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The Magic Number

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Shaun's hands lightly rubbed at Zach's shoulders, attempting to keep him calm while they waited at the entrance to the baggage claim area.

"I don't understand! The monitor said his plane landed thirty minutes ago." Zach complained.

"Fifteen." Shaun corrected calmly.

"So what the hell is going on? He should be here by now."

Shaun just quietly chuckled at Zach's anxiety, feeling the muscles unwilling to relax under his ministrations. He watched as wave after wave of travelers came through the doorway separating baggage claim from the rest of the airport, the majority of them sprouting grins and looks of glee with whoever was there to collect them. Shaun mused that at any other time of the year there wouldn't be nearly as many people camped out at the security point, but with it being so close to Christmas the area was jam-packed.

He was keeping up a brave front, trying to be strong for Zach and be the rational parent this time around. They'd definitely done their share of swapping that role through years of dealing with Cody's skateboarding spills, fights at school, underage drinking, girlfriends, a pretty scary car accident, and now this. College. College in another state that was thousands of miles away. After talking Zach down upon Cody's decision to go Midwest and leave SoCal, he had to have a moment to himself to do exactly the same before he fell apart at the seams, too.

The first week Cody was gone they were both miserable. Joking around with friends just days earlier about having the house to themselves and not having to feed and pick up after a teenager seemed cruel when faced with the reality of what their lives had become. Zach kept going into Cody's room looking for things to tidy up or clean while Shaun kept cooking way too much food for only two people. They moped and couched and hardly spoke to each other while they wallowed. Luckily Gabe and his wife came by that first weekend and literally shoved them out of their shuttered house. That day the four of them spent together had been a much needed bandage for their broken hearts, filled with surfing (but not at their regular beach so as not to remind them of Cody's absence) and a bonfire cook-out after their older and less-wise bodies had forced them out of the water. When Gabe and Ali dropped them off, sore and drunk, in the early hours of the morning he warned them that if they started to feel guilty about having a good time that he would force them to do it all over again the next day.

The guilt never came, and surprisingly the emptiness had started to feel less oppressive as time went on. They started having friends over for dinner nearly every week, they made love outside of their bedroom, they stayed up on weekdays and slept in on Saturdays. Cody would email or call and a twinge of guilt followed by a profound sense of loss would envelop them for a while, but the feeling would linger less and less as days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months.

One night in early September when Zach was still at work, Cody had called Shaun's phone sounding so sad and lost that Shaun went online and started looking up flight information. Rationality got the better of him, especially when he saw the $1200 price tag on last minute flights, and talked his son down from his bout with anxiety.

"It's just so… so flat here. And everyone is so smart! Like, super-computer brainy smart and I don't know what they're talking about half the time. Plus nobody has a deck and they all think I'm just some stupid fuck from Cali."

"You're not some stupid fuck from Cali, Codes. You might be an ugly fuck, but you're not stupid."

Cody snorted. "Gee, thanks pop."

"That's my job."

"How's dad doing?"

"He misses you like crazy. So do I. But we're so damn proud of you." Shaun's voice got a little watery. "We love you so much and are so excited about your future. Even though we don't see you every day, we're thinking about you. Worrying. Zach more than me of course."

"Of course." Cody chuckled.

"But we know you can do it. You're just feeling a little homesick right now, but I guarantee you'll forget all about it in no time."


"Sure you will. You'll get all caught up in the dorm stuff and classes and social life soon enough. I promise."

Cody sighed. "I hope so, 'cause right now I feel like shit."

"Hang in there. If it helps at all, the swells have been crap for the last few days. You're not missing a thing." It was a mild exaggeration, but Shaun figured a little white lie wouldn't hurt it if helped Cody feel better.

"Thanks pop."

He smiled into the phone. "You're welcome. I love you kiddo."

"I love you too. Tell dad the same."

"Of course. And just think, the holidays are right around the corner! You'll be back here in no time."

And here they were, nearly crawling out of their skins in anticipation of seeing their son for the first time in nearly four months.

"There he is!" Shaun heard Zach shout out. Zach waved excitedly, coming close to smacking the person in the head standing next to them. Shaun's own hands squeezed Zach's shoulders a little harder, scanning the crowd until he himself saw Cody. His longish, dirty-blond hair peeked out from under his knit hat and a smile stretched across his face from ear to ear, rounding his cheeks in a way that reminded Shaun of a boy much younger than the one that was approaching them through the crowd.

Cody gave Zach a hang-dog face, looking slightly embarrassed by his exuberance to see him. Before he could utter a sound he was pulled into a rib-crushing hug by Zach.

"Hi dad." Cody muffled into Zach's collar.

Zach wiped at his eyes when he pulled back, sniffing quickly to rid the evidence of himself getting overly emotional.

"Welcome home, Codes." Shaun said warmly, feeling so damn complete and good with the world. Cody wrapped him in a hug of less exuberance than Zach's, but equal in its affection.

"Hi, pop." Cody said. Shaun just smiled wide and squeezed back. "Nice hat."

Shaun adjusted his Santa hat into an even jauntier angle. "Thanks. Some guy named Kringle loaned it to me."

Cody rolled his eyes. "Lame."

"Let's go pick up your luggage. Are you hungry? I bet they didn't feed you on the flight." Zach ignored Shaun's snicker while grabbing Cody's carry-on bags, knowing he was the source of his amusement since he'd obviously gone into smother-mode like he swore up and down just last night to Shaun he wouldn't.

"Those are Christmas gifts in there, so no peeking!" Cody warned.

"You didn't have to buy anything." Shaun protested. "You're supposed to be a starving college student. Don't you know that your responsibility for gift-giving is deferred until you graduate?" Shaun teased.

"I've still got receipts. I can take them back."

"Well, as long as you brought them all the way here…" Shaun smiled back, bumping shoulders with Cody.

On the way back from the airport they made a pit-stop at Cody's favorite burger place for an indulgent dinner since their son lamented that he hadn't had a proper burger since he left California. When they got home they sat out on the balcony, enjoying the unseasonably warm night air, sipping beers (allowing Cody one) and reveling in each other's presence.

Cody turned in early, complaining about time zones and traveling, but not before sharing a few more hugs and exchanging a couple 'glad you're home's' with his parents. Shaun and Zach remained outside sharing a companionable silence, sipping beer that was long since cold, when Shaun heard a wet sniffle come from Zach. He set down his bottle and walked over to the chaise that Zach had been resting on and lay down beside him.

"What's wrong?" Shaun asked softly, nuzzling at his husband's neck.

Zach's body shuddered slightly,

"I'm just so… relieved." He blew out a breath that seemed twice as large as his lung capacity. "We didn't fuck him up. I mean, shit," Zach shook his head sharply, "that kid has every reason to be a serial killer or a meth addict or whatever. I feel like, I don't know. I feel so fucking confused and emotional right now that I have no idea what to think." Doubt and disbelief, the same self-esteem demons that had rattled Zach's psyche from time to time for years were bubbling much too close to the surface for Shaun's comfort.

"I think that against all odds, you did the absolute best you could for that kid, and it's what made all the difference. You loved him, you cared for him and nurtured him. Nothing bad can come of that. Not ever. I've said it before and I'll say forever, I love how you love him." He squeezed and arm around Zach's chest and hugged him closer.

"I love how you love him, too. More than I can ever say."

"So… you did good."

"We did good."

Shaun kissed his neck in response. "I'm so glad he's back. Even if it's for a little while."

"It's going to be hard to say good-bye again."

Shaun shook him and whined. "Don’t think about that yet! Live in the moment. Revel for a little while!"

Zach laughed at Shaun shaking him like an annoyed little boy. "Revel, huh? Care to 'revel' with me, old man?" Zach wiggled his hips back, rubbing his ass against Shaun's crotch.

Shaun in quick return nipped at Zach's neck, causing him to jump just a little bit.

"Ow! Watch it!" Zach laughed.

He nuzzled more and palmed the front of Zach's jeans. "I'd rather watch you."

That night the two of them delighted in the fact that they had to keep the noise level down because their son was back home… if only for a little while.