I’m back with another round of FFF this week. I had to take last week off as it was the beginning of prom season, and as many of you know I work in a salon, so things can get a bit hectic for me. While I tend to have the sweetest, most loyal clients during this time of the year I also get a few lemons. I mean, I remember when I was 16 or 17 not long ago and prom was all anyone thought of in the spring, but these days some girls are just… growing up too fast.
I can recall being that age and wanting nothing more to be an adult and have some fantasy life, but I was also raised in a house that called for manners and respect, that demanded I act my age and not above it because I would only be young once and I’d regret wishing to be grown later on in life. If I ever walked up into a salon with my mother and demanded over $200 in services like I was Beyonce and could afford it, and bitched like a little queen until my mother caved…
Sorry, that wouldn’t fly with my mom. She’d laugh until she was blue in the face and then drag me out of there by the ear. She’d probably also make a scene to humiliate the hell out of me so I never tried that again.
These days I’m shocked with how submissive some mothers are, how they allow their daughters to walk all over them and drain their wallets and dress like baby hookers dipped in Dorito orange. What happened to work ethic? Why aren’t these spray tanned princesses paying for this crap themselves, or at the very least half of it? Why are they so orange? Why are they above please and thank you? What makes them so important that they can disrespect someone offering them a service, like we’re peasants instead of people?
I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what, I have no problem stopping what I’m doing to look them in the eye and set them straight with every bit of southern tact my mother raised me with. “You are a beautiful girl and I know you know that, but beauty isn’t just skin deep. That’s your mother and you might want to thank her for treating you today. Some girls don’t have mothers like that. In fact, some girls don’t have mothers at all.”
I said that to a girl yesterday after she yelled at her mom for not bringing her the correct latte from the shop next door. This after her mother already endured her daughter’s wrath over choosing a cluster of nail polishes that weren’t the right shade of salmon to match her blinged out dress. This after her mother was worn down into paying $100 for false eyelashes that she knew her daughter couldn’t keep up with.
And this was a mother that clearly didn’t have the money to do any of these services herself. But when I said that to her daughter, her eyes lit up like finally someone else had just told her daughter the same thing she’d been trying to tell this brat for years. To her, that was worth every penny. I know this because after her daughter sat there silently in my chair for an hour, and proceeded to thank me quietly afterwards, the mother asked for my card and thanked me for standing up for her.
I know not all teenagers are like this. I know there are brilliant, gorgeous girls and boys who have hearts of gold and dreams of prom like anyone else, but there are still a few who need to be set straight. Words hurt. Have respect, even for strangers, and especially for those that love you and would deny themselves anything so you could be happy, which leads me to this week’s installment of A Nanny Tale.
We didn’t have a set prompt this week. My fault! However, yesterday’s incident tied in with Logan and Chris’s journey, so I used that for this week’s prompt:
Be mindful of the person you want to be before your words and actions hurt those around you.
Hope you all have a wonderful week. I’m back to the grind tomorrow. If I’m not back from the war that is prom by next week, send coffee and glitter and maybe a rope to pull me out. I’ll be the one throwing makeup brushes and nail polish at the enemy. ;)
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A Nanny Tale: Part 4
Chris hasn’t talked to me much since I confronted him at the restaurant. He sweeps past me when I open my mouth to ask if we need milk from the store. He busies himself with menial chores I usually do for the reason that he needs to have the upper hand. He ticks off final things from his never ending list of stuff to do before Grumpy’s surgery tomorrow morning, which includes spending time with the man himself—something he never does but now that he isn’t talking to me, Grumpy is the only adult around he has.
And then Chris does something that hurts me. He has his mother come to get Joey for a few days because he doesn’t trust me anymore. Doesn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye to Joey or to meet his mother who he chats with outside, he just pushes the knife deeper into my chest. He wants me to hurt, to be lonely. He intends to make me as miserable as I have made him.
Where I was once apologetic—thinking I’d been in the wrong—I’m not sorry anymore. I’m a grown man. I do not need this and won’t play games with someone who refuses to get their shit together. So I pack a bag and call Sabine, who had once offered me use of a cottage her family owns if I ever needed to get away.
I can only hope the offer still stands. If not, Motel 6 here I come. Plastic ice buckets and the smell of a dozen people before me can’t be worse than this place.
“Of course!” she squeals with delight into the phone. “We were there last weekend. It is all clean for you. Come get the key from me at the office.”
Her enthusiasm should have lightened my mood. Her genuine delight lifted anyone’s spirit. Not today. Not for me. Yet despite my sour frame of mind, I retained an unruffled politeness for her sake. “Thanks, Sabine. I appreciate it.”
“Logan? You sound down. Is something wrong?”
Yes. Everything sucks. I’m failing at life right now. “Of course not, just thought I could use some alone time while Chris deals with his father’s surgery.”
“Oh. I assumed you would take care of Joey during this.”
I thought so too, but as it turns out, Sabine, Joey’s father is being an enormous bag of dicks at the moment. “Uh, the family has it covered. Chris gave me a few days off.”
“Huh,” she sums it up with one word. “Well, I pray everything turns out good for him and his family, and you are always more than welcome to the cottage. Would you like some company? My husband can grill and I can bring wine!”
And it does sound good; real adults who genuinely enjoy my company. People who want nothing in return except for my friendship. It sounds like a dream, but what I really need is nothing, a whole lot of nothing and quiet. “That’s okay, Sabine. Just need the downtime, but thanks. Knowing you would do that means a lot.”
“You sure you are okay?”
Maybe I should call my mother and tell her she has a twin. Or maybe all mothers are this perceptive. Unlike my mother, I know Sabine won’t call my bluff and tell me to pack it in and run for the hills. So I placate her with a soothing, “Mm hmm. I’ll see you at the office in a bit.”
I hang up and zip my bag closed before I talk myself out of this spontaneous getaway for one. Someone clears their throat behind me and I whirl around to find Chris standing there. His blue eyes seem dangerously on edge behind his glasses. His arms seem bigger as they cross over his chest, but I know he isn’t that buff and it’s only my imagination.
“The door was open,” he says like that makes it okay to just sneak up on me. He doesn’t seem to care either way.
I shrug. “Your house.”
My fingers shake as I shoulder my backpack. “Yeah.”
This is not good. Not good at all. He’s mad. He bites the inside of his cheek and nods. His fingers dig into his hips as he makes for the stairs. “I’ll call Sabine and let her know I need a new nanny.”
Three. Two. One. Word vomit…
“Fuck you,” I finally snap. I never mean to say these things. I don’t go into conversations with such bitter intentions, but he just … he just infuriates me to the point that my filter turns off. I’d take Tori Rice over this pre-teen hormonal bullshit any day of the week.
He freezes on the bottom step. He slowly turns his head to glare at me. In my mind I hear the sound of a guillotine’s sharp blade zinging into the back of my neck. “Excuse me?”
I can’t stop throwing up words. They’re crawling up my throat!
“You heard me. Fuck. You.” I toss my bag to the floor. Joey would probably punch me for this offense, but he wasn’t here. His dad had made sure of that. “You’ve been itching to get rid me of all week. This how you want to do it? Go tell the only person who cares about my job that I suck at it and tattle on me. Fine, but just to let you know, Chris, I was just going to Sabine’s cottage for a few days because it was made very clear you didn’t need me at the moment. Sending Joey off to your mom… That was fucking low and you know it!”
I pick up my bag again and kick my feet into my flip flops, sure I’m going to break the cheap plastic thongs as they snap between my toes. The angry monster Sister Grace created inside me is back with a vengeance and it’s got its eyes set on Chris Wyzak and his mind boggling emotional baggage. “Now you’ve made it clear I have no reason to be here at all. You’re a jerk. You’re a bully. And I may be some freeloader as you so callously put it, but there are plenty of other families that would take me in and treat me with a shred of respect. Plenty of families without a dad who has so many issues that not even the world’s greatest therapist could sort them all out.”
His face falls and his eyes shimmer as he realizes his mistake; one of many and surely not his last. I’m done with his act, this poor little lost boy who has everything and shits on it routine. Who gets hormonal at the drop of a hat because he keeps it all bottled up inside. He can get a fucking tissue, have an ugly cry and move on with his life because he’s taken it all out on a victim like me and now he’s feels better.
“I’m so glad you know my name. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to pack more than I thought.”
“I didn’t know you felt that way,” he says so quietly I barely hear him. “You should have—”
I laugh in his face. “You would have heard me loud and clear if you cared about my feelings. I know this isn’t all about me, it’s about your family and the job I’m supposed to do, but you’ve done nothing but make me feel unwelcome since we initially met. You don’t see it from my side. I don’t have any friends here, no family to help me out when I need something. I’m completely alone and there is nothing worse than being alone and having your boss, your supposed friend, piss all over you every chance he gets. This isn’t me. I’m more than this.” I scrub a hand over my face to wipe away the tears. I’m sick of crying. I hate crying, but at least they’re angry tears, tears that will take up arms in the war I’m about to wage if he doesn’t do something to stop me. “You don’t want to talk to me—that’s fine. You’re not as forthcoming as I am. You’re not as out as I am. You’re scared and you don’t know what to do. But don’t you dare take it out on me or your son. So yes, Christopher Wyzak, fuck you hard.”
He stands there like a department store mannequin, face fixed in the same hopeless expression and unable to move. Finally he tries to say something, but as usual it isn’t enough. “Logan, I…”
“You what? Come on, Chris, be honest with me for once.” I creep across the carpet towards him, feeling a bit like some theatrical Disney villain who is missing his scepter. “Tell me something that makes you look like anything other than a selfish asshole. Tell me one good reason I’m here. Tell me why you want me to be your friend when you’ve damn near made that impossible. You’re driving me insane!”
He reaches for me. I’m pretty sure he’s going to punch me because I’ve crossed that line; the one of no return. Instead he tugs me against his chest to hug me tight and I can’t help but open my mouth in shock as my eyes bug—so not what I was expecting. His chin rests on my head as he’s a step above me, and it’s a rather awkward embrace, but I’m overwhelmed by his sincerity; the yearning for another’s touch as if he’s been starved for years.
We’re both in limbo at this point, both trying to decide what this means and where to go from here. He’s as astonished as I am, I think, that he’s hugged me. That he gave in.
Sometimes I wish I was heartless. I really do. Chris makes our situation, our relationship more specifically, dangerously intricate as time goes on. I’m on edge with how complex things are between us because I have no idea how he feels, I never do, and most of the time I don’t think he does either.
“Don’t go,” he whispers. “I’m not who you think I am.”
“Then who are you?” I lean back to look up at him. I need the room for my lungs to expand and fill with air. To see his eyes when he’s showing me what he’s really made of and not the bullshit he fronts for everyone else.
He shakes his head. His stare strays from mine. Eye contact and honesty just aren’t strengths he possesses. He’s not ready to answer me. Not sure he ever will be. That hurts and I don’t know why. “Just don’t go yet, Logan. I may be surrounded by family and friends, but you have no idea how alone I really am.”
With that, he drops his arms to his sides and walks up the stairs as if his feet are made of stone. I am more lost now than I was before. Are we friends? Are we still in a business transaction? Am I nanny? Am I more? More importantly, who is Christopher Wyzak and why does he want to keep me?
Despite the whiplash, I am somehow lured back into Chris’s silken web of pity and heartache. I guess that means going to the cottage is out of the question, because I do in fact possess a heart and it tells me now isn’t the time to cut and run. I call Sabine immediately. This time as a friend because she’s the closest thing I’ve got at this point. Maybe she has a crystal ball to see into Chris’s head. One she’s willing to loan me.
Chris left early in the morning with his father for the hospital. I never heard them leave. No one even told me, unless you count the sticky note stuck to the coffee pot that said Chris would be gone for the day, and there was stuff for lunch in the fridge. The house is clean and quiet, nothing for me to do. Joey is gone…
The silence is eating me alive. I have to get out of here. I have to… No, I need to be there for Chris. For all of his flaws, some of mine are worse, and the ugliest of them all is my need to care for others no matter the cost to myself.
When he doesn’t answer his cell because they probably don’t allow them in the hospital, I take drastic measures and go to the emergency contact list on the fridge. Chris’s brother Max has a number listed. Surely the guy will be there for his father’s surgery, and maybe he’s taking a break, or having a smoke—anywhere he can answer his phone. At least I hope he is.
Chris’s older brother Max answers his cell phone. “Wyzak.”
“Uh, is this Max?”
The deep rumble of a sleepy beast groans into the receiver. “Who is this?”
“This is Logan Davis. I’m Joey’s nanny. I’m looking for Chris.”
“Something happen to Joey?” He rustles around on the other end and I hear a woman whisper in the background.
I shut my eyes and wince. I know I’ve woken them. I hate when people do that to me, so I sympathize and silently berate myself for my shit timing. “He’s fine,” I rush. “He’s with your mom. I just needed to get a hold of Chris and he’s not answering his phone.”
Max grunts and flops around in bed to reassure his wife. “He’s fine, Katie. Go back to sleep. You know what time it is, Logan Davis?”
“And is this an emergency?”
“Not really. I just—”
“You just woke me on my only day off this week. If this isn’t an emergency, please don’t call.”
Don’t call? Like I’m some persistent telemarketer from hell? I don’t think so.
“I see where he gets it from.” I scoff without thinking, and like a vacuum, I guess I need to replace my filter because it must be broken, just like my head. “Sorry for waking you up when your father is having surgery and I’m trying to get a hold of your brother because I want to know how he’s holding up. Not that you’d care because you’re obviously more concerned with sleep. I won’t call again. Trust me.”
Max chuckles on the other end. “He said you were a spitfire, but damn, I’m not awake enough for this. Dad’s at Holland Hospital. Call them and they’ll get a hold of Chris for you. Now if you don’t mind I’m going back to sleep with my wife, because we’ve been up all night with a colicky newborn after I worked a twelve hour shift on highway patrol, and I was planning on getting up in a few hours to visit dad after he’s out of surgery.”
Oh shit. I want to bang my head into the fridge. They should bury me now and get it all over with. I’m hopeless at this thing called life. “Sorry.”
“I’m hard to offend; it’s the cop in me. Goodnight, Logan.”
I think he means good morning. He ends the call and I stare at my phone—something I find myself doing often these days. I make a note to work on my people skills.
Talk about night and day with the Wyzak brothers. While Chris’s brother might have been a jerk at first, at least he had a reason to be, but in the end he helped me out. More than I could say for his brother, who was sitting in a waiting room somewhere, sort of hating on me. Nevertheless, the caregiver in me had to get dressed, go get some real coffee and then head to the hospital for some much needed comforting.
I was beginning to think Joey wasn’t the one I’d been hired to look after.
A nice nurse brings me back to the waiting room where Chris is. His head rests against the chair next to him as he somehow contorted his long body to curl into his chair. His mouth is open as he snores. He didn’t bother to change out of his sweats and flip flops for the occasion. I don’t really blame him.
The nurse smiles at me and pats my arm before she goes about her business. A few other families are spaced around the room, but Chris has chosen the most isolated corner he could find, distancing himself from others as usual.
I ease into the chair he’s resting on, manage not to wake him, and without hesitation I set down our coffees and put my arm around his shoulders. It’s what I’d want if I was alone, dealing with this shit. I’d want to know someone was on my side, supporting me even in my sleep.
He shivers half awake and peers up at me. When he realizes what I’m doing and where he is, he gasps. His head swivels from side to side, eyes darting around the waiting room like he’s heard rabid wolves are loose in the hospital.
He is terrified of being seen for what he is—a gay man being touched by another man in public. His stress level is ready to rocket through the ceiling. I can feel his rapid heartbeat where my hand rests against his back.
“Chill,” I murmur and hold tight to his shoulder. “No one cares here, Chris.”
After a minute of struggling with his situation, Chris cautiously puts his head on my shoulder and lets himself be held. He closes his eyes. I play with his hair, gently raking my fingers through his soft blond locks until I know he’s asleep again, or at the very least resting. I wonder how often he does sleep; if he gets any at all; if his self-imposed burdens keep him awake every night and if that’s why he’s so easily rattled and angry all the time.
There’s a wall around Chris he’s built all by himself. There’s a small crack I’m able to peek through because he allows me to. I’m curious if he’ll ever break the wall down enough to let me on the other side completely. As he rests his hand on my knee in his sleep and I continue to caress his hair, I feel him reaching out to me.
He’s letting go just a little bit and it is so sweet it hurts to breathe.
I want to hold him tighter because I know now what he needs. It’s not all about the job or about Joey. Chris has been reaching out for someone this entire time, someone who can lift him up and show him what’s outside his bubble because he’s too scared to risk it alone. He knew he’d fight it, but he’s so desperate for affection he’s willing to take the risk if someone holds his hand. My job is to be patient with him, to hold back a little and protect myself from his pain until he’s ready to let go all the way.
I can’t threaten to run away every time he throws punches. That’s how he protects himself. He’s waiting for me to walk away to prove he’s right about the world, because he’s the kind of guy who’s been rejected into thinking he’s worthless and that this is all he’ll ever be. I was at that point years ago, so I know how it is, but I’ve learned how fragrant the air is at the top and I want him to take of whiff of it.
He relaxes into me until his head is in my lap. No one stares or points fingers or starts picketing in the waiting room. No one knows us or what we’re going through. Sister Grace’s minions aren’t here to whisper the sins we have committed in her ear; sins to her but love to us.
Nothing is out to get us right now.
He doesn’t see that because his eyes are closed, but the fact that he gives in to what he needs without care of repercussion makes me happy. Means he feels safe and means I’ve done the right thing in coming here. I scratch his back and close my eyes.
A part of me hopes the surgery takes forever so we can sit here like this as long as we want. The other part of me knows this will end and I’ll have to find a way to get it back. Chris doesn’t only want to keep me, now I want to keep him too … I think.
Returning home is like coming back from a long vacation. Everyone is tired and disheveled. There’s nothing quite like breathing in the scent of home and then collapsing onto the couch with no plan to move for hours. So many things to do but neither of us care when they get done.
Since Grumpy has to stay in the hospital a few days, before they decide whether to release him into the care of a home nurse or to take him to a home for his rehabilitation, Chris and I are all alone. Chris, tired as he is, starts making phone calls to his mom to check on Joey, to his brother to update him because Chris just told him to stay home, to the nurse to make sure everything is set in case things go as planned, to anyone that will pick up so he doesn’t have to deal with what happened between us at the hospital.
I’m used to this behavior now. It doesn’t take but a few times to understand how Chris is going to react. I roll with it and kick my shoes off, stretch out on the sofa and then grab the remote. If he’s going to ignore me, he can ignore me while I watch some crappy television.
Midway through a cooking show, when I’m starting to drool over the lemon tart this lady is making, Chris stops in front of me. “Is this what you’re gonna do all day?”
I mute the TV and look up at him. “Did you want me to watch it downstairs? I’ll gladly go if you make me one of those.” I point to 42 inches of tart. “I’m sure yours will taste just as good, if not better.”
He glances at the carpet. His cheeks flush a bit, or perhaps he’s sweaty from working himself into a panic with phone calls. I don’t know anymore. “We could watch a movie,” he says instead.
My brows lift. “We could.”
“The flat screen in my room is bigger,” he comments, never once making eye contact.
Never one to beat around the bush, I say, “You want me to watch a movie with you in your room. Together?”
“Not like that,” he gruffly replies.
I know what he means by “that”, although, “that” was never implied. Oh, Chris, when are you going to quit? “Like what, Chris? I’m tired. If you want something, just tell me.”
His blue eyes widen at me. I’m reminded of Joey’s innocent expression of surprise when I sneak up on him reading past his bedtime. “I just wanted to stretch out and … I thought maybe you’d want to watch a movie with me.”
It’s the same shit with different wording—that’s Chris.
“Sure, Chris, I’ll stretch out in your bed with you and watch a movie.” I roll my eyes as if this means nothing. Really, my heart is racing as I bypass him for the hallway, to go to his room where we will lie side by side on his bed and watch a movie together. It’s childish in a way—him asking me in code for companionship when he needs some badly—but the fact that we’re both adults takes something simple like sharing a bed for a movie far beyond his comfort level. While it makes me a tad uneasy too, I have to be the stable one for both of us and take the initiative, walking into the bedroom first.
It’s sort of clean. Not Joey’s standard of clean, but rather a lived in kind of clean. There’s dirty laundry at the end of his bed and the covers are rolled into a wad on the sheets. Still, it’s cozy and warm and has large windows to watch the rain as it begins to drizzle outside. It smells like the plugin scented thingy that masks the smell of his kitchen uniform on the floor. I shuck off my hoodie and toss it on the dirty clothes pile for later. I then crawl into the bed without looking back at him—even though I know he’s there, watching me take over his bed.
He stands there for a moment, studying me as I unroll the covers and neatly spread them across half the bed. I pick up the remote, turn on his television and then push my feet under the covers as if I’ve done this a thousand times before. “What did you want to watch? Looks like you’ve got some recorded stuff if you want to go through those first.”
“I don’t care,” he mumbles as he slowly gets into bed. He lays back, stiff as a board, and makes sure to keep a few feet of room between us. He folds his hands over his chest and crosses his ankles on top of the covers. He’s terrified. Probably because he’s never done this—that much I’m sure of.
“Okay, we’ve got an alien takeover with a hero who works at a drive-thru burger place. There’s one about a woman who builds orphanages in Africa and ends up falling in love with a teacher who is accused of murder. Oh, this one sounds good—I love anything with zombies, especially comedy spoofs.” I look over at him. “What do you say, up for some undead action?”
“I don’t mind. I’ve never seen the allure of zombie movies and TV shows, but that’s probably because I never had the time to get into them.” He yawns and put an arm under his head. Although he’s trying to appear at ease, his eyes are glued to the screen instead of looking at me like I know he wants to.
“Alrighty then, zombies it is.” I press play and yank on the covers until his legs have no choice but to push underneath them. The air kicks on. He shivers and I don’t think it has anything to do with the temperature, but instead the fear of sharing his bed with another man, the fear that he’s wanted to do this all along but this isn’t how he pictured it to be. His fantasies are most likely a bit steamier. As it stands, the only steam he’s getting is the kind that fogs up his glasses because of how his head is angled down on the pillow.
It’s about three hours later.
We’ve braced ourselves for a second wind, managing not to fall asleep even though it is perfect napping weather and we’re warm under the covers. There’s an older movie I’ve wanted to see on TV but always forget to record it when I see it. I begin to press play when Chris snatches the remote from me and starts flipping through the channels.
“Hey! I wanted to watch that,” I tease.
The look he strikes me with is not amused. “I don’t like that movie.”
“Why? It won an Oscar. I think…”
“I just don’t.”
“That’s not a good enough reason.” I lift a brow and he slaps the remote down on the bed and sits up.
“Stop pushing me, Logan. For fuck’s sake, I said I don’t like it.”
I sit up next to him and groan into my hands. I gear up for round one million and fifty-five. Ding. “Is this how it always is with you?—hot or cold and never in between. You can’t answer me like a normal person. You just get upset with me when I haven’t done anything wrong? You sure know how to kill the mood, Chris.” I peel the covers back to get up. My bed sounds pretty nice right now, away from this shit.
“And you just run away from everything because you’re one of those normal people that I’m not,” he snarls. “Fine. Go, Logan. It’s what you’re good at.”
I close my eyes. My fingers curl around the edge of the bed. “I’m not running away, Chris. I’m giving you time to sort out whatever that was because I know you’re not going to elaborate, and I really don’t want to be the butt of your anger while you do it.”
I wait for an eternity for his reply. His hand connects with the small of my back as he shifts across the bed. This is his version of an apology now that he knows he can touch me and not get rabies. “It’s not just the movie,” he says near my ear. “I’ve seen it before.”
I nod, waiting for more. I feel as though our roles have been reversed; I’m the one scared of how close he is, how at ease he is this near even if he doesn’t realize it. At the same time, I like him close. I like how warm he is against me, how I could lean back and he’d catch me.
He elaborates, “It’s about a girl no one knows is on drugs until she runs away to live with her dealer boyfriend. They end up in prison because of a deal gone wrong. They killed a bunch of people.”
I’m nervous to ask. His version of a synopsis is so plaintive it’s like he’s lived that life before. “Chris…”
“Not me. Joey’s mom.”
Holy crap… Oh, Chris. I crawl around until I can see his face. He puts his hands in his lap and glances up at me through his lashes. I put a hand on his knee. I know how big this is for him. How big this is for me. For us. “I’m sorry.”
He shakes his head. “Don’t be, wasn’t your fault.”
“Dead? No. Dead to this family? Yes.” Chris takes a deep breath. “She’s serving two life sentences in Ohio after her and her boyfriend knocked over a gas station and killed two people. She did it barely two months after Joey was born.”
I sat back in shock. To carry that on your shoulders, to know that was the mother of your child—a monster—would eat any man alive. None of it made sense, but if those were the cards life dealt you, you had to play with what you were given. I just wasn’t expecting Chris’s hand to be so extreme. I knew Joey had to come from somewhere, but from her?
Chris was tougher than I gave him credit for.
“You’re probably wondering what the hell I was doing with her, right?” Chris snorts, but the humor is far from there. “She wasn’t always like that. She used to be a good person when we were younger.”
“Good people make mistakes,” I reassure him and squeeze his knee. “But all you need to know is that Joey was not a mistake. In fact, I don’t know you that well, but I’d say he’s the best thing you could have ever received from that relationship.”
“I know that,” Chris says adamantly. “And Trish and I were never in a relationship. It was just the one time.”
“Yeah, we don’t have to talk about this.” He shifts away. “I’m sorry I freaked out.”
I grab his arm. “I’m here to listen, Chris. I think need to talk about it. That might help both of us, actually.”
He keeps his body angled, back to me to hide his face. “So you can know where I went wrong and why I’m so fucked up?”
“No, so I can know you. The real you.”
He looks over his shoulder, sending a case of the feels straight to my heart. “The real me is a coward.”
“No, the real you has sacrificed his life to raise that kid, to give him the best of the best. What I said at the restaurant, I had no right, Chris. I was wrong.” I run my hand down his arm. “I’m so sorry.”
“You were right, though, Logan. I am so afraid to step out of the box, not for me, but for Joey. I don’t want to ruin what he has. I don’t want him to hate me in the long run for not being like every other family. I made the mistake of trying to be myself once and Trish ended up a drug addict, I ended up with a newborn, and my world flipped upside down. I ran away to my dad’s because I didn’t want everyone to know what I was and my son be turned out.”
“And what did running get you?”
“Nothing,” he murmurs. “The same shit.”
“Because wherever you go, Chris, there are always going to be those people. There will always be risks and incidents, but as long as you are true to yourself none of those things can hurt you. Only you let them hurt you.” I began to massage his shoulders and press myself against his back. “Whatever you said or did to Trish, it was her decision to take drugs. Not yours. It was her decision to take those lives and leave her son behind. You are the bigger person. You kept Joey. You raised him on your own. You have done wonderful things and you don’t give yourself any credit.”
He bends his head. His shoulders shake. “She was my best friend since we were about sixteen. She didn’t have the family I did, so I let her be a part of mine. I didn’t know she loved me like that. I never saw it coming. When she told me, I tried to be good for her, because that’s what everyone wanted. We did it the one time and that was all it took for me to know I didn’t want her that way, and that was all it took to get Joey.”
“You told her you were gay.”
He nods. “After she told me she was pregnant, and then she took off with my unborn son. No one would help me because technically she had the right. We weren’t married. Joey wasn’t born yet, so I couldn’t take her to court. The only one who would help me was my grandfather. He was well connected in the area and pulled some strings to find her. When we found her…”
“She was using, wasn’t she?” I slid my arms around him.
He clutched at me with his hands. “Yes, and because of that we were able to put her in a home where they monitored her all the time. I was so scared something would happen to my son. They wouldn’t let me see her. I couldn’t go to the doctor’s visits with her. She punished me.”
“Did she get clean?”
“For the last six months of her pregnancy from what I understand. The next time I heard about her, the lady that ran the home, a woman from my grandfather’s church, called him to say she was in labor. He took me to wait in the hospital until Joey was born. That’s when we found out Trish didn’t want to keep the baby. She was going to give him up for adoption. That Joey might be addicted and she just wanted to leave him there alone.”
I held him tighter. His tears dripped onto my arms, but I didn’t let go. He had needed this for a long time, someone to help him understand, to listen. “I was ready to do anything to get my son. I hadn’t seen him yet, but I knew he was mine and I loved him. I was young and scared, but Logan, I would have done anything…”
“It’s okay.” I nuzzled my face against his neck and rocked him. “You have him now. He’s here.”
“Only because my grandfather made it happen. They were just going to give him away without telling me. He’s the reason I have my son, and he’s the reason Joey is getting the best education money can buy. He’s the reason I have this house and my job and everything else. I owe him my life, Logan. I owe him everything, and that’s why I will shut my mouth and put up with Sister Grace. That’s why I don’t have a boyfriend or a love life. That’s why—”
Before I can stop myself I place a kiss on his neck. He stiffens as I bring my mouth to his ear. “He couldn’t have foreseen your life being like this, Chris. If he did all of that for you don’t you think he loved you enough to care about your happiness or Joey’s for that matter?” I brush a hand over his face to wipe away his tears. “You’re scared of change and that’s okay to admit, Chris. What isn’t okay?—hating your life when you have the power to make it better for both of you. You could have someone to love you. You could have someone by your side, to help raise Joey, to give you support. In time, the rest would fall into place. I’m not saying you can please everyone by being who you are or loving who you want, but that’s life. The question is whose life do you want to live, yours or theirs?”
He noisily exhales and leans to the side to take both of us down to the bed. He squeezes my hands and I curl around him. “I’m with you, Chris. Whatever you need, I’m your friend. Just ... Please don’t shut me out anymore. It hurts.”
“I know,” he whispers and closes his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
He threads his fingers through mine as though he’s signing the dotted line, giving his permission to proceed on the path we’ve embarked on. I’ve no clue what our destination is or how much will be left of us by the time we arrive, if we even get there. I don’t know what my rights are or my title in this relationship. All I know is everything is moving quickly and that the worst is yet to come.
I’m in bed with him, holding him, listening to him breath after he’s cried in my arms. Not many people move that fast in a relationship. However, not many have been in my shoes. And while a lot have experienced tragedy, along with life’s little trials and tribulations, only a few will be willing to stand beside a man like Chris. Those who get it. Those born into the fear of being who they are because the world around them can’t cope with different.
But in my book different sets you apart. Different makes you strong. Different is beautiful.
All my life I’ve tried to prove myself much like he has. I lived my life backwards from Chris. Starting in hell and digging myself out. His story isn’t the same, but we’re alike in many ways. It’s the reason I continue to hold him. It’s the reason I’ll stay with him while he sleeps even though I know when he wakes he’s going to act like none of it happened.
But he won’t forget. People like us can never forget the moment our life changes. When that one person out of millions gives a shit and is kind beyond words with no judgment. When they lift us up and drain the toxins from our bodies to give us a fresh perspective, taking a risk on us even if there is chance we’ll let ourselves drown again.
To Chris, I’ve been that person today, and he’s not the only one who had a moment. He made me special the minute he confided in me, when he allowed me inside for just a second because he trusted me enough to share his grief. He’s put the ball in my court because I know how to play and he doesn’t.
He trusts me to show him the next move.
Offense and defense, we’ll dance around each other until someone wins or we call a truce and play on the same side for once. I’m willing to stick this out, because after today I think he’s worth it. For what he’s been through, and for what he denies himself for fear of messing up his child’s life, I think he’s worth every second of my time.
Every second it will take for me to fix his broken heart.
To be continued…