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At Heart

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Gabe wasn’t like Shaun, he wasn’t too proud to ask Larry for help or a handout. To Larry, money was the only way he knew how to show affection. Shaun saw it as a character flaw -- and hell it was -- but Gabe wasn’t above using it to his advantage.

At least that was what he thought until he’d met Emma. Emma, who worked two part-time jobs and went to school full-time. Emma who was supposed to be tutoring him in calculus and instead made him think about things like the environment, fiscal responsibility, and helping those less fortunate. Hell, if Shaun or Zach could see him now, they would be laughing their asses off.

And Gabe realized that maybe it was time.

It was nearly 10 pm before he worked up the courage to give Shaun a call. It wasn’t that he was worried about Shaun’s answer; he knew what it would be beforehand, it was just too much like making it real. But somewhere in his head, he could hear Zach telling him to stop being such a pussy. So he made the call, and just jumped right in. “Bro, I need your help.”

“Hello to you too, Gabe. If you need bail money again, you’re gonna have to call Larry. We’re kinda on a budget here.”

Gabe would never admit it, but he liked that Shaun (and Zach) were never afraid to give him shit. Not that he was just going to sit back and take it. “That was only one time, and I haven’t even gotten drunk in like a month.” Fuck, he hadn’t meant to let that slip.

Instead of the comeback that Gabe was expecting, Shaun got quiet. “What brought that on?”

Well, fuck there was no turning back now. “I’ve met someone. A girl.”

Shaun laughed. “Not really my area of expertise there either, little brother.”

Gabe laughed with him. “Don’t I know it. I just ... She’s not like my usual girls.”

“So not a skank?”

Gabe sighed. He guessed with his track record, he deserved that one. “No. She’s… Fuck, Shaun, she’s smart and funny and I am so in over my head.”

“You really like her?”

Gabe could hear and well as feel the comfort and support in Shaun’s voice, probably just how he was when Cody was upset.

Gabe let out a breath “Yeah, I do.”

“Will wonders never cease.”

This time Gabe could hear the smile in Shaun’s tone. “I know right. What am I gonna do?”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to…” Yeah, it was time. “I want to bring her down to meet you guys.”

“Anytime Gabe. You just tell us when. And I’ll even promise not to tell too many embarrassing stories about you when you were younger.”

Gabe laughed. “Somehow, I don’t believe you big brother.”

“Well, I didn’t say Zach wouldn’t be sharing them.”

“He around?”

“Yeah, he just got back from his shift at the diner. He’s in the shower. If you can put up with me for five more minutes, you can talk to him.”

Gabe laughed. “Sounds good.” He didn’t know why, but he felt the need to tell Zach his news as well. Of course, he knew Shaun wasn’t finished.

As if on cue, Shaun said, “So tell me about this girl of yours.”

Gabe smiled. “Her name is Emma.”


Gabe was always struck by how much going to Shaun and Zach’s place felt like coming home. He’d never lived there, never spent more than a week there at a time, but he felt more at ease, more himself lounging on their lumpy couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table covered with specks of paint and Cody’s Legos than he ever did at the Pacific Bluff family home.

Of course, it could have something to do with the people in the home as well. He’d never admit it but he was a little jealous of how at ease Shaun and Zach were with each other and with Cody. It wasn’t that he begrudged them their happiness, it just seemed so easy.

He knew that wasn’t true. He knew how hard it was for Zach to make the move, for him to trust that Shaun wanted what he wanted and would not change his mind. He’d been on the receiving end of phone calls from both of them in the beginning. Shaun, frantic with worry and looking for insight into how Zach thought. And Zach, feeling like he was taking advantage of Shaun and not giving enough back in return.

Of course, Gabe just called them both idiots and helped them realize just how damn lucky they were. And maybe that’s why it was so important for him to bring Emma here. To show her that he wasn’t just the Richie Rich smartass kid without a care in the world. If she could see him through Shaun and Zach’s eyes, maybe she’d be more willing to take him seriously.

God, he had it bad. He wondered if this was how Shaun and Zach felt at the beginning, so unsure of themselves.

And before he could get lost in anymore of his deep thoughts -- and really since when did he have deep thoughts -- Zach and Cody came barreling through the front door, a bright yellow kite in Cody’s hands.

Cody rushed toward him. “Uncle Gabe, Uncle Gabe, so you’re my surprise.”

Gabe picked Cody up off the ground and spun him around. “That I am Codester. That’s a sweet kite you got there.”

“Shaun built it for me and Zach painted it yellow like the sun.”

Gabe had no doubt that by the end of their visit, Cody would have Emma wrapped around his finger just like the rest of them. “Maybe we can fly it while I’m here.” He set Cody back down and gave Zach a hug. “Good to see you bro.”

Zach smiled. “You too.” Gabe could tell he was looking around for Emma. “Where’s your friend?”

“It was a long drive. I told her you wouldn’t mind if she took a quick shower.”

“Of course we don’t mind.” Zach motioned for him to sit back down on the couch.

“Where’s big brother?”

“He had a meeting with his agent. He should be back around 4. He moved up the meeting so he’d be free for the rest of your visit.”

“He didn’t have to do that.”

Zach laughed. “Yeah, he did Gabe. He want to spend time with you and Emma.”


The next morning, Gabe and Zach headed down to the beach for a quick surf sess. Emma didn’t surf and Shaun’s knee had been bothering him, so it was just him and Zach and it felt like old times. They settled on the beach before heading back home. “How’d you know?”

Zach looked up from drying his hair. “How’d I’d know what?”

Gabe can’t believe he’s asking these questions, but he needs a point of reference and Zach has always been able to steer him in the right direction. “That you were in love with my brother?”

Zach smiled. “He sent in my application to Cal Arts.”

Gabe just stared at him. “Huh?”

“I got scared and was an asshole to him. Called him names and stormed off and he still gathered up my portfolio and sent in my application. He wanted to give me a shot at my dreams.”

Gabe still didn’t understand. “So that made you love him?”

Zach shook his head. “No, it made me own up to the fact that I was already in love with him. He’s always had my best interests and Cody’s at heart. I was just too caught up in my own self-doubts to see it.”

Gabe could understand that. “Do you still have doubts?”

Zach shot Gabe a look he hadn’t seen in a long time, one that said, ‘are you nuts?’ “Sure, every day. Life’s not perfect Gabe. I worry that I’m fooling myself thinking I can make a living with my art. I worry that one day Jeannie will show up at our doorstep and try and take Cody back.”

That wasn’t really what Zach was asking. “But you don’t worry about Shaun?”

Zach turned to look Gabe in the eye. “I did at first. Coming here with Cody basically invading Shaun’s life. I worried that he’d wise up and realize he could do better than ghetto trash like me.”

Well fuck. “Zach…”

Zach pushed against Gabe’s shoulder nearly knocking him over. “Don’t worry, I quickly got over myself. So no, I don’t worry about Shaun. We argue, we fight. We make up. We’re stronger together than apart. We’re a family.”

They were a family. But this was getting to heavy for Gabe. “That ring on your finger’s made you sappy, bro.”

“Says the former player who bunking with a 8-year old because he doesn’t want to rush things with his new sweetheart.”

Shit. Sometimes Gabe forgot just how well Zach knew how to play this game. “I kinda hate you right now.”

Zach laughed. “No, you don’t. But we really should get back inside. Just think of all the shit that Shaun could be sharing with Emma.”

Gabe leaned back against the sand and covered his eyes with his hands. “Fuck, why did I leave them alone again?”

“Because you want her to know all about you. And Shaun will always have your back. You’re his little brother and he wants you to be happy.”

“I know that.”

Zach smiled and helped Gabe up off the sand. “Not that he isn’t up there telling her about your brief and tragic rap career.”

“Like that’s gonna make a good impression.

“Dude, she spending the weekend with your family and drove down here with you. I think you’re past good impressions.”

“You think?” Gabe picked up his surfboard and began walking.

Zach nodded. “For the record, I like her. She’s good for you.”


“Yes. She doesn’t put up with your shit. And like Shaun, she’s got your best interest at heart. And Gabe, I’m pretty sure, you’ve got hers as well.”

Gabe stopped walking and looked over at Zach. “I really don’t want to fuck this up.”

Clasping Gabe’s shoulder, Zach smiled. “Then you won’t.”

“You think it’s possible?”

“What? That you’ll get it right. Of course I do. You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

Gabe shrugged. “I don’t really have the best track record.”

Zach looked at him like he was crazy again. “Who does? How long did I string Tori along when neither of us were happy.”

Gabe couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “You were just waiting for big brother to come along and sweep you off your feet.”

“And maybe, you’ve just been waiting for Emma to do the same.”

There was no way in hell, Gabe was going to admit to that. “Okay dude, it’s time to stop talking about our feelings and get back home because God only knows what Shaun is telling or showing Emma. You burned those skateboarding videos of us, right?”

Zach’s eyes got big. “No, I thought you did the last time you were here.”

“Nope.” And really that was not something anyone else had to see. Ever.

From the look on Zach’s face, Gabe could see he agreed. “Come on bro, I’ll race you up the hill.”