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    Mrsgnomie
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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.

Jay's Loelife - 27. You left me.

chapter
twenty-seven
loren

 

“Good morning,” I say, stretching my arms as I yawn broadly. I watch as the list of people tuning in for the sunrise breakfast grows to upwards of a million. “Did anyone else sleep terribly?” I ask. “Good. I’m not the only one. I seriously had the craziest dream. You all met the newest little Tater Tot, Carson. What I don’t think I shared is that Isaac and Corey found out their lovely ladies are expecting. If you’ve lost count, that’s a hell of a lot of babies dropping into my life. I missed the weather report that said cloudy with a 100% chance of baby showers. Anyway, last night I dreamt that Isaac and Corey were pregnant, like, they were with child—belly and all. It was some real mpreg shit. To be honest, it kind of messed with my head. Please don’t send me DMs psychoanalyzing what that means—or maybe do? I don’t know if I want to know. Anyway, you’re not here to hear me ramble on about men being pregnant or how Jay’s not getting within ten feet of me now. You’re here for breakfast. We’re making my famous dutch babies—” I drop my head forward and pound my palm against my forehead. When I finally look up, I shake my head at the camera. “For the record, I chose dutch babies months ago. Before any of this. It’s just a coincidence. Jay, if you’re watching, it means nothing. If you think it’s something, you can go to Amsterdam. By yourself. Now make sure your oven is preheated to 425 with your cast-iron skillet inside. We need to heat that baby up—pan up. We need to heat the pan up. Dammit.

This is going to be a long morning.

****

The Spanish stucco home is secluded. Nothing but green vegetation as far as the eye can see. The laughter from the living room rings through the breezeway and Aidan’s footsteps echo off the walls of the foyer as Jay chases him out the patio doors, towards the pool. I see why they love it here. It’s paradise. Jay’s paradise, surrounded by his best friends and the people he loves most. I’m not totally out of my element. I can manage two weeks once a year.

Gotcha!” Jay yells as he tosses a squealing Aidan into the pool, his arm floaties keeping him from sinking to the bottom. I lean against the door frame and watch Jay jump in after him. Aidan is no match for Jay’s wake. The kid’s eyes fill with fear as the tsunami pushes him into the air before dropping back down, and then up again.

Aidan sees me and grins, all teeth and dimples…and a little pool snot which he smears across his cheek. “Jump in Uncle Lowen!”

I toss my shades on the towel and cannonball in. Aidan screams and covers his face, but it’s too late. He’s soaked. Aido Potato crawls on my back and makes me swim around the pool like he’s Poseidon and I’m his peasant dolphin. Jay watches from the side with a happy little smile.

I’d flip him off but Aidan is the worst kind of copycat. I don’t need to walk backwards with Seamus because I’m a bad influence on his kid.

The baby monitor lights up. Jay bolts out of the pool and quickly dries off before hustling it to the house. He comes out a few minutes later with the tiniest little red head there ever was. Carson is six weeks old. How they felt comfortable traveling to another country with him, who the fuck knows? Jay sits under the yardbrella and starts feeding him while I keep chasing Aidan around the pool. Hopefully he’ll pass out soon. Matt said he’s not napping so much anymore, but I’m here to prove it can be done.

****

“Hear that?” I ask.

Jay looks up from his phone and listens carefully. “The windchime?”

“And?”

He strains. “I don’t hear anything.”

With a smile the size of Texas, I lean back on the sofa. I don’t even care that it’s fucking uncomfortable as hell. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” The silence. Not the sofa.

Jay shakes his head at me. Aidan’s passed out on the oversized chair and Carson’s sleeping on the floor. The rest of the group is riding ATVs around the flats or something. I don’t know. We opted to stay in and watch the kids.

“It’s a nice break. I’ll give you that.” A break Jay knew I needed. “Oh, and Seamus is taking us to dinner tonight.”

“What do you think they’re going to tell us? With your luck, they're trying for a third baby.”

“I fucking hope not. I love MB, but I need a break from all the baby crap. It’s coming from all angles.”

Jay admires his sleeping nephews. “They’re not so bad.”

Shit. “That’s not how I meant it. I just meant I hope their announcement is something non-baby related. If it is, great, but wouldn’t they announce that with everyone? Why would we have a special dinner?”

“I don’t know. It does make you wonder what they want to tell us. They’re married, Seamus has officially adopted Aidan, and they’re finally reaching a plea deal that will put to rest this endless legal battle. I really don’t know what else they could say.”

‘Fuck if I know.” I cover my mouth and immediately scan the sleeping kids in case they caught my blunder.

Jay pulls me against him and laughs. “Promise me you’ll never change.”

****

Orange and pink fill the sky as the sun gets ready to tuck away for the night. The crashing waves break not too far in the distance and the tiki torches keep us warm while we wait for Matt and Seamus to spill the beans. They don’t seem to be in a hurry, opting to recap how good the entrees were.

“Maybe we should get one more bottle of wine.” Seamus lifts his glass towards the server.

Jay snatches it out of his hand and sets it out of reach. “Or you guys could tell us what’s going on.”

Matt and Seamus share a look. “As you know, we’ve reached a deal.”

“You shouldn’t have to plea out,” Jay says, still annoyed about the whole situation.

“There are pros and cons to each. If we take it to court, we risk the jury finding Mike innocent. Or, we risk them being guilty and having to pay back a large sum, in which they’d simply file bankruptcy. Part of the plea is that Mike serves time as a felon. He’ll also have to liquidate everything he has within twelve months to pay me back. It won’t be the full amount, but it’s more than nothing.”

“Yeah, but what about Kelly’s parents?”

“Since the charges against the Jacobsons fell in the Fed’s lap, it’s being handled a little differently. I don’t know all the details, but the judge made a unique ruling. She basically required the Jacobsons to sign over any assets that were purchased using embezzled funds. The main one is a coffee bean manufacturer and distributor.”

Anything against the Jacobsons’ is a win in our book. Jay grins, rather evilly. I didn’t know he had it in him. “I bet they're pissed.”

Seamus smirks, not hiding his pleasure. “Definitely.”

“What makes this a private conversation?” Seamus is literally on a vacation with his very best friends.

Again, Seamus looks at Jay. No surprise there. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep it since they had their hands in it, but Matt said we should turn it into something big just to stick it to them. Kind of like I did with the coffee shop after Kelly died. The thing is, we’re pretty swamped with what we have, so we got to talking. Now that you’re retired—” Seamus shifts his sights to me. “We want you two to consider a partnership with us.”

Jay sits back, his mouth open. “What kind of partnership?”

“That’s what we’re here to discuss. The Coffee|Bar does well enough. You have the time and Loren has the presence. We don’t know what it could look like, but we think there’s enough here to make something big for all of us.”

“A chain of coffee houses?” I ask.

“I mean, maybe? It could be a good start. Doesn’t hurt that we’re represented in Seattle and Denver.”

I look at Jay and shrug. I’m not opposed to the idea. He looks back and smiles. It wasn’t that long ago that I sat in a meeting with my team, talked about seeing what the future held and being open to change. This could be the perfect opportunity.

“What are the ideas you two have talked about?” Jay asks. “There’s no way you’ve sat on this for a month or longer and not tossed stuff around.”

Matt laughs. “We really haven’t thought of much. Mainly that we’ll have the business side covered while you guys take advantage of your clout to carry the name. And not to pigeonhole you or anything, it’s definitely not the reason we want to do a partnership, but your brand could take this idea to places we could only dream of.”

I glare. “Ah, so you just want me for my looks?”

Jay puts his arm around me, covering my face with his giant paw. “What Loren’s trying to say is, yes, we’d love to talk more about this.”

I bat his hand away and laugh. “I was teasing. I trust that Seamus wouldn’t drag you into something because they want to use me for my thirty-eight million followers.”

Seamus looks at me and gives a slight nod before lifting his glass. “To building something out of nothing.”

The waitress brings another bottle and fills our glasses. This new idea has everyone’s juices flowing. We spitball ideas around. The possibilities are endless, but my brain is stuck on the coffeehouse option. In fact, the more I think about it, the more excited I get.

“So, there is something else we’d like to talk to you guys about,” Matt says. He wrings his hands nervously and glances at Seamus.

Seamus rolls his eyes. “Matt has this idea in his head that what we’re about to talk about is some big deal that needs this—” he gestures around the restaurant, the lighting, the music, and the wine. “It’s quite simple. We all know that Aidan came to be with Matt because of a very unfortunate situation. Obviously, the possibility of something similar happening has weighed heavily on the both of us. In the event Matt and I die, we want to know the boys are well taken care of. Now, I’m not here to hand out titles, but we’re essentially asking you guys to be their godparents.”

“Yes, absolutely yes.” Jay accepts emphatically. “Where do I sign?”

We laugh at Jay’s overeagerness to be even more attached to the boys. When the laughter dies, all eyes find their way to me. I get it. Everyone knows Jay is on board. I’m a different story.

“I’m guessing this isn’t an honorable title that holds no power in the court of law?”

“It would be in our will, making it legally binding.” Seamus confirms. “We also want to put you guys as emergency contacts for daycare and school. It would be Matt and myself, then Jay, Brad, and then Loren.”

“I’m fourth in line?” I ask, tugging on my collar. “That’s way too much pressure. I mean, if they’re calling me, that means some serious shit is going down.”

Jay drapes his arm around my shoulder. “We’d be honored. Thank you.

****

We’re starting our descent into Phoenix, Arizona. Local time is 3:02pm. It’s 62 degrees right now, but the rest of the week should be in the low 80’s. Thank you for flying with us and have a wonderful week.”

Jay laces his fingers with mine and presses our joined hands on my bouncing leg. “How are you doing?”

The plane tilts as we circle, waiting for our turn. I look out the window and blow out a breath. “Nervous. I don’t know what to expect. I’m driving myself ‌crazy thinking of all the what-ifs.”

“It’s going to be fine. Worst case, we go home and nothing changes between you and your brother.”

That’s not true. Everything changes. When we leave next week, Lars and I will either be friends or foes. We’ll never go back to being nothing. I’m not even sure what I’m looking to get out of this. I tell myself I don’t care if I walk away with nothing, but that’s a lie. Lars is the person I was attached at the hip with, the person I slept with almost every night, cried with, played with, shared every secret under the sun with. He’s the one who protected me when life wasn’t fair and celebrated me when no one else would. I’ve managed most of my life without him, but I don’t think I can live through another loss. Even if the only thing I’m losing is a dream of what could be.

Everything moves in a haze. Deboarding the plane feels like walking a plank, the tarmac an abyss of uncertainty.

The ride to the hotel is quiet, a forgettable blur of scenery I don’t remember. My thoughts swirl like leaves in a fall wind storm. We order room service, but my plate goes untouched.

While Jay sleeps fitfully, I stare out over the city. Not even the shimmering night lights of the city keep my attention. I think back over the last fifteen years and the life I’ve built. I’ve been lucky as hell. Done things, been to places, and met people that most only dream of. None of those things have had me on the edge of my seat the way I am now. Seeing Lars after twenty-three years, not knowing who he’s become or what will happen when we see each other, is the most anticipated moment of my life. It‘s also the most terrifying.

****

The hum of the elevator motor and the ding of the floor indicator keeps us company as we descend to the lobby. Jay squeezes my hand. “I’ll only be far enough away to give you privacy but close enough to be with you at a moment’s notice. Make sure your phone is on do-not-disturb. You don’t need any distractions. If you need extraction, call and don’t say anything or text me a blank bubble. I’ll get you out. But most of all, say whatever it is you need to say, okay? If this ends up being the one chance to say your piece, then do so and leave with no regrets.”

I swallow the lump in my throat and nod.

Jay nudges me towards the lobby, patting my ass for good measure. I look back and give him a wobbly smile. I don’t know what I’d do without Jay. He’s changed my life. He made meeting Lars a possibility. No matter how it goes, I won’t walk away empty handed, even if it will feel like it. I will always have Jay.

I wipe my hands against my thighs as I enter the quiet cafe. The hostess, dressed in black from head-to-toe and a tight pony, looks up from her podium tablet and smiles.

“Reservation for Patrick/McNeary,” I tell her.

She smiles sweetly; very genuine and warm. “Of course. Your guest is waiting.” She leads me to the other side of the small cafe.

He’s tucked in the nook, out of view of the public. As we near, Lars catches sight of us and stands.

As a kid, I don’t remember looking at Lars and seeing myself. I only saw Lars. It wasn’t my eyes looking back. Or my nose, or cheeks, or my smile. Twenty-three years later, and it’s a little shocking to look at someone else, but see yourself at the same time.

We stare at each other for a while before realizing how lost we’ve become. I shake my head to clear it. That hadn’t been part of the plan. With my head down, I pull out the chair and sit across the small table from Lars. “I wasn’t sure I’d see the day…”

“Agreed.” Lars stuffs his hands between his legs. A nervous habit he had as a child. He was prone to talking incessantly, and it helped keep him from going on and on. “Now that I’m here, I don’t know what to say.”

Fuck, this is so awkward, and it’s going to stay awkward unless someone rips off the band aid so I jump in. “We can pretend to chat about things we don’t really care about or we can come out and say the things we really want to say. I vote to get it out on the table. That’s why I’m here, after all. I’ve looked at your profile, I know you’re married and your wife is beautiful, but that’s not what I want to talk about. So, let's talk about Christmas twenty-three years ago when I woke up and my whole family was gone.”

Lars squares up, placing his palms on the table. “Why don’t you tell me about Christmas twenty-three years ago when I was woken up in the middle of the night because my brother got mad and ran away from home?”

I jerk back, confused. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Lars leans forward and nails me with a deadly look. “You fucking left me.”

“You left me.”

Silence stretches between us like highway 46. Something isn’t right. It doesn’t make any sense. Realization flashes in Lars’s eyes at the same time it does mine. He tilts his head and narrows his eyes. “We left you?”

“I went to bed with you, dreaming of Christmas, and I woke up without you.”

“No,” he says, more to himself than to me. “You left in the middle of the night. We promised to stick together and then you got mad and left. You left me. We only left that night to find you.”

“I promise you that’s not true. They always knew where I was at, even when I didn’t know where they were.”

Lars pushes away from the table and walks toward the tall, narrow window that faces the street. He presses his hands against the window seal and drops his head. “We were sleeping together that night. We promised to share everything, remember? I promised you that Christmas would be good. I promised. I woke up in Dad’s arms as he carried me into the living room. They were talking in whispers, packing everything up. When they said you had left, I refused to believe it. Why would you leave? I promised you that Christmas would be different. When I went to find you, they wouldn’t let me. They wouldn’t let me in the room. They said it was to protect me from the pain of seeing you gone.” Lars takes a breath, then comes back to the table. “You swear to God you didn’t leave?”

“I swear. Go to the Pierce County courthouse and see for yourself.”

He's quiet for a long while, his head cradled in his hands. “I always knew something wasn’t right. I mean, there were missing kids who made national headlines. Their parents did a lot of public speaking and police were involved. It always looked like a circus. That wasn’t how it was in our home. No police, no investigators, no pleas to the public. If I thought our parents were capable of something so…insane, I would have questioned it more. But they told me you left us. They told me some horrible things, and I believed them. They said police don’t investigate kids who willfully leave home and that there was nothing they would gain by pleading to the public since no one took you. You’d left by choice. And now you’re here, telling me the life I’ve known for twenty-three years is a lie?”

“I’m telling you with absolute certainty that none of that is true.”

Lars cradles his head again. “Fuck me.”

His reaction isn’t far from my own. We were both swindled, manipulated, and taken advantage of by our parents, all at the tender age of seven.

“What’s your relationship with them like?”

He lifts his head. “You’re asking me that right now?” His laugh is an empty sound. “It was never great, but it’s about to be nonexistent.”

“Sorry. It’s just I’ve spent a lot of my life wondering what kind of relationship you had with them. Knowing what they did to me…”

“They weren’t great parents, if that’s what you’ve wondered about. I didn’t think they were terrible. They were just…eh. They worked, fed me, stuff like that. We didn’t do much. We never went places, never vacationed. They were pretty strict. I never stayed at a friend’s house, went to birthday parties, or got to use the computer without—oh my god.” He brings his hand to his forehead like he has a headache. “They weren’t strict. They were paranoid.” His lips purse and his neck flushes red from the base all the way to the tips of his ears. “What the fuck did they do for two years?” he says to himself.

“Excuse me?”

“In sixth grade, they were gone for two years. They said they had a lead and were going to look for you while I stayed with a friend. It was really hard to get left behind, but I was hopeful they would come back with you. They didn't.”

I have to laugh. This is surreal. “I’m pretty sure they were in jail for child abandonment when we were in sixth and seventh grade.”

He looks surprised, but not surprised at the same time. Of-course-they-fucking-were. “They said they were looking for you.”

“Not quite the truth. They did come after me when I was in high school, though. My vlogging had taken off. They wanted money.”

He rolls his eyes and looks past me, thinking, almost dwelling on something. His forehead furrows. “Have they reached out lately?”

“I haven’t heard from them since I was emancipated. If they reached out, my team would have warned me. That’s not something they’d try to hide. Why?”

He leans back. “No reason,” he lies. There is definitely a reason. I can see it on his face and in the tension in his muscles. Mostly, I can feel it in my bones.

It’s quiet for a while. I’m ‌at peace with the conversation. Then again, nothing in my life is being upturned. That happened two decades ago, and the disrupted soil has long since been raked and replanted, or whatever. Lars, well, he looks like he’s in the middle of a mental crisis. I can see his memory flipping at lightning speed as he tries to process moments of his life that were never what they seemed.

Our meeting feels pretty dried up. Lars is so far in his head he might as well not be here. I’ve struggled with events in my life, and they were based on fact. I wonder how he’ll reconcile his lies? He looks beaten. I know what it’s like to lose your parents.

After ten minutes of silence, I tap the table with my fingers. “Maybe we should call it a day.”

“We’ve barely talked.”

“The word count doesn’t quantify its impact.”

He laughs humorlessly. “I suppose it doesn’t.” And then he asks, “Can we meet up again? There are so many questions. We’ve barely scratched the surface. I just need a minute to process everything. Maybe talk with Courtney. It’s all a bit much, you know?”

“Oh, I know. I’m here for ten days and I’d like to make the most of it.”

“How about tomorrow?” he asks. “I just need a night to sleep on this. I’d like to sort out my thoughts so we can have a better conversation. Everything up here—” he taps his temple, “—feels clogged up.”

“I’ll be here,” I tell him, pointing up, towards the hotel rooms. “My only plans for the next ten days is what we’re doing right now.

Lars smiles, and for the first time, he seems genuine. I saw a movie once, in sixth grade. There was no Earth and everyone lived on a planet where the sun only shines once every three years. The look on their faces when they feel the sun for the first time, it’s the same expression on Lars’ face. And just as quickly as the sun disappears in the movie, so does his smile.

“I’ve spent much of the last twenty years harboring immense guilt, like it was my fault you left. Wondering, what could I have done differently to make you stay?”

“I never would’ve left you.”

Lars wipes tears away with the back of his hand. “I should have known that.”

“I never would’ve left you.” I repeat.

He wipes his cheeks again. “Not a day has passed that I haven’t thought about you.”

“I bet it will get worse before it gets better, for the both of us.”

I stand and motion for him to do the same. I wrap my arms around him and he responds immediately, squeezing me back. My chest tightens and, for a moment, I’m seven again. He smells the same, and he hugs the same.

I thought it would be a quick hug, but it goes on and on. When he finally pulls away, my eyes are as wet as his. He wipes his cheeks with his sleeve and chuckles as if he’s being ridiculous.

He’s not ridiculous at all. I wipe my face, too.

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

Then he’s gone, but there’s a promise in tomorrow. Something I haven’t felt in a long time. Not when he comes to my family.

I text Jay to see where he’s at. His reply is instant in the form of him being by my side a few seconds later. He holds my shoulders, looking me over like he’s checking for physical wounds. “How’d it go?”

“It’s such a fucking shit show.” I bury my face in his chest. “I can’t help but think I dodged a .45 caliber bullet.”

Jay is playing it cool, but he’s buzzing. “How was it seeing your brother?” He wants so badly to know everything we talked about, but we’re standing in the middle of a busy lobby, so he pulls my arm and leads me back to the room. We’re barely in the door before he grills me like a sandwich. We couldn’t have talked for more than ten minutes total, but I tell Jay what I learned, which isn’t much and too much at the same time.

He fists his hands at his side. I’m worried he might punch a wall. “I can’t believe them.”

“Really?” I ask. “I mean, they fucking left me to rot. You think they’d tell Lars the truth?”

“Just ‘cause it’s not out of character doesn’t mean it’s not shocking. I have a feeling I’ll be dead in the electric chair by the time we learn the extent of their insanity.”

“They’re the ones that need the electric chair.”

Jay pulls me into one of his famous, everything’s okay hugs. “I couldn’t agree more.”

****

I can’t be cooped up in the hotel room. I need fresh air and wide-open spaces. Jay finds some bikes for us to ride and we hit the trail hard. He smiles all day, being Jay-kind-of-supportive despite my prolonged silence. Lars isn’t the only one who needs to process everything.

The next morning, I have a message from Lars. Ever fished?

Well yeah. I’ve done all kinds of fishing from two weeks in Alaska to bass fishing with Mike Iaconelli. I don’t tell him any of that.

Me: A few times. I’m down.

He gives me the location of a lake on the outskirts of town. Jay slips away to a coffee shop nearby. “Just a phone call away,” he reminds me as he drops me off.

Lars brings everything we need; two poles and a tackle box. We sit side-by-side with our feet dangling off the dock. The awkwardness is still there, but it’s not nearly as suffocating.

“What happened after we left?” he asks almost immediately. My eyes haven’t adjusted to the sun reflecting off the water yet.

“It was Christmas, so I waited alone for a week before Isaac got home. Then I stayed with them.”

“And then?”

“I bounced around a couple of foster homes while Mike and Julia fought to keep me. The first few years were a revolving door of social workers. Every time life felt normal, Mom and Dad would pop up and upheave my life. I emancipated myself to avoid them. Things got easier after that. I had honestly come to terms with what our parents did, though I don’t think I ever came to terms with losing you, but our parents? Everyday they drift further and further away from my thoughts. I hardly think of them anymore.”

“Would you change it if you could?”

“Does it matter?”

It’s quiet.

“What about you? What was life like after I ‘ran away’?”

The corner of his lip curls and he chuckles silently. “Miserable. I think I cried every day for a year. Maybe longer. Mom and Dad weren’t the same after. As time passed, they got more and more distant. I thought it was because they missed you and I reminded them of you. Now I think it was self preservation.”

“How often do you see them?”

Lars casts his line, letting it sail through the air before landing in the water with the smallest splash. “Almost never. Once I left for college, things changed. You ‌see things from a new perspective when you leave home. Things that seem normal—” He stares across the water. “Courtney’s family is so opposite from mine that I felt uncomfortable around them for a while.”

“I feel that. Jay’s family is close. A little too in each other's business, if you ask me.”

He looks at me and smiles. “It’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re not used to it, huh?”

“It doesn’t help when they have their own weird dynamic going on and you happen to be dating the golden child.”

“Eh, that sounds brutal.” His line tugs and he starts reeling it in. “I think I got something.”

He gets the fish close enough for me to net out, but not without incident. The damn thing almost pulls me off the dock. We’re laughing when we finally get it where we want it. The rest of the afternoon is pretty relaxed between us.

“I know you stalked me,” I say at some point. “I mean, the guys saw you at the open practice. And a friend of mine sat next to you during a game here in Arizona. I don’t care, just curious really. How long have you been following me?”

His face heats‌ up. “We moved around a lot, mostly small towns in the Midwest. Didn’t have the internet for a long time, not until my sophomore year in high school. Like I said, I was sheltered. Then I was accepted to the University of Arizona. A stark contrast to what I was used to. I think it was junior year when someone said I shared an ‘uncanny resemblance’ to Loe Patrick. I had no clue who that was, and I didn’t give it much thought until someone showed me your profile.”

“What was your reaction?”

“What was my reaction?” he says in disbelief. “You left me and then I find you’re living this amazing life with our childhood best friends. It wrecked me..”

“And the fact that I ran away and yet I’m still friends with our best-friends from back home didn’t make you think something was off?”

His jaw ticks. “When you say it like that…”

“Sorry.” I chuckle. “I didn’t mean to distract you. Finish telling me why you stalked me.”

He narrows his eyes then smiles. “I refused to acknowledge you for a while. I hurt too bad. Then I met Courtney. She pushed me to reach out to you. I didn’t have the courage for that. Despite your fame and fortune, I had too much guilt. But once I knew you existed, and I had access, I couldn’t stop. I guess curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know everything about you.”

“Do you think you would’ve reached out at some point?”

“I did. I reached out. I messaged you on Instagram. I don’t remember what I said. It wasn’t anything that would’ve stood out. But it was never read, so I took it as a sign.”

I frown. “In my defense, I get a lot of messages every day. They get buried really fast.”

“I figured it was something like that. I was going to reach out again, but then you started dating Jay and…it didn’t feel right. I was sure you harbored terrible feelings towards me. Why else would you have left? What would you think if I reached out after you started dating Jay Petermeyer? There was no way you’d think my motives were innocent.”

He’s right. I would have questioned ‘why now?’.

“I’m struggling with all this,” he says. “It’s like my whole life has fallen apart in the last twenty-four hours. At the same time, my whole life came together. I’m miserable and ecstatic. I’m filled with sorrow, but I can’t stop smiling.”

We sit on the dock and catch up about the small things until the sun becomes too much. He might be used to it, but I’m from the Pacific Northwest.

He offers to drop me off at the cafe. I decline but promise to meet up tomorrow. Once he’s gone, I walk across the street to meet Jay. The afternoon sun gleams off the window, making it hard to see, but he’s there, at a window seat, waving.

I hold the door open for an elderly couple. Once they’re on the street, I walk in. It’s fucking crowded. Jay is sitting by the window with a fan. He’s happily chatting Jay’s ear off. He seems nice. Cute even. Well dressed like he’s at a job interview.

There are no extra chairs, so I stand next to Jay. He’s been sitting here for hours waiting for me to finish up with Lars. I’m sure he wants to head out. I know I do. He smiles brightly. He can tell I had a good day. Better than yesterday. That makes him happy.

He puts his arm around my waist and gestures at the guy across from him. “This is Josh. He’s a sports reporter for the Bleacher Report.”

I put on my Loe Patrick hat and reach out to shake his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

He leans backwards and drapes his arm over the corner of his chair. “I’m trying to convince Jay  to let me follow him. I’d like to document the transition from football superstar to everyday Joe.”

I raise my brow. He’s had lots of similar offers. He’s declined because they can be intrusive on an already public life.

“I haven’t promised anything.”

Josh pulls a card from his wallet and hands it over. When Jay tries to grab it, the reporter doesn’t let go. “Think about it. I’d love to follow you around.”

I laugh to myself and silently tell this guy to get the fuck out. He did not just openly flirt with my boyfriend.

****

“Oh, he wants to follow you around for sure…right into your bed.”

Jay looks at me with a humorous smile, as if I’m being ridiculous. “He does not. He’s a legitimate reporter.”

“Yeah, who happens to be queer and is drooling over your dick.”

Jay ignores me and puts his feet on my lap instead. “Are you seeing Lars again?”

“Day after tomorrow. We want to do dinner, with all of us.”

Jay grins and I know it’s because I’m smiling. My happiness is his happiness.

****

The heat ripples in waves across the tarmac. I close my eyes and let the sun warm my face.

In ten short days, a piece of me, one that's been missing, has been restored.

Don't forget to react to the chapter or leave a comment.

If you're enjoying the story, make sure to pop over to Jay's Loelife page and recommend it.

See you in the comments!

Copyright © 2022 Mrsgnomie; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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