Breathing hard from his run Gene swiped sweat from his forehead. It felt good to be physically active again. He hated being still, the week he spent in the hospital had been torture. Followed by weeks of inactivity at home with Aimee hovering nearby. He was being smothered by her waiting on him hand and foot. He should be more appreciative of her efforts instead he just felt suffocated. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone? Just for a minute. A little space. Room to breathe.
Having Michael around he hoped would distract her. Give her something else to concentrate on. To cater to. It wasn’t working. Michael was at school most of the day. Then he found himself an after school job. So that left Aimee with large amounts of time on her hands. Sighing Gene knew he was going to get an earful as soon as he went inside.
Opening the door he found Aimee glaring at him from across the room. “Where have you been?” she demanded eyeing him with undisguised anger. Crossing her arms she stared at him for another moment taking in his appearance. His sweat soaked clothes, damp hair, rosy cheeks ….
Gene squirmed under her scrutiny. Sighing he moved towards the bathroom. Tired of being glared at. “You’ve been running,” she stated her voice flat. “The doctor said no physical activity for at least six weeks.”
“It’s been five already. What’s another week going to do?” Gene ran his fingers through his sweaty hair. “I’m tired of sitting around all the time.”
“Don’t you care about your health?” Aimee asked moving closer to him.
“Of course I do but too much sitting drives me crazy,” he looked at her wishing he could take the sad hurt look from her beautiful pink eyes. “Does it mean that much to you? Do I have to follow doctor’s orders to the ‘T’?”
“Yes it does,” she said in a small voice fiddling with her hair.
“Aimee,” she looked up at him as he said her name. Gene moved closer to her face in his hands “I’m not the kind of guy that follows the rules. I’m not any good at it.” Shrugging he smiled down at her “the more you tell me not to do something the more I want to do it.”
“Can’t you at least try? For me?” she pleaded up into his eyes. “It’s only a week.”
Stepping back dropping his hands to his side “why is this so important? Don’t you think I know my limitations? Don’t you believe me when I say I’m fine”
“I do but ….”
“But what?” Gene all but shouted at her. He was so tired of being treated like a frail weak helpless invalid.
“I don’t want to lose you,” she bit her lip afraid he would laugh at her.
Taking a step closer “is that why you’ve been smothering me?” A slight nod was his only answer. Sighing Gene suggested “how about a compromise? The doctor did say five or six weeks before I started to exercise again. It’s already been five. I don’t see why I have to wait the full six.” At her grimace he continued “I promise that I won’t go running by myself. I’ll stay at home and exercise in the house where you can watch me.” Gene looked at her until she nodded in agreement. “Good I’m going to take a shower now.” As he spoke he pulled his sweatshirt over his head and threw at her laughing.
squeezing as she didn’t quite duck fast enough “Gross it’s all sweaty and smelly.”
“As tempting as that is” Aimee walked towards him running her fingers through his damp chest hair. “But I have a long overdue video commentary to make.”
Drawing her close he brought his mouth down to claim hers. Moaning softly as her hands wandered southward. Breaking the kiss as she released the constraints of his shorts and she tugged on them until they slipped off and pooled around his ankles. “As much as I like where this is going I really don’t want to smell like I haven’t bathed in a week.” He hastily bent and gathered his clothes, giving her a quick kiss “we’ll continue this later?” he asked as her eyes shied away from his. He knew it was too good to be true. If she ony knew how her teasing was driving him crazy.
Laughing softly as he left the room barely dressed. What had she been thinking? They had been living together for several months and not once had Gene pressured her into doing anything more intimate than kissing. She enjoyed having him hold her tight in his arms but for whatever reason she always froze at the thought of going any further. She was so afraid of doing it wrong. What just happened moments ago made her feel like she was in control. It both frightened and intoxicated her and she was thankful that it was Gene who had retreated first. She wasn’t ready. She had always been taught that you had to be married first. The rare occasions her parents contacted her they would ask if she still a virgin and it was a relief to tell them yes when everything else she had done was such a disappointment to them. Although she wasn’t quite sure why her sex life or lack there of was so important to them.
While she was setting up what she needed Michael came grumbling into the room. “How was school?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Fine,” he mumbled throwing a pile of papers on the desk. Groaning as the unstable pile toppled over and scattered papers all over the floor.
“What is all this stuff?” Aimee asked bending to gather some of the loose papers.
“Homework,” he grunted under his breath.
“Homework,” she said in astonishment. “Haven’t you been doing any of it? There’s an awful lot here.”
“What! I thought you liked it here.” Aimee put the papers she had gathered on the desk. “What happened?”
“Nothing sorry I shouldn’t have said anything,” Michael looked down at the papers in his hands.
Looking at the sullen dejected boy in front of her, she knew now wasn’t the time to pressure him into talking. She dropped the subject offering instead “would you like to help me with my video commentary? I really need to get it done and your help would be the best thing ever.”
Smiling he nodded putting the papers down. “What do you need me to do?”
“Food,” Michael said helpfully giving his brother a cheeky grin.
“I know that numskull but what kind of food?” Gene rolled his eyes at him.
“I don’t care as long as it’s edible,” Michael shrugged “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
Looking slightly sick a the thought Gene retorted “sorry kiddo horse is definitely not on the menu.” Turning to Aimee “any preferences?”
Shaking her head “surprise us. We’ll eat anything.”
Leaning down he kissed her forehead “ok its chef’s delight. No complaints if you don’t like it.”
Aimee laughed as he turned to leave, swatting his butt as he turned “Hey no man handling the chef or you won’t get anything to eat tonight.” Gene said of his shoulder.
Watching the playful interchange between his brother and Aimee Michael sighed. This was what he imagined husband and wife should be like but his parents were anything but playful. All it was was one fight and argument after another. All instigated by the bitch. He used to feel sorry for his dad for being stuck with her but as he got older he couldn’t understand why he didn’t do anything about it. He often found himself wanting to scream at him to get a divorce and leave the crazy bitch already.
“Aimee do you love my brother?” he asked suddenly.
She turned to look at Michael and a huge grin crossed her face “yes. Yes I do.”
“You won’t ever hurt him will you?” Michael pressed.
Giving him a puzzled look “I would never intentionally hurt him. I can’t promise to never hurt him. It’s impossible. Everyone makes mistakes and hurt those we love without even knowing it sometimes.”
“You won’t treat him like our mom does our dad will you?”
Shaking her head “no I could never tear Gene to pieces like that. That isn’t love. I don’t know what it is but it isn’t love.”
“I know,” he replied in a low hesitant voice. “Sometimes I think it’s better not to let anyone get close. What if I’m a terrible person like my mom? I don’t want to be the one tearing the people I love a part …”
Michael jerked his head up “how? How do you know about that?”
“His mother called to thank us for raising such a brave young man.”
Ducking his head to hide his embarrassment “I’m not gay,” he blurted out.
“No one said you were.”
“But it’d be ok if you were,” Gene said from the door. ” Sorry I just came in to say supper was ready.”
Moving into the kitchen Michael continued “all the kids at school won’t leave me alone since I stood up for Tyler.” He stabbed a piece of food on his plate. “They keep putting awful hate mail in my locker.”
“All those papers?” Aimee was at a loss for words “why’d you say it was homework?”
Shrugging “I was afraid you wouldn’t understand.”
“Do you like Tyler?” Gene asked staring at Michael from across the table.
“Don’t want to be hated by everyone else either,” Gene said “sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do. Michael you already took your stand when you stood up to the bully once for Tyler. You already put yourself in the target zone. Whether Tyler’s gay or not he doesn’t deserve to be ill-treated by bullies nobody does. Do you want to be Tyler’s friend?”
“I don’t want to be labeled as gay when I’m not.” Michael protested “if I hang out with Tyler …”
Gene smiled at him “I think that boat has already sailed. You already have that label. Are you man enough to wear it? Even if it’s not true.”
“But I’m not …”
“I know it. You know it. Isn’t that enough?” Gene groped for something else to say “I know how your feel, I always have to wear the label of being a drunk or a druggie even though I no longer drink or do drugs. But those bozo’s camped out in our front yard still write it in their magazines. I don’t like having to see it in print where ever I go but I don’t have a choice as long as idiots write it for the morons who read it.”
Nodding Michael said “I understand what you’re telling me but I don’t know if I can. The guy who eggs everyone on is the younger brother of the guy Aimee pushed.”
“What? That’s no reason to take it out on you,” Aimee said indignant on Michael’s behalf. “He took me to court. What more does he want?”
“Obviously he’s upset he lost,” Michael muttered around the food in his mouth.
“Why I have a half a mind to march out there and give him a piece of my mind,” she stabbed her food with the fork in her hand.
Putting a restraining hand on her shoulder “don’t go flying off half-cocked Aimee. The media buzz over that incident is finally dying down. We don’t need you back in the papers for assault.” Looking at Michael he said “I think you need to just weather the storm. It’ll blow over. They always do. Just don’t add fuel to the fire. The best advice I can give is this. If you want to be Tyler’s friend be his friend. Accept everything that entails. If you don’t think you can. Then don’t be his friend. We’ll support you either way. Just be sure whatever you decide it’s for the right reasons not because your being bullied by an idiot. I suspect the bully has other motivations other than Aimee knocking his older brother on his ass.”
Michael gave him a thoughtful look as he nodded. “I have a lot to think about before going back to school on Monday.”
“You can do some of that thinking while you wash the dishes.” Gene told him receiving a groan of displeasure from Michael. “Hey what’s that for?” Gene asked as Aimee slapped his arm. “I slaved over a hot oven the least he could do is dishes. Besides” Gene leaned close whispering in her ear “I want to finish what you started this afternoon.” Aimee blushed putting a hand up to cover her mouth as she felt a giggle threatening to escape. “That is if you want to,” Gene added seeing how she became instantly jittery. Inwardly he groaned she was pushing his self-control to the limit; especially after that episode this afternoon. Maybe it had been a mistake on his part not to have pursued it further. He didn’t want her first time to be something she’d later regret. He wanted it to be special, something she’d remember fondly. “Why don’t you pick out a movie for us to watch?” The look of relief that washed over her wasn’t missed by Gene. He couldn’t help but wonder if he was doing something wrong. He was starting to think that Aimee only wanted their relationship to be safely in the friendship zone. She wanted to be with him but not be with him.
Sighing he followed Aimee with his eyes as she went to select a movie to watch. She looked up at him puzzled but didn’t inquire. Gene turned away, helping Michael clear the table and put the leftovers away Anything to delay joining Aimee on the couch. He wasn’t sure he could hide how deeply it hurt to be so rejected. “Gene your missing the beginning,” she called from the couch. Sighing he went to join her sitting at the far end from where she sat curled up watching the movie. After a few minutes Aimee shifted positions to lean against Gene wanting to cuddle asking softly “what’s wrong?”
Shaking his head mumbling “nothing.” He never moved his eyes from the TV screen. Aimee was about to pursue it further when Gene’s phone rang. Grabbing it like a drowning man would a life-preserver “Hello”….”Lynn slow down you’re not making any sense”….”What? What happened?”….. “Oh god”….. at his anguished cry Aimee looked up startled while Michael came from the kitchen sensing something was wrong.
Dropping the phone Gene began to tremble uncontrollably. Blood drained from his face as he turned to Michael holding his hand out to him. Michael went to him putting his arms around him as Gene began to weep “the bitch got herself a gun. She shot dad, Bryan and Greg.” he held Michael as he broke down and sobbed.
“Gene?” Aimee cried feeling like an outsider. She felt Gene reach out for her and draw her close. They stood in the living room sharing their combined grief. She couldn’t believe this was happening.