"Hey, Zach, you got a minute?"
"Yeah. Only one though, gotta get Cody to school."
"This is the second day you’ve only packed a lunch for Cody. No lunch for you."
Zach shrugged. "I'll have something later. I'll do lasagne for dinner."
"So, by later you meant dinner? If you're dieting, believe me you really don't need to."
"Thanks, Shaun. I'm not on a diet."
Cody came running into the kitchen putting a stop to their conversation, so all three of them could look for a worksheet he needed to bring with him.
That evening Shaun watched Zach dishing out two large portions and one small. He took the smaller portion himself while Cody and Shaun got more. Zach never liked being confronted but Shaun was sufficiently worried. Once Cody was in bed Shaun made them both a cup of coffee and began his gentle questioning.
"I'm fine, Shaun, honestly."
"I don't know if you're buying lunch or not. You gave yourself a tiny portion of dinner and if there is something you can talk to me. A friend of a friend had bulimia and nobody noticed till she was really sick. I'm not suggesting it's anything so serious but I'm worried."
Zach put his hand on Shaun's thigh. "Honestly, Shaun, I'm okay. I'm used to being budget conscious and Cody's school supplies weren't cheap. I've got a bit saved that my dad and Jeanne never knew about and I'm just trying to make it last."
"God, Zach, you don't have to do that any more. We're a partnership. Let me help you."
Zach pulled his hand back and crossed his arms. "He's my nephew, Shaun, my responsibility. I should be able to take care of him."
"You do, Zach. You've done so much for him and he's happy here with us. When we got together properly and agreed to move here I expected us to be in this together. I don't want you going without when I have money just sitting there. It's not pity or a loan. Just let me cover more of our expenses. When you get famous and sell your work for millions you can treat me."
"I hate needing help but pride doesn't pay the bills. I never exactly starved growing up but portion sizes were small. Presents were thin on the ground and my mom told me that she and my dad had to send the money to Santa to explain why we never got much. There are people far worse off but I don't want Cody to worry about things like that. Christmas should be magical, like it is on TV."
Shaun wrapped his arms around Zach, who resisted for a moment before returning the hug.
"We'll give him the best Christmas but you've got to confide in me."
"I will. Thanks, Shaun, don't know what I'd do without you."
"That's a two-way street. I love you so much, Zach, and need you in my life. You don’t have to go it alone."