It was pouring down the rain. Yet he walked forward. He didn’t think when he had left the house. He hadn’t paid attention enough to grab the umbrella at the door. Nope. He had bolted. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t stay. He just had to leave. God he didn’t want to be there…
He heard raised voices as he jogged up the walkway. He raised an eyebrow at the noise. Owen and Zoe weren’t really ones to yell like that. And no one else really came over. Not at this time in the evening. Not usually.
TK glanced at his watch again. It wasn’t too late. But still. There wasn’t any cars out front. He had just parked his dad’s in the drive. He shuffled the bags in his hands to check his phone. No texts.
“You should have called first!”
He paused at the door.
“Well, you don’t exactly talk to me!”
“I called as soon as I talked to his surgeon. And that was weeks ago. He’s nearly back to work even. He’s okay. You—“
“You told me to not bother!”
“I did not say that! I said he would probably be awake by the time you got done with work and could catch a flight.”
TK’s breath caught in his throat. His chest felt too tight.
“It’s the same! You said to not come. While my son was in the hospital. All because he followed you and your damn job! You filled his head with all that bullshit. And look where it got him, huh? Look how he has turned out.”
Shit. Shit. Shit.
He felt a chill go through him. He opened the door, as quietly as possible. He had a strong suspicion of what he would find. But he hoped his was wrong. Maybe his dad just was on the phone. Maybe it was on speaker. Maybe they had Facetimed.
Maybe his mom wasn’t in their home.
He opened the door and stepped inside. The bag from his quick trip to the store fell to the ground. Because of course she was there. Of course it wasn’t a phone conversation. HIs parents only fought like this when they were in the same room.
Which they were.
Owen stopped mid sentence. TK didn’t hear what he was saying but he saw the way his dad’s face fell. His mouth slammed shut and his eyes softened. His mom noticed too. She turned, looking deflated when she saw him.
“Tyler,” Gwen sighed. She didn’t look happy. Despite on the supposed concern. She looked…well…TK thought she looked annoyed.
He felt the familiar emotions well in his chest. All the pain. The memories of her looking at him like the fuck up. Of her cutting him out. Running away from him.
He couldn’t breath. He couldn’t take it. Not their arguments. Not that look. Not these feelings. Not any of it.
TK didn’t look up at Owen. HIs eyes remained fixed on his mother. He hadn’t seen her in years. Not really. Not in person. Aside from a few FaceTime sessions and calls, she hadn’t been that present. Not even when he was living in New York. Hell, she hadn’t even met Alex back then. She had been absent. Always traveling.
Always staying away from him.
But here she was.
And he couldn’t take it.
His breathing sped up. It was just too much. His gaze swam. His skin felt clammy. He shook.
“TK?” He heard his dad calling. But if felt muffled.
Gwen approached him. She put a hand on his arm. He flinched at the touch. He couldn’t do this.
He saw her mouth move, but the words didn’t reach him. He wasn’t there. Not really. He was back in their old apartment. Back in all those old moments. Back when he heard all the fights. When he was left alone questioning what he did. When his mom finally kicked him out for the things he did. When she cut him out of her life…
He shook off her hand. He ran. He couldn’t do it. Couldn’t take it. He knew Owen would worry, would call after him. But he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t be there.
He wanted out…
TK shook his head as he kept walking. He rubbed at his chest. It hurt. His breathing wasn’t right. He couldn’t get it under control. Everything felt too heavy. He was too shaky. HIs head swam as he walked. He wasn’t paying attention, not really. He was relying on weird muscle memory, but he soon saw a few familiar street signs. He ran a hand through his wet hair and kept going. He let his feet carry him up the street and down the walkway. He took a breath and knocked.
The door opened and a familiar face appeared. Only this time, it was one he was very grateful to see. He felt the anxiety thrum under his skin. The panic was still there, but he could look up.
“Um hey.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. His throat started to feel tight. “Hey Carlos. I’m so—“
“Come in!” Carlos grabbed him but the arms and tugged him inside. He rubbed up and down TK’s bare skin. “You’re soaked and freezing!”
TK just nodded. He didn’t think he could speak again.
“You’re shaking.” Carlos gave him a worried look and grabbed a blanket off the back of the nearby chair. He wrapped it around TK and pulled him closer. He dried him off. TK gave up any pretense and let himself lean against Carlos. His face fell into Carlos’s chest. He tried to take a breath, but it caught in his throat again. “TK?”
“Hey, no. What’s wrong?”
“I’m f-fine.” TK knew he wasn’t convincing but he didn’t know what to say yet.
“Yeah, I don’t think so, babe. If you were fine, I don’t know that you’d be this wet and shaking. Did you walk here?” TK nodded against him. “Did something happen?”
“TK? What’s going on? Are you hurt?”
TK sighed. “No…well. I don’t know.” His took a shaky breath. He closed his eyes as a wave of dizziness hit. He hurt. It just wasn’t physical.
Carlos pulled him away from his chest and looked him in the eyes. “Are you having a panic attack, Ty?” TK nodded, as much as he hated Carlos knowing it, he didn’t have a choice. “Okay. I’m here. Tell me what you need. Tell me how I can help.”
TK squeezed his eyes. He was trying to keep it together. He wasn’t sure what he needed. He just needed to breathe. He needed to get that under control, if nothing else. He didn’t think he would get much else under control.
“I’m going to count breaths,” Carlos suddenly said. TK wasn’t sure if he had voiced his problem a moment ago or if Carlos just knew. He didn’t question it. He just nodded. Carlos shifted around him. He took each of TK’s hands in his own. He held one against his chest and put the other set of joined hands against TK’s. TK could feel his heart racing under the touch.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed again. He felt like shit.
“Hey, no. We’re going. You’re doing great. Just focus on me right now. I’m here. Just follow me. In…one, two, three, four, five. Out…one, two, three, four five.” He rubbed at TK’s chest. “Again. In…one, two, three, four, five. Out…one, two, three, four five.”
TK followed Carlos’s lead. He still felt dizzy and shaky, but he got his breathing under control, slowly but surely.
“With me, TK?” Carlos finally asked after a few cycles of counting and breathing.
TK nodded and pulled back one of his hands to wipe at his face.
“Okay,” Carlos continued. “Are you okay if we get you dry and warm? Is that okay right now?”
“Probably smart,” TK sighed. He wanted to be sarcastic. He wanted to sound normal. But…he just wasn’t. Seeing his mom after all this time…
“Okay. We can do that.” Carlos squeezed the hand he still held against his chest. “Come on.” He pulled TK toward the back of the house toward his bedroom.
TK could feel how much water was no doubt gathering around him on the floor. “I’m sorry. I got water everywhere.” He rubbed at his eyes as they entered the bedroom. “I’ll clean it up. I—“
“It’s fine. I’m not worried about that.” Carlos pulled TK in for a hug, as if to prove his point. “I’ll get it. Let’s just get you warm. Shower? Or just clothes and towel off?”
TK swallowed thickly. “Not really up for a shower yet. Sorry. Too shaky.”
“Hey, stop apologizing. I wasn’t sure which you needed. That’s all.” He gave TK a warm smile. “Let’s go into the bathroom. Sit and I’ll grab some clothes. Want one of my hoodies?”
“Please.” TK returned the smile, albeit with a much smaller one than Carlos. He sat down on the edge of Carlos’s bathtub and leaned forward, letting his head fall into his hands. He was shaking still, couldn’t seem to stop really. But he could breathe.
Carlos returned with fresh clothes and extra towels. He started toweling off TK’s hair for him. TK looked up, trying to show his appreciation. “I’ve got you,” Carlos softly said. “Let’s get you out of those clothes.”
TK should have been able to crack a joke at that, but he wasn’t feeling it. TK just allowed Carlos to help him pull off the soggy clothes. He saw his phone fall to the ground in the process; for once he didn’t care if it broke. He didn’t want to deal with his parents. Carlos wordlessly picked it up and set it to the side.
It took some maneuvering but it was well worth it. He was cold, colder than he had realized. He wrapped himself in the extra towel and dried off the best he could. He was grateful Carlos had grabbed a larger, thick hoodie and a pair of sweatpants. They would be a little bigger than TK’s norm, but that sounded better for now.
Once he was dressed, he felt a little better, but still couldn’t stop shaking.
“How about we move to the couch? I’ll fix a cup of tea.”
TK nodded. “Okay. Thank you.” He leaned forward and gave Carlos a deep kiss.
“Of course.” Carlos handed him back his cell before he helped him stand and move back into the living room. TK sank into the cushions. Carlos pulled down the plush blanket from the back of the couch and wrapped him in it. “I’ll be right back.”
TK nodded and watched him leave. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He sighed but pulled it out anyway. He saw a bunch of texts from his dad, a few missed calls too. None from his mom. He shouldn’t be surprised. But….
I’m fine. Safe…didn’t do anything dumb. Went to Carlos’s. Be back tomorrow.
He shut his phone off after sending the text. He tossed it on the coffee table just as Carlos came into the room. Carlos gave him a mug of tea as he joined on the couch. He glanced at the phone and back at his boyfriend.
“So…can we talk about what happened?” TK sighed deeply and rubbed his eyes. “If you can’t, I understand. But—“
“No, it’s fine. I can.” He scrubbed at his face again, nearly sloshing the tea out of the mug. Carlos steadied him, wrapping an arm around him and holding him in place. “Thanks. For all this.”
“Hey, it’s okay.” He kissed the side of TK’s head. “I’m sorry for whatever happened that triggered you so much.”
TK raised an eyebrow at that.
“What? Something obviously did. And like I said, we don’t have to talk if you can’t. But I’m here.”
“No, I know. And like I said, I can. It’s just…it’s dumb.”
Carlos hugged him again. “Don’t think it can be dumb if you are this upset. Whatever ever it was triggered your anxiety. Hell, it triggered a full blown panic attack from the looks of it.”
“Apparently,” TK huffed. He shifted on the couch. He set the mug of tea next to his phone and propped his elbows on his knees. He hung his head. “My mom is here.”
“It shouldn’t be a big deal. Just…” His voice cracked.
TK cleared his throat. “We, um, we don’t have the best relationship. Not really. We did, at one point. But then…after I got older it changed.” Carlos put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently to encourage him. “She had a hard time with me. When I was using.” He chewed on his lower lip.
“She, uh, she just didn’t know how to deal. Not really. Dad was different. Everything scared him. Don’t get me wrong. The first time I overdosed…” He chanced a glance at Carlos to see his reaction. He kept giving him the same look…caring and worried. “Um, I was fifteen. It was stupid. I was dating this guy who gave me a bad batch of stuff. It was so dumb. Both of them were angry, but dad…he was so scared. Mom, I don’t know. She just seemed angry. Dad wanted to find options. He wanted me in treatment. Mom just wanted me to stop.”
“How did that go?”
“Uh…not great. I still lived with my mom. At that time at least. So she just kind of swept things under the rug and made a lot of threats about sending me off to rehab or an institution of some form if I did it again.”
“I didn’t realize you lived with her.”
“They always had joint custody. But mom argued at first that I should live primarily with her because of dad’s hours.” He shrugged. “Granted, she worked worse hours than him. Just not on paper.”
“Yeah, she’s a lawyer. A good one.” TK snorted. “Always has been. So I was alone a lot. And things just spiraled. For a lot of reasons. And then that happened. She tried. At first. To be there a lot more. But eventually she went back to work. Dad checked up a lot. But, I went back to using. Just got better at hiding it."
“How long did that go on?”
“Dad caught me using again a year later. He rarely came to mom’s. Usually just had me come down or take the bus to his station. But for some reason that day he didn’t. He came up and saw the bottle of pills on the counter. I had just got them and thought I had time to hide them before he picked me up for the weekend.”
TK took a shaky breath. “He called my mom and made her come home early. He wanted to talk. Come up with a game plan.” He closed his eyes at the memories once again.
“You don’t have to do this. We can—“
“No.” TK took another breath and swiped at his face angrily. “No. It’s fine. I’m being dumb. It was like ten years ago.”
“Mom flipped out. Yelled at me. Yelled at dad. They started going at each other. All the old arguments. They just…they always argued over me. After 9/11.”
“Basically.” TK steeled himself for what he knew he needed to say next. “It went on for awhile. I left. I walked out. I didn’t…I didn’t go far. Just sat outside for a long time and waited. Mom came out. Stormed past me and just kept going. Dad came out after; he sat with me. Told me he was going to take me home and I was going to stay with him for awhile. Figure things out.”
“And your mom?”
“She didn’t talk to me for awhile. Just kind of cut me off.”
TK shook his head. “I got clean that summer. Then went back to school. Dad filed to be my custodial parent and mom kept her rights…nothing major. She started having me come over on weekends. But she never really let me forget what I did. How bad I was for being an addict.”
“You know that isn’t true, right?”
TK sniffled. “Most days.” He hated being this brutally honest. But he knew Carlos wouldn’t let him do much less at this point. “Things were okay though,” he quickly continued. “Until I relapsed. It was right after graduation. I had told her I wanted to go to the academy, follow in dad’s footsteps. She flipped. And I just…I couldn’t do it.”
“She wanted you to do something else?”
TK snorted. “More like wanted me to be someone else.”
Carlos hugged him to his chest.
“It’s just…she had a very different idea of what I should be and do. And I lost it after that. So I relapsed. I stole some cash out of her wallet and found a dealer on the street. Dad found me later that night and could tell. He brought me back home and made sure I was okay.”
“And your mom?”
“She went the tough love route.”
“What do you mean?”
“She fully believed the best way to help an addict was to cut them off. In every way. She was mad. It was just how she was.”
“I didn’t know it was that bad with your mom.”
“It’s been okay….sorta…since then. We don’t see each other much, really hadn’t seen her in person in years with her schedule and mine. But we’d talk on the phone or FaceTime. Until I fucked up again.”
“Your overdose in the city?”
“I told her before I left. It didn’t go great. I haven’t talked to her since. She was so mad I was following dad. When I told her why…well…”
“That sounds really rough.”
“So seeing her today…”
“Brought it back?”
“I walked in on them arguing. Just like always. And I knew what was going to happen. I knew how it would go down. And I just…I couldn’t stop feeling like I was fifteen again and dealing with it all over again. I couldn’t do it.”
“Hey. It’s okay. You don’t have to tonight. I’ve got you.” Carlos pulled him into his side closer. “You didn’t deserve any of that. You deserved better when you were a kid. Still do. You deserve better. Always.”
TK just shook his head. “I’m an addict. I—“
“You’re in recovery. You have many months of sobriety under your belt. You did the 90 days and 90 meetings thing and then some since you came here. You’ve been keeping up with therapy. You haven’t drank. You—“
“She won’t care though.” TK felt the tears well in his eyes. “She’s going to assume the worst. And—“
“And she’ll be so wrong. Because that isn’t the truth. You are so far from the worst.”
TK let his head fall back against the couch. “I don’t know about that.”
“Well, I do. So does your dad. And the crew. All of us here do. And we all know about your past. And none of us think you are the worst. We love you.”
TK stiffened at the use of that word and looked at Carlos with raised eyebrows. “Love?”
Carlos blushed. “Well…”
TK laughed at the reaction. Instead of replying with words, he leaned into his boyfriend and gave him a long kiss. “Me too.” He couldn’t say the right word. Not tonight. Not when he felt so strung out. But still. He wanted to.
Carlos wrapped his arms around him and pulled him down on top of him on the couch. This time, they didn’t fall off; there wasn’t the same rushed passion. It was just soft and gentle. “What can I do to help?” Carlos finally asked. “It seems like you had a bad panic attack earlier.”
TK nodded. “Yeah, it started when I heard them arguing I guess. It didn’t really let up until I got here.”
“I’m glad you came.” Carlos rubbed TK’s back softly. “You should stay the night. We can deal with your mom tomorrow.”
“Yeah…I want to help. I mean it. Whatever you need.” He gave TK another kiss. “You’re stuck with me.”
TK felt warmth in his chest slowly replace the chill and anxiety he had been feeling for so long. He gave Carlos a loving smile and sank into his grasp.
He liked he idea of being stuck with Carlos. He liked the idea of having a partner to face his mother with. He liked this.
No. He loved this.
He loved Carlos.
And maybe, just maybe, that would be enough. That would help him deal with is mom. And maybe even his other demons.
But that wasn’t a problem for tonight. For tonight, he would just be here. Be here with Carlos.
Because maybe, maybe this was what he deserved.