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The Empty Spaces Between Us - 40. Chapter 40

As the winter months went by, Tyler found himself busier than before as he worked to get ready for his move and prepare for Andy and Brian’s wedding. He talked extensively with the two of them and with Jacob as to what needed to get done before Spring began. Over the course of those remaining cold weeks, Jacob worked in his spare time drawing up plans for building a raised stage where the band Andy was bringing in would play. Tyler was a frequent visitor to the house which gave him the opportunity to watch Aaron’s first smile and Jacob’s heartfelt reaction of getting to witness the adorable infant start to grow.

It was an almost constant source of entertainment for him. Seeing Jacob balance his job, his marriage and his duties as a father for both Matthew and Aaron while also giving Kyle room to be an equal partner in parenthood. Tyler would occasionally stop and watch the two of them in their everyday interactions. In nearly everything they did, he could see the unspoken mutual respect and trust they held for each other. He could remember back when he first met Jacob and how quiet and careful he was around other people then. How his voice seemed flatter back then, without any joy as opposed to the completely at ease and contented person he was now. It was, Tyler admitted, the addition of Kyle into his life and the love that they shared for each other that sustained them both. He privately hoped that someday he and Sean would have something half as good as they did.

Of course, it was only the day after revealing his plans to go to college were finally revealed that Troy, Jacob and even David had contacted him to hear more of the details. Troy had a long discussion with him all about his time at UCLA and how he felt that Tyler would find it as meaningful as he had. Jacob pressed him about his relationship with Sean, wanting to make sure that he knew what he was doing while reminding him that he and Kyle would always be there for him if he ever needed anything. David asked him about what Helen had said to him while Tyler was visiting and told him that he was confident Tyler would do just as well in life as she had if he kept himself grounded. “All the money and the fame doesn’t make you a better person, son. What matters most is always going to be who you are on the inside. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.”

Tyler gave them all assurances that he knew what he was doing and that he was making sure he had his plan set. Sean was actively engaged in helping him study for his entrance exams and Kyle invited him over often to help as well. While the help with his studies was appreciated, one thing would always stand out in his mind of those fast paced days. It was a few days after Jacob’s thirty-third birthday, and he was toiling away with a practice test while Kyle was sitting next to him. Jacob was working in his shop, so it was up to Kyle to feed the baby. They decided to take a break while Kyle went to prepare a bottle.

“Where’s Stephanie,” Tyler asked as Kyle came into the living room with Aaron.

“Oh, she’s out doing some last minute shopping,” Kyle replied as he crossed the room while cradling Aaron in one arm before aiming the bottle towards his mouth.

“Last minute for what?”

“She decided it was time for her to go back to work.” Kyle seemed neither surprised nor disappointed. “We’ve been weening Aaron off breast milk for a couple weeks now. By the time she leaves Saturday, he should be fine with formula.”

Tyler couldn’t believe Kyle was so dismissive of Aaron’s mother just suddenly deciding to leave. “I’m sorry, I guess. Did she say why?”

Kyle chuckled as he watched Aaron suck on his bottle. “Don’t be sorry. It was bound to happen. She has her own things she wants to do. She’ll be going back to work in Harrisburg and likely getting more serious with Nate before too long.”

“Well, I guess that means she’ll be coming back for the wedding then.”

“Oh, definitely.” Kyle looked up at him. “Do me a favor and hold him for a second while I use the bathroom.”

“Oh, uh…” Tyler suddenly felt uncomfortable, but Kyle didn’t seem to mind as he passed Aaron and the bottle over to him before stepping out of the room. He had never held a baby before and was surprised by the weight and feel in his arm. “Well…” Looking down at Aaron’s face he saw the little eyes gaze back. It was an odd moment, but the discomfort he felt before faded as they stared at each other. “Hi there.” Having no clue what else he should be doing, his held the bottle as Aaron sucked away. He found himself fascinated by those eyes and wondered what might be going on inside that mind and how he perceived the world. “I’m sure your dad will be back any second now. I hope I’m doing this right.”

Aaron made a faint grunting noise and one of his legs squirmed.

Tyler realized he was possibly holding him wrong and corrected himself. “Sorry. I’m kind of new to this. And we’ve only just barely met a couple times.” He heard another soft grunt as Aaron’s hands grasped the bottle and a faint look of agitation started to mar his little face. Tyler started to get worried there was something wrong and the sounds coming from the baby definitely started to show some frustration. A second later he realized his error. The bottle wasn’t tipped high enough for him to get to the rest of the formula. Tyler corrected and Aaron resumed sucking and staring at him. “Told you.”

Despite his initial unease, he couldn’t help smiling down at the little face and was rewarded by a toothless smile from behind the bottle. The effect on Tyler was almost immediate. The happy little innocent smile was so endearing and sweet it caused his smile to widen. “There we go.” Tyler got so caught up in watching Aaron’s face as a warmth spread from his heart through his entire body, he started to forget the rest of the world around him.


Tyler looked up at the sound of Kyle’s voice, still smiling as Kyle snapped a picture the moment their eyes met. He chuckled and went back to looking down at Aaron. “Very funny.”

Kyle grinned and pocketed his phone before crossing the room to join him on the sofa. “New picture for our Facebook page.” He settled back in his spot, watching Tyler. “You want me to take over?”

Tyler stroked the wispy dark hair on top of Aaron’s head. “No, I’m good.”

Kyle sat back and smiled to himself as he watched Tyler and his infant son get to know each other. After that day, Tyler couldn’t completely discount the idea of having a child himself. It wasn’t something he knew he would be able to do soon. But eventually, if things worked to his favor, he and Sean might be able to share a similar moment like this.

The weeks passed unremarkably as the days slowly grew longer and the last of the snow melted, work began in the orchard. Jacob and Andy did most of the work with Tyler and Sean lending a hand whenever they had time. With Jacob making sure the area would be open while still dissuading guests from wandering into the orchard, their goal was to give the reception area that welcome opening feel while preserving the trees from any potential damage.

April rains were a welcome sight for David but curtailed the boys’ efforts. The ground was too wet for Jacob to work in the orchard which meant he was forced to build most of the stage in his workshop and transfer the pieces to the barn next door. Tyler and Andy worked for hours every day along side him when Andy wasn’t working his usual job. Sean had to go back to California a few times in that month which made Tyler nervous. Sean told him the trips were for meeting a few prospective bosses and that no decisions would be made for a few months, but Tyler’s concerns were muted by Sean’s assurances that he would be back.

Eventually May arrived. The leaves on the trees had begun to sprout and the orchard came alive again as it always did. The sun shone bright as the air grew warmer and sweet with the scent of growing things. With all of the boys helping out, the stage and the clearing were ready with over a week to spare.




“Now, Andrew, take up this ring and—” Harry paused in midsentence and checked a sigh. “Where’s the ring?”

Tyler suddenly became aware of the fact that he wasn’t paying attention. “Oh, uh, right here, reverend.” He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the simple gold band he’d been holding onto all day.

Andy and Brian shared a quiet chuckle as they stood there staring at each other as Harry took the offered ring from Tyler and started again. “Now, Andrew, take up this ring and place it on Brian’s finger.”

“This’ll only hurt for a second,” Andy muttered as he took the ring from Harry.

Brian giggled quietly as he daintily held out his hand. “Make sure you get it right.”

“You’re so mean,” Andy said with a grin as he slid the ring onto Brian’s finger.

Harry rolled his eyes at their banter. “We’re almost done. Put the ring on Brian’s finger and declare, ‘with this ring, I thee…’ Oh, hell, you already did.”

Andy looked to Harry with a confused expression, but his eyes danced with laughter. “Well, yeah, you told me to.”

Harry sighed again and gave his son a droll look. “You’re sure you want to marry him?”

Brian shrugged. “He’s as good as any other meal ticket in town.”

That got a small laugh out of everyone before Harry put his hands up in resignation. “Let’s take a break. It’s getting hot out here and we have all day to get this right.”

“Especially since we have all this empty space to fill since the band didn’t show up.” Brian gave Andy a meaningful look as he removed the ring and passed it back to Andy.

“They’re on their way,” he insisted as he passed the ring to Tyler. “They got caught up in traffic is all.”

“I think they still just exist in your mind.”

“Hey, I’m not crazy.” Andy leaned closer to him and smirked. “Anymore, at least.”

“Jury’s still out on that.” Brian slipped his hand into Andy’s as they started the walk back up to the house.

Tyler and Jacob fell into step behind them. “Where’s Sean been,” Jacob asked him as they followed the happy couple in front of them.

“California again. He’s flying back today. Should be here in a couple hours.” Sean had sounded different on the phone when they talked prior to him boarding his plane a few hours ago. Tyler couldn’t put his finger on what it portended, but a part of him was bracing for bad news.

“He’ll be here in time for the party at least,” Jacob commented. He leaned a little closer to him and said in a hushed voice, “Andy and Brian don’t act like they care all that much how this whole wedding works out.”

Tyler smirked. “Yeah.” What had taken Jacob and Kyle less than two hours to rehearse, Andy and Brian seemed more inclined to see which one could make the better joke through four hours of practice and changes. Troy and Kyle had stuck with it for the first hour and a half before they gave up and headed back to the house while the others worked on the ceremony itself. “They’re just having fun together.”

“Nothing new there,” Jacob replied with a smirk.

“How’s the baby?” Tyler glanced up at him, waiting to see the relaxed smile and the crystal blue eyes light up anytime Aaron is mentioned.

He wasn’t disappointed. “He’s perfect. We’re just past seven months now. He’s started making all sorts of noises.” His eyes seemed to get a little misty as he added in a heavier voice, “I heard him laugh for the first time three days ago.”

“Yeah? I haven’t seen him in awhile. What made him laugh?”

Jacob broke out in a grin. “Me and Matt were playing next to him and Matt started laughing and in a couple seconds, Aaron just joined right in.”

“No baby jealousy then,” Tyler asked.

“Naw. Maybe a little at first but Aaron’s started pay real close attention to Matt. Any time he’s in the room, that’s usually where Aaron’s eyes are. We think it’s his voice that Aaron’s so interested in.” Jacob could feel his heart swell a little remembering the last few months raising a child. “Matt talks to him as much as the rest of us do, so there’s not much time Aaron isn’t doing something when he’s not sleeping.”

Tyler smiled and said nothing as they made their way up the path through the trees to the house. There was actually very little to say. Even only knowing him for three years now, he could say without a doubt that Jacob was right where he wanted to be in life. Happily married to the love of his life with two wonderful boys. He suddenly realized that soon he would be leaving and there was no guarantee when he would ever be back or if they would ever see each other again. The thought brought on a melancholy sensation in his heart that threatened to erase his smile.

But maybe things were as they should be, he thought to himself. He was never tied to the idea of living here forever. It was always more of a requirement because he never saw what else he could do with his life. Sean changed all that. The idea had been small at first in his heart but had grown over the last few months. The belief that he was capable and worthy of more than forced to live out his life in a place that never quite felt like home. That is, not until he met Andy. His friends had made it bearable and he treasured every moment he shared with them over these three years. But deep down he knew this was never where he wanted to be. Not like the others. Their lives were here. They were happiest here, living in this small town as one united family. And while he may be a part of that family, not all families stick together.

As they reached the ramp leading up to the house, Tyler made a vow to himself that he would return from time to time when life permitted it. If this was his family, then he wouldn’t just forget about them. This was something that had held him up when he was at his lowest. As they entered the house, the sound of talking and laughter filled the air. It made his own smile brighten a little hearing all of the familiar voices talking and joking with each other. He reached into the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water, holding it out politely to Reverend Whitman who thanked him. Once he got his own, he followed the crowd into the living room, finding Stephanie and Nate had joined the group while he and the others were rehearsing.

“Is it true you’ll be leaving soon,” Harry asked him as they settled to one side of the doorway, watching everyone converse.

Tyler shrugged. “Don’t know what you mean by ‘soon.’ Who told you that anyway?”

Harry’s lips lifted in a smile that reminded Tyler of Brian. “My son likes to talk. A bad habit I believe he acquired from his mother, but it’s a relief to see he puts it to good use.”

Tyler chuckled silently. “Uh, huh. Well, he’s mostly right, I guess.” He looked back to his friends in the room. A bittersweet feeling settled into his heart. “I’m supposed to go to college in the Fall.”

“I would think that would be a cause for celebration.”

He checked a sigh, leaning back against the doorway. “I just worry too much, I think. I feel like I’m running out on my friends and that I’ll go out there and turn into someone else.”

Harry chuckled at his words. “Stay true to yourself. You have faith and you have family. That’s all you will ever need.”

“What good will that be when I’m thousands of miles away?”

Harry smiled patiently and stepped closer to him. “When you love someone; when they are like family to you, they are always with you. You are blessed just as my son is blessed with the love and compassion from his friends. They’ve never led him astray and I doubt the time you’ve spent with them didn’t rub off on you just a little. You know who you can rely on and you who to call when you need help. God wouldn’t have sent you to them if he didn’t have a plan for you.” He shrugged, unperturbed. “And if that plan involves you moving away, then it is for your benefit. Isn’t there someone who will be there with you?”

Tyler smiled to himself and nodded. “Yeah.”

Harry’s smile became more cheerful. “Then all will be as it should be. Don’t be afraid of the future.”

“Is that scripture, Reverend?”

“Scripture? Hm, let’s see…” Harry frowned as he pondered it.

Tyler put his hands up, snickering. “I was just joking.”

Harry ignored him as he continued to roll the idea over in his head and then his eyes shined a little brighter as his smile returned. He looked to Tyler before turning his head slowly towards the room full of talking, laughing, happy friends already starting to celebrate the coming day. “Galatians, chapter six, verse two. ‘Share one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’” He gazed fondly at the assemblage before looking back at Tyler and winked before stepping inside to stand next to David. “Dave,” he said as he leaned in closer to the man’s ear, “we still need to get this rehearsal finished.”

David nodded in agreement and then raised his voice over the din of conversation in the room. “Alright.” Everyone in the room immediately quieted down and gave him their full attention. He smiled a little to himself that he could still command their attention. “You’ve all had your fun but now it’s time to get to work. Andy, Brian; get your groomsmen together and get back out there and finish what you started. I expect you to be done in time for dinner. When’s your friends supposed to show up?”

“In about an hour,” Andy replied.

“Alright then. Steph and Liz can stay here with me and watch the children and get dinner started. You have half an hour to get done and get back here to start setting up the tables outside.” He rose to his feet and everyone else followed suit. “And don’t forget, we gotta move those tables into the orchard for tomorrow still.”

“Yes, sir,” Brian replied with a smile as they all rose and went about their tasks.




It was just barely an hour later as everyone returned to the house. David was busy grilling food for the evening meal while children ran around playing. Aaron was safely tucked into a carrier on top of a table next to the grill as David worked and kept him entertained. Kyle and the others went to the barn to bring out the picnic tables and start to set them up in the grassy area just behind the house where there was still some sun to be had. Before long, the bright lights from the patio above would shine down and continue to keep the place well lit while they all ate and communed together.

Tyler was helping Troy with one of the tables when he heard the sound of a familiar car approaching the house. He smiled widely, looking over Troy’s shoulder as Sean’s car came up over the rise of the driveway. “Look who’s back,” Troy commented as he turned his head to follow Tyler’s gaze. When he looked back at Tyler who hadn’t moved, he grinned. “Well, what’re you waiting for? Go get him.”

Tyler hurried around the table and made his way to the car just as Sean was parking. By the time the engine was off, Tyler was standing at his door. Once it opened, Sean was out and holding him in his arms. “Hey, sexy thing.” They kissed sweetly, letting their lips linger together for a moment before parting.

Tyler’s smile widened from the feel of Sean next to him again. But when he looked into his eyes, Tyler saw an odd shadow lingering there. His smile faltered for a moment, feeling a sense of worry set in. “Is everything okay?”

Sean looked down at him and said, “I got a job offer.”

“Well, that’s great.” When he saw Sean didn’t seem as enthusiastic as he expected he realized there was bad news to go with the good. “What else?”

Sean sighed. “I know we talked about being here until you started college, but…”

Tyler felt his eyes starting to tear up and he blinked them away. The world was suddenly moving faster than he felt he could hold onto the life he used to have a few seconds ago. “When?”

“They wanted me to start next week,” he replied. “They have an opening that they really need filled. It’s mostly an office job. I’ll be started off pretty close to the bottom of the ladder, but I know it’ll only take a year or two to start moving up. I told them I had some prior obligations that I needed to settle first, so they gave me two weeks.”

Tyler’s concerns were confirmed. That he would have to let all of this go so suddenly felt like his life was suddenly unmoored. But this is what he had wanted. A life with Sean. It was sudden and he would have to tell everyone the news. But not tonight. Tonight, should be about Andy and Brian, not him. He grabbed onto that familiar happiness he had found with these people who had become his closest friends and banished the sadness that came with the unexpected news. He renewed his smile and projected more confidence than he felt in the moment. “Okay.”

Sean saw the warring emotions play out in Tyler’s eyes and felt like he was ruining a special moment for him. “You don’t have to come with me right away, you know. You could stay here until you started classes.”

The thought played over in his mind, but only for a moment. While it was a possibility, he didn’t want to feel like he was abandoning his relationship with Sean, who he now knew he loved more than he ever allowed himself to admit. “I love you and I want to be with you. The others will understand. I’ll tell them in a few days after the wedding.”

“You’re sure?” Sean didn’t want Tyler to feel as if he was being forced.

Tyler nodded confidently. “Yeah. Come on. You’re just in time for dinner.” He took Sean’s hand and led him to just behind the house where everyone else was gathered. The sight brought a sting to his heart as he watched Troy and his wife talking to Stephanie and Nate while their children sat eating nearby. At another table, David and Kyle were grinning and laughing as Jacob held Aaron above his head, grinning as his little hand reached down to grab Jacob’s nose and Matt sat in front of his plate giggling as he chewed on a French fry. Andy and Brian sat nearby with their boys as Harry carried on an amiable conversation with them as they all ate. Andy’s eyes were bright and happier than Tyler had ever seen before. It was the realization that this was his family and that he was going to have to say goodbye to them sooner than he had wanted to that made him stop and cover his face for a second to compose himself.

Sean’s reassuring hand was on his shoulder and that gave him the strength to regain his smile, wipe his eyes and join in with the others. Kyle and Jacob called out to them as they were filling their plates. The two of them exchanged a smirk and joined them at their table. “Hey. Sorry I’m late. My flight got a little delayed.”

“No problem,” Jacob replied as he held Aaron in one arm while eating with the other. “So, how did everything go?”

Sean glanced at Tyler before replying. “It went well, I think.” His eyes went to Kyle and added with a small knowing grin, “your mom told me to say hi to you.”

Kyle chuckled and shook his head. “Which means I need to call her tonight. She wants to know what’s going on with the Lindquest case, I bet.”

Tyler blinked in surprise. “The what?”

Jacob smirked and eyed Kyle. “He’s got himself a civil suit.”

“Yeah. It’ll take awhile too,” Kyle said. “I’m gonna need to get some help going over documents and stuff. I’d ask Stephanie but there’s no way she’s free since she’s back at the DA’s office.” He took a bite of his food as his eyes glittered. “But I think I have a good lead on it, and I might be able to get a settlement.”

“What’s it for,” Tyler asked.

“Workplace discrimination,” he replied with a shrug. “It’s hard to prove and normally a state’s labor department would take it, but the plaintiffs think they have a better shot without the state getting involved. I’m looking into it and I’ll have to make a call one way or the other.”

“And if you end up having to take the case yourself,” Sean asked.

Kyle got a certain kind of grin on his face that made him look almost intimidating. “Then I’m going to make sure the defendant suffers for a very long time.”

The companionable laughter was short lived as the thunderous noise of a diesel engine grew louder, signaling the approach of a vehicle. Andy’s eyes widened along with his smile as the sound carried from the bottom of the driveway, heading up the hill to the house. A sudden discomfort momentarily made him wonder if this had been a good idea. Things could be unpredictable and possibly embarrassing. But he decided to just have faith that everything would work out.

David and the others rose up from their seats and went around to the side of the house to discover an old school bus that had been painted in camouflage colors rolling up to the top of the hill. Coming to a stop, the engine went silent and Andy stood a few steps in front of the others as the door opened and a group of men and women swiftly filed out. As a group they walked around the bus, talking to each other until they saw Andy and everyone else standing nearby. “Stewie!” The marines called out in good natured excitement as they descended upon Andy who was swiftly lost to the eyes of his friends.

Brian slowly turned to exchange an amused look with Kyle standing next to him. “Stewie?” Lost for words, they could only watch the reunion between Andy and his former comrades-in-arms.

Andy eventually got them all settled down so he could make introductions, starting with the tallest of the newcomers. “This is my buddy Tim Graff. We served together for my entire time in the corps. Then we got Amy, Scott, Richie, Eli…” he looked at the other three people that came off the bus before adding, “and the rest I don’t know.”

“Ah,” Tim said with a deep voice laced with a Texan accent, “This here is our drummer, Nick. He served in the army, but we won’t hold that against him. The other two are Scotty and Richie’s wives, April and Hannah. They’re back-up singers sometimes.”

Andy turned and introduced everyone else. “Over there is my brother Nate, Stephanie, David; the owner of the property here, Troy, his wife Liz, Kyle, his husband Jacob who’s holding his baby Aaron. Tyler and his boyfriend Sean and this,” he took a step and put his hand in his lover’s hand, “is Brian.”

Tim smiled and stepped forward, extending his hand. “Nice to meet you. Stewie told me a lot about you last year.”

Brian smiled a little wider and shook his hand. “Hopefully I measure up to all the talk.”

Tim’s smile widened to a playful grin. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you’re man enough to handle him.” The two of them shared a laugh which caused Andy to blush slightly.

“Alright, alright,” Andy groaned. “Food’s ready. Get something to eat and we can talk and catch up.”

David had Tyler and Jacob help the newly arrived marines get their meals and find everyone seats. Tyler was pleasantly surprised to find that they mingled well with everyone else instead of separating themselves from everyone else. Tim joined Andy and Brian at their table with one of the other marines, casually talking between bites.

Tim took a few bites and nodded his approval of the food before speaking up. “You don’t mind if we get a little practice in later, do you?”

“You’d have to act the master of the house,” Andy replied with a nod of his head in David’s direction.

Tim followed Andy’s gaze at the next table and turned back. “I’m guessing there’s not many neighbors around. Took me awhile to find the way here.”

“Most people usually do,” Brian said with a smile.

Tim gave Brian an approving smirk. “So, what’s with the hair?”

Andy chuckled in surprise. “The what?”

“Your hair,” Tim replied. “You ever cut that sh—” his eyes suddenly identified the small red haired boy staring at him at the table. “—stuff?”

Brian covered his mouth to contain his laughter as Andy replied, “my hair’s a little long maybe…”

“A little? How’re you gonna wear your dress blues like that?”

Andy blinked in surprise, not having thought of that. Brian looked at Andy sitting next to him with an amused smile and joined in. “Yeah, Andy. Aren’t you gonna wear your dress uniform for our wedding?”

Andy gave him a piercing look. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear the two of them had planned this. “It’s an outdoor wedding. I figured everyone but us would be in informal dress. That’s what we told them in the invitations.”

“What were you planning on wearing then,” Tim asked.

Andy shrugged. “Just a nice suit and tie. Probably ditch the suit jacket after the ceremony to be comfortable at the party. It’s gonna get pretty warm tomorrow.”

“Not that warm,” Brian countered casually.

Tim turned his eyes to Brian. “Didn’t you go to his last wedding?”

Brian smiled and nodded. “I was his best man.”

Tim chuckled silently. “Missed it by three feet, huh?”

“Something like that.” Brian giggled and grinned impishly back at Andy.

Andy hadn’t really thought about all of that before and Brian had never mentioned it in that way before. Was it something he had wanted all this time since he was forced to stand right next to him as he married someone else? “Did you want me to wear my uniform?”

Brian shrugged. “You’re not in the marine corps anymore, babe. I didn’t expect you to wear it. Wasn’t even sure you could.”

“He can,” Tim said. “Regulations give any marine honorably discharged leave to wear their dress uniform for any formal occasion such as funerals, memorial services, inaugurals or weddings.”

Andy sat there quietly, thinking it over. His mind went back to that fateful night they saw each other after so long apart. How passionate the love making had been and that sense of hope he felt even as he went silently thinking of how much he had hurt Brian and how he wasn’t the same person he used to be. His eyes drifted over and caught sight of those deep blue eyes. “I might not fit into it anymore,” Andy conceded.

“Bull—” Tim censored himself again much to Brian’s amusement, “crap. Except for that long hair and that crap on your face, you looked about the same as you did last time you were in Afghanistan.”

“What do you want me to wear,” Andy asked Brian.

Brian studied him for a second before replying. “I am wearing a white suit with an electric blue bow tie.” He turned to Tim and added as an aside, “it brings out my eyes.” He returned his gaze to Andy and said, “what you wear is entirely your choice.”

He saw Brian’s neutral, almost uninvolved look for what it was. His first wedding, where he had all but forced Brian to stand as his best man, had hurt him deeper than Andy realized. Brian could sound upbeat and unphased all he wanted, but in those small private places inside his heart, Brian had never fully healed from that. If he wanted to do this right, he would have to do something that he had hoped to never do again. “I think I remember where it’s stored,” Andy said with a half-smirk.

Brian smiled and shrugged. “That sounds fine to me.”

After most of them were finished eating, Andy and Jacob took the band into the orchard to give them a preview of what everything was going to look like. They were all impressed with the stage and the overall setup. Across from the clearing where they would be holding the reception was a long table with two large high-backed wooden chairs that looked almost like thrones. Jacob had done his best work to make them just for this occasion. Out of concern for moisture damaging any of their equipment, they opted to wait until the next day to unload their equipment but assured Andy that they would be ready when time came.

The plan was for a very casual outside ceremony followed immediately with a reception that would follow until four or five in the afternoon. Tim consulted with Amy and Nick before settling on how many sets they would do and for how long in between breaks. Tim “ordered” them all to be in their dress blues for at least until their first break in the reception. He wanted them to look good and presentable for their friend’s special day.

After returning to the house, the evening party started to pick up. The band brought a few cases of beer along with them and soon after, Tim and a few of his bandmates were bringing out some acoustic guitars. Once the music started up, everyone relaxed and enjoyed the impromptu performances that were mostly just some of them practicing for the next day.

Tyler and the others sat back as the marines played on a trio of guitars. Their voices were captivating in that Tyler expected to hear more current songs with harsher tones and sounds. But the songs they played that night were older, more languid songs sung with measured, lyrical voices that Tyler never expected to hear come out of men who had once been hardened soldiers who lived day in and day out in a warzone.

His eyes drifted over to David who sat to the side with a faint smile playing on his lips as he listened. The older man’s eyes seemed to shimmer in the fading light with a recollection brought back with the sound of the music around them. After a few songs, there was a smattering of applause as the players grinned and thanked them as they took a moment to get drinks while Kyle and Liz went about getting the children ready for bed.

Sean took a drink from his beer as Tim and Nick took a beer each and went back to their seats. “What gave you the idea to start a band,” he asked Tim as he walked past.

Nick chortled and replied, “well, it was someone else’s idea, kind of. It helped us after transitioning back to civilian life.”

“You don’t do three tours in a warzone with some kind of messed up thinking,” Tim added. “This helped us unwind and it was fun. We’d all had some experience playing music before joining up and we’ve just kept it up since then.”

Tyler motioned with one hand at all of them and asked politely. “So, where are all of coming from?”

“Texas,” Tim answered with a smile.

“Oklahoma,” Nick added.

“Indiana,” Amy volunteered.

“Nevada,” Rich proclaimed proudly with a laugh as his wife grinned.

“The rest of us are from Colorado,” Scotty replied motioning to him, Eli and his wife.

“Wow. That’s a long road trip just to get together,” Tyler commented.

“Oh, no,” Amy added. “They fly to my place and then we drove here.”

“What were you doing while you were in Afghanistan,” Tyler asked her politely.

She smirked and put her hands on her hips before saying, “I was kicking ass. Theirs and the Talibans.” Her no nonsense answer got a laugh out of everyone and Tyler just shook his head and chuckled before he recovered. “I figured that. I mean, what all did you do?”

“Patrols, combat missions. Search and rescues,” she said with a more serious tone. “We served our country. Did what we had to do.”

Her words were met with slow nods of approval and Tyler saw not a small amount of pride in their eyes. “Well, thank you for serving.”

Sean was impressed and didn’t bother to hide it. “You guys do a lot of gigs?”

“Well, we not as often as we’d like given that we don’t live nearby,” Tim explained. “But we get together about a couple dozen times a year. Usually do veterans shows and stuff like that.”

“Those two used to always be humming or singing something whenever we weren’t on patrol.” Andy came up behind them smirking. “When Timmy told me what they were doing I kept it in the back of my head just in case I ever had a chance to put them to use.”

Sean laughed lightly. “So, that’s all you guys do? Play oldies like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac?”

Tim smirked. “Well, Dance with Me is an old ‘Orleans’ song, for one.”

“My mistake.”

“But, for the most part we like the old 70’s and 80’s tunes. It works for us.”

Tyler grinned. “Got any surprises in store for tomorrow?”

Tim’s eyes went to Andy and then to Tyler. “Nothing special.”

There was a secretive gleam in his eyes that made Tyler think Andy’s old friend was hiding something. Andy didn’t seem to notice, so he just shrugged and played along. “From what I’ve heard so far, I think it’ll be a great performance regardless.”

Half an hour later, Kyle and Liz were coming back outside. The children were asleep, and the baby monitor was in his hand just in case Aaron woke up. Thankfully, that had slowly been becoming less of an occurrence and he was hoping within the next two or three months he could break Jacob of the habit of checking on Aaron in the middle of the night. He passed on an offered beer from Troy and went looking for Jacob who wasn’t sitting where he had been when he had taken the boys inside.

Everyone seemed to be mingling and nearly everyone had a bottle in their hand. A sliver of concern formed in his mind as he went around the area looking for his husband. A moment later he stopped and felt a catch in his throat as he saw Jacob sitting at one of the tables farther from the rest with two of the other marines that had arrived and one of their wives. They all had bottles in their hands and Kyle watched as Jacob leaned back in his seat taking a drink. He was smiling and having a good time carrying on a conversation with the others at his table. From where he stood, Kyle could hear muted laughter coming from their direction.

A feeling of anger and betrayal filled him as Kyle’s face hardened. He marched up to the table, catching the notice of everyone at the table as his eyes locked onto Jacob who looked back at him blankly. “What are you doing,” Kyle asked in a tight voice.

Jacob’s expression didn’t change much as his head swiveled from Kyle to his companions and back. “Talkin’.”

Kyle managed to keep most of his anger in check. “What are you drinking?”

Jacob looked down at the bottle in his hand and responded curtly, “beer.”

His eyes nearly bulged out of his head as his concerns were confirmed from a seemingly uninterested husband. “Of all the—”

Jacob cut in and held the bottle out to him. “It’s pretty good stuff too.”

Kyle nearly snatched the offered beer from his husband’s hand and glared at him as he took a drink out of frustration. The moment the liquid hit his tongue he saw every face at the table break out into sly smiles and grins. His anger dissolved into annoyance that was tempered with having to admit he deserved to be laughed at. “This is root beer.”

The one Andy had introduced as Rich said with a grin, “we couldn’t help but notice how Jacob here started looking like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs when the beers got brought out.”

“So, we brought him with us back here to share our drinks with us,” Scotty added. “We figured it would just be nice letting him know he’s not the only one here who’s got a drinking problem.”

“I’m sorry,” Kyle said to Jacob.

Jacob chuckled as his smile brightened. “It’s okay. Just a little joke is all.”

“It was stupid of me,” Kyle admitted, and he meant it.

Jacob laughed softly, a sound that could still made a part of Kyle swoon, grabbing Kyle around his waist and pulling him down onto his lap. “Guys, I got the easy affliction. My husband has his own demons he fights.”

Scotty shook his head in wonder. “How did you two meet anyway?”

“High school sweethearts, I guess you could say,” Kyle answered with a smirk.

“What is it you do again,” Rich asked him.

“Oh, I’m a lawyer.”

“Lawyer huh?” Rich got a playful look on his face and turned to his friend. “Yo, Scotty, do you know what happens to a lawyer when they take Viagra?”

Scotty looked at him curiously. “What?”

Rich grinned and said, “they just get taller.”

Kyle rolled his eyes as they others laughed. He gave them a second before saying, “do you know why the Navy keeps marines on their ships?”

Rich was still laughing silently as he replied, “why?”

Kyle gave him a suggestive look. “Because sheep would be too obvious.”

Rich looked offended for half a second, but his laughter couldn’t be held back as his wife nearly fell off of the bench she was sharing with him from laughing. Scotty was wiping his eyes. “Where did you hear that one?”

“Andy’s dad told that one once to my dad when I was a kid, and it’s always just stuck in my head.” Kyle laughed silently as they all relaxed and enjoyed themselves.

They were all enjoying the moment when a voice shouted loudly over the noise of all the other conversations that caught everyone’s attention. Marines! On your feet! Officer arriving!

Rich and Scotty were on their feet and double-timing it to the driveway. Jacob and Kyle exchanged curious looks and shrugged before getting up and following behind them at a slower pace. By the time they got to the others, they were surprised to find all the marines standing at attention side by side. It would’ve looked more impressive had the men not been wearing civilian clothing and their faces had various smirks and grins as they waited in an almost mock version of an attention stance.

A dark blue sedan arrived only moments before and had just parked. The door opened and an older man Kyle guessed to be in his mid to late fifties stepped out wearing a camouflage duty uniform. The glowing light from the back door stopped the man as he gazed at it curiously. From his vantage point, Kyle could barely make out his uniform and it was only as the man walked up that he noticed his father had joined the other marines in a good natured show of camaraderie. The officer approached the assembled marines with a scrutinizing gaze as he walked down the line. As he came into the light from the patio overhead, Kyle spotted the insignia on the collar of the man’s uniform indicating he was a colonel.

His hair was steel grey under his cap. The face was mostly smooth with a few lines etched on the sides of his mouth and eyes. The amber brown eyes met each marine’s eyes with a rigid stare that betrayed no hint of what the man was thinking. The look broke only as he stood in front of David, looking him up and down. “I don’t remember seeing you in any of my commands,” the resonant voice of the colonel rumbled with a southern drawl, almost like thunder on the horizon.

David awarded him with a smirk. “Doubtful. David Howard, Staff Sergeant USMC. Retired 1985.”

The officer frowned. “What regiment?”

David’s eyes remained fixed on the man in front of him, an air of quiet confidence accompanying his casual tone. “Eighth Regiment out of Camp Lejeune. Second Battalion.”

Kyle watched curiously as the colonel’s face changed from curiosity to respect. “Urgent Fury,” he asked David.

He nodded once, meeting the man’s gaze as his smirk lifted slightly. “And Beirut.”

The man grunted in approval and extended his hand. “Colt Hickman. These other assholes will call me Colonel, but you can call me Colt.”

David shook his hand. “Welcome to the party.”

Colt turned to the others still standing there with lopsided grins. He shook his head with a smirk and said, “Stewart, get over here. The rest of you sorry losers I’ll visit with in a minute.”

Andy stepped up with a smile on his face as the others broke ranks and chuckled to themselves as they went back to the party. “Good to see you again, sir.”

“Stewart,” Hickman said with a slight frown, “how come I’m just now finding out you grew up with a real soldier?”

David shook his head with a pleasant smile as Andy looked at him mildly confused. “He didn’t know. None of them were even born back then.”

That didn’t stop Andy from asking now. “Wait, what?”

Colt motioned to David. “He fought in Grenada and helped evacuate our people in Beirut…”

Kyle’s mouth dropped slightly in surprise as he stepped forward. “Dad?”

Colt turned to the new person coming up to him. “Who’re you?”

“This is my son, Kyle,” David said. “Behind him is his husband, Jacob. The rest you’ll meet soon enough, I suppose.”

“Kyle,” Brian called out as he came up behind his friend with a happy grin. “Did Andy tell you? He’s gonna wear his dress uniform for our wedding.”

Colt’s frown seemed like a permanent feature to his face as he looked from Brian to Andy. “No, he’s not.”

Kyle and the others were dumbstruck as Andy started at his former commander. “What?”

The colonel’s stance straightened slightly as he stared him down. “If you’re going to wear your uniform tomorrow, then you have to conform with the rules regarding personal grooming as well.”

There was a pause as the meaning of what his commander was saying set in. “My hair?”

Colt nodded. “And the facial hair. It’s gotta go.”

Andy’s eyes went from Colt and then to Brian and his friends who were watching with various looks of concern. Brian’s concern seemed the most poignant as it was mixed with a resigned disappointment. He already told Brian he’d do it. If it meant having to cut his hair and risk seeing an all too familiar face he had hoped to leave in the past, then that’s what he would have to do. “Well, I guess I better find me some clippers.”

The colonel leaned to his side a little towards David and asked in a low voice, “was he always a trouble-maker?”

David chuckled silently and nodded. “Yeah. But he grows on you. He’s made me proud. He’s made us all proud.”

Colt’s lips lifted slightly as he nodded. “Yes, he has.” Having made a decision, Colt put his plan into action. “Graff, Jones! Get your asses over here.”

Brian watched, not sure what was going on, only that this new guy seemed to be taking over. “We’ve been invaded,” he whispered to Kyle.

Kyle snickered but made sure Colt and his dad didn’t see or hear. “It’ll be fine. I think.”

Troy came up behind them and said, “what’s going on?”

Brian shrugged. “They’ve taken the back yard. It’s only a matter of time before they’ve established a beach head somewhere in the kitchen.”

Tim and Amy came trotting up with smiles and a beer in hand. “What’s up, sir?”

Colt pointed to Andy and said to them, “take Mr. Stewart inside, find some clippers and get him fit for duty.”

Tim’s eyes widened in understanding just before his mouth parted in a wide grin. “Yes, sir,” he said, sounding a little too eager to Andy’s ears.

Amy giggled and ran her hand through Andy’s long hair. “Damn. Yours is longer than mine. We gotta get that fixed.”

“Are there any clippers around,” Tim asked him.

“I have some in my bathroom,” David supplied helpfully. “Come with me.”

The four of them walked away and headed up the ramp into the house, leaving everyone to wonder what was going to happen. Tyler, suddenly realizing things were starting to go quiet, impulsively stepped in to fill the void with a friendly smile. “Excuse me, sir. Did you want something to drink? This is a party, after all.”

The colonel turned to him, looking down at him with a little surprise on his face. “Just a water will be fine.” The older man looked around and Tyler helpfully motioned to an empty seat for him while he grabbed a water out of one of the coolers.

Tyler sat down next to him and placed the water on the table. “How come you came in your uniform when the others didn’t?”

Colt gave him an amused smirk and replied, “I came here straight from Washington. Didn’t bother to stop at my apartment to change clothes. Just grabbed my gear and headed out.”

“I see. You work at the Pentagon?”

He nodded. “Just a temporary desk job for a couple months.”

Tyler found himself overly curious. He noticed a ring on the man’s finger but felt that would be asking too much, so he just stuck to learning about his career for now. “What happens after that?”

Colt smirked and Tyler realized without the frown, the older man had a very handsome face. “I retire. Twenty-five years in the service is about enough for me.” He took a drink from his bottle and turned the questions around on him. “So, who are you exactly?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Tyler smiled apologetically. “I’m Andy’s best man for tomorrow. Tyler Brewer.”

He gave the younger man a nod of approval. “How long have you two been friends?”

Tyler smiled as his mind replayed that first fateful day he rode with Andy to his first job site. He missed those simpler days in a way. “Almost three years now.”

Colt gave him an inquisitive look. “And out of all of his friends you’re his best man?”

“He insisted,” Tyler explained with a shrug. “I told him I thought Kyle would be a better choice, but he wanted me. He’s my friend and I couldn’t refuse him.”

Colt smirked and nodded again as if his suspicions were confirmed about Tyler. “Well, good luck tomorrow.”

“Thanks.” Tyler looked around and noticed the place seemed to be quieter than it had been before the older man’s arrival. “Shouldn’t there be some music playing or something,” Tyler asked looking up at those near him.

“Richie?” Colt’s voice, after years of giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed, carried easily with a weight of authority that was obvious to everyone’s ears.

“Yes, sir?” Richie looked up from a couple tables away where he had been talking with Stephanie, Nate and Liz.

“How come you guys aren’t singing? Or are all those performances on YouTube just special effects and you guys aren’t worth shit?” Colt looked at Tyler with a cocked eyebrow and amber eye sparkling with amusement.

There were some scattered laughs as Rich picked up Tim’s guitar and gave it a few experimental strums. “Hun?” He looked to his wife and played a couple chords as he smiled over at her. “Wanna give me a hand with this?”

The others noticed the smile on her face as she walked up to him letting them know she knew what he had in mind. “You want me to sing backup or lead?” She sat down next to him on the picnic bench and leaning back on the table.

“Back up, if you don’t mind, ma’am.”

She chuckled and looked to the others. “This is the song he used to propose to me.”

Rich smirked as his kept his eyes on the strings of the guitar. “Nearly lost it halfway through when you started to sing along to.” His fingers began to play and soon his voice filled the yard with a deep, soulful voice that belied his gruff appearance. As he played through the first verse, he kept his eyes mostly on his playing. But once he reached the chorus, his head lifted to meet his wife’s gaze as they sang in perfect harmony.

Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner every night?
When we’re together it feels so right
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?

The audience watched and smiled warmly as Rich and his wife seemingly sang only to each other. It was clear to all who watched how deep their love was reflected in their eyes. As the song continued, hands slowly met and were held. Tyler felt Sean come up behind and wrapped his arms around his body as he rested his chin on Tyler’s shoulder. Every note and every word were sung from the heart as the best songs often are. When they finished, the efforts were met with applause as Rich and Hannah grinned before leaning their heads closer to share a sweet kiss.

“Happy now,” Rich asked Colt as he set the guitar down.

Colt was just about to reply when everyone heard the door to the open. All eyes turned to the patio and watched as four figures in the darkness slowly came down the ramp. As they finally stepped into the brightly lit back yard between the house and the orchard, Brian rose to his feet, beaming as he took in the sight of his soon to be husband.

Gone was the long dark blonde hair that used to reach down to his shoulders and the facial hair that had hidden the face of the boyhood best friend who he once fell in love with. Andy’s eyes sparkled in the light even as he wore an uncertain expression that came from being suddenly exposed. He had spent years burying his past and ignored so much of who he used to be, it was a shock to suddenly feel the wind blowing against the back of his neck and feel the smoothness of his chin and mouth. “Well,” he finally said, meeting Brian’s gaze. “Think you can live with this?”

In response, Brian ran to him and wrapped his arms tightly around his lean frame before kissing him fiercely. When he finally broke the kiss, he looked into Andy’s eyes and said, “for the rest of my life.”

Troy and the others grinned and suppressed a few chuckles. “Hey, Kyle,” he said as he walked up to the couple, “look who it is.” He put his hand on Andy’s shoulder and smiled down at him.

Kyle knew exactly what Troy was thinking and joined him. “Isn’t this the guy we were swimming with?”

“Oh, look,” Andy quipped. “We got two comedians here.”

Jacob ginned and came up behind Kyle. “What a dick. With all that hair gone now, he looks like he’s still in high school.”

Troy and Kyle chuckled. “Now that you mention it, you got a point,” Kyle replied.

“I dunno,” Troy chimed in. “I think I see a wrinkle or two.”

Andy stood there and just looked at Brian with a patient smirk, waiting for his friends to finish with their little routine. Brian never let go of him and just met his gaze, letting their own quiet conversation take place. “So,” he finally said to Brian when the one liner routine was done, “you ready to do this?”

Brian’s blue eyes shone brightly in the night as he said confidently, “sure am… Stewie.”

Copyright © 2019 Jdonley75; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

When Tyler was feeding Aaron and Aaron grunted, I was thinking something else was happening! I thought Tyler was going to get a lesson on changing a dirty diaper. I never fed any of my nieces or nephews (or grand-nieces). And I’ve only changed one (wet) diaper in my life (my oldest nephew’s).

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It’s funny how we’re seeing Andy & Brian’s wedding preparation through Tyler’s eyes. I don’t remember him thinking that he’d want to follow their lead with a marriage, but holding & feeding Aaron made him contemplate having children with Sean. And he definitely already misses the interactions with the entire family because of his impending move away to Southern California.

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1 minute ago, droughtquake said:

It’s funny how we’re seeing Andy & Brian’s wedding preparation through Tyler’s eyes. I don’t remember him thinking that he’d want to follow their lead with a marriage, but holding & feeding Aaron made him contemplate having children with Sean. And he definitely already misses the interactions with the entire family because of his impending move away to Southern California.

For a moment, I had to go back and check the chapter.

No, Andy and Brian's wedding is not in this chapter.  You're seeing events leading up to it.  Don't get ahead of yourself.

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5 minutes ago, Jdonley75 said:

He's 23 now.

My oldest nephew, the victim of my diaper change, will be 33 this spring. His three daughters are the only ones of their generation so far, on the maternal side of my family. Some of my paternal cousins are older and have had grandchildren for a while, but I have never met the kids and I have only indirect contact with that entire side of the family.

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So disappointed that Tyler decided to go to California. I thought he could be more help in small town USA than the soul less city of LA. Just proves that anyone can be bought, even Tyler.

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2 minutes ago, jaysalmn said:

So disappointed that Tyler decided to go to California. I thought he could be more help in small town USA than the soul less city of LA. Just proves that anyone can be bought, even Tyler.

Okay.  Well, I can't change your opinion on that.  Sorry.

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2 minutes ago, Danners said:

Hey, before Tyler considered having a baby in the future, he still kept trying to get Sean pregnant. No reason marriage couldn’t be in their future even if he hasn’t consciously thought about it. 😜

Pretty sure pregnancy wasn't on Tyler's or Sean's minds at any time.

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4 minutes ago, mfa607 said:

Understand completely, but you kind of have a (gay)Harry Potter on your hands...Please take credit for building an amazing group of characters that people fell in love with. There is way too much horror in this world, your stories are a wonderful escape. 
I’m along for the ride, wherever you take us! Take a break, you definitely worked for it!

Funny you should mention.

My next series I've been toying with in my mind will be more fantasy than drama.  Not kid stuff like HP though.

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2 hours ago, Jdonley75 said:

But I can't see myself writing down the events that take place when Kyle is eighty-seven.

So Aaron at eighty-seven is out of the question?

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3 hours ago, jaysalmn said:

So disappointed that Tyler decided to go to California.

3 hours ago, Jdonley75 said:


There is another possible explanation. I cannot remember if I know for sure which state @jaysalmn comes from (Minnesota?) But there’s a meme that depicts which state every state loves to hate. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona all hate California. California, New Mexico, and Oklahoma all hate Texas. Minnesota hates Wisconsin, but nobody hates Minnesota. New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware all hate New Jersey and New Jersey hates everyone!

Check out The Pit, …But too Political For the Lounge, page 14, post #13 for the graphic. No link or image is provided because I’m wary of being accused of posting something political outside the Pit. The map is not really political, but…

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