It happened completely by accident. Kris had stopped by Starbucks on his way to the studio for a venti iced coffee. On his way out of the store, he was thinking about the song he had to record that day--not paying the least amount of attention to where he was going--and he unleashed his entire venti coffee on the store's next customer.
"Shit!" Kris swore. "I am so sorry."
"That's okay," a deep voice assured him. "I had been thinking this shirt needed a little something. Brown it is."
Kris put his now-empty cup and his sunglasses down on the nearest table and grabbed some napkins from the dispenser on the counter behind him, handing them over to the poor guy he'd just drenched.
As the guy began to dry himself off, Kris finally focused on him. He was taller than Kris, though not by a whole lot. He had dark blond hair and blue eyes, and he had a mouth that was currently quirked in a cute smile as he dabbed somewhat ineffectively at his wet shirt. Not a bad looking man…not at all.
Kris swallowed hard, handed over some more napkins, and said, "I am so, so sorry. I can give you money for a new shirt."
The guy shook his head. "No, that's okay. I live just around the corner. I can run home and change it. If it's ruined, no big. It's not one of my favorites."
"You sure?" Kris checked.
The guy nodded. "Positive."
"At least let me buy your drink," Kris implored.
"Okay," the guy allowed. "Venti regular coffee."
"You got it." Kris turned around and got back in line. He only had to wait behind one person before he could order another drink for himself and the coffee for his new friend.
The guy was waiting for him when he got to the end of the counter to fetch his drinks. "I'm Noah, by the way," the guy introduced himself, holding out his hand.
"Kris," he returned, shaking the proffered hand.
Noah held Kris' sunglasses in his other hand and passed them over. "Here. Didn't want you to accidentally leave these behind."
An awkward moment of silence came between them before Noah asked, "Are you off to work?"
"I wish it wasn't quite this early, but yes."
"What do you do?"
Kris never had been able to decide whether it was good or bad when he wasn't recognized. He simply answered, "I'm a musician."
Noah smiled. "Cool." He did not press for details.
"How about you? Are you on your way to work?"
"Yeah. I'm a writer."
At that moment, the barista making drinks called Kris' order. Thanking her, Kris took his in hand, then gave Noah his. "Here. Again, I am so sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Noah told him sincerely. "Thanks for the drink."
"It was the least I could do," Kris replied.
Noah smiled. "Well, I guess I'd better go do a quick change, then go earn some bucks."
"I should be getting to work, too."
"Maybe I'll see you around," Noah added.
"Maybe," Kris agreed. Then he gestured for Noah to leave ahead of him so they wouldn't have to repeat the same cycle of disaster.
Kris was distracted for the rest of the day.
* * *
When they ran into each other again--this time not literally--it was three days later at the deli down the road from the Starbucks.
Kris was taking a break from a particularly trying day of writing, hoping a break for a sandwich would turn things around. He was waiting for his turn in line when he heard a voice behind him say, "Hey…. It's Kris, right?"
Kris swiveled on his heel to face the owner of the voice. "Hey. Noah!"
Noah held out a hand for Kris to shake. "How goes it?"
Kris shrugged. "Enh. I've had better days. You?"
"I'm okay. Bad day at work?"
Kris sighed and nodded.
"Maybe food and a break will help," Noah commented.
Kris found himself surprisingly pleased that they were on the same wavelength. "Yeah, that's the plan."
They moved a little closer to the head of the line as Noah asked, "You taking lunch back to work or staying here?"
Kris shrugged. "I hadn't really thought about it." He had, actually, planned on going back to the studio, but if he got a better offer, he might consider it.
"I was going to eat here," Noah told him. "I need out of my cube for a bit. Care to join me?"
Kris took a moment to really think about how wise this was. Noah neither seemed to know who he was, nor did he seem to have an agenda beyond being nice. But what if there was a hidden angle he just couldn't see? He looked at Noah closely. Noah just gazed back at him, patiently awaiting his response, a small smile on his face. Kris decided to go for it. "Sure," he agreed.
When it was finally his turn, Kris placed an order for a ham and Swiss sandwich. When both his order and Noah's were ready, they stepped outside, lucking into a table just under a tree. They sat in silence for a few minutes as they staved off the initial pangs of hunger.
Noah broke the silence with a question. "So, things aren't going well at the studio?"
Kris was impressed that Noah remembered what he did. His pause caused Noah to confirm, "You did say you were a musician, right? So studio, not office?"
"Right," Kris assured him. "Yeah. I'm working on this one song, and it's just not turning out the way I want."
Noah had no idea. Kris couldn't even put it into words. He'd had no idea how hard writing and recording this album without his usual sounding board would be. He couldn't say anything about that to Noah, though. This was a casual lunch, not a therapy session. So he just confirmed, "Yeah, it is."
Noah had just opened his mouth to speak again when a short blonde girl--probably in her early twenties--came cautiously up to the table. Even while Kris knew his cover was about to be blown, he offered the girl a big smile. "Hi," he opened.
"Kris Allen?" she checked.
He nodded. "One and the same." He held his hand out to her, and she took it gingerly. "What's your name?"
"Michelle," she answered.
"Nice to meet you, Michelle." He could tell just by watching her that she was relaxing more by the second. This was good, because he didn't need her to hyperventilate while trying simply to talk with him.
"You are an amazing singer," she told him breathlessly.
Kris felt a blush crawl up his neck as he replied, "Thank you." It had been a while since he'd felt himself color at a compliment, and he attributed it to Noah's presence.
"I've seen you on every tour you've done," Michelle went on to say.
"Which was your favorite?" he asked, truly curious.
"I've loved them all," she said, "but I'm still kinda partial to the first Idol tour."
Kris smiled wistfully. "That's my favorite, too." He glanced over at Noah to find him following the proceedings with confused amusement written on his face. Kris would have some explaining to do when this conversation was over.
His attention was returned back to Michelle when she posed her own question. "How's Adam?"
Just as it did every time, the inquiry brought a lump to Kris' throat. "He's doing okay."
She smiled. "We all miss him. Us fans."
There was no response to that other than, "Thank you."
"Can you sign this?" She held out a napkin and a pen.
"Sure." He asked how she spelled her name, then signed the napkin.
She took it back carefully. "Thank you so much!"
Only then did she seem to notice Kris still had food in front of him. "Oh my God! I'm so sorry for interrupting your lunch."
Kris shook his head. "It's fine."
"Thanks for the autograph," she said again. "It was so nice to meet you."
"You, too," he returned sincerely.
As the girl made her way back to her companion--a boy who smiled at her fondly as she showed off her napkin--Kris turned back to his.
"You're famous?" Noah asked, eyebrows raised.
Awkward. Kris answered with a modest, "I guess. Yes."
"A famous singer?" Noah clarified.
Kris nodded. "I won American Idol in 2009."
Noah's eyes grew wide with surprise. "Really?"
Kris nodded once more, aiming for sheepish, but not sure how well he succeeded.
"Wow. I had no idea. I really don't follow that," Noah explained. "Nor, apparently, do I follow much of what's popular in music."
Smiling, Kris assured him, "That's cool. It's nice to meet someone who doesn't know who I am every once in a while."
"So…. You're recording an album?"
"My third," Kris confirmed.
Noah smiled back. "That's so cool."
"I'm hoping it will be when it's done," Kris said ruefully.
"Who's Adam?" was Noah's next question, and it made Kris want to immediately return to the awkwardness of admitting he was a celebrity.
Kris pulled in a deep breath and replied anyway. "He came in second the year I won. He was…. He was…." This was ten times harder than he had ever imagined it would be. He didn't usually have to explain. People just knew.
"Kris?" Noah prompted.
"Sorry." He took a moment before just getting it over with. "He was my boyfriend."
Noah frowned. "Now I'm the one who's sorry. I shouldn't have pried."
Kris shook his head. "No, that's okay. It's just that…. Usually, people know. Adam was the really famous one."
Now Kris wondered about what cave Noah had been living in. Adam's accident had been headline news for months. He sighed, resigned to having to tell this story. "He was in a car accident about ten months ago. He nearly died. He was in a coma for over two months, and when he woke up…." He paused to haul in another deep breath. "He wasn't the same."
"How so?" Noah asked kindly.
"He'd suffered severe brain damage," Kris reported, the pain of the diagnosis as fresh now as it had been when the doctors had first given it.
"Oh my God," Noah said on an exhale. "You're talking about Adam…Lambert? Is that his name?"
Now Noah remembered? After he'd gone through the pain of explaining? Kris nodded. "Yes."
"I do remember hearing something like that on the news. I'm so sorry. I had no idea."
"How's he doing?" Noah sounded sincere, like he really wanted to know.
"Better than we thought he'd be for a while," Kris told him honestly. "He's working at about the cognitive level of an eight-year-old, give or take. He's had to relearn a lot of stuff, but he's improving every day."
"Does he live with you?"
"No. He's with his mom and his brother. I go to visit as often as I can."
Noah was silent, then, clearly trying to decide what to say next. After a moment, he inquired, "Is that what's making the new album so hard to record? Adam's accident?"
Kris nodded, but didn't elaborate. He concentrated, instead, on finishing his lunch. It was getting past time for him to get back to work.
Noah did the same, and within minutes, they were both done. As Noah crumpled up his trash to put it inside his take-away bag, he said, "Thanks for joining me for lunch. I'm sorry if it ended up feeling like a therapy session."
That made Kris smile and shrug. "S'okay. It was also a meet and greet for a moment there."
"Can we do this again?" Noah suggested. "Maybe dinner? Without the therapy and the meeting and greeting?"
Kris wasn't entirely sure he was ready for this, but he answered, "Sure. Although I can't promise there won't be any meeting and greeting. Fans seem to find me everywhere."
"How about this Friday?"
After a quick mental flip through his calendar, Kris agreed.
"I can call you about timing."
Kris gave up his cell number and got Noah's in return.
"Good luck recording." Noah stood to walk over to the trash can, throwing his bag out and holding the can open for Kris.
"Thanks. I hope your afternoon goes well, too."
"See you Friday."
As Kris made his way back to the studio, he found himself excited by the prospect of seeing Noah at the end of the week. At the same time, however, he couldn't help feeling like he was doing something wrong--like he was cheating on Adam.
* * *
Two Months Later…
"How about Saturday?" Noah asked.
Kris took a sip of his coffee and shook his head. "Can't. I have radio interviews in the morning and a show that night."
"Sunday?" Noah tried next.
Kris shook his head again and simply said, "Adam."
Noah frowned. "Didn't you see him yesterday?"
"Yes," Kris confirmed. "And I'm going again on Sunday."
Noah took a sip of his own coffee. "I've been seeing you for more than two months, but I never actually get to see you. Either you're recording, you're writing, or you're with Adam."
"Why don't you come with me?" Kris wasn't quite sure where that had come from, but now he'd put it out there, he liked the idea. Noah was slowly becoming a very important part of Kris' life--at least he hoped that was the case. It was time Noah met another very important part of his life.
"Come with you? To the show?"
"Sunday. To see Adam."
"I don't know. Are you sure he's up for that?
Kris nodded vigorously. "Sure. Big groups can freak him out." They'd learned that the hard way. "But one other person is fine. I think he'll love you."
"If you think it's a good idea…," Noah finally agreed.
"I still want some alone time with you," Noah insisted, draining his coffee cup. It was just about time for them both to head to work.
Kris smiled. "How about Monday night? Dinner, maybe a movie?"
After they stood in tandem to leave, Noah gave Kris a chaste kiss on the lips that Kris fervently hoped would not end up in the tabloids. It was all Kris would allow Noah right then, but if things kept going well, maybe he would be ready for more.
* * *
Kris picked Noah up at noon on Sunday to head over to Adam's.
As Kris threw the car into gear, Noah said, "I listened to Adam's first CD yesterday. For Your Entertainment?"
"He has an amazing voice."
"He really did," Kris concurred softly.
"Did? He can't sing anymore?"
"Won't sing. He refuses. We have all tried to get him to, but he won't." It was just one of many, many losses Kris had had to bear. "He won't even sing silly little kid songs. He heard some of his songs from before, and I think that's why he won't try."
"Are you really sure he's going to be up for this?" Noah asked, his tone strung tight with nerves.
"I talked to Leila on Friday, and she was going to prep him. He'll be fine."
"Is there anything I need to know? Before meeting him, I mean."
"Just treat him like a person. He sometimes needs time to think through a question, and he can get frustrated, but he is the sweetest guy alive."
Noah nodded. "Okay."
They chatted about work the rest of the way, but Noah got silent as they pulled into the Lamberts' drive.
"Don't be nervous, Noah," Kris told him. "Come on."
As they waited for the door to be answered, Kris reached down and squeezed Noah's hand in silent support. Noah relaxed an incremental amount under Kris' touch.
It was Neil who opened the door. "Hey, Kris," he greeted him warmly.
"Hey, Neil." They shook hands. "Neil, this is Noah Crosby. Noah, this is Neil Lambert, Adam's brother."
Neil held his hand out to Noah. "Nice to meet you, Noah." He turned back to Kris. "I was just on my way out."
"Hot date?" Kris teased.
"I surely hope so," Neil returned. "They're back in the kitchen. Writing lesson."
"Not bad. Slow and steady," Neil reported.
"Have a good time." Neil sidled past them to head out the door.
"You, too." Kris pulled Noah by the hand. "Come on."
Kris led Noah to the back of the house, where the kitchen was located. There, they found Leila and Adam sitting at the kitchen table with pencils and paper.
"Writing anything good?" Kris asked into the quiet room.
Leila and Adam simultaneously looked up to see who had interrupted their work session.
"Kris!" Adam cried out, putting down his pencil and getting up. As he always did, he immediately wrapped Kris in a hug. It was Kris' favorite thing in the world, bar nothing.
"Hey, Adam," Kris said when Adam let him go.
"Hi, Kris," Leila greeted him with a warm smile, moving to stand next to Adam.
"Hi, Leila," Kris returned just as warmly. Remembering his companion, Kris made introductions. "Noah Crosby, this is Leila and Adam. Leila, Adam, meet Noah."
Just as her younger son had done moments ago, Leila held her hand out to Noah. "It's so nice to meet you. I'm glad you could come with Kris today."
"Thank you for having me," Noah said politely.
"Adam? Can you say hi to Noah?" Kris asked gently.
Adam was looking at Noah warily, clearly not at all sure about this interloper. He had had limited experience with strangers since the accident and had had just about equal parts good encounters and not-so-good encounters.
"Adam…?" Leila prompted.
"Hi," Adam finally said, though it was clear he was reluctant to say anything.
"Hi, Adam." There was a moment where it was obvious Noah was trying to decide whether or not to offer his hand, but he ended up not.
A moment of awkward silence followed. Kris broke it with a question. "So, what were you working on?" He gestured to the table.
All eyes turned to Adam, but he pressed his lips together firmly, forcing Leila to respond. "We're finally getting whole sentences down. They're short, but they're definitely progress."
"Can I see?" Kris requested.
Adam shrugged. This was an unusual response; Adam was usually very happy to show off his work to Kris.
"Please?" Kris locked gazes with Adam.
"Okay," Adam agreed, though like his greeting to Noah, it was with clear reluctance.
Kris led the little group to the table. There, he picked up the paper Adam had been working on.
"It's a letter to Eber," Leila explained. For Noah's benefit, she added, "Adam's father."
With great pride, Kris read the words Adam had painstakingly written on the paper. Relearning how to write was one of the most difficult challenges Adam had faced since his injury, but with persistence--and a great deal of encouragement--he was making progress.
The letter read:
How are you? I am fine. Mom and Neil say hi. Today Kris is coming to visit. When are you coming to visit? I miss you.
"It's not done yet," Adam confessed, his voice filled with unnecessary apology.
"It's really good," Kris told him. "Your dad is going to love it."
"I hope so." Eber was still processing the events of Adam's accident. He came by every once in a while, and he was nothing but supportive, but it was still very difficult for him to deal with this new Adam. And Adam knew it.
"You boys didn't eat, did you?" Leila inquired.
Kris shook his head. "No, we didn't."
"Good. We haven't, either. I bought some stuff to make sandwiches. Is that okay with everyone?"
Kris smiled. "Fine with me. Noah?"
"Sounds good, " Noah replied, putting obvious effort into matching Kris' smile.
"Adam? That okay?" Leila asked, never one to leave Adam out of decision-making, even now. "Sandwiches for lunch?"
Adam shrugged. That was apparently as good as Leila was going to get, so she forged ahead. "Okay. Adam, if we're having sandwiches for lunch, what do we need to get out?"
Adam didn't answer right away. He looked first at Kris, then at Noah. Kris hoped Adam would warm to Noah eventually. Preferably soon. It would make everything easier. "Adam?" Leila prompted. "What do we need to get out?"
After a moment of thought, Adam responded, "Turkey."
Leila smiled her approval. "We have ham and roast beef, too. What else?"
"Cheese," Adam answered with confidence.
"Good. Anything else, honey?"
Leila nodded. "And what do we put it on?"
"Excellent. Get out five plates--one for each of us and one for the meat--and two knives."
Adam nodded and moved to open a cupboard above the counter by the sink.
Very slowly and very carefully, Adam began to pull out plain white plates from the cupboard. In a whisper, he counted each plate off as he set it down.
As Adam pulled the third plate down, Noah moved to help. Kris motioned for him not to, but Noah either didn't see or didn't see how helping Adam was a bad idea. Kris hadn't explained to Noah how hard they were working on giving Adam some independence and responsibility.
Noah got a hold on the fourth place they needed at exactly the same moment as Adam did. Kris winced as Adam pulled his hand back in surprise at the sudden intrusion. The plate came with him and crashed to the floor, causing Noah to jump back and Adam to freeze.
Kris immediately elbowed past Noah to get to Adam. "It's okay, Adam," he assured him, wrapping a gentle hand around each of Adam's wrists.
Gaze locked on the shattered pieces of ceramic that used to be a plate, Adam needlessly pointed out, "It's broken."
"That was not your fault," Kris told him firmly. "That was Noah's fault." He heard an indignant gasp behind him and studiously ignored it.
"I was doing it wrong," Adam concluded.
Kris noticed Leila about to step in, but Kris gave her a look meant to convey that he had everything under control, and she nodded, thankfully getting the message. He returned his attention to Adam. "No, you weren't. You were doing a terrific job."
Adam shook his head. "He tried to get the next one. I was doing it wrong."
"He shouldn't have tried to help. You were doing great." He smiled encouragingly. Adam didn't smile back, but he didn't protest, either. "Now I don't know about you, but I'm hungry, so why don't you get two more plates while I clean this up?"
"Okay," Adam agreed quietly, turning back to the cabinet.
Kris turned to take the dustpan and sweeper Leila offered, a smile of thanks on her face. After Adam took down the last plate and moved to help his mother arrange the meat on that plate, Kris quickly took care of the broken plate. When he rose to dump the pieces into the trash, he came face to face with Noah.
"What was that?" Noah asked him, an undercurrent of confused anger in his voice.
"Not now," Kris replied, pointedly turning his back to Noah to finish his cleaning task.
Thankfully, Noah dropped the subject, and the rest of the lunch preparations proceeded without incident. In no time, they all sat around the table with sandwiches.
"So, Noah," Leila opened the lunchtime conversation, "what do you do?"
Noah finished the bite he'd just taken, then answered, "I'm a writer."
"Oh? What kind? Novels?" Funny that that had been Kris' first thought, too.
"No. I write for a business journal."
"Really?" Leila smiled. "Well, you should talk to Neil sometime, then. He's interested in business and politics; always has been. He even keeps a blog."
Noah nodded. "I'll be sure to do that."
Over on the other side of the table, Kris sat next to Adam. Adam was focused on his sandwich when Kris bumped Adam's upper arm with his own. "Hey."
"What do you want to do after lunch?"
"You're staying?" Adam asked, clearly surprised.
"Of course I am."
Adam shrugged. "I don't care what we do." Willfully, he returned his attention to lunch.
This was the first moment Kris wondered whether bringing Noah had been such a good idea after all. He didn't know what was up with Adam, and the lunch table was, unfortunately, not the best place to address whatever it was. He had honestly thought Adam would like Noah, but that was obviously not the case.
"Maybe we should just go." Noah's suggestion broke into his reverie.
Kris felt his neck crack as he sharply turned in Noah's direction. "No. We're not leaving."
His tone must have been a little more defensive than he'd intended because Noah held his hands up and said, "Okay, okay," as if he were surrendering.
Leila stepped in, then, to diffuse the situation. "Adam still has PT to do today, and it's gorgeous outside. Maybe you two would like to help with that."
"PT?" Noah questioned.
"Physical therapy," Kris explained. "And sure, that sounds like fun. Doesn't it, Adam?"
Adam gave another shrug, but he didn't disparage the idea.
They finished lunch over small talk about a recent blockbuster movie and a book it turned out Kris, Noah, and Leila had all read. They tried to draw Adam into the conversation, but he was having none of it, choosing instead to eat in silence.
Kris offered to help Leila clean up once they finished eating, but she assured him she could handle and shooed them into the backyard.
Since he had woken up from the two-month coma the accident had precipitated, Adam had had to participate in both occupational and physical therapy. He went to a center for the occupational part, but his physical therapist made house calls. Both assigned homework Adam had to complete.
Recently, Adam's physical therapist--Willow--had him working on some eye-hand coordination. The last time Kris had been there, he had come at the tag end of Neil playing an old-fashioned game of catch with Adam.
As they made their way outside, Kris spotted two balls, one about the size of a kickball, one about the size of a baseball. He took one in each hand. "How about some three-way catch?"
"Sure," Noah said, his tone neutral. Kris didn't care; he knew Noah would just as soon leave. This was about Adam.
"Adam? Catch?" He held up the smaller ball as a visual aid.
"Do we have to?" There wasn't a lot of weight behind the query. It had not taken Adam long to learn that there wasn't anyone who was going to let him out of therapy.
"Just for a little while," Kris promised. "Then we can find something else to do. Your pick. Okay?"
"Okay," Adam agreed, albeit with characteristic-for-the-day reluctance.
"Great!" Kris attempted to drag some enthusiasm into the proceedings. "Let's make a triangle."
The backyard was plenty big enough for them to make a decent sized triangle. Kris handed the larger ball to Adam to start, and Adam threw it to Kris, who threw it to Noah, who threw it in a nice, easy pass back to Adam.
They continued this pattern with the large ball for a little while, then Kris suggested they switch.
"I don't like the little ball," Adam said dubiously.
"You have to try both," Kris told him, having watched that little bit of the session with Neil the other day.
Adam didn't argue further, so Kris retrieved the little ball, again letting Adam throw to him first.
While Adam had not had a very hard time with the bigger ball, only dropping it once or twice, the smaller one was a different story. The first time Noah pitched it to Adam, Adam fumbled it, and it fell.
"Good try, Adam," Kris encouraged.
Adam frowned and threw the ball back to Kris. When it got back to Noah, he threw it high and slow to Adam, but Adam missed it again.
"Can we stop now, Kris?" Adam pleaded, each work laced with frustration.
Kris very nearly gave in, but did not want to start a precedent, no matter how frustrated Adam was. The therapy wasn't torture, even if Adam felt like it was. It was meant to help him. They all just had to keep at it.
He knew none of that would hold any water with Adam, though, so he simply said, "Just a little longer. A few more tries. Then you get to pick what we do, just like I promised."
With furrowed brow, Adam considered the offer. After several long seconds, he picked up the ball and threw it to Kris.
"Attaboy," Kris praised him, tossing the ball to Noah. "Nice and easy, Noah."
Kris noticed that Noah moved a few inches closer to Adam before throwing the ball softly underhand in Adam's direction.
Adam missed it again, though, and Noah said, "You'll get it next time, buddy."
Kris recognized the signs of an outburst about three seconds too late to stop it. Helplessly, he watched Adam turn fully in Noah's direction, draw himself to his full six feet one inch height, and, in a low voice, tell Noah, "You are not allowed to call me that."
"Adam," Kris said, his tone one of warning.
Ignoring Kris completely, Adam went on. "Only my brother gets to call me that. Not you! You're not allowed!" This last was yelled.
"What? Excuse me? Are you crazy?" Noah sputtered loudly. "That's completely ridiculous! You can't copyright 'buddy.' What gives--"
"Noah!" Kris cut him off. "Stop."
"Seriously?" Noah asked incredulously.
"Seriously," Kris confirmed, fixing him with a look which left no room for argument. He tore his gaze away after a couple seconds, though, focusing his gaze next on Adam.
Now that he had Kris' attention again, Adam bent down, picked up the ball, and hurled it past Kris. Kris didn't turn to watch it land. "I can't do it!"
"Do what, Adam?" Kris moved so he was between Adam and Noah, close enough to touch Adam when he was allowed, while at the same time blocking Noah from Adam's sight line.
"Catch the ball." That was so not what this was about. But Kris would have to act like it was. For the moment.
Kris reached out to grab Adam's hand. Adam tried to pull it away, but Kris was ready for that move and didn't let go. "Yes, you can, Adam. I saw you catch it just the other day with Neil."
Adam shook his head violently and yanked his hand away. "I can't. I want to stop."
Kris began to scout around with his eyes for another small ball. He didn't know where the one they'd been using had gone after Adam had thrown it, but he knew there were others. It didn't take him long to find one, and he quickly moved to pick it up. "Just one more try, Adam," he requested. "I'll throw it to you this time."
Adam crossed his arms over his chest, shut his eyes, and shook his head again.
Kris knew he'd been defeated. "Fine. Enough therapy for today."
"That's it?" Noah jumped in. "He just has to try three times, and that's it? When I was in therapy for my knee--"
"Good God, Noah. Stop! Just shut up." Kris knew he was being uncharacteristically rude, but this afternoon was not going even a little the way he'd planned. In fact, he'd bet he could give Adam a run for his money as far as frustration level was concerned.
Noah's eyes grew wide, and when he pursed his lips it was with anger, but Kris could not have cared a whole lot less. He sighed and yet again returned his attention to Adam.
Adam still stood with his arms crossed and a mutinous look on his face, but he looked at Kris when Kris asked, "So, Adam, what would you like to do now?"
Adam shifted his gaze from Kris to Noah, then back again, but did not reply to Kris' query.
"We can do whatever you want, just like I promised," Kris tried again.
After another few long moments of silence, Adam finally blurted out, "I don't want to do anything with him." A beat, then he delivered the kicker. "Or you." He did not wait for a reaction; he ran past Kris into the house without another word.
Kris sighed and ran a hand over his mouth.
"What the hell is going on here?" Noah asked, voice raised.
Kris moved his hand to pinch the bridge of his noise. It did nothing to alleviate the headache that was quickly forming.
"Kris?" Noah's ire was apparently also in no hurry to subside.
"Not now. Not here. Let's go." Kris headed back toward the house.
"We're leaving?" Noah checked as he followed.
Kris' headache grew exponentially.
When they walked into the kitchen, no one was there, so Kris led the way back to the front of the house.
They found Leila and Adam at the front, in the living room. Leila held her sobbing son in her arms. She spotted them as they approached the room, and she mouthed, "Why?"
Kris shook his head and held his hand up to indicate he would call her. She nodded and went back to running her fingers soothingly through Adam's hair.
As he got into the car, Kris was unable to keep himself from taking some of his anger out on his car door, slamming it with way more vigor than was necessary.
"So, are we going to talk?" Noah asked tensely, buckling himself in.
Kris didn't even look at him. "When we get to your place. This is not a conversation I want to have while I'm driving."
Kris pulled a CD from his center console, not really caring what it was. He shoved it into the player and, after a few seconds, the music of Led Zeppelin began pouring through the speakers. It was a CD Adam had given to him eons ago. Kris supposed that was fitting.
There was no talking as Kris made haste to Noah's apartment complex, just awkward stiltedness backed by one of Adam's favorite bands.
Kris found a spot in the lot, then cut the music off and undid his seatbelt. He turned to face Noah.
Noah beat him to the punch with a question asked in a hard-edged tone. "What the hell was that back there? No more stalling, Kris."
"I don't know what was going on with Adam," Kris answered, knowing he was skirting the issue, but he needed to gear himself up for the hard stuff, the stuff that was sure to start the argument already inevitable. "He isn't usually like that."
"I don't really care what was going on with Adam. What was going on with you?"
"Me?" Kris' voice was higher than usual, and he struggled to maintain control of himself. "What about you?"
"What did I do? I didn't do anything," Noah responded defensively.
"Were you even listening when I told you about Adam's injuries?"
"Of course I was."
"Then I don't understand. I mean, I get offering to help in the kitchen," Kris acquiesced. "You shouldn't have; he was doing fine. But I get it. The thing in the yard, though? Why would you do that? Argue with him?"
"He was being ridiculous," Noah sustained his earlier argument.
"He was being eight," Kris countered. "I told you that. I told you he's operating at the level of an eight-year-old. Did you think I was kidding?"
"Could you not tell how frustrated he was?" Kris pressed further.
When Noah offered no response, Kris sighed heavily.
"Seriously?" Noah jumped on him. "You're going to sit there and sigh as if I am the only one here in the wrong?"
Kris opened his mouth to protest, but Noah kept going. "Maybe I didn't do exactly the right things with Adam, but you did not have to speak to me the way you did."
This time Kris opened his mouth to apologize, but Noah still wasn't done. "I don't get it anyhow, wanting to spend time around that. So depressing. He's never going to be your boyfriend again. You know that, right? He's never going to be normal again. Why are you wasting so much time with him? It seems pretty pointless."
The apology Kris had been about to tender withered and died a quick death. "Get out."
"I'm sorry? What?" Noah appeared truly flummoxed by the order.
"Get. Out." Kris made sure to carefully enunciate each word. "We're done."
"Completely," Kris said firmly. At Noah's still-confused face, he explained, "Adam is a miracle. He's not even supposed to be alive. But he is. He's here, and while there may be many things that have changed about him, nothing that's fundamental has. He's still sweet, kind, and generous. It still makes me happy to spend time with him. He will always be an important part of my life. I will never stop going to see him or stop being with him whenever I can. Not for anyone. Anybody who wants to be with me for the long term has got to understand that, and it's clear to me that you don't. So we're done."
"I…." Noah's words trailed off, though. He had no argument.
"Just go, Noah," Kris urged. He even leaned over him to open his door. "Goodbye."
Noah opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, but he closed it just as quickly and climbed out of the car. Before closing the door, he said, simply, "Goodbye, Kris."
Once Noah was--thankfully--gone, Kris gave himself a few moments to decompress, then he pulled out his cell phone and called Leila's number. When she answered, all he did was ask if he could come back. He assured her he would be coming alone, and she said yes.
As swiftly as traffic would allow, he made his way across town for the second time that day.
When he arrived, he found the front door unlocked. Cautiously, he pushed it open a little. "Leila?" he called.
"I'm here," she returned from what sounded like the living room.
He moved the rest of the way into the house, closing the door behind him before heading for the living room.
Leila was alone. She sat on the sofa with a glass of water in her hand.
"Where is he?" Kris inquired.
She gazed up at the ceiling. "Upstairs. Drawing, I think. He took the basket with him." She referred to the basket which held all of Adam's crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Leila took a sip of her water, then set it on the coffee table. Turning her head to look at Kris, she offered a small smile as she patted the empty space on the sofa next to her. "Come on, sit down."
Kris did as she requested and settled himself next to her. He pulled in a deep breath, then exhaled it slowly.
Leila put her arm around his shoulder and squeezed before pulling it away so she could arrange herself so she was more directly facing Kris. He did the same.
Once they were situated, Leila asked, "So, what happened? Adam wasn't real big on details. He said something about having trouble catching the ball and something about Noah calling him 'buddy' and yelling at him."
Kris winced as he nodded. "He hit all the highlights there." He paused for a sigh before expounding upon what Adam had told her. "We threw the bigger ball first, and he did fine with that, then we moved on to the smaller ball, and that one's still so hard for him. He got really, really frustrated, and Noah was trying to help, but he didn't know how particular Adam can be about who calls him what. Adam called him out on it, and Noah yelled in self-defense."
Leila sighed and nodded.
"It was just a bad idea to bring Noah here," Kris went on.
"Oh, honey, I don't think it was," Leila countered.
Kris shook his head. "No, it was. He just didn't get it, why I spend time with Adam. I thought he would once he met him, but he didn't. He can be impatient, I know that, but I didn't think he'd act like he did."
Leila's smile was wistful. "You really like him, don't you? Noah?"
"I did," Kris corrected her. "I ended it."
Putting a comforting hand on his knee, Leila sighed again. "I'm so sorry. It wasn't just because of today, was it?"
"No. That was just the last straw." His regretful sigh echoed hers. "It just wasn't working. He wanted more time than I could give him. More of me than I could give him. And it never stopped feeling wrong."
"I…. I always felt like I was cheating on Adam," he confessed.
Leila frowned, her face a picture of sympathy. "Oh, Kris. I know how hard it all is. There are days I wake up and expect him to be just like he was before. I can't quite accept that he'll never be the same again."
Frustratingly, Kris felt tears prickle at the corners of his eyes, the day finally catching up with him.
When Leila took him in her arms, the floodgates opened, and he cried, allowing himself to lose it completely for a few minutes. She held him tight while he sobbed.
Eventually, his tears dried up, and he slowly pulled himself away. "I'm sorry. Maybe Neil will come home having had a bad date and cry in your arms, and you'll have a hat trick."
Leila chuckled. "It's okay. None of this is easy for anyone. We all have to accept that we still have things to work through. Adam, too."
Kris reached for a tissue from the box on the coffee table and inelegantly blew his nose. Once he was again more composed, he said, "Today did not go even a little how I planned. I knew it would take Noah a little bit to figure Adam out, but I didn't expect Adam to instantly dislike Noah."
Leila pursed her lips for a moment, clearly trying to pick her words. Finally, she said, "I don't think that was dislike."
"You don't?" Kris was dubious, though Leila did tend to be the best Adam Reader around.
She shook her head. "I think that was jealousy."
This time, she nodded. "Ever since the accident, he has had you all to himself. Whenever you visit, he has your complete attention. All of a sudden, today, there's someone else with you, competing for your attention. I think Adam didn't quite know how to cope with that, so it made him extra frustrated."
Kris thought about what she was saying, and he had to admit that it made a great deal of sense.
Leila didn't wait for Kris to comment, but went on to say, "Adam loves you more than anyone."
Skeptically, Kris responded, "I don't know if that's true."
Leila smiled softly. "It is. He loves me, his father, Neil. But you…. You are everything to him, Kris. He talks about you all the time. He counts the days, hours, and minutes until your visits. He thinks you hung the moon. Imagine someone you love that much suddenly showing up with someone else clearly intent on having them."
"But he doesn't even know," Kris countered. "He doesn't even know what we were to each other."
"He may not know intellectually, but I'm not sure that matters. I think his heart knows, and that's why he's so attached to you."
Kris sighed. "I don't know what to do."
"About what?" Her question was gentle, allowing him to answer at whatever level he chose.
"I don't even know where to start," he confessed.
"Well, first of all, Adam will get over this," Leila assured him. "You'll go upstairs and talk with him, and he'll be fine. Just let him know how much he means to you, and he'll be fine."
Leila looked at him closely, appraising him, before she asked, "That's not all you're worried about, is it?"
Shaking his head, Kris grimaced. "No."
"What else is there, honey? You know you can talk to me about anything, don't you"
Kris nodded again, then took a moment to piece together his thoughts before giving voice to them. "I wanted it to work with Noah. I did. But it was just too much. It was all too much."
"It's not wrong, you know?"
"Wanting a relationship," she explained. "It's okay to want that. We all want that."
"I wanted that with Adam," he whispered.
Leila put her arm around his shoulders and squeezed. "I know."
He hauled in a deep breath. "I know that's over. I know he won't ever be well enough for us to be together again."
"Doesn't make it any easier to try with someone else, does it?"
Kris shook his head wearily.
"It'll take time," Leila told him. "But someday, maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe not for a year or two, you'll meet someone. Someone perfect for you."
"Someone who will have to understand that Adam will always be a part of me," Kris added fiercely.
"He will, honey," Leila confirmed, though Kris wasn't sure if she was saying that Adam would always be a part of him or that his future someone would understand. He supposed it didn't matter.
Kris knew he could put off the second conversation he had to have that afternoon no longer. "I guess I should go up and talk to him," he said, steeling himself already.
Leila nodded, squeezing his thigh in support. Before he could think about it any further, he rose.
* * *
When he arrived at Adam's door, Kris paused, peeking in to get a feel for where Adam was, mood-wise.
Adam was sitting on the floor, both Spike and a lap desk in his lap. To his right was his basket of colors and a pile of plain white paper. Strewn all around him were crumpled pieces of paper.
He had a fresh piece of paper on his lap desk, and he was painstakingly coloring a black border on the edge of the paper.
"Neil likes black, Spike," Adam was saying to his stuffed confidant. "I just have to make the picture right."
Kris knocked on the frame of the door, and Adam looked up. "Hey, Adam. Can I come in?"
Adam shrugged. He wasn't going to make this easy. Like anything involving Adam was easy anymore.
Since it hadn't been an outright "no," Kris walked inside the room and sat himself down cross-legged next to Adam.
When he reached out to pet Spike, Adam very deliberately moved him away from Kris. Apparently, he didn't rate contact with a stuffed dog at this point. Kris' work was cut out for him.
Kris silently checked out the art Adam was creating, giving Adam time to adjust to his presence. After about a minute, he asked, "What are you working on?"
"A picture." Adam's tone very clearly indicated that Kris had asked a monumentally stupid question.
Kris soldiered on. "What's it going to be of?"
"It's for Neil." Smackdown.
"I'm sure that he'll love it," Kris said with what he hoped sounded like brightness. "I know I love when I get new Adam Art."
Adam gave no reaction to this compliment, concentrating instead on finishing up the border he had very diligently been working on ever since Kris had come upstairs. He then began to draw a person Kris assumed would either be Adam or Neil.
Kris observed Adam's careful creating for a few moments more before he pulled in a deep breath and said, "Adam, we need to talk."
"I don't want to." Adam didn't even look up as he spoke.
"I know, but I think we need to anyhow," Kris persisted.
Adam shook his head. "Neil will be home soon, and I need to finish his picture."
"Please, Adam? I think this is really important."
Adam kept drawing, but he didn't protest again, so Kris decided to work under the assumption that he was listening. "I need to apologize first."
When he got no response from Adam, Kris continued, "I shouldn't have brought Noah over."
Adam very studiously kept right on working, adding details to the face of the person he'd drawn.
Apparently, Kris needed to take a different approach. "You're really doing a great job with the ball. You caught so many more this time than last time I was here for therapy."
"That's a lie," Adam moodily commented, crayon hesitating over the brown hair he was coloring on his figure.
Kris reached over and touched the top of Adam's hand, stilling it completely. He willed Adam to look up at him. After a long pause, he did. Kris looked right back at him and said, "It's not a lie. You're doing so well. Think about how hard it was to catch even the big ball when you tried the first time with Willow."
"Noah thought I was stupid." Tears were beginning to form in the corners of Adam's eyes.
"He didn't," Kris argued.
"That's a lie, too."
Kris sighed. "Noah just didn't know how to act. He made a few mistakes. He didn't know how much progress you've made."
"Is he coming back?"
Kris shook his head. "No. He's not."
"But you like him."
"I did," Kris corrected, just as he had Adam's mother.
"He's your new friend." Is that how Leila had described Noah to Adam? Kris couldn't imagine a better way she could have described him, but it at least explained Adam's frame of mind.
"Adam, did you think he was a replacement?" When it was obvious Adam didn't understand the question--eyes scrunched in concentration, mouth poised on the verge of frustration--Kris rephrased it. "Did you think he was going to be my friend instead of you?"
As Adam's face fell and he stopped looking at Kris, Kris realized he'd hit the nail on the head.
"Adam? Adam, look at me."
Reluctantly, Adam did as ordered.
"I need you to listen really carefully, okay? It's important that you understand what I have to say."
Adam nodded slowly. This was not the first time they'd had to have a serious conversation like this, so Adam knew the drill.
"I am not looking for a friend to take your place. That is never, ever going to happen."
The look on his face told Kris that Adam was less than convinced.
Kris didn't even need to ask why Adam would think Kris would want someone else to be his friend instead of Adam. Adam's insecurities were well-discussed territory.
"Adam, we've talked about this before," Kris reminded him. "I love you."
Adam was watching Kris' face very carefully, no doubt trying to gauge the veracity of what Kris was saying.
"I'm not seeing Noah again," Kris went on to tell him.
"Nope. I'm not."
"Because he couldn't see how special you were," Kris told him honestly.
"I'm not special," Adam protested, not out of modesty, Kris knew, but because it was what he believed.
"Yes, you are. You are very special. Especially to me."
"But I can't do anything," Adam lamented.
Kris snorted. "Of course you can. You can do lots of things. There isn't enough time in the world to name all the things you can do. But even if you couldn't, you would still be special to me."
Impulsively, Adam twisted so he could throw his arms around Kris. Kris accepted the hug with deep gratitude, holding Adam close and greedily breathing in his scent. He reminded himself just how lucky he was to still be able to do this, even if there could never be more.
When Adam let go, Kris took Adam's head in his hands--one hand gently over each of Adam's ears--and kissed his forehead. "You know I love you, don't you, Adam?"
"I love you, too," Adam professed easily, guilelessly. Kris knew he meant it, though. Wholly. Just like Leila had said.
Kris waited a moment before addressing the last issue he knew he had no choice but to address. "Adam. Noah's not coming back, but he may not be the last person I bring here to meet you."
An instant pout clouded Adam's features.
"I need you to understand that. Do you?"
Kris held his breath while Adam processed the concept. Finally, Adam nodded, though he appeared less than thrilled with the idea.
"I also need you to understand that whoever else I may meet, you will never stop being important to me. Never. I will never stop coming to visit. I will never stop thinking you are special. I will never stop loving you." Kris looked Adam straight in the eye, trying hard to determine whether or not Adam got what he was telling him. "Do you understand, Adam?"
"Promise, Kris?" Adam asked in reply. "Promise you'll never go away?"
Kris grinned widely. "I promise."
Adam grinned back.
Kris glanced down at his watch. It was early yet, still several hours until dinnertime. "Hey, you never did pick something to do. We've got plenty of time before I have to go home. What would you like to do?"
While Adam contemplated their options, footsteps behind him alerted Kris to the fact that he and Adam weren't alone anymore. He turned his head to find Neil just inside the door.
"How're we doing in here?" Neil inquired with caution.
Kris looked back at Adam fondly for a moment, then answered, "We're good. Hot date not so hot?"
Neil grimaced. "Not even close."
Neil shrugged. "Hey there, buddy," he said past Kris to his brother. Kris winced at the word--it would be a while before that stopped stinging--but Adam beamed back happily at Neil. "What are you guys up to?"
"I couldn't catch the little ball, so Kris is letting me pick something else to do." Adam deserved an award for Oversimplification of the Year.
The look on Neil's face clearly telegraphed to Kris that he had gotten the lowdown from his mother before coming upstairs.
"You didn't give up, did you?" Neil asked with exaggerated horror.
Adam had the grace to look ashamed. "Maybe," he allowed softly.
Neil shook his head, pursing his lips for a moment. "Well, that won't do. Lamberts don't give up. Ever."
"Nope. Never," Neil confirmed. "Why don't we go back down to the yard and try again?"
"Then we can do something fun?" Adam bargained.
"Hey, throwing the ball with me is fun, but yes, after we throw the ball for a while, we can do something else fun. Okay?"
"Okay," Adam agreed, smiling sweetly at his brother. "Can Kris come?"
Neil grinned. "He better."
Adam swiftly stood and held out his hand to Kris. "Come on."
Kris took Adam's hand and let him help him up.
(7 October 2010)