Then Came You... - 8. Chapter 8 Acceptance...
Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Maxwell will never be okay with losing Brad, but he soon learns that he must accept it and move on with his life. He also begins to understand that what happened to Brad is not his fault and it is okay to find love again, even if he couldn't see the forest for the trees...you don't throw away good people.
New York this time of year was beautiful. Spring; it was Brad’s favorite time of year. He always talked about growing a garden but sadly never got around to it. Maxwell sighed dejectedly before taking one last drag of his cigarette; he dropped it to the ground and put it out with the bottom of his shoe before releasing the smoke into the air. He took a deep breath and held it as he approached the stone that bore his husband’s name. Each step was forced and the closer he got the more nauseated he felt. He stood motionless as his eyes glossed over the headstone. Aside from the memories that were engraved in his mind and etched in his heart, this stone was it…Brad.
He looked up toward the heavens, allowing the tears to stream down his cheeks as he’d done so many times before lowering himself to the ground.
“Hey…” he said with a sorrowful smile, his voice barely above a whisper as his fingers gingerly trace over the engraving.
He used the back of his hand to wipe away the tears. He sat quietly in his solace watching the clouds slowly drift overhead, basking in the warm breeze blowing against his face. After a few moments of meditation he reached inside his back pocket and pulled out the book ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ it was the book Brad was reading before he died. He wiped his eyes once more, finding the page that was dog eared and started reading aloud. He was determined that Brad would finish this book, even if he had to read it to him.
He finished the last chapter and sighed as he gently closed the book and placed it on the ground beside him taking a deep breath as he did so.
“I’m not sure if I’m coming or going these days,” he admitted as he flattened the lapel of his denim jacket. “Since you’ve been gone I’ve made a complete mess of things. My life included,” he admitted through an exaggerated sigh. “I didn’t realize how much you kept me in line,” he chuckled humorously while combing his fingers through his hair. “I did go back to school. Drake twisted my arm, saying you wouldn’t want me to put it off.” He shrugged. “He’s been doing a lot of that lately; pulling the Brad card,” he laughed crossing legs to sit Indian style. “Speaking of Drake,” he sighed and lowered his head regretfully. “I don’t even know where to begin. It’s like we had no beginning… he just always was. He was there from the day we met. Went everywhere we went, hindsight I’m not sure if that was a good idea,” he said scratching at his scalp. He looked down at the ground running his hand idly over the soil. “I made…we made a huge mistake, Brad, really big and…and,” he swallowed the lump formimg in his throat. “I’m sorry.” He sniffed glancing up at the sky in an effort to keep the tears that threatened to fall from spilling.
“I don’t know what to do about it now,” he confessed. “I tried avoiding him and that really hurt him. He’s been really great, too great actually. Doing just what he promised. Good ole Drake.” He allowed a fond smile to form momently. “I ran into him last night and it wasn’t pretty.” he frowned. “He’s too pushy. It’s like…I don’t know. I just know I miss you, Brad, and I’m so sorry…” The tears that brimmed his eyes spilled over, streaming down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry. You wanted to stay home, and…and,” he gasped, burying his face in his hands, struggling for air as he cried uncontrollably.
He felt a strong hand rest on his shoulder, startling him. “It’s not your fault.” The stranger smiled sadly as he squatted down next to him.
“Huh?” Maxwell looked up with bloodshot eyes and tear stained cheeks. He swallowed hard, blinking several times. ‘Who was he?’ He squinted.
“It’s not your fault, Son.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know you…do I?”
“No, but I couldn’t help but overhear you as I was passing.” The man explained as he sat down next to Maxwell. “Someone close to you?” He pointed to the headstone. Maxwell nodded, his frown deepening as he used the back of his hand the catch the last tear.
“It’s hard, I know. It’s me and my wife’s third year anniversary.” He smiled sadly and pointed across the lawn. There were several headstones lined up, so Maxwell didn’t know which one he was referring to, nor did he ask.
“I’m sorry.” He ducked his head peeking through his bangs that had fallen into his eyes.
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault. She died of cancer,” He sighed deeply. “We didn’t know she had it when we got married. We were only together for 3 months when she past.”
“Oh my god,” Maxwell gasped cupping his hand over his mouth.
“Yeah. We would be married three years today.” The older gentleman offered casually.
“Six months for us,” Maxwell sighed. The man glanced at the headstone reading the name. He seemed unfazed by the fact that there was a man’s name inscribed there.
“I know it feels like the pain will never go away,” He said while placing a consoling hand on Maxwell’s shoulder, “And honestly, it doesn’t. But it does get easier to bare and the memories don’t hurt as much, they actually become pleasant,” He promised, giving Maxwell’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“I don’t know,” Maxwell shrugged before using his hand to remove the stray strands of hair from his face.
“You don’t know what?” The man asked with genuine concern.
“If I…” Maxwell paused trying to collect his thoughts. He ran his hand roughly down his chin and sighed.
“Just take your time.”
“I feel like I’ve made a complete mess of things. My life, the people around me… I’m surprised they can even stand me.” He admitted sadly.
“Trust me,” He smiled kindly. “they understand.”
“I have a friend, well, we have a friend, that is totally wonderful, but…”
“I got these feelings…ya know?” He eyed him questioningly as if trying to gauge his reaction.
The man pressed his lips together and nodded slowly.
“I don’t know if you believe in god or not, but I do. And I believe he puts people in our lives for a reason, and you just don’t throw good people away. Whatever it is you’re feeling, it will pass, and if it doesn’t you learn to live with it. Death has a devastating effect on those left behind,” he stated factually. “We don’t know sometimes if we’re coming or going. Is it too soon? Will I ever find love again? Then there’s the guilt, which when I walked up, you seemed to be dealing with. “Why are you sorry?”
“I...It’s just.” He inhaled, searching out the right words.
“Does it make you feel better?”
“No, not really,” Maxwell admitted thoughtfully.
“Then stop it.,” He encouraged. “Stop apologizing for something that’s not your fault. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the survivor’s grief. Feeling guilty that you’re alive, living your life and he’s not. Again this is not your fault,” He stressed. Maxwell sat in awe listening to this stranger who knew nothing about him or Brad, yet he felt the need to save him from himself, as it were. He wasn’t sure where the time went but they had talked for over an hour before the man hoisted himself from the ground.
“Well, young man, I’ve got to get going. I have to pick my wife up from work,” he said dusting off his pants.
“But I thought…” Maxwell creased his brows looking confused.
“Oh,” the man laughed boisterously at the baffled expression on Maxwell’s face. “I remarried. I married my high school sweetheart after my wife died.”
“Yeah. Isn’t that funny? We’d known each other all those years. Who would have thunk it,” He laughed with a slight shake of the head. He placed his hand on Maxwell’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes and stated with passion. “Keep Living. Take your time, but keep living. You’re in no hurry and you have nothing to prove to anyone.”
Maxwell ducked his head shyly and nodded. “Okay.”
The stranger shoved his hand in his pocket and started to walk away when Maxwell called out. “Wait! What’s your name?!”
The kind stranger turned and smiled, “You can call me a Friend.” He waved before walking down the path to the cars lined up on the road.
“A friend…” Maxwell mouthed in wonderment. He took in a deep breath and turned his attention back to Brad and laughed softly. “You’re still taking care of me, aren’t you?” He sighed contentedly.
He stood at the door, debating whether or not to knock. It had been over a month since he’d seen or spoken to him and he wasn’t sure how this visit would be received. Six months had past since Brad’s death and it still hurt every time he thought about him. The pain was almost too much to bear alone. He thought back to the day at the cemetery, and the kind stranger’s encouraging words. “You never throw good people away.”
He took a deep breath and held it even as he knocked on the door. He stepped back slowly releasing his breath and waited. His heartbeat quickened and his palms became sweaty as he heard footsteps nearing and the door unlock.
Gray eyes immediately zeroed in on pensive green ones. Both men stood there, each waiting for the other to speak. Maxwell scratched above his brow fidgeting before averting his gaze to the floor.
“Hey,” Drake smiled as he rested his hand against the doorframe. He inhaled deeply lowering his head attempting to make eye contact. “Max, are you okay?”
Maxwell bobbed his head and used his hand to push his hair off his face. “I hope I’m not interrupting you.” He stood on the tips of his toes trying to peer over Drake’s shoulder.
“No. Not at all, come in,” He stated excitedly even as he motioned him forward while stepping aside to allow him to enter.
“Are you sure?” Maxwell questioned as he hesitantly entered the apartment. Drake watched Maxwell shoved his hands deep inside the pocket of his jeans and glanced timidly around the living room. He pushed the door closed and made his way toward him.
“Have a seat, Max. Can I get you anything? Something to drink?”
“Um…actually I could use a drink.”
“Sure.” Drake clasped his hands together, “What’s your poison?”
“Whatever is fine,” he said through a sad smiled as he sat down on the sofa.
“Okay. I’ll surprise you.” Drake grinned mischievously before heading to the wet bar. Maxwell relaxed his back against the cushions trying to calm himself. He wasn’t sure why he felt so uneasy, after all this was his best friend. The key word was…was. He’d been avoiding Drake like the plague and now he showed up unannounced. He hadn’t bothered to call; all the times he tried he cowered out, losing the nerve.
“It’s really good to see you,” Drake called over his shoulder while pouring their drinks. “How’s school?”
Same old Drake, always the same… always caring. “I’ve been doing okay,” he lied as he shifted uncomfortably.
“That’s good,” He smiled genuinely as he returned with the drinks. He was truly happy to see him.
“Thank you,” Maxwell saluted before taking a sip of his drink. “Vodka pineapple. Good.” Drake nodded before turning up his glass and setting down across from Maxwell. There was an uncomfortable wave of silence enveloping the room.
“So-“ they both spoke in unison.
“You go.” Maxwell waved for Drake to continue.
“I was just going to ask how you’ve been.”
“I’ve been keeping busy.”
“I see,” Maxwell nodded toward the medical journals scattered about. “Continuing education?”
“It’s never ending.” Drake laughed before taking another sip. He swallowed hard and set his glass on the table.
“How’s Cody?” Maxwell asked casually.
“Cody’s good.” Drake smiled. “We’re not together anymore, but I talked to him last week.”
“Oh,” Maxwell frowned as he too placed his glass carefully on the table. “I’m so sorry, Drake. Are you okay? Was it…” He left the questioned opened.
“It’s fine, really.” Drake assured him. “It’s not your fault so don’t feel bad. It was best.”
“But Cody is such a sweet person. I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Brad always said…” he shook his head and combed his bangs out of his face once more. “I always liked Cody; I thought he was good for you.”
“Well, I appreciate that.” Drake chuckled humorously while reaching for his glass, “But I think you should leave the matchmaking to me.” He saluted before taking a sip.
Maxwell shook his head and laughed, “I guess you’re right. Brad always had a way of meddling in your business,” He recalled fondly. “Remember the time he tried to set you up on that blind date with…What was his name?” Maxwell snapped his fingers as if it would jar his memory.
“Harold, I think.” Drake sighed reflectively. “That was a disaster.”
“Yeah.” Maxwell closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the sofa. “I miss him so much.”
“Um-hum,” Drake agreed.
“I finally started packing up his things.”
Drake’s jaw relaxed at Maxwell’s admission though he didn’t know why. He quickly recovered and nodded slowly. “That’s good, Maxwell. I know it’s hard, but it’s good. It shows that you are starting to heal.”
“I don’t know about all that.” Maxwell laughed lightly, “but I figured it was time.”
“And school, how’s that coming?”
“Great.” Maxwell beamed brightly. “I’m really excited. I was thinking about going somewhere tropical for my spring break.”
“That would be nice. I’m sure you could use it.”
“Yeah…” Maxwell pursed his lips, bobbing his head anxiously. There was another moment of silence for two beats.
“I miss you too,” He admitted gazing intently at Drake. Drake swallowed hard, but couldn’t hide his surprise.
“Really?” He furrowed his brows skeptically.
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Maxwell said, his demeanor taking on a serious tone. “And I’m really sorry for the way I’ve been acting. The way I’ve been treating you.” He lowered his head shamefully.
“No need to apologize, Max. I understand,” Drake said as he moved to join his friend on the couch.
“Really?” Maxwell met Drake’s gaze head on. “Because I didn’t…not at first.” He took a deep breath and attempted to explain all that he’d been feeling. “That day…” He swallowed the lump that lodged deep in his throat. Drake tilted his head slightly and leaned forward giving Maxwell his undivided attention. “The day you told me you loved me like that and we…We made love.” The words coming from his own mouth still scared him. But he had decided he was putting that fear in its place. “There I said it.” He smiled softly before continuing. “It terrified me,” he admitted.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you, not when-“
“It terrified me,” Maxwell interrupted, “because you were always around. Always there. I didn’t have to think about it. I could laugh with you, touch you, and even kiss you if I wanted to.” He blushed ducking his head. “Brad didn’t care, he didn’t feel threatened.” He shrugged. “And for some strange reason it never felt like cheating, well… In my heart, maybe.”
Drake’s eyes widened upon hearing Maxwell’s confession.
“Yeah, and now that Brad’s gone it’s….” He sighed heavily.
“I understand,” Drake said as he took Maxwell’s hand into his own giving it a gentle squeeze.
“I don’t think you do.” Maxwell gazed longingly into Drake’s dark gray eyes. “You see, Drake, that day changed everything for me. It opened my eyes to things that were always there, but I refused to notice. If that makes sense.”
“I think it does,” Drake said, providing him a warm smile. “I don’t regret what happened between us, but I totally get it.”
“That’s the problem. I don’t regret it either,” He finally admitted aloud. “I just know that I’m not ready to deal with those heavy emotions. Not just yet.”
“We don’t have to.” Drake insisted.
“But I also know I don’t want to go through this alone.” Maxwell looked away, slipping his hand from underneath Drake’s.
“You won’t,” Drake promised. “Nothing changes for me.” He used his finger to gently lift Maxwell’s head to meet his gaze. “You mean more to me than you know and I want to be there for you. We’ve both lost someone very dear and special to us, and it only makes sense that we deal with it together.” He pointed out. “Me loving you isn’t going to change, but I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to push you away….again.”
“You won’t,” Maxwell stared into Drake’s eyes lovingly. “I love you too…like that.” He pressed his lips together and smiled. Drake wrapped his arm around Maxwell’s shoulder and pulled him into a tight hug. He sighed contently when he felt Maxwell relax into his embrace. They held each other for what seemed like forever, both finding refuge and peace in each other’s arms.
“Yes, Ma’am, I’ve checked on the reservations and everything is set up,” He explained while adjusting his tie. He braced the phone between his shoulder and ear and combed the tips of his fingers through his hair attempting to style it, frowning disapprovingly. “We got the private room near the wine cellar. Um-hum, Um-hum. Yeah, the cake is being delivered even as we speak,” He assured her. “I’m really excited for him, he’s worked really hard.” He smiled proudly. “Okay, we’ll see you at the arena.” He ended the call and checked the time displayed on the screen before placing it on the table.
“Max! We’re going to be late if you don’t put a move on!” Drake called back over his shoulder as he picked up his invitation.
He couldn’t believe that after two years of hard work and determination, this moment had finally arrived. Maxwell was graduating tonight and he couldn’t be happier. He sighed contently with a faraway look in his eyes as he thought about Brad. He knew Brad would be ecstatic and go all out to celebrate. Tonight they would be dining at Maxwell’s favorite restaurant located in Manhattan near Times Square. Drake and Maxwell’s mother had a private room reserved for ten of Maxwell’s family; a couple of co-workers and a few close friends; Cody and his date were on that list. He had just placed the invitation in his jacket pocket when he heard Maxwell enter the room.
“Well.” He pivoted to the left then to the right, showing off his navy blue suit and ‘Kodak’ smile. “How do I look?” He asked striking a pose. Drake shook his head and laughed as he made his way toward him.
“You look like the sexiest Valedictorian I’ve ever seen in my life.” He smiled while pulling Maxwell into his arms.
“Flattery will get you everywhere.” Maxwell smirked before stealing a quick kiss. He relaxed into Drake’s embrace and sighed happily. “I’m nervous,” He admitted slightly above a whisper, as he rested his head against Drake’s chest.
“You’ll be fine,” He assured him, while rubbing soothing circles up and down his back. “You know the speech, it’s wonderful and you’re going to wow them.” He stated with confidence.
“You think?” Maxwell gazed questioningly into Drake’s warm smile.
“I know so.”
Maxwell sighed exaggeratedly, lacking the same enthusiasm. He pulled from Drake’s embrace, but not before stealing another kiss on the mouth.
“I’ll be ready in a sec,” Maxwell informed him as he headed toward the kitchen. “I’ve got to get the flowers.”
Drake stuck his hands in his pants pockets, bouncing excitedly on the balls of his toes and smiled admiringly as he watched Maxwell walk away. He inhaled deeply thinking about how far they’d come in the past two years. Their relationship was different. What started out as a loving, exclusive, friendship, one that was pure and nurturing, eased to a committed relationship, though neither remembers when the transformation took place. Maxwell was actually surprised at how well their relationship was received by his mom and their friends. The running joke amongst them was if it wasn’t Brad it would have been Drake anyway.
“Okay, I’m ready,” Maxwell emerged from the kitchen slightly winded. He was carrying a beautiful arrangement of flowers sprinkled with ‘baby’s breath, wrapped loosely in green tissue.
“We’re good,” Drake stated looking at the time. “If we leave now, we can stop at the cemetery, drop off the flowers, swoop around to the highway and be at the arena in an hour.”
“Perfect.” Maxwell grinned happily. “I mean it’s only fitting that we see Brad today. He’s the one who encouraged me to go back to school.”
“Yeah,” Drake agreed, “he would be so proud of you.” He turned to grab his keys when he felt Maxwell’s hand grab his elbow. Gray eyes meeting impassioned green ones, he could see the love and appreciation that filled them.
“I wanted to say, thank you.” He smiled softly. “It’s true Brad insisted that I go back to school. It’s what he wanted for me, but it’s you that encouraged me to stay there, to keep going when I wanted to quit every other week.” He chuckled in spite of himself.
“You’re giving me too much credit,” Drake disputed humbly.
“And you don’t give yourself enough.” Maxwell used the tips of his fingers and tenderly caressed Drake’s cheek. “I appreciate you and all that we’ve been through over the past two years. But we’re together. We’re stronger together…I’m stronger and it’s because of you. I love you, Drake. Do you know how long it took me to say that and not feel like I was betraying Brad?” He sighed heavily.
“I love you too,” Drake said taking Maxwell’s hand into his own and gingerly kissed the palm of it.
“Then take the compliment, silly.” Maxwell laughed softly swatting Drake across the chest.
“Alright, alright.” Drake threw his hands up in defense. “You’re welcome.”
Maxwell nodded coly and smirked. “Now let’s get going. The Valedictorian cannot be late.”
“Your chariot awaits you, Sir,” Drake motioned with is hand for his boyfriend to go first. Maxwell clutched the flowers against his chest and sashayed out the door. Drake smiled happily tossing his keys into the air and catching them as he pulled the door closed locking it behind them…
Wanted to thank you all for your support and reviews... Love them all. As I always say, comments fuel the writer's Soul!
Super Duper thank you to, rabble rouser, fleeting rainbows and loahisi...you all are great!!!
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