel room and go through them, Andy frowned and said he wanted to wait until he was home. That left Tyler to spend the evening resting from the long trip. He felt tired from driving for hours over the last two days and just wanted to stretch his legs, so he decided to wander around the hotel. He wished he had gotten some clothes he could have worked out in when he saw a small weight set and a treadmill in one of the public areas. In the hours crossing Indiana, he’d started missing the long hot days working on a roof. At least he was able to move his legs then.

After they went out to eat and cleaned up, Andy slept late the next day which gave Tyler time to call Sean. That they missed each other was an understatement at that point. Sean, while confident that Tyler would be alright, couldn’t stop feeling a little worried that something bad would happen. A breakdown on the highway or something else none of them might have control over. They talked for awhile before Tyler’s phone started buzzing from text messages and another phone call. But he promised Sean he would be home later that day.

The phone call had been David. Tyler felt a kind of warm sensation in his chest when he heard that voice on his phone, asking him how he was doing and what all they’d done. He sounded like a concerned father. David asked him if he was feeling alright and if Tyler was being careful while he was driving. “Yes, sir. I’m doing fine. We made it to a little town called Scott City. Andy met the parents of a guy he used to serve with and then we went to a cemetery before turning around and started heading back.”

There had been a pause and Tyler could almost imagine David searching for where Scott City was before replying. “Sounds like you’ve had quite a trip then. How’s my other boy doing?”

“He’s doing… better, I guess. He’s asleep right now.” David’s use of the term “other boy” wasn’t lost on him but as good as that made him feel, his focus was on Andy. “It’s been something that was a long time coming, I think. He slept most of the time on our way back so far. He wants to go home, but I’m just too tired to keep going.”

“That’s alright, son,” David assured him. “You take your time. I want you two back here at the house tomorrow. Just let me know when you get close.”

Tyler gave him a rough estimate and that seemed to satisfy him before they spoke a little longer. Tyler got the impression that David just wanted to make him feel at ease. Before their call ended, David told him again to be careful and they’d be there waiting for them. After Andy was awake and ready, they resumed their trek back home.

“Don’t worry about it,” Andy said as he kept his eyes on the road. “You did enough driving in three days, the least I could do is take care of the last couple hours.” After they refueled in Wheeling, Andy had insisted he wanted to drive the rest of the trip. Tyler was a little uncertain, but Andy assured him he would stick to the plan and head to the orchard instead of his own house since David had given Tyler the impression that everyone was going to be waiting there for them.

If he were to be completely honest, Tyler had done enough driving that he would rather sleep at David’s house for the night than get behind the wheel again just to drive home. He wondered when he’d get to see Sean. He’d be the first person he texts as soon as they got to the house.

Andy drove into town and took the familiar route he’s known since he had a learner’s permit. As he got closer, a feeling of unease started to grow. His thoughts had been mostly on just wanting to get home and see his children and Brian. But the longer he thought on it, the more he worried that he’d used up all his good will with Brian. He wasn’t sure how he was going to explain himself. Even simply telling the truth didn’t feel like that would be enough to excuse his actions. The only consolation he had was that while he still felt like he’d been hollowed out the day before, he didn’t feel the same weight he’d had on his heart for the last decade. It wasn’t completely gone. The loss of Brandon was still a sharp ache deep inside him that he’d gotten so used to hiding, he’d been able to almost convince himself it was gone. But some of the edge had been lost since he finally made his confession. He didn’t want to lose Brian, and he’d do everything he could to prevent that, but Andy knew if that was the decision Brian made, he would have to live with it.

Tyler sat quietly as Andy made the final turn. His main concern was that Andy hadn’t said anything humorous since they left Missouri. When he did speak, he sounded older. Like he was drained from his ordeal. He had wanted to stay awake and try and keep Andy engaged in the present in case his memories started plaguing him again. The fact that not only did he get some much needed rest, but Andy had kept to the plan and they were now turning onto the driveway, heading up to the house.

“Uh, oh,” Andy muttered in what sounded to Tyler’s ear as almost a playful tone.

“What?”

“I’m in more trouble than I thought I’d be,” he said as he pulled into the spot he would normally would park his truck.

“Why’s that?”

Andy sighed and said, “my brother is here.”

The driveway had more cars parked there than he could remember seeing before. Other than the usual cars and trucks belonging to the Howards, he could see Troy’s truck, Stephanie’s car along with another car he didn’t recognize. The one car he saw that made him suddenly smile was Sean’s. Tyler looked over at the house and saw David, Brian and Nathan all stepping out onto the porch, watching them intently. Tyler sighed, not liking the looks of that and said, “wanna make a break for it?”

“No,” he replied as he parked and shut the engine off. “I’m through hiding all this.”

“Alright,” Tyler said as he opened his door. “I’ve got your back in case things get nasty.”

Andy gave him an incredulous smirk. “Thanks.” They kept their stuff in the truck and headed across the blacktop drive to the ramp.

Before they reached the bottom, Nate rushed down to intercept them. Andy made no attempt to stop his older brother and even seemed to lean into him as Nate hugged his brother with a fierceness that seemed determined to never let go of him. His voice shook with a relief he could only just now seem to believe that his little brother was safe. “Oh, God. Don’t ever do that to me again.”

“I’m sorry,” Andy said as he hugged his brother. The memories of Brandon started to filter back into his mind. Not like it had in the past, where it felt like barbs stuck inside him with no safe way to remove them. Now, it was a growing void inside him. A piece of himself that had to be removed. It would take time to adjust to its absence. “I don’t know what to say.”

Nate could hear the tremor in his voice and squeezed him tighter in his arms. “It’s alright.” He bent his head to kiss Andy’s hair. “I’m just glad you’re back.”

Andy let himself stay there for a moment longer in that comforting embrace. When Nate finally let go of him, he looked up to see Brian and David looking back at him. David had an expression of relief mixed with a stern look in his eyes, waiting to hear an explanation. Brian’s pensive gaze was fixed solely on him. Andy couldn’t tell what was going on inside his head and that only served to fuel his anxiety.

Tyler gave him a reassuring pat on the back as he moved past him and up the ramp. He intended to go inside but was stopped by David who wrapped his arms around him and hugged him warmly. A smile lifted his lips as he felt David run his hand through Tyler’s hair as if to be certain he was alright. When David spoke, he did so in a quiet voice of a loving father. “I am so proud of you.”

It wasn’t at all what he expected to hear. They were words he could never remember hearing said to him before. The effect was so strong, Tyler had to squeeze his eyes shut to stop a tear from falling. They left him feeling like he had just hit a grand slam and everyone watching was on their feet. “I couldn’t let him go alone,” he replied in a whisper.

“Of course, you couldn’t,” David said reassuringly before gently kissing the top of his head. “Go on inside. There’s someone who’s been waiting in there for you.” Tyler grinned to himself and let go of David who gave him a warm smile before letting go of him and setting him free so he could head inside.

Tyler hurried through the kitchen and was heading towards the living room when Sean appeared in the hallway from the back of the house. They stood there for half a second before closing the distance between them. As their arms encircled each other, their lips met in a passionate kiss. Tyler heard the slightest whimper from one of them but would never be sure who it was it came from. What mattered was that they were together again.

Andy made his way up the ramp with Nate behind him. His eyes were locked onto Brian while uncertainly played inside his heart. As he got closer, he could see remnants of tears in his lover’s eyes that caused him throat to tighten. He’d never intended Brian to be hurt. No matter what it would take, he would make this up to him. “Bri, I –”

“Shut up,” Brian interjected in a small voice. He closed the small distance between them and laid his head on Andy’s shoulder. “Just shut up and tell me you’re alright.”

A small hint of relief took some of the worry from him. He tentatively put his arms around him and kissed Brian’s cheek. “I’m alright. I’m sorry for leaving. There’s a lot we need to talk about.”

Brian sniffed to clear his nose as he raised his head up to look him in the eyes. “No tricks? No half-truths or bullshit?”

Andy shook his head slightly. “No, tricks. The whole truth. All of it. No matter how uncomfortable it is.”

“I want to hear it, but I want Nate and the others to hear it too,” Brian said. “I don’t want you to keep having to repeat it over and over for everyone.”

Andy was surprised by his insistence. He had planned on telling the others in time. But it was important to him that he get Brian to understand right away. “Are you sure?”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Nate said from behind him.

David stepped up behind Brian and gave Andy another compassionate yet stern looks. “And there’s nothing that you can’t tell your family. They love you and they’ll understand.”

Andy said nothing as he looked at the three men around him. It wasn’t an unusual demand. He had known he would have to tell the story again. At the very least to Brian, if not to David and the others. Maybe getting all out in the open, all at once would make it easier. Like ripping the bandage off the wound instead of slowly peeling it off and feeling a slow, constant agony having to go from person to person to explain his actions. He felt a small measure of comfort knowing Tyler would be there as well. He’d already heard it and if his emotions got out of hand, he hoped he could just look at him for some support. Despite the pensive feeling inside, Andy nodded his head and let the others accompany him into the house.

They were just through the kitchen and heading towards the living room when two boys came running towards them. Andy felt his heart swelling his chest as he knelt and felt the two best things in the world crash into him and would have likely left him sprawled on the floor had he not braced himself for it. He closed his eyes and focused on the feel of his sons as he wrapped his arms around them both. Tanner’s head rested on his left shoulder with Blake on the other side. He kissed them both and rubbed their backs.

“Where’ve you been, Daddy,” Blake asked in his usual cheerful voice.

“I had something I needed to do,” he explained. They were still too young to understand, and he didn’t want to take away their innocence yet.

“Why’d you have to go,” Tanner asked in a more mournful voice as he squeezed himself closer to his dad.

“I’m sorry, son,” Andy said with true regret in his voice. “I didn’t mean to be gone so long. But, I promise, I’m home now and I’m not going anywhere for a long time. Not unless you’re with me.”

Tanner blue eyes stared into his father’s. “Promise?”

“Always,” he answered. Andy spent a few more precious seconds with his children before finally, reluctantly, letting go of them. “You boys should go upstairs with your friends for a little bit. I got something I need to talk to your uncles about and it’s not for little boys.”

Blake nodded and kissed Andy’s cheek before disentangling himself and scampering upstairs. Tanner lingered a second longer, giving his dad a long, thoughtful look before going upstairs to join the others. Andy sighed as he watched them go upstairs and wondered how high the cost of his trip was going to be on his children. Time would have to be the ultimate decider in that regard. Slowly getting back to his feet, Andy continued down the hall and stepped into the living room. Within a breath of stepping in, Kyle was in front of him. Their eyes met for a brief moment before Andy had to look down at the floor. The guilt that he felt now came from knowing he’d lied to one of his closest friends.

Kyle saw Andy’s look of shame as his eyes lowered, but he didn’t care. As he wrapped his friend up in his arms. It was an act of forgiveness and Andy knew it as such. A forgiveness he did not feel he deserved. From over Kyle’s shoulder Andy could see the naked looks of concern and worry on the faces of Troy and Jacob as they stood there waiting. Sitting off to one side, Tyler was on the couch, leaning back against Sean whose arms were holding Tyler as close as possible. Stephanie was sitting in a chair, watching him and Kyle with an appraising eye. Her stomach had grown out a little more since he last saw her.

David walked in with Brian and Nate just behind him. When he saw the scene before him, it was a small relief after knowing how worried everyone had been when Andy disappeared. Now, they needed answers. “Kyle, give him some space to breathe,” David said as he stepped over to his old worn recliner. “Everyone sit down.” He looked around the room as everyone took their seats. Tyler and Sean with Troy on one end with Jacob and Kyle along with Stephanie next to them. In the middle, Andy sat between Brian and Nate. All eyes were on Andy as David spoke. “Are you going to tell us what happened and where you went?”

Andy ran a hand over his goatee and nodded. “Yeah. I want too.” He took a breath and let it out before looking around the room at all his friends. “I’m sorry I lied back on New Year’s. I was dwelling on a lot of stuff that day. Brian was mending things with his dad, which got me thinking about my dad which… always ends with me thinking about Brandon.”

“Why does thinking about your dad make you think of Brandon,” Kyle asked.

Andy closed his eyes and smiled a little despite the ache that grew in his chest. “Because he was there,” he said simply. The grief was starting to return. He tried to muffle a sob and was partially successful.

A hand came to rest of his. Andy looked down and saw a diamond ring on one of the fingers as it rubbed his as if to encourage him. “What was he there for,” Brian asked.

“When my dad died,” he replied. He felt Nate’s hand on his shoulder, and it gave him the courage to keep going. “I couldn’t come home for it. For the funeral. And it was driving me crazy. Brandon… he loved me. He made it easier to bear while we were on deployment. When we had downtime and I didn’t have a job to focus on, he’d keep me occupied and when that didn’t work, he’d just hold me while I cried.”

“Why didn’t you tell me… tell us about Brandon,” Nate asked.

Andy shook his head. “There’s… so much about him…”

“You know you can tell us,” Jacob said compassionately.

“Guys,” Tyler spoke up. “It’s… more complicated than you think. Let him tell you and you’ll understand.”

Troy leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked over at Andy. “We’re all here. If you’re not comfortable talking in front of Sean or Steph, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind stepping out for a bit.”

“No,” Andy said. “It’s okay. I want to tell you. After I told his parents, I felt… less of a burden on me.”

Kyle was sitting back on the couch, watching Andy carefully. “So, what is making you hesitate?”

Andy put his hand in Brian’s and felt his fears ease when Brian squeezed his hand. “Because it still hurts to remember it.”

“It’s okay,” Nate muttered softly. “You can do it.”

Slowly, over the course of the next thirty minutes, Andy retold the story he had shared with The Tucker’s only the day before. He told them about their patrol and the attack they were caught up in. The others watched him, slowly starting to understand just how deeply a single act of violence had scarred him. How being the one to have found Brandon’s body in the days after the attack had been too much for his mind and his heart to take. Andy had always been a good natured, talkative person. The idea that he had gone silent for weeks after Brandon’s death spoke volumes as to how devastating the event had been for him.

He shed a few more tears as he told them what had really happened. Many were from remorse for keeping it to himself when he had to opportunity months ago to tell them. At Tyler’s urging, Andy told them about his trip and what happened and what was said between him and Mr. Tucker. Of the trip to the cemetery, Andy would only say that he visited Brandon’s gravesite. He would not tell anyone what he said, feeling that that was his last intimate conversation with his dead former lover, and it was no one else’s business. When he finished recounting his trip, a profound silence filled the room as if no one wanted to be the first to speak and ruin the moment by saying the wrong thing. Everyone could tell that Andy grieved for Brandon still, not really understanding that he had just now, after ten years, come to accept Brandon’s death.

Finally, with a weary sigh from years of loving and tender care, David’s quiet, solemn voice filled the void. “Andy… I’m not going to tell you that you were wrong thinking that Brandon’s death was your fault because you obviously already know that. I am sorry though, that I wasn’t able to help you more.”

Andy shook his head. “You don’t need to apologize. You did what you could. I just… couldn’t say goodbye to him. As stupid as that sounds.”

David leaned forward in his seat with his eyes focused only on Andy. “The real question we come to then is what do we do for you now?”

“I don’t know,” he replied softly as he stared at the floor. “But I can’t go on living like this.”

David nodded. “I understand.” He almost wanted to say more, but he suspected Andy wouldn’t want the others to know just how badly his depression had been over the years. Or how close he may have come to not surviving this long.

“What do you need us to do for you,” Nate asked.

Andy had a blank look in his eyes as he stared at nothing. “I just want to go home and go to bed.”

David looked around the room at everyone else before declaring, “I think right now, that’s the best thing for you. You’ve pushed yourself too far with all of this. Give yourself a couple days to recover from your trip and we can go from there.”

“What about the boys,” Brian asked.

“They should go home with you,” David said with a shrug. “They need to get their lives back to normal. School’s starting in three weeks. We’ve got apples to pick and you know they’ll want to be a part of that. Don’t worry about anything else other than just getting better.”

Andy nodded. “I need to get the truck back. There’s stuff in there I don’t want sitting out for too long.”

“I’ll take the boys with me in my car,” Nate said. “And I’m gonna stay for a couple weeks and help out.”

“You’re on leave of absence from work as of now,” Troy said. “I don’t want you thinking about anything other than your family and getting through this. Or as close as you can get.”

With a silent consensus having been reached, everyone slowly got to their feet and got ready to depart. Troy and Jacob helped get the kids together while Kyle and Tyler walked Nate and Brian to their cars with Sean coming behind them. Everyone had a somber feeling within, knowing it was uncertain how things would work out with Andy. They wanted to help but were unsure what they could do other than to give him the same friendship and love they had been sharing for years.

David took Andy aside as the others were leaving to hold him in his arms. “I want you to listen to me,” he said as he rubbed Andy’s back gently. “His dad was right; there was nothing you could have done. I know your head understands that deep down, even if your heart doesn’t want to hear it.”

Andy let his head rest on David’s shoulder, trying to banish the images from his mind. “I wish I could. I just wish I hadn’t been so far from him.”

“I know,” David said softly. “I wish you’d said something to me sooner. But I understand why you didn’t. I love you so much, son. We all do. It will take time, but you’ll get through this.”

A small smile forced its way up past the dull ache in his heart. “I love you too.”

David kissed the hair on top of his head. “Go home. Rest. I’ll stop by and check up on you in a couple days.”

The two of them headed out where the Tanner and Blake were being put in Nate’s car. Nate said he would drive them back while Brian drove Andy home. Troy gave Andy a warm hug, reminding him to call if he needed anything.

When Jacob and Kyle approached Andy, Jacob was the first to embrace him. “I really don’t know what else to say other than I’m so sorry for what happened to you.”

Andy smiled weakly and hugged him back. “Don’t worry about it. Worry about all the diapers you’re going to be changing here soon.”

Jacob smiled, squeezed him a little tighter and then let him go, stepping back so that Kyle could take his place. Kyle held him tightly and said in a gentle voice, “from now on, no more secrets, okay?”

Andy sniffed and squeezed his friend in his arms. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before.”

“It’s alright,” Kyle replied. “I kind of understand more than the others why you didn’t. All that matters to me is that you faced it and now you can start mending.”

“Doesn’t feel like it,” Andy muttered. “Feels like it just happened yesterday.”

Kyle nodded and looked into his eyes. “That’s okay too. We’re a team. You’re not going to face this alone.”

Andy felt his heart settle a little more. Knowing that he’d always have his friends around him gave him a stability to understand that while he was grieving, it was a period that would not last, and his friends would be there through it all. “I need to go. I’m not sure how much longer I can stay awake.”

Kyle let him go and made sure he got into the truck before stepping back and watching Brian and Nate drive off, heading home.

As Brian drove home, he glanced over at Andy who sat there forlornly staring out the window. So much had happened in so little time, he was still coming to grips with all of it. After a few moments, once they were entering town, Brian felt compelled to ask what had been in his heart. “Do you want me to give you the ring back?”

Andy blinked his eyes and struggled to sit up for a moment. “What?”

Brian shrugged, trying to appear unconcerned. “I just didn’t want you to think… In case, you had any second thoughts…”

“Why would you think I had any second thoughts?” Andy felt muddled but he was trying to understand where this was coming from. “Brian, part of the reason I felt I had to go was because of you.”

Brian’s jaw clenched and relaxed, feeling his mouth shouldn’t have repeated what his heart was thinking. “I just… I don’t want to make this harder for you.”

“I’m sorry for the way I left,” Andy said softly. “The worst part of this whole thing is knowing that I was hurting you. But I felt I had to do it.”

“Why?”

Andy looked over at him and replied, “because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been the person you deserved to have in your life.” He watched Brian blink away a tear even as his face gave away nothing. “Do you want to give it back?”

Brian shook his head. “No. I love you.” He shrugged and added in a more sardonic tone, “even when you’re stupid.”

Andy slowly smiled, seeing a familiar sparkle in Brian’s eyes. “When exactly did I do something stupid?”

Brian shrugged. “Well, you could have had me come with you…”

“I could have, but I felt I needed to do it on my own.”

“Which, it turns out, you couldn’t,” Brian pointed out with satisfied smirk.

“Yeah,” he conceded as he sat up a little straighter.

“Because you needed Tyler to drive.”

“Among other things.”

“You didn’t sleep with him, did you,” Brian asked.

Andy felt something close to a laugh bubble up from his heart. “Not in the same bed. Same room though.”

Brian nodded. “Probably for the best. If you had tried, I’m thinking Sean would’ve kicked your ass for trying to touch his man.”

Andy’s smile widened slightly. “I’ll keep that in mind. Not that I expect it to happen again.”

Brian nodded. “Well, next time, if something comes up like that, you’ll say something first.”

Andy felt a grin lift his face. “Okay.”

“Good.” There was a moment of silence before Brian added, “I think you need to just admit that you’re kinda stuck with me. I mean… let’s just face facts… you’re not really all that cute anymore.”

The grin on his face widened. “I’m not cute anymore?”

Brian hid a smirk and grudgingly replied, “well, in your own special way. But I’m pretty sure I’m about the only one who can really appreciate it.”

“Well, thank God for that, huh.”

“Damn right.” He made the final turn and parked in the driveway as Nate parked in front of the house. “What’s with the boxes,” he asked as he looked in the back seat.

The smile on Andy’s face faded slightly. “It’s stuff from Brandon’s room his mom gave me.”

“I see.” Brian shut the engine off and turned to look at him with a more serious expression. “You want to go through it today?”

Andy smirked as his eyes looked away. “I’m not really ready yet. I saw some of it but didn’t get to really go through it all.”

Brian nodded in understanding. “I have a request. Well, a demand really.”

“Yeah?” Andy looked back to his lover, best friend and fiancé.

Brian’s eyes went to the boxes and then back to Andy. “When you’re ready, I want to be there with you. I never got to meet him, and I want to get to know him.”

Andy nodded. “Okay.”

“Still tired?”

Andy sighed and managed another small smile. “Yeah. More than ever.”

“Okay,” Brian said with a nod. “We’ll have Nate play with the boys while I get you showered and in bed. Knowing you, you didn’t sleep nearly as much as you convinced Tyler the entire time.” Brian got out of the truck and went around to help Andy inside.

“What about the boxes,” Andy asked as they slowly went up the steps to the front door.

Brian leaned in and kissed his cheek tenderly. “I’ll bring them in. After you’re in bed.”

The sound of confidence in Brian’s voice and his show of taking charge helped Andy feel more at ease with his choices. “I love you.”

“That’s a bonus considering you’re stuck with me,” Brian said with a chuckle.

“For how long though?”

“Forever.” Brian opened the front door and together they headed inside to start the slow process of recovery.

 

****

 

Sean watched as Brian and the others departed before stepping up behind Tyler and wrapping his arms around him. He leaned in to whisper into Tyler’s ear, “I’ve been waiting all weekend for this moment.”

Tyler grinned and pressed back against his boyfriend. “I’m sorry it took so long.”

“What matters is that you’re back.” Sean leaned down more to softly kiss Tyler’s neck. “So, what do we do with the rest of our day?”

Tyler moaned softly at the kiss and tilted his head, welcoming Sean’s touch. “I honestly hadn’t thought that far,” he said in a soft tone.

“How about you come stay with me tonight? Then I could make you dinner, like I promised.”

“You guys could just stay here if you want.” Jacob’s casual tone broke them out of their moment, having forgotten there was anyone else around.

The two of them turned their heads to find Jacob and Kyle standing there a few feet away with amused smiles on their faces having witnessed their exchange. “Two more at the dinner table wouldn’t hurt,” they heard from behind them from David’s slightly deeper voice. His graying bearded face had a relaxed grin as he met their gaze.

Tyler looked up at Sean who met his gaze and shrugged. “It’s up to you,” Sean said.

He sighed, feeling tired and just wanting to relax and do nothing else the rest of the day. Nothing else except spend it with Sean. “If it’s all the same to you, I think we’re just gonna head out.”

“That’s fine,” Jacob said as he stepped up to them. Sean had just released Tyler from his arms when Jacob hugged Tyler tight and whispered in an emotion filled tone, “thank you for bringing him home.”

Tyler blushed and hugged him back. “I was just doing what I knew I had to do.”

Jacob let him go as Kyle stepped up and put a hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “I think you did more than that. But this isn’t over. He still has a long road ahead of him.”

Tyler nodded in agreement. “Yeah. I’ll help out however I can.”

Kyle smiled, feeling relieved. “He’s my oldest friend. And I know if he shared all of this with you, then he trusts you just as much as the rest of us. Just keep being his friend and that’ll be enough.”

Sean smiled slightly. “We better go. I got your truck parked at my place.”

The two of them said their goodbyes and got in Sean’s car as Jacob, Kyle and David watched them depart. Kyle leaned against Jacob as the gravity of the situation with Andy started to sink in. “I should go talk to him tomorrow.”

Jacob smirked and put an arm around Kyle’s waist. “I’d give it a day or two. Let him rest up so he can work through his grief.”

“I wish we would have talked him out of joining,” Kyle said sadly.

“He knew what he was doing,” David said. “He doesn’t blame the corps for what he’s gone through. He’s a strong boy. Stronger than he thinks most of the time. He’ll find a way through this.”

Kyle turned his head to look back as his dad. “I’m pretty sure if he’d known how scarred he would be when he came back, he would have thought twice.”

David got a small bemused smile as he looked at his son. “Kyle… He knew the risks. He was told what could happen. They all are. I was. When you agree to join the armed forces, you write out a blank check to the county payable up to and including your life. No one wants to die in battle. And I’m sure he would have gladly taken Brandon’s place if he could have. Dying for your country is easy. Surviving is a lot harder.”

Kyle narrowed his eyes appraisingly at his father. “Are you disappointed I didn’t sign up too?”

David laughed. “No! I wanted you and all my boys to make your own way through life. It’s not my place to tell you what to do. You wanted to be a lawyer and I supported you in that decision. Just like when you wanted to be on a swim team and everything else.” His eyes flicked to Jacob and back to his son. “All I ever wanted was for my boys to be happy.”

Kyle smirked and rolled his eyes, wanting to forestall any lecture that might be coming. “Okay, okay.”

“Alright then. Let’s go inside and you two can make dinner while Stephanie and I entertain Matt.” He turned and started back into the house.

Kyle and Jacob started to follow behind. “What’re you guys gonna watch,” Jacob asked as they walked up the ramp together.

“Stephanie,” David answered with a grin. “Matt was sitting with her the other day and he got to see the baby move.” He broke into chortle remembering the look on the little boy’s face. “I don’t think he blinked for five minutes. Was the longest I’ve seen him sit still and not speak.”

Kyle broke into a laugh as they walked in and turned their focus on getting ready for the new life entering theirs soon. They would stay vigilant until the time came when Andy needed them.

Copyright © 2019 Jdonley75; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



I’m glad Andy survived through this stage of the process of coming to terms with Brandon’s death. The trip was a huge first step, but everything has not been resolved yet. It’ll never go away completely, but with help (and with time) things will dissipate to the point where it will no longer be debilitating.

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Blake still has the innocence of a young child. Tanner is more sensitive and more aware that something seriously wrong has occurred that caused Andy to abruptly leave. No matter how much they try, the adults wouldn’t be able to suppress the tension and their anxiety during Andy’s absence.

But the Team pulled together to take care of Brian, Tanner, and Blake. It’s what families are supposed to do. In many cases chosen families are more successful at that because they are chosen and not just a random assignment of people with a legal connection.
;–)

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33 minutes ago, tesao said:

This chapter was also a poignant tribute to deeply forged friendship and “logical” (as opposed to “biological“) family.

You’ve read Armistead Maupin’s book?
;–)

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26 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

You’ve read Armistead Maupin’s book?
;–)

All of them 😏, and we’ve met and spoken with him over the years.

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2 hours ago, Andre Delport said:

OK, so that wasn't as bad as I thought it might be - but only time will tell. I think Andy still has a few fences to mend with Brian, but Brian loves him and I think he really wants to understand what is going on in Andy's brain and help him work it all out.

Great chapter as always - thank you.

I feel that you are correct on all points.   Things of this nature are never easy and rarely end up being "fixed."  But Brian and Andy love one another and that is plainly obvious to everyone involved.

Thank you for reading. :) 

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7 minutes ago, nix said:

Anyway, is the baby coming soon? 

According to the web pages I found, a pregnant woman starts to feel the fetus kicking around 16-18 weeks into the pregnancy, some sooner, some later. So Stephanie is probably at least halfway through her pregnancy. A study with a very small sample size suggested that male fetuses might be more active than female fetuses.
;–)

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3 minutes ago, Marty said:

I'm just hoping there's nothing in the boxes from Brandon's room that will cause a setback to Andy's recovery.

I’m thinking any setback won’t be as traumatic as Andy’s previous experiences. I hope he’ll keep Brian and the other members of the Team in the loop this time – I think he’s learned his lesson. They will help Andy keep things in perspective even if he has a strong reaction to anything he finds in the box.

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3 hours ago, droughtquake said:

According to the web pages I found, a pregnant woman starts to feel the fetus kicking around 16-18 weeks into the pregnancy, some sooner, some later. So Stephanie is probably at least halfway through her pregnancy. A study with a very small sample size suggested that male fetuses might be more active than female fetuses.
;–)

Hm....  Is that so...?

I would think the answer would be obvious here.  Ya'll have reference points in previous stories and you have a good notion as to when in the year this chapter is taking place.

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23 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

I'll warn you right now, the next thing I plan on writing will not involve the orchard.  

I think that is a great decision. You've put so much into this series. Although you've created a great story and some beloved characters, I imagine that it will be good for you to branch out and explore something different. 

Another excellent chapter @Jdonley75 !

Edited by spyke
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Great chapter! I’m so glad that Andy has the love and support from his entire family. Thank you, as always. 

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