Eddie’s phone buzzes on the kitchen counter and he sighs, already knowing who it’s going to be. The same person that has sent five other texts just in the last ten minutes.
Sure enough, he picks up his phone and sees Buck’s name on the screen along with “1 New Message.”
Do you have balloons at home?
Eddie shakes his head as he types out a response, “No.”
Eddie watches as the dots appear as Buck starts typing, then they stop. A few seconds later, his phone rings.
“What do you mean you don’t have balloons?”
“Exactly what it sounds like,” Eddie says. He places his phone between his ear and shoulder as he starts looking through the cabinets, trying to find the snacks he’d bought last week. “There are no balloons.”
“Eddie,” Buck says, clearly exasperated. “We need balloons!”
“What on earth for?”
“Christopher is graduating!” Buck says. “How many more times will this happen?”
“Two, three more times,” Eddie says. He locates the snacks on the top shelf and pulls them down, placing them on the counter. Once that’s done, he grabs his phone, keeping it to his ear as he walks out into the living room.
“It’s a middle school graduation,” Eddie says. “And Chris said he didn’t want a big party. He wants to go with his friends.”
Eddie can almost picture Buck’s pout on the other end of the line, “So we’re not doing anything?”
“We’re going to have a small gathering,” Eddie tells him. “As you know. I have snacks. There will be cake.”
“Just no balloons,” Buck says.
A beat of silence before Buck asks, “Could I bring balloons?”
Eddie smiles, “If you want to bring balloons, I can’t stop you. It’s your house too.”
Which is true. Buck had moved in three years ago. It was cheaper for both of them and only made sense considering he spent most of his time off here anyway. Christopher has loved having him around. Eddie too.
“Okay, awesome,” Buck says, sounding relieved.
“You already bought balloons, didn’t you?”
A beat of silence. “Maybe.”
Eddie laughs. He knows Buck far too well by now. “When should I be expecting them?”
A knock sounds on the door, and Eddie’s eyebrows raise. “Okay, that’s weird.”
“I think you should get that,” Buck tells him.
“Oh, should I?”
“Just answer the door, Eddie.”
“How do you know I haven’t?”
“I have my ways,” Buck says.
Eddie shakes his head, despite knowing Buck can’t see him. He opens the door and is immediately met with the sight of balloons. Not just a few balloons. That would be reasonable. No, there are at least fifty. Maybe one hundred.
“Buck, what on earth did you do?”
“You said I could get balloons,” Buck says. It comes from both the phone at his ear and somewhere in the chaos of balloons.
Eddie hangs up the phone, then uses his hands to part the balloons, and peers in at Buck. “Were they having a sale?”
“Maybe so,” Buck says. “And maybe I was also worried there wouldn’t be enough.”
“Well, I think that worry was unfounded,” Eddie tells him. He steps back so Buck can push some of the balloons into the house before following after them. “How did you even manage to carry all these yourself?”
“I can fit a lot in my arms, Edmundo,” Buck winks.
Eddie’s eyes drift down to where Buck’s arms are straining with the hoard of balloons. He can’t help it. Buck mentioned his arms, and Eddie has no choice but to look. Not that not having an excuse has ever stopped him before. He’s witnessed many times how strong Buck is and just how much he can carry. Or lift. Eddie’s thought a lot about the things those arms can lift.
Something he probably shouldn’t be thinking about right now.
“Just put the balloons in the living room,” Eddie tells him.
“I figured they could have a presence throughout the house,” Buck says. “You know, for a more party feel.”
“It’s not a party,” Eddie reminds him.
“Right, it’s a small celebration,” Buck says. “Close enough.”
“Uhh Dad? Buck?”
They both turn to where Christopher is standing just outside the kitchen. He’s looking at the balloons with his face pinched.
“What is all this?” Christopher asks.
“Balloons!” Buck grins. “No graduation is complete without balloons.”
“I told him they weren’t all necessary,” Eddie says. “But Buck was adamant.”
“I just want today to be special,” Buck says. “It’s not every day our little guy graduates middle school.”
Our little guy .
Eddie’s heart warms at the words. Especially when Christopher steps up to Buck and hugs him. He laughs when Buck picks him up and spins him around.
“Buck, put me down,” Christopher says. They’re both grinning when Buck puts him back on his feet. “I’m not little anymore.”
“Yes, we know,” Buck says. “You’re thirteen. A big ol’ teenager.”
“But you’ll always be my superman,” Eddie tells him. “And we love you.”
Eddie has had multiple freak out moments over the past few weeks, ever since Christopher’s thirteenth birthday. It’s been hitting him hard that he’s now the parent of a teenager. And Christopher is going into high school. High school. It’s hard to believe his son has grown so much so fast.
“I know, Dad,” Christopher says. “I love you, too. Both of you.”
Buck sniffles and wipes at his eyes, “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown.”
“Oh, stop,” Eddie says, feeling tears stinging behind his eyes. “You’re going to set me off.”
“Are you two going to need a moment?” Christopher asks them.
“No, No. We’re okay,” Eddie tells him.
“Speak for yourself,” Buck says.
“Please tell me you’re not going to embarrass me,” Christopher sighs.
“Of course we’re going to embarrass you.” Eddie laughs and throws an arm around Christopher’s shoulders. “We’re your family.”
“Can you like, try to have some restraint though?” Christopher asks.
“Guess I should leave the party horns in the car,” Buck says.
“Oh my god,” Christopher groans. “No party horns, Buck.”
“Not even one?”
Christopher narrows his eyes, “Not even one.”
“Go get your shoes on, buddy,” Eddie says. “We need to head out soon.”
Buck waits until Christopher is in his room before leaning over and whispering to Eddie, “How mad do you think he would be if I still brought a party horn?”
“Do you want to risk it?” Eddie questions.
“Right, banners and screaming it is,” Buck says.
“At least I won’t be the most embarrassing one there,” Eddie says.
“Hardly,” Buck says. “There’s going to be a whole group of us.”
“And yet, you’ll be one of the loudest,” Eddie guesses.
“Of course. Chris is…” Buck trails off and rubs the back of his neck.
“Chris is what?” Eddie asks.
“Nothing,” Buck says a little too quickly. “He’s umm… he’s just a special kid.”
“He is,” Eddie agrees. “But that’s not what you were going to say.”
Buck glances up at him before averting his gaze to the ground. “You know he’s like a son to me, Eddie. I know he’s not, but…”
“Buck,” Eddie says, resting a hand on his shoulder. He ducks his head to meet Buck’s gaze and smiles. The gesture is so achingly familiar. “I love how much you love Christopher.”
“No buts,” Eddie says. “There’s no one in the world I trust with my son more than you. Remember?”
Buck laughs softly and nods, “Yeah, I remember.”
Those words have only grown truer over the years. It’s hard to believe it’s already been six years since his first day at the 118, and he met Buck. Back then, he had no idea the place this man would come to have in his life. Just how important he would be. Not only to himself, but Christopher as well.
“Are you two crying again?” Christopher asks from the hall behind them.
“Only because we’re so proud of you,” Buck tells him.
“I haven’t even graduated yet,” Christopher says.
“Exactly,” Eddie says. “Just wait until the ceremony. Buck will be crying buckets.”
“And you won’t?” Buck teases.
“I’ll be crying with a little more dignity,” Eddie says.
“We’ll see,” Buck says. “Good thing Hen plans to bring tissues.”
It only takes seeing Christopher in his cap and gown for the tears to start. He’s standing on the school steps waiting to go inside to line up. Buck insists on taking pictures, and Christopher humors him. At least for a few minutes. Truthfully, Eddie’s glad that Buck is prepared to capture all these moments. Eddie’s so wrapped up in them it’s hard to think of anything else.
Then Christopher’s rushing off inside to get his place in line. Eddie and Buck grab seats near the front, saving a few for Maddie, Bobby, Athena, Hen, Karen, and the kids. They trickle in as it gets closer for the ceremony to start. It’s nothing big and elaborate like a high school or college graduation. But it’s still nice.
When Christopher’s row stands to join the line heading towards the stage, Eddie’s tears start again. Buck is in no better shape next to him.
“So much for dignity,” Buck teases.
“Shut up,” Eddie mutters. “My kid is graduating. I’m allowed to cry.”
Hen hands him a tissue, which Eddie gratefully takes and dabs at his eyes. An arm settles around his shoulders, and Eddie sinks into Buck’s warmth, grateful for the contact.
Eddie jumps to his feet and cheers as Christopher walks across the stage. Next to him, Buck is cheering and holding his phone up. The rest of their friends and family are cheering too, albeit with a bit more restraint than Eddie and Buck.
Christopher stops at the end of the stage and gives them a grin and thumbs up, and Buck snaps a picture. Once Christopher is seated Buck sits down, and Eddie joins him, both of them wiping at their eyes.
“I can only imagine what you two are going to be like when he graduates high school,” Maddie teases.
“As if you won’t be the same when Leia graduates,” Buck says.
“Parents are allowed to be emotional at their kids' graduation,” Eddie says.
“Of course they are, Edmundo,” his Abuela says, patting his back. “Both of you should be very proud.”
Both of them . He turns to look at Buck, but the other man isn’t paying attention to them anymore. He’s grinning and waving at Christopher. Christopher sticks out his tongue, and Buck takes another picture.
“If you’re not careful, you’re going to run out of room,” Eddie warns him.
“No way,” Buck says. “I cleared space just for this.”
“Of course you did, Evan,” Maddie says.
The principal is soon announcing them as the graduating class of 2024, and the class is jumping from their seats and throwing their caps in the air. It’s a sea of chaos from there. Eddie stays put, not wanting to venture too far so Christopher can find them. Sure enough, soon he appears in the crowd as he rushes towards them.
“I did it!”
“Yes, you did,” Eddie says, scooping him up into his arms. “I’m so proud of you, buddy.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Christopher says, grinning up at him.
“We’re all proud,” Buck tells him.
“Soon you’ll be conquering high school,” Bobby says.
“Oh, don’t remind me,” Eddie says.
“You’ll have to deal with it in a few months,” Chimney points out.
“Yeah, but we can block it out until then,” Buck says. “And just enjoy him being a kid a little longer.”
“I’m thirteen, Buck,” Christopher says.
“You’ll always be our kid,” Eddie says.
“We need to get pictures,” Buck says. “I saw a good place on the lawn. Let’s go.”
“And then I can go with my friends?” Christopher asks.
“Then we can have your party, and then you can go with your friends,” Buck says.
“Buck did go through all that effort of getting those balloons,” Eddie says. “We can’t let that be for nothing.”
“Of course Buck got balloons,” Maddie laughs.
“At least fifty,” Eddie tells her. “Though it could be more. It was hard to count.”
“He’s just excited, Edmundo,” Abuela says. “He loves Christopher.”
And I love him for it, he thinks.
Buck sets to work grouping them together for pictures. First, Christopher by himself. Then Eddie joins him, followed by their family. Buck’s calling over Hen and Karen when Christopher stops him.
“Buck, you need in here too,” Christopher says. “With Dad and me.”
“Get their Buck,” Maddie tells him. “I’ll take the pictures.”
“You really didn’t think you’d get away with not being in here, did you?” Eddie teases.
“I wasn’t sure if…”
“We want you in the pictures, Buck,” Christopher tells him.
Buck joins Eddie behind Christopher. They both have a hand resting on one of his shoulders as they smile at the camera. After a few photos, Eddie steps away and lets Buck and Christopher get a few alone.
Eddie turns at the sound of his name. Ana’s standing a few feet away, smiling at him. It’s been a while since they talked. They’d tried dating for a while after Christopher left her class, but it hadn’t lasted long. Eddie’s heart hadn’t been in it, and she knew that. They’d ended on pleasant enough terms, but since they’d never been friends before their failed attempt at dating, they’d really had nothing much to say.
Until now, apparently.
“So, I see you finally got your act together,” Ana says.
Eddie’s brow furrows, “What?”
“Don’t play coy, Eddie,” she laughs. “You and Buck!”
“What about me and Buck?” Eddie asks.
“He’s the one you had feelings for back then,” she says. “The one you couldn’t get over. Right?”
Eddie’s eyes widen, and he looks around, making sure no one else is in earshot. Sure, he’d told Ana a few years ago that his feelings for someone else were getting in the way of him having a relationship with anyone else. But he’d never mentioned a name. And he certainly hadn’t expected her to bring it up at Christopher’s middle school graduation of all places. “Yes, he is, but…”
Ana sighs, “Oh, Eddie. Don’t tell me you still haven’t done anything about it.”
“He’s my best friend,” Eddie says as if that’s reason enough. It’s certainly one of the excuses he’s been telling himself.
“And Christopher adores him. I can’t risk making things awkward and us losing him if he doesn’t feel the same way.”
Ana rolls her eyes, “It’s obvious to everyone he does. That man is crazy about you. And loves Christopher. That much is obvious.”
Eddie glances over at where Buck is standing with Christopher, taking pictures of him and his friends. Buck says something, and the boys start laughing. Then Buck looks his way, and their eyes meet. Buck’s smile softens, and he nods his head, beckoning him over.
“Go,” Ana says. “Be with your family. And Eddie…”
“If you love him as much as I think you do, don’t waste any more time,” Ana says. “We know how short life can be. You don’t want to waste it.”
Eddie knows she’s right. He’s spent so much time being afraid of going after what he wants. Not out of fear of Buck rejecting him. He’d be a fool not to see the way Buck looks at him sometimes. The way his smiles are softer and his touches linger. But neither of them have dared cross that line. It’s as if they’re both waiting to know it’s okay.
As terrifying as it is to think of stepping over into something new, he knows that he won’t be alone there. That Buck will be waiting with open arms just as he always is. Christopher is off with his friends by the time Eddie reaches Buck, who smiles and holds up his phone, snapping a picture.
“What was that for?” Eddie laughs.
“I just wanted to remember how you looked in this moment,” Buck shrugs.
He knows, Eddie realizes. He has to. Of course he does. Buck always knows.
Eddie slides his hand into Buck’s and looks up at him, searching his face for any sign this isn’t what Buck wants. “Is this okay?”
Buck turns his hand over and laces their fingers together with a smile, “It’s perfect.”
Buck leans down and rests his head against Eddie’s, brushing their noses together as he does. He looks so happy, and Eddie can only hope he can see that same happiness mirrored back to him from Eddie. “I love you, you know that?”
“I know,” Buck kisses him softly and smiles. “I love you, too.”
“Finally!” Christopher says. “I told you my dad’s loved each other.”
Buck’s eyes widen, and Eddie chuckles, squeezing his hand. “Breathe, Buck.”
“You’re not,” Eddie says. “You okay?”
“His dads?” Buck whispers. Tears are welling in his eyes again.
Eddie takes his face in his hands and wipes them away. “Yes, Buck. His dads. You’ve been co-parenting him with me for years. You take him to the doctor and go to parent-teacher conferences. You cook dinner and help him with his homework. You take him to sleepovers and out for ice cream. You helped him through his first heartbreak. Hell, you’re on the PTO. You said it yourself. He’s like a son to you. And I could not be happier about that.”
“Yeah,” Eddie says. “But only if you are. I don’t want you to feel pushed or…”
“Eddie, of course I’m okay with it,” Buck cuts in. “More than okay. I love you both so much.”
“We love you too,” Eddie says. He looks over at where Christopher is watching them and opens his arm for him to join them.
Christopher steps in between them and wraps his arms around both of them, as both their arms settle around his shoulders. “We love you, Dad Buck.”
“Dad Buck,” Buck laughs. “I like it.”
Buck’s crying again, and Eddie’s in no better state. Between them, Christopher starts crying as well. “Now you two set me off,” he laughs.
“There’s nothing wrong with some tears,” Eddie tells him.
“Are we embarrassing you?” Buck teases.
“I’m not embarrassed,” Christopher says. “I’m lucky.”
As Eddie looks between Buck and Christopher, he knows that’s true. He has two people he loves so deeply, happy and safe in his arms. He’s the luckiest man alive.