Britland opened his eyes. It was dark and almost eerily quiet. “Where” his voice cracked. Turning he followed the sound of rustling clothes somewhere nearby. “Mom” he croaked when a brief light from a phone screen temporarily lit her face.
“Britland” she stroked his hair from his face “I was so worried.” Tears fell from her eyes. “Why didn’t you tell us about the letters?” She bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to bring that up as the first thing to discuss when he woke up.
Squinting up at her “how did you….I didn’t….”
“Shh” she soothed “I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m just so happy you’re awake.” She leaned over kissing his forehead. She had done that ever since he was a little boy “I love so so much.”
“Mom” he whispered “love you too.” His eyes roamed over the room like he was searching for something or someone. His eyes were already growing heave and drooping shut. He tried to fight it but he could feel himself drifting off.
“Don’t worry” Miranda soothed “everything’s going to be ok. Mama loves you. Close your eyes. You’ll feel much better next time you wake.” She smiled down at him watching him relax to the sound of her voice. She stroked his blonde hair remembering how she used to do that when he’d wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. He had a way of looking up at her with such trust like he knew no matter what she’d protect him. But she hadn’t. The monster still got to him.
“I’m sorry” he mumbled as his eyes drooped shut. She held his hand until his breathing became deep and even. “You have nothing to be sorry about” she assured him in a hoarse whisper. She looked up when a hand fell on her shoulder. She knew who it would be before she saw him.
“How’s our boy” Robbie asked feeling her take his hand and squeezing it tight.
“Asleep” she smiled up at him with tears shining in her eyes. “We came so close to losing him.”
He sank to the floor beside her chair “I know” his voice quivered. It was the fear of every parent to lose their child. “He’s going to be alright” he assured her his eyes never leaving the quiet form of his eldest child.
“Will he” she asked running her fingers absently through her husbands hair. “What if…” she bit her lip to restrain the flow of tears that bubbled up.
“Your mother is back where she belongs. The hospital is already trying to offer settlement deals.” He moved to his knees wrapping his arms around her waist. “She wasn’t responsible for what happened.”
“The letters” Miranda glanced over at her son shivering “He must have been so scared.”
Nodding Robbie shifted his weight on the floor. “Honey” he took her hands “the accident was just that…an accident. Your mother and her threatening letters had nothing to do with it.”
She stared at him disbelief plain in her eyes. Her face contorted “of course it’s related. Mother is capable of anything.”
“Do you trust me” he asked her.
She nodded staring into his dark eyes.
“Do you trust my father” he asked reaching out to hold her hand.
“Yes but …I” she gulped swallowing loudly.
“Then trust us” Robbie pleaded “your mother is old. Not in her right mind. Her letters were meant to scare. Nothing more. She didn’t have the resources to arrange the accident or pay someone to do it for her.”
“Are you sure” she demanded needing the reassurance.
“I’m positive” he sounded as confident as he knew how to be. A moment later he was gratified when she threw her arms around him crying “It’s going to be alright. It really is. Our boy is going to be alright.”
Sniffling she nodded nestling her head on his shoulder “yes he is and so am I.”
Two weeks later Britland stood on the sidewalk outside his apartment waving goodbye to his parents. “You’re going to miss them aren’t you” Carson asked sliding an arm around his shoulders.
“I am” Britland sighed leaning into Carson’s side “while they were here I forgot how much I missed them.”
The wistfulness in Britland’s voice had Carson looking at him with a mixture of concern and dismay. “You’re not thinking about moving back to Riverview are you?”
“I don’t…” turning to face Carson Britland nodded. “I’d be lying if I said no. The truth is I’m homesick. I miss the open fields. The green grass. The trees.”
“We have that here” Carson pointed across the street. In the distance you could see a tree-lined shoreline and a waterfall. “You just need to know where to look.”
Smiling Britland nodded “it’s different. At home I have that just walking outside my front door. Here, like you said, I’d have to go looking for it. Here it’s one building after another. Doesn’t it ever bother you living on top of someone else?”
Frowning Carson shook his head. “I never really thought about it. I’ve always lived in the city.”
Taking Carson’s hand Britland began walking along the sidewalk “would you ever consider moving with me?”
Stopping Carson stared at him. His thoughts went to his family. He hoped one day the police would find his brother. He still hoped his parents might one day forgive him and welcome him back home. If he moved he’d have no way of finding out what was happening. The weekly visits to his Aunt’s restaurant would cease. With that so would his link to his family. His silence had gone on too long. He could see the sadness that filled Britlands’ green eyes. “I’m sorry” he mumbled feeling as though he had let the blond down somehow.
“Don’t be” Britland shook his head forcing a smile to his face. It did little to dispel the sadness in his eyes.
“When will you be leaving” Carson managed to get the words out past the lump in his throat. He couldn’t imagine not waking up every morning to the smell of coffee and the sight of the blonde padding around the kitchen in his boxers and bare feet making breakfast for everyone.
“Who said I was leaving” Britland asked eyebrows rising.
“You did…” Carson stopped sighed “that was what you were telling me wasn’t it? You did just ask me if I’d consider leaving the city. I mean you are leaving aren’t you?”
“Eventually” Britland nodded turning away from Carson a far away look in his eyes. “I don’t think I’ll ever really belong here.” His shoulders rose and fell “it won’t be for a while. At least not until I’ve finished school.”
“School” Carson asked “what about modeling?”
Britland shrugged “I don’t think I’ll ever be truly comfortable with it. I know most people would jump at the opportunity I’m walking away from….it’s just not me.”
“It’s not going to be the same without you” Carson blinked surprised at how much this announcement was affecting him. He liked having the blonde around on set. They had become the it couple for a lot of photographers. He didn’t want to think about modeling with anyone else.
“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty” Britland mumbled “you’re doing a good job.” He couldn’t help but feel like he was letting Carson down with is decision. He could feel his disappointment like it was buffeting him. “Nothing’s changing right away. I’m still looked into a two-year modeling contract. We’ll still be working together. I’ll just be taking a few night classes to start with until I can transfer to a full-time student.”
Carson felt the tension in his back muscles ease somewhat. Casually he moved close to Britland draping an arm across his shoulders. “Don’t scare me like that” his voice thick with emotion.
Turning Britland brought a hand up, his fingers stroking the well-trimmed purple beard. “Scared” his eyes searched Carson’s “you’re not scared of anything.”
Carson pulled Britland close “I am when it comes to losing you.” He shivered as images of seeing Britland lying underneath iron girders. The fear that rushed through his body as he stumbled towards his body afraid that he’d be gone by the time help arrived. Shaking his head he tried to rid his mind of the images that gave plagued his dreams at night. “I never want to lose you.”
Leaning forward Britland pressed his face into the larger man’s chest. “Wish we could stay like this forever” he murmured closing his eyes. A content happy smile spreading across his lips. He felt Carson’s arms envelop him in a warm secure embrace. “I love you” the words slipped out before Britland had a chance to check them. Instead he pressed his ear into Carson’s chest listening the reassuring steady heartbeat.
Carson felt like he was struggling to breathe. His chest couldn’t draw in enough to oxygen fast enough. His arms tightened around Britland as if he were afraid the blond would disappear if he didn’t hold on tight enough. “What did you say?” he asked not quite sure he had heard correctly.
Britland pulled away enough to bring his hands up to caress Carson’s face. Looking deeply into the other man’s lavender eyes he made sure he had Carson’s undivided attention. “I love you” he repeated. He watched intently as his words sank in transforming Carson’s face from stunned disbelief to pure undiluted happiness making him wish he had said those three words sooner. Carson had said them to him but not once had he repeated them back. All his self doubts had held him back from letting his true feelings out.
Carson could feel the goofy grin that seemed to have taken over his face. “Will you marry me” his eyes grew large and his mouth formed an oh as he were shocked those particular words had come out. He had meant to say he loved him too. He closed his eyes and let his mouth fall shut hoping he hadn’t just ruined the moment. The silence lengthened between them. Stepping back Carson let his arms drop to his side. He turned away afraid to read the answer in Britland’s eyes as if the silence wasn’t answer enough.
“Look at me” Britland requested an unusual firmness in his voice “you can’t ask me something like that and turn away.” When Carson turned to face him he could see tears shimmering in his eyes. “Were you serious asking me to marry you?”
Carson wanted to turn away but he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop from gazing into Britland’s eyes. “Yes” he murmured “I’ve never been more serious in my life.” His heart was painful in his chest as it raced like he was running a marathon. He blinked as a brilliant smile spread across Britland’s face that was brighter than the sun on the brightest day in the middle of summer.
“Yes” he nodded laughing “I’ll marry you.” Without reservation Britland threw his arms around Carson almost knocking them both to the ground. He could feel Carson lift in slightly in the air as he wrapped a leg around him. “Yes a million times yes” he cried kissing Carson over and over again to prove how much he meant it.
“Aww” Crystal sighed coming to standstill on the sidewalk leading up to their apartment building. “Isn’t that just the sweetest?”
Felix stopped. Glanced in the direction Crystal was looking in. He groaned. His dismay growing. He could feel Crystal’s eyes watching him. “What” he grumbled looking away.
“Don’t you approve of your roommates” her green eyes gazed up him brimming with innocence and hurt.
“It’s not that” he assured her “I’m happy for them. It’s just…” His mouth twisted as he gagged at the idea of committing himself to one person.
“Just what” she pressed as she gazed across at the happy couple kissing on the sidewalk oblivious of the gawking stares of the people passing by.
“It’s too” his hands waved around in the air as he searched for the right words. “Sweet. It’s too sweet. Sickening sweet. I’m happy for them but….”
She raised an eyebrow “it’s what.” All of her attention on him “some of my favorite people are in same-sex relationships. If you have a problem with that…”
He raised his hands as if to defend himself “whoa it has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. Britland is my best friend. Straight or gay has nothing to do with it. I love him like a brother.” He ran a hand through his think pink hair a sure sign his frustration was rising. “It’s all the mushy stuff.”
“Oh” her eyes sparkled taking a step closer to him “I thought you liked the mushy stuff.”
“I do” he mumbled realizing the peril he was in He liked Crystal. She was the only girl he hadn’t brought to his bed for a one night fling. He didn’t want that to change but he was beginning to see she wanted more. Something he might not be ready to give. Something he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to give. “They’re so committed to each other,” the way he said the word committed was like he was swearing.
Crystal took a step back detecting the contempt in his voice. She had known from the beginning he wasn’t the type to enter into a committed relationship. She had hoped that maybe just maybe he’d change. That maybe he’d want to change for her. She looked at her phone trying to cover up her disappointment “we’re going to be late.” She waved down a passing taxi.
Reluctantly he followed her. He could tell her awkward jerky motions she was upset. He could imagine that her green eyes were large, round and miserable. Her unhappiness radiated between them. It felt like a crushing weight against his chest making it difficult to breathe. “Crystal I…”
She jerked at the sound of his voice. She heard the entreaty in his voice. She had been such an idiot to believe she’d be the one he’d want to change for. She slid next to the far door hoping to put space between them “I don’t want to hear it.”
“Crystal you knew from the beginning I don’t do relationships. Commitment isn’t for me.” His voice had a pleading note to it. “Crystal please….I don’t want to hurt you.”
She inclined her head refusing to look at him. She knew if she looked at him she’d burst into tears. She could feel the floodgates about to burst anyway. She was such stupid naive little girl. What had she expected of him. That he’d realize he couldn’t live without her? Not very likely considering he hadn’t even tried to get her into bed. She jerked her hand away when he tried to touch her. She hissed as if his touch was painful. She managed to keep it together long enough to make it through the doors of the restaurant before she covered her face with her hands. She could feel every eye in the restaurant watching her. She knew she was making a spectacle of herself crying like fool in front of complete strangers.
Ryan took one look at his little sister and took off after the pink haired snake that made her cry. He trusted that his wife, Charity would be able to calm Crystal down. Right now it was important that he catch up with the little rat that hurt his sister. He clenched his hands into fists imagining how it’d feel to pummel the runts face. No one made his sister cry and walks away like nothing happened. He slowed down as the guy seemed to dither indecisive in front of a club he wasn’t old enough to enter.
Ryan followed him inside somewhat impressed the guy had managed a good enough fake ID to be allowed inside. He sat down beside him ordering a drink. “Rough day” he said as if he were speaking to just anyone who’d answer.
“You could say that” Felix grunted into his drink before he downed the glass. Setting it on the bar he ordered a new one. He downed the next one as soon as the barman set in front of him.
“The night’s still young” Ryan observed taking a swallow of his beer “you should take it easy.”
“Easy for you to say” Felix eyed him “you didn’t just make the worst mistake of your life.”
Tossing his drink back Ryan waited for the bar man to refill his glass. “What do you call someone who dumps their pregnant wife at a restaurant?”
“Dude” Felix shook his head fluffy pink hair flying every where “I’d call you a dead man.”
Ryan tossed back his drink. The liqueur burning its way through his stomach like it was on fire. “Might as well embalm myself” he chuckled “save her the time of doing later.” he had a slight buzz going on telling him to take it slower, to eat something. “What mistake you did you make?”
Felix lifted his glass to the light inspecting it. “I let this wonderful girl slip through my hands.” He set his drink down without touching it “I wasn’t good for her. She’s better off without me.”
“What makes you think that?” Ryan asked slurring his words slightly. Definitely need to eat something before he drank any more
“It must be my lucky night” a familiar voice purred behind Felix.
Groaning Felix closed his eyes as a woman’s hands caressed his shoulder. “Leave me alone” he shrugged off her hand “I didn’t come here for that.”
“Of course you did” the older woman asserted taking his drink for herself “you’ve had enough of this I think.”
“Who are you” Ryan demanded eyeing the woman uneasily. A definite man-eater he thought as he gazed at her.
As if seeing Ryan for the first time she smiled seductively at him. “You can join us” she offered running a finger along his jaw line.
“Um I” his brain seemed to be backfiring as he tried to come up with something to say.
“Leave us alone” Felix demanded “we’re not in the mood.”
Outraged by the rejection and the sneering laughter from the bar man she waked away muttering to herself.
Nodding towards the middle-aged woman “that’s why I’m not good enough for her.” Felix shook his head looking like he was about to cry “I came in here for that.”
“Then why didn’t you take her up on her offer” Ryan asked relieved that the woman was across the room even if she were still glaring at them.
Felix frowned “I couldn’t get Crystal’s face out of my mind.” The way he said it made Ryan chuckle “what’s so funny?”
Ryan shook his head “you’re in love and don’t even know it.” Taking Felix’s arm he stood up to leave tossing money onto the bar to cover their drinks.
“I’m not going” Felix mumbled trying to break loose from Ryan’s grip as he was dragged towards the door.
“Yes you are” Ryan smirked “if you don’t I’ll tell the bar man over their that your ID is fake.”
“You wouldn’t dare” Felix looked suitably shocked by the thought of having his ID confiscated.
“Yeah I would” Ryan assured him as he managed to drag Felix outside the bar. “You broke my sister’s heart tonight. I followed you here to punch some sense into you.”
“Oh” was all he managed to say as his eyes grew large at the prospect.
“Just so you know I’m not going to do that” Ryan informed him still walking with a firm grip on Felix to keep him from running. “I have a better idea. You’re going to tell my sister exactly why you think you don’t deserve her.”
“I’m not doing that” Felix tried to jerk away almost tripping both of them.
“I can always just beat you up” Ryan suggested “Crystal needs to know who you are and decide for herself whether you’re worth her time. She won’t listen to anyone else but you she might.”
“What if she decides I’m not worth it” Felix asked sounding as if he’d rather be thrown into a pit of snakes than face a sweet innocent young girl.
“That’s your problem” Ryan told him “you made this mess. You need to face it and accept the consequences of your actions.”