The call had come in while Shaun was inside the movie theater. He’d turned off his phone before arriving for the Red Carpet, so he didn’t get the message until he was back in the car with his plus one for the night, his agent Margaret Klowe, on their way to the after party. Shaun turned on his phone as soon as the car was in motion, then closed his eyes and settled back into the seat as he waited for it to power up. Margaret had convinced him he should make an appearance at the party, but all he wanted to do was go home.
It wasn’t that Shaun wasn’t thrilled that his first book had been turned into a movie, but back when he’d gotten the news from Margaret that Joss Whedon wanted to option his book, Shaun had excitedly planned on attending these at-the-time-hypothetical opening night events with Zach. Shaun shook his head to clear it of thoughts of Zach, because that way lay madness in the form of too much booze and the hangover to end all hangovers. When he opened his eyes Shaun noticed that his phone had finished booting up. He had a dozen text messages, all offering congratulations, he noted as he scrolled through those first, and three voice mails.
The first voice mail was from Gabe and made Shaun roll his eyes at the inappropriateness of his comments, but at least it put a smile on his face. The second was from his mother and more perfunctory, if well-meant. The third was from a voice Shaun didn’t recognize, female and professional-sounding.
”Hello, Mr. Andrews, my name is Carla and I’m calling from Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial because you’re listed as the emergency contact for Zach . . .”
Shaun’s blood ran cold and the sound of his heart beat was so loud in his ears that he didn’t hear the rest of the message.
“Driver,” Shaun said. “Change of plans. I need you to drop me off at Henry Mayo Memorial.”
“What happened?” Margaret said worriedly.
“It’s Zach,” Shaun said as he pressed the buttons to replay the message. “I don’t know, I missed most of the message when I panicked.”
Upon listening to the voice mail a second time, Shaun learned that Zach had been involved in a car accident. He’d suffered minor injuries, but they were keeping him overnight for observation because of a head injury. The news should have relieved Shaun, but he didn’t feel reassured. It was like his worst nightmare coming to life. Shaun had thought that walking out of their apartment for the final time was the worst thing that had ever happened to him, but knowing that Zach had been hurt, and that he hadn’t been there for Zach, that was even worse.
“Shaun,” Margaret said.
“I need to be with Zach,” Shaun said.
Shaun didn’t know if Zach even wanted him there. Leaving Shaun listed as his emergency contact might very well have been an oversight. It didn’t matter, though, because he needed to see Zach for his own peace of mind.
“You go on without me,” Shaun told Margaret. “Give my regrets.”
Gina was the nurse on duty when Shaun arrived at the hospital and she let him in to see Zach even though it was past visiting hours. She explained that Zach had bumped his head and sprained his wrist. They were keeping him overnight because he didn’t have an adult at home to keep an eye on him in case there was swelling due to the head injury. Gina showed Shaun into the room where Zach was out like a light.
“We gave him something so he’d sleep,” Gina said as she checked the chart.
“I won’t wake him,” Shaun promised.
“Five minutes,” Gina reminded Shaun, and then she left him alone with Zach.
Shaun pulled the chair closer to the side of the bed and then sat and watched Zach sleep. It had been a long time since Shaun had witnessed Zach sleeping so peacefully. In the months leading up to Shaun moving out Zach had gone to bed later and gotten up earlier and only slept fitfully when he was in bed.
“I c’n feel you starin’ a’ me,” Zach said, drawing Shaun out of his thoughts.
“Sorry,” Shaun said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“‘S okay,” Zach said. “Time ‘s it? You jus’ gettin’ home?”
Shaun’s heart seized up in his chest at Zach’s words, spoken under the influence of whatever they’d given him to help him sleep, and it took him a second to find words of his own to respond.
“No,” Shaun said softly. Though the temptation to lie to Zach to keep him from freaking out was strong, Shaun resisted the impulse. “We’re not at home, Zach.”
“Where . . . ?” Zach began, and then broke off as he took in the darkened room around him, the bed, the beeping machines.
“You’re in the hospital,” Shaun said, trying to break the news gently.
“Wha– . . . Oh,” Zach said, his initial confusion lifting. “There was an accident.”
“Yes,” Shaun said. “I’m afraid I don’t know the details . . .”
“Somebody hit me,” Zach said, sounding puzzled and insulted by it. “The Jimmy?”
“I don’t know,” Shaun said, adding, “but I can find out for you,” when it looked like Zach was getting upset.
Zach nodded and settled back into the bed. “What about Cody?”
“What about him?” Shaun asked.
“I think I talked to Amy,” Zach said. “Hard to remember.”
“Do you want me to . . . ?” Shaun had to swallow hard before trying again. “Do you want me to check on him?”
“Would you mind?”
“No, of course not,” Shaun said. “I wouldn’t mind at all.”
“He misses you,” Zach said. “He’s spending the night with Jane. I was working late.”
“I miss him, too,” Shaun said, biting his tongue before he admitted how much he missed Zach, as well.
Zach squinted at Shaun. “What’re you . . . ? Is that a tux? You always looked good in a tux. Why’re you . . . Oh, your movie thing, it was tonight. I . . . you didn’t have to come.”
“Of course I had to come,” Shaun said. “Don’t be an idiot.”
Zach huffed a weak laugh. “Sorry . . .”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Shaun told him.
Zach’s eyelids drooped. “Think ‘m gonna . . .” Zach gave a little sigh, as if exasperated with himself for not being able to fight off the drugs making him sleepy. “Missed you,” Zach breathed.
“I missed you, too,” Shaun whispered. He spent a few minutes watching Zach’s chest rise and fall as he slept, and then he went out to find Gina and see when they were releasing Zach in the morning. Before he left, Shaun borrowed pen and paper and left a note for Zach so he wouldn’t worry about Cody or a ride home when he woke up the next morning.
Shaun called Amy before heading over. He felt bad about calling so late, but he’d promised Zach that he’d check up on Cody. Shaun consoled himself with the thought that, if Cody was worried about Zach, there was probably very little sleep happening, anyway. Amy answered on the second ring.
“Shaun, hey,” she said, sounding harried and whispering so no one overheard her. “Did you hear about Zach?”
“Yeah,” Shaun said. “I just saw him.”
“How is he, I mean, really?”
“He’s fine, or he will be,” Shaun said, trying to convince himself as well as Amy. “He hit his head and sprained his wrist. They only kept him overnight for observation, he’ll be able to go home tomorrow. Listen. I, uh, I promised Zach I’d check in on Cody. I know it’s late . . .”
“No, please,” Amy interrupted. “Come over. Cody’s been silently freaking out since Zach called. Jane’s worried about him. Zach sounded kind of . . . out of it.”
“Yeah, he’s on some pretty good drugs right now,” Shaun said. “Okay, I, uh, I’ll be over in a few minutes, I’m just leaving the hospital now.”
“We’ll be here,” Amy said.
Shaun disconnected the call, then dialed his favorite cab company. He paced the sidewalk just outside the hospital entrance, wishing he smoked just so he had something to do with his hands. Instead, he shoved them into the front pockets of his tux slacks, hiding his clenched fists as he thought about Zach lying upstairs in a hospital bed.
Shaun blinked back the tears before they could fall. Shaun had missed Zach every single day of the past six months, and now he was lying in a hospital bed. He could’ve been killed while Shaun was off pretending that leaving Zach and Cody hadn’t torn a hole in his heart. It was all so stupid!
Shaun’s phone rang and he fumbled it out of his pocket. Margaret’s name flashed on the screen.
“Hey,” Shaun answered just as his taxi pulled up to the curb. “Hold on a second.”
Shaun slid into the backseat of the cab and gave the driver the address.
“Sorry,” Shaun told Margaret as he settled back into the seat.
“That’s fine,” Margaret said. “How’s Zach?”
“He’s alright,” Shaun said. “Hit his head, sprained his wrist. They’re keeping him overnight for observation.”
“How are you doing?” Margaret said knowingly.
“I’m fine,” Shaun said, hoping that at least one of them believed it. “I’m going over to see Cody.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Margaret remembered what Shaun had been like right after the break-up.
“It doesn’t matter,” Shaun said. “I promised Zach.”
There was a moment of loaded silence before Margaret responded, but all she said was, “Be careful. And give Cody a hug from me.”
Shaun smiled as memories of happier times spun through his mind, visits to the apartment to check on Shaun’s progress when Margaret would be cajoled into playing ‘Go Fish’ with Cody, or watching ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ for the umpteenth time. Or the time she’d been shanghaied into helping them frost cookies for Cody to take to school to share on his birthday.
“I will,” Shaun said, though he had no intention of doing any such thing. Even if it was possible to protect his heart from Zach or Cody, that shipped had sailed a long time ago. “I’ve got to go,” Shaun said as they pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Shaun paid the driver and got out, standing on the sidewalk and telling himself that it was going to be fine, seeing Cody again would be no big deal. It didn’t matter how he spun it, Shaun couldn’t bring himself to believe it. The truth was, he was nervous. Shaun shook himself. He’d faced Margaret as a deadline approached, he could handle seeing Cody again.
Shaun swiped the keycard that had been burning a hole in his wallet ever since the day he’d moved out, and he was admitted to the lobby. He took the slow-moving elevator to the second floor and was standing outside Amy’s door before he knew it. Shaun raised his hand and rapped his knuckles against the door softly in case the kids had fallen asleep since his call. Amy answered the door and gave Shaun a welcoming, if worried, smile.
“Shaun, hi, come on in. I didn’t tell Cody you were coming in case . . .”
Cody stood at the mouth of the hallway. He had his pajamas on and his hair was mussed, but it was clear from his bright eyes that he hadn’t been to sleep yet.
“Hey, buddy,” Shaun said, and a moment later had his arms full of little boy. Not that Cody, at nearly nine years old, was all that little anymore. And he was strong, Shaun thought, when Cody wrapped his arms around him and held on tight as he buried his face in Shaun’s chest.
Shaun squeezed Cody right back. “Hey,” he said, “Zach’s gonna be okay.”
“He was in a car accident,” Cody said, voice muffled by Shaun’s tux jacket.
“Yeah, he was, but I just saw him and . . .”
Cody’s head came up. “You saw him? Is he alright?”
“He’s a little high right now,” Shaun said, “but he’ll be okay. He bumped his head and sprained his wrist, but he’s gonna be just fine, I promise.”
“Why’d they keep him overnight then?”
“That’s just a precaution with head injuries,” Shaun explained.
“In case his brain swells,” Jane said.
Shaun glanced up when Jane spoke, he hadn’t even heard her come out. “Hey, Janie.”
Jane gave him a small smile and wave, and then turned her worried gaze back to Cody.
“But he’s coming home tomorrow?” Cody asked.
“Yep. I’m gonna go pick him up in the morning,” Shaun said.
“Can I go with you?”
“Sure,” Shaun said. He and Zach hadn’t talked about it, but he was sure that Zach would be just as eager to see Cody as Cody was to see him.
“Can I stay with you tonight?”
Shaun opened his mouth to answer, but no words reached his tongue from his brain.
“Uh, I don’t know, would that be alright?” Shaun looked to Amy for help, but she just shrugged.
“Under the circumstances,” Amy said, “I think it would be alright.”
“Okay . . . ,” Shaun said, but then Cody squeezed him so hard he couldn’t continue.
“Thank you,” Cody said.
“You’re welcome, buddy. Go get your stuff.”
Jane went with Cody, and when they were alone, Amy reached out and squeezed Shaun’s arm. “You’re doing the right thing,” she said. “He needs you tonight.”
Amy released Shaun’s arm and gestured towards his tux with her chin. “You have a hot date tonight, or something?”
Shaun glanced down. “Or something. Movie premiere.”
“Must’ve been some movie,” Amy said.
Cody’s return kept Shaun from correcting her. He still wore his pajamas, but he’d shoved his feet into a pair of scuffed sneakers and thrown one strap of his backpack over his shoulder. “I’m ready,” he said, breathless, almost as if he’d rushed to make sure Shaun didn’t change his mind and leave without him.
“Let’s go, then,” Shaun said. He put his hand on Cody’s shoulder as Cody moved past him to the door. They waved to Amy and Jane, and then they were standing in the hallway. It was only when the door had closed behind him that Shaun realized his predicament: he didn’t have a car, and while he could call another taxi, it was already late and his studio apartment wasn’t really suitable for a sleep over.
“Listen, buddy,” Shaun said as they headed towards the stairwell. “Since it’s so late, I think we’ll just stay here tonight.”
“At our place?” Cody said.
“Yeah,” Shaun said. “Is that okay?”
“You gonna sleep in that?” Cody indicated Shaun’s tux.
“I think I can manage.” Shaun mussed Cody’s hair and he ducked out of the way.
“Yeah, okay,” Cody said.
Cody used his key to let them into the apartment. Shaun had made the decision spur of the moment so he hadn’t had time to think about what being back in the apartment he’d shared with Zach and Cody for nearly three years would feel like. It felt like a punch to the gut to see how little had changed since he’d left, almost as if he was coming home after an ordinary day. But it hadn’t been an ordinary day, and this wasn’t his home. Not anymore.
Shaun gave Cody the look he’d perfected over two plus years of parenting a young boy when Cody dropped his backpack in front of the door. Cody rolled his eyes, but he picked up the pack and carried it to his own room.
Shaun took off his tux jacket and folded it over the back of one of the chairs in the living room. He toed off his shoes as he loosened the tie. Next to go were the buttons at his throat and the cufflinks at his wrists. Shaun sighed in relief as he rolled up the cuffs. He hadn’t realized how uncomfortable he was until he was comfortable once more.
“Can we watch a movie?” Cody said.
Shaun glanced up as he finished rolling up his sleeves. “No. It’s too late for a movie.”
Cody looked like he was trying to think up a way around that, and Shaun braced himself for the ‘but Zach’s been hurt and I’m not gonna be able to sleep anyway’ argument, but all Cody said was, “Will you tuck me in?”
“Yes, of course,” Shaun said, hoping he didn’t betray his surprised and pleasure at being asked. It had been over a year since Cody let them tuck him in.
“And tell me a story,” Cody threw over his shoulder as he turned and skipped down the hall towards his bedroom.
Shaun followed at a more sedate pace, noticing the closed door to the room he’d used as an office and the blank spot on the wall from the painting he’d taken with him that Zach had done for his birthday their first year here. The master bedroom door was ajar and Shaun caught sight of a large shadow that most likely equated to a pile of dirty clothes that had been tossed in the general direction of the dirty clothes basket but never quite made it the distance. He resisted the urge to push the door open and see what, if anything, had changed in the room he and Zach had once shared.
Clothes and stuffed animals and a Captain America figurine had been evicted from the chair drawn up to the side of the bed so Shaun had a place to sit and tell the story. Cody was already in bed, blanket thrown back so he was covered only by the sheet. Cody had always run hot, which was something he and Zach shared. It had been like sleeping with a furnace. Sometimes . . . Shaun cut off that line of thinking and settled into the chair. Before he could ask what kind of story Cody wanted (sometimes he read from a book, sometimes he made them up), Cody spoke up.
“Tell me about your movie thing,” Cody said.
“You remembered that?” Shaun said.
Cody’s expression said, duh! “Of course. It was on the calendar, anyway. And even if it wasn’t, the tux would’ve been a dead giveaway.”
“The tux was overkill,” Shaun said wryly. “Margaret made me wear it.”
Cody grinned and Shaun went into story-telling mode. He didn’t tell Cody that it would’ve been better with him and Zach there, and instead made it sound as exciting as he could. He told Cody about the Red Carpet and flashbulbs going off and people calling out his name, and left out that he’d been asked where his boyfriend was. He told Cody about all the stars who’d attended and how everyone had clapped at the end, making him feel really good about the story he’d told, even if they’d changed some things for the movie.
Shaun talked past Cody closing his eyes, past his breathing evening out until he was sure Cody was asleep. He tiptoed out of the room and pulled the door shut until only a sliver of light from the hallway spilled through the crack he’d left.
Shaun passed the master bedroom with good intentions of using the bathroom and going to sleep on the couch. His footsteps slowed when he reached the third bedroom. He paused in front of the door, then reached out and slowly turned the handle. He was almost afraid to see what Zach might’ve done with the room and he braced himself for it, but when he turned on the light Shaun saw that the room was exactly as he’d left it. There was an empty space in the middle of the desk where his laptop used to sit, bare spaces on the bookshelves from the books he’d boxed up to take with him, and the jacket he couldn’t find, though he’d been certain he’d packed it, thrown over the arm of the chair.
There was a layer of dust on every surface, as if Zach had closed the door after Shaun left and never entered the room again. That thought sparked something inside Shaun. He turned off the light and pulled the door shut behind him as he retraced his steps back to the master bedroom. Shaun pushed the door the rest of the way open and flipped the light switch. As he’d expected, the clothes hamper looked like a volcano had erupted, spewing clothes like a lava flow down it’s side.
Shaun brought himself to look at the bed. Unsurprisingly, it was unmade. Half of it, anyway. The other half, Shaun’s side, looked like it had never been touched, the pillows stacked neatly against the headboard. There was a bare spot atop the bedside table on that side of the bed, next to the lamp where Shaun’s alarm clock and a photo of the three of them once sat.
From all appearances, Shaun moving out had left as big a hole in Zach’s life as it had in Shaun’s. Shaun shook off the thought and quickly made up Zach’s side of the bed before turning his attention to the dirty clothes. Tossing a load of laundry into the washer was the least he could do to help Zach out right now.
“Jesus Christ!” Shaun swore when he woke up sometime in the middle of the night and saw Cody sitting on the coffee table and staring at him. “Is everything alright?” he asked when his heart had stopped racing.
Cody nodded. “Wasn’t sure if you were a dream,” he said just before he flung himself on top of Shaun on the couch.
“Geeze,” Shaun groaned. “Did you put on weight?” he said, but didn’t try to dislodge Cody.
Cody nodded. “I grew an inch while you were gone.”
“I’m sorry I missed that,” Shaun said. He curled his arm around Cody and rubbed his back.
The next time Shaun woke up it was because of an insistent bladder rather than the eerie sensation of someone watching him sleep. Cody was sitting in the chair not holding Shaun’s clothes and the television was on low.
“Morning,” Shaun said, voice sounding gravelly from lack of sleep even to his own ears.
Cody glanced over. “Morning. I don’t have to go to school, do I?”
Shaun groaned. He’d forgotten about school. “No, we’re going to pick up Zach. I’ll call. What time is it?”
Cody told him. It wasn’t as early as Shaun’s dry, gritty eyes suggested, but still too early after a night like last night.
“I’ve got to pee,” Shaun said.
“TMI,” Cody said absently, attention focused back on the television.
Shaun folded the afghan he’d used over the back of the couch before shuffling towards the bathroom in just the boxers and undershirt he’d slept in. He splashed his face and rinsed his mouth so he felt more awake before standing over the toilet.
“If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat!” Cody called down the hallway.
“That rule was instituted for you!” Shaun called back.
“But it applies to everyone in the house!” was Cody’s all-too-accurate rejoinder.
Bladder empty, hands washed and run wet through hair that stuck up a little bit because Shaun couldn’t be bothered to get it cut and styled for the premiere even with Margaret nagging him to do so, Shaun returned to the living room and pulled on his tux pants.
“You hungry?” Shaun asked Cody as he zipped up his pants.
“I had a bowl of cereal,” Cody said.
“Cereal? Not pancakes?”
“I don’t like pancakes anymore,” Cody said. “I must’ve eaten too many of ‘em, I got sick of ‘em.”
“What?” Shaun said, fingers freezing.
Cody kept a straight face, but he couldn’t hide the glint in his eyes.
“Brat,” Shaun said. “My whole world view just shifted for a minute there.”
“There’s no time for pancakes during the week,” Cody said with a shrug. “Zach makes ‘em on the weekend.”
The words weren’t spoken with a trace of blame, but Shaun felt guilty just the same. Shaun, who had worked from home, had always made sure that breakfast, usually chocolate chip pancakes, was on the table while Zach and Cody overslept and then rushed around getting ready for their respective schools. Which was also why Zach never made the bed. Though he also claimed he didn’t see the point since he was just going to sleep in it again.
So Shaun had made the bed, and picked up Zach’s dirty clothes, but Zach had done all the dishes, even when Shaun used a lot of pans or burned something onto the bottom of one, so Shaun had considered it a fair trade off.
“I’ve got to make some phone calls before we head out,” Shaun said.
Shaun threw the load of wash into the dryer before sitting down at the table to make his phone calls. He got the address book that contained the numbers for Cody’s school out of the drawer next to the refrigerator and saw the calendar hanging by a magnet on the front door of the fridge. ‘Movie premiere’ was written in the square for yesterday and highlighted in yellow. Yellow had been for Shaun’s book releases and signings, blue for Cody’s Little League games and school assemblies, and green for Zach’s art shows and amateur surf competitions.
Shaun tried not to think about Zach keeping track of Shaun’s important dates even after the split and made his first call, which was to the hospital. Gina’s shift had ended, but the nurse on duty confirmed that Zach would be discharged that morning after the doctor on call did rounds. His next call was to Irene in the school office to explain Cody’s absence and promise that a written excuse would be sent with him tomorrow.
Shaun’s final call was to the police station to find out what he could about Zach’s Jimmy. It took three people and being put on hold for an indeterminate amount of time before Shaun spoke to the officer who could give him the case number and tell him to where the vehicle had been towed. Cody came out to put his bowl in the sink while Shaun thanked the officer for his time and hung up.
“I called the school,” Shaun told Cody as he folded the slip of paper on which he’d written the case number and stuck it in his pocket.
“Okay. Is that the dryer?”
“Sounds like it,” Shaun said casually.
“You did a load of Zach’s clothes?”
Shaun didn’t have to see the eye roll to know it was there.
“Did you make the bed, too?”
“No,” Shaun scoffed.
Cody just laughed.
“Don’t you need to get dressed?” Shaun said.
Cody laughed all the way to his bedroom. Shaun put on his socks and shoes and folded the rest. He was going to stop at his apartment on the way to the hospital anyway to put on something more comfortable, which reminded him that he should take a change of clothes for Zach, as well.
Cody came in and threw himself on the bed while Shaun was packing a duffel bag for Zach. “I knew it,” he said as he spread his arms across the comforter like he was making a snow angel.
Shaun snapped the shirt at Cody before adding it to the bag.
They took a taxi to Shaun’s apartment. He’d never really thought much about it before, but now he tried to see the place through Cody’s eyes. It was a studio apartment, small even by L.A. standards, but that’s all he’d needed at the time when he’d first moved out and was looking for somewhere temporary so he didn’t have to stay at a motel. It had been available, which was the important thing, and a sublet, which was a bonus because it meant he didn’t have to worry about furnishing the place.
But now, looking at it with fresh eyes, Shaun realized how little of a mark he’d made on the place. He’d told himself at the time that it was because of the temporary nature of the place, and yet he’d never bothered to find somewhere else. He hadn’t even looked.
“I’m subletting,” Shaun told Cody, “so most of this stuff isn’t mine. But the TV works, and there’s juice and water in the fridge. I’m just gonna take a quick shower and change.”
Shaun dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that had a faded picture of Mighty Mouse on it and proclaimed, “Here I come to save the day!” that Cody had picked out for his birthday the same year Zach had given him the painting that currently leaned against the wall next to the bed. He slipped his feet into a pair of sandals and slid his wallet into his pocket. At the last minute he packed a couple changes of clothes into a duffel bag just in case Zach needed someone to stay with him. Cody eyed up the bag as they walked down to Shaun’s car.
Cody got antsy in the car so Shaun let him play with the radio stations. At the hospital Shaun told Cody which floor and he led the way to the bank of elevators. (Cody had gotten familiar with the place when he’d had a mishap with his surfboard and broke his arm.) Shaun took the lead when they reached Zach’s floor, peering into his room to make sure he wasn’t with a doctor or nurse before stepping back to let Cody enter first.
“Zach!” Cody said, and Zach’s head snapped up from where he’d been picking at the brace on his wrist.
Zach opened his arms and Cody dove into them. Zach pressed his face to Cody’s head and said, “Hey, buddy, I’m okay. Just sprained my wrist. See?” He showed Cody the brace.
“And hit your head,” Cody said. “Good thing you’ve got a hard head.”
“Hey!” Zach said, which made Cody smile.
“Shaun said you could come home today,” Cody said, concern back in his voice.
“You bet I’m coming home,” Zach said, his gaze shifting over to Shaun. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away. Listen,” he said over Cody’s head, “you didn’t have to . . .”
“Don’t even,” Shaun said. “I’m not here because I have to be, I’m here because I want to be.”
An expression crossed Zach’s face that Shaun couldn’t read. That bothered Shaun because he’d always been able to read Zach.
“He even made your bed,” Cody said disgustedly, which made Shaun blush and Zach laugh.
“It’s not that hard,” Shaun said defensively, falling back onto his old argument.
Zach didn’t let Shaun sweat it too long before he changed the subject. He gestured towards the bag Shaun had carried in. “I hope that’s clothes for me.”
“It is,” Shaun said, setting the duffel on Zach’s legs where he could reach it.
“He’s anal about making the bed, but he’s good to have around because he remembers shit,” Cody said.
“Mouth,” both Shaun and Zach said.
“Stuff,” Cody corrected.
“Yeah,” Zach said softly, and Shaun almost didn’t hear it in his own, “Thanks a lot, squirt!”
“I’m gonna text Jane,” Cody said. He got off the bed and sat in the chair closest to the window. “Can I send her a picture of you?”
“No!” Zach said even as he pulled the duffel up onto his lap so he could see what clothes Shaun had brought him.
“Speaking of remembering stuff,” Shaun said quietly as he watched Zach’s hands, hoping Cody would be too absorbed in texting Jane to overhear. “You put the movie premiere on the calendar.”
Zach’s hands stilled. “Oh. You saw that.”
“I had to get the phone book out so I could call the school,” Shaun said, not wanting Zach to think he’d snooped. Though he already knew Shaun had made his bed, and he’d soon realize that he’d done a load of laundry for him, so that ship had already well and truly sailed.
“Shit,” Zach said, glancing at Cody. “I forgot all about school.”
Shaun put his hand on Zach’s arm. “You’re in a hospital bed, after being in a car accident. You can’t be expected to remember everything.”
“When it comes to Cody I should be,” Zach argued.
“You made sure he was safe with Jane and Amy,” Shaun said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Shaun changed the subject before Zach could beat himself up anymore. “Has the doctor been by yet?”
“Yeah,” Zach said. “I’m just waiting for my discharge papers.”
Half an hour later Zach was being wheeled out of the hospital with instructions to rest his wrist and use extra strength Tylenol if it bothered him. Shaun pulled the car up to the curb and Cody hopped into the back while Shaun got Zach settled in the front.
“I can buckle myself in,” Zach said when Shaun reached for the belt.
“I don’t want you to stress your wrist.”
Cody chortled in the back seat.
“Mind out of the gutter,” Shaun said, doing his best to ignore Zach’s blush.
Shaun shut the door and walked around to the driver’s side, allowing Zach to fumble the seat belt buckled on his own and to give himself a moment to recover from the image Cody’s laugher had elicited.
Zach was silent as they pulled out of the hospital parking lot. A few miles into the drive to the apartment he spoke. “Did I ask you about the Jimmy last night?”
Shaun glanced at Zach and took in the uncomfortable expression on his face. He wondered if Zach was remembering some of the other things he’d said last night. “You were so high I’m surprised you remembered I was even there,” Shaun said, “but yeah, I told you I’d try to find out what happened to it.”
“Did you have time to do that?” Zach asked, wringing his hands.
“I found out where they towed it, but I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet.”
“Can we do that now? Look at it, I mean, before we go home? I mean, back to the apartment.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Shaun said, ignoring Zach’s slip.
“I need to see it. It’s the only car I’ve got and I need to know . . .”
“Okay,” Shaun said, not wanting Zach to get too worked up over it. He knew that Zach couldn’t afford another car, not with school and Cody and the apartment, despite the part-time job at a local art gallery, and he knew it would weigh on his mind. He also knew that Zach wouldn’t want Shaun to offer him a solution, temporary or not. Not yet, anyway.
They drove to the impound lot where Shaun gave the man at the gate the case number and he directed them to the spot where Zach’s Jimmy had been dropped off.
“Oh, god,” Zach said, which was the same thing Shaun was thinking, only for a totally different reason.
Shaun was still shaken by the sight of the Jimmy when they reached the apartment complex. After seeing how damaged the driver’s side door had been, he couldn’t help thinking that Zach could’ve been hurt so much more badly, even killed.
Shaun parked and the three of them walked to the building and took the elevator so Zach didn’t have to walk four flights of stairs. Shaun kept an eye on Zach, and if the look Zach gave him was any indication, he wasn’t being as subtle as he thought he was. Inside the apartment, Shaun and Cody ushered Zach over to the couch, and then stood there and stared at him.
“Seriously?” Zach said.
“I could make lunch,” Shaun suggested.
“Can we get pizza?”
“No,” Shaun and Zach said at the same time.
“Sorry,” Shaun said, realizing he might’ve overstepped, but Zach just shook his head.
“So,” Shaun said, clapping his hands together so he didn’t reach out and grab Zach. “Do you mind if I . . . ?” He gestured towards the kitchen.
“Be my guest,” Zach said. “Let me know if you need any help.”
Shaun grabbed Cody’s shoulder. “If I need help, I know where to find it. You relax.”
“Okay, dad,” Zach said.
Shaun ignored Zach’s comment and told Cody, “Make sure he doesn’t move.”
“I will,” Cody promised.
Shaun ruffled Cody’s hair and grinned as Cody ducked and then graced Shaun with a dirty look as he smoothed his hair back out again. He headed for the kitchen before he gave in to the urge to put his hands all over Zach to confirm for his own peace of mind that he was alright despite the Doctor having released him.
Shaun opened the refrigerator and stared blindly inside. All he saw was Zach lying in that hospital bed, hearing his softly spoken I missed you playing inside his head over and over. The last time he’d seen Zach before last night, they’d been yelling at each other, hurtful words that neither one of them meant, culminating in Shaun’s shouted, “Maybe I should just leave, then!” and Zach’s, “Maybe you should!” in reply.
Shaun had been sorry he’d said it the moment the words passed his lips, and from the expression on his face Shaun was pretty sure Zach had felt the same. But in the heat of the moment, angry words still burning his tongue, Shaun hadn’t known how to take it back.
Shaun realized what he was doing and closed the refrigerator door. He touched the tips of his fingers to the yellow highlight on the calendar. Even now Shaun didn’t know how they’d gotten to that point. They’d drifted apart so gradually that Shaun hadn’t even realized it had happened until it was too late. He was working on a deadline for his fourth novel and consulting on the movie script for his second book, which had been optioned against the chance that the first movie did well; Zach had class and the part-time job at the gallery he insisted on taking so he could contribute to the household bills.
Shaun didn’t realize that anything was wrong until things came to a head that fateful night at a showing for one of Zach’s art classes. Shaun had been running late, so Zach had gone on alone. When Shaun finally did arrive he was immediately waylaid by one of Zach’s fellow students. Jordan had flirted with Shaun on the various occasions he’d stopped by CalArts to see Zach, but Shaun hadn’t thought anything of it.
Until that night when Jordan had pounced on Shaun the moment he’d walked through the door. Almost literally. In hindsight, Shaun wondered if Jordan hadn’t been waiting for him, because he’d plastered himself to Shaun’s side the moment he’d spotted him, draping himself all over Shaun like a drunken octopus. Shaun had been trying to extricate himself when Jordan had leaned in and kissed him.
Shaun had tried to push Jordan away without dumping him onto the floor, but Jordan had been grabby and insistent. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, that when Shaun was finally able to pry Jordan off his lips it was only to see Zach standing there watching them, wearing such an awful expression of betrayal, and worse, resignation, as if he’d been expecting this very thing.
Shaun had called out Zach’s name, but Zach just turned away. By the time Shaun found a column to prop Jordan up against and went after him, Zach had disappeared. Shaun had looked everywhere, had texted Zach and left voice mails, all to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, Shaun had gone home to wait for Zach. He’d stayed up all night, but Zach didn’t show up until the next morning. Zach had dark circles around bloodshot eyes and his clothes were rumbled from being slept in, if he’d managed to sleep at all. Shaun wanted to tell Zach all the things he’d practiced in those first few hours, but regret had been supplanted by worry, and now anger, so Shaun said none of that, demanding instead to know where Zach had been.
“Why do you even care?” Zach had said. “You’re never here.”
Thinking now about the horrible things they’d said to each other, the accusations they’d flung at one another, Shaun was only glad of one thing – that Cody had been spending the night with Jane and hadn’t heard them.
“Hey,” Cody said softy now, startling Shaun out of his memories.
Shaun spun around, dropping his hand away from the calendar as if he’d been burned. “Hey, Cody, what’s up, buddy?”
“Zach fell asleep,” Cody told Shaun.
“Crap,” Shaun said. He’d allowed himself to get lost in thought and hadn’t finished his task of finding something for Zach to eat.
“It looks like he needed the rest,” Cody said. “He’ll be hungry when he wakes up.”
“Yeah,” Shaun said, giving Cody a weak smile.
Cody gave Shaun an appraising look. “Did you miss us?”
“Yes, of course I did,” Shaun said. “Every minute.”
“Both of us?”
“Both of you,” Shaun confirmed.
Cody nodded, almost to himself, then went to the drawer where they kept the phone book. He pulled out an envelope and handed it to Shaun, then just waited. Shaun lifted the flap and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. Shaun opened it and read the header – Valencia Central School District – Change of Contact Information. The form held two columns, the one on the left detailing the current contact information, the one on the right left blank to be filled in with the new information. Shaun’s name had been crossed out, but no other name had been filled in the second column.
“Zach never sent it in,” Cody said. “I don’t know why you left, but he wanted you to come back. We both did.”
Tears filled Shaun’s eyes and he had to blink them away. “I wanted to come back, too,” he told Cody.
“Then why didn’t you?” Cody demanded.
“It’s not that simple.”
Cody rolled his eyes. “Jane’s right, adults can be really stupid.”
“Yeah,” Shaun agreed, refolding the form and stuffing it back inside the envelope. He placed the envelop back into the drawer and slid it shut. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” Cody said reluctantly, still angry at Shaun, and maybe Zach a little bit, but not wanting to cut off his nose to spite his face. Cody’s appetite was legendary, and he was probably starving. “If we can’t order pizza, will you make pancakes?”
“Yes, of course,” Shaun said immediately. “Chocolate chip?”
“Blueberry,” Cody said, causing Shaun to miss a step, but when he looked up at him, Cody was grinning.
“You’re not even funny,” Shaun told Cody as he pulled down the fixings for chocolate chip pancakes.
“Yes, I am,” Cody said.
Cody had gone to his room to do homework and Shaun was in the kitchen, folding the load of clothes he’d left in the dryer that morning and stacking them on the island. He jumped when he looked up and saw Zach leaning in the doorway.
“Sorry,” Zach said, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t,” Shaun said.
Zach made a little ‘harumph’ as he shuffled to the island and sat down on one of the stools. He reached out and poked the pile of folded t-shirts. “You actually did a load of my laundry?”
Shaun shrugged. “It gave me something to do.” Made him feel useful, more like. Time to change the subject. “How was your nap?”
“Good.” Zach looked around the kitchen. Shaun had cleaned up after lunch, though he’d left out the griddle in case Zach was in the mood for pancakes, too. “You made pancakes?”
“Yeah. There’s batter left, if you want some.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Zach said.
Shaun wasn’t sure if he was talking about the pancakes or the load of laundry. Or all of it. “I told you, I’m not doing anything because I have to. I’m doing it because I want to.”
“Why?” Zach said.
“What do you mean, why?”
“I mean, you haven’t wanted to be here for the past six months, so why do you want to be here now?”
It was the first time Shaun had seen any kind of passion out of Zach since he’d been taken off the drugs. Shaun was glad for it, even though the words were like a lance through his heart. He’d only been playing house, pretending he still belonged there. Shaun folded a pair of Zach’s shorts, then shook them out and refolded them before carefully laying them atop the pile of folded shorts.
“That’s not true,” Shaun said. “I missed you everyday, and everyday I wished I was here with you and Cody.”
“Then why did you leave us?” Zach said.
“I didn’t want to,” Shaun said, “but once I’d said it . . . I didn’t know how to take it back. And you didn’t seem to want me to stay.”
“I didn’t want you to leave,” Zach said, “but it felt like you were already gone.”
“I know,” Shaun said. He hadn’t at the time, but in hindsight, which was always 20/20, he’d realized how little time he and Zach had spent together during the months before he’d left.
“You even missed Cody’s play.”
“I’m sorry. I was working, there were deadlines . . . I know that doesn’t excuse it . . .”
“With school and my job at the gallery we never saw each other,” Zach said. “It felt like you didn’t want to be here anymore . . .”
Shaun shook his head. “No, Zach. I never wanted to be anywhere else.”
“. . . and then I saw you with Jordan.”
“That was not me,” Shaun said. “Jordan was drunk and he latched on to me like a, a barnacle. I couldn’t get him off of me . . .”
“I know,” Zach said. “I mean, I knew that then, too, but it still hurt. You were late, and I knew he’d been flirting with you, and . . . everything just sort of hit me at once.”
They just looked at each other for a moment. Shaun looked into Zach’s eyes, studied his face.
“I can’t stop seeing the Jimmy,” Shaun said. “All crumpled up like that. I keep thinking about what could’ve happened to you.”
Zach reached out and touched Shaun’s hand. “I’m fine.”
“I know.” Shaun took Zach’s hand in both of his, turned it over. “I never stopped loving you,” he said, the words easier to speak than he’d imagined they’d be.
“I never stopped loving you, either,” Zach said. “But I think we’ve proven that sometimes love alone isn’t enough.” He huffed a humorless laugh. “I never thought we’d be that couple, the ones that just drifted apart.”
“Me, neither. But we could,” Shaun said, then had to clear his throat and start again. “We could be that couple that got a second chance.” He watched Zach carefully, hopefully.
Zach curled his fingers against Shaun’s palm. “Could we?”
“I think so,” Shaun said. “I think that the only good thing to come out of making a mistake this huge is learning how very much you don’t want to make it again. And I know that it would kill me to walk out of here and never see you or Cody again.”
“I don’t want that, either,” Zach said. “I’m still afraid that we’ll fall into the same bad habits, though.”
“I understand that fear,” Shaun said. “And that is what will keep us from doing that. We don’t have to rush into this, we can take it slow. I just want you back in my life, you and Cody.”
“Screw that,” Zach said, and Shaun’s heart plummeted into his stomach at the thought that this was all going to be torn away from him again. After having gotten a small taste of what it would be like to be back here, Shaun wasn’t sure he could survive that. “If we’re doing this, we’re doing it. All in.”
Shaun let out an explosive huff of not-quite laughter. He felt a little bit light-headed with how suddenly things had changed. Not even 24 hours ago he’d had no hope of seeing Zach again, much less Zach agreeing to give him, them, a second chance. “I’m all in. I mean, I’m so far in that I’m coming out the other side.”
“Yeah,” Shaun said. “I have no idea what that meant, but I . . . I want to. I really want to.”
“Me, too,” Zach said. He gave a nervous laugh. “This is surreal. I’m not 100% sure that I’m not still lying in a hospital bed, having a drug-induced dream.”
“Would there be laundry in your dream?” Shaun teased.
“Just you,” Zach said.
Shaun’s throat closed up with emotion. “I’ve had those dreams. Waking up sucked.”
Zach looked at their joined hands, then turned his so he could grasp Shaun’s. He slid off the stool and made his way around the island until they were standing with only an inch of space between them.
“Zach,” Shaun said, holding himself back from pulling Zach into his arms. As much as he wanted to do that, where they went from here had to be Zach’s decision.
“You’re going to make me do this?” Zach said.
“I want you to be sure,” Shaun said, his hand squeezing Zach’s. He didn’t want to push Zach for something he wasn’t ready for, no matter what Zach had said about being all in.
“You’re the first person besides my mom to believe in me. To really believe in me. And I won’t deny that I’m a little bit scared, but I believe in this. Us.”
“The grasshopper has become the master,” Shaun said gravely.
Zach laughed and threw himself at Shaun, who managed to get his own arms around Zach without jarring his sprained wrist. Not letting go of Shaun’s hand, Zach curled his other arm around Shaun’s neck and kissed him. Shaun eagerly, happily kissed him back.
“Oh man,” Cody grumbled. “I didn’t miss walking in on this.” But when Shaun looked at him he thought he saw tears in his eyes.
“Get used to it,” Zach said, and Cody looked between both of them before letting himself smile.
“Are you staying?” Cody asked.
“I . . .” Shaun looked to Zach. They hadn’t discussed the specifics of what exactly ‘all in’ meant.
“He’s staying,” Zach answered for Shaun.
“Good,” Cody said gruffly. “Can I go to Jane’s now?”
“Is it that late already?” Shaun said, checking the time. Yep, school was out and Jane had probably just texted Cody that she was home.
“Did you finish your homework?” Zach said.
“All but math,” Cody said. “Jane’s gonna help me.”
“Okay,” Zach said. “But be back for dinner. And a group hug first.” Zach held out his arm and looked expectantly at Cody.
Cody rolled his eyes, but he walked over to them and let himself be pulled in for a hug. If Cody’s arm held Shaun in a bruising grip, well, Shaun wasn’t going to call him on it. Cody pulled away with a fake shudder. “Enough of that,” he said, ducking his head to hide his face. “See you guys later.”
“Later, buddy,” Shaun said.
“Have fun,” Zach said.
They listened as Cody grabbed up his pack and headed for the door, shutting it quietly behind him.
“I’m nervous,” Shaun admitted when they were alone once more. “I mean, it’s not like we haven’t done this before, but I don’t know where to start.”
“Well,” Zach said. “We could start with pancakes. Or we could take advantage of the fact that we have the apartment to ourselves for a couple hours.”
Shaun could not deny his body’s response to that suggestion. “Is that moving too fast?” he asked, even as his fingers flexed against Zach’s back with the desire to touch.
“It’s been six months, longer,” Zach said. “If anything, we’re moving too slow.”
“What about your head? Your wrist?”
“I promise to lie back and let you do all the work,” Zach said, crossing his heart.
Shaun’s breath caught as he imagined Zach lying naked in his – their – in their bed, just taking whatever Shaun did to him. His body flushed, teeth biting at his lower lip. Trusting Shaun. “I promise I’ll take good care of you,” Shaun said, setting his hand on Zach’s chest, right over his heart where he could feel the soft beat against his palm.
Zach brushed Shaun’s too-long hair back from his face. “You always have.”
Shaun took Zach’s hand and kissed his knuckles just below the brace. He hadn’t before, hadn’t taken care with Zach’s heart, had let his absence make Zach think he didn’t care, that he wanted out, which had been the very last thing he wanted.
“I love you,” Shaun said. “And I missed the hell out of you.”
The time for talking was past. For now, anyway. Shaun captured Zach’s lips and let his kiss tell Zach everything he was feeling.