Zach feels suffocated. He works, takes care of Cody, surfs, works, takes care of Cody, surfs. It’s an endless cycle of sameness he can’t see a way out of. Every time he allows himself to hope of getting away, he finds his sister drinking and smoking in the kitchen with a friend or getting groped beside the refrigerator by some guy who will be gone in the morning.
He knows he can’t leave Cody. His sister will foist Cody onto their dad who’s lost in a haze of painkillers, barely able to take care of himself. Zach has to stay.
Kiss me. Kiss me. Kiss me.
The sheer want clawing at his insides takes away Zach’s breath. It’s thrumming hotly through his blood. He knows he’s staring at Shawn, but he just can’t stop. The laughter on Shaun’s face is stunning.
The heat coming from Shaun’s body, along with the cool breeze blowing across his back, makes Zach move closer to Shaun.
The slight movement catches Shaun’s attention, shifts his focus to Zach.
They stare at each other intently.
Slowly, Shaun moves nearer to Zach, reaching tentatively to touch.
He leans closer to Zach, an agonizing inch at a time.
Zach had wanted Shaun to kiss him and he’d enjoyed the kisses. But he’d panicked in the morning and run away.
Now he’s about to burst out of his skin. He keeps replaying the kisses from Shaun over and over in his head. The kisses had left his body buzzing, wanting more kisses, wanting something he couldn’t name but wanted desperately.
He keeps pacing, unable to settle into his painting, like he’d been unable to enjoy surfing earlier. He keeps remembering the kisses and the dismissive words he’d said to Shaun.
Finally, he can’t deny himself any longer and goes.
Momentarily frozen, Zach stares at the surprise on Shaun’s face. Reaching for Shaun, he steps into the foyer, pulling him into a frantic kiss. They stumble onto the staircase, still kissing.
When Shaun pulls away from him, his heart falls. His hands still on Shaun’s face, he watches as Shaun searches his expression, looking for something. Zach sees the look of resolution on Shaun’s face so he pulls him into another desperate kiss, the bite on his bottom lip dragging a moan from deep in his throat.
Zach reaches down to the hem of Shaun’s shirt and yanks it off.
Their first time is rushed and frenzied; Zach’s desperation feeding Shaun’s. He’s waited so long; he’s aching for it. They grapple with one another, each trying to get closer, low moans and loud gasps filling the bedroom.
Frantic kisses, Shaun’s teeth scraping across Zach’s nipples, stubble scratching along the sensitive skin of Zach’s inner thighs, the wet heat of Shaun’s mouth on his cock, the strong suction, all combine to drive him out of his mind with lust.
His head arches back, unable to bear watching as Shaun’s cheeks hollow. Seeing and feeling it are enough to push him over.
Shaun loves every minute he spends with Zach. Long days spent on the water, dinners with and without Cody, acting as lookout as Zach tags random walls, hanging out in bars, walking as Zach skateboards, horsing around on the beach, teaching Cody to surf, evenings on the balcony, and hushed conversations on the bluff.
His favorite is their time spent in bed, seeing the sun gild Zach in gold, his moles like bits of melted chocolate on his skin, smile clear in Zach’s eyes, languid kisses, the solid weight of Zach in his arms, and whispered confessions in Shaun’s ear.
Shaun couldn’t stand being a secret any more so he’d left Paul, left Los Angeles, to start over. He’d wanted a lover who wouldn’t hide their relationship from everyone, who wouldn’t try to pretend they were nothing more than friends.
He wasn’t expecting this thing with Zach. Each time Zach flinches away from him, it hurts. He doesn’t want to go back to being a secret. He doesn’t want to walk away from what he has with Zach, can’t keep from hoping for more. He’d liked the boy Zach had been. He can see himself loving the man he’d become.
It’s not just about the sex, though the sex is amazing. It’s about how Zach makes him laugh, how he listens when Shaun tells him about the relationship with Paul and how it imploded after five years. It’s early mornings spent surfing without saying a word, enjoying the water, the sun, and each other, late afternoons spent in bed talking about Shaun’s ideas for his second book.
It’s how Zach starts to let Shaun in, talks to him about his father, Cody and Jeanne, shows him his art voluntarily, and talks about his mom and how much he misses her.
Jeanne’s relied on Zach for a long time, knowing that he will always put Cody first, before Gabe, before Tori, before himself. There’s nothing more important to Zach than Cody. Until now.
She’d called him last night and he hadn’t answered. He’d never not answered her calls before. She’d been worried about Zach hanging out with Shaun before, but it had been a nebulous fear. Now she sees the look on his face. She sees the danger.
She needs him. He has to be able to be there for Cody. He can’t be with Shaun and be there for Cody.
Zach is confused when Shaun takes the wine glass from his hand. He doesn’t understand what Shaun wants when he pulls him to his feet. He stands up reluctantly, making a protest about checking on Cody.
Shaun pulls him into his arms. Zach lets himself lean into Shaun’s body, letting Shaun support his weight, holding Shaun in return. He settles more deeply into the embrace, tightening his arms around Shaun, laying his head on Shaun’s shoulder. As Shaun smooths his hands down Zach’s back, a warm feeling of security grows in Zach.
They stand in silence, holding each other close.
He’s afraid the panicked beating of his heart and the breathlessness from running around trying to get dressed before Gabe catches him with Zach will give him away as he jerks his brother into a hug. Shaun pounds his brother’s back in an attempt to distract him as he waves Zach out of the room.
The hot twist of want low in his belly as he sees Zach dressed in a shirt belonging to him shocks him. Shaun stares at the door where Zach just left, so caught up in the feeling it takes him a moment to remember Gabe.
The bottom falls out of the pit of her stomach when Jeanne hears the news. Zach had been accepted into CalArts. He’d applied again, though she’d repeatedly discouraged him from trying. The voice on the phone keeps droning on. Zach lied to them when he’d said he hadn’t gotten into CalArts when he’d applied before, had turned down a full scholarship.
Jeanne loves Cody, but she’s tired. She can’t do it any more. She doesn’t want to be tied down with the responsibility for him. She has to convince Zach not to bail on her. He has to take Cody.
Roy left when Cody was a baby. Cody needed a father so Zach had been there for Jeanne, more for Cody than for her, but she was his sister. They were each all they had. They were family. Their father had checked out long before their mother’s death.
Zach gave up his dream for her, for Cody. When she told him she was leaving Cody without even asking him if he would be willing to care for him, he’d finally had enough. He’d given all he would. He wouldn’t give up Shaun as well.
He had to talk to Shaun.
Holding Zach’s face in his hands, Shaun licked into his mouth, lingering on his lower lip. With a gentle nip, Shaun drew back.
Intent on convincing Zach of his sincerity, he implored, “I want you to come back to LA with me, Zach. Sleep in our bed at night. Get up every morning, have breakfast, go to class, come home, have dinner, do homework, paddle when we can. Then do it all again.
Zach rasped, “I want to. I do. But…”
Shaun shook his head. “No buts. Be with me. Let me show you how good life can be.”
“There’s something I have to tell you.”
Easing back a little from their embrace, with some trepidation, Shaun asked, “What?”
“Did you mean it when you said anything?”
Pressing a kiss to Zach’s mouth, Shaun repeated, “Anything.”
“Jeanne is leaving. She’s going to Portland with Alan.”
Confused, Shaun waited for Zach to continue.
Taking a deep breath, Zach whispered, “She’s not taking Cody with her.”
Shaun answered, “You don’t have to ask. You know I love the little guy.”
“She said it would only be six months.”
Tightening his arms around Zach, kissing his temple, Shaun said, “It’ll be okay.”
The glimpses of the boy he used to be in the man he is now are disconcerting. The quirk of an eyebrow, the twist of a lip, the laughter in his eyes all bring to mind the boy Zach used to be. The scratch of his nails down Shaun’s back, the drugging kisses, the bites at the nape of his neck as Zach slowly fucks into him, all serve to remind him that Zach is no longer that young boy, but a man full grown.
The man he's made a home with, raises their son with, the man Shaun loves.
Zach stretches out his back, the ache in his shoulders painful. He groans as the crack of his spine echoes in the quiet room. Realizing it’s quieter than it should be, he stands up from the table he uses as a desk.
He walks towards the back bedroom, trying to keep from making any noise. He can hear the murmur of voices down the darkened hallway.
Zach stands in the doorway, watching as Shaun helps Cody into his pajamas then tucks in a worn teddy bear into the bed next to Cody.
Sitting down, Shawn began, “The sun did not…”
Shaun’s scared half to death most of the time, though he’ll never admit it to anyone but himself. In the blink of an eye, he’s gone from being alone to becoming a husband and father. Or as close as he’s going to get. He starts shaking with fear each time he really thinks about his life.
So he doesn’t. He gets up in the morning, serves Cody his cereal, helps Zach find the art portfolio he’s always misplacing, gets Cody on the school bus, and Zach on his way to class.
He just lives his life. It’s a good life.
“I think you have to tell her.”
“Tell her what?”
“It’s been a year. I think it’s pretty obvious she’s not coming for him. I know you’ve had nightmares where she comes to take him away from us. Frankly, so have I. He’s ours now. We have to make it official.”
“I can’t take Cody away from his mother.”
“Sweetheart, I know she’s your sister. But she’s made it pretty clear she’s not a good parent. And you are. We are. We’re his parents. He deserves to not have to worry about losing his home, losing us.”
“I’ll call her.”
Zach’s been acting strangely for the last few days, since Shaun asked him to call his sister. Shaun doesn’t really understand his reluctance. Zach knows it’s a necessary step for them to take. Their situation has worked pretty well, notwithstanding a few glitches at the beginning with getting enough paperwork filed to get Cody enrolled in school and medical care. This will just make it so Jeanne can’t change her mind later and break apart their family.
He understands enough that he leaves Zach to work through his issues with asking for custody. Zach will call Jeanne when he’s ready.
Zach’s procrastinating. He does not want to call his sister, doesn’t want to ask for permanent custody of Cody. A part of him doesn’t want to know his sister is the kind of mother who would give away her child permanently, even if it’s already been a year, even if it’s to him, to them.
Shaun is right. Cody needs to know that he will never have to leave them. He’s old enough now to understand better and to worry about things like this.
He can’t put it off any longer. He dials Jeanne. He listens as the phone rings.
“She said yes.”
Shaun swept Zach into his arms. “Really? That’s fantastic!”
Noting his silence, Shaun tilted Zach’s chin up with his hand.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? This is great news.”
Zach answered with a shrug, looking away from Shaun.
Shaun gently turned Zach’s face towards him.
“It’s just… I don’t understand her. How could she do that to Cody? He’s a great kid. He doesn’t deserve this from her!”
“I don’t know. Jeanne has always been…”
“Jeanne. Yeah, I know how she is. I thought…”
“Maybe she’s doing it for him. She knows he has a good life.”
After telling Cody, they’d filed all the paperwork with Family Court. It had taken a few months to jump through all the hoops, but finally he was their son. Officially, because, unofficially he’d been their son for a long time.
They’d celebrated with a weekend at the beach-house, though they couldn’t help but see that Cody had seemed happy, but sad at the same time.
“Does this mean Mom doesn’t love me any more?”
“No, Codes, no. It means she loves you so much she wanted you to be happy, so she left you with us. You’re happy, right?”
“Zach, does this mean you’re my Daddy now?”
Surprised, Zach looked up from cutting a stencil.
“Yes, Codes, I guess it does.”
“Can I call you Daddy?”
Zach stepped away from the desk, towards Cody.
“Is that what you want, Cody?”
Zach heard a faint “yeah” in answer.
“Okay, if you want to, you can call me Daddy.”
“I told you you were my Daddy.”
Squeezing Cody into a hug, Zach said, “Yeah, buddy, you did.”
“Is Shaun my Daddy too?”
Momentarily speechless, Zach swallowed then said, “Yes, he’s your Daddy too.”
Cody said, “He’s not Daddy though. He’s Papa.”
Shaun had the breath knocked out of him the first time Cody called him Papa, the name highlighting how much Zach and Cody were his family now. He grabbed Cody into a hug, tickling him, their laughter ringing out into the rest of the house. Zach came into the living-room to see what was so funny, joining in on their play.
They collapsed onto the floor, all three still giggling, Cody chattering to his Papa and Daddy about his day at school. The expression of amazement and love on Shaun’s face as he looked at Cody catching at Zach’s heart.
“I think it’s time to get a dog.”
“What? A dog? Why?”
“Because every little boy deserves a dog of his own.”
“So this is for Cody?”
“Yeah, it’s time for him to have a dog.”
“Before we couldn’t really get one for him because of…”
“Of Jeanne. We didn’t know if…”
“We couldn’t do that to Cody. Or to the dog.”
“He may not been able to keep it. Jeanne may not have wanted the responsibility of a dog as well.”
“And now he can. You’re right. It is time. We’ll go to the pound tomorrow.”