They spend their first night in L.A. sleeping on blankets in Shaun's new apartment, and the next morning they have a breakfast picnic on the floor.
Cody loves it, but Shaun's a little embarrassed.
"I would have gotten us a room at a hotel, but like I said, I don't have the kind of money my family does... a masters in literature and one published book doesn't get you all that far..." Shaun runs a hand through his hair and smiles sheepishly. He's leaned back against the white wood chip wallpaper on the back of the kitchen island.
Cody's in the other room, so Zach reaches out and touches his foot, "I don't mind...” He lets his hand slide up under Shaun's pants leg to wrap around his ankle. “At all," he emphasizes, and even that's an understatement.
Cody comes running around the corner and Zach quickly moves his hand. He pretends that he doesn’t see Shaun’s smile dim a little. He’s hugged Shaun in front of Cody before, even held his hand on one occasion, but it still feels weird - he can’t help reflexively shrug out of touches half the time, or turn away from kisses, like they’re doing something dirty.
Clean up after breakfast is easy: they put the cereal box into the empty cupboard, put the carton of milk into the empty fridge, clean the bowls and cutlery with hot water and their fingers and put them to dry on a towel.
Cody's zooming around the three small rooms, looping around the kitchenette and into the four square meter bathroom. He's making a racket with his footsteps and his voice echoing off the bare walls, but Shaun doesn't even seem to mind.
They go down to the street to get the stuff from the car. They put Shaun's plastic bags of clothes and Zach's boxes in the bigger room with the window turned east, Cody's duffel in the little room on the other side of the hall, and all of their toiletries and Cody's Spongebob bath towel in the bathroom.
After they've finished with that, they rent a U-haul and drive to Venice Beach, to Shaun's friends' place, to get his furniture from their garage.
"Mal and Erin are my closest friends here. I lived on their couch for a couple of weeks, when me and Jeff were in limbo." Shaun's craning his neck to check for pedestrians before turning onto North Venice Boulevard.
"They've got two kids. They're lesbian... Actually, most of my friends here are gay." Zach catches Shaun discreetly checking his reaction in the rear view mirror, before he continues, "When I moved here I was pretty demonstrative about being out of the closet at first, and really active with the GLBT group at uni, so that's where most of my closest friends are from."
"Oh. Okay." Zach feels like Shaun's talking to him from another planet.
They turn off the boulevard and into a neighborhood of bungalows. Zach spies quite a few faded rainbow flags hanging from the porches along with garden flamingos and wind chimes. The small house they finally park in front of, though, is olive green with nothing but wilted grass on the front law.
He's got his back turned, helping a wriggling Cody out of his car seat, when he hears the creak and slam of the screen door.
"Hey, Shaun, long time no see."
Mal has short-cropped hair and full sleeve tattoos down both arms, and when she lifts her arms to hug Shaun, Zach notices that she has pit hair, which he feels stupid for paying attention to, but all the girls back home were always so careful, always had shaved legs and dyed hair and smooth, evenly tanned bodies.
Mal looks more like a guy than a girl, and if Zach had been back home, with the guys from their old gang, they would've probably said something about that. But Zach realizes suddenly - as Mal reaches out and shakes his hand, while Cody is hiding shyly behind his legs - that there's absolutely no one here to judge.
Erin comes around from the back, wearing only a knitted bikini, and wringing water out of her hair. She is so excited to see Shaun that she runs up to hug him, half naked and dripping wet. After a moment she disentangles herself, laughing at the wet full body imprint she's left on Shaun's clothes. "Sorry about that," she says, "we've set up a sprinkler in the back yard, the girls were going crazy in the heat." She tugs her curled hair behind her ears. Then she notices Zack.
"Oh, hey." She reaches out and shakes Zach's hand.
"Zach's a childhood friend," Shaun says casually, "I'm helping him find his feet here."
That's what they agreed on saying, to start with. Zach argued that Cody maybe needed a little time to deal with everything else, before dealing with Shaun and Zach being together. Privately, he also thought that Shaun's friends had to know Jeffrey pretty well, and that maybe they were a little bitter about the break-up.
"And that guy," Shaun says loudly and points theatrically at Cody, "that guy's Codes."
Cody has ventured out from behind Zach's legs and is pressing up against his side, smiling and fidgeting and already giving up on being reserved.
"Hey Cody, our girls are out back. Do you want to meet them?" Erin looks up at Zach "- is that okay?"
"Do you want to, Cody?"
Cody smiles and nods, already grabbing Erin's hand. Mal watches them as they turn around the corner of the house. "He's adorable. Not shy at all - he's like Freya, our oldest..." she turns back to look at Zach, "He's yours?"
"He is now." Zach feels kind of awkward, expecting a reaction, but Mal just nods.
It takes a couple of trips back and forth to load all the furniture into the U-haul. Zach checks on Cody through the sliding doors in the living room, and the kid's running under the sprinkler in his underoos, squealing happily, with a girl who looks to be about his age. Erin is watching them from under a parasol, with a toddler sleeping in her lap.
After they finish loading, Mal invites them in for a beer, and then insists that they stay for dinner. Zach finds himself sitting on a rickety kitchen chair, cleaning carrots in a big ceramic bowl, taking everything in: the Klimt prints on the walls, the morocco tiles and Shaun and Mal moving around each other in the kitchen with the ease of old friends.
After a while Erin comes in with Cody and the girls, and hands the youngest girl over to Mal.
“Your turn.” Erin says, sliding the little girl from her hip to Mal’s, and Zach quickly turns his head away when Erin leans in for a kiss, pressing her mouth against Mal’s with the baby between them.
“Alright Ydun, let's go. Hey, Zach, you want to come help me get these kids into some clothes?”
Zach lifts his eyes from the bowl of carrots and Mal is looking at him, smiling a little, with her little girl hefted on her hip. Freya and Cody, in the mean time, have all but attacked Shaun, grabbing at his shirt and talking a mile a minute.
Ydun's a tiny two-year old, way smaller than Cody was at that age, and painfully shy, crawling all over Mal and hiding her face in her shirt. Mal takes Zach and Cody to the kids' room and finds them a towel, and together they help Freya and Cody into clothes and shoes again, while the kids wriggle and shout and make faces at each other.
“We want to have another one,” Mal laughs, as soon as Cody and Freya have run out of the room, to go look at Freya’s playthings. “We're like maybe a couple of years ahead of time, but you know what it's like with us lesbians, it starts with a cat, and then we just keep going.” She smiles and shrugs and Zach pretends that he does know what it's like.
"Shaun’s great with Cody, by the way.” Mal says casually, picking up Ydun from where she’s playing on the floor and bringing her to the changing station.
“Cody loves him.”
“Shaun is such a sucker for kids - him and Jeff used to come over here all the time to play with Freya."
“You know Jeff well?” Zach tries to sound casual about it. He realizes he’s biting his nail and stops, digs his hand into his pocket.
Mal must have heard something in his voice, though, because she turns around and looks at him searchingly.
“Yes, we know him real well. Jeff and Shaun got together around the same time Erin and I did. We were always the two couples in the group, so we were sad that it didn’t work out between them. But near the end they just weren't happy, and -” she stops to pay full attention to the buttons on Ydun's onesie, “ - look at Shaun now,” she finally says, smiling at him like she just figured something out - but she doesn't straight out ask, and Zach really appreciates that.
After dinner, they have coffee. Freya comes by several times with toys and books that she wants to show Shaun. She cocks her head and twirls her hair around her finger, and across the table - out of her sight - Erin smiles and rolls her eyes. "Someone sure missed you, Shaun."
Shaun looks at the line of toys next to his plate and laughs, fondly shaking his head. And right there and then, Zach suddenly has the impulse to lean over and kiss him - and he's surprised because he finds himself not caring at all, and the only reason he doesn't is because he hasn't in front of Cody before, and they agreed not to, just yet.
When they finally leave it's dark outside and Cody's sleeping in the back seat, wearing borrowed underpants with Mulan on them underneath his board shorts.
Zach watches Mal and Erin’s house disappear in the rear view mirror. "Are all of your friends like that?"
Shaun laughs quietly, "Like what, like really queer?"
"No, I mean, yeah, that and like --"
Zach waves his hands, lost for words.
"A little extreme?" Shaun turns to look at him, cocking an eyebrow. “Before they had kids, Erin was making Aztec pottery and growing bio-organic weed, man, they're pretty extreme.” Shaun pauses, checking the side mirror and changing gears. “They’re also some of the best people I know. ”
Zach reaches out, tentative, touching Shaun’s thigh to get his attention. “I really liked them.” He says, and he can feel Shaun’s relief in the way his muscles relax underneath his fingers.
When they get back to the apartment Zach lifts Cody up on his shoulder and puts him on one of the blankets where he watches sleepily while Zach and Shaun empty the U-haul.
They put a futon, a chest of drawers and a chair into the room where they put Cody’s duffel earlier that morning. Shaun even puts down a small colorful rug, and makes up the futon with Cody’s blanket.
After they’ve finished, they stand in the doorway, shoulder to shoulder.
"You know, I don't want to assume that... I mean, you and Cody could get your own place if you want, but. You're more than welcome to stay. I‘ve been wanting this... I want you here. Both of you." Shaun’s almost whispering in the quiet, looking straight ahead into the room.
It’s a small movement for Zach to turn his head around and kiss him. Shaun leans into the kiss, putting a hand on Zach's neck. His lips are dry and soft, his mouth tastes faintly sweet from the pecan pie they had with their coffee.
For a moment all Zach can hear is the faint rustling of their clothes, their breathing and the quiet sound of their lips meeting.Then he hears Cody mumbling in his sleep in the other room, and draws back reluctantly.
“Let me just get Codes to bed.”
Zach helps Cody out of his clothes and into his pajamas. He helps him brush his teeth, and then tucks him into the futon. They sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star together, and all the while Zach can hear Shaun moving around the apartment, opening and closing cupboards, unpacking.
This is home, he thinks. He takes a deep breath, his chest feels tight all of a sudden.
"Look at this. You're going to get your own room, now, like a big kid."
Cody looks up at him, confused. "But where are you going to sleep?"
Cody and Zach have been sharing a room ever since Cody was a baby. From the light coming in from underneath the door, Zach sees Shaun’s shadow passing, hears him humming softly. He swallows hard.”I’m going to be sleeping in the other room with Shaun."
And then - because he knows that that means absolutely nothing to Cody - he mans up and continues, “Shaun and I are going to be sleeping in the same bed, okay? And we're going to kiss sometimes, too."
Cody yawns tremendously. "Okay."
"Because Shaun is going to be my boyfriend. Like Allan is Jeanne's boyfriend." Zach is tense, waiting.
"Mhm. Except, Shaun's nicer." Cody mumbles. He is almost asleep. Zach smiles and tugs the blanket in around Cody. He guesses that's enough for now.
He pads out of the room and into the one opposite the hall, where Shaun is already splayed out on the mattress - the actual bed frame is still in four pieces on the floor. His naked shoulders are brown against the pale blue blankets. Zach stands still and looks at him for a moment: Shaun's face is turned away, his breathing is calm and quiet.
Zach pulls his shirt over his head, kicks off his flip-flops and jeans."Hey." He says quietly.
"Hey." Shaun says sleepily, rolling to the far side of the bed to make room for Zach.
Zach slides in beside him. The blankets are warm from Shaun's body.
"You get him to sleep okay?" Shaun asks into his pillow.
Shaun's already going back to sleep. His hair and stubble is darker than his skin. Relaxed in sleep, he has a couple of white lines at the corners of his eyes. Zach slides his hand under the blankets and onto Shaun‘s chest, feeling the edge of his ribcage under soft skin and muscle, his steady breaths.
Shaun takes a deep breath underneath his palm, waking up a little. "Hey, you good?"
Zach is maybe a little overwhelmed, and he's a little freaked out, but he's good. He's better than good. He looks up at the window which is partly covered by a pillowcase tacked to the wooden frame. The evening sky is darkly pink around the edges.
"This is -- it's easier than I expected... I didn't expect it to be easy," he says, finally.
He's worried that he's not getting the right meaning across, but Shaun turns his head and looks at him warmly. "Good on you, man, you deserve it."