Looking up at the house Matt sighed. He couldn’t believe it had been a year since he’d been home. He couldn’t believe his brother was about to get married. How did Ian know he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Celia? Hadn’t he learned anything from the past? Their relationship had been a roller coaster ride at best. Matt wasn’t sure if he’d ever open himself up to the possibility of getting hurt. Unbidden Payson’s face came to mind. She was the one constant in his life and he didn’t know how or why it happened. She always seemed to know what to say or do to make him feel better. He wished with all his heart he could reciprocate her feelings but he felt dead inside. He didn’t want to open that door to her.
Shaking his head he noticed the front door opening and his brother running out to meet him. “Matty it’s good to see you,” Ian pulled him into a bear hug squeezing him tight “what are you doing just standing out here?”
“Just taking in the sights,” he shrugged “you don’t know how good it feels to be home.”
Looking at him in concern Ian let his smile slip a little “if you feel like that why don’t come home more often?”
“Don’t start,” he shook his head walking away from him.
Watching him walk away Ian knew better then to ask him about Payson but it didn’t stop him from wondering why she hadn’t come with him.
“Mom, Dad,” Matt called as he opened the door “I’m home,” he announced. He was shocked to find his dad wrestling with two toddlers and his mom chasing another. He had almost forgotten the triplets would be walking now.
Stopping what she was doing Aimee went to hug him. “Matty it’s good to have you home.” Looking behind him as the door opened and Ian followed him inside. “Oh didn’t Payson come with you?” she asked letting her disappointment show.
“Mom,” he rolled his eyes “Payson and I are just friends. She went home to be with her family.”
“But I thought,” she bit her lip to keep from saying something she shouldn’t. She had hoped that Matty was getting over his ridiculous fear. He wasn’t a jinx. He deserved to be happy. Patting his cheek she repeated “it’s good to have you home.”
“Thanks mom,” he mumbled. He hated to see the disappointment in her eyes but he couldn’t change the way he felt either.
Handing Aimee a squirming toddler Gene said “I got the other two down for their naps. Do you mind taking over and getting this little monster down?” She nodded walking away. Turning towards his son Gene gave him a hug. “Don’t mind your mother Matt, she only wants to see you happy.”
“What makes her think I’m not?” he asked.
“You don’t want me to answer that do you?” Gene gave him a meaningful look and Matt sighed shaking his head.
“It’s because I’m still single, right?” Matt saw the slight nod his dad gave him. “Not everyone is cut out to be be married.”
“I thought the same thing myself once upon a time,” Gene told him “the decision is completely yours to make though. Just be sure it’s a decision you’ve made because it’s what you want and not something you’ve made out of fear of getting hurt.”
Looking down Matt sighed. His dad was right but how did he know? He looked up and met his dad’s steady gaze. He opened his mouth “I…”
Gene reached out and squeezed his shoulder “it’s alright Matt. When your ready we’ll talk.”
“Thanks dad,” he mumbled. He knew his dad would understand and wouldn’t force the issue until he was ready to talk.
Standing still while the tailor poked and prodded him while he was being fitted for his tux Matt vowed if he ever got married it wouldn’t be a formal affair. Turning towards his brother who was all but rolling on the floor in amusement. “It’s not that bad is it?” Ian asked catching his breath from laughing so hard.
“It’s worse,” Matt grumbled.
“Should’t you be used to this by now,” Ian continued “all those costumes you have to wear for the shows you do.”
“It doesn’t mean I like it,” he grumbled “it’s the worst part of dancing….”
“Whatever,” Ian snickered “if you didn’t like it you’d do something else.”
Rolling his eyes Matt tried to ignore his brother’s teasing but it brought back too many memories of being bullied just because he loved to dance. “There are things you put up with for something you love,” he admitted.
“Does that apply to people?” Ian asked him.
Choosing to ignore him Matt asked the tailor “are you done?” the man jerked his head up mouth full of pins. Nodding he got up and walked away muttering.
“What did you do?” Ian asked “he’s the best they’ve got. Don’t go and get him mad. Celia will never forgive me if you mar the pictures in a badly tailored suit.”
“All I did was ask if he was done,” Matt told him “I didn’t say anything offensive I swear.”
“I know, I know,” Ian muttered as he walked away to sooth the overly sensitive tailors emotions.
Walking into the restaurant Ian studiously looked at the menu before asking Matt the question on his mind. “Are you gay?”
“Am I what?” he spluttered.
“Well I…it’s ok if you are,” Ian told him.
“Just because I dance for a living does not mean I’m gay,” Matt looked around the restaurant wondering how many were listening in on their conversation and trying not to look like it.
“I know you’ve denied it in the past but you keep rejecting the idea of dating Payson. Insisting you’re just friends. She’s a very pretty girl….”
“So naturally I have to be gay to be friends with a pretty girl,” he drummed his fingers on the table. The only outward sign of his emotions and how much Ian’s question bothered him. Another reminder of the past. He was beginning to think he shouldn’t have come home. Glaring at Ian “I’m so tired of the stereotypical bull that labels me gay just because of what I do…”
“Ok ok I’m sorry,” Ian raised his hands in mock surrender “I stand corrected.”
“Good,” Matt muttered without looking up from the menu.
“But if your not gay what’s wrong with Payson?” he asked knowing he was poking his nose where it didn’t belong.
Ignoring him Matt glared at the menu not seeing the words. He regretted that impulsive decision he made four months ago of inviting Ian and Celia to Hidden Springs. Introducing them to Payson. Why couldn’t he enjoy Payson’s friendship without it meaning she was his girlfriend? Why couldn’t he make his family understand they were just friends? Once it becomes something else that’s when things get complicated. When things fall apart. When disaster strikes.
He was jolted from his thoughts when Ian grabbed the menu demanding “Well? I’m waiting for an answer?”
“And you’ll continue to wait too,” Matt told him getting up and walking away.
Sighing Ian threw some money on the table to cover their drinks and followed Matt outside. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked upon seeing him waiting by the car.
“Nothings wrong with me,” he glared at Ian “just because I’m content to be friends with Payson doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me.”
“ok ok I give up,” Ian grumbled getting into the car “if you don’t want to talk about it I can’t make you.” After several minutes of deafening silence Ian glanced over at his brother “Matty this wall you’ve built around you, it’s not good for you.”
“What wall?” he asked without turning to look at his brother.
“The walls around your heart to keep from getting hurt. It’s not who you are,” Ian told him as he turned into their driveway. “One day you’ll regret it.”
“Maybe but if it’s the right someone they will work around the walls despite my efforts to keep them out.” Matty told him upon getting out of of the car and walking away.
“What if that someone’s Payson?” Ian called after him.
Could it be Payson? Matt wondered. Was that why he was so determined to keep her at arms length? So quick to deny any feelings for her? He didn’t know. All he knew was he wanted her in his life. Wanted her friendship. Enjoyed her smiles. The way her eyes it up at the sight of him. Looked forward to her waiting for him outside his dressing room door.
Ian woke up on the morning of his wedding to something wet and cold being poured on his face.
“Wakey wakey,” Matt laughed above him.
“Wait till I get my hands on you,” Ian called after him as he wiped water from his face. He and Matt had slept in the living room on the floor. He had complied with Celia’s request for them not to see each other until the wedding. It seemed an odd request considering they already had a child together but it was a small thing he could comply with.
Their dad came out of his room looking stern “what’s wrong with the two of you? Do you want to wake up the triplets?”
“Sorry dad,” they said together.
“Then be quiet,” he said sitting on the couch yawning. “Nervous?” he asked.
Shaking his head “not really mostly looking forward to it being over.”
“Spoken like a true romantic” Matt scoffed.
“I suppose you’d do things differently,” Ian challenged.
“Yeah I’d skip all the rigmarole and get married along the beach. In a nice sensible suit in my bare feet.”
“So you’ve thought about getting married,” Ian teased.
“I….” he spluttered feeling his face flush with heat.
Coming to his rescue Gene gave Ian a stern look that forbid further comment. “Matt it’s good to know what you want. It saves time when the time comes as long as that’s what the girl wants too.” Getting up stretching Gene continued “just know that whatever you decide in the future it’ll be alright with your mother and me. Our main concern is for you to be happy.” Stopping at his door he turned “if you need to talk you know my number.”
“Sure dad,” Matt acknowledged. Through the past year and a half Matt had availed himself of that open invitation to talk many times. It was his dad’s advice that kept him from telling Payson to give up on him and leave him alone. His dad was the only person he ever told or would ever tell that he might be falling for her. He wasn’t sure if what he felt was love but he knew it was more than friendship. Whatever it was it scared him.
“So what does dad know that I don’t” Ian asked.
“How to mind his own business,” Matt retorted hitting him with a pillow. Soon an all out pillow fight was in progress until the first unhappy cries from the toddlers were heard. “Now look what you did,” Matt accused.
“Me? You started it,” Ian replied.
“Boys get in her,” their dad’s stern voice carried to them over the cries of the triplets.
Standing to the side Matt watched as people hugged and congratulated Ian and Celia on their marriage. He couldn’t help but wonder how long their happiness would last. Ian had been through so much and all of it at the hands of the woman he vowed to love and cherish forever. How could he do that? How could he be so confidant and unafraid? Feeling a little loss and out of place Matt kept to himself preferring to be alone with this thoughts to trying to make small talk to family he hardly ever saw or knew.
“Excuse me,” a voice said that sent a thrill of pleasure down his spine while dread knifed it’s way to his heart. Turning he found himself staring into the eyes of “Payson” he said sounding shocked.
“I probably shouldn’t have come,” she mumbled looking down at her feet.
“Why did you?” he asked abruptly almost hoping she was a mirage, a figment of his imagination.
“I…I…” sighing she half turned “I’m sorry this was a mistake.”
Reaching out he grabbed her arm unwilling to let her go not when she was here already. “I didn’t mean for you to go,” he said pulling her close. “I…I’ve been thinking a lot about you,” he stammered hardly believing the words as they poured from his lips.
“You have?” she asked looking up from his embrace “you’re not just saying that are you?”
Shaking his head he led her outside where they could talk without being interrupted. “I really have been thinking about you. I don’t know what we have…”
“We’re friends,” she told him giving him the response she was sure he wanted. The one that hurt a little more each time she said it.
Shaking his head he tilted her chin up to gaze into her eyes. “No we’re not. I’ve been fooling myself. Payson you’ve wormed yourself into my cold dead heart and made me confront things I wanted to keep hidden. I didn’t want to care for anyone ever again. You wouldn’t leave me alone though.”
“I didn’t mean to be intrusive,” she murmured trying to turn away “I tried to keep our relationship strictly on a friendship level.”
“I know you have and I appreciate that. Believe me I do and it’s me who has jumped the friendship train not you. You showing up here just made me realize it sooner.” He bent down hesitantly bringing his lips to hers expecting her to pull away from him.
Looking up at him she smiled “that was nice but you didn’t have to…”
“I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to,” he looked into her eyes seeing her eyes shimmer with unshed tears. “Did I do something to upset you? I’m sorry if I did. Maybe I …I’m sorry.” He turned and began to walk away afraid he had misjudged things. What if she didn’t feel the same way about him? What an idiot he was.
“Matt stop don’t go,” she cried trying to catch up to him and tripping in the process.
Hearing her cry out he turned to see her stumble and fall. Watching as she reached to rub her ankle. “Are you hurt?” he asked rushing to her side.
“I’m alright,” she told him “I just twisted my ankle.” Grabbing his hand she refused to let him go when he moved to stand. “Don’t go,” she almost shouted “let me explain.”
Nodding he sat down beside her on the sidewalk “alright I’m listening.”
Holding his hand she said “I came tonight because I needed to see how your were coping with your brother’s wedding. I knew it was going to be difficult…” she reached out to keep him from turning his face away. “Matt I know how much it hurt you to be betrayed by Angelica and then to lose Kimber the way you did. None of that was your fault. If I didn’t have my dad and step mom to show me what love is I’d be just like you. Cold and distant.”
Blinking back tears Matt held his breath completely mesmerized by her “I don’t know what to say,” he admitted.
“You don’t have to say anything,” she smiled at him “your kiss told me everything I needed to know.” Wiping the tears away she said “Matt we’ll go as fast as you want and as slow as you need.” She felt his arms pull her close. She rested her head on his chest listening to the steady beat of his heart.
“How did I get so lucky?” he mumbled into her hair as he hold her.
Without thinking she replied “you deserve it and I’ll spend forever proving it to you if you’ll let me.” She wanted to say more but his lips smashing into her hers completely melted her thoughts away.