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The long way home

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“What are you doing there?”

Shaun stepped to him and looked over Zach’s shoulder.

“Oh, nothing,” he answered and closed his notebook.

Shaun shrugged and walked into the kitchen. He knew that behaviour already. Vanity of the artist. Zach would keep all of his sketches for his own eyes until he felt they were truly finished. Although Shaun had explained thousands of times that his drawings didn’t have to be perfect when he showed them to him, his partner refused stubbornly to reveal even one single streak before he was ready. Shaun was the last guy to understand it. After all, he knew how hard it was to be creative, and everybody had his own way to deal with it.

***

It was three days later, and Shaun had just ordered a grumpy Cody to brush his teeth, when he stepped into the kitchen.

“Everything all right?” Zach asked as he looked up.

Shaun smiled. “Cody tried to cheat his way out of brushing his teeth, but I convinced him in the end.”

Zach smirked knowingly but didn’t comment further. They knew both that he had probably bribed Cody because if he didn’t want to do something they seldom had the power to force him.

Zach focused his attention back on his notebook. For a moment he starred at the sketch before he put the pencil on paper again. Two or three short strokes at the edge, a bit of shadow on the right upper corner – and it was done.

“Finished,” he mumbled more to himself than to anyone else.

“With what?”

Zach jerked when he heard Shaun’s voice. With a glass of orange juice in hand, Shaun took a seat and looked into the open notebook.

“Gabe asked me for a sketch,” he explained.

“Gabe? What does my brother want with a sketch from you?”

Zach stared, annoyed at him.

“Sorry,” Shaun continued gently, “I didn’t mean it like it sounded.” He drank from his orange juice. “It’s more that Gabe has absolutely no idea about art. Why would he suddenly be interested in it?”

Zach shrugged and took Shaun’s toast.

“Hey, that’s mine!” But before he could do anything, Zach had already enjoyed the cheese toast.

“Too late,” he replied with his mouth full, grinning mischievously.

“You’re lucky I love you,” Shaun said dryly and went to make himself another piece of toast.

While taking slices out of the bag Zach explained, “Gabe didn’t suddenly find his love for art, but he asked if I could sketch him a tattoo.”

Surprised Shaun turned around. “A tattoo?”

Zach nodded and put the last bite of Shaun’s breakfast into his mouth. “Seems that he’s wanted one for quite some time but couldn’t find the right design, so he asked if I could draw him one.” Unabashedly, he helped himself to Shaun’s orange juice. “We met the other day and he told me what he wanted. This is the result.”

He pushed the open notebook over to his boyfriend, who had pulled it to him.

He looked at the gray pencil sketch for a few seconds, the strong lines of the banner, the dark hatch marks of the shadows and the curves of the stylized waves against the cliff. Then he closed the book.

“Nice.” He said, voice tight. Before Zach could ask about it, Shaun had gotten up.

“Cody,” he called and left the kitchen. “Have you finished brushing your teeth yet?”

Puzzled Zach followed him with his eyes.

***

Gabe held up two bottles. “Beer or beer?” He grinned.

Zach took one of the bottles and sighed.

”Spit it out, what’s eating you? Trouble in paradise?” Gabe sounded amused.

“Idiot!” Zach replied and took a mouth full from his bottle.

Gabe laughed and drank as well. Then he gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder. “Seriously… what’s the matter?”

“I don’t know,” Zach answered. “Shaun acted very strange the whole week.”

“Strange how?” Gabe asked back. Zach knew that his friend was making an effort to bite back a sarcastic comment about his brother.

“He’s in a foul mood all the time. And if he isn’t on edge he doesn’t say three words to me. Only what’s necessary.” He sighed. “And he got home from work after 8 p.m. the whole week. He doesn’t usually do that, except when he has a project.” Zach emptied his beer and put the bottle down on the bar with a clank. “If I didn’t know it better I would think he…” He stopped mid-sentence and let the end trail off.

“Shaun is crazy about you,” Gabe said with a seriousness that surprised Zach. “He would never cheat on you. Never!”

“I know…,” Zach answered meekly, “but something’s wrong.”

Gabe gave the bartender a sign and got two new bottles.

“O.k., let’s think logically.” Gabe’s thumb brushed over a drop of water which rolled down the green glass. “When did he start acting weird?”

Zach thought about it for a few moments and answered: “Since the beginning of the week.”

“And did anything happen back then?”

Zach shook his head. “Nothing! That’s what’s bothering me. I wracked my brains over it, but can’t find a reason. There’s nothing. Absolutely nothing.“

He drank hastily.

Gabe’s hand touched his arm. “Slow down. We’ve the whole night to finish our drinks.

“Everything was business as usual…” Zach hesitated. “I showed him the first draft for your tattoo on Monday during breakfast.”

“You’ve finished the sketch?” Gabe sounded excited. “Do you have it here?”

Zach ignored the question. “And he said that he liked it.”

“But?” Gabe asked impatiently.

“But he seemed so… I don’t know… short with me.”

Suddenly Gabe grinned from ear to ear.

“When I tell you what’s wrong with Shaun, can you show me the sketch?”

“What?” Zach looked confused.

“I said,” small laugh lines appeared around his eyes, “that I’m gonna tell you what’s wrong with Shaun if you give me the sketch.”

Zach stared at him incomprehensibly, but took out his notebook with the drawing and opened it. “Here.”

Gabe looked at it quietly before he mumbled: “Wow, that’s great!”

Smiling he raised his beer and Zach mimicked him. The bottles clanged when they met in a toast. “Thanks, man. That’s exactly what I wanted.”

Zach nodded, satisfied that Gabe liked the sketch.

“So?” he asked impatiently. “What’s the matter with Shaun?”

The familiar grin spread on Gabe’s face. “That I can tell you precisely: Shaun is jealous.”

***

It was dark when Zach heard the key and then the metal pendant hitting the knob.

With a last look at the sleeping Cody, he closed the door and went to the living room. He listened. Familiar noises reached his ear: Shaun who removed his coat and took off his shoes.

The match made a quiet hiss when Zach lit up the candles.

When Shaun stepped into the living room, he stopped in his tracks.

“What…”

“Hey, baby.” Zach welcomed Shaun with a kiss. It wasn’t the quick kiss they usually shared. Instead, Zach’s lips remained on Shaun’s, asking him silently to kiss him back. And that he did. It wasn’t a particularly passionate kiss but tender in a special way.

They let go of each other.

“Zach, what…”

Zach smiled. “I wanted to surprise you.” He took Shaun’s hand and led him to the table. “Sit down. We are having pasta and salmon tonight.”

“My favourite?” Shaun asked.

“Your favourite,” Zach confirmed, and left for the kitchen just to come right back with two plates of steaming pasta.

“Enjoy your meal.”

Shaun took a bite and swore. “Ahhh… hot!”

Zach laughed.

Shaun took the water glass and gave Zach a grim look. “There’s nothing funny about it.”

But his boyfriend continued to grin unimpressed.

“I love you.” He said abruptly and Shaun looked at him in confusion.

“Zach, what’s the matter? What is this all?”

Zach rose. “You were in a foul mood the whole week,“ he started and combed his fingers through his hair. “Since I told you about Gabe’s tattoo on Monday you haven’t spoken ten sentences to me. Instead, you were snippy and came home late every night.” Shaun wanted to reply but Zach continued: “I was out with Gabe yesterday. And when we talked I suddenly understood the problem: You’re jealous!”

Shaun rose abruptly. “I’m not!” he defended himself.

Zach looked him in the eye. “I love you,” he said and his features became soft. “Gabe’s like a brother to me.” He laid his hand carefully against Shaun’s chest. “But you are my life.” The other hand caressed Shaun’s neck. “I love you.“ He pulled him against him with soft pressure. “You and your ridiculous jealousy,” he whispered quietly and emphasized his words with a kiss.

***

Fingertips travelled along his arm, drawing an unknown pattern on Zach’s skin. He nestled closer to Shaun, felt the rise and fall of his chest against his back. Warm breath tickled his ear.

“I want a tattoo,” Shaun murmured and hugged his boyfriend. “I want a tattoo which reminds me of it.”

“Of what?” Zach mumbled sleepily.

“Of this,” Shaun answered. “Of this moment. Of you, of Cody, of our little family.”

Awake again Zach turned around. “If you want,” he said and smiled tenderly, “I can make you a sketch.”

Shaun grinned and pulled Zach closer. “I’d love it.”